How to Start Getting Your Life Back
When most people think of prison, parenthood, much less fathers’ rights, is not something that comes to mind. Yet, there are 2.7 million children in this country with a parent in prison or jail.
The overwhelming majority of incarcerated parents, ninety-five percent, are fathers. Many of these dads are not new to the prison system; in fact, 2 out of 3 inmates re-offend after their release and end up back inside.
It is not surprising that incarcerated dads are usually fatherless themselves when you consider that growing up in a fatherless household dramatically increases a child’s odds of ending up in prison. If dads in prison want to give their children a better chance at a more promising future than they had, it is critical that they reintegrate into society and their children’s lives in a way that is functional and healthy. The problems many dads face in integration include a lack of parenting skills, decreased self-confidence, barriers to jobs and housing, lack of education, and discrimination based on their status as ex-convicts.
While reentry into society may not be an easy road, dads returning into their children’s lives must make an effort on three critical fronts: finding a place to live, getting a job, and being a positive influence in their children’s lives. Unfortunately, once prisoners leave the highly structured life of prison, there are few resources to help them start over.
Very few dads are returning to a loving family when released. They usually lack the money to rent a place, and if they do have money for first and last month’s rent plus security deposit, they are likely to find their applications repeatedly turned down after landlords run a background check. Homeless shelters and the streets may be the only place to turn. Newly released dads find it nearly impossible to secure a job without a place of residence, making finding housing a critical step for establishing themselves.
How to search for housing
- Start by contacting churches, religious organizations, non-profit groups and government agencies in your area that offer housing for those in need and those that specifically help newly released prisoners. These include temporary housing, half-way houses, shelters, and low-income housing. There are organizations such as Delancey Street, which offer housing for ex-convicts who need to take the first step to getting back on their feet.
- Check out the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), an organization dedicated to helping those that have been incarcerated and their families find local reentry services.
- Follow up with phone calls. Find out if there are any openings and ask what rules or requirements they may have.
- Choose the ones that seem to offer the most suitable solutions and make appointments for an on-site tour. Bring a notebook to write down what is needed to get started in case you find a good place and want to move forward in applying for housing.
Finding a Job
The U.S. Department of Labor Resources for Ex-offenders is a good place to begin. The site is easy to navigate even with limited internet skills. Click on the Get Started Guide, and it will walk you through finding what you need. It covers everything from Finding State Resources for your state, to figuring out how to start the job hunt, getting your GED or job training, exploring possible careers, and tips for putting together a resume. Unsure how to get references, find job listings or bring up your conviction in your job interview? The guide covers all these topics, and more.
Reuniting with Your Children
Coming back home is not only an adjustment for dad, but it is also a big change for kids, too. There are a few tips to make reuniting after an extended absence go more smoothly. With some effort, fathers can reestablish themselves in their kids’ lives while minimizing the stress it puts upon kids who may not be sure how to react to the new normal.
- Talk to your kids about how happy you are to be a part of their lives again and how you missed them. Try to keep from making too many promises up front, let the trust build as they see, over time, that you are back for good this time.
- Ease them into your return by praising them for staying strong and helping out when you were away. Let them know you are proud of them.
- Be patient if they act out or seem unsure how to behave. Children and adolescents are less experienced dealing with emotions and change and may respond with negative behavior. Try to avoid reprimanding them for every little thing. Give them some space to make a few mistakes and to figure out how to respond to dad being back in their lives. They will eventually sort things out and begin to become more confident that you are not going to abandon them again.
- Try to avoid power struggles. This will put you and your kids in an adversarial relationship, and you want to try to become a family again, not become mired in conflict.
- Ask them about school, their lives and the things that matter to them. They may be anxious or unsure at first, so let them express themselves without judgment. Once they become comfortable and more confident, they will open up to you more. The key is not to force anything. Let them come to you at their own pace.
Reentry Services by State
Need an easy place to start looking for services in your area that help those recently incarcerated get into housing, find jobs, access family services, and more? Click on your state on the Reentry Services Directory Map.
Fathers’ Rights After Release
Fathers rights as they pertain to housing, employment, and reunification with their children vary by state. There are some federal laws, such as The Fair Housing Act which provides legal protection to ex-offenders across the country. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to ban all ex-convicts from renting. However, there are exceptions to the regulation, for example, if you are a registered sex offender you can be banned from living within a designated proximity to a school. To complicate the issue, some savvy landlords will blame your rejected application on something other than your criminal record to get around the law. If you feel you may have been discriminated against, contact an attorney for help or file a complaint online.
Fathers rights when it comes to employment and reunification can be complex and vary by the offense you served time for and by the particulars of your custody case. You may have to put in considerable time to research the laws that apply to your case or seek legal counsel for help. Don’t get discouraged; there is help out here if you are willing to put in the effort to find it and to follow through. Your kids are counting on you. Let them be the motivation you need to make a better way for your future, and theirs.