2017-01-05 / Front Page

A pleasing story that helps inmates

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

One of the stories that pleased local readers this year highlighted the Remain in Touch program that has moms and dads in the Leelanau County Jail reading to their children as a way to stay connected.

Connie Eisenhart of Elmwood Township founded the program about 10 months ago with donated seed money.

The Enterprise caught up with her in October, when she said one of her goals was to expand Remain in Touch to inmates in the Grand Traverse and Benzie County jails.

Eisenhart said no inroads have been made in Grand Traverse — even though there are volunteers who are interested and waiting — but she’s happy to report that the Benzie County Jail will begin offering the program in March.

The non-profit Remain in Touch has jail inmates reading to their children via a digital recorder. From the recording a CD is created that is sent to the inmate’s child or grandchild, along with a brand new copy of the book that was read.

The child can then listen to their absent parent or grandparent reading to them while they follow along in the book.

“The connection between the parent and the child during the period of time that they are listening to that book is totally one-on-one,” Eisenhart said. “It keeps that connection. It’s good for the parent and it’s good for the child.”

Eisenhart keeps a cart of books at the jail for inmates to pick from. She visits the jail twice a month, and inmates can record as many books as they like. If they have more than one child, each will get their own book and CD geared to their grade level.

One incarcerated dad recently recorded books for all five of his children, more than once. His 3-year-old daughter listened to her books over and over, the dad told Eisenhart.

“It’s almost like the walls and the bars drop away,” she said. “They’re there, they’re together. It’s motivation for the inmate to come back home and be the parent they want to be.”

Eisenhart says she has recorded nearly 100 books for inmates since the program started.

A retired special education teacher from Wayne-Westland Community Schools, Eisenhart has lived in Leelanau County since 1995. Remain in Touch is modeled after a similar program for incarcerated parents in Washtenaw County.

Since the story ran in the Enterprise, Eisenhart has received lots of positive feedback on Remain in Touch, as well as lots of donations of both books and money, she said.

Donations have been received from the Leelanau Township Community Foundation, from the mAIDdens organization of Suttons Bay and from Target and Walmart. Some local book clubs are supporting the program with donations of both money and books, she said.

Eisenhart is also a Rotarian and said the Rotary Endowment fund will match donations from individual Rotarians up to $250.

Remain in Touch accepts donations of only new books, which can be chosen from a suggested list at www. remainintouch.org.

A donation of $50 will buy about 10 soft cover books.

The program partners with Brilliant Books in Traverse City, with all books purchased through the web site or at the store given a 20 percent discount. Eisenhart will pick the books up at the store.

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