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Summer Camp In State Prison: A Chance To Bond With Dad

Photo caption:

Photo by Shereen Marisol Meraji NPR

Hope House campers wear tie-die shirts they made to the last day of camp at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md.

Photo caption:

Photo by Shereen Marisol Meraji NPR

The youngest camper, 9-year-old Jeremiah Ben, shares one last hug with his dad, Bruce Ben, before it's time to go home.

Photo caption:

Photo by Shereen Marisol Meraji NPR

During the day, the kids visit their dads in prison. But in the late afternoon and evenings, they do activities like tubing down a giant slip-and-slide. Kobe Goodall takes his turn while his fellow campers look on.

Photo caption:

Photo by Shereen Marisol Meraji NPR

The campers share a table with their fathers where they can catch up and work on crafts. Kobe Goodall and his dad, Carlos Goodall, talked a lot about football this year. Kobe wants to try out for his high school team. Carlos Goodall is serving 13 years in prison for robbery and drug possession.

On the list of activities for this summer camp: visiting Dad in a maximum security prison. The nonprofit group Hope House runs three camps to keep children connected with incarcerated dads who might not be close to home.

There are also plenty of arts and crafts, mosquito repellant and campfire songs.

Carol Fennelly founded Hope House in 1998, after a Washington, D.C.-area prison was closed, sending thousands of inmates to far-flung institutions. That made it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for relatives to visit.

Today there are three Hope House camps: one in North Carolina and two in Maryland. Fennelly also partners with groups that run summer camps in New Hampshire, Texas and California.

Inmates usually find out about the program through word of mouth or prison social workers. Dads are eligible if they have clean conduct for a year and take a parenting class.

I spent the end of summer camp with nine Hope House kids and traveled with them to visit their fathers at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md. That's a maximum security state prison. I shared the experience on Weekend Edition Saturday.

You'll want to hear the kids tell their own stories, so listen to the audio above.

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