Music playing, Newcomb calls each inmate’s name. Inmates wear black graduation caps and gowns. They receive certificates and handshakes.
Their Malachi Dads certificates in hand, the inmates sit listening to Miller. The chaplain’s message hints at the preacher as he explains to the inmates, their families and the volunteers what the program strives to achieve.
“We need fathers to step up and be fathers at this time,” the chaplain says. “Men will jump in bed and bare their bodies but they will not dare to bare their souls. ... So, gentlemen, I am so proud of you. You’re making a difference. The fact you have family here shows you are making a difference. If God be for me, who might be against me. ... God is for me. God is for you.”
Following graduation, the inmates eat. Eventually, they will receive seconds; seconds are called “doowop” in the prison. Those without families present eat then return to their cells. Those with children spend time with their sons and daughters.
They laugh and play. Inmates scramble with their children in the bounce houses. A father and a teenage son talk with one another as they shoot hoops. A father carries his son. A father slides down a slide with his daughters. Fathers and children of all ages build crafts kits together.
The earth turns, the afternoon deepens to a few moments of quiet conversation between each father and his child or children. These moments concluding, volunteers join the fathers and their children. Each person holds a a balloon. Bill Newcomb says a prayer. Each person releases a balloon as all say “amen” in unison.
All eyes flash toward the sky as balloons soar past the prison’s concertina wire, up past the watch towers, up, up and away.
A FATHER’S CHOICE
“I made the choice to change my way of thinking and living,” John Breland says in his speech to Saturday’s graduates. “I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to let prison or anything prevent me from being a father to my daughter. I started writing my daughter letters from the day that she was born up to now. I started sending her cards and telling her that I love her.
“... Because of God, Malachi Dads, and my daughter, I can smile in the face of adversity, and this day proves to us that regardless of our past mistakes, our present circumstances, and situations, that we are men with hearts, men who desire to build a healthy relationship with our children and be fathers to our children.”
In the audience, 7-year-old Anita smiles as she listens to every word her father says.
For more information on how to volunteer or donate to Malachi Dads, contact Bill Newcomb, (229) 834-1933; or email firstname.lastname@example.org