Des Moines, Iowa — Robert Pate says he was blessed with a basketball scholarship and a great education. But when he graduated from the University of Hawaii and moved back to Des Moines, he reverted back to some old, “not so great” behaviors.
“That’s when I started selling drugs. I eventually went to prison and spent 11 years for possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine.”
While he was locked up, the child support he owed for his four children piled up.
“The child support continued to accrue at about $300 a month.”
Paying it off seemed insurmountable. Pate says it’s one reason some convicted drug dealers start selling again.
“Unfortunately, that’s what happens to a lot of guys.”
Pate was determined it would not happen to him.
“The kryptonite of my life was selling drugs. So, I had to get past that when I was in prison. I knew I wasn’t going to turn back to that, no matter what.”
But he didn’t know how to navigate the child support system, and more importantly, how to reconnect with his kids.
“The Fatherhood Program helped me establish a relationship with the child support recovery unit in a whole new, different fashion,” says Pate. “Pastor Bell was a huge role model.”
Pastor Ben Bell, Jr. is the Director of the Fatherhood Program at the Grubb YMCA in Des Moines.
“One of the number one things that kids need is their father,” says Bell. “One of the things we’ve found is when you remove the father from the home, the children are 75 times more likely to get involved in social ills.”
Men enrolled in the Fatherhood Program meet in group setting sat the Grubb YMCA to talk about the challenges, barriers and responsibilities of being an active and engage father. The program brings mothers to the table too.
“Many times, the reason Mom and Dad aren’t communicating is because of the way the relationship ended,” says Bell. “So, we say, ‘Can we repair communication? Can we at least talk about our children? We don’t have to talk about us, but can we at least talk about our children?’”
Those conversations include providing for the children. One of the incentives of the class – graduates are forgiven a portion of the child supported owed, not to mothers, but to the State.
“What we have found is men who weren’t paying child support when they came to class, two years after they graduated, they are maintaining their child support,” says Bell. “And they’re maintaining the relationship.”
Pate is now paying it forward with his own program, called IMAGE. It’s an acronym for Inmate Movement Against Gang Evolution. The mission, according Pate is to help those who want to help themselves.
“First you have to be willing to change – in your head and in your heart. That’s the first step. I believe once you’ve made up your mind, everything will fall into place. It’s going to be a bumpy road, but it’ll fall into place.