The idea of taking a child to prison for a week may bring to mind visions of "Scared Straight" programs. But the Father to Child Summer Camp Behind Bars does just that — and the goal is to let kids bond with their fathers, who might be incarcerated far from their families.
The unique summer camp lodges children at a campground near prisons in Maryland and North Carolina, according to Here & Now, the show from WBUR and NPR. The kids visit their fathers in prison each day.
And the camp has a fan in a boy named Kobe, who tells Here & Now co-host Robin Young that his father invited him to attend during a phone call from prison.
"I was actually a little nervous," Kobe tells Robin. "Not really much about the prison. I was really more nervous about seeing him than the prison itself because I hadn't seen him in a few years."
As the Hope House website explains, the children don't spend the night in prison — they stay at a nearby campground, complete with s'mores. But they're with their fathers for several hours each day, doing crafts and other activities.
The program also has requirements for which prisoners can take part, based on their behavior and the offenses for which they're being punished. Each camp session includes about 15 children.
Asked about his experience, Kobe says he's happy he went.
"It was great. We hit it off from the start," he tells Robin. "We talked about family and our interests, and things like that. It changed my whole perspective about prison. And over that week, I changed my perspective of him — which was never bad in the first place; I didn't hate him or resent him or anything."
Kobe says that he and his dad used the time together to rebuild their relationship. And he realized they have similar personalities and senses of humor.
"It was a great experience," he says. "We had, like, no prior connection before the camp. This camp brought us together."
You can hear the entire interview, and a chat with Carol Fennelly, the executive director of Hope House, at the Here & Now website. Citing data from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the show reports that "1 in 28 kids in the U.S. has a parent in prison. For African-American kids, the number jumps to 1 in 9."
A camp in western Maryland was also featured in a video report by The Washington Post.