Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Stories from Jail - The Book Bridge Program

MIB is four years old and is on a 2nd-3rd grade reading level because someone read to her every night: me or Nani.  One person that never read to her was her father. 

When I was delivering MIB he was in jail and I don't think he cared too much about the well being of MIB because he wasn't trying to get a way our or trying to get someone from his family to check on the birth and health of his daughter.  While in jail, he was more concerned about having me take his phone call instead of anything that had to do with MIB. He was in for a few weeks, and I wonder if he were locked up for longer would he have cared about the literacy of MIB?

If he was a recent juvenile offender charged as an adult, he could have been locked up in the Racine Youthful Offender Correction Facility (RYOCF) and offered a chance to be in the Book Bridge Program like Lonzo Parker.  Parker, a 24 year old inmate of RYOCF, dropped out of school when he was 14 and recently received his GED while in the facility.  He said in an interview with WISN Channel 12 News (Milwaukee) that reading to his daughter while in prison is one of the few things that he can do for her while locked up. 

Governor Scott Walker and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler (who has personal experience with an incarcerated parent) are teamed up with the DOC (Department of Corrections) and DCF (Dept. of Children and Families) to sponsor and spread the word about this program.  They say that it's to help increase "reading proficiency in schools and [improve] literacy rates across Wisconsin."  Up to 15 inmates and 200 children will be allowed to participate in this program and the books that are read by the fathers that are locked up will be purchased for each child.

I kind of have mixed feelings about this situation.  I mean a black man in the worst situation possible is keeping himself out of trouble and getting more education so that he can teach his child the importance of not repeating his mistakes is an honorable thing.  I applaud his actions and reason behind joining this program, but I worry about his MIB.  

I worry about how she feels about Daddy reading to her in a pre-taped segment on DVD and not being able to truly interact with him or have him available to her when she needs him.  Or not being able to go the library with him to pick out books for them to read together.  Or how the image of him in jailhouse issued pantsuits makes her feel about her Daddy.  She was more interested in just seeing Daddy, not reading with Daddy.  And that makes me wonder even more about the possible success of this program. 
The purpose of the program is to help with literacy in the community; but what about the programs in the schools to help him with literacy in the first place?  Aren't they part of the community as well?  I don't understand why it takes governmental agencies so long to realize that programs like this wouldn't be needed if they had implemented successful reading programs in schools to begin with.  

I know Lonzo was failed by so many: his parents, his school, his community...maybe even me (he's young enough to be one of my former students).  And it's interesting that the prison system that is supposed to rehabilitate offenders is actually trying to rehabilitate them.  And it's good that Lonzo is trying to have a relationship with his daughter, despite it being via DVD (I mean they couldn't implement Skype or Google+?), but the call and response, live interaction between a child and their father is what helps children learn how to read and just learn period. 

Children need to be able to ask questions of the person that is teaching them something: "Daddy how do you say this word?"  "What does that mean?"  "What is the name of this animal?"  Looking at the video of her Daddy read a book to her and her reading along and not interacting is not giving her a true opportunity to learn from her father.  

I think this program has some potential, but things within the program have to change.  Maybe allow the father to wear street clothes instead of jail issued khakis.  And get a Google+ account and let them join a hangout together so she can ask questions.  And most importantly: let's put some more money in the schools and the community to help the Lonzos of the community to read before they have to participate in programs in jail to teach them how to read.  



  1. You make some valid points. I don't really have a stance on it. It helps inmates read. Children get to see their fathers. Fathers can at least write children about something relevant to their lives - the book.

  2. I guess I need to be more optimistic huh? LOL...I mean I can see what they are trying to do...but I stand by at least giving them Google Chat or something...the interaction or lack of is what bothers me the most. I think I need to email them about that.

    And not only can fathers that are behind bars write about books they can stop writing them damn long ass love letters lol...




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