The Florida Department of Corrections teamed up with Sesame Street in a project aimed to help children cope and feel comfortable while visiting parents in prison, according to the FDOC.
Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in East Milton joined in the event, titled Sesame Street Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.
The correctional facility sourced inmate talent to create life-size cutouts of the Sesame Street characters. During regular visitation, inmates meeting with their families were allowed to take photographs with the props and have a keepsake for $1 a photograph.
Warden Richard Comerford said the mission of the facility is focused on public safety.
"Eventually, these offenders will be released to society," Comerford said. "With reunification of the family, we can focus and help inmates with preparation for re-entry into society and help prepare them with more opportunities to become successful."
Assistant Warden Michael Booker said visitation is the best tool in inmate management and lowers aggression in the general population.
"Seeing family and feeling like dad again gives incentive for these inmates," he said. "For many it's their connection to the outside world."
Sesame Street released a video explaining the difficulties of having an incarcerated parent. The subject matter joins a library of tough topics, such as divorce, chronic illness and military families. Visitors to the correctional facility were given a copy of the film for home viewing. It addresses how to help children feel secure and express feelings, how to talk honestly with children and how to stay connected with an incarcerated parent.
During the event, children of inmates were offered fresh-popped popcorn and child-friendly activities. They were provided with coloring books and hand-painting, while meeting with their parents in a large, common room.
The Santa Rosa Correctional Institution houses around 2,700 to 2,800 inmates, and employs more than 700 correctional officers and staff. The facility is divided into two units. The Annex houses a general population, lower risk inmates, in a dormitory-style setting. The main unit is segregated, and more controlled, housing prisoners with behavior issues.
Drapper Lear, 29, is serving a five-year sentence for a drug charge and forgery. He is assigned to the Santa Rosa Annex, a minimum-risk facility. Though he is relatively new to the facility, he was joined by four children during the event. He says he looks forward to visitation with his family.
"It's what I look forward to every weekend," Lear said. "At first, they felt funny coming in here, but they got used to it."
Lear says it's a struggle sometimes during visitation. He said he has to bite his tongue, holding back all the events that occur inside the prison walls.
"I want say thank you," Lear said. "I've been to other prisons. I think this should kind of thing be involved in other prisons. There's a lot of color, and it seems kid-friendly."