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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.


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