I. What is Books Beyond?
Books Beyond is a program at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections in Cranston that helps strengthen the bond between inmates and their children through books.
Volunteers help inmates choose new, age-appropriate books for their children from a large selection of children’s books. Under the guidance of the volunteer, the inmates read and record the books onto audiotape or CD. The volunteer then mails the books and the tapes or CDs home to the children to keep.
Books Beyond has received support from the state of Rhode Island, the federal Reading Is Fundamental program, and Reach Out and Read Rhode Island.
II. What Is the Value of Books Beyond?
Books Beyond creates a much-needed tie between parent and child. With the help and supervision of volunteers, inmates will be able to provide messages of love, reassurance, and connection to their children. The children will have a constant reminder of their mothers and fathers, that is, books and recordings that may be re-read and replayed over and over. This all-volunteer program provides a regular and essential link between incarcerated parents and their families, providing an opportunity for healthy contact.
The 2009 R.I. Kids Count Factbook states:
“Maintaining positive and healthy familial bonds between children and their
incarcerated parents is crucial to the children’s emotional well-being because it can
reduce the negative effects children experience as a result of the parent’s absence.
Preservation of this bond can also have positive effects on the rehabilitation of
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT conducted a survey on Rhode Island prison inmates dated September 30, 2008. According to 2009 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, of the 2,994 inmates awaiting trial or serving a sentence who were surveyed as of September 30, 2008, and answered the question on number of children, 2,003 inmates reported having 4,355 children.
III. What Do Volunteers Do and How Can I Sign Up?
All work of the Books Beyond program is conducted by volunteers. After receiving an application for the program from an inmate, a volunteer will
-- choose a selection of books for the child;
-- carry the books and recording equipment into the prison buildings and meet with the inmate in visiting rooms during visiting hours;
-- be present during recording;
-- prepare completed books and tapes (or CDs) for mailing
Personal qualities of volunteers:
--Desire to help build connections between parents and children
--Love of books and reading
--Ability to help inmates feel at ease
--Ability to offer brief, practical suggestions to help inmates read better
--Ability to tolerate less-than-ideal recording situations (background noise, time limits, etc).
--Belief that prison inmates and their families are worthy of attention and respect
[Note: Volunteers are not expected to teach or tutor reading. Inmate participants must be able to read.]
Time commitment for volunteers:
1. One full day to attend New Employee Orientation (required by the Department of Corrections for everyone working with inmates). This class is usually offered one Monday a month.
2. One trip to prison property to have photo taken for computer system that allows access to buildings (photo can be taken weekdays and evenings).
3. One short (55 minutes), one-on-one meeting with Books Beyond program coordinators for instruction and preparation (can be evenings or weekend)
Doing the work
A typical time commitment is one meeting per week with inmate. One meeting usually takes about two to two-and-a half hours. Volunteers may do more than one meeting a week if they wish. All work is done during normal visiting hours (days, evenings).
How to begin volunteering:
Contact Ken Findlay, Professional Services Coordinator, at (401) 462-0185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IV. Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have a choice of working with male or female prisoners?
If you have a strong preference for one or the other, the program can accommodate you. Generally, the need for this service is greater for men than for women inmates. The prison complex includes six buildings for men and two for women. Books Beyond operates in three buildings for men (Maximum Security, John J. Moran Medium Security Facility, and Minimum Security) and two for women (Dorothea Dix Minimum and Work Release Facility and Gloria McDonald Awaiting Trial and Medium Security Facility).
Am I safe while I am doing this work?
Yes. This is covered in the New Employee Orientation (see above). Also, you are working with inmates in the visiting rooms during visiting hours, so you are surrounded by women, children, grandparents, and other family members. Correctional Officers are always nearby. Further, inmates know this service is a privilege, and they are careful about observing rules and making the best use of this opportunity, for the sake of their children.
Does Books Beyond accept donations? How can I donate?
Yes, Books Beyond welcomes monetary donations to be used for purchasing books, recording equipment, mailing costs, and support of its website. Please send a check made out to Books Beyond to Kenneth Findlay, P.O. Box 8312, Cranston, RI 20920
V. Comments from Volunteers
"The work of Books Beyond is important because it allows a very real connection between inmates and their children. It is both educational and personal for both the parent and their children. It helps build a sense of responsibility toward their families, sometimes including the other parent, if the children are living with her or him, as well as a sense of actually being a parent." – Temple, volunteer
"I enjoy volunteering for Books Beyond because of what it brings to the inmate. I also enjoy the interaction with the inmates, both male and female. Although I think these kinds of parent/child experiences are important for both mothers and fathers, I usually choose the men because there is so little emphasis in general on their role as parents. – Temple, volunteer
Books Beyond gives me the chance to work, as a volunteer, with those who are often overlooked and so appreciative for Books Beyond. – Paul, volunteer
VI. Why Is This Support For Children So Important?
According to Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, having an incarcerated parent can damage the quality of a young child’s attachment to his or her parent, which can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, hypervigilance, and depression. As a result of parental incarceration, children may face disruptions in their homes, temporary placements in foster care, financial hardship, and an increased risk of child abuse and neglect. Compared to other children, children of incarcerated parents are at greater risk for poor academic achievement, impaired emotional and behavioral development, depression, criminal behavior, and incarceration.
Nationally, most children of incarcerated parents live with their other parent (84%), a grandparent (15%), or other relatives (6%). Grandparents and other relative caregivers often experience significant economic hardship. They may not receive the support or services that they need or are entitled to because they do not know that they are eligible, or they wish to avoid the stigma attached to receiving assistance, or they have been erroneously denied benefits, or because they do not wish to expose their family to scrutiny by public agencies.
Children who are involved with the child welfare system and have parents who have been involved with the criminal justice system are the most complex cases child welfare agencies encounter. These children are generally exposed to more risk factors than other children, including parental substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and extreme poverty.
VII. Further Reading
Children of Incarcerated Parents. 2009 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook. 2009. Providence, Rhode Island: Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Providence.
Travis, Jeremy, Cincotta, Elizabeth M., Solomon, Amy L. October 2003. Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry. Urban Institute: Justice and Policy Center.Retrieved August 3, 2004. (http://www.urban.org)
Children of Incarcerated Parents. Pp 78-79 in 2002 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook. 2002. Providence, Rhode Island: Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Providence.
The Rhode Island Parent Information Network. 2004. Rhode Island Fatherhood Initiatives: The Problems of Father-lessness in Rhode Island. Retrieved August 3, 2004. (http://www.ripin.org/fathers.html)