A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.
My wish as a father is to live a fulfilled life filled with meaningful work, powerful relationships, and to leave a legacy that will take my son places that I have never been. The week of October 22, 2015 that wish came true.
Through this amazing partnership that I and my fellow incarcerated brothers have with the forward-thinking and courageous organization Voices for Racial Justice, me and my brothers’ voices were able to reach Congress. With help from Vina Kay, we organized a letter-writing campaign to the FCC asking for a cap on the cost of prison and county jail phone calls.
When I set out to do this work, my only intention was to join hands and lend my voice to all of the other leaders from our communities nationwide who have been fighting for prison phone justice.
My personal experience with this is that I have a 12-year-old son, also named Kevin, and I have been in prison for the last 11 years. If it was not for the time that we spend on the phone, I would not know him. I had no idea that this issue of disconnect between me and my son would bring us closer together.
I was presented with a great opportunity to do a phone interview with Steven Renderos from the Center for Media Justice, to tell my story of my struggle trying to stay connected to my family without putting them in debt from having to pay for my phone calls. The interview with my son and me was played for the FCC Commissioners and members of Congress.
The power of the truth moved the people in the room so much that the following week the Center for Media Justice invited my son to Washington D.C. to attend the FCC ruling on implementing a cap for prison phone rates, which was approved.
This was an amazing experience for my son and for me. My eyes have been incarcerated since I was 18, and I have not seen much of the world. It was a gift that, because of some of my efforts, my son’s eyes have seen things that I have never seen.
During my son’s stay in D.C., I was able to phone in and speak with U.S. Representative Keith Ellison. I told him my story of making a mistake at 18 and how I’ve spent the last 11 years paying my debt to society and trying to make amends.
Congressman Ellison went on to say that there is a place for me in the community, and when I get home I must contribute. His words of encouragement left me feeling affirmed and proud to be from such a loving and forgiving community. Congressman Ellison even offered my son a job in a couple of years.
After all the interviews and meetings, my son spent his last day in D.C. sightseeing with his mom and Vina Kay (who came to D.C. from New York to be there with my son). I called him and I heard the excitement in his voice from seeing things he has never seen before. At that moment, what I felt reminded me of a James Baldwin quote: “My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”
Thanks to my dear friend Vina Kay and the entire Voices for Racial Justice family for being my BRIDGE back to my community. Thanks to Dr. Artika Tyner for your brave and tireless commitment to prison phone justice. Special thanks to Steven Renderos and the Center for Media Justice for providing me and my son the opportunity. You guys are amazing and I am eternally grateful.
Yes, progress was made, but there is still so much work to be done. Mass incarceration still has our communities depleted of husbands and fathers. Stay tuned for our 2016 Agenda for Prison Reform.
Kevin Reese is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to email@example.com. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.