ENFIELD, Conn. (AP) – For years, Angel Rosa led what he calls a double life.

He was responsible in that he provided for his children. But he made his money selling drugs, and he drank and smoked pot, choices that meant he would be a mostly absent father to his two girls, Ashanti, 5, and Desmariah, 10.

“I ran the streets more than I spent time with my kids,” the Hartford native admits.

Now sober and a recent graduate of a prison parenting class, the 37-year-old has pledged to be a true parent to the girls, help raise them and “make sure they don’t go down the wrong path in life.” He is serving a seven-year sentence on a drug conviction.

Two days before Father’s Day, Rosa and a handful of inmates at Carl Robinson Correctional Institution were granted a special visit with their children. Each of the men had completed the class, “Inside Out Dad,” run by Hartford-based nonprofit Families in Crisis Inc.

On the brink of tears, Rosa clutched Ashanti’s little hand and later pulled her into a tight hug with her sister. When given a second chance, Rosa said, he will build their relationship by spending time with them instead of buying them gifts, which he did in the past. “I gotta do this for my kids,” Rosa said. “Today I stand here a changed man.”

The state Department of Correction contracts several voluntary parenting classes taught in many of the system’s 18 facilities.

“A lot of guys have the mentality ‘I can’t be a good father; I can’t be involved with my family because I’m in jail,’ ” said Mike Nagle, who taught Rosa’s class.

But Joyce Betts, of Families in Crisis, said, “Incarceration doesn’t excuse you from parenting.”

Quantifying the effectiveness of parenting classes is impossible. Inmates who sign up for classes may already be motivated to make a change, guaranteeing its usefulness. Whatever the case, friends and family of the Carl Robinson graduates say they’ve noticed changes in the ways the men interact with their children.

The men have learned to listen. They ask questions. They are more open.

“He realizes it’s not about him anymore,” Teresa Wilson said about her son, Kai Weaver, 30, who got a visit from his two daughters Friday. “It’s about them.”

The stakes are high for the children. Studies show that children of inmates – 55 percent of men in the prison system in Connecticut report they are parents – are more likely to commit suicide. They are also more likely to end up in prison.

Experts have said dealing with the shame and abandonment of having a parent in prison can be more difficult than grieving a dead parent, because there is little support for children of inmates.

“It was hard because he was there before,” said 13-year-old To’Kairah Weaver, referring to her father Kai’s previous prison stint. “It was a journey I had to go through again.”

Bright spots are visiting days, and her father’s frequent calls home. “I got over it,” she says, shrugging.

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