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The Simple Act of Reading

| published Monday, December 2, 2013 |

By Earl H. Perkins, Thursday Review Contributor

In Florida, Sarasota County Jail inmates and their families are smiling today, after a newly launched program has prisoners reading books to their children, according to the Associated Press.

These people are locked up in jail for crimes they've committed, but they will eventually be released back into society. Their children haven't committed crimes, and they need to know their parents care. We need them to know they're being punished, but if they aren't causing trouble, then they ought to have positive interaction with their families.

"I've seen grown men cry during the recordings," said David Rogari, Sarasota's inmate program coordinator. "They're so overwhelmed and so thankful."

Dave Norris came up with the “Read to Me” program after hearing that—according to some studies—as many as 70 percent of children with incarcerated parents will eventually be locked up themselves, an ominous statistic indicating future criminal patterns. Norris hopes that the reading program will help to break this familial pattern. He and his wife, Bobbi, are hoping to expand the project to neighboring Charlotte County, Florida next year, and possibly to the rest of the Sunshine State soon after that.

HealthSouth has provided recording equipment for the project, while Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and Sarasota Police Department donated time and grant money. A local library reserves a room with CD players and books, and the family gets to hear their loved one read a book aloud.

This is the first time Florida has experimented with a program of this nature, and 75 inmates participated in October with very positive results. The incarcerated parents have plenty of time to think about their children and all the moments they're missing.

“It's hardest for those with younger children," said Pastor Irving Moody, who ministers to Sarasota County Jail inmates. "I cry every time I hear one of the tapes. I didn't think I would, but you know the kids recognize mommy and daddy's voice. it really is amazing."

Those younger than age 13 aren't allowed to visit the jail, so it can be an especially heartwarming experience for them. Hopefully Florida will expand the program statewide, and maybe other states will consider instituting a similar program.