Pen Pals

“My dad got locked up. Our letters keep us close.”  Stevisha Taylor

One day when I was 3, my father went over to my grandfather’s house. My father and grandfather had always had a bad relationship, because my grandfather beat on his wife and kids. That day, they ended up arguing over money and other business. My relatives say my grandfather had been drinking and pulled a gun on my dad. Then my dad pulled a gun on him, too. Shots were fired, my grandfather ended up dead, and my father got thrown in jail.

I was heartbroken. I lived with my father (my mom had dropped off because of drug use) and now I was being cheated of him. My father got sent to a prison far away. It meant that my father and I could never see each other.

After my father was arrested, my aunt and grandparents thought not seeing him until I was 18 the best for me, and the courts agreed. Since then, I’ve had to wake up each day with the hurt of knowing I will not see my father. But the amazing thing is that my dad has always been in my life.

Cards and Letters

For as long as I can remember, he has written to me. I was about 5 when I started sending him pictures I drew. I was 8 when I started writing. Most of the time we wrote about us not being able to see each other. I sent him a letter just about every other week. He’d send me birthday cards and letters and he’d tell me that he cared about me, that he loved me and would never on purpose do anything to hurt me.

Over the years, I stopped drawing but I wrote to him more and more. Now I write to him every other day and he writes to me once a week. We talk on the phone about every other week.

He tells me that jail is a hard-knock life. He writes to me about his life before jail, too. He tells me that growing up was not easy. His father would beat on him and his brother. Sometimes they would try to stop their dad from beating up their mom.

When my father was a teenager, he got tired of the abuse, and one day he ran away. My father told me how hard it was leaving behind his mother and brothers. But his oldest brother helped him get away, and my dad went to live with his aunt (may she rest in peace).

Telling Him My Secrets

When my father was growing up, he had lots of hard times to deal with, with his family and with growing up Black when life for Blacks in this country was even rougher. Then when he messed up, he got thrown in the clink.

My father writes to me about his life, and I tell him all my secrets. When I was younger and would tell him about my mom using drugs, he would be upset and say that he was sorry that he was not there for me. When I told him about me being hurt at home, he was furious about the situation. He was mad at the world. But there was nothing he could do but tell me to be strong and hold on.

When I went into foster care, I let him know. I felt like now I was like him, just another inmate in the system waiting to be free. Again, he apologized for not being there for me. He always blames himself for everything that is going on with me.

A Fairy Tale Wish Come True

I feel like these years of writing and talking have bonded my father and me. All our letters make me feel like we are one. Sometimes I cry when we talk because I miss him. Other times I tell him about my life and he just listens.

Learning about my father’s experiences has left me angry, but it’s also made me want to make my life better, to finish school and go to college and succeed, for myself, my father and my child. It isn’t always easy.

Although the courts originally ruled that I shouldn’t see my father until I turn 18, the judge allowed me a visit. That was on April 29,1999. I won’t ever forget that day. On one of my court dates, he came to see me. The guards just sat in the room with us while we talked to each other. We caught up on a lot of things that had been going on in my life. It felt like my fairy tale wish had finally come true.

Father-Daughter Time

My dad’s release date is February 24, 2004. I will be so happy when he is out and we will be able to form a life together. Of course I have worries about things not working for my dad, like him not being able to find a good job, or even a part-time job, since it’s hard for ex-cons to find work, especially people like my dad who have been locked up for so long.

But at least I will be able to take care of him and we will be able to talk to each other a lot more. We will spend father-daughter time together, and if I have a problem, I will be able to call him late at night. I look forward to him being a part of his grandchild’s life. Whatever happens, I will just be happy that he is out and we have the chance again, after so much time apart, to be together as a family.

Source: Barry Chaffkin & Tanya Krupat,  Coalition 2007 Conference Presentation.  Originally published in Represent! Magazine: By and For Youth in Foster Care .

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