For the final entry in our End Mass Incarceration Week blog series, SCSJ intern Nadiah Porter gives us an intimate look into her life growing up with an incarcerated parent.
From the daughter of a prisoner
My story is not one that is unique among little black girls living in Detroit in the 1980’s. My father was a good man, he and my mother were together for the very beginning part of my life. I lived with my mother and grandfather, and my dad would visit me on occasion, pick me up on some weekends, and we would stay up late and watch Child’s Play, Freddy Kreuger, and Tales from the Crypt. Needless to say, I grew quite a tolerance for horror films.
I remember riding shotgun in his black truck as a child, smelling the cigarettes that lingered in the seats, always asking for a stick of his Red Hot gum even though it burned my mouth, and drowning my lips in the cherry flavored chapstick he kept on him at all times. I have a few memories of my father from when I was young, the last of which involved me as a 5 year old giving him a hug before getting into the moving truck to Colorado. The next time I hugged my father I was 16 years old.
On March 9, 1994 my father and two other men were convicted of Cocaine trafficking, which Detroit law enforcement claimed had generated about $1 million a year in revenue for the three. My father was given a 30 year prison sentence. He served a lengthy 10 years of that sentence.
It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I asked my mother if I could reconnect with my dad. I can’t think back to what prompted me to get in touch with him, but until this time, I had no idea that my father had been in prison.
I never really had any resentment towards my father growing up, I just thought he had left me behind like most of my friends’ fathers, so his absence was normal. Thankfully, my mom thought I was old enough to hear the truth about why my father was not around, and that she was just waiting for the time when I was ready to understand. My mom told me that she had been keeping up with my father’s whereabouts, and even gave me the birthday cards and letters he sent that she’d saved for me over the years. Looking back, I am grateful that my mother protected me in this way, but still kept the connection for a time when it was appropriate for me to reunite with my father.
For two years, we wrote letters to get to know each other. I always admired how his handwriting was better than mine, and I tried my best, but I never could make mine look as elegant. I still have every single thing he sent me from prison, even the envelopes that identified him as an inmate number, with an address that wasn’t his own.
At still such a young age, I didn’t realize the impact that my dad’s absence had on my life. Instead of having a poor father figure like many of my peers, I simply had no father figure to be the example of how I should allow the opposite sex to treat me. As luck usually has it, there were good encounters and there were bad. I think, if my father was in my life for the majority of my childhood, I would have a little more guts, more fight in me, and my emotions would be better tamed. Thank goodness for the DNA that he so graciously shared that has enabled me to be an artist, a people magnet, and a kindhearted human being.
When I was able to see my dad again for the very first time, it was like looking in the mirror. Even today, as we age, my mother still calls us twins. I am thankful to look so much like him. It is something that the prison system could never take away from us.
I will always see my father as a victim of the system, not because he was innocent of the charges, but because he was charged at a time when people like him, black men, were being targeted and sentenced excessively not because of the weight of the crime, but because of the color of their skin. My father’s bail, for example was set 5 times higher than that of his white partner in crime.
Today, we are both trying to make up for lost time. I am trying to build the unwavering self esteem that is achieved a little easier when you have your father around. My dad is trying to stay afloat in a financial world that is not too generous with second chances. Together, we are continuously trying to strengthen a bond that has been weakened by time, bruised by distance, and severed by prison bars.
Written by SCSJ Troan Intern Nadiah Porter