By Shirley Hawkins
INGLEWOOD — A local program is serving as a bridge between its clients, the community at large and the criminal justice system.
Dad’s Back Academy Fire is an umbrella organization of Friends Outside in Los Angeles County, which was founded to assist children and families of prisoners, and former prisoners with the immediate and long-term effects of incarceration.
“We received our first five-year federal grant in 2015, and we were able to serve 750 fathers,” said Dajohnai Vincson, program manager for Dads Back.
“Currently, we are projected to serve over 900 fathers. The grant was written to strengthen family homes for formerly incarcerated individuals to help them to develop a better bonding relationship with their children.
“It’s an evidence-based curriculum workshop that our clients attend for one month where they learn about parenting, healthy relationships and economic stability,” Vincson added.
“After they successfully complete the one-month workshop called phase 2, they must complete 60 hours or more of workshops. Then they go on to phase 3 to work with a job specialist for an additional four months while they are still receiving case management,” she added.
Asked how the men and women hear about the program, Dad’s Back Academy Fire case manager Olewon Osbert said that “The Dads Back program has outreach specialists who attend job fairs and halfway houses and go out into the community to talk to others. Many of our clients are residing in transitional housing, still incarcerated or just coming out of prison.”
“A lot of the information about the program is through word of mouth. Right before the individual paroles out of prison, they contact us about getting enrolled into the program.”
Osbert says the program offers hope and a welcome hand up.
“A lot of the formerly incarcerated feel disconnected with their families due to the trauma of incarceration,” he said. “They feel that they have let their families down. We try to determine what directions they want to go and try to eliminate whatever particular obstacles and barriers they may face when they re-enter society.”
Christopher Johnson, 28, found himself incarcerated at Lancaster State Prison on a weapons charge.
“I was incarcerated at Lancaster for a year,” he said. When he was released, Johnson was sent to the Amity halfway house in Los Angeles where he met Osbert.
“We enrolled Johnson into the Dads Back program to regain his focus,” Osbert said. “At the completion of the program, I helped him prepare for his criminal case and he was able to receive probation rather than incarceration from the judge.”
Johnson said that the Dads Back program is a godsend.
“After receiving probation on the gun charge, I was able to stay home with my two children and my wife who was pregnant at the time,” Johnson said. He then enrolled in some of the programs offered by Dads Back.
“Dads Back helps you with money management issues such as the difference between credit and debit cards and recognizing the different bank systems,” he said. “They offer parenting classes and healthy relationship classes. They also help you to write your resume and also help you with interview questions.”
After completing the Dads Back Academy Fire program, Johnson has received his California driver’s license to drive and is currently interviewing for trucking jobs.
“Dads Back helps you to become a better father, husband and a better employee,” Johnson said. “You go from parole to payroll. And Osbert is great. He is a godsend. He won’t let me fail. He is a great man and everything about the program is amazing.
“Honestly, Dad’s Back Academy Fire is probably the best program out there right now for anyone who was previously incarcerated,” he added.
To reach Dad’s Back Academy Fire, call program manager Dajohnai Vincson at (323) 229-7228, or case manager Olewon Osbert at (626) 869-8947. The program itself is located at 711 E. Hyde Park Blvd. in Inglewood.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.