This is the evening ritual for most parents and children, but 100,000 Oklahoma children miss out on this familiar bonding experience because their mommies or daddies are in prison. These children are not only going to bed without a story, they are stressed, wondering if their parents are okay, and questioning their own role in the incarceration.
It's a serious problem that former educator Cheri Fuller decided to do something about. “I couldn't turn a blind eye to the heartbreaking statistics about the emotional damage these children experience when their parent is absent," Fuller said.
The OK Messages Project, led by Executive Director Cheri Fuller, takes trained volunteer teams into prisons to coach and film incarcerated parents reading a book to their child and sharing a positive message. The organization mails the book and DVD of the parent reading the story to approximately 1,000 children before Christmas and 1,000 children for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
As children get to see and hear their parents sharing positive messages like “I love you, and I’m proud of you” through OK Messages DVDs, it helps them see themselves in a positive way, and they know that their parents are safe and love them.
A quote from an Oklahoma teen reflects the positive impact OK Messages has on families. “I hadn’t seen my mother for a year after she was incarcerated. I was constantly worried about her, had no drive for my goals or school, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been very sad and depressed. Seeing Mom’s video that OK Messages sent me, and knowing she is getting better and looks a lot healthier made a big difference to me. It brought relief knowing she still loves me and my brother.”
"You can't imagine the joy on these kids' faces when they get this gift. Sometimes they haven't seen their parent in years—but now they can read with them every night," Fuller said. "We coach the parent to pick a book and coach them on some things to say to assure their child that, 'Mommy loves and misses you, but I'm okay. It's not your fault I am here."