"Congratulations to all of today's graduates! For God! For Central! For State!"
It was the very last words uttered from our college president the day I received my bachelor of arts degree. All of my peers were chanting and cheering with our president, but I couldn't muster the strength to join them. I was too busy looking for my dad in the crowd. It was the end of the ceremony, and he still hadn't showed up. It didn't make sense.
A typical graduation ceremony at Central State University.
He called me almost three times a day the week of my graduation. My dad said that he was so proud of me that he got an expensive suit just for the occasion. He told my mom that he would give her a few hundred dollars if she allowed him to join her for the four-hour drive from Cleveland to Wilberforce, Oh. He also said that he was going to give her extra cash for doing a fantastic job of raising a woman who was now a college graduate.
Knowing how excited he was to attend the ceremony made my mom upset about his absence. No, she was pissed about his absence.
Her protective nature had gone into overdrive that day. She told me that she had sent him several angry voice mail messages for standing me up on the most important day of my life, before she decided to leave the city without him.
"I told that nigga he has some nerve standing up my baby today! Wait till I see his ass in the street! I'm going to f*ck him up!"
But where was he?
Once we arrived back at my mom's house later that day, he called us with the bad news. He was truly embarrassed.
"I was arrested...and I'm sorry."
I was crushed. Waiting for a loved one to show up for a special occasion, only to be met with their absence, made me feel awful. I didn't feel awful for myself, I felt awful for my dad. I knew more than anything how he badly he wanted to attend my graduation. But those feelings weren't going to pick up the pieces of my heart, because the damage had already been done.
It's been 12 years since the that happened, and the feeling does not go away. As a mother, it makes me conscience of how important special occasions are for my son. I try to make a huge deal out of any activity that excites my little guy. My husband and I are at every ceremony, Christmas performance, and special occasion dancing and cheering for him.
We are embarrassing as hell, and we wouldn't have it any other way. We make sure that Heaven or Hell doesn't keep us from showing him how much we love him, whether he runs a company from a high rise office in Manhattan, or he's making license plates at Pelican Bay Correctional Institute in California.
I put myself in those shoes as I watched a video of Love & Hip Hop New York star Mendeecees Harris discussing how much he loved his daughter Skylar after he was sentenced for a drug trafficking charge.
Mendeeces is going away for eight years, and it hit me that this man won't be around for his children's special milestones.
He won't be at his son's banquets celebrating an amazing football season.
He won't be around to tell his daughter how proud he is of her using the potty "like a big girl."
He won't be there to see his son's face light up with fear and excitement when he needs advice on how to tell a girl he really likes how special she is to him.
Mendeecees hasn't left his family for prison yet, but it's coming, and it matters to everyone involved, even himself. And he knows this. So I couldn't do anything but congratulate him when I saw his videotaped love letter to his one-year-old daughter, Skylar.
The reality star stripped himself down to only raw emotions in a VH1 personal interview before he heads to prison. It was gut wrenching.
"Dear Skylar, I always wanted a girl first. I always prayed for you. I'm your protector. There's no man, or nobody on Earth, whose going to love you like I love you. Protect you. I just want the best for you. And I want to be everybody you need me to be for you in your life. Your best friend, your dad, if you need a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, long as I'm alive, I'ma always be there for you.
Your mother, she's the perfect woman of a role model. And if you can turn out to be half of your mother, I would be so grateful. Because I love what your mother stands for. She's a woman with class. I fell in love with her because she was so different than what I was used to. So hopefully you pick up the traits of your mom and you'd carry out all of the stuff she believes in, you will believe in. And it's going to take you a long way.
I might not be here with you at the moment, and it's against my will. But, you know, I just love you, and I want the best for you. And hopefully one day I get to make it right.
I love you. Love, your dad."
After listening to the video message, I felt awful for his children. But I felt even worse for him. I'm sure his wife, Yandy, is going to visit her husband as often as she can. Even if she decides to do so without her children, the fact that she's showing him her face makes a world of a difference to her husband. Hell, anyone who is privileged enough to see their loved ones in prison is a blessing.
Before my dad died, he told me that any chance you get to see your loved ones in prison is a favor from God. Every visiting day feels like a special occasion. Like you're loved, and your soul matters. Could you imagine how special visiting day must feel on Christmas, Easter, or your birthday? I couldn't. But if I had to paint a picture, I would imagine that it felt like your body was rumbling with the loud booms from Fourth of July fireworks, mixed with the breathlessness you felt the day you saw your child took their first breath.
Doing time for a crime is a terrible sentence in itself, hence the word "sentence". But it doesn't mean that your incarcerated loved one's feelings does not matter.
This is why it's common to hear about prisons arranging events for inmates on Mother's Day, Christmas, or other special holidays.They know that prisoners seeing their family members on holidays gives them hope, and keeps them focused on trying to get the hell out of there. It's the reverse feeling of having your heart crushed. Like God is using Krazy Glue to heal your wounds - the broken pieces of your heart burns like hell while he mends it to be stronger in the future.
These feelings are important. If your loved one is locked up, take the time to visit them, or show them how much you love them, especially on or around holidays. It's heartbreaking enough to know that a family member wasn't strong enough to resist the temptation of committing a crime. But there's hope in knowing that they'll be around to tell you this face-to-face in due time.
If you're reading this, and you have this problem, log off and make arrangements visit your loved one on lock down, so you can tell them how much they are loved. If the voyage is too long and expensive, write them a letter. But let them know that they mean something, and they still have time to make a positive contribution to their lives and the world.
Being in prison is awful. But being in prison on Christmas is the closest you're going to get to walking through Hell on broken glass.