Barbara & Malissa

Barbara Allen is taking care of her two grandchildren while her daughter, Malissa, has been serving time in prison. Yet with Head Start’s help, Malissa has worked to become sober, and has proven to be a strong and influential mother in her children’s lives.

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Barbara Allen spends her days working for the West Virginia Board of Education, and her evenings caring for her two young grandchildren – Christopher, age 3; and Paisley, 16 months. Caring for a new baby is "a blessing," Barbara says, but not something she expected to be taking on at her age.

Malissa Floyd, Barbara’s twenty-six year old daughter, is currently awaiting work release from Lakin Correctional Center. From the age of eighteen, Malissa experienced troubles off and on. After struggling with an abusive relationship, she became addicted to prescription drugs. In the midst of her struggles, she became pregnant, but lost the baby after she was born. Malissa was able to reach sobriety, and eventually had a son, Christopher, but her past caught up to her.

When she was arrested, Malissa was pregnant with her daughter, Paisley. She gave birth while incarcerated, and Paisley was immediately put in Barbara’s care. Serving an eighteen-month sentence, Malissa has worked earnestly to make changes in her life. She entered a prison-run drug rehabilitation program to help stay clean, and worked her way up to a senior coordinator in the program, helping encourage other inmates to overcome their addictions.

Yet while Malissa was excelling in prison, her role as a mother was unable to reach its full potential. Visits with her children were short and rigid, held in communal rooms and lasting a mere two hours. The children had various restrictions – they had to remain seated, and use quiet voices. “Being little, they need their mother to hold and love them,” Barbara explains, “It’s so important for these babies.”

Malissa enrolled in a Head Start program that works with Lakin to provide support for incarcerated mothers and their children.

Head Start has provided Barbara with the support she needs to care for children a second time around. Each month, Barbara receives packets in the mail about what to expect during each age and milestone.

Head Start features a “socialization” program – a time each week for Malissa to connect with her children in a tangible way. During socialization, mothers can eat meals, change diapers, and play interactively with their children. This opportunity has allowed Christopher and Paisley to emotionally connect with their mother in a loving and full capacity. The program also provides classes to help the women become better mothers, educating them on everything from food to financial budgeting.

Socialization, coupled with the support and motivation from her caseworkers, is the reason Malissa has reached such success, Barbara says. Malissa is determined to help others learn from her experiences, and hopes to travel to schools and churches to talk to young women about drug addiction and motherhood. "Now I am sober, and I know who the real me is," Malissa recently wrote to her mother; and the real Malissa has proven to be a strong woman, mother, and mentor to those around her; and their commitment to Marissa’s success is palpable.

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