At a children’s camp in the prison: ‘Nice to spend some time with father’

Crafts, drawing, sports together. Play four in a row. If your father is in prison, it is far from obvious to do those activities together. An autumn camp was therefore organized this week at the Nieuwegein Prison by the Exodus Netherlands Foundation in collaboration with the Detention Center.

Without handcuffs

Imprisoned fathers are given the opportunity to be creative with their children. To strengthen their bond. In three days – during the autumn holidays – the children are with their father. Last Wednesday was the first day at camp. Inside the prison walls, in a gym. Without handcuffs.

Drawings of the children hang on the walls, so you don’t want to say you’re in a prison. And that is perhaps a good thing, because these days are organized based on the idea that the child should have a pleasant day with his father.

A moment when both father and child are not reminded that the father is in prison somewhere far away.

Gerard* (40) is one of the fathers who participate. He is serving 30 months in prison. It is not clear what he is imprisoned for. His son is in the same room when we interview him, and that might be a reason why we don’t tell.

Together with his son (9), Gerard tells us the impact these days have. “You’re really back in your dad role. It feels less like we’re in prison because you’re not sitting across from each other with a Plexiglas between you.”

‘Nice to be with dad’

As Gerard talks, his son plays with sports equipment. Occasionally the boy keeps his attention on the conversation. When asked what he liked best, he says: “Football. But I like this anyway, because I’m with dad.”

This three-day camp changes the bond between father and child, says Gerard. He explains that during normal visiting hours there is little time to have real conversations and get to know each other better. “For example, if my son feels a little better to say something, the time has already passed, so to speak.”

You lose the band

Sometimes there are telephone appointments, but this is not optimal. For example, the child must at that moment just want to talk to his father on the phone. According to Gerard, this often does not lead to long conversations. The moments are therefore too short and too distant to preserve their bond well. “You also lose that bond. There are few good alternatives, and because you don’t see each other very often, I’m surprised every time I see my son, who has grown a head again.”

Talking to the child can help

Angela Verhagen researches the relationship between fathers and their children in captivity. She says that it is important for both father and child to build a good relationship. “Children develop better. The fathers often feel better mentally and want to adapt their behavior faster for their child if they develop a good relationship with each other.”

According to Verhagen, children whose parents are in prison talk little about it. This is not only because they have few peers. It’s also a secret, because they’re afraid that other kids won’t hang out with them. “Although it’s good if they learn to talk about this and normalize it. If it remains a taboo, it can weigh heavily on the child.”

Verhagen understands that there is a stigma surrounding this topic because it also comes partly from self-protection. For example, children with such parents do not want to scare other children. “But it can actually bring relief, and a child can ask for help in time when that stigma is broken.”

Marieke van Zwam is the autumn camp’s project manager. After the project was already successful in PI Vught in 2019, which even resulted in waiting lists, they have also brought the camp to PI Veenhuizen and PI Nieuwegein this year. “The children are much more open when they come here. They make new memories with their father and the contact is much improved.”

the loss is great

Van Zwam also hears many positive stories from the detained fathers. Serious conversations are initiated and there is a relaxed atmosphere. It also helps that they are in a different room, which makes the children less aware that they are visiting a prison.

At the same time, the loss is also great when it is time to say goodbye again on the last day. “But it can also help the father to continue to strengthen that bond and to want to improve his life.”

Gerard has now completed 22 months and still has eight to go. “Days like this break time for me. It gives me energy for the last ride, so to speak.”

Children are motivation

What is the most difficult thing for him during his time inside the prison walls? “Having my child so close to me still makes me feel guilty. You don’t see him grow up.” This is exactly why these days have a lot of meaning.

Gerard says he has less stress because of this because he has finally seen his child again. “My kids are my motivation. I do it for them.”

* Gerard is a fictitious name. The full name of the arrested person is known to the editors.

Leave a Comment