For most of Kaylee’s childhood, her father was incarcerated. She was one of the astounding 2.7 million children in the United States growing up with a parent in prison. Now she is an adult with a child of her own, and she is a passionate advocate for reform. Her father will remain behind bars for the rest of his life.
I was nine years old when my best friend, my Dad, was taken away. He will never return home. His new home is behind bars with a new family of inmates. My father has been incarcerated for the past 16 years. He is serving three long sentences that are to be served consecutively. I remember the day my dad went to trial, my teacher put a big smiley face on my desk and bought me a whole bunch of poem books. This was so hard on me in second grade. My teacher had a special room and I would go cry in there for what felt like hours.
When everyone was talking about their dads or making gifts for them around Christmas time, I’d make one, too, but I’d throw it in the garbage because I knew that the state of Michigan would not allow my dad to have anything like that. I’d lie to my friends when they’d ask where my dad was and why I wasn’t going to attend the daddy-daughter dances.
Fast-forward a few years, I became a ward of the state. When I had to go to court for foster-care hearings, my favorite part was being able to see my dad on the video-chat. The judge would always allow me 30 extra minutes to video-chat with him, which I thought was awesome. Now I pay an enormous amount of money to GTL phone services to be able to keep any type of relationship with my father, which I feel is very important to not only me but is tremendously important for any inmate to have the privilege to talk to their loved ones.
I am able to visit my father a couple of times a year. It’s literally the hardest thing I’ve done in my entire life. It’s so intimidating, the staff makes you feel like a criminal yourself—which I do understand because they are just doing their job. The part that kills me is to see my dad in a blue and orange suit, knowing those are the colors he will live in the rest his life. I hate good-byes—watching those gates lock and leaving my dad there is nothing more than a nightmare. I can tell you that EVERY single time I leave him, I go straight to their restrooms, lock myself in a stall, and cry. And no matter how many times I visit my father it’s never “good-bye”; it’s “see you later.”
This has been so much trauma for both me and also for my brother. My dad and my brother were so close, it absolutely killed my brother emotionally. When my dad would send him letters, he wouldn’t even open them. I believe it was because he just couldn’t handle it. Since this happened, my brother has become disabled mentally. I am now my brother’s main support system and take care of all his financial needs. Although my father is the one incarcerated, I will also be a prisoner for the rest of my life.
I know I am one of many living the everlasting effects of having a loved one incarcerated. I am sharing my story, hoping my voice will be heard and that one day our judicial system will provide punishment that fits the crime.