OP-ED: The Most Difficult Part of Being in Prison is Separation from Family

By Troy Williams

The most difficult part about doing time in prison is not living in a 4-foot-by-9-foot cage. It’s not having to live in that cage with another man. It’s not the constant threat of prison riots or interaction with a prison guard who believes it’s his duty to enforce punishment.

The most difficult part about doing time in prison is being unable to have meaningful contact with your family.

In the article, “Without Family Visits and Phone Calls, the Soul, Heart, Mind And Spirit Deteriorates,” Richard Johnson wrote, “When someone goes to prison and is isolated from family and friends, the alienation can be extremely devastating on a number of fronts.”

I agree.

Two months ago, I paroled from San Quentin State Prison after serving 18 years of a life sentence. If it weren’t for the unconditional love and support of family, what I chose to do with my time in prison would have been very different.

It was through letters and Sunday morning phone calls that my elderly mother encouraged her grown son to be a better man. It was her unwavering support after everyone else had given up that gave me the strength to look deep inside.

It was the letters and visits from a child who begged to know, year after year, when her daddy was coming home that gave me the will to change.

My oldest daughter was eight years old when I began my sentence. She would write me discussing “the-world-is-coming-to-an-end” situations that children go through. By the time I received her letters (which in most cases took up to 30 days) and wrote her back, the problem was long over.

Ultimately, she was left having to blindly figure her way through life. She didn’t know that her father wasn’t ignoring her need for connection; he just wasn’t receiving her mail in a timely fashion.

I couldn’t just pick up the phone and call, and my child’s caregiver couldn’t afford transportation to travel 600 miles every weekend to visit.

In fact, if it wasn’t for programs like Get On The Bus, my child would not have been able to see me the last eight years of my incarceration nor would she have been able to introduce her son to his grandfather. Get On The Bus is a non-profit organization that provides transportation, free of charge, for children and their caregivers to prisons throughout the state of California.

On one hand, I am fully aware that, ultimately, I must bear responsibility because it was my actions that took me away from my children in the first place.

On the other hand, society also has an obligation to balance punishment for a crime with the benefit of a father being in his child’s life.

The children commit no crime, they long for the comfort of their father, and few care enough to show them compassion. Then society wonders why 70 percent of children with parents in prison end up incarcerated.