This wasn’t the first time I was in Montgomery County jail.
I was detained and shipped to the same facility in August 2008 after getting into a verbal altercation with Judge Thomas Delricci. I spent three days in a different section of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility before I was bailed out for $700 after already paying $511 three days prior. I couldn’t contain my anger after hearing him give a cliched spiel about the importance of being a good father and the cost of groceries at Genuardi’s. He had judged me without cracking open the file in front of him to see that my daughter lived with me four days out of the week, and had since the day she was born. I reminded him that it was I who had provided clothing, food and shelter. It was I, the alleged deadbeat, who figured out how to manage and maintain her head of beautiful hair, while also paying her kindergarten tuition at a Montessori school that I discovered near our home.
I was blessed to have been there to see Skye take her first steps and speak her first words. I taught her how to read by playing old rap songs and having her write the words down.
Delricci refused to let his court clerk use the Internet to check and see if I made the payment as I stated under oath.
I was ordered to pay $700 but they wouldn’t allow me to go downstairs to the ATM. Someone else had to come and pay it, he ordered. And there I was thinking that getting the money to the kids was the absolute priority, when it was truly all about getting me in shackles.
I was told then, just as I was before my latest incarceration, that I would be able to make a phone call in the courthouse, but that phone call never came. I spent two nights at the correctional facility before a social worker discovered the ridiculousness of me being imprisoned for $700, and let me make a phone call. I was released within a couple hours.
Fast forward to 2011, and there I was again. On Monday, July 18, Vaun and I were transferred from the gym to Q-Pod, designated for inmates who were deemed work- release-eligible by their specific judge. I was supposed to see a nurse upon admittance, but I would not see anyone on the medical staff for nine weeks. Thankfully, I don’t have a communicable disease, or it would have been curtains for more than 200 inmates.
It was no surprise that an overwhelming number of men I spoke to over three and a half months were within those prison walls by way of Daniele. They were black, Latino, Asian and white, and came from all different academic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Many of them were decent people who, for a variety of reasons, were not able to keep up with their payments. Some of them had multiple children, which complicated their situations even more.
Admittedly, there were others who were a total waste of skin. They could care less about spending time with their children or providing for them financially. In my opinion, they don’t deserve to be fathers, but I still question why sending them to prison is an option.
With all the drug dealers, sex offenders and violent criminals who have been given house arrest as a punishment, it makes me wonder why the taxpayers are footing part of the bill for those charged with a contempt of court.
Although I was work-release-eligible, I never stepped one foot outside of the prison.
One of the correctional officers confided in me that I had been Googled, which meant everyone on staff knew who I was and what I did for a living. I was told that they were not going to waste a job on me because it was assumed that I would quickly be bailed out. That would not be the case.
A passive case worker, Michael Rothman, allowed me to use the phone on occasion but with no access to my cell phone or phonebook, I had no way of contacting the most essential people in my life. It was heartbreaking to check my email and Facebook messages upon my release and read dozens of messages from friends, family and colleagues who had no idea where I was. I languished for more than 100 days as a hostage of sorts, all the while wondering how the separation was affecting my daughter and what my incarceration would mean for our future.
I would eventually lose 30 pounds and four inches from my waist. Aside from the food being terrible, there was the issue of poor hygiene of the inmates selected to serve meals. It’s hard to keep an appetite when the servers consistently leave the bathroom without washing their hands or prick themselves to test their blood-sugar levels while standing over the buffet.
Aside from me being drug-free my entire life yet slowly looking like an ungroomed crack head, there were other ironies on the work-release unit. The correctional officers brought in bootleg movies for inmates to watch on one of two 36-inch flat screens. Considering that selling bootleg films is a crime, it’s baffling that the powers that be see no harm in showing Planet of the Apes, even though it’s still in theaters across the country. I often skipped the movie showings and retreated to my cell to write in my journal. I knew that the day would come when I would have to speak up for other single fathers and divorced dads who were faced with very tough decisions to make with regard to child support and the rearing of our children. Why is it acceptable for fathers to be emasculated and stripped of all of their parental joy in the name of a dollar? Is it no wonder that the bonds between fathers and their children are broken? How can anyone expect men to have healthy relationships with their children when they associate them with hardship, judicial harassment and imprisonment?
I refuse to be the type of father who constantly tells my daughter that I can’t provide anything for her because I have already made a child-support payment and it wiped me out for the week. If she wants a new Wimpy Kid book, a pair of boots or an ice cream cone I should be able to buy it for her without fear that it will count as nothing in a court of law. So long as a scoop of cookies ’n’ cream makes her smile, that’s what is important to me. Fatherhood is one of life’s greatest blessings.
Recently I had a hearing in custody court for an emergency petition to modify custody that I filed back on May 12, 2011. It was postponed from Oct. 20 due to my three-month incarceration at the time and rescheduled for Tues., Nov. 29.
One of the main reasons I filed the papers for more custody is that I am only 1.5 miles away from my daughter’s Center City elementary school, whereas her mother’s residence in West Norriton is 25 miles from the school.
Being Black: It's not the skin color