Salute Our Heroes: Program coordinator at TCF works to keep families together

Salute Our Heroes: Program coordinator at TCF works to keep families together
Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 10:05 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Dani Essman is the program coordinator for the Women’s Activity Learning Center (WALC) at the Topeka Correctional Facility.

She helps give incarcerated mothers to the opportunity to see and spend time with their children.

“We want to make sure the women come here and are able to get some education,” said Essman. “I think everybody who has children could benefit from a parenting class. So the big thing is to get them in the realm of ‘they’re still parents,’ even though they’re incarcerated. I think that’s a struggle for some of the women here, when they become incarcerated, there’s this stigma.”

Essman also works in resident Resident Family Reintegration Services, which encourages non-institutionalized visits to promote healthier family interactions.

“The children are our future, and with as many women as we have incarcerated, there are hundreds of children that are without their parents right now, and so we need to make sure that we can nurture that bond, either to build or establish, or even reestablish a relationship between the children and their parents to hopefully break the cycle of incarceration.”

During the COVID pandemic, Essman helped redesigned several rooms to create a more welcoming environment for the kids coming to see their moms.

“When they come to visit, there’s all these little rooms that they can come in. We have a bunch of toys, we have videos that they can lay down on the floor on a pillow and watch cartoons with their mom, they can read books. They can basically just be a family while they’re here.”

Her program also offers parenting classes to women in the facility.

“We have two parenting classes, we have the first five years and then we have active parenting. So, the first five years, obviously, is for the ladies that have children that are from birth to five years. One of my caseloads that I have is for women that are pregnant and postpartum while they’re here in prison. And so this is a class for them to be able to really understand how to be a parent,” said Essman.

She said she has kept every card and letter she received from children and their mothers who are grateful that Dani helped keep them together.

“One of the best things for me is that I have a wall in my office that has a bunch of thank you cards and a bunch of pictures of women and their children once they’ve released from here. So it’s not so much a wall to toot my horn about, it’s more of a wall to this is why I come here everyday.”

Dani’s work has helped many women leave the prison with tools which can help them lead better lives for themselves and for their children.

“Just being able to watch somebody come to prison broken, without an identity and to be able to have them see their worth. See their worth as a woman, see their worth as a parent, and to leave here with better bonds than when they came in.”

Essman said her program relies largely on donations. To contribute books, toys, or stuffed animals to the program, you can contact Dani at