When Jacorsha received the call from a Prison Fellowship® volunteer, she didn’t know what to think. Attend an Angel Tree® Christmas party and reunite with her father, Joseph—after 34 years apart?
She felt conflicting emotions: On the one hand, Jacorsha had needed her dad during all the years he’d been in prison. But now that she was a grown woman with teenage children of her own and a busy life, the invitation had Jacorsha thinking, Where have you been my whole life?
As reluctant as she was to go to the Carol S. Vance Unit for the Angel Tree party, Jacorsha knew seeing her father again might fill in some pieces of the puzzle that was her life.
GROWING UP WITHOUT A DAD
Jacorsha admits she had “daddy issues” in the past. There were moments when not having a father around felt like a painful, gaping hole in her life. She grappled with resentment throughout his 34-year absence.
“The worst times that I thought about him were the father-daughter dances,” she recalls. “Birthday parties, too. I got married, but I didn’t have a wedding, because I didn’t have what I felt like I needed as far as how will Dad give the daughter away?”
Jacorsha wasn’t told where her father was in her early childhood. It wasn’t until she was older that her mother revealed that he was in prison. Jacorsha had other paternal figures, including her grandfather, pastors, grade school teachers, and her friends’ dads—but none of them filled the void left by her father; she learned only God could do that.
"Even though I had a void, I filled that void with God. God is the Father to the fatherless," she says.
Jacorsha’s mother tried to help her daughter stay connected to Joseph’s family, who would give Jacorsha letters that Joseph had written her. She cherished them, as they were tangible proof that her dad cared for her. He often checked to make sure she and her mother were doing well. When Jacorsha wrote back, she would send the letters through her great-aunt.
But over time, maintaining any connection became more challenging. Jacorsha and her mother moved a lot, and her mother was incarcerated during many of Jacorsha’s teen years. At 16, she was placed in foster care until just before her 18th birthday, when she went to live with her great-grandmother.
'This whole time you’ve been in prison and you’re walking around with the key to my life.'
As difficult as being separated from her parents was, Jacorsha was determined to live in a way that would make them proud. She recalls those hard times with gratitude for the silver linings of financial aid for higher education.
“It was a blessing,” she says. “I have a tuition waiver for the rest of my life in the state of Texas. Even living at the shelters, I was able to go to Six Flags and camps. They really do take care of you.”
Jacorsha married, had two children, and divorced. It was in 2022—with the Christmas season in full swing and just weeks before the holiday—that she was caught off guard by the phone call from the Prison Fellowship volunteer.
“They said, ‘Hey, are you Jacorsha, Monique's daughter? We're calling on behalf of Joseph.’”
Her first thought was a jarringly honest one: What took so long?
DECIDING TO MEET DAD
Prison Fellowship Angel Tree allows children of incarcerated men and women to know their parent hasn’t forgotten them. At Angel Tree parties, it’s not just gifts that are delivered. It’s also the Gospel message and a personal note from Mom or Dad behind bars.
Jacorsha had been eager for her father to be involved in her life during her childhood. But when she was contacted by Angel Tree coordinators about meeting him, her plate was more than full. Her job and her children’s high school track meets kept her busy.
“I was hesitant because I was like, I really don’t have time for this. What could you possibly help me with?” she recalls thinking at the time. She was also unsure because her mother—recently diagnosed with terminal cancer—had come to live with her.
Jacorsha shares that in the end, she knew she would not be able to not meet her father. Despite having seen his face only when she was a baby, the pull to finally know him was too strong.
“On the job, one no-call/no-show, and you’re terminated,” Jacorsha says. “But how do you terminate people from your life? It’s not that easy when you have a void. It’s not that easy.”
Just a couple of weeks before Christmas Day, Jacorsha and her children traveled to the Texas prison for the Christmas party. There, they were warmly greeted by Angel Tree volunteers in a room filled with colorfully wrapped presents and a twinkling Christmas tree. Around them, young children restlessly waited to see their fathers.
Jacorsha remembers that visit as a special moment that changed everything for her. Along with other dads and daughters, she and Joseph danced, ate, and visited together. And as unlikely as it sounds, a scar on Jacorsha’s arm cemented her connection to her father after so many years of uncertainties and insecurities.
JACORSHA'S BURN AND THE MISSING PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
Jacorsha says that seeing and speaking with Joseph answered questions and calmed doubts she’d had about herself.
“Joseph had the missing key,” she says. “I’m like, This whole time you’ve been in prison and you’re walking around with the key to my life.”
When she finally came face to face with her dad, she says it was as though she were looking into a mirror.
“I was thinking, This guy has my cheekbones," she says. “He has a gap, too [in his front teeth]. It was like looking at myself. I saw him and I was like, Well, there it is.”
When Joseph saw a large burn on Jacorsha's arm and told her about it, there were no more doubts—she knew he was her father.
“He was like, ‘Oh, I remember that burn—that happened with the curling iron,’” Jacorsha says. “This is the same story my mom told me. He said ‘I was so upset with your mom. Your mom didn’t put the curling iron up high enough. You got tangled in the cord and it burned you.’ And I’m like, Oh, this is my dad for real.”
Joseph, a graduate of Prison Fellowship Academy® who is now sending his granddaughter Christmas gifts through Angel Tree, is due to be released in June 2023, and Jacorsha plans on being as supportive as she can. She also would like to serve as a volunteer, helping other children of incarcerated parents.
To children whose parents are not fully present in their lives because of incarceration, Jacorsha says, 'Be upset with the decisions your parents made, not with who they are. My dad is not the same person he was 35 years ago. He’s not. I forgive him.'