Jail inmates in San Antonio learn better parenting skills
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The nine male inmates dressed in orange jumpsuits and slippers sat in two rows inside a brightly lit classroom at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center.
The San Antonio Express-News reports they were there to learn how to be good fathers, so once released from jail they might better provide their kids with things that could have been missing from their own childhoods.
Crucial elements, like love. Positive attention. A sense of being valued.
“What are the three most important things a father can say to a child?” asked Guillermo Trejo, a parent educator with the Compadre y Compadre program. “I love you, I’m proud of you and I’m so grateful you’re my child.”
The men listen. Then they talk about what they wished they’re heard from their fathers.
“Really, just anything at all,” one inmate said. “Some of us didn’t have a father around growing up.”
Another said: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m proud of you. Keep it up.”
The Compadre y Compadre program, part of the Children’s Shelter of San Antonio, has been in existence for more than 10 years. Starting in September 2017, Trejo brought the 15-week program into the jail in partnership with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.
It is based on the belief that better parenting can help prevent or break a cycle of crime and incarceration in families passed down through the generations. The class meets twice a week for two hours. Inmates are expected to show up, do homework and participate in classroom discussion.
“We talk about how to be a nurturing father,” said Trejo before the men filed in. “The students learn about the different stages of child development and how children grow and evolve. The goal is to teach the men to develop a loving relationship with their kids, one not based on violence or yelling or screaming.”
Studies show the presence of a positive, involved father lowers his children’s chances of dropping out of school, using drugs, experiencing teen pregnancy or getting caught up gangs or crime, he said.
The Compadre y Compadre curriculum, which has been around for 30 years, also helps reduce child abuse and neglect, which is a huge problem locally, Trejo said.
Each year in Bexar County, more than 5,000 children are removed from their families because of abuse or neglect, and about 2,600 end up in foster care, records show.
“We teach students that being a good father is about being patient and understanding that a child’s job is to be a child,” he said. “We help the men face their own hardships and struggles they experienced growing up. Some of them endured wounds in childhood that are part of why they ended up being incarcerated.”
Any male inmate in the jail can take part in the program as long as they are fathers or have a father-like relationship in their lives — such as uncle, brother, grandfather or stepfather — and they maintain good behavior while incarcerated, he said
Since the free program began, 65 inmates have enrolled and 38 have graduated. Six graduates have gone on to participate in a related 10-week mentorship program once they were released.
Some inmates aren’t able to complete the program because they’ve been sent away to prison, said Patrick Ortiz, the program director.
Today, the program has a waiting list, as word has spread through the jail that it’s a valuable endeavor, Trejo said.
Outside of the jail, more than 3,000 men in San Antonio have signed up for Compadre y Compadre, and almost 2,000 have graduated, Children’s Shelter spokeswoman Anais Biera Mircale said.
“A big challenge facing these men (in the jail) is that they’re not able to interact with their children,” Trejo said. “Many of them didn’t have good role models to learn how to be a good father.”
Back in the classroom, Trejo told the men that being a good father is much more than just providing a paycheck or child support, although that’s certainly part of it.
“The goal is to find a balance,” he said. “If you value something, that means you put time and energy into it.”
The men were taking their last class before graduating in mid-December. Some talked about wanting to apologize to their fathers for the actions that led them to be incarcerated. One acknowledged his own lack of responsibility.
“I should have listened to you better,” he said, relating what he would tell his father today. “I should have tried harder. My father tried his best.”
One man read from a letter he’d written to his father and bemoaned his own “arrogance and laziness.”
“If I could go back in time, I’d ask for your forgiveness, for being so stubborn and rebellious,” he said.
Another inmate spoke of the joy he felt whenever his father came to visit him in jail. Yet another said the tools and skills he learned in the program would help change his fathering for the better, once he was no longer behind bars.
“If not for this class, I wouldn’t know how to be the father I am now,” he told Trejo. “Thank you for teaching us.”
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com