Fatherhood, addiction and imprisonment

Danai Rafti (1) & Charalampos Poulopoulos (2)


(1) MSc, Psychologist at KETHEA, e-mail: rafti@kethea-ariadni.gr.

(2) Professor of Social Work, Department of Social Administration and Political Science, Democritus University of Thrace, e-mail: chpoulo@socadm.duth.gr


The current study investigates the experience of fatherhood in conditions of drug addiction and imprisonment. It aims to examine the way that imprisoned fathers or ex-prisoners under addiction treatment describe the experience of fatherhood: How they define it, how they experience the transition to the paternal function since the pregnancy news, during pregnancy and how they experience the first contact with their child and the changes brought about by birth. In addition, this thesis studies how addiction affects and shapes the paternal function. Paternity is being approached in relation to the past, whereas participants are asked to describe the relationship with their father, as well as in relation to the future, as they are given the opportunity to envisage what legacy they would like themselves to leave to their children. Furthermore, object of the interviews is the way participants deal with incarceration and drug addiction, as participants describe how they have explained their absence from the lives of their children during their detention, how they have incorporated in their biography the experience of substance abuse and incarceration, what they choose to reveal to their children and how they imagine handling the possibility of substance use by their children. Finally, the prospect of connection between the incarcerated father and his child is being studied, as well as the possibility of exploitation of paternity parameter in the therapeutic process of rehabilitation.

In order to study the above, qualitative methodology was used and the processing and analysis of data was done according to the content analysis. A total of 11 in-depth interviews were carried out with members of the treatment programme KETHEA, 7 of them were carried out inside the prisons and the 4 with members of the programme who had the experience of imprisonment.

Fatherhood is a central feature of the identity of participants, which they are trying to preserve in conditions of substance abuse and incarceration. The paternal identity is being reconstructed in the course of participants treatment and enhances the formation of a new “clean” identity. Responsibility, mental pain, guilt, absence, the need to refill the gap and the fear of imitation are the main emotions that accompany the experience of fatherhood. The maternal gatekeeping of the relationship between the imprisoned father and his child and the need for child’s protection through the recounting of personal experience with substance use and delinquency are highlighted in the discourse of participants. Fatherhood seems to be a driving force for trying to recover, a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Key words: addiction, fatherhood, fathering, paternal identity, imprisonment

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