02013952. He's got it memorized. Like his SS#, his TDL#, his DOB- he'll probably remember it the rest of his life. He doesn't want to, but he has to. Compliance demands it. To get by on a weekly basis, he must know it.

Ronald Keith Dugger...my father...my dad...is currently inmate #02013952 in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System- Wynne Unit Trusty Camp. I hadn't seen him in over a year until I visited him a week ago, Saturday. As we were driving there it still didn't seem real, but the armed guards and razor wire have a way of bringing reality. And it hurts.

I'd rather not write about this, I really wouldn't (there's that ol' hiding thing again). It would be so much easier to file it in the 'too private' folder, close the cabinet drawer, lock it, and forget the location of the key. I choose not to do that. Not because I want to expose and embarrass my dad, but because I love him...dearly.

His poor decisions have overpowered his goodness as a man. This grisly addiction has cast a gloomy shadow over the qualities that I once admired. I can still remember, though. I keep this photo of him, circa summer of 1980, in my shop to help my memory. He was 28 and I was almost 8. Yeah, I can still remember the times.

The times, as a little crumb snatcher, he would take me along on a Saturday to run errands. The inevitable convenience store stop where I would load up on the crème de la crème of junk food. Big League Chew transformed me into the baddest hombre in the hood. I remember playing catch in the back yard. Him chasing down my Nuke LaLoosh pitching offerings. He hated it, but he did it. I remember the fun we had street racing the family Malibu that he turned into a hot rod. That was a nasty lil' 400 small block. 

As I got older and worked with him, he taught me how to persevere. There will always be obstacles, but if you're willing, there are solutions. I learned to treat all people with respect because I watched him do it. And I could go on.

No need to list the bad, we could all look in the mirror and list the bad. It's better to remember well than to become bitter, pissed, and angry. People don't become who they were born to be because you resent them. They change through love and forgiveness.

It was one of the most bizarre and heartbreaking moments of my life. Seeing the look of embarrassment and shame on my dad's face as he approached the table to visit. In his mind, battling the accusations that he is reduced to nothing. The forced abandonment of his family leaving him surrounded with doubts, questions, and fear. An animal in a cage identified by a number. Not in my mind...not in my heart. 

My dad does air conditioning and heating by trade, and that's what he does as a trusty for the prison. And he more knowledgeable than the private staff who work there. They actually interrupted our visit to see when he would be available to help them repair an a/c unit. It's more than his mechanical skills and ability, though. They respect and like him for who he is as a person. I've seen the same reaction from others my whole life. Well, from most everyone...except my dad.

I hope and pray he's changing. That whatever is broken inside of him is being made whole. The pain that drove him, ending up a vanquished foe. I want to see him free inside. To live the last part of his life with lungs full of fresh air. His head held high, surrounded by his grandkids, new dreams fueling his tomorrow.

It was a good to see him. We laughed, fought back tears, and studied each other's faces the best we could. I wanted so badly to just get up and head down to the corner store one more time. Mello Yello, BBQ chips, and Big League Chew...hop in the Malibu and drive off looking for a race without a worry in the world. Instead, I have to let the memories be a solace.

Even though an ache nipped at my back as we drove away, I'm glad I went. And because there are endless possibilities to those who believe...I believe he's coming out of that place changed for the better. As a matter of fact, me and the ol' man already have a plan. When he comes to visit for the first time we're going to take a trip over to Main Street to the cigar shop. We're going to walk up in that humidor like we own the joint and take as long as we want to pick out our overpriced stogies. Then we'll drive back to my place nice and slow. Take a stroll to the back of the property by the dry creek, sit down in some laid back lawn chairs, light 'em up...and start over.