The 3 ½ years Bryan Blair spent behind bars at the SCI-Smithfield correctional facility in Huntingdon, Pa., gave him plenty of time to think about what would be important to him when he got out.
Serving time for illegal possession of a firearm, Blair thought about the woman he would propose to, finding work in a bearish economy and rebuilding a relationship with his 12-year-old son, whom he had not seen for almost four years.
Since his release last May, Blair, 33, has been able to put an ‘X’ next to one item on his bucket list. He and his fiancée, Barbara Thomas, became engaged on July 4 and are planning a Dec. 2012 wedding. And he’s trying to find work again in this vicious economy, something that he’s optimistic will eventually happen.
But parenting was the one area that Blair saw as the most daunting. His father, whom he calls regularly, was not very involved in his life as a youngster. And Blair wants to be as involved in his son’s life as much as possible.
“When I was a kid, I spent one holiday weekend with my father,” Blair recalls. “I would see him on the streets but there was never any, you know, ‘hey, that’s my son right there.’ I reached out to him recently to let him know that I love him. But the one thing I never wanted to do was to have that kind of relationship with my son.”
Enter Turning Points for Children (TPC), located at 415 South 15th Street in Center City. One of the oldest private social organizations in the country, one of TPC’s new programs focuses on reintroducing previously incarcerated fathers back into their children’s lives in a healthy fashion.
TPC works hand in hand with MinSec Treatment Centers Inc., a private, community-based, outpatient substance abuse treatment service with special emphasis on relapse prevention and related criminal behaviors. The two have collaborated to develop a 12-week program that prepares men such as Blair to be productive family men.
Thus far there have been two classes, according to lead facilitator Lauren McLaughlin, composed of about 12 men per session. A third session is in progress right now. The men are taught parent solving techniques such as communication and crisis resolution. The goal is to equip them to do something that in all likeliness they had no preparation for while behind bars — become real fathers.
“I have seen remarkable growth in Brian and the other men that have participated in the program,” McLaughlin said. “He’s learned how powerful words can be; how important it is to be able to communicate with your children. He’s in a situation where he might not see his son for some time. But when he does he will be very well equipped to being a successful parent.”
While many fathers going through the program immediately get to apply what they have learned, this is not the case for Blair. During his incarceration, his son moved to Arizona where he lives with his maternal grandmother and mother. He has had some marginal phone contact with him but has yet to see him since his release. In February, he will begin fighting for full custody of his son.
That’s okay for now, Blair adds. He says that one of the major components of the TPC program is building patience. And until he sees his son — he hopes to see him in early 2012 — he will continue to apply what he’s learned.
“The program has helped me in all aspects of my life,” Blair, who received a certificate upon completion and never missed a two-hour session, says. “The program has helped me to understand what it’s like to be a father, especially since I didn’t always have my father around.
“As far as not seeing my son, I’m patient,” Blair continued. “It will be four years in January since I’ve seen him. But that’s okay; I love my son. I’m going to see him, and when I do I’ll know exactly how to explain the past to him.”
Thomas, who has a 12-year-old daughter, says that she has seen the impact of the program. Blair knows that he will eventually have a blended family, says Thomas, who adds that her daughter says she is sometimes emotionally detached.
Thomas says that these days Blair helps her with that.
“He is a good person,” Thomas says. “He’s not judgmental. My daughter will come to him sometimes, and I watch the way he responds to her. He’s a good person. He’s loving and caring. I just think the program has brought all of that out of him.”
Note: For more information on Turning Points for Children and its programs, call (215) 875-8200.