A Missing Part of the Caleb Plant Story
IBF super middleweight champion Caleb Plant has one of the most compelling backstories in all of boxing. He grew up in poverty, had a troubled mother who was shot in a confrontation with police and witnessed his 19-month old daughter Alia's struggle and death due to an unknown disease.
Plant shared the story of his daughter's passing with Yahoo, The Tennessean, and PBC. His account is tragic and heartbreaking, and promoters pushing the July 20th PPV match pitting Manny Pacquiao against Keith Thurman have spent in inordinate amount of time pushing Plant’s story of perseverance in the face of repeated trauma. His struggles, in concert with his solid in-ring outings of late, have resonated with media and with the public at large.
But, as can often be the case with such pushes, the narrative has been crafted with emphasis on the focal point…and some supporting parties, who were to one degree or another integral to the chapters of the hero’s life, didn’t make the cut.
Baby Alia Plant had a mother, and her place in the Caleb Plant story hasn’t received much if any attention.
The mother’s name is Carman Jean Briscoe-Lee, she is alive, living in Ashland City, Tennessee, and she has a voice.
Her heart, too, aches, at having the unimaginable trauma visit her. She shares the reality of losing her daughter Alia, but she has never been given the space and place to process the grief…until now.
In Alia's all too brief 19-months of life, Briscoe-Lee nurtured her daughter while the fighter Caleb did what he was destined to do. Carman, in speaking to the writer, didn’t choose to characterize Caleb as a villain, but it is clear, she feels hurt by all those stories which speak of his pain, of his courage under the fire of a cruel fate…and at the absence of her side of the story.
Because quite often, when Plant (below, on the left, in poster hyping his July 20th fight vs. Mike Lee) was fighting, and training, it was Carman who pulled Alia close, and did the hard work of care-giving.
Briscoe-Lee comes off a strong person, straight-forward, and isn’t asking for money or seeking fame. She has been approached twice before by media outlets to share her account, she said, but turned them down because she felt stung that Alia's story was altered, to this point, and edited to feed Caleb Plant's rise to greater prominence.
The 26 year old woman only agreed to talk now because she finally felt like she had an opportunity to share Alia's story, without the spotlight being on the father, who is seeking to enlarge his foot and hand prints on the sweet science. She wanted the world to hear the truth, she declared.
Here's her side of this portion of a story.
Alia Jean Plant was born on May 7, 2013. Briscoe-Lee was very anxious leading up to the birth. It was her first pregnancy, she was 19 years old, and she was terrified that she would have to endure the birth of her child alone.
Plant was an amateur boxer at the time and planned to leave for a boxing tournament on May 9. Briscoe-Lee's due date was May 8. Her biggest concern was that she would go into labor after the due date without Plant. He was willing, she told me, to miss the birth of his child for his tournament.
“My due date was May 8, and Caleb was going out of town on the 9th,” recalled Briscoe-Lee. “If it came to a boxing match and everything was getting in the way of that. My due date was May 8, and he was supposed to leave to go to Colorado on the 9th. I begged him and begged him not to leave because I was nervous. It was my first pregnancy. I was like what if I go past my due date and you're out of town, and I go into labor?”
Plant's solution was to urge Briscoe-Lee to be induced before her due date. Pre-planned inductions are now scheduled with greater frequency in this age, though most often when a pregnancy elongates and a woman is past her due date. She consented to Plant's request out of fear of going through labor alone and out of consideration for Plant.
“He said, ‘I'm not missing this. I'm going to my match,'” said Briscoe-Lee. “So I begged my doctor to induce me. I was like, ’Is there any way you could just induce me because he's going out of town?’ My doctor wasn't a really big fan of it, but they ended up inducing me on the sixth, I had her on the seventh. He was there on the eighth that day, and he left that night.”
Briscoe-Lee's labor lasted a grueling 23 hours. Everything seemed fine, Alia seemed OK, and Plant left for his boxing tournament. On May 10, Briscoe-Lee received the news that every parent hopes they will never hear. Her daughter was seriously ill, and the baby’s life was in jeopardy. To make matters worse, the mother had to absorb this devastating news on her own. Plant was gone, and she was all alone.
“I know you've probably seen articles where he [Caleb Plant] said, ‘I got sat down in a room full of doctors and found out she [Alia] wouldn't make it,' but that's 100 percent not true because he was out of town when I got sat down and told with no one else there.”
(Note: A publicist for Plant was contacted, and NYF asked to confer with the fighter, regarding some areas where Carman’s recollections have differed from Caleb’s. The publicist said that Caleb preferred not to comment.)
Shocked and devastated, Briscoe-Lee desperately wanted to inform Plant of this terrible twist of fate. She called to notify him that their daughter was in dire straits. Briscoe-Lee wanted the love and support of the father of her daughter.
Plant was saddened to hear that his new-born daughter was severely ill and that the prognosis was bleak, his ex recalls. He lost his match that night.
What astonished Briscoe-Lee was Richie Plant's, Caleb's father, reaction.
“I called him to tell him, and he ended up losing the match that night,” recollected Briscoe-Lee. “I remember his dad was so mad. He [Richie Plant] ended up blaming me for the reason he [Caleb] lost because I should have waited to tell him that until after the match.
“What was I supposed to do? I was told that I should have waited until after the match because it was a big distraction. I'm sure that it was, but at the time, I didn't care anything about that boxing match. I didn't want him to go out of town, to begin with, but I just got news that the child I just had probably wouldn't make it through the night and they didn't know why.”
Richie Plant delivered a guilt trip, Carman stated, that weighed heavily on Briscoe-Lee's spirits. She was made to feel as if she was in the wrong during one of the worst moments of her life worrying if her newborn would survive the night.
A CAREER ASCENDS, WHILE A BABY FIGHTS TO SURVIVE
Alia survived the night, but her harrowing journey was just beginning. She required constant care for the remainder of her short 19-months in this world. Plant turned pro precisely one year after they learned about Alia's grim prognosis. His career blossomed as Alia's life was always in peril.
Briscoe-Lee quit both of her jobs as a manager at Family Dollar and at Ashcroft and Oak Jewelers to care for Alia 24/7. Alia's neurological condition, not explicitly diagnosed at the time, rendered her unable to communicate or even cry. She couldn't latch on and breast feed, so she was fed intravenously. She could have anywhere from 100-150 seizures a day, and her heart would randomly stop beating, and Briscoe-Lee would have to resuscitate her.
Alia was in and out of Vanderbilt’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital and due to Plant's training schedule and rigorous boxing career, Briscoe-Lee had to navigate many of these struggles alone. She sometimes resented Plant for being absent, but she knew that he had a dream and a career that provided them sustenance.
“I was a huge supporter of everything he wanted,” said Briscoe-Lee. “This is something he wanted before we were ever together. I knew he had to train. She was at the hospital, and I was there. If he had to leave and go to the gym, that was fine.”
However, as time went on, Briscoe-Lee witnessed Caleb's character change. He became more distant and self-involved, she recalls. Briscoe-Lee could sense that her relationship with Plant was over, but they stuck it out for Alia.
“Money changes people,” said Briscoe-Lee. “You go from not having much to now people recognize who you are and you have all this extra money. It just changes people.”
Tragically, Alia Jean Plant lost her battle with her rare, unknown affliction on January 29, 2015.
Carman was disappointed by Plant’s behavior leading to Alia's funeral service. He was more worried about his physical appearance than the mental and emotional welfare of the mother of his child, in her mind.
After she passed away and she was at the funeral home, he went out with (an associate) and they went suit shopping for the funeral. (The associate) wanted to buy him a suit for the funeral and they did that while I was at the funeral home getting her dressed. That was something I had to do by myself. My best friend came to the funeral home and stood there with me. I got Alia dressed. I gave her a bath at the funeral home. They let me pull the bandages off of her arms and her legs. I gave her a bath and got her dressed and laid her in her casket by myself. I had my best friend with me instead of Caleb. You know what a funeral home looks like. I had to walk back there in a room and see other bodies lying on tables and then have to pick up my baby from back there and get her ready for her own funeral. I was super upset, but at that point, after she passed away, I felt like I was holding on because of her situation. I knew it was pretty much done at that point.
Plant has talked extensively to the media about Alia's passing, with multiple stories featuring that ordeal as proof of his mettle.
The first time he opened up to the media about his loss was in June of 2015 to Ring TV. He and Briscoe-Lee were still together, and he praised her for strength and dedication to Alia.
Plant told Ring TV in 2015, “Carman is everything. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without her; she is so strong.”
He seemingly hasn't mentioned her name to the media since. Plant and Briscoe-Lee broke up in 2015 and he scrubbed Briscoe-Lee from all events in Alia's life while talking to the press. Plant talked to Yahoo in January of 2019 shortly before winning the IBF title.
In the Yahoo article, Plant uses the word “I” 64 times. Briscoe-Lee's name doesn't appear once. He talks about how he was sat down five times by doctors to be told that his daughter was going to die. Briscoe-Lee was right there with him, and she was first told this without him on May 10, 2013, shortly after Alia's birth when he was at his boxing tournament.
Plant describes how doctors would “pull me into this little white room,” but Briscoe-Lee states that Plant’s wording comes from her recollections on one of her Facebook posts.
“That's where he used words out of a post that I made. I know exactly where you're going,” said Briscoe-Lee. “That was a time where I made a post. That was when he was out of town in Colorado, and I was there by myself.”
In the Yahoo article, Plant narrated a touching moment right before Alia passed where he told her, “‘I just want you to know if you don’t want to go through this anymore, I support you. I love you, and your Dad’s not going to be mad at you.'”
It's a brutally beautiful vignette that captures a parent's pain of losing their child. The only problem is that this is a description of her poignant directive to the ailing baby, according to Briscoe-Lee. She claims that Caleb never said these words, but that she did. Briscoe-Lee shared this anecdote in a Facebook post dating back to January 29, 2018.
“That's another quote he took exactly from me because I post,” related Briscoe-Lee. “Every time Alia was sick I would always would tell her, ‘you're gonna get better.' At this last time, I just kind of knew. It's hard to explain, but I just felt it. She was just tired. I will never forget, I just looked at her and told her that if she was tired, that she could go and I would be okay.”
In the Yahoo story, Plant was alone with Alia when he spoke these words to her, but Briscoe-Lee states that he was never alone with her. She can't remember a moment in Alia's life where she wasn't by her daughter's side.
What's not mentioned in the Yahoo article is that Plant almost wasn't present on the day his daughter passed away.
“The day she passed away, Caleb was not supposed to be there,” stated Briscoe-Lee. “He was supposed to go out of town. I had the doctors help me beg him to stay because he was like, ‘she's been on life support more than once, and she always got better.'
“He was supposed to leave that afternoon. I had to have them help me talk him into staying, and the night before, the doctors were like, ‘I really think you need to stay with time.' Thankfully he did, or he could have missed that.”
ACCOUNTS DIFFER, AS THOSE LEFT BEHIND WRESTLE WITH GRIEF
It was Plant's decision to remove their daughter from life support, according to the Yahoo version. Briscoe-Lee asserted that all of those decisions were mutually discussed between them. It was also a decision that didn't need to be made. The life support machines couldn't keep Alia alive. Her vital signs plummeted, and Briscoe-Lee asked all the tubes to be removed from Alia, contrary to the Yahoo version.
“The life support tube had been removed at that point,” said Briscoe-Lee. “Her heart rate got down to 30 when they removed the tube. Her numbers were going down very quickly. I just didn't want her to pass away with tubes in her.”
For years Briscoe-Lee has read the stories of her daughter's passing with her name omitted. It has damaged her emotionally, she asserts.
“I've read all this for years and I didn't say anything,” said Briscoe-Lee. “But I just don't understand how he can just take things that aren't facts and put out there just to make himself look better. It's not right, and at the end of the day, I know that's something he's going to have to answer to when his time comes. He's gonna have to look at Alia and tell her why he did those things.”
It hurts Briscoe-Lee to see Plant take credit for things, she asserts, she said and did. He has even claimed that his daughter died in his arms, even though her obituary affirms that she died in her mother's arms.
“It's just hurtful,” said Briscoe-Lee. “We went through something together. You don't have to make it just seem about you. Whether he likes it or not, I'm the only person on this earth that knows exactly what he went through.”
It hurts Briscoe-Lee to be cut out of her daughter's story, but what causes her the most anguish is seeing Alia's story being used, in her mind, as PR material. That's not the legacy she envisioned for Alia. Alia's memory is powerful and should be used to help others going through a similar situation.
I feel like everyone gets the sad part about Alia. Sure she was always sick and she was in pain, but there were little moments. She would be asleep and she would have the tiniest little smile. Someone so small and so innocent can go through everything that she went through and have no control over it and be in pain and have shots, and then to see someone as small as her to just smile in her sleep. Just to be hopeful. There are so many bad things that go on, but there are so many good things that can come of it. At the time you might not realize it, but Alia helped a lot of people. She touched a lot of hearts, and I think she helped a lot of people get through things that they probably didn't know.
Plant stated during a recent media call before his bout with Mike Lee, “Something that my father taught me is, the truth belongs to everybody and lies belongs to individuals.”
Carman wants to offer her version of the truth and she is confident of that validity. She spent the vast bulk of the time with Alia during the baby’s shortened stay on her earth. More than any other living being, she was witness to the wonderful elements that baby graced the world with. To see her former partner craft a narrative that expels her from the saga has pierced her. Everyone has their own version of the truth, but there comes a time when interpretations can go over a line. That line has been crossed by Caleb, Carman says, and so she is choosing to correct the record. Better the world know more of Alia’s tiny little smile and the strength shown by the baby, who battled as hard as any prize fighter ever has.