Family First

Family First is a program that started in at least two Oregon prisons due to the efforts of the prison chaplains, men inside, and community volunteers. While families and children may be able to attend regular visiting hours, Family First allows its members to spend quality time interacting and making memories. The Family First program seeks to bring fathers, father figures, and/or other male role models together with the children in their lives for meaningful visitation opportunities. Men in the penitentiary must first complete a parenting education program before they can apply to be part of Family First; once in the program, they can practice their skills while spending time with their children in special family events. Because regular visiting at OSP is limited to morning and afternoon sessions, Family First events take place on Friday nights and offer unique opportunities for children to spend time in the prison with their loved ones. Important bonding time is created as families are able to sit down and share stories and a meal together.

Trevor is a participant in Family First and shares what it has meant to him personally:

For me, Family First has allowed me to connect with my high school sweetheart’s oldest daughter who has lived with my mom for the past several years. Having gone through the Parenting Inside-Out class, which is a prerequisite for Family First, I learned a lot of the skills I now employ while providing a parental role to her. Sometimes she needs a big brother, sometimes a dad, sometimes just a friend, and having the opportunities that are provided through these programs I’ve been able to be there as she needs and when she needs.

While James has not been personally involved in Family First, he sees the value of the program in the lives of his friends, and he finds hope in such interactions:

A close friend of mine is involved in the Family First program. He lights up whenever I ask him how the most recent family function went, it’s pretty cool to see. Though incarcerated, most of his daily conversations seem to revolve strongly around the positive strides he’s made in regards to strengthening his family ties. This man, roughly 40 years old and with a bum hip, turns into a kid himself whenever the chance arises for horseplay with his children. I take photos at some of the Family First events and I’m always encouraged to see the amazing bonds being formed when dads, equipped with parenting skills learned while on the inside, interact with their children. It would make anyone smile and say there’s hope for all.

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