The Martinez Juvenile Hall Bedtime Reading Program recently celebrated its twenty year anniversary and is still going strong.
Every unit at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall is visited once a week by a volunteer reader. Readers come in just before 10 pm and play a little music over the intercom system, engage in a little chat, and read aloud via intercom for 30-45 minutes while the young inmates are resting their minds in their cells, listening quietly (or occasionally calling out commentary) and drifting off to a more peaceful sleep than usual.
Many of the inmates, mostly teenagers but some as young as 11 and 12, have never been read to in their lives. Virtually all of them have a limited knowledge of life outside of their own neighborhoods. Some of these kids will spend their lives tied up in the criminal justice system, but some will choose more meaningful and legitimate careers. In any case, all will benefit from the expanded awareness of the universe around them that the Bedtime Reading Program aims to bring.
Volunteer participants in this program read everything from Harry Potter to John Steinbeck to Dr. Seuss to the youthful offenders incarcerated at the Hall. Readers choose material that they feel is suitable and appropriate for their Unit, each of which has its own personality and characteristics.
started The Bedtime Reading Program in Martinez. The program has been recognized and copied nationally because of its unconditional effectiveness.
As Betty said many years ago, “It’s just a madhouse in there, all steel and concrete, very noisy. And no one comes to see the kids, so they lay awake at night and worry. It made me think about ways to get them to sleep. I thought better sleep might translate into better daytime behavior. Our purpose is to allow a young person to fall asleep in a peaceful, quiet and caring way.”
When a new facility was built on Glacier Drive, the library was named for Betty, in recognition of her leadership and dedication to the kids whom the program serves. For the past several years, the Betty Frandsen Library at Juvenile Hall has been leading the charge towards literacy for our disadvantaged County youth and given these kids easy access to stimulating reading materials.
The program has attracted many lawyer volunteers over the years. Jennifer Rosenberg at Bramson, Plutzik, Mahler & Birkhaeuser, LLP,
New readers are always welcome. Prospects go through an extended acclimation process, visiting every unit and seeing how every reader does it,
to be sure they are comfortable with the program and surroundings. Attorneys familiar with the criminal justice system are ideal candidates, as are their spouses, but anyone who enjoys reading aloud and likes teenagers has the makings of a good bedtime reader.
Susan Grice has been ably running the Bedtime Reading Program for several years and has a painless system for introducing interested participants to the program. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925 833-8703.
Jennifer Rosenberg is senior counsel with Bramson, Plutzik, Mahler & Birkhaeuser, LLP, in Walnut Creek. James Benney is the owner of James Benney Painting and Decorating and the author of five books. Both are readers with the Juvenile Hall Bedtime Reading Program.
Filed Under: Featured