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A mother connects with her daughter through reading

Tiffany was able to stay connected with her daughter during prison

“I am so thankful for this experience. Although I was locked up, this was the best thing that ever happened in my life, and that’s the honest to God truth. I got over my fear of reading. I read awesome now!”

Twenty-eight year old Tiffany Jones’ face beamed with delight as she talked about her daughter and the program that totally changed her life. “It has helped me to build my confidence; I even got into poetry.” Tiffany is preparing to return to the community after serving her sentence at Volunteers of America of Indiana’s Theodora House work release center. The program Tifffany is so excited about is Words Travel. 

Words Travel is a national literacy and family strengthening program for incarcerated parents and their children. The venture is a partnership between Scholastic Inc. and Volunteers of America. Sara Pugh, Coordinator of Volunteer Services at Volunteers of America Indiana, explains, “Our residents are given the opportunity to record books on tape for their children. This gives families a way to stay connected.” 

Tiffany was not only able to stay connected with her daughter but Words Travel gave her something far greater, the opportunity to learn to read. The first class Tiffany attended; she shocked everyone, including the instructor, when she burst into tears after the teacher handed out flash cards. “I could read some little words, but I was ashamed; everyone was gonna know I couldn’t read.” Tiffany was uncomfortable reading out loud, but with the support and encouragement of the class, her reading improved each week.

Sara Pugh was equally delighted to talk about Words Travel, “When our residents talk to their children, they have something new and something in common to share; they talk about the books. The children get so excited about being part of the program, they can’t wait to get to the mail box each week to hear their mother’s voice and see what new book is waiting for them.” Tiffany continued to brim over with excitement, “I learned how to change into characters with my voice like, Wow! Here she comes! My daughter loves that. We send the books out on Tuesday and by Friday she get ‘em. When my mom collects her mail, she makes sure to leave the package in the mailbox until my daughter gets home from school, so she can get it herself…its her mail.” Tiffany’s daughter uses the books to count down the weeks to her mom’s return.

Even though the Words Travel class was over in six weeks, Tiffany and the other residents in her class kept on going, “We didn’t want it to stop. I even got into poetry,” exclaimed Tiffany, grinning from ear to ear. “We learned about Walt Whitman and a bunch of other famous poets. I never knew nuthin’ ‘bout poetry before. Our teacher, Valita Johnson, was the best teacher ever!”

It was 9:00 a.m. Tiffany had her bags packed. She was being released from Theodora House and she was ready to go.“I am so thankful for this experience. Although I was locked up, this was the best thing that ever happened in my life, and that’s the honest to God truth. I got over my fear of reading. I read awesome now!”