My father was incarcerated when I was a baby. Trips here and there to a place that looked scary, and was as busy as BART during commute hours. It had tall gates with spikes on them and people standing high with guns. This seemed to always be the place I’d visit with my mom and older brother, Frederick. I was unsure on how I was supposed to feel. Driving to see my father was fun, exciting and long. The sights of a continuous freeway with hills as dry as desert dust to the right and left of me. Playing games of I-Spy with my Mom and brother seemed to always make the car ride more bearable. Going to this place they call “Jail” to meet someone named “Dad”.
At this time I was very young and I didn’t understand why I was forced to call someone Dad that came and went. I’d see him a few times a year, and then the next year not at all. The thoughts going through my young mind were why does Daddy stay here? Why is Daddy writing me letters on yellow paper I can’t read? When we arrive to the Jail my mother would always say “keep your mouths shut and don’t say anything stupid while we’re in here.” Frederick and I would always respond “ok mommy.” After parking and walking to the front entrance my mom would tell us to go sit down on the wooden bench while she checked us in. After she checked in we would always ask for the bag of quarters she would carry in when we went on visits so that we could buy snacks while waiting for our visit. Sometimes it took hours in the hot scorching sun. After waiting we’d go through the metal detector while my mom was searched and patted down and checked for inappropriate clothing. I’d watch our items go through a long machine with little rollers at the end. When the plastic container came out it had all of our shoes, belts, sunglasses and our bag of quarters. As we walked to the next building I would always hold my Mom’s hand. Scary armed policemen would stand tall with their chest pumped out as we walked to the next building where my father was. Nannnniii!!! I hear him call, I run to him hoping I don’t fall. He hugs me tight and says “I love you.” I think to myself “I don’t even know you.” Looking into his eyes, someone once described as a thief, a father and another black man for society to hide, to fund their secret agendas.
Here I am 17-years-old, looked at as if I’m just another statistic of an incarcerated black man. I try to succeed in a world looking down at me, always telling me I’m not capable of leading. I tell myself every day that I am a strong African American young lady that refuses to be identified as “Ratchet” or “Classless” and “uneducated”. Don’t I have the right not to be judged, blamed, or labeled because my parent is incarcerated? I want to share a letter that I believe should be heard by Police, Judges, Law Makers, Educators, the Community and most importantly the man I call my Father.
I want to start off where you left me. A one-year-old trying to walk. I always looked for you when I looked up, but before I fell you weren’t there. The time I was left at school without being picked up because my mother had to work full time to provide a healthy life for your two fatherless children. Or even the time I was touched inappropriately by your own cousins. I always looked for you when I needed help, but like always, you failed to be there. How about the time I was trying to be a big girl and learn to ride a bike without training wheels, you weren’t there. Good thing Frederick was there to help me when I fell and stubbed my toe. I looked for you to pick me up, hug me and tell me everything was going to be ok, but you weren’t there. My first day of Kindergarten was the one to remember but oh yeah I forgot you weren’t there to experience that either. At the age of 8, I began attending a summer camp called Project Avary. Project Avary is a camp for youth with incarcerated parents or family. Avary was a second family for me because I discovered that I was not alone, that there were other kids out there like me. I was able to meet a lot of cool people that shared similar experiences. Going to Avary was a good opportunity for me to share my story and to hear others. Project Avary has supported me in many ways, now I am no longer ashamed or afraid to tell my story.
June 14, 2009 my life was changed forever. I tragically lost my little brother Drew to a drowning at my older brother’s birthday party. His passing has changed my life in many ways. I have learned to appreciate everyday God gives me. God has given not only my family but me many blessings. Despite the loss of my little brother and my Dad’s absence in my life I continue to stay positive. June 12, 2013 was one of the happiest days of my life, when I was promoted to high school. I was sitting on the turf of my new school waiting for them to call my name and there it was Alannah Williams the principal announced. After getting my promotion certificate I looked to the stands wishing you were there screaming my name, but you weren’t. I felt abandoned, but I held my head up high and kept a smile on my face. To overcome the sadness of not having my father in my life, I am participating in numerous sports and activities. Such as basketball, volleyball, track and field, Positive Steps and Project WHAT. When I’m on the basketball court my pain is non-existent. When I throw the shot put I let out all the anger and all the times I let your absence destroy me mentally and physically. When I go up for a block, I think of blocking all the negative things that try to take over my life and stay positive. Sports has helped me develop mentally, physically and emotionally and has helped pave the way to possibly obtaining a college scholarship. It is very disappointing and discouraging to not see my father at my games or track meets cheering me on . Every day I tell myself that everything is going to work out, it just takes time. God has given me the opportunity to be a strong, intelligent African American woman.
Although I have come across many challenges I’ve learned to rise above and overcome them. But without the love and support from my family, teachers, friends, coaches, mentors and God I wouldn’t have the strength to overcome these obstacles. I am learning to follow my dreams and to believe in myself. Every day is an new opportunity to improve and to succeed in whatever I put my mind to regardless of my circumstances. I am in control of my own destiny!