Last week Correctional Services completed a new program at Rikers Island called Daddy & Me. The program is designed to encourage early literacy efforts for incarcerated fathers. After two workshops on the importance of early literacy and storytelling skills, the dads involved began to record stories for their children. There were eight men in the program, most of them with more than one young child. We recorded them reading their children's favorite books and this morning they presented the finished CDs with the books to their kids. The program went wonderfully with the help of a few very dedicated people in both the library and the jail. The fathers themselves put forth amazing effort and produced some beautiful recordings for their kids. A few of them had great fun while others fought timidity and trepidation to get through the recording process. The kids were incredible, cute, in love with their dads and genuinely excited the books themselves! We could clearly see that we did our job well.
I dare anyone to find a more warm and fuzzy program than this. I don't say that with any irony or with any disregard for the program's potential for lasting change. It truly is an encouraging and special entryway into similar and expanded programming for more inmates and their children. With the Daddy & Me program we hope to garner attention in the form of new grants, new patrons (such as other correctional facilities in New York and other housing units within Rikers), and media coverage. We already have a plan to begin the program anew with some of the mothers at Rikers next month. Without exploiting the private moments between parent and child, we need to use the Daddy & Me program as an example of the power of books in the process of rehabilitation and simply, the joys and benefits of early literacy. But just as importantly, we need to show that programs with immediate and tangible impact are not the only programs worth supporting. There are still thousands of inmates at Rikers Island who do not have access to general library service and expanding our service to reach them is a very high priority for us.
This program is supported in part by the New York State Library’s Family Literacy Library Services grant program.