Prisoners Aim For Fatherhood in Real Dad's Program

By: Jessica Cunnington Email
By: Jessica Cunnington Email

August 22, 2013

They've done the crime but after they've done the time, how do some prisoners in the Charlottesville area prepare for home life after years in a cell? The Real Dad's Program helps inmates think about the man and the father they want to be.

"All I could do was talk through the phone or visit through the glass and I couldn't hold my son," said Charlottesville resident Whitmore Merrick.

For the first three years of his life, Merrick's son, Quadir, only knew his father as the man behind the glass. In 2006, Merrick was convicted of a felony and sentenced to five years in jail.

"I was useless, you know, I was just sitting in the jail cell wondering what I could do to help," Merrick said.

And feeling useless dug deep into his past.

"My father was never really around. It made me say that I would never do that you know. Regardless of the situation, I would be there," he said. "Just having a son was an eye opener to me. You know I have to be the man that I'm supposed to be I really had to think about what I needed to do when I got out to get on the right path."

That's where Eddie Harris came into his life. Even though they knew each other before Merrick went to jail, they started a different relationship through the Real Dad's Program.

"If we can get it into one person that gets it into another person and let it spread that way, I think we'll start to reverse something that's been going wrong for a while," Harris, who works at Children, Youth and Family Services in Charlottesville.

He has helped hundreds of men through the past six years of doing the program. Harris did some of his own research around Charlottesville and said the number of families without active fathers was alarming.

But what was even more alarming was the number of men who wanted so badly to be there for their kids but didn't have the tools.

"It's about going in and being vulnerable and and you know being vulnerable around other men," said Harris. "Maybe something they haven't experienced."

"It helped a lot of us just to become stronger and better men and to think wiser and understand that everyone has a heart when it comes to their child," Merrick said.

Part of being a great father is shedding the lifestyle that got them in trouble in the first place and the habits that will keep them out of these orange jumpsuits, and on the road to success in our community.

Since Merrick was released in 2010 each day is a challenge to stay strong and keep the healthy, determined mindset he's worked so hard to have.

"I have come a long way and I still have a long way to go," said Merrick.

It's a difficult road but it's worth every minute for Merrick to stay with his little boy.

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