Bedtime stories from behind bars
Kath reads her children bedtime stories once every month.
She creates worlds of young adventurers finding treasure chests, silly kids with dull teachers and bored ratbags flicking bogies across the classroom floor.
But Kath can’t see the excitement light up her children’s eyes as she turns the pages and there’s no kiss on the forehead once the book closes.
Instead her children take a CD out of its player, and lie down alone. And Kath lies in her cell, imagining it all.
She’s been in that cell, behind the barbed wire fence surrounding Arohata Prison for ten months - it’s nearly the first year down in a five-and-a-bit-year prison sentence.
For every month over the last seven, she’s recorded herself reading books - one for her 11-year-old girl, and one for her six-year-old boy as part of the The Bedtime Stories Programme.
She does so to ensure her babies still know her voice.
‘‘It was definitely a concern not being able to parent and have those intimate parent-child moments that you have at home,’’ Kath says, sitting inside what seems like a school room but with prison guards on watch.
Her fine, blonde hair is wrapped up in a bun as she sits down. Her rolled up track pants reveal her socks tucked into her jandals.
She once worked in education, then laboratory work, before finding herself in prison. She’s not allowed to say why, and we’re not allowed to identify her.
Kath is warm, down-to-earth, rational, yet a little nervous. She’s having a day off from her six-day job where she cooks for the prisoners, ensuring the needs of the gluten-free, the dairy-free, the nut-free and the vegan are all looked after. On the outside, she’d never be a chef, but she enjoys having something to do to pass the time.
Her eyes sparkle when she speaks of her children. Her eldest, aged 18 and 22, tell her stories of her young ones.
‘‘My six year old lights up,’’ she’s been told.
‘‘When he got the first book he obviously had no idea it was going to be mum on the CD and my older kids said [of] his reaction, he was stunned, and he kept making them play it back and back to hear mum and have mum present and there.
‘‘I guess [it’s] the closest thing to being there in my absence - to hear my voice.’’
The programme is led by Victoria University lecturer Kerryn
Arohata prisoner Kath reads a book for her children as part of the Bedtime Stories programme in the jail.