A Father’s Love Knows No Bars

A Father's Love Knows No Bars by @andrewdkaufman #family #love #jail

With Father’s Day around the corner, I’ve been thinking about a kind of love familiar to millions of men around the globe—including the nearly eight hundred thousand incarcerated men in America with children on the outside.

I am reminded of the power of that bond as I listen to Kory, a 21-year-old Black man with a bright smile and exuberant sense of humor, gush about a recent visit by his four-year-old son, Raekwon, to the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, where Kory is awaiting sentencing for second-degree murder.

A Dream and a Broken Promise

I first met Kory at the jail l in the summer of 2023. He was one of twelve inmates who took my class on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and I’ve been doing follow-up interviews with him ever since.

Having grown up with a father behind bars, Kory was determined to be a different kind of dad to his son. Tragic circumstances and terrible choices would eventually lead him to break that promise.

In 2020, when Raekwon was born, Kory was determined to clean up his life. He stopped selling drugs and hanging with a rough crowd. He graduated from high school in 2023, one of his proudest moments. Two months later—a week after Kory’s best friend had been murdered—he had an altercation with a longtime rival who’d threatened Raekwon’s mother. Kory snapped and killed the man. “If only I hadn’t had that gun in my car,” he says, his face wrenching.

“I don’t want people to think that I’m a crazy, gun-wielding Black dude,” Kory tells me.

He wanted to express remorse to the victim’s family at his guilty plea hearing—in private and without a recording, so the family would know that “it’s genuine and I’m not just trying better my situation.” But Kory’s attorney wouldn’t allow it, as it was legally too risky. It is but one example of how our criminal justice system makes it difficult for people who have committed terrible crimes to express their full humanity.

A Father’s Pride

I see Kory’s humanity when he recounts his recent meeting with his son. “It was exciting,” he says in the warm, animated voice he uses when talking about Raekwon, which he has done at nearly every one of our meetings for the past nine months.

“Raekwon’s gotten so big! He was showing me his new coat and new shoes and stuff. He was being goofy and messing around. He was, like, ‘Oh daddy, there’s a spider behind you.’ I act like I grabbed the spider. I hate spiders, by the way. Raekwon knows that! He pretends to get scared, and is like, ‘Daddy, there’s a spider behind you.’ I act like I’m going to put it in my pocket. He’s like, ‘Why daddy? Why your pocket? You’re scared of spiders!’ I’m like, ‘because it’s going to be my pet spider.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, you got to get rid of it!’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s my pet spider. I’m not scared anymore. See, I’m playing around with it in my pocket and it’s alive.’”

I then share with Kory a story about a silly game I used to play with my own son when he was Raekwon’s age. We share a joyful chuckle, two fathers talking about our boys. I forget that I’m sitting in a jail.

“Daddy, where are you?”

Kory doesn’t think his son knows what a jail is. “I’m happy he doesn’t,” he tells me. “But he’s going to eventually know. When he gets older, he’s going to obviously have questions, like ‘Daddy, where are you? Where have you been? Maybe when he’s 16, 17, I’ll be, like, ‘Yeah, this is why your daddy’s behind bars. He was young and dumb.’”

The next time Kory will see Raekwon as a free man will probably be in twenty years, but only if he gets a break at his upcoming sentencing. Otherwise, it may be closer to thirty or more.

It’s an unimaginable tragedy. Another ruined family, another broken promise by a father to a son, another little boy growing up without his dad.

When I tell Kory I plan to be at his sentencing, he is moved and surprised. He has trouble believing I could care about him after what he’s done. Still, he’s excited for me to meet his son. “I hope when you see him, you’re going to be, like, ‘Oh my God, that’s his son! Look at how much he loves his dad. Look how much he misses his dad.’ And I hope everyone can see that.”

So do I. For while we owe it to the family of Kory’s victim that justice is done, we also owe it to inmates like Kory to remember that fathers who do terrible things are fathers nonetheless with children who love them.

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