Voices from See Us, Support Us:
A Selection from “My Survival Guide” by Malaysia G.
excerpted from All I ever wanted… Stories of Children of the Incarcerated, an anthology created by Herstory Writers Workshop in partnership with Prison Families Anonymous.
As I watched all of the inmates walk out, I put my head down because I could identify which one was my dad. My hands started trembling, my leg was shaking uncontrollably. I was staring down at the floor because I was scared to look up at the man I last seen when I was a baby, a toddler.
What if he doesn’t have anything to say to me… what if he can’t even look at me? I saw white sneakers standing there and I couldn’t look up at him because I let my nerves get the best of me.
“Laysia?" he said. His voice sounded just like it did on the phone. He grabbed my hand and pulled me up to hug him, but I closed my eyes because I wasn’t ready to look at him yet. Wow, he’s tall.
I wrapped my hands around his neck and let all my tears flow out. Once we finished our hug, I kept my eyes closed to ready myself to look at the mystery man, because that’s what I called him because I didn’t know what he looked like…
Well, here I go, opening them in three, two, one!
There he was, standing there, a skyscraper with a faded haircut, eyebrows stood out to me, they looked like big black caterpillars, his dark brown eyes filled with tears. But I couldn’t tell whether they were of joy or sadness. He had a little beard I could see growing in. He wore navy blue pants and a matching button-up shirt with a number on it. It was so hard to look at him this way.
The first five minutes of the visit were mostly staring and crying. But, once we got to talking, it was like we’re best friends who’d been away from each other for a while but had so much to talk about. He smiled, and laughed, a laugh that was pretty contagious. But I loved it. Everyone was saying how much we look alike feature wise. I could see it, his eyes, lips and nose, ugh that’s why my nose was so huge!
After laughing for a while about how much we looked alike, we finally got down to talking about the basics, as if we were on the phone. He told me about the days he wanted to kick someone’s behind because they were testing him, but all he had to do was think about coming home to me and he would relax and return to his “comfort” zone. Like he said for some reason I couldn’t stop staring at him. I wanted the image of him to stay in my head forever! I didn’t wanna forget him ever… he was my dad. And what if I never get a chance to visit him again, which I won’t because I know my mom isn’t going to allow me to go places with my stepmom. So just in case, I sat there taking pictures in my mind and storing them in this little section I have where all the thoughts about him were.
I asked so many questions that I’d been thinking of asking him since forever. But there was one question I wanted to know ever since I was twelve. I could’ve asked him on the phone, but I was scared and I put it to the back of my mind. But, sitting here in front of him brought it back to the tip of my tongue…. I asked him, "What did you do that caused them to lock you away for so long?"
He let his head fall and I could see that he was nervous because he couldn’t stop fiddling with his fingers. I moved next to him and I put my head on his shoulder and told him that it’s okay and that whatever it was, didn’t matter to me because I loved him, and nothing could change the way I feel about my dad.
It looked like he was scared to say it and I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable, so I changed the subject. He told me about my baby days and how much work I was. He apologized for going away, but I knew it wasn’t his fault, so I didn’t really acknowledge it. But that’s where I stopped… because half of this, or mainly all of this was his fault. If he hadn’t been out on the streets, as my mom said, being a player-- player and etc.-- he wouldn’t have been in the position that he’s in right now! But I couldn’t let him know that I thought that, it was just a thought anyway. Still never changed the way I felt.
We talked about everything we couldn’t get to in the letter, he was telling me about the birds and the bees, in other words sex and falling in love. I was nodding my head and smiling the whole time, but thinking, You’re a little too late to have this talk with me, which I don’t know why because he knows about my boyfriend and how long I’ve been with him. I told him everything in the letters about us, but yet he still continued to talk.
Thirty minutes of visiting hours left… I have thirty minutes to cram everything I want to tell him into these thirty minutes. I cried while telling him about life at home: the relationship with my mom, my brother and everyone else in my life, how some left me confused, upset, lonely and insignificant. But sitting there with him made me feel like I was never any of these things. I didn’t wanna end the visit in tears, so I began asking him how the food was because I know it wasn’t fried chicken, pork chops and steak. He laughed, there goes that laugh again.
Realizing that our thirty minutes were coming to an end, I couldn’t help but cry again. I thought over this being my last time seeing him. He put his arms around me, causing all my tears to be soaked up into his shirt. I told him through my jittery voice that I didn’t wanna leave. Yes, I was acting like I was twelve again. He wiped my tear off of my face and told me “Don’t think of this a goodbye, think of it as hello.”
That buzzer rang again, letting me know that all the inmates were being rounded back to their cells – I guess-- if that’s what they called it. As soon as he let go of my hand I began to cry hysterically. He looked back at me and mouthed “HELLO.” It took me a while to figure out why we were leaving and was saying hello.
But I forget this isn’t goodbye, so I mouth back HELLO and turn to leave with my stepmom.
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