Inmates at a Long Beach reentry program got to forget about their sentences for an evening as they dressed to the nines to enjoy an evening with their children during a formal dance event last month.

The Long Beach Male Community Reentry Program hosted the event to give those in the program a sense of normalcy and create a bonding experience for the men and their children.

Event organizers said the “family reunification dance” created a safe space for the young children and their fathers to focus on the “importance of healthy, strong relationships.”

Fifteen children ranging in age from 5 to 17 joined their dads for the dance on March 25.

The kids were greeted with a rose boutonniere or a hand corsage as they joined their dads for a three-course dinner. The reunited families then enjoyed music from a live DJ and a father/child dance.

Each dad also read a letter to their child and gifted them either a heart-shaped pendant or dog tags to commemorate the evening.

Victor Melgar was one of the dads given the opportunity to experience the event with his daughter.

“For me, this was my first of many dances to come with my daughter. These types of events at MCRP have given me a greater bond with my daughter and family,” Melgar said in a news release distributed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The Male Community Reentry Program gives eligible offenders who are incarcerated in state prison the chance to serve the end of their sentences in the reentry center. While there, they are also connected with social services, rehabilitation resources and mental health care to help the inmates reintegrate into society in hopes that they avoid reoffending.

Incarcerated men like Jovanny Reyes said the program has strengthened his relationship with his daughter and the father/child dance was a critical part in helping him stay on the path to rehabilitation.

“The moment I walked in to see my daughter, I felt at ease,” Reyes said. “Her face lit up as we walked into the decorated visiting room and I put on her corsage. Everything about the event was perfect. My daughter has not stopped talking about it and wants to know when the next dance is. This is so vital in my rehabilitation and I am grateful.”

Participants of the reentry program also helped provide service for the dads and their children. They provided table service and assisted with setup and teardown of the event.

“It was such an honor to be allowed the opportunity to be part of such a special event. Dressing up and trying my best to provide the best service was my top priority,” said Tim Hagler, a program participant who was selected to be the lead server of the event. “All-in-all it was a beautiful experience to see the joy on the kids’ faces when they got to spend quality time with their dads.”

As the evening ended, the kids were sent home with a copy of their father’s letter and a photograph keepsake to remember the evening.

Joseph Bunkley was among the men able to spend the evening with their child. He said the dance helped add to a growing bond that he shares with his daughter.

He said the highlight of the evening was, “standing before her and saying how proud I am and how much I love her.”