On Thursday, March 29th, the LRS Parents Group gratefully welcomed author Nora Raleigh Baskin to discuss her award winning Young Adult novel, Ruby on the Outside. The story describes eleven-year-old Ruby, whose mother is incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. (BHCFW)
Ruby on the Outside first came to the attention of Librarian, Marietta Morelli when BHCFW became the recipient of a large donation of books from the Long Ridge School following the library renovation in 2017. The donation was arranged through the Hour Children Organization, which provides transportation for children to visit their mothers in prison. It was at this time that Donna Marino, Outreach Coordinator for Hour Children, recommended the book that led Marietta to reach out to author Nora Raleigh Baskin with an invitation to visit LRS.
Ms. Baskin began the conversation by sharing her inspiration for Ruby. The seed was planted while attending a fundraising event called: Rehabilitation Through the Arts. According to Ms. Baskin, “Art has enormous value.” This is especially relevant when considering the fact that incarceration creates many victims, including those left behind. Through programs that utilize art to bridge these relationships, great things can happen.
There are more than 2.2 million individuals behind bars, a figure larger than in any other developed country in the world, the population disproportionately minority. And there is a “shame” and “embarrassment” surrounding incarceration, which is why prisons are typically built in remote areas, “hidden in plain sight” and away from where most live and work. Ms. Baskin goes on to ask: “What is the purpose of incarceration? If it is meant to be a deterrent, would it not be more effective to build prisons in plain view?
According to Ms. Baskin, there are at least 10 million children who have a parent or family member in prison. “From the moment a parent is arrested, the system has nothing in place to protect these children. We can only imagine the life-long effect.” Many children of incarcerated parents grow up, learning to lie and conceal their situation, many believing that the incarceration was somehow their fault. Finding ways to address these concerns and create avenues to stay in contact with their parent, is fraught with obstacles. Even something as basic as a phone call can be prohibitive when inmates are made to incur thousands of dollars in costs. The effect on families is devastating. These are the very issues that compelled Ms. Baskin to begin her research into the state of these families, who are forced to forge relationships through every means possible.. Her inquiries led her to three incredible programs: The Osborne Association, CLICC and Hour Children.
Ms. Baskin tenderly described an emotional trip she took through the Osborne Association, when she accompanied a group of 20 children (with additional 1-1 volunteer support) to visit their mothers in the remote women’s prison in St. Albion, NY near the Canadian border. She recalled one particular child who simply could not comprehend that her mother would not be returning with her following the visit.
One of the many initiatives taking place through Hour Children is to transport children, free of charge, throughout the state of NY to the BHCFW where they are reunited with their mothers.
The tremendous impact of letter writing is central to the work of CLICC, connecting families through literacy. Inmates and their children are encouraged to discuss chosen books through a regular exchange of letters.
Nora Raleigh Baskin, author and advocate wrote the fictional story of Ruby on the Outside to shine a light on the fragile experience of growing up with a mother in prison. Her account is heartfelt and heartbreaking. Readers are moved by Ruby’s courage, and all that it takes to live with the absence of her mother by her side. For Ms. Baskin, the story is timely, essential and deeply personal.
The LRS community sincerely thanks Nora Raleigh Baskin for her extraordinary discussion and the addition of Ruby on the Outside to the Long Ridge School Library catalogue.