Richeda Ashmeade was just 12-years-old when her father was incarcerated. In light of Father’s Day, she reflected on their last day together.
“We were laying down and he was reading me this Powerpuff Girl book that I really liked,” said Richeda with a giggle to theGrio. The now 25-year-old went on to say it was a typical day for them.
“He took me to the mall and we went shopping,” said Richeda. She described her father as her best friend. She said it was common for them to indulge in manicures and pedicures and get their hair done together — her father had long hair and rocked braids at the time.
But now, Richeda says her memories are fading. “I haven’t seen my dad in four years, I don’t remember what my dad looks like, that’s why I feel guilty, I can’t remember what he looks like,” she said.
Richeda’s father, Ricardo Ashmeade is serving a 22-year sentence in a Florida prison on marijuana charges. Richeda, who now lives in California, said she cannot fathom how her father is serving such a lengthy sentence when marijuana is becoming legalized and laws are changing all around the country.
“I’m looking at someone smoke weed right now,” said Richeda as she looks out the window. She added that not having her father has prevented her from wanting to have kids of her own or even get married. She became emotional and said she can’t imagine taking that step without her dad walking her down the aisle.
According to research done by The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, 5 million children in the country have had a parent incarcerated. And because Black men are targeted about 5 times more than whites, Black children suffer the most. These kids are also more likely to suffer from poor mental and physical health and studies prove the effects of these aliments can last a lifetime.
Regardless of the circumstances, Ricardo maintains a relationship with Richeda and her three siblings from behind bars. He communicates with them through letters and emails and ensures them that they have his support.
He told theGrio through email why it’s important for children to have a relationship with their father even if they are incarcerated.
“Too often, incarcerated fathers are marginalized and are seen as optional,” wrote Ricardo, 49, an immigrant of Jamaica. “As your children get older, more often than not, they will appreciate your constant effort to be present, using the limited resources available. It’s never too late to strengthen your relationship with your children, so fight for them.”
Ricardo also spoke about his case and how he feels about being incarcerated in the face of marijuana laws changing all around him. Marijuana has not been legalized on a federal level or in Florida, where he is incarcerated, but legislation has been passed so far in 34 states.
“The silver lining is that although the U. S. federal government has remained stubbornly slow to adapt nationwide reform policies, it seems that the next generation will reap the benefits of the changes, propelled by the ever increasing social acceptance,” he wrote.
The odds are stacked against Ricardo because he is considered a habitual offender. According to criminal law attorney David Moorhead of Moorhead Law Group in Boulder, Colorado, just because laws are changing around the country doesn’t mean they benefit those already convicted.
“Just because the laws change does not mean that you are automatically pardoned or that your sentence is vacated because what you did is no longer illegal,” said Moorhead.
But the attorney says there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“There are a lot of states that have reform sentencing commissions set up and they are usually staffed by volunteer criminal defense attorneys,” he said. “The only real thing you could do is have those people go and advocate to the governor of your state.”
Richeda and her father are already a step ahead. They have been working with the nonprofit Last Prisoner Project, an organization made up of professionals and experts in the cannabis industry, who advocate for policy change and are committed to helping free individuals like Ricardo. They have helped dozens who are convicted under marijuana charges return home.
The organization helped another father, Corvain Cooper, come home to his two daughters. Cooper served just eight years of a life sentence under a marijuana conviction. He now works with Last Prisoner Project and is an advisory board member.
Richeda said her father’s case has inspired her to get into law. She has applied and is hoping to get into Howard University’s law school. She is currently an entrepreneur and works in reproductive justice.
Richeda is also not giving up on making more memories with her dad. Just like many young adults, she still reaches out to him when she is having an issue or needs a second ear. She also said despite the stigma surrounding Black fathers, her dad is wonderful.
“I can remember the feeling of hopelessness during my childhood. I felt hopeless because I felt like I couldn’t help my father or the family who was left behind. My father is intelligent, loving and resilient. He loves his children more than life itself. He meets every expectation of what a father should be,” she added that Ricardo has a beautiful mind, and even when he chastises her, it’s in a way that makes her want to do better.
“There are too many Black children in America who end up in the wrong situations with no one to defend them. As cliche as this may sound, what does not kill you makes you stronger. I am determined to be just that, stronger.”
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