San Quentin prison inmates get early Father's Day visits

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KTVU) -- Several buses rolled into San Quentin State Prison Friday morning from all over California, a field trip of sorts to reunite some incarcerated fathers with their loved ones two weeks before Father's Day.

The program that reunites these families -- even if temporarily -- is called "Get on the Bus." Organizers say it helps keep families intact during the prisoners' incarceration while also helping to aid in the inmates' rehabilitation. Similar scenes are playing out this month in 13 prisons throughout California.

"It gives them a sense of purpose," said Walter Hammond of the Center for Restorative Justice, which sponsors the bus program. "It gives them an expectation and something to look forward to. So it gives them incentive to stay out of trouble." 

For many of the visitors to San Quentin, it has been a long time since they last saw their dad.

Sheyla Gonzalez, 12, traveled all the way from Riverside to pay her father a visit, just the second time in her life she's seen him.

"It feels strange and at the same time comfortable because I get to see him," she said.

Her father, Eusabio Gonzalez, is serving 15 years-to-life in prison for second-degree murder. He's been behind bars since his daughter was 5-months-old.

"She was tiny when I left her," he said. "All of a sudden she came and getting to know her it's a big surprise. I am so happy we are developing a relationship as father and daughter."

One grandfather, who is also serving a life sentence for murder, says seeing his family is special.

"I missed everything," inmate Carlos Smith said. "I missed graduations, proms, teaching them how to drive or just being there as a father. I missed it all and that is something I regret."

At least 60 condemned prisoners consigned to Death Row were able to their families but the inmates were unable to leave small cages. The Death Row inmates will likely never leave prison but their counterparts in the general population have a chance. At least their kids hope so.

"I want to teach him how to play PS4," a 10-year-old boy said.

By KTVU reporter Rob Roth.