Everette Taylor is a family man.
Except he’s in jail and can’t see his family.
The 6-foot-1, 45-year-old slender man is being held at Macomb Correctional Facility in Michigan. For the past 23 years, he has resided in 16 of Michigan’s 30 prisons, which house about 33,000 people, disproportionately men of color.
Taylor isn’t as famous as her daughter Breonna, who was killed by police in Louisville, Ky., on March 13, 2020, and whose death helped spur historic racial justice uprisings. He is one of 2.3 million mostly faceless incarcerated souls whose treatment is a stain on America’s promise of freedom and justice for all.
It’s not that he didn’t deserve jail time, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to languish there for the rest of his life. Taylor had six children before she was 19. Young, unemployed and black, he was determined to support them. Arrested for drug trafficking, he spent most of his adult life in prison.
On February 12, 1998, Taylor was dealing drugs, and when he delivered a bag to Elijah McGee through the car’s driver’s window, McGee sped off. Taylor grabbed and restrained the bag of contraband, but one of his accomplices shot the car and killed the driver.
Thus, Taylor was convicted under Michigan law as an “aid and accomplice”, an accessory to the crime of first degree murder.
Because he did not pull the trigger, the jury reduced his sentence to second-degree murder, sentencing him to 25 to 50 years in prison instead of life without parole.
Shortly after the shooting, Grand Rapids police found drugs in the back seat of Taylor’s car – marijuana and cocaine. They arrested him for possession of drugs with intent to sell, which carries a 20 to 40 year sentence. But because he received bad legal advice, Taylor’s sentences were served consecutively, not simultaneously, which would have been the case if the drug-related sentence had come first. Thus, between the two convictions, he was sentenced to a minimum of 45 years in prison.
This is also known among prisoners as “death by incarceration”.
I am continually amazed at the number of super-intelligent people languishing in our prisons. So-called correctional institutions house mostly human beings, and many institutions spread disease and discouragement. Many inmates should instead be with their families and communities, working to create positive change. They should be lawyers, doctors, barbers, ministers, working fathers, hiking partners, leaders, lovers.
Many of these men and women have been forced to come to terms with who they are with days, weeks, months, even years of introspection – the kind the privileged pay dearly for in meditation retreats, drug therapies and self-help seminars.
By all accounts, Everette Taylor has been as good a father as the prison system will allow. Five of his children survived with his help and good advice, but not his daughter Breonna, who was shot and killed in her own apartment by police who raided it, looking for drugs that were supposedly in another apartment.
I met Taylor through Joshua Puckett, the son of Joe Creedon, a dear friend who died of AIDS in 1991. After losing his father, Puckett came home from school one afternoon to find that his mother and his wife had been murdered by their next-door neighbor. Traumatized, he joined a gang and a 12-year-old girl was tragically killed in the crossfire of the gang war.
Puckett has been in prison for 28 years. Like Taylor, he was convicted of a crime which he did not directly commit but in which he was implicated as an “aid and abettor”. He demanded Taylor’s release.
Taylor is like many parents of color who have lost their beloved offspring to police brutality in America.
Talking to him on the phone, I found out that “Skeeter,” as his friends call him, had his own issues with the police growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the 1990s. jobs because of his skin color, victim of the stagnation of economic growth of this decade, he trafficked drugs. It was the most lucrative and easiest way to support her six children.
At the time, 21-year-old Skeeter was a popular man in the town of Grand Rapids. Breonna was his fourth child, born when he was just 17. She and her mother, Tamika Palmer, moved to Louisville when Breonna was 5 years old.
Taylor chose to stay in the background in the years following Breonna’s murder, saying he “didn’t want my case to interfere with the current situation.”
But in fact, her record typifies important aspects of the many stories that Breonna’s death symbolizes. Tens of thousands of Americans, a majority of them people of color, were mistreated by police and unfairly convicted after the passage of anti-marijuana and tough-on-crime laws (co-sponsored by Senator Joe Biden at the era) in the 1980s and ’90s.
People like Taylor have been called “super predators” by politicians on both sides of the proverbial political aisle. Today, although many leaders disavow this language, people like Taylor remain incarcerated, an incalculable loss to his family and community.
“You’re either locked [up] or dead, basically,” Taylor says.
People like Taylor belong at home with the family
“Skeeter is the glue [of the family]”says Taylor’s mother, Janice Rostic. She explains that his nickname was born after his uncle commented, when he was a baby, “His head looks like a mosquito! Rostic didn’t like it, but his son was called ‘Sketter’ anyway.
Taylor’s son, Everette III, who bears his name, is affectionately known as “Little Skeeter”. The 29-year-old recalled: “Since I was in the fourth year he reached out and gave me good advice,” adding: “Even when I got in trouble he was there for me.”
Our prisons are filled with people like Taylor who have transformed themselves in various ways – people whose ideas, care and intelligence would be much more useful and less costly outside than behind bars, and whose families yearn to be with them.
Taylor was sowing his oats and, in his own words, “got things figured out” in 1992, when he was just 16 years old. His six children—all by different mothers, within just three years—were Asia, De’Andrea, Ateaonia, Breonna, Everette III, and Shantelle. “I smoked so much marijuana,” he explains, “honestly, I thought I was infertile.”
Today, her children are the center of her life. He writes and talks to them regularly, encouraging them to be patient and stay in touch with each other. “I really respect their mothers for keeping our family together, for allowing me access to them,” he says. He says he is on good terms with them, mothers and children.
“Dad is the glue that holds us together,” says his 29-year-old daughter, De’Andrea, who goes by the name Dee Dee, and who until last year lived in Houston as a social worker for Goodwill.
Taylor’s dream is to continue to rebuild relationships with her family and loved ones, find a job, and eventually open a hair salon. Meanwhile, Dee Dee’s mission, like Breonna’s, is to break their father out of prison.
Recently, Dee Dee returned to Grand Rapids with plans to open “Breeway”, named after her late sister, as a halfway house for returning prisoners, including her father.
Memories of Breonna, family aspirations
Like any family that loses a loved one, a giant piece of the cloth is missing, and everyone is trying to figure out how to put things back together after Breonna’s death. According to Ateaonia, her sister was “lively, bubbly, the life of the party”. Her surviving father and siblings testify to how she smiled a lot and was independent and determined to improve her life.
Breonna stayed in close contact with the family, often texting and FaceTiming them. She took her brother, Everette III, on memorable tours of Grand Rapids and Louisville. Like her father, she attracted people but did not demand attention. She was “laid back,” by her father’s preferred description.
According to her grandmother, Rostic, “These children, including Breonna, are sisters and brothers. There was never a sense of half this or half that.”
Yet there is no mention of these siblings in Breonna Taylor’s obituaries.
“Since we lost Breonna,” Ateaonia Taylor, 28, reports, “Dad calls almost every day. He’s a great dad. I wish he could be home with us, meet his grandkids , be with us.” His 27-year-old sister, Shantelle, who married in September 2020, agrees, saying, “I wish he was there to get through these times with me.”
“Thank God we can have real conversations,” says Asia Tucker, a 29-year-old sister, grateful to be able to communicate despite her father’s incarceration. “I feel closer to my dad than my mom. He helped me quit smoking. And when I was homeless, he gave me hope.”
Taylor’s current “early release date” is 2031, which means he’ll be 54 by the time he’s free. That’s nine more years of missing birthdays, weddings, Christmases, and being able to hug her kids and mother.
“I wish I could kiss Skeeter,” Rostic says. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be locked down and not have any visitors due to COVID, in the midst of all this.”
Stephen Silha wrote this article for YES! Magazine. It is republished with permission via Michigan News Connection reporting for the YES! Collaboration between the media and public information services.
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