Books of Love

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the March 2020 Issue

Prisoner holding book

“Let’s read a story...night-night, I love you. Go to sleep.”

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 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. 

Visiting Prisons

So, Fuller resigned from her job as a writer and educator to create the Oklahoma Messages Project. She and her volunteers visit prisons to film parents reading bedtime stories to their children. The child then receives the book and DVD—which can be watched every night.

Kambyr is one of the children who receives reading videos from her dad, which she watches whenever she misses him. According to Kambyr’s mom, “When your child is hurting and super sad and not understanding why her dad’s not there for story time, she can read right along, and it makes it hurt a bit less.”

“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.’” 

Touch My Hand

Anna is another video recipient who said, “I love getting packages from my mom. I love when she reads to me, and I can follow along. I love it when she puts her hand on the screen and says, ‘Touch my hand. I’ll be here if you’re lonely or down, and know that I love you so much.’ It makes me feel very happy.”

“Reading at bedtime is not a silly little tradition,” Fuller said. “It is proven as one of the most important predictors of a child’s success in reading in school. Without strong reading skills by the 4th grade, they are 75% more likely to end up on welfare or in prison. These kids have been in the shadows far too long, but they aren’t just statistical data. They are real, and we care deeply about them. Reading together is one of the most powerful family rituals in existence. Reading with parents, even by video, wraps the children in parental support until the day they are reunited.”

Visit www.okmessagesproject.org to donate and learn more. 

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