NEW YORK — As the lullaby started, a little boy named Sean listened intently. His mother watched him. She had written and prerecorded the song for him from Rikers Island.
He was on a large red couch in a cluttered office, flanked by a large teddy bear in a Santa hat and Elmo. This was Sean’s Christmas present. He could also see and talk to his mother two Christmases ago, thanks to Telestory.
Telestory is a free city program that connects children to their incarcerated parents through video conferencing. Families can talk to and read to one another face-to-face through a camera and a flat-screen television.
“This program is not an agency or institution. This is a warm, accepting place where children can talk with their parents,” said Dr. Frank Corigliano, a psychologist at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. The Society began using Telestory in 2012 to help children maintain contact with their incarcerated parent.
More than two million children have a parent who is currently incarcerated, the Society’s research found. Rikers Island houses more than 14,000 people, with a majority of those prisoners parents.
Every time Corigliano watches the video of Sean and his mother, he is reminded of the powerful connection Telestory forges for these children.
Now, this program will be offered at several Brooklyn Public Library branches.
“It’s really a lovely sight to see,” said Nick Higgins, the director of outreach services for the Brooklyn Public Libraries.
The Library runs several programs for incarcerated prisoners, such as Daddy and Me sessions, where parents are able to learn the curriculum their children are learning at school, allowing them to help with their children’s homework.
“We wanted to help children keep in touch with their parents as well as build a better bridge for those who are incarcerated back into our community,” Higgins said.
In 2014, with the help of Corigliano and the rest of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, as well as the city’s Department of Corrections, the Brooklyn Public Library brought Telestory to its main branch.
“Our core belief is that these televisits should not replace an actual visit with a parent, it should just help to bring them closer,” Corigliano said.
“Sometimes these visits can be difficult to schedule for the library, but it’s definitely worth it [for the children] in the end,” said Higgins.
“Oh yes my heart you hold, you’re worth more than gold.”
By the end of the lullaby, Sean was still excited and beaming.
“Pretty cool, right?” his mother asked.
Sean nodded, his gaze still locked on his mother. He left that day with a copy of his prerecorded lullaby, knowing that:
“Momma loves you, no matter what you’re going through.”