Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: Our prisoners' kids deserve a dance, too

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 10:09 PM

At the Richmond City Jail in Virginia, a nonprofit group for girls and a sheriff came together to do right by the city’s daughters. Multiple media outlets in Virginia have covered the recent father-daughter dance at the jail, and it’s worth noting here, too. The dads at the dance were nonviolent offenders. The daughters were simply daughters who wanted to spend time with their fathers.

An event like this sparks several questions. Why did the fathers do something to get locked up? Why didn’t they put their children first? Why are the mothers having children with these men? Why, why, why. Judge, admonish, put down. All those questions do nothing to help the girls who are already living their lives with incarcerated dads.

The girls dressed up, and their dads did, too, to enjoy some quality time together. Not quantity, obviously. Father-daughter dances exclude those who don’t have fathers around. This Richmond City Jail dance broke one of those barriers to having a father around. Even for a brief moment, the daughters and fathers are the family that the girls might hope. Perhaps the dads will think twice next time, seeing that their children suffer because of their actions. A dance like this could reduce recidivism and be a step toward rehabilitation, if we’re a nation that believes such things are possible.

If you’ve ever been to the lobby of the Durham County Jail, you know the visitors include plenty of children. They’re innocent, yet pay the price for decisions made by their elders. They deserve more than what they’re getting.

I was writing a story about a church event in Durham once and sat near a group of boys who looked about middle-school age. They were talking about their fathers. One boy pointed out that another’s father was in jail. It wasn’t said in a sympathetic way. I didn’t see the other boy’s face, but I know it hurt him. He didn’t have a comeback.

So, say what you will about the decisions of parents, but the children are here and deserve a chance at personal success and fun activities with their parents, flaws and all.
Can you see where I’m going with this yet?

The Durham jail needs a father-daughter dance. Or a father-son lunch. Or anything that can let their children feel, even for an hour, that their lives are not defined 24-7 by having a parent who is in jail.

There are a lot of people in Durham that care about kids. It’s possible for what happened in Richmond to happen here.


Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at dvaughan@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6563.