Saturday, March 10, 2018


Last night I heard from my eldest daughter that she experienced trauma from growing up with an incarcerated father. That she doesn't like going to see him because it is painful for her. I had never heard this before. Ever. It made me feel sad. And like a bad mother. Did I make a mistake in exposing my child to prison life?  I began to think about the experiences we had, the two of us.

First, I thought about the fact that I was 20 years old when this journey began. My daughter was 9 months old. We were suddenly abandoned, left to navigate life on our own (without Daddy). As time passed and my daughter got older, prison became her playground. She had the biggest personality in the room, always. When we would visit my husband, almost every inmate would say hello to her. She would manage to end up with candy, chips, and other treats that were given to her as she visited and greeted people around the visiting room. Back then, the rules were not as strict as they are today. My daughter was the honorary Mayor and oftentimes appeared in family photos with friends of her dad and their loved ones. She loved the attention!

Her dad would spend so much time talking to her about what it means to be black. That she comes from a long line of Kings and Queens. He would buy and send her books so she would learn more and see herself in the characters in those books. He wanted to empower his little Princess! She kept him on his toes, too. The interactions were funny to watch. I always wished I had a camera, so instead I would pretend by using my hands and say I was taking 'mental pictures.'

As soon as we would get in our car to drive home, our lives were back to normal. She took dance classes, had recitals, played with kids her age, did normal kid stuff. I made sure that my daughter went to a good school in the city, while I began my own career as a teacher. My parents and siblings were very active in her life, so much so, that she struggled to see me and her as our own family (but that was OK). This bubbly kid did have one issue; she would get sad sometimes but she wouldn't tell me why.

About six years into my husband's incarceration I began to have issues and insecurities of my own. I distanced myself from my marriage though maintaining the friendship that has always been the platform of our relationship. I moved away, plucking my daughter from her environment and engaging in a five year whirlwind that took us to Florida to Seattle (Washington) and back to NY.  The events that took place and the instability during this time might be more cause for trauma than life as a prison kid. But this is just my opinion. At the end of the day, in my daughter's eyes, it's still my fault. And she's right. I was the adult, though not a mature or emotionally healthy one.

Trauma is what I have experienced, too. But it will not define me and it will not defeat me. I will not focus on the negative and become disabled by the pain. Instead I feed off it and turn it into passion so that I can make a difference in someone else's life. I didn't have this courage or attitude until recently, for this, I am grateful (though it may be too late for my daughter's benefit).

I told my daughter that I was sorry. That is all I can say. I am still growing as a parent and as a person, but I will never be perfect. I wish she would embrace the gifts that she has and use her experiences to help others. Somewhere out there, there is a little girl who loves her daddy to pieces but has no one to talk to about the pain of him not coming home.

You can either sit and dwell in your pain or get help and turn it into a superpower. The choice is yours!

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