There are tens of thousands of children with one or both parents in prison in the state of Oklahoma. These children have a higher risk for substance abuse, delinquency, and academic failure. Without intervention and prevention programs, they are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than other children.
Oklahoma Messages Project is a 501-c3 nonprofit organization founded in July 2010 with the mission to serve the most vulnerable, at-risk children in our communities and the state of Oklahoma: those who have incarcerated parents.
100,000 children have lost a parent to prison or jail in Oklahoma. That’s 10 percent of the state’s children, or two children in every classroom.
What is the Oklahoma Messages Project?
“I hadn’t had contact with my daughter for 4 years, and I did the last Messages Project for Christmas, and her father let her watch it. Now we exchange letters and phone calls each week.”
Oklahoma Messages Project operates a highly effective prevention and literacy program that makes a positive differences in kids’ lives and helps mitigate the damage of incarceration. By using multi-media filming of parents in prison reading books to their children, the Oklahoma Messages Project helps maintain and improve the parent-child relationship, boost literacy, and improve the child’s social, emotional, and educational outcomes.
Each year, our team of generous volunteers visit prisons across the state of Oklahoma for several months before Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and films parents reading books to their children and sharing personal messages. We then send the completed videos, along with the book(s) that the parent reads, to the children in care of their guardians. The videos and books provide each child with a positive, loving message, and allows them read a bedtime story with Mom or Dad each night. It reminds each child that they are loved and not forgotten.
Our program boosts children’s reading and literacy skills, reduces nightmares, anxiety, anger, and depression, and allows them to stay connected with their parents. As a result, they experience improved emotional well being, less anger and acting out, and higher self-esteem. Now these children can have more successful outcomes at school and better relationships at home.
The Messages Project national model, founded by Carolyn LeCroy in Virginia in 1999, inspired our project, which launched in May 2011. Carolyn’s teams have filmed more than 10,000 parents’ videos, and was instrumental in helping train the Oklahoma chapter of the Messages Project. After successfully piloting the program in two prisons, we expanded to eight prisons by the following fall, and have continued to grow and serve more children ever since. We are very grateful to Carolyn and her team. Visit their website: www.themessagesproject.org
- The Department of Corrections invited our program into every one of the 17 public prisons and in 2012 we were awarded the Oklahoma DOC Volunteer Organization of the Year for the high, positive impact on children and families of our program.
- With the help of our great volunteers and staff, we have served over 8000 children whose parents are behind bars since 2011, but there are thousands of more children across the state who still need our help.
In 2018 Cheri Fuller received the Leadership Oklahoma Award for impacting children and families in the state who are affected by incarceration through the volunteer initiative OK Messages Project.
- In April, 2016, Cheri Fuller & OK Messages was given the Citizenship Award by the Oklahoma chapter of the National Council on Families for contributions to children and families.
- We launched our first annual Kids Outdoor Adventure Day in 2014 for the children we serve, which will continue to be held annually. This event provides a fun day of outdoor activities at a ranch, a camp, or other venue.
“Decades of attachment research underscore the obvious: kids need parents, do better in their presence, suffer when the relationship to a parent is severed or breached.”
Why the Oklahoma Message Project works:
After participating in the Oklahoma Messages Project, 65 percent of the children who participated experienced less depression and sadness; 85 percent were happier and more peaceful; 55 percent experienced less anger, anxiety, and acting out.
Boosts Self Esteem
78 percent of children who participated in the Oklahoma Messages Project had higher self esteem; 88 percent had a better bond with their parent and caregiver. This increase in self esteem allows them to be more successful in building healthy relationships.
72 percent of children who received messages from their parents showed improvement in reading; 59 percent had significantly more interest in school. This increases their likelihood of staying in school and staying out of prison.
Thank you so much for blessing the children with a video of their dads and moms. This meant the world to me and my daughter who is nine years old. This was her first time to get to read a book with her daddy and she reads the Frozen book with him every day. Life is not always fair and children should not have to hurt over their loved one’s mistakes or a broken justice system. Your program is trying to fight the cycle of incarceration in our state. Our little girl loves the two books she’s gotten now—but more than anything, to get to see him makes her so happy. She went from the lowest in her class last spring to getting an award for “Best Reader In The School” after reading this bedtime story nightly with her dad for 5 months. We have watched the video every day since it arrived. You are making a difference!”
We are blessed to have the support of some amazing partners that help to strengthen our program and expand our reach to serve more children and families across the state of Oklahoma.
The Messages Project of Virginia, founded by Carolyn LeCroy, is a nonprofit organization that enables children of incarcerated parents to maintain and rebuild relationships with their mothers and fathers. Since 1999, The Messages Project has recorded and delivered more than 10,000 video messages from incarcerated parents to their children in several states. 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 incarcerated and a healthy connection is maintained, it reduces the child’s risk for social, emotional, and educational problems. For the incarcerated parent, family connection decreases the likelihood of recidivism. Maintaining and enhancing the bond between the child and the incarcerated parent through video messages and other interactive media are the focal points of The Messages Project.
ReMerge is a comprehensive female diversion program designed to transform pregnant women and mothers facing incarceration into productive citizens. These women, if facing non-violent crimes, are given an opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation to reduce the rate at which women are incarcerated in Oklahoma County, and to interrupt the cycle of intergenerational incarceration and poverty. When alternatives to incarceration are offered that include evidence based treatment and removal of barriers, they can become productive citizens, capable of caring for themselves and their children. As a result, these mothers are more likely to lead a crime free life, thus breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration and poverty.
New Hope serves children of prisoners ages 5 through 18 by providing school-based and community-based after school programs; weekend retreats; holiday gatherings; monthly family social events; and residential summer camps. New Hope is changing the lives of children of prisoners everyday. When a child’s parent goes to prison, many important developmental milestones are put in jeopardy and children suffer, but New Hope is working to break the cycle of generational incarceration in the state of Oklahoma. Through life affirming programs, children are lifted from isolation and fear into possibility and hope.