Right now counts forever. So do something.

by Dave Franco | December 23, 2018

By Andriece with Dave Franco

Andriece’s reason for joining the Prison Ministry was to help others, or so she thought.

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It was the answer I least wanted to hear. Yet my mom thought it was just the thing to say to her daddy-starved little girl. It happened when I would notice that my dad was gone too long. I would ask her, “Where’s daddy?”

“Daddy’s on a trip,” she would offer. “He’ll be back soon.”

Back soon. All that meant was that I should get used to being without him for a very long time.

Several times a year—and seemingly always at Christmas, my dad would go on one of these “trips” that had him away for months. I hated it. My dad was the most fun person on the planet, and he would do anything for me. Any time he was near, I had a grip on him. He’d reach down and touch my cheek with his big hand and my face would fit right in. He would bend his giant frame down and look me in the eye and smile his handsome grin. I would purr like a kitten. 

When I was 13, my dad, who moved a half-hour away, was going to be at the house for Christmas. I couldn’t remember a Christmas with dad home and this was going to be my best Christmas ever. Everything came together like a dream: it snowed like crazy in Lake Tahoe that day, Christmas music played, the smell of turkey filled the air, and my dad was coming home to be with me.

Sure enough dad came through the doors, like a hero from the cold. He held me close and gave me a Christmas present. But there was something wrong. He didn’t seem happy. Dad’s downcast demeanor always made me worry.

After dinner, I noticed that dad was missing. I looked at the front door and just knew. As I burst open the doors, he was loading a car in the driveway, as if for a long drive.

“Daddy, no!” I screamed.

“Honey go back in the house!” he yelled as I ran through the snow. I took a hold of his waist and held on for dear life. “Daddy, don’t leave!”

“Andriece! Let go, honey!”

My uncle grabbed me and tried to pull me off, but I was not letting go. I somehow knew from somewhere that I can’t explain, that if I did, it would be the last time I would see him. I shrieked as if my reason for living was going to be driving away in that car.

My uncle pulled me off and held me as my dad got in the car and started it with a terrible roar. I cried and called out to him as he drove away.

My best Christmas turned out to be my worst.

My mom has kept quiet about what happened that day, to spare me, she says. All I knew is that my dad is now serving a life sentence for a crime having to do with drugs. Drugs have plagued him throughout his adult life.

Cards from him started arriving immediately. I threw each away. I was so hurt, I couldn’t go through the process of reading his thoughts—letting him close and then having to feel the pain again. So I didn’t even think about it. I just threw them away, card after card. My grandma told me that on that Christmas morning, he didn’t have a car and walked two hours in the snow to be with me. “Your daddy loves you,” she said.

“If he did, he’d be here,” I curtly said back.  

“Your daddy loves you,” she said. “If he did, he’d be here,” I curtly said back.  

I began to lie to my friends about where he was and downplayed his importance. Of course, I was dying without him. When I got a Christmas gift from him through the Angel Tree program, I kept it and held on to it like the gift was him.

Ten years later I joined the Navy as a nurse. Stationed in San Diego, I came to the Rock on the day of the ministry fair, where all the ministries have booths. The Prison Ministry brandished prison bars as a part of its display. I felt drawn to it immediately. 

After joining, I eagerly attended the meetings and family outreaches. 

On my first Sunday at Donovan State Prison, I was to give my testimony. I planned to talk about my experience with the Angel Tree program but would certainly not go into details about a little girl whose dad didn’t love her enough to be around. But as I took to the microphone, there in front of the inmates, I found my secret escaping, like a prisoner longing to be free. I told them everything, even that I hadn’t talked to him in 10 years.

When I finished, an inmate asked if he could say something. “Okay,” I replied.

 “You remind me of my daughter,” he said as he showed me a picture of her.  “Even though I’m in here, we have a wonderful, loving relationship.”

I looked in his soft eyes.

“Young lady,” he said, “it’s time to go see your father.”

It shook me. I cried without restraint. I immediately felt like my dad, the man who I pushed far away, was suddenly close enough to touch. I was completely overcome.

Three weeks later, I made the trip to Soledad Prison where he was. When I got there they ushered me to the common area where I’d meet my dad. I was shaking uncontrollably.

Suddenly, a large man walked the length of the busy room and went to the security guard to ask where I was. 

The guard pointed to my table and my dad turned and saw me sitting there. I kept it together until he sat down and touched my hand. I broke open like a dam. 

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I love you, Andriece. None of this was your fault.”

There was so much I wanted to say. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. I miss you. But all of that would have to wait. I simply blew apart.

There was so much I wanted to say. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. I miss you. But all of that would have to wait. I simply blew apart.

We reminisced about our lives together, and we spent time talking about our mutual faith in Jesus. Truthfully, I never did fully gain control again. The dad that was dead to me was alive again. I was alive again too.

When time was up, I hugged him like I used to—like I was never letting go. I cried so hard when he left that people tried to console me. I must have been a sight. But I didn’t care. I had never been so happy in my life.

I think back to God’s nudge for me to join that ministry. I thought I was there to help others.  It was me who needed them.

Now, when I get a card, I answer it immediately. And of course I keep each one. I read them again and again and store them in a box by my bed. In some way, the box is my dad.

Now that Christmas is almost here, I can’t wait. Dad won’t be with me, but in a way he will. Finally, my best Christmas ever. 

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For more information about the Prison Minstry, click here.

For more information about the Angel Tree Ministry, click here

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