Big Brothers Big Sisters Reaches Out to Children of Prisoners

Big Brothers Big Sisters has always reached out to at-risk youth in the community. With the help of the Department of Criminal Justice, the program is providing mentors for children of Texas prisoners. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports on the Amachi Program.

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The goal is to stop the cycle of incarceration among children of prisoners. Russanne Kelley is vice president of programs for Houston's Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"At any given day you have over two million children who have parents, a mother or father, who are in jail. And if you expand that to in jail, on probation or on parole that brings the number to seven-point-three million children."

She says statistics show 70 percent of those children will spend time in jail sometime during their own lives. Big Brothers Big Sisters received a more than three-and-a-half million dollar grant from the governor's office to bring the program to Texas inmates' families. Lesley Williams is concerned about her son David.

"David is the only one of my children who was used to two parents from birth all the way up to three years old. His Dad did two years in prison, got out for two years, and then went back. And this time got a 35 year sentence."

Williams says David sometimes gets angry and acts out. She recognizes the importance of others influence on her children.

"I give back to the community as well my own way, but it's sort of hard to do it with your own kids because sometimes your always one them and your own kids won't listen to you."

David enjoys finding out what he'll be doing on any given day with his big sister.

"Going swimming flew a kite with my best friend and we went swimming with my brother on Monday, and the museum, Williams tower."

David's Big Sister is Carolyne Defoore. She looks for activities that are fun for them to do.

"I don't really like to press him. I'm just there for him. I'm not there to change who he is or make him talk about something he doesn't want to talk about. I'm just be there to be his friend,"

Defoore recognizes the importance of mentors in a child's life.

"I was a bit of a troubled teenager myself. My parents were divorced and I took it really hard and started acting out. There were people in my life who intervened and helped me out and made all the difference."

Big Brothers Big Sisters usually likes to pair men with boys and women with girls, but there's a shortage of men mentors. Kelley with Big Brothers Big Sisters says the Amachi program is only highlighting that shortage.

"We currently have 451 little boys on our waiting list, either been interviewed or going through the interview process, and we have 51 men to match them with."

Big Brothers Big Sisters hope to mentor 1,300 children of incarcerated parents in the first year of the program. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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