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					                                                   FAMILY & CORRECTIONS NETWORK

                                            The Incarcerated Fathers Library
                                                                       Pamphlet 1


▼
      A Father’s Story
▼    Michael Carlin
Prisoners who are parents often have                                                  our hometown but this didn’t help our
difficulty asserting their parental            When I bailed out,                     relationship and we eventually
rights. Almost all the published              I found that my son’s                   separated. I continued to see my son
articles and conference workshops on                                                  on weekends and whenever else it
this topic are about the child custody         mother was trying to                   was possible. We kept the bond we
issues of incarcerated parents who           contact me. I attempted                  had developed in those early years
have children in foster care. But                                                     although it was not as strong as I
people who have lived or worked in
                                             to straighten up my life                 would have liked it. When my son
prisons for any length of time will tell     and began visiting with                  was five years old, my mother died, I
you that the child custody problems                                                   lost my family’s home and the land
that most prisoners face have nothing
                                               him again until she                    my grandfather was born on in 1896,
to do with the judicial system. When        became involved in a new                  and my son’s mother began a new
prisoners lose contact with and access        relationship and once                   relationship and moved to an
to their children, it is usually not                                                  unknown location. This stopped my
because the courts have taken their             again disappeared.                    visits with and my contact and
kids away.                                                                            connection to my boy. Everything that
                                           our material progress but our              I had ever cared about seemed to have
In February of 1977, when I was 17, I      relationship had started to deteriorate.   disappeared.
found out I would be a father. The         When he was two years of age, my
mother’s parents supported us, as did      son’s mother and I split up. She           Within five months, I ended up in
my own mother; she had been my             moved to another state and a few           county jail. When I bailed out, I found
only consistently present parent, as       months later I followed with hopes of      that my son’s mother was trying to
my father was incarcerated                 a new start. We stayed together for the    contact me. I attempted to straighten
throughout most of my childhood.           next three years. During that time, my     up my life and began visiting with
                                           relationship with my son deepened. I       him again until she became involved
I was very happy to be the father of a     never went anywhere without him.           in a new relationship and once again
beautiful boy. I began to look toward      We became so attached that it was a        disappeared. This time the separation
the future, although our family was        struggle to get to work because he         lasted a little longer. They reappeared
starting out as most families of young     wouldn’t let go of me. I hated to leave    again after I had gotten into some
parents do: with little resources and      him myself; I knew how he felt as          serious trouble. I hadn’t been caught
lots of struggle. After one year, we       such a little boy, having to be            yet, but I knew it was only a matter of
were living in a nice apartment with       separated from his father. We were         time. My son and I were still pretty
everything we needed; I was working        very close.                                close in spite of the separations we’d
as a spray painter and doing odd jobs                                                 experienced. Over the years, I had
to make extra money. Everything            However, his mother and I started to       attempted to keep my relationship
seemed to be working well as far as        have problems again. We returned to        with his mother friendly so I would



                                                     FCN Report #31, page 3
Pamphlet 1
                                            The Incarcerated Fathers Library                             A Father’s Story, page 2
                                                          ▼
have no trouble seeing him. I spent as     as a prisoner. I asked around to see        Prisoners who are looking for
much time with him as I could. When        how the other fathers kept in touch         anything outside of prison need to
he was nine years old, I was arrested,     with their children. The general            write letters. This requires literacy,
put in jail, and sentenced to long state   consensus was that if the mother            paper and pencils, stamps, and at least
and federal prison terms.                  didn’t stay in touch with you, you          one starting address. Unlike many
                                           could just forget about any kind of         prisoners, I can read and write. But
During the first year of my                contact with your kids. You could also      during much of my imprisonment, I
incarceration, I had contact with my       forget about getting any kind of help       have been indigent, without enough
son and his mother. It was not             from anyone else. I’d learn later that,     money for the writing paper and
constant, but there was still a            in the general sense, these men were        stamps I needed. I had a lot of letters
connection. Visiting was impossible        right. Help was very definitely hard to     to write; those I wrote to general
because his mother flatly refused to       find.                                       addresses like “Family Court, Tucson,
bring my son into a prison. After that                                                 Arizona” came back marked
first year, she told me that she and my    I turned to the courts in my state to try   “insufficient address” and letters that
son were moving to another part of         and assert my parental rights to my         did get through were often answered
the country, 2500 miles away. I had at     son. I was told there was nothing they      with forms directing me to write
least eight and one half years to serve    could do if my son was living out of        somewhere else. Because I didn’t
in state prison before being eligible      the state. There was nothing they           know exactly where my boy and his
for parole to the federal system to        could do to help me find him, either in     mother had gone, I had to write to
serve another long sentence. Her           or out of state, and they weren’t aware     many places. At one point, in order to
announcement hit me extremely hard.        of any other agency that could.             continue my search by mail, I was
I knew I was losing my boy for                                                         reduced to removing stamps from my
certain now. All I could do was ask        I tried other sources of assistance for     incoming mail, erasing the
his mother to stay in contact with me.     parents and for prisoners. I tried the      cancellation marks and sticking them
                                           Divorced Fathers Support Group,             to used, re-addressed envelopes with
After they moved to their new              prison counselors and administrators,       pancake syrup.
location, I spoke to my son four or        and many, many other official sources
five times. The last time I called to      of aid. Many places I contacted             Like most incarcerated parents
speak to him, his mother told me he        seemed to have a “No help for               searching for their children or
was visiting his maternal grandparents     prisoners” attitude. I got the distinct     attempting to assert their parental
in our home state for the summer and       impression that everyone felt as            rights to visitation, I needed to make
would be back in September. I asked a      though my child was probably better         long-distance telephone calls. Most
minister I knew to call the                off, wherever he was, without me.           state prison systems allow prisoners
grandparents to arrange a visit, since     This was especially true of prison          to make collect calls only and most
they lived relatively close to the         officials and even of the prison            public agencies and government
prison. They said my boy wasn’t there      counselors who are supposed to help         offices will not accept collect calls
and they didn’t know where he was.         prisoners with their problems. The          from prisoners. Those state and
When I called the number I had in          perception is that prisoners are bad        federal prisons that do have direct
September, I was told that my son and      people and therefore they must be bad       calling systems do not allow calls to
his mother had moved away and left         parents.                                    Directory Assistance, so even
no forwarding address.                                                                 prisoners who can afford telephone
                                           Next I began to research agencies that      calls cannot always find the phone
When Prisoners Can’t Find Their            assisted prisoners with legal               numbers they need to either locate
Children                                   problems. I tried the ACLU, the             their children or keep in touch with
After that last disappearance of my        Lewisburg Prison Project and local          them.
boy and his mother, I realized that he     Legal Aid offices. I ran into dead ends
was probably gone until I did              everywhere. No one would or could           The agencies that did answer my
something to find him. I started           help me find my son. I needed to            letters and calls for help usually
looking into what was available to me      search for him myself.                      responded with form letters. With one



                                                     FCN Report #31, page 4
Pamphlet 1                                The Incarcerated Fathers Library                            A Father’s Story, page 3
                                                        ▼
exception, the few personalized             this assumption is made for all of      Michael Carlin was selected as the
responses I got said that they did not      us without any information              recipient of the first Fellowship of the
handle child custody issues or do           whatsoever about how we cared           Center for Children of Incarcerated
child searches for incarcerated             for and parented our children.          Parents in 1996. He has served 14
parents. I almost never actually spoke                                              years of consecutive sentences to state
to a live person; it was as if the       ▼ Lack of resources                        and federal prison for bank robbery
problem was just too unpleasant for         Prisoners trying to retain or           and escape.
anyone to get involved. This left me        regain custody of their children
right back where I started.                 need letter-writing supplies,           This article was originally published
                                            telephone fees and access to            in FCN REPORT 22, Prisoners and
I eventually located my son and his         public information like telephone       Child Custody. •
mother with the assistance of an            numbers from Directory
agency that serves children of              Assistance.
prisoners. Coincidentally, as an
advocate was preparing to travel to      ▼ Lack of child custody advocacy
the state where they were living, I         services for prisoners
received a call from my son’s mother        Even agencies that help prisoners
informing me that he was getting            with other issues are reluctant to
                                                                                      Incarcerated Fathers Library
married.                                    get involved with child custody           pamphlets may be downloaded
                                            matters. The few agencies that do         without charge from the Family and
It was seven and half years from the        exist work mostly with women              Corrections Network (FCN) web
time of my last phone call with him         prisoners or seem to focus on             site, www.fcnetwork.org.
until I spoke to my boy again and a         helping prisoners with children in        Duplication is permitted and
total of 10 years in which we did not       foster care.                              encouraged, so long as the materials
                                                                                      are not altered or sold.
see each other. The next time I saw
him was at the U.S. Penitentiary at      ▼ Lack of legal aid for prisoners
                                                                                      A printed set of the ten pamphlets
Leavenworth, Kansas, where he               with family law issues                    can be ordered for $6.00, shipping
visited and handed me his 5 week old        There are probably more                   included, from FCN at the address
daughter. The fear I had felt in my         prisoners with some type of               below. Ask for FCN REPORT #31 -
heart of losing my boy had come true.       family law problem than there are         The Incarcerated Fathers Library.
In that moment, it had completed            prisoners with post-conviction            Sorry, FCN is not budgeted to mail
                                                                                      free copies.
itself. The loss seeing and enjoying        legal issues. While there are
my boy’s childhood was plainly in           hundreds of post-conviction legal         The Incarcerated Fathers Library
front of me. It was gone now and all        aid projects at prisons across the        was made possible with the
we could do was get to know one             country, none of the many                 generous support of the Snowden
another again. He’d slipped away, no        projects I contacted offered              Fund of the Tides Foundation. Many
matter how hard I’d tried to maintain       assistance with child custody             thanks to Michael Carlin and Joel
our connection.                             matters.                                  Argentino for their valued work on
                                                                                      this project.
Obstacles to Asserting Parental          The majority of the 1.8 million              Send comments to The Incarcerated
Rights From Prison                       prisoners in the U.S. are fathers and        Fathers Library at FCN, 32 Oak
Most prisoners face several obstacles    mothers. Even though most of us              Grove Road, Palmyra, VA 22963,
when attempting to assert their          retain our legal rights as parents, over     434/589-3036, 434/589-6520 Fax,
parental rights to their children:       half of us do not have regular contact       fcn@fcnetwork.org.
                                         with our children. New information
▼ Unfounded assumptions about            about child custody issues of                 Copyright Family and Corrections
  prisoners as parents                   incarcerated parents and new services                 Network, 2002.
  There are no studies that show         are desperately needed.
  that prisoners are bad parents but



                                                   FCN Report #31, page 5

				
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