Crafting, drawing, doing sports together. Play four in a row. If your father is in prison, it is not obvious that you do these activities together. So this week an autumn camp was organized at the Nieuwegein Prison Institution by Exodus Netherlands in cooperation with the Correctional Institutions Service.
Parents who are held here are given the opportunity to be creative with their children. to strengthen their bonds. Within three days – during the autumn holidays – the children spend time with their father. Last Wednesday was the first day of camp. Inside prison walls, in the gym. without handcuffs.
Children’s drawings are hung on the walls, so you will not say that you are in a prison. And that might be a good thing, because these days are organized around the idea that the kid will have a good day with his dad.
A moment when the father and the child are not reminded of the fact that the father is in prison somewhere far away.
Gerard* (40) is one of the co-parents. He is serving a 30-month prison sentence. It is not clear why he was arrested. His son was in the same room when we met him and that might be a reason he didn’t tell us.
With his son (9) Gerard tells us about the influence of these days. “You’re really back in your father’s role. It’s like we’re in prison, because you’re not sitting across from each other with plexiglass between them.”
“It’s nice to be with my dad.”
While Gerrard is talking, his son plays with sports equipment. Occasionally, the boy maintains an interest in the conversation. When asked what he likes the most, he said, “Football. But I like it here anyway, because I’m with my dad.”
Gerrard says this three-day camp is changing the relationship between father and child. He explains that during normal visiting hours, there is little time to have real conversations and get to know each other better. “For example, if my son feels a little better to say something, it’s already time, so to speak.”
lose the band
Sometimes there are phone appointments, but this is not optimal. For example, at that moment the child should only feel the desire to talk to his father on the phone. According to Gerrard, this often does not lead to long conversations. Thus, the moments are too short and too far away to maintain the good bond. “You also lose that bond. There are few good alternatives, and since you don’t see each other very often, I am amazed every time I see my son who has grown up head again.”
Talking to the child can help
Angela Verhagen researches the relationship between fathers and their children during captivity. She says it is important for both father and child to build a good relationship. “Children develop better. Parents often feel better mentally and want to adjust their behavior more quickly for their children, if they develop a good relationship with each other.”
According to Verhagen, children whose father(s) are in prison do not talk much about it. This is not only due to the fact that they have few peers. It’s a secret too, because they’re afraid the other kids wouldn’t want to hang out with them otherwise. “While it is good that they learn to talk about and normalize this. If it remains taboo, it can have a huge impact on the child.”
Verhagen understands that there is a stigma about it, because it also comes in part from self-protection. For example, children with such parents do not want to frighten other children. “But it can actually bring relief and the child can seek help at the right time, when this stigma has been removed.”
Marek van Zwam is the Fall Camp project lead. Having already succeeded in the project at PI Vught in 2019, leading to waiting lists, they have also brought camp to PI Veenhuizen and PI Nieuwegein this year. “Children are more open when they come here. They make new memories with their dad and communication is greatly improved.”
The loss is great
Van Zwaam also hears many positive stories from arrested parents. Serious conversations begin and there is a relaxed atmosphere. It also helps that they are in a different room, which makes the kids less aware that they are visiting the prison.
At the same time, the loss is also great, when it is time to say goodbye again on the last day. “But it can also help the father continue to strengthen that bond and desire to improve his life.”
Gerrard has now completed 22 months and still has eight months left. “Days like this take time for me. They give me energy for the last flight, so to speak.”
Children are the motive
What was the most difficult thing for him in his time inside the prison walls? “When my baby is so close to me, I still feel guilty. You don’t see him grow up.” This is exactly why it is so important these days.
Gerrard says he is under less stress because of this, because he has finally seen his child again. “My kids are my motivation. I’m doing it for them.”
*Girard is a fictitious name. The full name of the detainee is known to the editors.