CUMBERLAND, Md. – One by one, proud dads described the murals they created
with their children. Each art piece features two smiling, oval-shaped photo
printouts of fathers and their sons or daughters having fun as a family.
During the five days of Hope House D.C.’s Camp Hope, held in July, each pair
dreamed of what they would to do together if circumstances were different.
They then worked to craft their wishes into visual form using everyday art
supplies such as construction paper, glitter, papier mache and other crafty
The murals will be on display Thursday at the art show “What Hope Looks Like,”
hosted by McDermott, Will & Emery in Northwest D.C.
Paper visions include beachside sunbathing — including 3-D legs protruding
from the mural. Others played basketball or football with dad. Some invited
paper versions of siblings to sit on the sidelines.
The art was created during Camp Hope, a sort of extended Father’s Day for a
group of dads incarcerated at the Western Correctional Institution, in
Thanks to Camp Hope, children can spend blocks of time with their dads inside
Longtime D.C.-area activist Carol Fennelly started the program in 1998 after
learning the Lorton Correctional Complex, in Fairfax County, would close.
Lorton inmates were transported to other prisons to complete their sentences –
– some as far away as California.
Fennelly figured that distance would make regular visits extremely difficult
for some D.C.-area children. So she decided to do something to help kids
maintain contact with their fathers.
At first, Hope House’s main goal was to prepare dads for life after
incarceration. One way they did this was to foster relationships between
inmates and their children. But Fennelly says some of the prisoners she meets
may never get home. So Hope House modified some of their goals.
“We realized that what we were doing was helping families to create legacy.
Prior to that, these children had a legacy of their fathers being in prison
through their whole lives. … Their fathers may still be in prison, but they
have a positive legacy of a relationship,” Fennelly says.
That connection could last as long as six years for some participants, if they
start early with Hope House. Children can take part in the camps between the
ages of 9 and 14.
In order for dads to take part in Camp Hope, the prison has to allow the camp.
Then, the fathers must earn the right to participate.
If the dads steer clear of trouble, and their children don’t move outside the
area, Fennelly says, fathers and children will “have a legacy to carry forward
that’s positive and loving and nurturing … that they wouldn’t have had
Bruce Benn and his son, Jeremiah, spent time together before his prison stint
started, but “we didn’t do painting together at home, working on murals and
stuff like that,” Benn says.
“This is probably the only time I get to see him, is when something like this
happens, some kind of activities or something go on, and they can go pick him
up for me. That’s pretty much how I get to see him,” Benn says.
Benn, who says he’s serving a 25-year sentence, guesses visits from home are
difficult because loved ones may not have the money to fill a gas tank for the
drive to Cumberland.
On the final day of camp, a Friday, dads and kids enjoyed line dances such as
the Electric Slide and Cupid Shuffle, as well as a special dance to Luther
Vandross’ tearjerker tune “Dance With My Father.”
Dads took time to just hold their children. Some wouldn’t see them until the
prison’s family day. Other dads might have to wait until the next Camp Hope.
“What Hope Looks Like” will be held Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at
McDermott, Will & Emery. Tickets are $50. Contact Hope House DC for more information.