Dads in jail advised to focus on their kids

Jason Reyes, 28, knows the importance of communicating with his 5-year-old son. He writes him stories and includes pictures in an ongoing saga. When they talk on the phone, Reyes asks his son open-ended questions about how he’s doing.

The father would love to sweep up his son in his arms, but that won’t happen as Reyes sits in the Mesa County Jail.

“It’s the best thing I can think of without having a physical presence,” Reyes said in a recent meeting with 15 other dads at the jail.

According to corrections data, more than 60 percent of the approximately 2.3 million adults in the nation’s prison system are parents. Every year, 700,000 to 800,000 fathers are released from prison.

Upon being released from a year or more of incarceration, people can develop Post Incarceration Syndrome and have problems dealing with issues outside of jail, said Jacob Carpenter. Carpenter, the program specialist for Hilltop’s Family First program, leads inmates who are fathers in weekly discussions about how best to communicate with their children while incarcerated and once they are released.

During a recent meeting, Carpenter advised the men to “be as consistent as you can” with children through phone calls and letters. He said men should refrain from talking about themselves in jail and focus instead on asking children about themselves and whether anything had changed in their lives since they last spoke.

“As guys, we have issues with communication,” he told the inmates. “With kids, you need to keep that communication alive. When you’re stressed out, your kids are five times as stressed out that you’re in here.”

Inmates who attend a Family First meeting once a month receive three days of “good time” jail credit, which can decrease an inmate’s sentence.

A number of the men raised their hands when Carpenter asked whether they had used drugs or alcohol immediately after being released from prior incarcerations. Other inmates said their parenting skills were poor after being released because they felt guilty about not being able to find work.

Reyes said he used to tell his son he couldn’t see him in person because he was battling monsters. He soon realized telling the white lies caused a riff in their relationship, so he now explains it as “adult timeout.” Reyes said he should be released in about three months after completing a sentence for violating terms of probation in a drug-dealing case in Las Vegas.

Another local parenting class called Love and Logic also gave him ideas to be a better parent, he said.

“This humbled me to be more content with my relationship with him,” Reyes said about his son. “I can’t be the same me when I’m in here.”

Carpenter said he started leading the classes because he believed fathers who are inmates were being overlooked in creating strong family relationships.

“People don’t realize that harsh sentences are bad for families,” Carpenter said. “Harsh sentences look good for politicians, but they look bad for everyone else. It doesn’t really help society out in any way.”


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