Sixteen years ago, Judith Duling spent a pivotal 12 months researching storybook projects.
That year’s worth of research around the United States inspired Duling to reach out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, find volunteers, and search for funding to begin a storybook project in the Lone Star State.
Eventually, the program became the Women’s Storybook Project after backers had wanted to include men in the program. For the founder, keeping the focus of the nonprofit on the connection between incarcerated mothers and their children was essential. The need to keep their original idea alive was too important to change the program completely.
Today, volunteers visit prisons once a month to record mothers reading a storybook to their child. The recording and a copy of the book are then sent to the child for safekeeping. The latest statistics are from 2017, yet still show the impressive impact of a project which began with only 5 volunteers and 25 books in one Texas prison. As of 2017, over 1,500 mothers had recorded stories, over 3,000 children had received books, and volunteers had contributed close to 8,000 hours. Women in nine prisons are now able to access the project.
Duling said she has felt for many years that Mother’s Day and Women’s Storybook Project go hand-in-hand. A main goal behind the project is to help decrease the rate of recidivism. Participation in the program is earned by good behavior for 90 days, and that promise has improved behavior in multiple prisons. This project strives to keep mothers from returning to prison as well as keep their children out.
One of Duling’s favorite moments is from the start of the program, when they asked a mother for feedback. The mother told how her child talked back to the cassette while listening to the recording, and then took the tape back to bed with them.
Another favorite story was when Duling had been in Dayton, in far east Texas. The child of one of the mothers was in a coma. After listening to the tape on repeat, the child came out of their coma.
To Duling, these stories prove that Women’s Storybook Project and Mother’s Day do go together. These impactful stories could have never happened without the need for a connection between mother and child. Something special only to Mother’s Day.
As Women’s Storybook Project continues its mission to keep families connected, their next step is to advance their technology. At the start of the program, cassettes were the main form of recording which then became CDs, but they are now on the way out. Google stepped forward two years ago and offered to build an app that could directly connect the mother’s voice to the child. This advancement would give children the opportunity to have easier access to their mother’s recorded stories.
As Mother’s Day approaches, Women’s Storybook Project needs help from donations to continue keeping the program going strong. This project is special in the hearts of many Texan families as they are given hope about the future after incarceration.
As a special gift to your mother this year, consider making a donation to the Women’s Storybook Project in her honor. Specific messages can be written and shared with incarcerated mothers.
Cover photo Buff Strickland