By Larry Stiner, Jr.
The man who fathered me said I was his champ. He told me I deserved that title because I had stood strong in the boxing ring of life. I had gone toe-to-toe with a challenge that not many others would have willingly accepted.
He praised me for becoming the legal guardian of my much younger siblings and for being a stabilizing presence in their lives when legal circumstances made it impossible for him to be.
I deflected his compliments and expressed why I felt that he was the real champ.
I told him the title was appropriate because he had sacrificed so much, including his freedom, in the fight to create a way for his children to have better lives.
In the end, we settled on being co-champions as we reflected upon the many years we had fought together in attempting to end his lengthy incarceration.
On Jan. 11 my father and I yelled in excitement, breathed a deep sigh of relief and took our imaginary boxing gloves off. For the first time in more than two decades, we could finally stop fighting for the freedom that had eluded him.
No longer did we need to guard our emotions, in order to protect our hearts from the punishing blows of denial repeatedly delivered by the Parole Board.
Each of the first 10 hearings with the Board of Prison Terms had been like a round of defeat in a hard fought boxing match. We would jab with letters of support from family members and friends, before following up with punching combinations of job offers and stable living arrangements.
Still, the board always seemed to block the punches and counter with something that knocked out our hopes. We’d find ourselves not only fighting for my father’s freedom, but also fighting off the painful feelings of frustration and hopelessness. This pain hit us each time my father’s collect phone call connected us, and he uttered the words, “Once again they claim that I’m not yet suitable for parole.”
On that recent Sunday morning in January, however, all of those seemingly ever-present feelings of disappointment and sadness instantly disappeared.
The 21-year fight had finally come to an end. My father was released from San Quentin State Prison at last, and we were over the moon with pure joy. Thankfully, we could step outside of the fictitious boxing ring and celebrate like we had dreamed of doing since the cell bars first closed on him back in 1994.
So much time had passed. My pop had been escorted into prison at the age of 46 with a head full of thick, black hair, worn in an Afro style. He walked out of the penitentiary, just a few weeks shy of his 67th birthday, with short graying hair and a smile that lit up the world.
He had made it to the other side of the wall, and on that other side was a beautiful place where freedom, family and friends had been waiting for him—for what seemed like forever.
The long and hard fight was finally over. Now, we could stand side-by-side in victory as true champions.