- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

ONTARIO, Ore. (AP) - The gift of reading a story, from a father to a child, is what a new program at Snake River Correctional Institution is all about.

Story-Link, a nonprofit organization, began five years ago with founder and program director Mary Ann Kojis, and is dedicated to connecting children and incarcerated parents with the gift of reading.

Those who are able to participate in the program are told to select a children’s book, write a message in it for their child, and record themselves reading it. From there, Story-Link volunteers will place the book and a CD with the recording in an envelope. Eventually, those gifts will reach the child or children of the incarcerated parent.

“This gives families the opportunity to stay connected,” Kojis said. “It gives children the opportunity to hear the voice of their mom or dad, and to bond with them.”

Kojis, who said she received the idea from reading a book, has brought the special activity to six prisons in Idaho, and most recently, to Snake River Correctional Institution.

The program’s first session at SRCI was last month, and it is expected to continue throughout the year with monthly visits to various complexes and housing units, Jon Saunders, a recreational specialist at the prison said.

To be considered to participate in Story-Link, Saunders said an application is required.

In January, eight inmates had the opportunity to record a reading for their child, and this time around, six were selected.

Cory Beeman, who read and recorded the book “Officer Buckle & Gloria” for his children, said it was an awesome experience because it allows him to be able to share something special with his children while he’s away.

“It allows me to show my children that I care, and that they are a priority,” he said. “It’s one of the best the programs the prison has offered.”

Another incarcerated parent, Trevor Unrath, was thankful for the opportunity.

“I only held my son once before being incarcerated - he was only a month - and now he is turning 5 in March. This allows me to send a message to him with my voice,” Unrath said.

He added that anyone who can take part in the program should.

The reading program is also available to grandparents who would like to read to their grandchildren, Kojis said.

Future sessions at Snake River Correctional Institution are already planned, and will be coordinated by Mavis White, of Payette, and Karen Lattuis, of Fruitland.

“If you think about it, some may only have one child who will receive the book, and others may have two or three,” Kojis said. “Since starting this, about 10,000 have received this gift from their parent.”

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