Having both or just one parent behind bars is the sad fate that 10 million children will experience at some point in their lives.
In America, more than 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent. That is one in twenty-eight children with approximately half of these children being under the age of ten.
Various studies have been conducted that point to the adverse effects of having parents separated from children due to incarceration. Psychologically, shame, stigma and a lack of understanding can intensify these effects and cause long-term issues for the child.
Whilst a child could benefit from regular access to their parent, it is often impossible due to the tendency for prisons to be located in rural and/or hard to reach locations.
Volunteers with the Women’s Storybook Project wanted to change this, offering a service that would allow incarcerated women to still have an impactful presence in their children’s lives, whilst being behind bars.
The non-profit initiative, founded by Judith Dullnig in 2003, began as a way to reconnect mothers with their children, helping to curb the statistic that points to children of incarcerated parents being more likely, than other children, to reach the same fate as their parents.
The organisation, with the help of 150 volunteers, brings books to various prisons around Texas. There, each mother selects a book and reads it aloud, whilst being recorded by a volunteer. Then the book, along with the recording is sent to their child so that every time they read the book, they can hear their mother’s voice.
This way, the mother and child can connect, without having to be physically together.
The Storybook Project therefore offers a meaningful way to benefit both parties.
Lauri Arrington participated in the program when she was incarcerated. Whilst she has now been released, she shared her experience with The New York Times and wrote about how something as simple as reading aloud, with the knowledge your children would listen, provided a point of normalcy she will forever be grateful for.
“Many women told me that while reading to their children, they briefly felt normal. Helping them, I felt normal. Normal as in, someone who mattered again.”
This incredible initiative is providing a way for women to reconnect with their children in a way that has been proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. Through maintaining a connection with family, and providing a relatively normal upbringing for the children involved, the project is offering a service that goes far beyond being present for story-time.
Would you like to see something like this implemented in your state?