By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
By Kelsey McClure
By Lindsay Toler
For Craig Ransom, the program has meant an enhanced relationship with Taronda -- nicknamed C.J.-- whom he calls "the most important thing in my life." Like most of the guys in the program, Ransom heard about FSC through word of mouth: His uncle had gone through the previous six-week session and recommended the experience.
Ransom was fresh out of the penitentiary after serving 10 years of a 19-year sentence for attempted murder. "I was selling drugs and stuff," admits the affable Ransom, looking nothing these days like a depraved felon. "I didn't have no kids then -- just my girlfriend, and she was pregnant. I thought that dealing would make a better life for me and her. I wasn't even thinking about getting caught. I thought I was invincible.
"And I wasn't out of prison but three days when I looked around and realized I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go." He was, at first, "lukewarm about the fatherhood class, but once I got to orientation and heard them talking positive, I thought I wanted to be a part of that. I knew what kind of father I wanted to be to my daughter; problem was, I didn't really know how to be a father."
Ransom is precisely the sort of person the program would like to help: someone who has come from a disadvantaged background, who has screwed up -- really screwed up, in Ransom's case -- knows he has screwed up and at last is ready to make a positive change across the board.
Craig Ransom is even more motivated than the typical estranged dad who shows up on the second floor of the Guardian Angel Settlement building on South 14th Street. He's got to go straight to please not just himself, his daughter or Halbert Sullivan but also his probation officer. And it is hard, man, hard as the mattress of a jailhouse bunk bed. "It took me going to jail to realize there ain't nothing gonna be given you, and it ain't easy," he says. "I could have gone to college, but I chose the streets. Now, I've really got to walk a thin line. I can't be out there acting a fool, getting stopped by police, because it only takes a split second to get you into trouble, but it takes a whole lot of time to get you out of trouble. And I can't leave her (Taronda) no more. I know that now."
Being in the fatherhood class, he says, is the best choice he's made in years. "It helped me tighten up my parenting skills," he says in a voice low and sleepy, sort of like a growl. "It helped me learn how to discipline her when she needs it and how to talk to her about issues that in the past would've been difficult. And, really, it helped to settle down. Just out of the joint, I would've liked to be in the clubs half the night, but now every weekend it's my time with my daughter, and we can go do things, have fun. I take her to the museum, the show. I can tell I'm a good influence, and that's good, that makes your child better. And just the fact that I'm there for her -- because I wasn't there for her for most of her life. She was born while I was in jail."
The Ransoms grew up against a backdrop of poverty and strong family ties. "That was a rough neighborhood," he says, referring to the crack-weary streets of the mid-1980s, in the vicinity of Fairgrounds Park on the city's North Side, "but we pulled together and we survived. Mom made sure we had necessities, but the things that you wanted, that wasn't always in the picture." The two-family flat at Kossuth and Harris avenues was occupied by Mom, Grandma, siblings, aunts and an uncle. Dad, however, was not in the picture. "I don't know where he went," says Craig. "When I was 12 or 13, I met him for the first time, and he started doing little things for me. He bought me my first car, but he wasn't ever really there."
Were it not for Craig's family, Taronda would have endured the same fatherless fate. Fortunately, even though incarcerated, he was able to see his daughter regularly. Some combination of his mother, grandmother and brother would bring her to the correctional facility, where they could sit in a bare, open room and carry on a near-normal conversation under the watchful eye of the guards. Those times kept him going, and though Taronda's mother, Yvonne Williams, never chose to visit, Craig passes it off: "She was doing her own thing," he rumbles. "I was doing mine."
Craig's younger brother and roommate, Ronald, noncustodial father of two children, has also done time for criminal activity, receiving stolen goods, but as far as he is concerned, all that is over his shoulder. He is off probation, finished with his GED (high-school-equivalency certificate) and enthusiastic about his stint at the Fathers' Support Center. At 26, Ronald is more than ready for a new start, and, in fact, things were looking up for the Ransom brothers back in January. Through the center's connections, both had secured work at Universal Printing for $8.68 per hour.