By SAM ROBERTS Francine Lucas says she thought her father was in the candy business. Nicole and Ebony Barnes remember a lot of cash around their house, but were not sure exactly what their father did. In fact, Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, now being portrayed in separate films — “American Gangster,” starring Denzel Washington as Mr. Lucas, and the documentary “Mr. Untouchable,” about Mr. Barnes — were archrivals three decades ago in Harlem’s cutthroat heroin trade.
The fruits of their fathers’ drug-dealing were shared with the daughters: a $10,000 toy train set, and so many Barbie dolls they gave them away to friends. So were the penalties for the fathers’ crimes. When the girls were young, their fathers were imprisoned. Their mothers were, too. Francine Lucas was raised by grandparents. Nicole and Ebony Barnes were placed in foster care.
Now, Francine Lucas-Sinclair is planning a program to mentor and support children of parents who have been imprisoned. And in an unscripted turn of events, Nicole and Ebony Barnes have volunteered to help her. “Yes, their parents might have broken the law, but the children deserve help and support,” Ms. Lucas-Sinclair said of the youngsters she wants to help. “First, because they’re innocent and they can’t fend for themselves. And second, they will be your children’s spouses, their neighbors or, God forbid, the person carjacking you 10 years from now.”
Ms. Lucas-Sinclair, who has a degree in public relations and lives outside Atlanta with her husband, who is a computer database manager, and their two children, said in an interview that the film about her father provided a chance to call attention to her Web site, yellowbrickroads.org. The name was inspired by her love for “The Wizard of Oz”; the site lists resources that are already available for the children of inmates. “I thought to myself, I have a great opportunity to use some of the publicity my dad is getting to bring the spotlight to this issue,” she said. “Yeah, I would have to put myself out there, but because there’s a good reason to do it, it was worth it. There was no other benefit to come out and say I’m Frank Lucas’s daughter.”
Nicole Barnes’s curiosity about Frank Lucas was whetted by the publicity surrounding “American Gangster.” When she searched for his name online, she stumbled across a Glamour magazine article about Ms. Lucas-Sinclair’s life and her project. “I was searching the Internet about Frank Lucas, not knowing he even had a daughter,” Nicole Barnes recalled. “I felt really compelled to contact her. It was the first time I had read anything that sounded so familiar to my childhood.”
Mr. Barnes, like Mr. Lucas, became a witness for the government in return for a reduced sentence. Mr. Barnes and his daughters are living under new identities in the federal witness protection program. Ms. Lucas-Sinclair said that she was certain of Ms. Barnes’s identity when they exchanged details of their mothers’ imprisonment. All three daughters are in their 30s. They say their fathers approve of their continuing conversations about assisting other children.