Father's Day produces a complicated mix of emotions for the thousands of fathers in the U.S. who are imprisoned.
"Father's Day is a uniquely difficult time of the year for me," dad and prisoner Bruce W. Harrison wrote in a note sent to The Huffington Post via nonprofit organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "It reminds me of the fact that I've served more than 20 years in federal prison. Decades of my life spent behind bars instead of time I should have been spending with my family."
Harrison and three other dads shared their feelings of pain, remorse and hope with HuffPost in the heart-wrenching notes below, which have been edited for length and clarity.
Bruce W. Harrison, serving a 50-year sentence for drug trafficking:
I'm angry, and at the same time, I'm sad [about having missed so much time with my family].
Instead of allowing these negative thoughts to rule me, I've devoted myself to being the best father I can be. As it is, each year around the time of Father's Day, I receive from my children and family Father's Day cards, letters, visits and requests that I call them. They make a big deal out of Father's Day! The letters, cards, visits and phone calls are the opportunity they've been holding out for to remind me of how I keep track of their lives, how I listen to them and try to understand them, how my advice is practical and applicable to their lives and how sometimes their father's solution to the difficulties they are experiencing actually resolves the issue and has improved their lives. My children are all grown adults now.
During my years of incarceration I've tried my best to be a good father. I continue to have good communication and relationships with my children and family. My children actually have children of their own now. Soon enough, their children will be celebrating them on Mother's and Father's Day, and perhaps then my children and family will understand how important it has been for me, as a father, to be recognized for just that, their loving father.
Bruce Harrison and his family. (Courtesy FAMM)
Paul Fields, serving 15 years in prison for growing marijuana:
My daughter was 8 months old when I began serving my sentence for growing marijuana. She is now 6 years old, and my relationship with her is the most important thing in my life.
Still, it’s hard being separated. My wife has been awesome, bringing my daughter to see me every other weekend when possible. We talk on the phone often, and I keep a daily journal for her. Every day I write a short little note to her, talking about my day, and what I know about hers. When a notebook is full, I mail it home and my wife saves them all together to give to her someday. I want her to always know how much I love and miss her, and that I think of her EVERY day.
Paul Fields and his family. (Courtesy FAMM)
Marcelo Sandoval Sr., in prison for drug trafficking:
Father’s Day is usually a day where you appreciate all the hard work the father has done and you celebrate it. Well, my situation is different. Father’s Day reminds me of the failure I am. It reminds me that I cannot support my children and that breaks my heart alone.
Out of 17 years, I have seen my children twice. I missed everything with them, and I talk to my children for 15 minutes a month on phone calls if money allows. Not to mention I envy the other dads in the prison that actually seen their children on Father’s Day. What am I? A father? Or a male figure locked up behind bars?
I really hope my sons know I love them so much!! I am so proud of my children without a father in their presence. ...
Last year, my youngest child told my wife 'Happy Father’s Day.' My mother asked him, 'Why?' He said, 'I don’t care, you have been my mother and father in one.' That brought me to tears and I asked God, 'Why am I still here if I cannot be in my son's presence, [and] I cannot support my wife? Why, God?'
If God allows me and gives me the second chance to be with my family, I would also return the favor. I would make a tradition of having a retreat on Father’s Day, with a phoenix representing us. I would take my wife and three children, all grown up, and have conversations, play games, reach our inner feelings. At the end [we would] write down all the bad things in our life on a piece of paper and throw it in the fire. That’s when I would get on my knees and ask forgiveness to my wife and children and, just how phoenix [was reborn] through the ashes, SO WILL I WITH MY FAMILY! A NEW BEGINNING!
Anonymous, serving a life sentence for importing drugs:
My daughter's mother left long ago, when [my daughter] was 2. And after having the pleasure of being our child's father for 11 years, I was imprisoned in 2009 and she was left alone in this country.
I am sure you know, perhaps not personally -- in fact, surely not personally -- the price some children pay for their parents', or father's, mistakes, sometimes unique mistakes. That price shatters all bonds and does so in an excruciatingly slow manner. No matter how many letters written, nor how apparent the bars, or how close the distance, or how far, or how often called, how much can one say to a child in 10 minutes a day, if you have the money to pay for the call? They have just begun to tell you about their day and accomplishments and wishes and dreams and then their needs, when you have to tell them you have to go because the phone will cut off.
After a while they just accept that you are not there for them either. You can hear it in their voices. All the small things they want and deserve and all the hugs they need, the kisses they need, the comforting words and the touch of your hand. They need [you] to let them know they are OK and all will be OK, every day and then into the night. ...
They wake at 3 a.m. and cry out, at first softly, and after a while just into their pillow, if there is one, and then just cry into themselves, never to be soothed. As do some of us parents when we feel their pain, because we cannot be there for them. ...
The prison system does much to discourage visits, from counselors not approving the visit list, to searching little kids and traumatizing them [so they are] afraid of a uniform. ... The price our children pay is unfair, and a cost no one can imagine, maybe not even the universe or whoever is in charge of it.