Dancing in Prison

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Last Saturday, Nov. 16, The Indiana Department of Corrections hosted its first father-daughter dance inside prison walls. This allowed the daughters of incarcerated men to have an experience they had always missed out on. Organized by Ericka Sanders, the dance took place at the men's prison on Indy's east side. Ericka told me about the idea earlier this year, thinking it would be nice if some of the men in prison could see their daughters again in a casual, fun and "nice" environment. She started planning in July using all of her resources. She got everything donated -- the dresses for the daughters, suits for the fathers, the lunch, the décor and even the roses each inmate would pass along to their daughter. This was the first time this happened in any correctional facility in the state.

"What sticks out the most is the dancing," says Ericka Sanders. "They danced the entire time. They were so happy."  - MALINA SIMONE
  • Malina Simone
  • "What sticks out the most is the dancing," says Ericka Sanders. "They danced the entire time. They were so happy."

Twenty-six inmates found themselves feeling alive again. You could see their faces glow and brighten when they walked into the chapel on the prison campus. They smiled. They were waited on. They got to wear whatever they wanted. They were surrounded by love. And they danced. For two hours they got to be with someone who wishes to spend time with them. They got to hear music and they got to dance. Art brought families together and changed lives. I got a chance to ask Ericka how she feels now that the dance is over. "What sticks out the most is the dancing. They danced the entire time. They were so happy. I saw so many kisses. I saw the dads look so deep in their daughters eyes and they weren't even talking, just staring. It was incredible."

Spending time in a prison was a first for me. It's an entirely different world. What's most interesting though, was to spend time there within this context. We hear nasty stories about prison and about prisoners. Your guard goes up as soon as you walk in. But I saw people, I saw men who wanted what we all want; to be loved.

"I wish there was another dance today. All I can think about are the smiles, the laughter and the tears," said Sanders. "One dad thanked me for treating him like a person. Another promised me he would repay me by never letting his daughter down again. I got an email saying I was a hero. I feel blessed."

Inmates get a glimpse of the possibilities of their future beyond bars. - MALINA SIMONE
  • Malina Simone
  • Inmates get a glimpse of the possibilities of their future beyond bars.

The chaplain for this prison says a car show might be the next out of the box thing the DOC tries. It will be an event for sons to meet and see their incarcerated fathers. It made me think of what other art programs is the prison system missing? What projects can we consider to offer hope to inmates and give them a glimpse into the possibilities in their future? Is this the way to think about ending homelessness and re-integration into society? Is our arts scene missing an opportunity to have a greater impact? Thanks to Indy visionary Ericka Sanders for using art to spark new ideas, to offer hope and to mend relationship.

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