I spent Father's Day at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on a date with my husband, who is incarcerated there. Our two daughters were there, as well. We had a lovely time together, playing Scrabble, eating chicken wings and potato wedges (something newly added to the vending machine food selection menu), and laughing and enjoying each other's company.
To say that the visiting room was packed would be an understatement. I've never seen it that packed before in the two years that I've been going to visit John there. It was like church on Easter and Christmas! All those who don't regularly attend managed to make their guest appearances. I was happy to see so many new faces in the visiting room; however, I couldn't help but wonder where all these new visitors have been all along. Weekends are the busiest days for visits and on any given weekend, in a prison that houses over 5,000 men and has the capacity to host approximately one hundred families at a time for visits, there are only ever about 20-30 visitors present.
I know that the poor conditions along with the disgruntled and punitive attitude of the staff towards visitors doesn't exactly make a person want to go see their incarcerated loved one. For example, yesterday, because the facility refused to open up the outside area designated for visits to accommodate the unusually large amount of visitors, families who were among the first to arrive for their visit, had to leave early so that others could come inside. We got there pretty early to see John and were worried that we would have to leave. That wold not have been devastating. Very rarely are the four of us able to spend quality time together. To have to leave early, especially given the hassle we endure to get in would be so unfair. Thankfully, we were spared that trauma.
After a long day, we came home and right before bed, I saw that I'd been tagged by my youngest daughter, Cereta, in the following FaceBook timeline post:
"Happy Fathers' Day to, John Dukes, a man who has been more than my father to me but also my friend. Someone who has done more for me behind bars in two years than my biological father has, being free, in my whole life. Who stepped up, showed me what love should look like by loving my mom Vivett Dukes, and then took time to invest in me and not only remind me how important, smart, and beautiful I am, but to show me. The man who gave me my gorgeous and loving sister, who I prayed for, who I love more than she probably knows Alexis Dukes . This father I have is an incredible man. A man who shows me God within himself. Whose spirit could light up an overcast day. I love you dad! ❤️"
My heart swelled with a plethora of emotions and all I could do was go into Cereta's room and give her a big hug. She doesn't have to accept her mom marrying a man in prison; She doesn't have to go a visit him regularly, yet alone at all; She doesn't have to accept a blended family and the overall unconventional composite of John's and my marriage -- but she does. She get's it. She's benefiting from it. She sees worth in John as a human being and as the man who has willingly stepped up in word and deed to be a dad to her, despite the less than desirable circumstances of his current physical existence. Shout out to all the kids who have an incarcerated parent/step-parent/uncle/brother who check for them. You're the real MVPs.
So many men in prison are really great dads. They care about their children and make efforts every day of their prison sentences to make their presence in their children's lives a very real and a very positive one. I applaud them and encourage them to keep doing what they're doing. You matter. Happy Father's Day!
#SpeakYaTruth #TheDukes #LoveNeverFails