I would like to share some advice with fathers in prison, especially those of you who are younger than I am, why my children are so important to me.
I am not proud to say that I have been incarcerated now for over thirty-nine years. But I feel blessed, and I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to have a true and meaningful relationship with all of my children throughout those years.
I watched my children grow, and regardless of limitations, I participated as much as possible in their development. Now all seven of my children are adults; two of whom have earned master degrees, three of them have their bachelor degree, and all seven are gainfully employed and are well-respected members of their community.
Though I make no claim of being responsible for their success, I tried to show them love and respect. And as a result of my efforts, my children recognized the importance they played in my life, and they responded by giving me their love and support. They saw in me a father who cared enough to be truthful with them. And I became a father who understood the importance of including them in what I was doing inside these walls.
Upon my incarceration, thirty-nine years ago, my counselor suggested that I enroll in college. I did so, and while earning two college degrees, I sent home all my certificates, accolades, and awards. I also became involved in various problem-solving programs in prison and used those skills to create a special dialogue with my children.
I did these things because I didn’t want my children, and especially my three sons, to romanticize either prison life or the self-destructive behavior that is often much too present in the communities we come from. This is important, because I don’t believe any reasonable thinking man in prison would want to share a cell with his own son.
Be you guilty of a crime, or wrongfully convicted, if you are in prison, you still have an obligation to your families, and especially your young children. You have a responsibility as a parent to communicate with your children, to help guide them in a positive direction, and most of all, let them see a different side of you. A side that conveys the importance of personal growth and progress.
Whether you realize it or not, you have an opportunity to gain from your situation. Take advantage of your time and don’t let that time diminish you. Learn more about yourself, learn how to be truthful with yourself, and learn to make yourself into a much better person.
If it seems that I am putting emphasis on learning, it’s because that is the only way you can help your children recognize the importance of an education. The best way to tell your children is to set an example for them. And remember, if you can’t properly speak the language you want them to learn, they have very little chance of learning it.
Sacrifice some of your time on the basketball court. Some of the time you spend in front of the television, or just chilling, listening to the radio. Get into the habit of reading more, of studying more. And if you don’t know how to study, ask someone to help you. You might not be able to effect change in those social/economic situations that lead to crime, but you may be able to eradicate it in your own homes and lessen the chances of your children coming this way.
Don’t miss: Three Generations with a Father in Prison, a moving exploration of incarceration, powerlessness, and familial bonds.
Whatever it takes, you must learn to communicate with your children. You must show them a positive side of yourself, and you must be consistent and sincere in establishing and maintaining positive relationships with them.
Let your children see you as adults, not as immature individuals unable to help them with their problems. To young fathers in prison, you left your children to deal with and resolve critical issues about who you are and their place in your life. They may be babies today, but they won’t stay that way very long. And what they think of you when they are older will depend a lot on how you treat them while they’re young.
To all you younger prisoners, I hope you understand now why my children are so important to me, and why I am writing you this letter. I hope you will read these words as coming from one who is old enough to be most of your fathers and has a deep concern for you; a concern like a father has for his children. Learning to respect yourself and others is the first step to becoming a good parent.
If you’d like to contact John Griffin directly, please write to:
John Griffin #AM-8535
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733