- Associated Press - Monday, October 9, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - For mothers behind bars, photos and the rare visit are a lifeline to their children, many of whom face their own struggles while their moms are serving prison time.

A Kids Day event at the Utah State Prison’s Timpanogos facility for female inmates allowed the mothers to be with their kids for three hours, some who had not seen their child in years, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/2yb7atQ).

In that time, the families were able to make crafts together, play games, share a meal and enjoy long hugs.

It was the fourth time the prison put on the event and the second time it provided the opportunity for female inmates. It’s intended to support the connection between child and parent while the parent is incarcerated.

Before Saturday, it had been about three years since Elicia Chavez had seen her son, Damiano. Chavez is serving a one-to-15 year sentence for robbery.

Although she had received pictures tracking her son’s life, she said nothing compared to seeing him in person.

“In a picture, you can see him growing up,” she said about her dark-haired boy who laughed as played during the event. “But I can’t see that, I can’t hear that.”

Chavez’s son is being raised by aunt, who he thinks is his mom, but despite their complicated family dynamic, Chavez said one hug from him made her “feel complete again.”

More than 150 women took part in event, officials said. They are all recovering from drug addiction in a residential treatment program and had earned the privilege of attending the event through good behavior and success in prison programs.

Utah prison officials do not track how many state inmates are parents, but a 2017 report by the National Institution of Justice estimates between 50 percent and 75 percent of the nearly 2.3 million inmates have children.

Rollin Cook, the executive director for the Department of Corrections, is looking into expanding Kids Day so more inmates can work on sustaining the family relationships that will be essential to them when they leave prison.

“One thing about this that just gets me is that moment when the kids run from (the entrance) to their parents,” he said. “It just shows you that, regardless of the wall, there’s a whole lot of love that goes on.”


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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