Fathers and Children Together

When Fatherhood Meets Incarceration

Fathers and Children Together by Ernel Martinez. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The mural dedication included a balloon launch. Photo by Steve Weinik.

About the Project 

One of the unintended consequences of our criminal justice system is that families get broken up, and children are hurt, through no fault of their own, by the actions of a parent. When a parent is incarcerated, it becomes almost impossible for them to have a normal relationship with their child. Visits can be infrequent and in large groups, so there’s no one-on-one time. Children miss out on the activities with parents that we think of as hallmarks of growing up. In a way, the children of incarcerated men and women are punished too, and that’s an injustice that we try to address with our Fathers and Children Together (FACT) project.

FACT is a collaboration between Mural Arts and the United Community Action Network at SCI Graterford, a maximum security prison where we hold art classes. FACT helps fathers who are incarcerated reconnect with their children, with the hope that they can become positive role models and encourage their children to choose education over incarceration. In FACT sessions, fathers visit with their children and undertake a series of planned activities, like drawing together. For many men at Graterford, FACT sessions are the only chance they get to interact one-on-one with the children and really talk, play, and learn with them.

Mural dedication. Photo by Steve Weinik.

In 2015, the fathers and children in FACT worked with us on a mural at 54th Street and Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia. Christy Bottie, who led our art workshops in the FACT program, worked with lead muralist Ernel Martinez. About a third of the mural was painted on parachute inside of Graterford during FACT sessions and with Eric Okdeh’s art class inside of the prison.

Rather than addressing incarceration directly in the design, the mural reflects the importance of the bond between fathers and their children. Around the border of the mural are drawings created together by fathers and children in the FACT program, and at the center of the mural are three sets of realistic portraits.

To develop the design, Martinez looked to the FACT participants, whose concepts he says “make up the foundation of the final product.” Martinez, a father himself, also took the opportunity included his own family in the mural, featuring his son and daughter in two of the central portraits, and his son provided input on the design.


The City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services
Bryan and Margie Weingarten