February 14, 2007
Recent reports show that nearly one in every thirty Americans is either behind bars, on parole or on probation and the good majority of these adults are parents.
The Virginia Department of Correctional Education offers parents the chance to use their time behind bars to better themselves.
Many on the outside may wonder how a good mother could land herself behind bars.
“But the truth is, the incarcerated people are just like everybody else, they do care about their children, they love their children and they love the opportunity to learn how to be better parents from prison and when they get home,” said Gwynne Cunningham, Director of Specialized Programs with the Department of Correctional Education.
For Rashawn Lawrence, an inmate at Fluvanna correctional Center for Women, this is her year to go home.
But before she leaves Fluvanna, Rashawn is enrolling in classes to ensure she can be the best mother possible for her children.
“The Moms Inc and The Dads Inc, which is short for incarcerated, not incorporated, and we just started to teach the parenting program at as many sites as we could,” said Cunningham.
Lawrence said, “I've learned patience, how to deal with certain situation, situations that I didn't know how to deal with at first. I’m not saying that its going to be good, but I’m working on it.”
Part of Rashawn's recovery is writing to her eleven year old daughter every day of the week.
“I used to have a problem with writing. I used to write all the time and my daughter didn't write back, and my mom didn't write back, so with that I just said that I was going to do it anymore. So once I got in the parenting class, it just helped me to know that they don't owe me, so to keep writing, and to keep doing encouraging things,” said Lawrence.
One of Rashawn’s biggest encouragements is Sue Kennon, a woman who knows all too well exactly what Rashawn is going through.
Years ago, Kennon’s husband was killed in a freak accident.
She ended up turning to a life of drugs and depression.
“I just ultimately ended up totally out of control, and I had three beautiful children and I robbed with a toy gun three little dress shops, and when I couldn't live with myself anymore, I went to a pharmacy to try to get the drugs to OD. I just wanted to end it,” said Kennon.
But she couldn’t end it and then later found herself convicted of a crime, she would spend the next fifteen years behind bars.
While serving her time Kennon made a huge recovery, earning her associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees virtually from inside prison walls.
She now is a full time employee of the Department of Correctional Education, using her experiences to teach other prison parents.
“I feel real comfortable where I am. It’s like having one foot in both worlds, and it gives you a really strong understanding of humanity; the good and the bad in all of us,” said Kennon.
Last spring Virginia governor Tim Kaine awarded Sue Kennon's parenting class with the Governor’s Award for innovation.