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Friday, September 26, 2008

Mo. prison program fosters family ties behind bars

VANDALIA, Mo. — The crayons, construction paper and toddlers scattered on the floor suggest a typical daycare center or kindergarten classroom. The armed guards and surveillance cameras reveal a painful reality.

The handful of inmates gathered for the monthly program at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center include some of the state's most notorious female convicted murderers.

But their crimes don't prevent the women's loved ones from calling them Mommy and Grandma, or from needing a hug or words of encouragement. And while the inmates do time, their children and grandchildren often struggle with feelings of anger, resentment and betrayal.

University of Missouri outreach workers started the family support program in 1999 at the state's maximum security prison in Potosi. Known as the Living Interactive Family Education program, or 4-H LIFE, is now offered in Potosi, Vandalia and the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City.

"There are many education programs for incarcerated parents," said program director Tammy Gillespie. "But not a whole lot that work with the entire family." [Mark Godsey]

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