The hourlong cold and rainy car ride from Detroit to Jackson State Prison felt longer than usual this time, for 4-year-old Najanava Harvey-Quinn. This trip wasn’t just about seeing her father, Blair Anderson. This trip was going to be the one where she set him free from prison.
At the time, Harvey-Quinn’s family was living on Joy Road, in one of the many areas of Detroit that had been devastated by the crack epidemic. In her short life, during the peak of the war on drugs, she’d quietly and painfully observed dozens of fathers getting arrested, imprisoned, and ripped away from their families. She was adamant she wasn’t going to be another Detroit kid growing up without her dad.
“When a family member is imprisoned, you also get that prison sentence,” she says.
She refused to live a life missing out on moments hugging, laughing with, and playing with her father. The answer was simple: sneak a screwdriver into her visitation with her father that he could use to break his way out to freedom — and back into her arms forever.
The towering brick walls surrounding the prison made it, at the time, the largest enclosed prison in the world, with approximately 6,000 inmates. Harvey-Quinn felt the hidden screwdriver tucked near her belt, under her yellow rain jacket, as the car neared the first security gate. She made sure it was still in place. Her mother had no idea.
Harvey-Quinn trembled with fear as she passed each corrections officer while making her way through the…