Our mission at the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project, prisonist.org includes creating & advancing authentic ministry to reflect the real needs of our local communities, such that no person or family ever need suffer in silence. To this end, I have accepted an invitation to guest preach at the wonderful Norfield Congregational Church, Weston, CT on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday (Jan. 18, 2015), a church dedicated to faith-filled social justice.
Reprinted from Prisonist.org. Dec. 25, 2014.
I recently attended the Weston High School Company’s performance of “The Laramie Project” and was moved by its relevance to me. The play is the story of homophobic violence stemming from the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Matthew, a University of Wyoming student, was brutally beaten and left to die based solely on his homosexuality. The play dramatically relates the results of hundreds of interviews conducted by the Tectonic Theater Project and is a portrayal of the interviews from the perspectives of the theater group and the residents of Laramie. As a gay man, I found the play riveting and the subject matter disheartening.
Recently released from a federal inmate program into the rural community of Weston, Connecticut, I found the event, my first public outing since my release, a horrible reality of what it is to be different in a community of White Male Privilege. This was the beginning of a second coming out process – one of a returning member of a small bedroom New England community.
I plead guilty in 2012 to three counts in a federal indictment. Simply put, my crime was that I executed closing documents that were based on falsified documents that had been presented in the application process by my life partner of nearly 20 years. By blindly signing the closing documents I affirmed all of the falsified documents he presented and was therefore as guilty as he was in committing the fraud. I took responsibility for my actions and wanted to move on with my life.
The news of this incident spread through the small hamlet of Weston like wildfire. I quickly came to realize who my true friends were and who the folks were that were only around to “see what they could get.” and to enjoy the rewards of my wealth and status within the communities in which I lived. Immediately after pleading guilty and being sentenced to 33 months in a Federal Prison Camp (FPC), I began the actions of rebuilding and healing. I began planning for my time away and, due to the acts of a sympathetic judge who realized I was the single adoptive parent of my 13-year-old son, I had nearly 4 months to prepare. I tried to put my life in order and made the conscious decision that this was not going to define me.
Below is an excerpt from the letter I sent to my friends prior to my self-surrender date of April 20, 2012:
I have truly learned many things from this experience and grown tremendously – many have said, “you are like a different person.” I have taken control of my life and am a better father, son, brother, partner and friend. My plan is to continue my path of awakening while I am away, learn what I can from the past, start to build a future and take advantage as this opportunity to “restart” my life and my next chapter. The universe has taken care of me in the last two years and Christopher (aka Stepford) came into my life at a time I never expected anyone. He stuck by my side, knowing exactly what was going on and said, “I want a future with the person I met, not his past.”
As you know, I have a strong belief in family, both the one you are born into and the one you choose throughout your life. This experience has helped me to define my “family” and I will forever be indebted to those who have been there for me and at the same time hold no ill will towards those who have not.
I appreciate all of the kindness and support that I have received. I know that this portion of my journey has made me healthier emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually and you each have had a hand in that. I will be a stronger person and a better father because of this. Through all adversity you must grow and not dwell on negativity.
The portion of my sentence at FPC Devens was nothing compared to the continued sentence I live as I try to rebuild my life in Weston, Connecticut. I am labeled with the scarlet “F” on my forehead for FELON. At the play that evening, I walked into the theater knowing that heads would turn and whispers would begin. Many people did approach and say hello and wish me well, but most lowered their heads and looked the other way. I walked with my head held high and my partner by my side, but on the inside, I felt that same uneasiness in my stomach that I did so many years ago, knowing that I was gay but still afraid to admit it to the world.
I continue the struggle of living in Weston and rebuilding my life. The only thing that keeps me in Weston is that my son is in high school in the Weston Public School district, and with everything that he has gone through the past few years, I can not take him out of the only school he has known since kindergarten. I continue to experience people turning their heads or looking down when they see me in Peter’s Market, Weston Post Office, Lang’s Pharmacy or the Weston Hardware Store. If I am strong enough, I catch their eye and joyfully greet them and ask about their life and family. That always catches them off-guard and diffuses the situation, but I realize that I am being no better than they are by purposefully making them uncomfortable.
I have had many horrible experiences and disappointments as I try to reconnect with my family. I am turned down for employment and, because of my past, was recently denied the opportunity to take the Connecticut Real Estate exam that I had studied for. Membership in a local Organization was reviewed with more scrutiny because of my past, which has given me pause as to whether or not I truly want to be a part of that organization. My guilty plea and sentencing were supposed to be the punishment for the crimes I plead guilty to, but many people and organizations feel the need to continue to inflict punishment based on their judgment of my actions.
As I said in my letter prior to my self-surrender, “Through all adversity you must grow and not dwell on negativity” and I will not allow others to define me. I will not let these things stop me from moving forward and growing as a person. And because of that defining moment in Laramie when Matthew Shepard was killed and became the legacy of strength and courage, I have the strength to survive.
Genaro Hathaway is a Business Consultant living in Weston, CT with his partner of 4 years and his 16-year-old son. He continues to volunteer in the LGBT Community, at his Church and various other philanthropic organizations. He is committed to help others who are faced with the challenges of reentry in the community after a prison sentence.