Clark County jail moms record stories for kids

12:05 p.m Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 Community News
Megan Parker, an inmate in the Clark County Jail, reads from a children’s book as her voice is recorded for her children at home. Nickie Nickels, also an inmate, holds the microphone for her, and inmate Kiersten Hayes waits her turn to record in the jail’s library. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

A nonprofit group is working in the Clark County Jail for the first time with incarcerated women to make sure children are not without their mother’s voices.

The number of women in prisons in the United States has been increasing at a rate 50 percent higher than men since 1980, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice.

“When the mother is incarcerated, family units are literally uprooted,” said Jonathan Platt, founder of the nonprofit Story Chain.

Story Chain focuses on connecting children of inmates with their incarcerated mothers through literacy, Platt said.

Platt has worked with a select group of Clark County inmates for the past month to plan and record audio recordings of children’s books.

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The process has included choosing story books, coaching the women through different voices they can use to bring the stories alive and recording the mothers with professional equipment donated by a local radio station.

“We’re focused on the child getting stories into their ears from their mother’s voice,” Platt said.

The program has a dual goal to promote literacy through children whose parents are incarcerated and to connect local libraries with the jail system, Platt said.

This is Story Chain’s first time working in Clark County, he said, but has done programs in Montgomery County at both the county jail and the Dayton Correctional Institute.

The children of the women participating in the program will receive recordings of the books their mothers chose to read to them.

“It’s books about resiliency, it’s books about honesty and integrity,” Platt said.

He and the mothers select the books together to promote literacy.

Kiersten Hayes, 25, has served more than five months of a six-month sentence in the Clark County Jail.

Her four children haven’t visited because she doesn’t want them to see her incarcerated, Hayes said. She misses reading to her children.

“I always read to my kids and sometimes I’ll make up stories and I’ll act them out,” she said.

The opportunity to reach out to her children through books and reading is important, Hayes said, even though she can’t be with them.

“They’re really going to like it,” she said.

Megan Parker, 28, is also in the county jail for six months. This program, she said, is a way for her to reach out to her children at a time when she knows it’s hard for them to understand why she’s gone.

“It makes me sad because I don’t get to see them, but at the same time it makes me feel good for them to be able to at least hear my voice,” Parker said.

Both mothers said this experience has made them want to turn their lives around and be better mothers once they’re released from jail.

In the coming months high school students at the Global Impact Stem Academy in Springfield will also be working with Platt, he said, to help promote the nonprofit.

Platt is talking with leaders at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to possibly return for a second round of Story Chain at the jail after the new year, he said.