“Stuart Anderson has managed to stay connected to his adolescent daughters through 13 years in prison. How much longer can he, and they, hold out?” asks a cover line on the Washington Post’s Sunday magazine.
Anderson, a forty-four-year-old inmate at Rivers Correctional Institution in Winston Salem, N.C., tries to stay in touch with his daughters through a program established at Hope House, in the basement of the Northwest Washington residence of long-time activist Carol Fennelly (you may remember her name from her homeless activism with the late Mitch Snyder, to whom she was married).
Fennelly’s program, established when Lorton Prison in Virginia closed and many Washington-area inmates were moved to prisons far away from their families, is designed to help incarcerated father like Anderson stay in touch with their children. Anderson is able to hold videoconferences with his two daughters, Diamond and Shavohn, and even requires that a boy who wants to take Shavohn to her 8th grade prom write to him first. Anderson founded a Concerned Fathers chapter in prison to help other inmates remain a part of their children’s lives.
So far so good. But here’s the problem: The Washington Post portrays Stuart Anderson as a victim. Stuart Anderson is not a victim, though he seems to have left behind a trail of real victims. For starters, there is the cop Anderson was convicted of attempting to murder.
Melody, Stuart’s wife, was surprised that he went to prison because she thought the jury would believe his version of the event. The Post pretty much tells the story from Stuart’s point of view. The incident took place on the night of December 28, 1990:
“Stuart would later claim he was walking toward a friend’s house on Morton Street NW. He owned and often carried a pistol without a license, which is illegal in the District. He was walking along Morton Street, he recalls, when ’all hell broke lose. People start running out of a building. So I started running, and I’m looking back to see what we running from. I see we running from the police so I stop. [I] turn around, and I’m going back towards them. Police grabs me. I say, ’Oh, officer, I stopped.’ He said, ’Shut up, get over here.’ Stuart says that the police officer then pushed him and struck him with a walkie talkie. Next, Stuart remembers losing his temper and saying: ’You put your hands on me, I’m going to put mine back on you. That’s who I am.’”
I do believe that Stuart said that–it’s who he is–and I can only assume the jury made the right decision. Assume because Stuart’s version is the only side of the story included. The policeman’s isn’t, though the reporter does note that the cop still hasn’t forgiven Stuart.
Oh, and this isn’t Stuart’s first stint behind bars. He has two burglary convictions. He was convicted of burglary and did a few months in Lorton in 1979 and again in 1981–or, as the Post puts it, “Stuart’s ways just caught up with him.” After his ways caught up with him, he did time in a New Jersey prison.
Stuart already had a small daughter, Tyrina, born out of wedlock (although the WaPo would never use such quaint terminology), who visited him in the New Jersey prison. He learned to be an electrician and was released from prison in 1986. He got a job and continued his relationship with Tyrina’s mother, at the same time dating Melody Lynch, mother of Shavohn and Diamond. When Melody became pregnant, she insisted on marriage:
“’I was still a dog,’ [Stuart] says, remembering a girlfriend on the side that he had even as a newlywed.”
Needless to say, Stuart is pining for parole–he hopes to stay in Tyrina’s house and be an electrician or home inspector. (Would you want Stuart to come into your house to fix your wiring? I know I wouldn’t.)
There is one moment when reality intrudes into the piece: “At a Concerned Fathers meeting, an inmate says: ’My son might be in jail by the time I get home, and that’s on me. They always gonna follow what you do.’”
I’m glad that Carol Fennelly has finally found a productive way to spend her time–she’s right, inmates should be in touch with their children. This is a good program, and Stuart’s daughters probably benefit from knowing that he loves them. But they’re arguably better off without having him around the house. I for one hope that Tyrina won’t have to provide a home for dear old Dad anytime soon.