It’s been a little while since my last update, so I figure it’s about time for one. It’s about 2AM on the morning of my middle daughter’s birthday and as I’ve mentioned frequently, this time of year is tough. Instead of Joy, each holiday or celebratory day serves as a reminder of another missed experience with my girls. This year was different however. As horrible as 2020 was, it brought a precious gift to me this holiday season—I was able to reconnect with my daughter Laila.
Over these past years it was physically painful for me to think about my girls. I had to put their pictures away and discipline myself not to think about them. As much as I love them, the memories are bittersweet. They are the only memories that bring me any semblance of joy, but they are also a “rabbit hole” tinged with regret and sadness. I still feel these things, but this year I heard my baby girl’s voice. I heard her laugh. I heard her say “I love you dad,” which are by far the greatest words I have ever heard. Explaining to her why I was in prison wasn’t easy but that conversation with my precious child (the one that I anticipated all those years ago, the one that has motivated every decision I’ve made since being dishonored with these false accusations) was why I have refused to cooperate with the corrupt authorities in the justice system—in any way shape or form. I knew that eventually I was going to have to answer to the 3 little people that I love more than any other thing on earth. How could I have asked them to have faith in their dad if I wasn’t willing to fight for what I believe in? If I was someone that was capable of compromising my honor, how could I ask my girls to believe in me—and they need to believe in me for their mental health and self-worth. This complicated dynamic will plague me until the end of my days because even though the Commonwealth did their best to leave me broken and without honor, I managed to maintain my honor and not just for my sake, but for the sake of my family. And all it cost me was everything when I refused to take a plea deal that would have meant admitting guilt.
My fears were confirmed in my first interactions with my oldest girl. She was angry. She resented me for my absence. She was hard on me (I deserved it, I failed her) but she was willing to get to know me. All those feelings that I had buried, all the walls that I had put up to survive this place didn’t last 3 minutes against my little girl. I told her about when she was an infant and how I tried to maintain my post-war stoic detachment with her. I always called her secret ability to make me melt her “Laila voodoo”—which is no less potent 12 years later.. She is so amazing. I remember being proud of my girls when they were young, but my god, if I was any more proud I would burst! I can’t believe I’m actually her father. She plays guitar and sings (just like her Papi). She has such a beautiful little voice. She’s bilingual in both English and Spanish and wants to spend one year of high school abroad so she is learning her 3rd language. She loves music and art just like I do and she’s funny and really quiet (which blows my mind since Buckleys are notoriously outspoken). She is stunningly beautiful and has the Buckley height, being 5’6 at 12 years old. Talking to her was so addictive—as soon as I got off the phone I wanted to hear her voice again! I don’t want to say I had suppressed my love for my kid, but I had it bottled up pretty good. That first conversation that I had with her will go down as one of the milestones of my life.
Losing a child is beyond traumatic, and coming to prison is like dying without an actual death. Having to exist without my children is a death in and of itself. After the war, my girls brought me back from the brink with their “voodoo’. Losing them was unthinkable and I honestly don’t know how I’ve survived it. I’ve got my Laila back, at least to the minimum degree that I can currently offer her, but I’m still incomplete without my other girls. And I realize how much my Laila needed her daddy.
I often wonder if the players in our “justice” system, driven not by “Right or Wrong” or ‘guilt or Innocence” but by statistically driven, monetarily incentivized “Quota Incarceration” realize the generational toll they impose upon families with their perverted version of “Justice”. It’s not fair to my little girls to have to explain to them, at age 12, that the system into which we put so much faith is so inextricably flawed and utterly broken.
Most of the men around me in prison experience the penitentiary as a cultural norm, as a “rite of passage’ or something insane like that. This is “normal” to them. In the years I’ve been on the inside, I’ve met many—and I mean dozens conservatively—innocent men who were “lost in the sauce” like me. They bitch and whine about the struggles of prison life but seem to accept this existence rather than try to fight the system. I am the cautionary tale amongst these men. I am what happen when one says “No” to the government and bullies with badges. From behind these fences I have watched the culture become aware as light is being shed on corrupt policing practices like Qualified Immunity and Profiling. But I wonder when people will begin to get fired up about the “Conveyor Belt of Justice” and “Monetarily Incentivized Incarceration”. To deprive innocent people of their Liberty is the antithesis of everything we claim to believe as Americans. I believe there is a prevailing assumption that everyone in prison IS guilty of something.
As I listen to my little girl absorb the reality of this situation, I am morose. I don’t want her to lose the cocoon of safety she believed in, even if it’s done harm in many cases. But like so many other fathers trying to love their kids from behind razor wire, in order to preserve her sense of self-worth (i.e. her Daddy is not a monster or a criminal) I had to expose her to the reality of our broken “Justice system.” I hope that sooner than later, the public’s attention and anger will be turned toward this issue as possibly the biggest travesty of our modern democracy. I’ve personally witnessed inmates being brutalized and even killed by cowardly officers abusing their power over their helpless wards. And this isn’t something I watch on TV. My new normal is violent, bitter and unjust. Trying to express to my child that there are “a few bad apples” when I see what I see every day is like eating a spoonful of ashes.
If you’ve read previous updates written by me then you know that I believe whole-heartedly in “Law & Order” However, as someone who has shed blood for his nation, I take this perversion of America’s values personally. I can’t help but think of Fredrick Douglass in these moments because his condemnations of this nations’ citizenry turning a blind eye to such abhorrent violations of the Social Contract are so poignant. Over 2 million incarcerated parents in America’s jails and prisons try to explain to their babies the same thing that I tried to explain to mine. I wonder if the generational toll that statistically-driven, monetarily incentivized incarceration is even considered at the legislative level—beyond it being a source of revenue.
I wish I’d have known all this before I gave so much of myself to the Uniform and especially would have known how it would affect my kids..
I bet it probably seems like I’m a broken record. I don’t think you all would want to hear about the gang wars and stabbings and general prison insanity, but I’ve had my share of that for a lifetime. I desperately want to go back to my girls. But I hope the dishonorable precedents that the Commonwealth attempted to pass off as “justice’ are exposed so that no other citizen—let alone any other Veteran who would definitely be affected by these precedents—has to experience such tyranny. I desperately hope that someday my baby girls will see this sacrifice for what it is. I wrote 10 years ago, when I was first put into jail, that “I’m on the front lines of another war…”and that is exactly what this is. While I lament every birthday, every holiday, that I’ve missed and every opportunity to love on my girls while fighting this travesty, I hope that my girls will see their daddy for who he is. No compromise, no surrender, no retreat.
I wish I could wish my precious Kinley a happy birthday, and Presley. I think about them every day. I hope they will connect with me one day soon. These daughters are my entire world even when we’re worlds apart. In a heartbeat, I’m a Ranger again, back on the Haditha Dam under artillery fire and they become the “Happy Thought” that will bring me home, soul intact.
Ranger Buckley out. RLTW!