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Story and photos by Ike Dodson, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

It isn’t easy to connect with your child when you spend each day inside O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility and 18-year-old Marquise Timmons lost that privilege upon incarceration.

“At times I feel like I’m letting her down,” Timmons said, referring to his 3-year-old daughter Amoure. “I don’t think she should have to go through her dad being away from her.

“She always tells me, ‘I love you. When can you come home?’ I have to tell her I’m away at school.”

Through the power of reading, O.H. Close staff and the Father2Child Literacy Project have assembled a remarkable line of communication to bridge the gap between father and child.

Since 2011, Father2Child, a program of the nonprofit Place4Grace, has worked with fathers in California prisons to record books on CDs for their children to listen to. The CDs and accompanying books are mailed to the children, along with a hand-written message from the father. The goal of the program is to support family connectedness, comfort children and enable fathers to be active in encouraging their children to read.

Through CDCR’s Innovate Grants Program, Father2Child readings are now available at 16 adult prisons in California, and will soon expand to serve female inmates. Last year, Place4Grace founder Karen McDaniel and her team recorded 836 men for book distribution to 1,286 children throughout the world.

Thanks to an enthusiastic staff at O.H. Close, the project expanded to a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility for the first time Feb. 3.

Flanked by library books and surrounded by several members of local television, radio and print media, 11 youthful offenders became the first incarcerated juveniles to ever record stories for their kids.

“The caregivers of these children have told us that the kids are listening to them every day, on the way to school and at night before they go to bed,” McDaniel said. “It has become such an integral part of the child’s life, especially as a comfort system for younger children who don’t have the capability of calling prison and talking to their dads.

“They can now put in a CD and hear their dad’s voice, and that seems to be a huge comfort.”

McDaniel explained the program to O.H. Close participants Feb. 3 and demonstrated the best way to add introductions and closing messages for each recording. She described the best books to select for each unique child and coached the young fathers through the process.

Participants split off with O.H. Close Senior Librarian Rebecca Hill-Long and retired teacher Susie Orlowski to record the stories. Hill-Long has been a staunch supporter of the program and played a huge role in bringing Father2Child to a DJJ facility.

Timmons was first to record with Hill-Long. He was beaming after reading Dora the Explorer’s “All Dressed Up!: A Lift-the-Flap Book” for Amoure.

“She likes Dora, but she also likes My Little Pony,” Timmons said with a smile. “I think she will like to dance when she gets older, ‘cuz the music, it gets her hyped and she starts jumping around.

“All of our family is into sports, so I think she wants to cheerlead.”

Timmons told Amoure he loved her and missed her during the recording. His motivation to return home was pretty evident as he carefully pronounced each word.

“It makes me feel good, like I’m doing something for her,” Timmons said. “It allows me to reconnect with her. Even though I’m not there, she can hear my voice and she’s going to know it’s me.

“She has helped me do better, because I think about her and I want to get home to her. I don’t want to mess up, because it will prolong me going home.”

Timmons said he could enjoy a homecoming in October if he stays on the right path.

“What we have found is there is no greater motivator than their own child,” McDaniel said. “The dads want to be discipline-free so they can participate in the program.

“I just talked to a father last week who was found suitable for parole, and he felt our program made a huge difference.”

It’s one of her favorite stories.

(Editor’s note: Some websites may not be accessible from a CDCR computer.)

To learn more about Father2Child Literacy Project, visit http://www.theplace4grace.org/index.html.