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Father and Child Bonding Through Returning Hearts


When you think of jail, images of barbeques and bounce houses probably do not come to mind. You probably don't think of inmate fathers spending time with their children in a carnival atmosphere, talking and laughing as they work on repairing their relationships. However, this is what you would see if you were at South Facility during a Returning Hearts event. But it's not all just fun and games.

Statistics show children of an incarcerated parent are seven times more likely than their peers to end up incarcerated. The M.E.R.I.T. program at South Facility aims to change this statistic by helping men understand their roles as fathers, husbands, and family leaders. The program seeks to enable fathers to seek forgiveness and build connections as a way of breaking the cycle of familial crime. As M.E.R.I.T. works toward this goal, each year they hold Returning Hearts, a carnival style event that promotes reconciliation and healing for M.E.R.I.T. inmates and their children. Grace Baptist Church co-sponsors the event, providing volunteers, food, and various activities.

Returning Hearts is held outdoors in the park-like setting surrounding the old inmate chapel at the now closed original "Ranch" jail. The various activities - large bounce room, mini golf, horseshoes, face painting, and many carnival games - provide a calming atmosphere as the fathers and their children work together to properly repair their broken relationships. For lunch there is a large barbeque featuring burgers and hot dogs, chips, cookies and soda. Grace Baptist Church also gives the kids backpacks containing candy, toys, coloring books, crayons, writing materials, and Bibles.

Before Returning Hearts takes place, the M.E.R.I.T. inmates go through weeks of training and counseling, learning to be the men they need to be for their families. At Returning Hearts the men are given their first real opportunity to start living what they've learned. Volunteers from Grace Baptist and the Sheriff's Department accompany them and their children, helping them to get the most from this opportunity.

There was a time when an event such as Returning Hearts would not be found in the Los Angeles County Jails. "But the times, they are a changing." Returning Hearts is just one of many examples of how Sheriff Baca is dedicated to the goal of teaching inmates how to have better lives when they are released, lives that include healthy relationships with their families and that do not result in a return to jail nor to the choices that led to their incarceration.

Pitchess Detention Center, South Facility

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

29330 The Old Road

Castaic, CA 91384

(661) 295-8805

Inmate Info: (213) 473-6100

Playing catch with dad.
Playing catch with dad.

A bonding moment.
A bonding moment.

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