State program, ministry unites inmates with their children
By D.A. Robin, Writer. Photo provided by Living Stones Ministry. Video by Ofeunf
Living Stones International outreach ministry has hosted many faith-based community projects in its five-year history.
But one of the founders' proudest achievements is reconnecting children with their incarcerated fathers, said co-founder Josephine Gamboa-Montgomery.
The program is called “Children of Inmates,” a statewide initiative to bring families together that is run by various churches and faith organizations.
“Most children of inmates follow their parents to prison,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said she hopes the inmates program will bring children and their fathers closer and help build relationships which may be strained by incarceration. Montgomery said that soon the program will venture into women’s prisons, but couldn’t say when this would happen.
“It’s about them keeping contact with the children,” said Montgomery, who runs Living Stones with her husband, Gary.
Since August, Living Stones ministry has hosted two visits to the Wakulla Correctional Institution Annex.
Twenty-two fathers, children and caregivers gather in a group setting, but each parent gets an individual table, which, Montgomery says, allows them to satisfy their “need to connect” with relative privacy.
Gary Montgomery said despite early apprehension from parents and children, the first two trips went well.
“There’s some awkwardness in the beginning,” Gary Montgomery said, but, “We have seen brokenness in families, and we have seen the beginning of restoration.”
Other Children of Inmates programs run throughout South Florida. Hope for Miami, a faith-based non-profit, runs a program that serves a large swath of the Miami-Dade community.
Project Director Orlando Liscano said both the children and parents in his community revel in
the opportunity to spend time together.
“Definitely, you see the kids’ expression, you do see some positive results,” Liscano said.
Wakulla Correctional is a faith and character-based prison that aims to reduce recidivism and promote focuses on personal growth. Lawtey Correctional Institute in Bradford County is the only other FCBI in the state.
There are seven other faith-based, self-improvement dorms in the state, with 3,500 total beds between the two of types of inmate improvement programs.
Florida Department of Corrections Program Administrator Nichole Landrum called the Children of Inmates program “wonderful.” She said the moods of these families ranged from “reluctant, to scared, to happy” and “not just the children” were emotional.
“You had several different dynamics,” Landrum said. “Some had good relationships [with their children] and some of them, it was the first time they saw them,”
The third trip to Wakulla Correctional Institute is scheduled for March.