On December 21, 2016, as part of the Children’s Trust Fatherhood Initiative, 15 incarcerated fathers got together to celebrate their graduation from the first Nurturing Fathers Program (NFP) in the Hampshire County House of Correction. Every one of the dads who started the pilot program stuck with it and graduated, noted Melinda Cady, the Director of Treatment Programs and Reentry Services at the Hampshire County Jail.
Their children and families joined them for the graduation ceremony, which included an impressive meal prepared by inmates participating in the jail’s Culinary Arts program, some of whom were also in the NFP. Eugenio Negron, who participated in both, told the audience and his family, “I will not stop working on myself. I just want to be able to rebuild that bridge that I once tore down.”
All the staff at the facility was invested in positive outcomes for the dads, their children, and their families. Outgoing Sheriff Robert J. Garvey spoke to the attendees, reminding everyone that “there’s nothing more valuable, more fun, or more meaningful than being a parent.” Incoming Sheriff Patrick Cahillane noted that “fathers are role models for good and for bad. We get a long lasting benefit from how we raise those kids.” Both men were proud of the important rehabilitative work being accomplished through this pilot Nurturing Fathers Program and were committed to seeing it continue.
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, a Children’s Trust Board Member, told the inmates’ children “the best Christmas gift you’ll get this year is a great dad.” To the dads, he said, “Be proud. Brag about what you did here. But most important of all, love those kids.” Asked what he thought of the innovative program, he said “it really provides an anchor for them while they’re in here to keep them grounded in what’s important.”
Haji Shearer, Director of the Fatherhood Initiative at the Children’s Trust, emphasized that the dads should work towards finding love, compassion and kindness for themselves, as the first step in being nurturing to their kids. “Being a father is more than just being the disciplinarian,” Shearer told them. “It’s more powerful to show love to your children and to tell your kids that you love them.”
Sheriff Robert J. Garvey joins the graduating dads, Director of Treatment Programs Melinda Cady, and the Nurturing Fathers program facilitators Jude Kamiri, Vuthy Chhum, Rafael Santos, and Demetra Balis, at the graduation ceremony.
To end the ceremony, every dad read a personal commitment they had worked on, called “The Father I Choose To Be” as he received his certificate. A common theme was repairing any harm that had been done.
Christopher Santana, a father of four, told his family “Many moons have passed since I promised I’d never leave my family alone, and yet again here I stand. Though it pains me to be incarcerated, I’m blessed to have been given this chance at redemption. A new chance at becoming a Nurturing Father and not just a male calling himself a good dad.”
Dennis Lamoureux told his family “The father that I choose to be now is a lot different than the father that I was. The father I choose to be now is a sober one. The father that I choose to be now is a more patient, loving, caring, and mature father. The father that I choose to be now is a better listener and will always be there for my daughter mentally and physically.”
Michael Krautler outlined the father he chooses to be as “a teacher, role model, a protector, a provider – a man who’s dedicated and actively delivers guidance, love, support and morals to his daughters. A patient, responsible man that plays by the rules, who incites growth, who encourages enhancement in his daughter’s development. A very honored man who’s mindful and provides the tender loving care children so desperately need.”
The powerful evening drew many tears, but even more smiles and laughs. The pride was palpable, and for at least once during these dads’ incarceration, it was outshining their shame.