Education TEDx

Meet the fathers and daughters who danced the night away in a prison

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

For a teenage girl, few things are more awkward than developing a good relationship with her father. This is something that Angela Patton knows well after years of listening to the girls at Camp Diva, her nonprofit dedicated to empowering African-American girls, talk about their dads. Patton wanted to help her campers find a way to invite their fathers into their lives and set up good lines of communication. But how?

Patton put the question to the girls themselves. And they came up with a fascinating concept — a father-daughter dance. The dance was such a hit the first time around that Camp Diva decided to make it an annual event. But as they started planning the dance a year later, Patton ran into a glitch — one of her camper’s fathers was in jail and wouldn’t be able to attend.

As Patton shares in today’s talk, filmed at TEDxWomen, another girl in the group had a bold idea.

“She suggested, ’Why don’t we just take the dance to the jail?’” recalls Patton. “Most of the other girls doubted the possibility of that. They said, ‘Are you crazy? Who is going to allow a bunch of little girls, dressed up, to come inside a jail and dance with their daddies?’”

Luckily, Patton found someone crazy enough to allow this — Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody.

“He is a very special sheriff,” explains Patton. “He contacted me immediately and said that whenever there is an opportunity to bring families inside, his doors are always open. One thing he knows is that when fathers are connected to their children, it is less likely that they will return.”

And so, a father-daughter dance was held in the Richmond City Jail with 16 inmates and 18 daughters invited.

“The girls were dressed in their Sunday best. The fathers traded in their yellow and blue jumpsuits for shirt and ties. They hugged … they laughed together,” remembers Patton. “It was beautiful. The fathers and daughters experienced the opportunity to have a physical connection … [The fathers could] extend their hand for a dance. Even the guards cried.”

Patton hopes this evening will create permanent change for these families.

“We have created a forum for girls who have heavy questions on their heart to be in a position to ask their fathers those questions, and given the fathers the freedom to answer,” says Patton. “A father who is locked in should not be locked out of his daughter’s life.”

To hear more about this incredible dance, and the wonderful ideas Patton and her girls had for continuing the father-daughter bonding, watch today’s talk. And after the jump, check out some photos taken at this unique dance.

Girls-waiting

In a room inside the Richmond City Jail, the girls wait for the dance to begin. Because several of them had their ride fall through, a lieutenant colonel at the jail went to pick them up himself.

Scene-inside-the-dance

As soon as the dance began, all 16 inmates and their daughters took to the dance floor.

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This father invited his twin daughters to the dance. Here, he holds one of them as the group gets a salsa lesson.

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9-year-old De’Brianna Richardson poses for a photo with her father, Faiz Lawton, who was in jail for auto theft-grand larceny. Lawton tells Richmond Magazine that the best part of the dance was, “Just being able to embrace [De’Brianna]. Being able to hug her, hold her, squeeze her, kiss her, talk to her closely, share a meal with her.”

De'Brianna-and-Faiz

All of the father-daughter pairs at the dance got to borrow FlipCams, allowing them to record video messages for each other.

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A father-daughter pair cut a rug on the dance floor. Because his daughter did not get to the dance until late, this father was worried she wouldn’t show at all. In addition to dancing, the fathers held a contest where they made up rhymes about their daughters on the spot.

Lin'Asia-and-Linwood

Lin’Asia Harris hugs her father, Linwood Harris, who was serving 90 days for failure to pay child support. Harris was released shortly after the dance and told Richmond Magazine, “She knows from her heart that I’m not a bad person.”

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The dance wrapped with the fathers and daughters dancing to Luther Vandross’ “Dance with My Father.” As the daughters left the Richmond City Jail, they exchanged journals with their fathers, each book full of messages for the other to read when they felt distant.

Photos by Jay Paul Photography and Angela Patton.

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