When I was captured my daughter was two months in the womb. Her mother and I were both members of the Black Panther Party, the political party whose legacy, beyond the media-driven narrative of militancy, is responsible for today’s free breakfast program for children, Sickle Cell Anemia Research, Free Community Health Clinics, Bus Program for Families to Prison, to name a few of the programs the BPP initiated.
Knowing I would not soon be released from prison, I told my daughter’s mother, “go and make a living for yourself, but whatever you do—that baby you are carrying is my child and I intend to part of her life.” She stuck around for 10 years before she decided to get married and start another family. By that time, my daughter knew me as Daddy, we had a solid bond, although she only knew me from prison visits. She knew I bought her first bicycle, made sure she had gifts or money each birthday and would be there for her no matter my circumstances surviving in prison.
By the time she turned 11 years old, she began to act out, not getting along with her step-father; from time to time she lived with either of my sisters or brother. You can imagine my anguish trying to convince my siblings to take in my daughter when they had their own children to raise. Added to that drama, each of my siblings had their own issues with me, their big brother being in prison during their formative years growing up and my not being there for them. This is especially true when any of them got into a scrape with the neighborhood bully, they being unable to threaten, “I’m going to get my big brother” or situations where my sisters needed my advice dealing with unwanted suitors. Yes, prior to my capture, I had to stop a couple of young dudes because of their disrespect toward either of my sisters.
When my daughter was 16 years old, she was completely out of control. She lived in California, where I was originally captured in 1971, so I arranged for her to spend the summer in New York City, staying with Safiya Bukhari, a former BPP member and close friend. During the summer, she got a summer job and every weekend friends would bring her to Greenhaven to visit. I remember we had a family day picnic, and Yuri Kochiyama, Nandi Majid and Naomi Burns brought her for the event. While we were standing in line to have lunch, a young prisoner who I knew started talking to her. After a few words between them, I walked away, standing at a distance and watching them converse. After a few minutes they ended the conversation, and she walked to me, asking “Why did you leave me with that guy?” I responded, “Hey, you’re 16 years old, I know you know how to handle yourself, and I have confidence you will make the right decisions.” She gave me a quizzical smile, appreciative of the fact I recognized her maturing into a young woman.
When we returned to the table with my friends, telling them about the encounter, they started teasing me about how I’d soon be an “ole grandfather”—I did not like that kind of talk at all! Little did I know what they all knew and my daughter did not inform me—she was already pregnant. When I did find out, I was livid! Weeks later she aborted the pregnancy, then the following year got pregnant again, bearing a little girl. My daughter went on to finish high school living with her baby daddy’s family, and then went to find work.
By the time my granddaughter was 11 years old, in 2000, I had an interview with Essence Magazine for a feature arranged for me by poet, author and activist Asha Bandele, titled “Daddy Says”. The article talked about incarcerated fathers maintaining relationships with their children, with a nice photo of myself, daughter and granddaughter taken at Eastern (Napanoch).
It’s now 2017; my daughter is married with her own home and herself a grandmother. At 45 years, she still calls herself “Daddy’s girl.” My grandson will soon be playing for the “Bulldogs” and my great-granddaughter is writing me telling of her problems in elementary school.
Being an incarcerated father is difficult, but we have to put in the work; in the end, it is rewarded by the legacy you leave behind. Admittedly, it is also painful, especially after 9 parole hearings with you telling your family members—“I’ll make it at the next parole hearing.” It has come to the point where my daughter tells me to stop telling her that. She no longer believes the parole system is fair and impartial. She says “JUST — COME HOME!”
Anthony Bottom #77A4283
P.O. Box 700
Wallkill, NY 12589-0700