CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla-- Dozens of families are being reunited for the holidays at the Charlotte County Correctional Institute. On Monday, kids and caregivers were driven from Miami to Punta Gorda for the visit thanks to a state-wide program, Children of Inmates, that works to create bonds between inmates and their loved ones.
“We coordinate quarterly bonding visits where we take the kids on special visits to visit their incarcerated parents, and these visits are different, much different then the normal weekend visits," said Program Development and Policy Dir. Samuel Ludington.
With the holidays just around the corner, this visit included a festive meal, games and the inmates surprising their kids with a wrapped gift they were able to pick out, thanks to generous donations.
"This is our first Christmas visit," said inmate Joseph Garcia.
Garcia has served 10 years of his 25 year sentence. He said it's because of Children of Inmates that he first met his 10-year-old son 6 years ago.
"He’s been growing, he’s been getting tall, man he’s almost my size, you know he’s 10 years old,” said Garcia.
Garcia and other inmates agree the program has helped keep strong bonds between them and their kids, even behind bards.
“Before the program, it was just a regular visit so I used to always get into stuff, but now I try and stay out of trouble for his sake,” said inmate Kenny Harris.
While many of these inmates are looking forward to life outside of prison, until that day comes, they are grateful for the memories being made at the holiday event.