A decade ago, women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Brampton, Hamilton and Kitchener, Ontario, decided to help women in custody. Since then, the women from the Church have made recordings of incarcerated women reading to their children. Through this experience, the volunteers from the Church have grown to love the women whose voices they record each week.
Members of the Church, local libraries and authors donate the books, and the jail staff make the CDs of the recordings. The incarcerated women write messages of love on the inside covers of the books, then their children receive the CDs and books in the mail.
The program has become intensely important for the incarcerated women. Each woman carefully chooses a book. One woman, when asked to whom she was reading, replied, “My 17-year-old daughter.” She had chosen Pinocchio. After recording it, she said to her daughter, “And I promise you, I will never, ever, lie to you again.”
Helen Warner, a founding member of the volunteer group, recounts, “Once an older woman came in, and I could see that she had had a hard life. She told me she was recording for her grandson. … She told me he wasn’t born yet but was expected in two weeks, and she wanted him to know her voice. As she started to read, she started to cry. She said, ‘Stop! We’re starting over. He’s not going to hear me crying.’ So I started again, and again, and again until she could get through the book … without crying. As she left, she said, ‘I’ve been stabbed and I’ve been shot, and I didn’t cry. And here I am crying for my grandson.’ Love penetrated her heart in a way that hatred never could.”
A 9-year-old child who received Where the Wild Things Are from his mother was so happy because he remembered her reading that story to him when he was 3. Now as an older child with a mother in jail for over a year, he expressed his joy at being able to hear her voice whenever he wanted.
The incarcerated women worry about their children and feel guilty that they can’t be with them. One woman wrote that the reading program “gives us a way to show our children that we still love them through a recorded story that they can follow along. For the most part, we are forgotten here, but our voices recorded are a reminder to them that we are still present.”
Another woman wrote, “When I first heard about this program, I was very happy. … It is [important] for female inmates to keep a strong connection with their children. … Children need their mothers and need to feel their presence regardless of the physical separation. The voices of their mothers are both comforting and nurturing. Regardless of the reason for our incarceration, it does not take away our love for our children. We, too, need to be able to reach out to our children and let them know how sorry we are and that they are not responsible for our choices which have led us here. Being able to read a book to our children will greatly help both mothers and children get through this very difficult time.”
The women from the Church report that they have never felt anything but empathy and love for the women in jail. As mothers read to their children, the room is filled with love.
These valiant women have worked together successfully so that an additional program is now running in Kitchener. Throughout their service, they have gained a new understanding of Christ’s words in Matthew 25:36: “I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” All women involved have created friendship and light in a dark place.