‘I Was a Prisoner and You Visited Me’: Summer Camp Behind Bars

In May 2010, I was honored to serve as resident humanities scholar for an inmate writing program initiated by Hope House DC. I spent a week at two prisons in Maryland facilitating writing workshops on Ernest Gaines’ classic A Lesson Before Dying.

The writing program was all part of a year-long preparation for summer camp behind bars – where the men finally get to spend a week with their kids. For many it’s the only time all year they get to see each other.

Below is great article on Hope House‘s summer camp at the North Branch maximum security prison. Also check out the news video.

CUMBERLAND, MD – A group of kids spent the week at a summer camp behind bars at the North Branch Correctional Institution. They get to spend precious time with their dads, who are inmates.

11-year-old Shawn Harris’s dad is his hero. That’s what he drew in the mural they made together.

“We’re superheros, standing on top of buildings, looking for crime,” explains Shawn.

Kids doing arts and crafts, telling jokes and singing songs. These kids are making typical summer memories with their dads, but this camp isn’t typical, because all of the dads are serving time behind bars.

“It helps me out a lot because I worry about him a lot,” says his dad, Juvon Harris. “A lot of things I want to tell him and show him and teach him.”

It’s a one-week camp organized by the nonprofit Hope House. They bring kids from across the state to visit their parents behind bars. Shawn lives in Baltimore and this is the one time he sees his dad each year.

“He’s grown a lot in size and maturity,” says his father. “Last year he was here, we had to have a big talk. So he stepped up his game in school.”

“I think it’s tough a lot of times at the end of the week,” says North Branch case manager Gary Sindy. “But I think it can only be beneficial and hopefully it works for the future.”

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Read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander to learn about the effect mass incarceration has upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, Alexander reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration.