Building Stronger Families
“When a father is in prison, children worry,” says Lori Drotzman, academic instructor at a South Dakota prison. The kids wonder. “Are you okay? When will you come home? Do you love me?”
In partnership with the South Dakota Department of Corrections, the National Fatherhood Initiative, and a local donor, South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) turned a $5,000 seed grant into Long Distance Dads, a project where incarcerated men learn parenting skills and maintain connection with the children they love, but rarely, if ever, see.
“We send age-appropriate books and then film dads reading aloud,” said SDPB Ready To Learn Coordinator Wess Pravecek. “Each dad has time just to talk from the heart. One man made flashcards spelling out his daughters’ names. Another drummed and sang in Lakota.”
SDPB staff customize each DVD with a photo of dad. The men personally mail the DVDs and books to their children.
“The men talk about their videos,” Drotzman said. “Their kids play and replay them. The child can see dad is okay. He’s talking to them. He reads their book. They hear him say, ‘I love you. I miss you.’”
Long Distance Dads’ impact is deep and personal. Fifty to sixty men participate each year. The books they read and the DVDs they create become a precious link with about 100 children. Those numbers continue to increase.
“In the parenting classes,” says Pravecek, “I teach workshops on literacy and using TV as a learning tool. I use Mister Rogers’ What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel to talk about feelings. This is good. And, the video affirms these men. They want to be good dads. We help them.”