Father’s Day Feature: Remembering Nicholas Ray and James Carr
For Father’s Day, we are honoring the lives of two fathers quite close to our hearts. We wish all the fathers and their children happiness this month, and wanted to share two daughters, Gea Carr and Nicca Ray, writing on the ways in which they found connection to their fathers. Read about their stories below, and know we’re sending all our love.
BAD: The Autobiography of James Carr, is the harrowingly brutal and unapologetic story of the notorious African-American career criminal who went straight out of Compton to a reformatory after burning down his school at the age of 10. After years in and out of prison (mostly in) Carr wound up bunking with George Jackson (Soledad Brother) in Folsom Prison where they fought their way to a position of strength along the radical stream of the 1960s. As Carr notes, “I’ve been struggling all my life to get beyond the choice of living on my knees or dying on my feet. It’s time we lived on our feet.” A book that strips the system bare, BAD is revealing as a part of Black Panther history, and as a telling document in the battle for prison reform that continues to this day. Carr’s daughter Gea writes the introduction to her father’s story, laying bare her thoughts on San Quentin, the building that separated her from her father during her childhood.
The prime piece of California real estate known as San Quentin is one-hundred sixty-four years old. It houses California’s only Death Row facility–the largest in the United States. San Quentin or Q, as my dad referred to it, is designed to hold 3,082 inmates but is currently home to 4,223 incarcerated souls. As a child I referred to it as my dad’s house.
One could imagine that Q is filled only with the worst, most vile humans, humans that need to be removed from society. One could imagine that tax dollars are well spent funding its $210 million annual budget. That a society by the people, of the people, and for the people requires these walls to help protect it.
Yet every time I have passed this building, I have felt the weight and horror of what really happens within those walls…what happened to my father there…what he had to do to survive in Q…what is currently happening to countless other children’s fathers in those prison walls. I always find myself resenting Q for keeping my father from me during the beginning of my life. And I’m struck with a certain melancholy knowing that so little has changed. One in fourteen American children has a parent in prison: herein lies one of the deepest issues facing our country.
RAY BY RAY is Nicca Ray’s search for connection with her father, the famous director of Rebel Without a Cause, Nicholas Ray. After he disappeared from her life in 1964, Nicca began to imagine her father as a hero who would return and whisk her away from a life in LA where she never felt safe. However, the man who finally reappeared was not the legendary figure she dreamed of. Through his movies and letters along with her intimate interviews of family members and Hollywood icons, Nicca stitches together the seemingly disparate pieces of the real Nicholas Ray. Below, Nicca recalls one of the handful of times she met her father face-to-face as a child.
Julie and I sat on my twin bed, dressed up, and waited. It was past midnight when the front door opened. An old man stood behind Betty. He ducked on his way in; the top of his head skimmed the frame. His white-gray hair hung to his shoulders. He wore black jeans, a black shirt, and black cowboy boots. A black pirate’s patch covered his left eye.
It was my father.
I ran to him, jumped into his arms, wrapped my legs around his. He lowered his head. His hair fell on my cheek. I closed my eyes, nestled my face into the side of his neck, inhaled the tobacco scent of his skin, and whispered, “Daddy.”
I really thought I was being saved.
“Darling,” he said, holding me tightly for five minutes, before letting me down. Betty confirmed my memory of running into Nick’s arms. “When we opened the door, the girls, looking gorgeous, leapt up and raced toward him.”