Program teaches inmates parenting responsibilities

By Christina Calloway
ccalloway@pntonline.com

Melissa Griffith received a dose of joy when she fixed her 4-year-old daughter Nadia’s ponytail Friday.

Griffith appreciated what may be a daily task for other mothers because the 30-year-old only sees her children for about 30 minutes a week. And from these visits, she said she’s learned what her priorities should be.

Roosevelt County Detention Center inmate Melissa Griffith, right, fixes her daughter Nadia’s hair before they sat down  to color at a Christmas Party  for the jail’s Children Uniting with Parents  program.

Roosevelt County Detention Center inmate Melissa Griffith, right, fixes her daughter Nadia’s hair before they sat down
to color at a Christmas Party
for the jail’s Children Uniting with Parents
program.

“I just learned what matters most; my kids,” said an emotional Griffith.

Despite decisions she’s made that led to her incarceration, Griffith and other female inmates at the Roosevelt County Detention Center say they’re working to become better parents through the jail’s Children Uniting with Parents program.

On Friday, three of the women in the program united with their children for a small Christmas party where they made ornaments and decorated the jail’s Christmas tree.

For Griffith, the program, which has been running for three years and is open to low-security inmates, provided the Christmas she otherwise wouldn’t be able to spend with her three children.

“The program has helped us bond with out children and help them understand where we’re at and that we’re still in their lives,” said Griffith, a native of Floyd.

According to Jail Administrator David Casanova, the program’s goal is to help inmates realize their responsibility as parents. He added the parenting classes the inmates take become emotional because inmates “have to figure out what they need to do to be a good parent.”

Shema Hernandez, 31, of Portales said other inmates have tested her patience because they know if she or any of the program’s participants have a disciplinary problem, they won’t be able to visit with their children.

“It (the program) keeps us wanting to strive to do better,” Hernandez said.

The mother of four is close to her eldest daughter Ginevieve Martinez, but thinks the relationship would be different if she wasn’t able to spend time with her.

“If I tell her to do something, she does it only because she still has that respect for me,” Hernandez said. “This program is a blessing for all of us. You don’t want to go home after 22 months and have to get to know each other again.”

Martinez is a freshman athlete at Portales High School. She said the hardest part of her mother being in jail are all the volleyball and basketball games she’s missed.

The visits help the mother-daughter pair reconnect.

“We usually talk about everything,” said the aspiring forensic anthropologist about her mother. “It makes you feel fortunate to see someone you don’t get to see a lot.”

With her mother’s expected release in January, Martinez said she looks forward to being a family again.

“She (Hernandez) just has like really good advice and always wants me to do the right thing,” Martinez said.

Angel Sanchez, 39, said she’s been incarcerated for nearly 40 days, and though it was too late for her to participate in the program, she was able to help with Friday’s party.

The mother of two from Portales said it’s hard to see the other women with their children, but thinks highly of the moms who want to be in their children’s lives.

She said because the program’s participants know causing any kind of problems has consequences that won’t allow them to see their children, they stay on their best behavior.

“Their kids are more important to them than a confrontation,” Sanchez said.

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