New SC Program Connects Moms in Prison & Their Kids

Deborah, a prison inmate in Columbia, reads "Good Night Moon" to her son.
Deborah, a prison inmate in Columbia, reads "Good Night Moon" to her son.

COLUMBIA, S.C.– A new program in South Carolina aims to keep mothers who are in prison more connected to their young children at home, while also improving literacy levels for the women inmates and, eventually, their children.

Called “Mother’s Voice,” the program provides the women with children’s books that are able to record and playback audio. The women read the books out loud, their voices are recorded, and then the books are sent to their children, who can listen to them at night before bed or anytime they want to hear their mothers’ voices.

Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling says he remembers his parents reading to him as a child and the bond that created. “One of the things that’s lacking for folks that come to the Department of Corrections is education, so it’s about reading and learning and things of that nature, but it’s also about the connection with the family,” he says.

The average SC prison inmate has a 10th-grade education, he says, so having the women get in the habit of reading aloud should help them improve their reading ability. It will also familiarize their children at home with the words as they read along, listening to their mothers’ voices.

“A lot of folks that have made some bad decisions end up in prison and they suffer, but their families suffer too, their children suffer. So one of the things we wanted to do was keep a connection,” Stirling says.

Deborah is one of the inmates taking part in the program. She’s got a 7-year-old son at home who visits on the weekends. She reads to him while he’s there, and has him read to her. “During the week, if he ever starts to miss mom or want to hear my voice, he can pick up this book,” she says.

She also thinks it’s a way to have something good come out of a bad situation.

“I don’t feel like I just came here for X amount of months and just did time, but that I did something productive,” Deborah says. “My son has been able to participate in a positive aspect of me coming here, being incarcerated, because now we have something to look at to say, okay, this is what Mom did while she was away. So I feel like this is something productive and is something that will allow my son to grow and be a better reader, because that’s something that I’m always encouraging, so it’s like I’m not away. I’m still inputting the same things.”

Right now, there are 25 women in the program at Camille Graham Correctional in Columbia and 25 more at Leath Correctional in Greenwood. Director Stirling says he hopes to expand the program to men’s prisons.

The special books cost about $30 each and the program has received financial support from Michelin and Hallmark books, but Stirling says the agency is looking for other corporate sponsors as well.