The Michael Connolly Tragedy Should Not Have Happened

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By Jeffery M. Leving

The death of Duncan and Jack Connolly, two Illinois children allegedly murdered by their father Michael Connolly, touched many people’s hearts. I lament this terrible tragedy. However, as a fathers’ rights advocate and attorney, I regret that this case is now reinforcing the malicious stereotype of the brutal father, potentially sabotaging the efforts of many good fathers who love their children and want to be a part of their lives. The media coverage of this case has pushed the fathers’ rights movement back 10 years.

The fact is that most fathers do not harm their children. Domestic violence is not gender specific. Some mothers have also committed similar unnatural acts. For example, I am currently representing a soldier, formerly deployed in Iraq, who is now struggling to rescue his daughter from the alleged abuse of her mother in Chicago.

Without a careful review of the entire file and transcripts of court proceedings, it is hard to say why the judge in the Connolly custody case made his decision to give unsupervised visitation rights to this father. With hindsight, it appears that the judge’s decision was clearly wrong. But, the current petition to remove that judge from the bench does not seem to solve the problem. The correct method of seeking accountability in such a matter is done through the Judicial Inquiry Board.

Until we know all the facts, I caution against unrestrained emotions which may militate against the rights of good fathers struggling to protect their children. A mother has lost two children; let us support her but not lose our sense of reason.

April 7, 2009 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

Illinois Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

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by Jeffery M. Leving

A non-violent felony conviction has landed Juan behind bars for the next three years. As Juan is trying to adjust to prison life, his young son is trying to adjust to life without a father. Juan, like countless numbers of inmates in Illinois, is locked up in a correctional facility far from where his elderly mother, wife and son live. The high cost of transportation and related expenses make regular visitation unaffordable for the impoverished family.

Every time someone breaks the law, there are victims. While the system tries to bring justice to those victimized, new victims are created.  The plight of the incarcerated fathers may not evoke sympathy in many people.  However, I must point out that the grief and suffering of their children are exacerbated by a correctional system that is ill-equipped to address the pain of losing their fathers.

Research has shown that children whose parents have been incarcerated “experience anger, anxiety, inability to concentrate, depression, preoccupation with their loss, sadness, grief, shame and fear following the incarceration.” However, children who often visit their incarcerated parents and do so under favorable conditions “exhibit fewer adjustment problems.” As for the prisoners, those who maintain strong family ties behave better during incarceration, re-enter society with better success, and have a lower rate of recidivism.

Many correctional facilities in Illinois are remotely located from the Chicago population. The sheer distance discourages many families from visiting their relatives in prison. The high costs of transportation, food and lodging, not to mention the substantial amount of time involved, are additional inhibiting factors. Most importantly, however, the prison can be an inimical environment for children so that a visit there may be traumatic. As a result, many families opt for telephone contact. Unfortunately, telephone contact is totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it expensive for the families because all calls from prison must be collect calls, but also frustrating to the children because they do not  see their parents.

Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

For years, I have been warning of the damage done to children who grow up without contact with their fathers. Due to the large population of incarcerated fathers in Illinois, many children are growing up fatherless. Extensive research has shown that children whose fathers are involved in their lives perform better in school, complete more years of schooling, have fewer behavioral problems, have better cognitive and psychological development, experience less poverty, are less likely to drink and use drugs,  and have better self-control.

As the chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood and as a fathers’ rights advocate, I have been pushing for the creation of a virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers in Illinois. This program will enable children to interact with their incarcerated fathers via real-time video and audio conferencing, eliminating the problems associated with traveling to and visiting the prison. Instead, visits can be scheduled in a child-friendly environment – with toys and appropriate furnishings and decorations.

I have co-authored an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to provide for reasonable visitation between a child and a non-custodial parent through electronic communication including video conferencing. This bill (SB1590) is awaiting a decision at the Illinois State Senate, and would give legal support to the virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers that I advocate.

Virtual visitation with inmates is not a new concept. The pioneer seems to have been the State of Pennsylvania, where a program began in 2001. The Pennsylvania Family Virtual Visitation, created by The Prison Society in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, provides high-tech video conferencing equipment that allows families to visit in “real time” with their loved ones who are incarcerated. For a small fee of $20, families can schedule a 55-minute visit once a month. According to The Prison Society, inmates, family members, and prison staff have expressed their support for and appreciation of this program. Correctional officers have reported that many inmates are better adjusted and seem happier after virtual visits. Virtual visitors express how important and meaningful the program is to the health and welfare of their families.

In Florida, there is a program called Reading and Family Ties, which allows incarcerated mothers to read stories to their children using live video via the Internet. The program has been credited with enhancing family unity, easing inmates’ transition back to society and improving literacy for both parents and children.

In Illinois, we, too, have had success with a pilot program for incarcerated mothers, but none for fathers. Through this incarcerated mother program, which was created through the partnership between the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Women’s Treatment Center, staff are available to the families prior to, during and after each visit to address their needs, and to ensure that the visit is child-focused.

A subsidiary benefit of virtual visitation for incarcerated fathers is the rehabilitation of the father, but the most cogent reason for implementing this program is the welfare of the child. It is past the time for Illinois to enact a law and establish a program that help the tens of thousands of children have a relationship with their incarcerated fathers.

March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

Interview with President Barack Obama – on Responsible Fatherhood

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Interview with President Barack Obama

Then Senator Barack Obama appeared as a guest on the Jeffery Leving Fathers’ Rights Legal Show on SOUL 106.3 FM – Chicago/Indiana.  Here is a transcript of the interview where they discuss the importance of responsible fatherhood:

Jeffery M. Leving
:
Senator Barack Obama

President Obama: Yes, sir!

JML: How are you doing? It’s an honor to talk to you. I actually met you at an NAACP event Vera Davis put on in Chicago years ago.

President Obama: Well it’s wonderful to talk to you again.

JML: This is Jeffery Leving with the Jeffery Leving Fathers’ Rights Legal Show today. And today we are honored to have as our guest Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama.

Senator, I was reading your website, BarackObama.com/family and I was reading about Strengthening Fatherhood and Families and in your website, you talk about fatherless children and how they are more likely to end up in poverty and drop out of school and I also read your Responsible Fatherhood & Healthy Families Act.

And I think that’s tremendous and it can help a lot of children and families. What motivated you to re-introduce the Responsible Fatherhood & Healthy Families Act?

President Obama: Well, Jeffery as you know my father left me when I was 2. I remember watching my mom struggle as a single parent, trying to go to school and work and raise 2 kids at the same time – and fortunately she has support from my grandparents but a lot of single moms don’t have that.

And unfortunately although many of them do heroic jobs – it is true that statistically; children without fathers involved their lives are more likely to experience poverty, more likely their girls to get pregnant as teenagers, they’re more likely to have problems at school and so I really believe that it’s important for us in all communities but especially the African American Community – which has seen such as problem with lack of men and male involvement in family life that we really put an emphasize on this.

And this is something that the government can help to make sure that we don’t have a dis-incentive for fathers to be involved; make sure that our welfare programs for example are designed in such a way that they don’t penalize fathers participating.

I think we got to do a real good job trying to reintroduce males who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system as ex-offenders – giving them the opportunity so that they are able to support their families, find work, get on the right path – but ultimately there’s a lot of personal responsibility that’s involved in this. And one of the things I want to do as president is to use the bully pulpit to say to men, “You’ve to get involved in your child’s life. It will make a difference not only in their lives but in yours.”

JML: I agree with you 100%. We need to support and involve fatherhood. I also believe, to do this, we have to change the way the world views dads – and fathers are an untapped resource and I believe by involving fathers in positive relationships with their children, that will reduce youth violence which is affecting our country terribly, especially in Chicago where we’re from.

So we need to do this and justice shouldn’t be a luxury and many fathers don’t have the resources to seek legal counsel, to involve themselves in their children’s lives and they don’t have even basic knowledge – so your bill is excellent.

I’m a big supporter of it because I think the bill will help many many children throughout our country – because millions of children are father-absent in the United States and because of that, they are living in poverty and they can escape poverty by this bill coming law.

How do we keep crime down in the United States? We know that involving fathers and positive relationships with their children is one solution. But what are other solutions to keeping crime down and fighting youth violence?

We also have to have after school and summer school to give positive alternatives to our youth. And if we invest in early childhood education, studies show that every dollar we invest there we see improvements in reading scores reduced dropout rates, and reduced delinquencies. So giving young people positive things to do and investing in more police on the street the better off we are going to be.

Alright Jeffery, thank you so much for having me.

JML: Thank you for being on my show, I appreciate your time.

President Obama: Thank you so much – take care.

To listen to the archived interview, please visit: www.DadsRights.com

March 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm 1 comment

Did You Know That There is a Season for Everything?

To remind you of this timeless wisdom, we invite you to read the famous poem from Ecclesiastes 3.

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To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

March 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm 1 comment

Which Power Do You Honor?

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I had the most amazing experience today as I was out and about, running errands downtown. I was surprised to be unable to find a parking space, since I usually park in front of my destination, regardless how crowded the streets may be. I’d been circling the block for about thirty minutes when I spotted a van on the corner ahead of me about to pull out of its parking spot. As it moved out, I glided right on in… to see a sleek BMW sedan just ahead flashing it’s blinker as if it had been waiting to back into the exact same spot. The flashy BMW slowly pulled back alongside my car, and we both lowered our windows as soft flurries of rain drizzled down from the sky. The BMW’s driver was a 20-something Asian male wearing black sunglasses, who crisply announced, “I was waiting for this spot.”

I replied, “I was waiting for this spot, too. I didn’t see you there — I’ve been circling this block for thirty minutes.”

The Asian fellow furrowed his brow and looked very annoyed as he said, “I’ve been circling for thirty minutes, too.” As I looked at the young man, I saw another myself. A younger, male, Asian version of myself, perhaps, but I had a very clear sense that our roles could easily have been reversed. Only a moment of time had passed as I gazed into the depths of his Ray-Bans, yet I felt that there was only one course of action that would give me peace of mind; to relinquish the parking spot. I replied, “You can have this spot. It’s yours,” and pulled forward to watch the young man park his BMW there. I sighed as I noticed he hadn’t even said, “Thank you,” no doubt because he was sure that he was right and I was in the wrong.

As I began to drive around the block one more time, I bit my lip and asked Spirit, “WHY is this happening to me? I just don’t get it.” It was so strange for me to be deprived of a parking spot for thirty minutes — this had never happened to me before! As I passed the BMW in its corner spot on my circuit around the block, I noticed it’s license plate for the first time: “BM POWER.” Suddenly, I understood — and laughed out loud! When I was growing up, “BM” was a word that children used when they were talking potty talk, and seeing it proudly displayed as a source of power was just too funny! Naturally, the owner of BMW was most likely intending to demonstrate pride in his vehicle, but the wonderful and oh-so-timely message for me finally put my entire frustrating parking experience in perspective.

You can’t let the @#$% win the game, regardless how much power it might think it has. After all, you are always the one who chooses how you respond to every situation — your feelings and your attitudes are your greatest riches, and there’s no way that any kind of “BM POWER” (no matter how trying the situation may seem) can ever be greater than love!

Within seconds of this divine revelation, a car on the block ahead of me pulled out so I could park my car. In that instant I knew for sure that it really is that simple. All you have to do is decide which power you will honor in your life.

About the Author:
MBA,  Intuitive, and Spiritual Life Coach, Cynthia Sue Larson helps people tap into the extraordinary powers that lie within them to create their best lives.  Please visit her website: http://www.realityshifters.com.

March 9, 2009 at 9:02 pm 2 comments

At One With the Solution

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I recently visited a friend, who loaned me a bead and rope puzzle that had been sitting around her house unsolved for many years.
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Take it with you, and let me know if you figure it out“,

she said with a hopeful lilt to her voice as we said our farewells.

I brought the deceptively simple puzzle with me inside my parents’ house, where it quickly became the center of attention. As one person after another tried to solve the puzzle, I waited outdoors until the excitement died down. About an hour later, I was delighted to enjoy my first private inspection of it.

This puzzle was elegant in its simplicity. It consisted of two beads on separate loops a rope that was firmly connected to a piece of wood at each of its ends. There was a hole in the center piece of the puzzle from which the ropes emerged into the separate loops for the two beads. The solution to this puzzle was illustrated on the back of the wooden piece as a picture of the two beads adjacent to one another on the same loop of rope.

I immediately sensed something about this puzzle… I could feel the solution to it as clearly as if I was holding the solved puzzle in my hands. Suddenly I knew that if I just held that image in my mind, I could manipulate the beads and rope until the beads were side-by-side. I was not closely studying every move I made, but was instead in a state of being at one with the solution to the puzzle.

Within ten minutes, I’d solved the puzzle, and the two beads were resting together on the same loop. My family was astonished to see the puzzle solved so quickly, and wanted to know how I’d done it. I simply replied,

I was at one with the puzzle.”

I got looks of disbelief and some annoyance at this remark, but I didn’t know how else to convey my feeling of being harmoniously attuned to the solution. They wanted to see me solve the puzzle, but I knew that any audience watching me so closely when I couldn’t even watch what I was doing myself would block me from being able to solve it.

I felt so aligned to the puzzle that solving it felt instinctive to me, as if I’d worked this puzzle successfully hundreds of times and could use motor memory. There was some truth to that, since my mother had brought home several similar topographical puzzles when I was a teenager, and I’d spent many enjoyable hours playing with them.

When my family’s attention was once again diverted elsewhere and I had another quiet moment to work unobserved, I moved the beads back apart from one another again. This time, I paid a bit more attention to how I was manipulating the ropes and beads, so that I would be able to help my family solve the puzzle, too.

When my family saw the puzzle back in its original starting state, they were astonished once again, and asked how I’d solved the puzzle. I repeated, “I was at one with the puzzle”, smiling as I said this, since I saw how my enigmatic response made little sense to anyone.

As I showed my family the steps required to move one marble to the other side, I realized:

it is possible to align oneself
with the solution to any given problem,
and in doing so
find a seemingly effortless approach.

The steps to doing this are simple:

(1) Observe an imagined future solution,
(2) With feelings of happiness and gratitude for finding the solution,
(3) Without staring too closely at what one is doing as one solves the problem.

This reminds me of the wonderful adage:

The one who says it cannot be done
should never interrupt the one who is doing it.

lest we get so caught up in what we think we know
that we can’t see the world as it really is.

About the Author:
MBA,  Intuitive, and Spiritual Life Coach, Cynthia Sue Larson helps people tap into the extraordinary powers that lie within them to create their best lives.  Please visit her website: http://www.realityshifters.com

March 9, 2009 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

Those Who Are Last Shall Be First

By Josh Hoff
            The State of Illinois bears an uncanny resemblance to the uncle who for years looked like he just got out of bed when he attended the annual family reunion. The, one year, somehow, he gets motivated to pull himself together and charms the entire family much to everybody’s delight. This stems from the fact that the State of Illinois has done an about-face for child support collections in 2006.

            In the mid-1990s, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) Child Support Division’s performance fell steeply, causing hardship for thousands of Illinois parents.  In 2000, Illinois faced the threat of federal penalties for poor child support enforcement.  Recently, however, Governor Blagojevich announced Illinois’ 2006 child support collections reached $1.14 billion, the most collected in any single year ever.         
  
           
As a result the National Child Support Enforcement Association selected Illinois for the 2006 Most Improved Program Award.  What does all of this mean when the state has scored consistently low in this department in the past?

           
“It shows that the Governor is aggressively collecting child support,” says fathers’rights attorney Jeffery Leving.  “It is going to be more difficult for non-custodial parents.  They will have a harder time avoiding paying child support.”

           
The amount of child support collected in 2006 is over 11 percent higher than last year’s $1 billion in record-breaking collections, and more than 50 percent higher than the $729 million collected in fiscal year 2001.

           
“Every year, as the cost of raising children and providing a loving and secure home continues to go up, more and more parents are struggling to meet those needs alone,” Governor Blagojevich announced in a news release.  “Before I became Governor, the child support system in our state was the worst in the nation.  But this program has turned around and is now breaking its own records and receiving national recognition for its improvements.  More Illinois parents than ever are getting the payments they are owed so their children can have the childhood they deserve.”

           
While the trend of increased child support collections is beneficial for children and families in general, it could also have a positive impact on fathers in their relations with their children.  “There is a correlation between contact with children and payment of support,” explains Leving.

           
The increase in child support collection is attributable in large part to the implementation of several new programs, including: the Illinois/Iowa Joint Child Support Enforcement Office; the Deadbeat Parents Website; and the New Hire Initiative.

           
The Illinois/Iowa Joint Child Support Enforcement Office is a collaborative effort that ensures improved interstate information sharing, faster collection of court-ordered child support, and more efficient enforcement of child support laws.  According to the Governor’s office this collaboration has resulted in the collection of $234,351.  Further, the Deadbeat Parents Website has been an effective tool for the state of Illinois, in that it identifies parents who owe more than $5,000 in child support payments, and has resulted in the collection of nearly $190,000 since the program’s launch in November 2003.  In Illinois, 80 percent of child support is collected through wage withholdings, a method facilitated by the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s New Hire Directory.

           
Though these initiatives have led to increases in child support collection, they also have a flipside – that is, further alienation between some parents and children.  Most deadbeat dads, for instance, have no income or low income.  In fact, 66 percent of those behind in child support are at poverty level income.

           
“You can’t get child support from people who are indigent, sick, ill, or incarcerated,” warns Leving.  “It could alienate fathers from their children further.”

           
The question then becomes: What is the state of Illinois doing for parents, particularly fathers, who want to meet their child support obligations but are unable to do so?  Fathers’ rights guru Leving has some ideas for what the state might do to improve the lot of these parents.

           
“Fathers that are unemployed, find employment for them, empower them,” he suggests.  “Job training could be valuable.  They could use money allocated to chase down deadbeat dads to educate the jobless.”

            The state of Illinois bears an uncanny resemblance to the uncle who for years looked like he just got out of bed when he attended the annual family reunion.  Then, one year, somehow, he gets motivated to pull himself together and charms the entire family much to everybody’s delight.  This stems from the fact that the state of Illinois has done an about-face for child support collections in 2006. 

March 6, 2009 at 8:01 pm Leave a comment

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