Jonathan Smith on What I Learned Serving 15 Years in Prison as a Father

Jonathan Smith and his wife

As a young father, I didn’t realize that a single decision would cost me moments that I would spend a lifetime trying to get back.

I ended up serving 15 years of a 25-year sentence for my wrong choice. Being behind bars was painful for many reasons, but nothing compared to the regret of being separated from my children — a misery made worse around Father’s Day.

While I was locked up, I missed my oldest daughter’s first day of school. I missed my son being born. I wasn’t there to hold my youngest daughter when she suffered severe burns or was bullied. I missed so many things that mattered.

During my incarceration, I was determined to become the man and father my family need. And I did, thanks in large part to the Prison Fellowship Academy® at the Carol S. Vance Unit near Houston, where I learned about parenting, how to be a man, and how to work through relational issues. Access to programs like these is critical for those who want to change.

Jonathan Smith and his kids

I can’t get back the moments I missed, but today, by the grace of God, I’ve been released, and I still have relationships with my children. I have a stable job, a loving wife, and a positive outlook. Incarceration will always be part of my story, but together we are moving into a new future.

But many families are still in the situation we faced. Nearly 1 in 28 American children —most of them under the age of 10 — have a parent in prison right now. These kids feel the impact of the criminal justice system in countless ways, big and small: fewer financial resources for food and other needs, change in living circumstances, social pressure and stigma, time away from a parent, and more.

Even after a parent is released, the effects of the criminal justice system linger. When I was released the day before Thanksgiving in 2017, I was ready to make the most of that second chance. But parole felt like a false start.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jonathan Smith