Prison is not typically the place where men openly share their feelings with each other, for fear of coming across as soft. However, several GCO team members experienced something markedly different while sitting-in on a fatherhood class at Clayton County Transitional Center.[i]
Reflecting on this experience, Breakthrough Fellow Michael Schulte writes:
It was wonderful to see the men open up as they spoke about their children, sharing their names, ages, and where they live now. One man had been away from his two kids for 14 years, and I could see by looking at his face how much it pained him. Many of these men are hopeful for the chance to simply be around their children again.
The fatherhood class is run by It Takes a Village Today (ITAVT), a non-profit whose name is derived from an ancient African proverb emphasizing community responsibility in the upbringing of children. As such, its mission is to preserve children and ensure they have a good upbringing through instilling the values of fatherhood within the men who will be returning to their families from prison.
The class provides a number of important services to the men including offering instruction on what it means to be a good father, helping noncustodial parents identify existing child support orders, and providing assistance in legitimizing children.
Concerning legitimation, Breakthrough Fellow Aundrea Gregg writes:
I was quite astounded by the number of men with unknown numbers of kids – men in need of help discovering once and for all who belongs to them. For fathers hopeful to build stronger relationships with their children, uncertainty of paternity can have serious implications…Any man wishing to gain rights to custody, visitation, or even have their children take their last name must complete the legitimation process…It Takes a Village…provide[s] the legal support that is needed for participants of the program to take paternity tests, file voluntary parental acknowledgement forms, and complete the legitimation process.
In addition to providing practical help, the class offers a forum for the men to speak openly about their children, share their goals as fathers, and reflect upon their own upbringing. Katherine Greene, Program Specialist with GCO, was particularly impacted as the men reflected on what sort of fathers they had while growing up. She explains:
One of the facilitators…asked two thought provoking questions: ‘What was your father like and how do you compare to him?’ Most of their responses surprised me. Many of them described their fathers as being positive role models in their lives. In the words of one inmate, ‘My father was a loving man. He was protective and very strict. He was present in my life. I just made some bad decisions which landed me in here.’ His words, among others who shared that day, really resonated with me.
Each of the GCO team members in attendance left the class feeling privileged to have learned about the men’s lives and were moved by the experience. Patrick Kaiser, Senior Manager of Research and Development, summed up the visit in the following words:
I think everyone should have a similar experience to see that these men are not like criminals portrayed in the media. Rather, they are men who have faced daunting challenges in their lives, made mistakes in how they tackled these challenges, and are looking to make amends for their errors and become positive community members. Many of these men were failed by their communities as children and young adults. We must not fail them again.
[i] Offenders entering transitional centers in Georgia typically have 6-12 months remaining in their sentence.