by Crystal Hayes
Last week was Father’s Day and it explains why I had such a hard time sleeping all week. Of all the holidays, I have the most complicated relationship with Father’s Day. It’s a regular reminder of what was stolen from me. After 41 years it’s still hard. I cut my teeth and grew up behind prison walls and I am not alone. There are nearly 3 million children in the United States growing up with an incarcerated parent.
The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world with devastating consequences for the poor, and Black and Brown communities and their children. We incarcerate over 2 million people and many of them long-term due to overly harsh drug laws and rigid sentencing practices obsessed with locking people up for profit. There’s no way out of this without comprehensive prison reform policies.
I am glad to see that we’re talking about ending the war on drugs, but we must do more than rename it. We also need to expand the conversation about mass incarceration to include the truth about parole and life sentences. My father, Robert Seth Hayes, was sentenced to 25 years to life for his involvement with the Black Panther Party, but not life without parole. He was eligible for parole in 1995 but every two years for the past 18 years he’s denied release—despite an exemplary prison record—by the New York State Parole Board.