Project helps imprisoned moms read to their kids

A mother reads to her son (Women's Storybook Project of Texas via Nexstar)
A mother reads to her son (Women's Storybook Project of Texas via Nexstar)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Instead of cards and flowers, a non-profit group asked people to honor their mothers with a gift for someone else — a child whose mom is behind bars.

“Ever since then, we’ve had wonderful donations of people honoring their mothers in different ways to help a child hear his mother’s voice,” said Judith Dullnig, the founder and director of The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas.

This Mother’s Day weekend, ‘Storybook’ collected a couple thousand dollars and much of that money come from donors who said they’d give anything to hear their mother’s voice again. That is the gift ‘Storybook’ gives to kids who are separated from their imprisoned mothers.

The Austin-based non-profit helps mothers who are incarcerated record themselves reading books to their children. The book and the CD recording are then mailed to the kids.

“Your child will have this book and this CD forever so he can have her voice wherever he goes,” Dullnig said.

It’s a simple concept that facilitates a connection that runs much deeper than words can describe.

“To hear his mother say I love you and read a story is powerful,” Dullnig said.

A 2010 study by the University of Wisconsin a mother’s voice can offer similar amounts of comfort and offer a child stress relief at a similar rate seen during a mom’s embrace.

According to ‘Storybook’s’ statistics, 1,226 incarcerated moms read and recorded stories in 2015 and 2,446 kids received books from their moms and heard “I love you.”

Dullnig started the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas in 2003, “with five volunteers, four tape recorders and 25 books, and that was in one prison,” Dullnig said.

Today, the Austin-based non-profit operates in seven of the state’s nine female prisons with help from more than 200 volunteers.

Dullnig doesn’t get to see the kids listen to the recordings, but she reads about it. Dullnig receives hundreds of letters from children and caregivers every month.

“Thank you for bringing me and my mom close together.” Dullnig read aloud the words written in purple crayon. “P.S. I read the books with the CD all the time. Thank you,” the letter concluded.

Mothers who have been silent, separated from their kids, write to Dullnig as well, grateful for the program and hopeful their stories will have a happy ending.

Dullnig read a letter she received on Monday from a mom who is incarcerated.

“They know I love them and hearing me allows my little ones to have peace of mind. Thank you,” Dullnig looked up from the paper and said, “That’s a powerful letter.”

The program aims to help children who are separated from their mothers but Dullnig said it also helps improve prisons.

Only inmates who earn 90-days of good behavior can participate in the program, which is considered to be a great privilege.

“The mother’s self-esteem improves. She knows she is doing something positive for her child and she feels good about herself and that will help her heal and go forward,”Dullnig said.

If you would like to donate to The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas to honor your mother or help a child, you can visit their website for details.

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