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Youth Voices: Raven Reese

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Sooner or later, every child must realize that the world is more than just a playground, and that being a parent involves more than just saying 'Yes, you may.' For commentator Raven Reese, those lessons were particularly difficult ones.

My dad is funny. He's the funniest person I know. He's supportive and caring and soft-spoken. My dad doesn't drink, smoke, do drugs, or curse.

But he's also a convicted drug dealer, locked up behind bars in North Carolina. Jailed 18 months ago, he's not due for release until 2017.

I think of him every day. We're very close, even though he hasn't been there at times when I needed him. He didn't see me go to my senior prom or graduate from high school. He won't be here when I turn 21, when I finish college, or begin my first real job.

My sister now has a baby boy, but my father has never seen his grandson.

Through the prison glass that separates us, my dad has told me he's sorry. I think he's genuinely troubled by it all. Handcuffed and speaking on a prison phone, he tells me he takes responsibility for his actions and reminds me to do the same. Seeing my dad like this makes me cry every time.

It wasn't until the sixth grade that I figured out what my dad did as a profession. He always had plenty of money, but I never saw him go to work.

The way he interacted with the people he called 'friends' reminded me of drug dealing scenes from movies such as Paid in Full. Once, when I opened the glove compartment of his car, it was packed with thick wads of cash.

My older sister confirmed our suspicions later, but at the time, neither of us asked him outright. We didn't think it was a topic open for discussion.

Since then, he's told me that he started selling drugs when he was seventeen, after his mother died. He was the oldest of five kids, and I guess that's how he provided for the family.

I'm sure my Dad is proud that my siblings and I are all doing well. He wants us to take a different path. But we also need him to take a different path.

I tell him, 'If you don't want to go back to jail, you have to do something different when you get out.' But I don't know what else he'll do.

He'll be 45, and I can't picture him starting over in an office. Dealing drugs is what he's done since he was a teenager.

If he has any shot at changing, we all know he'll need us, his family, to be his support system, to be there for him whenever he needs us. We're ready.

But he must also be ready to accept that he can't change the past, that starting over won't be easy, and that there is a future for him that's worth building.

Raven participates in WAMU's summer Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and D.C.'s Latin American Youth Center. She's a recent graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

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