It’s a simple childhood memory for many: a father and his children singing nursery rhymes and reading books together. A story on NextCity.org reminds us of those little moments taking place in many American homes right before bedtime—the kind of memories that stay close to our hearts forever.
But since fathers at Rikers Island can’t tuck their children into bed at night, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is offering the next best option—connecting these families through video conferencing.
“It’s providing the opportunity for a kid to read a book with his dad,” Nick Higgins, director of BPL’s outreach services, tells Next City.
Every week, the program gives a handful of families about an hour with their loved ones. The library provides toys and books to each family, while each incarcerated parent sits with the same books in a prison room.
And the priceless experience doesn’t cost them a dime.
For Rebecca Sanchez, the video visit “felt kind of normal” compared to an actual visit to Rikers. Sanchez’s two young children had not seen their father in almost a year. Their library became a safe place to reconnect and feel somewhat like a family again.
They are one of about 160 families that has enjoyed the Telestory program, and BPL hopes to continue setting an example that other libraries will follow.
“We’re trying to help those children understand the importance of reading,” BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson tells Next City, “but also to help maintain a connection between parents and children, and doing it through literacy skills.” To Johnson, the message is simple: “to be there for every New Yorker.”
Nick Higgins echoes that message. “If we can do something to help bridge [prisoners] back into the community in a very public, welcoming way, I think that we’re doing what we should be doing.”
In the United States today, there are 2.7 million children with a parent behind bars. As this holiday season approaches, those children are facing the reality that Mom or Dad won’t be there on Christmas morning. Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program is a unique opportunity to reach out to children of prisoners—children who need to know they are valued, they are loved, and they are not forgotten. It all starts with a simple gift. To register or learn more, click here.