Some inmates visit the library seeking information on homework assignments, college choices, health issues, and in one case the inmate wanted information about contraception because he felt his daughter was sexually active.
The restrictive environment in the prison meant we had to convince several layers of the bureaucracy before we got permisson to do the program. Our sales pitch included: It is a good control tool since only prisoners who had no infraction would participate; it promotes good public relations because it would emphasize the prison's support for programs that help school aged children of incarcerated persons; it would not be an inmate controlled activity since both librarians would control every sector of the program; all materials brought in the institution would be screened and conform to the institution's guidelines; only caregivers on the visitor's list would be allowed to accompany the children.
Children included, neices, nephews, granchildren, cousins- any child who was related to the inmate or his partner.
We trained 10 inmates to read children's literature, practice storytelling, and encouraged them to make props to enliven the stories. They would lead the program. I encouraged them to include educational games so they made up quizzes on geography, science, history, holidays, black history, women's history, and poetry month.
We encouraged the children to read stories and write reviews that we displayed in the library. They made cards on Valentine's, Mother's, and Father's day, and we had them participate in the public library's summer reading game.
During the games, one father said he learned a lot, admitting that he never knew that he could be silly with his child. Another said he never knew his child could read so well.
While the inmates read with the children, the caregiver discussed topics on a variety of subjects. eg. the moral from a fairy tale; voting; marriage; criminal justice system; children and puberty.
One prisoner told me that before Family Literacy program, he was reserved and would never get up and speak to a group. He said, "Now thanks to you Ms Shirley, I got up to make a presentation to a group last week."