by Jacqueline Rachev
Recently the Metropolitan Division brought its Fatherhood in Action program to the Cook County Jail, helping fathers build better relationships with their children and the children’s mothers.
The program is completely voluntary and open to most inmates. Twice a week during an eight-week session, the men meet with their peer group and two facilitators to focus on responsible parenting, healthy relationships, financial education and wellness. In addition, the group focuses on issues specifically related to building family relationships while in jail and after release. According to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, the program is making a difference in the lives of inmates.
“This program is so impactful because the men know we care,” said Janet De La Torre, communications liaison in the policy and communications department. “Most of them feel nobody has taken an interest in them before.”
On the day we visited, they were discussing milestones and the road map of their lives. The men identified the times and situations that have impacted them so far. This could include vacations, birthdays, school detentions and deaths. They drew these points on their maps and shared them.
“We are looking over our past so we can learn from our experiences and identify patterns,” Derrick White, Fatherhood in Action facilitator, told the group. “Does anything need to be changed to make it safe for your children? You need to take your past pain and transform it, make it a stepping stone to a better future.”
The nonjudgmental atmosphere allows the men to look at their lives and how their choices affect their children and the relationship with the family. For many of them, they’re learning for the first time how to be adults and parents.
Darryl Paige has three young children, and he’s working on being a leader. “My kids watch me. I have to set an example for them. I have to be supportive and understanding,” he said. “I don’t want them to end up here.”
The program has been so successful that Sheriff Dart has requested several more sessions. The Fatherhood in Action program also is offered to clients at the Chicago Harbor Light Center, the adult rehabilitation centers and the Pathway Forward community-based corrections program.