JoCo ministry’s Reading With Dad program connects inmates to their children virtually amid COVID-19 lockdown

With family visits on hold for the past six months at Lansing Correctional Facility in Leavenworth County, a new program is helping inmates stay connected with their children while serving

With family visits on hold for the past six months at Lansing Correctional Facility in Leavenworth County, a new program is helping inmates stay connected with their children while serving time.

Led by Relentless Prison Ministry based in Johnson County, the new program, Reading With Dad, allows incarcerated fathers in the maximum-security prison to make a recording of themselves reading a children’s book out loud. The children’s book and the recording, which includes a personal message from father to child, are sent to the inmate’s son or daughter.

Approved by facility administration after the start of this year, Reading with Dad was suspended alongside other programs and classes right when the program launched in the spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy Relentless Prison Ministry.

“It’s an effort that’s been on my heart to do for a while,” said Cody Carter, founder of the ministry and program director. “With incarceration for a lot of guys, it causes them to reflect on the things that matter. And I think the biggest thing that usually hits guys is connection with family. A lot of them feel lonely and disconnected but it also leaves families on the outside longing for that connection.”

Approved by Lansing officials at the start of this year, Reading with Dad was suspended, alongside other programs and classes, right when the program launched in the spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carter resumed Reading with Dad in August.

Trying to break the generational cycle of crime

The program is intended to support inmates’ children and families and improve their relationships, Carter said, citing studies that show that children of incarcerated parents are at greater risk of becoming incarcerated themselves.

“There’s a lot of scary statistics that are out there,” he said. “So part of this effort is to allow these guys to show their kids how much they care about them, to sort of reduce that cycle of crime and to bring families together and that for there to be restoration and fill that gap.”

Every day Carter visits the prison, he records inmates reading children’s stories and ships the books and recordings home to their children. Family visits at Lansing Correctional Facility remain suspended due to COVID-19, so the program helps keep families connected and lets children know that their fathers love them and are thinking of them, Carter said.

He says the program has been successful in the short time since he launched it.

“Since these men haven’t been able to see their child in person for over six months now, it has been a great tool to keep families connected, especially for occasions like birthdays,” said Cody Carter, ministry founder and program director. Photo courtesy Relentless Prison Ministry.

“It is great to see the men in prison get excited about selecting a book and reading it to their child,” Carter said, noting that several children have received recordings of their father reading aloud in time for their birthdays. “Since these men haven’t been able to see their child in person for over six months now, it has been a great tool to keep families connected, especially for occasions like birthdays.”

Several JoCo churches involved

Four churches in Johnson County and their members are involved with the ministry’s programs: Real Church KC in Lenexa, Community Bible Church in Olathe, Life Mission Church in Olathe and Journey Bible Church in Olathe. In non-COVID times, many members of those churches support the ministry by also visiting and spending time with inmates themselves.

“This will help the father and child to know that neither is forgotten,” said David Langford, one of the ministry volunteers.

About 65 of the 1,300 inmates at Lansing are participating in Relentless Prison Ministry, so those men would be considered first to participate in this program. Two-thirds of them have already shown interest or started participating. In the future, once it’s safe to do so, an inmate or two may assist with the recordings for the project and receive payment for their contributions; for now, Carter is handling the program by himself.

“It does something positive for the inmates in the program, but it also does something, I think, very significant for the children, where they don’t just feel like Dad is gone,” Carter said. “There’s this kind of display of love and care by way of these recordings. There’s a lot of excitement, and I think it’s a good motivator too, for guys to want to be in the program, for guys to treat that as a privilege.

“They’re very excited to have this opportunity to show their kids how much they care and how much is on their heart. I hope it inspires these men to be an example for their children,” he said.