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Waltz Around Larch Corrections Center

April 20, 2018

By Nancy Simmons

Correctional Specialist at Department of Corrections

Action shot of a dad and daughter dancing

Incarcerated dad Alston and his daughter boogying down! (Photo Courtesy of Michele Howard)

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YACOLT – Streamers & music filled the Larch Corrections Center (LCC) gym as it was transformed into a formal dance hall for 22 incarcerated fathers and their daughters on March 17, 2018. This year marked the fourth annual Father/Daughter event and dance.

Each of the daughters had an escort ranging from moms, grandparents, or other extended household members, making the event truly family focused. The girls ranged in ages from two to 22. The two-day event included makeup lessons and hair styling for daughters, a dance, and many parting gifts.

The annual dance began in 2014 after seeing a TED Talk about offering fatherhood engagement events inside of a jail. One of the events featured was a father/daughter dance. According to one incarcerated father, “The dance allowed me to feel like a dad, not in khakis. It allowed my daughter to have a dad to dance with.”

Prior to the big event, there was a lot to do to get ready. There were weekly dance lessons for over two months. The fathers were taught the foxtrot, cha cha, the slide, and even the chicken dance.

Thanks to the generosity of the Goodwill Headquarters, the fathers were able to be adorned with suits for the big day. Staff started by surveying the participating dads on what their personal style entailed. Ten staff volunteered as “personal shoppers” and were able to put together outfits which reflected each dad’s look.

On the starting day of the event, staff from GLAMbeauty Bar, a salon in Vancouver, volunteered at the facility to teach the dads beauty basics for their daughters. The dads learned to style their daughters’ hair, paint their nails, and even apply makeup. The tables turned on a few of the men as their daughters took the opportunity to be silly and paint their dad’s nails as well. One dad expressed, “It was amazing. Thank you so much. I learned that I don’t look good in makeup.”

It was the salon’s second year participating in the event. According to Meghan Hamilton, owner of GLAMbeauty Bar, “This event is so important because it helps strengthen relationships and creates deeper bonds.” Additionally, Hamilton feels that being involved in the community is very important to her as a business owner and resident of Vancouver. She was able to attend the event alongside five staff. They brought to the daughters all of the supplies and goodie bags packed full of items they had used that day. Hamilton and her crew also teach local fathers how to style hair in the shop. Hamilton believes in “empowering women. That mission starts when you are a little girl.”

Alongside the glam team was a professional photographer. The portraits were emailed to the family members in attendance and printed for the incarcerated dads to keep. That was one dad’s favorite part. “The best part for me was seeing my daughter in her dress and the pictures I got to take.” Fathers made personal video messages, necklaces with the picture of the father-daughter pairs, and a drawing was held for a hand sculpture statue which four of the daughters in attendance received. The Larch art club donated sewn stuffed bears for each of the girls. Events like these help the fathers to understand that it’s often small, everyday things in life that stick with their children leading to lifelong memories, organizers said.

In some cases, dads have been separated from their daughters for extended periods of time. The event provided an opportunity for healing and bonding, organizers said. These two days were filled with laughter, smiles, and a few tears. Events like the father-daughter dance are critical for the Department of Corrections, as it allows for opportunities to strengthen family bonds which could lead to a decreased chance of returning to prison. Additionally, the department values and appreciates community interaction.

Tyler Williams was extremely appreciative, “It was highly emotional to see my two daughters, as I hadn’t seen my 5 year old in two years. She was really shy at first, but then we bonded. It’s very important to have these rare moments with my girls. I’m done (with crime). I can’t be out of their lives like this anymore.”

Larch Corrections Center and Event Organizers would like to thank the following people for their help: Superintendent Oliver-Estes, CPM Miller, custody staff, warehouse, accounting, recreation, chaplain, visiting staff, Liz Hainline, Caroline Melhuish, Tammy Bull, Laura Wilson, Deb Smith, Victoria Shepherd, Denise Stevens, Heather Williams, Amy Bohanan, Barbara Olson, Michelle Merrill, Leah Hall, and Susan Yadon.