Parenting from Prison

Apr 19

One of the hardest things I have to undertake throughout the years of my incarceration would be, without a doubt, attempting to co-parent from prison. This responsibility is a never-ending emotional roller-coaster that has proven to be tremendously overwhelming at times.

The harsh reality for most imprisoned parents, men and women alike, is the fact that many children become ashamed of their imprisoned mothers and fathers and as a result of that shame, most children tend to alienate their parents or become estranged as some sort of coping mechanism. I have come to understand and accept that my daughter is entitled to form her own opinions surrounding mine and her relationship. This was difficult for me to fathom in real time — partly due to the pre-carceral relationship we had. She is no longer the 6 year old I left physically fatherless when I got locked up (that hurts to say but it’s the truth). She actually turned 18 years old today. As I write this reflection, I felt it was only right for me to write about her, in specific, on her special day. I am just grateful to even be able to play a role in her life, irrelevant of the estrangement between us.

At a certain point, my daughter started to form her own personal opinions about the way I lived my life in the past. At the time, I couldn’t understand where she was coming from. I felt like she was being influenced by sources outside our relationship. However, after much ruminating on the subject, I was able to humble myself and realize that she has all rights to feel the way she does. Throughout the vast majority of my daughter’s life, her mother and I told her what we thought was best for her, in hopes of protecting her feelings and stability as a child. So as a consequence of that practice, she felt betrayed and lied to as she got older. I also feel that my daughter’s view of me as her father became tainted when she realized I had a “not so perfect” past. A past that has been dragged through the mud by the media and the Toronto Police.

As parents we do our best to protect our children regardless of our individual circumstances. The lifestyle I was living at the time of my daughter’s birth was not a lifestyle conducive for raising a child, but I did my best as her father, under the circumstances. As we say in the hood “I was getting it how I lived.”

Nevertheless, the truth is, I was damned if I did and I would have done much more irreversible damage if I didn’t.

I can unambiguously say, “most” parents in prison, young and old, can concur with the narrative that they were doing their best under the circumstances (emphasis on most). Similar to the physically free world, there are people who are delusional regarding the realities that surround their lives. And in life, very few people successfully play the cards they are dealt. Similar to a game of Black Jack, the house (system of government) always wins. Very few people have enough courage to admit their misgiving and separate them from their misfortunes. We all make choices in life, but as parents, we subject our children to the rewards and repercussions of said choices. Our kids don’t choose us we chose them (out of millions, they’re the ones that made it). There are many men that I have been incarcerated with over the years who choose not to take part in their children’s lives for whatever reason(s), sometimes these guys think they are doing their children a favour by not putting them through the perils of imprisonment that affect families and friends of the imprisoned i.e.; constant scrutiny from staff when they come to visit, ion scan testing positive because your visitor touched money or smoked a little weed, the constant resending of documents to upkeep visitor applications, the attitude/disrespect given to visitors when they call to book visits or when they arrive for one, the “lost” letters sent by friends and family, the abuse family members have to endure vicariously through the imprisoned whether physical, verbal or mental, the tactical “administrative” delays, denied appeals, denied parole hearings and the long list of feelings of resentment that families feel towards their imprisoned loved ones for not being there in the physical to help with everyday life problems.

The lack of physical interactions could never be replaced by phone calls. There is a profound disconnect with phone calls. As human beings we yearn for physical contact with people, especially those we love and attempt to maintain relations with. Nonetheless, as an active imprisoned parent, you take what you can get when you get it. The reality will forever remain the same, there aren’t any consolation prizes for the men and women that are attempting to make, forge or upkeep relations with their children. Our children are owed that right, and a lot of imprisoned parents take the easy way out, which creates an irreparable amount of damage to their children. From abandonment issues to hatred and enormous amounts of anger. So regardless of how difficult it gets at times, it’s a no brainer for me. Step up and stand up for what’s yours. Stand up for what matters, the future, our children.

Real talk;
from a real inmate;
doing real time;
in a real systemically racist system.

Christophe Lewis

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