The fathers they choose to be: Nurturing Fathers Program helps inmates strengthen bonds with their children

  • Gregory Thompson, center, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction and a graduate of the Nurturing Fathers Program with his son Christopher, 3, and Christopher's mother, Teanna Fair, left, following a graduation ceremony at the jail. Thompson is seated with his mother, Cecilia Thompson, right, and they are joined by Children's Trust Executive Director Suzin Bartley, standing left, and Hampshire Sheriff’s Office Assistant Deputy Superintendent Melinda Cady. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Children’s Trust Executive Director Suzin Bartley addresses a ceremony for nine men graduating from the Nurturing Fathers Program, put on by the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office and the Children's Trust, which was held at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Terrence Gibbons, an inmate and a graduate of the Program, hugs his son, Terrence Gibbons Jr., 3, during the graduation ceremony. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Gregory Thompson, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction and a graduate of the Nurturing Fathers Program, plays with his son Christopher, 3, and Christopher's mother, Teanna Fair, during a graduation ceremony held in the visiting room of the jail on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Terrence Gibbons Jr., 3, sitting in the lap of his mother, Tahirah Graham, holds a certificate of completion awarded to his father, Terrence Gibbons, seated in front of him, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction who graduated from the program. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane addresses the ceremony. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Terrence Gibbons, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction and a graduate of the Nurturing Fathers Program, addresses about 40 people attending the graduation ceremony held at the jail on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Children's Trust Executive Director Suzin Bartley chats with Mitchell Carey, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction and a graduate of the Nurturing Fathers Program, following a ceremony for the nine graduates held in the visiting room of the jail on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Hampshire Sheriff’s Office was recognized for its parenting and family support program with the Emerging Leader Award presented by the Children’s Trust, a Boston-based organization working to stop child abuse in Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nurturing Fathers Program graduate Terrence Gibbons, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, holds his certificate of completion in one hand and hugs his son, Terrence Gibbons Jr., 3, with the other during a graduation ceremony at the jail on Wednesday, December 19, 2018, in Northampton. At left is his son's mother, Tahirah Graham. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2018 12:09:31 AM

NORTHAMPTON — On Wednesday, nine men incarcerated in the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction renewed their commitments to their children in a heartfelt graduation ceremony — the culmination of the Nurturing Fathers Program. The same day, the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office announced its own nascent plan to expand on its support for the fathers after their eventual release.

Now in its third year, the Nurturing Fathers Program, facilitated by three trained staff at the jail, helps fathers build and strengthen their parenting skills and bonds with their children. About 40 friends, family members and supporters gathered in the visiting room of the jail to enjoy a dinner of roast beef, cod, and bacon-wrapped scallops prepared by other inmates in the culinary arts program. After a dessert of chocolate cake, and some words of encouragement from Sheriff Patrick Cahillane and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, each of the nine men took turns at the podium. Most began their reflections with the words, “The father I choose to be…”  

Graduate Nhetto Tomi was the first to speak. “I’ve been blessed with two boys. And I’ve been blessed with another chance to give my sons the father that I wish that I had,” he said. “One that can listen to their problems and give them advice. A father that supports them and shows them love unconditionally.”

Gregory Thompson also spoke of the importance of showing unconditional love — and said he wanted to be more present for his children: “No more back and forth to prison or running in the streets. I’d like to be a better role model. I want to know how to, and how not to, treat people that they love.” After the ceremony, as he played with his 3-year-old son, Christopher, he said the program made him think more about his parenting skills. “I thought I was doing it the right way, but it just made me more attentive to see what I was doing wrong.”

The nine inmates began the program 13 weeks ago with an exploration of their own childhood in the context of how they were parented. Emotionally, that’s a “deep dive,” Sullivan said in his address to the graduates. “That’s the tough part: looking in and then saying, ‘How can I change that future?’” He told the graduates that, as a fellow father, he was proud of them, and, in a nod to the season, left them with one more thought: “This is the best time of year for kids, and you’ve given them the best gift they could ever have, which is a great dad.”

Midway through the course, all the inmates have a joint session with their children in the visiting room, a space with cinder block walls, linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting that turns into a makeshift playroom for the day — complete with toys. This also gives the facilitators a chance to observe the interactions between the fathers and children and offer feedback the next day. Facilitator Demetra Balis said that over the span of the three-month program, each inmate keeps a course workbook with notes that eventually become a personal journal chronicling his experience and progress.

Wednesday’s event was the first graduation ceremony since the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office earned the “Emerging Leader Award” from The Children’s Trust, a Boston-based nonprofit that partners with the office on the Nurturing Fathers Program and whose mission is to stop child abuse in Massachusetts. According to the trust’s executive director Suzin Bartley, who attended the graduation, the award aims to draw attention to “deep enthusiasm, passion and commitment to improving the lives of parents, with the goal being that the end user is always the child.”

Usually the recipient is an individual, but in this case the Children’s Trust wanted to honor the whole team behind the Nurturing Fathers Program, which came together about three years ago under the previous sheriff, Robert Garvey, and continues under Sheriff Cahillane. During his remarks on Wednesday, Cahillane made a point to share the honor with the graduates. First he read aloud the inscription on the plaque: “for excellence in parenting education and family support.” To this, he added, “That’s something that everyone in this room has contributed to. It’s not just about the staff — it’s about the participants as well.”

During her brief remarks, Bartley told the inmates that partnering with the jail in the Nurturing Fathers Program and seeing their courage “is food for my soul that allows me to keep getting up every morning and doing this work.”

After each of the graduates had reflected upon what they’d learned in the Nurturing Fathers Program and what they’ll be taking away, Sheriff Cahillane had one more announcement for the group. There was “more to come” for these fathers, he said, in terms of an aftercare program being planned to support them after they are released. There are already programs in place to provide a safe transition back to the community for the general corrections population — parents or not. But this yet-unnamed program, now in development, would be geared especially to supporting fathers and addressing their specific needs “outside.” And it would continue the partnership with the Children’s Trust, drawing upon the same three trained staff instructors that facilitate the Nurturing Fathers Program inside the jail. Cahillane said the goal, once all of the pieces are in place, is to roll out this new effort in the spring of 2019.

In her closing remarks as emcee for the event, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Melinda Cady extended a personal note. She reminded the nine graduates, once they are released, to bring the lessons they learned inside to their lives outside — and to keep their connections strong. “So, you have our hands now, right? Don’t let go of them.”




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