Currently I’m in the Challenge Program, a modified therapeutic community that addresses drug and criminal thinking errors, here at USP Canaan. One of the requirements is actively participating with presenting personal seminars that are given on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after our initial morning meetings.
It’s difficult to stand up in front of roughly 100 fellow individuals and share intimate details of your life, especially in this environment of a level 7 maximum security penitentiary. The super tough ego persona is on steroids with a majority of the population, and although it’s toned down a few degrees in this “program unit”, the under current of the ‘convict code’ still has a vital presence.
So I understood why after handing in my brief summary for my first seminar to the treatment specialist for approval, I was called into her office because she has some concerns.
“Mr. Wright, you’re choosing to do your seminar on open-mindedness,” said Mrs. Cook, who’s about 4’8 in height, with short cropped blond hair and tattoos from her hands running up both arms with artwork representing a Buddhist types of philosophy, “and you struggled with open-mindedness when it pertained to accepting that your son is gay.”
I nodded my head as she continued, “I think the topic is great. I’m just concerned about,” she took a two second pause to find the right words, “your delivery because I don’t want you offending certain people,” she explained with raised eyebrows.
Of course I knew she was alluding to the homosexual activities that are prevalent in prison. “You don’t have to worry about anything Mrs. Cook,” I assured her, “I know to keep the discussion on me with ‘I statements’.”
“But are you sure you’re comfortable revealing that your son is gay? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s honorable and courageous and you would think grown men would be able to…”
“Listen, Mrs. Cook,” I injected, “I know how to speak about this topic without offending anyone. I’m not ashamed of having a gay son. I published a memoir about our relationship. Trust me on this, you have nothing to worry about.”
She gave an elongated blink and slowly said “All right Wright,” as I turned and walked out of her office.
The fact that the treatment specialist felt she had to discuss her concerns with me revealing that I have a gay son was confirmation of how important bringing this taboo topic to light is. Fathers accepting and loving unconditionally their sons or daughters who are in the LGBTQ plus community is a critical element of being a good parent.
A fathers recognition of acceptance forms and shapes how the child values themselves. Being valued is essential to a child’s healthy mental growth and development. So I was invigorated approaching the microphone as this would be my first time speaking to an audience about how I became open-minded with accepting my son.
I can confidently say you really can’t get a tougher crowd then individuals with double digit football numbers and multiple life sentences.
When I spoke, I admitted that at times it was as if my son was raising me. Although it was a struggle, he taught me, sometimes forcing me to be open-minded and learn to truly love unconditionally.
When I finished my seminar, the process is to ask for ‘feed back’ from at least 3 members of the audience. More than 7 people quickly stood up and shared various experiences of family members and friends. But it was later that day when a few different fathers approached me privately with concerns about how they should navigate their relationships with their gay sons.
I acknowledged their fears and concerns while bringing to light that the issue isn’t that their child lives a LGBTQ plus lifestyle, the real question they must ask themselves is what type of fathers are they choosing to be?