A "stand up guy" in prison is tough, hard, quick to anger, violent,
remorseless, and most importantly, emotionally closed. There is
probably not another place in society where the most negative aspects of
male culture so valued as they are in a prison
This is one of the reasons why even though parenting programs for women
have been long recognized as being beneficial and integrated into the
female prison regimen, it is only recently that the benefits of
parenting programs for men have been accepted.
Dr. Larry Barlow, a Family Therapist in Tallahassee, Florida,
acknowledged in a recent interview for the radio program LAW, POWER AND
JUSTICE, that he had had a difficult time creating an awareness that
parenting programs for men were important, and a more difficult time
getting money for them. After all, there are not many people who are
even interested in rehabilitation for prison inmates anymore, much less
concerned with their parenting.
But, most men get out of prison, and as role models for another
generation, they can set a good example, or a bad one. We, as a
society, have to deal with the results.
It has long been accepted in the correctional field that a man is less
likely to return to crime after he is released from prison if he has a
family to go back to. This is one of the reasons why criminologists
have argued for regular family visits to inmates in institutions in the
least restrictive environment possible. Some states have even allowed
conjugal visits for some prisoners. But, even when attention has been
given to the relationship a man maintains with his partner, little
attention has focused on his relationship with his children.
There are several factors which make this relationship especially
First, children are sometimes present when their fathers are arrested.
The child, who looks at the father as the protector, sees that the
protector can't even protect himself. The strongest figure in the
child's life, does not even have the power to keep himself from being
hauled off in handcuffs.
Second, when the father of a family is arrested, family income almost
always drops significantly. Children feel abandoned by the father, and
suffer economic deprivation because of his departure.
Third, maintaining a relationship with children while incarcerated is
difficult. Women must frequently travel long distances in uncomfortable
transportation to get to the prison where their partner is housed, and
carrying children just compounds the difficulties of the visit. It's
just easier to leave them at home.
Fourth, meaningful communication in a visiting room of a prison is
difficult to say the least. This is especially the case for inmates who
are not allowed contact visits and have to communicate through glass
Fifth, prison inmates are likely to have had a bad relationship with
their own fathers, and don't have much of a role model to go by in
trying to parent their own children.
Sixth, inmates are often embarrassed to have their children see them in
prison. Some families maintain the fiction for years that the man is
working elsewhere rather than admit to the children that he is in
prison. Some men simply tell their wives not to bring the children
The Parenting Program devised by Dr. Barlow and his partner, Art
Cleveland, asks men to examine things like the male inmate's
relationship with his own father, the importance of the father figure in
the life and development of a child, developmental stages of children
and behavior that can and cannot be expected at particular ages, and
what it means to establish a safe, secure and satisfying environment for
a child. The program is information and skills based. It does not try
to evaluate each man's parenting defects, but encourage men to examine
those defects for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
Drs. Barlow and Cleveland have been impressed with the successes of
their program. They find that men in prisons usually finish the program
with an increased awareness of what it really means to be a father, an
increased motivation to establish or re-establish a relationship with
their children, and a certificate they can show to their partners in
hopes of demonstrating their seriousness about maintaining a
relationship with the child or children.
Programs such as this are not costly and if we have the chance of
breaking a family cycle of fathers passing abusive behavior on to their
sons, seems to me like we should take it.