Jonathan Platt recording Clark County Jail Inmates Kiersten Hayes, Nickie Nickles & Megan Parker as they read children's books. Platt will put the recordings on an MP3 player and deliver the audio-book to the inmate's children.

Clark County jail inmates Kiersten Hayes, Nickie Nickles, and Megan Parker carry children’s books with them as they are led into the Clark County Jail’s tiny library. There they meet with Jonathan Platt, the founder of the nonprofit, “Story Chain.” Platt is armed with simple, but professional recording gear. A Deputy Sheriff looks on from a corner of the room.

Today, Hayes and Parker will be recording audio files of the children’s stories they carry with them. Nickles will serve as the sound engineer for Hayes and Parker. She has already completed her recordings.

Platt says he began Story Chain when he realized how important it is for children to hear their mother’s voice. A need that doesn’t go away if the mother goes to jail. Platt says he saw how families are “literally uprooted” when a mother is incarcerated. “That separation is traumatic for children, leaving them frightened and confused. Visiting their mother through a glass barrier on visiting day just adds to children’s confusion,” says Platt.

Platt believes having access to their mother’s voice helps children cope with their loss, especially for very young children. Through Story Chain, female inmates have a way to break through the glass barrier of the jail’s visitation room and use their voices to connect with, and offer solace, to their children outside the confines of the jailhouse.

The Story Chain program also helps mothers learn literacy and voice skills they can use once they have finished serving their sentence. “We have a literacy talk about their history with books. Did they read a lot? Did someone read to them? Did they read to their children? These things are important in teaching (the inmates) literacy skills.”

Story Chain has been used in the Montgomery County Jail and Dayton Correctional Institute, but it is the first time Platt has offered it in Clark County. The program is offered to female inmates who have children between the ages of three and eight.

“There is magic in hearing the mother’s voice,” explains Platt, “We focus on getting the stories to the children’s ears through their mother’s voice.”

The inmates get to choose two children’s storybooks to record from the vast number of books Platt brings from the public library. The stories inmates choose are about “resiliency, honesty, and integrity.” The stories also promote the literacy of both the child and the parent. Platt says it is important to offer books from the local library because it is a way to offer children easier access to books and learning.

Once the books are chosen, the mothers learn how to “own the stories.” They work on diction, the meaning and progression of the stories, and developing distinctive voices for each character. They also learn proper recording techniques. “This is more than just is about making the books come alive for the child,” explains Platt. After some time spent practicing reading their chosen stories, the inmates help each other record the stories onto an MP3 player, which is then mastered and given to their children.

The inmates are excited about having the opportunity to connect with their children. “Bad decisions landed me where I am,” explains Hayes, who chose to not let her children visit while she serves her six-months sentence, “I miss seeing and reading to my kids, but I didn’t want them to see me while I’m here. It’s confusing for them and scares them. This (program) helps me to be able to read to them and lets them hear my voice. I’m thankful for that.”

Nickles agrees, “When you can find a way to reach your kids it makes you happy and helps them know you are thinking about them, even if they can’t see you.”

The work Hayes, Parker, and Nickles have done is apparent in their final recording session. Nickles dons headphones and raises a microphone to get a sound check. Hayes and Parker settle in to begin reading and recording. Parker reads both “Albert’s Bigger that Big Idea” by Eleanor May and “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash” by Trinka Hakes Noble. Hayes reads “Old bear and His Cub” by Olivier Dunrea. Their diction is clear and the characters are distinct. The hard work and love they’ve put into preparing for the recording session is evident. They get a bit of coaching from Platt, then smile wide after receiving a hearty “well-done” from him.

As Platt says, there is “magic” in a mother’s voice when she tells a story. Listening to the women read, it is easy to forget they have on an inmate’s uniform, that that their “bad decisions” have landed them in jail and robbed their children of access to them except through cold glass walls. Thanks to Story Chain, you simply hear a mother’s warm voice reading a beloved story to her children.

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