An Imprisoned Dad Reflects: ‘All My Children are Survivors’

A poignant essay by a father in San Quentin prison begins The Crime Report’s second installment of prison letters, rap verses and essays in honor of Father’s Day (this Sunday). The material was provided by The Beat Within, a San Francisco-based prison writing workshop.

On or about January 14, 2017, I wrote to the Salvation Army seeking their assistance to help me find my youngest daughter whom I haven’t seen in over 34 years. To my surprise the Salvation Army responded with my daughter’s information that I requested. Upon receiving my daughter’s telephone number and address, I was happy, but at the same time I had a little fear due to the unknown in which how my daughter would respond to my telephone call—after being absent from their lives for many-many years.

However, I had to find out how my daughter felt about hearing from her father.

When I called for the first time, and told my daughter who I was, we both cried real tears of joy and she kept repeating, “Daddy I love you” over, over and over.

My response was “I’ve always loved you and I would always love you.”

Then her response was “how is your health!”

I said, “Since my incarceration I’ve had over six different heart attacks and one pace maker and my greatest fear, I wouldn’t get the chances to hear, see or speak to any of my children again in this life.”

Then I ask her what do you do for a living?

She said, “Daddy I’m a model.”

Next I asked about my other children and what they are doing. She said her brother Ivan is a doctor, her oldest sister is a cosmetologist and they all lived nearby one-another, including their lovely mother.

My daughter offered to send me some money, or packages, and anything that I might need or want. But as I told her, I am not worried about none of that stuff, my only concern was not to lose contact with my children again, ever.

After being absent out of my children’s lives for over three decades, I realized that all of my children are survivors, just like their mother and father.

I’m extremely proud of the family I started and what all of them have become in life and with the positive choices they have made too.

I can only thank GOD at this time for everything He has done. I thank GOD that my daughter was willing to make herself available and give, while opening up the lines of communication with her father and not having any bitterness, anger, resentment, or hatred toward her father. But instead, my daughters choose to love me unconditionally despite my shortcomings.

-TJC Carpenter, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA

‘I’ve Always Wanted a Father’

 Something I’ve always wanted was a father. I’ve never had a father before, ever. I’ve had an uncle that’s a role model, but it’s not the same. I’ve always wanted to be able to say the words or hear the words “I love you dad/son.” But I’ve never experienced that type of relationship with him.

Honestly, he’s been out of my life for almost 18 years now, it’s like I don’t know if I even want him in my life anymore because he decided to walk outside that door and close it, and  I don’t know if I’m able to open it back up.

– Alex, Portland Oregon

‘The Monster Within’

The monster in my life is more than just one monster. From my father never being around when I was young, my mother disowning me, drugs, alcohol, and gang related activities, all the way to me not knowing who I am anymore.

As you can tell already my monster is my life. I’m not scared of it nor do I run from it. I simply just keep living life.

I am a young father with a son, Demitri, who is one year and five months old, and another child on the way. And yet even having responsibilities such as work, college, rent, and children, I still can’t seem to escape my monster. It has got to a point where I live with my monster instead of hiding or trying to defeat it.

Illustration by Kashif Mardani via Flickr

My own father physically, mentally, emotionally abusing my siblings and me when he came around; my mother disowning me for gang banging. Everything in my life puts me toward the penitentiary. My brother is in jail for seven years. While one of my brother’s lay six feet deep because of me not ever meeting him and when I do, I met him while I was intoxicated with a 40 caliber in my hand. Now he’s dead and through all this I wake up every morning with that on my mind. But it’s my life and my monster. It’s how my life is and that’s all that matters. You don’t always have to defeat your monster, you could just live with it.

-Young Dad, Portland Oregon


‘No One Ever Told Me Your Name”

 Dear Father Red

I apologize for calling you by your street name, but for some unknown reason no one ever told me what your real name was. Mom named me after her first husband Alec Bellard Senior. I became Bellard Junior. I eventually changed my name to Mom’s maiden name Briggs.

I was eight years old when you were murdered. Even though I didn’t remember what you looked like at that time, when I got the news I cried. The relatives who raised me and nourished me were puzzled by my reaction but you were my dad and I guess that’s all my heart needed to know.

Many years later my big brother, Melvin, showed me a picture of you and guess what, dad, I look like your twin.

Dad, I was told you weren’t a good person but that’s okay, because I forgave you and God has forgiven you as well and I never held you responsible when Mom took her own life. I want you to know that since we look so much alike, I’ve tried to represent you in the best possible light. Take care, Dad, and I hope to see you someday.

Lastly, I have a daughter, your granddaughter, Tabora. She has our eyes and our smile and she has a son, your great grandson, Kimani, and low and behold he’s the spitting image of us.

-Alex Briggs, San Quentin State Prison

 Happy Father’s Day Mom!

You always had my back since I was back in the womb.  Daddy was a deadbeat, so it always was me and you.  I’m forever grateful that you didn’t abort me because a woman raising a man is the hardest things to do.

You know you’re my favorite lady.  I know I’m your favorite dude.  Your love never changes, even thou we got different views.  I want you to quit drugs.  You want to me to quit cutting school.  None of us got what we want.  So guess we both lose.

I didn’t get much for my Christmases as a lil child, but you still went out of your way to find a way to make me smile.  Wish I could feel your warm embrace. Lord knows it’s been a while.  Your son hard headed. Momma, it took a min but I get it now.  All the sweet stuff and street stuff that you taught me. A gentleman and a gangsta, how could you ever fault me?  Hope you don’t fault me.  I hope you don’t fault yourself.

Love is a cold dealer.  We played the hand we dealt.

I thank you for never giving up, never giving me away.  I thank you ‘cause the lesson you taught me made me who I am today.  You tell me to go down on my knees, so I pray.  I love you is what I truly want to say.  By the time you read this.

Lee Butta, San Francisco County Jail, San Bruno, CA

 “You’re My Best Friend Forever”


Because you love me

Because you’re my best friend forever

Because I’ll always love you

Because I’m a pain

Because I’m in a bad spot

Because you’re always there

Because you’re mine

Because we’re alive

Because I’m not perfect

Because I’m a diamond in the rough

Because I feel alone but not

Because you were the first one I saw

Because you stayed with me the whole time after I was born

Because you care

Daddy I love you forever and always

Even when death parts us

-Child, Billings Shelter Care, Billings Montana

 “He Has Always Been There For Me”

 Because he has always been there for me

Because he’s smart

Because he’s talented

Because he’s my dad

Because I love him

Because he’s funny

Because he’s smart

-Loyal, Billings Shelter Care, Billings Montana

 ‘I’m Sorry I Was So Angry”

 I will start when my mother committed suicide. I was but 8 years old and my dad walks into my room and tells me and that my brothers are coming to live with us. At first I was happy because my brothers will be coming up to live with me. I didn’t think my mom was dead.

A few days after we were able to see her and say goodbye. That is when my problems started. I was so angry at my dad for leaving her. I felt like I didn’t have a soul anymore, I just didn’t care anymore. I felt destroyed.

Every night I relive what I saw and what I’ve done and can never get a break from it. People think I use this as an excuse but this is some real stuff.

I look around and all I see is negativity. I’ve seen a man shot right in front of me. Hell is how I would describe my life.

My future is, I see myself as a Navy man with a family.

At 14 years old I have been doing drugs. I have been in and out of juvie and placements.

Dad, I am sorry I was just on drugs and so angry at the time. I have been a thief most of my life.

-Kaleb, San Bernardino

 ‘It’s All About Perspective’

 My mom came to visit me this week. She told me I need to be grateful for the things I have instead of stealing and hurting people. She told me a little story after, I’ll try to explain. There was this boy who lived in the worst house on the block. All of the other houses were three stories tall. The boy’s house had only two stories. The boy would complain to his father and ask why they were the poorest family on the block. One day the dad said, “Come with me, son, I’m going to take you to where I grew up.”

The father drives across town with the boy and takes him to where he grew up. As the boy is looking out the window of the car, he sees rundown houses with some windows boarded up and all the houses are one story. The father tells the boy, “Son, it’s all about perspective.” The son looks the father in the eyes and says, “I’m sorry, Dad.”

-Lil Bane, Santa Clara

 “The Last Time I Said, ‘I Love You’”

The last time I said “I love you” to someone was to my dad on the phone of juvenile hall’s ten minute call.  I was catching up with my dad over things that happened two weeks ago, because when I called him twice in different days he didn’t answer.  I guess he was working.  He told me he missed me and I felt sad because he really sounded hurt.  I have court tomorrow.  Hopefully, I get out.

-Yareli, San Mateo

 His Footsteps

I think it does affect children when their parents are incarcerated, because not having both of your parents can affect kids in a negative way. It can leave them wondering why their mom or dad isn’t there, and it may make them feel unloved and neglected.

For example, when I was younger, my dad was always in and out of jail. I guess it affected me a little more as I got older, and as you can see, I am just following his footsteps. It is not too late to change. I guess once you realize you need to change, it makes it a little easier.

-Affected Child, San Mateo

 These essays and letters have been slightly edited and condensed for space. Readers’ comments are welcome.