‘Get On the Bus’ brings kids to visit parents at Folsom prison for early Father’s Day

Watch inmates visit with their families for Father’s Day at Folsom State Prison

Children visited their incarcerated parents at Folsom State Prison and Folsom Women's facility as part of the "Get On The Bus" event on Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Folsom, California.
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Children visited their incarcerated parents at Folsom State Prison and Folsom Women's facility as part of the "Get On The Bus" event on Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Folsom, California.

When Kinneya Compton graduated from high school last week in front of family and friends, one special person couldn’t be there. The 19-year-old’s dad, Kinney Compton, has been in the Folsom State Prison for nearly her entire life.

But luckily for Compton, she had the chance to see her father just two days later.

With her graduation cap in hand, Kinneya waited in the prison’s visiting center Saturday to see her dad. She was accompanied by her mom, her stepsister and her stepsister’s daughter.

Kinneya was excited to tell her dad all about her post-graduation plans: She is going to study to become an emergency medical technician and eventually go to school to learn American Sign Language.

“At first it made me sad because dang, he’s not able to see me walk the stage,” Kinneya said. “But then they said we could visit two days after, and I said ‘Well then, yeah let’s go!’”

Families like Kinneya’s came from all over California to spend time with incarcerated parents Saturday at Folsom State Prison and adjacent Folsom Women’s Facility for an early Father’s Day event. The 523-bed women’s facility was added in 2013, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The event is part of the “Get On The Bus” program, organized through a partnership between the Center for Restorative Justice Works and the Corrections Department.

Kinneya Compton wears her graduation cap to celebrate with her father Kinney on Saturday at Folsom Prison during the “Get on the Bus” event, which allowed children to visit their incarcerated parents for an early Father’s Day event. Arden Barnes asbarnes@sacbee.com

The program aims to maintain strong family connections between children and incarcerated parents to help with rehabilitation, according to CDCR. Regular visits like those faciliated by “Get On The Bus” are proven to lower recidivism and support family reunification, CDCR said.

“Get On The Bus” events happen all around the state on an annual basis, usually during the spring around Mother’s and Father’s days. In 2018, 41 buses brought a total of 1,031 children to 13 prisons for “Get On The Bus.”

Volunteers served families lunch, helped take family photos, do face painting and many more activities. Each child is sent home with a special letter from his or her parent, according to a press release from the Corrections Department.

Kinneya’s mom, Beth Johns, said the program gives families without the means to make regular visits an opportunity to spend time with incarcerated family members. The family is from Palmdale, and Johns said it’s hard for her to make the long car trip up to Folsom. They usually visit once per year.

When Kinney entered the visiting area, he got long hugs from everyone. He met his granddaughter, Arianna, for the first time. She is 9 years old, and when she walked over to embrace her grandpa as though she had been best friends with him all her life, her mom, Kenisha, shed a few tears.

Kinney said he likes to talk to Kinneya about school, and has encouraged her to go to college. “I want her to do something positive with her life,” he said. Kinneya showed him her prom pictures and pointed out friends, catching him up on who’s who.

Kinney Compton hugs his granddaughter, Arianna Harris, 9, for the first time on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, California, as part of the “Get on the Bus” event, which allowed children from all over California to visit their incarcerated parents. Arden Barnes asbarnes@sacbee.com

Kinneya and Kinney talk on the phone often, and so do Larry Neal and his daughter, Lauryn. Lauryn is just 1 year old, but her Dorito-crumb-covered smile lit up the room as she waved around a green marker. It was clear Larry couldn’t get enough of her.

“Just this is OK with me,” Neal said as he sat holding Lauryn. “Seeing her is great. Letting her draw, hearing the new words she’s learning.”

Neal said he and Lauryn have a special song, “Bird is the Word.” He sang it to her and she smiled and laughed. He said whenever he talks to her on the phone, he sings the song and she instantly knows it’s him.

“I’ve never had a best friend, and I really know now our relationship is going to grow,” Neal said.

In total Saturday at Folsom, 81 people came to visit 24 family members on the men’s side of the prison and 21 visitors came to see eight family members on the women’s side, according to Department of Corrections spokesman Lt. Ernie Valencia.

Neal said “Get On The Bus” is just “the best thing.”

“It’s amazing,” Neal said. “It gives you a chance to be connected and come together.”