CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Some inmates at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center received a very special piece of paper Sunday.

It marked their completion of the Strengthening Families program, a voluntary program that helps inmates and their families learn to better communicate and connect with each other.

Though the program is mostly virtual, families got to meet with their loved ones in person Sunday to celebrate their completion of the program. The smiles and games masked a very tough reality for some of them.

“I am here visiting my dad who is incarcerated at the Mecklenburg County Jail,” said program participant Ciara Miller.

Miller and her brother hadn’t seen their dad in person in nearly five years. Sunday was also the first time he got to meet Ciara’s 15-month-old son, his very first grandchild.

“This day is just joy. I just hope that it brings my dad a lot of joy like it’s bringing us a lot of joy,” said Miller.

Chablis Dandridge works for Life Connections, the company that facilitates the Strengthening Families program. But before that, he was an incarcerated parent himself.

“I could imagine that kids feel abandoned, and sometimes alone and angry. I think this gives them an opportunity to work through that,” he said. “You don’t get away from your obligation as a parent just because you’re in time-out for a little while.”

Dandridge says the program not only benefits families but also hopefully reduces the rate of recidivism because it serves as a reminder of the important roles the inmates serve in the outside world.

“While I was gone, I wrote a book about my experience and the values that I wanted to share with my kids that I didn’t get to an opportunity to. For me, living up to all of those words on those pages means everything,” said Dandridge.

According to research done by Fulton County, Georgia, and the Texas Department of Correction, 85 percent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.