"I never unwrapped a gift," says Jominiq, a participant in a Prison Fellowship AcademyTM at the Carol Vance Unit near Houston, Texas. "I never saw a Christmas tree in person."
In Jominiq's home growing up, Christmas was a day he only saw celebrated on TV.
So when his Academy decided to hold an Angel Tree® Christmas party and invite their families, Jominiq got the chance to experience Christmas for the first time—alongside his daughter!
"I probably had more fun than the kids did," he says.
JOMINIQ'S VERY FIRST CHRISTMAS
While incarcerated, Jominiq struggled to maintain a relationship with his family—especially his daughter. Prison visitation hours are limited, and oftentimes families are unable to make the trip frequently.
"When you have a chance to get like an all-day visit with food and drink, you know, that gives people the incentive to actually come out," Jominiq explains. "I hadn't seen my daughter for a long time before Angel Tree, so through this experience I was able to actually bond with my daughter."
At the Christmas party, Jominiq felt like a child. "We made gingerbread cookies, we danced, we took pictures in the photo booth," he remembers. "All of those were new experiences to me. They had something called the 'father-daughter dance' where they play a song and you dance with your daughter. We [sang] Christmas carols—it was amazing."
But the most important experience was the chance to converse with his daughter.
"I was actually able to sit down with [my daughter] and just talk," Jominiq says. "I mean, we talked about all types of stuff. We talked about school, talked about God."
Jominiq even got to share with his daughter why Christmas had become such an important holiday for him due to his new faith in Jesus Christ.
Founded in 1982 by a former prisoner who witnessed firsthand the strained relationship between prisoners and their children, Angel Tree has grown to become the largest national outreach specifically for the children of prisoners.
Volunteers from thousands of churches and community organizations purchase gifts and present them to children in the name of their incarcerated parent. Not only does this help strengthen the relationship between the parent and child, but it also lightens the load for the children's caregivers, who may struggle to find the resources to celebrate Christmas.
"Man, I [can't] even put in words to express my gratitude," Jominiq says. "Thank you so much, Angel Tree. Without you, I wouldn't have a relationship with my daughter. Thank you all so much."