Women's Storybook Project

Reprinted from The ECHO (TDCJ's offender newspaper)

Simple idea with big impact allows mothers to connect with children

Touching lives

In the early years of a child's development, it is of the utmost importance they know they are loved by their mothers. The bond between mother and child is sacred and crucial to the healthy mental and emotional development of a child. The importance of preserving this most primary of family relationships becomes even more critical when the mother is a convicted felon. One in five children with an incarcerated parent ends up in prison, according to Women's Storybook Project literature.

The nature of incarceration makes it very difficult to maintain an intimate connection. Physical barriers such as steel bars, brick walls, razor wire fences, long distance locations, restricted visitation and limited lines of communication isolate convicted mothers from society and from their children.

Fortunately, there are those who are motivated to help these Texas families overcome those barriers.

The Women's Storybook Project (WSP) helps mothers behind bars and their children stay emotionally connected in an exceptional and constructive fashion.

WSP is a non-profit organization that records incarcerated mothers reading stories and brief messages to their children, with tapes and new books mailed to their children. Founder and director of WSP, Judith Dullnig, heard about a similar program in Louisville, Ky., and was moved to start one in Texas. With assistance from A. Mooney, a social worker at TDCJ's Hilltop Unit, Dullnig designed the new program.

"Women's Storybook Project is a simple idea with big impact," Dullnig said. The biggest and most important impact is the one that it has on those for whom it was created - the children. 

Womens Storybook Project volunteers record the readings of an offender in Gatesville.

"From the beginning, there were stories about children taking the books and tapes to bed with them, playing the tape over and over, and bringing it with them to school for Show and Tell," she said. It has also been reported by the guardians of the children that they carry the tapes wherever they go an even talk back to them!

Response from the children is positive. One child wrote in to say, "Dear Whoever Gets This: I love hearing my mom's voice."

Another child said: "Hi! The Giving Tree was a great story. My mom reading it to me made me very happy. I am looking forward to my mom coming home soon. Thank you."

"I really was happy to receive the tape and book. It was wonderful to share this with my mom. I feel very close to her hearing her voice. Thank you for making this possible," said yet another child whose mother participated in the storybook program.

After the program was successfully implemented on the Hilltop Unit, it was implemented on the Lane Murray Unit. WSP currently exists on six of eight women's prisons -Mt. View, Woodman, Plane, Henley, Hilltop and Murray.

The heart and soul of WSP is volunteerism. WSP began in 2003 as part of the outreach program at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Austin. In those early days, WSP had only five volunteers. Today it boasts 150 volunteers representing all faiths, ages and career paths -- from high school students to retirees.

Volunteers makes approximately 68 visits to the women's units per year. In addition, they carry out the duties of storing, packaging and shipping approximately 350 books and tapes each month to children around the country.

Every prospective WSP volunteer must complete mandatory TDCJ volunteer training and periodic refresher sessions as required. Also, new volunteers must be trained in WSP's recording process. They travel to various female units up to four times before completing volunteer training.

Volunteer team leaders coordinate and oversee the challenging process of recording incarcerated mothers. There must be volunteers to facilitate the recording process and adequate security staff available.

There are many payoffs for the hard work. This project provides volunteers with a way to make a difference in the lives of others, and the positive affect on the institutions where it has been implemented cannot be denied. Mothers who whish to participate in WSP must have at least 90 days of good behavior, which has yielded a decrease in disciplinary infractions.

What happens behind prison walls is just a small part of the storytelling effort. WSP is non-profit, relying primarily on monetary donations to operate; fundraisers and book drives are constant events. WSP partners with individuals, corporations, civic groups, churches and students and staff of major universities. It employs this multi-strand system to obtain new books, financial donations and other needed materials.

Offenders select books to be read to their children.

Everything that happens concerning Women's Storybook Project is relayed in its quarterly newsletter "Book Notes", composed of contributions from volunteers, guardians and incarcerated mothers. Whether it is in the area of fundraising, conducting a book drive, instructing others on how to properly package the books, or shipping out a high volume of books from one unit, "Book Notes" lauds the exemplary achievements of volunteers who make WSP a success.

Windham School District (WSD) partners with the storybook program at several Texas prison sites, coordinating efforts with the WSD parenting program. As a result , WSP has been honored three times as a recipient of the Governor's Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards: twice as a WSD Judy Byrd Award recipient, and once as a TDCJ Susan Cranford Female Offender Program Award honoree.

This award-wining effort to strengthen the bond of incarcerated parents and children is continually improving.

"Women's Storybook Project has recently received approval to update its recording equipment to CD's," Dullnig said. "We are also hoping to provide an extension of WSP to the mother and child when she reenters the community. The extension will be called Storybook @ the Center."

Passionate volunteers, a vast support network of donors, and dedicated parents are connecting children with incarcerated mothers through reading and literature. Women's Storybook Project of Texas remains a simple idea with a very big impact.

Appeared in The ECHO: Vol. 85, No. 8, October 2013

www.storybookproject.org

 

Other articles that may interest you:

WSD meets families in PACT Conference Oct. 3 - The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will be hosting a free informational conference for offenders’ families and members of the general public on Oct. 3. The Public Awareness — Corrections Today (PACT) conference will be held at the Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice Center in Huntsville and will be coordinated by the TDCJ Ombudsman Program. Windham School District will be offer a presentation from 1-3 p.m. at the conference, as well as provide one-on-one information and resource materials to participants.

Windham Career Expo inside TDCJ's Terrell Unit brings employers, hiring support directly to offenders - Offenders gathered to hear from a variety of employees and professionals speaking about industry jobs and work opportunities for post- release offenders. With more than 160 students in attendance at five one-hour long sessions, there were many men eager to hear what visitors had to say. Ten volunteers and community leaders from five different companies came into this Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility in Rosharon, Texas, to talk directly to students about employment opportunities.

January 2015 is School Board Recognition Month - January 2015 is School Board Recognition Month, and the Windham School District proudly recognizes the crucial role of its Board of Trustees in the lives of offender students and the future of Texas.

Un mensaje del Superintendente Dr. Clint Carpenter & Martha Fields, Director Interino de la División de Instrucción:

¡GRACIAS, Directores de Windham, por su sobresaliente trabajo al dirigir nuestras escuelas!

El Gobernador de Texas Greg Abbott proclamó el mes de octubre de 2017 como el "Mes de los Directores" en Texas. En todo el país, los estados se están tomando el tiempo para agradecer a los directores por su dedicación para crear éxito estudiantil y seguridad escolar. ¡Los directores del Distrito Escolar de Windham no son una excepción!

Se espera que los directores sean líderes educativos, disciplinarios, constructores de comunidad, voceros, analistas de presupuesto y guardianes de mandatos e iniciativas de políticas. Los directores establecen el tono académico para sus escuelas y trabajan en colaboración con los maestros para establecer objetivos de rendimiento y mantener altos estándares de currículo. A pesar de los desafíos de trabajar dentro de los confines físicos del Departamento de Justicia Criminal de Texas, estos educadores proporcionan el liderazgo, el trabajo duro y la visión necesarios para ayudar a sus estudiantes adultos a reconstruir sus vidas y alcanzar una segunda oportunidad.

Estamos sinceramente agradecidos con los Directores de WSD por el arduo trabajo diario, la experiencia y la pasión que comparten para ayudar a otros a transformar sus vidas. ¡Están haciendo la diferencia todos los días! Por favor dígales "¡Gracias!" Por un trabajo bien hecho!

WSD Principals… and district staff meet at “Blueprint Training” in Navasota to map out plans for focused leadership strategies, improved learning experiences and a successful year for Windham students and programs.

Directores de WSD ... y el personal del distrito se reúnen en el "Blueprint Training" en Navasota para trazar planes de estrategias de liderazgo enfocadas, experiencias de aprendizaje mejoradas y un año exitoso para los estudiantes y programas de Windham.

Windham School District was recently featured in a "Second Chances" report on KVIA-7 ABC news in El Paso.  Reporter Evan Folan spent time in the Sanchez State Jail speaking with Windham staff and students about their success stories.  This link takes you to this September, 2015 report: 

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - They didn’t give up - "It makes me feel really good to know that these guys aren’t giving up just because they’re in prison."

Success Story IconNEW - I’m so grateful I took welding -
"I’m so grateful I took welding; I’ve come so far in my career because the things I was taught in that program".

Success Story IconNEW - I began to believe -
"I was a straight-F student, and I didn’t think I could learn anything. I had a teacher who wouldn’t give up".

Success Story IconWelding Success Story -
"I'm thankful for the welding program I was allowed to take while locked up".

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WSD in Images

Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
Texas State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill congratulates GED recipients during Spring, 2014, ceremonies. “I am very impressed with the program and with the commitment of the staff and teachers,” she said.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.