When mothers get together, they talk about their children.
When female inmates file into the library at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center (Tulsa County Jail), the conversation always turns to their children. Even though many of the mothers have not seen or held their kids for months, they say their children are always on their minds.
The pull and want to be a good mother doesn’t go away behind bars.
Alicia Craig, Family & Children’s Services Parent Educator, Case Manager and advocate for incarcerated women, begins her morning visiting and advocating for women in jail, helping them have a voice in the system. Craig makes sure the women are treated fairly and have what they need while serving time in jail. The most important tools she provides is the ability to develop healthy parenting skills through the David L. Moss Parenting Program, a collaboration started in 2015 between the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and Family & Children’s Services, and paid for through the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
The goal of the program is to teach female inmates how to become better parents and strengthen families by curbing the trauma that research has shown affects children whose mothers are incarcerated. The classes focus on relationship-building skills, blended families and problem-solving, among other things.
“I set up visitation for mothers and on Thursdays, they get to see their children,” said Craig. During these visits, the women are able to apply the parenting skills they have learned in class.
“It is absolutely amazing to see the transformation in these ladies. They become completely different parents. It is beautiful because I don’t think many of them had any form of basic parenting skills to begin with,” Craig explained.
“My favorite part of my job is seeing the impact I make on these women. I get to watch them transform into positive role models for their children. There was a mom that I was working with that has two young children; a baby about 3 months old and a 9-year-old son. She would talk to me about how she would cuss and yell at her son and we would discuss why that was inappropriate.” Craig goes on to explain, “she was telling me one time her son was sitting across from her in the visiting room and he was leaning back in his chair and she said ‘it made me so mad I wanted to hit him,’ I asked why she did not say please put your chair down.”
A few weeks later, Craig happened to walk by the next time the woman and her son were visiting and he was leaning back in his chair. She looked at her son and told him to please put his chair down and he did. “Seeing him respond right away without having to yell or be hurtful was huge for her!” Craig said with a smile.
“One mother I helped, called me to tell me how she was utilizing the parenting skills she learned during the program. She told me, ‘It really works! If people would just do it, it would work,” those are exciting stories for me to hear. Also, when the caregivers of their children can hear about the change, it’s a beautiful thing. After going through her parenting classes for 5 weeks I saw a change in her. The mother would talk to the other women in the class about her transformation”.
The classes are evidence-based, starting with Active Parenting 1,2,3,4 with three sessions, then Active Parenting 5-12 with six sessions, and Active Parenting for Teens with six sessions. Family and Children’s Services has a therapist that works with the women as well.
Some of the women Craig sees in the jail, end up in Family & Children’s Services Women in Recovery program, an intensive outpatient alternative for eligible women facing long prison sentences for non-violent, drug-related offenses. “I am always glad to see that. Because WIR is a diversion program that keeps women from going to prison. We have several ladies that were in our parenting program in the jail that are in the WIR program. I like to see them doing well,” Craig said.
“One very beautiful thing is when they are in jail, they aren’t high, so they are realizing they weren’t good parents and they get that time to reflect and better themselves. I love this job. I feel like it is a calling for me to help women that are in need,” Craig said.