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'Mommy and Me' program helps prisoners connect with kids

The Mommy and Me program allows some children of prisoners at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center to hear their mothers read to them.
by Bryan Painter Published: July 22, 2012

Through windows of the small building can be seen the rows of silver razor wire and thick gray metal bars of Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, a women's prison.

However, within that plain concrete building used for the chapel are folding tables lined with children's books such as “Clifford Takes a Trip” and “The Secret of the Old Clock.”

Rebecca Bishop, Suzanne Jainese and Penny Willoughby look up and down the rows of books, which are separated by reading level. Bishop pulls out “Franklin Forgets” featuring Franklin the Turtle. Jainese takes “Making New Friends” and Willoughby grins as she scans the pages of “Oswald Makes Music.”

These women are among about 1,100 imprisoned at Mabel Bassett.

Bishop, 28, is serving time for assault with a dangerous weapon. Jainese, 29, and Willoughby, 38, are serving time for an assortment of drug-related offenses.

The word “Corrections” is written across the back of their prison-issued grays, and a badge clipped to their shirt pockets lists information including their Department of Corrections number.

They can't leave the prison, but their voices can leave and be heard by their children again and again through an Oklahoma Department of Corrections literacy program conducted by Hosanna Prison Ministry called Mommy and Me.

About the program

Mommy and Me allows mothers, and sometimes grandmothers, an opportunity to read to their children. The offender selects the book and makes a recording while reading the book to her child. The book and CD are then sent to the child. The program is held every other Monday at Mabel Bassett with an average of 10 to 12 women reading anywhere from 15 to 25 books, depending on their number of children.

“We've mailed these as far away as Alaska and Germany,” said Polly Ward, who leads the Hosanna Prison Ministry. “The voice is a powerful thing. You can be just as calm as you want to, but when you know you're connecting with your child that is emotional.”

Jainese didn't have to be told that.

She was the only one of the three to have been able to participate in the program previously. She read last month to her 1-year-old son, her youngest child. When one of the volunteers said, “You're an old pro at it,” she replied, “I don't know about old pro. I cried last time.”

This month, Willoughby worked to fend off tears before she ever chose a book. Why? She was asked where she would be reading to her 6-year-old son Peyton if they were at home together.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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