Since 1980, the number of incarcerated fathers in the U.S. has increased fourfold, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In total, there’s nearly 630,000 dads in state and federal prisons nationwide. The toll of mass incarceration for dads — and moms — has left roughly 1.25 million children without at least one of their parents for a portion of their childhood, according to a report from Prison Policy Initiative.
PJP writers have documented the diverse experience of fatherhood behind bars. As a way to honor Father’s Day this year, Prison Journalism Project curated a selection of stories for and about fathers and father figures.
“Happiness, Healing and Hot Jook: How I Found My Korean Prison Dad” by Andrew Suh: In this essay, Suh tells how he meets a “little old man” incarcerated in his Michigan prison who is also Korean. Suh decides to help the man navigate prison life, and the man comes to represent a badly needed father figure for Suh.
“I Have the Ticket. But After Prison, Can I Still Be Her Dad?” by Corey Minatani: When Minatani was incarcerated his daughter was 12 years old. When he boarded a ferry and met her again after prison, she was in her early 20s.
“A Father’s Day Ode to My Unsung Friend” by Michael “Abdur Ra’uf” Hearn: “A racist and poverty-stricken culture (can jade) a man’s mentality, and it infected my father as well. My only reaction as a teenager was to rebel against what I perceived as his absurdities and seek comfort in other places. But now, years later, my evolution as a man, a Muslim and a son has left me trying to be dutiful from behind prison walls.”
“The Journey to Becoming a Better Dad Inside Prison” by Hollie Garrett: The writer struggles to find parenting programs in his California prison, so he creates the programs from scratch himself. The goal is to eventually found a parenting program called “Discovering Fatherhood,” which would be accessible to the entire U.S. prison population.
“Congrats, You’re Going to Be a Father — From Prison” by Emmanuel G. Vaughn: “My friend excitedly revealed that he and his wife were pregnant. I was honored he’d share such a personal detail with me, but I was conflicted because I didn’t know how to respond. … Knowing someone who intentionally created a family while in prison was a brand new experience. I wanted to support my friend, but I had questions.”
“When My Dad Died, I Was Stuck Behind Bars” by Mithrellas Curtis: “Years before, I had refused my dad’s overtures for reconciliation. … But now, behind bars, I felt powerless (as he lay dying). I realized I might never get a chance to hug him or say goodbye. After serving 14 years, I only had three years left on my sentence. I was so close to going home. Couldn’t he hold on just a little longer?”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.