EDMOND, Okla. – When a parent is sentenced to prison, the family bond is shattered.
“Yes, I have not seen her in 8 years,” inmate Misty Puskarie said.
During the pandemic, isolation is especially difficult. Other than an occasional letter or phone call, there is no contact with the outside world.
“A phone call, a letter, that’s just okay for kids today,” OK Messages Project Executive Director Cheri Fuller said. “But I’ll tell you what. When they see these, they feel like mom or dad is in the room with them.”
Long before COVID-19, Cheri Fuller began the OK Messages Project.
“This is a vital, important, personal communication between mother or father, and children,” Fuller said.
Three times each year, a party of volunteers goes into Oklahoma prisons, and record inmates reading to their children.
“It couldn’t happen without the volunteers. They always came in with such good personalities and cheerful spirits,” inmate Malanei Matial said.
The DVD’s, along with a copy of the book, are sent to the families at no charge. All these children need to do is hit play for a personal message from their incarcerated parent.
“Since I have no contact with my daughter, if I put my hand up to the screen, I can tell her to put her hand up to the screen when she’s lonely,” inmate Puskarie said. “She does it. My mom tells me she sometimes freezes the screen and says mommy is with her.”
The interactive videos do more than salve an aching heart. Studies show story time boosts literacy, builds confidence and bonds families. But the main goal is stop the cycle of incarceration.
“Kids who have poor or no reading skills by the end of fourth grade, 75% of them end up in jail or prison,” Fuller told us. “That is terrible. It’s unacceptable.”
So far, more than a thousand inmates, like Misty, have participated in the OK Messages Project.
“She talks about how much she likes watching my videos, “Puskarie said. “It makes me feel good knowing it had the response it did with her. I needed to hear that.”
The inmates may be temporarily separated by a virus, but volunteers and technology are keeping them connected.