Every July Stafford Creek Corrections Center is the host of an event called “The Family Fun BBQ.”
The criteria for me to attend is simple: Must be 6 months infraction free, and must have at least one minor in attendance.
This year was awesome! My mom brought my niece, Austyn.
The visiting room has a side door that leads to a grassy yard. That’s where you’ll find a Carnival type atmosphere.
Music was playing along with a ton of kids everywhere! There’s hula-hoops, plastic horse shoes, footballs, mini basketballs, face painting, a station to make sock puppets, and a couple inflatable bouncy houses.
As Austyn and I stepped outside, a song was playing. I asked her if she knew who was singing. She immediately said, “Taylor Swift.”
I said “OMG, I love this song” as I started to gyrate to the beat.
I asked if Austyn wanted to dance. She said, “No!” with a big smile.
That’s when I observed that there was no kids in one of the bouncy houses. So I ran to it and dove in!
That’s something Austyn has been trying to get me to do for the past few years. I had always told her, “NO…I’m too big for that.”
But this year was different. Probably because I realize she is almost 13 years old. And soon, these type of things might not be so appealing to her. So why not make some memories…I just dove right in!
Then, to my surprise, the entire house started to collapse! I was too big for it. I pushed out way too much air! I quickly jumped out. Austyn was standing there…laughing!
After we got that bouncy house standing again, we went over to a section of black top. There was huge chunks of chalk that was used for drawing on the black top.
Austyn wrote STEVEN in huge letters. I wrote LOVE”S AUSTYN in huge letters. Then we wrote the names of all our family members who we love in small letters all in-between and around the huge letters. We used different colors. It looked super cool as we took up a lot of space.
After that, we went to the sock puppet station. She made a kitty cat and I made a blue-eyed shark. They turned out awesome! We were having a great time.
After eating BBQ burgers with all the trimmings, we went back outside. Austyn dragged me to the face painting station. How could I say no? For years I said no to the bouncy house. This year is all systems go! Plus, how bad could it be? Other guys were running around with hearts, whiskers, rainbows, and other designs on their face.
Before I knew it, my entire face was covered! Other kids were using little paint brushes. Austyn gobbed it on using her fingers.
It was all fun and games until my mom tried to wipe it off of Austyn’s fingers. This stuff was not coming off. I panicked a little. I went straight to the bathroom and scrubbed my face with soap and water. A lot of it came off. But my hands and face were still stained red. And that was not coming off.
Come to find out, that was NOT face paint and it accidentally got placed at the wrong station. Oh well, I love it! It created a great memory and gave me something to blog about. 🙂 All in all, this was an awesome day. One I’ll never forget.
Thank you D. Taylor (the event coordinator) for allowing me to attend.
Than you mom for taking the time and money to come see me.
Thank you Austyn for being an awesome niece and for all the love & joy you bring to my life.
Thank you to my wife Suzie, and to all of my friends & family for your constant love and support.
Who would want their daughter, sister, aunt, or any family member to get involved with a man in prison? Not me! I could only imagine. But this is the situation for Suzie’s family. She’s involved with me. We’re in love. We’re married.
Here is a letter that I wrote to her family:
Dear Suzie’s Family,
Um…Hi. I’m a little nervous, so please bare with me. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I sincerely hope you do so with an open mind.
What is love?
What does it mean to truly love someone?
What is the ultimate goal in life?
To me, these answers are quite simple. The ultimate goal is to be happy. To truly love someone means to treat them with respect and compassion at all times. Love is kind, gentle, and understanding.
I love Suzie. She is so sweet, kind, and compassionate. I recognize all her unique personal characteristics, and I absolutely love who she is as a person.
I promise all of you that I will always treat Suzie with love and respect. All I want to do is bring her happiness and joy.
Suzie & I confide in each other. Our love is open and honest without the fear of ridicule or harsh judgment. We have a strong foundation of trust and honesty that has allowed our relationship to grow into something very special. I’ve never known anything like this before. But now that I’ve experienced this, I want it forever.
Forever is a long time. That means peeks and valleys are on the horizon. When dilemma’s and conflicts appear, I promise to seek peaceful solutions that won’t upset the harmony of our relationship. In doing so, these type of situations that usually breaks others down, will only strengthen us.
Suzie inspires me in so many ways. She inspires me to keep on the righteous path and to work hard towards my goals. She inspires me to dream of a life full of love, joy, and happiness. And now she has given me the opportunity to achieve all my dreams.
I promise to do the same for her. Through love, support, and understanding, I will inspire my lovely lady to be the best she can be and to reach her full potential. I will encourage her every step of the way as she works towards her goals. Suzie has dreams and desires. Together, we will fulfill them.
Suzie has a lifelong partner in me. My incarceration has enabled me to view life through a different lens. I appreciate my blessings. I cherish my friends and family. And I absolutely worship my lady. I promise to do everything within my power to make Suzie happy and to maintain this strong circle of harmony that surrounds our relationship.
Suzie is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She inspires me to be the best thing that’s ever happened to her. She is an amazing woman who I love with all my heart. She deserves so much better than a man in prison. That’s one of the many reasons why I am so committed to giving her a very special kind of love. The kind of love she deserves, the kind of love she desires and longs for. A love that only knows peace & harmony.
Please give me and my love for Suzie a chance. Please see me for who I am, not where I am. I know you have questions. Feel free to ask anything. I’ll always respond with a honest answer.
In closing, I’d like to point out that I could’ve wrote anything on these pages. And that wouldn’t necessarily make it true. People can say anything. So please just view this letter as an outline of what to expect from me. The tangible truth will be found within my actions, and by the way I will always treat Suzie.
When is it okay to spank your child, to slap their hand, to pull their hair, or to beat them with a stick?
According to Adrian Peterson, and millions of others, these actions are okay if your child pushes down another child, or misbehaves.
This topic angers me! It is NEVER okay to inflict pain on a child. PERIOD! Spankings are not okay. I don’t care what a child does…there are other, more effective remedies.
Adrian Peterson said he got flogged as a child. So what! That doesn’t make it okay. Now look at him. He’s flogging his child…and could end up in prison for it.
VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE ANSWER
For all you parents out there, DO NOT hit your child. How could you? How could you hit someone you love sooo much?
Instead, show patience, love, and understanding as you impose effective, non-violent discipline.
Take the time to study Early Childhood Development. Take the time to learn effective non-violent discipline measures. Isn’t your child worth it?
PS – Do you believe hitting is an appropriate form of discipline? Lets talk about it. Comments anyone?
My sister Alana always makes time to come see me. When I was in AZ she flew from CA to see me on my birthday. Then she flew back home that night. I asked her, “Why spend all that time and money for just a few hours to visit?”
She said, “Because it’s your birthday and I didn’t want you to spend it alone.” Awww…my heart melted.
Now here we are, 7 years later. Alana spent two weeks in WA visiting friends and family as she shows off her two beautiful babies.
During the course of her busy schedule, she managed to fit me in, not once, not twice…but THREE times!
I got to meet my niece, Logan Elaine, for the first time. She’s 4 months old. Absolutely adorable.
Walker is getting so big and smart. He’s now 27 months old.
Alana’s efforts to keep us all connected doesn’t stop with visits only. I can see she talks to Walker about “Uncle Steven” a lot. When I first walked into the visiting room, I saw Walker playing in the kids area. I walked up to him, crouched down and asked, “Whatcha doin’?”
He said, “Waiting for Uncle Steven.”
I said, “That’s me! I am Uncle Steven.”
I opened my arms for a hug. To my surprise, he dropped the toy and jumped into my arms. I felt the immediate connection even though he didn’t recognize me by face. The second he realized I was “Uncle Steven”, he associated everything Alana had told him about me. And from that second on, we were inseparable.
I asked Alana to share her perspective of our visits. This is what she wrote:
Thank you Uncle Steven…for being the best Uncle a kid could have. The most amazing thing about Uncle Steven is, he doesn’t let the constraints of his environment limit his role in the lives of his nieces and nephew. Yes, I talk about Uncle Steven in between visits, and yes, I show the kids pictures of him. But I feel they remember him because of the times they have spent together. For a full three hours, he is so attentive, compassionate, playful, and in-tune to their needs.
Every time we go to visit (and there can be months in-between) he and my son Walker pick up right where they left off. Walker gets so excited to go to Uncle Steven’s house and play with all his toys. After our last visit, when we were saying our goodbye’s, Walker said to him, “Uncle Steven come with?” I know the feeling Walker, momma wants Uncle Steven to come with, too.
It is so heartwarming to sit back and watch how he can so intuitively relate to our children. I think this is partially because he is just a big kid himself. Also, I think it has a lot to do with the love and guidance he wished he had received as a young boy. He feels it so deeply and has meditated on how and why he is in prison that he just gets “it”. “It” being that children need love, guidance and discipline, not punishment and ridicule.
He is able to curb a tantrum and still craftfully get the kids to comply with a request that they initially have strongly protested. For example, Walker needed to wash his hands but did not want to. Uncle Steven took Walker over to the drinking fountain and showed him how cool it was that the water could shoot out of the spicket. Before you knew it, they were playing in it and then Uncle Steven asked if he would wash his hands, and he did…with a smile. 🙂 He used his compassion and understanding to guide his actions. The list goes on of those types of examples. He is truly a role model and a gift to me.
He and his fiancé, Suzie, have talked about having children of their own. This could be a very controversial decision…not could be, it is. I have gone back and forth on how I feel about it. On one hand, you may think a child needs their parent day-in and day-out. You may think a child needs Daddy to go to ALL their baseball games, wrestling matches, parent-teacher conferences, dance recitals, etc. You may think that a child needs their parents to tuck them in at night, throw a baseball with them in the back yard and show them the wonders of the world. This is true, no doubt…my question is, what child really has this luxury?
Most parents work full-time jobs, have other obligations, go out on deployment for months on end, or travel for work. Some children even live in single parent households, have an absent parent (whether they live in the house or not) or even worse, have abusive parents. My point is, ideal parenting isn’t always the reality of parenting. At the end of the day (and on the other hand) what children need are loving, compassionate, guiding and nurturing parents. They need parents who will teach them how to be humble, grounded and good-hearted people.
Without a doubt, I know Steven can be this parent to a child, despite the confines of prison. He shows it every time he visits with our kids. Imagine this…his child would get their Daddy’s undivided attention 3 days a week for 8 straight hours…that’s 24 solid hours. Once every 6 weeks or so, they would get to have slumber parties with Daddy for 48 straight hours. During this time they could snuggle, cook, play catch, watch movies and eat popcorn. He could tuck them in at night physically. On the nights he wasn’t there, he could call them and do it over the phone. They now have email access and the ability to receive videos. Soon, there will be virtual visiting capabilities (much like skype).
All this is great and would allow for, in some cases, more hands on parenting than some parents get in a “normal” situation. Most importantly, however, Steven’s child would see his father, a man, who loves and respects their mother with all of his heart. Because of how I see my brother interact with my children and the way he treats me and all the other women in his life, I have no doubt that any child who choses him as their Daddy would be blessed with a great Daddy.
I was sitting in the dayroom playing backgammon when the following words blaired over the PA system, “Will the following inmate report to visitation: Jennings 727504 H4.”
I looked up at my buddy and said, “That’s me!” Then I jumped up and hauled ass to my cell. I grabbed my toothbrush, applied toothpaste, and started to brush my teeth as I speed walked to the bathroom. My buddy yells up to me, “Who came to see you?” I didn’t look at him, I just hollered back, “I don’t know.”
I quickly brush my teeth and I’m gone.
I speed walk to the visiting center. My calves are burning. The visiting center is about 2 blocks from H4. If you look at the pic in my blog called “Prison Cancer Walk Promotes Violence”, you’ll see that H4 is the last unit in the background. It’s the farthest unit from visiting. SCCC is big.
As I’m in route, I’m wondering who came to see me. The only person who shows up unannounced is my sister Tabatha. So in my gut, I know it’s her.
I walk in the visiting room and look over the sea of people. Before I can locate my table I hear “Uncle Steven, Uncle Steven!” It’s my niece Austyn and she’s running towards me. She jumps up on me and I catch her in a big hug. Then I spin around a few times as I growl against her neck. She’s laughing hard and I’m lost in the moment. I kiss her all over her cheek in a theatrical manner as I say, “Mwah Mwah Mwah Mwah.”
After this amazing greeting, I look over and see Tabatha holding Hudsyn. They’re both watching us with big smiles on their faces. As I get closer, Tabatha says to Hudsyn, “Look, it’s Uncle Steven…can you say hi?” Hudsyn is shy. She turns her face and burries it in Tabs shoulder. She doesn’t know me. I give my sister a big hug and say, “I love you.” She says it back. Hudsyn see’s all of this. She gradually warms up to me.
Before long, I’m spinning her around and tossing her in the air. She loves it. I love it more.
Austyn and I make our famous Ice Cream Cake. Its an ice cream sandwich on top of a vending machine pastry. We put it in the microwave for 45 seconds then top it off with sour patch kids. Austyns choice. And I love it! We feed each other. I give out big emphatic over-exaggerated MMMMMMM’s with every bite. Austyn giggles. Hudsyn wants some too. So she climbs up in the chair next to me. I feed her. Its awesome. I absolutely LOVE these moments.
After ice cream cake, its time to play on the mats. I pick the girls up and spin them around. Its so easy to make them laugh. We do summersaults. I stand on my head. Austyn stands on her head. I help Hudsyn stand on her head. We all clap…she did it!
They announce “photo time.” We all go get our picture taken. They turn out GREAT! Look how beautiful my family is. I’m a lucky man.
Three hours pass and its time to go. Austyn won’t let go of me. Sometimes she cries. But not this time. Tabatha finally gets her to let go of me. We all hug and kiss goodbye. My heart is breaking. I know it’ll be several months before I see them again. But I can wait. Anticipation will only sweeten the moments when we’re all together again.
Thank you to my entire family for all your love & support.
I love you.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my beautiful family for all their love and support. THANK YOU! Nothing brings me more joy than spending time with my family.
Before I came to prison, I completely took them for granted. I would’ve rather “kicked it” with my so called friends than spend some quality time with the people who love me unconditionally. And when I was around my family, I’d argue and fight over things that didn’t even matter.
Now, reflecting back on my past makes me love and cherish them even more today. I recognize the sacrifices and effort that it takes them to come visit me. I am so appreciative.
My siblings are now having babies of their own. When I held my niece Hudsyn for the first time, I felt something that I’ve never felt before. It’s hard to describe. But the situation is easy to see…I went from years of living around convicts and maintaining a hard image, to 3 hours of holding a soft, delicate, innocent, beautiful infant.
The emotional transition was too powerful to ignore. Living inside these walls does not provide opportunities to feel what I felt. True love. A love that’s pure. Love straight from the heart and soul. This one visit brought so much clarity to my life. It opened up a part of me that I never want to shut down.
But then the visit was over and I had to return back inside prison. The effects of that visit lingered. I continued to ignite my feelings by looking at these photos and reflecting back to that moment of pure joy.
But as the days went by, that strong feeling of love got weaker. No matter what I did, I couldn’t bring back that powerful feeling that I had experienced when I held Hudsyn in my arms. My love grew stronger. My desire to love grew stronger. My desire to feel love grew stronger.
Then it happened again. My baby sister Alana, who was only 14 years old when I came to prison, had her first child. She named him Walker Dale. My middle name is Dale. What an honor!
When I held Walker for the first time, it was all I could do to keep it together and not break down and cry.
I was living in the moment and enjoying the love of my family. When they leave, I miss them so much. I keep them in my heart and allow them to inspire me to be the best man I can be.
All I want to do is make my family proud. Everyday I strive for redemption as I work hard towards my goals. My family keeps me strong and focused. Never again will I let them down. Life is too short for anything but love & family.
My brother Danny has given me a beautiful niece named Austyn. I first met her when she was 5 years old. I love her dearly with all my heart. Thank you mom for bringing her up to see me. We always have sooo much fun.
Nothing brings me more comfort & joy than the love of my family. They are my inspiration.
I love you all & I miss you daily.