Parents Behind Bars

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I remember as a little girl cruising around the streets of San Francisco in my dad’s bright red ’68 Impala, my sister and I in the backseat and my mom in the passenger seat with my dad’s arm wrapped around her. As the years went by, I’ve held onto that memory.

When I was three, Sunday drives changed. It wasn’t the four of us in a convertible anymore, it was my mom driving my sister and me four hours away to visit my dad in prison. I remember standing in line watching the sad faces of the families who weren’t able to see their loved ones that day because their shorts were too short or their shirt color blended in with the inmates uniforms.

My dad looked different each time we saw him. His hair and beard grew quickly. For a while he wore tan clothes, then orange. Sometimes we had to talk to him through a glass window. When we were allowed contact visits, I always sat on his lap.

He’d always hand me a comb and tell me to brush his short hair, and the guards would give my parents a warning each time they got too close to each other.

In letters, my dad wrote that he’d think about us everyday, even when he wasn’t able to call. And he’d tell us not to worry.

But I always worried.

I remember feeling so relieved when he was finally released, but then when I was 11 years-old, my mom and my dad were both sent to jail. It left me feeling upset, sad, scared, disappointed, and alone. Going to school knowing all my friends went home to their parents made me cry. I had to communicate with mine through letters, visits or phone calls.

But the one emotion I never felt was shame. Nothing my parents do will ever make me turn my back on them. And in some ways they’ve helped me stay out of trouble. I’ve vowed not to make the same mistakes, and if I ever have kids of my own, I won’t do anything that could separate us.


 Gabriela Alvarez is part of Project WHAT 



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