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OP-ED: The Most Difficult Part of Being in Prison is Separation from Family

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By Troy Williams

 

The most difficult part about doing time in prison is not living in a 4-foot-by-9-foot cage. It’s not having to live in that cage with another man. It’s not the constant threat of prison riots or interaction with a prison guard who believes it’s his duty to enforce punishment.

The most difficult part about doing time in prison is being unable to have meaningful contact with your family.

In the article, “Without Family Visits and Phone Calls, the Soul, Heart, Mind And Spirit Deteriorates,” Richard Johnson wrote, “When someone goes to prison and is isolated from family and friends, the alienation can be extremely devastating on a number of fronts.”

I agree.

Two months ago, I paroled from San Quentin State Prison after serving 18 years of a life sentence. If it weren’t for the unconditional love and support of family, what I chose to do with my time in prison would have been very different.

It was through letters and Sunday morning phone calls that my elderly mother encouraged her grown son to be a better man. It was her unwavering support after everyone else had given up that gave me the strength to look deep inside.

It was the letters and visits from a child who begged to know, year after year, when her daddy was coming home that gave me the will to change.

My oldest daughter was eight years old when I began my sentence. She would write me discussing “the-world-is-coming-to-an-end” situations that children go through. By the time I received her letters (which in most cases took up to 30 days) and wrote her back, the problem was long over.

Ultimately, she was left having to blindly figure her way through life. She didn’t know that her father wasn’t ignoring her need for connection; he just wasn’t receiving her mail in a timely fashion.

I couldn’t just pick up the phone and call, and my child’s caregiver couldn’t afford transportation to travel 600 miles every weekend to visit.

In fact, if it wasn’t for programs like Get On The Bus, my child would not have been able to see me the last eight years of my incarceration nor would she have been able to introduce her son to his grandfather. Get On The Bus is a non-profit organization that provides transportation, free of charge, for children and their caregivers to prisons throughout the state of California.

On one hand, I am fully aware that, ultimately, I must bear responsibility because it was my actions that took me away from my children in the first place.

On the other hand, society also has an obligation to balance punishment for a crime with the benefit of a father being in his child’s life.

The children commit no crime, they long for the comfort of their father, and few care enough to show them compassion. Then society wonders why 70 percent of children with parents in prison end up incarcerated.

Troy Williams.

Troy Williams.

Troy Williams is a videographer and independent journalist based in the Bay Area. He owns a media production company, 4 North 22. For more information, contact him at troywilliams1229@gmail.com or visit 4north22.com.

Featured

Chauvin Is Guilty. Our Work Is Cut Out for Us.

Our gratitude for this measure of accountability is soul-deep. And now we ask ourselves, will things really be different this time? The answer is that they can be, if we seize this moment.

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Photo Credit: Christy Price
Just a few days have passed since Derek Chauvin’s conviction in the murder of George Floyd. But the images from that moment are seared in our memories forever: the murderer, led away in handcuffs. The Floyd family, Philonise Floyd speaking through tears, at the microphones after the verdict. The crowds outside the courthouse erupting in cheers when the verdict was read.
Our gratitude for this measure of accountability is soul-deep. And now we ask ourselves, will things really be different this time? The answer is that they can be, if we seize this moment.
Washington has sent encouraging signs that it is serious about addressing police violence and systemic racism. Congress should pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The Justice Department is forging ahead with investigations of police departments in Minneapolis and Louisville, and the shooting of Anthony Brown in North Carolina.
We have work to do in our own neighborhoods, too.
Policing is a local function, controlled by city, county and state governments. These governments answer directly to us, the citizens. And there is a lot we can do to insist on change.
One of the most inspiring examples today is in Ithaca, New York, a college town led by a dynamic young Black mayor. There, Mayor Svante Myrick and the city council approved a plan to do away with their traditional police department and replace it with a new Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety, in which some personnel would carry weapons – and, importantly, some would not.
Instead, unarmed social workers would respond to the many calls in which an armed response is unnecessary and even dangerous. The new department will have a civilian supervisor. It will focus on de-escalating situations in which people are at risk, and restoring trust among the city’s communities of color, homeless residents, LGBTQ residents and residents with disabilities.
The plan came together with input from local residents as well as city and county officials. It is the kind of innovative thinking we want in communities across the nation, and the energy around the Chauvin trial helped get it over the finish line.
We all can harness that energy where we live. Our year of speaking out and taking to the streets will serve us well; we can organize, and demonstrate, and show up in the places where local lawmakers meet to do their work. We can contact our local representatives directly; they might live next door or down the street.
And while the task of changing thousands of police departments, one by one, seems huge, think of this: more than half of Black Americans live in 25 metropolitan areas. We can get serious about saving Black lives by starting in those metro areas. And we can build a movement that inspires others to act.
One of the most emotional moments after George Floyd’s murder last year came when his daughter Gianna, then six, said, “Daddy changed the world.” If we want her to be right in the long run, we can do our part to make her words come true. And each of us can start right here at home.

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Book Reviews

Mothers that made us, author Anna Malaika Tubbs offers insight, perspective

THE THREE MOTHERS is an assessment of its subjects’ emotional, moral, physiological, psychological, and familial bearings. Further, it explores each subject’s aspirations and motivations, the inherent attributes that inform their existential impact as daughters, as mothers, as members of the movement; their pursuits for dignity, for commerce, for acceptance of and by black people. 

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Author and academician Anna Malaika Tubbs takes us on an extraordinary exploration of three matriarchs: Alberta King (Mother of Martin Luther King Jr), Louise Little (mother of Malcolm X), and Berdis Baldwin (mother of James Baldwin). While all of the subjects and their sons no longer live among us, their life lessons live on perpetually.
THE THREE MOTHERS (ISBN: 978-1-250-75612-1, Flatiron Books), is my personal pick for a Mother’s Day gift.
Tubbs, a student of life and learning, earned an undergraduate degree in Anthropology at Stanford University; an MA in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies at Cambridge University and will soon add a PhD in Sociology to her academic accomplishments, also from Cambridge.
The life partner of Michael Tubbs (former Stockton CA mayor now current economic advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom), and soon-to-be-mother of two, beckons us to this critically acclaimed reflection of three iconic women whose parental and personal sacrifices gave way to historical giants of untold proportion.
A portion of our conversation about THE THREE MOTHERS follows–
Sandra Varner (Talk2SV):  Was it always these three mothers that you chose to profile in the book?
Tubbs:  My relationship with these mothers, in that sense, has been relatively short. I didn’t know much about them when I started my PhD. I didn’t have them in my proposal. When I was applying for my PhD program, I was generally interested in telling black women’s stories that had been forgotten. And there were so many stories that we could have chosen.  Many (Black women’s) contributions are erased, not paid attention to, not given the credit they deserve; but I was very inspired by Margo Lee Shetterly’s HIDDEN FIGURES. I knew I wanted to be somebody who also found “hidden figures” and gave them the spotlight they deserved. When I started the PhD, I began to think of all the different layers of erasures I could address in one project.  Thoughts about the many different parts of this horrible problem of erasing stories that still persists–not giving somebody the recognition they deserve.
Assessing how many of those things could I challenge in one project? So I thought about the civil rights movement. I thought about this moment in history we’re in now, crucial to our understanding of the world that we cite over and over again, that we so often speak from the perspective of our male leaders. And we don’t really say much about others who were involved–it’s very male centered perspective. I knew I was going to do something around re-examining the civil rights movement. I also thought about roles in our society that are overlooked and not celebrated in the way I believe they should be.

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Featured

A’s Ballpark Traffic Will Negatively Impact West Oakland Residents

The Oakland Department of Transportation released a report over a year ago estimating that game days would bring an additional 10,000 cars to the area, at least 7,500 of which will be looking for parking. And what are the A‘s offering these drivers? 2,000 parking spots. Those remaining 5,500 cars will park in front of the homes and along the truck routes closest to the ballpark, legal or not. 

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Besides touting the hollow tagline “Rooted in Oakland,” Dave Kaval hasn’t been listening to most Oaklanders. For over a year we’ve been voicing our concerns about traffic issues related to the A’s proposed ballpark; and now, following the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)  and the Term Sheet, it’s evident that John Fisher and the Oakland A’s care more about putting money in their pockets than about the real people who will be negatively impacted by their project.

As a long-time West Oakland resident I remember less than a decade ago when huge semi-trucks used to park overnight and idle during the day on West Oakland neighborhood streets, creating diesel exhaust and continuous loud noise from running generators to keep refrigerated trucks cold. 

Our neighbors fought then for the development and approval of the West Oakland Truck Management Plan, a proposal that was only made possible by the designation of Howard Terminal as a 24/7 holding area for these trucks. Now trucks use Howard Terminal to wait between dropping off and picking up containers and avoid peak traffic periods so they can be more efficient without interfering with the daily lives of West Oakland residents.

The DEIR makes it clear that keeping these trucks off of residential streets is not a priority for the A’s. The report acknowledges that Howard Terminal serves this essential function but concludes that these activities will just go elsewhere. “

Assumed to move to other locations” is not a plan. “Likely need to find a location outside the Seaport” is not an analysis of this impact. “Other locations” will inevitably be back in front of our homes, at the cost of our health and our children’s safety. Where is the mitigation measure for that impact?

I am equally concerned about the safety of drivers and pedestrians if a huge entertainment and luxury housing development approved at the port. Dave Kaval has talked for years about making this new ballpark bike and pedestrian friendly, but the DEIR has uncovered the truth: the A’s have committed to very few improvements that actually make access to Howard Terminal safer and easier, to some degree because it’s simply not possible to upgrade a working Port – among the largest on the West Coast – into a commercial entertainment zone that attracts tens of thousands of people to events.

Unlike the Coliseum site, which is one of the most transit-accessible ballparks in the country, access into Howard Terminal is restricted to two streets, the most frequently used of which is residential, and is a mile walk from the nearest BART station. 

Currently, 25% of A’s game day visitors to the Coliseum arrive on BART, which drops them off right at the stadium gate. How does Dave Kaval think use of transit to get to games at the port will be close to that – or as he claims, will increase – when the nearest BART station is a mile walk away?

The Oakland Department of Transportation released a report over a year ago estimating that game days would bring an additional 10,000 cars to the area, at least 7,500 of which will be looking for parking. And what are the A‘s offering these drivers? 2,000 parking spots. Those remaining 5,500 cars will park in front of the homes and along the truck routes closest to the ballpark, legal or not. 

The A’s are asking 10,000 vehicles to line up down residential streets, blocking not only essential truck deliveries to and from the Port, but also local residents’ movement to and from our own homes. As long as fans buy their tickets, the A’s don’t care where they will park.

As a parking alternative, the City of Oakland has designated certain residential areas to have Residential Parking Permits (RPP) installed. These permits will last until 11 p.m., not the customary time limit of 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. The residents of the four impacted areas, West Oakland, Old Oakland, Jack London and Chinatown should not have the financial burden of paying for RPP.

 If the A’s have a lease with the Port for 66 years, they should pay for parking permits for all residents in the impacted areas for 66 years.

It is crucial that the Oakland City Council, particularly Council-member Fife, stand with West Oakland residents, parents, long-time community members, and all those who will face the significant and detrimental impacts of the A’s proposed development at Howard Terminal and refuse to certify the EIR for this project.

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