For six months straight I have invested Monday evenings with dads in the facility commonly known as Work Release in Goshen, Indiana. In that time, 57 different men have attended class. Men and women here are serving varying amounts of time for a variety of offenses. Blank looks, a few quiet nods or “Evening, sir” serve as greeting. Airborne odors inform you that many people dwell within these concrete walls. A brief check-in and pat-down take place before being escorted through the halls. An officer announces, “Men’s Coaching in classroom C”.
In the room, the lights and air-conditioning kick on, and they keep us alert and prevent dozing. Guys arrive and sign in; those who have been in class before are enthusiastic and the new guys are polite. Men bump the plastic chairs into place behind the tables and banter abounds. I provide lesson materials. New attendees get RETA brochures and folders as I explain the basics of RETA and introduce our topic.
The discussion or video begins and guys fill in blanks on their handout. Instead of lecturing, I entertain a dialogue about the issues. We all share real-life, relevant stories. There is little embarrassment here, much honesty, and an acknowledgement of reality.
Some men express cynicism about their legal situation. Some are angry about the limited contact their girlfriends or wives permit them with their daughters and sons. Some cry about the mountains they feel they will have to climb before they will be allowed consistent time with their kids after their release. Some shed tears of gratitude because their voice and heart were heard by a sympathetic ear.
Some guys laugh about their kids doing stuff they used to do when they were kids: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!” Experienced dads wisely share about learning from mistakes and gently advise younger guys to avoid repeating the same ones. Some dads are curious about where to start with their kids after a long separation: “What do I say? What should I give them? How do I explain my actions and my absence?”
They have learned communication skills to improve their relationship with mom. They have learned about parenting styles and how to maximize personal strengths. They have learned about the impact families feel by both involved dads and absent dads. They have learned about creating rituals for their kids as they age and move into new seasons in their lives. They have talked about and imagined reconnecting with their children, face-to-face and heart-to-heart. They have learned the purpose of appropriate discipline, co-parenting tips and traps, and how to connect emotionally with their kids.
I could share many more details, but please note… These dads’ hearts are very soft toward their kids while often hardened toward other people as well as “the system”. Many of these dads need Jesus. The men and women in work release need us to pray for them and their families as they transition back into the community and their families. Pray that men in my class would respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
by Men’s Coaching Manager, Jeff