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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps, giving people the chance to sit down together and have a conversation they've never had before. Today, Five Mualimm-ak and his son Omar, who was 5 years old when his dad was first incarcerated. By the time Mr. Mualimm-ak finished serving his sentence for weapons charges in 2012 he'd been in prison for nearly a dozen years, many of those in solitary confinement. When he was released, his son Omar was a senior in high school. They recently came to StoryCorps to talk about their relationship for the first time.
OMAR MUALIMM-AK: Do you remember when you first saw me?
FIVE MUALIMM-AK: Yeah, head first. (Laughter) I went to classes. I had, like, 50 books so that I could help deliver you. I wanted to make sure I was the first person to touch you.
O. MUALIMM-AK: I didn't know you took birthing classes.
F. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah. The first night I fell asleep in the hospital holding you. I think it was the most joyous time in my life. What was the hardest thing for you about me being in prison?
O. MUALIMM-AK: Losing a father.
F. MUALIMM-AK: Nobody to answer guy questions.
O. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah. It affected a lot of areas of my life. I cried a lot. Did you worry about me?
F. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah, every minute of the day, man. Throughout that dozen years in prison I felt like I would die in there. But my biggest fear wasn't losing my life. It was losing my family. And when I came home I felt like I did. When I first saw you, you were so tall. You were like, hey, Dad. You were like a grown man. And I just remember being so proud. You was an intelligent young man. But I felt all that time I did in prison that I played no part in making you the success that you are. And I can't make up for half your life that I missed. That was irreplaceable. But how do you think our relationship has changed over time?
O. MUALIMM-AK: It's getting better. That's the important thing. We can't beat ourselves up about the past. You know, it's happened. It's there. All we have is the present moment.
F. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah. I could care what the world says or thinks. The real damage is what my son thinks.
O. MUALIMM-AK: I'm sorry, Dad.
F. MUALIMM-AK: You don't have to be sorry.
O. MUALIMM-AK: No, man, I don't like to see you crying, man. You're my father despite the jail experience, and I don't want you to think that I don't care.
F. MUALIMM-AK: I know you do. One thing you can never get back is time. And I'm just grateful to move forward as two men getting to know each other now.
KELLY: That's Five Mualimm-ak with his son Omar at StoryCorps. Five currently serves on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's task force on behavioral health and the criminal justice system. He's an activist on criminal justice issues. Their interview is archived along with the rest of the StoryCorps collection at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.