Daddy's Little Girl

by Alexis Francesca Russo, Sept 2010

Alexis, do you remember what to say when someone asks where Daddy is?

“My Daddy is in the Air Force and is stationed in Germany. He flies the C5A and is a Load Master Sergeant.”

It was always about the fine details and as usual I was already screwing up the second part. I was way too young to understand that my Dad was a Technical Sergeant and that his job title was Load Master for the C5A Aircraft. 

What did make sense was that we lived right across the highway from Dover Air Force Base. I was told about this country, Germany, which for me was a far away place that sounded so exotic and untouchable. This was my reality and I didn’t know or learn what the real truth was until I was older. Everyone else knew what had really happened because it was in the newspapers but no matter what, if someone asked, I was prepared to repeat what had been drilled into me. 

My first memory of N.J.S.P. is the outside visit where I am wearing the pink jumper. Everything was perfect except that for whatever reason Daddy wouldn’t be coming home with us on that day or any other. Only being four years old, this routine became normal and as time passed I would grow to become even more desensitized by my surroundings.

The minute we would enter the main visitation room, my Mom and brother would go grab seats while I use to dart towards this cement pole. This pole stood across from the door where my Dad and the rest of the inmates were released. In the middle of the door there was a piece of glass so that you could see out onto both sides. If we had signed up early enough, my Dad would be the first person behind the glass, smiling, and waiting patiently for the door to be unlocked. After five to ten minutes the door would unlock and he would walk right on over to me.

I was “Daddy’s Little Girl.” Besides my brother, he was the only male figure in my life. He was the one man that I was allowed to hug, kiss, cry, get tickled by, sit on his lap, tell stupid jokes, learn a new special word from the dictionary, get reprimanded; he was my Dad and the only adult male that I loved and trusted. 

Puberty in prison would unfortunately change some of our father-daughter dynamics. 

At around the age of twelve my child like bubble would burst and literally be ripped from me. Proud of my new budding breasts, I had to celebrate them by wearing my new white triangle-training bra that had a little blue flower right smack in the middle. When it was my turn to walk through the metal detectors and get the usual pat down, I was met by something much more fierce. To this day I will never forget her grabbing at my chest and screaming,

“What is this?!? What the fuck is this?!?! What the fuck do you got in there?!?!“ 

Within seconds I was in tears trying to mumble out…it’s just my new bra. After being passed around by two other female guards, I was finally cleared and given no apology. Instead I was informed that the week before a girl around the same age as I had gone through those same metal detectors and was busted for having a razor blade hidden within her bra.

As my body matured I would soon be told that I could no longer sit on my father’s lap and must remove myself at once. Breaking this new rule would immediately terminate our visit. From that point on I was only allowed to sit next to or across from him.

It was at the age of sixteen where the young new guard on the block would come around to stare, glare, and undress me with his eyes for a full ninety minutes. I was sitting next to my father while he stood and leaned in ever so close. We felt as if we should have invited him to sit and join in on our conversation. Once our ninety minutes was up he followed me through three holding rooms, all the way outside and even watched as I got into the car. A few days later I over heard that he accidentally tripped down a flight of stairs breaking his nose and ribs. I never saw him ever again.

My first crush was the son of another inmate. Our eyes met instantly from across the registration hall. We were the same age, had the same interests and most importantly our fathers lived in the same place and were friends. While waiting on line to get into the visit, our mothers spoke lightly and so did we. He was so handsome, intelligent, and polite. We were applying for the same art degree just studying at different colleges in different states. We even had the same last name but came from two different families. We were fixated by one another and barely paying attention to our family visits until both of our fathers took notice as to what was keeping our attention. I remember my Dad looking at me and saying, “Don’t even think about it.” When I looked over for the last time, I saw his father doing exactly what my father had just done to me. By the end of the visit, it was parental law that a relationship was not allowed to bloom in any way shape, matter, or form.

A year after, I brought not only a person to meet my father but an actual boyfriend. It was quite the scandal because that year I was just turning seventeen and he was twenty-eight. I remember my Dad looking him up and down, dissecting his every thought and move. He questioned his intention of why an older man would want to be with such a young girl, let alone his own daughter. Was I extremely mature for my age? Yes, but what did we really have in common? My Dad could see what type of guy he was before I could. After this visit the relationship began to slowly deteriorate and came to an abrupt end after I had cut my beauty by shaving off all my long locks.

I am twenty-eight years old; the same age my father was when he was incarcerated. By the time this book is published, I will be close to thirty. Throughout all these years one thing that has stayed consistent is the deep connection that I have with my Dad. I am blessed that he is alive and fortunate that we have gotten to know each other through visits, letters, and phone calls. I’m proud to say that I have the same exact eye color as his or that we both share a love for writing.