My son’s 20th birthday was yesterday. This is the text of the letter I sent him. It is the only gift I am allowed to send. It seems my letter to him was prophetic, and well timed, because five days ago he was placed in solitary confinement and is scheduled to be transferred to another unit at some point in time unknown to me. He was told this was done because he finished orientation and could now be placed in a more permanent unit. He has been in TDCJ for more than a year.
The transition from his teen years to his 20′s is a big deal to me and I was going to try to make it as special as I could for him. I would have had he been home. This is the first birthday since he was born that I did not talk to my child. This is also the first time since he’s been locked up that I won’t get to see him around his birthday to hug him. This is also the first time Phoenix, my four-month old son, has been big enough to look at me funny when he sees his Mama really cry.
I believe the real reason Paris was thrown in solitary and scheduled for a transfer is because Smoke & Apple Films requested an on-camera interview with him for a documentary they are shooting about juvenile justice issues/our story. The crew is in town this week to film with me. Inmates are not allowed contact with those of us in the free, family or film crew, as long as they are classified as “transit status”.
I can never prove that TDCJ moved Paris to show us all who in control. What I can prove is that they are wrong. They may have my son, but they don’t have me. As long as Paris has me, TDCJ will never truly have him, no matter what they do, because while I can’t stop them from locking my son up and throwing away the key, I can stop them from making him obsolete or powerless.
What TDCJ fails to understand is this: if losing Paris and Ella did not shut me up, do they really think they can? The more inhumane, the more heartless, the more they engage in punitive behavior and call it justice, the more they motivate me to keep doing what I do….love all I can and raise as much hell as I can….
October 10, 2013
Twenty years ago, on the day you were born, I took one look at you and two things simultaneously occurred: a feeling of fierce love unlike any I had ever experienced before took root in my heart and the realization, and accompanying fear, finally hit my brain that I had absolutely no idea how to be a good mother, which had been engaged, until that very moment, in these blissful fantasies of mom and baby always in perfect harmony.
I had no good example of how to be a good mother, but I figured I knew two things I hoped would work in my favor. I knew what not to do, how not to be, and I knew what kind of mom I wished I had had.
Armed with that knowledge, I set about making you two promises that day, October 10, 1993. One of the things I knew not to do was make promises to your child you never intended or could not keep so, in spite of the fact you blissfully slept through me whispering my promises in your ear, I considered my promises the foundation of the house of love I wanted to build for you to live in.
The first promise I made to you was to love you always, no matter what, unconditionally. I know too well what conditional love feels like; what damage is done to your heart and soul when you are judged unworthy because of your mistakes instead of loved for your existence. We all make mistakes. We should all be loved in spite of those mistakes. Then we should be loved even more because we make mistakes. Being loved through our mistakes is what gives us the confidence and will to learn from those mistakes to become a better person.
I have kept my first promise to you. I can say with great certainty that I will continue to keep this promise to you for as long as I live. I continue to hope that loving you unconditionally will give you the confidence and will to be the best person you can be.
The second promise I made to you was to be the best mother I could be to you and for you. This promise has always been, and still is, a bit harder to keep, for many reasons. As a parent it is hard to figure out what is the best thing to do to your child and/or for your child in “normal” circumstances. I think we can both agree that many of the circumstances that I have tried to keep this promise in are about as far from “normal” as one can be.
At times I know I have failed miserably in keeping this promise but I hope the love I feel for you and have shown you has, or will, trump any damage my failures cause you to suffer. There have been times I believe I am doing the best thing for you and you (most likely) think I am full of shit and wish I would just back off or stop doing whatever it is I am doing that you disagree with. In these times, please reflect back on all the years I have kept promise one and try to love me as unconditionally as you can now that you are old enough to understand this concept and the emotions that accompany it better. We won’t always see eye-to-eye. I will never stop being your mom, but I am doing my best to make the transition to being a true friend to you now that you are growing up. It is confusing at times to determine if your child needs a parent or a friend.
So here we are on the cusp of your 20th birthday. I can’t even begin to describe to you how it is possible, and how emotional and overwhelmingly surreal it is, for me to look at you and see both the baby I held close to whisper my promises in his ear and the full-grown, extremely easy-on-the-eyes, brilliant man who could (if he was allowed to) pick me up as easy as I used to pick him up. The best and simplest way to sum it up is just to tell you that, in spite of the passage of twenty years and all that has transpired between us, I still look at you and feel the same fierce, no…fiercer, love that swept me away the moment I first laid eyes on you.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will not let a mother help her child celebrate and acknowledge the passage out of his teen years and into his young manhood. I can’t bake for you, send you a gift, see you on your birthday because it does not fall on a normal visitation day, or sing you Happy Birthday unless you decide to call me on October 10th. So I am left giving you what I hope you consider a gift and is something that no one, not you, not TDCJ, NO ONE, can ever take away from you.
For your 20th birthday, I make you two more sacred promises Paris Lee, my first born, my first love.
I promise I will always be by your side as long as you are locked away from mine. No matter where Texas sends you, no matter how much time passes, no matter what you have to do to survive, no matter what I have to do to get there to see you… I will never turn my back on you while you are incarcerated. You will never be one of the forgotten ones. You will always know that someone in the free loves you, thinks of you, and misses you.
People often ask me how I can continue to stand by you after all you did and all the suffering it causes me. I always respond the same. I tell them that when you were a toddler I had to take you to daycare so I could go to class and work. I hated to leave you. It was so hard to walk away and a part of my mind and heart was always with you at the daycare. Every afternoon I would walk into the classroom to pick you up and you were fine, playing and content, so I would sit on the floor and wait for you to notice me. As soon as you saw me, your eyes would light up with a look of pure happiness, you would drop what you were doing, run across the room, and jump on me. That was the best part of my day, every day.
Almost every time I have come to visit you since you have been incarcerated I still see that look in your eyes when you first see me. It may be for a split second, so quick I have to really be paying attention to see it, or it may linger the entire visit. Sometimes it has been replaced with a look of anger, hatred, or contempt but it has never been entirely demolished. This is how I know that MY Paris is still in there.
I promise I will never give up on MY Paris; never give up my hope and belief that the Paris who got locked in the underground room inside you the night you killed Ella will find a way to survive both prison and that underground room. I know you are still in there. You may forget sometimes. Your environment may force you to hide him away. But when you are with me, you can let that boy out without any fear. I will love him the same way I have loved the other boy that lives inside you…unconditionally, no matter what.
Happy 20th birthday, Paris Lee. Since I can’t give you a cake, I guess you have to settle for unconditional love, a mom who tries her best to be a good mom and a good friend, loyalty, and unwavering faith in the man I know you can be.
All in all, not a bad gift to get I think…