Summer Camp Helps Kids Visit Fathers in Prison
08/02/2010
Your4State.com

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CUMBERLAND, MD - It's not everyday, that you'll find kids in a prison, but seven made the trip behind bars at a local prison as part of their summer camp experience.

Sanchez Harris has waited a long time to play this game of one-on-one basketball with his dad, Woodrow Williams.

Sanchez and his sister, Summer, have only seen their father three or four times in their entire lives.

"I miss learning more about him and his presence," says Summer.

This Hope House Summer Camp is giving time for William's kids to get to know him better. Children of inmates spend time drawing, playing and working closely with fathers who are sometimes serving life behind bars.

"Whatever you may think of these men, these children didn't do anything and these children deserve to know the love of their father," says Carol Fennelly, executive director of Hope House.

For 12 years, the Hope House has been the only program nationwide that allows inmates to apply for the camp opportunity. This marks only the 21st camp and the first time for inmates at North Branch Correctional Institution have been eligible.

"I've learned he's a good guy," says Damen Phillips, a Hope House kid. "I don't think he should be in jail."

While these dads can't change their past, they say these five days of camp will help affect their children's future.

"Even though we're in here, you still have to live with the product of what we left out there so we can teach them and groom them the right way," says Geray Williams, an NBCI inmate.

"He told me to stay out of gang fights so I don't go to jail," says Phillips, a Hope House kid. "He doesn't want me to end like him."

"It makes me not want to go to jail ever in my life, no matter what I do," says Sanchez.

It's a tough lesson these kids have had to learn at young age, but it doesn't mean they have to give up hope.

"I hope next summer they'll do this and I'll get to come back," says Phillips.

Officials with Hope House, the D.C. based non-profit, say 65-percent of inmates who have participated in the program have reported to seeing changes in their behavior and thinking about personal responsibility after the camp.