Parenting from Prison – ‘How Long Will You Be Here?’

I first met my step-daughter, Tyler, when she was 8 years old. One of the first questions she asked of me was, “How long will you be here (in prison)?” My wife, sensing that I would answer truthfully, interjected quickly, saying, “He’ll be home in a couple of years.” Actually, I had 10 more years to go before I would be eligible for release.

I didn’t agree with my wife’s response, but I felt that if I contradicted her answer with the truth, it might appear to Tyler as if her mother was trying to hide things from her about me. I also knew that my wife believed that Tyler was still too young to comprehend certain things. Instead of contradicting my wife’s answer with the truth, I sarcastically endorsed my wife’s response by adding, “Yeah, in a couple of years.”

As time moved on, Tyler and I became very close. I love and care about Tyler as much as any father possibly could. Whenever Tyler visited, I directed the entire time toward her. I wanted to make sure, as much as I could, that she enjoyed the experience.

Growing Closer

Tyler, like most kids her age, is very talkative, and she would recount to me everything she had done and experienced since our last visit together. She would tell me about school, her friends, or how someone she thought of as a friend had slighted her in some way. I’d sit in rapt attention, interjecting every now and seeking clarification on certain points, so she would know I was listening.

I would also bring the Bible or another book to our table, and Tyler would read to me from it. She’s an excellent reader. We always thumb wrestle every visit, which may not seem like much, but for us, gets quite intense.

Tyler also has a beautiful voice and she sings to me. One time, during one of her singing performances, a fellow inmate and his wife complimented her on her singing and asked me if she would be willing to sing in the next Family Day Event that he was helping to coordinate. Tyler immediately agreed, but when I told her about 350 people would be there, she had second thoughts.

I believe my efforts paid off, because Tyler volunteered that she even wanted to spend time with us while we participated in the Family Reunion Program, which allows us all to spend. two and a half days together in a small family trailer on the prison grounds. In fact, Tyler was quite adamant about participating because when we were discussing our next trailer visit, Tyler unequivocally informed my wife and me, “I’m going on this one.”

A Very Loving Visit

About two years later, I had my best and worst visit with Tyler. That day, I hadn’t seen Tyler in more than a month. My wife usually comes to see me once a week, but during the weekday when Tyler is in school. I really missed her

That day, Tyler ran toward me and hugged me, which was strange because she’d usually wait at the assigned table with my wife. She immediately grabbed my hand, walking me towards her mother, all the while telling me about the talent show she was in at school, and how the teacher had told her that she was one of the best dancers, singers, etc. She had my undivided attention.

As we approached my wife, I turned to Tyler and asked, “Is it OK if I kiss Mommy hello?” It’s become our little tradition for me to ask for Tyler’s permission. Once she gave me her blessing, I quickly kissed my wife, but Tyler was even quicker with her comment, “Oh please, get a room,” which my wife and I found funny since the kiss was of the closed-mouthed, puckered-lip variety.

As the day progressed, Tyler did things that she normally does not do. She asked me to escort her to the vending machines each time she went, and she made way too many trips. While we were seated, she rested her head on my shoulders, or threw her arms around me. She was showing me a lot of affection, and I loved every moment of it. I thought to myself, “We have finally crossed that threshold where she is totally comfortable with me and she really trusts me.”

Then, in one quick moment, my day crashed.


It was almost two o’clock, close to the end of the visit, when Tyler asked me, “So, you will be home next year, right?” When I asked her why she had that idea, she repeated what my wife and I had told her two years earlier.

I was literally speechless for a few moments, but I knew that I had to tell her the truth. So, I gathered my thoughts as quickly as I could and explained, “Sweetie, at the time Mommy and I told you that we weren’t being honest, not because we wanted to hide something from you, but because we thought you were a bit too young to fully comprehend the truth of my situation. I won’t be coming home next year or the next.”

I saw the tears brimming in her eyes, and it broke my heart into a thousand pieces, but I had to go on.

“As it stands right now, I have 8 more years to go before I could come home to you and Mommy. However, if the governor passes a law that people are pushing for, I could be home within a year or two.”

I just had to add this last part because her tears were really tearing me apart, and I was being truthful, because there are people pushing for a good time bill to be passed that would allow me to come home almost immediately if it were passed.

Opening My Arms

Tyler, bless her heart, still couldn’t quite understand why it would take so long. I had told her about how I grew up, which was very rough. so she was looking for reasons why I should be let go. With tears flowing she suggested, “But, Lucy (that’s my mother) was so mean to you, and you have changed so much. If the governor knew that he would let you go.”

All I could do was open my arms, and hold her, caressing her back as she cried herself out.

All too soon the announcement for “early go-back” came, which is our normal cue to say goodbye. We usually end our visits at this time for two reasons: 1) 1 can walk them up to the desk and hug and kiss them goodbye there, instead of at the table, if we don’t wait until the visiting room officially closes, and 2) it helps them beat the mob of people leaving.

Tyler immediately said, “We’re leaving last.” My wife and I didn’t have the heart to debate the point. But as I continued to hold her and comfort her, I reminded her that if we wait until the very end, then I won’t be able to get my big hug and kiss that I need from her before she goes. After a few more moments, she had stopped crying and announced her readiness.

As we walked to the desk, Tyler holding my hand and my wife on my other arm, the emotions flowing within me were so intense. When Tyler had to leave, she gave me a hug and kiss so powerful that it took every ounce of my will power not to cry with her. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to set her off again.

A Fact of Our Lives

As I watched them leave, I felt so guilty for being in prison and for what my being here was doing to my family.

I went through the routine, after-visit stripped frisk in a daze. While en route to my cell, a tear trickled down my face. In my cell, I had me a good old fashioned cry. Then I picked up my Bible and began reading and praying. My faith in God is what sustains me mostly. I need to trust in God’s plan, that he knows what is best for my family and me.

Since that visit, Tyler and I have been as close as ever. Fortunately, there were no awkward moments as a result of her knowing when I will really come home. In fact, I think in some unspoken way, we’ve become even closer. We haven’t discussed my sentence since then. I think it’s because there hasn’t been a reason to. It’s just a fact of our lives.