Angel Tree brought healing to Anastasia's family and gave her a chance to love her two young children, even while behind bars.
Anastasia will never forget seeing her little girl Angel burst into the prison visitation room. "Mommy, you got me this! It's amazing," Angel said, clutching the shirt Anastasia gave her for Christmas through Angel Tree®.
Anastasia knew how her daughter felt. Her dad and stepfather were always bouncing in and out of prison. She never forgot the loneliness she'd felt on the other side of the bars—especially at Christmas.
Unfortunately, she entered that same destructive cycle herself.
Anastasia was arrested one night, leaving her two young children in her mother's care. Riley, the older daughter, was in kindergarten when Anastasia left. Angel, her baby, was 3 months.
Anastasia is reluctant to share details of the dark days that led to her incarceration, but she admits, "I was not a good person."
A lot has changed since then.
LOVING HER CHILDREN FROM A DISTANCE
Regret weighed heavy on Anastasia's soul during her time in prison. Visits from family kindled some comfort and joy, but her loved ones only came before or after Christmas Day. "Visitation on actual holidays is really kind of depressing," Anastasia explains.
One year, with Christmas approaching, Anastasia learned about Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship®. Through sponsoring churches and organizations, Angel Tree provides a gift and the Gospel message to children on behalf of their parent in prison.
Anastasia leapt at the opportunity to sign up her kids. This was her chance to do something tangible for them from a distance.
"[Angel Tree] does make a difference with children," Anastasia says. "Kids hear what other people say, what other people think. They hear what family members say about their parent. But they have their opinion in their heart, because that's still their parent."
She still gets choked up thinking about the day her daughter ran into that visitation room, gripping her treasured Angel Tree gift. "It was just great for her to recollect that this came from Mommy. … It's really touching to know my kids got something from me, and they knew I was still 'there' even though I was far away."
A FAMILY REUNITED
Now the days of separation are over. Anastasia was released in early 2018. She and her kids live under the same roof in Tampa, Florida, and she is in the process of obtaining legal guardianship. "I work a lot," she says, "so it's a treat just to sit down and watch a movie together."
Her current gig as a hairstylist pays the bills, but it’s also a passion. She's won trophies in competitive braiding. Anastasia is proud of her talent—after all, it's good to be known for something besides her precarious past.
"My kids are proud of me. My mom is proud of me. I'm proud of myself," she says. "Every day, I do something to make sure I'm a better mother than I ever used to be. Whether it's helping my kids with homework, taking them to the dentist, or something else … Just regular, everyday things that I never would have done before."
THE GIFT OF GIVING BACK
Today, Angel Tree is still close to Anastasia's heart. Last December, the thankful mom decided it was time to give back. She organized a fundraiser for Angel Tree with her employer. Donations, toys, and other gifts poured in before the party. The event featured a bouncy house, sports cars, a DJ, and a photographer, as well as braiding and haircuts by Anastasia.
The turnout was better than anyone expected.
"It shows us that there are people out there who care about more than just themselves," says Anastasia. "These kids need hope, and Angel Tree can show them that."
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