I want to show through this interview the effects incarceration has on families through the eyes of a child who lived it, over came it and has grown into a young adult. Shayla is my daughter, whom I have not seen since she was 18 months old, due to being imprisoned myself. She is 22 years old and the mother of my granddaughter, Aniha Lee.
Zach – Both your mother and I have been incarcerated for portions of your life. What were some of the hardships you were forced to overcome as a child?
Shayla – I’ve had to grow up not knowing who my father is. I’ve never gotten to see, hug, nor kiss the man who has helped create me. I’ve spent 18 years wondering who he is. Where he is at. How do I find him?
A lot of questions kept going through my head until I figured something out. I got in touch with a family member and she gave me an address to write him. It took me about a month or so to actually pick up a pen and paper to write a letter and send it.
I didn’t think he wanted anything to do with me. I sent out a letter, having doubts he wasn’t going to write me back. When I got a letter back from him, my heart melted. I started crying and freaking out, all at the same time not knowing what he wrote. If it was “please don’t contact me,” or if it was going to start a new chapter of getting to know my dad. It turned out to be a good letter, and we’ve been writing each other since.
Zach – How have these hardships affected your relationship with your mother and me?
Shayla – Looking back, I wish both of my parents would have made better choices. I’ve seen my mother in and out of prison. She’s been in my life, but more of a friend than a mother figure. She’s been locked up for about two years now on this go around. She gets out October 19th and will be placed in a halfway house.
I’m more than excited. Every girl needs their mother. I need mine more than ever right now. We’ve never had and eye-to-eye connection. We’ve never really have gotten along. We’ve tried and tried many times, but it seems to fail every time. Maybe this time will be different.
We (my brothers and little sister) have tried to stay in contact with each other, because we’re all we have. My older brother is incarcerated, as well.
Zach – What are some your accomplishments and future goals?
Shayla – With all the circumstances from growing up without both parents, due to incarceration, I have managed to graduate high school and receive my diploma. It took me a while to accomplish it, but I can say I did it.
At the age of 21, I got pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful little girl. We’ve named her Aniha Lee. She’s a blessing and the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Having my daughter without my parents was one of the hardest things I’ve had to experience. I had to have an emergency C-section. I was crying and screaming for my mom, but the only people I had with me were my boyfriend, Xavier, and little sister, Jordan. I was passing out and stopped breathing. I was scared.
Some of my goals are to work on getting my first car, then get a place to live to call mine. I also want to get stable. I’ve hit some rough bumps on the way, since giving birth. I wasn’t stable to raise a child and didn’t know even how to be a mother.
My daughter was taken away from me April 5, the day after my birthday. My background, probation, and more of the story caused Aniha to be taken away. Her father has her in his care at the moment, until I’m stable enough to get her back.
It’s rough trying to find a job, due to my background. It’s even harder not being able to have my daughter with me. I miss the cries, staying up day and night, the nasty diapers and making bottles. I miss holding her while she sleeps in my arms, watching her breathe.
Not having Aniha in my care has made me lose a little bit of motivation and hope. I have all the faith a person can have, but having my daughter was my motivation everyday. I’m lost without her.
I plan on getting stable and getting my daughter back. Not being able to get a job makes things hard, but I still plan on going to college when she is two. I want to study cosmetology. I love hair and love doing different things to it.
Zach – What advice or encouragement do you have for someone who has experienced what you have been through?
Shayla – Growing up with both parents being incarcerated is a daily struggle. I’ve been locked up eight times since I was fourteen years old. When you see a pattern in your parent’s life, it starts to put a patter in yours also. What your parents do is the only thing you’ve seen, been around and had to grow up knowing.
Don’t let what others do affect your life. Always tell yourself, “Don’t allow your past to influence the potential of your future.” Set goals for yourself and accomplish them. Even if nobody supports your dreams, still achieve them so you can say you did it and be proud of yourself.
Never let anybody tell you that you “can’t” do it. Never settle for less. Settle for more than what you think you can do.
Zach – In conclusion, what would you like the readers of real-voices to know.
You only have one life to live, so live wisely!