ASHLEY'S STORY - THE IMPORTANCE OF FATHERHOOD

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True story: as I sit down at my desk to share my story with you, the reality of having an incarcerated parent hits like a ton of bricks. Five minutes into staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen, I get a call from Dad. "No Caller ID" flashes across the screen, and I quickly answer. The next 15 minutes are precious, Corrlinks is down, so this is my chance to debrief my day, assure him that I am okay, and to simply hear his voice. After pressing five on the dial pad, I hear the usual "Hey Babygirl," and I smile. As his only child, that is something I will never outgrow. When I was just six months old, my then 20-year-old Dad, Orrin Jackson was sentenced to 98 years in federal prison for a non-violent, drug-related offense. His Draconian sentence is and was the result of a crack cocaine law and a misinterpretation of the federal criminal statute Title 18 U.S.C. 924(c) which is what has kept my dad in prison for so long. His case has seemingly fallen through the cracks of our criminal justice system.

As this is my first time sharing my experience with an audience that understands what it feels like to have an incarcerated parent, I am burdened yet freed by the opportunity to exercise full transparency.  Another Father’s Day has now come and gone, and I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that each year hurts a little more than the last. My Dad is and has always been the most intelligent, enlightened, stand-up man I know. From a very early age, I can remember my Dad imparting love, light, and wisdom to the woman he was raising me to be. I not only understood how it felt to be unconditionally loved, but I understood that there was Providence over my life and the lives of those connected to my purpose. 

As this is my first time sharing my experience with an audience that understands what it feels like to have an incarcerated parent, I am burdened yet freed by the opportunity to exercise full transparency.  Another Father's Day has now come and gone, and I would be remiss if I didn't admit that each year hurts a little more than the last. My Dad is and has always been the most intelligent, enlightened, stand-up man I know. From a very early age, I can remember my Dad imparting love, light, and wisdom to the woman he was raising me to be. I not only understood how it felt to be unconditionally loved, but I understood that there was Providence over my life and the lives of those connected to my purpose. 

While I am beyond grateful for the beautiful relationship that my Dad and I have been able to maintain, as I approach 29 years old I am learning to tend to wounds I didn't realize were there. The moment that I became fully aware that my Dad, uncles, cousins, and millions of our black and brown men, were being subjected to a system designed to dismantle our families while attempting to break our spirits, I was devastated. I was 25 then and these last four years have been spent trying to understand the deep resentment I have for our broken criminal justice system...while simultaneously thinking of productive ways to address the multi-headed monster of mass incarceration.  I have also been challenged to chip away the callus that has been built around my heart in efforts to fully appreciate and submit to the will God has over my life. My life has been designed this way for a very specific reason, and I look forward to the unfolding of a beautiful testimony. 

There are both healing and power in each of our stories. My prayer for us is that we continue to use our transparency and kindred experiences to serve and encourage others who struggle with this same heaviness.

Ashley Jackson is the co-owner and CEO of Gift Box Shop, LLC. She is a Charlotte, NC native who is passionate about becoming the change she would like to see in her community. Ashley is a 2018 Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce 30 Under 30 Honoree. Her retail company, Gift Box Shop intentionally helps incarcerated individuals stay connected to friends, family, and loved ones through the act of gift giving. Ashley uses her own experience of growing up with a father who is currently serving a 98-year sentence in federal prison for a non-violent drug-related offense to become a resource for those affected by mass incarceration. Gift Box Shop has allowed Ashley to use her creativity, empathy, and personal insight to play a role in reducing recidivism, one gift at a time. Ashley also serves as a Career Counselor to job seekers with intellectual disabilities in Charlotte and surrounding areas.