MANSFIELD — Bernard Croom, 50, is eager to accept opportunities to better himself.
Even while serving 25 years in prison, the Mansfield resident has involved himself in different positive programs, recovery services and inmate groups.
“Anything that the institutions had to offer me to better myself as a person and a law-abiding citizen I was involved with,” he said.
When he learned about Creating Lasting Family Connections — a program offered by Mansfield UMADAOP aimed at increasing skills that parents find useful in family reunification who may be in recovery for substance abuse or who may be currently incarcerated or reentering the community after a period of incarceration — he didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“This was a program that assisted me with developing a positive relationship, not only with my son, but with my family,” said Croom, who took the program last August, not long after his release from prison.
“Twenty-five years is a long time, so having done that time and coming back into society, you have to build your communication skills, you have to look at things differently than you did while you were in prison,” he said.
Using evidence-based curriculum, the CLFC program contains three modules: "Raising Resilient Youth," "Getting Real," and "Developing Positive Parental Influences," according to Artise Anderson, reentry coordinator and treatment counselor at Mansfield UMADAOP.
Sessions, which last two hours, take place in group settings and include lessons on sharpening parenting skills, developing a greater sense of self-awareness and awareness of others, coping with past traumas, addressing the disease of addiction, and much more. Participants also engage in role-playing scenarios.
“One of the things that I really, really appreciated about the program is it allowed me to focus on myself, as well as my addiction,” Croom said. “I realized through this program that I used drugs for one of two reasons: to create or to destroy a feeling.”
The 16-week program is offered both pre- and post-release from incarceration. In order to be eligible, participants must be within one to two years of completing their sentence.
Croom said he’ll be the first to admit that his family relationships were dysfunctional.
“When I came into this program, it allowed me to focus on healthy issues with my family knowing I could communicate in a positive manner,” he said. “Instead of telling somebody something, I request things now, I suggest things now. It’s been a real help with that.”
He said he’s also learned to practice cognitive thinking, or thinking things through thoroughly.
“I’ve also learned through this program that ‘no’ is a complete sentence,” he said with a laugh.
Change is the price for progress, he said.
“I learned throughout the years that in order to better yourself you must change yourself and your way of thinking — you’ve got to look at things in a productive way,” he said.
“If an individual wants to take the Creating Lasting Family Connections, they will get something out of it in a constructive, positive way,” he said. “It’s all about building and not tearing down.
“Building family is a must in our communities today.”
Statewide launch of CLFC
Toward the end of 2015, officials from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Office of Prevention and Wellness initiated a statewide rollout of the Creating Lasting Family Connections Curriculum Series as the focal point of their Children of Incarcerated Parents (COIP) project, according to the COPES website.
“The overarching goal of COIP is to mobilize service systems throughout the state to build resiliency, develop resistance skills for substance use and address trauma in children of incarcerated parents and their families using the CLFC Curriculum Series,” the COPES website states.
The CLFC implementation grant was awarded to the Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program (UMADAOP), a federation of 11 agencies across Ohio, with Mansfield UMADAOP playing an integral role in implementing this program statewide and locally.
According to the COPES website, the federation brings together 11 UMADAOP programs, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ORDC) and other state and regional partners to fulfill the goals of the statewide project.
University of Ohio evaluators from the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs collaborate with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) and are conducting research on the project.
Representatives from OhioMHAS, UMADAOP, SheRay’s, Ohio University, PIRE, COPES, Resilient Futures Network (RFN) and other interested organizations make up the Ohio statewide coordinating committee.
Anderson said there are approximately 180 individuals statewide who have received training on CLFC.
Locally, CLFC has been implemented at Richland Correctional Institution and Mansfield Correctional Institution (both are male prisons).
Many participants have gone onto get treatment and additional help after completing the program, as well as obtain employment, Anderson said.
There’s no cost to participate.
“This program is available to anyone in the community who’s a parent, especially those who are trying to restore their families,” Anderson said.
And at the end of the day, restoring and reunifying families is what it’s all about.
“A lot of times we see a divided community, and a divided community doesn't have the resources necessary for healing, so the community we’re living in needs healing,” Anderson said.
“Children are growing up without families intact, so this program fosters the reunification of families and it nurtures the healing of the community as a whole."
Focus on youth
Earlier this year, UMADAOP launched a program (under the umbrella of CLFC) specifically geared toward youth, ages 16-18, in partnership with Oasis Charities at Mansfield IMAC.
As part of this 16-week program, youth are engaged in sessions on how to handle peer pressure, how to engage in their own healing from past traumas, developing independence and responsibility, fostering resiliency, reconnecting with their families, building leadership, among other practical tools and information.
Participants meet in a group setting.
Tim Harless, director of programming and community outreach at Richland County Children Services, knows the value of providing families with resources that can aid in supporting healthy familial bonds.
Harless, who started his career with children services 29 years ago, used to run a “daddy bootcamp” for new dads and said earlier this month he plans to get trained in CLFC.
"I've got four boys of my own, and I know the importance of being there and how important it is for dads to be part of their kids' lives," he said.
“In child welfare, especially, we study kids that have active fathers in their lives -- they have far less involvement with the juvenile justice system, they do better academically, and they’re more likely to be positive adults as they grow into adulthood with a father figure in their life."