My Voice Matters: Think about the future
Hearing him talk about his love of the Dallas Cowboys, Boston Red Sox and daughter, Anthony Accardi sounds like a typical father. But Anthony is not a typical father – he’s actually an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord.
Anthony had good childhood. He speaks fondly of growing up with a single mother and going on camping trips each summer with his family. In his teens, Anthony turned to drugs and alcohol and became transient, leading to an altercation that resulted in the death of another man.
“My mind frame is to become a good father, a good person, before I get out of here, and this place was the best place to achieve that.”
“If I were to meet my daughter today, would she be proud to call me her father?” Anthony asked himself. “At that point, it was absolute no. So that’s where I started to focus on bettering myself.”
It was from there that Anthony started his path to becoming a better father. He participated in the Alternatives to Violence Project, anger management classes and mental health programs. When Anthony was transferred to the NH State Prison, he jumped on the opportunity to join the Family Connections Center (FCC), a family resource center located at all three of New Hampshire’s state prisons, where he attends classes for healthy relationships and parenting and participates in support groups.
“My mind frame is to become a good father, a good person, before I get out of here,” Anthony said, “and this place was the best place to achieve that.”
Before his prison sentence, Anthony spent years searching for his daughter, Kayla*, but kept hitting roadblocks. Many people don’t realize that incarceration does not mean an automatic loss of parental rights. Parents in prison still have legal rights regarding decisions that affect their child’s education, health and well-being.
When Anthony did reconnect with his daughter’s mother in 2009, she was helpful in having him transferred to NH, but reluctant to let Anthony become a part of Kayla’s life. This is when Anthony began to advocate for himself and his daughter.
“My daughter has the right for me to be in her life,” Anthony said. “That’s the main message I was getting. It’s not my choice; it’s her choice. And if she doesn’t want me in her life, then I have to respect that, but give her the chance. Give her the choice.”
With the help of the FCC, Anthony pursued legal action to help him connect with his daughter. Kayla learned about her biological father was when she was 14, and the court decided she was old enough to make her own decisions regarding contact with her father.
“Right after she found out, she wanted to come up and visit,” Anthony said. “At the end she gave me a hug, and it broke my heart. Not only did I love the fact that she was in my life at that point, but it put into realization that I wasn’t there for her.”
But now Anthony is there for her. Kayla has visited her father twice in the last three years, and the two stay in contact as much as possible.
Anthony beams with pride when he talks about his daughter. He describes Kayla, now 17, as an advocate in her own right. She has taken part in anti-bullying efforts and works hard to be supportive of peers who are struggling with issues such as self-harm and depression.
“Just giving her advice and being there for her and listening to her, she says it made a huge difference in her life.”
Over the years, Anthony has leaned on the support of the FCC’s staff and the other fathers who take part in the programs to learn more about his legal rights, develop his parenting skills and maintain a close connection to his daughter.
“If it wasn’t for FCC, the parenting class and the support groups, I probably would’ve quit,” Anthony said.
After taking part in the Family Connections Center for four years, Anthony has become an advocate for its programs within the prison. He speaks highly of the programs and actively recommends the FCC to other dads at the prison.
“Why wouldn’t you take the resources that are available to you right now?” Anthony said. “Get in that mindset of bettering yourself for your child.”
Anthony spent years thinking his voice didn’t matter, but that changed when he started participating in programs at the Family Connections Center. Now, Anthony knows his voice matters, not just because of his success in connecting with his daughter, but also because she reminds him often.
“Just giving her advice and being there for her and listening to her, she says it made a huge difference in her life,” Anthony said.
In three years, Kayla will be 20 and Anthony’s sentence will be over. Kayla has started a bucket list of things for them to do together, including camping, visiting haunted houses across the US, skydiving and going to amusement parks. Although Kayla will be an adult, Anthony sees importance in continuing to learn about parenting and being a caregiver.
“I’m not just going to stop in here,” Anthony said. “I’m going to do the same thing on the streets if I can find programs that can help me learn more. Eventually my daughter may have kids and I may be a grandfather. I never raised a child, so I have to learn how to be there for a child as well.”
When it comes to advice for other parents, Anthony highlights how important it is to stop dwelling on the past and to take advantage of the opportunities you are afforded. All parents have lessons to teach their children.
“Think about the future,” Anthony said. “Think about what you can do to not only better yourself as a person but to aid in your child’s development, so that they don’t make the mistake that you made.”
*Pseudonym has been used for the family's privacy.
The Family Connections Center is a family support program that was created within the NH Department of Corrections in 1998. Today, the program operates in all three NH State Prisons. The mission of the Family Connections Center is to strengthen the connection between incarcerated parents and their families while facilitating ties to their communities through education and support. The FCC is an educational support for incarcerated parents, their children and their children’s caregivers. The FCC creates opportunities for healthy parent-children interactions.
Join our campaign to provide Granite State parents the knowledge and resources they need to advocate for their families and children. Visit MyVoiceMattersNH.org for more information.
Do you have a story about using your voice to stick up for your children? Email Marissa St. Laurent at [email protected] with your story!