The Fathers Together project is looking at how to better support young fathers in prison and their families, and specifically develop a parenting programme. I believe it’s very important for fathers to be involved in this project. Mainly because we have been through what others are currently going through in terms of struggling and suffering with not being able to see their children, not having any control over whether or not they can see their children.
It’s very important that the father’s perspective is taken into consideration because then the programme itself can be more helpful and effective and made useful by fathers that have been through the same situation. I don’t think that prison officers, prison warders, prison workers, social workers and probation officers are able to appreciate how conditions like these affect the prisoners. That is not to say that they won’t understand the predicament of male prisoners that have families and children, but it is a situation that you have to have been in yourself to truly understand the stress, the worry, that confinements, the conditions and what has to be dealt with and put up with. It is a very hard situation to be in, and unless you’ve been in that situation of being locked up, behind doors and taken away from your children, is very difficult to understand exactly what and how that feels like unless you’ve been in that situation yourself.
I wanted to be in involved in this project because I have been in this situation previously myself. I have been in prison, far away from my family; as far as America and Scotland. It was very difficult, literally impossible to actually have access to my daughters and for them to have access to me. This put the relationship under extreme pressure and it made it very difficult for me to maintain the relationship.
A programme such as the one we hope to develop might have helped me think about my family relationships, which might have meant my situation would be quite different. With the situation the way it was, my relationship with my daughters broke down massively when I was in prison. It was not anybody else’s fault but my own for putting myself in the predicament that I put myself into, but, it is important to realise, understand and remember, even though a prisoner has forfeited their perks of life and freedom and had them taken away from them, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have rights and they should still have access to their family and their family should have access to them. Forfeiting their rights doesn’t mean that they should automatically forfeit their family and their relationships.
I for one, know how it feels to be locked away from your family and how difficult it is to manage and navigate yourself properly in the right way when you’re in a predicament like that. It’s very difficult, it’s emotional, it’s frustrating, it’s very angering and it also can be quite depressing. It can cause mental disorders depending on the strength or the mental condition of the individual going through it. For me, there were times when I felt very depressed, upset and frustrated to know that I had a family and children and no opportunity to be able to have a relationship with them.
As part of the project, a group of us meet regularly to talk about our experiences and ideas which go to inform the project and how things develop. I appreciate the sessions and I appreciate the purpose of Fathers Together. I appreciate what the project team endeavour to do, what the founders and the team members endeavour to do because it’s so satisfying knowing that there are people out there that are trying to fight the corner for children and fathers that are separated by presently being in prison.
The sessions are very good, the last session was great. We were able to sit down and throw some ideas on the table of how to carry out and move forward on achieving the desired outcome of the project and how to build the programme to achieve helping and assisting young men, young fathers and their children who are in this predicament.
It’s good to sit down with other men that have been in that situation and hear other men’s experiences. To hear what they’ve been through in terms of being imprisoned and not being able to see their children and just empathize with other men’s scenarios and examples of what they’ve been through and sharing experiences. I found it was very emotional, but I feel it was somewhat therapeutic in being able to discuss something with people that have been through similar things and would be able to understand automatically what you are talking about and empathize with you because they’ve been through the same thing themselves, rather than speaking to somebody that has no clue what you’re talking about because they haven’t been in that situation.
The environment and the surroundings of the sessions are very calm, quiet, peaceful and very conducive to be able to open up and discuss sensitive matters like this. The staff members are very considerate in being sensitive to the situation for what it is and I find the staff members definitely are very passionate about achieving the desired result. The passion shows in the way that they have set up and designed the meetings, it’s good that the staff members join us for part of the session and then excuse themselves for the second part of the sessions. I think that’s very good, in terms of, appreciating that there’s an element of fathers together talking and discussing important and critical parts of the programme and experiences between ourselves, to then, put forward to the staff members.
I personally look forward to the sessions and I’m grateful and happy to be a part of the whole process. I also recommend that if there are other men out there that have been through a similar experience and feel that they could add anything to the study, to contact the project team.
To find out more about the Fathers Together study: access the website www.fatherstogether.co.uk, or on Twitter @TogetherFathers.
Blog originally appeared in the Race Equality Foundation newsletter (6 November 2023). See: https://raceequalityfoundation.org.uk/blog/being-involved-in-fathers-together/