Sunday, December 25, 2011

Oklahoma inmates send video taped holiday messages

Carla Hinton of the Daily Oklahoman shared a different kind of Christmas story this holiday season.  She wrote about the efforts of  the Redeeming the Family's Oklahoma Messages Project.  The project provided an opportunity for inmates to reconnect with their families through video taped massages for the holidays.  The article is worth reading on this wonderful Christmas morning.

Inmates send holiday messages of love to their families
Gregory Fagan, of Ardmore, won't be home for Christmas, although the Oklahoma inmate will talk to his family, read an inspirational book and even sing a song to his loved ones as they gather for the holiday.

“Grandpa, a year ago, was behind the fence. Grandpa stumbled and God has picked me up and dusted me off,” Fagan said, looking into a video camera as his message was being taped.

Expressing his remorse for not teaching his children and grandchildren Scripture and Christian songs, Fagan recited the Lord's Prayer and sang “This Little Light of Mine.”

“I didn't sing to you kids, and I should have,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion, his eyes shining with unshed tears.

Cheri Fuller, of Edmond, founder of the nonprofit Redeeming the Family ministry, said the Oklahoma Messages Project aims to reconnect incarcerated mothers and fathers with their children by giving them an opportunity to tell their loved ones how much they love and miss them.

The project, funded by private donations, is year-round, but sometimes messages are tied to holidays such as Mother's Day, Father's Day and, most recently, Christmas.

Bridge for connecting

Inmates at state and private prisons have participated in the messages project, and feedback from families receiving the videotapes has been extremely positive, Fuller said.

“This is a very good transition — a bridge for re-entry into the family,” she said. “We hear that children watch these DVDs over and over and over again.”

Fuller said helpful guidelines for crafting their messages are sent to inmates who sign up for the project. She said on the day of the taping, the incarcerated men and women select new children's books to read on videotape. The books are donated through a book drive in partnership with Barnes & Noble and churches including Bethany First Church of the Nazarene.

Fagan selected a Bernstein Bears book about giving, while inmate Jared Ball chose to read “The Adventures of My Little Pony” to his 4-year-old daughter.

At the Clara Waters center, volunteers set up two taping rooms where they erected Christmas backdrops featuring Christmas trees and other holiday images. After selecting their books, the inmates gathered in groups of about six to get tips from Fuller and volunteer David Dahlgren on how to create videotape messages that would have the most positive impact on their children.

“This is your time to talk to them when you can't be there,” Dahlgren said. “You're going to do great.”

Fuller also gave the men encouragement.“The priceless part of this is your kids are going to look into your eyes and see the love. Every child needs a blessing from their father.”

Sharing their stories
As the men waited their turn in front of the camera, Fuller said some incarcerated men and women take the opportunity to share a bit of their journey to prison, adding words of remorse and caution designed to keep their children from heading down the same path. She said most inmates keep their messages positive and upbeat, hoping to let their families know how much they care about them, how much they have changed and how much they anticipate regaining their freedom to be together as a family.

Fagan said he entered the prison system after being convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance. Fagan said he served a portion of his eight-year sentence for that crime “behind the fence” at Jackie Brannon Corrections Center in McAlester but then was sent back to prison on a four-year sentence for being caught with a gun after a former felony conviction.

He said he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol for much of his life but is now clean and sober and looking forward to moving into a halfway house and getting a job in about four months. Saying he has about one year of his sentence remaining, Fagan praised Glory Bound Ministries and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's prison ministry programs for coming to his aid.

Fagan said his videotaped message would be sent to his six children and eight grandchildren. He said he first found out about female inmates participating in the Oklahoma Messages Project and knew he wanted to be a part.

“It was wonderful to be related to as a dad,” Fagan said.
Messages of love

Another inmate, Ball, 24, of Tulsa, held up a picture of his wife and his little daughter before reading a book during his taping session. Ball, who said he was convicted of second-degree burglary and uttering a forged instrument, said he wanted his daughter to know that he keeps the picture close and that he thinks about her all the time.

Andrew Smalle, 31, of Durant, said he wished his 14-year-old daughter a belated happy birthday when he taped his holiday message. Smalle said he was convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance. He said when the cameras were rolling, he encouraged his daughter to stay in school and told her he hoped to be home by March.

"I'm proud to be able to speak to my kid from the heart,” he said.

Daniel Cowns, 36, of Oklahoma City, said he was convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute. He said his holiday message would be sent to his wife who would show the videotape with the 15 children they share between them.

“I don't want them to think that just because I'm locked up, I'm not thinking about them,” Cowns said.

Meanwhile, Fuller said she liked to see the men before their taping session and afterward. She said the happiness they express at being able to send a message of love to their families is evident for all to see.
"They're a little nervous at first, and then when they come out they're overjoyed.”

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