I started off my career as a father by going to jail on the very same night that my first child was born. It was on a hot, steamy August night in 1972. I was minding my own business , sitting on the sidelines of a neighborhood football game where I was supposed to be playing; a star wide receiver, who was so high on heroin, I was banned from playing. Well, I actually didn’t care because I would rather nod than catch passes. Plus, I never truly believed that the team I played for from Piedmont Courts could beat the North Charlotte Bears, the team my oldest brother, Buddy, played for. In fact, my brother played on the same high school team with Dwight Clark, who later became famous for catching the winning pass from Joe Montana in SuperBowl. Nonetheless, at some point during the game, but shortly before half-time, My girlfriend’s youngest brother, came flying out of the darkness on his bike, yelling that I should get to the hospital right away.
Without even giving that ominous announcement any real thought, I knew precisely what it meant, and what it signified more than anything else was that my life had just changed dramatically! In addition to all the things I already was at nineteen years old, I was about to earn another label to my pedigree: DADDY! At nineteen, I was black, poor, a high-school dropout, unemployed, and an ex-convict. Unfazed by my unfortunate credentials, I was not exactly certain if fatherhood would be a cure or a curse. Either way, the moment was now upon me.
Within a matter of seconds, I had a ride, and a carload of us departed Alexander Street Park, headed to Charlotte Memorial Hospital to help me usher my brand new child into America. I went to jail because while on the way to the hospital to greet the birth of my daughter, I decided to have my friend to pull over at a corner grocery store in the hood to buy some cigars. After all, in all the movies I had ever seen, that’s what men did. They bought and passed out cigars to their friends to celebrate the birth of their newborn child. Maybe, I shouldn’t have stopped. However, I did.
As luck would have it, even though I was only in the store a very short time, it was more than enough time for the police to harass my friends. Seeing the predicament as a case of police brutality, I rushed out of store on Parkwood Avenue, and over to the car where I proceeded to tell the police that “I knew the law” and that it would be best for them if they just left us alone. In a world of justice and equality, that very well should have marked the end of the whole affair, but it didn’t. In fact, the police seemed angered by my boldness and proceeded to club the shit out of me. After a brief but violent confrontation, I was carted off to jail, pitched into the drunk tank with all the other inebriated folks, and charged with disorderly conduct.
In the drunk tank, there were no beds so everyone had to sleep on the cold, concrete floor. They didn’t give you any food. They didn’t give you any sheets or blankets. In fact, they didn’t give you shit, but it was peaceful and serene in a haunted house sort of way; a cell filled with drunken strangers snoring and passing gas without shame or regret. Now, decades later, upon reflection, I guess this was a classic example of how drugs warp your mind because what in the hell was comforting about being locked up in a cage that reeked of vomit and bad breath.
Anyway ,the next morning I was taken before the Judge who released me once I explained my situation and recounted the birth of my first-born child, but somehow I knew that I had missed a very important moment in the life of my little girl .Embarrassed that I had not been there to see my daughter the night before, I postponed going to visit her until a few days later. That turned out to be a tragic blunder.
By some cruel twist of fate, It was around this time in 1972 that I embarked on a bank-robbing spree, and before my baby could celebrate her first birthday, I was locked away in federal prison with 30 years. I would be gone for 10.
Once released, I remember how nervous I was when I went to visit my daughter. I searched my mind for something that would allow me to make a good first impression on a little girl who knew more about the visiting hours in jail than she knew about what time Sesame Street came on. This child of mine had probably seen the insides of more prisons than she had classrooms, and it had always pained me to think how my daughter must have hated me on those ever-occurring days in school when the students had to stand before the class and announce just what it was that their fathers did for a living. Even though some of the other students may have had a dad that was a garbage-man or one who worked in a fish market, my daughter was probably the only child who on “Career Day” had a dad who was locked up. Wow, that must have been traumatizing.
Anyway, on the night of my tenth year of being missing in action from my daughter’s life, I stood in the darkness outside the house when she lived with her mother, afraid. If this would have been the home of one of my partners, I would have strolled into the house and would have been given a hero’s welcome. After all, here I was, a young nigga, who had just spent a whole decade in the joint, taking everything the white man had thrown at me, and I had survived. Even if it had been the home of a potential girlfriend, I would have known precisely what to have done, but that was not the case. I was about to meet my daughter, and quite frankly, I had no idea of what to say or do.
In prison, I had been tutored by some of the most brilliant minds in the criminal world about how to commit any crime I chose. I had been schooled in how to seduce women, and how to defeat my enemies, but there was not a mumbling word said by any of the jail-house scholars about how to be a great daddy. Basically, I was on my own, and to my regret, I found nothing in my background that would provide me with the instructions needed to be a daddy.
I was a man who had conducted countless shady deals in numerous back alleys in the darkest hours of the night. I had been in a couple of shootouts with the police. I had robbed banks and had come up a winner more than once when death was on my tail, but I knew that being a daddy would be my biggest challenge. What was even more scary was the fact that none of the qualities that had made me a well-respected gangsta in the streets or that had allowed me to survive in some of the toughest prisons in the country would make me a good daddy. And guess what….I wasn’t.
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