Advocacy Corner: Jailhouse Religion and My Dad

Written by Amanda Cassidy, Reentry Advocacy Fellow

For a lot of little girls their dad is the first man they fall in love with. The first man who shows them what love looks like. Sometimes life can make this experience trying for some fathers and daughters. The story of me and my dad isn’t abnormal or unique but it’s significant for me in that the passion we share and the faith he has taught me has been a guiding force in my recovery.

Studies say that addiction and criminal behaviors are affected by a variety of things. Biologically, Psychologically and Socially. For most people who have substance abuse disorders, they don’t have to look far down their family tree to see a pattern and my family is no different. Both my maternal and paternal sides of the family have had generational addictions issues. There have also been extensive criminal behavior patterns. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, just like that old country song addiction has been a family tradition. For some addiction shows up in the compulsive use of alcohol or drugs, for others its behaviors. For my parents it was codependency and anger.

Growing up I learned what my parents had been taught when they were growing up, and what my grandparents had been taught when they were growing up. I was shown by example that love is painful, abusive, scary. That I love you came with raised hands and angry words. I learned the only way to be heard was through screaming and intimidation. “You can not get a gallon of water from a pint size container” my parents were teaching what they were taught. They could not possibly pour out more than they were given. These lessons I would carry with me for nearly 35 years.

Eventually my parents went separate ways. They both gained some different experiences, life lessons and began to work on themselves. Discovering healing through therapy and church. My mom found her passion in defending our country as a US Army medic in a combat zone in Iraq from 2003-2004 then coming home to work with abused and neglected minors. My mom is my hero. She will tell you that if she were to die today she would die fulfilled. To her she has accomplished all the dreams she had as a child, to be a mom, a soldier and to help other families.

My dad found healing in his faith. My father is a very devout Catholic and is an active member of this community. From regular mass attendance, to small group commitments. From teaching Catholic education to the children and youth of his home church, to being a long term committed member of the Prison Ministry. For about 10 years my dad regularly drove from far west San Antonio to the Connelly Unit to teach catholic education and life skills to groups of men labeled as the toughest of the tough. My dad also developed a Catholic Life Skills curriculum to be used in the Federal Bureau of Prisons systems. Through his work he has built a network of relationships and shown me that with faith, connection, and hard work the impossible is possible.

Road trips with my dad have always been memorable to say the least. Growing up both my parents were in the Army so traveling and moving was done by car as often as possible. If dad said we were going on an adventure, we would surely find a gravel road and be lost before we made it home. When I was released July 23rd, 2019, my dad picked me up from Gatesville. There was a lot of confusion on where I needed to go and in Cassidy tradition we headed north only to find out an hour later we really needed to go south. Now 3 years later I am going back to prison with my dad. This time I will be a part of the prison ministry team for the Kolbe Prison Ministry Annual Conference in Beaumont TX. Building on new traditions and behaviors with my dad. Learning what love in service to others looks like. Probably getting lost along the way, but definitely getting to the destination eventually. Spending some much needed and long overdue time with the man who will give me away in just a few short days. To some he is Frank, to others he is Mr. Cassidy, to a few He was “Top” or 1Sgt. But to me he’s my dad. It’s not always been the easiest relationship to have for I am the very best and worst of him and my mother combined. But these days are more good than bad. And it is our shared faith and passion that strengthens our bond.

For more information on the work my dad is doing for our community members who are currently enduring the carceral systems check out Brave Resources For Life:

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The Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable is collaborative promoting safe and healthy communities through effective reentry and reintegration of formerly incarcerated persons and individuals with criminal histories in Austin/Travis County, Texas.

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