Aunt Mary's Storybook Project (AMSB)
"When a mother goes to prison, usually it is her children who suffer most. ... Maternal imprisonment affects future generations because children’s psychological health and sense of family is severely damaged by the separation from their mothers.”
Companions staff and trained volunteers bring into the jail or prison a selection of brand new books, along with audio recorders. They assist participating mothers in choosing an age-appropriate book for each of their children. Each of the mothers is then given an opportunity to record herself reading the books for her children. If she wishes, the mother may end with a message of love to the children and thanks to the caregiver. On behalf of the mother, Companions then sends the books and CDs to the children.
Aunt Mary’s Storybook Project was started by Companions in 1993 as a Christmas project for the children of women incarcerated at Cook County Jail in Chicago. It has since become a year-round program and has served as a model for similar programs in over 20 states.
Fathers at Sheridan Correctional Center in Sheridan Illinois gather once a month in a classroom to read children’s books to their children. Most of the men in this institution are drug abusers and are based in this prison which is the first treatment prison in the state of Illinois. As they are rehabilitating their bodies, minds and spirits, they are also rehabilitating and establishing relationships with their children by reading to them.
The messages have a common theme:
- “Fathers need to have an opportunity to parent their children.”
- “Many fathers will be returning home to their children after incarceration.”
- “Children need their fathers to read to them and develop a love for literacy.”
- “Children who have functional fathers in their lives can encourage literacy.”
“This program has made a big difference for me; my kids can hear my voice and remember me. I think it will help us when I get back home next year, plus I love this story about the monkeys jumping on the bed." ...Andre, inmate at Sheridan Correctional Center
Mother Love Parenting Classes
Parenting classes are a requirement for many women who are seeking to regain custody of their children. Companions has studied the special needs of incarcerated women and their families and has designed parenting classes that address those needs. These 8-week classes are offered at two facilities year round for groups of 15-20 women at a time.
“I never thought I would end up in a situation like this. I know it has affected my kids. I want to be a better mom when I get home next month so these classes are helping me do that. Learning about how to discipline without being too harsh is gonna make a difference for my family….I just keep trying.” ...Shaniqua, inmate at Kankakee Correctional Center
Welcome Home Bags
When a woman is released after completing her prison sentence, it benefits all of us if she is able to be constructive and establish a life for herself, and eventually, her family. It is especially important for the welfare of her children that she do just this. As a way of encouraging women who have been recently released to make positive steps, Companions provides them with a small “welcome home” gift. This is made possible through contributions of toiletries items and volunteer assistance to assemble the bags.
“It was so nice to leave prison with a nice clothe bag instead of a trash bag. The first thing I did when I got home was take a bath and the toiletries you gave us made me feel like a real person again. Thank you so much.” ... Vicky, a former inmate
Receiving mail from someone outside prison walls can make a huge difference in the life of a prisoner. Companions links individuals and groups who would like to correspond with prisoners.
If you would like to be a pen-pal, we will provide you with guidelines and our return address.
We also serve as a conduit for hundreds of cards that are mailed to prisoners each year. These cards are mailed for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and birthdays.
“I want to say thank you for all the cards and letters I have been receiving from you for 18 years now. I appreciate all of you at Companions for your encouragement and support. I pray for all of you all the time and your families, too. Be encouraged in the Lord, and keep looking up. God loves all of you dearly. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” ...Edward
Dwight Prayer Shawl Project
Women at Dwight Correctional Center make prayer shawls for others who are ill. Shaws are given to inmates of hospice at Dwight, Dixon, and outside hospice patients. We are a a fiscal agent for the Hospice program at Dwight. Donations of yarn are needed.
Tamms Prayer Project
Knowing that someone outside the prison walls cares about you can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is incarcerated. Companions links individuals and groups who would like to correspond with prisoners. We also serve as a conduit for hundreds of cards that are mailed to prisoners each year. These cards are mailed for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and birthdays.