(WSVN) - Families of men and women in prison can go months and even years without seeing their loved ones. It’s hard, especially for the children. But as 7’s Belkys Nerey reports, children and parents are now “Bonding Behind Bars,” thanks to community organizations working to make sure families stay together — even when they’re torn apart.
A little fairy dust brings a sprinkle of hope to these kids.
Paulette Pfeiffer, better known as “Tinkerbell,” spreads good cheer and coordinates with a team of 10 community organizations, including the Children of Inmates program, to bring these kids on special visits with loved ones behind bars.
Paulette Pfeiffer, Silent Victims of Crime: “We call it bonding visitations. It’s about taking the children to visit their parents in prison and make it seamless.”
Every four months, they bring thousands of kids on visits to more than a dozen prisons all over Florida.
Sam Ludington, Children of Inmates: “We recognize that that in many of these cases, the inmate deserves to be here, but that doesn’t mean that the kid is any less deserving, or that family is any less deserving of having a bond with their with their parent.”
Today, families make the trip by bus to Everglades Correctional Institution, where the dads wait in a secure recreation room.
Altavis Symonette is serving a 30-year sentence for murder.
Altavis Symonette, inmate: “I left my son a month before he was born. And that was a devastating experience for me, but we have overcome.”
Little by little, each family is cleared and the reunions begin.
There are hugs — and more hugs. When you live behind bars, every moment with family is precious.
Deaven Guilford has been behind bars for 18 years. He’s getting a visit from his wife and grandson.
Deaven Guilford, inmate: “He always asks me, ‘Grandpa, when am I going to get the chance to see you again?'”
The kids get to pick out new toys. They play games and have a special Fourth of July barbecue lunch with their dads.
Altavis Symonette, Jr., dad is in prison: “I was talking to my dad how I was behaving in school, and I got to sit down and tell him I love him.”
Visits last about four hours, giving them time to really connect.
Chakeena Irvin, dad is in prison: “I’m glad I got to see my dad today. We ate, and then we talked and played.”
Paulette Pfeiffer: “They forget that there are bars. All they remember is, ‘Oh, OK, what are we going to do today?'”
Luther Collie says it’s a win for all.
Luther Collie, inmate: “This is part of keeping our family together. So that’s why it’s so important, ’cause prison destroys a lot of families. We defied the odds.”
When it’s time to say goodbye, there are more hugs and lots of tears. But for these kids and their families, just getting to say hello makes it all worthwhile.
In Florida, there are more than 300,000 kids who have a parent in prison. If you’d like to volunteer, or if you would like more information about the Children of Inmates program or their partners, just click on the links below.
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