10 Children Of Convicted Criminals On What It’s Like To Have A Parent In Jail

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1. I HAVE A MOM THAT’S GONE

“What I miss about my mom the most [is that] I don’t get to touch her and
I don’t get to feel her, and I don’t get to see her with my own eyes. Yeah, I get to hear
her voice, but that’s it! I don’t get to see her breathe. I don’t get to do the things I used to do when she was here. I used to hug my mom and kiss her all the time and now I can’t do that. I only see her every four months….Almost every kid at my school has their mom and dad, married. And they have their mom and their dad right by their side when they need them. I’m not like that. I have a mom that’s gone.”

—Bella

beetlejuice

2. HE STOPPED BEING MY DADDY

“One of my first memories is of my dad throwing an alarm clock at my mom’s head. They broke up when I was two or so….By the time I was a teenager, he’d been in and out of jail regularly: possession of various substances, indecent exposure (this got him discharged from the military), grave robbery, assault, stalking, and a handful of DUIs. He tried to touch my breasts once when I was 16. He said I was starting to look like my mother. It was around this time that he stopped being my daddy and, instead, became a man I didn’t want to be left alone with….My father died alone, handcuffed to his hospital bed. There was no one to comfort him; no goodbyes, no closure, just a million questions left unanswered. He was 45 years old….I want to be clear that my father was not a parent to me. He didn’t raise me. He didn’t feed, clothe, or discipline’ me. He didn’t help with my homework or come to my various band concerts. And he certainly didn’t contribute to my belief system or principles….He was 50 percent of my genetics — little more — and yet, I was (and occasionally still am) struck with grief at his loss.”

—Dese’rae

beetlejuice

3. I ALWAYS FELT A SENSE OF ISOLATION

“It was 1998 when my mother died of a brain aneurysm, my father was in jail, and I was a helpless little five-year old suddenly without a home. My maternal (and single) aunt instantly filed for full custody of my younger brother and me; I was five and my brother was only three….I always felt a sense of isolation and otherness when my friends would be talking about their ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ and I had to say ‘aunt’ in its place and then explain the complexities of my home life to those who looked at me with confusion. It was an interesting journey growing up without both parents in my life. Though in retrospect, I was blessed by not having them around.”

—Samantha

beetlejuice

4. A LONG VACATION

“My ‘dad’ is in prison. He has been in prison for the last couple years….He has been a constant disappointment in my life and being in prison right now is no different….My dad throughout my life has been in and out of trouble with the law; he has wrecked soooo many cars from driving drunk I can’t even count.…I have been writing to him for the past 2 years, and none of my letters are blasting him. They are all about how I went to prom last weekend and that I am graduating high school soon. But what I really want to say is how mad I am that he was not here when my prom date picked me up or when I am walking across that stage at graduation and I look into the crowd he will not be there. Those things hurt me so much. And he just acts as if he is off on a LONG vacation.”

—Ace

beetlejuice

5. IT FELT LIKE MY HEART HAD BEEN RIPPED OUT OF MY CHEST

“TV portrays drug dealers as menacing tough guys—thugs. My dad is more like a giant teddy bear. He’s the most generous guy ever. Everyone knows him, and if you need help he is always there….The first time my father went to jail, it felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest and thrown in the road. My fear for him intensified. On visiting days, he would smile and joke around through the thick glass, but his eyes told a different story of his life inside….It’s been two years since I set foot in that cold prison. I see the fear in my dad’s eyes every time he talks of his future. He knows the world is already set against him.”

—Anonymous

beetlejuice

6. I SPENT A REALLY LONG TIME BEING ANGRY WITH MY FATHER

“I spent a really long time being angry with my father. I was angry he was in jail. I was angry I wound up in foster care and bounced around to family members who didn’t want me. I was angry at not having and angry for wanting. I was angry about having to be responsible around people who weren’t, and most of all I was angry that no one else seemed to realize that my circumstance wasn’t right.”

—Charell

beetlejuice

7. HE BROUGHT IT UPON HIMSELF

“When I tell people about my father’s situation, it often causes jaws to drop; then I get looks of shock and wonder, and finally the predictable: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. For what? If you don’t mind me asking?’ I’m a pretty open book, and now that my father’s been in prison for over a year, I am even more so….I do not mean in any way to undermine the perspectives and feelings of victims of crimes, because in this case, there were victims, and people’s lives were shattered….Of course it was difficult to have my dad miss Christmas and my sister’s high school graduation and prom, and it’s even worse because he brought that upon himself—but the message I want to convey is that holding it over his head forever is detrimental to everybody.”

—Spencer

beetlejuice

8. HE WROTE ME EVERY WEEK

“Over the years, the weekly commutes to visit my father became rituals. Eventually, after several years, we were allowed real visits when he was moved to a lower-security facility. The kind of visits where you can hug and tickle, where a conversation’s connection doesn’t depend on the distorted and crackly voice coming through the telephone, where words can be freely exchanged without the clock ticking, reminding you that time is slipping, moving faster than it should, faster than you’d like….He wrote me every week, and I often go back and read what’s left of the folded, disintegrating letters. He’d tell me stories and I’d draw him fashion designs and mock-up magazines….As a child, the word jail means nothing, and this proved itself when my stepmother broke the news to me a few months after my father’s arrest. She took me for an ice cream, and as we sat in her car in the parking lot, she explained why the police had been at our home, what it all meant, how my father would not be returning any time soon. Yes, I cried. But only because I thought I was supposed to. I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude.”

—Milena

beetlejuice

9. AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, I HAVE BEEN MAD AT MY FATHER

“I am 31 now. My father, the prisoner, is 59. He started shooting heroin when he was 14 and coming up in Watts. He met my mother while cruising unsuccessfully through a Job Corps program in Texas. At age 26, he was sentenced to 20 years-to-life for murdering another human being….And for as long as I can remember, I have been mad at my father, have wanted to punish him for making me a prisoner’s child. With the laser focus on prisoners in our society—on the people they harm, the institutions they disrupt and their collective drain on the rest of us—the gazillion children of prisoners often become Invisibles….With me and my father, there is love and heartbreak and resentment and love.”

—Shareka

beetlejuice

10. A CLOUD HUNG OVER ME

“I was four years old when my dad went away, and my younger brother was two years old. He was convicted for trafficking in cocaine and sentenced to 15 years in prison. At the beginning of his absence, we maintained contact through letters, although I was not aware of where he was. Every time I wrote my father, I’d carefully write his department identification number, thinking that it was a code for an apartment complex mailbox, until my mom informed me that my dad was in prison. I began to cry, but even then I remember questioning my tears; what does it mean to be in prison? For any parent, breaking the news to a child that their father is in prison is difficult. At that age, I didn’t know what it meant; I just knew I wouldn’t be seeing any more of my dad….Despite my childhood being a positive one, a cloud hung over me at times filled with doubt and anger of whether I was worthy of love or not. I dealt with the awkward conversations of ‘so what does your dad do for a living?’…Children with incarcerated parents are a group ignored by society. Our government puts a great deal of energy into locking up nonviolent felons, yet offers no reconciliation to their families, and those most innocent, the children.”

—Ifetayo TC mark

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