Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation bridges the gap behind bars for incarcerated parents and their children with a gift of 700+ books and 158 home libraries

December 14, 2021

This holiday season, Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation partners with Women Ablaze Ministries’ Storybook Program and Amazon to provide incarcerated parents and their children with books to read together while they are apart

Dec. 21 2021, NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF), whose mission is to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee, partners with Women Ablaze Ministries in Memphis to connect incarcerated parents with their children through reading this holiday season. GELF is providing home libraries for 158 children and teenagers with a parent experiencing incarceration and donating 700+ books to the Storybook Program, which records an incarcerated parent reading a book and sends the book and recording to their children.

Tennessee is tied with five other states for the third-highest prevalence of parental incarceration, with one in 10 children in the state with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison after the child was born. There are currently 2.7 million children in the U.S. whose parents are incarcerated, and a total of 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point.

Research shows the trauma of being separated from a parent can increase children’s mental health issues and hamper educational achievement, and kids of incarcerated parents are at a greater risk of dropping out of school.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report, “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities” recommends ways communities can better support children who have a parent in prison or jail, including providing mentoring programs and other support in early education. Studies show that participation in storybook programs helps keep families together and increases the chances of a parent staying at home once he or she is released from prison.

“The gift of reading not only gives children an opportunity for a brighter future, but it can bring comfort and safety during a difficult time,” said James Pond, GELF President. “When my dad was in prison, we didn’t have anything to bridge the gap behind bars. One teacher instilled in me a strong sense of the power of books and how they can change you and transform your life. Through this initiative, I hope we give the gift of reading to children and keep families reading together. Books bond. Books build. Books bridge.”

Women Ablaze is a non-profit interdenominational ministry in West Tennessee that ministers to women experiencing incarceration in two Memphis prisons. Through this special holiday initiative, GELF donated books to Women Ablaze’s Storybook Program and provided incarcerated mothers and fathers the opportunity to apply to gift their children a home library.

Linda Lee White (top), founder and executive director of Women Ablaze Ministries, with members of the prison ministry.
Linda Lee White (top), founder and executive director of Women Ablaze Ministries, with members of the prison ministry.

“We always hear from the mothers how their children love listening to them read a story repeatedly,” said Linda Lee White, Founder and Executive Director of Women Ablaze Ministries. “The home library will help deepen the connection and make it much stronger and what an impact it will make with the children to see that their moms or dads sent them something! I am so thankful to Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation for making this possible. It’s going to make a special Christmas for the parents and 158 children!”

Quotes collected from participating parents reveal the personal impact of this holiday gift from GELF.

“My daughter is nine and very smart, talented, and creative, and she will just love this,” said Loren, a participating mother with one child. “Since I won’t be home for Christmas, it’s like I’ll still be there for her. I am very excited about this!”

“I like that this is being sent to my children from me, and the books will encourage them to read more,” said Ashley, a participating mother with two children. “They love to read, and this will help them bond with me and my family. It will let my children know that I am thinking of them.”

“This means a lot to me because I do not get to talk with my children much,” said Tara, a participating mother with three children. “It is a way that I can be in contact with them, and that will mean a lot to them. I am so happy that something is coming from me to them.”

This initiative is a part of GELF’s annual year-end “Giving Back, Moving Forward” campaign, made possible with support from Amazon.

“We’ve been proud to partner with GELF on several of their programs in recent years, and I’ve personally seen firsthand the difference they make in Tennessee,” said Courtney Ross, Amazon’s Sr. Manager of External Affairs in Nashville. “There is something magical about the connection parents and children share through reading together and, as a company, we’re happy to contribute this season as GELF continues this vital work.” 

GELF encourages Tennesseans to give the gift of reading this holiday season by donating to their cause. For more information on how to donate, visit