Recently reunited with his 10-year-old daughter, Demetrius Buckley struggles to push past the barriers of a maximum security prison to be present for his curious, whip-smart little girl.
Ever since I reconnected with my 10-year-old daughter in January, I’ve been tussling with hard questions about being a father. I wonder if it’s possible to be a reliable parent behind the wall of a Level 5 maximum security facility.
Staying in contact is one of the biggest challenges. At Baraga Correctional Facility in Michigan — where I am serving 20 years — 40 men have one hour to use six phones. At any time, six phones can become four because two of them are often broken. Each conversation has a 15-minute limit that begins as soon as someone accepts the call.
The JPay email kiosk system is equally frustrating. To get access, 40 of us have to leave our cells one at a time, go to a small room and plug up our small tablets. We download and send messages — unless the JPay is broken that day.
I don’t fully know why I fell out of touch with my daughter’s mother — and my daughter — for six years. I called their number one day, and it was out of service. I started writing to them twice a month but got no response. So I limited my letters to holidays and birthdays, but still didn’t hear back. Eventually, I learned through a friend that my daughter’s mother had had more children. Maybe she was too busy to maintain a connection with me, too busy living her best life.
When I heard my daughter's grandparents were moving away from the last address I had that was connected to her, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make contact. Somehow, their presence had made me believe that if I was quiet enough for long enough, my daughter would ask them about me. But she didn’t, and their move prompted me to get her mother’s number from a friend.
Once I got the number, it took me a couple days to secure a phone. I had butterflies in my stomach; their wings beat against the biscuits and gravy I had eaten for breakfast. As I dialed, I wondered if my daughter would curse at me or if she would talk to me at all.
“Hey,” her mother answered.
“You good though?"
“I'm doing OK.”
I read between the lines. What she was actually saying was, I have a family now. I’ve been living without you. Have you grown? So I asked her to put my daughter on the phone. I heard her breathing, but she didn’t speak.
“Hello?” I called out.
I asked her if she knew who I was, and she blessed me with, “Yeah. It’s my daddy.”