For a child with a parent behind bars, life can be isolating and stressful.
As many as 10 million children experience the pain of a parental incarceration at some point in their lives, missing out on the everyday activities so many take for granted. This particular separation can be as damaging as a death or divorce due to shame, stigma, and lack of understanding.
And staying connected with an incarcerated parent is not easy. Phone calls from prison are often cost prohibitive, and outgoing mail is . Given the many kids are unable to visit their parents behind bars.
In fact, reported never having had a visit from their children.
But volunteers with the Women's Storybook Project found a way for moms in prison to connect with their little ones.
Founded by Judith Dullnig in 2003, the Texas nonprofit allows incarcerated women to read books to their children.
With the help of one of the 150 volunteers, each mom selects a book and reads it aloud into a tape recorder.
The tapes and books are then mailed to their children, so the kids can hear their mother's voices and feel close to her during the challenging period of her incarceration.
Each month, the program mails approximately 350 new books and tapes to children.
The Women's Storybook Project is currently available in five of the eight women's prison facilities in Texas, with the goal of expanding to the entire network.
The Women's Storybook Project isn't just a win for the kids, it's a priceless opportunity for their moms.
Lauri Arrington, a former Storybook participant, recorded 14 books for her children while she was incarcerated. She was released two years ago and wrote about her experience with the program in The New York Times.
For Arrington and others, the program offered normalcy and dignity while living in a place often lacking both. She writes, "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."
With the success of the Women's Storybook Project, similar programs are taking off across the country.
A corrections facility in launched its own Story Corner, and facilities in and offer Storybook projects for dads behind bars too.
As the American prison population , programs like this become invaluable to maintaining strong family relationships, .
See the power of the Storybook Project in this short video created by Women's Storybook Project Texas.