Dianne Frances D. Powell
Four-year-old Bradley looked up lovingly at his father’s face as he sat on his father Brad’s lap during a Sunday afternoon visit.
The visits to “daddy’s house” are special because father and son have never shared the same house before.
The separation is “all I’ve ever known. He was born when I was in here,” said dad Brad Napier.
“Here” is the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, in Carlisle, where Napier has been incarcerated for more than five years, for burglary.
On Sunday, Napier and other offenders were able to spend time with their children and other family members inside the facility, as part of the annual Inside Out Dads Fall Festival.
In addition to talking and catching up, the children and their dads enjoyed taking pictures together and doing crafts. They also had the opportunity to go to an enclosed outside visit activity area, where they enjoyed the warm sun and cool, breezy air as they played games.
The fall festival aims to “bring incarcerated families together,” said WVCF Community Services director Michele Lincoln.
The festival is only one of several events throughout the year in the facility that aims to foster family unity and provide an incentive for good behavior, Lincoln said.
Napier and his family sat around a table inside the maximum security facility as they shared their story.
‘Everyday part of his life’
Brad Napier recalls the day he and Jessica Corn went to Planned Parenthood and found out they were six weeks pregnant.
But the day was also memorable for another reason, which had something to do with his past actions.
“I got locked up that day,” Napier said.
“That was the worst day of my life,” Corn said.
While in prison, Napier sees his son every two weeks when family members take him to visit.
But it is not the same.
“I sit and think about not having been there” with his son, particularly on holidays, he said.
“It’s not a good feeling,” he added.
Because he hopes to get some “time cut,” Napier may be coming home sometime next year, he said.
And he has great plans.
“I want to be an ‘everyday’ part of his [Bradley’s] life,” Napier said.
“I was a kid when I came to prison. I am a man now,” he said.
He said he was 18 when he was arrested.
“I’m ready to live a different life now,” the 23-year-old said.
“I really just want to be in a position where I can get a job and support my family,” he added.
And while doing his time, he has been preparing for that prospect through the Inside Out Dads program.
“He’s learned a lot. … This program was the best thing that ever happened to him,” said Michele Benedetto, his mother.
Inside Out Dads
Inside Out Dads is part of the Fatherhood Program within Wabash Valley Correctional Facility.
Offenders who participated in the fall festival have taken classes “designed to help inspire involved parenting, child development, community skills, active parenting skills, healthy relationships and successful re-entry,” according to a release.
They learn how “to be a father … to bond safely” with the kids, Lincoln said.
There are also certain criteria that offenders must meet to participate in events such as the fall festival.
And just because an offender is scheduled to stay in prison for a while, “it doesn’t mean you can’t be a father. You can still nurture that family bond,” Lincoln said.
One long-term offender who was trying to form a family bond was Stanley Wills.
Seeing his five kids “feels awesome,” Wills said, as he sat on one of the benches in the outside area surrounded by a wired electric fence.
Wills, who still has 26 more years in prison for bank robbery, said he learned about communication and “how to be a better father” through the program.
One of his daughters, Halie, visited him for the first time on Sunday.
“I cried today,” she said as she sat beside her father.
“I want to see you more,” the teenager told her father.
According to the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, an estimated 2.8 million minor children have parents in prisons or jails.
These children bear the stress, trauma, stigmatization and separation problems associated with their parents’ incarceration, according to the National Institute of Corrections.
“In addition, children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely than other children to be incarcerated at some point in their lives,” a National Fatherhood Initiative report states.
An evaluation of the Inside Out Dad Program of the National Fatherhood Initiative (the basis of the program at WVCF) finds that the program increases knowledge and improves the attitudes of participants toward fathering.
The report notes the benefits of keeping families intact, even though a parent is in prison.
“Less strain and stress for both children and parents have been noted, and parents who are incarcerated can still be involved in their children’s lives in a positive way,” according to the evaluation report.
“Parental contact can build supportive and healthy relationships that help both the parents and children especially upon the offender’s re-entry back into the community,” it added.
Officials at WVCF said that fathers who are reconnected to their children while serving their time in prison are less likely to be re-incarcerated after their release. At the same time, children with involved fathers are more likely to do well in school and to avoid criminal activity compared to children with uninvolved fathers, officials said.
The fathers had lessons to share with their children during their time together.
Wills said he wishes his three daughters and twin boys learn “how to be responsible.”
“Something I wasn’t,” he admitted.
Napier also has a similar message for his son.
“I just want him to know that there’s consequences for everything you do. The decision he makes, he’ll have to answer to them,” Napier said, as he assisted Bradley with coloring.
“And hopefully that will help him make good ones [decisions],” he said before taking his son to play outside.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@ tribstar.com.