We’ve asked libraries across Colorado to submit program they’ve run in the last year that they’re proud of and they want the rest of us to see and celebrate. Sharing stories in books is great… but what about our stories? The stories of the ways our libraries bring the community together, enrich the lives of our neighbors, and serve the people who live and work in our cities and towns.
Kristy Scott answered our call and we’re excited to let them tell you about La Vista Correctional Facility Library’s Ukulele in their own words.
Library Name: La Vista Correctional Facility Library
City/ Town: Pueblo, CO
Program Name: Ukulele in Visiting
Date/ Date Range of Program: April 14, 2023
Intended Audience: All
Description & History:
In 2018, I worked with Diane Walden to create a folded book art resource kit for the Colorado State Library. At that time, I was told there was also a resource kit that contained 8 ukuleles. I had never played a musical instrument in my life. I had tried the guitar when my son took lessons, but only to assist him with his lessons. I let the staff at the Colorado State Library know that I would be interested in trying the ukulele resource kit … and so it began!
We first tried a six week “class” at YOS followed by an eight week “class” at LVCF. I enjoyed it so much, I went on Amazon and purchased an Enya ukulele. I later found out there are multiple types and sizes of ukuleles. I had purchased a soprano ukulele, which is a little smaller than the normal “concert” size ukulele. I ended up injuring my thumb and was unable to play for 7-9 months. I then began the journey all over again with a little bit bigger size ukulele and a few YouTube/Patreon creators for instruction. The ukulele became my de-stresser. I enjoy attempting songs on the ukulele and finding songs that people would never consider hearing on a ukulele.
There are multiple lessons to be learned and multiple people on YouTube willing to assist with these lessons. (Patreon is a site that creators are paid for their lessons.) They usually create monthly lessons with chord charts with the ability to go back and view the lesson over and over again. One can also slow down the video to assist with learning at a slower pace. Once I became more confident in my ability to play, I decided to submit a memo to request a ukulele class at two of the facilities I provide library services. I have always had a warden and management steam who are on board with my crazy antics and willing to provide educational opportunities at all levels. And so began the continuous ukulele classes at LVCF & YOS.
To allow several inmates to participate, the library staff requested eight ukuleles for each facility – LVCF & YOS. The warden for these two facilities approved the purchase of these items from the warden’s budget. This is great and so appreciated, since the library’s budget is limited.
Since 2021, the warden has approved the purchase of microphones, microphone stands, amplifiers, and the addition of two ubass ukuleles at each facility. Colorado State Library has also purchased two more concert ukuleles, three music stands, and a donner keyboard for each of these facilities. The library continues to work with the tool control sergeant at each facility to maintain the security and storage of these items due to the strings on the instruments. The ukuleles cannot have metal strings and the accountability for any strings needing replaced is documented and the strings are removed from the facility, if the strings are replaced. The ukuleles and strings and accounted for twice daily; at the beginning of the shift and before staff leave at the end of the shift.
The library has decided to keep all of the ukuleles, amplifiers, and student folders housed on a cart in the staff office for accountability. The other items like the microphones and cords are maintained and accounted for in a locked file cabinet in the staff office. Offering time for classes and practice can sometimes be an issue. We all know what it’s like to have vacancies, vacations, etc., that require us to be flexible. The classes are provided twice a week, which really is not much time for practice. To allow students practice time, they are able to “check out” the ukulele while they are in the library and practice as long as they are able to visit the library. The library staff is consistently searching YouTube for different lessons that could be taught in the facility. The YOS ukulele class has been given an opportunity to perform at the Family Day event in August. To help the students prepare for this event, the warden has graciously allowed the class to perform at the July management meeting for the management team, parole board members, and admin staff that will be in attendance. The class has been approved to play three to four songs.
This is a huge accomplishment for the students who are thoroughly excited to have this opportunity. I continually stress the accomplishments that have been made in their journey to pursue the knowledge of playing the ukulele. It takes discipline and commitment to learn a musical instrument. It takes even more devotion to learn while maneuvering the time constraints and movement schedules of a prison facility. I would hope, as the ukulele music program continues, that other instruments and technology can be combined to create a wonderful opportunity at these facilities to learn any instrument that can be provided in a prison setting. It would be wonderful to someday have a band at each facility who could play for different events, holidays, family visits, etc.
What partners (if any) did you work with in developing or implementing this program?
What about this program did you find successful? How did you measure the success of this program?
The inmates are invited to come and attend a class to determine if it is something they are willing to devote time for. The biggest issue for the students is the willingness to trim their fingernails. Long nails and ukulele strings are not compatible. : ) When the students select a class song and become proficient, I try to share their progress in an email to the staff at that facility. Several staff have replied to the email video with positive comments and to please continue to share their progress. The inmates are given such a positive response from staff viewing these videos in the facility, that it helps to fuel their desire to continue to progress and challenge themselves to learn more complicated chords and songs.
This program has received such a positive response from everyone in the facility that one of the students asked if I would reach out to the management team to see if she could play for her visitor. I absolutely felt this would be a great opportunity to allow this inmate to “show off” her ukulele skills to her longtime friend of thirty years. She knew ahead of time when this person would visit so we submitted well in advance of the visit to make sure all parties involved would have plenty of time to review any issues they may foresee. Number one issue – disruption to other inmates and families with their visit. Number two issue – how to get the instrument from the library to visiting and keep all aspects of security in mind. Once the management team and the intel officer had time to review, the visiting sergeant was informed and the visit was approved. The visiting sergeant was able to allow the student to go into a small storage type of room so as not to disrupt other visits. The library staff was given permission to take the ukulele and a camera to the visiting room, stay with the inmate and visitor, and return the ukulele & camera back to the library, once complete. We were given a time frame of fifteen minutes for the ukulele visiting event. The inmate, since she was already in the ukulele class, had determined what songs she would play to meet this time frame and allow her visitor to participate. It was an emotional experience to see and hear both parties enjoy such a special visit.
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Kristy Scott, Librarian II, has permitted us to share their contact information so that anyone interested in reaching out to them about their program can do so. It is an incredibly generous offer of which you are invited to avail yourself if you’re inspired by their work and want to celebrate them or if you have questions about ways you can follow their lead.
To reach Kristy, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Colorado State Library (and the readers of this point as well, no doubt) understands how time consuming, emotionally draining, costly (in so many ways), and challenging it can be to run a program or project. Sometimes they fail gloriously… sometimes they fail with barely a whisper. It can be hard to recover from that. You’ve worked so hard!… and it just didn’t work out. Be gentle with yourself. Self-reflect. Pick up the pieces. And then get to the next thing. It’ll be worth it.
For all those other times, be sure to celebrate. Brag about it! Feel good about yourself, the team that collaborated on your work, and the community members who participated with it. Celebrate your hard work and the value that you contribute to your community.
Tell us the story of your program just like this library did here. Submit your library’s program for a Program Spotlight featured here and shared as far as Colorado State Library news reaches.
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