Kate Campbell is a summer intern with Prison Fellowship, working with Inside Journal. She is currently studying photojournalism at Boston University.
Recently, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article about a program called Reading Connections, which allows incarcerated fathers and mothers to record videos of themselves reading stories for their children. The parent also writes a letter, which is sent to their child along with a copy of the storybook.
In America, over 2.7 million children are growing up with an incarcerated parent. The Reading Connections program helps children maintain a relationship with and their parent during the difficult time of incarceration. Studies have shown that prisoners have a lesser chance of reoffending if they have healthy relationships with their families.
Prison Fellowship Ministries works to reduce the prison return rate by building and restoring relationships, including those between parents and children.
In Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, prisoners have the opportunity to build relationships with their children through the Storybook Dad program. The program began in 2008, and since then it has become an entirely prisoner-run operation.
According to Phillip Dautrich, an IFI counselor for Prison Fellowship, about 50 percent of the men in the Carol Vance Unit participate in the program. Men come into the studio at their scheduled time, choose a book, and then sit in front of a microphone and read the book. Other volunteer prisoners work with the sound equipment to add sound effects to the voice recording, then burn that track onto a CD, complete with a personalized CD case. Fathers can then send the CD and a copy of the book to their child as a birthday present or as part of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program at Christmastime. Volunteers have sent out over 1,500 CDs and more than 750 books.
“It gives the opportunity for the men to start thinking about reconciliation,” says Dautrich. “I like to think that that book is going to be a building block for them.”
Dautrich says that this program has definitely made an impact on both the fathers and the children.
“What we’re seeing now is that the child is now very excited for their dad to come home,” says Dautrich. “From the dad’s perspective, for them this was maybe the first time they weren’t selfish and they did something just for their child.”
This program often starts conversations about fatherhood and reconciliation.
“I don’t know if they’ve ever thought about what it means to be a father, and a responsible one.” says Dautrich. “It opens doors for us to start talking about it.”
We are all called to share the message of restorative hope found in the Gospel. Prison Fellowship strives to restore family connections through its Angel Tree program. Learn more about how you can be a part of this mission of restoration at www.angeltree.org.