Andrea Davis advocates tirelessly for people in prison and their families with FAMM, Florida Cares, and other groups. She coordinates the efforts of Florida Cares in outreach for school supplies and Christmas gifts for the children of the incarcerated. Here is her story.
It was a very hot early morning on July 15, 2003, in South Florida. My baby brother Andy, at the age of 18, had been charged with a serious offense. He asked me to drive him to the hearing, alone. I cannot recall any words uttered. I can vividly picture the child I protected my whole life cuffed and shackled. Upon returning home that evening my brother called to thank me for being there and to share he had been sentenced to more than eight years.
I had to give the earth-shattering news to my parents that evening. My dad was a very proud member of the Navy, my mom a professional lady with a stifled problem with alcohol. My mom relapsed in an instant and my dad who was so bright suffered a heart attack within days. My family as I knew it was gone. Every childhood memory of mine now feels so far away and foreign to me.
After a few months I was finally able to see my brother again. I gladly drove the 10-hour round trip to share a moment. On the way, I had so many fantasies running through my head of the people I would encounter. I was sure I was going to be surrounded by the dregs of society and the worst of the worst. The shame I created in my mind was overwhelming. But when I got to the visiting room, very quickly I realized most of the people in that room were just like me, broken-hearted yet devoted beyond measure. It was that day that I truly understood what shame felt like; I was ashamed of myself for the judgement I harbored in my heart.
In prison, Andy became an institutional-need plumber and was moved all over the state. I worked two full-time jobs to help at home and to support my little brother in any way I could. Andy never went more than four weeks without a visit, no matter how far away from home he’d been moved. I did not want him to be a stranger at the end of his sentence nor did I want him to believe we gave up on him.
As the months turned into years, I befriended many gentlemen in prison with Andy who I met along the way, along with their families in many cases. The guys (as I call them) are now my family in many respects. Every incarcerated person has a completely different story and experience. I am honored to be trusted by so many of them to be part of their life.
I did not want him to be a stranger at the end of his sentence nor did I want him to believe we gave up on him.
One of these men in particular, along with his mom, felt like a piece of home to me. His name is Jason, and he and I had an instant connection. Jason has been incarcerated since 1997 as a result of a terribly tragic event. The love we share is as genuine as anyone who met in a more conventional way. Anyone who meets Jason cannot believe the man with the big smile and energy that lights up the room has been caged for so long. Jason often calls me the sunshine of his life; he is my moon and stars. My nights might be alone; however, they are not entirely dark.
On February 28, 2012, I picked Andy up from prison to come home. The sun was shining so bright that morning. I was overjoyed for him, very sad for those left behind. Andy is now a very successful man, husband, business owner, and the best dad a kid could ask for. I am proud of all he has overcome. He is proof that an investment in a person can result in a life not wasted.
Jason is still in prison, and I will never stop fighting for him, especially these days. Having someone you love incarcerated on a good day is nerve-wracking. With the explosion of Covid 19 in these facilities it can become an obsession to think about the health and well-being of the population at large. So I haven’t stayed quiet. One of our county commissioners said on Twitter that she was concerned about the surrounding community where Jason’s facility is. It’s a very poor community. It is scary to say the least. The only hospital in 30 minutes from there is run by the health district.
So I got to thinking outside-the-box and I called the commissioner’s office. I told them about some of the 2,000 men who live in the facility and about their families. I found myself being the voice for the guys, the staff, and the surrounding community there. In the next few days a strike team from the county health department was there. They increased testing to about 30 percent of the population. Many of those tested coming back positive, so I reached out again and I pushed the commissioner to use some influence. The next day at the county meeting, it was announced they would be testing the entire staff and incarcerated population.
I ask families to not give up. I ask that if you had feelings of shame, forgive yourself. I challenge families to tell their stories. Make sure the world knows about your loved ones behind the walls. I ask legislators to bring forward legislative reforms including ending life sentences. We are so much more than our worst day. It is our duty to be the vehicles of grace to the ones we love.
By Andrea Davis
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