WASHINGTON COUNTY — Every Tuesday inside Purgatory Correctional Facility a special class titled “Inside Out Dad” takes place. It is a program aimed at teaching incarcerated dads how to be better fathers and one that has the potential to positively change the lives of both the inmates and their families.
There is a fatherhood crisis sweeping across the nation, said Kelly Kendall, the class instructor and fatherhood education coordinator. From the media’s portrayal of the “idiot” father — think Homer Simpson — to the staggering real statistics, fatherhood is floundering.
In the nation today, 24 million children are growing up in homes without their biological father, Kendall said, adding that 80 percent of all single-parent homes are lacking a father. Even in homes where there is a dad, the average father spends about five minutes a day with his children, Kendall said, of which three and a half minutes are spent giving orders.
Information from the National Fatherhood Initiative — creators of the Inside Out Dad program — said that father absence has created what they call a “father factor” that can be seen in nearly all of the societal ills facing America today.
The initiative’s website lists the following statistics regarding the absence of a father in the home:
- Children in female-headed homes with no spouse present have a poverty rate of 47.6 percent — four times greater than children living in married couple families.
- Children living in fatherless homes are 279 percent more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than their peers living with fathers.
- Students living in father-absent homes are two times more likely to repeat a grade in school.
- Female children living in a father-absent home are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teenager.
- Children in fatherless homes are two times more likely to suffer from obesity.
- Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.
Perhaps one of the most staggering statistics, however, is that 2.7 million children under the age of 18 in the United States have an incarcerated parent, 92 percent of which are fathers.
It is the mission of the National Fatherhood Initiative to equip organizations and communities with the knowledge and ability to proactively promote the engagement of fathers in their children’s lives. That includes incarcerated fathers.
The Inside Out Dad program Kendall teaches in Purgatory Correctional Facility is an evidence-based program. It is made possible by a nearly $8 million fatherhood education grant awarded to Utah State University by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Family Assistance.
The program has been going on at Purgatory Correctional Facility for about a year, Kendall said, and is already making strides toward reducing the tendency for repeat offenders.
“It reduces recidivism substantially,” Kendall said.
Report continues below.
The three P’s
Inside Purgatory Correctional Facility, Kendall asked a class of incarcerated dads what the role of a father looks like – what it means to be a man. The answer came in the form of what Kendall and the men in attendance called “the three P’s”: provide, protect and preside.
When these men understand their roles as providers and protectors, as someone who can preside over their children and truly want to engage as dads in their children’s lives, Kendall said, they become less likely to reoffend.
“Seeing them want to really be a dad, to see the change over the few weeks we come … it’s just exciting,” Kendall said.
It is what Kendall described as a paradigm shift from being selfish and making selfish choices to being selfless. Taking care of your children, Kendall said, is very selfless.
See more on video top of this report.
For members of the class, many of whom were incarcerated due to substance abuse in some manner, it can be eye opening to think of putting the needs of their children over their own addictions and struggles.
Michael Auston, an inmate who recently graduated from the Inside Out Dad program, said:
I was always a really good father. It’s one thing I love more than anything in this life is my kids, but drugs take you away from what you’re best at and that’s what I was best at. (This class) gave me an opportunity to sit back and go, ‘OK, this is how you can overcome some of those hurdles that you had. This is why you do things as a father and what your kids are really looking for.’ Instead of what I’m looking for as daddy of them, it’s what they’re looking for in a father.
Auston said one of the things that stood out the most from the class is that Kendall told the men their kids are looking for them to really love being a father and to express that love often.
How do you spell ‘love’?
“The biggest thing I got from (the class) was a definition of love,” Kadin Allen said. Allen was recently released from Purgatory Correctional Facility, and he and his wife, Makayla, are expecting their first child.
Kadin Allen said he had always heard the word but never knew what it really meant to love.
“Kelly said something in class one day … ‘How do you spell love?'” he said, “and it’s ‘time.’ T-I-M-E. And that was a huge thing for me.”
That realization helped Kadin Allen recognize the love his parents showed him through the time they spent with him and his siblings, he said. It also equipped him for his new role as a father.
“That’s what keeps a family unit together,” Makayla Allen said, “is that good quality time as a family and as a father and son or a father and daughter.”
While Kadin Allen is looking forward to the birth of his first child, many other struggling fathers are looking forward to just being able to see their children again.
That is the case for Mathew Harper, who was also recently released from Purgatory Correctional Facility.
Though he is out of jail now, Harper still has to prove himself worthy to be able to see his nearly 3-year-old son.
“I am currently in the process of just proving myself,” Harper said. “You know actions speak louder than words, so that’s kind of what I’m doing here.”
A large portion of that, Harper said, is building a civil relationship with his son’s mother, something he learned from the class.
How these men treat and speak about their children’s mothers has the potential to be very damaging to the child, Kendall said. So, as difficult as it may sometimes be, Kendall said, it is important to treat the mother with respect.
Harper said he has thought a lot about the moment when he will be able to see his son again. He said:
When I do see my son, it’ll be beautiful I think. I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve thought a lot about the things I want to do with him, a lot of the things I want to say to him. I think really most importantly I just want to be there, you know? I just want to experience him and have him experience me.
Reunification of families
Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Earl Rose has seen the effects of the fatherhood crisis firsthand, having spent the last 17 years as a foster parent.
In their nearly two decades as foster parents, Rose and his wife have had about five dozen children come through their home, he said, adding that almost all of them came from homes where drug abuse was prevalent.
When he was a narcotics officer in Salt Lake City, Rose said, they removed hundreds of kids from drug homes.
“I got to see the issues that these kids had to deal with in their homes, the neglect and the abuse, and it really broke my heart.”
But even after all they had been through, Rose said it has been his experience that most of the kids still retain a love for their birth parents.
It is the goal of the system then, Rose said, to reunify families where possible.
It is programs like the Inside Out Dad class that help reprogram the way the inmates think and behave, which hopefully sets them on a path to be reunited with their children and keep them from returning to jail.
“When I talk to the inmates, we talk about how they need to remember important dates with their children; remember their birthdays, remember Christmas and just love your kids,” Rose said. “Don’t disappoint your kids.”
Disappointment from their children is a feeling that many of the incarcerated men know too well.
“I always told my kids that I’d be their hero, I’d be the best example I could possibly be for them,” Auston said, “and I wasn’t living up to it. So I want to get back out there and get up on the horse and be that hero.”
A handshake and a thank you
As the inmates file out of the class, Kendall looks each man in the eye, shakes his hand and tells him “thank you.” It may be a small gesture, but it can and does have a lasting positive effect on the men who are working to change their lives.
It is a gesture that encapsulates one of the most powerful messages of the class – that these men are worth it.
“The class kind of helped me realize that I was worth it,” Harper said. “If anything, it gave me hope.”
Hope, Harper said, that he could be a good dad.
In addition to the course at Purgatory Correctional Facility, Kendall teaches fatherhood education throughout Washington County to a variety of father demographics, including at Switchpoint Community Resource Center and in the border town of Hildale where the population is largely made up of members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
St. George News videographer Sheldon Demke contributed to this report from Purgatory Correctional Facility.
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