by Juan Haines, San Quentin News Managing Editor
Malachi Dads is a faith-based Christian inmate self-help program that teaches inmates ways to interact and mend relations – particularly how to be better fathers.
<p><p><p>On a Saturday morning, about a dozen San Quentin inmates stream into a church, filling a cluster of chairs. Sitting in a circle and opening with a prayer, they gather there for one reason: to learn to reconnect with their children.
Inmate Brent, with the help of facilitators from the local community – Otis Cole, Donald Mack, Melvin Piper, Alan Roberts, Rene Tovar, Chris Baily and Karl Davis – puts Biblical lessons together for the participants.
“As a facilitator and alumni of Malachi Dads, it’s an honor to be a part of how God is transforming the lives of men and turning the hearts of these fathers,” Roberts said.
The weekly program originated at Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola Prison.
“The men who take this class are experiencing God,” said Cole. “These men are helping each other’s families turn toward each other.”
Currently, about 2.2 million children nationwide have a parent behind bars, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Children with an incarcerated parent are seven times more likely to end up in prison themselves, the DOJ reported. For many, the program fulfills a crucial role in strengthening families with an incarcerated parent.
Malachi Dads participants take a pledge to transform themselves in order to make an impact on future generations of children. Informally structured, the sessions foster conversations on topics ranging from masculinity and the media to mental health.
The group functions as a space for inmates to express their emotions and frustrations, as well as support each other and exchange techniques on fostering family relations.
“The work that the men were doing to reconnect with their family impacts the cycle of sons and daughters who might be following their footsteps to prison,” Cole said.
Cole began volunteering at San Quentin in 1999. He became inspired to create Malachi Dads after visiting the program during a trip to Angola, he said.
“It’s here to stay,” he said. “When we talk about this program at my church, others want to help.”
According to Cole, family relationships for inmates tend to be “more strained” than other families. For some inmates, it might have been years since they last interacted with their loved ones, he said.
“Malachi Dads gives you tools to help communicate to loved ones. Holidays create an opportunity for family members to get together and mend fences,” he said. “It takes a lot of give and take. Let your faith drive you.”
“That’s why they were in this class,” he said. “You get out of this program what you put into it. Malachi Dads gives the men the chance to really connect with their children in the only way that’s meaningful: a Godly way.”