Chicago Conference Focuses on Black Fathers and Their Struggle to Reconnect After Incarceration

Anthony Boatman Sr. (seated) was among several ex-offenders honored and awarded for their high involvement in community service. Pictured with Boatman are his family members, Shauniece Doss, Ariel Hatcher, Anthony Doss, Rodniqua Mack, Re’yelle Daniels, Branden Wilson and Anija Doss.
Anthony Boatman Sr. (seated) was among several ex-offenders honored and awarded for their high involvement in community service. Pictured with Boatman are his family members, Shauniece Doss, Ariel Hatcher, Anthony Doss, Rodniqua Mack, Re’yelle Daniels, Branden Wilson and Anija Doss.

Black men locked up in Illinois prisons make up more than half the population and 63 percent of them are fathers with minor children.

Wesley Cooke was one of them. He was just a teenager when he became a father to a baby girl. And when she was only 5 months old, he found himself incarcerated for what he described as “young reckless” behavior.

“That was probably the hardest thing I had to deal with in my life – leaving somebody who absolutely didn’t do anything to me,” Cooke said. “I caused so much damage to my child. That ate at me for 16 years.”

Familiar story
But his transformation came from an unlikely place – inside prison walls. Those who were enemies on streets were friends on the inside. He said a select group of men guided him and things turned around. Education, and his daughter now 24 and in college became his motivation. Cooke now owns a cell phone business and has a newborn son.

“What it did do, along with other things, is that it taught me fatherhood not just for me, but being a father for other kids,” he said, noting there is only one way to reach youngsters so they won’t fall prey to the streets. “We got to be fathers and mothers to everybody’s kids,” he said.

His story is not unfamiliar to agencies that provide services for the formerly incarcerated. Social service providers want to find ways to leverage fatherhood to help ex-offenders stay off the streets, be involved in their children’s lives and do better socially, said Lori Crowder, executive director of the Alliance of Local Service Organizations (ALSO).

Relationship matters
Social service providers, she said, have a “profound opportunity to impact individuals and entire communities” when they “recognize the role of father as a positive pro-social motivator for men with children.”

“What we’re saying is relationship matters,” said Crowder. Her organization works collaboratively with other Chicago-based organizations on violence prevention and intervention. Fatherhood may not eliminate the social factors that lead to contact with the criminal justice system but it plays an important part in building a community, she pointed out.

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Source: Daytona Times | LA’RISA LYNCH NNPA NEWS SERVICE

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