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Prison program lets inmate moms send their voices "Beyond Our Walls"

Written by RIck Lee, York Daily Record | May 26, 2016 11:00 AM
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York County Prison inmate Stephanie Schymansky, seated between York County Library System employees Felica Gettle, left, and Lisa Schmittle, gets ready to read a book for a recording for her sons. The prison and the library system are launching a new program, "Beyond Our Walls," that will enable inmates to record audio of them reading a book for their child. (Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)

(York) -- In York County Prison for six to 23 months on a probation violation for a retail theft conviction, Stephanie Schymansky misses her two young sons.

But on Wednesday, the 29-year-old from Hanover was laughing and smiling after her reading of the children's book, "The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig," was recorded so it can be sent to her children.

Schymansky is one of 23 female prison inmates so far to take advantage of the "Beyond Our Walls" program that is geared toward promoting children's literacy, rehabilitating inmates and helping to maintain family unity by bridging the emotional gap created by a parent being in prison.

York County County Commissioner Doug Hoke, who also is president of the York County Prison Board, introduced the program to the public on Wednesday.

He said the program "is to help inmates stay connected with their families, reduce crime and promote literacy."

Hoke said the county prison, one of the largest in Pennsylvania, houses 13,000 prisoners each year. He said the reading program is to "help us reduce that number in two ways" -- by reducing recidivism among inmates with children and by promoting literacy among inmates' children.

"Many studies have shown that a child's ability to read and write is a critical component to success in school and the workplace," Hoke said.

Hoke said the program may cut recidivism "by helping inmates maintain strong positive connections with their families."

"The bond between a parent and a child can be a powerful force in deterring the parent from committing additional crimes," he said.

Schymansky, who by next week will have served 17 months in prison, said she jumped at the opportunity to record the book for her children, ages 7 and 11, who are being cared for by their grandmother.

She said she gets to speak with her children regularly on the phone.

But, she said, "This is a wonderful way for parents to continue to interact with their children."

In the Beyond Our Walls program, the inmate's child will receive a digital recording of the mother reading and also will receive a copy of the book to follow along -- and hopefully learn to read.

Valerie Conway, the York County Prison Population manager, said the reading program is only available to female inmates now but that an identical program for male inmates will begin in July.

Conway said 16 female inmates already have participated on the Beyond Our Walls program and that the feedback has been positive.

Conway said she was told one 17-month-old, being cared for by his grandmother while his mother is in prison, sits through the entire recording of his mother reading.

She said a 9-year-old, when she received the package containing a book and a recording of her mother reading it, "immediately took it into her room, because it was personal to her."

Children's books for the inmate mothers to read and record are provided by the library, Conway said. She said there also are children's books in Spanish and picture books for inmates with reading difficulties to create their own story for their child.

The program is a joint initiative between the prison and the York County Library System with support from the Rotary Club of York Literacy Committee ad Glatfelter Insurance Group.

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

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