My name is Marcus H. Knight. I am the Founder and CEO of the not-for-profit organization Hands Up Paid Forward, Inc. HUPF is dedicated to reaching the communities throughout the United States in order to build social networks within charitable organizations and through the national high school network instill a greater sense of responsibility toward each other and the community in which they live.
While attending North Central Bible College my Army Reserve Unit was called up into active duty and I was deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. After returning home I had the privilege of assisting national recording artists such as Prince and Alicia Keys among others.
Although I was born in Milwaukie, Wisconsin I eventually decided to make my home in New York City – 3 weeks before 9/11.
I have known Guy for a number of years and upon his return home from prison and with our shared empathy and concern for those about to enter the Federal Prison System we decided to work together toward helping those about to enter that nightmare.
While Guy’s particular observation comes from that of an inmate, my background is that of a child-survivor of a parent being incarcerated. Together we are able to address each life-experience from a different, but valuable perspective.
Allow me to relate my life growing up a child of the prison system…..
My father was a larger-than-life type of guy. No matter what shortcomings my father had, he was, still, my dad. I remember that one day he was there and the next day he just wasn’t. At the age of 5 I could not process the life changes happening. What does a baby know about someone being arrested? All I knew is that my father wasn’t home. As the days went by, I missed him terribly. I felt weak and I felt vulnerable. Soon the feeling of being a victim began to overpower me. It began to take total control of me. It seemed that as the world began to notice my father’s absence it could do anything to me, say anything to me and I was powerless to do anything about it. My world was upside down.
I loved and missed my father and I waited each day, each week, each month for a letter from him. For anything from him. When, after what always seemed like an eternity, I would finally receive something in the mail from him I would sleep with it for weeks afterwards. On visiting days I would literally run into his arms and squeezed him until it hurt, sitting on his lap until his legs went numb. A 5-year-old looks up to his daddy and the pride I felt for him overwhelmed me.
During visits I recall watching the other kids and seeing their excitement of seeing their fathers. I felt the same – I felt whole and complete. Protected, safe, loved. But all too soon the visit would be over.
As time passed however, the letters stopped. We weren’t able to visit so often anymore. With no communication from my father depression, anger and alienation began to create resentments in me. I suppose the human mind does what it does to protect the emotions it feels so I began to pretend that I didn’t care. You see, a child’s innocence is lost the first time they hear the slam of the prison bars. Soon when someone asked about my father my go-to answer was “My father is dead”.
As I grew older, I became more aware of things as young men do. The pain was still there but I continued to block it out. The pain of being the child of an inmate was only heightened because now I was ‘the man of the house.
That my younger siblings still looked up to the man who ‘deserted us’ made me sick. I was now the father figure in their lives. I did what I could to be the parent during these years as my mother was devastated by losing her husband. As the years passed she began dating and although I looked them up and down while letting them know I was the man of the house, I secretly hoped that maybe one good man could fill the emptiness in my heart.
Now a teenager, the gang life beckoned. You see, the child of an inmate looks to find someone to replace the lost childhood, become accepted, show that they are worthy of acceptance. Of love. It is one of the reasons the incarceration levels are so high for the African-American community. Money, cars, girls, none of that can replace a lost childhood but it numbs the pain somewhat. Fortunately for me I had the love of Christ within me and the fulfillment I had in spiritual leaders and my sports coaches helped to dissuade me from a life that easily could have gone into another direction.
We put this course together in order to allow those who are facing imprisonment a head start. A cheat sheet so to speak in order to become aware of what they are about to face. We wanted to minimize the stress not only for the convicted but for the family as well. They, after all, are on lockdown as well. The course encourages the convicted to not withdraw, isolate or give up. The chain reaction wave of incarceration will inevitably draw not only the spouse or significant other into the storm but the children - the most vulnerable and innocent. We are certain that the course offered through Prisoncology will help, as much as is possible, to do just that.