Updated: Jan 16, 2020
It’s a Monday evening around 5:45pm. I am making my way through the security check-in at CCA (now CoreCivic). Once again, walking the long corridor, headed to the education wing. On either side of this long strip of concrete are large rooms, each one filled with its own community of men. Heavy security doors slam behind me, an ever-present reminder of just how precious and fleeting freedom can be, it’s hard not to feel a certain kind of way. But that is a topic for another blog post.
My purpose for being here, you might wonder- discussing, exploring and struggling with “fatherhood.” For the previous 8 years I have been working in the re-entry sector helping individuals transition back to life on the “outside.” Prior to this moment, our efforts generally focused on housing, transportation and employment. However, I had recently been invited to partner with Matthew Walker Health Center on a grant proposal funded through the National Fatherhood Initiative. Looking back, I had no idea I was about to embark on one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life (short of having children of my own).
With only a year of personal fatherhood experience under my belt, these classes proved to be equally as beneficial for me as for the men who showed up every Monday evening. This was not a mandatory course; men came solely on a voluntary basis. And, I am proud to say the classrooms were typically packed. Not a fan of superficial conversations, I tried to always provide thought provoking content or ask challenging questions intended to spark a genuine and honest conversation about their own fathers (or the lack of) or their plans for being better fathers upon their release. This night was no exception, as luck would have it, the artist Nas, had just released the song Daughters, an open and honest depiction of his own struggles and aspirations with his daughter.
It is a very interesting phenomenon to watch grown men (seemingly hardened by life’s circumstances), collectively accept and explore their own vulnerabilities. As I looked around the room of men of different races, different backgrounds, different life experiences, I watched as expressions fade to serious concentration, some heads nod with the beat, other’s eyes go distant as Nas’s words mingle with memories of past experiences and dreams of tomorrow. The song speaks specifically of the struggle men face when raising a daughter of their own, (considering the times this too is topic for a future blog post).
And I ain't tryna mess ya thing up But I just wanna see you dream up I finally understand It ain't easy to raise a girl as a single man Nah, the way mothers feel for they sons How fathers feel for they daughters When he date, he straight, chip off his own papa When she date, we wait behind the door with the sawed off Cause we think no one is good enough for our daughters Love
As the song fades out, there is a brief silence… “Damn that’s real!” Resounds from the back of the room. Another voice says, “Hell nah! I’m not ready. I aint even there and I aint ready for that, because I know how I was…”
Honesty. Monday after Monday this singular word stood out above all others. Men of different perspectives and paradigms willfully discuss the relationship they had with their own fathers, or the void they still feel from a childhood absence or their plans to painstakingly rebuild their own broken relationships with their children. Tears became a normal part of our time together. Witnessing these men open-up, share, confide in and even encourage one another week after week was by far one of the most miraculous experiences I have ever witnessed.
Years have come and gone since that beloved time, but recently I received a phone call from someone who had just been released and in need of the help we used to provide. So, in an effort to continue to serve this community, so near and dear to my heart, I have decided to create a resource page on our website with links and resources to help aid in their transition. Please feel free to join me in this mission, if you know of any organizations or resources that could benefit this community (i.e.- housing, transportation, employment…), please send us an email and let us know so we can add them to our list.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi *Coming Soon: Re-Entry Resources link*
Robert Grant, Jr.