• Abigail Hall

Programs benefit Eddie Warrior inmates and their children

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Originally published at Muskogee Phoenix July 24, 2018

TAFT — Brittany Oduola said without the Mother's Touch program and the Oklahoma Messages Project at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, she might not have any contact with her son.

"My son was a baby when I was incarcerated, so without (these programs) I wouldn't have the relationship with him that I do," said Oduola, 33, who is an inmate at EWCC. "He knows what I look like, he knows who I am, he knows my voice – without the messages he never would have been able to know that."

Messages allows inmates to send a video message to their children – whether reading, playing with puppets or just talking to them. Mother's Touch allows inmates to read a book to their children over an audio recording, which is then mailed to them, with the book and a picture of the mother reading.

As of 2018, Oklahoma has the highest rate of incarcerated women in the country, which leaves their children the highest at-risk for social and economic issues, as well as continuing the cycle of inter-generational crime. Seventeen percent of children with incarcerated mothers are in trouble with the law or in a juvenile detention center, according to a Tennessee Department of Corrections survey.

EWCC Warden Sharon McCoy said communication between these mothers and their children positively affects child development and mother-child bond.

"Women involved (in these programs) actually have hope, they have a healing connection with their children that they would not otherwise have," said EWCC Chaplain Kathryn McCollum.

Prior to Mother's Touch, inmate interaction at EWCC with their children was minimal.

A 2017 survey of Oklahoma Messages Project revealed of the 3,000 children involved in the program, 88 percent had an increased bond with parents and caregivers and 59 percent had an increased interest in academia.

Amie Terry said she loves to read a new book to her daughter, which can help her daughter gain academic and emotional confidence and increase a positive outcome for her future.

Terry, 33, said the volunteer programs have allowed her to re-build positive and close relationships with her children.

"I don’t think people necessarily realize how the children are affected by their parents incarcerated," Terry said. "I really feel that this program has allowed us to work on rebuilding our relationships with our children and it helps them academically – my daughter makes straight A’s in school."

Mother's Touch was started in 1998 by Suzanne Edmondson, who volunteered her time at EWCC. In 2008, Edmondson moved and Muskogee's Soroptimist International club become sole financial and production sponsor of the program.

Every month, volunteers record as many as 60 inmates reading to their children. Mother's Touch has a waiting list of about 120 inmates who get their turn at reading about every 90 days, McCollum said.

Tish Callahan, a member of Soroptimist International of Muskogee, said the organization donates $1,000 a year in project costs.

OK Messages Project is a nonprofit organization started in 2008 to build healthy relationships between incarcerated parents and their children. Project volunteers record messages at EWCC twice a year.

"It is a great feeling when you know what you are doing is helping a mom and child and is appreciated," according to an entry on the Soroptimist Facebook page. "One little girl has a birthday this week. So the mom sang Happy Birthday to her and then read the book she had selected for her."

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