We are thrilled that Stories Alive, a partnership between the Free Library Prison Services program and the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, has been successfully up and running for more than a year. The program helps build and maintain relationships between incarcerated parents and their children through reading. Participating families come to a neighborhood library, where video conferencing technology brings children face to face with a mother or father in prison for a special story hour. These families enjoy reading, talking, singing, and laughing together in a relaxed setting.
The program aims to strengthen emotional connections between parents and children and to foster family literacy. The most special part of this program is that parents and children who are separated by difficult circumstances get the chance to bond.
The power of Stories Alive continues beyond the session's end. Children take home copies of some of the books they read with their parents, as reminders of their time together and to reinforce literacy at home. Positive experiences at the session encourage families to return to their neighborhood library to browse and check out books. We also make sure that all family participants either have or sign up for library cards during their visit.
The Free Library is expanding its efforts to reach Philadelphia’s prison population, as well as to citizens who have recently been released. The Prison Services program maintains inmate-staffed libraries at three Philadelphia prison facilities. Additionally, we create library cards for the Stories Alive prison participants, so that when they visit their local neighborhood library upon release they have instant access to the many resources the Free Library provides. We encourage returning citizens to take advantage of the Free Library's free computer and internet access, help with creating résumés and searching for jobs, and opportunities to develop general computer and literacy skills.
The Free Library’s Prison Services program also publishes Bridges: A Guide to Your Community, a resource guide for re-entering citizens that provides contact information for government agencies and other organizations that provide aid and support. The updated version for 2017 is now available.
Following a year of Stories Alive, we have also created a toolkit that provides guidelines for other libraries interested in establishing similar literacy-based connections between communities and prisons. Our guide identifies the necessary elements for implementation, with step by step instructions and descriptions of our experiences getting our program started. It explains how we built relationships with our partners in the prison facilities, identified interested participants, and made connections with their families. It also shows the process of running a session and collecting information. We hope other cities and communities find success with this special program.
Stories Alive is open to the families of incarcerated individuals in the Curran-Fromhold and Riverside correctional facilities. Interested families can fill out following form or call 267-257-3015 for more information to schedule a session. One hour visits are scheduled on Saturdays at one of several neighborhood libraries. Stories Alive provides the books for the session, and children receive books to take home and keep.
To learn more, visit freelibrary.org/prisonservices.