Inmate to Child, over Video Screen: Teleconferencing Allows Prisoners a Role as Parents

By Wagner, Arlo | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Inmate to Child, over Video Screen: Teleconferencing Allows Prisoners a Role as Parents


Wagner, Arlo, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Two D.C. churches are participating in a program that uses video-conferencing technology to give imprisoned fathers a chance to play a positive role in the lives of their children - and vice-versa.

The program, called "Father to Child," is designed to give the families of inmates a way to maintain communication, something supporters say pays huge dividends for children and fathers.

During a demonstration yesterday, Ikesha Payne used the video-conferencing equipment to talk to her father, a Washington man imprisoned in Ohio on drug charges.

"Hi, Dad," said the 9-year-old Southeast girl, seated atop three dictionaries in front of a television screen at Unifest House in the 1200 block of W Street SE.

"Sit back and relax," came the voice of Isaiah Broggins from prison in Youngstown, Ohio. "Where's your mommy?"

Valerie Payne was right there. For more than two hours, the three talked, peering at pictures of one another on the TV screen, and at Ikesha's perfect school attendance certificate and a picture she had drawn in school.

"What's that? A rabbit?" inquired the father as Ikesha wiggled in pleasure and answered affirmatively.

The inmate-to-family teleconference was believed to be the first in the nation. From now on, D.C. children will be able see and talk regularly with their fathers who were transferred from a Virginia facility to the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center.

"Even though they are locked up, they are not locked out of their families," said the Rev. Mary Wilson, assistant pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church, one of the sponsoring churches, located next door to Unifest.

Hopefully, the televised meetings will save families, most of which break up while fathers are in prison, said Carol Fennelly, director of Hope House, which organized the program after many five-hour trips to and from Youngstown.

About 1,700 inmates have been moved to the Youngstown prison since 1997, when Congress ordered the Lorton Prison in Fairfax County closed. The last inmates are to be moved by New Year's Eve 2001.

The inmates, in effect, were exiled, said Miss Fennelly. "While Lorton provided a sort of exile, at least it was nearby. Families were better able to maintain contact, and a semblance of unity."

More than 80 percent of families do not survive after a father is imprisoned, Miss Fennelly said. Also, inmates without family visits violate parole three times the rate of inmates visited by families. And 60 percent of visited inmates have no parole violations in the first year, compared with 40 percent of the unvisited inmates.

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