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In Jail Program's First Year, 26 Inmates Record Stories For Their Children

An inmate sits down to record a story for his child, who will receive the recording along with the book. (Photo courtesy Fotina Perry)
An inmate sits down to record a story for his child, who will receive the recording along with the book. (Photo courtesy Fotina Perry)

Fathers in jail are able to read to their children thanks to a program at the Alachua County Jail.

Read to Me is a jail-based family literacy program that provides fathers the opportunity to maintain communication with their pre-teen children, said Fotina Perry, classification supervisor at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

The program, which started in January 2015, gives incarcerated fathers the opportunity to send an age-appropriate book along with a recording of them reading it to their child or children with permission from the child's guardian.

Over the last year, 26 males between the ages of 22 to 49 have completed this program. Together, they have 52 children from the ages of 3 months to 12 years.

“In an effort to break potential barriers, we have been able to use technology such as emails and phone calls to allow inmates whose children may not be in the immediate area to participate,” Perry said. “Children have been as far away as California and Washington.”  

Perry said male inmates who have to serve at least three months and have at least one child up to age 12 are able to participate in Read to Me.

“We have allowed grandfathers and uncles to participate in the program, too, but it is mainly for fathers,” she said. “We also allowed an inmate to record a book for his dying mother.”

The program will soon be implemented to female inmates, too, Perry said, though an exact date hasn't been decided yet.

Most of the books come from a partnership between Read to Me program and the Alachua County Library District.

Perry said the participating inmates enjoy the program and want to continue.

“This program is not just about the number of participants and children affected, but about creating a new culture,” she said. “Most of these inmates never had anyone read to them when they were younger, and now we’re teaching them the importance of reading to children.”

Michelle Miller, inmate programs manager at the Alachua County Jail, is often with the inmates during the recording sessions.

“They are very excited to record themselves read,” she said. “They are very hands-on and put a lot of emotion and dramatics into their voices to really make the story come alive.”

Miller said the inmates are very appreciative of the program.

“Being able to read to my three children means so much to me and them,” said a Read to Me participant who was recently released from prison and who declined to give his name. “Knowing they can hear my voice before they go to bed brings me so much joy and makes my time a whole lot easier.

"I now realize how important it is to read to them in the future.”

Christopher is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.