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McManus - Ethics & Religion

November 15, 2006

Column #1,316

Helping Prisoners Reenter Society

by Mike McManus

Each year 600,000 inmates are released from prison.Within three years, two-thirds are rearrested.

 The National Fatherhood Initiative has developed an innovative answer: “InsideOut Dad: a Program for Incarcerated Fathers.”  More than half of inmates are fathers.  If  helped to become better dads while inside prison, they are motivated to continue their growth as dads on the outside.

An earlier version of the course was given to 186 incarcerated dads shortly before their release from prison. Three years later only five were rearrested, three of which were for minor infractions.  This remarkable success persuaded Indiana’s Commissioner of Corrections to offer the course to all reentry prisoners in the state’s 14 facilities.  InsideOut Dad is also being used in Missouri, New Jersey and California.

 Four-fifths of the nation’s 2.1 million inmates grew up in fatherless homes where 24 million kids live. These children are five times as likely to be in poverty as kids from intact homes, three times as apt to fail in school or to commit suicide and are much more likely to misbehave, abuse drugs and be delinquent. Children of inmates fare even worse. 

However, if a child can form a loving bond with the father, his self-esteem rises along with grades and emotional stability. 

There are impediments for inmates to connect with their children.  First, their average sentence is 80 to 100 months. Prisons are often 100 miles from their home. Many inmates have totally lost contact with their children. Their reading level is at the 6th grade, making writing letters difficult.

Finally, men who were not nurtured themselves, have no idea how to nurture.

NFI has designed a survey for inmates at the start and end of the course, measuring changed  attitudes.  They are also given a Fathering Handbook, a diary to record their thoughts during the course.

In the first of 12 core sessions inmates are asked to answer questions: “To me, fathering means... The kind of father I want to be is.... By attending fathering classes, I hope...” A key goal of the course is to develop a trust in themselves and others, though few have experienced it. 

Session 2, “Remembering My Past,” prompts the inmates to recall the influence of their father and their mother, and what they learned about relationships by observing them. They are asked if they were abused, and if that motivates them to want something better for their kids.

Another session asks, “What Is a Man?” In defining positive and negative characteristics of masculinity, inmates rate themselves on self-confidence, courage, leadership, dependability, self-reliance and a tendency to control others.

“Spirituality and Family” quotes Emerson: “Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force.”  Everyone has a moral or religious nature that tries to find meaning and purpose in life.  “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” asserts Gandhi.

Typically, inmates are angry men due to past pain and hurt. They are asked to describe what sparks their anger and the difference between how men and women express anger. Boys are taught not to cry but to channel their anger in sports.  Male anger sparks fights.

Few prisoners know how to build healthy, lasting relationships. Only 37 percent have  married, most of whom are separated or divorced. They are asked how to improve their relationship with their child’s mother, key to establishing a relationship with their children.

“The Role of the Father” asks dads to list qualities of the ideal father and rate their own father and themselves by those yardsticks.  Another session spotlights “Fathering and Fun” such as fooling kids: “I bet no one here can brush their teeth by themselves.”

Many inmates experienced excessively harsh discipline as a child, and mimic it, labeling their children “bad,” which is crushing. The course teaches to criticize the action, not the person, and to affirm his love for the child. “Discipline” comes from the Latin word meaning “to teach or guide.” A disciple follows a teacher he likes and trusts.

Ken Gosnell, who taught the course to reentry leaders from many states, observed, “It is never too late for reconciliation.”  A 36-year-old inmate got a call from his father, whom he had not heard from in 30 years. The father attended his graduation, saying “I am a brand new father.”

Here’s a course  to curb the inter-generational nature of crime. Individuals or churches could teach it. To learn more contact

END TXT Copyright © 2006 Michael J. McManus

Michael J. McManus
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