Please click on this link to read the terrific article by an Oklahoman newspaper reporter on how our Oklahoma Messages Project helps children who have parents in prison and our 1st Annual Outdoor Adventure Day held at Nichols Scout Ranch, for kids we serve:
Reporter Mark Schlachtenhaufen wrote an article about Redeeming the Family in the Edmond Sun on December 23, 2013. Here is a repost of the article, “‘Messages Project’ to aid families.”
OKLA. CITY — The Messages Project OK is aiding families torn apart by a parent’s mistakes:
“I’ve been in prison 18 years. I’ve had no relationship with my children. With the Messages Project, I’ve started a relationship with my children and grandchildren. Our children are the innocent ones and they need to know that. Thank you for the bridge these videos made in restoring a father to his children and a grandpa to his grandchildren.”
A grandmother-caregiver stated after her granddaughter’s mother was arrested in front of her at a retail store she had nightmares. Now age 4 she was excited, laughing when she saw her mother on TV: “All in smiles, she says, ‘I love you mama’ to the TV.”
These parents are two of 26,885 men and women incarcerated in a prison as of Oct. 31, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Several weeks ago, the father was filmed by The Messages Project OK, a nonprofit program of Redeeming the Family headed by Cheri Fuller. The program seeks to mitigate the damage in the lives of children of incarcerated parents.
According to the Justice Department, the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence and crime is welded to reading failure. Minus parental support, intervention, literacy and prevention programs, children of incarcerated parents go to prison at a 5-6 times higher rate than their peers.
Fuller, a mother, author and a former teacher, said the generational cycle of incarceration defeats any chance of these young people to develop their full potential, contribute to society or lead productive lives.
A child’s reading skills are improved because reading with a parent, even via video, has a positive impact on literacy, Fuller said. Assured they are loved, sadness, depression, anxiety and anger are reduced, and interest in reading increases, Fuller said.
“When children experience less depression, anxiety and turmoil, their trauma decreases so they can focus on learning, and their positive outcomes improve,” Fuller said.
The Messages Project OK, based on a national award-winning model, is supported by more than 30 volunteers. Fuller schedules dates for teams to visit about 7-8 prisons between early October and early December.
On the day of the visit, 6-9 team members set up a table with books for all ages of kids and teens. Inmates receive guidelines on how to make a positive message and how to read a book interactively on camera. They go in one of two rooms where 50-65 messages are filmed in a day. Their messages and books are sent to their children.
In 2.5 years, more than 2,700 children have received DVDs and books from the Messages Project OK, Fuller said.
Volunteers include videographer Sheron Davis who got to know Fuller, a fellow member of the First Presbyterian Church of Edmond.
“She shared about the heartbreak of the mothers there who had caused their children to be without their care,” Davis said. “Being a mom and a gandmom, I was touched by the devastation to the whole family.”
Davis said inmates express deep gratitude to The Messages Project OK for providing a way for them to be in touch with their children, which may include sending a book from them as a gift. Other impacts are more widely felt.
“Breaking the cycle of incarceration is crucial to our communities,” Davis said. “Innocent children need to be reassured they are loved and they are not the reason their parent got in trouble. It’s amazing the way this program heals little hearts and brings peace into their lives.”
Fuller said through her work with The Messages Project OK she has learned roughly half of students in one metro area school have a parent in prison. That percentage is as high as 75 percent in some other schools in the state.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said a number of similar organizations help incarcerated parents keep in touch with their children, who often aren’t able to visit for a variety of reasons.
“We certainly appreciate it,” Massie said.
Ambitions for the project include reaching more at-risk children by developing a Tulsa team to partner with other nonprofits and to expand into county jails, Fuller said.
The organization is grateful to the foundations and individuals who have supported the project, helping children of incarcerated parents receive the priceless gifts of videos and books from their moms and dads at Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Fuller said.
For more information about The Messages Project OK, visit redeemingthefamily.org.
On Friday, September 6, 2013, Redeeming the Family executive director Cheri Fuller shared a presentation for the “Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents Task Force” in Oklahoma City. The slides and synchronized, recorded audio from that presentation are available in the following Slidecast on SlideShare. The presentation, before the question and answer period, was 35 minutes long.
Cheri shared three different video clips during her presentation. The complete video, “Found Causes: Redeeming the Family,” is available on YouTube.
Please consider making a financial donation now to help continue the work of Redeeming the Family in bringing The Messages Project to Oklahoma children with incarcerated parents.
Recently a friend asked me why we do the Messages Project at Oklahoma prisons and what happens to kids who have parents behind bars. First I told her that although they committed no crimes, these kids suffer greatly from the separation trauma. Here are a few other ways I shared with her and how we can all help:
- Children are worried about how they are going to live without their mother or dad, even when they have a guardian.
- In addition, they often experience flashbacks and nightmares related to the traumatic events surrounding their parent’s arrest, especially if they were present.
- Worry, fear, and anxiety are constant companions to these children, especially since the majority do not get to visit the parent: Is Mom safe or beaten up, in danger like the “Lockdown” or crime shows? Does my dad love me or has he forgotten me?
- Children of parents behind bars suffer from depression, sadness, and abandonment issues—not only in the months following imprisonment but for the long-term.
- They experience anger but don’t know what to do with it, so they often act out at school or home. Attention disorders and low academic performance plague these children and lead to behavior problems and dropping out of school.
- Children especially miss their parents at Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. That’s why we schedule our visits to prisons before those holidays—so we can coach and film parents reading wonderful books to their kids and sharing a loving, supportive message—and then send these DVDs and books to hundreds of young people. It makes a huge difference in the kids’ lives!
- If you’d like to help bring some joy and support to these children:
- Volunteer with our Messages Teams that do the project
- Donate a new children’s book and ask your friends to donate books (see our Wish List of books the kids especially love).
This is a 14 minute video reflection by Wesley Fryer, who volunteered with Redeeming the Family on May 15, 2013, at the Cimarron Correctional Facility (prison) in Cushing, Oklahoma. Oklahoma currently has 17 prisons, and Cimarron is one of three which is privately operated. Corrections Corporation of America has owned and operated this prison commercially since 1997. Last week Redeeming the Family volunteers assisted 50 incarcerated dads to record video messages of love for their children, which will be mailed to their children before Father’s Day on Sunday, June 16th.
Sixty-six men had signed up to record video messages for their children on May 15, but because of security conditions at the prison not all those inmates were allowed to record their messages. Redeeming the Family will return to the Cimarron Correctional Facility again in the fall to record more messages which will be delivered prior to the Christmas holiday in December.
In March, Redeeming the Family and Big Brothers Big Sisters Oklahoma (BBBSOK) signed a partnership agreement (MOU) to serve children in the BBBSOK Amachi program who have parents in prison with the Messages Project, thus increasing their support and positive outcomes. According to the BBBSOK website:
Amachi, a Nigerian word of hope from the Ibo people, means “who knows but what God has brought us through this child.” Our Amachi Program connects children with role models from all walks of life, but particularly those from local religious organizations. Houses of worship and their members are able to provide a safe, stable environment for children to develop into responsible young men and women.
Redeeming the Family looks forward to this new relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters Oklahoma and the opportunities it will provide to minister to even more Oklahoma children and parents.
Volunteers from Redeeming the Family recorded video DVD messages from inmates to their children at Hillside Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City last week on April 11, 2013. Hillside is an minimum security, all-women’s facility located at 3300 Martin Luther King Avenue just south of Metro Tech and Lincoln Park Golf Course. Volunteers included Shelly Fryer, Peggy Stewart, Amy Andrews, Gage Beavers, Amy Cooper, Sheron Davis, Lynda Bahr, and Cheri Fuller. Thanks to these volunteers and YOU for your support which makes the Messages Project possible!
Redeeming the Family was recognized at the Department of Corrections Board Meeting and Luncheon on Thursday, March 28 as the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Volunteer Organization of the Year. Thanks to all our funders, sponsors, and volunteers for all their great work! Here is the announcement by Leo Brown, Director of Volunteer Services for the Oklahoma DOC:
Our Volunteer Organization of the Year is Redeeming the Family which provides the Oklahoma Messages Project to our agency. The Messages Project is a nationally recognized program that addresses the needs of incarcerated parents and their children. This program provides offenders with the opportunity to record positive messages to their child on a DVD. The messages allow offenders to reassure their children that their mom or dad are OK, that they love them and gives them the opportunity to share with them some hopes or dreams for the future. As part of the Messages DVD they also read a book to their child. The book is then sent to the child along with the DVD. The child receives a message from their parent they can watch again and again and a story book they can read together.
In 2012 Redeeming the Family provided the Oklahoma Messages Project at Lexington CC, Jess Dunn CC, Davis CF, and twice at John Lilley CC, James Crabtree CC, Mable Bassett CC, Eddie Warrior CC, Cimarron CF and Hillside CCC – 15 events at nine different facilities. Last year 580 offenders participated in the program and 1,362 children received DVD Messages with books. Since the Oklahoma Messages Project began in May 2011 it has reached over 2,536 children.
Today we have with us Cheri Fuller, the founder and Executive Director of Redeeming the Family, Barry Davis, Board Chairman, Redeeming the Family; Sheron Davis, Redeeming the Family Vice President and Holmes Fuller, Videographer for Redeeming the Family-Oklahoma Messages Project. These are examples of the kind of contributions our volunteers make to our agency and our state.
Therefore, with your permission, I would like to present the following resolution in honor of National Volunteer Week for your consideration.
The Found Causes TV show featuring Redeeming the Family’s Oklahoma Messages Project which aired again on OETA over Easter weekend.
In 2011, our Okla. Messages Project visited 15 prisons, filmed 521 inmates, and sent DVD videos and books that reached over 1,036 children at Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Our RTF survey, sent to all caregivers this spring, showed the huge impact the Messages from Mom and Dad are having on kids around Oklahoma and beyond. Here are a few comments from kids and those who care for them:
“My granddaughter (5) was thrilled to see her dad on the DVD. He went to prison before she was born but she loves him. She’s watched the video Message from her father too many times to count since Christmas and was very happy to get a new Message DVD and book before Father’s Day. She loves to hear Daddy say he loves her. This is the best project ever developed for children with parents in prison.”
“My youngest granddaughter had nightmares, sadness, anger, confusion and worried about her dad when he went to prison. All three children (3, 5, 8 years old) loved seeing Daddy! Whenever they want, they can put the DVD in and see their dad and are so happy to hear Daddy say he is proud of them in their schoolwork. They read along with him. They place their hands on the TV to touch him and kiss him.”
“When my mom went to prison, I felt all alone and very depressed. I had no drive for my goals. I worried about her constantly because I haven’t gotten to see her since August when she was incarcerated. When I saw the DVD of my mom, I felt relief knowing she’s looking healthier and still loves me and my brother.”–Teenager
On December 6, 2012, Oklahoma City’s News9 posted an article and video about Redeeming the Family’s recent work at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. The article, “OK Non-Profit Gives Incarcerated Parents, Children A Chance At Christmas,” included the following video.