Prison provides Christmas togetherness for families

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Families with an incarcerated parent are separated during the holidays.

But Saturday at the Indianapolis Re-entry Educational Facility incarcerated fathers got a special Christmas party with their children.

“It is a blessing to be able to spend time with your children when you’ve been out of their life for so long,” said Sean Coates, who attended with his three children.

“Having a cool conversation with him,” said Miracle Coates, Coates’ daughter.

Thirty-two fathers and their 64 children were at the party, along with Santa.

The fathers are part of the prison’s Inside Out Dad program.

“We believe the fathers need to have interaction with their children as part of positive re-entry,” said Keith Blackburn, director of the program and chaplain at the prison. “We teach them skills they need to be a good father. We teach them how to interact with their child. We teach how to write letters.”

It also gives them times like the one they shared Saturday to be able to sit down and speak with their children privately.

“It’s almost the only time I get to spend time with him,” said Tyree Thomas, Jr., who attended with his dad.

“We actually get to sit and hang out. We don’t feel like we’re being watched like there’s security over us or anything like that,” said Michael Ritchie, Sr., who ate dinner with his son.

For some of them, they’ve never had a Christmas at home with their children.

“Man, it’s heartbreaking. A lot of people know what (it) is to be gone a long time and then watch your kids grow up through pictures. That’s nothing don’t nobody want to do,” said Tyree Thomas, Sr.

But the kids and fathers say the past is the past. They’re now looking toward the future.

“It’s actually the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten,” said Michael Ritchie, Jr.

The program is designed to help families know each other before the fathers are released. In addition to the parties like Saturday’s, they also meet every three months privately to play basketball, talk and play video games. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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