By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Maintaining and enhancing the bond between children and their incarcerated parents through video messages and other interactive media and activities are the focal points of The Oklahoma Messages Project.
The new messages include, “Creating Messages, Mending Hearts and Mending Families.”
“We’re better than ever and now we’ve got a great name that reflects what we’re really doing for children in Oklahoma, “ said Cheri Fuller, Oklahoma Messages Project Executive Director in an online post.
Since May, 2011, the OK Messages Project has filmed parents’ video messages in prisons and sent them to more than 3,400 children along with a book their parents read to them. The moms and dads also write poems, sing songs, pray, and most importantly, send love to their children and families.
The Messages Project reduces kids’ anxiety and sadness, improves their outcomes—and most of all gives them hope.
Former State Senator Connie Johnson said, “As many may know, my Senate campaign focused on the plight of children who were being raised by their grandparents due to their parent’s incarceration. The Messages Project is an outgrowth of that advocacy. Please come see and learn more on Nov 3.
“Helping children—our state’s most precious resource—maintain connections with their incarcerated parents is an investment we make in the next generation of Oklahomans,” Johnson added.
Healthy parental connections are essential to a child’s development. Children are the silent victims of their parent’s crime through the trauma and loss of the environment that has been their life.
When a child’s parent is in prison and a healthy connection is maintained, it reduces the child’s risk for social, emotional, and educational problems.
A recent study done by Boston University’s Master of Criminal Justice program shows that the US female prison population has increased 646 percent in the past 30 years, mainly for sentences for low-level crimes.
“The kids of incarcerated parents, the next generation of Oklahomans, have committed no crimes but suffer every day of their lives,” said Fuller. “Help us serve these great kids and break the cycle of incarceration by donating or volunteering.”
Oklahoma incarcerates more women/mothers per capita than any state in the nation, and is 4th highest for men. This results in tens of thousands of children who become victims. They suffer and lack parental support.
“With Messages from Mom and Dad our teams coach and film hundreds of parents in prisons across the state reading books to their children and sharing personal, positive messages,” Fuller said.
“It makes a huge difference in the lives of children who receive these Messages packages to read, along with bedtime stories with mom or dad via video. They see their parents are safe and hear they are loved and missed.”
For the incarcerated parent, family connection decreases the likelihood of recidivism.
According to Fuller, without prevention and literacy programs like the OK Messages Project, 70 percent of the children of incarcerated parents will go to prison or jail at some time in their lives.
“But with our programs, these kids can do better in school and home, have higher self-esteem and less anxiety while they await their parents’ return from prison.” Fuller said.