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"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 men’s 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 it’s 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.” It’s 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. I’m 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 I’ve 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 children’s lives, how to communicate without being a dictator, and how to get cooperation from their kids after they’ve been out of the parent’s role on a daily basis. They’re 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. They’re 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 are incarcerated.

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 of hope.

Click for Active Parenting books and videos for families with a parent in jail.

Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 1999 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.