My name is Emily Marie Ramos Rodriguez. I was born in my grandmother’s apartment, which is in the Lillian Wald projects in the Lower East Side. And at the age of nine, my mom was able to get her first apartment, and we moved to another project development in East Harlem.
My father was arrested at 26 years old, for selling marijuana. Growing up, he wasn’t able to get a job that paid well enough so that he could support his family, which is why he ended up, you know, selling, hustling and selling marijuana like most people in my community. He was caught on a phone tap and his apartment was raided. He also lived in public housing in the Lower East Side, in Baruch Houses, with my paternal grandparents. They went inside his apartment with guns, waving guns in my grandmother’s face. And he was put in a van and extradited to Massachusetts.
I used to visit my father in prison with my grandparents. It was very difficult, going to visit him in prison. It was very painful for my grandparents, it was very traumatic for me. It wasn’t actually until I was in high school, that they told me that my father was arrested for marijuana. So I didn’t even know why my dad was in jail, or why he was gone and that those things were explained to me. I didn’t understand what was happening and just felt like my dad abandoned me. And so that, that has definitely caused a lot of harm and damage to our relationship.
My father completed three separate terms in prison. He was finally released when I was in seventh grade at about 12 years old. My grandparents had separated, um, sometime after my father was incarcerated. My father was not able to live with my grandfather because he was still living in Baruch Houses. And because it was New York State Public Housing, they have rules about certain charges you have on your record. So my father ended up living with my grandmother in her apartment. He was never able to be added to the lease, you know, because of his case and his charge.
My father is still living with my grandmother currently today, sort of in the living room. So he’s never been able to obtain his own housing on his own. He can’t apply for many of the housing subsidy programs that people have access to because of his record. And because people do background checks when you’re getting an apartment. And then you also have to do credit checks. My dad was barred from employment when he came out of prison. So he started his own business, general contracting. So he’s been able to survive currently, with what he makes from his small business, but not enough to be able to actually obtain his own apartment or house, or be able to actually, you know, get on his two feet again, and actually live a life where he’s thriving. It can feel very small and uncomfortable to be in someone else’s space, and feel like you don’t have the ability to grow, or to be who you truly are.
I definitely think that if my dad had housing, upon being released from prison, that his life would be different. I think that he would have a fruitful relationship with a partner, I think that his business could be in a better place, I think that he would have had the foundation that he needed to build the life that he needed to build.
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