Incarcerated dads spend quality time with their kids at the Kewanee correctional center

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Kewanee, Ill. (KWQC) - The Kewanee Life Skills Re-Entry Center gave incarcerated dads and their kids a chance to reunite and build stronger relationships.

Incarcerated dads got the chance to spend a day with their kids at the Kewanee Life Skills Re-Entry Center. (KWQC)

The Day With Dads event is an example of a big change prisons across the country are trying to make in order to inspire inmates to get back home to their kids.

Mario Godfrey, an inmate at the Kewanee correctional center, said he hasn’t seen his daughter in six months.

"I can't even explain it in words how excited I was and how excited she was,” he said.

Gofrey said this is the only prison in the state of Illinois to allow a day like this for dads and their kids.

This year marks the third year the correctional center hosted the Day With Dads event.

"I wish they could have it everyday if that was possible because this is just amazing,” said Godfrey.

The event was split into two summer sessions. About 55 dads and 120 of their kids got the chance to spend quality time together after a long time apart.

"We are able to do that better by not sitting in the visiting room, but being able to throw a football around, play basketball, do arts and crafts, sit together and eat lunch like we do with our families at home,” said Jennifer Parrack, the correctional center’s assistant programs.

Parrack said their facility is designed to prepare inmates for life skills. That’s why they were inspired to do the event after seeing other facilities across the country doing it.

"We feel that family reunification and having the dads being able to have a positive impact on their children is important,” said Parrack. “Also, their children are a lot of times the motivating factor for why they apply to come to this program. Our dads want something better for themselves when they get ready to go home."

Parrack said children are impacted financially and emotionally -- and may start to look toward other negative role models out on the streets when their dads are in prison.

"Obviously the research is clear. There are negative impacts on children whose parents are incarcerated,” she said. “But I think it's important to know our dads love their kids the same way we love our kids. And they don't necessarily have the opportunity to give back to them when they are here."

Some incarcerated dads go as long as several years before they see their kids again -- like Kevin Perez.

"It's been almost five years,” said Perez. “It has been awhile."

Perez had the chance to see his daughter again for the Day With Dad event this year, but it was rescheduled due to extreme heat.

His daughter couldn’t make it to the rescheduled date because by that time she was back in school.

"It is hard but I guess I can live vicariously through the other dads here -- help them out and get to interact with their children too,” Perez said. “It's not the same but it helps."

He chose to volunteer for the event instead. Perez said he is looking forward to seeing his daughter next month when he is set to be released.

People working at the correctional center said having days like the event is important for dads to have before they are released.

"You gotta think about what other things could happen that could cause them to trigger and recommit,” said Justin York, a chaplain for the correctional center. “One of the things we were thinking of is family -- if they go home and they are rejected -- it's another trigger."

York said the day helps dads rebuild their relationship with their families before they get home, which then leads to a better opportunity for dads to stay out of prison.

Parrack said it also gives kids a chance at having a better life.

"What we've seen in past years is kids that have come and their mothers reported that they do better in school after their experiences coming here,” she said. “We see dads that say 'I was truly able to connect that day. We are talking more on the phone. We're having more positive conversations.'"

The correctional center plans on continuing the event annually after seeing its positive outcome.

"This is something I'll definitely be looking forward to next year too because I'll still be here,” said Godfrey.

Dads at the correctional center said this day motivated them to get back home to their kids.

Day with Dads was made possible through a few local churches in Kewanee who raised money for it.

Inmates at the correctional center and church members volunteered to help run the event.