The Faculty of Theology helping imprisoned fathers reach their potential
It took a moment for Dr Fazel Freeks to comprehend what he was hearing. Aghast at first, the images that formed from the convict’s depiction about the deed that lead to his incarceration made him think about his family. Freeks thought of his youngest daughter as he listened to the candid, vivid description about the act this person did to a young, innocent other.
“It is sometimes difficult, but you have to realise that they are also people who was made by God and although I’ll never condone what they did it is my task to reach out to them. There is so much hate and anger in this world and it is so difficult to forgive,” says Dr Fazel Freeks from the North-West University’s Faculty of Theology.
Freeks heads the Prison Ministry Project where inmates from Potchefstroom Correctional Services are given counselling on how to be responsible fathers. The programme started in 2015 as Freeks felt it was imperative for him and the faculty to extend their already long reach into the community even further. He contacted FAMSA (Family South Africa) and the Department of Correctional Services and now number between 400 and 500 prisoners receive counselling yearly.
“Our main purpose is to help absentee fathers get back to their families,” says Freeks.
“We also try our best to discourage wrong, irresponsible behaviour and association with the wrong friends. What we want to encourage is for them to make quality decisions and the Faculty of Theology wants to walk this path with them. The Faculty of Theology wants to maintain a mentorship role long after they have been released. This is also part of our responsibility,” he explains.
It is a domino effect. The better fathers the prisoners are to their children, the better not only for their families, but for society as a whole. It is the first step in what Freeks hope wil be a programme that continues to grow.
“Not enough studies have been done to examine the role of fathers. I grew up without parents and I never had a father. I had mentors and foster parents, but it was God who shaped my life and it was through Him that I came to realise the important role that a father plays. God wants families to be healthy and He wants he father to teach his children the right values.”
According to Freeks one of the most important lessons a prisoner can learn is that the stigma of being a prisoner can be overcome and it should not hinder them in becoming responsible fathers.
“They have to forgive themselves, so they can overcome their past. After they go on parole I tell them that they have to ask for forgiveness no matter how difficult it is and no matter if no one wants to hear it.”
They also need to be taught what it means to be a father.
“So many of the inmates really don’t know what it entails to be a father and they especially don’t know what it means to be an involved father. You cannot claim to be a father because you have many children and some of these prisoners have six, ten to 12 children with different women. They are not accountable. Being a father means more than just giving financial support. You have to spend time with them, you have to care for them by imparting ideas to them. Like the children say: ‘We want his presence, not his presents’.”
Freeks is the author of numerous popular books including Dad & God, Dad, be the father God called you to be and Dad is Destiny.
Dr Fazel Freeks and students from the Faculty of Theology