A Born Mistake by Demetrius Molina

This powerful piece, by Demetrius Molina, ties together his reflections about his own son’s future with past memories  of being the son of his own father.  It is a moving exploration of how the “pipeline” to incarceration can run though more than one generation of a family.

Today, as I sit alone in a prison cell with only my thoughts to
accompany me, I reflect on yesterday and try to imagine what tomorrow might bring. Often I’ve been told that mistakes are an important part of life; however, a mistake should be learned from in order to never make the same mistake twice. I do believe this to be true; yet another truth is that after thirty-one years of mistakes, I still do not know if I am doing right.

A small example from a larger story: today, after spending two weeks in New York, my eight year old son, Demetrius Jr., is flying back to Florida where he now lives with his mother. Two days before his departure, Demetrius, teary-eyed, pleaded with me that he wanted to stay in New York: “Dad, why do I have to live in Florida when all my family lives in New York?”

As an incarcerated father already separated from my reason, this was a complicated question to answer. Knowing the additional distance from me only equaled greater suffering, for him, I felt as though I would fail miserably when trying to explain the “why” to his question:

“Because, son, Orlando is a better place to live than Elmira. There are so many great things for you to experience living there. You will get to go to fun places like Disney World, Sea World and Universal studios–all places I have never been. I want you to have a better life than I had. Plus it is safer for you there.”

To this he countered with another difficult question: “How is it safer there when Orlando just had two terrorist attacks?” I was unprepared for this question and momentarily second guessed myself. Was this going to be yet another one of my mistakes?

The truth is, by living in Elmira, I am afraid my namesake will inherit more than my name and genetic makeup. By Demetrius inhabiting the same city and carrying the same identity as me–for him–I fear the worst. But how do I explain to my child that his name–my name–will haunt him?

I remember growing up without a father. It was difficult never knowing who my father was. In and out of prison and various women’s lives, my father was absent for ninety-eight percent of my childhood–a generous number for him. In between prison explorations and sexual dissipations, my father became infamous for his transient attempts at spending time with his young son and daughter. Eventually he found boredom by pretending and soon stopped showing his face all together.

This was fine by me because, by then, I was disgusted with hearing how much my face resembled his. “No I don’t,” was my standard response. And so abandonment fathered my hate.

I was a born mistake. My parents met at a local swimming pool during the summer of ’84. I entered this chilly world nine months later–my parents both sixteen. For three months grandma didn’t know she was going to be a grandma; for four months Grandpa didn’t know grandma knew. The truth is I was a mistake no one wanted, and I was nearly aborted during the second trimester. Mom scheduled the appointment, but grandma stopped her from making another mistake.

I was born on the same day my father was sitting in a prison cell–Grandma named me “Demetrius.” Growing up, I had mixed feeling about my half brother–five years my junior–being named after my father instead of me–nothing toward my brother, whom I love–just resentment toward his father.

But here I am, a lifetime later, sitting in a prison cell and I have done the exact same thing my father did to me, the exact same thing I promised myself I would never do; I have abandoned my child. And so I ask: How do I expect my son to forgive me for my mistakes when I have not yet forgiven my father for his?