Literacy foundation brings books behind bars, connects inmates to their children

Published: Jan. 6, 2020 at 7:37 AM EST
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When a parent is incarcerated at a prison, the connection between them and their child can be broken. The Children's Literacy Foundation says it's trying to reestablish those connections through storytelling.

"I think the CLiF program is awesome. It definitely keeps us together with our kids. It's like something we can kind of still be there for in a way," said an inmate, who asked that we not give their name.

Over the last 16 years, CLiF has worked with thousands of children of prison inmates at 17 facilities across Vermont and New Hampshire.

CLiF works to bring parents behind bars closer to their kids by giving inmates the opportunity to send a book home with a recording of themselves reading it. At least every two months, CLiF invites families into the prisons, where they can sit down and dive into a story.

"It's a day I can spend with the family. The kids seem to enjoy it. Every year they remind me about it and talk about it often. It seems to affect them greatly, and it has a huge impact for me because it's a chance for me to be as much involved as I can," said another inmate.

"These kids really are innocent victims. They really didn't do anything," said Duncan McDougall, CLiF's executive director. "Their parents are incarcerated and the kids suffer because they have limited access to their parents. Their economic situation has been affected because one parent is not around."

McDougall says 70 percent of U.S. inmates have low literacy skills and their children are at risk of growing up with the same. He says CLiF's programs, like Children of Prison Inmates, increase the chance those kids will become strong readers and writers.

More importantly, McDougall says the Children of Prison Inmates program bolsters the bond between parent and child.

"As any parent knows, it's a challenge enough to maintain good connection and good communications with your child when they're in the house, but imagine what it's like when you're incarcerated," he said.

"The relationship with me and my daughter got a lot better through the books that I send her from CLiF. This program's amazing. It really is," said one inmate.

The group also regularly hosts seminars in the prisons, teaching incarcerated parents the skills they need to confidently read and write to their children.