Father’s Day in the Slammer
By Edwin Rubis
Currently serving a 40-year federal sentence for a nonviolent marijuana conspiracy offense
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What is a Happy Father’s day in prison? Certainly not camaraderie and fanfare coupled with rainbows and flower pots. Surely not a day of celebration where you receive gifts from your children as they tell you how much they care for you.
A Father’s day in the slammer is dark and as oppressive as it can be, like any other day in confinement. Kind of like a non-stop roller coaster with unexpected twists and turns, ups and downs, tears and sadness, and a ‘let’s do the day and let the day do you’ type of attitude. I know, I know, I’m treading on the edge of pessimism here – and definitely not my style. But for a moment, can I be real with you?
Each passing Father’s day has been more traumatic than you can imagine. Not only for me but also for my three sons (Nick, Keanu, and Austin), who are now in their mid-twenties. Since they were babies they’ve been waiting for their father to come home. And as adults, they continue to wait. So much that we as a family unit have learned to treat it like any other day. Let me rephrase that: ‘A day of me in prison and them wishing for me to be with them’.
When we speak of being a father from behind prison walls, we have no choice but to realize it as a convoluted statement. On the one hand, prison officials are constantly encouraging you to be a good role model to your children. But on the other hand, they are utterly denying you the ability to do the things necessary to accomplish such a task.
The 15-minute phone calls can hardly do justice, and the three to four-hour prison visits once a month (if your family can afford such travel expenses) can never fulfill such a fatherly role; since (to me) fatherhood means to always be there for your children and to love them unconditionally – no matter what.
The federal system works hard, despite its contrary assertion, to dehumanize you to the degree that your goals as a father are consequently diminished and become nearly impossible. Frustration has been my “amigo numero-uno” in here.
I’ve seen my sons grow up into young men, without the ability to comfort them as a child, to listen to them as an adolescent, or to ‘now’ effectively give them life-changing wisdom during adulthood. This hurts me to the core of my being.
Has fatherhood changed me in the slammer? Every single incarcerated father in the belly of the beast will tell you that change is inevitable. All of your emotions (and longing for your children) are compacted in and poured into what you could call an imaginary vat under a winepress, pressing and pressing and pressing until the trauma and intensity of your feelings damages you – to the point that the numbness of your feelings is the only residual option available to cope with the pain.
I remember my first Father’s day in confinement as if it were yesterday (June 21, 1998). I had been in jail for twenty-six days since my arrest. Up to this point, I had only been able to speak to Sara (my ex-wife now), and my three-year-old son (Keanu) four times over the phone. Over the past three weeks I had been moved from jail to jail and from cell to cell until I ended up in solitary confinement, in a cold, dimly lit room the size of a gas station bathroom – with no access to a phone.
This was the D.E.A.. and the prosecutor’s tactic to break down uncooperating arrestees.
There I sat, lonely and depressed, on Father’s day, desperately wishing I could hold Keanu and Nick in my arms, or to softly caress Sara’s stomach carrying our yet unborn child. The only recurring thought – which kept pounding me over the head on top of a migraine headache I had now developed every time I thought about my dismal situation – was my last phone call to Sara and Keanu a few days ago.
“Dada, Dada,” Keanu said over the phone. “com, com hum.” Then he started crying senselessly.
My heart was torn in two. Tears rolled down my face like hot lava. My grip on the phone got tighter and tighter as anger and shame overwhelmed my whole being. A burning pain in my chest suffocated me, making breathing difficult. I inhaled air deeply a time or two, trying to maintain my composure. I somehow found the courage to tell him, “put mommy on the phone.”
Without a warning, the phone hung up.
This obsequious and recurring thought was my Father’s day present. A painful reminder that I had not only failed as a father but was now embarking on a no-return journey into the abyss of hell. Anger enveloped me. I began to feel extremely hot as if I was in front of an open brick oven. In the semi-darkness, I began to cry. I punched the wall numerous times until my knuckles bled. No one could hear my sniffles and cries of desperation as I sank down on my paper-thin mattress.
The only consoling hope was a few barely legible words scribbled in black pencil (not that it mattered at the time but it somehow helped) on the wall next to my metal bunk: “understand this … be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. For human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”
Probably from the last tenant who also found himself angry about this whole jail ordeal.
As I lay there, in my depressive state of mind, I covered myself with a burlap-sack-looking blanket. Somehow sleep came easily. I slept until morning, until a jail guard banged on the cell door telling me it was ‘chow time’, and passing a cold breakfast tray through the cell door slot.
It would be a week later before I got to speak to Sara and Keanu. By that time. Father’s day was already on the back burner of my more than desperate situation: The marijuana conspiracy charges. The ones that would eventually translate into a 40 years federal sentence.
My experience as a father in the slammer, as previously noted, hasn’t been easy (although not as intense as the first one). There are no celebrations. No presents from your children. Maybe a phone call or two, and hopefully a prison visit. We as a family consider it just like any other day in prison. For it’s way too painful to see it any other way.
The constant advice I’ve given my sons over the years has been to ‘never do anything that can land you in the slammer’. This is not a place for anyone to be, especially fathers. Life stops here. Kind of like ‘The Walking Dead’.
Coming upon almost a quarter of a century in prison, the only thing I can say is that Father’s Day in prison is dark, lonely, and emotionally numbing. And by now, the hope of getting out to be reunited with my sons looks extremely bleak, like my first Father’s Day in confinement. Unless someone decides to change it.
Edwin Rubis is serving a 40-year sentence for a non-violent marijuana offense. You can help advocate for his release by sharing this story on social media, by writing your legislators, tweeting President Biden, and using the hashtag #freeedwinrubis
Read more from Edwin HERE
If you’d like to write to Edwin:
Edwin Rubis # 79282-079
Talladega, AL 35160
As we have written before, enough is enough.