For many of us, some of our earliest memories involve sitting on the couch and listening to mom read us stories about fanciful characters and faraway places. We remember those moments dearly, often holding onto those books and eventually reading them to our own children.
But for 150,000 children across the country, such moments are fantasies themselves. For these kids, mom isn’t reading to them because she isn’t there—she’s in prison.
A nonprofit organization in Austin, Texas, is seeking to bridge this gap between mother and child, offering incarcerated moms a chance to read to their kids, even if they are separated by prison walls. The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas offers mothers the chance to record themselves reading a book of their choosing, with the CD of that reading and the book itself being mailed to her children. The mothers have a chance to record a quick message to their kids at the beginning of the CD, and can write a message on the front flap of the book.
Twice a month, volunteers drive a couple of hours from Austin to correctional facilities in central and eastern Texas, taking with them stacks of books donated from local book stores and individuals. The readings take place in quiet rooms in the prison, recorded onto laptop computers, and then burned onto CDs. the books and CDs (in cases decorated by the mothers) are then placed in an envelope and sent to families around the country, or in some cases, the world.
In a story for The Federalist website, volunteer Dugie Graham tells author Madison Peace why she has committed her time and and efforts to the Storybook program for seven years. “These moms are pretty eager to touch their children’s lives in a positive way,” she says. “[Storybook] is an opportunity for us to tell these children, ‘Be hopeful for your mom.'”
“I remember the first book that I read to my daughter, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, a Dr. Seuss book,” says Lauri Arrington, a former participant in the program. In a commentary for the New York Times, Arrington recalls, “As I sat down to start reading to her I had a mixture of feelings. Prison not only takes your freedom but it can also take your identity. After so long you become Mom only by title when someone else cares daily for your children. What I remember most was an unshakable joy of knowing as long as I was reading that book, I was Mom again. It was surreal knowing my daughter would receive and hold in her hands the very same book that I held in my hands that day. We would occupy the same space even if it was at different times.”
Moms don’t stop being moms when they go to prison. Many struggle to be the best parent they can be, despite not being able to comfort, nurture, and encourage their children in person. Programs like the Women’s Storybook Project provides these women with a connection to their children—one that will help strengthen family ties, reduce the odds that they will return to prison, and make it less likely that their children will follow the same path that they trod.
As we honor our own moms on this Mother’s Day, let us remember those families who are separated by incarceration. May the sound of a mother’s voice be the encouragement a child needs to know that they are loved, and that there is hope for the future.
Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program also seeks to connect children to their incarcerated parents. To learn more about Angel Tree, and how you can play a role in serving these families, click here.