Transcript: Fathers in Prison: Learning to Parent Behind Bars (Episode #4)

Fathers in Prison: Learning to Parent Behind Bars (Episode #4)

Host, Matt Duhamel interviews Erik Vecere from the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) to discuss what correctional facilities in America are doing to help men in prison to be better dads.



00:10 Matt Duhamel: Thanks for joining me. My name is Matt Duhamel with Solitary Nation. And what we’re gonna talk about today is really a huge problem. Fathers incarcerated. According to my figures, it affects approximately 2.7 million children in the United States. They have a parent in prison, 2.7 million. With me today is Erik Vecere, Vice President, Program Support of National Fatherhood Initiative. How are you, Erik?

00:40 Erik Vecere: Doing well, Matt. Thank you so much.

00:41 Matt Duhamel: Well, first of all, Erik, tell me a little bit about yourself and what the National Fatherhood Initiative does.

00:49 Erik Vecere: Sure. Well, our mission at National Fatherhood Initiative is to transform organizations and communities by equipping them to intentionally and proactively engage fathers in their children’s lives. And so, at NFI, we don’t actually provide direct services to the fathers, but we come along agencies and organizations who are at the nexus of fathers and families, and we help them accomplish their goals as it relates to engaging fathers. Now, our vision is for every child to grow up with an involved, responsible, and committed father in their lives. So, our vision is very child-centered, and it’s using those three words, “involved,” “responsible,” and “committed,” somewhat of a mantra of ours. Because a father could be potentially involved, but maybe not responsible. But conversely, he may be committed and wanna be involved in his child’s life, but due to situations outside of his control, he may not be able to be as involved as he would like. So that’s our mission and vision. And I’m Vice President of Program Support for National Fatherhood Initiative. Been with NFI for going on 15 years now, so it’s been a wonderful journey for me. And we do… We have a strong focus on corrections and reentry programs across the country.

02:14 Matt Duhamel: Well, that sounds great. I wanted to talk to you today because I’m familiar with one of your programs. It’s called “InsideOut Dad.” Actually, when I was incarcerated, I… I don’t remember the specifics, but I was telling you off camera here that I either got a brochure mailed in from a family member, my mom, or like a sample packet of the program, and it really got me motivated to say, “Wow, we really need this here in Seagoville,” the federal prison I was at. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, where I kinda found some resistance, but I did share it with some people there, and it actually inspired me to write a little ebook, that… Well, it was published into an ebook, that contained some activities for fathers and children, while the father’s in prison. So, ways to stay in contact with your child. So, it just inspired me, so I really appreciate that, and…

03:15 Erik Vecere: That’s wonderful to hear. Thanks for sharing.

03:16 Matt Duhamel: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know if it’s there, the program, is there, but I know you do have the program in 25 state Department of Correction facilities. Tell me, what kind of experiences, well, personal experiences, have you witnessed, and maybe some success stories from this program, InsideOut Dad?

03:39 Erik Vecere: Well, one of them, actually, is one that we’ve been fortunate to create a video on. And it’s a gentleman named Troy Gaines, and he has a son, Xavier. And we’ve been able to connect over the years and stay connected as a result of the work that he… The connection that he had with InsideOut Dad and some of the work that happened afterwards. But this was in a correctional facility in Ohio. And when he was incarcerated, he left behind his girlfriend and very young son.


04:21 Troy Gaines: I was just a fool. The day I was first brought into that prison, one of the first things that went through my head is, “How am I gonna get out of here?” I had to hold it down. One CO. 16 inmates. Hour exercise. TV time. And back in that cell. That was the reality. And it didn’t really set in until these doors closed, bam! After a couple days, I realized that I had made a bad choice.

04:55 Erik Vecere: He began to see that there was something bigger than himself, and it helped him connect this concept of fatherhood and his son as a key motivator for him to make some sustainable healthier life changes in his life. And oftentimes, that’s what I hear from individuals that I talk to about the program, is that when they share their testimony or their story of impact from how it impacted them, oftentimes, they do share how powerful this concept of fatherhood is to them.


05:36 Troy Gaines: My girlfriend was only 22 years old. She was just a baby herself, and I left her hanging. I could remember thinking that Xavier would feel the same way about me that I felt about my father.

05:52 Speaker 4: I have some information I need to tell you, and it’s very upsetting. Your girlfriend just passed away.


06:03 Speaker 4: I understand this is a trying time.

06:05 Troy Gaines: At that point, I had to make a serious, serious change in me, my mind, the way I did things, and the way I presented myself to my community. I didn’t have all the answers. And I needed to either go to someone, or go somewhere where I could find some guidance on fatherhood and being a better man.

06:36 Frank: When I met Troy, “Frank,” he said, “I wanna change my life. I wanna be able to be a real man when I get out. Will you help me?” I said, “Troy, I’m with you.” The information I’ve gotten from Fatherhood Initiative is they have several books, and I am using Inside, Outside Dad, and it helped the incarcerated father adjust to the outside life.

07:01 Troy Gaines: When I first came to the class, I was like, “Well, tsk, I’ll just go here. I’ll just go here, just see what’s going on.” And we all just start sharing stories, and connecting, and talking about different things. I said to myself, “I’m in the right spot. This is where I need to be. This is what love, and togetherness, and community, and being a better man is all about.”

07:27 Erik Vecere: Fatherhood really provides that motivating engine, that powers this drive to wanna change. So, when they begin to learn that they have a unique and irreplaceable role in the life of their child, that becomes motivation to say, “You know what? I’m gonna work on getting stable housing. I’m gonna really… Even if I need to take a job that is way less than perfect, I’m gonna stick with that, because it all connects to my ability to provide what I need to do for my child.” And oftentimes, even in the InsideOut Dad Program, we use empathy as a way to help these men see through the eyes of their child, initially, so that they can become more nurturing and build healthier relationships.

08:21 S?: Atkins!

08:22 Troy Gaines: My graduation from the InsideOut Dad Program was a very self-gratifying feeling. What this program did, they gave me the tools that I needed to be able to make other choices. Better choices. It’s a one day at a time process, one minute, one hour at a time. And in order to change your actions and change the things that you do, you have to change your way of thinking first. The main thing I learned about the program is accepting responsibility. Accepting responsibility for myself, and accepting my responsibility as a father.

09:00 Erik Vecere: And by the way, after he was released, he did have a difficult time finding a job. However, because of his connection with the program and the trust that he built with the staff there, they did help him to get some odds and ends kinda jobs, doing some construction kinda work for awhile. But I just found out recently that he was brought on at one of the Target stores and he was recently promoted to a manager. So he was really excited about that. And it just shows how sometimes, connection with the program like InsideOut Dad, that helps first of all, men become more nurturing men, and then as a consequence, more nurturing fathers, that if they stick with that, and when they get out, it creates trust with other relationships both inside the facility and then in the community.

10:00 Troy Gaines: I wrote down all my goals. First thing was a job. One of the second things was to get to Xavier, and hold him. Show him some love. Be more involved in the process of what he’s doing. School, homework, football. At every game, I try to be there. Every practice, I try to be there. I’m more involved.

10:22 Xavier Gaines: With my dad at my games, I feel better, and I score more. I love him a lot because he’s a very good dad. And if you make a mistake, he’ll make you keep going and going, like, make you lift your head up.

10:39 Matt Duhamel: Wow, that’s a cool story. Some good testimonials. So, we had mentioned… You had mentioned that prison can really cause some mental issues and post-traumatic syndrome for inmates, for fathers. And then recently, if a child has a parent in prison, it is now a adverse childhood experience, ACE for short. How does the InsideOut Dad Program help with that? Does it help with the relationship? Does it reduce maybe some of those issues?

11:15 Erik Vecere: I do. As you know, we don’t father in a vacuum. [chuckle] And we’re interrelated. The whole family is interrelated. And even at NFI, even though we’re called the “National Fatherhood Initiative,” we recognize that we have to engage the whole family in the parenting process. Because the father can only get as far as the relationship with the mom of the child or the caregiver. The children are, of course, impacted by the quality of the relationship between mom and dad. Now, whether or not they’re intimately involved, married, not married, or they’ve got a strained relationship, if we can help mom and dad work more effectively with the best interests of the child in mind, whether that’s co-parenting, maybe they’re leading their own lives, but they could come together in the best interest of the child and co-parent.

12:12 Erik Vecere: So we know that all of these things are interrelated. And that by helping the fathers to take accountability for what they can do in their own lives and changes that they can make to be as involved, responsible, and committed as they can, but also level-setting their expectations, that, “You can’t control how somebody else is gonna response to that. So, you do what you can and just be consistent in those changes, those healthier changes, that you’re making. And trust that, at some point,” and depending of course on the age and stage of the child, “that you will be creating the best probability for a healthy relationship with your child, at some point.”

13:02 Speaker 7: The culture, the prison culture itself does not allow for men to talk about their children in a intimate way. And what this had done is we came together collectively to talk about our parenting, and not only our parenting skills, but also if we had parents in our own lives, and what that led to is dealing with issues of the heart.

13:26 Speaker 8: I believe wholeheartedly that one of the primary reasons that people are imprisoned is because they simply don’t know how to ask for help.

13:33 Speaker 9: As criminals, I think the top ingredient to be a criminal, you have to be selfish. You don’t think about anybody else when you’re committing these crimes. The first thing that you… To be effective father, friend, associate of any type, you have to remove that element. And this is the first thing that those gentlemen teach us, and we will see it.

13:53 Erik Vecere: Children who have involved fathers show more empathy, more pro-social behavior. They have better academic outcomes. They’re less likely to be abused. So there are a lot of things that we know that if we help these men be better dads and to be a better dad in their childs’ lives, that the child is gonna benefit. Many children of incarcerated parents display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which, normally, we think of military staff and personnel, something that severe. But what they’re finding is that there are lot of very similar outcomes and behavioral issues.

14:39 Matt Duhamel: The Richmond Virginia City Jail, they’ve implemented the program, this 12-week program. Is it 12 weeks?

14:47 Erik Vecere: It is, yeah.

14:48 Matt Duhamel: Okay. So, they seemed like they’re doing some innovative things. They even recently had, which I was really surprised, a father-daughter dance, where… In the visiting room, I guess, and the inmates were dressed up in suits and everything. And just a lot of emotion there, crying, a very powerful moment. But with that said, are you finding some resistance in the correctional facilities when you’re trying to implement this program?

15:22 Erik Vecere: Yes. In some cases. Now, every facility has its own culture. And even if you’re comparing Department of Corrections within the same state, [chuckle] the different facilities are at different areas of the continuum of what… They’re like the stages of change or stages of adoption that we all are on. But depending on the leadership of that particular facility, we do find different levels of resistance. And in some cases, a little more than others. On average, though, I will say that the vast majority of correctional facilities are starting to move more towards a rehabilitative kinda mentality. Whereas in the past, it was very much like, “This is their punishment. We’re about making sure that they fulfill their sentence, and that staff and inmates are safe.” Those were like their two primary… That nobody escapes, and that people are safe, pretty much. And everything else was secondary. But what we are seeing now is the pendulum is swinging a bit, where most facilities have some level of intervention, or case management services, or things that help these men with some areas. Because, let’s face it, the vast majority of these men are going to be re-entering into our communities again, at some point.

16:54 Matt Duhamel: And then I don’t know if I heard you correctly. People that have been in prison, like myself, and the millions of people, can actually facilitate a program after they’re released? And work within the community on the InsideOut Dad Program?

17:11 Erik Vecere: Yes, yes. You could… You could very easily become trained. We don’t require that people are formally trained on our curriculum in order to facilitate it. We recommend it, but it’s not required. So technically, you could just purchase the InsideOut Dad Curriculum Kit from our resource center, and then partner with your local correctional facilities and say, “Hey, I’m willing to come in to do you a group with incarcerated fathers.” Or you could do it out in the community. We do have a community-based program called “24/7 Dad,” which is the community-based version of InsideOut Dad. And both of those programs, by the way, are considered evidence-based, because we do have studies that used a control and an intervention group. So, by the strictest standards of evidence-based, it does show that both of these programs, InsideOut Dad and 24/7 Dad, do have a positive impact on these fathers’ ability to have fathering skills, to increase their fathering knowledge, and to change their behavior management strategies. In other words, to create better habits to be a better dad. So, you could use either of those programs, either right out of the box, or you could receive a training on them as well.

18:44 Matt Duhamel: I definitely wanna look into that because as I mentioned, it was difficult for me to lose contact with my daughter and I… When I was there, it was just like, “I wanna help other fathers,” and I created that ebook, and I wanted to implement this program, but as we know, it’s a huge problem, fathers in prison. Since 1991, the stats I have has grown 79%. Once again, your website is, and people can go on there and get the information that they need regarding these different programs. Thank you.

19:20 Erik Vecere: Thank you, have a good day.

19:21 Matt Duhamel: And join me next week for another episode on Solitary Nation, where we talk about a variety of issues on the criminal justice system. My name is Matt Duhamel. Thank you.

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