How do you wind up working as a volunteer librarian inside the Santé Prison? Roseline Jomier’s co-written book ‘Carnets de Bibliothécaires à la Prison de la Santé’ gives an account of her 12 years doing just that.
Although the penitentiary is currently closed for total restoration, the book gives us a glimpse of life inside the institution. ‘Carnets’ was prefaced by Jean-Marie Delarue, the former Controller-General of detention facilities in France.
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Roseline Jomier: a regular engagement
After studying to become a press attaché and a short professional stint, Roseline quickly devoted herself to her family life (which includes four sons and a daughter), and to the professional movements of her husband throughout the US, London and its surrounding areas.
She has always been engaged in one thing or another, most notably as an avid reader. Her attention was thus caught by the UNCBPT (National Union Culture and Libraries for All), an organisation that primarily focuses on three public outlets: the broader public, the hospital sector and some detention facilities. Without hesitation, Roseline decided to take up a position in the prison. She says of that decision:
Is it perhaps that I was unable see any possible identification in this completely foreign world to me?”
In 2003, after a year of specialist training, Roseline found herself confronting the mysterious Parisian prison dubbed ‘La Santé’ and the codes of practice that oversee its daily running. Supplied with her access card, Roseline’s 12-year experience was marked by two eras: the first being when the library consisted of a small cell, and the second being in the comfort of the 200m2 médiathèque (media library) called Robert Badinter. This space was designed in conjunction with the administration, prisoners and organisations. It included excellent equipment such as restricted-access computers; however, their lifespan was short-lived due to issues with maintenance and funding.
Roseline Jomier’s role wasn’t without difficulties to begin with, such as the assaults to her ears (keys, sirens, cries) and nose (body odours, exotic cuisine). But Roseline – physically fit, with a keen mind and a sparkle in her eyes – soon “tamed her fears” and became tirelessly attached to her weekly mission.
In her role, she was to remain ignorant of the cause of incarceration of whoever she spoke with. She was expected to not bat an eyelid while filling out an index card for a serial killer.
She also tried to fulfil every request made, from sourcing Thucydides for a VIP prisoner or a Bible in Romanian for a recently arrived immigrant. You would be mistaken if you thought that the only books in demand in a prison would be biographies of master criminals or stories about grand heists.
Having been let go due to the site renovations, three of the 12 librarians from La Santé now hope to express their powerful shared experiences at the institution.
These volunteers endeavour to give us a glimpse of the reality of prison life through their book.
Going through the alphabet from A for achats and Z for zigzag, they present the life of a book. Passing by the letter L for liberté, the book goes through the discussion and reading of maps, gardening magazines, DIY magazines, dictionaries and novels. These volunteers endeavour to give us a glimpse of the reality of prison life through their book. Anecdotes and memories punctuate this unique alphabet, making room for some humanity in this brutal prison world.
Reading: a right for all
In Brazil, reading one book leads to a four-day reduction of a prisoner’s sentence (of course, there are strict controls on the texts borrowed and relevant material to support this process). Some people have suggested taking up this initiative in France, but for the moment, there has been no follow-through.
Nevertheless, everyone agrees that reading in correctional centres is not just a right but also an escape, a path to information, education and an aide in social reintegration. It provides a brief moment of privacy in a crowded environment. Yet behind the prison’s tall walls, culture is not always a priority.
Today, Roseline Jomier has a new mission: literacy. Teaching others the alphabet gives them the chance one day to write, and of course, to read.
‘Carnets de Bibliothécaires à la Prison de la Santé’ is co-written by Roseline Jomier, Blandine Babinet and Chantal Bourgey and is published by Harmattan.
Do you believe everyone has the right to read? What is your favourite kind of literature? Let us know in the comments below
Inspiring women: collaborative partnership with MidetPlus.fr
[This article was originally written in French by Author: Christine Fleurot]
Here at MyFrenchLife™ we have pleasure in announcing our partnership with French site MidetPlus.fr to produce this series: ‘Inspiring women’. This article first appeared on MidetPlus.fr and we have translated it into English for your added pleasure.
Mid&Plus takes a decidedly positive view of women in the world and produces wonderful portraits of inspiring women. This collaboration enables you to read this series of inspiring life stories in English here on MyFrenchLife™ – MaVieFrançaise® magazine and also to visit midetplus.fr for further inspiration. We hope that you enjoy it.
Discover the first article in this series – meet the Founder of MidetPlus.fr !
All images courtesy of Mid&Plus.
Translated by Artemis Sfendourakis.