When Ashley C. Ford showed up to the book club in March, she found an audience who had all read her 2021 bestseller, Somebody’s Daughter, and were primed for a lively discussion. “I gotta tell you, I’ve been to a lot of bookstores where they didn’t do that,” Ford laughs.
The event took place inside Plainfield Correctional Facility in Indiana and was convened by Ericka Sanders, executive director of You Yes You!, an initiative that keeps incarcerated fathers connected to their families and prepares them for reentry.
Somebody’s Daughter is Ford’s memoir of her own childhood with a father who was incarcerated and a mother who was abusive. The book “gives [fathers] language that I’m sure many other kids have that they just haven’t shared before,” Sanders tells Literary Hub, who reached out to Ford for the program. “You know, most of our dads think that they’re 10 out of 10 [as parents], and I come in saying, mmm … (she laughs) and [Ashley’s] book allows me to not even have to say that.”
The book helps them want to be better people for their families, she says.
Ford’s experience visiting a men’s prison “made me wish I had had an Ericka when I was a kid, or that my dad had had an Ericka to be perfectly honest,” Ford tells Literary Hub. “I know what it’s like to have your dad very obviously choose to be the best version of himself he can be for you. That’s priceless.” Her book includes a letter written while her father was incarcerated, in which he speaks about getting out—something that wouldn’t happen for another two decades.
You Yes You! grew out of a father-daughter dance Sanders put on after hearing about a similar initiative at a Virginia prison, and encompasses different activities to stay connected between visits. “When the kids come to the facility, the dads are kind of all lined up and they’re a ball of nerves, and the hugs—I’m always reminded that in a minute this hug is gonna be on the outside,” says Sanders.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice, by Anthony Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row in Alabama before being exonerated. Members went on to read memoirs by Kevin Hart and Michelle Obama, and Kurt Cobain’s biography, before Ford’s memoir—a poignant story of a father and daughter separated by the carceral state.
“My issue with the incarceration process in this country is that it punishes a whole family for one person’s crime, and specifically that it punishes kids,” says Ford, who recalls clinging as a child to books like Theresa Nelson’s The Beggar’s Ride and Sharon Creach’s Walk Two Moons, about children who felt alone in their grief.
There are around 26,000 people incarcerated in Indiana in state facilities, about 90% of whom are men, and 65% of those are dads, explains Sanders. That means thousands of children growing up without a father present in their lives. Therein, an opportunity for men to step up while they serve out their sentences.
“I always say to them that your kids don’t think of you like the world thinks of you,” says Sanders. “They don’t really pay attention to what other people are saying. They pay attention to what you do and what you don’t do.”
Ford is going to do more readings and discussions with the program, and is keen to get the word out.
“We’re conditioned to not think of people who are incarcerated as people,” says Ford. You Yes You! is a beautiful program and I’m so proud to be a part of it in any way, but I think what makes it so special ultimately, which is kind of sad, is that what Ericka is doing is just treating these guys like human beings.”
You can volunteer with and support You Yes You! here.