Washington state prison using video games to help incarcerated fathers bond with their kids

One Washington state men’s prison has a new way it is trying to break the cycle and allow kids to bond with their fathers.

ABERDEEN, Wash. — In Washington state, 8,000 inmates currently in prison are also parents. The Department of Corrections said kids of those people are six times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves.

One Washington state men’s prison has a new way it is trying to break the cycle and allow kids to bond with their fathers, and that is video games.

“I think this is their favorite part honestly getting to do what they do at home,” said Cager York, who is incarcerated at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.

York’s sons love to play monster truck video games with him when they visit the prison.

York has been convicted of more than a dozen crimes starting in his teenage years. His most recent conviction was for felonies, including first-degree kidnapping and assault. He is now nearly ten years into his sentence.

“I was young and didn’t really understand the meaning of life, and I had pulled out a gun,” York said. “And it basically led to this 25-year sentence that now I gotta do.”

Court documents show when police tried to pull over a car he was a passenger in, he held a gun to the driver and told him to keep driving. York then led police on a chase.

“If I live my life in my past, all the mistakes I made, I don’t think I have no room for growth in the future,” York said.

York said he knows the importance of being a father since he did not grow up with his.

“You know, my dad’s been in prison my whole life,” York said. “My mom raised me with my stepdad who was there.”

The video game area at Stafford Creek has been up and running for about four months now. York said the moments he gets to share with his wife and kids are important to him because it creates a sense of normalcy.

“It’s a good way for us to connect to them, not having to force a game board,” said York, as his son yelled in excitement to his dad about doing a trick in the game. “Just like that, just watching him be able to show off and do things that he sees he is good at.”

Cheryl Strange, Secretary of the State Department of Corrections, said it is necessary and beneficial for kids to have these moments and memories with their loved ones in prison.

“It’s really important for children of incarcerated individuals to have access that’s normal, as normal as it can be in a prison,” Strange said.

Strange said this video game area is just one piece of the Washington Way program, which is aimed at creating a healthier culture in prisons.

“98% of people that are in our care and in custody today are going to be getting out,” Strange said. “Our job is to carry out the sentence of the court and try to build a better neighbor.”

The program is modeled on concepts used in Norway.

Washington Corrections leaders have traveled to Norway to learn about how to create more humane conditions and to create more human interaction to prepare incarcerated people for success when they are let out.

“Norway comes to us, we have a lot of cross-collaboration and just really thinking about how to make better citizens, like how do we really address public safety?” Strange said. “And it’s reform at its finest.”

Not only does Strange believe this is good for the children of incarcerated people, but York’s wife agrees.

“I think this brings families together,” said Kayla York, the wife of Cager York. “I think if more prisons did it, the closer families would be.

Kayla York said having this new area has helped her kids feel a sense of normalcy with their dad.

“I think it definitely gives the kids and the dads something to do and something to bond over,” Kayla York said.

Cager York said he does not take these moments for granted.

“We did this to ourselves,” Cager York said. “So, anybody that has wanted to stay here for us and show love, it’s a good feeling.”

He said his family is one he will try to continue to grow for so that someday they can have these experiences at home.

“Every day I just try to do some better for myself, some better for my kids,” Cager York said. “If I can do that, then I’ll feel a little bit of peace, you know?”

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