"LEADER" On-line: Spring/Summer 1999
Taking Active Parenting to prison
As Family Education Director of the L.K. Painter Community
Center in Collins, NY, Diane Snekser has been presenting Active
Parenting programs for five years. In 1997 she had the opportunity
to take Active Parenting Today to a medium-security prison near
her upstate New York home.
by Diane Snekser
When additional funding was provided in early December 1997,
to be used by the end of the month, I knew exactly what to do
with it. I had always been interested in presenting the Active
Parenting programs in prison, so I contacted the two facilities
near our center.
They welcomed the opportunity, and dates were set for me to
present in one of the prisons, a medium-security mens prison
during the holiday season.
While there I discovered many parenting concerns and issues
that a person on the outside would not have to deal
with. The parenting workshop experience as noted in their evaluations
was positive for the inmates, but also very enlightening and positive
for me as well.
During the summer, I presented another workshop there. One
of the men in the group asked if there were a program geared specifically
to men who were incarcerated. After all, other than the encouragement
letter and some role-plays, these men could not put into practice
the information presented or participate in the home activities.
I called Active Parenting to inquire about this, and Dr. Popkin
himself returned my call. He suggested I write an article for
Leader magazine asking other leaders for suggestions, and offered
to look at a proposal for a new program I have an idea for.
Not long afterward, again as a volunteer, I found myself at
the prison doing a follow-up support group session
for the men who attended the last workshop. I see that its
important for me to continue this relationship. I am encouraged
by the insight and growth some of the men have had while participating
in the pre-release program they are enrolled in at the prison.
I can see the great strides the counselors at this prison have
made with the men. The sharing of feelings and tears in their
eyes when they speak put me in awe of how vulnerable they have
allowed themselves to become in spite of the risks they take in
putting themselves out there. Its that important
to them. I am amazed to see this softer side revealed, given the
group dynamics that one might think occurs in a prison. Im
surprised the one-upmanship and macho image I thought would be
present were not apparent here.
I ask for concerns they would like to see addressed in a future
program for inmates. I also ask for ideas they may have as to
how to address these issues in a program. The group is very responsive
and has some great suggestions. In the five years Ive presented
Active Parenting Today, I have to say these men did the
best role-play incorporating the communication information presented
in Session 5.
Although I knew they would have some great suggestions, I am
again surprised at some of the positive parenting practices they
have put into practice on their own, even from prison. One man
said that during each phone call he asks his children a question
they have to research and answer during the next phone call. They
also get to ask him a question (of course their questions are
harder and he finds himself with the most homework, but . . .).
It gives them each something to look forward to in the next phone
conversation; it builds on a positive relationship rather than
getting on their case from prison for something Mom
or Grandma has told him the child has done wrong. It helps to
make this long-distance relationship closer to what it might be
like if on the outside: a discussion at the dinner table.
The men are realistic as to what to expect from their children
when they return home. They know they have a tough road ahead
of them, and look at communication as the vehicle down that road.
We discuss the issues of going home, what to expect, including
possible rejection after being out of their childrens lives,
how to communicate without being a dictator, and how to get cooperation
from their kids after theyve been out of the parents
role on a daily basis. Theyre concerned as to whether they
may find themselves giving in or being easily swayed into giving
children their way to overcome the guilt they feel for not being
there for so long. Theyre concerned about support systems
on the outside to help them move through some of these unique
parenting obstacles. They would like to see prevention programs
in a community center that address groups of children whose parents
I leave the facility very excited with the many directions
their concerns and suggestions can take us. I thank the men, for
once again I have been enlightened. Once again they have impressed
me at how serious they are about their role as dads and how much
they want to prevent the cycle of incarceration within their families
from continuing. I am encouraged by what they are already doing
in prison, not only for themselves but also for their children.
As in the previous visits, I leave once again feeling a sense
Click for Active Parenting books and
videos for families with a parent in jail.
Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 1999 by Active Parenting