After prison, a man learns to be a father

Today’s must-read suggestion comes from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, which puts a human face on an issue people would just soon ignore: men getting out of prison.

Greg Bell, of Sioux Falls now, was a meth dealer when he was busted and sent to federal prison for 11 years.

He survived prison, but he’s finding his biggest challenge has been getting back into the life of his now 12-year-old daughter. She was accustomed to seeing him behind bars.

“I know it’ll take time,” Bell says.

When he told her he loved her while giving her a hug recently, she said, “I know.”

His family never wrote him off when he went to prison. His mom was a frequent visitor.

She died in March, but lived just long enough to see her son get his freedom.

There are saints who walk among us who try to help men like Bell, helping them navigate the transition from incarceration to freedom.

A lot of things change in 11 years. Bell has to stop at the cellphone store often for help learning how to use his smartphone.

Lutheran Social Services’ Fatherhood and Re-entry program helped him get a job as a fork-lift operator but it didn’t last long. Another employee went to HR after the two had an argument.

“In prison, we didn’t go to the authorities if we had a problem, but I need to break away from that mentality,” Bell tells the Argus Leader. “They don’t teach you HR in prison.”

He wanted to be involved in his daughter’s life. He expected too much.

“I didn’t have much patience, because I wanted that instant gratification. I wanted my baby,” Bell says. “I wanted that love with a father and his daughter, that bond. They told me to be patient. It didn’t happen right away.”

“I didn’t have any idea what it meant to be a father,” he says. “I’m trying to be better with my kids.”

“I want my daughter to know I am there for her always,” says Bell. “It’s more than buying her things and providing for her financially. It’s about making sure she knows she’s cared for. I wish she’d come over and spend time with me.”

Maybe on Sunday. Father’s Day.

  • Leroy

    This circles back to that recent forgiveness post. All to often we are willing to condemn someone for perpetuity due to their actions, forgetting that just like the rest of us, they are people too with hopes and dreams.

    I hope he is able to figure it out.

  • RBHolb

    The part that is overlooked in the debate on crime and punishment is that the vast majority of those who are convicted will, eventually, be set free again. Those people will have to readjust to society, or make that adjustment for the first time. As sentences get longer and longer, that adjustment becomes increasingly difficult. After spending years confined in a place where normal rules don’t apply, coming out and learning even the smallest thing is going to be a burden. It isn’t just a burden for the released–it’s a burden on all of us, as we have to deal with the consequences of someone who, say, resolves disputes with violence instead of going to a supervisor.

    Penologists say that any rehabilitative effect of a prison sentence peaks at five years. After that, the sentence becomes more about the civic ritual of retribution, and less about correction. Longer prison sentences for criminals (or, more accurately, people convicted of committing criminal acts) may be satisfying on some level, but they aren’t much help to society.