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Watch: Children read poignant love letters to their incarcerated dads

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This father’s day, while many children celebrated their dads with cards, gifts, or brunches, millions of American children were separated from their fathers by prison bars.

Some expressed their feelings about this in the #LoveLetters campaign, which compiled their heartfelt video notes to fathers in prison:

Between teary eyes and choking voices, the kids list the things they wish their dads could see: graduation, college, a baseball game. “The first thing I want to do with you when you get home is play basketball,” a young boy says. “I just want to hang out and talk to you.”

“It’s been really hard growing up without a father for so much of my life,” one girl says. Another girl says she is waiting for her dad to get out of prison so they can “try to make up for the last 13 years.”

In the US, the number of kids with parents behind bars grew five-fold between 1982 and 2012, and 2.7 million kids are now living without an incarcerated parent. The war on drugs has sent the prison population spiraling, affecting black men the most, and the campaign points out that “there are more African-American men incarcerated in the U.S. than the total prison populations of India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined.”

Google collaborated with the NGOs Pops the Club and Place4Grace on the videos, which aim to draw attention to the costs of mass incarceration, for families as well as the prisoners themselves. Children of prisoners are often stigmatized, and are more likely to end up disadvantaged emotionally, socially, and in school. These kids are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Robust connections between inmates and their families can mitigate some of this harm, and in prisons where family visits and interaction are emphasized, chances of rehabilitation increase and repeat offenses are less likely.

For Mother’s Day this year, Google joined with criminal justice reform groups to share similar videos of children reading love letters to their incarcerated mothers. The California-based company is now working with state authorities to broadcast the video to dads in prisons throughout its home state.

The project is part of Google’s drive to take a public stand on criminal justice reform and racial justice. David Drummond, vice president of corporate development at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said at an event last week: “We like disruption, and if there’s a system worth disrupting, it’s the criminal justice system.”

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