BREE'S STORY ~ HOLIDAY SEASON: BITTERSWEET

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My birthday is on Christmas, so every birthday I had a routine. I would premeditate how I will stay so busy and have so much fun so I didn’t express the sign of loneliness, hurt, neglect, embarrassment or rejection. I hid my depression and worries about all the memories my father missed every year. Losing hope was one of my biggest fears....

ME: For the 23 rd time, Daddy are you coming home this Christmas?

DAD: Hey, Bree make a list and write to Santa Claus what you want for Christmas!

ME: Okay, I will tell Santa I want my dad home for Christmas.

Never happened! Growing up as a kid I never believed in Santa Clause and the more years passed by I started taking my anger out by convincing other kids not to believe in Santa either; until I got older and realized that I couldn’t ruin their joy because I was feeling incomplete. If you tell me that to be nice and Santa will get whatever I ask for that “All I want for Christmas is to have all my family together”. The holiday season for me was always bittersweet because I grew up in a household with a single mother and a father that parented from behind bars. My father went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me and so I never got to spend a holiday with my father as a child, teenager and some adult years.

As holidays approached, my friends were always so excited to say what their fathers were buying them for Christmas and I couldn’t relate so I always excluded myself. Every holiday party at school my mother made sure she was there to put a smile on my face and provided everything I wanted as a child. Wow, tears are dropping, and the thoughts are flowing! I can’t believe I’m writing about the same story I was embarrassed to speak about my whole life, because I’ve always suffered from seasonal depression and soul-searching. While everyone was going to sleep when gifts were getting wrapped, I was up in my bed, head under the covers —crying hard tears, because I knew every year for the past twenty-three years the same thing, I asked for was not going come in a square package, perfectly wrapped with a big pretty red bow under a Christmas tree. I procrastinated to walk down the stairs when everyone was so excited to open their gifts because I didn’t want my expressions to look like I was ungrateful. What child doesn’t want to wake up to both parents on the biggest holiday of the year? My hurt was hidden with smiles and staying busy.

Growing up no one prepared me that I would never get a chance to spend a birthday, holiday or Christmas with my father. My birthday is on Christmas, so every birthday I had a routine. I would premeditate how I will stay so busy and have so much fun so I didn't express the sign of loneliness, hurt, neglect, embarrassment or rejection. I hid my depression and worries about all the memories my father missed every year. Losing hope was one of my biggest fears until it started to become my temporary reality. I started saying to myself that my father is in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, and he will never get a chance to spend my birthday with me. Repeating that over and over in my head helped me deal with worrying about him facing a life sentence. My friends and family spent every holiday with their dad; meanwhile I had to wait for a phone call a week before my birthday or stand at the mailbox waiting for a birthday card, so I can save it for my birthday only to find out 3 years ago I missed all those moments for nothing, because my dad was innocent the entire time. If my father didn’t get a chance to call me on a holiday, I would read old letters over and over. Being in contact with my father while he was in prison made the transition so much easier when he was released in 2015 for wrongful convictions.

All the effort I put into building that relationship was worth it — since most daughters who have incarcerated fathers are not aware that their fathers still can parent from behind bars. In most cases young women never recover from those missed relationships they never had a chance to build with their fathers and go on with their lives to have issues with trust, rejections and an unfulfillment of life purposes; especially during holidays when she’s facing seasonal depression.

Robresha “Bree” Anderson was born December 25, 1992. She is a native New Orleanian that attended Warren Easton High School. Bree spent the first 23 1/2 years of her life with her father behind bars until he was exonerated in November 2015. Bree is an active board member of IPNO Young Professional Committee. Innocence Project of New Orleans, the non-profit organization that freed Robert Jones, support projects geared towards freeing innocent women and men. She served 4 years as a committee member of the NAACP to help eliminate race-based discrimination and defied society’s stereotype of children with incarcerated parents by becoming an advocate for children faced with parental incarceration. Bree is the Co- Founder of an organization called Daughters Beyond Incarceration (DBI). DBI was recently given a proclamation from the City of New Orleans for the great advocacy work. Daughters Beyond Incarcerations (DBI) mission is to advocate for girls with incarcerated dads while building strong parent-to-child relationships between them.