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. (www.swnustop.com) 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 (www.muralarts.org). 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.