OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – When a parent goes to prison, unfortunately, their children may someday follow that path. Growing up with a parent in prison can create an unstable upbringing, and often leads to a cycle – a family curse – called “generational incarceration.”

However, one school in Oklahoma City, designed exclusively for kids growing up with a loved one behind bars, is teaching students to succeed by breaking that cycle.

Marcus Flores plays guitar with students at Little Light Christian School. Photo: KFOR

“I want to write music and go on tour, and travel the world playing music,” Marcus Flores said. Marcus is one of 29 students at Little Light Christian School, who was born into a life shackled by the chains of generational incarceration.

Little Light Christian School in Oklahoma City.
Little Light Christian School in Oklahoma City. Photo courtesy Robin Khoury, Superintendent.

“I come from a dark place,” he said. “It was tough for me. Both my parents have been to prison. I have plenty of uncles and aunts that have been to prison, I had a grandmother who served about five years.”

Because of that devastating, downward cycle, four years ago, Marcus and his younger sister, Nina, were enrolled at Little Light Christian School – a free, non-profit, private school, funded by donations.

“I will be the first person to graduate high school in my family,” Marcus said.

It is here where Marcus learned to play the electric guitar, taught by music teacher Ernie Tullis.

“Marcus is just… I love that boy like he was mine,” Ernie said.

“Mr. Ernie,” as the kids call him, knows all too well the extra load his students carry. He was once one of them.

“I speak their language,” said Mr. Ernie.

Ernie left home at 16, hitchhiked to New Orleans, and got a job playing piano at a bar on Bourbon Street. That’s where, surrounded by sin, Ernie found God, became a minister – and broke free. He says generations of family felons ended with him.

“You can break chains, you can change your family tree,” said Ernie. “One of my favorite verses in the Bible that I tell the kids all the time and just speak into them, is that someday your kids and your grandkids will say, ‘We are blessed and you are blessed, because you took us a different way.'”

After decades of teaching, Ernie now has 85 former students playing music in churches across the globe in four countries, and one current student playing in Choctaw, Oklahoma.

At 18, Marcus is the youngest member of the praise band at Choctaw Road Baptist Church, where he shares the stage with Mr. Ernie, who plays the keys.

Marcus is the youngest member of the praise band at Choctaw Road Baptist Church. Photo: KFOR.

Next to the young man Ernie loves like his own, is Ernie’s son Caleb, on the drums. All of Ernie’s sons play in churches. He’s a very proud dad, just like Marcus’ father, whose complete transformation after prison led to Marcus’ strong faith.

“He did a complete 180 for me and my sister,” Marcus said of his father. “I think, to this day, that’s why I believe. Because God can take something that’s so wrong and turn it into something good.”

What started as a wrench thrown into the mix of Marcus’ young life, is changing course. He strums his own tune now, rewriting the one life handed him. Marcus has seven original songs ready to track at Mr. Ernie’s recording studio this summer.

“He’s very gifted,” Ernie said.

Mr. Ernie and Marcus share the stage at Choctaw Road Baptist Church. Photo: KFOR.

Marcus will be a senior this fall, and in 2024, he will walk the stage with not only his family’s first high school diploma, but also with a college associate’s degree, after taking a full load of concurrent classes.

“I will be the first to graduate, I will be the first to go to college, so it’s a bunch of chains that I’m already breaking in that cycle. It’s amazing because I get to show them, ‘Hey, here’s the mess, and here’s me,’ and I’m going to turn from that and steer us in a different direction,” Marcus said.

Mr. Ernie boasted, “The sky is the limit with that one. He can be as good as he wants to be. He’s just on fire.” A fire, that already burns so brightly, and sparked from the help of one “Little Light.”

“It just comes to show what God can do,” said Marcus, smiling.