Dulce Andrade Benitez’s first memory of her father Gilberto was when she was four—when she and her mother moved from Mexico to California to live with him. Before that, nothing. He had gone to prison when she was 10 days old.

“I didn’t like him, because I did not know him,” she says. “To me, my dad was [like] my uncle.”

Dulce was six when Gilberto went back to prison. “When the police got there to take him away, he just grabbed my hand and he said, ‘I’m going to leave for a long time and you have to take care of your mom and your sister.'”

Over the next two decades, this became the pattern with her dad: out of prison for a while, then back in again for another drug-related charge. She’s added it up. She’s only lived three of her 22 years in same house as her father.

I grew up visiting a lot of prisons. I still hold on to the big box I have at home of all the letters and holiday cards. He has missed the most important days of my life.

Important days like special Father’s Day events, or school events that involved two parents. And especially holidays.

WHAT HURT THE MOST

Confused and shocked by her father’s incarceration, a young Dulce had to mature quickly. Her mother, an immigrant, didn’t have more than a middle school education and had previously depended on her husband for financial support. They now survived on welfare and the little Dulce’s mother brought in from selling beauty care products, babysitting, and cleaning houses. The small family of three lived in a trailer park in a “really socially disorganized area” in San Diego. Dulce remembers the family had to drive far to get a visit with Dad at whatever prison he was currently in. read more…