Since Tangy Rogillio was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in December, she hadn’t seen her daughters — who are 12, 9 and 6 years old — for 10 long months.
But that changed Saturday, and she got more than the usual 15-minute visit separated by glass. She was able to give them hugs and eat with them for two hours as part of Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, a program that helps women in prison stay connected to their daughters.
“We try to instill in them that when they’re incarcerated, their kids are incarcerated also,” said Sgt. Gloria Matthews-Hulbert, a jail official who helps coordinate the program.
Rogillio was booked into Parish Prison on theft charges, as well as for unpaid traffic tickets. She noticed the changes in her children since she’d been in prison. The two who were able to visit Saturday had grown a little taller, and one daughter’s teeth had started to fall out.
“It means a lot to be able to hug them, kiss them and see their smile,” Rogillio said.
Since April, the program has allowed about 30 mothers who have shown good behavior and who are not charged with a crime that endangered their children a two-hour meeting with their daughters every third Saturday of the month.
Families have noticed the difference after longer visits. Before the meetings started in April, some of the girls had anger management issues at school — but that changed dramatically after they could meet with their mothers each month, said Dianne Rose, outreach director for Girl Scouts Louisiana East, who helped organize the meetings.
Parish Prison officials also saw the program as a way for mothers to teach their daughters how to avoid the mistakes they made.
“We don’t want you back,” Warden Dennis Grimes told the women. “We want you to go out and teach your daughters that there is a different way.”
Several mothers said they think of their daughters every day.
Breanna Harvey also was relieved to see her daughters, ages 5 and 6, especially since their father, Corinthian Robertson, was gunned down in March. His death came one month before Harvey was booked on counts of theft.
Harvey said her children, who now live with her mother, don’t understand what happened to their father. She said she did not realize how much her family meant to her until she went to jail.
“It’s hard, depressing and overwhelming,” Harvey said of being in jail and not seeing them in person. “It’s not easy.”
Tameka Johnson, 32, said that since she was booked in 2012 on counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder, her daughter has told her over the phone, “I forget how you look sometimes.”
“I’m not there for her physically,” Johnson said. “This program lets her not forget about me.”
A similar program at Orleans Parish Prison is in its second year. And at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a Southern University program also unites about 15 mothers with their daughters, as well.
For sticking with the program over the past several months, several daughters officially became Girl Scouts in an investiture ceremony that involved lighting candles and receiving pins and certificates.
The program also can allow mothers to connect with caretakers of their daughters.
One of those caretakers brought along Harvey’s 6-month-old son, whom Harvey gave birth to about a week before she turned herself in to jail.
“I get to hold him and touch him so he can get to know me as a mother,” she said.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.