One College Professor Makes Sure Inmates And Their Families Stay Connected

Dec 2, 2016

Elizabeth Mansley sits in her Mt. Aloysius College office where she teaches criminology classes. She and her students volunteer to help help keep local inmates connected to their children.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When someone is incarcerated, they family members – especially children – can be forgotten, but Elizabeth Mansley works hard to remember them. 

Last year, Mansley, a Mt. Aloysius College associate professor of criminology, and her students launched The Storybook Project.

“The idea actually came from my daughter,” Mansley said.

The Mansleys  moved from eastern Pennsylvania to western Pennsylvania and the family’s youngest child missed having her grandfather read to her.  The solution was a book purchased at a greeting card store that allowed her grandfather to record himself reading the story.

“And I thought, maybe I could do that for inmates and their families,” Mansley said.

A nearby prison got on board and allowed Mansley and her students to meet with the men just before Christmas, help them record the stories and then deliver the books to their children. It was such a success that Mansley expanded to a local women’s prison that used Mother’s Day as the gift giving occasion.

“One of the mothers said that her biggest fear was that her child was so little when she was incarcerated she wouldn’t know what her mommy sounded like. So now, she gets to hear from mommy every night,” Mansley said.

Mansley did not stop there. She also teaches college-level classes at the men’s prison and recently launched a monthly book club, which she said has been surprisingly successful.

“Their discussions of the books have been astounding,” Mansley said. “It kind of gives them a free space to where they can explore how they thinks and what matters to them… They tell me that over dinner there’re talking about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ rather than something that doesn’t matter.”