Reunited after 30 years…
As some of you know, Get On The Bus has received the parent applications and right now we are busy processing them and getting them ready for our training next Saturday. My assistant Jennifer is the lead on this task and I always knew she was special (in a good way), but now I know for sure she is a gem. Part of her process is to go through each application and validate that there is contact information on the applications and that the families live in the state of CA, as of right now GOTB only serves families inside of CA. If she comes across any applications that don’t meet this criteria, she is to put them aside and we ship them back to the prisons.
However, last week Jennifer walked into my office with an application from a man from CTF. His daughter had lived in Atlanta, GA. She asked me to please take a look at this application and then to advise her what to do after that. Initially, I thought to myself, “How am I going to have time for this? Clearly, this is a family that lives out of state that we won’t be able to serve. I have to spend time concentrating on the 1,000’s of in state applications.” However, since I trust Jennifer’s judgement, I kept the application on my desk.
Yesterday, I decided to pick it up. Attached to the application was a well written typed letter that answered all my questions. The man explained that he knew the GOTB busses only ran within the state of CA and that he knew that his daughter would need to come to CA to ride the bus. He also said that he already had a conversation with her and she was willing to cover her own expense to get to the bus stop. He pleaded in his letter for his daughter to be on the bus and attached three additional sheets to explain why. The first was a letter from his daughter dated October 26, 2009, the second a poem that his daughter had wrote, the third a photo and bio of himself explaining why he was a worthy GOTB candidate.
Upon reading through the documents, I learned that he and his daughter Genisse had not seen each other for 30 years! They had both been searching for years for one another, but with Genisse living clear across the country and her not being in contact with any members of his family, they had no luck. However, when Genisse joined Facebook late last year this all changed. His brother was able to search for her and send her a message and then she replied back and the rest is history in the making.
In his letter, he described how much alike he and his daughter are and how much they have “grown along the same path over the years”. He told me how special it would be to have their first meeting be on Father’s Day through the Get On The Bus program. I now couldn’t resist. This woman had to be on the bus.
I remember yesterday picking up the phone and thinking, “What if this number doesn’t work? What if she doesn’t know about this or really want to go? What if she feels that it is too soon for them to meet?” However, I put all of these doubts aside and I dialed the number. On about the second ring Genisse answered, I explained to her who I was and asked her if she had heard about the program and she said that she did and that she was hoping that I would call. As we started talking, I was emotionally moved by the conversation so much so that I asked Genisse if we could continue it. So, at 5 am this morning, I interviewed Genisse. Here is what she had to say:
Maria: How did you end up finding your father?
Genisse: I had been searching for years and years and nothing. I recently went on Facebook and received a message from a man with my same last name. This struck me as ironic because I don’t know anyone with my last name. I originally thought it was an error on Facebook’s part so I ignored the message for a couple days. When I opened it, it read, “If you are 30 years old and your parents are X and Y, then I am your uncle. If you want to contact your family, please message me.” When my uncle and I first talked, he read me a letter that my father and wrote. I thought to myself as he was reading it, this sounds exactly like me. It was like listening to something that I wrote.
Maria: How long ago was that?
Genisse: It was back in the fall.
Maria: How did you and your father get into contact?
Genisse: My uncle ended up giving me my father’s address and I wrote him, but I didn’t put a return address on the letter because I wanted it to be a surprise. He sure was surprised. With the letter, I enclosed my photo and he said the officer that handed him the letter resembled me.
Maria: How often do the two of you talk?
Genisse: We don’t talk on the phone, we just write letters about once a week.
Maria: Why did you want to find your dad and why after all these years didn’t you just give up?
Genisse: I am a person who values strong family ties and likes to stay connected. It would only be natural to include my father in on the process.
Maria: What was your image of your dad growing up?
Genisse: I really didn’t have one. My mom always told me that he was a good person and a very intelligent man. She didn’t have anything against him. I had no photos of him. My mom always used to say that I had a lot of his ways and that we looked alike.
Maria: What is your image of who he is now?
Genisse: A loving, caring father who has been searching for years and years for me and is finally happy that we made this connection. He is intelligent and in tune with things that are going on in the outside world. I send him a letter and before he gets it, he knows what it is in it! A man who I’ve heard from his family has inspired a lot of people to do better and greater things. He is a big advocate of education and mending relationships when broken. He is a man who never stopped looking for me even after 30 years. I can’t wait to meet him!!!
Maria: What do the two of you have in common?
Genisse: (Chuckling) A lot of things! We both love to write. We both like tigers, they are our favorite cats. Both of us have similar interest in education, family values and spirituality. There are so many it would take forever to tell. We are like two peas in a pod!
Maria: Did you know where your father was growing up?
Genisse: I knew bits and pieces. I knew he was in California and that was about all.
Maria: When was the last time the two of you spent together?
Genisse: When I was 2 months old.
Maria: Why are you choosing to Get On The Bus this year?
Genisse: There are many reasons. I have no clue about CA territory. I don’t want to be driving around and getting lost everywhere. I also know it is a special day. Being that it is Father’s Day that is a huge plus. He is the one that originally told me about the program. He said it is a more comfortable environment than on a regular visiting day. Also, learning about all the perks with the food and the photos, it even sounded better!
Maria: How do you feel about seeing your dad after all these years?
Genisse: It’s been 30 years- I’m full of excitement, I can’t wait, I am truly happy and a little anxious.
Maria: What were you thinking when I called you yesterday?
Genisse: When I saw the number, I thought it was a bill collector so I was hesitant to answer it. However, when I found out it was you; I was so appreciative that you called me.
Maria: What do you expect to achieve from your visit?
Genisse: Finally making a lifelong connection. Finally making contact. I want to see for myself who he is and what he is about. GOTB will be the first of many interactions.
Maria: Is there anything you want to tell him?
Genisse: Not sure, I am just anticipating our initial reaction.
Maria: Overall, what do you want the public (my readers) to know about children who have incarcerated parents?
Genisse: Regardless of the situation as long as it is not dangerous and it is not going to put the child in a compromising situation, a child should know his/her parent. We never knew what really happened to them.
Maria: Can I publish the poem that you sent to your father on my blog?
Genisse: Yes, just so you put the copyright. I have an interesting story about the poem. One of the things that we found shocking was that both of us have a passion for writing. My dad is a published author and I sent this poem to him hand written and told him that I never published any of my work. He ended up sending it back to me typed, copyrighted, printed and published. This was his gift to me.
Thank you once again to all of you who supported me in my journey. Special thanks to Joe’s parents Tom and Alice Palmer for your donation.