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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Turning the page

Lutheran agency helps women read to children -- from prison

Scooby-Doo. Camp Rock. The Magic Schoolbus. I'm Glad I'm Your Mother. Won't You Be My Hugaroo? In a locked space with empty walls, nondescript furnishings and one tough-looking guard watching from the hallway, five mothers select these stories to read to children who aren't there. Their hands cradle the books and gently smooth pages. Over the faint hum of the air-conditioning at the Decatur [Ill.] Correctional Center, the women's voices rise and fall tender, comforting and occasionally tearful.

Veunclia (left), Miko, Cynthia, Shirley
Veunclia (left), Miko, Cynthia, Shirley and Amber pick out books that a Lutheran Social Services of Illinois volunteer has set out on a table. After choosing a book, Cynthia shares: "I miss reading to Katie. I miss kissing her good night and getting her ready for school." Cynthia fights back sobs unsuccessfully, and LSSI staffer Cheryl Garlisch offers a tissue. During the four years Cynthia has been in the correctional system, her husband has cared for their 12-year-old daughter and brings her for weekly visits. "I love this program," Cynthia says. "It lets her know I'm thinking about her and I love her."
Since 1997, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois has helped incarcerated parents maintain relationships with their children or grandchildren through the Storybook Project. Each year, about 100 volunteers visit 17 sites to help mothers and fathers digitally record picture books or the beginning of a chapter book, said Gail Beard, project director.


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