Hardee County, FL. (WFLA)- A child is only young for so long. As they grow up every moment is precious, but for parents who are in prison, quality time is a rare luxury.
And now a special program called ‘Children of Inmates’ helped a group of Tampa kids bond with their incarcerated fathers at Hardee County Correctional Institution. Experts say around 200,000 Florida kids have parents who are in prison.
The group, ‘Children of Inmates’ is one of the few of its kind in the country that gives these inmates a taste of normal family life. Some of these kids haven’t seen their parents in months or years.
14-year-old Ashley Schofield deeply loves her dad Leo from afar because it’s all she’s ever known. Schofield said fighting back tears, “He’s never been to our house. He’s been in here longer than I’ve been alive.”
Leo Schofield is serving a life sentence, and Ashley’s life has gone on without him. Leo Schofield said, “First steps, first day of school, and I’m praying that I don’t miss the graduation or the marriage or anything else because every day is vital.”
After the buses unloaded, many of the children ran to their fathers with open arms. Some tears were shed.
This is a chance for these inmates to escape from the prison cells and the barbed wires and just be a dad for a day. Inmate Andre Ashley said, “I miss em a lot. I miss em a lot.”
For inmates like Andre Ashley, this is a rare treat. Even during normal visits, they don’t get chances for fun like this. Sitting on his lap, his daughter Cayenne looked up longingly and asked, “Can you take me to kindergarten, pleeeease?”
Ashley said, “I’ve never been there before. Never dropped off or picked her up there.” Not having dad around takes its toll. Ashley Schofield said, “I wish he was home. Just like all the stuff that’s going on in life, he needs to be home. He should not be in here.”
Moments like these are a reminder that family time is a precious gift. Leo Schofield said, “Don’t waste your time with frivolous stuff, if you have children. Dedicate your lives to those children.”
After the games, the families gathered for a lunch together with better food than what they normally serve at the prison. Some of the kids have a hard time saying goodbye to their parents here, so ‘Children of Inmates’ has counselors available for them too. The group organizes these gatherings these events in prisons statewide.