I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD when I learned about the occupational hazards of my father’s job—for me. It was 1984, and my family had gone to our black community church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to see the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had come to town on his Rainbow Coalition political tour. At the end of the service, we pushed our way to the front of the chapel to meet Reverend Jackson. He kissed me on the cheek, and we turned to leave. Suddenly, my father instructed me, my older brother, and my mother to walk out quickly and quietly, without making eye contact with anyone. He walked closely behind me, with my three-year-old sister in his arms, her face buried in his chest. He had spotted a former inmate who had been released from the penitentiary where my father worked as a prison guard.
To the former inmate, he and Randy Collins