Published On: 14 June 2024Tags:

Earlier this week, we attended a private screening of ‘Daughters’, a documentary following four young girls and their imprisoned fathers preparing for a daddy-daughter dance. The dance marked the conclusion of their 12-week Date with Dad fatherhood programme in a Washington D.C. jail. The film provides an honest insight into the devastating effects of incarceration on parent-child relationships, and how vital familial bonds are to successful community reintegration and desistance from crime. 

We were fortunate to be joined by the directors of the film, Angela Patton and Natalie Rae. Patton developed the Date with Dad programme and is CEO for the nonprofit organisation Girls for a Change, which strives to empower Black girls. Her work aligns strongly with the Fathers Together study being conducted in partnership with the Race Equality Foundation, CNWL NHS Trust, and other academic institutions. The study aims to create a parenting programme for young fathers in prison in England and Wales.

In a pre-screening discussion, Dr Anita Mehay, co-lead for the study, noted similarities in the experience of imprisoned fathers and their families within UK and US prisons. These include punitive approaches, restricted visitation, inconsistent family support, and racial disparity. Jabeer Butt (OBE), CEO of the Race Equality Foundation, further stressed the role of racial prejudice across the criminal justice system, leading to disproportionately represented Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. 

‘Daughters’ shows the girls trying to navigate strained relationships with their fathers in prison. Although the film touches on the complex relationships with the mothers of the children, the father-daughter bond remains at the forefront. The girls express both excitement and uncertainty for the dance, some hesitant to engage with a father they have no memory of. For most, this will be the only chance to have physical contact with their fathers for years, since policy changes reduced in-person visits. 

In the film, Patton highlights the importance of consistency, even with the barriers of imprisonment. The fathers’ commitment to the programme gives hope that their love for their daughters will be a motivator for change. In fact, 95% of fathers who complete the programme do not return to jail. The emotional reunion and the palpable joy at the dance demonstrate the need for human touch that prisons typically deny. For a short time, you forget where they are. The image of smiling girls in their sparkly dresses, patiently waiting to be searched at the prison entrance, however, will stay with you for a while longer.

As the audience emotionally recovered, Roifield Brown led a post-screening discussion with the Fathers Together public involvement group members present. Each spoke about their experience as a young father in prison. One father wanted to teleport home to hug his children after the documentary made him realise the pain he had caused. Another shared he never hugged anyone during his 10-year prison sentence and used a smuggled phone to read bedtime stories to his children. Collectively, they described the film as ‘really powerful’, ‘overwhelming’, and an ‘emotional rollercoaster ride’. As they aptly put, they ‘know what it’s like for those dads to sit there’. They expressed that taking part in a group with shared experience gave them ‘permission to be vulnerable’ and ‘where they come from, vulnerability is a weakness, but now it’s a strength.’

With Father’s Day this weekend, we are reminded that thousands of children will be unable to celebrate with their fathers in prison. ‘Daughters’ emphasises the power of family relationships for effective rehabilitation. We must shift the narrative that ‘prisoner’ and ‘good father’ are mutually exclusive labels, and instead provide support for both to be possible.

‘Daughters’ will soon be available on Netflix August 14.

Further information about the documentary can be found here: www.daughtersdocumentary.com and the Fathers Together study here: www.fatherstogether.co.uk