Wednesday, February 05, 2020

A Father Writes From Prison: "SHOTS FIRED!"

NOTE: I received the following essay from an incarcerated citizen with whom I have been working. The photo above is not of him or his children, but is intended to illustrate the issue about which he wrote.

I imagine that everyone – at some point in life – faces a personal tragedy that shakes them to the core. Well, for me, this is one of those moments.

A few days before Christmas, my youngest son was gunned down and left for dead in the streets of New Orleans, his dreams of one day running his own real estate business indefinitely suspended for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. And as I sit here – 150 miles away at Angola – my heart bleeds for him.

In the quiet moments between the chaos and mayhem of prison life, somber thoughts of my youngest child lying on the cold pavement in a pool of blood sends chills down my spine and nearly breaks me completely. The gruesome images in my mind are the kind that no parent should have to endure – not me, not anyone. As a father, I am beside myself with grief, not just because my son was almost killed, but because I wasn't there to protect him in the first place. I’ve been incarcerated his whole life – 17 years – not knowing the struggles he had to face on his own while I was locked away. Then, on January 21, my son's birthday, I received the most important letter I would ever read:

“Dear Dad,” he wrote. “All I want to know is ‘why?’ Why wasn’t you there when I needed you most? I’ve been through hell and back in these past 17 years and you was nowhere to be found. Why did you up and leave and never came back for me? What did I do wrong?”

Like the torrential rains of the Serengeti, copious tears poured down my face and fell upon the delicate pages in my trembling hands, evidence of a father’s disgrace. My sullen grief soon gave way to crippling depression as the reality of the pain I have caused my baby boy shocked my conscience and seized my breath. Though my heart had been broken into a thousand pieces, I continued reading the letter my son had written to me.

“I waited up many nights for you, Dad, but you never came back. I even asked God to look for you because I thought you were lost and couldn’t find your way home. I want you to know that it really sucks that you was never around for any of my birthdays or Christmases or the times I got so sick the doctors thought I might die. I really needed you, Dad...and you wasn’t there. Why?”

His words cut like a knife, sharp and to the bone, but the worst pain of all was knowing that it was my fault. I had failed him in ways I’d never imagined. Reading his letter made me realize that my incarceration has taken a terrible toll on his life, as well. Lord, what have I done? How can I fix this?

“People always tell me that I'll never get closure unless I go directly to the source and tell you exactly how I feel. So here it is, Dad. I am lost out here on my own. I really need you to step up and be a part of my life. This is our one chance to make things right, so, Dad, please don’t let me down. I’m counting on you to rescue me from this pain that won't go away. Help me, Dad.”

From the depths of despair to now standing at the precipice of hope, the tragedy of my incarceration has come full circle. My son’s heartfelt letter serves as a wakeup call, a virtual lifeline offering one last chance for redemption. Lord, give me the strength and the knowledge to express my profound love for the child who is crying out from the wilderness for his father:

“Dear Son, your letter has opened my eyes to a far greater tragedy than I ever imagined. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for failing you as a father. I am deeply sorry for the pain I’ve caused. It was never my intention to abandon you – ever. I have loved you since the moment you were born and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about the special moments I have missed by not being there. The circumstances regarding my absence in your life had nothing to do with you. They stemmed from issues I had been dealing with way before you came into the world.

“By the time you were born, my life was in complete turmoil, mostly because I was unable to bury the ghosts from my own past. I allowed the unspeakable horrors that happened to me as a child affect my relationships with everyone who ever tried to love me. And eventually a slew of bad decisions was all it took to send my whole world spiraling out of control. In the end, after what seemed like a long tumultuous journey to nowhere, I found myself standing in front of hell’s gate, and I've been trapped in purgatory ever since.

“Behind these unholy walls I have discovered that prison is designed to sever the bonds between those on the outside and the souls within. From the oppressing cost of collect phone calls to the rustic far away location of the prison itself, steps have been taken to assure misery on both sides of the wall for families dealing with incarceration. I understand that. But in a million years, I never would have thought that when the judge sentenced me to life, he also sentenced you to a lifetime of grief and suffering, as well. For that, my son, there are no words.

“When I heard that you had been shot, it nearly sent me over the edge. My bleak world took on an even darker shade of melancholy as I struggled to hold on to what little hope I had left. I literally felt like dying. So in essence, your letter saved me. From the moment it arrived, I have been down on bended knees thanking God for this opportunity to tell you how much you mean to me.

“Son, I know I can’t turn back the hands of time, but what I can do is be here for you from now on. I hereby dedicate my life to assisting you with reaching your goals and fulfilling every dream you’ve ever had. Our legacy as a family starts right now, and I’ve never been more proud to be a father. Thank you for reaching out to me. I love you, Son. Get well soon and remember that from this day forth, you’ll never be alone again. Love always, Dad.”

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