When Julia Elaine Bledsoe was growing up in North Lawndale, she imagined one day having a daughter and meeting her future son-in-law. She, like a lot of parents, wanted to see her daughter with a man who was chivalrous, easy-going and a good provider.
To Bledsoe, these would be the primary issues she though she would have to face. But when the day finally arrived for Bledsoe to meet her daughter’s future husband, her hopes would take a dramatic turn.
“‘This is my boyfriend, mother, and yes, it is true that he is the leader of a street gang'” recalled Bledsoe, who didn’t quite know how to respond to her daughter’s revelation.
What began as a simple “meet the parents” scenario led to a bitter eight-month custody battle, chronicled in Bledsoe’s first novel “Custody: A Grandmother’s View of the Fight for Alexandria Keysha Jones.”
Bledsoe is on a national book tour, which launched this past Sunday at St. Agatha Catholic Church in North Lawndale, 3151 W. Douglas, where she is currently a member. Bledsoe, a mother and grandmother, now lives in Austin.
In the book, released in June, Bledsoe talks about the custody fight that would completely change her attitude toward the way the court system handle such cases.
“When my daughter first told me about him, I was surprised of course but we did not pass judgment,” said Bledsoe. “We didn’t agree with this lifestyle and we had to set down ground rules for how we expected our daughter to be treated, and how we expected him to slowly wean himself out of the life as time went on.”
Their son-in-law did just that, she said. Although he had three children from a previously relationship, and one on the way by another women before he became involved with Bledsoe’s daughter Marcy, he was starting to change his life.
He was working in construction and becoming an ideal son-in-law, she said.
“He really began to turn his life around. Although I’m sure he never completely left the life, he kept his dealings with us and his dealings with his associates separate,” Bledsoe said. “We always knew of the risks involved, but he never allowed it to come to our front door.”
Tragedy, though, struck one night when he was killed trying to help solve a dispute for a friend.
Suddenly, his youngest daughter, Alexandria, was left without a father or a mother. Alexandria’s birth mother became incarcerated, and this left the Bledsoe family with the responsibility of adopting the child.
“What I want people to understand is that the legal system is very tough on the adoptive parents in cases such as this,” said Bledsoe, who centered the novel primarily on the experience fighting for custody of Alexandria. “It can be both a financially and emotionally trying situation, one that can create more losers than winners after the dust settles. This is what we experienced.”
Things became even more complicated when Alexandria’s mother was released and wanted to regain custody. Ultimately, the final result of the eight months of courtroom drama was not what the Bledsoe’s hoped for. Alexandria was returned to her mother two years ago at the age of 12. Bledsoe claims that she has not seen her since.
The ordeal inspired Bledsoe to write her book, based primarily on her recollections and entries in her private journal.
Publishing the book, though, proved almost as difficult as the story that inspired it, she recalled. Publishers, Bledsoe said, wanted her to focus more on the ‘son-in-law as gang leader’ angle. She felt her real goal with the book was to speak prospective adoptive parents.
“[The publishers] wanted me to re-write it as a story about him or have another writer fictionalize it into a story about my son-in-law, and that was not my intention,” said Bledsoe. “This book is about the custody battle first and foremost and nothing else should [over]shadow its importance.”
She finally found a publisher ” HG2 Publishing & Communications ” willing to tell the story she envisioned.
“None of the names important to the story are changed and the wording, while at times gut-wrenching, is very much in step with my feelings at the time of the trial,” said Bledsoe.
Bledsoe has lived on the West Side virtually all her life, first in North Lawndale and later moving to Austin. She attended John Marshall High School and later attended Malcolm X College. She and her husband William have two adult children.
Despite all of her personal experiences, few have compared to the “fight of Alexandria,” Bledsoe said.
It was her son Samuel who encouraged her to write the book after he accidentally stumbled upon her journal.
One incident she wrote that ended up in the book involved Alexandria’s natural mother’s sister, who once took Alexandria for what was supposed to be a short visit but refused to bring her back.
“It was the first and only time I contacted my son-in-law’s ‘associates’ for anything,”
Bledsoe admitted. “I asked them if they could, without doing anyone harm, encourage her to return Alexandria immediately. Her aunt was not happy, saying that what they said to her was too awful to repeat, but it was effective.
“It is not something I’m proud,” Bledsoe said, “but if I was in the same situation again I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t repeat my response.”
For more information about Julia Elaine Bledsoe visit www.juliaelainebledsoe.com or call 773/216-2350