Aunt Mary to help inmates connect with kids


By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer

For many incarcerated parents, being away from their children is one of the hardest aspects of living a part of their lives behind bars.

For the children, often the forgotten victims when a crime occurs, it can be traumatizing to be separated from their mothers or fathers, especially during the holidays.

A new program at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division, however, is giving inmates a chance to bond with their families from jail.

In partnership with Vineyard Columbus, the Sheriff’s Office is piloting a program called “Aunt Mary’s Storybook.” The collaborative project provides inmates the opportunity to record their voice reading a book that they can then gift their children.

“We heard about Vineyard working in prisons with Aunt Mary’s Storybook and contacted them to see if they would be interested in working with us at the Franklin County Jail,” Sheriff Zach Scott said.

Vineyard Columbus has offered the program for nine years to correctional facilities, but had not offered the program to the Franklin County Jail until this year, he said.

“We consistently work to find and develop programming that can help inmates incarcerated in our facility,” Scott said. “If we can help strengthen and maintain the bond an inmate has with his or her child, we believe this will be a powerful motivation for the parent to move toward a more positive and productive lifestyle.”

Inmates who are selected to participate in the storybook program currently attend a parenting class taught by the sheriff’s office social services division. As an incentive to complete the class, once the inmates do so, they are given the opportunity to participate.

“Six inmates completed the parenting class and wanted to participate in Aunt Mary’s Storybook,” Scott said. “This parenting class was an all-female class. We invited Vineyard Columbus back to offer Aunt Mary’s Storybook to our next all-male parenting class.”

Vineyard Columbus, a central Ohio church with six locations, provides the books, recording equipment and audio tapes or CDs.

“We have seen success from this program while working in prisons and are now happy to provide it for Franklin County inmates,” said program organizer Deborah Scott in a news release. “This project helps the inmates’ children feel more secure in his or her love and well-being.”

The program began Nov. 23 at Franklin County Corrections Center II on the south side of Columbus and will continue past the holidays.

“We are excited for our partnership with Vineyard Columbus and continuing Aunt Mary’s Storybook into the future,” Scott said.

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