By Watani Stiner
My eldest son turns 50 today (October 25th) and I wrote this in his honor. He celebrated by having a big gathering of family and friends which I would have loved to attend. However, as I am still on parole, I was denied permission to travel to Los Angeles for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
Some of you may not know that once you get out of prison, you’re not as “free” as you might think. Parole can last from one year to the rest of your life, and it means you continue to be beholden to the state in many ways. For instance, I can’t travel outside of a 50-mile radius from where I am living. I have to submit to a urinalysis test every month even though I have never been convicted of any drug-related charge. I am subject to parole checks where my parole officer comes to inspect how I am living – looking at who I’m hanging out with, assessing my moral rectitude. I have restrictions on who I can or can’t associate with. And if I am found in violation of any of these restrictions, I can be immediately returned to San Quentin.
It was a great disappointment to me to not be able to celebrate Larry’s 50th birthday in person, but I am hopeful that in this coming year I will be granted passes out of the county to visit not only Larry but my other children and grandchildren. There’s no substitute for sitting in a loved one’s kitchen, sharing laughter and conversation in person.
A Toast To My Eldest Son on His 50th Birthday!
Maybe some of you don’t know but shortly after Larry Jr. was born, I gave him the special name Kalima. When he got older, he didn’t like the name because he felt self-conscious about it; he thought it was a little weird. When his mother started calling him “Lee-Lee” that was the end of it. He decided to just go back to using Larry. Kalima in Swahili means: “One with the spoken word.” What I now realize, looking back upon these 50 years, is that what I should have named him is Nzuri Moyo, which means ONE WITH THE BEAUTIFUL HEART!
LIFTING THE GLASS TO BEGIN THE TOAST!
Larry Jr., Nzuri Moyo, first son of Larry Joseph Stiner Sr. (Baba), I am trying to express to you just how proud I am that you were born MY SON, and how much I truly do love you. This cannot be captured in just a few words or expressed in such a limited amount of space and time! I would need a forum more beautiful than a toast and I certainly would need to be there in person. But since this is your 50th birthday and I am moved to say something of significance and value, let me just say this:
You were born during a turbulent period in history… October 25, 1965—born during the heat and fire of revolutionary social change in this country. It is certainly no secret to you that I spent much of my time as your young father focusing on the big picture, on the “revolution,” and not nearly enough time on being a father to you and your brother Shambulia. Imbued with revolutionary zeal and ideals, I left you and went off to save the world! No, I was not there when you and your little brother Shambulia needed a father the most.
By all odds, and verified by so many analyses and statistics, you and your younger brother were doomed to be counted among the casualties of this society. You were predicted to either become addicted to drugs, consumed by the criminal injustice system, or found dead from an unsuspecting bullet. Yes, the social deck was stacked against you. You were certainly predicted to be just another defeated young Black man, cast aside, lost or dying on the uncaring streets of Los Angeles.
However, you are one of the survivors!… But you are more than just a survivor. You are one of the too few success stories in the inner cities of America. I cannot (and won’t pretend to) take credit for the strong Black man that you have become today. You are someone who has defied and defeated all the odds. I am so very proud of you!
Let me name just a few of the ways I see that beautiful heart in action: It was you, my son, who, after many years, opened your heart and embraced a father who was not there when you needed him most. It was you who cared for, comforted, and protected your younger brother Shambulia when your father was thousands of miles away, always lifting him up and nurturing his spirit. And it was you who became a big brother to six younger siblings from South America whom you had never met. Yes, it was you, and your big beautiful heart, who have cared for them, given them loving counsel and unselfish advice. And it was you who unashamedly and uncompromisingly have supported and inspired me throughout my 21 years of re-incarceration. Perhaps rarely said by a father to his son, but I truly do consider you my hero!
Now I would LOVE to attribute some of that strength and smartness and good-looks to genetics. But I can only take credit for half of those. For the rest, I have to lift my glass up to my high school sweetheart, mother of my two sons, and give much praise to the woman who not only contributed her excellent DNA but–much more importantly–had to endure and shoulder all of the responsibility. A strong Black woman who sacrificed so much, and who had to be both rock and pillow during my absence. I want to honor your mother “Hodari,” without whom you could not have become the wonderful human being you have become. And after the wonderful example she set, you went on to choose another strong and extraordinary woman to be your partner in life, Diane. I lift my glass to both of those praiseworthy women.
So, I wish you blessings without number and all good things without end. Happy 50th birthday KALIMA, my Son!