I went to prison when I was 19 years old. My daughter was left alone to practically raise herself in the same environment that almost destroyed me. I survived only because prison saved me. Women are the fastest growing group of people who are becoming incarcerated. In most cases these women are single parents and therefore, the primary care givers of their children. Once they are imprisoned their children are almost destined to a life of depression, crime, drugs and/or violence. I asked my daughter to write about life growing up in the turbulent streets of S.E., D.C. the progeny of a mom who was a “Menace to Society.” She writes:
Growing all I used hear was stories about how my mom used to fight all the time, how I looked and acted just like her. I always heard negative things about my mother_ never anything positive. Eventually it started to affect me. I started to believe I was just like my mom. I started acting out and as a result of my rebellious behavior my father sent me to live with my maternal grandmother. I was 14 years old. My grandmother treated me as if I was my mother. I remember thinking, ‘Well if she is going to treat me like I’m my mother I might as well act like they say my mother use to act’. I wanted to be my own person, but I guess I looked so much like my mother that nobody could see me for me and almost everyone treated me like I was my mother. I started causing trouble in school with other girls. And, in the nick of time my grandmother sent me back to live with my father. She gave up fast. I was only doing the things they said my mother use to do, fighting and getting into trouble. I was only living up to other people’s expectations of me.
I remember my first fight I got into. I thought I was ‘big and bad’ because everyone always told me, ‘it’s in your genes.’ At first I just use to get into a lot of arguments. Then, I actually started fighting. Actually I didn’t like to fight, but my father lived in a tough neighborhood where all of my peers were aggressive. On the first day of school I got into a fight. Then from then on out things just got worst and worst; I had more and more fights. ‘Maybe’, I thought, ‘I’ll end up like my mother.’
Reading about my daughter Charnal’s ambivalence, yet her inclination toward violence, sent me railing into my past. I know most people who read my rap sheet would never believe it, but I never liked fighting either. Somehow I convinced myself that I could either fight, or run. Running wasn’t an option because if my parents or older siblings saw me running from a fight, they would threaten me and send me back out to stand up for myself. I ended up creating this ruthless image and attempted to use it to protect myself against the threats of violence in my community. Then, I ended up in prison. That’s where I grew up, literally.