I first wrote about a young man named Darius in a post titled “The Orphans of the Mass Incarceration Epidemic” in April 2011. Here’s how I introduced him:
I received an e-mail from a young man who was a stranger to me about a month ago. I haven’t written about it until today because I have been trying to address some issues that arose from the communication.
The young man is 14 years old and he came across this blog by doing a Google search about boys with incarcerated fathers. He wrote to tell me his story. I have his permission to share some of it with you. I promised that I wouldn’t quote directly from the first e-mail that I received from him. I want to honor the trust that he has bestowed. I will call him Darius.
So Darius found me through the internet using a computer at his public library. When he reached out to me, he was a freshman in high school and he was struggling. Since his first email, in March 2011, we’ve become good friends. Last weekend, Darius called to tell me that his father will be released from prison in February.
In my first post, I explained Darius’s reason(s) for writing to me:
Darius reached out to me because he wanted to let me know that he feels alone even though his grandmother is doing her best by him. He wanted me to know that he never talks to any of his friends about his father. He doesn’t talk to anyone about his father. He is unable to visit his father regularly because he is incarcerated over 100 miles from where Darius lives. His grandmother has no means of transportation. Even if she did, she works as a nurse’s aide and has very inflexible hours. Darius confided in me that he is struggling a great deal right now. He wrote that he feels like he might “explode.” He doesn’t understand why he feels so angry all of the time. He said that he doesn’t want to cause any “trouble” for his grandmother. I can understand that.
I have a friend, Maurice, who lives in the same city as Darius. Mo stepped up to become a friend and mentor to him. Over the years, I’ve provided a couple of updates about Darius like when he was accepted into a technology apprenticeship program in 2011 or when he graduated from 10th grade (with honors) in 2012.
Darius is a senior in high school now. He has applied (with help from Mo) to several colleges. He is going to be an engineer. As I type the words, I am bursting with pride, gratitude and most especially with love. It’s been nearly 3 years since Darius first reached out to me, a stranger. We have yet to meet in person. Our communication has been online and by phone. But as I watch from a distance, I am in awe of the man that Darius is becoming. I hope that he knows this.
When we spoke last weekend, I heard a mix of anticipation and apprehension in Darius’s voice as he shared the news about his father’s release. He feels guilty for his conflicted emotions. “Shouldn’t I be 100% happy, MK?” he asked. My response was no. I fully understand his apprehension after all he was 10 years old when his father was locked up and he will be 18 in June. His father’s drug addiction was the driving force of his young life. Why wouldn’t he be worried about what might happen when his dad returns to the same troubled neighborhood?
And Darius is not the same person that he was at 10 years old. I imagine that his father has changed too in almost 8 years behind bars. It’s hard to know how they will get along. Darius also worries about leaving his grandmother behind when he goes to college. How will she adapt to her son’s return from prison? he wonders. These questions are unresolved and it creates uncertainty which breeds anxiety. This is the messiness of incarceration that plays out mostly out of view.
I’ve been thinking about chance and fate. That a 14 year old would use the internet to reach out for support and find it, feels miraculous to me. I am so thankful that the stars aligned so that Mo could step into his role as Darius’s friend, mentor, cheerleader and surrogate father. Last Father’s Day, Darius gave Mo a card. I don’t know what it said but Mo was overwhelmed. We need each other so much. I am reminded of this truth daily.
This is a love letter of sorts. A long time ago, I fell in love with a man who has stayed dear to me even though we are no longer in love. And to see this man, who has no biological children, father a stranger’s child brings tears. This is a love letter for the black men who step up and who are brave enough to be vulnerable in a society that punishes this. This is a love letter to a young man who is determined to earn enough money to move his grandmother out of their neighborhood and who stepped into the void to reach out for help when he was only just a boy. This is my love letter to Darius and to Mo. Thank you both for letting me hold on to the dream of happy endings.