ALERT - Visitation
YouTube icon image 

GO KIDS Articles

RSVP's My Dad reads to me program proves popular

By Nicki Bruce Logan, Editor
Herald Lifestyles
Published: Sunday, March 1, 2009 4:12 AM CST

It's been two years since Linda Milner Shipp presented "My Dad Reads To Me" to the local RSVP Advisory Board. The premise of the project is to have incarcerated fathers reinforce ties to their children by reading to them in recordings that are then sent to the kids. Obviously, with the father in the local prison unit and his children living some distance from the facility, it was a challenge bring them together.

That challenge was met through modern technology. Simply put, the father reads a book which is recorded and sent to his children.

"It is a little more complicated than that," Shipp says, "but once we got a grant to pay for the technical equipment, the rest fell into place."

My Dad Reads to Me was funded through a Programs of National Significance Grant received by Runningwater Draw RSVP.

"When I wrote the grant I collaborated with Warden David Cole, who was at the Marshall Formby Prison Unit at the time, Lydia Castillo, who is director of Hale County Literacy Council, and Debbie Stennett, who was with the Wayland Community Classroom at that time. The idea came from another RSVP which had done a similar program, but not through the prison system."

Shipp says it was slow in getting the program in place due to the regulations required to work with prisoners. The grant money was awarded in September 2006.

"We recruited volunteers who had to have their backgrounds checked, then they attended the Texas Department of Criminal Justice training. We read with our first dads in February 2007."

The purpose of the program is to help fathers who are in the Marshall Formby Prison Unit maintain ties to their children. A recording of the father's voice reading a book is one way to do this.

"It means the world to me to be able to read a bedtime story to my kids and let them know I care about them and they're in my thoughts. And it means a lot to my kids. I appreciate you letting me read to my kids," a prisoner told Shipp.

"It is rewarding to be able to provide this service," Shipp says.

Carefully selected offenders apply to participate in the program. Part of the process of being approved involves getting written permission from the guardian of the children. Once approval is received, Castillo selects age appropriate books for the children. The books are donated by the Hale County Literacy Council.

"Volunteers meet with the dads to record them reading the children's books. Afterward, the recording is transferred to a compact disk.

The final step is to mail the book, CD and, when needed, a CD player to the children."

The TDCJ and RSVP recognize the importance of those who are incarcerated maintaining family ties with their children.

"Research shows when family ties are severed between children and their parents, the door opens for the children's academic progress to suffer and they experience low self-esteem. An alarming statistic indicates children of prisoners have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system," Shipp explains. "RSVP wants to be a part of breaking this terrible cycle.

"Each dad who has participated in the program has been extremely grateful. They have felt literacy for their children has improved and their relationship with their children has been strengthened because of participating in the reading program."

Shipp says that the prisoners are not the only ones thankful for the opportunity to record a book for the children. Many of the mothers also have told of their appreciation.

"Thank you so much for giving the kids a piece of their dad every day," said one mother while another mentioned that, "It was a wonderful experience for both of the boys to hear their dad's voice."

The privacy of both the dad and the children are protected throughout the process.

RSVP recently received a matching grant from the Wes-Tex Resource Conservation and Development Board to assist with the reading program.

Anyone interested in volunteering can get a TDCJ volunteer training application from the RSVP office. Adult volunteers of all ages are welcome. Volunteers who have participated in My Dad Reads to Me include Louise Thompson, Kelly Mack Sears, the Rev. Kyle Brock, Mary Jane Shanes, Clara Martin, Inez Hillman, Patty Winters, Debbie Stennett, Castillo and Shipp.

"The reading program is very inspirational," said a father after he finished recording a book. "It benefits the children and the father realizes what a precious thing he has lost and inspires him to be a better father. Thank you for doing this."