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Miriam Luehmann brings her love of reading to jail program

What would you do with your time if you were in jail?

Inmates of our Mower County jail can spend time reading due to the devoted volunteering of one person.

Miriam Luehmann

Miriam Luehmann has a love of books and a passion for reading that fits perfectly with her volunteer job with the jail library. After retiring from teaching at Holy Cross School, she got a part-time job as a page at the Austin Public Library. Friends saw how much she enjoyed that work and Miriam was asked by law enforcement officials if she would be in charge of the collection of books for the inmates at the new jail.

“Since our new jail opened in 2010, Miriam has been there from the start,” said Mary Davidson, Mower County Jail program coordinator. “We gave her a storage closet and a few books, and she has turned it into a rather large library, complete with a Spanish section. Miriam has donated countless books and secured library carts for our housing units.”

Miriam found the jail collection in disarray when she took over.  She had to throw away outdated and worn out books. Since then, she has been dedicated to securing reading material to enhance the offerings.

Inmates now fill out request forms for what they want to read. Miriam always has a list of what has been requested and does her best to find them all. Many of the books come from discards at the public library and from the Friends of the Library used book sale. Lisa Deyo at Sweet Reads is very generous as well. Miriam, her friends and family  frequent rummage sales, the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores with the list in hand.

The requests are often the same books that are the most popular everywhere, including mysteries, adventures, westerns, science fiction, vampires and self-help and inspirational books.

Each week, as Miriam refills and reorganizes the library carts for each section of the jail, she includes items from these genres, as well as Bibles, dictionaries, parenting  books,  health and fitness books, G.E.D. test preparation materials, children’s books for parents to read to their children by phone, and books in Spanish. The collection also includes large print books.

From her almost 11 years in this work, Miriam has concluded the following positive aspects to having a jail library:

• It is a productive way to spend time which may improve the inmate’s mental well-being;

• Some studies show that inmates are less likely to return to jail if they read while in jail;

• Reading provides topics for conversation and sharing; and

• Parents can interact with their children through reading a book to them.

Miriam’s philosophy is that if you can help one person, it is worth the time you have spent. One thank-you note she has received from an inmate tells it all.

“I just want to thank you and may God bless you for all the great work you do as a volunteer. We appreciate you so much! Without you a lot of us would be stressing and into all kinds of trouble. Because of you, there hasn’t been one fight in this place in the eight months I’ve been here. Trust me, having books to read matters, especially the ones requested.”

Another note reads, “Thank you for helping me escape into a good book!”

It is obvious Miriam has helped more than one inmate with providing access to books and has perhaps proven to them they are worthwhile even at this low point in their lives.

This is not Miriam’s only volunteering gift to the community. She is a Red Cross volunteer greeter at blood drives and has donated 17 gallons of blood over the years. She also volunteers at the Hormel Nature Center and the ArtWorks Festival and she serves as an election judge. At her church, she coordinates the prayer chain and is a radio announcer for worship service broadcasts.

Austin salutes you, Miriam Luehmann, for your devotion to your jail library work and for all your other volunteer efforts.

For more information about the Austin Branch of AAUW, contact Sue Grove  sue.grove@riverland.edu  or Carolyn Bogott  csbogott@charter.net. The American Association of University Women, now AAUW, is open to anyone who has completed a two-year degree or beyond.  AAUW welcomes men who support our objectives and there are student memberships available. AAUW has been empowering women since 1881.  We support equity and education for women.  Scholarships are offered, as well as help in litigation in cases dealing with sex discrimination.  We are the most important and highly respected research and lobbying organization dealing with women’s issues such as equal opportunity and job equality.