Five graduate from parenting program

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Western Tidewater Regional Jail celebrated five inmates last Wednesday as they graduated from a 12-week program from the Virginia Family and Fatherhood Initiative called “Stronger Parents, Brighter Future.”

This was the first time the program was brought to Western Tidewater, and it was provided through a grant from the city of Portsmouth. The program was directed towards inmates age 18 to 24 that have children.

“We want you to understand that just because you have a child doesn’t make you a parent,” said Director of Inmate Educational Programs Ron Sharpe. “A program like this is very special, and we want you to understand that. I am happy today for this graduation, and I commend you for this work.”

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The program was available to both mothers and fathers, and the five that participated were so invested in the program that they finished the 12-week program in just six weeks. The women did two hours a day twice a week, and the men spent four hours over the weekend working to complete the program.

“You could have sat here and done nothing, but you are doing something to take care of your children,” said Superintendent Col. William Smith. “I hope you gain something and that you tell others about this.”

The five participants had the opportunity to learn how to better communicate with their children while incarcerated and once they leave the jail. They were happy to have the opportunity to better themselves, and they also learned that the VFFI would reach out to their families to offer support for their children.

“It’s not just this moment that we are helping you. It’s for two years,” said VFFI coordinator Alicia Newman. “For two years you’ll be seeing me. We are there for you, if you allow us to be.”

During their six weeks, the inmates heard from family members hearing about the help they received from the VFFI staff. Some of the family members received supplies, rides and other support for their children.

“It really took a burden off of my mom and the mother of my child,” said Montrail Manley.

Manley has a 1-year-old.

Those that chose to participate were nudged to do so by Newman and Sharpe, and every one of them was more than happy they did.

“Mr. Sharpe and Ms. Alicia told me about this,” said Randi Creef. “My baby is everything, and they taught me to better deal with stress.”

Creef has an 8-month-old baby, and she feels more prepared to be a better parent after the course.

Stress was a big component of the classes, and every single participant took the lessons to heart.

“They taught me how to communicate and maintain my stress levels,” said Shanquantae Garvin. “We learned a lot about understanding someone else’s emotions.”

Garvin has a 1-year-old.

The teachers for both the men and women let the inmates be open and honest about their struggles being parents while incarcerated. Being open and honest allowed them to better understand how to be parents both inside and outside of jail.

“It’s a big step to make a change, and I’ve just been listening to Coach,” Manley said. “I learned to make better decisions and how to co-parent better and 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.

“These children have blessed my life, and I have learned to be a good father, a leader and a role model,” Hayes said.