"From as early as I can remember I’ve been living my life through the stories of what others would say about him."


Du'Ron Fisher

fisherCurrently enrolled at West Los Angeles College, Du’Ron Fisher aspires to a career (or careers) that involves the arts: music, dancing, words. In this essay, he tells us what the last 21 years of his life have been like, growing up without his father Ronald Fisher, who has been incarcerated since Du’Ron was two years old.

Other Work:

My Father's Story

I would like to start off this paper with a question. Do you remember what your first memory was? It’s a simple question, but when you think about it, this question might be difficult for you to answer when you’ve had so many memories over your lifetime. Well, I remember my first memory like it was just yesterday. I was about two years old, and I woke up early one morning in a room that seemed foreign to me. I knew that this was where I was supposed to be, but my two-year-old brain didn’t know exactly where I was. I walked into my parents’ bedroom, and I saw my mom and dad lying in bed together asleep; my mother’s body was turned toward me, and my father was lying with a pillow over his head like he was trying to drown out noise. I remember standing in the doorway for a moment in silence, gassing at them while they slept in silence. This memory is so important to me because not only was this the only time I can remember seeing my mother and father together, but also it is the only time I can remember seeing my father outside of prison walls.

For the past 21 years my father has been in prison. In 1991 he was convicted of Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine Base/Crack Cocaine. All my life I have only been able to see my dad while visiting him in prison. There are days when I can’t help but worry about my father’s safety and mental stability. Over my lifetime I have always felt this sense of sadness and loneliness. I never knew why I was feeling this way, and what was causing me to feel this sense of grief. As I started to progress in life, into my early 20’s, I started to recognized that I was missing the relationship and connection of a father figure.

This past fall semester I took an English class so that I could transfer to a four-year university. I was expecting to write just a couple of papers, and get my grade and go, but as the semester progressed I started to explore my writing abilities with the help of my professor, who asked me to write about my life as a child with a parent serving time in prison, how the incarceration of my father has affected me, and what advice I can give to a young child who will have to overcome some of the same obstacles that I’ve faced in my lifetime. Let me do all these things, but first, let me tell you about my father.

My father was raised by a single mother who had five sons and one daughter. All of the children had different fathers except two of them, and my dad was the second to youngest child. From what I understand about my father’s childhood, it wasn’t a fairytale growing up in his mother’s household. Growing up, my father rarely got a chance to see his father, and he never got to experience the father/son connection since he did not live in the same state as his father. My grandmother, my father’s mother, moved all of her children from Louisiana to California, and in California, she held multiple jobs to put a roof over her children’s head. However, she was an absentee mother who never took time to do those motherly duties that most women who have children do. Their house was not always the cleanest house to visit, and her kids ran the streets freely since she was never there, because she was focused on work and having relationships. Eventually most of her sons began to hustle in the streets of Los Angeles.

As a young man, my father met his first baby’s mother, and the two began to hustle together by engaging in petty theft and selling drugs. In the midst of their tumultuous relationship, he began to date another woman who would have his second child, and who was aware of his lifestyle. After conceiving another child with this woman, my father met my mother through a mutual friend who set them up on a blind date while they were both visiting Las Vegas, where some of my mother’s relatives live. After dating for almost two years, my parents conceived me, and about a year later the two decided to get married in a ceremony in Las Vegas, the city where they first met. Eventually my father had five kids in all. Sometimes I sit back and think about whether some of the choices that my father made were because he did come from a stable household, and he did not have a tangible relationship with his own father.

All my life all I’ve heard were stories about “how great your father was,” and “he had so more money, clothes, and cars than you can imagine.” From as early as I can remember I’ve been living my life through the stories of what others would say about him. I have old photos of him with celebrities such as Don King, Mike Tyson, Eric B and Rakim. I also have photos of him and his friends with big gold chains, rings, and Mercedes Benzes that filled the parking lots of a couple of businesses that he owned. In most of these photos I see people that I don’t even know to this day; I see people with him at clubs, posing in front of Rolls Royces and yachts, and flashing material possessions. But if you ask me who these people are and where are they now, I will tell you that I have no clue who they are and where they come from. When my father was on top of the world he had countless “friends,” and I use the word loosely, because the same people he was calling his “friends” either disappeared or were testifying against him to receive a more lenient sentence when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) came after my father in 1991.

My father led a precarious existence, and the life he was leading before 1991 was becoming a threat to my life when I was a young child. One story that I remember in particular is about how one of my father’s rival gang affiliations in Texas was upset with my father over some sort of transaction, so this gang did a drive by on the house where my family was living. This gang shot the whole front side of the house severely. I was still an infant at the time, and my bedroom was in the front of the house where the most damage was caused, and if I would have been in my room at the time I would have been dead, all because of the street life.

There are so many stories about my father that I could share, that have been passed down to me over the years, but that would involve my having to write a book just to get all of these events on paper. Therefore, let’s focus on the most important story about my father: his incarceration. My father was eventually sentenced to life in prison in a trial based on the testimony of one of his “friends,” who was hustling in the streets just like my father, but the only difference between this person and my father is that my father is serving his time in prison, while this person and people like him are living their lives freely. I didn’t grow up in the street and never got into the drug game, but even I know that there is a code to street life that requires no snitching, and these people broke the code, but does that make them smarter than my father who refused to rat out his friends? I guess the answer is yes, since my father is still in prison.

Once my father was sentenced to life in prison, things changed a lot for my mother and me. Before my father went to prison, my mother did clerical jobs that helped with my father’s various business ventures, and accomplished a lot for someone who had a child at such a young age, and was still in the theoretical sense a child herself. She showed me over time just how smart and how driven she was to succeed in life. My mother went to real estate school, tried college, and received a medical assistant certificate before the age of 25. Before my father went to prison, we had everything we could ever want. Any car she asked for she received, any new purse, or shoes she wanted my dad provided. But when my father left, the life that she was used to completely changed and became far more difficult than she could have ever imagined. My mother and I never had an in-depth conversation about what it was like to have her life turned upside down, but I can only image how painful it was to watch the only person that you have ever called your husband be put behind bars for life because of some bad decision that he made.

I have one more childhood memory that I would like to share. It is of going into a courtroom and seeing my father in front of a judge and a jury. I remember the look on my mother’s and father’s faces that told a thousand stories, and I remember the color of the wood that made up the benches and stands that surrounded us as we sat and waited for the verdict that would dictate the next couple of decades of our lives. But back to my mother’s story now.

Once my father was gone, my mother started to work various jobs, which gave us the opportunity to move out of Texas. When I was four, and she was working for an apartment complex, my mom was offered a job in Washington D.C. While living in D.C., she took me to see Howard University, historical monuments, and New York City. However, in D.C., my mother would have to go to work, and although she took me to work with her sometimes, I became a latchkey kid early on. She taught me how to fix my cereal and lunch for the day, since she couldn’t afford a babysitter at the time, and she had no family or friends in the area to help her while she was at work. By myself all day in the apartment, I would play with my toys and watch TV. In the short time that we stayed in D.C., I remember being introduced to MTV, which showed music videos by Michael Jackson and Madonna. I was also introduced to Hip Hop at the time and remembered my favorite song to be “Slam” by the rap group ONYX. Was this the right thing for a four-year-old? Logic would tell us no, but my mother went into her marriage to my father not expecting to raise a child on her own, but this was the hand that she was dealt, and this was the choice that she made.

Eventually my mom and I moved back to Texas where life would change drastically for me at the age of six, when my mom asked me if I was okay with her and my dad getting a divorce. She had met someone new and was ready to move on with her life. She realized that my father was not getting released from prison any time soon. I remember saying that I was okay with the decision. For the longest time I held the burden that it was my fault that my parents were getting a divorce, simply because I said yes, when it was never my fault to begin with. The consequences of my father’s incarceration are what led to the divorce in the first place.

After divorcing my father, my mother began to date a new guy, whom I thought was okay. Having a male figure in the house was something that I was not used to, however. I was skeptical from the start, but I saw that my mom was happy, and I eventually learned to accept the new changes in my life. With new changes came new cars and clothes, and money that made life easier for us. With a dual income in the house, I was able to spend more time with my mother, and I didn’t have to ask for much since everything I asked for I received. Over the next couple of months I learned that my mom’s new fiancé was involved in the life that my dad once lived, and before I knew it, I was a nine-year-old child with two parents in prison. My mother had got caught up in the life that her fiancé was living.

After my mother’s imprisonment, my grandparents tried to raise me, but as much as I loved them, they were not the ideal guardians for a child like me—one who would fight constantly. They were retired, and they knew that living with them wasn’t the best environment for me to grow up in. For this reason, I would often be tethered between two of my aunts. However, the first aunt had four children of her own, and worked hard to provide for her children, but was not financially able to take care of a fifth child. My other aunt, who was just released from jail, was trying to get her life in order, and raising two kids of her own. My future was uncertain since no one knew how long my mother would be in prison.

For a while my mother’s imprisonment was kept a secret from me, but I eventually found out, and I started to endure the painful realities of life. As a child, a lot of things are kept secret from you, sometimes to shield you from the truth, which can be painful to know. However, at nine years old, I knew enough of what was going on, and my mother’s imprisonment was a crisis for me, one that changed my life. It made me turn to music, which was and continues to be a great consolation in my life. My mother went to prison around the time of my birthday, and while she was in prison, the one thing I asked for was a boom box so that I could listen to music. Music became my best friend, an escape from all of the chaos that was happening in my life.

While my mother was in prison, my dad’s mother offered to take me to California with her since she had just received word that some of our family needed help. A gang member had killed her oldest son; he thought that the color of my uncle’s truck meant that he was a rival gang member. While living with my grandmother, I was exposed to the big city of Los Angeles, and I loved living in Los Angeles. There, I attended three different math/science magnet schools; at one, Paul Revere Magnet, I excelled at music and dance. But the thought of where my parents were and what I should do was always in the back of my mind. I became depressed, and longed for to see my parents again. My father was able to move to a penitentiary closer to me, by my grandmother’s residence, so I was able to visit him often throughout the two years I was living in Los Angeles. Eventually, as time went on, I started to develop a relationship with my father, and was able to get a sense of who he was. During the visits to the prison where he was, I was able to physically touch him, talk to him, and have a conversation with him about the goals that I had for myself in the future. We would talk about the Bible, Jesus Christ, and how once he was released from prison, he wanted to become an evangelist who would tell his story about what he has learned from his time in solitude. I would tell him about my aspirations to be a singer/songwriter, and how obsessed I was with pop music. Over time he would send me newspaper articles about Master P and Lil’ Romeo; they were a father-son duo that worked together on music, which is something that he wanted for us.

I still, to this day, have all of the documents that he’s sent me encouraging me to start my own record company, as well as the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad that he sent to me so that I could learn how to invest wisely and save my money. I don’t think he knows how important this was for me to receive these things from him. At times I would not know what to think about his belief in me and shy away from talking about my aspirations because I wasn’t accustomed to hearing that someone believed in me the way he did. Now I know that he only wants the best for me, and the sooner that I succeed, the sooner I can pay for a lawyer to get him out of prison. But back to my story.

When I was 11, my mother was released from prison, and I was able to move back with her. My mother met a new guy who would eventually become her husband, and they had my little sister when I was 13. However, as a teenager, I had built up so much anger against my mother, and felt so much angst, that we would get into arguments, and I would do things just to upset her. I wanted her to feel the same pain that I felt, which was a negative way for me to think, but was the reality of the way that I felt. I felt that she never explained to me why she was absent for those two years she was in prison, and the tension began to brew between my stepfather and her one side, and me on the other. At the time I didn’t appreciate my stepfather; he tried taking me under his wing and showing me how to do certain things that I never learned since my father had been absent in my life for so long. I was reluctant to get to close to him since all of the men I had ever known eventually left. I remember my mother and stepfather constantly asking what was wrong with me, and why I looked so sad all the time, but I would always say nothing was wrong with me, when there was always something frustrating me and making feel angry.

Sad, angry and depressed, I started to get into physical fights in middle school and high school, which led to my being expelled and put into alternative schools, where I was forced to sit in seclusion for eight hours a day. The alternative school would only allow us to wear white shirts tucked in to blue jeans, the students were forced to walk in single-file lines, eat at a table by themselves during lunch, and had to ask permission to go to the bathroom. In the alternative school that I went to, the students were treated like young prisoners in training. I hated every moment of it, but I found peace of mind in the art class that we were allowed to take two days out of the week, and eventually realized that a life of violence was not the life that I wanted to live. I had built up so much angst against my family and peers that fighting became something that was normal, but I knew I had to change. I was missing my father and I wanted him to be free with me, but I knew that this was not likely to happen anytime soon, so this gave me a cynical attitude that manifested itself in my mind day to day.

Having my father in prison affected not only my behavior, but also my consistency and pursuit of my goals. I give up easily when things become too difficult, and I don’t have much structure in my life. Over the years, I’ve had so many hobbies and activities that I’ve given up on, such as baseball, football, even my completion of college. However, I am a work-in-progress now, and since I’ve realized these things, I’m working hard to try to fix my iniquities. I feel that if my father hadn’t gone to prison, then I would be a totally different person, one who would have been more assertive, and wouldn’t have been afraid to fail.

Over the years I have made my own mistakes, and I have made some bad decisions that I used to regret. But now that I reflect on my life and the way it has progressed, I have come to accept my past because I realize that if I wouldn’t have made those mistakes, then I wouldn’t be the person that I am today: a person who wants to live a successful life.

I grew up with a father who was a big-shot drug dealer; everyone in town knew his name and praised him for his street credibility. There are rappers who have mentioned him in their songs, like Fort Worth rapper Twisted Black, who is now serving a life sentence in prison for the intent to distribute crack cocaine. I was close to following in my father’s footsteps. The thought of selling drugs just to get fast money crossed my mind more than once. What I’ve come to realize is that as hard as life is, getting caught up in the streets, and gang life, is not worth the consequences that one must endure: incarceration.

Unfortunately for my father, he was sentenced to prison in a post-NWA era whose mentality was “F**k the police”; it was an era when the government was trying to make an example of many young black men who were involved in the distribution of narcotics and had gang affiliations.

What would I tell a young child who is going through what I have been through? As cliché as it sounds, education is the key to success; the fast money that you receive is never worth serving time behind bars. As young adults, especially young black men and women, we should be intelligent enough to learn from our parents’ mistakes, whether crime-related or not. We must work hard and persevere in our efforts to be successful.

I have been working part-time jobs since I was 15, and now I am working at Sears as a mattress salesman. Every day I go into work miserable as hell because I totally hate my job and I think that selling mattresses for a living is probably the lamest thing on the planet. But I know that there is something more than this life that I lead today. That’s why I attend college and study hard to get the grades that will allow me to attend a historical University. I’ve also interned at 102.3 KJLH, and I’m training in dance at Lula Washington Dance Theatre. I also have hobbies, like playing piano, that keep my mind focused on the positive aspects of life. I’m composing my own music so that I can potentially help pay legal fees for my father, to gain his release from prison. I’m not saying that these are the things to do to make everyone happy, but I’m expressing what works for me after a lifetime of searching for my purpose in life.

Life is not easy, and nothing worth having is ever easily acquired, but I have been able to rise above what society has predicted for me and my future. I know that statistics predict that I should be behind bars, just like my father, but I always knew that I was better than what people predicted for me, and now I know what the meaning of life is, and now I have a purpose: to work to reform the U.S. penal system.

I understand that the choices that we make have repercussions, but I don’t believe that a life sentence is an appropriate sentence for people who have not committed murder or molested children. We all deserve a second chance in life, and my father has done his fair share of time, so please help me in spreading the word of my father’s story and other stories just like his..

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