By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Chester man serving life behind bars at Graterford Prison received high honors this week. He managed to raise his two sons from a prison cell.
Larry “Juice” Stephenson was a married father of two sons when he was sentenced to life without parole for his part in a 1974 armed robbery.
“He was home one day and the next thing we know he was going to Cheyney State – which was Delaware County Prison,” says Darren Stephenson, who was five years old when his father was sent away.
“I was always close to my father,” says Stephenson, “I actually became closer when he went away because it was intense. The pressure was on.”
He says the elder Stephenson called several times and wrote thousands of letters over the years to his sons to stay connected. And their mother, Betty, was committed as well. She took her boys to visited their father first everyday, then once a week for years.
“He would make us do math and reading while they visited,” says Stephenson, who notes his dad stressed education and was a strict disciplinarian. “A bug part of my life was going up to the prison.”
Stephenson says “Juice” was transferred from county jail to Dallas State Prison, which was several hours away from heir home.
“We used to go every Saturday, four hour ride one way,” says Stephenson, “we’d get up at five, leave by six get there by ten, visit until three and get back by seven. That was our routine.”
Stephenson says when he and brother Larry Jr. were old enough to drive, the duo drove themselves every week. Today, Stephenson lives in Prince Georges County Maryland, but still makes the drive to Graterford to see his father every three weeks.
“I’ll see him on Sunday — I’ll see him for Fathers Day,” says Stephenson, who notes he’ll get to spend six hours with his father. He says his son, Darren Jr., a junior at Morehouse College, also has a good relationship with Larry Sr. and drives to visit him as well.
“He’s a good man, I’m proud of my dad.” says Stephenson, “He always told to us to do the right thing, be a respectable man and love yourself…every time he sees me he hugs and kisses me like I’m five years old…he’s a good man.”
Today, the Stephenson boys both have master degrees and are fathers; and they proudly accepted the Father’s Day Rally Committee Fatherhood Award on Wednesday honoring Larry Stephenson, their dad, as a standout father.
“He’s an example for all African American fathers because he’s shown by example how to connect with your children.” says Stephenson, “He did a good job. He kept us straight.”
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