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Dads doing REAL time

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New Life Center offers parenting class for inmates

By Randy Patrick

In the library of the Nelson County Jail, Jeffery Mattox opened up to his mentors about his relationship with his 10-year-old son, Michael, whom he adores.

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“I think he’s a remarkable kid, and I just hope and pray every night that I’ll be able to be with him,” he said. “He’s the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about before I go to bed.”

Mattox said he doesn’t want his son to think that his dad is separated from him in jail because of anything his son could have done.

“I don’t want him to feel that he wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I don’t want him to feel that it was his fault.”

Mattox said he occasionally writes notes to his son, but he doesn’t know whether his ex is letting the boy read them.

Tim Sizemore, the inmate’s mentor, gave him some advice. In a letter, he said to tell his son “what you just said” and hold onto the letter until the right time to give it to him.

“Sometimes, that’ll mean more to them than if they get a letter periodically,” he said.

Sizemore and Mike Holleran were the two male mentors who accompanied New Life Center Director Marcella Crenshaw and her assistant director, Debbie Brawner, for the family support program’s first parenting class for male inmates.

Crenshaw said the New Life Center has been doing parenting classes awhile and has “a reputation … in the community that we care” and are effective in helping moms and dads become better parents.

That’s probably why District Judge John Kelley IV asked the New Life Center to work with the inmates, she said.

At the first class, three inmates — Michael Hicks, George Lewis and Mattox — took advantage of the opportunity.

According to jail records, Hicks is incarcerated for sodomy and sexual abuse of minors, Lewis is in jail for theft, and Mattox is doing time for possession of drugs and endangering the welfare of a minor.

The three watched a video about making their time with their children REAL (relevant, expectant, attentive and loving), rather than just watching TV with them or being on their smartphones while their kids play videos. REAL time varies depending on the age of the child, the video said. For a 3-year-old, it might mean tickling, for a 7-year-old, playing silly childhood games, and for a 17-year-old, talking about what they did in school or something they like to talk about.

“Spending time with your child is what good fathers do,” the narrator said. “When you spend time with your child, you bless your child with friendship and love.”

The video suggested setting aside time with one’s child that the child knows to expect and look forward to and not letting anything else intrude on that time.

Sizemore shared with them a story about a Valentine’s Day event he attended with his daughter, and he was glad that he did.

“I didn’t want to go — I’ll be honest,” he said. “When we got there, there was a line down the street. But I spent it with her. She had a real good time, and I did too.”

Even if a dad can spend only 15-20 minutes with his child, if it’s time well spent, he said, she’ll remember it more than she will hours spent watching movies or playing video games.

Mattox said he didn’t realize until watching the video that the way he spent time with his son or his stepdaughter wasn’t always “quality time.”

Holleran, the other mentor, said he was sometimes guilty of the same thing. He might be in his bedroom on his smartphone when he knows he should be talking with his kid about school.

“All of us have obstacles,” he said.

Mattox said he was “excited” about the class.

“I want to thank you all for the opportunity,” he told the directors and volunteers.

Afterward, Crenshaw said she was pleased by the first weekly class.

“I think they were contrite, and they listened,” and the male mentors “really bonded with them.”

Sizemore, a former Bardstown businessman who served time in prison on federal fraud charges but repented of his mistakes and was involved in jail ministry, continues to work with inmates and is starting a program with another man from his church to counsel and train former felons for good-paying jobs in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business. A father of adopted foster children, he also has been teaching parenting classes since last fall.

He said he was impressed by the inmates and thought they were receptive.

“Most of the stuff there (in jail) is pretty negative, and this shines a light on something they can do that’s positive,” he said.

It seemed to him the men were sincere, he said, but having been in that environment himself, he said, it’s often hard to tell when they’re just working the system.

“They know what to say and when to say it,” he said, but time will tell. “It all comes out in the end.”

Helping those who are contrite to turn their lives around is something that’s become important to him, Sizemore said.

“I have a heart for those guys,” he said. “They need a lot of positive influence, and somebody who can show them that they can make it without going back” to their old lifestyle.

What is the New Life Center?
The New Life Center is in its 18th year of helping families in need.
According to director Marcella Crenshaw, it began as a day care program for teenage mothers while they were in school and over the years “morphed” into a pregnancy crisis center for single young girls, and was “repurposed” as a broader family parenting center that helps families in many ways.
“We focus on healthy families and helping those who are in a difficult situation, to give them support,” she said. “We listen to and love them, and do anything we can to support them.”
“We have clients from age 14 to age 65,” Crenshaw said. “We have grandparents who are raising children.”
One new way it benefits the community is by working with mothers through a program with Flaget Memorial Hospital.
“That’s another avenue that’s opened for us, and we’re so excited about it,” she said.
She’s also excited about the parenting program for inmates at the local jail, which was initiated by Nelson District Judge John Kelley IV.
The not-for-profit group is funded through grants and donations and is entirely operated by volunteers except for a director and assistant director.
It’s biggest fundraiser of the year is the Chocolate Extravaganza, which is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Guthrie Opportunity Center. Tickets may be purchased for $25 per person or a table of eight for $200 by calling (502) 233 8003.