Greetings to all,
My family and I are celebrating some wonderful news. A few weeks ago my daughter, Amber, and her boyfriend, Anthony surprised me with a visit. They came in to the prison’s visiting room because they wanted me to be the first to hear their news. They wanted to tell me that I am going to be a grandfather. WOW! They are having a baby! I was shocked. It came as a wonderful surprise. My entire family is so excited and filled with happiness at the news. We are blessed.
Of course, my immediate reaction was of great joy and excitement. My daughter is having a baby. My heart was smiling to see the happiness on her face; on both their faces. And I was filled with love and happiness for them. I have always been proud of my daughter, what she has overcome and the woman she is today. And, I know in my heart that she will be an amazing mother.
However, later, in the quiet loneliness of my prison cell, in the dark isolation of my thoughts, some reality landed in my heart…
In 1996, when I was arrested and locked away in prison, I was torn from my family and accused of a horrific crime. My family and I were suddenly forced into this desperate and futile struggle, fighting an enormous, crushing criminal justice system. Suddenly I was in a fight for my life, trying desperately to prove my innocence. It was unimaginably hard on me and my family. We were in over our heads. We didn’t know what to do. I was a young, twenty-six-year-old man. And my daughter, Amber, was only four.
Those days were very difficult, but it was especially hard on Amber. It was very confusing. Her daddy was suddenly gone and she couldn’t understand why. We all did the best we could to help her understand. But how do you explain to a little girl why her daddy can’t come home with her? How do you explain that he can’t pick her up and hold her, or tuck her into bed at night, or kiss her boo-boos with magical daddy kisses anymore? How do you explain that daddy is in prison charged with first degree murder?
Whether it was the right choice or not, at first we chose not to tell her. After all, we still held on to hope that this horrible mistake would be discovered, the truth would come out, and I would be returned to Amber and my family. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
After my trial, we continued to hold out hope that the next appeal would bring me home. However, Amber was getting older and starting to piece together what was going on. I had to attempt to help her understand. So, at eight-years-old, in the prison’s visiting room I had to explain to my daughter that daddy was accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit.
It was still very hard for Amber; we could not protect her from everything. Amber had to live with the bad things people were saying about me. After all, to the many people who read the newspapers, I was a child killer. But to Amber, I was just her daddy. At school Amber was often bullied, and she was forced to live with the stigma of having a convicted child killer as a father. Some kids were very cruel, as kids can sometimes be. Fortunately, Amber was also supported by some good, loyal friends and some wonderful teachers. For that I was grateful. Through it all, Amber did what she had to do to survive and she bravely persevered.
For me and my family, time was often measured in what was lost; what was missed. For example, holidays and birthdays; me not being at my sister’s wedding; missing the birth of my niece; and me not being with my family to grieve the passing of my grandparents. But for Amber it was much worse. She had to learn to grow up with her father in prison. I began measuring time by what Amber was losing; what I was missing. What I was missing became something that tortured me during my dark times of loneliness and despair. The years were ticking by. My family did an amazing job at trying to keep me in Amber’s life. Phone calls, mail and weekly visits replaced my daily presence. My family attempted to keep some normalcy in Amber’s young life and minimize my absence. At times it was a struggle. Amber’s life went on without me.
I would get letters from my family telling me about what was going on in Amber’s life, what I was missing. Things like, when Amber lost her first tooth and how they put it under her pillow to wait for the Tooth Fairy; enclosed was a picture of her toothless smile. Amber’s first day of school, I got a picture of her dressed in her little plaid uniform. There were days when Amber would just cry and say, “I want my daddy.” Then, I got pictures of Amber joyfully playing in the tide-pools at the beach with grandpa. I was on the phone with her when she was crying because she stepped on a bee with her barefoot.
I received drawings and hand-made cards from Amber telling me, “I love you Daddy.” In the visiting room, Amber would run to me and jump into my arms. I got a picture of Amber opening gifts on Christmas morning with messy bed hair and an excited smirk on her little face. I received a letter telling me that today Amber learned to ride a big-girl bike all by herself. In the prison visiting room I read Amber books and we made drawings together. Amber was so proud when she made honor roll; she mailed me a copy of her Morton “M” from school.
At a visit, Amber told me about her first school dance and how she had no one to dance with her during the daddy and daughter dance. Then, a boy broke her heart; but I was not there to tell her that it would be ok and that there will be other boys. I got pictures of Amber and her friends at her sweet sixteen party-she looked so happy. In the mail I got a copy of Amber’s high school diploma with pictures of her in her red robe. Everyone was there except me.
Amber sent me pictures of different gowns she wanted to wear to prom. I picked the one that covered the most skin. Amber turned 18 and started visiting me on her own. After a visit, a prison guard said to me that he watched my daughter grow up in the prison’s visiting center. I cried as I walked back to my cell block. During a phone call, Amber told me that she was starting college. Later this month Amber will be 26, the same age I was when they handcuffed me and took me away from her. Now, Amber is going to meetings with my legal team and involved in the fight to prove her father’s innocence.
Twenty-one years have passed. It was more than just birthdays and holidays that were missed; it was her entire life. At every milestone, every memory of Amber’s childhood, her father was not there. I was not there. I was in prison for a crime I did not commit.
Now, Amber is having a child of her own. My baby is having a baby. While I do not want in any way to diminish or overshadow this very happy news, I can’t help but to think of how me not being there is going to affect her; one more very important time in her life that she will be without her father. One more part of her life that I will miss, unable to be by her side.
Amber and Anthony sent me their birth announcement for me to send to our family. She said, “I want my dad to feel included and not left out.” I’m a lucky man. They recently came to the prison to tell me they were having a boy. Once again, they wanted to make it special for me. I was told I would know the gender when I walked into the visiting room. There they were, in blue shirts. They told me that my grandson’s middle name will be Brian, after his papa. I fill up every time I think about my grandson having my name. My heart is both full and broken at the same time.
Every day brings a new chance for hope. Now, my hope is that my daughter is filled with happiness; that she knows that she will always have my love and support. My hope is to hold my grandson in my arms as a free man. My hope is to not have to watch him grow up in the visiting room as his mother did. My hope is to be able to watch him play and grow and just be a happy little boy. We are all very happy and celebrating this new life. After all, with life there is hope.
My family is hopeful for a better tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will bring us One Day Closer…