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.