Anthony Ammons Sr. and Jr. not only share the same name. They also share the experience of being prisoners in San Quentin State Prison.
One in eight African American children has an incarcerated parent. In addition, before the age of 18, one in 10 children who has an incarcerated parent will be incarcerated themselves, according to San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (SFCIPP).
Anthony Sr. was incarcerated in San Quentin in the early 2000s for drug-related offenses. After his release, he got his life together. Now he regularly travels at least eight hours from Los Angeles to San Quentin to visit Anthony “Ant” Jr.
“I can’t help but to think that I am responsible for my son being there,” said Anthony Sr. “If I was there in his life, he probably wouldn’t have gotten in that car.”
At age 16, Anthony Jr. was sentenced to 102 years-to-life in prison for his role in a gang-related homicide.
“I was very irresponsible as a father,” Anthony Sr. said. “It was all about me, even when I had family members, or my wife, bring him up to see me in prison.”
“I want him to get all he can get out of the prison and the self-help groups”
Anthony Jr. now 32, added, “I don’t blame him. We all make our own decisions. I take responsibility for what I done.”
Anthony Sr. grew up alone in one of Watts’ notorious projects after losing both of his parents at the age of 9. He was raised by family members but turned to gang-banging. That led to violence, drug addiction and ultimately prison.
“I have given the system over 26 years of my life going in and out of prison,” Anthony Sr. said. “I understand now that my son was looking for love, and he started looking for it in other places.”
Anthony Jr. said when his father got out of prison and moved to Oakland, the son started gang-banging, thinking it would bring his father back to L.A., but that never happened.
“So I tried to live up to my father’s (gang) name ‘Amp’ and his reputation,” said Anthony Jr. “My dad’s homeboys knew him better than me, and they kept telling me about the things he would do.”
After 15 years, at their first visit Anthony Jr. had so many questions: Why were you never there? Did you love me? Did you care?
“I was scared to ask those questions,” said Anthony Jr. “I needed my brother, Michael Ammons there. But once I got that first hug from my father, it said it all; because of that hug I became a son again.”
Anthony Jr. credits a San Quentin self-help group, The House of Healing, for helping him forgive his father.
“They not only teach you how to heal your inner child,” he said. “But also you have to forgive your parents.”
Through getting to know each other, father and son are reforming a loving bond.
“My mom (Shelly Warren) is my heart and best friend, and now my father is getting there,” he said. “When I call him, no matter where he’s at or what he’s doing he will stop and pick up his cellphone. Even when he misses my call, he let me know what’s going on and that showed me how much he has grown.”
Today, Anthony Sr. says he is drug-free and is working for Caltrans, the state transportation department.
“I never thought I would be working for the state after spending so many years in state prison,” he commented
“I went through the process of writing the warden to see my son. I’m trying to be that dad now that my kids are in their 30s. As a parent, you love your kids no matter what they do.”
Anthony Sr., now being a responsible person, is setting a better example for his son.
“I want him to get all he can get out of the prison and the self-help groups. I want him to get out and not look back,” said Anthony Sr. “Because one of the hardest things I have to do now is walk away from my son after a visit.”