As a child, things were simple. My brother and I would get to visit my dad in prison on weekends when he was located in Arkansas and even traveled to Louisiana one time when he was transferred. I remember all of those visits vividly and how exciting they were. Myself, my brother, my grandma and sometimes other family members would go. When we weren’t visiting, we had fifteen minute phone calls, some shorter, and letters of course. We’ve always been in communication and back then, like I said, it was simple. I knew that my dad was in prison. I knew that he couldn’t be there for me in the real world, but as a child my thoughts of him were all positive and I cherished every encounter.
Now that I am 24, I am more aware of the situation my father is in with his being incarcerated for the majority of my brother and I’s lives, understanding his sentence and educating myself on mass incarceration and how that affects not only his life but ours. I wouldn’t say that my thoughts of my dad have changed, but now that I’m a grown woman certain things from when I was much younger don’t phase me and I verbalize how I feel. The “when I get homes” and “I’m sorry I couldn’t be theres” become less reassuring. That may be harsh and I know that for him, that’s his way of expressing his want to be here and to try and make the situation better, but I threw all of that out of the window a long time ago.
I’m at a point in my life now where things get stressful and it’s difficult to express my frustration. Often, I’m wanting to remove myself from my reality that is having an incarcerated father and taking on responsibilities that for a period of time, I didn’t have or weren’t expected of me. It’s been the norm for my dad to be in prison throughout my 24 years of living, but sometimes I feel the need to escape. I find it hard to one, support myself and make sure that I’m good and two, support my dad financially when he is dealing with survival behind prison walls and doesn’t have backing from those who you’d think would be there. Supporting someone who is incarcerated is not easy, especially if you’re not where you want to be financially or you’re trying to figure out your own way in life or both. I never want to feel sorry for my dad, but the fact is, if I don’t help, who will?
The cost of living, better yet surviving, in prison is beyond me. Especially when you tie in the fact that some inmates don’t have financial support from family, friends or anyone who gives a damn. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a commissary list readily available online, which inmates have to complete in order to make purchases for things like food, hygiene items and electronics. Depending on the state, commissary prices fluctuate, but are overpriced for the most part. Between commissary, phone calls and other fees, nothing is free and those finances are put on the families or individuals who support the inmates.
For those who have a family member doing time, you may understand this part. When you support someone in prison, it’s far more than just putting money on their books. To an extent, it’s as if you’re going through their sentence with them. In every way, shape form and fashion you’re there. From the limited conversations I’ve had with my dad, and I say “limited” because everything is monitored, I’ve learned that there is a certain way of living and communicating behind bars. It’s a way of living that I don’t fully understand and can’t really question while my dad is in prison. Those conversations have to be put on hold until he is no longer behind bars.
I’ve found it hard and mentally draining to make sense of some things. My dad has tried to break things down as much as possible without saying too much and it all boils down to “you have to trust me, Terrionna.” I struggle with that. I feel confident enough to say that I don’t believe he would steer me in the wrong direction, but it’s still a struggle. I’ve been trying to find a balance, but everything on prison time is now, now, now. “I need you to put money on my books now so I can make commissary at this time because the store closes at this time and I’ll have to wait x amount of days to put in my list for the things I need.”
My dad and I bump heads on certain things and situations because I can’t tell him how to go about surviving in prison and dealing with grown men. That is beyond me and is solely his experience, but at the same time I react and have my opinions, while again, trying to make sense of prison culture. Over the years I’ve learned that everything on the other side has a chain reaction that thrives off of that “now” frame of mind and that at the end of the day all he has is his word, which he explained to me.
We struggle with understanding one another from time to time and we talk about these things. There have been years of separation and I said all of that to say this; my dad being incarcerated is stressful and mentally draining. There are good days and bad days. I am the middle man in terms of communication with him and the outside world. He depends on me.
There’s a lot that I have to leave out for the sake of my dad’s privacy and this blog post, but hopefully someone understands.