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Growing up as the eldest daughter with an incarcerated father

I grew up as a daughter of a habitual offender. As the eldest sibling of 4, it was hard every single time to watch my father go in and out of prison from the day I was born until now; 35 years later. 

It affected me a lot having to spend weekends getting ready at 6am to drive to wherever he was sentenced. It felt like we drove for days. My father came from Cuba during El Mariel in the 1980’s which meant he was already limited with opportunities and employment coming here from another country. My mother was his complete opposite, fully American and did not speak a word of Spanish, but how my dad would always say

“There’s an understanding when there is love” . Their love would then place both of my parents as products of this broken incarceration system. It took so many years of bouncing around with different family members and a year in foster care for myself and my siblings to finally find a stable home with our grandfather. 

Since the age of 12, life seemed so dim and impossible to see the light with not having my mother or father around. My grandfather was literally a saint during those times, raising us 4 alone on little money and in a studio apartment in Little Havana, Miami, FL.

My grandfather kept his promise to my father and had us visit and write often. Still nothing could compare to the many missed birthdays and holidays a daughter craved to spend with her parents. Even when visiting, I couldn’t get close to my father and wasn’t allowed to sit next to him, only in front of him. Some visits were behind a glass window, those are the memories I can never forget. As I grew into a young woman who wanted to be accepted and loved, I noticed myself in a pattern of falling for men who also knew a life of being incarcerated. I became a teen mom but with all my will power, determination and unconditional love for my daughters I got through nursing school and became a nurse in 2014. Becoming a nurse was one of the greatest accomplishments for my family, it forever has changed our lives and the course of our future. Now I even have the opportunity of working in Miami’s toughest women’s and men’s detention centers. 2023 marks 3 years of my father being home and for the first time I feel like we are rebuilding that father-daughter bond that was once broken. My hopes in writing this is to tell the world that incarceration takes a huge toll on everyone in the family in a lot of different ways. 300 Letters gives hope to this process, so it won’t be as difficult to handle. 300 Letters reminds you that you aren’t alone in this journey. For those who need hope or just someone to listen, 300 Letters hears you.