After Larry Johnson said goodbye to his children, gently handing his 6-month-old baby to a woman waiting on the other side of a doorway, he walked to a side of the room and sat down. Other incarcerated parents were saying goodbye to their kids, too, and someone asked the 23-year-old father if he was okay.
Before he had a chance to respond, his 7-year-old son, La'mari, and 3-year-old daughter, Tatum, came running back into the room, calling "Daddy!" and throwing their arms around him. Minutes later, another daughter, Sincere, who is only a year old, wobbled back through the doorway to get one last hug.
His children didn't want to leave.
For the past two hours, the kids had climbed on Johnson's lap, played board games and opened presents in a room of about 10 incarcerated parents and their children for a holiday party last week at the Arlington County Detention Facility. Johnson had not seen his children since his sentencing on April 21 for drug charges.
"It was wonderful," he said of the visit.
The Arlington jail has held these special events for at least 10 years to allow children a contact visit with their parents. The rest of the year, a glass barrier separates inmates and visitors. The night of the party was the first time Johnson had held his infant son.
Incarceration "ripples beyond the individual offender and affects families and whole communities," said David Murphey, a research fellow and director of the Child Trends databank, which tracks child well-being across the nation. About 8 percent of children nationwide have lived with a parent or guardian who was incarcerated, compared with 8.5 percent in Virginia, according to the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health data.
Children with parents in prison or jail may have anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping or may experience bullying in school, Murphey said, adding that a child's reaction depends on his or her situation.
If someone is incarcerated, it is also likely that they have a minor child, Murphey said, referencing numbers from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics that, in 2007, showed that 52 percent of state inmates and 63 percent of federal inmates reported having children.
The parents at the event Tuesday completed a parenting program, consistently obey the rules in the facility and comply with their treatment plans to be eligible for the rare contact visit with their children. Red and green ornaments and snowflakes hung from the ceiling, families sat at tables with red plastic tablecloths, and there were gifts from the Salvation Army in Arlington and Offender Aid and Restoration under a paper Christmas tree decoration on a wall.
"You can see how much it means to them," said Maj. Jimmie Barrett, director of corrections for the county sheriff's office, as he watched Johnson play with his children. La'mari touched his own hair and then his father's, realized it felt the same, and smiled. "Daddy, I got a Barbie!" Tatum yelled.
Therapist Camille Watkin said she makes sure the inmates know that the intense feelings they experience after seeing their children are "normal emotions." The contact visit with children motivates parents to "really focus on their goals" while incarcerated, Watkin said.
"You look at their faces, wanting to hold on, but understanding they have to let go of their children . . . this takes strength to do this, for your children to see you in this situation," Watkin said, adding that the event teaches incarcerated parents to "find strength in vulnerability."
As Johnson's kids flew paper airplanes around the room, Lindsey Cole's 3-year-old son, Kallen, crawled under the tables while she chased him. Cole, 27, is in jail for violating the terms of her probation after an earlier drug charge. She hadn't seen Kallen or her 7-year-old son, Aiden, in 11 months, she said.
"It's crazy watching them grow up through pictures," she said.
Charmece Morrison was overcome with emotion as soon as she saw her daughters, ages 13 and 16. She wrapped them in her arms and cried. Morrison, 38, is in jail for violating the terms of her probation. Her earlier charge was obtaining money by a false pretense.
"There's nothing like that . . . to hug them, touch them, that's more than $1 million," she said. "This is something that will get me through the hard times."
At the table next to Morrison, Tina Thomas caught up with her 17-year-old daughter, Christina Holmes. Holmes told her mother, who is 47, about the colleges she's applying to, how she is navigating the financial aid forms and some celebrity gossip.
"Do you know Kylie Jenner is pregnant?" Holmes asked her mother. Thomas appeared shocked. "I've got to get you some magazines," Holmes said.
She usually talks to her mother by phone, and said she hopes to have her "stuff together" by the time her mother is released so she can help her, too, she said. Thomas is in jail for grand larceny and possession of burglary tools.
When they talked in person before, it was through glass and their conversations were short, Holmes said. But on Tuesday night, they talked for two hours while Holmes decorated a stocking.
Sitting with her daughter, Thomas said, "It's a really free moment even though I'm in here."