Extraordinary People: Reading program keeps jail inmates in contact with loved ones

Extraordinary People

“Unfortunately I did end up here but I think it’s a good program all around for kids.”

Katrina Gerew is an inmate in the Livingston County Jail. She is one of about 40 inmates that has been allowed to take part in a new program there that allows inmates to stay in touch with their children on the outside. 

“It’s definitely traumatic. My son is very young, he’s 3 years old, and I think all of the sudden when Mommy’s not there anymore, it’s really hard for them. They don’t understand why the parent’s not there anymore,” Gerew says. 

Captain Jeffrey Hammond of the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office is very supportive of the program. “I think it helps the inmates. They’re separated from their family and their children are obviously innocent victims, they don’t have anything to do with the crime why they’re here. It helps keep the family bond.”

“I think everyone makes mistakes so obviously it’s good for the inmates to stay in touch with their families. All of us do have families and I feel like I’d want to be a part of mine,” says SUNY Geneseo student Kerry Moore. 

Students like Moore work with the inmates. They pick out a book, record the inmate reading it on tape, and allow the inmate to write a note to their child inside the book. Then the book and the recording of their parent reading to them is shipped home to the kids. 

Moore says, “It must be comforting for them, as close as you’re going to get to having your parents at home, which I think is nice because I know I always liked reading books with my parents growing up.”

This program is a new technique in applied learning for the “Features and Opinion Writing” Course at SUNY Geneseo. Lecturer Ginni Jurkowski says it has improved students’ writing, and their views of the world. 

“So many times when we do things that are textbook learning, they can’t see the real application. This allows them to feel what it’s really like to be out there working with people.”

The program is being noticed by other classes on campus. Now other courses are interested in using similar applied learning techniques or using this inmate reading program for research. 

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