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Breaking Barriers with Books

The Breaking Barriers with Books© program aims to enhance relationships between incarcerated fathers and their children by using children’s literature as a catalyst. The program was developed by UW Oshkosh reading professor Michelina Manzi, who is open to sharing the program with interested people in corrections.

Breaking Barriers with Books started at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution in 1996 with funds from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The program has continued uninterrupted there for over 14 years and has reached thousands of children since its inception. The program also continues to be emulated in other correctional facilities across the country. 

The five-week program includes a weekly two-hour class, a weekly fathers’ support group run by program participants and  a weekly focused hour of family visitation. During the classroom time inmate fathers are introduced to children’s literature, learn about child development and find out how to choose age-appropriate books to read to or with their children. In addition, fathers work on their literacy skills by keeping journals, writing poems, letters and essays to and about their children.

During children's visits to the prison, the fathers read to their children, when it can be arranged. Otherwise, the fathers record themselves reading books and send the recordings home to their children, once the recordings are reviewed by security.

At the end of each program session, participants pool their most meaningful efforts and create a book of their own writings, which can include essays and poetry written for their children as well as their reflections on the program. The book is published within the prison and is sent to participants’ families.

Breaking Barriers with Books has been recognized as one of the most effective family literacy programs funded by Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, having been featured in their publication “Celebrating Family Literacy for 20 Years: Selected Case Studies 1989-2009.” 

For more information about the program, contact reading professor Michelina Manzi at manzim@uwosh.edu or (920) 424-0332.

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