Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad

Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad

by Jeanine Cornillot


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807006177
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 09/21/2010
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

An Emmy Award–winning producer, Jeanine Cornillot began her career as a documentary editor, and has written and produced shows for CBS, NBC, and ABC. Cornillot has also coproduced a feature public radio documentary based on Family Sentence, which aired on BBC radio. She lives in Los Angeles.

Table of Contents

Five Things I Know ix

Kid's Guidebook to Prison 1

Open Skies 15

Shadow Fathers 27

Men Are People Too 39

The Little Havana Abductions 51

Brothers Big and Small 63

Spanish Lesson 79

Man in the House 89

Good Crimes 107

The Hunger Letters 121

Getting By 139

I ♥ Ponch 157

Postcards from Prison 163

Free at Last! 179

Hard Times, Again 197

The Worst Family Reunion Ever 205

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Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
kjmasterson on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Interesting look into a life that is very different from my own
lisaeweiss on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Jeanine Cornillot was just a girl when her father sent her a letter from prison, comparing her to a half-wild, half-friendly cat: ¿Here in the prison, live many cats. They grow up by themselves. We only feed them occasionally - and never take them to our living quarters.¿ I wonder if she already understood his words were a harbinger. Her father Hector, a Cuban Revolutionary, was serving 30 years for political bombings, and he would go on to feed her only occasionally, buying her a coke in a prison yard, and never had the chance to show her where he slept. She was left to imagine his life in prison, and for the most part, who he really was. Cornillot¿s portrait of her father was built from small moments spent together at Glades Correctional Facility, Raiford Penitentiary, or through letters he sent from inside those walls. Prison recollections are interwoven with the safer, warmer stories of life in Suburban Philadelphia with her mother. In Philadelphia, Cornillot¿s family tried to go on with their lives without a father, attempting to make sense of his absence, and, likely, believing that he¿d rather be home with them, too. A belief that would later lead to a surprising discovery. Meanwhile, Cornillot¿s home in Philadelphia was led by women who cared about gentle things, and was so unlike the prisons she visited. The book is a journey through time, filled with incredible insight and humor, as Cornillot reflects on life searching for her father. I was struck by the pure honesty and nakedness of the book. Cornillot retells every visit to prison in intimate detail, even the time when she got her first period during a visit to prison. It¿s fascinating when, in the end, her father sees each one of her visits so very differently. Every moment she holds so dear, seems to pale in comparison with her father¿s recollection of his quest to live the life of a revolutionary. It¿s a fascinating, beautiful read!
yourotherleft on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Family Sentence is Jeanine Cornillot's tale of growing up with a father in prison. Growing up, Jeanine's world is sharply divided. There's the world she knows, the one where she lives in a house dominated by women in suburban Philadelphia where men are absent and foreign to her. The other part of her world is a little more uncertain. Summers, growing up, she spent with her Cuban grandparents in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Most of her Miami relatives speak no English and Jeanine, despite being half Cuban, knows no Spanish. Despite having her cousins for interpreting, the language barrier and her decidedly un-Cuban looks make her own relatives a little foreign to her despite being bound by blood.Jeanine's father, a self-professed Cuban revolutionary determined to free Cuba from Castro's rule, was in prison for all of the childhood she can remember for the crime of bombing an Air Canada ticket office. All that she knows of her father she learns from his infrequent letters and a few family trips to visit him in prison during her summers in Miami. All the rest, she makes up as she goes along. She worries and wonders about her father's life in prison, imagines a family reunion that she's certain will never happen while she's still a child, and she perpetrates tiny acts of terrorism in school hallways imagining the revolutionary blood that runs through her veins and bonds her to a father who she doesn't know and will never understand.Family Sentence is a book about a girl growing into a woman and trying to piece together the disparate pieces of her identity. It's also the story of a girl trying to know a father who is distant and perplexing even when he volunteers answers to any question she might have. It's a story about reconciling the myth of a dad, who by his ideals and through a daughter's loving but ignorant eyes has become larger than life with a real person who has lived an imperfect life without the regrets readers would expect.Cornillot tells her story with brutal honesty, painting the naive girl she was, desperate to look and seem more "Cuban" for a father who could barely be bothered to remember her when they were apart. She brings her young self to vivid life with many anecdotes of her young life complete with her girlhood imaginings and her childish quirks like her penchant for saying "that's a crime" about anything that seems slightly unjust. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the anecdotes get away from her, and that makes for the book's one flaw that it's easy to get lost in the individual anecdotes and lose track of where Cornillot is going with the larger narrative of her life with and without her father. However, the book seems to collect itself in its final chapters as Jeanine reunites with her father as a teenager and a young adult and all the myths and misconceptions she had about her father collide. Ultimately, Cornillot's is a compelling memoir that draws us into her life and tells a personal story that every kid who's ever idolized a parent only to grow up and discover a fallible human being can relate to.
LibrarysCat on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Thank you to Beacon Press and LibraryThing for the opportunity to read and review the uncorrected proof of Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad by Jeanine Cornillot. This is exactly the type of book I usually enjoy - as I tend more toward non-fiction and biographies in my personal reading tastes. In addition, I know a little something about the loss of a father with my own father disappearing during the Korean conflict when I was only two. So I was a bit surprised that I did not particularly like this book. Jeanine Cornillot was only two years old when her Cuban father was arrested for anti-Castro revolutionary activities and imprisoned in Miami. Jeanine went to Philadelphia with her Irish-American mother and brothers where they lived in poverty and confusion regarding their blended cultural heritage. To further complicate matters, Jeanine spent her summers in Little Havana with her Hispanic relatives. Still this sounds like something I would enjoy. The problem was the whining! As the author sought to sort out her family problems, she whined and complained and whined. Or that is how the writing sounded to me as I read. I just never felt her pain; never mustered up what should have been natural empathy. I did learn some things about the culture of Little Havana, but ultimately I had to force myself to finish the book.
LivelyLady on LibraryThing 5 months ago
[FAMILY SENTENCE] spans the author's lifetime so far. It is the timeless struggle of a girl for her dad, his attention and his approval. It is her search for a relationship with her Cuban revolutionary father who spends most of her childhood in prison. While she only visited him a handful of times, most of the remembrance is of her growing up, fatherless, with both Irish and Cuban influence. Her life is punctuated with summers spent with her Cuban abuela (grandmother) in Little Havana.Her time with her father is short during the visits. She remembers with distinction the visit, and is able to describe with clarity the atmosphere and details of the visit. She grows to idolize father she does not know.When, after his first sentence is complete, she asks him for braces for her teeth. After spending a day smoking pot with her father, and he taking her around town to a few dentists, trying to negotiate a doable fee, he tells her to get them when she goes back home. He does not come through and has no remorse for being able to provide. It is unknown if she ever did get them.When her father is finally released, and she has a chance to sit down and talk to him, she discovers that the relationship was one-sided....that he was more present in his absence than in reality.Cornillot was able to convey the little girl wanting daddy's approval in her memoir with clarity. While more bitter-than-sweet, this is well worth the time.
lahochstetler on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Jeanine Cornillot's memoir recalls growing up with a father in prison. Hector Cornillot spent decades in Florida prisons, sentenced for participation in an anti-Castro bombing in Miami. For his children, Cornillot became an enigma. Jeanine spent her childhood imagining her father fulfilling his parental duties to the best of his ability, within the confines of prison. Her imagination ranged from faith that he thought about his children regularly, to dreaming that he escaped from prison to return to his family. This tendency is exacerbated by Jeanine's mother's edict that that family remain silent on Hector's whereabouts. Jeanine upholds that code of silence, resulting in an even richer imaginative life. Her suppositions are based on a few, sparse visits to her incarcerated father, always undertaken when she visits her Cuban-Floridian grandparents. These do little to quell Jeanine's desire for information about her father; they seem to be cut scenes in the regular progression of her life. Ultimately we see that despite his physical absence, Hector Cornillot shapes his children's lives in many ways. Ultimately what I found most interesting about this book was Jeanine's discussion of struggling with her Cuban identity. She doesn't speak Spanish, when in Miami with her grandparents Jeanine relies on a cousin to translate. Her quotidian life in Philadelphia has little contact with Cuban culture, something that is certainly reinforced by the familial code of silence concerning Hector Cornillot. Many aspects of Jeanine's story duplicate those of thousands of other children with incarcerated parents- on that note I didn't necessarily feel like I was reading what I haven't heard before.
raquelsf on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The author writes this story in the voice of a child whose father was sentenced to 30 years in prison for bombings. She guides us through a fatherless world including two household (one Cuban and one Irish-American), two family histories, and two diverse neighborhoods (outskirts of Philadelphia and Little Havana) in search of a father. Her childhood fantasies set against the reality of a father's incarceration create some heartbreakingly funny scenes of childhood. During their precious few prison visits, he is distant, often speaking Spanish, a language she does not understand. She pieces together a mythic father out of what is said and what is not said about him. In the final two chapters, the book jumps forward in time to their reunion as adults and into starker territory, Gone are the quirky childlike day dreams and left is a woman searching for her father's love. After 23 years in prison, he gives his daughter the gift of direct and honest answers to her long awaited questions, although they are forthright they are devastating to say the least. I found it fascinating that throughout the author's life she had to use her imagination of what love could be from her father, without his love ever being offered. No matter what a parent's crime this book describes how a child can love a parent unconditionally.I will never know what its like to be a child of a prisoner and found it courageous that the author had the valor to share her story. I am sure she is one out of millions of children who grew up with a parent in prison and to hear this child's-eye view is extraordinary.
bermudaonion on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Jeanine Cornillot grew up outside of Philadelphia with her mother, grandmother, aunt and three brothers. As the youngest of the four children, she doesn¿t remember ever living with her father. Her mother told her these five things about her father: 1. He is a Cuban revolutionary. 2. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison for anti-Castro bombings. 3. We don¿t know if he is guilty or innocent. 4. You are forbidden to talk about his life in prison outside our house. 5. ¿Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head¿ is his favorite song.Jeanine¿s home life was happy enough even though her family barely managed to keep their head above water. She spent time in Miami with her father¿s side of the family every summer even though she doesn¿t speak Spanish and most of them don¿t speak English. They didn¿t talk about her father much either, but they did take Jeanine to visit him in prison a few times.As a child Jeanine imagined all kinds of things about her father, but sadly, most of them weren¿t true, and, as an adult, she is forced to face the reality of who is and decide what role she wants him to have in her life.Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad by Jeanine Cornillot sounded like a book I would just love, but it ended up being just okay for me. I never really felt connected to the author as a child, although I did when she was an adult. At times it seemed like the book focused too much on mundane daily things that weren¿t relevant to the story. I did find myself greatly admiring the author¿s mother ¿ she never said a bad word about her children¿s father, always stayed upbeat and made sure her children visited their father¿s family on a regular basis. The book left me wanting to know more about Jeanine¿s feelings as a child.
DeanieG on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I was able to make a small connection with the author as I spent most of my childhood imagining what a wonderful, handsome and talented man my father had to be even though he was in prison when I was born and I never laid eyes on him. Little girls tend to romanticize their fathers. Jeanine Cornillot wasted a good part of her life trying to figure out who she was as well as who her father was. The reality never quite fit the fantasy... That being said, the book was a slow read for me and I probably wouldn't run right out to buy Cornillot's next book.
VosVos on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Family Sentence is David Sedaris meets Arthur Miller¿s Death of a Salesman. It is an exploration into why and how clans create collective/individual mythological narratives. The book tracks a family¿s history all centered around the author¿s imprisoned father. Like Willie Loman, the father, Hector Cornillot, is a hero to some and a grave failure to others. Hector¿s extended Cuban clan in Miami casts the imprisoned father as a patriot who has sacrificed all to battle the evils of Castro. The author¿s Cuban cousins, aunts, and grandparents can find no mantle too high for the author¿s imprisoned father. On the other hand, the Irish in-laws, north in Philadelphia, cast a far more jaundiced eye on Hector Cornillot, seeing him as a man who fathered four children and then easily abandoned them for the more glamorous life of a reckless renegade. A man whose main motivation in committing criminal acts had more to do with avoiding his fatherly duties than being a patriotic fighter. The Irish clan does not hold Hector up high on the mantle but rather suffers his abandonment in poverty, foster care, and the associated ills produced as the author¿s single mother, Joan, tries desperately to function in a bygone world of harsh sexism without man or money. The author takes these two diametrically opposed narratives and weaves them together in a unified myth through the eyes of an imaginative and precocious little girl. No contribution, despite the widely varying mythology, is right, wrong, true or deceitful. One cannot help but laugh in glee as this precocious child attempts to reconcile two absurdly different stories each emanating from different cultural universes. It is as if the child is given the illogical mythological ingredients of imprisoned son, revolutionary, louse, father, deadbeat, hero, absent husband and patriot and forced to create a meaningful and understandable sum total - a father she can love. I began reading Family Sentence thinking I was simply going to get a historical perspective on a wacky journey with two clans (one Irish, one Cuban) as they cope with the loss of their imprisoned family member. Yet, the book is more - it is a wonderful meditation on why we encircle the billion(s) year old bonfire and listen to, and create, a collective clan lore.
mrhine on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Cornillot's debut is a gem. She deftly weaves the dichotomy of being raised by three women (her mother, aunt and grandmother) with growing up fatherless with three brothers. The pain of having a parent in prison -- especially a parent that's not all that happy to see you when you visit -- is astonishing and infinite. Cornillot also weaves together two worlds -- a world up north with her mother on the tough streets of Philadelphia -- with the confusing world of little Havana in Florida, the state in which her father serves out his sentence. It is down south that Cornillot, because she speaks no Spanish, is forced to rely on her teenage cousin (needless to say, not the most reliable of translators) for guidance. Highly recommended.