The worst part about being in prison, for many women at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, is being separated from their children.

The next worst thing: the guilt.

“So selfish and worrying about our selves, and not thinking about our kids – and just being addicted to drugs,” said Veronica Zittnan, who has not seen her daughter, now seven, since she was three.

The “Lullaby Project,” which just finished its second year, is a chance for Hiland moms to make it up to their children.

It brings inmates and local musicians together to write lullabies.

The process begins with letters the Hiland moms write to their children. The musicians put their words to music, which are recorded on a CD and given to the children with a personal message from their moms.

“The women in this project have told me how their life has changed,” said Tamara McCoy, a singer-pianist, who returned for the second year of the project.”

McCoy says she’s also been changed by the Lullaby Project – and after hearing the stories of the women is not as quick to pass judgment.

Keys to Life Alaska is the non-profit organization which brought the Lullaby Project to Alaska. It's modeled on a program from the Carnegie Institute. 

Several hundred people made the trip to the Eagle River prison on Saturday to hear songs from the CD performed. Ticket sales and CD purchases will help pay for future Lullaby projects. 

Alaska’s First Lady Donna Walker addressed the inmates 

“And I know that for many of you, it is the love for your children that is making the impossible, possible.”

Such was the case for Shawn Muese’ Fesagaiga, who took part in the Lullaby Project last year as an inmate. She wrote a lullaby for her children called “Angels from Heaven,” in her native Samoan language.

Fesagaiga is now out of prison and returned to Hiland to help mentor her former inmates. 

She says her Lullaby helped set the stage for her reunion with her children.

“When I got out, I met up with my kids, like a day after and gave them the CD,” Fesagaiga said. “And ever since then, my kids haven’t stopped listening to it, even if it’s scratched.”

Three of her sons were at Saturday’s concert to watch their mom perform some of the songs on the new Lullaby CD.

“I’m proud that she got this far,” said Felise Paepae, who hadn’t seen his mom in five years until she got out of prison recently. “She’s done so many things, that I’m happy.”

Shana Jones, another former inmate, who took part in the first Lullaby Project, also returned as a mentor. 

“I know what it was like to be here. I spent a lot of time here,” said Jones, who struggled with addiction, like many of the women at Hiland.

“It’s nice to give back to the ladies and let them know you can have a successful life outside of here,” Jones said.

Jones helped Veronica Zittnan write her lullaby, “I Think of You Every Day.”

Zittnan says every Hiland mom worries their kids will forget them or think that they don’t care.

She says Jones’ return as a mentor has inspired her.

“It gives me hope that I can get out and do good.” 

Editors note: KTVA’s public affairs program, Frontiers, will feature the Lullaby Project on November 19th. Frontiers airs on KTVA-Channel 11 at 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Copyright 2017 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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