Western Tidewater Regional Jail celebrated five inmates last Wednesday as they graduated from a 12-week Virginia Family and Fatherhood Initiative program called “Stronger Parents, Better Futures.”
This was the first time the program had been offered at Western Tidewater, and it was provided through a grant from the City of Portsmouth. The program was intended for inmates between the ages of 18 and 24 who have children.
âWe want you to understand that just because you have a child doesn’t mean you are a parent,â said Ron Sharpe, director of inmate education programs. âA program like this is very special, and we want you to understand that. I am happy today for this graduation ceremony, and I congratulate you on this work.
The program was accessible to both mothers and fathers, and all five participants were so invested in the program that they completed the 12-week program in just six weeks. The women worked two hours a day twice a week and the men spent four hours on weekends working to complete the program.
âYou could have just sat here and done nothing, but you are doing something to take care of your children,â said Superintendent Col. William Smith. “I hope you win something and tell others about it.”
The five participants had the opportunity to learn how to communicate better with their children during their incarceration and upon their release from prison. They were happy to have the opportunity to improve, and they also learned that the VFFI would reach out to their families to offer support to their children.
âThis is not just the moment that we are helping you. It’s for two years, âsaid VFFI coordinator Alicia Newman. âFor two years you will see me. We’re here for you, if you don’t mind.
During their six weeks, inmates heard from family members about the help they received from VFFI staff. Some family members received supplies, rides and other supports for their children.
âIt really relieved my mother and the mother of my child,â said Montrail Manley.
Manley has a 1 year old child.
Those who chose to participate were urged to do so by Newman and Sharpe, and each of them were more than happy they did.
âSir. Sharpe and Ms. Alicia told me about it,â said Randi Creef. âMy baby is everything, and they taught me how to deal with stress better.â
Creef has an 8 month old baby and feels better prepared to be a better mother after class.
Stress was a big part of the lessons, and each participant took the lessons to heart.
âThey taught me how to communicate and how to maintain my stress level,â Shanquantae Garvin said. “We have learned a lot about understanding someone else’s emotions.”
Garvin has a 1 year old child.
Both male and female teachers let inmates be open and honest about their struggles as parents while incarcerated. Being open and honest gave them a better understanding of how to be parents inside and outside of prison.
âIt’s a big step to make a change, and I just listened to Coach,â Manley said. “I learned to make better decisions and to co-parent better and to deal with different situations.”
Raqwon Hayes was the only participant with two children, a 1 year old and a 3 week old baby, and he was eager to participate to become a better father.
âThese kids have blessed my life and I have learned to be a good father, a leader and a role model,â said Hayes.