Raising Up Fathers from the Inside Out
View This IssueOn Father’s Day in America, the tangy smoke of barbecue will float over countless backyards. Young daughters and sons will present their fathers with hugs, homemade cards, and breakfast in bed. But for over one million children of incarcerated men, one thing will be missing: Dad.
The hundreds of thousands of fathers behind bars have an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children, and they need training and practical tools to become better parents. Prison Fellowship has partnered with the National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) to develop InsideOut DadTM Christian, a curriculum based on solid biblical principles to help men become the fathers that God created them to be.
And it’s available for your use!
Life Like a Locomotive
Rev. E. Gregory Austen, Jr., director of corrections programming for NFI and primary author of InsideOut Dad Christian, compares the situation of many incarcerated fathers to the biblical character of Samson. “Samson spent most of his life as a man who was unaware—going through life like a locomotive and not fulfilling God’s purposes for him. He couldn’t see clearly until he was in prison and blinded.”
Likewise, says Rev. Austen, men who have made serious mistakes and entered prison have an opportunity to see themselves clearly for the first time, especially in their parental roles. InsideOut Dad Christian is designed to illuminate for men their God-given purpose as fathers and equip them to begin to live it out.
Speaking to the Man
InsideOut Dad Christian “speaks to the man—not at him,” says Raeanne Hance, executive director of Prison Fellowship Florida. Through 12 core sessions, 26 optional sessions, and a reentry module, the curriculum addresses issues central to men, such as: exploring faith, handling and expressing emotions, improving communication, maintaining mental and physical health, and managing stress.
Check It Out for Yourself!
Click here for sample lessons of InsideOut Dad Christian.
Holistically grounded, men will be better able to tackle the fatherhood portion of the curriculum, which helps men to write letters to their children, understand their children’s developmental needs, and reestablish relationships with caregivers.
Each volunteer-led core session comes with optional sessions that expand on important themes. Participants study the curriculum, journal their thoughts, and discuss their findings in breakout sessions. The curriculum also suggests creative ways to interact with their children from afar, such as: “Paper Hugs from Daddy,” chess by mail, and recordings of storybooks. Woven throughout with Scripture, InsideOut Dad Christian is edited for a sixth-grade reading level.
“Volunteers . . . love the curriculum. They love the principles that are being taught,” says Raeanne. She has made InsideOut Dad Christian an integral part of reentry programming at four facilities in Florida and hopes to add a fifth in the near future. She also plans to train inmates to become peer facilitators and lead the program on their own.
The inmates’ “attitudes have changed,” adds Shawn O’Neill, who directs reentry for Prison Fellowship Florida. They have “that eagerness to take that rightful, God-ordained place as father of the family.”
From Sorrow to Hope
When participants were confronted with the importance of godly fatherhood, “their reaction was remorse,” says Bill Anderson, executive director of Prison Fellowship Arizona/Oklahoma, who oversaw promising pilots of the curriculum. But soon participants moved from sorrow to hope as the curriculum offered them practical ways to reach out to their children—and wait patiently for trust to grow back in broken relationships.
Shawn tells the story of one inmate who had a broken relationship with his daughter. Though he had written to her several times before, no answer came. He wrote to her again to share some of the insights he had gained from InsideOut Dad Christian. Soon, she re-opened correspondence with him. By the end of the program, says Shawn, they were “well on their way to reconciliation.”
Robby, an inmate and the father of three boys, wrote to Rev. Austen to say, “I just want to be the father they need in their lives. I truly am blessed to be apart [sic] of a program . . . and I really do appreciate the guidance. It’s only by the grace of God! I plan to apply what I have learned over the last 12 weeks to the best of my ability.”
Not only does fatherhood training help men become better fathers from the inside, but it also helps ex-prisoners stay out. Behind a saving relationship with Christ, claims Rev. Austen, nothing can motivate a man more than the desire to be there for his children. “When they believe that they have an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children,” he says, “it gives them a reason to care.”
Returning mature, well-equipped fathers to their families also helps to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration. With children of prisoners at significant risk of entering jail, effective fatherhood training can help mitigate some of the worst consequences of separation and betrayed trust.
Implementing the Program
Although it is sometimes inappropriate, and illegal, for inmates to seek contact with children or their caregivers, Austen emphasizes that in the vast majority of cases, reconciliation can reap a harvest of renewed hope for prisoners and their families. Even when caregivers return prisoners’ letters to their children unopened, prisoners are encouraged to save the letters so that one day they might prove to their children that they cared.
InsideOut Dad Christian is published by the National Fatherhood Initiative. You can view samples online. If you would like to bring the curriculum into the prison where you minister, please contact your local Prison Fellowship representative in the field, or call the PF National Program Support Center at 1-800-251-7411.
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