ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office is giving inmates an opportunity to connect with their children in-person thanks to a new program.

It’s called the Bridge Builder Parenting Unification Program.

Sherrif Terry Johnson came up with the idea after realizing many of the inmates at the Alamance County Detention Center are fathers and have not seen their kids in years.

“I was very emotional. I was very sad at the end, but I was very emotional,” said Eric Nunez, Bridge Builder Parenting Unification Program participant.

Eric Nunez is a father of thee. His oldest child is 22 years old, and his youngest are seven and eight years old.

It’s been five years since he has seen them in person.

“I got into a bad car wreck, and they charged me with second-degree murder, and I’ve been here ever since,” Nunez said.

Stories like his are what led Johnson to present the idea of the Bridge Builder Parenting Unification Program to his command staff, who then selected the curriculum designed to reunite inmate fathers with their families.

“You can’t help but have feelings when you see those kids and their parents see each other for the first time or for over a period of time, and if I was locked up and maybe I wasn’t guilty, I’d be hard to get along with back there if you understand what I’m saying … I’d be mad at the world, and this way … the parenting program teaches them parenting skills,” Johnson said.

The Bridge Builder Parenting Unification Program held its inaugural ceremony for five graduates on Thursday. They received a certificate, and each invited their families for a meal in the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office classroom.

“Some of the dads had tears … It was an emotional time,” Johnson said.

During the six-week course, they discussed topics like parenting styles and ways to spend time and connect with their kids while inside and outside the detention center.

“When they came to jail, a lot of the guys told me that they had no connection with their fathers. We want to try to change that by having these fathers who are here have a connection with their children on the outside because that’s vital,” said Lt. Raheem Aleem, Bridge Builder Parenting Unification Program instructor.

Nunez said this wasn’t his first parenting class, but he wanted the opportunity to further connect with his kids and set an example for other inmates.

“I think parenting is like swimming in the ocean … The current comes from different types of angles, and you have to adjust. And I feel like I’m going to have a lot of adjusting to do, especially when I leave this place because I have to play catch up,” Nunez said.

More from FOX8

North Carolina News

See the latest North Carolina news

He hopes to encourage other fathers in the detention center to participate in the program.

The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office is continuing the parenting program immediately and has already started to receive applications from inmate fathers looking to participate.

They are interviewed and then selected to take part. The sheriff’s office is looking to develop the same program for mothers.