By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Program unites kids with parents in prison
Placeholder Image
“The best part of the day was just being with my Dad,” wrote Bobby, 13.

Ten-year-old Michael’s hand-written note read: “Even though she’s in here, she’s still in my heart. It’s been four years since I’ve seen her and I’m so happy.”

“In here” is a women’s prison facility where Michael had a reunion with his mother for the first time in four years, thanks to a non-profit program called Get On The Bus. What began in 2001 with just one bus of children going to the prison facilities where their parents are spending time is now a statewide effort with 75 buses carrying hundreds of children to the pre-approved meeting places at the prison facilities where they spend precious moments with their incarcerated mothers or fathers.

The meeting rooms are just like any other gathering place, so the children get to greet and later say goodbye to their parents behind prison barbed wires with guards visible thereby eliminating any emotional trauma for the young ones.

The annual visitation trips are held around Mother’s Day at the women’s prisons, and around Father’s Day at the men’s facilities.

This year, there will four buses that will take the young program participants from the Manteca and Lathrop area to four destinations: The women’s prison in Chowchilla and the Corona Women’s Prison northeast of Bakersfield, and to the Salinas Valley and San Luis Obispo men’s prisons, said David Corder who is the regional coordinator for Get On The Bus.

The charter buses will originate at the Friends Outside building in Stockton with a stop-over in Modesto before proceeding to their destinations. Friends Outside, a half-way house for providing support services for former prisoners re-entering society, will be the meeting place for all the children who are accompanied by their guardians and caregivers.

Corder said the trips to the women’s prisons are held around Mother’s Day and provide an opportunity for the children to spend time together with their mothers on that special day.

The visits to the men’s facilities are also timed around the annual observance of Father’s Day to give the children a time to spend some time on that special day with their fathers.

All children taking part in the bus trips are accompanied by their guardians or caregivers, Corder said.

The children from Manteca and Lathrop who will be taking part in the program will need to be dropped off at the Friends Outside meeting place in Stockton. For this and other reasons, the program is in need of volunteers to provide needed assistance such as transportation for the children. Since the drive is usually hours long – the trip to the Corona women’s facility, for example, is a six-hour drive – the program tries to provide a variety of things to keep them occupied during the long hours they are inside the bus. To this end, the program provides the young participants things such as travel bags, snacks, and coloring books. On the way back from the prison facilities, all the children are given teddy bears along with a letter from the parents, to bring home as a memento of their reunion along with a picture of them and their parent taken at the time of the reunion. Additionally, each child is given a “stay connected bag” containing things such as stationeries, envelopes, stamps, and stickers to encourage them to “write to mom and dad,” Corder said. Caregivers receive comfort care bags as well

He said the program needs volunteers as well as donations to keep the program going. The program receives not a penny from the government. Everything is from private donations. Among the sources of revenue for Get On The Bus are generous individuals, churches/schools/groups, foundations, and corporations. Nearly all of the funds go to program services, with very little going to management and fundraising.

According to studies done, 60 percent of parents in state prison report being held over 100 miles from their children. Below are some of the other findings which appear in the official Get On the Bus brochure:

•Children’s odds of delinquency increase dramatically when visits with their incarcerated parents are denied.

•Children who are allowed regular visits with their incarcerated parent demonstrate better emotional and social adjustment; they can be assured they are loved and that their parents have not abandoned them.

•Police and courts do not regularly inquire at the time of arrest or sentencing whether a prisoner has children.

•Regular visits between children and their incarcerated parent lower rates of recidivism for the parent and improve family reunification following the parent’s release.

Everything with the reunion visit is free of charge, thanks to generous donations of individuals and other sources. For information on how you can help, either through volunteer work in the program or by cash donations, call David Corder at (209) 351-2972. You can also log on to for further details about this statewide program.