Let’s Envision A Different Kind of Father’s Day Behind Bars

Father’s Day for those in custody in an all-male facility is generally a pretty subdued and sad experience. For some, it’s another Father’s Day in custody and away from their children, and for others it’s the first one; either way it’s not easy.

For fathers on staff spending the day at work, it’s a holiday missed with family, or at the very least delayed or altered because they are serving others first. So what if we could create a very different kind of Father’s Day for all these dads? The HSO is a small facility situated on an absolutely gorgeous piece of property; the view from the front is an unobstructed vision of the Holyoke hills, and when you are inside the main yard, if you didn’t know you were in a jail, you would think you were on a school campus with a large grassy expanse with plenty of room to run, and a basketball court. There are an additional two enclosures that are entirely encompassed by the building; picture a constructed figure 8. Correctional facilities can create environments that are both secure and family-supportive—if they choose to. Each of these areas could have safe play structures where dads could spend time with their kids outside and maintain the connections with their children that are critical for their successful rehabilitation and reentry back into the community. Although I am laser-focused on reducing recidivism for these dads, I am just as focused on a proactive prevention of incarceration for their children. Depending on the source you read, between 1.7 and 5 million children in the US have one or more parents in custody; these children are much more likely to be children who: will experience trauma as a result (anxiety, depression, and misbehavior), not be successful in school, will live in poverty, and most disturbingly—are much more likely to follow in their father’s footsteps to incarceration. How can we break that cycle? We can create an environment where visitation is regular and frequent; please notice I focused on time outside, and yes—this is possible even in New England year-round, but there are also spaces inside the building where families can visit in a way that does not feel carceral. On days where weather is prohibitive to travel, we have become wizards at Zoom if necessary. We can create a county facility where dads and kids read and learn together. Did you know there is grant funding available to support family literacy behind the wall? We can create a program where some dads will work to finish their high school equivalency while their children practice phonics—together. Hampshire County is rich with literacy volunteers who would jump at the chance to assist in just such kinds of programming, this needn’t be costly, just careful. And please imagine just such a Father’s Day where working staff can facilitate connection and caring cooperative play and learning instead of just managed custody, and how this will impact their Father’s Day. Instead of leaving work after having managed sad fathers in distress, they will leave feeling like they helped break the cycle of incarceration. So what if instead of a Father’s Day without, we have a Father’s Day within? It’s possible, with vision and focused attention. Anyone can be a father; let’s create an environment where incarcerated men can be Dads. Happy Father’s Day, everyone!  Yvonne