New Mexico State University - Strengthening Families Initiative

Photo of people participating in New Mexico State University Strengthening Families InitiativeA Reluctant Start

It was Monday afternoon and the beginning of a new 15-session parenting class series at the correctional institution. Twenty men were registered for the class, but on this day, three were absent because they were in lockdown. Of the remaining inmates, one could not decide whether to take the class and was leaning toward dropping out. He just showed up because his friend “talked him into it.” 

He was a subdued man with long wavy hair, a few tattoos showing on his arms, and a disinterested facial expression. With some encouragement from the facilitator to give the class a chance and the assurance   that he could drop out at any time, the inmate returned the following week, and then the following week, and the following . . .

Throughout these few weeks, the inmates learned about the importance of being a father, how fathers influence children, age-appropriate expectations, and ways that fathers in prison can actually communicate and connect with their children. In addition, the fathers created a children’s book for each of their children. Each inmate was provided with a blank book, lots of stickers and wall art stencils (these materials may alleviate anxiety for those who have literacy challenges or who feel they have no artistic ability).

It was a couple of weeks after the men had completed their books, and the books had been sent to the inmates’ families. Not much was different about this particular session until the end of class when the facilitator walked by each desk to collect evaluation forms. It was then that the inmate who had initially been reluctant to attend the course broke into a big smile and seemed hesitant to speak.

Urged to share his thoughts, he said that his son had received the book he had made and that “he carries it around with him all day.” The facilitator asked if that was surprising. With tears in his eyes, the inmate quietly replied, “Yes, because it has been over a year since I have seen my son, and I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea. Now I know it was.”