Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Glad of A Dad.

Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC 1 this evening was very moving. Kim Cattrall was researching the mystery of her grandfather's disapperance, after he walked out on her mum and her sisters when they were young children in Liverpool.

I won't say what the solution to the mystery was in case anyone is planning still to watch it, but the mystery was resolved. It wasn't a happy story though.

What struck me powerfully and moved me so much was to see how Kim's mum and aunts were still, seventy years on, not "over it". The tears were obviously, all these years after the event, very close to the surface and the sense of hurt and abandonment was STILL having a very serious negative effect at a very deep level.

Kim's grandfather wasn't in prison, but the program did make me think about the children effectively "abandoned" through the imprisonment of their parents. I read the other day that EVERY YEAR thirteen and a half thousand children in Scotland (and we're only a wee country) lose a parent to prison.

Some families survive this separation and are reunited happily when the sentence is over. But sadly many families don't.

There are many reasons why the relationships don't last. Some guys just think it's easier to be single in prison. "Doing a sentence with a partner on the outside is like doing double time", I've been told umpteen times. Some guys think they're doing the noble thing by not asking the partner to wait. Other times they get a Dear John letter or phone call. And there are many other scenarios.

Unfortunately, lots of our prisoners have no contact at all with their children. Sometimes they've been told to stay away (perhaps with the back up of the force of law) because of their previous behaviour. Other times they seem to be content to break the contact voluntarily. I don't know if their self esteem is so low that they think their kids are better off without them (the preferable explanation actually) of if they really and truly don't care about their children.

For the children of the latter category of prisoner, my heart grieves. How awful for them to grow up in the knowledge that their father chose to cut the ties. How awful for a child to feel abandoned, rejected and unloved. It was heartbreaking to watch Kim Cattrell's mum and aunts still struggling after seventy years to come to terms with their abandonment by their father.

I've been concentrating on the kids of our prisoner population in my thinking. But these guys were kids once. The statistics about the percentage of prisoners without a father's presence in their childhood are astonishing. Some of my colleagues in other jails have successfully distributed Mothers Day cards for prisoners to send to their mums for Mothers Day but attempts to do similar things for Fathers Day have always fallen flat on their face. So few prisoners have or have had good dads present in their lives. It's desperately sad. How can they be good dads to their own kids, with the added pressure of doing it from jail, if they don't know about fatherhood? Some think being a dad is about buying designer labels for their children out of their ill-gotten gains. I have a notice on my office wall that says "Dads! Kids need your presence, not presents", a response to a guy who used to boast about what a good dad he was because he sent heaps of money out to his 15 year old daughter. He had done so for most of her life he said. But he'd been in jail most of her life. Designer trainers can never replace the blessing of a loving dad in your home, or as near as can be.

I am so blessed with my lovely dad.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

We have a program here for dads called, "Read to me, Daddy!" I have a stash of books for kids and tape recorders. The dads get to choose a book or two, make a tape reading the story with a variety of voices (don't you like to hear a story more than once), and then we mail the books and tape out to the kids. It's hugely popular. One little girl took her tape and books to "show and tell" to school and bragged about what her dad had done for her.

Our visit room stocks packets with writing paper, envelopes, colored pencils and a few fill-in-the-blank templates. These are given to the kids when they come to visit.

There is no substitute for presence. We just work hard at expanding the notion of presence while the guys are here.