Being a parent is probably the most difficult job in the world. You’re almost always secondguessing yourself, wondering if you’re doing this and that right. Being a parent in prison is even more confusing. You rarely get to see your child, so it’s hard to build a relationship, and you feel a heavy burden of guilt.
Missing Those ‘First Times’
I was incarcerated when my daughter was born, so I didn’t get to witness the joy on my girlfriend’s face after the delivery. I didn’t cut the umbilical cord and I wasn’t there the first day they brought Aliyah home. It’s hard to appreciate fatherhood, not being able to witness Aliyah’s “first times.” I especially wish I’d heard her first words and seen her first steps.
I’m more fortunate than other prisoners, though, because I see my daughter about once a month, talk to her several times a month and get a letter once a week. I know people in prison with me who haven’t seen their kids since they got locked up, and some of them have been in prison for 15 to 20 years.
Visits Are Bittersweet
Visits are tough. I’m in a prison in upstate New York. They start letting visitors in at 9 a.m. Family members who live in New York City have to get on the bus or start driving at about 11:00 the night before to get here that early.
The prisoners don’t start getting called down to the visit floor until about 10 a.m. The anticipation I feel walking to the visit floor is indescribable. Visits are the only time I really get to let my guard down in here.
The visit floor is large. There’s an area for the vending machines, where you order food, snacks and drinks. There’s an area where you can take pictures with your family, and there’s even a back yard type area where you can go outside in good weather.
The playroom for the children has various toys, games and movies. This area is rarely crowded, though, because most of the kids haven’t seen their fathers, brother or uncles in so long that they just want to spend the few hours they have sitting by them.
‘Why Can’t You Come Home?’
My visits with my girlfriend and my daughter are bittersweet. I’m happy to see my family, and our visits are good, but it hurts when they leave. Time flies because there’s so much to talk about in so little time.
Our best visits were Aliyah’s first birthday, when I was able to see her walk and talk for the first time, and Father’s Day in 2004, when Aliyah was able to talk clearly and we had a small conversation.
Our most recent was the most painful. When she was leaving, Aliyah turned around, ran back to me and started crying, finally asking, “Why can’t you come home with me?” It’s hard explaining to a 3 year old that you made a mistake before she was born and are still paying for that mistake. So all I told her was, “Don’t worry. I’ll be home soon.”
My nieces and nephews also ask me to come home constantly. I tell them the truth about what I did, because they’re older. They were already in school when I got locked up, and they understand what prison is and why some people come here.
Hoping to Stay Positive
At the end of each visit, all of the prisoners get strip searched and then wait to go back to our housing unit. While we’re waiting we talk to each other about our families and the problems we’re going through. Some are stressed after a visit because those couple of hours feel like a tease. I’ve seen fathers break down mentally and emotionally because they’ve been separated from their families for so long.
The hardest times in prison are holidays and birthdays. Because of the limited resources we have, we have to be creative with the cards we make and the poems and letters we write. Some don’t get a visit on the holiday, so the closest we get to home is a phone call.
I associate with the prisoners who stay positive about their situations, hoping to keep a positive attitude about the situation I’m going through.
Tension and Pressure
Being locked up going on four years, I’ve learned a lot about prison and its effects on prisoners and everyone in their lives. The saying is, “We don’t do prison bids by ourselves.” (“Bids” are our sentences.)
Mothers become single parents, and because we’re in here their responsibilities increase. Plus a lot of men in prison expect their wives or girlfriends to take care of them. I’ve noticed that when a prisoner is stressed, his family is also. Relationships become filled with tension and families break up. Children have no father figure to look up to and to help their mothers. How can we really expect our children to look up to us when we are caged like animals?
Sometimes I sit in my cell and thank God that I will make it home and be part of my daughter’s life someday soon. A lot of the prisoners around me will never go home. I respect them because they still move forward mentally when they are forced to stand still physically.
Dreams for My Daughter
Like any other parent, I have a lot of hopes and dreams for my daughter. I plan on spending as much time as possible with my daughter when I get out, so I can instill in her the characteristics of a leader and righteous person. I plan to spend time with my girlfriend, too, so we can get to know the new us.
I hope to witness my daughter growing into a mature and successful adult. I will tell her about the mistake I made to end up here, and stay close by her side so she doesn’t grow up feeling angry and alone like I did after my mother died and I entered the foster care system.
I’m in prison but I don’t expect my daughter to grow up to be a prisoner. My hopes and dreams for my daughter and for my own life remain high.