A child and her father attend the first daddy-daughter dance at the Federal Detention Center Miami Nov. 4, 2014.
Federal Detention Center Miami

In an effort to help build stronger bonds between incarcerated fathers and their daughters, a Miami detention center last week hosted its first daddy-daughter dance, which brought tears, laughter and reconciliation.

The Miami Herald reports that the Federal Detention Center Miami hosted the event on Nov. 4 as part of a re-entry program to help prepare inmates to reunite with their families after leaving prison.

Thirteen fathers decked in suits, ties and tuxedos spent about two hours with their daughters in a third-floor prison meeting space that had been transformed into a fairy-tale wonderland for about 20 girls, ages 4 to 18. The fathers were all minimum-security, nonviolent offenders, the newspaper writes.

“They danced,” the Herald writes. “They swayed. They held tight. They laughed. They cried. And these fathers who have been gone for years remembered the chapters they had missed: birthdays, holidays, first tooth, first crush, first heartbreak.”

“I haven’t been there for so many special moments,” inmate Michael Rangel, 40, his eyes welling up, told the Herald. The father of three daughters has been in prison almost three years for cargo theft and is scheduled to enter a halfway house in January. “I talk to them and email them all the time, but it’s not the same as being there.”

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The girls arrived with their mothers and grandmothers, who wore fancy dresses, the youngest decked in pastel gowns and patent leather shoes, the paper notes.

“I wanted to dress up to look pretty for my daddy,” said Rangel’s 15-year-old daughter, the Herald writes. Her 13-year-old sister: “I wanted to make him feel special.”

At the beginning, the fathers and daughters mingled until Luther Vandross’ ballad, “Dance With My Father,” began to play, the paper notes. The fathers escorted their daughters to the floor, where they danced and hugged and wiped away the tears of their girls—and their own. Then the fathers performed a choreographed dance for their daughters to the Temptations’ “My Girl.”

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“You hope this will be transformational, that this dance gives these fathers something to look forward to,” Walter T. Richardson, the Miami-Dade Police Department chaplain who delivered the keynote address, told the paper. “We want the focus not so much on what happened, what brought them here, but what kind of future they can have. Their daughters are their future.”

Read more at the Miami Herald.