Khalil & Chamika Cumberbatch:- Our Love

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The { } And – Mia & Khalil

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Xiomana Xoxoxo

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I would love to see them now

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Khalil & Chamika – Kiss

Khalil & Chamika – Bride & Groom

Khalil – This is my family

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As shared with SpreadMassLove ( spreadmasslove.wordpress.com ) on 2015-February-27th.

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Marlon: Tell us about the beginnings of love for you two.

Chamika: Friendship

Khalil: You mean how we met?

Chamika: Stalkership (sic). Me stalking him. We met when I was about 14 yrs. old. He was driving around in his car and I was walking around. He stopped me and asked for my number. I gave it to him, but he never called back. So, I went around the neighborhood looking for him for about 2 weeks.

Khalil: You know, a 19-yr old male, who didn’t have any commitments, who was self-absorbed, and selfish. I only cared about myself, basically. Any decision I made back then was solely about Khalil PERIOD. I didn’t really have a good understanding of what my role was as a man, as a boyfriend, as a partner…as anything. The beliefs that I did have were totally flawed. I felt like at that point in my life more women…more everything, like it validated me in some shape, form, or fashion

Marlon: Give me a timeframe for this

Khalil: June 2001 or 2002. …It was 2003 when I caught by case

MarlonWere you in love by then?

ChamikaI was. Head over heels. I had gotten his name tattooed on me. I was 15 or 16. We weren’t even married, not even engaged…he wasn’t even claiming me. But somehow I thought I would persuade him to fall in love with me.

Piper: What was it about him that made you think he was the one?

Chamika: My parents had gotten divorced and it was a really, really rough time for me. I was in and out of group homes at the time…my mother put a PINS (Person In Need of Supervision) warrant out on me. She was from Jamaica, [WI] and she really didn’t understand the system. So she didn’t understand that taking out a PINS warrant meant, “you can’t control her, we [NYC Family Court] are going to take her.”

So when I met Anthony (you call him Khalil) it was literally three days after I had come home from one of the residential homes that I was at, and I always searched for a father figure. I was kind of lost, I would say.

I was yearning for something different from what my mother was able to provide. She was going through her own thing. I wasn’t going to school and I wouldn’t go to counseling so people felt my mother wasn’t doing enough to make sure I got help. But, it wasn’t that she wasn’t providing the help but that I just refused to go. I wouldn’t listen. And in order not to get in trouble she was forced to put the PINS warrant on me. Also, my dad was living in the YMCA at the time…he was in a homeless center. I was just lost and I just wanted love. My father was not the best, so I looked to Khalil to take me away from all of my problems at home. So I was like this is my escape route.

M: Where do you think that came from? How were you able to separate from your other women and still be able to focus on helping Chamika out?

K: I was always perceptive of people. I’ve always had a really good gauge of people’s personalities and I always saw Chamika as someone I always wanted to help. At that point, I saw that she needed that from someone, she needed someone to encourage her to go to school. I knew that she was very smart and I knew she had the ability to do it. The more I got to know her I knew she had come from this history of trauma like many of us do. This history of constantly being disappointed…I didn’t have my father in my life for a huge portion of my life also. I knew what that was like, and I knew to a certain extent I knew that was the role I played for her. Not as a father figure, but as someone who would give her comfort. I was aware of her history with the PINS warrant and being put in institutions. I knew her from that background and I guess I felt like any bit of comfort I could give her I would give her.

 

M: Would you say his love even at a young age is what saved you?

 

Chamika: Oh, of course. Oh, definitely. I tell him all the time. I felt, even after he was arrested it was very traumatic for me. When he went away to Rikers Island I felt like I was going to kill myself because he was all I had. I stayed at his house all the time and there were times that I would wake up and thought to myself, “oh my God, he’s really not here.” When he would call me and it was just so hard for me. My mom was really worried about me.

 

P: Khalil, you said when you got your case…when you were arrested; something changed or shifted for you. What was that?

 

K: Well, that’s an interesting aspect of our story because I think that there was a level of comfort that I knew that if I called her for from jail something, she would actually make it happen. If she said she would come to the courthouse, I knew that she would actually come. I was at a desperate point in my life where I was trying to reach anybody to tell them where I was at, and Chamika was there for me.

 

C: And at this point it had to have been about three days when I couldn’t find him after he had told me, “I am coming to pick you up.” He never showed up.

 

K: They arrested us [he and his co-defendants] at the scene of the crime and dragged us through the system, so by the time I reached out to her, it was like three or four days later. I had one of those “aha” moments. Everything that I thought was real, the friendships that I thought were real, the beliefs that I thought were real, the values that I held all crumbled down around me in less than 72 hours. I realized that everybody I was dealing with in a relationship at that point were not the ones that I could call on. They were not the ones that at that desperate moment, I could reach out to. That changed the way that I would view my relationship with Chamika. I was still a young man, and I still hadn’t come to terms with what my role was as a partner, but I knew that the values that I had were wrong and I knew that I didn’t want to live like that, so for me, our relationship changed a little bit. It changed the way that I viewed her as a woman. It takes a lot for a fifteen/sixteen year old to say, “I’ll come to court” and be there. Right? And there is a certain level of admiration that just comes with that, especially for someone who could have just easily walked away. This experience put her at a different place in my life.

M: Chamika, you mentioned your father and police taking him out of the house, your own experience with the residential system, and Khalil going in at 19 or 20. How were you able to manage all those different dynamics of state intervention in your lives and still maintain love? How were you able to manage that?

C: I think it, it had to be our friendship, I was always his friend first. So, even though I knew he cheated on me, when he called me from Rikers, I said “I love you and I have to be your friend right now.” I had to put those hurt feelings aside and understand that he needed me as his friend and I tell him that even now. Before I’m your wife or anything, I’m always going to be your friend and I think that goes a long way because if you can’t communicate on that level, what happens when romance is not always like there? What are you going to do?

M: So Khalil is on Rikers Island now…

C: The worst place.

M: Did you visit him in there?

C: Oh, yeah. Religiously.

Khalil: You know it’s just the fact that you’re in an environment that is not open to love and being tender and caring and you only get an hour on a visit to express that love–if you get the whole hour. Rikers wrecked us and our relationship.

C: At the same time we are also trying to repair the fact that I felt totally betrayed. Like he left me in this world by myself by getting arrested, and at the same time, I am trying to love him and be there for him. Still, I was secretly wondering to myself, “what am I going to do.”

M: So you mentioned strain, Chamika. Describe what the strain was.

C: Well, Rikers Island was a strain because it was hard to get to see him. Certain hours I couldn’t see him because of my age. I was supposed to be in school. Sometimes it takes six hours to get that one hour and we are having our own issues. Then there is never enough time to talk on the phone. I remember hearing the automated voice on the phone reminding us that we “have 15 seconds left” before the call would end.

No matter what you do, it is just not enough. It was just getting to a point where we weren’t mature enough to understand we both weren’t built for it this life. He was trying to adapt to his life in prison, and I was trying to adapt to my life without him. I grew angrier and we kind of lost what brought us together in the first place.

P: You got married when you were 18, right?

C: Yeah, but I visited him in prison before I turned 18. My mom used to have to write letters to the prison every time I went to go see him upstate after he was sentenced because I was a minor. My mom knew the influence he had on me and she knew that honestly, in order to keep me alive, this is what she was going to do.

P: What made you all decide to get married?

Khalil: I guess I wanted something that could comfort me. I was 21 going on 22 and facing a substantial amount of time. There is a selfish aspect to that, but that was probably that main reason why I did it. Of course, I loved her and I was with her before this whole thing happened. I was entering a new chapter in my life and I needed something to bring from that old, previous chapter. I needed something comforting to bring with me. And I loved her.

C: I think my main thing was that I didn’t want to lose him and I felt like marrying him was the only way that I could keep him, as like my treasure. Sounds weird, I know.

 

M: Set this thing up for me. How did that happen?

C: We spoke about it before we went in, but he couldn’t marry me then because I was too young. Then when he was in Rikers, I was like, “you got to make it official now because I am not going to put my life on hold for you and you won’t even make me your wife.”

K: But at this time, she was still 17, so we had to wait until she turned 18, so we actually didn’t get married until August of 2004 in Green Haven Correctional Facility.

M: What was that ceremony like?

K: Jailhouse wedding, basically.

C: Fast.

K: You had a witness.

C: His mother was our witness. I didn’t have any witnesses basically because nobody knew.

K: We had the priest. It was an outside chapel. A lady came. She was a very nice lady. She did the best she could to make it comforting. I mean outside of the fact that you’re getting married in a prison.

M: Your mother didn’t know?

C: My mother knew. She knew. I wouldn’t say she wasn’t supportive. She just didn’t think it was something I should do at that time.

K: Yeah, I mean looking back as a parent of two daughters. You just turned 18. The ink isn’t even dry yet and you’re talking about you want to get married to someone who is incarcerated who probably will not be out for the next decade. Yeah, I could totally get why her mother would be like, “I don’t co-sign it”.

C: It was still challenging because I felt like I had the paper, but then there were so many obstacles that we still had to overcome and I felt that communicating with him did not exist then. We didn’t know how to communicate.

M: It was through letters, phone calls…

C: It was through letters and it got really stressful through letters. I wouldn’t write because I would become very emotional. Sending him packages and stuff and I’m an 18-year-old girl in the world trying to fend for myself. It got really rough.

At that time, I don’t think that I understood what I was going through and I don’t think I was understanding what he was going through. We were both like, “I need you for what I’m going through and I was just like, “no, I need you to be there for me.” We were both in need of something we couldn’t provide at the time.

 

M: Chamika, do you think you were in a state of incarceration also?

 

Chamika: Definitely. I would literally wake up and not put on my jewelry because when I was going to go see him, I knew could not wear my jewelry. I would come home at a certain time to make sure I would be in time to receive his call. The only time I would go outside is when I knew he was in court because I knew he wasn’t going to call me. Other times, I was like; I’m just going to sit down in the house and wait for him to call. I think that was just stressing me out to a point where that is when the resentment started to build like you are not the only one doing time, so am I.

 

M: Listening to your story so far, I’m thinking of like a boxing match round for round. I am wondering, at this point in your relationship, did you see the system as the person you are fighting against in that round?

K: That is a good analogy in terms of boxing. I would say that it would have been perceived as a victory for the system, but it helped to build the overall fight for a later point in time. It was our Mohammad Ali rope-a-dope strategy now that I reflect on it.

C: The championship is ours!

K: In hindsight, I think we used that as an experience to say, “you [the system] didn’t really win the fight. You won the battle, but you didn’t really win the war.” The system just tore us apart. It sent us on our own journeys, but parallel at the same time.

M: It is 2009 now. Almost time for you to come home. Were you all in communication then?

C: No, we were divorced…

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Chamika: No, we were divorced…I pretty much-kept tabs on him through a girl that was working in the prison. I found out that he was coming home, and I started looking him up on the Internet trying to find out where he would be and stuff like that. His number had changed, so I found out his current number when he came home.

Marlon: Were you thinking about Chamika when you first came out?

Khalil: Yeah, definitely. I mean I still had some unresolved resentment. I didn’t fully understand all of the things she had went through, largely, because she did not have the time to explain to me all of the things happening to her.

Chamika: I think the unresolved issues that he was talking about are after we separated and got divorced, I had a daughter. He used to tell me, “If you had a baby with another person, there is no way that I would be with you.” So, the fact that I had a child was very rough for him. That was a struggle. That was one of the main struggles he was having when he came home. He just could not understand, “how could you have a baby for someone else?” We struggled for a while and one day we had a disagreement about it again, and I told him, “I didn’t have that baby for someone else; I had that baby for myself.” She gave me what I felt that you took away. She gave that back to me.

 

Marlon: When did you find out that she had another child?

Chamika: In jail

Khalil: I was at Greenhaven.

Chamika: His friend told him, or was it when I applied for public assistance, they wrote him and it was so embarrassing. That was not the way I wanted him to find out. Especially, like, you have a baby and now you are on public assistance, this is crazy.

Piper: That’s because you were still married?

C: No, because the divorce wasn’t final.

K: I thought, “What the fuck is happening out there”? Like, really? This shit is falling apart.

M: So in your mind it didn’t really fall apart yet. Although you sent the divorce papers in your mind, there was still something there.

C: We’ve always said that though. In the end, we always said we were going to find a way back to that good place even after the divorce, I loved him so much and I know he loved me. We were going to find a way back to that place.

P: So you never lost faith?

C: No, I didn’t, but then after I had Mia, my first daughter, I just wrote that off because I knew he did not want me to have a child by someone else. He said, “when I come home, even if we are destined to be together, you have a baby and I’m not going to do it.”

K: That speaks to the realization that I had not reached full transformation. Now, that is something that I just couldn’t fathom myself saying, but that was a principle that I believed wholeheartedly. Like I believe that blue is blue.

M: So did you feel like you won? You beat the system? It was a victory at that point?

C: Yeah, I definitely felt like I won. I felt like he was like superman. When he came home, I was in a DV shelter. Literally, what he said, like “what’s going on out there”. My life was a wreck. My daughter had gotten sick and she was with her biological father and he did not take her to the hospital for four days. Not realizing that the damage that was being done. He did bring her back and she was in the hospital for 17 days after that and she had a fever and which caused a loss of oxygen to the brain, so after that, I had to take myself away from that situation because I was going to kill him.

Detectives came to my house to see me and my mom had told him I was out. I walked to the precinct with Mia. When I came there I was crying, I had a black eye, I had scratches all over my neck because I had gotten into a fight with him. The officer told me, I came to arrest you for stabbing him. I was like “what”. I had over 20 domestic violence cases with him and I was like “you guys have never come to defend me and here you are going to take my child away from me,” and I was crying for hours and he told me, “I am going to let you go, but I never want to see you with him ever again

I left the precinct and that night I went home and called the domestic violence shelter because I felt like that was my only way out. He [Mia’s father] would attack me on the street and it just got so bad between me and him where I felt like killing him was my only route and I felt like I can’t do that. I ended up going into a shelter. I was there for about a year, moving from the Bronx to Brooklyn and I wasn’t doing much.

I wasn’t making much progress. I had dropped out of school and was just working. No goals, no nothing, just paycheck to paycheck. Wandering. I just got to feed my daughter, that’s it. At that point Mia was diagnosed on the spectrum of autism because of the fever. She was nonverbal, wouldn’t say a thing. She wouldn’t go to the bathroom on her own. She had witnessed so much violence between me and her father that she literally shut down. In one of her IEPs it said that she has mastered zoning out.

P: How old was she?

C: She was two and a half. Then, when Khalil came home, I explained to him, “I am in a shelter”. There weren’t many questions about it. He never really asked about her father, or anything like that. It was just like, “let’s go on a date.”

I remember the first day we decided to go out on our first date since he’d been home and I brought Mia along. He wasn’t like “what is she doing here? Eventually, Mia began connecting with Khalil. I will never forget when she called him “daddy”. It was amazing.

Remember, she was nonverbal. The doctors are telling me she needs to be on medication and all types of stuff and here she is, the same little girl I was at 14 just needing that love. Just missing that void, that same thing that I was missing. It was just amazing, Their relationship helped her get off the spectrum of autism. She just started to blossom into who she is now. I’ve always told him, I felt like he was my hero again. He saved me when I was 14 and then he saved me again.

K: Yeah, for me, Mia represented accountability. I think it is really easy for us to go everyday and do this work and know that we do it for the greater good and know that we do it because we are fighting against systems and we know that we do it because we are trying to help people, but it is different when you come home and you look at a little person and it’s like “wow”, like, to a certain extent, it is like, I’m doing this for you. I needed that accountability and she needed someone to hold accountable. She needed someone who would bring stability to her life.

M: So now, May 2014 comes and immigration takes Khalil to detention…

C: We wake up and it literally was like a nightmare. I remember I turned to him, and the first thing I said was, “not again.

K: I think that this time was so different for both of us because we were a family at this point. We had two children; we had built this life for ourselves. To know that my wife is going to come home at night and to know that her husband is going to come home at night that is a comfort. That is something that you look forward to and May 10th just changed all of that.

During detention in immigration, there were some days just knowing the fact that we loved each other was the only thing that kept us going—the only thing. There were days that I had just given up and the only thing I knew that I had was I knew that my wife loved me.

C: I told him they are not going to take away the love we have for each other. They can’t take away all the accomplishments like our union, our family. They can put space and time in between us, but it’s not going to take away what we have built. Meaning our life, meaning our love.  They are never going to take that away. It is like power. It is like knowledge. They are never going to take that away from you because they can’t take away what we have.

I constantly felt like I had to remind him sometimes because they will destroy you in there. I mean, you are in a place where you don’t even have sunlight. I have never seen him at that point. I just had to be his friend and let him vent and say whatever it is that he had to say and then be like “are you done because we need to talk about what our next plan is to get you out of there.”

K: Chamika is undoubtedly the strongest person that I know. I mean undoubtedly. She held us together. I am sitting here as a representation of all the work that she did. I have spoken to advocates, people who do this work for a living and they are like, “we need to hire her.” Her passion and her drive for fighting for me, but also for fighting against the system is ferocious. It is encouraging hearing that. One, because I know that is my partner. That is the person that is going to motivate me when I feel like I can’t go further, and because I know that it is representative of the love that she has for me.

M: The system wasn’t a worthy opponent at this time?

C: No, not at all. It was like, “okay, that’s what you’ve got. You are going to adjourn it for another 30 days. Okay, give me what you’ve got.”

K: But now, January 2015, we look back and say “wow, that was probably the toughest fight we had to fight. But, we were so well prepared and it was so different than the last time. More importantly, we had great people around us to like you prop us up.

C: Real friends this time. Seriously. Because of the day that I met Marlon. I never met him in my life. Before we even get out of court the first day, he was trying to find ways and means that my children could survive. He is like, I worked out for you to get something from someone. It was money, but no one had thought of that. I mean, before I left the court, he was on it. Like he never met me, or anything like that. Like, no one knew me, I never met any of these people in my life, but they were actually there for me more than people I have known all my life, so it was like, what love can really do. I have said this before at College Initiative graduation: although I felt like I lost my husband and he wasn’t there, I gained so much love, and family, and people I will carry for the rest of my life. This is something I will never, ever forget.

MYou have dealt with the criminal justice system. You have dealt with the child welfare system. You have dealt with the immigration system and none of that was able to sort of topple you and I think that is tremendous. That is bedrock.

K: These are all things we think of…how much I really love Chamika. How she tolerates me through all my shortcomings and through my flaws, but to have opportunities like this to articulate yourself where your partner can hear that and to be appreciative of that and to understand that “you mean a lot to me”.

C: And I think we are going to love each other a lot more after this.

 

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Dedicating to Xiomana.

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