Being a good father can be difficult, even under the best circumstances. Imagine what it’s like for a father serving a sentence in a correctional facility like Brownwood’s T.R. Havins Unit.
Thanks to the National Fatherhood Initiative’s “Inside Out Dad,” some fathers are learning practical and innovative ways to help overcome the physical and psychological challenges that incarcerated fathers face — inside.
And according to Doak Givan, executive director of the Family Services Center which administers the program here, those fathers are completing their sentences better prepared to handle their future parenting duties — outside.
The second graduation ceremony for Inside Out Dad participants at the Havins Unit was held on May 23. In the past 18 months, 12 to 15 inmates have been a part of the class, and the program has become so popular that a waiting list has developed. That’s mainly thanks to the positive comments men who have graduated tell others in the unit.
“We’ve had an amazing reception to the materials,” Givan said. “There’s a high level of participation. It’s totally voluntary, and they receive a certificate for completing it. ”
A typical course runs for 13 weekly sessions, meeting weekly for about two hours. Twelve meetings are “core” programs, Givan said, and the 13th hosts a Texas attorney general’s liaison specialist to discuss child support issues.
Landry Blackstock, who works part-time with Family Services Center as its fatherhood coordinator, teaches the course with Givan.
“The course encourages the men to take steps to connect with their families, and stresses their importance to their families,” Blackstock said. “It’s always amazing when the next class begins. But we really need other volunteers to go out there and help. We’re hoping to find a few people with a real passion to help.” Volunteers will be asked to undergo a background check and a period of training.
Blackstock said the discussions tend to put the men in a reflective mood as they consider the ways they were raised.
“How was I raised and how do I want to raise my children?” Blackstock said is what many of the contemplate.
The Havins Unit staff and administrative “worked very well with us” since the program began, Givan said. For example, a reception is held after the graduation ceremony, and that gives families separated by incarceration another opportunity to connect.
Inside Out Dad is funded by the Texas Families Together and Safe through the Department of Families and Protective Services, Givan said. Supplies are from the National Fatherhood Institute, and it’s the first program specifically for incarcerated fathers. Family Services Center in a Brown County United Way agency.
“One of the men really picked up on what the course was saying,” Givan said. Osaze “Tee” Geiger of Forney wrote a three-page handwritten essay he read at graduation last month.
“I’ve learned that children are a direction reflection of our marriages, relationships, both friends and companionships out attitudes, out language and even our very own self-esteem,” a portion of his essay states. “I am both grateful and privileged to have taken this course. It has made me aware of the blessing and honor it is to be a father. I am also more appreciative for thing in my life that I’ve taken from granted in the past.”
Geiger thanked his wife, Raychel, for her patience and understanding, love and the joy he’s received through their family. To his four children, he wrote, “I want you to now that I am dedicated and committed to giving you everything a father should be,” and acknowledged that he will make mistakes. But he added that he is looking forward to growing with them as a parent as they grow up.
“Each man here has taken the first step to improving his life, the lives of his children and also those around him,” Geiger wrote in his closing sentences. He thanked Givan and Blackstock for the time they spent with them, and congratulated class members for their feedback and participation.
“Let us model what we wish them to do, speak only what we wish them to say, and always discipline them with love that teaches a better way.”