Women read to their children from prison

Toby Cormier
Toby Cormier
Tara Garcia
Tara Garcia

ST. GABRIEL, LA (WAFB) - On a makeshift movie set inside Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, Elain Ellerbe duct tapes a child's blanket to the wall. She's not shooting scenes for the next blockbuster to grace the silver screen. If she's lucky, the dozen or so movies she shot Wednesday morning will be viewed only by the close friends and family of her "actors."

In the room next door, Toby Cormier, Patrice Florant, Tara Garcia, and several other women paw through Ellerbe's pile of "scripts." The stories range from fantasy to fiction, to poetry, and each mother has a favorite ready to read to her children.

"It's been hard on him," said inmate Tara Garcia about her five-year-old son. She's chosen "Oh the Thinks You Can Think" from Dr. Seuss. Garcia sees her son twice a month, but he never wants to leave. "He kept saying he wanted to come live with me here. So this is a way for me to be home with him even without actually being home."

The "this" Garcia is referring to is Read To Me Mommy, a prison outreach program sponsored by Refined by Fire Ministries (RBF) of Zachary, Louisiana. RBF videotapes incarcerated mothers and fathers reading children's books, then burns the story to a DVD and delivers it to the prisoner's children. "We're the first in the state to come in and tape incarcerated parents reading a book to their children," said RBF president, Elain Ellerbe.

Patrice Florant read Dr. Seuss' "Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now" to her two teenage daughters who she hasn't seen in six years. "I know it's a child's book," she said, "but I chose it because it's time for me to go."

For Toby Cormier, the choice of what to read to her eight-year-old daughter was an easy one, Disney's "The Little Mermaid." She hopes it gets to her daughter, who she hasn't seen in more than a year, before she is released on March 23. "It'll be nice until I get out and see her in person," she said.

To Ellerbe, the mini-movies are about more than bedtime stories. It's a chance for her organization to heal families. "They're starting to look at these individuals that went away as someone that had committed a crime or with a criminal mentality," she said, "and they're looking at them now and going, 'This person has changed.'"

And that may be the most important moral any story can teach.

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