We sat in a prison in Cumberland, Maryland recording a story being read by an inmate for his child. The day had been a long one, and we had already recorded stories with more than a dozen others, so we weren’t paying a lot of attention. But we became aware that the man sitting across from us was having difficulty. Soon he was unable to read because of the tears flowing down his cheeks and the sobs coming from his throat. We turned off the tape, and asked if he wanted to collect himself. He nodded his head through his tears. He was Hispanic, and said in broken English that he had never before read a book to his children. The book, titled “The Tree of Hope”, seemed perfect for the moment. We too were moved to tears and we wept together.
When grown men cry, it always gets to us. We just can’t help it. Especially when they are dads crying over their kids. And especially when they are supposed to be bad dudes in prison. At the end of each day of our 2003 Father to Child Summer Camp, Bill sat in the corner and cried as his ten year old son Jason walked out the door. Bill went to prison when his son was 11 months old. That was the last time he saw Jason, until we brought him to camp to spend a week with his dad in the prison visiting room. Our first meeting with Bill left an indelible mark on us. He was the most ragged prisoner we’d ever met with long gray hair, a beard to his waist, and no teeth. He was bitter and just wanted to bury himself in prison because he had nothing to which he could look forward. Meeting his son face to face changed all of that. He cut his hair and beard and put in his teeth and I saw a transformed individual by the end of camp. He writes to us of the healing and hope he experienced that week that has stayed with him. When Jason “aged out” of camp at age 14, Bill was due to be released in a few month later. But before father and son could be re-united on the outside Bill passed away in prison. His last meeting with us left as great a mark as his first. Bill was a good and pure hearted man, whose devotion to his son and to Hope House DC were unparalleled.
On Mother’s Day weekend several years ago we rented two buses to transport family members to an Ohio prison for a family day. Rene came to visit her former son-in-law, Tommy. Seven years earlier, he had killed her daughter while in a drugged fury. Rene has been raising her granddaughter, Tomesha, since her daughter’s death. Before seeing his face during a teleconference session with Tomesha, Rene hadn’t laid eyes on Tommy since his trial and sentencing. She talked of the rage that filled her, but when she saw him, she understood that in the intervening years a transformation had occurred. Rene knew she was ready to make peace and move on, but knew that couldn’t happen until she forgave him. So with Tomesha, she got on the bus on that Mother’s Day and came for a meeting of reconciliation. What a powerful and courageous thing she did. In a letter to me Tommy wrote, “She and I were both healed and delivered; mine took place as she held me in her arms as I sobbed – even as her own child… I thought ‘This is where the child I took from her belongs.'” As a result of this process, Rene and her family have found a new life with less pain. Tommy continues to be a part of Rene and Tommesha’s life.
Before his week at camp with his fourteen-year-old son, Gerald had never spent time alone with Gerald, Jr. Relatives brought son to visit father, but they were never alone. Gerald, Sr. confided to us that he was anxious about what he would say to his son for five hours a day during camp. Prior to camp, during most of their bi-weekly teleconferences, Gerald, Jr. sat slouched in the chair, arms folded and refusing to say much. Since camp, that has all changed. Now, during their hour long conversations there is laughter and never any dead air. And now, Michelle, Gerald’s daughter has started to participate in the teleconferences. Before the first teleconference they had never laid eyes on each other, and little Gerald had never met her. But when they all came together it was as if they have all known each other for life. Both Michelle and Gerald are in college now. Their schools are just blocks away from each other and they are constant companions.
The holidays are just around the corner and you can be a part of making them a bit brighter for Hope House families by helping us provide some of our community’s neediest children with gifts. In some cases the gifts we provide are the only ones that are under their trees. You can shop online at our ...04 September, 2019
Please join us as we celebrate our families and the art that was created at our camps this year with some great food, live music, a terrific silent auction, and our families' vision of a perfect day together reflected in their life-size multi-media murals....04 September, 2019