XENIA — Story Chain, which helps incarcerated parents and their children bond through reading, now has a mobile library cabinet to permanently house books in jail.
During the Dec. 11 ribbon cutting for the set of shelves, Story Chain director Jonathan Platt, of Yellow Springs, described the local non-profit as “literacy intervention,” coupled with audio technology and community outreach.
“This program has brought a lot of tears — of joy, for the most part. What a special, special time it is for the program. We have created a partnership that I think is like no other,” Platt said, referencing the alliance with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and the Greene County Public Library.
The eight-week process begins when Platt meets with men and women inside a detention facility and asks them about their literacy history, library experiences, and their relationship with their child. Then, Platt checks out about 200 books from the library and brings them into the jail for a book fair. Once each participant picks a book to read and record for his or her child, book discussions, read alouds and elocution lessons follow.
“I think it’s really, really important to not just use your voice but understand the abilities of your voice — pauses, intonation, sing-song qualities in the voice really do work,” Platt said. “So we work really hard on that. We bring in theater folks, DJs, politicians — people that know how to speak for an audience.”
Pat Peters, of Yellow Springs, is one of the volunteers who works with the clients to practice reading expression.
“Everybody is an excellent reader. We work on expression, pacing … choosing an exciting book — something that the kids can get interested in,” she explained.
During those workshops, others — like Luke Dennis from WYSO — come in to listen to the participants read and give feedback.
“This is not just a reading program. This is an elocution program,” Platt said. “This is a program of finding your voice, the quality in your voice, and letting the most important people in your lives know about it.”
Platt talked about one of the program graduates, Randall Williams, who was there for the ceremony.
“She was not happy with her voice. At the end of the program, it was one of the most sing-song, beautiful voices I have ever heard. My daughter still listens to it. And hopefully your children,” he said, nodding to Williams, “are listening to it now.”
To wrap it all up, Platt brings in professional audio equipment and lets the clients familiarize themselves with it. Then they record. After the editing is done, Platt meets up with the caregivers and children, and places an MP3 player in each child’s hand.
“It’s a real honor to meet the children and get their reactions,” he said. “We are not religious-based, but God is in these children’s eyes. When we give them an audio tape of their parents who have worked so long on these stories and they listen to them, it’s hard not to really appreciate it.”
The new secure, custom-designed cabinet on wheels changes the process a little — now inmates can sign up in the jail and pick a book off the shelves right there.
Williams, alongside another Greene Leaf graduate, Sherry Saunders, cut the ribbon around the cabinet and opened its doors, unveiling 200 colorful titles — picture books and chapter books of all reading levels.
“Jonathan, he taught us how to read in a way that our children can relate to,” Saunders said. “I couldn’t bond with them. My children can listen to me and now I am able to interact with them because of this program.”
The women in Saunders’ group chose a book — “Because of Winn-Dixie” — to record together, each reading a chapter. Their children received that book on their MP3 player, too.
“There’s something really magical about the audio, the sound,” Platt said. “A lot of these children that we have interviewed have told us that they take it to bed. They listen to it as they go to sleep. So it’s literally hugging their head, taking over the child.”
For Williams, Story Chain was just what she needed.
“Story Chain sparked so much life in everybody,” she said. “It was like the glimmer of hope when we thought it was dark the whole entire time.”
She described the “magical moment” during a phone conversation with her preschooler when she realized she had picked the same book that her daughter had just learned in school — “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.”
“I felt so close to her even though we were so far,” she said, “and it was just beautiful.”