We Got Us Now | Guest Contributor:  Jasmine Fernandez

As a young girl I spent most of my free time either outside playing double dutch, or at the dance studio training in tap, jazz and ballet. Yet, in the third grade, my world quickly turned upside down after my father was incarcerated.
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From the third grade up until when I was a senior in college, my father served three different sentences in over ten different correctional facilities. Needless to say, he wasn’t present in my most formative years. Our relationship was complicated.I still remember the anxiety I had the first time I went to visit him at Rikers at the age of 11. Despite how angry I was, I’ll never forget how his warm embrace made me feel. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see him in-person for a while. Due to the distance, for seven years, all I had to find comfort in were his phone calls and letters. Till this day, I still have a box at home with every one of his letters, poems, and holiday cards he ever made me.

During the summer of 2011, I learned he was not only serving time again, but he was fighting the biggest battle of his life - cancer.

Unfortunately, the judge overturned our appeal to have him serve his remaining time under house-arrest. Instead, with only four months to live, he spent his time in hospice at Syracuse Hospital under the watch of a correctional officer. There was no privacy. Our door had to remain open with the officer right outside walking back and forth as if a man with Stage 4 cancer in handcuffs was going to vanish somewhere.

New York in many ways is a progressive city, and yet we have a long way to go. Our criminal “justice” system is far from progressive. On the contrary, the system is one of the consistent reasons why so many black and brown families continue to be ripped apart. There is no mercy; we the children of incarcerated parents get stuck serving too. 

Jasmine Fernandez is a proud Latina and native New Yorker, born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn. Her work to advance education and the arts have led her to Tanzania, Nicaragua and Haiti, where in particular, she focused on supporting the leadership and self-esteem of girls and young women. Prior to joining city government, Jasmine worked with multiple youth development organizations where she empowered youth of color and refugees through advocacy, curriculum development, and college readiness workshops. Currently, Jasmine serves as a Policy Advisor for the NYC Department of Education. During her spare time, she's involved in local political efforts, including helping to elect more women of color into public office.