RALEIGH — Robbie Bridgers, 49, held his grandson Nicholas, 4, and helped him shoot a basketball through an inflatable hoop.
Then he scooped up his granddaughter, Kaitlyn, 4, who giggled as Papa held her after she and cousin Christopher, 7, swooped down an inflatable slide.
It could have been a scene from any summer carnival, except Bridgers wore state-issued green pants and a white T-shirt, and a barbed wire fence loomed over the bounce houses.
It was Family Day at Wake Correctional Center.
"We wanted to do something to bond them with their families," said Angie Smith, assistant superintendent for programs at the prison, who helped plan Sunday's event at the minimum security facility that houses 400 inmates off Rock Quarry Road.
All the men who come to Wake Correctional will be released within five years, so the hope is that family connectedness keeps them out of trouble in prison and helps them stay focused on seeing their loved ones, she said.
Inmates at Wake Correctional, however, don't get much family time. They are allowed three visitors for two hours every Saturday. So inmates with more than three children have to rotate visits. And when the kids do see their dads, it's sitting at a table. There's no hugging or getting carried or showing daddy how high they can jump.
"Family Day is meant to be more like a family reunion," Smith said.
Smith and the inmate service club organized the event with bounce houses, games, the prison rock 'n' roll band, burgers, cotton candy and snow cones. A photographer took family photos.
The cost -- $2,500 -- was provided by the inmate service club, which is made up of inmates who raise money through prison snack sales. The club uses the proceeds for inmate activities and donates to nonprofit organizations. The club recently gave 10 air conditioning units to Wake County social services for families who did not have any.
Prisoners who participated in Sunday's event had to be infraction-free for six months. They could invite anyone on their visitation list, including friends. On Sunday, 79 families (500 people total) endured a check-in line and 90-degree heat to see their dads and granddads.
After he was paged over the loudspeaker, Bridgers walked through barbed wire gates to a grassy lawn and hugged his grandchildren. He teared up as greeted his three grown sons and daughter-in-law.
The family immediately headed down the hill to the activities.
"It's funner than sitting in there," said Bridger's middle son, William Bridgers, the father of Kaitlyn. "In that room, Kaitlyn can't run around. She gets restless."
William Bridgers looked over at his father carrying Kaitlyn and said, "She loves him to death."
Robbie Bridgers is from Kenly and has been incarcerated since 2006 for manufacturing drugs. He said he had been looking forward to Family Day for months. "This is real nice," he said.
Inmate Louie Stewart Jr., 24, hasn't been in a room with his three boys, girlfriend, mother, sister and grandmother since July 4, 2007. But on Sunday, the whole family drove in from Lillington and Angier to spend time together.
Stewart, convicted of drug trafficking in 2007, held JaMontea, 2, in his arms while he watched Decoreya, 5, and Jymir, 4, go down the slide over and over again. "I'm ready to get out and be around them more often," Stewart said.
Inmate Brian Vann, 34, said he was grateful to the prison for letting him spend the day with family friend Savon Ruiz, 11, and his mother and cousin.
"It means a lot to me to be with family, to sit down and eat food and not be under any time pressure," said Vann, who is from Wade and was convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine. "I just want to go home and be with my family. One thing I want to do before my mother dies is make her proud of me."
leah.friedman@ newsobserver .com or 919-829-4546