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A N G O L A | Pt. 3 of 3

After a fun and smile filled day, these dads have to say goodbye. Walking around, one can hear them making promises to their children, asking them to be good, to try hard in school, telling them not to make the same mistakes. Because these dads can’t be there for their children to grow up, they try to leave their kids with as much fatherly advice as they possibly can in the short time they have to say goodbye for another year.

Before the goodbyes, there is a balloon release ceremony for the fathers and children to take part in.

Each father and child are given a balloon, which they tie together to symbolize their bond.

The balloons are released, creating a stunning visual metaphor for the emotional and complex last few minutes the families share at the end of the day.

Dads watch from the top of the bleachers as their children are escorted out of the gates.

Malachi Dads Pledge: 

As a Malachi Dad, I solemnly pledge to glorify God and build His Kingdom by prioritizing the raising of godly children, first in my family, then in the influencing of other men to do the same in theirs. I firmly believe that my transformed life in Christ, my life of integrity, pursuit of this vision, and the pursuit of godly character, will allow me to impact my children, family, and others towards this end. I will practice a life of daily discipline and dependence in God through prayer and the study of God’s Word, for the wisdom in how to “nurture my children in the admonition of the Lord.” I will pursue this endeavor for a lifetime, whether my children are in my home or not. Finally, I believe that my end goal is not only for my children to walk in the Lord, but that this God-given vision would impact multi-generations to come. So help me God.
Returning Hearts video for Awana Lifeline:
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A N G O L A | Pt. 2 of 3

Once the children are reunited with their fathers, the fun begins! There are plenty of games, basketball hoops, etc. ready for them to enjoy together.

Justin Singleton, the youngest inmate pastor at Angola, spends time with one of his daughters. Justin attends seminary and is serving a life sentence.

The inmates are able to buy their children toys with credit they’ve earned from working jobs within the prison. This father and son analyze Silly Bandz while trying to decide what to get.

This photo was taken by Rebekah Clayton. I include it because it is a perfect example of the little, yet powerful moments we witnessed at Angola. Sabrina wanted to put on her Returning Hearts T-shirt so that her dad could sign it for her. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it later struck me that helping dress his child is a fatherly task that this dad doesn’t ever get to perform. Helping one’s kids get dressed is a daily event for parents of younger children. But not here. I’m still struck by how significant this simple moment this was, as well as others that I witnessed, like dads teaching their kids how to dribble or being able to buy them toys.

Kyle Hebert met his son for the first time at the Returning Hearts Celebration two years ago. It is the only time of the year he is able to see his son.

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A N G O L A | Pt. 1 of 3

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend last weekend in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to take part in the Returning Hearts Celebration. Returning Hearts is an annual event, hosted by Awana Lifeline, in which inmates are reunited with their children for a day. They are able to talk, play, and touch. The hope for Returning Hearts is that by fostering real relationships between father and child, the  generational cycle of incarceration will be broken. 2.2 million children have a parent in prison and those children are seven times more likely than other children to end up in prison as well.

The average sentence at Angola is 88 years. The majority of its prisoners will never be able to return home to their children. This event is, for some, the first time father and child will meet, and perhaps the only time they will see each other until the next year. Unlike ordinary visits, this is the only time the inmates are allowed to touch and embrace their children. The fathers that participate in this event are members of a father development program called Malachi Dads (based on Malachi 4:6).

This was perhaps the most emotional weekend of my entire life. There is so much more to be said for this, but it is impossible for me to articulate how powerful this weekend was. I hope that the photographs in this post, and the two more to come, will successfully convey some of what I saw at Angola.

I’d encourage anyone interested in volunteering next year, or simply in learning more, to visit here.

“And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers . . .”

One father’s name is called at a time, and he and his child(ren) run to each other.

Two brothers look out into the crowd of inmates for their father while waiting for his name to be called.

Like many of the fathers, Malcolm Naverro waits eagerly for his children with self-made gifts. Malcolm drew this portrait of his family.

Anxious guardians try to watch their children from outside the gates. They are not allowed in because of the focus on the children’s relationships with their fathers.

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