I am excited to see the direction the author took for this article because he remembers Father’s Day. I know you will enjoy the article as much as I have. I appreciate Dr. Rice for his willingness to write for And He Restoreth My Soul Project. Therefore; I take great pleasure in introducing:
Johnny Rice, II Dr.PH
CEO Social Justice Ventures, LLC.
Dr. Johnny Rice II comes with a great cross section of diverse experience. Dr. Rice has a BS and MS degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore with a specialization in corrections. He also holds a Doctor of Public Health Degree from Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy where his study emphasis was violence prevention and intervention. In the past he has served as an adjunct faculty member in the University of Baltimore’s School of Criminal Justice, and he currently serves as criminal justice adjunct faculty for Penn State World Campus. He resides in Owings Mills, Maryland is married and the proud parents of two children.
Dr. Rice is currently employed full-time as a senior program associate with the Supervised Visitation Initiative (SVI) at the Vera Institute of Justice. He has spent the past 16 years providing leadership, technical assistance and support to organizations that serve low-income fathers and families in the areas of child welfare, youth development and criminal justice in efforts to create safe and stable communities. Prior to joining Vera he worked as a public administrator for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, where he served as the state administrator for the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Program, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) Domestic Violence Program, the Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Program as well as federal and state funded Responsible Fatherhood Programs. In the aforementioned capacity he served on the Governor’s Family Violence Council and the Maryland State Board of Victims Services. In his government grants management role he was charged with oversight and administration of a $25 million dollar annual budget that was also inclusive of Emergency Food and Homeless Services program funds. For more in depth information about Dr. Rice please see www.Linkedin.com
God’s Gift of Healing the Wounded Spirit:
Reflecting on the Impact of Father Absence on this Father’s Day
Johnny Rice II, Dr.PH
While many families will celebrate dads and enjoy their presence in the home today, there are many other families who will not share in this personal connection due to shame, guilt, abandonment and separation.
One of the first employment opportunities I acquired upon the completion of my criminal justice degree at the University of Baltimore in the mid 1990’s was a position as an addictions counselor for the State of Maryland. The setting, the Patuxent Institution in Howard County, was a correctional facility well known for its mental health services, psychiatric treatment, and comprehensive rehabilitation support provided to incarcerated inmates.
As a part of my job I counseled numerous offenders, many of them fathers, whom were near the completion of serving out their respective sentences and were seeking to reintegrate back into their respective communities. While my family had concerns for my safety working in such a high-risk environment, I was actually excited to be afforded an opportunity to cut my teeth in such a challenging setting, one in which I hoped to carryout God’s work and make a difference in the lives of all inmates, particularly those men of color, in which many instances society had given up on – described in the Word as, “the least of these.” Due to my own personal experiences growing up in a home where domestic violence was present I felt that, “but for the Grace of God, go I” and felt compelled not to judge, but rather through honest communication to shine some light where possible in a very dark place. It was in this prison that I grew to realize the brokenness of men, the implications of father absence on African American families and the importance of God in healing the wounded male spirit.
Hebrews 13:3 – Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; [and] them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.
As an addictions counselor I taught classes such as Relapse Prevention and Moral Problem Solving, as well as provided one-on-one case management to male offenders participating in the Regimented Offenders Treatment Program (ROTC). During these intense educational class discussions micro-level issues such as poor impulse control, use of violence, errant decision-making, limited parenting skills, lack of education, minimal work experience and lack of access to health resources figured prominently. Macro-level issues such as institutional and structural racism and oppression were also regularly debated. While I did not have the ability to adequately address the broader macro-level issues presented, I can say that our treatment team worked hard to identify correctional outpatient and community based resources and trustworthy referral organizations that could assist them in combating the aforementioned barriers to sobriety and healthy lifestyle upon their release. While there were always a few men who feigned responsibility and blamed everyone else for their misdeeds, overall accountability for crimes committed was accepted by these dads leaving us time to focus in on the potential causes that lead them to prison.
I must admit that the majority of the men I encountered were open and honest and engaged in the treatment process not so much for themselves and their own personal gain, but rather were motivated by their children. The sober fact was not lost on these men that as they sat in prison their children were forced to deal with the day-to-day challenges that life presented and that they were helpless to assist nor provide meaningful comfort living behind prison walls. Their shame and hurt was further compounded by fact that many of them had not been responsible fathers when they were in the home or community and had many regrets. Some of these dads physically and emotionally abused their children, while others were just absent and did not show love or respect towards their child’s mother and were abusive towards her in their child’s presence. Many of the dads that I worked with directly were clearly depressed and felt a sense of guilt based on the fact that they could not contribute financially to their family as a result of their incarceration which in their opinion led to their children acting out in ways that disrupted their schooling and placed them at-risk for juvenile delinquency. Also many fathers communicated their anxiety concerning difficult living situations such as foster care that their children were subjected to and the additional stress on their parents, who in some instances were serving as the primary caretaker for their children. They also felt fear concerning their ability to fight the joy of former vices such as drug use and them having the ability to challenge those demons that contributed to their initial failure in society.
Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord.
Many of the individual counseling sessions took place in dormitory style living arrangement where it would be commonplace to see men sitting off to themselves in a quiet place meditating on the Word as a means to achieve a sense of peace in an environment that is often used as the devil’s playground. The No Fear attitude masked in bravado was often used as a survival strategy for these men, yet such an adopted disposition made it difficult at times for them to allow the vulnerability required to receive real help and support. Being led by my Christian faith I clearly felt that these fathers cared about their children. It was evident visually by the pictures of them with their children taped to their tattered notebooks, it was heard verbally in their conversations with me in which they spoke with great pride of their children achieving academically, and shown with silence and tears when I could sense, based on previous conversations with them, that their offspring had gone astray and were now subject to the same pitfalls that they encountered as a youth on the streets of Baltimore, such as joining a gang, smoking weed, or harming someone. In my opinion many of these fathers were angry and broken due to a lack of something in their lives. One of the most significant themes that emerged was that of lacking a father in their own lives to properly guide them from the road to perdition. Many fathers started out in life as a child with a lack of empathy due to abuse sustained themselves at the violent hands of others.
2 Corinthians 6:18 – And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Ironically some of the same crimes they had committed against others in adulthood (i.e., domestic violence and drug dealing) in many instances they had been subjected to themselves as a child yet had not come to terms with. Many of these men went on to be undisciplined teens that had never experienced healthy male affection from a loved one, let alone their biological father, stepfather or any other male role model. They found themselves lost and wondering why their own father did not love them enough to protect them from the poor decisions and hard scrabble streets that would eventually lead to their downfall? I could sense the generational curse that had covered many of these men’s families and the influence of role models that unfortunately espoused negativity. In our classes many men acknowledged such, yet understood that these experiences could not serve as a crutch for their poor decisions made nor serve as a barrier to rehabilitation. I truly believe that my experiences with these men, and their work towards redemption within their own families and communities helped me to heal and grow as a social justice advocate. I was not surprised to see them reading their Bibles and searching for answers.
Why We Should Care?
It would be very easy to ignore the pain and plight of these fathers in the lost cities of corrections, yet research has demonstrated that when dads do poorly children can suffer. According to statistics cited by the National Fatherhood Initiative children who grow up without positive father involvement are more likely to live in poverty and are at risk for various type of negative outcomes (i.e., abuse). The importance of this connection with their children, when it is a safe and healthy one, should not be understated. I would move on from the Patuxent Institution and continue my outreach to families beyond the walls and into the Baltimore community, yet never forgot the contrast of bleak images and optimism that coexisted amongst these men. My work in the prison definitely informed my family strengthening work in the community and helped me to develop patience in dealing with fathers on the outside who were frustrated and skeptical concerning the support being offered. Some of these men I would reconnect with upon their release when they sought out parenting support and employment services and family resources while I was working at the Center for Urban Families (formerly known as the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development). Unlike in the prison, I would get the opportunity to meet the children and other support circle members that inspired many of these fathers to tap into their innate skills and abilities and aided them in their road to healing. Our staff became the brothers, uncles and fathers to many men that did not have paternal support, and in turn they were able to be a better parent from modeling the positive behavior we exemplified on a daily basis to them. In turn we learned as well the power of redemption and forgiveness – a forgiveness highlighted by their children accompanying their dads to our parenting events and activities. It would not be of surprise to hear men say. “Mr. Rice I am putting this situation in God’s Hand’s” when difficulties occurred. Yet I would also hear some fathers at times out of frustration want to give up on and disavow their family obligations and say, “Mr. Rice I can’t do this anymore.” I would allow those men to share their frustration and encourage them to stay the course so and let them know that the storm would not last.
Luke 9:6 – And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.
From a spiritual perspective it is clear that the disruption of the family unit is the aim of the enemy. As a member of Faith Christian Fellowship World Outreach Church in Owings Mills Maryland I have been afforded the opportunity to participate in the Angel Tree Ministry sponsored by Prison Fellowship. I have participated in this ministry at all levels, from coordinating the event to serving as a deliverer of gifts. Angel Tree allows the local church to support the incarcerated parent by providing gifts such as toys and clothing during the Christmas Holiday on their behalf to their child(ren). This activity allows the local church to share the Gospel with the family and communicate a positive message of love and gifts on behalf of their incarcerated loved one. The aforementioned helps to foster and maintain a connection between the children and the parent while they are in prison. Many of these families have limited resources and the gifts provided address additional stressors that the incarcerated inmate and their child’s caretaker are dealing with during that time. This experience brought me full circle from seeing the emotions of not only fathers on the inside, but the look of doubt, fear and happiness bundled up in those children I would meet as a result. I realized that through the Word and my works healing could be realized.
What We Can Do
I share these personal experiences as testimony in witnessing these men, through treatment and my church ministry activities, seeking solace in God Fearing People and the Word in efforts to heal wounds from their own childhood and to become a better man and a better father. I came to view these men as much more than the state issued identification number they were given. Successful ex-offender reentry is critical to these fathers providing the type of emotional and financial support, whether they live in the same household or not with their children, so they can survive and thrive. I have come to realize that by helping these men connect with resources and lending a attentive ear and compassionate heart that they learn to develop empathy for others and think harder about the daily decisions they would make and how they might impact others, as well as the example it would set for their children. While my employment in the prison did not allow proselytism, it was evident that God’s Promise is what sustained many a father during his darkest hours. I believe it was also evident via my tough love and comforting words that our work together was not just practical advice, but rather life lessons based on values and principles. There were many men incarcerated and on the outside who relied on the Spiritual Father to fill the void, which has left them continually restless in life. Many of these men will be released back to their communities and have an opportunity to reconnect with their children in a positive, healthy and safe way. We need to make sure that these men don’t lack the tools to start the healing process for themselves and their families. I wrote this article because it is often holidays such as these that trigger emotions and reminders for these men of opportunities lost and of depression. You may know of a man like this. I challenge you to call him today and pray the following scripture together:
Psalm 27:10 – When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.