Applause for better parents behind bars

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Congratulations are in order for five inmates at Western Tidewater Regional Jail, each of whom worked diligently in “Better Parents, Brighter Future.”

It was the first time the 12-week program was brought to Western Tidewater by the Virginia Family and Fatherhood Initiative. The program is designed for inmates ages 18 to 24 that have children.

According to, the mission of VFFI is “empowering fathers and mothers to improve the well-being of their children by aligning activities, mobilizing resources, advancing public policy and measuring impact.”

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The five inmates that were celebrated at the jail last week were the latest to benefit from that mission.

“We want you to understand that just because you have a child doesn’t make you a parent,” Director of Inmate Educational Programs Ron Sharpe said at the Saturday ceremony. “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.”

The inmates learned how to better communicate with their children while they are incarcerated and after they complete their sentences. They also learned that 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.”

This graduating class was so invested that they finished the 12-week program in just six weeks, with the women doing two hours a day twice a week, and the men spending four hours over the weekend to complete reach their goals.

They were constantly motivated by the news they got from their family members that received help from VFFI staff, whether it was supplies, rides or something else that was desperately needed.

“It really took a burden off of my mom and the mother of my child,” said Montrail Manley, who has a 1-year-old.

His fellow graduate, Randi Creef, has an 8-month-old baby, and she said the course empowered her to do better.

“My baby is everything, and they taught me to better deal with stress,” Creef said.

The teachers for both the men and women let the inmates be open and honest about their struggles being parents while incarcerated, including the stress and heartache. That honesty opened their door to a better life for themselves and their families, like Raqwon Hayes and his two children, a 1-year-old and a 3-week-old baby.

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