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Second Chances for Dad: A Review of Eric M. Ramos' Article, "After Prison, I Became A Better Dad."

Out of The Ashes - Tuesday, November 12, 2019


I recently read an article about parenting post-incarceration. The author of the piece made a profound statement that I have come to believe in my own heart.

“Even when a parent has been part of a child’s pain, that parent’s love can still be the antidote.” Eric M. Ramos, “After Prison, I Became A Better Dad.”, Marshall Project. June 3, 2019.

In his article Eric talks about the challenges of bonding with his children during his incarceration and the immense pain he felt. I can identify with Eric, as a returning citizen who was separated from my own child for 14 years. In the quiet moments when you allow for yourself to feel the weight of your deeds, the shame of causing your children pain is almost unbearable.

Eric allowed for his pain to become a motivating factor for him, like so many other incarcerated parents. He became involved in a program entitled Parenting From The Inside Out™, an evidence-based curriculum by Daniel J. Siegel. Though I am not familiar with this particular curriculum, Eric mentions components which are integral to the healing and emotional development of incarcerated fathers, such as addressing trauma, communication and parenting skill development.

During my time in prison I had to address the same inner-personal issues. You can not heal what you do not acknowledge.  It was during deeply personal group sessions that I began to shed some of my own pain due to past traumas. Only then was I able to prepare myself to become the man that my child needed me to be. This was not an overnight process!

Like Eric, upon release I met many life challenges from finding gainful employment, to dealing with my own shame and most importantly building a relationship with my son Ahmarr, who was 16 years old. After the initial shock of being home I had to regroup. I fell back on the parenting skills that I learned inside and I also began to talk to my own parents about building a relationship with him. I remember once having a conversation with my mother and she gave me some of the soundest advice, advice which I carry with me today. My mother said “all children want to love their parents, we just have to give them the space to do so.” In my case this meant being a solid, steadfast and open father. I had to create a space for Ahmarr to be able to communicate with me and say some things that I knew would hurt, however things he needed to give voice to facilitate his own healing process.

As both of our lives changed he and I began to realize we needed to do a lot more work, so we created a walking ritual. Every Sunday for at least 2 hours we walk in a park, and we just talk. We talk about whatever is on our minds. Some days we have left that park in tears from all of the laughter and some days we have left the park with tears due to all of the pain. But no matter what we keep walking.

These walks were the impetus and foundation for Out of the Ashes, our drama-therapy presentation. Over time we began to realize that our relationship was getting better and unfortunately many of our friends’ in similar situations were not having the same results. We decided to share our story through art in order to foster the conversation about parenting and incarceration.

Since 2015 we have shared Out of the Ashes with thousands of individuals across the United States. Every time we share our story it is a fresh reminder of the journey that we have taken to healing.  This has been a most rewarding journey.  Like Eric, I have learned the value of continuing the journey of teaching other fathers how to parent after being in prison. It is a truly unique and nuances experience.  I guess in some ways I have melded my mother’s advice and Eric’s statement into one action. Through Out of the Ashes and our walking ritual Ahmarr and I are increasing our good days and putting distance between our bad ones.

Coley Harris is the co-founder of Out of the Ashes,LLC a family restoration company headquartered in Newark, DE. Out of the Ashes provides workshops and trainings for individuals, families and organizations who work with parents impacted by incarceration.

Meet the father-son team that is changing the way parents reconnect with their children after prison

Out of The Ashes - Sunday, March 03, 2019

There is no shortage of stories in the news media about fatherless homes. Every day there is a new study detailing the negative impact on larger society on the number of growing families that don’t have a male presence in the home. However, little attention is paid to the realities behind the statistics, to the real-life devastation visited upon those whose fathers were never there to teach them the bare necessities of life. 

But one family is looking to change this. In their three act play “Out of the Ashes”, real-life father and son duo Coley Harris and Ahmarr Melton dive deep into the impact Harris’s absence had on both their lives. 

When Melton was 2 years old, his father was sent to prison. While they saw each other intermittently over the following years, they didn’t fully resume their relationship until 14 years later when Harris was released. To say that their relationship was strained is putting it mildly. 

As you can imagine, it was no easy task dealing with the pain of a near decade and a half long absence. There were just too many milestones missed along the way. And one of the most impactful lessons that Melton never received was learning how to shave.

He states the profundity of this during the play as he tells the audience, “When you were watching your father shave, I was cutting my throat.©” In that moment, one is forced to reckon with the image of a sad, lonely boy holding a blade to his throat, without anyone there to guide his hand to safety.

As most of the audience is generally comprised of men and boys who have been in the same predicament, most of them are aware of exactly how that feels. And it is this sense of connectedness that is at the core of the play; the kind of empathy that gives it its power. In that vein, “Out of the Ashes” creates a form of drama-therapy to give their audience the tools necessary to help navigate these difficult  situations and relationships.

These are the types of stories that the statics don’t show. The tales the news reels don’t run. The play highlights the central question that is never asked because the answer is presumed to be an impossibility: “What happens when the fathers come back?”

However, with more than 2 million children in America who have at least one parent in prison, it is a reality that cannot be ignored. It is this question that is the theme of “Out of the Ashes.” It is this question that Melton and Harris are using their own family to answer.

For these two, it seems as though the key to success in rebuilding their relationship was patience and consistency. Initially, Melton was understandably reticent to let his father back into his life—particularly at such a tender age. However, Harris rightfully took the lead role in attempting to repair their bond and made a standing weekly date with his son at the park. And it was during these weekly walks that that wall built over 14 years of incarceration began to chip away. And slowly the love that it was shielding began to pour through. 

It was also during these walks that the idea for “Out of the Ashes” began to germinate. And on January 3, 2015, “Out of the Ashes,” the play premiered to an audience of 200+ people. As of 2019, the duo has helped hundreds of families begin to heal after being torn apart by incarceration.

By telling their story publicly, Harris and Melton put faces to those suffering under this national crisis. And in their healing were able to offer up what those in their situation want most—the hope of reconciliation.

For more information or to book Out Of The Ashes, please contact 302-507-4623 or click here.

The Real and Raw Impact of Out of the Ashes Posted by Christopher A. Brown

Out of The Ashes - Thursday, November 15, 2018

National Fatherhood Initiative's recently released Out of the Ashes: Where a Seed Finds Life DVD and Discussion Guide is having a big impact across the nation.

I recently interviewed several staff in organizations that use Out of the Ashes with diverse groups of dads who are currently or formerly incarcerated. Every person I spoke with said the film resonates with dads at a deep emotional level regardless of dads' race or ethnicity. They also said it's an excellent compliment to NFI and other fatherhood programs because it enhances their impact.

Here is how three organizations use this outstanding resource.

out-of-the-ashes.jpgCatholic Charities West Michigan (Grand Rapids, MI)

Timmy Smith, Coordinator of the Fathers Matter Program, reports that he uses Out of the Ashes with two groups of dads. One group includes dads reentering Muskegon County after their release from the county jail. (Some of these dads transitioned from state prison to the county jail before their release.) Timmy says that the film reminds them of the relationships they didn't have with their children. It showed these dads some of the things that might transpire as they reunite with their children. 

The other group, which Timmy refers to as the "community group," includes dads referred to Fathers Matter by staff of the Wisconsin Department of Human Services, including staff of Child Protective Services. It is with this second group of dads that Timmy uses Out of the Ashes to compliment a fatherhood program. He's found that many of the dads in the community group were once incarcerated, so it's had a meaningful impact on them. For the dads who haven't been incarcerated, Timmy says he hopes it serves as a deterrent by giving them a preview of what would likely happen to the relationship with their children should they go down the wrong path.

He says that even though the film focuses on two African-Americans it resonates with dads of all races and ethnicities because they experience the same family dynamics caused by incarceration. One of the most powerful messages it sends to any incarcerated or formerly incarcerated father, for example, is that the choices and decisions a man makes early in life will impact him and his children for years to come and might, in fact, impact his children for their entire life.

Northeast Denver Islamic Center (Denver, CO)

Abdur-Rahim Ali, Imam of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center, also uses Out of the Ashes with currently and formerly incarcerated dads. Imam Ali uses it to compliment NFI's evidence-based InsideOut Dad® program that he facilitates with dads in the Jefferson County Jail. He also uses it with dads who have already reentered the community after their release from prison. He said that you can hear a pin drop when the dads watch the film. It makes dads think deeply because they can see themselves in the film. It makes them think about the broad impact of being incarcerated (e.g. on their children) and that dads should take their life seriously. It sends a message that dads must set an example for their children and grandchildren by exhibiting healthy behavior.

He also reports that the film resonates with dads of all races and ethnicities. And that's vital for Imam Ali because most of the fathers he works with are White or Hispanic.

Sav-a-Life Pregnancy Resource Center (Hoover, AL)

Steve Longenecker, Director of Programs for Sav-a-Life Pregnancy Resource Center, also uses Out of the Ashes with two groups of dads. In this case, however, both groups include formerly incarcerated dads. One of the groups includes dads who live in a halfway house having just been released from prison. The dads in the other group returned to the community some time ago and participate in a program the center calls "Converge Dads." Steve says the film starts a conversation about reconciliation and, specifically, the realities around dads reconciling with their children. He and the other staff who use the film like that it doesn't look at the dynamics around reconciliation through rose-colored glasses. As he says, it's "real and raw." 

If you've thought about using Out of the Ashes but haven't yet made the decision to acquire it, rest assured that it will help your organization or program have an even greater positive impact on currently and formerly incarcerated dads, their children, and their families. Don't hesitate to use this real and raw resource! 

The One Resource Grayson County Detention Center Uses to Open Dads' Hearts and Minds to Group-Based Fatherhood Programs

Out of The Ashes - Thursday, November 15, 2018

Facilitator Certification Training

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I regularly interview staff and volunteers in organizations that use National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) programs and other resources. These interviews often provide insight into creative uses of our programs and resources that I share in this blog to help organizations become even more effective in serving dads.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Morris Basham. Morris facilitates InsideOut Dad®—NFI’s evidence-based program for incarcerated fathers—at the Grayson County Detention Center, a facility in Leitchfield, Kentucky that houses federal and state inmates.

As Morris and I talked about InsideOut Dad®, he told me he uses another NFI resource for incarcerated dads, Out of the Ashes: Where a Seed Finds Life, to enhance his delivery of the program.

Out of the Ashes Facilitator Certification TrainingIf you’re not familiar with Out of the Ashes, it’s a powerful 32-minute film—a one-act play, of sorts—that generates dialogue and a healing process among incarcerated dads. Organizations can also use it with the children and loved ones (e.g. moms of dads’ children and dads’ relatives) impacted by a dad’s incarceration. It includes a Facilitated Discussion Guide with questions that help incarcerated fathers, their children, and family members explore the issues, thoughts, and feelings caused by a dad’s incarceration. (Click here and here to read two posts in this blog about this film.)

Morris uses Out of the Ashes to provide dads who express interest in joining an InsideOut Dad® group with a taste of what it’s like to participate in a group-based program and, most important, the emotionally intimate environment the program creates. Morris says that the discussion the film generates helps dads understand the commitment they must make to get the most out of the program.

Demand for InsideOut Dad® is high at the Grayson County Detention Center. Unlike running a fatherhood program for dads in a community, recruitment is rarely an issue in a corrections setting. Facilitators of InsideOut Dad® report that they often have more demand than they can handle. In many facilities, there is a process of promotion, application, and selection into the program. Dads not selected to participate end up on a waiting list and must either wait for a new group(s) to start or go through the entire process again.

Morris has a well-developed and tested selection process that he’s enhanced with Out of the Ashes. The process to select dads to participate:

  • Starts four weeks prior to the start of several InsideOut Dad® groups.
  • The facility posts in cellblocks the availability of the program.
  • The posts inform dads that they can apply to participate.
  • After a review of the applications, Morris selects 70-80 dads to participate in the program and divides them into three “orientation sessions.”

Each 1.5-hour session starts with dads watching the film. A 1-hour discussion ensues that Morris facilitates using the discussion guide. Morris says that the film generates such an in-depth and intimate discussion that he typically has to abruptly end the session. The film shows the dads what participating in InsideOut Dad® is like and the impact their incarceration has on their children.

After the orientation sessions, some dads choose to not continue in the program. This self-selection leaves Morris with dads who enter the first program session with “eyes wide open.” A bonus is the orientation session makes dads more comfortable early on in the program with being transparent and honest with themselves and other dads about who they are and their relationships with their children and children’s primary caregiver(s). 

Whether you use InsideOut Dad® or a 24/7 Dad® program in a corrections setting and have a selection process to identify dads to participate, use of Out of the Ashes as an orientation session is a fantastic idea worth exploring. You can also integrate an “Out of the Ashes Session” into one of our programs, as some other facilitators have done (e.g. between the program’s transition from a focus on the man to a focus on the father). It’s also useful as a stand-alone resource in corrections and non-corrections settings for generating discussion about the impact of incarceration on dads, children, and loved ones.

Have you considered using Out of the Ashes as an orientation session or integrating it into one of our programs?

How effectively do you use (e.g. combine) NFI’s programs and resources?

Out of the Ashes: U of D Student Impact

Out of The Ashes - Sunday, January 07, 2018

University of Delaware Student Impact: How Out of the Ashes Touched Our Class.

November 2017

Coley Harris and Ahmarr Melton presented to the Dr. Ann Aviles's students in her Family Studies and Human Development class. The students responded with a warm video impact statement. We are thankful for your support.

Come out and witness this powerful presentation on January 18, 2017 at Stubbs Elementary School


Making Fatherhood Popular

Out of The Ashes - Thursday, November 17, 2016

This post came from a mission that I have which is changing the world through making fatherhood popular. I think a lot of people don't fully understand the importance of this role and take it for granted. I want to use Out of The Ashes as a platform to increase awareness and change the dialogue around the topic.

September 28th, 2016

Out of The Ashes - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Just Grateful

Out of The Ashes - Friday, September 16, 2016

Top 5 Things That New Dads Get Wrong!

Out of The Ashes - Monday, September 12, 2016

Being a Dad is not for the faint at heart. Your children will test your grit. Our children are masters at pushing buttons and pulling on heart strings. Many parents learn how to put on that tough skin and weather the storm of a teenager, but what about the new parent?  Here are a few tips for the new parent, whether it be through a blended family, first child or re-entering your child's life.

These 5 easy tips will put you light years ahead.
  1. Don't try to be your child's friend. I know we want to hear all of their little secrets and walk them through the pains of life, but a healthy separation will keep the relationship in perspective. After all, does a friend tell a child that they are grounded?
  2. Give a child structure. Even with attempting to allow our children to express their autonomy we must still give them some structure, a foundation from whence to spread their wings.
  3. Share some of your short comings. It is ok to be imperfect. Sharing a failure will allow for children learn from our lessons and not be afraid to take healthy risk.  
  4. Be compassionate. Just because you are the DAD does not mean you have to be iron. Children look for security and nurturing from both parents.
  5. Lead by example. The do as I say not as I do days are gone. The entire world is going to form an opinion about us by what they see, why would our children be any different.

I hope that these tips have proven to be helpful. Let's stay in touch. Please share some of your cool parenting tips and experiences on our page. Thanks. 

Beauty in the struggle

Out of The Ashes - Sunday, September 04, 2016

I can remember walking home, to my cousin/brother's house in WIlmington, Delaware at 11pm from 8th street to 38th street. I had to be back to work by 7am. I was never late. I can remember asking people to allow for me to volunteer at their youth programs, so that I could get into the field where I was passionate. They blew me off, lied to me and spun me.Then Mike Barbieri gave me a shot!

I love this process! I love the growth through the struggle. It took spiritual enlightenment to for me to understand that the gatekeepers knew not what they did by trying to keep the message from the people. It was yet another piece of the "master plan unfurling before my eyes, manifest and real."

Thank the Most High for this journey as we move forward. As I left my son this morning after our walk I experienced a familiar feeling. It is a cataclysmic mental shift that takes place before the breakthrough. Oh yes, a familiar feeling. I often tell our children on the inside to shift that energy and do not allow yourself to be denied ANYTHING ON GOD'S CREATION of the good.

Did I tell you that I love the struggle?

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