Women’s Storybook Project of Texas
Her tiny hand trembled as she turned the colorful page of her new storybook, following the voice on the tape recorder. Comforting arms seemed to wrap the little girl in a hug as she listened to her mother tell the story; she hadn’t heard her mother speak in a long time. Once in a while, Mommy stopped to point out a pretty picture or count the animals on the page: “Can you count with me, sweetie? One, two, three, four! That’s right, baby.” And for a moment, the miles and prison bars that separated them vanished.
For the past ten years, the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas has helped bring these precious moments to children all over the country. “The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas is a nonprofit organization that connects a child with his or her incarcerated mother through literature,” explains Judith Dullnig, founder of the WSP.
Every month, dedicated volunteers of various ages, professions, and faiths give a Saturday to drive the minutes or hours to six of Texas’ eight female prisons, where they meet with incarcerated mothers. In order to participate in the program, each mother must exhibit ninety consecutive days of good behavior.
When they enter the meeting room, incarcerated mothers find smiling volunteers and tables laden with brand-new books donated by individuals, churches, and other organizations—a cornucopia of children’s literature, from recently published books to classics such as Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are; the selection encompasses everything from board books to chapter books. Once a month for four months, moms lovingly select a new book for each of their children under twelve years old. A volunteer records each mother as she speaks a few special messages to her child before she reads the storybook or the first chapter of a longer book.
What appears to be a small gift is really an opportunity to connect a mother with her children. According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, most incarcerated parents are imprisoned at least 100 miles from the area where their children live, making visits costly and difficult for the children’s guardians. The 350 books and tapes the WSP sends monthly help to ease the burden of that separation and give children the calming, precious experience of their mothers reading to them. It is a gift that can be cherished over and over.
“The one thing to remember is that the child is the focus of this program,” explains Judith. WSP gives offenders the chance to tell their children that, though the family is apart for now, they are loved.
To learn more about the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, visit storybookproject.org.