News Story

Mormon Women Help Incarcerated Mothers Connect With Their Children

Six years ago a group of women from Brampton, Ontario, and the surrounding area were looking for a service project to include in their annual women’s conference held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They hoped to provide service for women incarcerated at the local provincial women’s jail by collecting children’s books and having the women read and record stories for their children.

When the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario, was contacted, volunteer and program coordinator Penny MacLean jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the Latter-day Saint women. The idea has quickly grown into a successful program in which Mormon women assist the incarcerated mothers in making recordings of books for their children.

In the beginning, a simple CD recording of the mother’s (or other relative’s) reading was sent to the child. Soon children’s books were gathered from members of the Church, allowing for both the book and the recording to be given to the child. Now local libraries regularly contribute gently used children’s books to the program so that each child can read along while listening to the CD.

Latter-day Saint volunteer Mary Bishun said that at first she was worried about going into the jail, but once she was with the women, she found she had something important in common with them—they all loved their children. The women at the jail were grateful for an opportunity to stay in touch with their children and were happy for the opportunity to read to them. The mothers would accompany their stories with warm messages like “I love you” and “See you soon.”

Every two weeks, women at the jail sign up to make a recording with the help of the Latter-day Saint women. Since the program started, over 300 books and CDs have been sent each year to children as far away as Florida, the East Coast and Alberta. For many women it is the only way they can stay in contact with their children.

One woman in the jail wrote, “In this rough period of my life, where my freedoms are taken away, the group of wonderful ladies who faithfully come in every second Wednesday are not only a ray of sunshine and hope, [but they] are my voice [and] my connection to my most precious possession — my little girl, who can’t be with me.”

Another wrote, “For me, as a mother, it keeps me in contact with my boys and encourages them to read and learn.”

The volunteers have had several memorable experiences at the jail. One mother asked volunteer Vicki De Dios if she could sing lullabies to her 13-week-old baby, who was at home, so De Dios collected the words to lullabies so the mother could sing to her child.

An older woman recorded a story for her first grandson, who was about to be born. She wanted him to know her voice. Each time she started to read, she cried and said, “Stop the recording and start again! I don’t want him to hear me crying.” After several attempts she completed the recording, but as she left the room she told the volunteer, “I’ve been stabbed and I’ve been shot, and I didn’t cry [then]. Now here I am crying for my grandson.”

One woman told a Mormon volunteer that her little boy was terrified to start kindergarten without her being with him. The school was contacted and permission was given for the youngster to bring his portable CD player and earphones to school. A special area to which he could go when he was stressed was provided so that he could listen to the recordings. Hearing his mother’s voice eased his transition into school. His mother said, “Sometimes all he needs to hear is me saying, ‘Hi, Bud. It’s Mom,’ and he’s fine.”

The Latter-day Saint women have found there are many needs at the jail. They have collected winter coats and made hundreds of hygiene kits for women who have been released from jail. When the jail started an aboriginal community support program, local Church members contributed a truckload of diapers, baby formula, clothing, blankets and books for the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation community, located on the shore of Big Trout Lake, Ontario.

Children from a nearby school and from the Primary, the Church's children’s organization, make colourful Christmas cards each year that are hand-delivered by the volunteers to every inmate, including those in solitary confinement. One woman asked, “Do those kids know these cards are going to women in prison?” She burst into tears when the volunteer answered, “Yes, and they made them especially for you.”

During the Christmas season, volunteers take home-baked goods to the inmates and help them record Christmas songs for their children.

The Saviour's words, “I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matthew 25:36) now have poignant meaning whenever these Latter-day Saint volunteers read them. One volunteer remarked, “I don’t know when I have done anything that brings me closer to the Saviour. I feel He knows these women and knows of their worth, and He is allowing us to see it too.”

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