Bedtime stories behind bars at Arohata Prison

Bedtime stories behind bars at Arohata Prison

Inmates at Arohata Prison have been working with the Bedtime Stories programme for over a year. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA.

Inmates of Arohata Women’s Prison have a unique opportunity to remain connected to their children.

The initiative, called Bedtime Stories, allows prisoners to be recorded reading bedtime stories with the CDs and books being sent to their families for their children to listen to.

The idea was introduced to the prison and trialled in 2013 by actor Miranda Harcourt, but needed someone to take charge in order for it to truly take shape.

Kerryn Palmer, a Victoria University theatre lecturer, was more than willing to take up the role.
“I thought it was a really good idea and I’m a mum and I’ve always read stories to my kids and thought that would be a really hard thing not to do. It touched me a bit emotionally. I thought it was such a good idea and something that should be carried on.”

For the past year Palmer and her small group of volunteers have run the programme at the prison, visiting for a two-hour session once a month. Fifteen to 20 prisoners take part each session, and about 100 have participated to date.

She had been a little worried about going into the prison at the start, but had grown to love it.
“It’s quite nerve-racking going to a prison first off, just because it’s quite a different environment, but I actually really like it. I really enjoy talking and spending time with the women.”

Palmer said the prisoners had taken to the programme. “It’s had a really really positive response and they [the prisoners] really look forward to it and so I find if we’re making some sort of positive difference it’s really important. It’s a chance for them to talk about their kids as well.”
She said they had also received some “lovely comments” from the children.

Books have been donated by Clean Slate Press and the volunteers are able to use equipment supplied by the prison, therefore eliminating costs.Time was the only real cost, Palmer said.

Arohata’s intervention co-ordinator Tracey Wernicki believed the programme was a great addition to the prison and helped inmates remain connected to their families.

“This is a wonderful programme that encourages and strengthens the bonds between the women and the children in their whanau. It allows them to feel closer to their whanau by making this connection through bedtime stories, even if they can’t be there in person”.

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Article by Sean Nugent

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