October 2, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Inmates display copies of their books.Inmates at the Grayson County Detention Center are learning to be better parents and are writing books for their children.

Joan Martin, Grayson County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, teaches the unique program. 

Joey Stanton, Grayson County jailer, said he is excited about the program.

“I understand that we are the only jail that has it and I would encourage other jailers within the state to go to their Extension service and get this program,” he said. “It helps the inmates prepare to get back home with their children, their wives. It is a good thing for us and I think all counties should participate in this kind of program.”

Martin is teaching the seven-week course along with Lucy Lucas from the county Head Start program. Gail Basham, detention center program coordinator, is the main contact there.

The idea of the program came about as a result of the Head Start director wanting to have some program in the detention center to improve parenting skills, Martin said. So, the Extension office was contacted and Martin said she thought the Keys to Great Parenting program could be adapted.

Last week, Martin was teaching the final section of the Keys to Great Parenting, a parenting curriculum written by UK College of Agriculture early childhood development specialist Carole Gnatuk.

Inmates display copies of their books.“We are trying to teach these young men, many of whom grew up in a home that did not have a father figure, how they can be fathers for their own children,” she said. “They are very enthusiastic and wanted to come to this class.”

One of the lessons that received the most interest is called Cuddle, Talk and Read, she said.

“They were so surprised to learn that talking to their child before it was even born could have an effect on them and how important it is to read to their newborns,” Martin said.

She expanded on that lesson to form an author’s program where the inmates write a book for their children. Some of them have illustrated the books themselves, while others called on someone else for the illustrations.

Hidden talents have emerged in some of the men.

“They are very creative and are as simple as ABC books to full stories,” Martin said.  “As I’ve looked over their books I’ve seen at least three that have good marketing potential. With a little improvement in illustrations and some of the writing, I believe we have some books that could be sold.”

For most of the men this was their first attempt at writing beyond a normal school assignment. Educational levels among the class participants range from some not completing high school to others with some college.

“It’s been a real challenge for them and they’ve accepted that challenge,” she said.

Basham, program coordinator, said the facility also offers GED and DUI classes, and anger management sessions.

“I guess what interests me is the excitement and the wanting to learn by the inmates,” she said. “Most of these guys are really so eager to learn.”

Basham said it has been exciting to watch the inmates learn.

“In the parenting classes, things that maybe Joan and I have known from raising children, for them their eyes are opened wide like a child at Christmas and they say ‘you are kidding, I should do this with my kid.’ It has been exciting to watch them,” she said.

This is the first year the program has been offered at the detention center with two sessions completed. Twelve inmates completed the first session and 15 the second.

Basham said their goal is to offer the seven-week parenting program three times a year with the class size limited to 20. To participate, an inmate must complete some other activities and be within six months of leaving the facility.

Antwan, an inmate and father of four, said he wanted to participate in the program because he did not think a person could be the best parent they can be without some information.

“I knew I had to do something to be a better parent for my kids so they can be better people in society and better people in the world,” he said. “ I loved the class.

There were a whole lot of things that I thought I knew that I didn’t know. It was amazing. The most interesting part is about childproofing your home and disciplining yourself and getting away from the situation and taking a period of time to calm down before disciplining your kids. Because you’ve got to be calm before disciplining your kids or it’s not going to work at all.”

Monte, a father of two, said he took the course because he is a new father with little experience.

“It’s been very interesting,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about how their brains develop and how they develop intellectually and socially and the way they can give you signals on what they want.”

He said he was ready to jump in and try his hand at being an author.

“I’d never done anything like that before but I was ready to try it,” he said. “It took me awhile to come up with a story, but I based it on some things I learned in my childhood and tried to take it from there.”

Monte’s book, The Smallest Dog With The Biggest Heart, is about a small dog that always gets picked on who becomes a hero after saving all the animals in the barn from a fire.

The men said they are eager to return home to try out some of their new parenting skills.


Joan Martin, (270) 259-3492