Inside CDCR Video

Camp Grace strengthens vital bonds between children and fathers

Video by Ike Dodson and Dave Novick
Office of Public and Employee Communications

The more time Andrew Lek spends with the son who shares his name, the more he admires him. It’s why that even on the third day of Camp Grace, a one-of-a-kind program inside the visiting area of Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP), the excitement to spend time with his son was nearly overwhelming.

“Every morning I’m nervous,” Lek said. “Every morning I’m like, what am I going to tell him? Is there anything I have to ask him? What are we going to do for the day?”

“I hope I am able to live up to what he is expecting of me, how to conduct myself, behave. Every day I want to be the best image for him to kind of see how a man is supposed to carry himself, conduct himself, and speak and talk.”

Camp Grace is a five-day program hosted by CDCR and the nonprofit organization Place4Grace. Children spend part of the day bonding with their fathers in the visiting room of a prison and part of the day with other children off-site at a near-by campground.

The dads and kids spend time creating arts and crafts, drawing life-sized murals, and having some fun competition with games and sports. There is plenty of down time for some deeply personal conversations and the hugs, kisses, and other physical displays of affection not usually seen in a typical visiting experience.

“It’s been an amazing time with my son I wouldn’t have been otherwise able to have, if it wasn’t for this program,” Lek said. “So I’m so blessed that there is something like this for me to spend time with my kid.”

“This is an amazing experience,” Place4Grace Program Director Sutina Green added. “I myself had an incarcerated father and I never got to participate in anything like this. So seeing this, like definitely my heart is just full of love.”

To participate, dads must maintain positive disciplinary records for a full year. This incentive supports better behavior in prison and makes correctional staff safer as a result.

And no one benefits more than the children.

“Oftentimes it is easy for people to recognize victims of crime. What’s difficult for the public to recognize is that children of incarcerated people are extended victims of crime as well because they are sentenced to often 10, 15, 20 years or even life without their parent,” Place4Grace Executive Director Karen McDaniel said. “Children love their parent regardless of what they’ve done and they benefit from spending time with their parent.”

Camp Grace has become a special week for correctional staff to support. SVSP Visiting Officer Jorge Muros has enjoyed two years assisting the camp.

“Right at the moment, I saw it was unique, especially because I am a dad, and I come home every day and I get to hug my family on a daily basis,” Officer Muros said. “And a lot of these guys, they don’t have that opportunity to see their kids, and for them this is the only time they have to spend quality time with their kids.”

That rare opportunity is why Lek and other fathers line up in the recreational area of the visiting unit and peek through slats in the fence to get a glimpse of their children in the morning.

It’s why Lek takes special care to paint his son as one of the Avengers in the mural they crafted together.

“I look at him as he’s my superhero,” Lek said. “Every day I wake up and I’m proud to be his dad, and I know he looks at me the same.

“So we are both each other’s superhero.”

The video is also available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/RkxBU3iyImI

Learn more about Camp Grace.


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Transcript

(upbeat music)

Andrew Lek

I’m so blessed that there is something like this, for me to spend time with my kid.

It’s been an amazing time with my son, that I wouldn’t have been otherwise able to have, if it wasn’t for this program.

Julian Escobar

I dream about it. I wish for it, I pray for it.

And when it actually happens … there’s no place I would rather be than with the girls.

It’s amazing. It’s great.

Sutina Green

This is an amazing experience.

I myself had an incarcerated father, and I never got to participate in anything like this.

So seeing this, like definitely my heart is just full of love.

Camp Grace is an art- and music-based camp.

It’s where children get to spend extended time with their fathers for a full week, which is unlike a typical visiting experience, where visiting is just on a weekend and it’s very monitored, where there is not a lot of hands-on hugs and kisses.

This is where kids are able to spend quality time with their father, where they are able to bond and create new memories.

Julian Escobar

This is my daughter Jocelyn, and my daughter Lexi, and they’re amazing. They’re very special, very strong girls and very loving. I’m very lucky that they love me as much as they do.

Karen McDaniel

Oftentimes it is easy for people to recognize victims of crime.

What’s difficult for the public is to recognize is that children of incarcerated people are extended victims of crime as well because they are sentenced to often 10, 15, 20 years or even life without their parent.

Children love their parent regardless of what they’ve done and they benefit from spending time with their parent.

Officer Jorge Muros

Right at the moment, I saw it was unique, especially because I am a dad, and I come home every day and I get to hug my family on a daily basis.

And a lot of these guys they don’t have that opportunity to see their kids, and for them this is the only chance they have to spend some quality time with their kids.

Andrew Lek

Every day I want to be the best image that I could be for him to kind of see how a man is supposed to carry himself, conduct himself, and talk.

I look at him as he’s my superhero.

Every day I wake up and I’m proud to be his dad, and I know he looks at me the same.

So we are both each other’s superhero.