Youth Equity Podcast: Amplifying Youth Voice Season One Ep 1

Published June 12th, 2022

Incarceration across Three Generations

Another entry from the Youth Equity Project: Art of the Podcast Residency: Bronx High School for the Visual Arts (BHSVA) presents All the Bomb dot Com!

In preparation for this episode exploring the family experience of incarceration across three generations, BHSVA students listened to a true story told by Zudaydah Rivera in the Houses on the Moon Podcast. (You might want to back up and listen to this story first!) Then dive into this episode - an intimate conversation BHSVA students facilitated with Zudaydah about her experience as a daughter and mother coping and healing from the effects of incarceration on her family.

This History UnErased podcast series is funded by the New York City Council and developed in partnership with Houses on the Moon Theater Company.


Reno: Hi, there. My name is Reno Castio.

Ariana: My name is Arianna Quintero, and I'm a senior.

Zudaydah: Okay 

Modesty: My name is Modesty Mack and I'm a senior.

Zudaydah: Hi. 

Jaylen: My name is Jaylen Evans and I'm a senior. 

Zudaydah: Nice. 

Angel: My name is Angel Smochorti and I'm a freshman. 

Zudaydah: All right. Nice to meet you guys. Thank you. 

Reno: You are listening to, a podcast from Bronx High School for the Visual Arts. All of us in the podcast club here listened to a true story from the Houses on the Moon podcast called Zudaydah with a capital Z about the family experience of incarceration across three generations. 

Speaker 1: If you haven't listened to that episode you should, because it's amazing. And we're going to talk to Zudaydah today about her story. 

Modesty: Okay. So my name is Modesty, Zudaydah Rivera is the mother of two sons and the daughter of a lifer. She's the first to graduate college in her family. Congratulations. She works for the Osborne Association, helping formally incarcerated citizens reintegrate into society through job training and work opportunities. Okay, so we have a few questions for you. How is it being a mom? 

Zudaydah: It's a blessing. It's a real blessing to be a mom I feel like that's actually my real purpose in life. Yes, I feel like I had my children and after I had them nothing else mattered, but trying to break all of the generational curses just so that my family line can not have the type of life that I had. So being a mom is a real blessing and I feel like it is a great responsibility to be a mom. A great responsibility meaning great as big and also great as great like a beautiful, wonderful thing.

Modesty: How would you describe your day as someone who helps incarcerated citizens, and what inspired your career choice?

Zudaydah: So my title is program assistant. So that means that I am the assistant to the director. So basically I'm doing more like the clerical, the secretarial stuff, the auditing, like the accounting and stuff like that. But my job doesn't stop there because I also am the face of the company when the returning citizens are coming in. Now there are a lot of different emotions that come in to me as a person who has been directly affected by mass incarceration, when I see someone come in the first thing I tell them is, 

"Welcome, welcome home." Because they finally did their time it's over, and now they're coming to me to get help.

So when they come in I feel different types of emotion because it's sad, it's sad to see them. They're coming in whatever they got locked up in or whatever clothes they can find. And so they're basically coming to us very, very humble because now they need clothes, they need shoes, they need maybe medical attention, they need social services. So it's been rough for them no matter what happened, no matter what they did my job is to make sure that they know that they did their time. That is the past, and now let's help you get your life started so you can reintegrate into society, go back to your family and just give you everything you need.

Ariana: Oh, so my name is Ariana Quintero. And I was going to say, how did your family react to you being the first to graduate college and moving on with this job and helping others?

Zudaydah: So I have two sides of the family. I have mom and dad so on both sides, I pretty much was the first to graduate and everything. And some of them weren't really too caring about that. And I feel like I'm just like, I wanted to tell you something greater, but I can't because the life they had, that wasn't the life that they envisioned for me. I had to say to my grandmother, "No, I'm not getting married at 15. I don't care about learning how to cook an iron and do all of that. I'll learn it, but I'm going to college." I let her know at that age because she was trying to prepare me for a husband. Because in her day and age that's what it was back in the day, I'm going to domesticate you. You are going to be cooking and cleaning, you're going to have a family.

And yes, I'm going to have a family, but when I'm ready and I just had it in my mind that even though I love you all, I'm not going to be like you. I'm going to take my own road and I'm going to try to do better than this. And it wasn't because I wasn't proud of them because they were all intelligent. They just didn't have the education, and I just didn't want to have the life that they had. And I'm proud of where I came from and I was always proud, but it was just this thing in me where it was just like, "No." So with that being said it was just like, okay, you're smart.

So my advice just to give you guys it's going to be a lot of people even in your own family who are not going to, might be your biggest supporters. And I'm not saying that they aren't. I'm just saying you going to meet people in life and it might be right in your own backyard, but you have to just keep pushing no matter what, because they don't know what you're capable of only you know what you're capable of. Even your mom and your dad don't you do things sometimes and your family members whether it's your mom, dad, or grandparents, they're like, "Oh my God", you totally surprised them because they didn't know that you were about that life. You know what I mean like, "Oh my God like wow."

Ariana: What is the biggest lesson that you have learned maybe within your family or within your job within yourself that you would want to incorporate with your kids and teach them as they grow up?

Zudaydah: That I'm not the smartest person all of the time. I can be humble I have a few degrees. I've sat down at the table with maintenance, janitorial, and I've also sat at the table with executives. And everyone is their own intelligent everyone is their own intellectual, you can learn something from anyone.

Ariana: What would you say to other single mothers out there dealing with this situation of an incarcerated partner or just being a single mother of great kids what advice would you give to them?

Zudaydah: Focus on your child. Focus on your child because the child is more important and that person is on their own journey. And whether it was their fault or not or whether if it was society they have to deal with their own path. If you want to be supportive, be supportive. But don't lose what's in front of your face don't lose yourself either. And if they want to support the, of course, because I'm all for supporting the incarcerated individual, but if she's a single mom her priority is her child.

Ariana: Thank you.

Zudaydah: You're welcome.

Jaylen: Hi, my name is Jaylen. Does it affect you realizing that your kid is growing up without a dad like you did?

Zudaydah: Well, I have two children. I have a 20 yeah... The story only speaks about one, but there's more big. There's more to come. I have a 26-year old-

Jaylen: Oh, wow.

Zudaydah:... whose dad faced 13 years in prison. And my little one, I call him my little one, but he's 14 and his dad faced about five or six years. And my dad, of course who did 30 plus. And the question was, how does it feel for me or how does it feel for him? I'm sorry, I kind of-

Jaylen: Does it affect you realizing that your kid is growing up without a dad like you did?

Zudaydah: It does because I felt like I did everything. Like, "Oh my God, I went to school" and I didn't even meet the fathers of my children in a place where you think, "Oh, danger, he's going to get incarcerated one day." You know what I mean? And it doesn't always work like that. The first dad, I hate to say it like that, but it's true I was with him for 14 years. I was in a committed relationship with my son's father, and he broke his legs in a motorcycle accident. He was going to play college football for Nebraska, and he just got depressed and he started hanging out in the streets. And I guess that's the road that he took and I was going to college for criminal justice. So I was like, this isn't going to work. And so when he got incarcerated it affected me because now I had to raise my son by myself, and now my son has to visit his dad in a prison just the way I did and deal with not having a dad for like 13 years.

So yeah, it's really hard because when I look at my son and he looks at me he doesn't see a man he sees a woman. So there's so many things that he feels like I'm not going to understand and the same for my youngest. So it did affect me, but when it affected me it also trickled and affected him as well because they feel everything that we go through. And then sometimes, because I'm human, I wasn't allowed mentally to see what he was really going through. Then there were times I had to stop and say, "Okay, wait a minute how are you? How are you doing?" And stuff like that so it's rough, it's pretty rough. Thank you.

Jaylen: How does it feel living in a one parent household?

Zudaydah: It actually feels normal.

Jaylen: Oh, wow.

Zudaydah: It feels normal because I didn't have a dad and I didn't have a mom, right? And I already knew that I would have my children without their grandma, which is my mom. And so it feels normal because I'm mom and I'm going to be there. Do I complain like, "Oh my God, I got all these bills to myself and this and that and whatever." Yes, it's a lot it's very hard, but as long as I have my sons I feel complete.

Ariana: So I have another question. And I was going to say dealing with a lot on your plate do you ever feel like unmotivated sometimes? And how do you get yourself back?

Zudaydah: Since I was four years old I used to sing in a choir, always sang. That was the way to express myself, the creativity that I have I used it to express myself so it was an outlet. I always kept a journal since a kid, I always kept a journal and because I used to write my dad letters and I used to have to be so descriptive of what was going on on the outside. So I was trying to bring him the outside because I couldn't bring him out. So I used to try to make a vivid picture for him so he could see everything. So those were my outlets just singing, writing, acting, things like that. It kept me motivated I would plan, I would do my five little goals for my life, and that's how I made it this far. Just writing things down and making sure that I manifested it with every word because I wrote it so it's going to happen it works.

Jeff: Hi Zudaydah, this is Jeff-

Zudaydah: Hi.Jeff: ... one of the advisors, one of the teaching artists of the podcast club at Bronx High School for the Visual Arts. And-

Zudaydah: Hi.

Jeff: I'd like to know when you were a child, how did you learn that your dad was incarcerated?

Zudaydah: Well they kept it from me for a very long time, but I found out the day that I was going to visit him for the first time. My grandmother was letting me know that she was taking me on this bus that in Newark, New Jersey, this joint connection bus that they used to charter for people to visit their family members in Trenton State Prison. And that day I was going to see my father for the first time, and I was four years old, so I really didn't know what jail was. I really didn't know that he couldn't come home I didn't know any of that. I just was so excited because "Oh my God, I haven't seen this guy in so long. Where has he been?" So that type of joy, like, "Oh my God it's my father" you know happiness, you know how kids are when they see their parents they jump up and they run to them. So I was happy, but that's how I found out. Six o'clock in the morning getting ready for this bus ride.

Jeff: And did they explain to you where you were going and maybe why he was there?

Zudaydah: Not at that moment, not at that time. My grandmother wasn't really the type to explain things. She was kind of the old school like, "Children should be seen and not heard, and you're just going to get dressed and you're going to come because I'm telling you we're going", even though she was loving. But it was that type of relationship. "Just get ready, just get dressed, let's go. Like we'll talk later." So at that moment I really didn't know what I was walking into I found out after way after why he was incarcerated. They kept that quiet for just a little while. I didn't know when he was coming out either.

Jaylen: So you said you had two children, right?

Zudaydah: Yes, I have two children [inaudible 00:14:43]

Jaylen: How did they react when they met their grandfather incarcerated?

Zudaydah: Well, I never brought them to see my dad in prison.

Jaylen: Oh, in pris... Oh, okay.

Zudaydah: Yeah, they met my dad when he came out.

Jaylen: Oh, wow.

Zudaydah: Yes, and it was pretty awkward. It's really hard when there is someone who has done hard time almost 40 years when they come out some people are okay, but he was not okay. And I'll be very honest he was an addict, and in prison they were able to smuggle drugs and stuff like that into prison. And he used and when he came out he was still an addict. And these are the effects of being incarcerated. When you come home people think that it's going to be this big happy family and it's going to be like, "Oh my God, my dad, he's finally here."

Because even I thought that as an adult, and it was very, very rocky. Very rocky to deal with someone who's been incarcerated for so long and couldn't even have a decent conversation because he was a total stranger in front of me. And so if I felt like he was a total stranger in front of me, how do you think my kids felt? So there was a big disconnection, but they were happy that he was out of prison and they did connect, but just it's not a grandpa grandson relationship. You know what I mean?

Ariana: Yeah. So how would you describe being with it being awkward and stuff, how would you say that your and your father relationship is now?Zudaydah: Well, I don't have a relationship with my dad I'm very sorry to share the bad news with you I wish I could make it a happy ending, but I do not. Because he decided to continue to use drugs and does not want to get help, and doesn't want to be helped because I feel like it affects me mentally. And I've already been through a lot of stuff I had to disconnect. I will love you from over here with all my heart, and if you ever need me I will come. But I have to do my own self-care.

I have to take care of me because I have my two kids who depend on me to be whole, and I cannot risk failing them in any way, being depressed or anything that I feel like is going to affect me. I just have to take a step back from it. And I wish he just never got incarcerated things would be different I really feel like I had a connection with him before he was incarcerated. I love him so much I remembered him at such a young age. So I really wish that that did not happen, because I know for a fact things would be so different today, but you know you just got to roll with the punches and make lemonade and you just got to keep going, yeah.

Modesty: How did you feel being different from your peers in the sense that they had that father figure growing up and you didn't?

Zudaydah: Oh my God, it was so rough. Just watching, even just after school just watching kids go with their mom and dad or having events and performing and no one was there for me. It was really rough, but I feel like I was a kid that I was resilient for my age. And I guess I was really blessed in that way because even though I was going through a lot I just pushed forward. And I think that's the beauty of being a kid, because you have your distractions at times. You go through things and then it's just like, "Okay, well I'll just play with this doll, or I'll just go and mess with my sister, make her life miserable for a couple seconds." So, you know, you have like different things that keep you occupied as a kid that distract you. So that's how come sometimes they think, "Oh, that's just a kid." You know what I mean? "They'll get over it." But it did in the long run I realized that it did affect me. It was just little things that just kept me distracted, yeah.

Ariana: Did you ever tell your friends about it or did you try to keep it secret and move on from it?

Zudaydah: So I was forbidden to tell the family's business. I wasn't able to tell anyone anything about my dad it was like I had to be ashamed of it and I had to keep quiet about it. "And why are they asking me questions about my dad anyway? Why are they being nosy?" But sometimes I did speak when I had to, they'll ask me, "Where's your dad?" And if I felt comfortable with that person, kids they open their big mouth, I would say something.

And once I saw their reaction, they treated me like if I was the one, they didn't treat me like, "Oh, you're like a criminal." But they made me feel that way. I'll rephrase it they made me feel like, "Oh, like oh my God, what kind of father do you have?" You know what I mean? That made me go back inside myself also, I was like, "Well, you know, asked me so I told you the truth." But that was just, that's just how people thought I guess back then. You have some of them that think that way today, but we're a little bit more open with it now as opposed to the 80s.

Ariana: I was going to say, is there some things that you know have learned now that you wish you knew as a child growing up?

Zudaydah: There's a lot of things that I wish that I, because you don't know anything as a child and you learn as you get older. But I wish that I knew that the world was really as cold and I hate to say that but I feel like it is. You want to grow up and you want to think you have all the, you do have all the opportunity, but you really have to fight out here. You really have to fight out here especially when you are brown and tan, when you have to fight for your place. And I thought when I was a kid, "I'll just go to college, I'm just going to do this and I'm just going to be on that path." But I faced a lot of discrimination. I faced a lot of, especially I faced, I mean, I just don't even know how to articulate it without, I faced discrimination because I was a woman.

I faced discrimination because I was Latina. I faced discrimination because I was poor. It didn't matter if I was educated I couldn't sit at certain tables so that's what I mean about the world being so cold. And I did my own little thing. And after I graduated with my master's, I joined a sisterhood. I'm in a sorority and it's a Latina sorority, but we accept everyone. It's just Latina based those are the founders. They were Latina when they made it. And they're Lambda Theta Alpha. And through them I mentor sisters who are coming in. We have a philanthropy, we do fundraising for children for St. Jude's and stuff like that. So that networking helped me out a lot. So you have to find, when they try to shut the door in your face you just knock on another door, you know, just knock on another door. You don't sit there and just continue to try to knock that door down. It's not going to work just there's another door just go over there.

Modesty: How do you think your kids were affected by having their own fathers incarcerated?

Zudaydah: The effects are long-term, they are still going through it. My son, who is 26 years old has a very flawed relationship with his dad. His dad also came out of prison affected, depressed, and he just couldn't bond with, my son's name is Marquis, my oldest. He couldn't bond with his son. They both had these expectations of what a dad should be and what a son should be. And they clashed with those expectations, and I am still trying to mediate between the both of them. So it's a long-term effect that is going to take patience because that's 13 years without that person. So you're basically, you don't even know who I am and I don't know who you are. Everybody changes. Everybody evolves, things happen. And when you have that big gap, it's really rough. Now I call him my little one always I know he hates that.

I'm sorry. My other son, who's Lord, his name is Lord, he is 14 and he has his dad in his life now. But he didn't have his dad from maybe ages, I want to say two to eight or nine, and that was also rough for him because they were very close. And when he came out of prison, they also had a hard transition because they too missed out on years. And even though the dad was out at an earlier time he still had a lot of catching up to do because he has a big family. My son is not his only child. So once he came out of prison, it was straight to work, "Have to get this money, have to take care of my family." And so my son was still missing out on time with his dad. And because I was no longer with him we weren't in the same household so he couldn't be with his dad every day. So these are also long-term effects that we're working on still to this day.

Modesty: Is there anything else you want us to know? Is there anything else you want to tell us?

Zudaydah: Like advice or something?

Modesty: Yeah, something like that.

Zudaydah: Yes, I just met you guys, and I think you're I thank you for being interested in my little life, thank you. You know, you make me feel really special and honored, but I just want you to do great. I don't want no one to ever stop you and tell you you can't do it. I don't want you to be somewhere thinking that you're not worthy because of your circumstances or because of your finances or because you don't have it. Or someone told you you can't make it they don't know, you know. So I'm sorry for getting emotional but this means a lot to me.

And I love children and I feel like you guys have the world at your feet. And you can take it. You can take anything you want it's there for you just go get it. And don't let anything, anyone get in your way and be a leader sometimes it's hard to be a leader. Don't listen to what your friends may say, or even your family members. If it doesn't feel right it's not right. So that is my advice to you. And I am so humbled right now you know that you even asked me what would I tell you? And thank you. And thank you for all your questions. I appreciate them very, very much. Thank you.

Jaylen: Thank you.

Ariana: Thank you. And I just want to let you know that you know, are inspiring. Your advice to us is really sweet. And I feel like since we're all still learning in our learning stages, that we can use that and just know that we can use your story and just others to move forward and just be great with that. So thank you.

Zudaydah: Thank you so much you guys. Thank you.

Ariana: Thank you.

Zudaydah: Blessed one guys. Bye

Ariana: Yes. Have a good day.

Modesty: This has been

Speaker 2: [foreign language 00:28:03]

Speaker 3:This podcast series is funded by the New York City Council and developed by History UnErased and Houses on the Moon in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. Shout out to the podcast club Rafa, Amy, Imani, and Regard.

Modesty:And don't forget about Ezekiel, Angelos and Bruno.

Speaker 3:And shout out to the podcast club staff members Jeffrey Love aka, Jeffrey Solomon, Dynamite Mac aka, Dynamac and Raleigh Rau the Rauster aka, Raleigh Niel.

Speaker 2: Special thanks to Ms. Marino, Ms. Gabby, and Principal Witherspoon 

Jeff: Do it one more time, one more time.