Cuddling, kicking a ball or eating lunch with your child is the most normal thing in the world for most fathers. But for fathers in prison, it’s not obvious. Yet Jeffrey and six other inmates at PI Vught got that chance this week during fall camp. “I’m getting to know my daughter in a completely different way now,” says Jeffrey.
A large gym on the prison grounds has been set up for the fall camp this week. In this room, they play games, do crafts, eat lunch, and children can play sumo wrestling or basketball with their father. Or just chat and have fun together.
“Some fathers haven’t had lunch with their children once in years. Something so small is already very special for them,” says Daniëlle, volunteer at the Exodus Netherlands Foundation. This organization offers shelter and guidance to (former) prisoners and their families.
“During the autumn camp, fathers can for a while take on their parental role by, for example, offering a listening ear or correcting behaviour. But also make a sandwich or tie your child’s shoelaces.”
“I saw more of her in three days than in the past year.”
This is Jeffrey’s second time participating in the fall camp. His daughter spends three days at a campsite near Vught and goes to prison every day from nine to three. “I’ve seen more of her in these three days than in the past year,” he says with a smile on his face.
Jeffrey has been imprisoned for over eight years. He knows his 10-year-old daughter mainly from Skype conversations and her brief visits to prison.
“On parent-child days, she comes to prison once a month for an hour and a half, and then we immediately start doing fun things. Because time flies by. Now there is more time to get to know her in a different way,” he says. “During the matches we play, I see how fanatical she is. Then I see a lot of myself in my child.”
“During normal visiting hours, father and child often want to have a good time. During such an autumn camp, there are also less fun or difficult moments”, says Katinka Reijnders. project manager Recovery Targeted Detention PI Vught. “The fathers go through training beforehand where they also learn what to do if a child asks why dad is in prison or where he lives.”
“Many children are often ashamed that their father is in prison.”
Within the walls of the prison in Vught, people work hard every day to improve the bond between prisoners and their children. “Many children are ashamed that their father is in prison. It is because of society’s taboo. They can’t do anything about it themselves, but they have to deal with the consequences,” explains Daniëlle from Exodus.
“It is very important for the confidence of the children and their fathers to restore or improve that bond in a positive way.”
Jeffrey notes that the fall camp has a positive effect. “She hangs around me all day when she’s here. She really is a daddy’s baby. The bond with my daughter has become even stronger,” says Jeffrey. “And you make new memories together. It is very special.” For a comprehensive lunch of soup, sandwiches, wraps and dessert, dads and kids can play outside on the sports field and kick a ball around. Things they haven’t done with their child in years.
“In Vught, we increasingly focus on the recovery of prisoners”
Jeffrey is given more and more freedom inside and sometimes outside the prison walls as the end of his sentence is in sight. For example, he can Skype with his daughter for fifteen minutes every day, and during his leave he picked up his daughter from school as a surprise.
“In Vught, we increasingly focus on the recovery of detainees so that they can also be a good parent after detention. An autumn camp like this helps with that,” says Katinka.