By JOANIE BAKER
OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) - The inky skull on the back of Scott Sheriff's hand shook nervously as the inmate traced the lines of a children's novel with his finger.
The cartoon of Jesus on the opposite glossy page smiled back at the tattoo as Sheriff read from "The Story of Jesus" into a tape recorder.
While Sheriff finishes serving time for drug-related charges, his children - nearly 100 miles away - will be tucked into bed to the sound of his voice.
The children's book program started at the Daviess County Detention Center nearly four years ago with the development of the GOALS Substance Abuse Program.
Director Donna Nolan said every inmate in the program is required to record at least one book prior to graduating, and if they don't have children of their own, the tapes are sent to kids in need.
"We do this to build families," she said. "This is keeping (the kids) in contact with daddy's voice and knowing he loves them and will be with them one day. Daddy's done wrong, but daddy still loves you."
Sheriff's four children stared up at him from behind silver picture frames as he told them he loved them and would see them in a couple of months.
Sheriff is recovering from a drug addiction and said he has had little opportunity to build a relationship with his kids because he's spent so much time in jail. In fact, his oldest daughter, Alex, has barely spoken to him since she was born 18 years ago. But after learning how her father was turning his life around in jail, she recently began contacting him through the mail.
"Their mother is in recovery and is telling them I'm getting the same treatment she is," he said. "I'm clean and sober now. I'm a changed person, and a social worker has approved a family plan for me and the children."
Nolan said it's important for children to maintain a father figure so boys have someone to look up to and girls know what to look for in a man.
For inmate Billy Fultz, recording a book about monsters for his 8-year-old nephew was about showing him he cares.
"My sister is paralyzed from an ATV accident, and he doesn't have anyone to act as a male figure for him and he looks up to me and my brother," Fultz said. "I wasn't always a good role model.... It felt good inside, knowing I was having a positive impact on his life instead of a negative one."
Fultz said the book, "No More Monsters For Me," meant a lot to his nephew and sister.
Most of the books used by the inmates are donated by churches. Nolan said many of them are sent to the families so the children can learn to read along with their father's voice. As hundreds of books are sent out to kids each year, Nolan said the program is in need of tapes, recorders and books that help many hear "I love you" for the first time.
"Kids who don't hear I love you, you don't realize how unloved they feel, and it's difficult for them to love themselves," Nolan said. "But my goal in starting this program is stopping these children from coming in here; we've got to start preventing the children from coming into the jail by reaching out to them. Even at the jail we are able to maybe prevent the kids from coming in here."
Sheriff said he plans to slowly integrate into his children's lives as they have recently moved into a Bowling Green recovery home with their mother. He said he chose a bedtime story about Jesus to show them how much his spiritual life has changed since coming into the recovery program.
"I'm going to show them a father they've never seen," he said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)