Love is the glue that maintains and sustains a family unit. Familial bonds are composed of strength and love- where collective challenges, obstacles, momentous events and crises reinforce and nourish those bonds. Family also embodies a commitment to love and being loved in equal parts, leaving no one behind or forgotten even - or especially - during hard times.
The criminal justice system is one of the leading causes of family separation in the United States. Due to strict visitation and communication policies, it becomes difficult to contact and engage with incarcerated individuals serving prison sentences. Incarceration directly separates family members and can have long lasting, adverse effects. In other cases, it can reinforce the family bond and strengthen and reorient the family bond. This is the case according to my mother, Rohini Patel, who knows that the strength, support and love within her family has only flourished since I, Nik Patel, Rohini's son, was sentenced to prison in 2018.
As a father, husband, brother, son, I believes that commitments reveal our values which are intrinsically linked to our priorities and dictate our future. As every choice has a consequence, with time, choices dictate and shape our future. The choice to commit to family is representative of unconditional love. For me, my family has exerted a compelling influence and shaped me into the person I strive and want to be - not necessarily the person I was - the person who put me where I am right now. Yet, devotion to my family is a contributing factor to the robust strength of the Patel family bond today, something I attribute to my upbringing in a loving, supportive home. Since being incarcerated, I have grown so much closer to my loved ones and we have all seen true love and support.
Maternal influences have had a compelling impact on me from an early age. As the first grandson, my grandmother played a fundamental role in my spiritual education, reinforcing a commitment to the devout and maintaining a balance between thought, prayer and positive achievement. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away during a stay at hospice care shortly after I entered prison. I was able to communicate with her in her final days of her life, but being separated from my family and enduring this loss alone has played a major role in my spiritual advancement. As my grandmother was devoted to maintaining the family bond, through her passing, i believe I have found hope and strength to endure this prison sentence and pay homage to this amazing woman through a vow I made to embark on a religious reading for seven days that will continue for the rest of my life.
My love and commitment to others is not limited to family, though, my mother recalls many encounters with members of the community whom we have been able to touch through philanthropy and generosity. My mom would say that I have grown a broader sense of empathy and a will for helping others than ever before.
Even as a child, I have had this vibrant energy and an insatiable determination to pursue my goals, and some around me would claim it was infectious. I am not sure I have any advanced social skills, nor any uncanny abilities, but I always want to make people feel included. My sweet mother commends me for being able to connect with others and make others feel as close as family. I guess I never thought they knew how active I have been in my community, lending a helping hand to those truly in need.
In one case, someone from my family's Hindu temple sought out my mother to commend her for my help in providing shelter, transportation and significant resources when her child was sick with lymphoma. In another, a man with certain health matters reached out to my family to express his "Unending gratitude" because we sent groceries and helped him find proper medical care when he was in need.
When we took family trips to India, we would see children begging in the street and I'd offer them what we had and some money to buy more. The need is so great and whatever we has was enough to share, always.
Now, in prison, I do not have any abilities to help people directly, but I make my thoughts and ideas known through my emails and calls, when I can, and my family continues our efforts to give back and pay it forward.
I have been thinking about it a lot more lately, and I have come to know well how greed and selfishness may have a short-term benefit to someone, and yes, to me, but in the long run it only hurts, and can destroy those closest to you. Giving and helping and watching others smile and be able to help themselves and their loved ones is so much more of a personal reward. Through my time locked up, I realize that I just want to be and do better and I am finding new ways to channel passions for charity and making positive change.
It makes me cry when I hear my mother speak of me. She is saddened by me and what I have done, and that is among the biggest burdens I carry - her disappointment in me. Yet. my mother truly believes that I have strength from above and can turn my life and those I have hurt around. I have accepted what I have done, and I am now determined to do as much good going forward.
It is undeniable now, that helping those around me, no matter the circumstance I find myself in, has, and continues to be my driving force.