In the end, it's about the child


October 21, 2007

Dear David: I spoke to Tracey the other day. You know Tracey. She's the mother of your daughter, and the woman who probably would have married you, if you hadn't made so many bad choices over the last decade and spent so much time in prison.

How is prison, anyway? I hear you're back inside one.

I assume you'll read this today or one day this week, and maybe you and the other guys in Maryland's correctional facilities will take some time to reflect on what Tracey has to say. I'm not revealing your full name because, while I have Tracey's permission, I don't have yours, and because, in many respects it doesn't matter. Tracey speaks for a lot of women who have grown angry and frustrated with men like you, who father children then return to the thug life and never see their kids, never build a family, never take responsibility.

Tracey is a 40-year-old Baltimore schoolteacher. She strikes me as a smart woman, and honest. She's raising a well-mannered 9-year-old daughter on her own, paying the mortgage on a house, trying to do all the right things.

As together as Tracey sounds, I had to ask why she got involved with you in the first place.

Once upon a time, she says, she saw you as her husband. That was back in the mid-1990s.

The David she met back then was not the David you ultimately became. You had a job at a motel back then, she says, and you went to church and recited Scripture. For a time, you managed to stay away from the street and criminality.

But then you went on a long slide - arrest and incarceration, drug selling and drug using; you got into cocaine. (You actually referred to yourself once as a "Christian thug," Tracey says.) You made the worst possible choices when it came to friends. ("He was like a magnet for them," she says.) You had rages. You hit Tracey once.

And yet, imagine this: She still holds out hope that one day, way down the road, you might have a healthy relationship with your daughter. That's why Tracey contacted me. She doesn't want your daughter growing up resenting you - maybe even hating you.

This is all about the little girl, as it should be.

"When all is said and done, the black child is our future," Bill Cosby writes in Come On People, his new book, with Alvin F. Poussaint. "It's time for us men to think of the future, to straighten out our acts, to say to ourselves, I am more interested in raising my child than any other issue I had before. I'm going to behave or get help, but it's about the child. No matter how useless or hopeless a father may think he is, his role is simply to be there. If he makes that commitment, he is a much better man than he thought he was."

I spoke to Tracey about all this on Friday, after receiving an e-mail from her that asked for help for "my family."

"We have all reached the point where we won't help him," Tracey wrote about you, "because it feels like we are enabling [David] to continue making poor choices. ...

"David stayed away from drugs and the thug life for a while, but when he tried unsuccessfully for about two years to be gainfully employed, he went right back to the life we so desperately tried to keep him away from. I tried to be supportive of his struggle - facing the optimism about the future and the dejection that came once prospective employers did a background check and found out about his criminal history.

"Last year, it became too much for me to bear, especially since I did not want our daughter to think that the things she saw and heard him do to me and our family were the right things.

"He is one of the men for whom the streets seem to call in a way that family and good cannot. Once he gets caught, he always knows that whatever he did was wrong. But he is long past the age where he should have known it before he did it.

"He is very skilled [in property maintenance] but has had a lot of trouble resisting the streets of Baltimore.

"I am trying to find something that may help him become more productive and responsible. More importantly, I am trying to find a way to help him become a better father for his daughter so that my child does not continue to be a statistic - another black child whose dad is institutionalized and not supportive."

Imagine that, David. This woman still cares about you, still holds out hope you can be a good father to your daughter.

She says you get out of prison next month. Between now and then, think about this, get your head together, summon the guts to go straight again and be a man and not a thug. Let's give the job hunt another try. Remember, it's not about you. It's about the little girl.

Ex-offenders - adult or juvenile - who want help finding employment or job training can call columnist Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166 to request an information packet. If leaving a voice message, please provide a telephone number and mailing address.

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