- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

YORK, Pa. (AP) - York County Prison inmate Stephanie Schymansky only gets to see her young children every few months.

She has been in prison for 17 months for a parole violation, and is expected to be released in July. In the meantime, her children - Lucas, 7, and Brandon, 11 - are living their lives apart from her.

Soon they will be able to hear their mother’s voice any time they want.

Schymansky, 29, of Hanover, is one of eight female inmates participating in “Beyond Our Walls,” a new program that will allow inmates to send an audio recording of themselves reading a book to their kids.

Reading: On Wednesday, Schymansky recorded herself reading “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig,” a twist on the “Three Little Pigs” story. She chose the book because it was simple enough for her youngest child, but not boring, so her oldest child could enjoy it, too.

She started the recording with a short message to her kids.

“Lucas and Brandon, you will forever be my babies,” she said.

Schymansky said she kept the recording a secret in hopes that her kids listen to it when they go on a trip to Tennessee without her in the summer.

“I felt like that was even better because they don’t know,” she said.

Schymansky said before she was sent to prison she would read a lot to her children, and her oldest reads on his own. When she heard about the program, she jumped on it. She said she liked the experience, including the three hour-long sessions where they learned how to properly read the books to the kids.

“It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be,” she said, adding that the staff was helpful.

The program: “Beyond Our Walls,” created by York County Prison and York County Libraries, launched last month with a pilot program.

In addition to the recording of the book, the children are sent the book and a small letter from their parent.

“It’s meant to help inmates stay connected with their families, improve literacy, and reduce crime,” York County Commissioner Doug Hoke said during a news conference Wednesday.

Valerie Conway, population manager for the prison, said the new program was good because it adds to the families.

“Many of the inmates in our facility have made mistakes, and they would like nothing more but to move forward,” Conway said.

She said they will go around to different housing areas in the prison and let different inmates have the chance to read to their kids.

During their last session, eight inmates participated in the program.

They are planning to branch the program out to male inmates by July, according to Conway.

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Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@YDDornblaser.

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