When Jay'Aina Patton was three, her father, Antoine, went to prison for gun possession. It wasn’t until she was seven or eight that Jay’Aina (or “Jay Jay” as friends and family call her) really understood where her father was. She also knew just how difficult maintaining a relationship with him was. Her father was imprisoned hours away. Her mother, raising two children on her own, could only afford to take them to visit twice during his seven-year incarceration.
They couldn’t make up the lack of visits with phone calls. At the time, in 2013, a 15-minute phone call from a New York prison cost 72 cents. Though not an astronomical sum, it wasn’t a cost that Jay Jay’s mom could frequently tack on to the family budget.
Nor did her mother always have the money or time to buy stamps or print photos. When she did, Jay Jay wrote letters describing her day at school or a trip to a water park with her cousin. Sometimes she put her mother’s lipstick on to end her letter with a kiss. Still, her letters took days to reach her father — and it took several more days for his responses to reach her. By then, Jay Jay had often forgotten what she had been so excited to share with him.
In prison, Antoine appreciated each and every letter. He also felt frustrated at not knowing when he might hear from her again. “I remember thinking, 'This could be better,'” he said.
Jay Jay’s and her father’s struggles are shared by millions across the country. In the U.S., 5.1 million children have had a parent in jail or prison. Many parents are incarcerated hundreds of miles from home, making visits infrequent, if not impossible. Now, father and daughter have created a program — and an app — to help bridge those distances.
[To read the rest of this article by Vikki Law, click here.]
[Photo: Vikki Law]