Prisoners rejoice as charity organises visiting day activities for them and their children

Prisoners are finally getting the opportunity to hug their families after almost two years when visits were curtailed by COVID-19 and Corrections staff shortages.

The Storytime Foundation Charity is coordinating visiting days in two prisons which allows prisoners to interact with their children and do a range of activities together.

If you're a dad serving time, there's nothing like a hug from the kids and if you're that kid there's nothing like a hug from dad.

"Makes our life a bit easier, you know, makes our jail sentence a bit lighter knowing our family and our loved ones are there to support us," one prisoner said.

COVID was a torrid time at Ngawha Prison near Kaikohe and across Corrections' 17 other facilities, it was almost two years of letters, phone calls and Zooms but no physical contact.

"Oh it's always nice to see them seeing your family, you can't beat it," one prisoner said.

Even staff share the joy.

"The men walked on in, the kids ran on up to them, nothing beats that, nothing beats for as a partner or a wife, a mother, to be able to see that your man is okay," Senior Corrections Officer Michelle Lewis said.

The visits are choreographed by the Storytime Foundation Charity.

"Today's all about you having fun, enjoying it and creating some happy memories," Linda from Storytime foundation said.

The activities for the parents included making frames together for family photos.

"Look it's amazing. There was a dad this morning who had a three-month-old baby and I stood back and I watched him and he just cuddled that baby.

"He sat and quietly sang to that baby and I don't mind saying it, it brought tears to my eyes, just beautiful, the connection was there," Linda said.

All the activities are created for two people which allows the dads there to be part of his family.

"It's just that connection with whanāu that actually makes the difference long-term, the children need to see their mum or their dad and have these memories with them and so every visit with mum or dad is just precious," Linda said.

In the old days, there was a TV room in the corner and the kids just spent their whole time watching, but now the TVs are gone and the dads are stepping up.

They are learning they have a place in the family to support their partner and children.

"It's fantastic for rehabilitation and enables like I say a normalised environment in a safe area and so everybody gets the opportunity possibly to say what they need to say possibly without recrimination whatsoever," Lewis said.

The child-centred visits are only on offer at Ngawha Prison and at the women's prison in Christchurch but the Storytime Foundation wants them in all facilities.

"I find myself just smiling and you know you feel warm inside and you know that you're doing something right," Lewis said.

Making family life normal again for a couple of hours on the path to reintegration.