A Trip to Maximum Security Prison
Althea Gibson, the first African-American tennis star to win a Wimbledon championship, once stated how she coped with rejection in spite of being punished. She emphasizes,
“I always wanted to be somebody. If I made it, it's half because I was game enough to take a lot of punishment along the way and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me” (qtd. in Lewis).
The Genesis of My Perspective
Ever since I was in utero, my biological father has been serving a life sentence in prison. According to the Department of Corrections, he is just a number, but to me, he is my loving dad. He is the one who sent 19 handwritten birthday cards on my 19th birthday. He is also the one that has called me twice a day for the past 19 years, except for the days when phone calls are not permitted due to stabbings, guard killings and rapings of other inmates. Despite sleeping on a torn 5-inch foam mattress, walking 2 miles to eat at 4 a.m. in the morning and protecting himself from unpredictable violence, he is my sunshine. My dad is a real life scholar. He has read the bible cover to cover countless times, has supreme knowledge of the constitution, and can analyze legal transcripts better than most attorneys. He understands the complexity of human behavior so well, his intuition is stronger than most. When I confide in him about my experiences with people, he is quick to discern the snakes from the kind-hearts.
While other young women experiment with premature sex and feel the need to seek male companionship, my dad has given me the blueprint on how to enthusiastically avoid those pitfalls. When I spend time with via the telephone or in person, he tenderly gives me his undivided attention.
I may have not realized it early on, but being denied the opportunity to visit my biological father in a maximum security prison, was the day I became empowered.
Antantantantantant! That repetitive, cacophony crank of my alarm is just too familiar. It’s 4:00am on a sunny Sunday. I turn over. I rub my eyes. Afterwards, I take a long stretch. Today, I didn’t hit the snooze button. I haven’t had this type of pep in my step since the last visit. The last time visit was a little over three hundred sixty-five days ago when I visited The Department of Corrections maximum security prison. There is no time to waste, so I didn’t waste time. Mom, Step-Dad, and my two younger brothers loaded up the car with snacks and DVD’s as we prepared for the 2 hour and 30 minute drive. Backing up in the driveway, Mom asked with a sense of rushed urgency,
“Destiny, do you have your ID and passport?”
I rummaged through my wallet. In a cheerful tone, I responded:
“Yup, I got it.”
The time was approaching 6:30am and we were off and ready to hit the road. This wasn’t the first time I had visited a maximum security prison and it wouldn’t be the last.
ID was required to enter the visiting rooms. If you didn’t have your ID, the chance of being granted access was little to none. The correctional officers look for any reason to deny you access. If you receive a smile from one of them, that’s a miracle. Whether you are a grandparent, father, mother, brother, or child of an inmate, you will be denied access just the same. It is not uncommon for correctional officers to abuse their authority by denying visits. The rules of entry often change without proper notification of inmate or the public. For an example, when I was thirteen I was humiliated by a correctional officer, who denied the visit because I was wearing an underwire bra. This is also a tactic used by correctional officers to reduce the amount of visits if they are short-staffed on a specific day.
Every time I visit my dad, my emotions are a whirlwind of joy and anxiety. I feel happiness because afterall, I am daddy’s little princess. In contrast, I feel anxiety because it is not a guarantee that I will be able to see him.
During the drive, I looked out the window with my elbow on the window seal and my chin in the palm of my hand. The suburban scenery bombarded with street lights, restaurants, and gas stations on every corner was starting to fade. To my left, there were hay barrels. To my right, there were cows grazing the fields munching on grass. Ahead of me, I could see mountains hiding their large stature. I rolled the window down, slightly, attempting to inhale the fresh air. The air was dewy and smelled pure.
It was good while it lasted because soon I was distracted by clogged ears. Ouch! They popped repeatedly. I swallowed to release the pressure.
To my left were mountains, to my right were even more mountains—there once shy and hiding stature now intimidating. That blue road sign with white lettering read: “Welcome to...” That landmark always erupt jittery butterflies in my lower belly.
My cell phone rang.
It only could be one person. It could only be my dad, for this phone is exclusive to his phone calls. The computerized operator delivered her usual options:
“This is a collect call. To accept this call press 1. To refuse this call press 2. If you would like to permanently block your number from receiving calls from this facility, press 6. Thank you. You may start the conversation now.”
For the past 19 years, this has been the introduction to our conversations. At the maximum, the calls last for 30 minutes each. Today, the 30 minutes that we spoke on the phone was more than just the usual because directly after this call, I would be visiting him.
My navigation system alerts me:“Your destination is ahead on the left.” The vehicle turned into the segregated visitors section of cars. The scenery of knotted barb-wire welcomed me with a sense of reality. The guards were standing in the watchtowers hundreds of feet above me with their guns welcoming me with a sense of intimidation. The massive dark prison buildings that are complemented with tiny, disproportioned windows welcomed me as well.
I begin to imagine how he feels to look out at my world with such a miniscule vision, but I ignored that thought.
Approaching the Prison: Punishment
As I stepped out of my vehicle, I took a big long stretch. My legs felt stiff, but that was the least of my worries. I was sure to grab my ID and my passport just in case the identification rules have changed. I’ve been here before, but as I approached the entrance doors, I felt that I was leaving one labyrinth to enter another one. My step-dad opened the heavy chrome entrance door for me and my mother. I humbly walked toward the stark white check-in desk that is leveled to my chin. As I trotted to the front desk, the two female guards began to ask the same routine of questions, just as all the other guards have over the years. The harsh nature of their tone of voice is as cold as ice. If my eyes were closed it would be impossible to distinguish the male correctional officers from the female correctional officers based on their voice alone. I often wonder if the male-dominated environment causes most of the female correctional officers to duplicate the low pitch tone of male correctional officers.
“What’s your name?”“My name is Destiny Riana Jackson.”“What is your relation to the person you are visiting?”“I am his daughter.”“How old are you?”“I am 16 years old.”Give me your ID.I handed her my ID and waited while they checked me in. She looked at my ID, then she suspiciously looked back at me.“You are 16 years old?”, she sternly asked.“Yes, I am.”“This Non-driver’s license is expired. You can’t go in. Look at it.”Mom saw the ID before me. She looked perplexed, yet disappointed. Pacing her voice, Mom responded:“Oh, that expired 1 day ago. Destiny, give me your passport.”Without hesitation or a blink of an eye, the female guard snapped.“No! A passport is not going to change anything. She can’t go in.”
According to the DPSCS’s website “a visitor 16 years of age and older must present photograph identification.” To the best of my knowledge, a passport met the criteria. My hope was not depleted. I looked at the female guard. I crossed my hands, and desperately asked:
“Ma’am, I know that it’s one day old, but can I please go see my father today?”
She looked at me. With her eyes callous, shaking her head from side to side, lips tight, and that silly smirk forming, she said:
“No. Nope. Nope.”
My heart was crushed. I felt each rapid thump. How could this be? I haven’t seen him in a year? My legs felt weak. I felt slighted. While I turned to leave out the door, I felt her eyes staring at me. I just knew that she would call my name again but she did not. I desperately hoped this time when she said my name, she would say that I could visit my father. I just imagined that she would have some heart. Soon enough her heart proved that it was incapable of benevolence.
This was my raw dose of reality.
As I exited the heavy chrome door, a deep somber stream of tears glided down my cheeks.
Furthermore, my mother was allowed to visit my dad. Meanwhile, I sat in the truck with my stepdad and brothers watching a movie. To this day, I do not remember what that movie was. I remember my younger brothers exaggerating their laughter to distract me from my melancholic state. An hour and half later, mom had finished the visit. She calmly relayed a message from my dad. She told me, that my dad said:
“There are no bars between love. Hurt people, hurt people. Your freedom is my freedom. Live princess, live.”
On my trip home my perspective began to change. After months of investigation, my dad was informed that a passport could have been used for me to gain entry.
Transformation of Perspective
At this time, I believed that the female guard was punishing me as an inmate. Although, her venomous lack of compassion and her misuse of authority was directed towards me in that moment, I now understand that I would be doing her a favor if I labeled myself as a victim. In retrospect, that moment of being denied the chance to visit my father, was a priceless opportunity that brought me closer to my life’s purpose.
Diane J. Willis, chairman of the Div. 29 task force that hopes to assist prisoners’ children, reports the statistical fate of children of incarcerated parents. She asserts that, “what we do know is that many of these children are at high risk for second-generation incarceration"(DeAngelis). In contrary to Willis’s belief, I knew that I would not become a second-generation inmate.
However, I acknowledged that I was 1 of the “1.7 million children in America with a parent in prison” (qtd. in Schirmer, Nellis, and Mauer, 3). I also acknowledged that I am 1 out of “a third of minor children that will reach age 18 while their parent is incarcerated” (Glaze and Maruschak, 3). In spite of the statistical data that suggest that I am a high-risk youth suffering from a dysfunctional family, I am none of the sorts.
Instead, I am committed to excellence on all aspects of my life: my health, my career, my education, my spirituality, my family, my charity contributions, and my hobbies. As an enthusiast of life, my core values and life’s purpose has been confirmed.The universe has given me this story for a divine purpose.
In my younger years, I traveled nationwide auditioning for roles in commercials, pilots and movies. These experiences were wonderful, but I am entering a new phase in my life. My father’s advice to me was to LIVE.
To me, living is not living through the scripts written by directors and auditioning to tell their story. Instead, I have made the choice to live through the script that the universe has designed for me. In this way, there are no auditions. It is just me, my story and my manifestations. After all, my name is Destiny.
Join me, as I connect with humanity on a deeper supreme level. I am not a victim because I do not dwell on where I have been, but instead on where I am going. The beauty of my circumstances is that the people in my life help me to become a better me in midst of adversity. I am the message of success and hope, even when being punished.
- DeAngelis, Tori. (May 2011) “Punishment of Innocents: Children of Parents Behind Bars.” American Psychological Association. 26 Sept. 2011.
- Glaze, Lauren. Maruschak, Laura. “Bureau of Justice Statistics: Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children.” U.S. Department of Justice. 30 March 2010. 26 Sept. 2011. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/pptmc.pdf
- Lewis, Jone J. “Althea Gibson Quotes.” About Women’s History. 26 Sept. 2011: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/gibsonalthea/a/Althea-Gibson-Quotes.htm
- Schirmer, Sarah. Nellis, Ashley. Mauer, Marc. “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children: Trends 1991-2007.” The Sentencing Project. 2009 February. 26 Sept. 2011. http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/publications/inc_incarceratedparents.pdf