In 2004, while taking WOMN 545 Feminist Knowledge & Social Change, Lindsey Bale (pictured) decided her project would be to approach the jailer of the Warren County Regional Jail, Jackie Strode, about starting a book club for women inmates. She was successful—so much, in fact, that the project has been continuing ever since, thanks to a grant from the Provost’s Initiatives for Excellence.
In her journal Lindsey wrote: “The Book Club’s success exceeds the jail, as it has, literally, breached its barriers and been a learning resource for me and has taken them ‘out’ of the confines of jail.
“In terms of measurable outcomes, because of privacy issues, no surveys or tests were feasible in order to assess how much the incarcerated women learned. The evidence is in their faces, their comments, and their loyalty to attend meetings and to do the reading. One inmate gave me permission to include an excerpt of her journal: “I feel the book club is a privilege. I love reading the books very much, and it makes me happy to be in it. Not only do I look forward to reading [the books], but I also get anxious to know what’s the next book. The books seem to inspire me and help me in many ways with the struggles in everyday life.
When posed with the question how much I have learned, my first thought is to question the questioner about how long they have to listen. For, no sentence, paragraph, or, yes, even a book can capture the education of a spirit, and I may only equate the Book Club to a spirit, as when we sit there talking we surpass barred windows and orange jumpsuits. We are a Book Club, without fuss and without status quo for an hour and a half out of every two weeks. We talk, we listen, we argue, we agree, we laugh, we share, we teach, we learn . . . we are equals. And, I don’t know how to categorize that, as words would limit the truth. So, what have I learned? A person must go out and try something of this sort to understand its beneficial effects.
Remembering the value of and possibility in humankind must be an individual process, an educational process, the value of which, for me anyway, has been unquestionable.”
Since Lindsey launched the Book Club a number of students have shared the honor of leading it, including Heather Bridges, Kimberly Reynolds, Deanna Clark, and Lacey Blankenship.
In 2009, Eileen Ryan and Jennifer Dooper (pictured) led the Book Club.
Jennifer had a double major in English and Spanish and won a Fulbright to Argentina; her roommate Eileen, who majored in journalism and English, won a Fulbright to South Korea. The 2010 coordinators were Meagan Harris and Jennifer Kiefer. Meagan Harris and Hilary Harlan were the coordinators in 2011. They both were also counselors at the GWS WKLT Summer Camp in June 2011. Hilary Harlan is the current coordinator of the WCRJ Book Club. Hilary is an English major and a Gender & Women's Studies minor.
In 2011, Meg Harris and Hilary Harlan (pictured) led the Book Club.
Beginning in 2014, students (both English majors) Brittany Eldridge and Mallory Treece took over the Book Club.