Skip to content

CLiF works with prison inmates in Rutland, VT

January 23, 2012

Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility Coordinator of Volunteer Services John Cassarino with some of the brand-new children's books donated by CLiF.

On January 19, CLiF Executive Director Duncan McDougall made one of his periodic visits to the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland, VT.  He met with almost 30 male inmates and gave them tips on how to make reading with their children fun and easy even if the inmates are not strong readers. He also modeled several effective and easy-to-learn reading and storytelling techniques.

When the seminar was done each inmate was able to select two new books for each of their children that they could record and send home. Cameras are not allowed at these events, so Duncan shared a photo outside the Rutland prison of John Cassarino, the prison’s volunteer coordinator, holding some of the CLiF books beside the CLiF-Mobile and the concertina wire. Duncan commented:

The seminar took place in a compact cement block room that doubles as a weight room, gym, and classroom. After I covered several long tables with hundreds of colorful new children’s books six burly prison guards instantly came over to see what I was doing. Concern and curiosity changed to smiles and laughter as the guards began to share memories of various books they had read as kids, or books they had read to their own children.

Things quickly got serious again when the 25+ inmates strolled in the room and took their seats. Sometimes people ask me if inmates are hostile or indifferent when I show up to talk about children’s books. I find it’s quite the reverse. Most inmates I’ve met realize they’ve screwed up, and they want to make things better between them and their kids, but they don’t know how, and they don’t have the resources to give their kids anything. CLiF seminars give inmates tips on connecting with their children through books, and we let them choose beautiful new books they can give their kids as gifts. At the end of a prison seminar, it’s typical for at least half of the inmates will walk over, shake my hand, and personally thank me for coming.

Last week, after I had talked about the various tips for making reading with a child fun and easy, I asked the men what kinds of little tricks they had used in the past when reading with their own kids. There was a long silence in the room. Finally, a tattooed man in the front row said in a quiet voice: “To be honest, I don’t think any of us have done this kind of stuff before with our kids. That’s why we came here to listen to you.” When the seminar was done the inmates got to select the new books for their kids and they left smiling and laughing as much as their guards had been earlier. Children’s books are powerful things – even in a men’s prison.

Over the past decade CLiF has worked with inmates and their families at 16 prisons across NH and VT. Roughly 70% of US inmates perform at the lowest literacy levels, and many of their children are also at high risk of growing up with low literacy skills.

CLiF creates on-site libraries in prison visiting rooms, gives books for children to take home and keep, offers literacy seminars for prisoners to help them read with their children, and supports prison Storybook Programs in which inmates select new books, records them onto tapes or CD’s, and then sends the books and recordings home to their children.

You can learn more about CLiF’s prison programs at clifonline.org.

Advertisements
2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2012 10:31 pm

    This is a very, very good program. So glad to read this article and know this is happening. Yes, I agree – children’s books are powerful things.

    • January 30, 2012 2:31 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Marilyn. Our prison programs are always powerful experiences for everyone involved. We’re happy to get the word out about them to more people in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: