Flowers, cake, balloons, high heels, dresses, suits, ties, and a dozen girls between ages 6 and 16! This was the scene at the Richmond City Jail on March 16, as they hosted their second father-daughter-dance. Sheriff C.T. Woody partnered with Camp Diva to host this very special event.
Angela Patton, founder of Camp Diva and Date with Dad, works to strengthen relationships between African American girls and their fathers. The father daughter dances were started by Camp Diva to do just this. The idea to host a dance in the jail came, however, after one of the girls participating in Camp Diva shared that her dad could not come to the dance because he was incarcerated. Ms. Patton’s wheels started spinning and she wrote a letter to Sheriff Woody… “We would like to host a dance in your jail…”
After reading the letter, Sheriff Woody saw the big picture of how advantageous hosting such an event would be. As usual, he thought outside of the box and saw the opportunities created by this that would help rehabilitate the men and what it could also do for the daughters. Speaking about the father daughter dance, the Sheriff said, “People may think it’s crazy to have this in a jail, but it builds respect. You wouldn’t believe what it does for these men’s confidence to dress them up. This dance can have a ripple effect.”
A dozen men who are a part of an intensive rehabilitation treatment program in the jail (the program that I often work with when I visit the jail) that is designed for non-violent offenders, were selected to be able to participate in the dance. All of this was done through Camp Diva and donations – no taxpayer dollars were used.
This dance received great press and really gained a lot of people’s attention. Not surprising, however, there are some who were critical. I’ve read some comments about how “the only people they [inmates] should ever see is the guard through the slot when they get their food trays,” or “lock them in their cells 24/7, no TV, no gym, bread and water to eat, and no visitors.” Before I began working in the Richmond City Jail, I can’t say my thoughts were too far from these. However, after spending several thousand hours in the jail and working with those who reside in the jail, and then working with them when they are released, I realized this mentality really hurts our community and us.
As Sheriff Woody always says, “When people get out, I want them to become better citizens, not better criminals. We are building hope and a better life for when they are out.”
93% of inmates in Virginia’s prisons and jails WILL be released (and I guarantee 100% of the men who were a part of the dance will be released because of the non-violent nature of their crime). Therefore, how do we want them released back into OUR community? As criminals again – possibly worse criminals than before and with more drug contacts for the street? Or do we prefer them to be provided treatment, develop relationships with their family, and become better people that make better decisions – all which directly relate to a more effective transition back into society and a huge decrease in the potential of re-engaging in a drug and criminal lifestyle, thus leading to decreased recidivism. Not only would this make our communities safer, but it will positively stretch to family members, law enforcement officers, correction officers, personal injury attorney, children exposed, and innocent citizens that were/could be victimized by criminal actions.
Remember, that the men who were chosen to be a part of the dance are a part of a very rigorous program in the jail – it works with them to overcome their addictive and negative behaviors, they are encouraged to seek a high power, and it helps them overcome the barriers to entry into society that so often lead to relapse and recidivism. In fact, I have done work in jail with several of the men who participated in the father daughter dance.
So again, some people are a bit more conservative in their views that relate to this population. Some say lock them up and throw away the key! But look at the stats – if you do that, there is a huge great chance they will get out and do it again…and who knows who the next victim could be. Or which neighborhood would be harassed!
It’s time that more people like Sheriff Woody, Angela Patton, and Camp Diva step up and try to curb the horrible stats that are out there! If not, our society will continue to crumble as it relates to this topic!
You can learn more about Camp Diva, a Date with Dad and a wonderful Kickstarter project they are working on called Locked in NOT Locked Out by clicking here.