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Virginia Jail Holds Father-Daughter Dance for Prisoners

ABC News (RICHMOND, Va.) -- Many of the prisoners at Virginia’s Richmond City Jail admit they made poor choices, and could be better fathers.

“I am definitely failing as a parent right now, just by being out of her life,” Ronnell Glasgow said.

A few examples: Julian Edwards is serving four years for drug distribution, Joey Atkins is awaiting trial for illegal gun possession, and Glasgow is serving seven years for selling drugs.

Most of the men are in their 20s and 30s. Gerald Ward is awaiting trial for guns and drug charges. He told ABC News his daughter is only 4 years old. “But it’s amazing what she understands. She understands that Daddy did something wrong,” he says.

As these troubled men serve out their sentences, their children pay a price –  often spending the most important years of their lives without active father figures.

Regardless of the culture, there’s something special and valued about the father-daughter bond, yet when these daughters go to visit their fathers in jail, they can only speak to them through a thick glass or on the telephone.

“It is hard for her to release and talk to me behind the glass,” said Edwards.

In 2012, the father-daughter dance at the Richmond City Jail was born.

It was the brainchild of Angela Patton, who runs Camp Diva, a Richmond nonprofit aimed at empowering young girls. She had heard the concerns of a daughter who had a father in jail. The young girl wanted to attend an event where she could dance with her father too, like others girls and their fathers across the city.

Patton convinced Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. to host the dance inside the jail, and he agreed.

“They are not hardcore criminals, they deserve a second chance,” Woody said. “And they can be very good citizens and the best way to make a good citizen is to make good fathers.”

Woody says he agreed because he feels that inmates who are allowed to dance with their daughters will be reminded why they should never return to jail once they’re released.

Earlier this month, a dance was held with daughters ranging from age 4 to 16.

“I did this because I know how important family is.  Someone saved me.  I haven’t always been a law-abiding, law enforcement officer,” Woody said.

Hours before the dance, the men expected to meet their daughters were brought suits and dress shoes to their jail cells. Some of them wore a tie for the first time. Outside of their orange jumpsuits, they look like everyday men.

At home, 8-year-old A’maya Thomas was getting ready too. Her father, Antoine Thomas, is serving time for robbing a bank. “I get to touch him and I get to hug him and I get to kiss him,” she said before the dance.

When the big moment arrived, the young girls in brightly colored dresses were escorted down the drab and dreary halls of the jail.  When they walked past the solid steel mechanical doors, the fathers waiting on the other side began to cry. The young girls bounced across the hall and into their fathers’ arms.

The dance itself only lasted for a few hours, but in that short time, the young girls had real moments with their fathers.

When the men do time, their daughters do time, and they said they plan to never let that happen to the girls again.

Ronnell Glasgow, in jail for selling drugs, promised to do better.

“I thought I needed material things to make my daughter happy, when what I needed was right in front of my face,” he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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