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April 24, 2007

Wayne County parenting class targets inmates

Sandra Head
Sandra Head of Wayne County teaches a parenting class to prison inmates.

The men come in quietly, signing the class register at the front of the room before finding a seat in one of the plastic chairs. Though they nod at one another, there’s not much conversation between them as they wait for class to start.

These men have some things in common: Each of them have made mistakes in life which have brought them to this place, the Neuse Correctional Facility in Wayne County.

And each of them is a parent.

It is this latter tie that brings them to this small room on a blustery cold winter night in late February, during their few hours of free time allotted them per day. Instead of watching television, shooting basketball hoops, hanging out with other inmates, or relaxing from their day job – many are in a work release program- these men have chosen to attend a parenting class.

The men come wanting to learn how to connect or re-connect with their children. "I haven’t seen my daughter since she was six months old," one man says sorrowfully. "And she’s 13 now."

For 11 years, Sandra Head, Family and Consumer Science agent with the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Department has offered this unique parenting education opportunity to male inmates at Neuse Correctional Center.

During this time, 372 inmates have participated in a parenting series consisting of six one-hour sessions.

"I conducted a parenting class in 1996, and someone at Neuse Correctional saw something about the class in the newspaper," she said. "They called me and asked me to come teach a parenting class. I had never been in a correctional facility before"

Slightly apprehensive, Head nonetheless agreed to teach one class here. "It wasn’t like what I thought it would be at all," she said. "I had the most appreciative and gracious audience."

Not only did she agree to teach classes on a continual basis, Head also used her misconceptions regarding the facility to develop a teaching lesson for the men.

"One of the things we work on during this class is writing a letter to their kids," she said. "The only impression they may have about what life is like in a correctional facility is based on what they’ve seen on television or in the movies. When these men write letters to their children about their life, it eases their (the children's) fear of the unknown."

Tonight, during this first class, the class is working on brainstorming a mission statement. A mission statement, Head explains, is a guiding tool, like a map, and can help parents stay on track.

"What do you value – what’s important as a father?" she asks.

The men list a variety of values including being successful, being a role model, a provider, healthy and sober.

"Spending time with them is real important," says one man. "I know that means a lot to my son."

By the end of the first class, the men have come up with the following mission statement: "My family will be safe and well provided for. I will be understanding, supportive and a positive role model for my children. Honesty, hard work, and education will be valued. Children will be taught correct behavior and to show respect for others. My home will be a place of love and happiness."

Over the years, Head has received encouraging feedbacks from the men that have gone through the class, including the following comment: "There is a desperate need for me to be in my children’s life. This class really presented the reality of that."

--This article, written by Wayne County Communications Director Barbara Arntsen, is reprinted with permission from the "Wayne County News."

Posted by Natalie at April 24, 2007 11:31 AM