PARENTS
15/12/2017 08:20 GMT

Storybook Dads: How Children Will Be Able To Hear Their Imprisoned Dads Read Them A Bedtime Story This Christmas

'The child gets something to open from them on Christmas day.' 📚🎄

Children whose dads are in prison will still be able to hear them read a bedtime story on Christmas Eve, thanks to a charity initiative. 

Storybook Dads records prisoners’ reading bedtime stories onto CDs and DVDs, so children in 5,000 families across the UK can share a festive moment with their dad and cherish the keepsake forever. 

The charity runs the scheme all year round, but Christmas is by far the busiest time of year for them. 

“This project has helped my daughter so much, to the point where she wants to come and see me,” said one dad, who is remaining anonymous to protect his children’s identities.

“I believe this is because of the comfortable surroundings in the DVD, which helped to change the horrible picture of prison in her imagination as she saw her daddy on the TV happy and smiling.”

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A dad recording a story for his child with Storybook Dads founder Sharon Berry.

The dad continued: “I am really so grateful for what Storybook Dads has done for me and more importantly for my children. It’s amazing.” 

Another dad, who recorded a Christmas story for his son for the first time this year, is excited at the prospect of his son opening the present. 

“This is the first time I have sat and recorded a story for my son, I know he will be so happy when he listens to it,” he said.

“With it being Christmas, I was feeling a little down, but listening to the recording with its sound effects really cheered me up.”

These stories do not just result in happy children, but hope for the prisoners that they can retain a bond with their child throughout their sentence.

“Storybook Dads helped me keep in touch with my boy when all else has failed,” another dad said.

“The charity cannot possibly know what a difference they have made.”

At Christmas, maintaining this parent-child bond couldn’t be more important.  

“We get dads a Christmas story for their child, because what else can they give them?” Sharon Berry, founder of the charity, tells HuffPost UK.

“They want to give their child a present and it’s the perfect way to do it.

“It gets so busy at this time of year, but it’s such a precious thing, as the child has something to open from their dad on Christmas Day.” 

StorybookDads
Some dads record DVDs at Christmas time and dress up for the occasion. 

Berry started Storybook Dads in 2003. At the time, she was volunteering at BBC Radio Devon and helped set up a radio station in Dartmoor prison.

While she was in the prison, she thought about how she could use her newly-learned skills in audio editing and came up with the idea of recording prisoners reading stories for their children - as this would be a really simple way to improve the parent and child bond.

“Reading to your child is a natural parental activity,” Berry explained. “It was something simple they could do and send to their child as a tangible gift.

“That way, a child could listen to the story whenever they were missing their dad, or when they were lonely at bedtimes.”

To begin with, Berry operated in one prison, but she soon realised the charity needed to grow to meet demand.

She applied for and received funding for the charity and gradually, as more prisoners got involved, expanded it across the country.

“I started realising the benefits and that’s when I knew after a little while, that all prisoners should do this,” Berry explains.

“I started to actively promote it when I realised how important it could be - it was a unique but simple idea.”

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Berry contacted prisons locally to see if they would be interested and everyone was very keen. 

She had difficulties setting it up because, due to prison security, it’s hard to take a microphone or mobile phone in a prison. 

“All the equipment has security risks, so there are big hurdles to overcome in some places,” she explains.

“Some people questioned why we were doing it, but once people got it and the officers realised what a good scheme it was, it wasn’t deemed a ‘risk’.

“If you keep your prisoners happy, they’re going to be on board.” 

Within a year, this project was replicated in women’s prisons too - running as Storybook Mums - but the main bulk of the charity is focused on Storybook Dads. The charity now runs in 100 prisons across the UK - something Berry never imagined at its launch.

“I thought we could help prisoner’s families,” Berry said. “But I never realised it would take off like the way it did.” 

Throughout the years of running the charity, Berry has heard from hundreds of families who have benefitted from the scheme.

“Some children listen to it on repeat when they can’t sleep,” She adds.

“Many dads get emotional reading to their children when they say their greeting to the child at the beginning and end of the recording.

“It’s a wonderful way to ensure these prisoners remain in contact with their children and families.”

How it works.

Parents will start off by introducing themselves: “Hi Sharon, this is dad and I’m going to read you the ‘Gruffalo’.” 

The recordings take place in the local prisons - usually in the library. It will be advertised to prisoners, who then choose a book and record themselves reading it in the library.

This recording is then sent to the HQ - at Channing Woods Prison - where all the production and editing takes place. Berry has 16 prisoners who have been trained in audio production to edit them. A 10-minute story will take up to a couple of hours to edit.

Berry uses sound effects - jungle sounds, animals and weather sounds - to make the recording even more special. 

Once the production is done (sound effects added in and packaged together), the recording is sent back to the prison and sent out to families. The charity does not charge for this and runs solely on donations and grants from trusts. 

For more information on Storybook Dads or to donate to the charity, visit their website.

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