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Utah ex-con starts college scholarship for kids of inmates

Scholarship » Now a plumber, Karl “Willy” Winsness wants to help kids whose parents have committed crimes.

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Winsness is now working to get information about the scholarship out to the community, and he hopes to watch it grow. He plans to donate more funds to the scholarship every year, and he wants other inmates to do the same, even if it’s just a dollar or two a year.

He wants the children whose parents have made mistakes to commit to becoming educated. That’s his whole purpose in creating the scholarship, he said.

At a glance

About the scholarship

What » The “Willy the Plumber Scholarship Fund” was created by a former inmate to further the education or training of students whose parents are serving sentences in Utah’s correctional facilities or have a history of chronic incarceration.

How » In its first year, applications are due Feb. 28, 2013. A scholarship committee will meet and select recipients in March, and in April applicants will be notified. Award checks will be sent directly to the institutions of the student’s choice in August.

More » Information on the scholarship can be found by calling 801-559-3005 or emailing info@utahcf.org

Donate » Online at http://utahcf.org/

Prison inmates given resources to improve parenting skills

While children with incarcerated parents often struggle on the outside, prison programs aim to improve parenting skills for those locked up.

Utah Department of Corrections officials say they realize children suffer when their parents are away, said Lee Liston, correctional administrator for the division of programming at the department.

“We all concur when it comes to children they’re casualties, true casualties when it comes to incarceration,” said Liston.

The trials of the children of inmates are often not well-known, said Craig Burr, division director of programming for the department.

To prepare offenders to become better parents once they’re reunited with their children upon release from prison, the department sponsors a host of programs. Some initiatives include:

Bedtime stories » Inmates are given the opportunity to audio record themselves reading a bedtime story. The recording is then delivered to the children as a reminder of their parents’ continuing care. The program, in its 7th year, is very popular, said Liston, and especially successful with incarcerated mothers.

YPrep » Your Parole Requires Extensive Preparation (YPrep) helps inmates make connections with employment, health, finance and other resources before they go on parole. In this program the resources are brought to them while still incarcerated. Burr said making a connection with a rehabilitation office, for example, before inmates are released helps them to make the transition back into society easier for them and their families.

One aspect of the program includes temporarily removing inmates from the prison setting so that they can practice increasing professional skills like interviewing. Inmates can practice job skills in a room remodeled to look like an office.

Parenting classes » Parenting classes are available to certain inmates who’ve had their needs assessed upon arrival at the prison and meet the criteria for such classes, said Burr. Along with teaching basic parenting skills, the classes help inmates create connections with their children through regular visits to the prison.

Even if a parent was doing well before incarceration, Liston said, by the time they leave prison the child has developed new relationships to perhaps replace the one they had with a parent. That is why helping the offenders re-establish emotional connections with their children is important and will overall help the parents become more successful after leaving prison.

—Justina McCandless

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He has vowed he’ll never go back to prison. If that happened he would never see his daughters and three grandchildren again and he has already missed out on enough, he said.

"I’m just too old to start over," said Winsness. "Failure is no option."

Ainsworth is also focused on a brighter future. She has been out of prison for six years and is in contact with her father regularly. She takes care of her two children —one who was diagnosed with severe autism —and attends classes at Salt Lake Community College.

She applauds her fathers efforts in making a scholarship happen. She said the scholarship gives people like her hope.

"The dream is alive, just believe in yourself," Ainsworth said of what she’d like to tell children of incarcerated parents. "There’s people out there that actually believe in you."


Twitter: @justiola

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