Storybook Interview

Woman: Behind barred, metal doors in the sparsely supplied library of the Travis County Jail, inmate 1577566 records himself reading to his daughter.

Inmate: “Tom Tom and the piper’s son stole a pig and away he run. The pig was eat, and Tom was beat, and Tom went hounding down the street.” See, that’s why you’re not supposed to steal.

Woman: Daniel Rendon has a long history of drug abuse and has been to prison four times. He said his addiction has led him to mistreat his daughter Zoey. She has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that has left her with little control over her physical movement.

Daniel Rendon: You know, my life on the streets was pretty much myself, you know? I was into things I shouldn’t have been, so I neglected her. I didn’t treat her like she needed to be treated or how she deserved to be treated.

Woman: He signed up for a storybook program run by the Texas Inmate Families Association, a non-profit organization for families of people behind bars. The idea for the program is simple. For eight weeks, the dads record themselves reading children’s stories and send the tapes and books to their kids. At the end of the eight weeks, the children visit their fathers in prison. But Rendon said the experience has made him realize what he’s been missing.

Daniel Rendon: What I’m reading here, the book that I have in my hand, I know is going to be in her hands. The tape that I’m getting my voice recorded through, she’s going to be listening to me. No body else is going to be reading that book to her.

Woman: After finishing the story, Rendon records a message for Zoey.

Daniel Rendon: Grandma wrote me and told me that sometimes you worry that you won’t see me. Baby, there’s nothing in this world that’s going to ever stop me from seeing you, ok? I love you with all my heart.

Woman: In the home of Rendon’s mother in east Austin, Zoey is listening to one of the tapes from her father.

Daniel Rendon: Hey Zoey Zoey. This is daddy. This is from the book Hannah Montana Country Girl.

Woman: Zoey follows along in the book as her dad reads the story. Rendon’s mother, Rose Lopez, leans over Zoey’s wheel chair and helps her turn the pages.

Rose Lopez: She likes listening to those stories. It’s difficult for her to read some, so listening to them like that really helps.

Woman: Zoey has a wide, easy smile. Although she’s 13 years old, she looks no more than 10. Like many teenagers, Zoey prefers Hannah Montana to nursery rhymes or Dr. Seuss, but Rendon has to use the books provided to him by the program. Still, Zoey saves all the tapes her dad sends her and listens to them before she goes to bed.

Zoey: My dad is a cool dad. I love him a lot.

Woman: On the last day of Storybook, the fathers visit with their kids. Rendon hasn’t seen Zoey in eight months because it’s difficult for her to visit him, but at the party, Rendon is nowhere to be found. Zoey’s sick and isn’t able to visit her dad. Rendon decides to go to sleep so the other inmates won’t see he’s upset.

Daniel Rendon: You just don’t show emotions in here. The only emotion you show in here is anger. That’s it. Any sign of any other kind of emotion, they take it for weakness, and they prey on it around here.

Woman: Rendon says he’s been doing his best to stay out of trouble. He’s scheduled to be released about the end of winter, and he doesn’t want anything to keep him from seeing his daughter.

Daniel Rendon: I can’t take back those days, but I can make the future better. That’s one thing about that Storybook, hopefully, in my opinion, it showed her that I love her. You know what I mean? I want her to have a father to be proud of. That’s my goal in life, is to have my family finally be proud of me.

Woman: The day that Daniel gets out of jail, his only plan is to spend time with Zoey. Lydia Crafts. KUT news.