By Mary Jo Bauen, instructor, Parenting Inside-Out
Learning to be better parents was the focus on an intense 60-hour class offered recently at California State Prison, Solano.
Twenty-eight inmates graduated from the Parenting Inside-Out (PIO) class, taught by CWW’s Dr. Mary Jo Bauen. PIO teaches parenting skills to incarcerated fathers, with the goal of strengthening relationships between dads and their children, and increasing inmates’ parenting skills whether they are released or remain incarcerated.
The graduation began with a Feelings Check-in, a ritual starting every Parenting Inside Out class. Students, and guests attending the graduation, are invited to state their name, their children’s names and ages, and their feeling at that moment.
Next, an inmate led the group in another regular element of the class called “Emotion Regulation” (ER).
ER is a moment of quiet reflection which demonstrates ways to calm down, breathe and get in touch with the body. ER facilitation is rotated among inmates, and can come from many sources. It can be a meditation, simple breathing, a prayer or a guided visualization. Richard Hodge led the group in a breathing exercise, reminding classmates of the freedom of the mind and the power of self-awareness.
The majority of the graduation was spent listening to student presentations.
Students prepare a Parenting Plan for After Graduation assignment, and are invited to share whatever they choose about their experience in the class.
“I do not cry in public. We do not get to be vulnerable here in prison,” said inmate Richard H. “But I need to let you know who I am.”
He went on to tell us of his crime of almost 20 years ago, and his deep remorse for what he had done.
“I can never change that, but I can and I must make amends,” he said.
Richard told of the changes he’s made through Parenting Inside Out, as well as through other self-help programs.
“All that matters to me now is making amends for my crime and living for my daughter,” he told the group.
Inmate Walter C. said the course helped him to listen to men of other races and to build bonds with men who will help him reach his rehabilitation goals.
Price said, “We aren’t supposed to talk with each other across our racial groups, but I’m done with that. I will talk with you guys and you can talk with me.”
Inmate Rickey O. noted the class changed him.
He is the father of a 14-month-old, now in the custody of Rickey’s parents. He said he’s fortunate his son is in good hands, and how little Rickey will not have to go through what he did.
“I can always parent Little Rickey with skill and love,” he said, “and my son will not have to break the cycle of drugs, abuse and violence, like I did, because I have learned how to prevent that from ever occurring”.
Inmate Thomas M. said completing the class was another accomplishment.
“This is one of the only things I’ve accomplished in my life. I am so proud, and so grateful to the creator for bringing me here,” he told the gathering.
He said he was unable to read or write until three years ago. He has overcome that challenge and is now engaged in self-help classes.
The graduation ended with a final class ritual called “Head, Hands and Heart.” Each person in the circle is invited to tell what they will take away from the experience in their head, or thoughts, in their hands, or tasks, and in their heart. All present shared appreciation for the gift of family, the sharing of self, and common bonds.
Graduates of the class are invited to continue in ongoing support groups, and are offered supervised visits with their children to refine their new parenting skills.