Norfolk jail’s Messages Project helps incarcerated mothers stay connected to their children


NORFOLK Va. (WAVY) — Mother’s Day may not be the same for hundreds of kids in Hampton Roads because their mothers are doing time for crime.

In many cases, children are the silent victims when a parent is sentenced to time behind bars. However, in the Norfolk City Jail, there is a new program helping to keep the mother-child connection alive. The program is well received by mothers in the jail who say it is helping them parent from behind bars. 

The Norfolk City Jail introduced a new program called “The Messages Project” to help mothers parent from their jail cells. 

A Norfolk woman who wound up in the city jail in 1994 created it. The goal is to create a healthy family connection between a mother and child from jail. The program is not only for mothers, but also grandmothers and aunts. 

Tamara Lindquist with Norfolk City Jail said, “Anyone can make a mistake, they’ve identified they’ve made a mistake and they are here to get better. They are going to get better, and they are going to get out.”

However, with this project, jail leaders hope children who connect with their parents won’t experience social, emotional and educational problems. 

“I put myself here, no one else has, and I have to get it together and stay together for me first before I can help them,” said inmate Tracy Draughan.

Draughn’s fellow inmate, Melinda Ireland, says the program is teaching her how to better parent her children when she is released from prison. 

“Every day my heart aches when I think about them, 30 times a day.”

The letters are not easy to write, they are raw, real and a way for mothers to tell their children that they are OK. 

“I know I’ve missed so many years of your life, but since I’ve been here I’ve had time to reflect,” said Ireland as she reads her letter out loud to the class. “I want to tell you some very important things to help you understand why I’m away from you. I promise to answer your questions, I promise to tell you the truth, sometimes the answer may be I don’t know, that will be the truth too.” 

Richard James is the program director at Norfolk City Jail. He says the program is working. 

“They are going to find that their real happiness, you are not going to break the law, and you are going to teach your children how to be productive citizens.”

“I needed a moment, I believe, to take this class, give me some tools in my tool box for when I go back out to society,” said inmate Janice Carr. “I miss their faces, the smell of their hair, the blue eyes, the dimples, the little smirks.”

Currently, there are 2.7 million minor children who have a parent in jail or prison, which amounts to 4% of children in America.  

“We know that children of incarcerated parents, have a lot of educations and this helps to open up communication with their children,” said Lindquist.

Mothers say this has changed their lives — not only inside jail walls — but when they get out.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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