By Casey Coughlin
Tall, lean and slightly anxious, the only thing that separates him from his peers is his gaze. Dark, almond shapes evaluate and then drink in the new scenes around him. In his eighteen years of life, from the streets of Hartford to his overcrowded home packed with siblings and cousins, Edwin has seen more than most. In second grade he lost his best friend and father to the Department of Corrections. The local news headlined his father’s crime and Edwin soon found himself being identified by his father’s crime.
“When he got locked up it was on the news, and that affected me in many ways. Where ever I would walk, ‘Hey! You’re this guy’s son’ and it just put a negative image to me. I used to break down all the time. Just because my father made mistakes you know, it’s not me. I didn’t make those same mistakes.”
Edwin hasn’t seen his father since he was eight. Opting out of metal detectors and strict visitation rules the two have kept in contact over the past decade the old fashion way: letter writing.
He respects his mother more than any other person in the world saying, “If it wasn’t for my mother, honestly I wouldn’t be here right now. She took care of me, my brothers, my sisters, my cousins and my other cousins from DCF.” Edwin admits that his past does hold him back sometimes, “it holds me back once and awhile, when I do write him it brings back so many memories and when I do sit down and think it just hits me that he’s not there.”
But the negative doesn’t stop him from drawing on the positive influences his father had on him as a young child. His father introduced him to running and track is still a sport that Edwin likes to compete in. He shows his maturity when he says he’s going to hold off jumping into CCSU’s track team, “I am going to try and keep my grades up first and then join.”
“My father was incarcerated when I was at the age of five and I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Brea was raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut and is a proud “daddy’s girl.” She admits to having an estranged relationship with her mother and definitely feels closer to her father. “Me and my dad had a really close relationship and when he left it really affected me a lot because I’m not really close to my mom.”
Brea remembers as a young child going to visit her father in jail, for the first year he had no contact visits where she could only see him through glass and talk to him on a phone. Around the same time as her father was incarcerated, Brea started having trouble in school. Behaviorally she would act out when her father was away. It got to be so bad that it looked like she might not graduate high school, but fortunately for Brea’s education her father got released in time to support her and help her find success again in school.
“The best thing was having my dad around when I graduated eighth grade, high school and hopefully he will be around when I graduate college.”
Brea struggles with trusting her father again after she felt such abandonment as a child. After his first sentence Brea’s father was released and returned home, promising Brea he would never leave her again. “To this day it still hurts me because he told me he would never leave me; he got out four and a half years later and went back [to prison] two months later.”
Brea recounts the day she knew her father was going to break his promise. She was in fourth grade and refused to go to school that day because they knew he was going to get picked up. She now regrets the traumatizing experience of seeing her father leave, “I should have gone to school that day because seeing my dad leave really, really hurt me.”
Currently, Brea is still torn between adoring her father and resenting him for breaking her trust. What she desires most of all is for him to admit what he did to break the law and be completely honest with her. “He doesn’t want to tell me because he thinks it will hurt me, but I already know, it’s just the fact that he won’t tell me. He’s still my best friend, but there is still a little side of me that- still can’t- I forgave him for what he did but I still won’t fully forgive him until he tells me why.”
As for keeping future promises Brea can only hope for the best. “I hope he keeps his promise this time and doesn’t go back, it scares me. I want to succeed in college because it will make him happy.”
M felt more comfortable sharing his story anonymously. Raised in Stamford, he was extremely close to his dad until age eight. He cracks a smile while describing his father as a huge kid. M’s own personality resembles the opposite. Mature, humble and cautious he seems to assess everything and everyone carefully before making a decision. He chooses his words deliberately.
“I was with my dad when he got taken away for good. He fled the state and we went to North Carolina. Nobody knew where I was so they said I was kidnapped because my mom had full custody of me. The next day the cops show up and I don’t know what they said to him but they told me there were just going to ask him a few questions. They even let him sit in the front of the car so I guess it didn’t look like he was getting arrested in front of me. At that point I knew he wasn’t coming back for some reason.”
The police did end up arresting M’s dad that day. The police had to also question him to confirm if they could charge his dad with kidnapping. Twelve hours away he had to wait for his mother to drive down and get him. That was the last time he ever saw his father.
He stayed in touch with his father for a few years by writing letters, but eventually M grew to resent his father and stopped responding. “You can tell jail has a huge impact on people because I have all the letters he sent me and there is a drastic change from the letters he first sent me until now.”
As M continued to mature throughout his teenage years he grew increasingly bitter towards his father. “Him getting arrested I still feel like I don’t know half of me. I kind of have hatred for him a little, because I had to find out how to be a man on my own. My mom has her own problems so she wasn’t there for me emotionally so I had to raise myself.”
If there is any positive outcome to M’s turbulent relationship with his father it is the drive he now feels to do better. “Him going to jail showed me what kind of a person I don’t want to amount to.”