'Messages Project' to aid families

The Messages Project OK is aiding families torn apart by a parent’s mistakes


Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

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.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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