These are my thoughts on how my incarceration has affected my relationship with my children. Around 17 years ago, my life, in a single day, turned into a nightmare. I was sentenced to forty-five years for dealing and possession of cocaine by the Indiana Department of Corrections. My children were caught in the middle of it all.
Words seem to fail me when I try to express the shame, guilt, and pain this separation has caused. The fullness of the effect of this separation is something only a person who has experienced it could understand, but the separation experience is something that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I did not leave one child without a dad, I left four. I have three girls – Jasmine (21), Paige (19), Justice (16), and a son, Dyani (19).
It is only by the grace of God that I have a relationship with each one of them today. This does not mean, however, that the effects of my incarceration are not real. It is hard for me to contemplate having left loved ones to survive on their own. How do I explain to my children that, “Daddy still loves you, I just can’t be around”? How do I deal with my three year-old who just learned to say,”Daddy,” when he cries for me? How does my sixteen year-old daughter, Justice, who has never seen her father outside of prison, really feel about me?
Love is very difficult for a prisoner to give to his children because it is best shown in time and action. I can say “I love you,” or I could write it in a thousand letters describing my love in detail, but I cannot show it to them. This leads me to doubt, making me wonder if they really know how much I love them, how much I miss them, how much I think about them, and how much I care for them.
Words cannot change the fact that I have not been there for them when they needed me. The effects of my absence, indeed my incarceration, upon their lives cannot be erased. I have missed going to the movies, going to the mall, going to ball games. I have been gone. Their pain because of my absence is real. Their emptiness because of my absence is real.
The days and nights of tears because of my absence are real, and the days and nights of tears for their Daddy were real. These things had to be dealt with and talked about over the years, not just covered up and forgotten. I have been blessed with four wonderful kids who love me and don’t hold these things against me, but still have been wounded by the years without their Dad.
Even though these wounds are there, there is also a bond and a closeness that is only produced from an experience of separation such as this. It’s only when you really realize how much you need them and they need you that the times you do have together are even more memorable. As you realize how precious every moment is you learn not to waste even one second. This is the type of relationship my kids and I have today and will carry on when I am released! My family and I know what it feels like to be separated and these painful years will only remind us in the future to never take time spent with each other for granted. And it’s only by the power and love of Christ that my family has remained united and He has taught me to be a father even from inside prison.
Before my incarceration I was functioning only through my sub-personalities and as a result I did not allow myself to become my own friend. I had no compassion for myself. The only thing I allowed was constant punishment and criticism of myself. Whenever I had the chance, I would badger myself about all the negative choices I had made. Instead of being my own best friend, I had in fact, become my own worst enemy – I was totally disgusted with myself and had beat myself up both physically and mentally more than anyone else could have ever done.
I have learned the first step toward victory over life-dominating habits is understanding I am in my present circumstances because of the choices I have made for myself. I have made excuses and rationalized my mistakes and sinful lifestyles by pointing an “all accusing” finger at my relatives or others from my past. The truth is, before I can ever hope to overcome habitual sin, I must first be willing to take responsibility for my own actions. This means that I, John Gammon, must deal with my present behavior without excuses. What has happened in the past cannot be changed. Consequently, if I am going to be victorious over drugs,I must only examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. Having a sponsor or accountability partner is biblical. Two are better off than one because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. If someone is alone there is no one to help them.
When I leave this system, I know that I will not be the same person that came into the system. I realize I don’t have to wait to be released to see how different things can be. Things are different for me right now. I have taken the initiative to become my own best friend while incarcerated and have found myself progressing very rapidly as a result. I have taken advantage of the time that I have had to analyze my past, present, and future. I have had time to think about what life is worth to me and what I want out of life. I now know that there will be times where I will be the only friend that I have and I can still make it through trials and tribulations, no matter what they are or what the outcome may be. I know that strength comes from within and it’s my choice of how much I wish to exercise that inner strength. (Phil. 4:13) I can do all things through CHRIST which strengthens me!