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Old 01-07-2005, 01:54 PM
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Default Article: Hard Time-Washington Post


Hard Time
Stuart Anderson may be locked up, but with two young daughters to raise, he's trying not to be locked out
By Tyler Currie

Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page W16

Shavohn and Diamond Anderson sit side by side in a cozy basement. Their father, Stuart Anderson, wonders why his babies are wearing such tight clothing and groans when he reads the message on Diamond's T-shirt: "So Many Boys! Who's Counting?"

"Who's counting?! I hope you're not counting," he says to 12-year-old Diamond -- Baby-Dee, he calls her. Stuart looks closer at his youngest daughter and asks, "Do you have a bra on?"

"Daddy," responds Shavohn, who is 14, "she's supposed to have a bra on. She's a girl."

"I'm not a man," adds Diamond. She curls her biceps and deepens her voice, for comic effect. But several moments pass before Stuart actually hears. Then he laughs. As he rocks forward, his face blurs into pixels. Stuart reaches out, as if to touch the girls, then he freezes, as if he were caught in a block of ice. His voice falls silent.

Shavohn scrutinizes the image of her 44-year-old father. "He ain't blinked yet." She taps the computer screen. The software has locked up.

"Let's restart the program," says Diamond. She pushes the power button on the computer. The girls wait patiently while their father, in effect, is rebooted. They've been trying to sustain a conversation with him for the past 45 minutes, and the computer has already frozen twice. A sluggish dial-up Internet connection also slows the pace of the videoconference. But Shavohn and Diamond don't complain. When it comes to their relationship with Stuart, they're used to disruptions. He has been in prison since 1991.

Diamond and Shavohn attend these videoconferences at Hope House, a nonprofit in Northwest Washington that connects them with Stuart, who is incarcerated at Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, N.C. Hope House runs out of the basement of a bungalow belonging to Carol Fennelly, the long-time activist who gained national recognition in the 1980s for her work with homeless people. On the wall nearest to Diamond and Shavohn hang photographs from Fennelly's latest mission: portraits of nearly a dozen men in prison suits hugging their smiling children.

After the computer reboots, Diamond and Shavohn re-link to their father with a series of mouse clicks. Stuart starts talking quickly. Videoconferences occur once every three weeks and last only one hour; now the Andersons have fewer than 10 minutes remaining. Stuart tells Diamond that he needs a copy of her report card, "so I can see all the good grades."

"Daddy, guess what?" Shavohn says. "Daddy, I'm going to the prom, the eighth-grade prom."

"You going where?" asks Stuart.

"I'm going to the prom," says Shavohn.

"That means you have to have a date," says Stuart.

"My date is in the 10th grade," says Shavohn.

What's the boy's name, asks Stuart.

Kevin, says Shavohn.

"Kevin what?"

"Kevin I-Don't-Remember," says Shavohn. "We call him Tall Kevin."

"Okay," says Stuart. "Where he live?" Shavohn names a neighborhood that makes Stuart moan.

"But he's not a bad boy," Shavohn says. "Daddy, it'd be just like one of my best friends was taking me."

"Okay, you know the rule," Stuart says. Shavohn nods. The rule: Any boy who wants to go out with Shavohn must first introduce himself to her father through a letter. (Just recently Stuart received a letter from a different would-be boyfriend who asked permission to date Shavohn. Stuart wrote back. "I thanked him for being courteous enough to write me," he says. He told the boy, "I didn't think it was the time to think about a real girlfriend," then, he says, he added, "I hope you aren't thinking about sex.") Regarding Tall Kevin, Stuart tells Shavohn, "I need his phone number so I can call him." With her chin on her chest and her mouth open, Shavohn gives her father a look of disbelief. Before she can make a more articulate protest, though, a small box covers Stuart's face. "System Shut Down," it reads. The software has crashed again. A timer is counting backwards from 60: three, two, one, and the machine cuts off. Stuart fades to dark.

A FEW MONTHS LATER, Diamond and Shavohn have finished another videoconference with Stuart, and I'm driving them back to the two-bedroom apartment in Oxon Hill that they've recently moved into with their mother -- and Stuart's wife -- Melody Anderson.

"The computer kept crashing," Diamond says.

With Stuart on the docket for a parole hearing, the girls are laying out plans for what they hope will be his release. Shavohn talks about going to the movies with him, though she's not sure he'll be permitted to go out at night. Diamond's birthday is approaching, and she's hoping that Stuart will be there to celebrate. "He'll probably have to live in a halfway house," she says.

"I just hope they don't put a black box on his leg," Shavohn says.

When the girls step into the small, carpeted living room of their basement apartment, Melody, 35, is still dressed in the dark business suit that she wore today at the Department of Education, where she reviews and audits contracts. She says that she's expecting a raise soon, but she still scoffs when Diamond asks if, in several days, she can have a ride to a friend's house. That would not be in the fuel budget, Melody says.

Stacks of boxes stand where a dining table would normally go. Many of the boxes bear Stuart's name and contain everything from old flip-flops to soap dishes and newspaper articles; several years ago Stuart was transferred and could not bring his old possessions to the new prison, so Melody has kept them, at his request. In the room where Shavohn and Diamond share a double bed, pictures of Stuart decorate a wooden dresser.

Melody says that one of Shavohn's teachers called this evening to say that some homework was missing. "Excuse me," Melody calls out to Shavohn. "I'm supposed to see your log book every day. I know you have some assignments." Shavohn shuffles over, holding a notebook with a limp wrist and a look of indifference. Melody glances at a list of vocabulary words from Shavohn's science class. "What is force?" she quizzes. Shavohn shrugs.

Shavohn asks if she can go outside for a moment to see her friends. "You have homework, but you [want to] go outside?" Melody says. "Once you come in in the evening, don't think about going outside."

When Diamond emerges from the bedroom, the hair on one side of her head sticks straight out because she's just removed a handful of purple braids. Melody scolds her and says that tomorrow she's going to have to go to school with messy hair.

It's near dinnertime, and Shavohn announces that she's hungry.

So prepare yourself some dinner, Melody says. There's chicken and broccoli in the freezer.

Shavohn removes the frozen food and places a pot of water on the stove. A few minutes later she puts her hand over the cold burner. "Mom," she calls out, "the stove is broken."

Melody makes a call to the building superintendent, who doesn't answer. So she admonishes the girls to be patient, but they begin bumping the stove, trying to make it work.

When the phone rings, Diamond runs out of the kitchen into her mother's bedroom. It's Stuart. (He is allowed 300 minutes of phone calls per month.) Diamond lies on the bed and talks in a hushed tone. Stuart hasn't been able to call recently. The family has a new phone number, and it's taken several weeks to have it placed on his approved calling list.

While Shavohn waits for her turn to speak to Stuart, Melody pulls out a large portrait of herself and Stuart when they were newly married. He is in a coat and tie, posed behind Melody, who is wearing her Sunday finest. He hunches slightly forward and over Melody, as if drawing her in. It's one of the last pictures of the couple before Stuart went away. Shavohn looks at the image of her parents, in their 1980s clothes, and she laughs. How funny to see her father with hair, she says. That was a long time ago, Melody says, smiling. Then she sets the portrait down and slides it out of view.

WHEN I BEGAN MY CORRESPONDENCE WITH STUART last winter, his latest parole hearing was on the horizon, and his letters grew increasingly anxious. "Man! I am about to lose my mind!!!" he wrote. "I have know [sic] idea what I might say to the parole commission."

At the same time, Melody seemed ambivalent about the possibility of her husband's release. "I got real excited" last time he was up for parole, she says, which was in 1999. Since then, however, the relationship has become more strained, and they have talked about divorce. Now "I just want to get my thoughts on track as far as taking care of my things," she says. "I don't want him coming home and changing my rules."

Shavohn, meanwhile, was making plans for Stuart's homecoming. "He's got to talk to me in advance when he's coming home, because I'm gonna find him a job, an electrician job," she says.

Since Stuart was relocated to Rivers Correctional Institution, a low-security prison in North Carolina operated by a private company on a contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons, his visits with the girls have decreased from a few times a month to a few times a year. He has watched Diamond and Shavohn grow from little girls into adolescents. His upcoming hearing is probably the last chance for catching their childhood. "Time is running out," he says.

In 1991, Stuart Winston Anderson stood trial for the attempted murder of a D.C. police officer. He was 31, and it was his third criminal charge. When the judge pronounced a sentence of 12 to 36 years, Melody was sitting in the courtroom. "My heart dropped," she says. "I stopped breathing. I cried for five hours straight." Shavohn was 2, and Melody was eight months pregnant with Diamond. Stuart, who was an electrician, "pretty much took care of everything," she says. And then he was gone.

Melody believed Stuart's version of the story and thought the jury would, too. "I didn't think he was going to get locked up," she says. So it was with a sense of disbelief that Melody visited Stuart in jail for the first time, several days later. They sat together in a visiting room, knee to knee.

"That was a lot of tears," Stuart recalls. "Melody hadn't stopped crying yet." Soon Melody composed herself long enough to make a promise: "That I would make sure that he knew his children, no matter what." But what she didn't know was how to explain Stuart's incarceration to Shavohn. So she told her that Stuart was away at school.

For the first several years of Stuart's imprisonment, Melody says, she and the girls would visit him four days a week at the District-run prison complex in Lorton. Stuart says that seeing his children helped keep him going. Meanwhile, Melody struggled to keep the family going. Bill collectors began calling to complain about missed car and mortgage payments. One winter the electricity and gas were cut off. Melody and the girls had to move in with her mother. Melody eventually sold the house, moved to an apartment and began working three jobs. During the day she held a clerical position at the Department of Education, and she moonlighted at Roy Rogers and as an aide at the Department of Agriculture's graduate school.

Stuart's demands were constant, Melody says. "I would sacrifice our food bill to send [Stuart] packages," she remembers. "Me and the girls, we would shop for him. They thought he should have this and that. Clothes, underwear, shoes, anything he needed, I would go and do that." Stuart wanted the girls to write to him -- or, at a young age, draw pictures -- every day. He insisted that Melody inform him of every phone call the girls got from school and wanted the story on every bump and bruise.

Stuart explains that he was just desperate to stay connected to his daughters' lives. "In prison you can lose a lot of [relationships] real fast," he says. "All I wanted was visits. All I wanted to do was get a break from prison life, get some time with my girls." But for Stuart, Melody's efforts to keep the family connected to him weren't always enough. "She made every excuse there was as to why she couldn't get ready to visit."

The growing tension between Melody and Stuart erupted one Easter Sunday, about three years into his sentence. Melody says that she was running late for a visit. "I had these pretty Easter outfits for the girls," she recalls. "Diamond, she didn't like to get dressed. She would pull the bows off her dress . . . I'm trying to get them all pretty for him." While rushing to the prison, she got a speeding ticket. And then, once inside the prison, the line to the visiting room was unusually long. When Melody and the girls finally got inside, "the first thing he said was, 'What took you so long?' " Melody recalls. "I didn't understand how [he] could be so selfish and not understand what I went through on the day-to-day, with two babies and then all these bills facing me . . . That just triggered something, because I had been putting up with a lot. So I didn't go back for a year. A whole year."

"I was crushed," Stuart says. But he took solace in still frequently seeing his daughters.

During that year, Melody turned to family members to take Diamond and Shavohn to visit their father. She still spoke and wrote to Stuart but says that the closeness they once shared never returned.

"That whole year when I didn't go see him, we were in church on Sundays. And he had a problem with that," because he is not religious, Melody says. "His exact words were, 'I don't want you to expose my daughters to some fictitious God.' That cut deep."

Soon afterward Melody began dating. "It was just things I've missed doing," she says. "Going out dancing, going out to dinner, going out to watch the stars in the park. I got a little lonely over the years."

Stuart remembers calling home one time, and a male voice answered. "I said, 'Is Melody there?' 'Yeah, hold on,' he said. I can hear him whispering in the background. When she came to the phone, I said, 'Where the girls?' And I talked to them basically as if there wasn't anything happening."

Stuart says he avoided confrontations over Melody's new life. He feared alienating her because "I'm not trying to get cut off from the girls."

Even as their relationship deteriorated, Melody says, she didn't let that affect Shavohn and Diamond's connection to Stuart. And she brought discipline problems to his attention: "I told him, you're their dad. You're going to have to play a part in their life, raising them. You don't have to be here physically to let them know that you exist, and I made sure of that."

During a visit, when Shavohn was about 8, she finally saw through the story about Stuart being away at school. Stuart had recently gotten into trouble for refusing a guard's order and was brought to the visiting room in shackles. "It was real scary," Shavohn remembers. "I was crying. 'Why you got those on?' " Stuart explained that he had done something bad. From that point on, Melody says, Shavohn would say, "My daddy's in jail."

During my many interviews with Stuart, he denied what, from an outsider's perspective, seemed obvious: that being a prisoner means, by definition, that one cannot also be an involved parent. In many ways, Stuart's tenuous clutch on fatherhood has both defined and bedeviled his 13 years of incarceration. "Anderson is one of the most devoted, connected and involved fathers I know, in or out of prison," says Linda Edwards, a teacher at Rivers Correctional.

Even though Stuart says he views himself as a good father, he was also in prison while Tyrina -- his oldest daughter, from a previous relationship -- was growing up, including a stint in the early '80s for burglary in New Jersey. As a little girl, Tyrina, now 24, says she didn't understand the nature of her father's absence, even though she did travel a few times a year to see him in the New Jersey prison. When Stuart was released in 1986, he expected to have a joyous reunion with 5-year old Tyrina, but at the first sight of her newly free dad she ran away in tears, Stuart recalls. Tyrina says that later, after Stuart returned to prison in 1991, he had only mixed success at being a parent. "Sometimes I was resentful," she says. "Sometimes I listened [to him] and took heed, but he couldn't discipline [me]. 'Do your homework!' 'Well, you're not here.' "

THE EIGHTH-GRADE PROM IS APPROACHING, and Shavohn needs to be fitted for her dress. Melody is working late tonight, so she can't take her to the seamstress. Rachel Foley, who works with Carol Fennelly at Hope House, has offered to drive Shavohn. Shavohn hops into the back seat of a green van. In the rearview mirror, Foley eyes Shavohn's blouse; the top two buttons are undone. Foley whirls around and asks, "What would your father say?"

Shavohn buttons up her blouse and says that, actually, her dad would be happy because she's not going to the prom with Tall Kevin anymore. Shavohn says that she told Tall Kevin that he needed to write to her father in prison. Tall Kevin laughed at the idea, says Shavohn, and now she is going with a group of girlfriends instead.

Foley looks at Shavohn skeptically. So you just decided not to go to the prom with this boy? she asks.

That's right, says Shavohn.

Well, is he still going to be at the prom?

Yeah, says Shavohn.

And are you going to have your picture taken with him?

Yeah, says Shavohn.

And dance with him, too? Yeah.

"So, it's a technicality," Foley says. "You're just not riding with him."

While Foley steers the big van through rush-hour traffic, Shavohn explains that she doesn't resent her father's rules. But she might feel differently if Stuart were around to enforce them. "Everything is going to change," if Stuart comes home, Shavohn says. She knows that her father doesn't approve of the clothing she likes, for example. "The stuff I like to wear, he wouldn't let me wear out. He'd be making me wear old granny skirts."

When they reach the seamstress, Shavohn changes from her jeans and blouse into a shimmering blue gown that flares out from her waist, down to the floor. The seamstress says that the hem needs to be taken up. Foley claps her hands and says that Shavohn looks radiant in the dress, which was donated to Hope House just a few days earlier. "You saved me a whole bunch of money," Shavohn says.

After the fitting, Shavohn changes back into her jeans and is walking to the van with Foley when a jumbo-size insect scurries across the sidewalk. The bug prompts Shavohn to announce that she was nearly suspended from school today. A boy put a cicada in her hair, she says, so she tried to hit him with a chair.

"That's the story of her life," Foley says to me.

Shavohn does not, however, pin her impulses on Stuart. She doesn't want to burden him with that. "He's been away for a long time," she says. "I don't want him to think I'm bad just because he went away."

Foley and Shavohn drive a few blocks to Hope House, where a surprise is waiting. Carol Fennelly greets Shavohn at the door and holds out a videotape. "I just got back from seeing your dad," Fennelly says. She has a recorded message from him.

"He's on there?" Shavohn asks. "Oh, that's tight." Shavohn moves into the living room and sits at the edge of a spacious armchair. Fennelly slides the tape into the VCR. Stuart appears on the screen. Stuart holds up a book called Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream.

"This is a nice story for the dinner table," Stuart begins. "I can't wait till I get out there and join y'all."

Shavohn moans in agreement and holds her own copy of the book, provided by Fennelly, as Stuart begins to read.

In theatrical fashion, he creates voices and gestures with his hands and face, in the hopes of engaging Shavohn. But partway through the book, Stuart looks anxiously to one side, perhaps at a clock. He reads faster. Then he starts paraphrasing. The afternoon prisoner count is about to begin. If Stuart misses the count, he'll be disciplined, and such infractions appear in the files that the U.S. Parole Commission will soon be reviewing. Now Stuart is skipping over whole pages.

Shavohn was laughing in the beginning, but now that Stuart is rushing, she seems to withdraw, not bothering to flip the pages along with him. Stuart abruptly signs off. "Have fun with the book," he tells Shavohn. "I love you dearly."

STUART NEVER MET HIS OWN FATHER. He says his mother was "16 and scared to death" when he was born. He does recall one father figure in his life, a man who dated his mother. One time, Stuart remembers, the man took him shoplifting for new clothes. Another time, Stuart says, he watched the man beat up a guy for driving through an alley with his headlights off.

Stuart bounced among various schools in the District, as he spent his days playing hooky. He briefly attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts -- he still has a knack for drawing -- and then transferred to McKinley Technical High School in Northwest Washington, where he joined the football team. But in his senior year, upset about riding the bench, he quit school altogether. On a whim, he decided to join the Army.

Shortly after Stuart returned from basic training in 1979, he was convicted of burglary and spent a couple of months in Lorton. After his release, he says, he became a small-time drug dealer. "I knew all these guys from Lorton. I started gravitating toward them." Around the same time he began to date Sherrille Limes, who at 19 years old gave birth to Tyrina in 1980. Stuart and Sherrille moved in together. "He was a good dad," recalls Limes, who still lives in Washington. "Tyrina never wanted for anything."

But it didn't take long before Stuart's ways caught up with him. In 1981, he was arrested and convicted of the burglary in New Jersey. Limes had to raise Tyrina by herself.

"There was no justification for me going wild and berserk," Stuart says of his criminal behavior. "But I was too young to see that. While I was in, I tried to make amends. But how do you make amends when you sitting in prison, left a woman in the streets with a baby?"

While he was incarcerated in New Jersey, Stuart saw Tyrina about four times a year, Limes remembers. He also learned to be an electrician. He was released in 1986 and swore to himself that he would go straight. Back in the District, he soon landed a job through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He and Limes decided not to continue their relationship, though he would often visit Tyrina at Limes's home. He even had custody of her for 18 months. During that time he began to date Melody Lynch. When Melody became pregnant, Stuart says, she insisted they get married. "I was still a dog," he says, remembering a girlfriend on the side that he had even as a newlywed.

Melody says she wasn't reluctant to start a family with a man who had twice been to prison. "I didn't think about that. I just thought, this is who I want to be with. I fell in love with him."

But the night of December 28, 1990, would test that love in painful ways. Stuart would later claim that he was walking toward a friend's house on Morton Street NW. He owned and often carried a pistol without a license, which is illegal in the District. He was walking along Morton Street, he recalls, when "all hell breaks loose. People start running out of a building. So I started running, and I'm looking back to see what we running from. I see we running from the police, so I stop. [i] turn around, and I'm going back towards them. Police grabs me. I say, 'Oh, officer, I stopped.' He said, 'Shut up, get over here.' " Stuart says that the police officer then pushed him and struck him with a walkie-talkie. Next, Stuart remembers losing his temper and saying: "You put your hands on me, I'm going to put mine back on you. That's who I am." Stuart then took a swing -- "I laid him out like an angel" -- and he fled the scene. Shortly, the police caught up with him on Georgia Avenue, where he was arrested.

According to an October 10, 1991, report in The Washington Post, police officer Michael Davis "testified that he and his partner had watched Anderson and another man exchange a plastic bag of 'white substance.' [Davis] went after Anderson, he said, and was trying to 'escort him to a fence so I could do a routine stop' when Anderson took a swing at him. As they wrestled in a bear hug, Davis testified, Anderson reached behind his back, then wrapped his arms around Davis again, 'and then I heard a clip,' the sound of a container of cartridges being shoved into the butt of a gun. After the gun failed to fire, Davis said, they fell and Anderson fled. He said he next saw Anderson in custody on Georgia Avenue."

Early the next morning, in police custody, Stuart learned the most serious charge against him -- assault with attempt to kill while armed -- and he remembers feeling disbelief. Once the trial began, "I knew I was going away."

"SHAVOHN IS GOING STAG TO THE PROM," Stuart says to me. It's evening at Rivers Correctional, and he is smiling proudly, unaware that Shavohn has more or less proceeded with her original plan. He steps into a classroom and starts to arrange plastic chairs into a circle, for a meeting of the Concerned Fathers, a support group founded in Lorton. He formed a chapter at Rivers about two years ago. According to the group's mission statement, its goal is the "restoration of traditional family values" and "teaching the importance of being a father to the men housed within the prison population."

"Prisons are difficult places to get anything started," says Stuart, who needed to find a sponsor from the prison staff. So he turned to Steve Teetor, a psychologist at Rivers. "I wasn't immediately eager," Teetor says, but Stuart was persistent and convinced him that a lot of inmates needed such a group. Now there is a waiting list to join.

Seventeen inmates filter into the classroom. A man named Timothy Smith, convicted of manslaughter, enters and embraces Stuart. Smith is smiling broadly after just finishing a videoconference with his two sons.

How'd it go? one member asks.

"They don't like my beard," Smith says and laughs. Since converting to Islam, he has grown a long, wispy beard. He explains that videoconferences put him in a good mood because, "It's like having a visit without the touching -- and the shakedowns."

Stuart brings the meeting to order. The fathers rise and form a circle, touching shoulder to shoulder. They hold hands and bend their heads and pray in unison: "God, most merciful and gracious . . . our children are our main concern."

Stuart begins the meeting, and item one is an essay written by one of the newest members, Jonathan Austin, who was convicted of first-degree cruelty to children and aggravated assault. "You have to be there when they need you," he reads slowly. "Spending as much time as possible with your child is important. I think fathers don't spend enough time with their child. That's why they have so many youth in trouble today."

Stuart calls for responses. Ernest Bruno, who is serving time for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, speaks up first. "No phone calls, visit or teleconference can make up for our absence," he says. "I know a lot of times I feel guilty, when my children tell me of their accomplishments. Or even when they are having the best of times, I just wish I could do more. And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way. I hope by putting our heads together we can find a way of closing the gap between ourselves and our families. Maybe we need to get the community involved to let them know just how much we really care and keep our sons and daughters from becoming the same -- parents in prison."

Another father, Charles Wade, who was also convicted of drug charges, finds little reason for optimism: "My son already got lost in those streets." His son is 19. "My son might be in jail by the time I get home, and that's on me. They always gonna follow what you do."

Over the course of the meeting, the conversation ranges from D.C. schools to profanity in rap music to the risks of allowing children unrestricted Internet access. In many ways, the Concerned Fathers could be mistaken for a meeting at the local YMCA, except for their identical beige suits and the uniformed officer standing outside the door.

FROM 1980 TO 2003, THE NUMBER OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE NATION'S PRISONS AND JAILS QUADRUPLED, to nearly 2.1 million. As the overall prison population has increased, so has the number of children with incarcerated parents. In the United States, 1.5 million children had a parent in prison in 1999 -- up by more than 500,000 since 1991, according to the most recent federal government statistics.

"Over the past 10 or more years, there has been a growing body of work on the effects of paternal absence on children's development," says Vivian Gadsden, director of the National Center on Fathers and Families at the University of Pennsylvania. "When parents are incarcerated, their children, many of whom are of school age, experience a sense of enormous loss, which may be manifested in negative in-school and out-of-school behaviors."

For D.C. inmates such as Stuart Anderson, parenting became even more difficult after the passage of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997. With that law, Congress assumed federal control of a number of D.C. governmental functions, including much of the District's correctional system, whose mismanagement had long been a target of federal lawmakers' ire. From 1997 to the fall of 2001, more than 8,000 District prisoners were transferred to federal custody while the District-run Lorton prison complex was being shut down. Back then, the federal Bureau of Prisons assured prisoners and their families that no inmate would be moved farther than 500 miles from home. Yet many of the District's felons have been dispersed across the federal prison system, to facilities as far away as Florida, Oregon and California. Advocates for prisoners have expressed concern that inmates in distant facilities are less likely to maintain ties with friends and family. When those ties are weak, the argument goes, a released prisoner will reenter society on an unstable footing and be more likely to return to a life of crime.

"There's research showing that the more an inmate maintains contact with his family, the lower the re-arrest rate will be after he or she leaves prison," says Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. "So programs that facilitate those contacts and help people work through family relationships at a great distance can be viewed as programs that promote public safety."

(When I contacted Michael Davis, the officer Stuart assaulted, he asked how Stuart's daughters had been doing since their father went to prison. But his sympathies didn't seem to extend to Stuart. "What about the victim's family?" Davis asked.)

Fennelly started Hope House in the wake of the Lorton shutdown. She had been working as a commentator for National Public Radio in Washington. In the course of her reporting, she met the families of various Lorton inmates. She says she heard a common refrain: Closing Lorton is going to pull our families even further apart. There was plenty of talk about keeping incarcerated mothers connected with their children, but few people spoke about the fathers, she says: "Incarcerated men and their families are on the bottom of the food chain. In the eyes of the world they just don't count."

DIAMOND LEANS HER HEAD AGAINST THE WINDOW of the Hope House van, which rolls through eastern North Carolina, past peanut farms and cotton fields, toward Winton, a sleepy community whose claim to history is having been the first town in the state that the Union Army burned to the ground. It is late June, and, for four days, Hope House is holding its third annual summer camp at Rivers Correctional. Shavohn has attended all of the previous camps, but this year she's staying home because the camp is for 9-to-13-year-olds only. Inside the van it is quiet, while outside rain sprays off the wet asphalt. When a pale water tower rises over the distant tree line, a girl in the back of the van says, "There it is." The tower stands on the corner of the prison grounds and bids first welcome to approaching visitors.

At the same moment, Stuart is pressing his face to a darkened window in the prison's large visiting room. He is worried, he will later say, that Melody might have decided at the last minute not to let Diamond come. That happened to another prisoner last summer. Behind Stuart, near a mural of cartoon characters, a sign reads, "No excessive contact between inmates and visitors is allowed." For the summer camp, however, there are no guards in the visiting room to enforce this rule. "These are not the guys who are going to cause a lot of problems," says Brian Hedspeth, an associate warden for security. Only inmates with clean discipline records, excluding sex offenders, are allowed at summer camp.

At last, the van pulls up outside the window where the inmates are watching. Fourteen children file out. The fathers jostle for a good view. Out steps a figure in pink. Baby-Dee has arrived.

The children sit quietly in the prison's main waiting room, the glistening floor giving off a faint smell of cleaning solvent. A video monitor displays a dress code for visitors: no khaki-colored pants, no bluejeans, no bare midriffs. "Diamond, when do you think your father is coming home?" asks a 10-year-old girl with plastic barrettes at the ends of her braids. Diamond doesn't answer. When a corrections officer leads the children in, single file, through a metal detector, through a series of steel doors, past rolls of razor wire, one girl brags that this may be the last time she visits the prison. Her father is being released soon.

The bolt of the last door slides free, and the children push and squeeze their way into the visiting room, their sneakers squealing on the polished floor. Stuart is standing close to the door. Diamond leaps into his arms, and he hoists her into the air. Her skinny legs wrap around his torso. He kisses her on the forehead, on the cheek, on the arm, the shoulder, and they spin in circles. Nearby, one girl inspects her father's bicep. Another father and his sons start wrestling and slap boxing. "You got taller," Stuart tells Diamond.

As the hugs and kisses subside, trays of hot dogs and hamburgers are wheeled into the room. Stuart snaps on a pair of plastic gloves and serves the queue of fathers and children. When he has served the last person, he sits down next to Diamond and points out that this is the first time just the two of them have shared a meal. "We got to figure out how to do this," he says.

After the meal, the fathers put on a skit set in a high school classroom. Stuart plays a misfit student named Chanelle. His costume consists of a woman's brown wig and a couple of balled up T-shirts for breasts. The play tries to deliver a moral: "It doesn't matter what clothes you wear or where you're from. It's about what is in your mind," says one character. But Stuart is so funny -- "My name is Chanelle, and don't you forget it" -- that he inadvertently becomes the hero. The failure of the play in this regard hardly seems to matter. Diamond's eyes gleam with obvious pride in Stuart's show-stealing performance.

Before the day ends, the fathers and children share some one-on-one time. Diamond and Stuart sit opposite each other in plastic chairs. They lean forward, their bowed heads almost touching. Stuart holds Diamond's right hand. The room is raucous with laughter and joyous screams, but the Andersons speak in hushed tones.

"You got bony hands," Stuart says.

"Naw, you got bony hands," Diamond says. In fact, their long slender hands are remarkably similar.

Stuart rotates the ring on Diamond's hand. "I'm not taking it off till I get married," she says. He slides the ring forward, revealing an indent in her skin. "What you doin'?" Diamond asks with faked attitude. She watches his fingers work down to the tips of her fingers.

"I'm cleaning your nails," Stuart says, moving a fingernail underneath her own.

She watches her father work, for a moment transfixed. She smiles without parting her lips. "Ouch," Diamond says suddenly and snatches her hand away.

The next day, a man in a dark suit and neck tie walks into the visiting room while the inmates and their children are sitting in a circle, banging on plastic trash buckets that they decorated and are using as drums. George Snyder, who has been the warden at Rivers Correctional for a year, has a small stature and a folksy demeanor, not at all like the hard-edged character served up in prison films. The inmates seem energized by his presence. "That's the warden, honey. Say hi," Eric Cox, who will be released soon, tells his daughter. "He's the man who's going to send me home."

"I was a bit skeptical when I got here and someone told me there's a summer camp," Snyder acknowledges over the din of the drumming. What in the world is summer camp? he remembers thinking. But Snyder says the camp boosts inmate morale. "The perception of the inmates is that we're the man, so to speak. So I try to show them that we do care," by allowing programs like this. He also imagines a wider implication: "If the men stay connected with their families, maybe they'll be less likely to recidivate. We don't know, but that's the hope."

THE FAMILIES ARE PAINTING MURALS, with each scene reflecting a particular fantasy of life on the outside. "I've been thinking about this one for a whole year," Stuart says. He pulls out a rumpled sheet of white paper, his sketch. "It's a tight idea," Stuart says, handing the paper to Diamond.

Many of the families are painting sports themes -- a son kicking a soccer ball past his goalkeeper father, for example -- but Stuart has something else in mind. Last night he drew a scene of himself and Diamond lying together on the beach, under a parasol. In the sketch, Diamond reclines against Stuart's chest as he points out to the ocean.

"I like the beach," Stuart says. "It's something I can't do." If he gets paroled, he says, he and his daughters are heading straight for the shore.

"You don't have a six-pack," Diamond says, as Stuart paints himself with rippling stomach muscles. "But I got a six-pack."

"No, you got a four-pack," Stuart says.

"Yes, I do. Wanna see?" Diamond says and bares her stomach.

Stuart laughs and continues to paint.

On the morning of the camp's final day, as Stuart and Diamond are putting the final touches on their mural, he hands her a collection of old letters that she wrote. "I got them stacked up in my locker like this," Stuart says, spreading his arms. "What you create is important to me."

Diamond opens a letter dated October 25, 2002. "Daddy, I think of you a majority of the time," she wrote.

"My good man, how are you?" she began another.

As the day winds down, they finish the mural, which they hang alongside everyone else's on the visiting room's cinder-block walls. But the new splashes of color in the mostly drab room seem to provide little consolation to the fathers and their children. The last hour of camp is approaching. "Everybody is dreading this," Stuart mutters, as tears start to flow around him. Diamond, however, seems unaffected. "Don't cry," she says, hugging another inmate and also a prison staff member, who has become tearful herself.

When it's time to leave through the steel door, Diamond says "Bye-bye, Daddy" in her chipper voice. Stuart grabs her and dips her backward across his arm, tickling her. She laughs and tries to pull away, even as another girl nearby presses her wet face into her own father's neck. Finally, Stuart releases Diamond, and she slips through the door. Before it clangs shut, Stuart calls out, "I still wanna see your report card."

ON A THURSDAY MORNING IN EARLY FALL, Stuart was walking through the Rivers prison yard toward the parole hearing room. Along the way he ran into Ernest Bruno, who had also been summoned for a parole hearing. "Let's see what he gonna do with us," Stuart said. The two inmates wished each other luck, he recalls, and continued the walk in silence.

In the hallway outside the hearing room, Stuart and Bruno found four other men waiting. The last man had his head bowed and was clasping his hands in prayer, Stuart remembers. A caseworker from the prison stepped from the hearing room and turned to Bruno, telling him that his hearing was being postponed. Bruno started to make his way out, his head hung low. "All right, big slim," Stuart called to him. "I'll see you when I get out."

Several hours passed. Stuart was the last man to be called into the hearing room, he says. He took a seat at a long table in the same windowless cinder-block room where he had spent so many hours talking to Diamond and Shavohn by videoconference. Steve Teetor, the prison psychologist, and Orlandors Davis, Stuart's case manager, were also there. Stuart took a seat opposite a man wearing a dark suit and a yellow shirt.

"My name is Paul Howard," the man began, according to a U.S. Parole Commission tape recording. "I am a hearing examiner with the parole commission. Why should you be considered for parole?"

"These documents are character letters, pleas for my release," Stuart said. He sounded drowsy and uncertain as he showed Howard a thick file of papers.

"When we take a break, I will review the documents," Howard said.

"They tell you pretty much who I am, and what I've been doing the entire time I've been in. I don't rec[reate]. I don't play. I don't watch TV. I work on me. I work on my children." Stuart's voice then scratched and collapsed to a whisper -- he started to cry. "Can we stop for minute?"

With the tape cut off, Stuart stood up and walked out of the room, he says. He was alone in the hallway, trying to pull himself together. Three or four minutes passed, and Stuart, calmer now, returned to the hearing room.

During the next nearly 90 minutes, Stuart described Concerned Fathers and, growing increasingly confident, his future plans. He told Howard that, if released, he would live with his oldest daughter, Tyrina, and that he would try to work as an electrician or possibly as a home inspector. He had fallback ideas, too. "I'll sell cars. I'll work for McDonald's, because all I'm trying to do is get out there and catch my girls."

At one point Howard turned to Teetor. "Mr. Teetor, what would you like to say on behalf of Mr. Anderson?"

"I just came in basically today to confirm some of the things he's done to help out the institution," Teetor began. "He's done well with me, and he's done well to help this institution. He really has. The inmates respect him. I would support a positive recommendation for him being released to the community."

Shortly, a break was called for lunch. Afterward, Stuart returned to the hearing room and sat as Howard rendered his decision.

"I have to look at [your] offense," Howard said. "It involved what could have amounted to the murder of a police officer, so it becomes an issue of whether or not you are still a risk to the community. And, to your credit, I must admit that you've done extremely well while you've been incarcerated. You've completed a lot of programs, and you've been a model citizen . . . It's going to be my recommendation to the parole commission, taking into account all these facts, that you not be granted parole at this time . . . I am going to recommend a 36-month setoff, which requires a rehearing in September of 2007 . . . This was a very tough decision for me to make, I have to say that. However, there has to be a certain level of accountability . . . Do you have anything you'd like to say?"

Stuart sat stone silent for a while. "I didn't do that. I did not do it," he finally said so softly that the tape recorder barely captured his words. "I was arrested for it, and I was found guilty for it, and I -- I respect your decision, man. It's over."

After the hearing, Stuart says, he spent hours circling the prison yard. Other inmates tried to cheer him up, but for the next three days, he says, he was inconsolable and could not call his daughters. By the fourth day he was ready: He spoke to them -- briefly, so there was no time for anyone to cry. He told Shavohn, "Baby, looks like I won't be making graduation."

Later on, Stuart stretches out on his springless steel bunk. Nearby sit stacks of papers, including the transcript of his trial and letters from his daughters. Half a dozen old photos of Muhammad Ali cling to the wall, posted there by his cellmate to keep Stuart's strength alive: a young Ali training underwater, standing in the ring, sitting atop a pile of cash. In one image, Ali presses himself against a barrier of metal mesh, clawing in vain for Joe Frazier, his rival. Ali's mouth is agape; he is screaming, either in rage or despair at what he cannot reach.

Tyler Currie (tcurrie@verizon.net) is a Magazine contributing writer. He will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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Old 01-07-2005, 02:09 PM
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cjjack cjjack is offline
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Wow......powerful......and so sad.
Unjust laws are the worst form of tyranny
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Old 01-07-2005, 02:20 PM
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Thanks for posting this. It is good to see that a newspaper like the Washington Post is posting articles like this. Thanks again.
"Human nature will only find itself when it finally realizes that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal." (Mohandas Gandhi, In Search of the Supreme)
"I learned that familiar paths traced in the dusk of summer evenings may lead as well to prisons as to innocent, untroubled sleep." (Albert Camus, The Stranger)
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Old 01-08-2005, 02:38 AM
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divinelove divinelove is offline

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wow this is a great story. I'm glad to see someoene cares enough to bring this to the public's attention.
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