New Hope Oklahoma Gives Guidance To Kids With Parents In Prison

Monday, October 22nd 2012, 3:47 pm
By: News On 6

When parents go to jail, their children suffer and run a higher risk of going to prison themselves someday.

That really impacts Oklahoma, which locks up more women per capita than any other state.

Oklahoma's Own are working to break the cycle when crime and drug abuse run in the family.

What may look like a typical art class is actually much more. The students all share one thing in common: at least one of their parents is in prison.

Anger is an emotion shared by most of the kids at this program called New Hope.

Tomeisha Smith's mother has been in and out of jail since she was eight years old.

"She act like a kid, instead of being a mother," Smith said.

Of the women sent to Oklahoma's prisons, 85 percent have children. As mothers serve time, New Hope is the only comprehensive program in the state to help their kids. Over 400 are currently enrolled, with more than 100 on the waiting list.

Tshaka Rivers is the director of programs at New Hope. His dad was in prison while he was growing up, and Rivers himself was arrested in 9th grade.

"I might be the only positive male figure in their life," Rivers said. "One of the girls, in front of her mom, grabbed my arm and said I wish you were my daddy—I mean, what do you say?"

The non-profit program includes tutoring, meals, and counseling. It also requires service to others here, lending a hand to the homeless. Smith said she has a desire to help other kids with parents in prison. With plans to become a psychologist, she knows what she'll tell them.

"Even though they have their parent's genes in them, they don't have to be the same person. They can be their own person," Smith said.

According to federal statistics, children with a parent in prison are five times more likely to end up in prison themselves.

New Hope believes it has broken the cycle. Over the past 10 years, none of the young people who came through its doors have spent a day behind bars.

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