CADIZ, Ohio -- Since 1999, Joseph Maiorano has talked about parenting with more than 600 fathers. They're not quite a captive audience -- but they're close. Maiorano's "Fit 2B Fathers" classes are held exclusively at the Eastern Ohio Correction Facility.
The center is a community-based correctional facility that provides an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders.
"The majority of these guys have just made some bad choices," said Maiorano, family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. "A lot of people are brought up in dysfunctional families. But for these guys, incarceration is almost a rite of passage. For them, they just make bad choices until they run into a wall and decide something has to be different. These guys are ripe for change -- so I come in and say, 'You can change.'"
Maiorano created Fit 2B Fathers as a Master's student in the late 1990s. He cast it as a more of a club than a course, primarily to reduce any stigma the inmates might have about attending traditional parenting classes. He soon joined OSU Extension as an educator and immediately started putting the program into practice, expanding the curriculum along the way.
The 17-session program, complete with background, handouts, PowerPoint presentations, presenter notes and graduation certificates, is available on CD for $350 through OSU Extension's eStore, http://estore.osu-extension.org/.
"Incarcerating a person is really expensive," Maiorano said. "For whatever it costs for the curriculum and someone to teach it, the investment is going to pay off."
After participating in the Fit 2B Fathers club, participants not only have a greater understanding of key parenting concepts, but they feel more positive about themselves and more in control of their lives.
But the real impact is crystal clear to Maiorano when he runs into former participants with their children in the grocery store in Cadiz, or when he gets an e-mail that includes messages like these:
- "My family and I are better then ever, thanks in part to your Fit 2B Fathers. My kids are in heaven. … My youngest whom I'm with every day is learning so fast, thanks to the advice and knowledge I gained from your program."
- "Your knowledge and experience at what you do has provided me with the tools and ability to be much more than just a good father. You taught me that there are more things to life than the vicious cycle of incarceration."
The topics covered in Fit 2B Fathers often surprise the participants. They include finding and keeping a job; keeping a budget and managing money; understanding and managing anger; reducing stress and balancing work and family; and living a healthy lifestyle.
"A lot of times, one of the guys will start the class by asking, 'What does this have to do with being a father?' And I'd tell him, 'How do you discipline your children if you have problems disciplining yourself?' My theory is that fatherhood goes from the inside out," Maiorano said. "The better I manage my anger, my money, my career-seeking, the better I can work on relationships and communication skills, and the better I have a foundation with which I can guide my children."
Maiorano has two overarching goals for Fit 2B Fathers: One is to help the men involved become better fathers and better citizens. The other involves their children's future.
"If a child has a parent with a criminal record, they are more likely to acquire a criminal record themselves," he said. "If we can break that cycle, we can do a world of good. Incarcerating a person is really expensive. My goal is to make sure this program will pay off for the father, for their family, and for their community, too."
In an evaluation of Fit 2B Fathers, Maiorano found that participants who completed the program:
- Felt better about themselves.
- Felt in control of their lives.
- Better understood effective child discipline practices.
- Recognized play as an important way for children to learn.
- Recognized the importance of giving children choices.
The Fit 2B Fathers curriculum has been sold in several states, including Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia. Maiorano hopes it catches on in as many facilities as possible.
"Guys have to know that they're really needed by their kids," Maiorano said. "They aren't just necessary for making the child. They are necessary for the child's positive growth and development."
For more information on Fit 2B Fathers, contact Maiorano at email@example.com or 740-264-2212.