The Son’s Story
Baseball and my dad — the two are inextricably linked inside of my brain. When I was younger, nothing brought me more joy than playing catch with him. We would play until it was too dark to see the ball.
After my dad went to prison, I missed playing catch with him as much as I missed hearing him cheer my name at my baseball games. I would stand on the pitcher’s mound and hope he had somehow escaped just to watch me play. I never looked towards the bleachers to avoid the inevitable disappointment.
Once my dad was finally released, the first thing we did was play catch. I had dreamed about this moment for what seemed like my entire life.
But it wasn’t the same. I was crestfallen. My dad was not the hero my 7-year-old self had frozen in time. He was a man worn down by San Quentin State Prison, and I was a boy who had grown up without his father.
At that moment, I felt immense satisfaction. It came from realizing that I didn’t need my dad to be whole. I was no longer the broken little kid who would have done anything to play catch with his dad one more time. I had healed without him and my character was forged by his absence. Now when we talk about baseball, I don’t feel the sadness created by loss. I don’t feel like a helpless child. I feel at peace.
The Dad’s Story
We were playing catch, father and son. As a father in prison, there were few opportunities that created deeper communication than when working in tandem, keeping a sphere in endless back-and-forth motion.
My son and I used to share this flow on beaches, baseball fields, parking lots and hallways. It was our shared time outside. Inside, in the visiting room of San Quentin State Prison, it was no different, but perhaps more meaningful.
I was serving a seven-year, eight-month sentence for gross negligent vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence. Both of us needed this time because the opportunities for us to talk were few and short.
It really doesn’t matter what or when you share the flow. Any ball will do.
At San Quentin, it was an orange purchased from a vending machine in the visiting room. To us, it was the same as being at AT&T Park with mitts and a hardball.
As the orange floated between us in its parabolic arc, my son would tell me as much as he could remember about his life since he last saw me.
While I listened, I thought of how I grew up wandering the bluffs, coves and inlets of the rugged Northern California coast. Here he was under the fluorescent lights of a prison visiting room in sweatpants and a loose shirt that fell within the visitation guidelines. I knew he had waited in a long line with others visiting their loved ones. I knew his mom had shown a guard his papers as he exchanged $20 bills for quarters to use in the vending machine, our only access to refreshments during our time together. I knew he took a bus down past all the other prison blocks through more security to reach the visiting room. My son was growing up faster than he should have.
He stopped tossing the orange. It was a sticky mess anyway, and our flow time had passed. He looked up at me and said, “I love you, Dad.”
When I was released after six years and three months — I earned “good-time” credits — my family did not meet me at the gate, which is a tradition for many of the incarcerated. The kids were in school and my ex-wife was working. I had a good morning as an old friend met me and we shared the day with breakfast, clothes shopping and real coffee. I got a Korean sauna scrub because I needed to shed the feel of prison by removing the outer layers of my skin.
I didn’t feel at home, however, until my son came home from school and wanted to go play catch.
It was one of those misty San Francisco days, but this was important. We geared up. He had found my old glove in the garage, and we went down to the park. “I want to practice my pitches,” he said, but the reasons were irrelevant. We began by tossing the ball and existing together.
In that moment of flow, we were one, a team working together with purpose and skill. Time stopped and the world faded away, leaving just the ball as it danced to gravity’s law. I was home.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.