10 August, 2015


“I want my baby back and he’s never going to come back.  Every morning when I go take a shower, I still peek in his room.  I left his room exactly the way he left it.  I know he’s not there, but  I still peek in his room. . . . I will be in hell until the day I die because I found my son hanging.  It’s a whole system that destroyed my son.”               
Venida Browder, mother of the late Kalief Browder

          I have never met Mrs. Browder,  yet  her pain, her helplessness, and the depth of her grief  reverberates through my soul.   Her words are chilling and forever etched in my mind.   Maybe it’s the “code” – the “code” of empty spaces between her every word that allows me . . . forces me  . . .  to see her waking up every morning, walking to her son’s empty room, opening the door, and peeking in.  When she opens the door, she knows what she will find.   She knows he is not there  . . will not be there  . . . yet she still looks for her son.   Her pain . . . her helplessness . . . her loss is everyone’s pain . . . everyone’s helplessness.   Kalief was our child.  And Kalief’s story is so important on a number of levels.

            Don’t believe those stories you may have heard  that characterize going to prison as nothing more than being “a ride down and a walk back”.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  What is prison like?   Prison is pure unadulterated hell.  And a child  – the “heart and soul’ of the village – Kalief – , sent to prison at age 16, experienced pure unadulterated hell – every day --  for three excruciating years.  Now, Kalief, Our Son, uttered cries of help to the village as he slipped deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of depression while he was incarcerated and after his release.  He was desperately seeking a “life line”.   I understand what drove this young man – Our Son -- who had so much promise to commit suicide.  Listen to his words:

           “It’s like hell on earth  . . . Sometimes I went back to my cell and I cried myself to sleep because it’s like I want to go home and they’re not letting me go home.”


            But let’s take this one step further.  Let’s multiply Kalief, Our Son, by 700,000.  Why 700,000? Every year, 700,000 souls are released from correctional facilities throughout the United States.  These 700,000 souls return to our families and our communities every year.   Shouldn’t we wonder about the horrific nightmarish experiences that these 700,000 souls may have endured or witnessed during their incarceration?    Every year, we have 700,000 “Kaliefs” coming back to our communities who have experienced “hell on earth” for 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 or even 36 years.    They return to us with broken spirits and shattered souls, masking and hiding their “brokenness.”   They feel misunderstood and cannot fathom that someone who has not walked where they have walked would ever care about, want to know about, or even comprehend the “hell on earth” they lived through behind bars.   Their “brokenness” manifests itself in bravado or emotional detachment.  On he surface, the 700,000 “Kaliefs” that walk and talk among us appear oblivious to the emotional and spiritual pain that the horrific nightmare of life behind the wall has inflicted upon them.  They come back to us – emotionally, physically, and spiritually toxic – frantically searching for a life line – a “life line” of forgiveness, acceptance, patience, and unconditional love -- that will help  heal them and make them whole.  We have 700,000 “Kaliefs”, who may have spent 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, or 36 years institutionalized whom we have to teach how to love again and trust again.     

             We must save and make whole the “Kaliefs” in our midst with all deliberate speed.





30 July, 2015


         The report of the death by suicide of twenty-two year old Kalief Browder haunts me.   Hearing a story about a young man who has been incarcerated at the age of 16 is not new to me.   For the past 16 years, my mailbox has been flooded with letters from incarcerated men who are Fathers from Maine to Hawaii asking me to publish their poems and articles who tell me that their journey to prison began at age 16 or 17.   The horrors that they have witnessed or have been the victims of, their dehumanization, and their deep spiritual, emotional, and psychological pain are always unspoken.   Writers, like musicians, “speak in code”.    It is the “code” – the  “unspoken” --  that I see and hear.   I see  their tears and hear their silent screams  in every comma and in every empty space between every word and paragraph of every poem and every  essay that I read and publish.

          Kalief’s life was turned inside out at the age of 16 when he found himself incarcerated at Rikers Island --  one of the global village’s largest correctional facilities.   Maintaining his innocence, Kalief refused to take a plea deal.  What was he accused of?  Allegedly stealing a back pack for which authorities set bail at US$3,000.00 – bail his family could not afford to pay.    Although he was in the autumn years of puberty, Kalief was still a child – somebody’s child  -- somebody’s son  Our Son.  And Our Son spent three horrific years of his young life in prison waiting for a trial – waiting to prove his innocence – placed in solitary confinement and consistently beaten for no apparent reason.  Two incidents of the physical violence he endured were captured on the prison’s surveillance cameras and made public by The New Yorker.   Kalief – Our Son -- was one of the approximately 800,000 souls released from American correctional facilities annually.   Every year, 800,000 souls return to our communities --  psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually shattered – like Kalief – Our Son.  His story is as much a teachable moment about mental health care as it is about mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.    

          Could we have saved Kalief – Our Son – if a mandatory two-tiered psychological debriefing program existed for all formerly incarcerated individuals and their families and loved ones?  What if immediately after release from prison, for a mandatory minimum of one year, Khalief was enrolled in intensive sessions which provided him with the space and tools he needed to trust again, to love again, and to heal his emotional, psychological, and spiritual wounds?   What if, immediately after release from prison, Khalief was matched up with a Mentor – a formerly incarcerated individual who has successfully reintegrated into society and is psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually whole  -- someone who has walked where Khalief had walked – someone with whom he could confide his deepest fears? 

          Would we have a different story to tell? 

27 May, 2015


 Children are the “heart and soul” of the village and our bridge to the future. Men are co-architects of our bridge to the future and a part of the glue that holds our families, our communities, and our village together. They are husbands, fathers, mentors, nurturers, and protectors of the village’s most vulnerable members – our children and our Elders. It is the responsibility of the Men of the village to design and implement plans that will move their families forward and empower the communities in which they live and work. Intergenerational incarceration is robbing the village of its leaders, mentors, nurturers, and protectors. It is creating a vacuum in leadership and a psychologically and spiritually toxic environment in our communities. The chilling psychological and emotional “disconnect” of Fatherlessness and a leadership vacuum created by intergenerational incarceration reverberates throughout the village. No one emerges unscathed. A powerful two-tiered initiative – Fathers And Children Together (“F.A.C.T.”) – created at SCI Graterford by members of the United Community Action Network (“U-CAN”) and strongly supported by The Honorable Ronald G. Waters, State Representative for Pennsylvania’s 191st Legislative District and External Board Members – is helping to reunite families, dismantle the “school to prison” pipeline, and eradicate the “disconnect” of Fatherlessness and the vacuum of leadership caused by intergenerational incarceration. F.A.C.T.’s holistic approach to eradicating Fatherlessness is helping the village reclaim its soul and infusing it with hope.

 On a cool and cloudless Saturday morning in March – 28 March 2015 -- mothers and grandmothers accompanied by their children and grandchildren streamed quietly into the offices of Southwest Nu-Stop, Inc. ( at 5616 Woodland Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to participate in the F.A.C.T. Initiative’s orientation session and workshop. A buffet-style continental breakfast and warm greetings from F.A.C.T.’s External Board members and alumni melted away the uneasiness of the mothers and grandmothers -- an uneasiness that comes with stepping out on faith and treading on new ground. For seven (7) consecutive weeks, the children will travel to SCI Graterford for a weekly visit with their Fathers. While they will be accompanied on the journey that will reunite them with their Fathers, by their mother, grandmother, or legal guardian, the women will not join them in the meeting room. The children will be escorted to a meeting room in SCI Graterford to visit their Fathers by F.A.C.T. External Board members, and the women will be transported to a restaurant for dinner. The dinner is an opportunity for the mothers, grandmothers, or legal guardians to relax, discuss any concerns or issues they have, and to learn about resources. Transportation for the children and their mothers and/or legal guardians is provided free of charge by Dr. Lloyd Thomas Reid, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Nu-Stop, Inc., a mental health and substance abuse treatment rehabilitation center which provides outpatient care.

 Under the direction of Ms. Florence “Penny” McDonald, the women attending the orientation and workshop session handled administrative tasks that included, among other things, completing and signing consent forms to facilitate the children’s long-awaited reunion with their Fathers. Questionnaires were distributed to the children for completion. Once the consent forms and questionnaires were completed and submitted, the children filed into a conference room where they participated in an arts and crafts program, courtesy of The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program ( Mrs. Regina Russell, an External Board Member of F.A.C.T., explained the dress code that children and adults must adhere to when visiting the correctional facility.

The Honorable Ronald G. Waters, a staunch advocate of F.A.C.T., extended a warm welcome to the women as he provided an overview of F.A.C.T. State Representative Waters has dedicated his legislative career to prison reform and works with U-CAN at SCI Graterford in a joint effort through its “Education Over Incarceration” Initiative which educates youth in the pitfalls of the culture of crime. Through the “Education Over Incarceration” Initiative, U-CAN offers a scholarship program which is funded by incarcerated individuals who donate their salary to provide college scholarships for children in the area and conducts an “Old School, New School” live radio broadcast which targets at-risk youth. In his remarks, State Representative Waters pointed out that prior to the design and implementation of the F.A.C.T. Initiative, Incarcerated Fathers primarily focused their attention on the mothers of their children. As a result, children did not have an adequate opportunity to bond with their fathers. Several members of the F.A.C.T. Alumni – women, who along with their children, had participated in prior F.A.C.T. workshops -- discussed the importance of F.A.C.T. and its positive impact. Imam Wesley Wilson Bey spoke to the mothers and grandmothers. As he looked out into the audience, the Imam ended his brief talk with a profound statement: “You are making history!”

 Dr. Lloyd Thomas Reid; H. Jean Wright, II, Psy.D., a clinical and forensic psychologist, and Mr. Dawan Williams, a graduate of and spokesman for the F.A.C.T. Initiative also addressed the group of mothers and grandmothers. Mr. Williams, who was accompanied by his son, Dawan Williams, Jr., rendered a compelling account of his participation in the F.A.C.T. Initiative; his release from SCI Graterford on 6 October 2014 and his same day surprise visit to his children’s school which was arranged by The Honorable Ronald G. Waters and the school’s principal; and the support he receives from the F.A.C.T. team. After ten years of incarceration, Williams walked out of SCI Graterford a free and transformed man – a transformation he attributes to the F.A.C.T. Initiative.

 But the truth of the matter is that the F.A.C.T. Initiative – a global model for resolving Fatherlessness and intergenerational incarceration -- is transforming everyone. The stoicism and uneasiness that etched the faces of the women who, hours earlier, had walked into the offices of Southwest Nu-Stop, Inc. disappeared. Their faces were now bathed in the glow of hope – a hope for a better future for their children and grandchildren – the village’s “heart and soul”. It was the glow of a hope ensconced in the knowledge that in a matter of days, the village’s “heart and soul” – its “bridge to the future” would be reunited with their Fathers – the co-architects of the “bridge to the future”. So how were the children feeling? The children had gone into the arts and crafts session with a pensive, and cool, “never-let-them-see-you-sweat” demeanor. Hours later, they emerged as bright-eyed, smiling, and animated souls

 Let’s take a moment to really look at and fully understand what is really going on here. Through the F.A.C.T. Initiative, incarcerated men receive parenting training. They are learning how to co-parent and bond with their children. The men discover that their children experience and share the same levels of emotions – worry, fear, happiness, and sadness. They realize that their presence and absence has a lifelong impact on their children and equally impacts an entire community. For many, it is the first time that their importance as a Man and as a Father is being pointed out. It is the first time someone told them, “Hey, you matter!” This realization, in and of itself, is life changing! Now, at the same time, mothers of these children – the village’s “heart and soul” – and its bridge to the future -- are also receiving parenting training. They are discovering that the presence or absence of their child’s father not only has a lifelong impact on the child but affects the entire community. The F.A.C.T. Initiative moves the children’s mothers and fathers to “check their egos at the door” and focus on working together as a team to positively shape the minds and souls of our children. So, we now have Men who are Fathers and graduates of the F.A.C.T. Initiative returning to our families and communities with a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and totally committed to raising our children – our babies. We also have mothers who understand the powerful impact that a Father’s presence has not just on a child, but the entire community. More importantly, we have Fathers and Mothers working together to positively shape the minds and souls of our children – despite any differences they may have. In our families and in our communities – our village--, we have Fathers and Mothers who clearly understand that children are not merely extensions of themselves – but they are the village’s “heart and soul” – its “bridge to the future” – its “Next Generation of Leaders, Husbands, Fathers, Wives, and Mothers”. A sense of “connectedness’ and purposefulness abounds, bringing with it healing and hope.

 The F.A.C.T. Initiative is moving all of us to put things in their proper perspective: When it is all said and done, it is really about the children -- the “heart and soul’ of the village.

16 May, 2015


"The International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys is a call for peace; it is a call for bringing hope to the hopeless.  It is a call for transforming our spiritually, psychologically and emotionally toxic communities into a loving, nurturing, and spiritually vibrant  oasis.   It is a call to end the “school-to-prison” pipeline.  It is a call to end the rising suicide rate of Men and Boys."
          This quotation from the 2015 press release of Ms. Diane Sears (USA  Coordinator – International Men’s Day) is relevant  for today's world.  I believe that prayer from a genuine heart can transform the world. Many will agree that we live in a confusing world with changing values, strange behaviours, hollow morals and questionable ethics. There is often a blurred line between the truth and lies or right and wrong.  Our role models sometimes disappoint us.  We cannot lose faith and believe that our society will become worse or events are unchangeable.
           I have many weaknesses but prayer has been  a guiding light in my life. On a daily basis, I face temptations but prayer has allowed me to understand the difference between right and wrong. This year, I again want to encourage persons and institutions to observe the International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys. 
                Here is a prayer that I want to share with readers-
We pray for more positive role models
who will inspire the current and future generations.
Continue praying for the millions of sick persons who cannot afford proper health care.
Pray for the volunteers and medical personnel who assist the terminally ill persons.
Continue praying for the mentally and physically challenged so
they will be treated fairly and with respect.
Let  us pray for boys and men who are incarcerated.
Pray that the innocent in prisons will be freed,
pray that the guilty will learn from their mistakes.
We pray for men and boys to be more tolerant and accepting of different cultures and religions.
Continue praying for the many persons who have no access to clean drinking water.
Pray for gender equality, pray for the safety of pregnant mothers
who are carrying the future of humanity.
We must pray for suicidal males in abusive, toxic relationships;
give them strength to leave or seek counselling.
Pray that we will establish healthy relationships,
and promote stable friendships.
We pray for boys and men who are materialistic, selfish and greedy;
let them be aware of the need to change their lives and thinking.
Pray for those who have allowed vices to endanger their lives and others.
We pray for world leaders to understand the need for permanent peace.
We pray for a world that will focus less on trivial issues
and concentrate more on helping and uplifting humanity.
Jerome Teelucksingh, Ph.D. is the Founder of International Men's Day, Chairman of the International Men's Day Coordination Committee, faculty member in the History Department at the University of West Indies, an author, and humanitarian. 

12 April, 2015



D.A. Sears
USA Coordinator – International Men’s Day
Member, International Men’s Day Coordination Committee


            Many of us are members of what has come to be regarded as one of the last generations of children raised by the village.  It seemed that every adult and every institution made positive contributions to the growth of the village.  Religious institutions and religious leaders were the “center of the universe” for the village.  And the village embraced its religious institutions and religious leaders.   Wisdom comes from all places.  Our religious institutions and religious leaders have “key pieces of the puzzle” to strengthening our families, empowering our communities, and bringing healing to our global village.  This is an observation that is not lost on a number of International Men’s Day Coordinators. International Men’s Day Coordinators are issuing a “Call To Prayer” to religious institutions and religious leaders of all faiths and denominations to engage their congregation in prayer for Men and Boys on the Sunday immediately preceding 2015 International Men’s Day.  We have designated Sunday, 8 November 2015 as the International Day of Prayer for Men and  Boys.   We are asking every church, synagogue, mosque, and temple to engage its congregation in prayer for the spiritual, mental and physical well-being of Men and Boys – our sons, fathers, stepfathers, husbands, fiancées,  uncles, grandfathers, great grandfathers, brothers, cousins, and nephews.   The  International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys on  Sunday, 8 November 2015 will usher in 2015 International Men’s Day (   Individuals, institutions and organizations in 80 nations throughout our global village  will observe International Men’s Day on Thursday, 19 November 2015 under the theme, “Make A Difference For Men and Boys.”  Our religious institutions and religious leaders have a key role to play in helping to keep Men and Boys safe and helping to eradicate some of the key challenges which make it extremely difficult for Men and Boys to live happier, healthier, and longer lives.

           Imagine if you will, the powerfulness of 7.2 billion souls who occupy the space and place we know as Planet Earth -- of all faiths and denominations --  lifting their voices in prayers of thanksgiving for the  Men and Boys in our lives and for the selfless sacrifices and valuable contributions that Men quietly and unceremoniously make to our families, our communities, and our world – every day.    What if on Sunday, 15 November 2015 – the International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys --  Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists throughout our global village embarked on a journey to work together in a loving and collaborative spirit  to end Fatherlessness, gender wars, homelessness, intolerance, poverty, hunger, and violence? 

         The International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys is a call for peace; it is a call for bringing hope to the hopeless.  It is a call for transforming our spiritually, psychologically and emotionally toxic communities into a loving, nurturing, and spiritually vibrant  oasis.   It is a call to end the “school-to-prison” pipeline.  It is a call to end the rising suicide rate of Men and Boys.  It is a call to level the educational playing field for boys and put an end to boys – Our Sons – the Next Generation of Leaders, Husbands, and Fathers being arbitrarily misdiagnosed as “behavior problems” and “unteachable”, placed on Ritalin or other psychotropic medications, and warehoused in Special Education Classes.   It is a call to end the rising high school dropout rate among Our Sons.  It is a call to end the violence that plagues our communities and prematurely snuffs out the lives of Men and Boys.  It is a call to provide Boys and Men with real-life options.  It is a call to bring spiritual, emotional, and psychological healing to our families, our communities, and our global village.  It is a call for understanding – an understanding that each of the 7.2 billion souls who occupy this space and place we know as Planet Earth are connected to one another.  And an understanding that  we all live in grave peril if we are not working to keep Men and Boys safe and helping them to live happier, longer, and healthier lives. 

12 January, 2015


           When it comes to Men and Boys, we have it all wrong.   Men and Boys receive a steady diet of subliminal mixed messages about masculinity, parental roles and responsibilities, and the rules of engagement for courtship and marriage through mainstream media, films, television situation comedies and literature.  Women and girls receive that same steady diet.   As a result, there is this unsubstantiated notion floating around that Men and Boys  do not have the same range of emotions as Women and Girls – that they are emotionless automatons.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  When Our Sons emerge from the womb they are equipped with the same set of emotions and the same level of sensitivity.   They are joyful, compassionate, loving, enthusiastic, and insatiably curious souls.  At some point during their journey from childhood to manhood, Our Sons are told explicitly and implicitly to be strong and that it is not “manly” to show their emotions.    Specifically, Our Sons are told:  “Boys and men don’t cry.”  .  And when boys and Men seem not to show any emotion, we accuse them of being insensitive and uncaring   We are wrongfully penalizing Men and Boys for being human when they are not allowed to express their vulnerability.   We are stripping them of their humanity.  Let’s give Men and Boys the emotional freedom they so desperately need and want.

            When Our Sons reach manhood they are told:  A real man does this! A real man does that!”   While society tells boys and men how to be a man, society is not telling girls and women how to be a woman.  No one is telling girls and women:  “A real women does this! A real woman does that!” We seem to be so obsessed with telling Men what they ought to do and what they are not doing.  Hardly anyone is telling Men, “Your presence completes me as a person.  Your presence completes our family – our community. You have value.  You are loved.  You are needed.”  We also seem so consumed about what a Man is supposed to give. The conversation always seems to be about:  “A man is supposed to give this.  A man is supposed to give that.”   When it comes to Men, the conversation generally seems to be about “taking” – what we can and should take from him.   Men are expected to provide safety and support.  But when is the last time a man heard someone tell him:  “Hey, I’ve got your back! You can count on me to protect and support you!”  Men need to feel safe and supported, too!

          So, what happens to a Man who is constantly bombarded with mixed signals about his role as a Man and a Father; badgered about what he ought to be doing and what he is not doing; and not expected to show any emotions even when he is drowning in grief and pain?  His spirit breaks and his soul shatters.   Self-doubt, low self-esteem, and stress overtake him.  He feels empty . . . isolated . . . powerless.  He may plunge into the deep abyss of depression.  Or becomes emotionally disengaged.  He may self-medicate his emotional pain with food, alcohol or drugs.  His physical and mental health suffers.  Is it any wonder that there is an alarmingly rising incidence of strokes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes?  Should we find it surprising that some Men who have “given their all” only to discover that “giving their all” is just not enough, commit suicide as a means of escaping the abuse and madness that surrounds them? 

       Is that we want?  Do want Men and Boys walking around in our communities who are emotionally disengaged and self-medicating?   Is it really fair to ask Men and Boys to surrender their freedom of emotional expression?   Why are we asking Men and Boys to give up their humanity?

        It is imperative that we create – with all deliberate speed --  a space and place for Men where can they cry, shout, laugh, and articulate their emotional pain without fear of having their manhood called into question. In 2015, let’s work together to give Men and Boys the emotional freedom they need – the same level of emotional freedom that Women and Girls enjoy.
­­Diane A. Sears is the USA Coordinator for International Men’s Day (; Chair of the USA 2012-2022 International Men’s Day Ten Year Plan; member of the University Council for Fatherhood and Men’s Studies at Akamai University (, Managing Editor of IN SEARCH OF FATHERHOOD®, a quarterly international Fatherhood and Men’s Issues Journal; and author of a Fatherhood book – In Search Of Fatherhood®--Transcending Boundaries (

20 December, 2014


          Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. If you could create the “Promise Of A New Day” for the village, what would it consist of? Would we find responsible and accountable Men committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of the village – our children – our babies -- and our Elders? Would we find positive male role models positively shaping the minds and souls of our children – the village’s Next Generation of Leaders, Husbands, Fathers, Wives, and Mothers? What would the “Promise Of A New Day” sound like? Would the cacophony of children’s incessant playful banter and spontaneous laughter reverberate throughout the village? And what would the “Promise Of A New Day” feel like? Would it feel safe . . . loving . . and nurturing? Is this possible? Yes! Mr. Dawan Williams and the Unity Community Action Network (“U-CAN”) through the Fathers and Children Together (“F.A.C.T.”) Program are creating the “Promise Of A New Day” for the village. 

           Mr. Williams is a graduate of F.A.C.T., a dynamic two-tiered parenting program which is heralded as a global model for healing, redemption, ending Fatherlessness, and rebuilding the village developed by the internal members of U-CAN at SCI Graterford in Graterford, Pennsylvania. The F.A.C.T. program is supported by The Honorable Ronald G. Waters, a State Representative for Pennsylvania’s 191st District and an External Team consisting of individuals from diverse professional backgrounds. After ten years of incarceration, Mr. Williams recently returned to his family and his community. He credits his strong sense of purpose, parenting skills, and resolve to help eradicate the devastating effects of Fatherless households which are at the root of the chaos enveloping our communities to the F.A.C.T. Program. 

           So, how did Mr. Williams, a spokesman for F.A.C.T., become involved with this powerful program? 

              “I was involved with the Fathers and Children Together Program which is supported by Pennsylvania State Representative Ronald G. Waters of the 191st Legislative District out of West Philadelphia. The program is geared toward reconnecting Incarcerated Fathers back with their children. I transferred to SCI Graterford in 2012. One of the board members – one of the Internal Board Members -- came to me and made me aware of the program and the components of the program and how it would be beneficial not only to me, but to my children and my family. So, I signed up. Before going on the visit with my child, the Men at Graterford – the Lifers at Graterford who are involved in the program – they brought awareness about the effects of a fatherless household and how when children are coming up with their mothers to the visiting room, the Fathers are more involved with the mother than the child and the child is left with his or her own experience.” 

           When we asked Mr. Williams to describe the F.A.C.T. program, he offered the following:

          “There were five sessions that I had to take at Graterford which would lead up to the workshop sessions with my child. The sessions were twice a week for two hours for six weeks from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. The first session was about the effects of a fatherless household and pretty much covered the root of the problems in our community as far as the Fathers not being there, how our children are affected, how the children’s mothers are affected – our grandmothers – our uncles -- are affected – how the whole family is affected by the male not being in the household. The second session was entitled, ‘Accountability and Responsibility’ . Now this touched upon some of the things covered in Session One regarding Fathers. At Graterford, they diligently tried to make it clear about accountability and responsibility and to show you what it is to be an accountable and responsible adult. For example, checking homework, and showing your children rather than telling them. The third session explored the importance of education which is a real blockbuster for our community. With regard to the importance of education, they went over how important it is to talk to your child about education and that when you make it back into society how important it is to meet the principal of your child’s school, to sit down with your child and check their homework, and let the child know that education will take them far. The fourth session was called ‘Bonding’. A lot of us were not taught how to properly bond with one another because, again, the fathers were not present in our lives. It is very important to bond with your child. And again, these sessions were giving you the necessary tools to have with you so that during the visiting room workshops when you are with your child you are not stuck – you know -- looking at your child not knowing which way to go. So, bonding taught us how to find your child’s strengths and weaknesses, how to get to know your child, how to find your child’s likes and dislikes, and how to build a better relationship with your child. We were taught the importance of bonding because once you share a bond with your daughter or your son, that bond cannot be broken And the fifth and final session is called ‘Love/Self Worth’. And a lot of the time we need to build self-worth in our children and let them know that they are worth more than what they see every day in our community. And a lot of us -- we don’t know how to love. Love is a verb. It is an action word. And a lot of us need to teach our children how to love through our action and to show them that we love them through our actions. There is a way to love by showing that you care by giving them support and listening to them – utilizing your listening skills. 

           “After these workshops are done, the parent or guardian of the child then goes to meet with our External Team to get counseling and to learn how to become better mothers. They are given resources as to where they can get help for some of the problems that are going on in their lives. A lot of them may need help finding employment and they can sit down with a member of the External Team and go over resumés and job readiness programs. The counseling that they receive are pretty much the same five sessions rolled up into one which the Fathers receive. The mothers or guardians are also told what to expect with the one-on-one visits between the Fathers and the children. So, after the final session, the one-on-one visits with the children start. The mothers – parent or guardians -- go to the prisons with the children in the van. The mothers – parents or guardians – either come to the District Office of State Representative Ronald G. Waters at 60th and Ludlow Streets or to Broad Street and Erie Avenue – depending on what part of the city you are from. You can park your car and get on the van. The External Team will bring the mothers – parents or guardians – and the children, free of charge, to the prison. The children will be dropped off with members of the External Team and Internal Team members at the prison where they will meet them in the visiting room while the Mothers are dropped off at a restaurant where they are served a meal. They also receive counseling during this time and it is an opportunity for them to discuss things that are going on in the community and they are also letting each other know, ‘You are not alone. You are not the only one going through this.’ This process continues for seven weeks in a row. Week after week, the relationships begin to grow. In the visiting room, during the visiting room workshops, we have the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program which is a part of the program as well. There is a mural arts program going on and there is a section in the visiting room that is specifically set aside for the F.A.C.T. Program and what happens is you sit down with your son or your daughter. Right now we are working on a mural project which will go up in the City of Philadelphia at 55th and Woodland Avenue. The fathers and children sit down and learn about each other. We learn about our children’s favorite colors. We know that from bonding with them. We talk to them about their favorite subject in school and we talk to them about the importance of getting an education. By doing this, we are demonstrating accountability and responsibility. We apologize to our children for not being there in their lives because we understand the effects of a Fatherless household. All of these things were covered by the Lifers at Graterford. They actually train you on how to become a Father – a true definition of a Father – and we do exercises. The Lifers take the children off to the side and take the Fathers off to the side. They ask the children: ‘What is your favorite color?’ The children will write their favorite color on a flash card. Once we all get back together in the visiting room, the Lifers would ask the Fathers: ‘What is your child’s favorite color?’ In the one-on-one session, we would be going over our children’s favorite color. So, in the end, your child would know your favorite movie, your favorite color, your favorite vegetable, and the foods you like to eat. The Fathers would know what is going on in school, what is going on in the community, and what is bothering the child. This helps to form an unbreakable bond.” 

             The discussion moved to the final week – Week Seven – of the F.A.C.T. Program and the Certificate Ceremony. 

              “Now, Week Number Seven is the actual ceremony. All of the External Team members along with the parents or guardians do not go to a restaurant. They come in to Graterford for a Certificate Ceremony along with Pennsylvania State Representative Ronald G. Waters, the entire External Team and members of the entire Internal Team along with the Superintendent of the Prison Mr. Michael Wenerowicz. Sometimes the Department of Corrections Secretary The Honorable John E. Wetzel will show up. Lorrraine Ballard Morrill, News and Community Affairs Director at Clear Channel Media and Entertainment attended the Certificate Ceremony and the Mayor of Pottstown attended the last Certificate Ceremony. He learned about the program and decided to bear witness to it. It is a very tear-jerking and emotional ceremony because the Mothers have built a bond – they have built a sisterhood with one another. Our children have built a sisterhood and brotherhood with one another. Our Fathers inside the wall at Graterford who have gone through the sessions and learning about the effects of a Fatherless household, accountability and responsibility and have worked together on all of the workshops and sessions – we have built a brotherhood. Our children have become family. The parents and guardians of our children have become family. They get to know one another and look forward to seeing one another week after week. And after the Certificate Ceremony, it is time to say good-bye. So, what are we going to do now? What are we going to do at this point? This is where the real work begins because now there are no weekly sessions. But we have after care components that are set up in the event that you are having issues. The External Team is available to you and State Representative Waters’ doors are open to you. We also added a ‘Letter Writing Campaign’ as a component of F.A.C.T. We are now writing to the principal of our children’s schools.” 

           What was the catalyst for the “Letter Writing Campaign” that has become a component of F.A.C.T.? 

             “When I was inside, I sat down and looked up the school that my son went to in a phone book and I wrote to his principal and explained my situation. I poured my heart out. I told him that I was incarcerated and I explained to him that I am a Father who is fortunate enough, not only through the F.A.C.T. program, but through his mother and my family, to be with my child. So while I am visiting with my son I want to utilize the time to help meet the school in the middle to resolve the issues that our children are going through. So, can you provide me with a copy of my child’s suspension letters, progress reports, his report card? Can you give me a general update on the status of my child and what is going on so that during these visits with him, I can talk to him and try to help to get to the bottom of what’s going on with him. So, the principal actually wrote me back and provided me with all of the information that I asked for. He thanked me for writing him and was blown away that, in all of the entire 10 years he had been a principal, he had never received a letter from an incarcerated parent reaching out saying, ‘Help me help my child.’ I shared the response I received from the principal with members of the U-CAN Internal Team. It sent shock waves throughout the prison.”

               Mr. Williams’ quest to help his son excel academically forged a partnership between himself and the school. This development struck a chord with Dr. William Hite, Superintendent for the School District of Philadelphia. 

          “We had a meeting after my arrival from Graterford with Dr. Hite, the Superintendent for the School District of Philadelphia and this was brought to his attention,” Williams recalls. “Dr. Hite agreed that incarcerated fathers should have a copy of their children’s report cards and records, that they should know what is bothering their children in school and he is moving toward giving the ‘go ahead’ to principals of schools in the School District of Philadelphia that when the fathers are writing from the prisons trying to acquire information about their children that the principals should go ahead and meet them in the middle so that we can try to stop the pipeline to prison. Now one of the first things that they do in a case where an incarcerated father is asking the school for information about his child, is to contact the child’s mother to obtain permission to release the records and if the mother says ‘It’s okay’, the records are released to the incarcerated father.” 

               On Monday, 6 October 2014, Mr. Williams was released from SCI Graterford. With help from the F.A.C.T. External Team, his release became what Mr. Williams describes as a “groundbreaking event”. 

                “After completing my 10 years of incarceration, the External Team set it up so that I could surprise my son by visiting him at his school. No one knew I was coming home except the members of the External Team of the F.A.C.T. Program. They contacted the principal and let him know that an incarcerated father was returning home after doing 10 years of incarceration. Now prior to going to prison, my son’s mother was just impregnated with my son – Little Dawan – and I was arrested right after that. So, the whole nine months of her pregnancy, I was incarcerated and missed every single birthday that Little Dawan had. So all he knew of me was through the visiting room and through letters and through phone calls. I was not able to spend one single day in society with my son and throw a football or go to a basketball game or go to the store with him for a soda or a bag of chips or anything of that nature. So, we wanted to make this a groundbreaking event. The External Team talked to the principal. State Representative Ronald G. Waters made a few phone calls because it was kind of ‘last minute’. I was coming home Monday morning, 6 October 2014, and nobody knew until that Friday which was 3 October 2014. Everything was like ‘all of a sudden.’ And Monday morning, Dr. Johnson, Penny McDonald, and the External Team and Lorraine Ballard Morrill from Clear Channel went to Pennell Elementary School at 18th and Nedro in the City of Philadelphia and they set up in the school library with the Principal and the Vice Principal and everybody else who agreed to be there. They had the video cameras rolling. I was on my way. My brother picked me up at the prison at 8:37 A.M. in the morning. It was phenomenal. You have to see the DVD which shows my reunion with my family. When I was released from prison, I went straight to Pennell Elementary School. I didn’t stop to change clothes. I didn’t stop to eat. I didn’t stop to say ‘Hi’ to anybody. I went straight from the prison – with my prison uniform on – straight to Pennell Elementary School. When I got to the school, I was ushered in through the side door because the children could see out of the windows – the children do look out of the windows – through the hallway – straight to the school’s library. When I walked in to the school library, the cameras were rolling. Lorraine Ballard Morrill began the interview and I went right into giving my testimony. About 10 minutes into my testimony, the principal left and brought my son to the library out of class. He was in class going about his normal day and the principal comes into the classroom to get him and I think he thought he was in trouble. The principal brings Little Dawan in and asks him, ‘Do you know that man standing right there?’ And the look on his face was priceless – it was unbelievable. And the hug he gave me! It was a shocker. It was a Kodak moment. My daughter, Dawan’s little sister, she is my stepdaughter, but she is my daughter. What happened here is that her father was murdered when she was one years old when I was incarcerated. She never knew her father. Her mother tried to explain it to her but she just doesn’t understand. All she knows is me. All she sees is me. When she gets older, of course, she will see the time gap that I was incarcerated for 10 years and she was only six years old. But as of right now, I’m fine with it. I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it. We are all cool with it. I treat her like she is my own. I was only able to do that after I completed the F.A.C.T. Program and was made aware of the effects of a Fatherless household and was taught accountability and responsibility, the importance of education, bonding, and self-worth. So I was not going to let Dawan’s little sister – my daughter -- fall victim to the pipeline to prison or the effects of a Fatherless household. Her mother and I have a strong growing relationship. My daughter is in kindergarten now and she goes to the same school as her brother. So after the reunion with myself and Little Dawan, the principal went back out the door and went down to the kindergarten classroom to pick up my daughter. It didn’t dawn on me that she was in the same school as Little Dawan, but I knew that we planned to go to her school. So I was shocked as well as she was. So, the principal brought her through the hallway and there she was with her barrettes clicking. Well, that’s my baby! The principal asked her, “Do you know that man standing right there?” She looked and then said, “That’s my Dad!” She ran over to me and jumped into my arms and gave me a big hug with her barrettes clicking. She just wrapped her arms around me and it was like – you know -- it was a phenomenal event. That was like the ribbon cutting. That was like the groundbreaking event.” 

              Williams takes the position that when an individual is incarcerated, everyone connected to him or her is a co-defendant. How is this possible? Well, he elaborates: 

                 “I just want to say this. On Monday, 6 October 2014 we were all released from prison because when we commit crimes, we become willing participants in mass incarceration and we are making our families and our community co-defendants. And it’s not just fathers. It’s mothers, too, because the fastest growing incarceration population is females. So what we are doing is making our children – our mothers – our loved ones – our support system – our co-defendants. Because they are bringing our children to come see us. They are signing the consent forms to allow our child to participate in the program. Who is answering the phone? Your family, your support system. Who is sending money up here so that we can buy soap or anything else that we need? It’s your support system. So, I always believed that my mind was always free but my body was at Graterford. But I knew one day I would get out and would have a better understanding and another shot at redemption and if I ever get my chance at redemption, I am going to show my son – I am going to show my daughter – I am going to show my family – I am going to show my support system – that I am never going back to prison and that for me doing the right thing is the only thing for me to do and that prison is not an option. And I have to personally apologize to Dawan’s mother and to all of my support system, you know, for doing the things that I did that led me down the path to prison and the highway to hell. You know, they didn’t deserve to have to go through the metal detectors. After working Monday through Friday, on your only day off, you have to go up to the prison to make sure that a father can see his child – go through a metal detector and deal with the nasty attitudes from the people up there and be on point to answer telephone calls and to take time out of your day after working 12 and 13 hours and having to go home to wait on a phone call. So, I had to personally apologize for that.” 

            As he builds a life for himself and his family, Williams is ever cognizant of the role that the F.A.C.T. Program has played and the F.A.C.T. External Team continues to play in helping him successfully navigate the arduous journey to redemption and reintegration: 

          “ I can’t thank the F.A.C.T. Program enough. Ever since I have been home I have been working closely with Dr. Minnie Johnson and the External Team members who have helped me with job readiness and job searches and preparing my resumé. Dr. Johnson has been a mother, she has been a sister, she has been a friend, she has worn many hats. And then there’s Ms. Penny McDonald and State Representative Ron Waters and the entire External Team. You know, it’s that old African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ And what is happening is that when guys return home from prison they don’t have this type of support system to encourage them , to support them, and to uplift them. And this is why a lot of guys resort – not to make a lot of excuses -- back to doing the same thing – because it comes naturally – the same thing that put them back on the highway to hell. And one of the most important things that although I am a strong individual at the end of the day it still boils down to free will, so to speak, because you can have all of the right things in place but still choose to step outside of the box and do some dumb crap. One thing I will say that I really really appreciate is how you all motivate me. You all let me know that I am worth something. You all let me know that you are there for me and I don’t mean by saying it – but by showing it. Even the small things like Ms. Penny says all of the time, ‘You know Dawan, I love you.’ You know that goes a long way – knowing that somebody loves you. And having somebody tell you all the time, ‘You are doing the right thing. You are doing a good job.’ And when I come here, I feel a sense of ‘home’. I feel a sense that this is where I belong. You know I have been out of prison now for 45 days now, from a 10 year, 6 day, 16 hour sentence and I haven’t gone back to the neighborhood yet and I don’t plan on going back to the neighborhood. There’s nothing there for me. I don’t want to see you. I don’t need you as a friend. I don’t need the same friends. Now, I have a new definition of a ‘friend’. During the F.A.C.T. workshop, Ghani and Magic covered what is a friend. They talked about the definition of a friend. And our children told us what is a friend at the workshops. So based on what I now know about what is a friend, I never had any friends, so there is no need for me to return to the neighborhood because there are a lot of people there who are still in the same condition that I left them in a decade ago. In order for me to stay on the path, I need to stay in this lane. If you have the right people in the right places, good things will happen. I am on the road to success and I am not getting off that road. You know even with the Fathers not being there, a lot of our mothers did the best that they could with what they had. They fell victim to a fatherless household too, and they fell into an intergenerational curse. However, there came a point in our life where we had to make a decision to either do the right thing or do the wrong thing and with that said, some of chose to do the wrong thing. But now, when you have a second chance and you have the ability to make a decision, I find it easy to say ‘I’m doing the right thing’. I look over there to see who’s around and who’s walking past. This support system that has been in place, and as far as I am concerned, has rolled out the red carpet for me is helping me with job fairs and job interviews. I have received three job offers – for three good jobs. We are taking F.A.C.T. and we are going to correct Fatherless households and we are going to take the top.”