It’s one the greatest childhood comforts; being tucked snug into bed and having mum or dad read a rollicking adventure or a classic fairy tale aloud.
But for the children of prisoners right across the central Victorian region, they miss out on this bonding ritual.
The Friends of Castlemaine Library are on a mission to reignite the connection between parent and child through a love of words and reading.
Through the Read Along Dads and Read Along Mums program, children get to her the sound of their imprisoned parent’s voice.
Participants at Loddon and Tarrengower Prisons read a children’s book aloud, which is recorded to a CD and sent, along with the book, to their child.
Though CDs are becoming a thing of the past, the silver discs are coveted by these children – they are played over and over again until they are worn and hot to the touch.
Program co-ordinator Lisa D’Onofrio has collected pockets of heartwarming moments through her work.
For many of the prisoners, it’s the first time they’ve read a whole book.
For some, it’s the only contact they have with their child.
“It gives him a chance to hear my voice, to know his Dad’s still around,” one inmate shared.
Another spoke of the emotional response from his daughter after hearing his voice.
It moved her to tears.
“She was rapt with the last one, it made her cry. She made her mum drive here in my Statesman, so she could listen to it on the CD player on the way here,” he said.
Still another said the CD had proved such a hit with his young son that it was played over and over.
“The first day he got it he played it seven times in a row. My missus is sick of it!”
Some prisoners are illiterate or have very low literacy levels, but this does not stop them yearning for that connection with their child.
Ms D’Onofrio gets around those challenges.
In those cases, she reads each sentence aloud, and the parent repeats her words.
The recordings are made digitally and Ms D’Onofrio skillfully edits her voice out of the recording.
The prisoner are also encouraged to say goodbye at the end, leaving a personal message.
But it’s not just for the very young children – older kids and adolescents receive novels through the program too.
Their parent will record the first chapter, encourage their child to read the whole story and ask them what they thought of the book.
Some parents have expressed the joy of being able to maintain some contact with their children, to contribute to their education, to show them they care.
In a stifled prison cell, there is some small comfort; despite the distance, the last thing their child will hear before they fall asleep is the sound of their voice.
It’s a small step towards making amends. In the words of one prisoner:
“We’re not here for being angels, any of us, but if I can contribute something good to my son, then that’s a good thing.”
Ann McAlpin was searching online when she stumbled over a novel idea that piqued her interest.
Ms McAlpin (pictured page 4) was inspired to come up with the Read Aloud Dads and Mums idea.
She could scarcely anticipate how well it would be received by an enthusiastic Friends of Castlemaine Library meeting in 2012, let alone the broader community.
What warms her heart most is the impact for their children deprived of a parent because of their wrong-doing.
“It’s the bringing together of parent and child, of keeping them in touch,” Ms McAlpin said.
“The children must feel punished too, in a way.”
Bendigo clinical and forensic psychologist Shona Innes said some young children did feel abandoned and could not understand the law or why their parent was in prison.
“They may not understand the concept of jail,” she said.
“Their dad is not avoiding them because he doesn't love them. Life is a little more complicated than that.”
She said any kind of separation could lead children to unfairly blame themselves.
She did stress that the Read Aloud program experience will be different for every child, and could be complicated by their earlier relationship and the reasons for the imprisonment.
Having worked in prisons and written children’s books, Ms Innes said reading was a nice, intimate way for parents to maintain their connection to their child.
“It’s a soothing and calming thing to do, it’s a nice way of staying connected," she said.
“Visiting someone in prison is a very daunting experience.
“They have to go through all that security, and everyone is wearing uniforms.
“It's not designed to be a warm and loving place.”
Generally, prison visits are restricted to two and a half hours twice a week, but it does not give families close comfort time together.
In the words of one participant: “This means I can still have a relationship with him, I used to read to him every night.”
For another, it’s a moving experience.
“When I am reading I am thinking about her, and what she will be thinking about when she hears this. It’s quite emotional.”
The Friends of Castlemaine Library’s prisoner reading program is one that pulls at the heartstrings, but operates off a shoe-string.
When the humble group began the one-off project to the voice of parents with their children three years ago, they had no idea how popular it would become.
They were overwhelmed with inmates wanting to take part, wanting to foster that relationship with their child from behind bars.
The group have said that without a grant from the Community Foundation for Central Victoria, the program would not happen.
The grant pays for the books, the CDs, postage, packaging, the recording, and for Ms D’Onofrio’s time.
But the recent completion of new facilities at the prison has doubled the number of men wanting to take part.
FOCAL is struggling to find the the funds to buy the books and keep recording, let alone involving hundreds of more dads and their kids.
Sensing the keen community need for the program, the group is set to launch a crowd-funding campaign to give the program security into the future.
For $15, an age-appropriate book can be purchased, with higher amounts paying for recording and postage.
Their ultimate goal of $30,000 would allow all dads at Loddon prison to read their children bedtime stories for the next two years.
The crowd-funding campaign will launch through chuffed.org on November 12.
The prisoners from the Read Aloud program have been kept anonymous to protect their identities and those of their children.
The quotations in this story were obtained and shared by Friends of Castlemaine Library.