If someone told you they took part in an event where both children and adults were extremely happy … where they all played, had fun, respected the rules and – most important – respected one another and had a moment to forget about all the problems they have … probably the last thing you would imagine is that the event took place inside a prison and these people full of smiles were the inmates and their families.
A couple weeks ago, I took part in this activity – sponsored by CREAS and organized by ACIFAD, two of our Argentinean partners, and Médicos del Mundo Argentina – giving children a chance to play and enjoy a special day with their imprisoned parents and relatives.
I had the chance to take part and I can say that it was an unbelievable feeling. Of all the experiences I’ve had, this one will hold a special place in my memory.
Many of us carry a lot of prejudices toward prisoners and all that is related to jail, and I was no different until some months ago, thanks to the Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative that CWS is implementing in Latin America. Through the program, I started getting closer to this “world,” to understand the suffering and challenges faced by families and children whose parents are behind bars.
The program was planned and implemented by colleagues from the various organizations, along with the inmates who were in charge of preparing everything for the special play date.
The activities themselves are no different than those any parent can play with his or her child at their kindergarten, school or club. The difference is that these children do not have the their parents accompanying them in the small but significant moments in their growth.
And this is probably why there was so much enjoyment, so much willingness to play, so much love showed in every smile, every caress or every hug. As one mother said, in a message she sent the day after the event, “I´m getting in touch with you to congratulate and thank you for the beautiful moments my children had the chance to share with their father in the Unit 31 of Florencio Varela in the first ever ‘Playing with Dad’ activity. We had an unforgettable day!”
For us, as we start this new initiative, this is one more sign that we are going in the right direction. By doing these small things, and by providing advocacy and training in the coming years, we will one day make these invisible children visible – not just for the community at large, but for those whose responsibility it is to make policy and develop programs to protect the rights of these “collateral victims” of incarceration.
So here we go, fueled by these emotions, hoping for more smiles and more children who can have a nurturing relationship with their parents, as most of us have had….
Luciano Cadoni, Program Officer, CWS Latin America and Caribbean