By Brenda L. Holmes
INDIANAPOLIS — Many people travel to see friends and family for the holidays. For those incarcerated, it can be a difficult time because they’re missing out on those “normal” Christmas activities.
A party was planned to make the holiday a little brighter for the residents at the Indianapolis Re-Entry Education Facility. More than 80 children, together with their fathers or grandfathers, gathered at the facility’s Children’s Visitation Center through the Family Education Division (FEDs).
Michael Cunegin is a Re-Entry Specialist II who oversees the FEDs program.
“The main purpose of doing this is to bring unity back to the family,” Cunegin said. “Like anybody, they have good days and bad days. The smile of a child can really be great during a frustrating day.”
Residents of the facility must have completed the Inside Out Dads program to participate in the party.
“That’s a 12-week course where they learn to be better dads or granddads,” he said.
There was a $15 toy limit for each child and the resident had to pay for the gift from his own funds. These could be funds they earned from jobs within the facility or funds that had been placed on their inmate trust accounts.
“It made the dads feel very good knowing that they paid for it,” Cunegin said. “That’s one thing they’re learning here is the responsibility to pay for things. And the looks on the kids’ faces was priceless.”
Weeks ago, residents planned and shopped from gift catalogs.
There were a few residents who had not been at the facility long enough to have money in their accounts, so the gifts for their children were paid for by donations from the community.
The party included listening to Christmas stories, singing carols, and dance contests, along with cookies, snacks, and other refreshments. There was also a special visitor from the North Pole — Santa himself.
The Children’s Visitation Center (CVC) recently held a grand reopening event. The center had originally been funded by grants.
“When that grant went away, we couldn’t fund it,” Cunegin said. “But we’ve seen the importance of keeping the fathers and their children, or even grandchildren, together. We were able to fund the program by shuffling money from other programs.”
The CVC is open year-round and gives residents and their children time to be together for private visits.