When I was seven, my father was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He sold drugs and got caught after years of being investigated by the FBI (One count of possession of heroin, one count of conspiracy to distribute).

My mother was indicted as an accessory. For a year, in 1997, she was also in federal prison.

For that year, I had no parents. In the years after, I had no father.

I didn’t realize for a long time just how much growing up without a dad affected me.

When I entered my twenties it hit me like a ton of bricks. Until then, I had focused on other things, appreciating what I had overcome from having a less than perfect childhood.

But I eventually began to realize the heartache of growing up fatherless. It tore my family apart. It seeped like poison into every aspect of my life.

Antonia Okafor’s family visiting her father in prison in 2001 (author, upper right)

Children, I have been told, tend to handle these tough situations in different ways. At the time, my way was to hate my dad. I don’t regret it, because I believe in personal responsibility. What he did was wrong. It was illegal. I cannot argue those two facts.

What I can argue is how drastically different my life would have been if my father’s sentencing for a non-violent crime had not been so harsh.

As a precinct chair for my local county Republican Party, I have been wrestling with which presidential candidate to support. Two candidates in particular appealed to me because I felt they had a strong record in fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

The deciding factor for me was the many stories that appeared time and again in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, about Rand Paul promoting criminal justice reform. Second only to unemployment, our broken justice system hurts the black community more than any other problem we face.

It has certainly hurt me.

I went to a good public school and had a mother who cared about my education. Thanks to her, I’m in graduate school now.

But my life could have been different.

Antonia Okafor’s family visiting her father in prison in 2004 (author, far left)

I have asked myself: What if Rand Paul had been president when my dad was arrested? Would he have received a lesser sentence? Would he have been able to come home sooner?

Would I have had a better life?

A life that wasn’t so filled with heartache and one financial crisis after another? A life where I had a strong male role model to look up to as well as a strong mother?

There are thousands of black boys and girls who’ve found themselves in similar circumstances who could ask the same questions—in Chicago, Baltimore, Harlem or even my small hometown of Carrollton, Texas.

There are so many black children who have had so many precious moments stolen from them, because of a criminal justice system that should be fairer to all Americans.

Okafors in 2013: Everesta Okafor, Christie Okafor, Eucharia Okafor (mother), Antonia Okafor (author), Fred Okafor Jr. 

Not just black, not just white, not just liberal or conservative. Because of this, I can only support one candidate for president: Rand Paul.

He is the first candidate to see a broken system that relies heavily on mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and has pushed his party—our party—to see what a tragic problem it has been.

Many of these laws were promoted and expanded during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s and they seriously damaged black and Hispanic communities.

Criminals should do their time. But their punishment should fit their crime. It should be what makes sense, what’s fair—not some arbitrary federal law that punishes families like mine needlessly.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws stole moments with my dad that I will never get back. It created voids that only a daddy could fill in this daughter’s heart.

My hope is that Rand Paul is elected president in 2016, so that limited government, respect for the Constitution and more jobs will help bring back the American dream.

My father’s American dream ended the day of his sentencing. In 2013, he was forced to return to Nigeria after his time was served.

He will never see America again.

I’d like to see much better and fairer America for families like mine. I believe Rand Paul would too.

Antonia Okafor (RL Wright Photography) 

If Rand Paul were president, I might still have a father
Antonia Okafor About the author:
Antonia is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Dallas and a Republican precinct chair in Denton County, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @antonia_okafor
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