This is nothing short of a miracle!
Kristen, Jorge and Jorge, Jr.
Everyone once in a great while, I walk into my office and get a phone call that moves me beyond belief. Today was one of those days. In April of last year, I got a call from the Family Services Coordinator at Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, CA. She told me that she had met a young lady named Kristen in the Visiting Room at CTF over the weekend and that I needed to let her and her son participate in GOTB for Father’s Day. I have to admit it is very rare that the prison would call me for a special plea for someone to participate, especially 4 months after the deadline. As I listened to her appeal over the phone, I knew that we had to get Kristen and her little son Jorge on the bus.
Kristen’s boyfriend had been held at the county jail for the past couple years, which is quite rare as they are normally bursting at the seams to get people shipped off to prison. Her son grew up knowing his father, but the thing that struck the staff person was that he and Jorge, Sr. never touched. Ever since he was born, he would stare at his father through a glass window. His first smile, first word and first steps were all enjoyed through a physical barrier.
When I got off the phone with the Family Services Coordinator, I put this into perspective. What if for my whole life I only got to experience the essence of my father from a distance? What if my cries could never be comforted by a hug or a pat on the back? What if my pleas to hold his finger by pounding on the glass barrier that separated us were constantly ignored? This is hard enough for anyone to wrap their head around, none-the-less, a 2 year old.
When I called Kristen, she was exactly how she was described. She was a hard working student studying to be an esthetician during the day and by night was an incredible mother to her son. She was so appreciative that I even called her. When she picked up the phone, she was in disbelief and it took her a second to compose herself saying that she couldn’t believe that I was actually calling her. Then when I told her that she was going to get on the bus, I could feel her heart skip a beat with pure excitement.
The next day we met at my office and I fell in love with Kristen even more. She was just as beautiful on the outside, as on the inside. She had a style to her that reminded me of my own sister. We sat and talked for a long time about massage and facials and other important life essentials and then she filled out all of her GOTB paperwork. In our conversation, she could not have been more appreciative of the experience that GOTB was about to give her. Sobbing she said, “Maria, do you know that this will be the first time my boyfriend has held my son?” I stood amazed.
As I explained the program further to her, I told her that every child gets a photo with their father and that every father will get a photo with his family. Again, tears struck her eyes. She said, “Maria, this will be the first and only photo we have ever taken together.” Again, I was speechless.
On Father’s Day last year, Kristen and Jorge left very early in the morning to visit with Jorge, Sr. It was an experience that Kristen and her son will never forget. Afterwards, I rarely hear from the people that we serve, but Kristen is the exception to this rule. She has called me every couple of months just to check in and see how I am doing.
Today, I received a joyous call from Kristen. She said her boyfriend had been transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison, across the street from CTF. She said that she has been so depressed because she knew that GOTB was only at a CTF and CMC last year. She thought that her son would have to go one more year without seeing his father. Then she just got a letter from her boyfriend in disbelief that GOTB is piloting its first year at SVSP. She called to tell me that she was so grateful and believed that God was secretly looking out for her and her son. I told her it was nothing short a a miracle because prior to Christmas we were going to have to cancel the SVSP event because only 3 people had applied.
In a hasty decision, I decided one day before my plane left for the East Coast to get up at 3 am and take a drive up north to SVSP as one final plea to the men. Exhausted from a party I threw the night before, Joe, Maya and I took off for a 6 hr drive up the 5 freeway. I was running on pure adrenaline and no sleep as I arrived for my 9 am meeting. Something carried me through and by the end of the day, I could feel that we would get the 25 applications we needed. Right before Kristen had called, I just got off the phone with Mr. Miles Moore at the prison and he gave me the news I had been waiting for….we received 38 approved applications for the institution, GOTB was a go for SVSP!! God was there with us.
Kristen said the GOTB experience was such a power experience that it changed her life and her outlook. She has passed out several brochures and tells everyone she meets about the program. She also wants to do everything she can to give back to us. She called me this morning to say that she wants to become an official volunteer and she is starting Monday morning! She is also trying to get her church involved and trying to drum up some donations. She said that this is the least she could do with all the kindness and generosity she experienced through the program. She said that she was treated with respect and dignity and the photo her son took home was worth a million dollars itself and it is adorning her wall. Everyday she passes she is reminded of how this program changes people’s lives. This will be Kristen’s last year as a participant of GOTB as Jorge, Sr. is set to be released in November. However, she will be forever connected with us and hopes to be a bus coordinator some day.
Again, I want to thank you all for your continued support and I know that I have a long way to go both in mileage and in donations. Any support financial, emotional or moral is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Kristen, Jorge and Jorge, Jr. enjoying the magician.
Their first family photo ever!
Jorge, Sr. holding Jorge, Jr. for the first time.