Projects / Incarcerating Oklahoma

Carolyn Williams and her great-granddaughter Adalynn, who met for the first time a month ago when their family reconnected on Facebook. Due to generations of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, addiction, and incarceration, the family was split apart. “Four generations restored,” Carolyn, who is now clean and out of prison, said of the reunion.

With over 60,000 of its residents behind bars, Oklahoma recently became the global leader in its incarceration rate. In the wake of mass incarceration, many families have no choice but to suffer the current of what we call justice,  building their lives in its perpetual wake.

Inmates at the Dick Conner Correctional Center graduated from Tulsa Community College and Langston University  in Hominy, Oklahoma on June 19, 2018. The graduation ceremony was held in the prison and family members were invited to attend.

Alyssa Yarnell and her daughter MacKenzie at their home in Tulsa, OK. Yarnell grew up with a single mother who had a drug addiction and sold drugs from their home. Though Alyssa was determined her own motherhood would be different, Alyssa became addicted to heroin and eventually lost custody of her daughter MacKenzie. After prison time, rehabilitation facilities, and attempts to get clean on her own, Alyssa was admitted to Women in Recovery, an 18-month intensive recovery program. Alyssa knew that she wanted to go due to her responsibility to her daughter and her desire to be a good mother. “I had let my daughter down enough,” Alyssa said. “When I left for Women in Recovery, I explained it to Kenzie by saying that I had made bad choices and that I was going there to make better ones, to be a better mom and person.”

Alyssa Yarnell works at her office at 12&12, a recovery center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “This is my dream job,” she said. 

MacKenzie on the couch while visiting her mother in Tulsa, Okahoma. Alyssa is working to gain custody of Kenzie, who she currently sees some weekends and talks to on the phone most days. “It wasn’t that I didn’t love Kenzie before, I just wasn’t mentally stable,” Alyssa said.

Alyssa kisses her fiance, Morgan, at their home in Tulsa, Okahoma. Alyssa has been sober for two years and Morgan has been sober for a year and a half.

Crystal Kirk, 12, keeps a framed photo of her mother, Amber Kirk, above her bed in her home in Mulvane, Kansas on August 18, 2019. Crystal and her two siblings have lived with their grandmother since 2011 when their mother was given a lifetime sentence for possession and endeavoring to manufacture. Since Amber was incarcerated at a facility 3 hours from her mother and children, she did not see them often but called every day.

Deborah Hansard talks on the phone with her daughter Amber Kirk, who is incarcerated, while her granddaughter Crystal Kirk listens beside of her. Deborah has been raising her three grandchildren since 2011 while Amber has been serving a lifetime sentence at Mabel Basset Correctional Center in McCloud, Oklahoma while her mother and children live together in Mulvane, Kansas.

“I’ve had them for so long I wouldn’t know what it was like without them,” Deborah said of her grandchildren. 

Lindsay McAteer with her son Talon at their home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Lindsay was arrested for drug trafficking in 2015 and sent to Women in Recovery in 2016. Her five-year-old son Talon, who she has raised as a single mother, was placed under the guardianship of her parents. To get Talon back in her custody, was required to have a stable job and home. Since she graduated Women in Recovery in 2016, she and Talon have a home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma close to her parents, who act as co-parents for Talon. “ I have so much more gratitude for everything we do every day now,” she said.

Alicia Forbit gets ready to visit her husband Chris, who is incarcerated. Two years ago, Alicia and Chris Forbit were married in the visiting room of Dick Conners Correctional Facility in Homminy, Oklahoma. Since then, she visits every Sunday.

“He's always been such a huge part of our lives, even before we were married, he was my best friend. I do my best to live my life so that if he were to call me tomorrow and tell me he was being released, he could walk out of prison and right into normal life without a lot of changes having to be made on our part.”

Alicia Forbit and her sister-in-law Madison take a swim in the river after visiting Chris in prison. “We continue to live life, go to the river and swim, to the water park, on picnics, all the things that everyone else does, but in the middle of the fun, there is always a flash of’ Chris would be doing this if he was here,” Alicia said. “We make memories that he will never be part of because we can't stop living and having fun while he is in prison.”

Alicia Forbit and her sister-in-law Madison call Chris on his birthday. To celebrate, they cooked all of his favorite food and called to sing Happy Birthday.

April Pless and Zoe Hillard met in a recovery program. They began dating and moved in together soon after, helping each other care for their children and stay sober.

Alyssa Pless runs ahead of her mother, April Pless, at their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We’ve always been close, but I wasn’t a responsible mother when I was using,” said April. “Now, I want to help her develop her sense of self and her character.”

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