A Great Cause
When parents are locked up, their children are the ones who take the brunt of incarceration. The kids are the ones serving hard time. Like little Ray couldn’t sleep because when he closed his eyes, he imagined his mom was chained to a prison wall. Or Kari who cried herself to sleep every night because of memories of her mother being dragged away by policeman when they were shopping at Wal-Mart. Or like Johnny who couldn’t focus at school because he feared his dad was in a cage at the prison.
Until they received their first video of their parents sharing a personal, loving message and reading a book to them that our volunteer teams film in prisons.
Even as the population of women in jail or prison increases, so does the number of children whose lives are devastated when their sole caregiver—the mothers—are locked away. New research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation states that in Oklahoma, 96,000 children have a parent in jail or prison during the growing up years. These kids are part of the collateral damage of a broken justice system and deserve not only consideration, but for us as individuals, educators, and members of communities, to invest in them.
In our state, hundreds of thousands of children suffer a stressful, traumatic experience that research shows is worse than death when their parents spend years in prison. That’s why our nonprofit, OK Messages Project exists: to serve children of Oklahoma’s incarcerated parents. We provide a proven literacy and prevention program that maintains the vital connection between child and parent through books and “virtual visits” via videos and that improves their reading skills with daily read-along sessions.
Because of the OK Messages filming videos and books we send to children whose parents are locked up, kids see that their moms and dads are safe and not in cages as they imagined. Because of the Messages videos and books, many children get to read daily bedtime stories with their parents. Because of the Messages videos and books, they get to hear their parents say, “I love you. I’m proud of you. This isn’t your fault; it’s mine. I’m safe”…and much more. This decreases the kids’ anxiety, increases their self-esteem, mental and emotional well-being, while improving their reading skills. These positive outcomes increase the children’s likelihood of staying in school and staying out of prison.
The thousands of children whose parents are in prison have great potential. They are wonderful kids who through no fault of their own suffer multiple losses and stigma of incarceration. All of us can invest in these children’s lives so they can have a brighter future!