Mom On Demand: Lydia's Place

Lydia’s Place connects incarcerated mothers with their children through the soothing sound of a bedtime story.

Currently, about 300 women are behind bars in the Allegheny County Jail. Many of them have children at home who are denied one of the basic comforts of childhood: a bedtime story.

“Society has an image of mothers, and when women do not represent that form, we are very, very tough on them,” says Angie Longo, executive director of Lydia’s Place, a nonprofit that provides services to female offenders and their families. It’s this intolerance that cuts women off from their outside world once the doors clang shut behind them.

“It’s not that the women have nobody to visit them,” Longo says, referring to the fact that most female inmates will have few visitors during their sentence. “We know that 75 percent of incarcerated moms have a child 18 or younger.”

But family members are often embarrassed and angry about the incarceration; sometimes it’s just easier if they stay apart.
“Going to jail with a child could take three hours for a one-hour visit, and then for 95 percent of the women who do get a visitor, it’s ‘non-contact,’ meaning they are locked in a partitioned room,” explains Deb Bergren, director of development at Lydia’s Place.

This is where the Mother’s Voice program of Lydia’s Place comes into play: Volunteers visit the prison with a book caddy from which the mother selects a book to read to a recording device. Oftentimes, moms close with a personal message, like saying “good night” or even singing “Happy Birthday.” This provides children with a way to hear their mother’s love.

“When the moms initially start reading,” Bergren says, “they cry because the feeling of separation is searing.”

A new $5,000 grant from D3, a Mt. Lebanon women’s philanthropy group, will help volunteers and University of Pittsburgh graduate students improve the technology to include mobile downloads, Web streaming and video.

Categories: Community Feature