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In 1994, Larry came home from work one day and turned on the TV to see something startling. “I was watching the news and suddenly realized, hey, there’s my father.”
Watani had just returned from Suriname, and his extradition was the lead story. Larry knew immediately that he needed to get in touch and sent a letter to his father in prison asking to meet.
“I was nervous about how Larry was going to react to me,” remembers Watani. “I didn’t know what kind of resentment might have built up over the years — what kind of anger. It certainly would have been deserved. But then he contacted me and we fell right in.”
“I was just happy to get the opportunity to finally get to know him,” says Larry.
Over the next few years, as Larry and his father grew close, Larry learned of his half brothers and half sisters and the situation in Suriname. But Larry would soon have his own trauma to deal with. In 2000, Larry’s brother Lionel suffered a massive and unexpected heart attack.
“It was his 33rd birthday. I was driving over to his place to hang out when Diane called me with the news,” says Larry. “I went straight to the hospital, but he died before I had the chance to say goodbye.”
Larry was devastated: “Ever since we were kids, growing up the way we did without a father, Lionel and I were inseparable. It was like a piece of me died that day.” If there was any solace to be had, it was that Lionel and Watani had had the chance to reconnect before his death.
“I just thank God I had that opportunity,” says Watani.
But while Larry mourned the loss of the only brother he knew, a new sibling prepared to enter his life. In 2001, Elaine and Sheilah paid for Kishana to come visit Watani in San Quentin. When she arrived and learned of the existence of her half brother in Los Angeles, she wanted to meet him too.
“We took her all over the place,” says Larry. “We went to Disneyland, to the beach — we had a good time. After Kishana left, we really tried to keep in touch — to send money and medicine down there as often as we could and to make sure they were all right. I also got more involved with the legal situation — in trying to finally get the kids over here as soon as possible.”
On the latter front, he was perhaps more successful than he was prepared for. On a random Friday in January of 2005, Larry received an unexpected call from Los Angeles County Social Services. The kids were on their way from Suriname and would be in Los Angeles on Monday morning. If a suitable home wasn’t found immediately, the children would be sent to foster care.
“We can’t have that,” Larry remembers thinking at the time. “After all they’ve been through, entering foster care in South L.A. without knowing anything about this country or even speaking the language — these kids would be completely lost. And on top of that, they were going to separate the kids and only send the four youngest over. I just thought, ‘Well, we can’t have that either.’ ”
After deliberating with Diane, Larry called Social Services back. The kids could stay with them — all of the kids.
“We were running around all over the place, buying towels and air mattresses — trying to figure out where we were going to put everybody.”
When Monday morning rolled around, the Stiner home had six new additions. (Raoul, now married with a child, stayed behind.)
Watani was overjoyed. “A huge weight was lifted,” he says. “The kids were with Larry, they had someone to look after them, they would be able to get their education — they were safe. I could finally relax.”
But Watani’s ease was premature. Life in America — especially life in South L.A. — has its pitfalls. For Larry and Diane, relaxation seems like a distant dream.
Says Larry: “We had no idea what we were getting into.”
On July 19, Watani enters his parole hearing dressed in mandatory prison blues and sporting a thin, stylish pair of violet-tinted glasses. Calm and poised, he politely sits down opposite the two-member parole board and their massive, imposing desk, cluttered with documents and files relating to his case. Across the room, a Los Angeles district attorney, sent to fight Watani’s release, eyes him carefully. Watani simply waits patiently to make his opening statement. It’s a moment he has been anticipating for quite some time, and when it comes, Watani goes for broke, telling the parole board that he refuses to participate in what he labels a “sham hearing.”