Who are they?
Every year, hundreds of thousands of children have a parent imprisoned for a length of time. The experience of any loved one going to prison is incredibly difficult for anyone, let alone a child who can’t fully understand the reality of what is going on.
For the parents, this is often a horrific experience, having restricted time away from their children can have a huge negative effect on their mental health, therefore increasing the risks of self harm.
This is where Storybook Dads (and Mums) come in.
Originally started in 2002 by Sharon Berry (whilst she was working as a volunteer at HMP Channings Wood) Storybook Dads began as just an idea. Sharon saw how difficult it was for imprisoned parents to keep in touch with their children, and how important it was for parents to remain active in a parenting role, no matter how small.
Once the idea of Storybook Dads began to be a little more established, Sharon then moved to HMP Dartmoor, where the Governor had faith in the idea, and gave Sharon a cell to work from, and allowed her to employ a couple of prisoners, in order to help with the editing.
Other prisons began to hear about the scheme, and wanted to introduce it too, this is when the Charity really began.
What do they do?
There are several elements to Storybook Dads and the work they do today…
The main bulk of their work is the Storybook CDs and DVDs. The prisoners can record a bedtime story, and message, on a CD or DVD, this then gets sent to their child, meaning their child can listen to it as many times as they like, giving them that feeling that they are loved and being thought about, which is essential for the child’s wellbeing.
The team within the prison will help those prisoners who are less confident readers, and the process itself means that it is absolutely possible for non-readers to take part.
The stories themselves are made extra special by the editing process. Mistakes and background noises are removed, then music, and sound effects are added to enhance the listening experience for the children, adding just a little bit more magic.
Workshops are a key part of the work of the charity. Memory books, calendars, challenge charts and pop up books are items that are all made by prisoners throughout the workshops. These gifts are truly treasured by the children.
Since the start of the charity in 2002, over 600 prisoners have been trained as editors. Storybook Dads have created a training programme which gives these prisoners useful skills, work experience and a better chance of employment on release. This opportunity for prisoners increases their self-worth, and also means that they are working towards something worthwhile, as often they appreciate the work of the charity on a personal level.
How do I find out more?
If you are wanting to help this wonderful charity continue their work, you can find out more about donating, or fundraising via their website. There is also an online shop where you can purchase greetings cards designed by talented prisoners, and a story book written by prisoners alongside the Writers in Prison Foundation.
There are lots of volunteering opportunities available around the country, so if you have a specialist skill or strength that you think would be of benefit to the work of Storybook Dads then please do take a look at their vacancies.
There are many excellent testimonials to see on the website, but here are a few…
“My son knows that mummy is thinking of him, and he can hear me reading him a story every night, as I did when I was at home with him, and he knows mummy is still here with him.”
“I think the project is amazing. My son had shut down emotionally but the activity sheets have helped him to communicate with me again. I’ve even started designing some of my own especially for him. He lives a long way away and I don’t get to see him very often but sharing this project gives a new way to interact. He’s so enthusiastic about it. It also really helps him to know I am always thinking of him. It’s something my son can have for the rest of his life.”
“When at work even though physically I’m in prison, mentally I’m not. Even on those days that we all have when I’m ‘not in the mood’, I remind myself how much my work will mean to someone’s son or daughter and that’s humbling. I’m so happy to be involved in something so positive for not only myself and other inmates but for families on the ‘out’ too.”
“Working for Storybook Dads has given me more than just computer skills. It’s given me the confidence to spend quality time with my daughter when I get released. My daughter didn’t know me when I came to prison so I’ve done loads of story discs for her (and even written my own story). Now when I see her at a visit she happily runs to me and will sit and talk to me. I have baby girl back and she has her dad!”