Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Despite Living Behind Bars, These Moms Read Nightly Bedtime Stories to Their Children

January 6, 2015
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Despite Living Behind Bars, These Moms Read Nightly Bedtime Stories to Their Children
Inmate Debbie Samples reads with volunteer Kristin Kmetzsch as part of the Utah State Prison's Bedtime Stories Program. Brooke Adams, Utah Department of Corrections
This program helps female inmates maintain that vital mother-child connection.

In Utah’s State Prison, almost half of the 700 women currently incarcerated have children, according to Department of Corrections data.

To help these moms connect with their kids, the Bedtime Stories program allows them to meet with volunteers to read and record stories for their children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Forty-five women at the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility (who haven’t been convicted of child-related crimes) participate in the program, mailing CD recordings of beloved children’s books each month, according to Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Adams.

The recordings are reviewed and copied to CDs by volunteers and mailed with the corresponding books by the United Way of Utah County, which operates the Bedtime Stories program. The program has been in operation for about 12 years and has helped parents like inmate Maria King reach her children, 6-year-old Aston and 8 year-old Blaze, who were adopted by her parents after she was convicted of drug possession. King is serving a term of up to five years but has not seen her children for the last two.

For King’s children, according to her mother Kim Abney, the books are a way to stay connected to their mom.

“They love it. They get to hear her voice and they listen to them every night,” Abney says. “It makes me happy that they get (the books), but it makes me sad because of the situation we’re all in.”

The program first began as a Brigham Young University student’s service project for her Mormon church Young Women’s group, receiving a $100,000 grant from the United Way and the Ashton Family Foundation.

For inmates like Debra Samples, who is serving time for up to five years on a theft conviction, the program symbolizes hope. Samples said the monthly meetings giving her something to look forward to as she gets to select something to read to her 7-year-old grandson.

“Hi Damyen! This is grandma. Grandma loves you so very, very much,” she says into the digital recording before reading the holiday-themed book, “Santa’s Magical Cookies.”

The program may not make up for missed time, but it allows inmates like King and Samples to be a part of the parenting ritual of tucking children in from miles away.

MORE: Born in Prison Herself, She’s Helping Women Break the Incarceration Cycle

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