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Georgie Brown Fuels Her Passion by Teaching Family Skills

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

By Robert Johnson Department of Corrections
Georgie Brown instructs at prison facility

Strength in Families Coach Georgie Brown offers instruction to an incarcerated person during a class at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.(Photo courtesy of DOC Staff)

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Georgie Brown walks the room in a casual manner, speaking in a way that demands respect but also shows compassion. She moves back and forth easily, engaging with each of the six men as she offers instruction and advice as they let their guard down and discuss their childhoods and how they plan to be better parents.

And every so often one of the men steals a peek at a table filled with stuffed teddy bears.

This is the sixth week of the Strength in Families class at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC), and it’s a milestone. Toward the end of the class each attendee will trade in the egg they have cared for and adopt a bear. They are expected to care for that bear as they would their own children. That means never leaving it unattended, arranging care for when they go to work and even monitoring the environment around the bear to protect it from inappropriate behavior.

“You are to provide loving, consistent care like you would for a child,” Brown said. “If you wouldn’t want your child to see or hear it, don’t expose your bear to it.”

Bear care is one aspect of the 12-week class, but the primary objective is to help participants understand the how they were parented, use the positive, eliminate the negative and communicate effectively.

“You see it over and over: How you communicate is how the kids are going to communicate,” Brown told the class. “They will be people who feel good about their emotions and are confident in themselves.”

Strength in Families uses curriculum from Parenting Inside Out, an evidence-base model and Walking the Line, meant to improve relationships and communication skills. Incarcerated men who are fathers or father figures apply to get in and receive wraparound services from a case manager for six months after release. It launched in 2016 and is taught at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC), Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), Larch Corrections Center (LCC) and the Washington Corrections Center (WCC).

“They’re in here voluntarily,” Program Manager Darin Goff said. “They could do a lot of other things with their time. They’re choosing their families.”

Brown has taught the course for four and a half years and blends a style of encouragement and no-nonsense. She is quick with comebacks and pushes each member of the class to do more than the minimum when it comes to answering questions about things like the love they received as a child and how they learned the meaning of family.

A worksheet titled Legacy Backpack asks participants to answer 17 questions about their childhood including whether they felt loved, if someone played or read to them and if they learned to trust people.

“It’s like a backpack, and they have to go back and unpack those things,” Brown said. “What are they going to unpack with their family legacy that they are emotionally passing on to their kids? These are lessons they can teach their children that they might have missed out on in their childhood.

“This lesson is not so much about you focusing on what you missed out on, but what you can bring forward into the house for your kids and unpack some of those family legacies that were probably not as good.”

All of the participants said they were eager to get in the program and have benefited from what they have learned.

“This class has helped open my eyes to how selfish I was being as a person — in general in life and as a father,” one participant said. “It’s taught me tools that I can use to build a better relationship with my kids while being incarcerated.”

Goff credits Brown and Loretta Adams, the case manager who works with participants during their incarceration and after their release, with developing an atmosphere that helps each participant skills that are valuable and applicable beyond parenting.

“I learn something all the time from our coaches in our regular meetings from what they convey in the curriculum,” Goff told the class. “Even if I’ve heard it before I’ll pick something else up.”

The lessons aren’t only for when the participants are back with their families, however. Each participant said they have found opportunities to apply what they have learned during phone calls home and while interacting with others.

“We had this lesson called the Conversation Plan, and I actually called my wife and used it and we’re cool right now. Real cool,” one participant said. “It actually works. I was scared to do it, but it actually works.”