Backpack Full of Books

When GOSO career manager Chelsea Kraimer makes her weekly trip to Rikers Island to visit clients, she goes prepared. More often than not, Chelsea’s backpack is packed to the brim with books specifically requested by incarcerated GOSO clients.

“I can’t overstate how important receiving books is to our guys,” says Chelsea Kraimer. “It’s a way for them to keep their minds productive and occupied; it keeps them busy and is incredible for their mental health. They’re also oftentimes in the middle of a multi-book series … so they desperately want that next installment as quickly as possible!”

When a GOSO client receives a long-awaited book, it has an incredibly positive impact on his day. “Guys get really hype — a big smile, gratitude, or even jumping up and running around to celebrate the arrival of their latest book!” Kraimer continues: “Guys are really interested in literature they can relate to, like urban street culture.” A library system helps GOSO staff and the guys track who has which book, and they’re encouraged to share with others living in their house (the term for the communal spaces our clients share with other incarcerated young men).

Also in Kraimer’s backpack: “I’ll bring romantic coloring pages to the guys, and they love personalizing them and sending them to their girlfriends, moms, etc.” Kraimer sees this as a great way for currently incarcerated clients to maintain personal connections while they are away from loved ones. Bringing fun things to do, like coloring books or puzzles or playing cards, adds variety to the types of recreational activities to which our clients on Rikers have access. Instead of watching TV, GOSO encourages guys to open a book an explore a character or storyline they can truly cherish.

“GOSO’s ‘traveling library’ keeps our guys focused and out of trouble. It also helps us to build connections. Importantly, the book program helps us to build trust with them — this is something we’re lending them for safekeeping as well an enjoyment. And if something as simple as a paperback classic can bring so much enjoyment, it’s worth it.”