Ruth Turney has had a lifelong love affair with books. She taught herself to read as a preschooler and hasn’t stopped since.
“If you saw my house, you can hardly move for the books,” she said, laughing.
Perhaps it’s her passion for reading that prompted this retired librarian to action when she spotted an article in the Lawrence Journal-World nearly a decade ago requesting volunteer library assistance at the Douglas County Correctional Facility. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with the inmates, helping them discover the joy of reading and the doors it could open in their lives, just as it had in her own life.
Since then, Turney has spent nearly every Monday morning volunteering in the jail’s library. Her work developing an extensive collection of books has been so beneficial to the inmates that Michael Caron, programs director for the Douglas County Correctional Facility, selected Turney as the facility’s United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center Volunteer of the Year for Lifetime Service.
“Ruth has been instrumental in helping make the Douglas County jail library the best county jail library in Kansas. And, for its size, the correctional facility undoubtedly has one of the premier jail libraries in the country,” Caron said.
In addition to helping maintain the library, Turney uses creative means to expand the library’s collection without spending taxpayers’ dollars, Caron noted. For instance, she finds free books at the Heartland Book Bank in Kansas City, Mo., receives book donations from the Friends of the Library book sale, and has sponsored bake sales at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market to raise funds to purchase books.
Thanks to Turney’s efforts, inmates now have a wealth of good literature to enjoy.
“It is a great way to spend their time productively, during the times when they are confined to their cells,” Caron said. “It puts their minds in a different place.”
For Turney, volunteering at the jail has provided a rewarding way for her to continue her professional passions after retirement and share her love of reading with others.
“It’s very touching being at the jail. A lot of the guys have never sat down and read a book,” she said.