Incarcerated moms read books to kids
PROVO, Utah (AP):
In the middle of the room, Rainey Bridges' face brightens as she suppresses a laugh. On her right, Sasha Foltz reads a story about a farmer whose animals go on strike.
Dressed in maroon jumpsuits, the women take turns reading books about the adventures of a brown rabbit, a family of Berenstain Bears and a pig that eats a pancake. For 45 minutes, they read and giggle, feeding off each other's energy.
The two are best friends, both recording their voices reading books to boys they love. Underneath their laughter, though, they each carry a weight. In addition to missing the big things, being in prison means they're missing out on the little things - like reading bedtime stories to the ones they love.
"Moms who are in prison still, like any mom, want to have a connection with their child," said Katie Hoshino, senior adviser of community relations at United Way of Utah County. "That bond that is created when you read. Your child is missing that when mom is in prison."
That is why United Way has partnered with the Timpanogos Women's Correctional Facility to host a monthly Bedtime Stories Program, a programme designed to connect inmates with their families.
"When you meet the inmates and see them tear up and cry while reading these stories, you see they are just normal people," said Stephanie Anderson, a coordinator at United Way. "Yes, they are paying their debts to society and they should be - but their kids shouldn't be."
The programme started 10 years ago, when Brooke Plowthow, then a freshman at BYU, contacted United Way with a service project in mind. Her efforts yielded a $100,000 seed grant from the Ashton Family Foundation, according to Brooke Adams, the Utah Department of Correction's public information officer.
Once a month, on a Sunday evening, volunteers from United Way sit one to a table, a recorder in hand with paper and pen nearby.
Inmates file into a long, narrow room and choose from an assortment of books. While about 200 are spread across tables that line the room, the programme has about 2,500 books it rotates between each month.
Each book is screened before it's admitted into the programme's library, according to Rose Nielson, the prison's volunteer coordinator who oversees the programme. Inmates are also screened before cleared to participate. Those with child-related crimes are not eligible.
Inmates generally read to their children or grandchildren, though some have read to siblings, nieces, nephews and even their dying parents. They're allowed to include a brief message to their recording's recipient, such as "I love you" or "I miss you."
Volunteers then take the recordings back to United Way and make individual CDs to send to each child.
"I'm really grateful for this programme," Foltz said. "We don't get a lot of contact otherwise."
Foltz and Bridges read to the same namesake - the former to her 10-year-old brother, Jacob; the latter to her 4-year-old son, Jaykob.
Foltz has a wide smile and laughing eyes. Nineteen months into a five-year sentence, she's the one who encouraged Bridges to attend.
"Last month, she came and cried," Foltz said, motioning to her friend.
"I miss my little boy," Bridges counters.
The 24-year-old mom hasn't heard whether her son enjoys the recordings or not. He lives with his paternal grandparents in Ogden; the two haven't had much contact since she received her 18-month sentence.
Despite not knowing, she continues reading.
"It makes me feel closer to him," Bridges said.