Lynn’s Story: Be Strong, Get Educated on the Law, and Be There for Them

Malcolm is my only child. He was always a nice, mild-mannered, easygoing boy. Every holiday when he was a boy, we had our favorite tradition. I would tell him, “Oh, we’re going to go on a little date.” I would take him to different restaurants just so he’d know how to order off the menu, how to be a gentleman, open doors. He used to spend a lot of time with me with the elders of the family. He always thought it was his job to take care of the elders: my mother, her sisters. He would always tell people that he’s going to go play baseball and make a lot of money and everybody would come live with him. He even had a few scholarships to play at the college level.

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But he dropped out of college, and as hard as I pulled to keep him out of trouble, the streets pulled harder. He was convicted on a drug charge, resulting in the death of an individual, and he was sentenced to 25 years. When I heard the sentence, I just fell to the floor crying. I couldn’t do anything else. I guess I didn’t have any coping skills. I wasn’t ready for it. As I gathered myself, his lawyer said, “Oh, don’t worry. They’re going to reduce this sentence.” Well, when?

Malcolm is at almost nine years in now. I haven’t seen him in two years, because he’s in New Hampshire and there’s no visiting right now anyway, because of COVID. He calls a lot, which is great, but also kind of works on my nerves because every time the operator says, “You’ll receive a call from a federal prisoner,” I’m like, “Oh, I know already.” It’s hard. He’s my only child. It’s just him and me.

I try to instill in Malcolm that you’re better than this, that prison is a temporary situation. We pray a lot on calls and I remind him this doesn’t define who you are. We talk a lot about family, too. My mother’s 87 years old and she fasts every Wednesday for Malcolm. Every Wednesday, she will not eat. They nag at her because she’s elderly, but she’s determined. She is determined that he will come home.

I don’t even tell people that Malcolm’s in jail. I tell them he’s traveling the world working, and they always ask, ‘Well, how is he doing?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, he’s doing fine. He’s in Alabama. Oh, he’s in New Jersey. He’s working.’ I don’t tell anyone.

Me and Malcolm just talked recently and he was like, “I’m not going to be here as long as they said I will be here. Everybody’s healthy and I’m going to see everybody. Nobody in the family is going to die while I’m in here.” That’s his whole thing: Nobody dies while he’s in there. The dog died; that was kind of rough for him.

Holidays are hard. And when people ask about him it’s hard. I don’t even tell people that Malcolm’s in jail. I tell them he’s traveling the world working, and they always ask, “Well, how is he doing?” I’m like, “Oh, he’s doing fine. He’s in Alabama. Oh, he’s in New Jersey. He’s working.” I don’t tell anyone. It’s hard just to even think about it, to even fathom that that’s where he is. It’s a daily struggle.

My family remains very close-knit. My mother is an educator. She taught school for 30 years. There’s three or four of us who are social workers. My nieces are teachers. So we are here working every day to change lives and making a difference in people’s lives. Helping out—that’s what we do in this community. We help out; we change lives. If we can reach one, we’ve done enough. But we can’t be there in that way for a one loved who’s in jail.

All I can say to those with a loved one in jail is be strong. Be there for them. Hold their hands through it. They’re going to need you, because once they’re in there, you are all they have. I tell Malcolm, “This does not define you. You made one mistake.” It’s just the law right now with incarcerating people of color that you have to pay so long. As a social worker, I have clients I go to court with because of course they get in trouble, too, the veterans, lots of them mentally ill. So I go to court for them and I tell you, every last one of them I have either gotten the sentence reduced or thrown out—but I just couldn’t do that for Malcolm.

I’ve tried to read every piece of law I can and to educate myself on the laws, being a part of FAMM and keeping abreast of things. I hope that one day there is a piece of paper you can file that may change Malcolm’s sentence or free him. I do have hope. In my mind, I feel so strongly that he’s coming home, things are going to change. Laws are going to change. Prison reform is going to happen. They’re going to stop locking up people of color for such long periods of time. Second chances are going to happen. I wholeheartedly believe that.

Lynn lives in New Orleans, born and raised. She has a masters of social work degree. She works for Start Corporation as a Veteran Healthcare Navigator, assisting veterans with housing stability and/or applying for benefits, and linking eligible veterans to community resources. She also assists individuals in her community in applying for social security and veterans’ compensation benefits.

Maybe you’re like Lynn and have a loved one in prison who deserves a second chance. Help FAMM and Lynn fight for second chances now.