Camp Grace returns to High Desert State Prison

High Desert State Prison incarcerated fathers and prison staff during Camp Grace.
Incarcerated dads and the warden gather for a photo during Camp Grace.

Five incarcerated fathers, children bond during five-day camp

Camp Grace returned to High Desert State Prison for the first time since the pandemic, allowing five incarcerated fathers to bond with their children.

The camp began Monday, Aug. 8 and concluded Friday, Aug. 12. In all, the camp featured performances, dancing and a mural show where fathers and their kids presented art depicting their perfect day together.

High Desert State Prison (HDSP) has hosted Camp Grace since 2017, where it has been passionately supported by many.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with Camp Grace this year at HDSP,” said Warden Rob St. Andre. “The Place for Grace Staff are caring, organized, and trusted by the children attending camp. I was very touched by the generosity of time and resources donated by HDSP staff and the Susanville community who made this event possible.”

Most importantly, says Warden St. Andre, “the Camp Grace program brings positive change to the institution, the population, the children and the community. This is why l will continue to support this program and encourage its growth.”

During Camp Grace

Camp Grace, a program facilitated by Place4Grace and CDCR, allows children to spend time with their incarcerated fathers during a five-day enhanced visiting program. The program strengthens family bonds and encourages rehabilitation.

Children spend part of the time with their fathers in the visiting area of the institution. The other part of their day is spent at a nearby campsite with Place4Grace staff. While there, they enjoy nature and experience the fun of camping.

While together, dads and kids engage in activities like arts and crafts, singing and dancing.

They also have the opportunity to enjoy everyday activities most take for granted. These include watching a movie, eating meals together, and having simple conversations.

Final day of camp and mural show

On the final day of camp, fathers read a poem to their children, telling them how much they cherish them.

For their dads, kids also performed a choreographed dance to the song, “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Everyone attending couldn’t help but join in and sing along.

This year, participants created life-sized murals depicting their perfect day together. They presented these murals on the final day of camp.

Pieces included:

  • a daughter and her father on a boat hunting for a rainbow fish to feed her kitten
  • a son and father on the beach in Hawaii
  • and a father and his kids rocking out as a family band. 

Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and his staff were among those attending presentations on the camp’s final day.

“During my visit, I was profoundly moved by the poems that the fathers read aloud on how much their kids meant to them and how important it was to maintain those precious bonds, even under circumstances which they have come to regret intensely, and which they intend to eventually transcend through rehabilitation and redemption,” said Senator Newman.

“I was immensely impressed at how this innovative, human program provides a vital space for incarcerated dads and their kids to connect, heal and grow. Camp Grace appears to have proven itself as a successful model with real promise for replication at other prisons throughout the state.”

Father shares thoughts on Camp Grace experience

Father’s get to participate in Camp Grace as an incentive for their rehabilitative efforts. To participate, they must maintain positive disciplinary records for a full year. The program serves as a motivator for fathers to participate in positive programming, which lowers recidivism rates upon their release.

Many say that the program has changed their lives.

Incarcerated father Demetrius Wilkerson has been participating in Camp Grace since its inception at HDSP. He said the program has changed his mind and heart. According to Wilkerson, his participation is one of his greatest accomplishments to date.

“Throughout the six-plus years of being involved in the camp, I found myself changing on many levels — emotionally, spiritually and mentally. It has helped me stay focused and motivated,” says Wilkerson. “I will forever be grateful for this program because it has given me a new perspective on life. (And) it allows me to stay bonded with my children through these priceless moments.”

Wilkerson added that he loves the final day of camp, which includes a barbecue with HDSP’s warden, administrators and some correctional officers.

“We all eat together. I am just moved to see us all hanging out – no one is passing judgment, it is all love,” he said.

About Place 4 Grace

Place4Grace was founded in 2009 with the mission to restore families and advocate for children impacted by incarceration. Programs serve families and children of incarcerated men and women with a focus on family reunification, literacy, providing an environment for extended father and child bonding time, advocacy, and restoration.

Learn more about Place4Grace on their website.

Read more rehabilitation stories.

Follow CDCR on YouTubeFacebook and Twitter.