For seven years, I have co-run a program at Northeast Correctional Center in Concord, Massachusetts, called Read to Me, Daddy. The program is designed to help inmates connect with their children through reading. Each session lasts five weeks, during which we discuss the importance of reading to children, model how to read and select from a variety of children's books, and help the men pick out children's books that would be a great fit to read to their kids based on their ages and interests. After spending a few weeks helping the men to practice reading their selected books, we use the final day of each session to make a video recording of each participant reading his books. We then send the books and a DVD recording of their father reading the books to each child.
I feel that I get just as much enjoyment and pride from volunteering as the inmates do from participating in Read to Me, Daddy. When I tell people that I volunteer in a prison, there is usually a stigma that hangs overhead. However, the men could not be more thankful, polite, and invested during each session. As I tell them on the first day, just by signing up for the program they are doing something extremely positive. They are giving a gift to their kids—not just by sending the books and the DVD, but by helping their children to establish (or further) a love of reading. As a Kindergarten teacher, I use my experience to explain how children’s books can expand the imagination, help kids deal with problems at home or at school, and plant the seeds for a lifetime of learning.
In each session, there is always a wide range of how close and comfortable the men are with their kids—some speak with their children everyday on the phone, while others have not had the opportunity to meet their children. We encourage every participant to find his own voice and style as a reader, and it is always incredible to see the support among the men as they give each other advice and constructive criticism when we practice reading the books. There is no better feeling then seeing a participant smile as we applaud after his recording is complete, hearing that a child is seeking out other books based off of the story that their father chose for them, or being told that a child is "wearing out" the DVD player at home from multiple viewings.