Angela Patton: A Father-Daughter Dance — In Prison? Angela Patton works to help girls and fathers stay connected and in each others' lives — but that becomes harder when the father is in jail. Patton tells the story of a unique father-daughter dance.

Angela Patton: A Father-Daughter Dance — In Prison?

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Finally on the show today, another love story that helped Angela Patton understand the power of connection.

ANGELA PATTON: I can look at things a lot differently in how I raise my own children, my relationship with my own husband and my - not only my father, but my mother, too. My mom and father are still married. You know, and I'm like, that is cool.

RAZ: How many years have they been...

PATTON: Forty-three years.

RAZ: Wow.

PATTON: That's a long time. Like, I'm trying.

RAZ: That's a long time.


PATTON: Love will conquer all.


RAZ: Angela lives in Richmond, Va.

PATTON: And I'm the CEO for Girls For A Change. And we help prepare girls for their passage into womanhood.

RAZ: And she also runs a camp for girls in Richmond. And every year, she helps them throw this giant prom-style dance for fathers and daughters. But one year, one of the girls in Angela's camp said her dad couldn't come to the dance and because of that, she didn't want to go.


PATTON: Why not, the girls asked.

RAZ: Angela picks up the story from the TED stage.


PATTON: Because he's in jail, she bravely admitted. Well, can he just get out for a day, one of the girls asked.


PATTON: And come in shackles. That's worse than not having him here at all. At this moment, I saw an opportunity for the girls to rise to the occasion and to become their own heroes. So I asked, what do you think we should do about this? We won't every girl to experience the dance, right? So the girls thought for a moment. And one girl suggested, why don't we just take the dance in the jail? Most of the girls doubted the possibility of that, and said, are you crazy?


PATTON: Who is going to allow a bunch of little girls dressed up...


PATTON: ...To come inside a jail and dance with their daddies in SpongeBob suits because that's what they called them.


PATTON: I said, girls, well, well, you never know unless you ask. So letter was written to the Richmond city sheriff signed collectively by each girl. And I would have to say, he is a very special sheriff.


PATTON: He contacted me immediately, and said whenever there is an opportunity to bring families inside, his doors are always open because one thing he did know that when fathers are connected to their children, it is less likely that they will return.

RAZ: That was it.

PATTON: That was it. The sheriff was great about the decorations, you know, black, white, silver. So we have the balloons. We also have our picture banners so they could take photos. We have a red carpet, you know, the podium and the microphone, a DJ. So actually, they received the same experience that our fathers do at a regular father-daughter dance.


PATTON: So 16 inmates and 18 girls were invited. The girls were dressed in their Sunday best. And the fathers traded in their yellow and blue jumpsuits for shirt and ties. They hugged. They shared a full catered meal of chicken and fish. They laughed together. It was beautiful. The fathers and daughters even experienced the opportunity to have a physical connection, something that a lot of them didn't even have for a while. Fathers were in a space where they were able to make their daughters plate and pull out her chair and extend his hand for a dance. Even the guards cried.

'Cause you know, these are fathers, a lot of time, that could've been the father that, you know, wearing his pants to the ground, tattooed all up and all hard or whatever the case may be. And the daughter now sees that softer side. She sees him apologizing, and the games that we play, and then we teach them salsa and how to waltz. And they do hip-hop together, you know.

RAZ: Did everybody just sort of forget where they were?

PATTON: Oh yes. You know, if you have guards doing "The Electric Slide" and the wobble with the inmates, I do think that they forgot where they were.

RAZ: What happened after - after the dance ended? I mean, the dads obviously had to go back to their jail cells, and the daughters had to leave their fathers.

PATTON: Yes. So when that moment occurs, we also give the fathers another hour to reflect. And one father basically just asked to be in a circle with everyone. And just said, brothers, I need a moment. Did you see those beautiful princesses walk out of our lives again because of our choices? And he said, I want to experience the dance that I bring my daughter to and that I take her home from afterwards.


PATTON: Because our daddies are our mirrors that we reflect back on when we decide about what type of man we deserve and how they see us for the rest of our lives. I know that very well because I was one of the lucky girls. I have had my father in my life always. He's even here today.


PATTON: And that is why it is extremely special for me to make sure that these girls are connected to their fathers, especially those who are separated because of barbed wires and metal doors. We have just created a form for girls who have heavy questions on their heart to be in a position to ask their fathers those questions and giving the fathers the freedom to answer because we know that the fathers are even leaving with this one thought - what type of woman and my preparing to put in the world? Because a father is locked in, does not mean he should be locked out of his daughter's life.


RAZ: Angela Patton's talk is called "A Father-Daughter Dance in Prison." It really is an incredible talk. You should check it out at TED. NPR org.


MIKA: (Singing) Everybody's going to love today, going to love today, going to love today. Everybody's going to love today, going to love today, going to love today. Anyway you want to, anyway you've got to, love, love me. Love, love me. Love, love.

RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to our show on how we love this week. If you missed any of it or you want to hear more or you want to find out more about who was on it, you can visit TED. You can also find many, many more TED talks at And you can download this program through iTunes or through the NPR smartphone app. I'm Guy Raz. You've been listening to ideas worth spreading here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

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