SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) - The elementary-aged sisters didn't seem thrilled to be in the library.
The two girls stuck close to their mother, Ann, as volunteers led them into a room with CD players and books.
But when a volunteer pressed "play" on one of the devices, the girls' expressions changed from apathetic to awestruck.
The Selby Library recently hosted its first "Read to Me" event, where the children of parents serving sentences in the Sarasota County Jail could listen to a recording of their parent reading a children's book.
Seventy-five inmates recorded themselves in October for the event, said Robin Rogari, inmate program coordinator with the Sarasota County Jail.
"I've seen men cry during the recordings," Rogari said. "They're so overwhelmed and so thankful."
Read To Me is the first program of its kind in the state and is the brainchild of Dave and Bobbi Norris.
Dave Norris said he came up with the idea after hearing a sobering statistic: 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent end up going to jail themselves.
He said he and his wife plan to expand the program to Charlotte County next year and hope to have programs throughout the state by 2017.
"It can help parents foster relationships with their kids," Dave Norris said. "At the same time, we can try to steer kids towards reading and away from trouble."
He expects to reach his ambitious goal thanks to an outpouring of community support.
HealthSouth provided recording equipment while the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and the Sarasota Police Department donated time and some grant money.
SCAT gave free bus passes to the children and their guardians and the library provided free library cards to the children.
Jailed parents have a lot of time to think about their children and the milestones they are missing, said Pastor Irving Moody, who ministers to those in the Sarasota County jail.
The recordings help the parents keep some sort of connection with their children, especially those younger than 13, who cannot visit the jail, he said.
"It's hardest for those with younger children," Moody said.
"I cry every time I hear one of the tapes. I didn't think I would, but you know the kids recognize mommy and daddy's voice. It really is amazing."
Ann's daughters, who she did not want to name so they would not be associated with their father's crimes, seemed hypnotized by the recording of his voice.
They had not heard him since his arrest in June.
Their faces glowed as they followed their father's words by drawing their small index fingers along the book's sentences.
When the recording ended, one of the girls began to cry.
"It's so dusty in this room," the 9-year-old told her mother as she hurried to wipe away tears with a wadded tissue.
Someone asked if she missed her dad.
She nodded silently, lifting the balled-up tissue to her freckled cheek.
Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com
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