Shifting Culture and Reuniting Families

There are many factors that contribute to an individual’s recovery and success after incarceration. Re-building and maintaining strong family bonds are just one element that can make all the difference. When an individual goes to prison, it not only impacts themselves but their family and children. Then you throw COVID into the mix… Due to restrictions and preventative measures, the South IdahoCorrectional Institution has not allowed minor children to visit for 2 ½ years.

In September 2022, SICI hosted a carnival event proposed by Officer Brock Woodside. When he
submitted the proposal for the special event, the facility management team knew it was the perfect way
to welcome the children of incarcerated individuals back into visiting. The event was coordinated over
the course of several months by a collective team of staff and residents, who came together to make the
event reality. During the event, a father and young son broke down in tears as they physically embraced. A young girl
beamed with joy as she told all the staff and volunteers about how much she loves her Daddy. A young
girl could barely sit still long enough to get her face painted because she wanted to spend every second
with her mother. Another young girl had been keeping track of the 1 year and 3 months since she had
been held by her mommy. And a grandfather held his granddaughter’s hand through the whole event.
With carnival games made by the residents, fresh cotton candy, face painting and a BBQ meal cooked by
Warden Barlow-Hust, the event brought joy to all who attended.

The concept for the carnival was created by an Officer who put his ideas together and submitted a proposal to the SICI management team.  The SICI management team thought the idea of a carnival event was a good way to welcome minor children back into visiting after 2 ½ years of visiting restrictions. The basis of the event revolved around family reunification and shifting the correctional culture between staff and residents. The officer’s proposal was approved under the condition that he help lead the planning and coordination of the event. The officer had very limited experience of this nature so he was guided and provided support by several members of the management team. The planning efforts began with bringing staff and an identified group of residents together. In a joint effort, these staff and residents coordinated all of the details of the event. Both inexperienced staff and residents were given opportunities to develop and implement leadership skills throughout the duration of the planning and during the event.

 The event was funded by Vocational Work Projects revenue funds and community donations.

 The following activities were coordinated for the event:

  • Several carnival games and booths. Many of the games were made by the residents.
  • Face Painting
  • Craft Activities
  • Bounce Houses
  • Event Mascot in Costume
  • Fresh Cotton Candy
  • BBQ

 The event actually took place over a period of 4 days, with each unit at SICI having their own designated day. During the event residents were grateful to be physically reunited with their children. The staff involved immediately saw the positive impact on the residents and their families and children. Here are some of the highlights that staff witnessed:

  • We had a pretty disgruntled male resident who was skeptical over the whole event. He had a pretty negative attitude about it all and decided the night before the event he was going to call his family and tell them not to come. His peers convinced him to not cancel. The next day when his young son arrived, they both ran to each other and broke down sobbing.  They had a wonderful time playing games and eating dinner together.
  • We had a young girl who wanted to have her face painted but she wanted to spend as much time as possible playing games together with her mother. Her mother convinced her to sit to get her face painted but the moment her mom walked to a carnival game with one of the other children, she was done with her face being painted and wanted to be with her mother.
  • While getting her face painted, a young girl told staff her favorite part of the carnival was getting to spend time with her mom because she had not been held by her mother in 1 year and 3 months.
  • There is a pair of siblings currently being housed at SICI. A brother and a sister. The management team allowed the incarcerated siblings to attend the carnival together with their non-incarcerated siblings. One of which was leaving for the military. These adult siblings had not spent time all together in several years.
  • There was a young girl who was so excited to tell all of the staff and volunteers about how much she loved her daddy.

There were many more memories made by the residents and their families.

 In the long run, the management team hopes events like this will help “humanize” our incarcerated population for our staff. We want our staff to come together with our residents to break down traditional and stereotypical correctional culture and establish a more cohesive and positive culture for staff to work and residents to live.  We want our staff to be empowered to bring positive change in our agency and facility culture shift.

Southern Idaho Correctional Institution