- Associated Press - Sunday, December 11, 2016

CARLISLE, Ind. (AP) - David and Tonia Whaley and their twin, 13-year-old sons, David and Thomas, spent some quality time together Dec. 4, playing games, making crafts and enjoying a holiday meal.

Red-headed David doesn’t get to see his dad every day and the visits mean a lot to him. His dad is just as elated by their time together.

While the activities sound like something any family might do, in this case - it’s not the norm. The elder David Whaley is serving a lengthy prison sentence at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, where he participates in the Fatherhood Program, which hosted the Christmas-themed event.

The Whaleys joined several other inmates and families in the celebration.

“It’s amazing to have my family here,” said the elder David Whaley, 37. “It gives me another opportunity to interact and be a part of my kids’ life.” He sees them once a month through the Fatherhood program, where they get to spend one-on-one time together, in addition to every two weeks on regular visits.

“The Fatherhood program allows you the opportunity to visit with your children outside of the regular population … it’s just us four in a room,” Whaley said. They are able to play games during that time.

Tonia said her son, David, “loves to come see his dad. If I wouldn’t bring him, he probably wouldn’t speak with me.” Thomas, who has autism, does much better when the family can visit privately, as opposed to larger-group settings.

Enabling her sons to have a relationship with their dad “is very important,” she said.

David Whaley senior, who’s been in prison for the past 11 years, won’t be able to get out before 2032, he said.

Being involved in the Fatherhood Program “makes a world of difference - being able to have my children and my family come see me and that they still allow me to be part of their lives. It means a lot to me,” he said. “They are my hope for becoming a better person in here as well as once I get out.”

A similar Christmas party took place Dec. 3 for inmates in the minimum security part of the facility. More than 130 children and 68 dads were expected to participate in the 10th annual Winter Carnival hosted by the Fatherhood Program.

A strong family foundation is one of the keys to re-entry success for offenders, said Breanna Trimble, WVCF community services director. “Children need to know that even though their father made poor decisions, he loves them very much, is making positive lifestyle changes and wants to spend quality time with them during this most special time of the year.”

Inmates in the program must first participate in a 12-week course taught by volunteers. “They learn how to be a better parent, father and caregiver,” Trimble said. Once they graduate, they are able to participate in three parties each year that brings the families together and they also have the more private, two-hour monthly visits.

Inmates must have good conduct, she said. “If there are any conduct issues, they can’t come to the parties or have the special visits,” she said.

Also enjoying the Dec. 4 celebration was Anthony Tinnin, who spent time with Anthony Jr., age 2, Ashton, 8 months, and Brailee, age 5. His fiancee, Shanee Williams, brought the children; they have a blended family.

Being with the children “means the world to me,” Anthony Tinnin said. “I miss them all the time. I’m ready to get home and see them.” He just graduated from the Fatherhood Program.

Tinnin, serving time for having a firearm without a license, expects to be released in May. He said it’s hard to be away from his family and wanted to participate in the Fatherhood Program “to be a better father and learn more about my kids.”

Williams said the family tries to come every two weeks as part of regular prison visits, but “it feels good they do have this program available,” she said. Inmates “learn a lot of things as far as with parenting.”

She believes the program has helped Anthony Sr. learn how to better “talk with his children and do things with them. He was always a good father,” even before his incarceration, she said. “He was a provider and protector and played with them.”

The children who attended the Dec. 4 party left with goody bags, and the offenders made a lot of the items in the bags. The inmates also raise all the funds to make the program possible.

The WVCF Fatherhood Program is active year-round with in-house fundraisers that help fund local, children-oriented community projects. So far this year, Fatherhood participants have donated nearly $12,000 to area community organizations.


Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/2g7Kb6i


Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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