Bedtime stories with Dad made possible through inmate literacy program

When 8 year-old Samantha misses her dad, she pops in a CD of his voice and follows along with her favourite story. The Get the Story Out program through the John Howard Society helps keep the connection between inmates and their children.

Books and voice recordings delivered to kids who are separated from their parents

Story time is extra special for an eight year-old girl in Winnipeg now that she can follow along with a recording of her dad's voice. (Kim Kaschor)

Getting the story out of a correctional centre in Manitoba can take a little creativity, and sometimes a silly voice or two.

"The spider sounds like it's a little scaredy cat, but at first it sounds loud like a monster," said eight year-old Samantha, whose real name is being left out to protect her identity.

Samantha is one of about 80 kids who will received a gift from the John Howard Society this year through a program called Get the Story Out. The gift-wrapped package contains three children's books and a CD recording of her dad who read the story from the inside of a Manitoba jail.

Samantha's recording starts with a message: "Hey, it's Dad. I'll probably see you real soon," said the familiar voice before it launches into the story of a spider who has been mistaken for a monster.

Of the three stories in this package, this one is Samantha's favourite.

"I think it's important for the children to have that connection because children are completely innocent. Nothing they have ever done could mean that they shouldn't have a connection with their parents. All children deserve that if it is possible," said Danielle Carter, a volunteer with the program.

Danielle Carter recently volunteered with the John Howard Society as a practicum student, encouraging inmates in Manitoba jails to record themselves reading for their children. (Kim Kaschor)

Carter mostly volunteers in the Winnipeg Remand Centre, hauling a stack of books through security so that inmates can choose the genre that best suits their child. Despite the seriousness of the environment, she admits that things can get a little silly.

"I keep a smile on my face and try not to laugh if they're doing a voice or something like that. I think it's goofy, but I think it's great that they're doing this for their child," said Carter.

Carter knows very little about the person she is visiting in Remand, other than that they are a parent. She discourages them from talking about their charges, and instead encourages them to focus on the task at hand.

"Some of them have higher literacy than it might be a little harder for them to read with enthusiasm. But I can always tell that they're really giving it their all," said Carter.

One of the main goals of the program is to encourage literacy among children and their parents, but Carter believes the connection to family can also be a strong motivator to turn a person's life around.

"This helps people who are in jail to feel they still have a connection to the outside world and I think that discourages recidivism to some extent. Something we hear a lot here is that they don't want their child to grow up without a father, they don't want their child to grow up and end up where they are, and they want to be a good influence," said Carter.

Samantha's grandmother said the books and CD are a way for Samantha to feel close to her dad in between the couple of phone calls she receives each week.

"He hasn't been much part of her life but this is going to give her a good chance to keep in touch with him, and to hear his voice when she's missing him. I wish they could do more of them because it really helps," she said.

The John Howard Society is accepting donations of new children's books for its Get the Story Out program. A fundraising event in support of the John Howard Society of Manitoba is planned for Thursday, June 8 at Canad Inns Club Regent Casino Hotel with guest speaker Shelagh Rogers and entertainment by the Winnipeg POPS Orchestra.