Dads in prison are learning and passing on the joys of reading aloud to their kids. The New York Public Library has teamed up with Rikers Island Prison to create a program called “Daddy and Me,” in which incarcerated fathers record stories for the children they’ve left behind. Nine men participated in the 5 week program, learning about the benefits of reading aloud, the art of storytelling and then finally recording stories for their children. The program culminated in an event at which the fathers presented their children with a CD of the recorded stories. According to The New York Times, “It was the first time such a program had been tried at Rikers.”
The New York Times chronicled the stories of three of the men involved. One of the participants, 27 year-old Qaaid Reddick, joined the program with the hope that he would get to meet his youngest daughter, Mya, born in October of this year. Yet when the day came for the men to present their recordings to their children, none of Mr. Reddick’s three daughters came to Rikers to see him. He knew his two older girls would not come, but he had hoped to meet little Mya, only about a month old at the time. Mr. Reddick later found out that Mya’s mother had awakened too late to catch a bus to Rikers. He simply said “No promises made, no promises broken” as he joined the other two men whose families did not attend.
Thirty-five year old Juan Camacho recorded books and reminisced about the books he had bought for his two sons. His wife Jasmine Bosch is dyslexic and cannot read to her children unless the book is simple. She said the books were packed away in a closet and that she didn’t have time to read to the kids. When the children came to see Mr. Camacho at the end of the program, he taught four-year-old Stephen to write his name and told eight-year-old José, “When you hear my voice, remember that daddy is there with you.”
One in twenty-eight American children have a mother or father in prison, making programs like “Daddy and Me” more vital to their development. While growing up with an incarcerated parent is detrimental to child development, the benefits of reading aloud to children are numerous. Children who are read to have better vocabulary, better listening skills and are more likely to become readers themselves. More importantly, this program helps maintain a connection between father and child for a group of children who desperately need their fathers. While critics may deride the presence of such a program in a prison, it is important to note that it allows a fatherly presence for children who have done nothing wrong.
The program will start next month at Rikers for incarcerated mothers. As one Correction Services Intern wrote, “I dare anyone to find a more warm and fuzzy program than this. (The program) is an example of the power of books in the process of rehabilitation and simply, the joys and benefits of early literacy.”
Photo thanks to Allie Bishop Pasquier