In Prison and Online

The techno revolution has spawned a new program that unites incarcerated moms and their kids in cyberspace

To make the program work, Butcher installed two computers, two modems, two cameras, and two phones at the Alliance. Each setup cost $2500. Some brown plywood desks and office chairs also are part of the setup. There's very little light and a row of dozens of plush teddy bears for the young kids to play with. "My goal is to bring in other support from the entertainment industry," Butcher says. "But for now we're doing it in a very low-tech way."

Martisha Walker, a 23-year-old inmate at a prison in Hernando County, was convicted for stealing large amounts of cash in 1998. She has an eighteen-month-old daughter named Markiyah, who is currently being raised by Walker's mother, Carolyn Scott. Markiyah's father was shot dead at a gas station before the child was born.

Walker hadn't seen her daughter for more than a year when they first began meeting over the Internet. During a recent session, Markiyah blew kisses at the screen and her mom replied, "I love you" and read her a book. Toward the end of the encounter Markiyah fell asleep on her grandmother's lap. "That means it's time for it to end," Scott says. Then she adds: "Now Markiyah knows who her real mama is."

Ramona Tavia, age 28, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1994 after she encouraged her husband, Modesto Silva, to kill a man in a dispute over a gold chain. She's serving a life sentence. Her three children are victims as well. The sessions at the Alliance temporarily relieve their suffering, says her mother, Carmen Tavia. But after a recent meeting, her oldest child, nine-year-old Maria Regla de Alma, broke down. "They are very sad," the children's grandmother say. "They aren't the same children."

lissette.corsa@miaminewtimes.com

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