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The Father Daughter Dance That Made Prison Guards Cry

“Just because a father is locked in doesn’t mean he should be locked out of his daughter’s life.”

That’s the premise behind a unique father-daughter dance that happened in an unlikely place– a jail.

In this Ted Talk, Angela Patton, founder of Camp Diva, a nonprofit organization that helps African-American girls prepare for their passage into womanhood, explained how the unique event came about and what it means for those involved.

Patton said she meets with girls on a regular basis and in one of the gatherings the girls decided to hold a father-daughter dance as a way to encourage healthy relationships with their fathers.

The idea caught fire as the girls starting planning where it would be held, what they would eat, what they would wear and what their fathers could and could not wear.

But the discussion stopped when one girl said, “My dad can’t come to the dance and this whole thing is making me sad.” Brianna’s father is in jail.

So the suggestion was made, “Let’s have the dance in the jail.”

A bold idea that was met with skepticism.  As one girl observed, “Who would let a bunch of little girls go to a jail for a dance?” But Patton said, “You never know unless you ask.”

She contacted C. T. Woody, the Richmond City Sheriff.  He loved the idea. After all, he told Patton, “Whenever there’s an opportunity to connect inmates with their children’s lives there’s less chance they’ll return.”

16 inmates and 18 girls were invited.  The girls showed up in their Sunday best and the men traded in their prison jumpsuits for shirts and ties.

They hugged and laughed and enjoyed a catered dinner of chicken and fish.  

Patton called the evening beautiful adding, “Even the guards cried.”

But more importantly, Patton said the fathers and daughters had a chance to make a physical connection and make video recordings of each other that they could enjoy when they were once again separated.  

One girl asked her dad on the video, “when you look at me, what do you see?”  Patton said it’s important for young girls to have that information because “our daddies are our mirrors that we reflect back on when we decide what type of man we deserve and how they see us for the rest of their lives.”  

The father-daughter dance has become an annual event.