Memories—Pain of separation
By Debbie Africa, Minister of Education, First Day, 27 July 1999
One of my favorite memories of the Move kids was in 1976. The day I volunteered to give all the kids a bath to get them ready to go to Virginia so they wouldn't be in the house for the May 20, 1977, confrontation. One by one I got the kids ready to get a bath. Starting with Tree-Tree first, who was the oldest, so she could help me down the way if I needed it because, I had a baby who was only 6 months old, at the time. Before I could get done with Tree, here comes 2 year-old Missy, with her almond-shaped eyes, cute, round face, and strong built body, running across the floor barefoot and buck naked saying, "I wanna get in the tub." I said, it ain't your turn yet. She looked at me with them sad eyes and put her head down. I went for it and gave her her bath after Tree; figuring she was at least out the way now. Oyewolf, who had the strongest hands of any kid I ever met, was next after Missy and he was no trouble as usual, except when his mom was around. (smile) After I gave Oyewolf his bath, here comes Missy lookin at me saying, "I wanna get in the tub." I said, "You had your bath already." She just stood there lookin at me put her head down and went in the other room. Netta was next and Netta was always good and so sweet as she could be, even when her mom was around. I got Netta her bath, and as always, she was ready to eat. That was the way I got them all to cooperate. I promised them they could have bunches of sweet black grapes after they finished their baths, if they behaved themselves. That was a big treat to Move kids, cuz they didn't eat candy, and they were all ready and willing to do it. After Netta was done, Tremaine was next. Tremaine was real good too, except that he was so slow; seemed like he had lead in his feet, and by the time Tremaine got int he bathroom, that little girl was already in the tub again. I said, with exclamation this time, "what you are doing in this tub!". She looked up at me again with them sad eyes and said, "I wanna get in the tub too." I said, "Missy, you cannot get a bath every time somebody gets out the tub; but I washed her up again, dried her off and said, "O.K., you had your bath, now get goin'" and off she went running into the other room with this big grin on her face and a big towel around her neck. She looked so cute. Lil Phil was next and he was real pleasant with his strong barrel lookin' chest and raspy voice like his dad's. He was real good, got his bath with no trouble. Before I could get him out the tub, here she comes again, lookin at me again with this towel around her; but this time, I ain't falling for it and my six-month-old wasn't gonna play with Netta too much longer; time was running out. I was supposed to have them ready by Noon, and noon was approaching fast. I got Tree to get out the grapes, and Tree fed her grapes while I got Delisha and Malicyde done. Tree had real keen motherly instincts and was always a big help, when ever we needed it, with the little babies; real dependable; while Delisha had real strong leadership qualities and was the boss of all the kids, even at age 4. I was relieved now and on a roll. By the time they were done, Missy was done with her grapes too and I only had two kids left to do. It was Linda's turn, she was next to the last one to get done; only she was the only one that didn't want to get a bath. She had grape juice all over her hands and runnin' all down her stomach; (I couldn't give one of the kids grapes without giving the others, thanks to Missy), so Linda needed a bath for real now, but she didn't wanna hear it. I was takin' her to the bathroom, and she was pulling back saying, "no," I said to Linda, "you have to get a bath," she said, "no I don't". Well I spent at least ten minutes convincing her that in order to go on an activity she had to get washed up, while she stood lookin at me suspiciously and stubbornly with big, brown, teary eyes, and pursed, cherry-red lips. She gave in but, by god, she gave me a run for my money. Linda was a strong-willed girl. I can't remember for sure but she couldna been no older than 3 years old at the time. By the time I finally convinced Linda to get in the tub, Missy was back in the tub for the third time. I was in disbelief, that this little handful was so persistent; I couldn't do nothing but laugh. I gave up and just put Linda in the tub with her and let her stay there until all the kids were done. I stayed with the kids all that day, feeding them and taking them for walks throughout the day until it was time to go. It was later on, we made pallets on the floor and all fell asleep. Tomaso, the first child to be born in Move naturally, didn't go. He was still a little fella and real sweet, but he was up there with us too. By the time I woke up, they were all gone. I can't remember too good, but I believe, the only ones left in the house were Bert, Tom, me and Witt. I was happy in a way, cuz they wouldn't have to be there in the city to put up with them cops, but sad too because I would miss them a lot. I never imagined ever with everything we had already been through with them cops, that I'd never see most of them again. We sent them to Virginia to keep them from being hurt; when we brought them back a few years later, they were killed May 13, 1985.
That was 23 years ago. I've been in prison 21 of those years this August 8, 1999. I was 8 months pregnant when I was put in prison and my 6-month old daughter, Witt, was just about to turn 2 years old. She was a real good baby, even tempered and pleasant. I had her at home, naturally, which made her even closer to me than if I had her in a hospital. I remember the day the cops took her from my arms. It felt like somebody ripped an organ from my stomach, and never replaced it. I miss her a lot; I don't have many memories of her because she was so young, when they separated us, but the memories I do have I hold on to, and tell them to her over and over again cuz she was too young to remember. One of my favorite memories of her was how she would wake up in the morning, roll over to where her dad was sleeping, bounce up and down on his chest, while laughin' and taking her little hand gently smackin him in the face to wake him. That was his wake up call every morning. Of all the things I miss about her, I really miss seeing her with her dad, how she'd laugh when he played with her, and how happy it made him when she'd wrap her little arms around his neck all excited when he held her. My heart still aches to hold her as that little baby but I never will.
I had my son in prison, in my cell. The guards didn't know it until Janet told them hours later. They didn't believe it until they came back in the isolation section of the prison, where they housed us, to see for themselves. I kept him for four days, never letting him out of my site or reach. I gave my son his first and last bath at 2 days old. As little memories as I have of the Move children, they are even fewer of my daughter; and fewer yet of my son as a baby. We lived as mother and son through telephone calls, letters and very few visits for the time we've been separated. The system not only took my freedom, my husband's freedom, they took my children's freedom too and almost took their lives if it wasn't for the Move family. Most people have no idea the pain of separation between children and their parents, especially their mothers. People have no idea what it's like to never see your child except for a few hours on a visit once every year or 3 years under unprivate, watchful, suspicious eyes. People don't know how much pain you go through when you're on the phone just getting into a good talk with your daughter and your 15 minutes is up, or before you can tell her you love her, the phone just clicks off; talkin to your son and before the time is up he remembers something that he wants to tell you personally, and the phone clicks off, or trying to get every word out in the 2 minutes you have left sometimes never getting to say goodbye. I sometimes call back and it makes me feel bad, cuz my Move family are doing so much for us already, but they always tell me to call back and have never denied me that. Sometimes I don't call back cuz I know the bills are so high, so I just endure this gut- wrenching anxiety until it passes; except it never passes because when I finally start to relax it's time to call again. People uphold these crime bills, listen to the media and don't give one consideration to what's really happening to the children when they carelessly endorse sending a mother to prison. They don't know what it feels like to know that your child thinks of another as his mother. What's worse is knowing I didn't do nothing to deserve being in prison 21 years, and my children really don't deserve it. In my case, my Move family has never failed me in bringing them to see me and their father whenever it was possible, and for that we are very grateful; but it still ain't nothing like the pain of separation. Both my children are grown now and have children of their own. I can tell me son fears the separation between him and his son even though he never tells me. He wrote me a letter in February of this year and he said to me, "Hello Mother ha!ha!ha! How are you doin', good I hope. I'm doin O.K. I'm sittin here just thinking about you. Mona told me she talked to you the otha day. I was happy to talk to you a couple weeks ago too. I know I don't write much so it's probably a surprise to see a letter from me, but I think about you all the time. Robin and Alex are goin' fine. Alex is five months tomorrow he is getting very big. I'll tell you a story. I am in California right now and yesterday I got here. But before I left I told Alex not to forget me, cuz I'ma be gone for 8 days. I don't know how he gonna react to me not being there since I'm with him everyday. So when I was leaving I kissed Robin, kissed Alex, told him not to forget about me and he just looked at me. So when I got to S.F. I called home and talked to Robin. I told her to put Alex on the phone and soon as I said "hey Alex!" he started laughin and wouldn't stop. Every time I said something he got louder and louder. I felt so good known that he loved me and feel about me the way he do. I feel so good. I love my boy. Robin got back on the phone and she was very happy to see him laughin and happy. So they're both alright ... Well tell Janet and Neen I said hi and I live and miss them. I can't wait to see yall agin. It's been a while. I'll talk to you later O.K. I love you. Ona Move stay strong. LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA Love lil Mike."
When I read that letter it brought tears of happiness to my eyes, and tears of hurt, for him, because I could only imagine the pain of separation he has felt all of his life not having his mother or father with him. Both of the children are deeply affected by the pain of separation. Witt won't leave her children for any length of time with nobody, and they are very close for it; as hurt as I've felt, I know they had to feel it many times more than me, I've endured their pain as well. Despite all I've been through, tho, I still feel grateful for all that I do have, especially in My Move family and I cherish the little memories I do have with my children and the Move children and use them to keep that bond between us all strong.
On the Move
LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA!
Minister of Education
The story of Mike Africa, Jr. fighting for his parents release after 40 years of unjust imprisonment. This Tommy Oliver film shows the journey of Mike‘s work of a decades long struggle to be reunited with his parents.
Watch Now on HBOMAX
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