ITFO Book – 2016 – Ten Years Later

Jamie's letters

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Inside The Forbidden Outside. Over the past many months I have been writing this book. What a learning process it has been. Writing a book is not like writing a blog post. I had a lot to learn. My first draft of 90,000 was an accomplishment in itself.  You can do a search on the title and bring up chapters I posted during this time that are not going to be used, although some pieces of it might. I’ve talked to authors and editors and read and read and read to learn the craft of writing. No writing is ever wasted I was told because it takes time to find your “voice”. I also had to find the focus of the book/the story I was writing. My first manuscript was missing the continuity of the story and who was speaking it?  Many people want to write a book.  Some start but aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to learn how to write something of quality. It would be like saying you are going to paint a great picture. You can buy the paints, canvas and brushes but that doesn’t mean you can paint something that looks like what you what it to be. With books, crappy ebooks on Amazon are a dime a dozen and about a dime’s profit is all they will ever make.  But they can say they are a published author for whatever that is worth to their ego.

I’ve been working with a developmental editor to help me with options on finding what it is I want to accomplish with this book or no one except people who love me will read it to the end. I’d really like some feed back on this.  Either in comments or email or facebook messages. This is just the prologue, that has gone through 5 rewrites, begins with now, 11 years into a 17 year prison sentence. After this – Chapter one flips back to the day Jamie Cummings was born.


Prologue

2016 – Year Ten

     Sleep?  On a humid night like this? Ungodly heat sucked every square inch of breathable air out of his 6’x9’cell. Jamie, frustrated because no matter how hard he tried, sleep wasn’t possible.  He pulled himself up to sit.  Soaked with sweat, the worn and frayed sheet stuck to his skin. He could smell his own stink. Prisons, during the hottest months in Texas were unbearable. In previous years he passed out three times from heat.

     How any prison could make the decision it was okay to treat people like this and men could survive in this heat, should spend a day in here with them. What other choice existed for us sorry souls? What did it matter if they suffered? Air-conditioning cost too much; to install and to run. Only the offices and medical unit had air conditioning and only an epileptic seizure let him through those doors.

     Hunched over with his face cupped in his hands he took long deep breaths of hot air.  Searing pain creeping up the back of his neck created a rhythmic pounding in his head. Pain forced his lips to press together, as he tried to stop himself from crying. Other dudes down the hall cried from their pain. He listened to them every day but he wanted to be stronger than that.  He didn’t want to be weak and let anyone hear his sobs. He choked the sounds down his throat until he got himself under control.

     Jamie stood and began pacing the floor. With his fists clenched by his sides he screamed at the gray walls, “I can’t take this no more. No man should have to suffer like this.” It was more than just the heat. It was everything they did to make him feel like he was worth nothing. He turned around and smashed his tightly clenched fist into the cinder block wall. He stood there and watched silently as bright red blood from his torn knuckles dripped down his fingers.

     “At least I’m not dead. Dead men don’t bleed.”

     Year after year he lived with epilepsy that haunted him from birth. Seizures were a brutal fact of his wasted life. He never knew when one would crash through his brain. It wasn’t unusual to have one in his sleep.  He wouldn’t know until it jerked him off his bed onto the floor, breaking a tooth or gashing a piece of him somewhere on something sharp. He would lay there, unable to move because he could feel his brain bouncing inside his head. His body was so tired it felt like it weighed many hundreds of pounds

     He knew the warning signs when one was beginning. As a child he would run and jump on a grown up.  Not understanding, they would push him off and he’d crumple to the floor.  He was born with his own personal boogieman who attacked him whenever it wanted. Being hot and stressed, seizures were more frequent. He couldn’t control what happened. It was embarrassing because sometimes he peed himself. He might lay there so long it dried, but he could smell it. It often took hours to call for help.

       Jamie reached over the toilet and turned on the water to rinse the blood from his hand. The water in the pipes sputtered out brown liquid. He wadded up a small piece of toilet paper to stop the bleeding and held it in front of the fan to dry. It would add a new scar to the others already there. He had to be careful using the toilet paper. He was only given one roll a month. God forbid he got the runs.

     He did the only thing he knew to do. Sonni wrote over and over in her letters it would help him. He stared at the wall, cleared his brain and began chanting, “Nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo,” breathing deep and relaxing his body, praying for calm and strength to make it through another day. He prayed to understand the question, “Why me?”

     It would be hours til dawn. It would bring no relief. Daytime heat could climb to well over 100 degrees, maybe 110. Heat waves lasting weeks were normal. No let up. No break except the few times a week he was taken for a five minute shower that allowed him to rinse of the sweat with soap and cold water. It wasn’t unusual to hear some dude  passed out or died from heat stroke. Every year summer started earlier and lasted longer.  The cheap plastic fan he bought at the commissary, did nothing more than stir hot air and dust. It was often worse than

     He didn’t know how long he sat there and chanted those words.  All he knew is the words had something to do with cause and effect. If he caused this to happen to himself he sure wanted it to change. He would do anything to change this if he could. Strange, it did make him feel better.

     He went to the sink and turned the faucet back on.  He was thirsty. He frowned at the water. They were supposed to drink this yet the reddish-brown color made him wonder if it was safe. A lot of dudes complained. Why did it have a rust color?  Prison officials sent a paper around saying they tested the water and it was safe to drink. He doubted they tested it. He wasn’t going to believe anything they told him. They won’t put money into something they can get away with not fixing. They sent the paper around because the warden couldn’t afford the chance of a riot.

     If money was in his account he could buy bottled water, if they let him go to the commissary.  They only took him once a month, maybe, cuffed and shackled. Would prison staff drink the water? No, they had filtered water. The prison still used the original pipes put in a building built a long time ago. They’d let men die before they authorized any improvements that drained money out of their bank accounts. Besides, empty beds would be filled by other unfortunate inmates in no time.

     He soaked his towel under the faucet and loosely rung out the water. He laid the dripping towel over the fan and turned it on. For a short while slightly cooler air came through the material and soothed his face. He couldn’t keep the towel wet at night. It dried in minutes. Some nights, if the roaches left him alone, he spilled water on the floor and lay naked. Cool cement helped more than laying on his bed.

     He craved the feeling of a cool breeze. It would feel so good. He closed his eyes and with a little imagination heard air rustling through leaves of a tree. In his mind, beneath that tree, he sat still and listened to the birds chirping, answering each other’s call. Memories of childhood surfaced; the sound of a lawnmower in early mornings and smelling wet cut grass. He breathed it in and filled his lungs. He let his breath out slowly. He ignored the smell of rancid bodies sweating in other cells, all in need of a shower.

     Pretending he was with a woman put a smile on his face. He imagined the sensation of running his hands over her skin, her legs wrapped around him. He imagined her body pressed close to his and felt the beating of her heart. He closed his hand over his throat and pretended the beating of his heart was hers. Losing his twenties and now his thirties, when hormones were raging wasn’t fair. These years were lost forever. The biggest loss, though, was needing and wanting to be loved. The lack of love and craving for comfort was the worst torture he lived through.

     It was hard to be here for years and have no one to talk to but himself. Conversations taking place only in your head can make you crazy after awhile. 

    “Can anybody hear me? Is anyone there?” He yelled out loud to no one so he could hear the sound of a voice. “Shut the hell up. I’m trying to sleep.” someone answered back. Sometimes different dudes yelled back and forth from the cells. They got to know each other a little that way, but it’s not the same as talking face to face.

     Aside from his son, the most important person in his life these last ten years has been Sonni. He wished he could see her. They could sit side by side and talk. They talked a few times about three years ago when he had phone privileges for a short time. She came to the prison three times and brought his son to see him. She would have come more but she was sick for a long time and had a liver transplant. They had an odd relationship, but she was the only one he knew he could count on to be there for him.

     He asked her once in a letter, “Why do you write to me?  Why do you care?” She wrote back, “You made me laugh. Why do I do this? Because you are family.” A sixty-two year old white woman and a thirty-four year old black man, with a grandson/son connecting them. Yes, what an odd family unit they made.

     Sonni’s letters kept him together. He knew he wasn’t alone. There was someone on the outside who knew he was here. He wasn’t completely forgotten. She was his lifeline. They met once, a few weeks before he was arrested, when she came to Texas to visit her daughter and her two kids. After spending the last four years in juvenile detention Jamie felt like he had a family. His girlfriend Morgan just found out she was pregnant. He had never been so happy. Since he was just being introduced to her mom they decided maybe telling her they were pregnant might be a little too much to take in all at once. She didn’t find out until later.

     After he was sentenced and was moved to a prison far away, Morgan couldn’t wait for him and went on with her life. A seventeen year sentence is a long time. About a year or two later, he couldn’t remember exactly when, Sonni wrote to see if he was okay. He was surprised to hear from her but he wrote back. Now there were four or five hundred letters between them.

     Sonni kept him from falling into a pit. She stuck with him all these years. He had someone who sent books, magazine subscriptions and deposited money in his account for stamps and things. Otherwise he would have been one of many people inside who had no one helping them. No one in his family helped him or answered his letters. She saved his life in more ways than one. He loved her for that. She was the only person he had to love. Yes, they were family.

     She wanted to write this book using his words from many letters and insisted they were writing it together. Jamie never thought he had a life worth putting into words for people to read. Who was he, anyway?  A nobody with a screwed up life. Maybe it wouldn’t have been a life worth reading had she not opened his eyes and made him understand he didn’t need to follow the path that was made for people like him to follow. Black people were good for one thing – to serve the needs of white people.

     Right now his being here was making white corporations, like CCA, the one who ran the prison he was in, a little richer. He didn’t realize that when he was younger but he knows it now. He had no choice but to follow.  Most dudes can’t make it on the outside because they are set up to fail. They have no way to make their life different.  No education. No money or emotional support. Wanting to have a better life doesn’t mean you can have a better life when your options are taken away.

     Now, because he has no understanding about life, no wisdom, he has to trust Sonni when she says he will be okay.  Personally, he was scared to death thinking about what will happen when he gets out of here.

     Jamie already gave the system too many years of his life. He wasn’t going to give them anymore after he leaves. He’s done. He wants a life. Sonni said his story was important and it needed to be written. This book would hopefully change the course of his life.

     He thought people had the right to understand what happened that caused so many people to be locked up. Why does the US have the most prisoners in the entire world? Are Americans worse than other people, or is there another reason?  Are they locking up people they shouldn’t and keeping them locked up longer than what was right? Why would they do that? Would his life story help other people? Could he make something positive from all this misery?

     Through their letters, he and Sonni learned more about each other than most people do who see each other every day. At first she was Mom and he was her son. Over the years it became Jamie and Sonni. In prison, age doesn’t matter. Skin color doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Nothing matters except the thoughts communicated through the power of the written word.

     Jamie laughed. The prison system probably kept the Post Office in business. People don’t write letters anymore except for the ones in prison. Everything else was  junk mail and bills. Sonni types emails and sends them on the internet, but he had to answer by writing with a pen, hand drawing the lines to write on.

     He started digging around in his head for memories he wanted to forget. It wasn’t easy. Not being a writer or even having a GED, learning to explain how he felt has been hard. How do you find the right words when you don’t know them?  His English and spelling wasn’t great but it got better after writing so many letters. Because writing about some things were painful, pulling them out of his head hurts. He stuffed the unpleasant things so far down he didn’t know if he wanted to bring them to the surface.

     Sonni was right, though. How could he live his life a better way if he didn’t understand why he ended up in here? He wanted to know who he was. He never thought about that question before. He never thought about the consequences of things he did. Nobody ever told him to do that.

     He learned about about cause and effect. He never planned for his future because he wasn’t quite seventeen when he landed in juvenile detention for a few months, but didn’t get out for over four years. He didn’t commit a crime to deserve doing that time. There were things he never told Sonni about why he was sent to juvy, but he will tell her soon. Because of that there were so many things he never had the chance to learn.  So many things not done. He’ll have the wisdom of a kid when he gets out. How could he not screw up if he were on his own? She made him think about these things. If he didn’t, life would slap him around any way it wanted.

     Jamie doesn’t want his son to go through what he has. That thought scared him.  When he leaves the prison for good he wanted to use this life he lost, in a positive way. Use the mistakes he made as an example of what not to do. If good comes from that then this time in here wouldn’t be a total waste.

     To tell his story so it makes sense, he needed to go back to the beginning, to January 10, 1983 . . .


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Make Ban the Box Better

This is so important – everywhere. When someone completes their time their sentence should be over – OVER! When you take into account that many are completing mandatory minimums the judge – who should be able to also determine the length of the sentence but can’t because his discretion has been taken away and all offenders must get the same sentence. So many prisoners were sentenced unfairly. Also, black community and poor neighborhoods have been unfairly targeted and can’t afford a private attorney and are forced into taking plea deals whether they are guilty or not. Because the prisons have an unfair percentage of black inmates to white inmates with a quickly rising Hispanic population anyone with half a brain can figure out the profit motivation being pushed by the prison corporations who are fighting to keep the mandatory minimum sentencing. It makes for a very profitable return on an investment for all shareholders. I would wager most shareholders are in the rich white category who want to keep the poor peons locked up because of the financial. Of course removing “ban the box” might allow more ex-felons get a job and get their lives together – instead of doing something illegal in order to eat.

This is but one thing that needs to happen to allow men and women re- entering society to have a chance to have a successful. It doesn’t really matter if they were guilty or not guilty, because we sure do have a lot of people in society who are guilty of something but never got caught, myself included. If they are free they shouldn’t need to keep telling people that in their past, 5-10-15-30 years ago they made a mistake and have to reiterate those facts of an earlier time in their lives. They already paid their dues.

RI Jobs with Justice

The rush to criminalize and punish has led to a draconian culture. There is an irrevocable nature to our penal system that has created a class of people that are marked, stigmatized, and isolated. We cannot propose on the one hand that all mistakes are permanent, and on the other hand we cannot live with the pretense that we live in society that believes in redemption. So rarely is being humane part of our criminal justice system, Ban the Box is an attempt to inject humanity into and often cruel system. When a debt to society is paid, it must be considered paid in full. When a sentence is over we must keep our promise not make a life sentence out of every conviction.

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Rhode Island stepped up and provided a path for the formerly incarcerated to engage in the full economic life of RI. It is common sense, after…

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101 Reasons Why You Need Legal Shield

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101_Reasons_to_Use_LegalShield

Legal Shield Website

The past few weeks I have been writing about a service called Legal Shield.  I could be wrong but I think many people who have seen what I’ve written have thought this was something they didn’t need and couldn’t see any reason why they would need it – but might think it could help other people.

So I am going to keep this post short and sweet.  First, it is only good in the US and Canada, but for everyone else in other countries, if you are on Facebook and other social media and have contacts in the US or Canada, please pass this on.

When I read this list of 101 reasons quite a few things that have happened over time where I got screwed in one form or another I sure do wish I had had a service like this.  It would have made my life a lot easier and way less frustrating.

In addition to being able to get an attorney on the phone right from an app on your phone, there is another service Legal Shield provides whether you sign up for it or not.  Go your play store and search for LS-Ask . If you have a legal question of any kind you can ask Legal Shield and find out if you have a leg to stand on. But you would have to be a member if you wanted to talk to a Legal Shield Attorney.  There is another app by LS called SHAKE where you can download any kind of form you need for everything from freelance work to loaning money to someone who promises he will pay it back ( and often doesn’t) as well as renting out something from equipment to garage space. And how about a roommate agreement for your college bound kids?

So if you are a skeptic about the value of this, but see the value in renters insurance or (mandatory) car insurance, burglar alarms, nanny cams to protect your children or just plain cameras in your house when you are away and everything else that protects you, then surely you can see the value of having an attorney in your pocket and it is probably the least expensive cost of all the things I just named.

I became an associate of this company because it is the most valuable piece of information I can pass on to you that you are going to need one way or the other, and those of you with kids, that thought is triple. Teenagers – in cars- with friends – doing whatever you don’t know about?

What I haven’t talked about yet is ID Shield.  I had my bank account hacked on April 26th. I wonder what other parts of my identity did they get?  We know how hackable  we are and all most of us do is put a virus protection on our computers and keep our fingers crossed.  It didn’t work for me and it won’t work for you.

Take the time to look into this.  I promise I don’t bite.  But at least ask questions. For those who want to make money – become an associate like I did and bring your friends on board.  The commissions are well worth it.  If you are 18 you can work it. In our unstable times we need all the stability we can get our hands on.

Message me – or find me on Facebook and lets talk.

Legal Shield Associate Member

Sonni Quick

 

What Can I Do To Help? I’m Just One Person.

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This page is growing and I am so appreciate of the people I see who consistently drop by. I devote my entire day- usually until 4 AM working on different aspects of my blog or social media sites, answering messages, researching and writing – to promote educating people of the reality that many people have had their rights violated. I want to encourage people to go to the website mynameisjamie.net. There are many resources as well as opening up the possibility of finding many other blogs of interest. You don’t have to write a blog to register, read and comment. So much hard work and time goes into managing a blog which is usually a labor of love. Share blogs on your social media for other people to find. I don’t do this for the money. There is no money. Like the blog. Follow itm You can have new posts delivered to your inbox. I won’t flood your email like so many do.

(This post was originally written for Facebook. I decided to post it again on this blog to reach more people.)

Subscribe to my ITFO newsletter. I’ve seen that many have shared it on your own time line. Your email address is priceless to me. I will not abuse the privilege. If there is something you want me to write about or someone’s story that needs telling, contact me. You want people to know – tell me. The more addresses I have the more people will read it. This is how people networking can help each other.

When I finally finish my book, which has changed and improved as I learn the craft of writing, the people I have reached will increase in number. Then it has a better possibility of being successful.

Jamie’s story is not special or unusual. It’s power lies in the fact that it is the story of millions of people who’s lives have been ruined by the greed of prison corporations with CEO’s who buy politicians who enable the law to step on people who have no way out. Telling this story adds my voice to the mix of growing people trying to change the minds of people who don’t understand the truth.

Help me. Help me reach people. If you come here but haven’t “liked” the page then facebook will show my posts to fewer people. It is all based on numbers. I live on a disability check and still pay fb to reach more people. Fb shares posts based on how many people have clicked the like button. They share 2-3% of the amount of likes. 1000 likes means 20-30 people will see my posts for free. I have 533 likes so 10-15 people of those who have liked my page will see it on their timeline. If they share it, exposure increases. If the issue of injustice is important to you, like and share and hopefully comment.

I began this research and promoting it, not to make me look good or promote myself, but because I was once ignorant of what was going on within our injustice system. I didn’t know anyone in prison. It didn’t touch my life – I thought –  I knew as much as I needed to know because I got my education from the series Prison Break. What more did I need to know? When I finally began to understand, I knew I needed to help others understand. Everyone who has read what I write can become part of this and help push the education of people forward.

We need to do all we can to right the wrongs in the world. Many people think, “What can I do? I’m just one person.” You can click the like button. You can share with your own people. You can subscribe to my newsletter and all it takes is your pointer finger.

Have a wonderful day. Enjoy your freedoms – before they take them all away.

download
ITFO Newsletter

Subscribe to the newsletter on prison issues and inmate writings. It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m writing, Inside The Forbidden Outside. Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

Sonni’s Pinterest

You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post

What I am Learning From My White Grandchildren – Ted Talk

Interesting, because my own grandchildren are mixed.  Three are mixed with black, but two of them are mixed with, I’m assuming, African Black and one is mixed with Island Black.  One is mixed with the Hispanic race and four of them are mixed with all kinds of other countries, German, Irish, Welsh, English and who know with what else. Also, all of them are also mixed with Choctaw Indian.  It doesn’t matter to these children that some have dark skin and some have white skin and one even had pink hair.

The sad thing is that I have to fear for my grandsons who are black – not white – because there are people out there who automatically feel they are superior to them and could end up shooting them. 

If you are white and say you don’t care about skin color, do you cross the street if a black man is walking toward you, just on case he might try to rob you. Do you know what it is like to fear for your family knowing a cop will most likely not be charged with murder for killing your children.  As long as we have people who think their skin color gives them special privileges it will take a long time to raise enough children a better way to let those thoughts die out.

mixed race twins
twins  source credit: snoopes.com
download
ITFO Newsletter

Subscribe to the newsletter on prison issues and inmate writings. It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m writing, Inside The Forbidden Outside. Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

Sonni’s Pinterest

You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post

Jamie’s letter: Open The Cage and Fly

May, 11 2017

Sonni, how are you? Fine I hope. As for me I’ve been down and depressed lately. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about everything. Me, my future, how I’m going to take care of Jamie, my uncle who you say died in which no one told me about, only what you told me. Anyway that’s just part of it. There is still us and the problems we are having with our families. Then to make things worse there is the problem of not being able to see my son.

Texas flag
Texas Flag source code: theintercept.com

I’m allowed to buy books and magazines now if I have money in my account. It’s a long process though because I have to sign papers and they have to take thumb prints. Why thumb prints? Anyway in your letter you spoke about the summer heat. Yes it is heading this way again. (Hot) Hell yeah. There have been days I would pour water on the floor and lay down in it because it be so hot. There are also times when I don’t turn on the fan only because the heat would be too much for me. Yeah the good ole summer. I have passed out at least three times from the heat. The last time was when I was put in the hospital for a few days at the Wynne unit.

So my brother Antie has married yet again. Wife number three. I haven’t been to any of these weddings but I did meet the first two wifes. I thank you for wanting to send photos, but please don’t worry about it. I don’t even look at the ones I have. I don’t think about family. Why should I? They don’t think of me. They could never get together and come see me. Not ever. No one will have to worry about seeing me when I come home. (Hell) If I make it home.

I’ve been here so long I think crazy things. Look I just want to live my life. Family and friends yes I want. But I would rather just enjoy life with my son. I’ve always wanted to tell my son’s mother that I hoped she was happy who she was with. I never once tried to bring her down. I only wanted to be a good friend and father to her and my son. I was young, unemployed with a child on the way. I was scared, but not as scared as I am now. I know my relationship with my son hasn’t been good or easy. I know because I know how it feels.

Only difference between him and I is he knows me, only a little piece of me. It’s all my fault. I have not held my son in almost nine years. I was hoping to hold him in 2015 on my birthday when my mom came with my nieces when I had my one contact visit. I only get to see him when you come down to visit.

Anyway we are on lockdown. We should be off by the time you get this. I’m trying to get help by talking to these people. It’s not helping though. They have another unit I can go to, to talk to a doctor. The only thing is I would have to sit naked in a room for a day or two first.  Why?  It’s just the way they do things. Speaking of being in a room I wish we was sitting next to each other talking. Not in here but somewhere peaceful and quiet. I would like to talk about my life. The only thing is I try to erase as much as I can. Why? Because my life has not really been a life.

It’s been painful since 2000. I don’t think I ever told you I was sent to juvy for nothing. The real reason. My life ruined as a boy, for nothing. Back then when the police busted into my house and hurt my mom I never assaulted that cop. It was my little brother who hit him with that broom. I was the one charged for it. He was really young. Too young for juvenile detention. He was only defending our mom. I went to court and the lawyer told me and my mom I’d only have to do nine months, nothing more. So I took the sentence think that was all I was doing was nine months. I did it for my little brother. Then they wouldn’t let me go for four years and put me in solitary confinement because I got angry. My life has been down ever since. I have been so lonely and left out of so much. My life has been a waste. Every one I loved rejected me. How am I supposed to deal with that? I know I need to get the hell out of Texas, but where would I go? How do I do that with my son? So many unanswered questions.

It is hard having so much time to think. I miss seeing you. I wish you could visit. My time is 2/3 done if they don’t let me out. This is going to be the hardest time to do. It’s hard not letting it get to me.

download
ITFO Newsletter

Subscribe to the newsletter on prison issues and inmate writings. It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m writing, Inside The Forbidden Outside. Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

Sonni’s Pinterest

You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post

This Has to Stop!! Dead – Jordan Edwards

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas speaks at a news conference at the Supreme Court Building in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, May 4, 2017, about the shooting of Jordan Edwards in Balch Springs, Texas. Listening are, left to right, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and state Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas. ( Jay…

via Murder Warrant Issued For Texas Police Officer In The Shooting Of Jordan Edwards — Black America Web

Sharp Turn to the Left – Interview

SHARP TURN TO THE LEFT

Things happen in our lives that have the potential to change everything. We have the opportunity to make these turns or we can ignore them. Either decision makes a different cause that has a different effect and can send our life down a road that has a great impact on us. Some people are afraid of change, afraid of where it will send them and choose to not move. But some people relish the change and leap into the abyss, confident that wherever it goes they will be glad they went.

That is my life and it definitely has been interesting. There is a motto I’ve lived my life by. “If you don’t like what I’m doing, don’t watch me do it.” I’ve made choices the average person wouldn’t because they care too much about what other people would think, even though most people don’t care what you do because they are too busy trying to live their own lives. It gives people a reason from taking risks. My greatest fear was waking up and finding out I was a dental assistant, or some other “job” for an hourly wage, living in a planned cookie cutter community. That type of security may work for some, but not for me.

WHEN DID YOU START WRITING?

I started writing songs and song lyrics when I was about 18, in the early 70’s. Lyrics flowed easy for me. I still write a lot of poetry that has music to play behind it, but not sung to the music. Being young has many good points, but if you are creative it gets better with age and experience.

I started keeping a journal when I was in my 20’s, long before there were computers for blogging. What turned out to be the greatest values in keeping those journals was being able to sit and read about myself decades later, reliving my life and watching myself grow up; wincing at immature decisions and reliving my children when they were young. It’s quite an experience. Decades from now when I’m gone, my life will still be there to read. Jamie’s blog and letters will also be there for his son to read and learn about his life in prison. Without a doubt he will know how much he was loved. A child with a father who is gone for any reason needs to know that.  If the father is alive and coming back one day it is even more important.

Jamie Cummings
Jamie and his son July 7, 2013

I met Jamie before he went to prison, and writing to him happened more by chance than for the reason of writing to an inmate. I had never thought about writing to an inmate because I never knew anyone inside and nothing in my life put me anywhere near a prison. After years of writing these letters I saw Jamie’s life emerge through the words. I don’t think he ever had anyone who had shown much interest in what he thought, or how he felt. No one told him he could choose where his life could go instead of letting it slap him around. No one told him his life had value. He just went through each day as it came. His mother worked hard and raised her children by working two jobs. There was little guidance about having a future. He rarely has contact with her now. Her choice, not his. She makes no attempt to be there for him or help him with anything he might need. His family dumped him, as harsh as that sounds.

Jamie has been studying Nichiren Buddhism for the last 6 years, which is hard when you have no support inside and you are in a place that only wants to keep you down. Nichiren Buddhism is not Zen or Tibetan or anything to do with the Dalai Lama which are the only things most people think of when they hear the word Buddhism.. This isn’t the time to go into a lengthy explanation of what Buddhism means. It is simply the law of cause and effect. It is the same as the phrase, you reap what you sow, except we take that phrase very seriously. We are where we are because of the causes we make. To make a difference we have to change the causes we make. That takes a deeper understanding of your nature than you have now.

It took years of conversations and study for him to begin to understand himself. It is a fascinating process when you realize it is you, not an outside source, that controls what happens to your life. It can also be a painful process when you realize what you are going through is entirely because of the things you have done and not something that has been done to you.  It is always two steps forward and one, maybe two steps back as you take responsibility for your life. It takes perseverance to work through the obstacles that keep you down.

It was at this point that he began to leave the boy behind and the man began to emerge. Obstacles never stop, but he is learning to deal with them in a different way. It is a fight, with yourself, to not react to life the way you always have in the past. This will carry over when he gets out of prison. This is why so many people who get of prison end up back inside.  They want to change.  They want to do things in a different way but they don’t know how to do that consistently.

Being out will be harder, in a different way, than being inside because he’ll be walking into a different world he doesn’t know, needing products and services he has never heard of before. Because his family has had zero interest in how he is doing, I expect there will be little interest after he gets out. Besides, they have done enough damage.

In the beginning it took time to develop trust. He had been hurt by people he loved. Even now there are things that are very hard for him to talk about, such as his experience with epilepsy. He thought of himself as damaged. I had to learn this was very painful for him to write about. I didn’t understand it wasn’t just a medical condition. It affected how he was treated by others. He was lonely as a child which also caused fear and depression. Epilepsy is something you can’t fix, at least not yet.

It is easy for someone else to judge another person based on their own experiences. Sometimes I would write a letter and he would tell me what I wrote hurt him and at times made him cry because of the pain of having to live through it again in his mind. It made me feel bad for being insensitive.

He blames himself so thoroughly for not having the wisdom to make better choices in his life, but that would have taken wisdom he didn’t have. Everything happens for a reason, he has learned, and it is up to him now to put that wisdom to good use. Prison is teaching him something his life probably could not have taught him on it’s own on the outside. It’s up to him now to use that wisdom.

 WHY DID YOU START THE BLOG, “MY NAME IS JAMIE. MY LIFE IN PRISON”

We started writing letters in 2006 but it wasn’t until much later that I started the blog, when I realized he had a story to tell others needed to hear. There are millions of people incarcerated and many who are in the same situation as he is – without his family.  There are many millions of people; wives, mothers, husbands, partners and children whose lives are all affected. Losing a member of a family has long range affects, especially on the children who most often grow up in poor households run by mothers who don’t make enough to support a family and be both mother and father.  Sadly, many of these people were targeted because they were black, not because they were guilty.  If guilty, many were given sentences way out of proportion to whatever crime was committed.  This made a lot of money for the prison industrial corporation in an up to date slavery system.

I started  the blog My Name is Jamie. My Life in Prison  in mid 2014. If you want to understand Jamie go to the pages at the top of the website and the earliest posts listed by the month under the bottom of the post.

He is my grandson’s father.  We met six weeks before he was arrested when I went to Tx to visit my daughter. He wrote to me once before He was sentenced. But it was write awhile before I sent him a card. He was surprised to hear from me. That was the beginning of our letters. When I realized his family wasn’t there for him, I reached inside his head and grabbed hold. He wasn’t doing very well on his own.  He needed someone to be there, and he needed someone to care about as well.

I researched and read everything I could find about prisons. I was horrified about what I read. I had no idea. I was like many of the people who read something I wrote and have a sarcastic comment about him deserving every rotten thing they do to inmates, yet they have no idea about what they are thinking beyond the propaganda put out by the media. Our prison system is a very ugly part of our civilization. Surely this country didn’t treat it’s citizens like this, some people think . The amount of innocent people the government locked up, predominantly black, had to be wrong. But it wasn’t. I was so naive.

I had been like everyone else. My knowledge came from TV and movies, not realizing I only knew what I was allowed to know. The underbelly of the prison system, the involvement of our government and prison corporations shocked me. How could I live all these years and not know this?

There are many people like Jamie. His case isn’t special. The fact it is ordinary is frightening. He could be anyone; a member of your own family. The response people have had to this blog helped him realize the picture the media puts out of black people he is just a poor, black, uneducated man who is going nowhere, who some believe was born with the genetic inclination to be a criminal; the false picture many people believe about the black race, was not the picture he had to believe of himself. He is his own individual person. Jamie became real to many people all over the world in the past couple years. Many people have written to me about their own experiences, or experiences of people they care about who were also stuck in the profit motivated circumstance of prison.

For the first time in his life Jamie realized he did have value. His family still has very little contact with him, but he has made a few friends through the blog who write to him and have been very supportive of him – and me, too.

His family really don’t know him anymore. Jamie the man is different from Jamie the boy. For so long he was not important to anyone and it crushed him.  But he is important to me. I became his friend, his teacher and his mom; someonewho showed him love and caring. His family never noticed when he matured from a boy to a man – a man with a voice.

GOALS FOR THE BLOG

 

The first draft of the book on Jamie’s life is done, “Inside The Forbidden Outside.” There is still a lot of work to do.  I found out there was a lot I didn’t know about writing a book, too. One of those things is I need a mailing list.  Books that are listed at Amazon or Barnes and Noble and others don’t sell themselves. That is another skill set that needs to be learned if I want it to be successful.  I started a monthly publication called ITFO Newsletter. There is an update on the book and snippets of chapters to gain interest. The newsletter has a variety of articles about the prison system. People who subscribe will have the opportunity to downloading the ebook version for free when it is published.

There is a Facebook page, Jamie Life In Prison,   twitter and others. When the book is published my goal is to speak – at schools and communities to start, and when I get my feet wet I want to work as a paid speaker. It’s important to dream big.  Reach for the stars.  This way if you fall short you will at least land on the moon!

This book is only part one. Jamie will not be out of prison yet when I’m done. Groundwork must be laid for him to have a life. How does the book end? Part two will be awhile coming. It will be about what happens from here, the process of getting out and what happens when he does. A lot can happen in six years. He will not be going out into a welcoming society. In between I will write another book and am mulling over some different ideas.  Possibly a book of short stories of actual inmates or break away to a different idea?

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR FIRST TIME AUTHOR’S?

Where do I begin to answer that since I am also a first time author?  I can pass along the things I have learned up until now. A person says to himself, “I have a great idea for a book.” Not too many years ago it was almost impossible to publish a book unless you were already known or very lucky. But book publishing went the same way as music publishing. You don’t need a record contract to get your music out there anymore. There are ways through social media of gathering a following. There are many good musicians and many good authors that never had an alternative. Now there is.

A book publisher who offers you a contract owns your book and can change it, including the title, any way they see fit. It will then take another two years to see the light of day. You get less profit per book because the publisher needs their money, too. Also, they won’t touch a book without an agent, who also gets a cut of the sale. There is little or zero up front money unless you are a well known author and you are still expected to market your own book. Many good editors lost their jobs because the industry changed.

Self publishing companies began springing up all over the web and many ads also started appearing to teach people the ropes. If you ever click on one of these ads be prepared to have every book publishing business follow you around the internet forever. Be careful of these companies. They are like snake oil salesmen. If an author doesn’t do their homework they are going to pay through the noise and likely be disappointed with the product. They also realize they haven’t laid the groundwork to market their book and feel overwhelmed. They may not have the skills to learn the marketing that is required our they are tired and need a break. I’ve talked with people who at this point just took what sales they could get and crossed their fingers. The average self published book sells less than 100 copies

Many people who write a book get scammed by one of these companies who take your money, tell you how great your book is, then puts out a sub par product with lousy editing, charges you for things you don’t need, and when it’s done and you find problems, they won’t answer your calls. I talked to many of these salesmen and they are very convincing. There were several I wanted to go with because they sounded so good.  I researched them and was glad my internal scam meter was going off at full tilt.

This is the best piece of advice I can offer: Pay an editor; one for content (story) and a copy editor for grammar, phrasing and much more.. You can not edit your own writing no matter how good you think you are with the English language. There are things we can’t see in our own writing but other people will. Sometimes we make the same mistake over and over. I read a lot of samples at Amazon from self published and well known authors. Study what works and what doesn’t work. Find out what feels wrong when you read and don’t repeat it. It is a free way to study writing. Poorly edited books will only sell to people who love you and the rest you’ll give away for free.

WHAT PART DOES MUSIC PLAY IN MY LIFE?

I am first a piano player.  Not a pianist, because I equate that with classical. My dream from very early childhood was to compose the most beautiful music in the world. A childish dream but I one I have never forgotten. I didn’t play well at the age of 7, but I could hear it inside me. I didn’t know how to get it out. Even as an adult, through years of playing professionally and practicing every day it still wasn’t there yet. I have stacks of songs I’ve written with lyrics and piano arrangements but it still wasn’t what I heard inside.

white piano

Then I lost it all. I thought I was done. I ruined my vocal cords. My ego wouldn’t let me be someone’s side man. If I wasn’t gigging I had no reason to write music. I had nowhere to play it. No one to hear it. My piano gathered dust for 12 years except for a few students. I lost my identity. At least I thought I did. I didn’t know who I was. I had always known, “I am a musician.” If anyone asked what I did I felt I had lost the right to call myself a musician. A part of me had been amputated and it was a painful blow to my life.

Then Jamie entered my life – the man in prison I write about at My Name is Jamie.My Life in prison. Through years of knowing him, his pain struck a deep nerve inside me. In 2012 I nearly died in need of a liver transplant. That pain was like none I’d ever felt before. The recovery was very long and some of the damage done is repairable. Pain and I are good friends. It lets me know every morning I didn’t die in my sleep.

Something changed inside me. I needed a way to express the pain. I feel emotions deeply. Not only what I was feeling about me, but the pain I carried for Jamie – his pain and his loss. It was palpable. No one who should have been there for him treated him like a human being, recognizing his pain. It is a horrible pain when you realize the people who should be caring about you – don’t, and you are left to rot.

Without any love at all you begin to die inside. Family told him, “I don’t write to you because it hurts ME so much that you are in there.” That doesn’t make any more sense today than it did the first time I heard it. He and I understood each other. Even through the hell he lived in, he worried more about me than about himself. Where does a friend like that come from? How could I let him down, no matter what people thought?

It made me want to play music again. I can’t it explain, but instead of creating music from the outside by developing a chord structure and building a melody around it, I crawled inside the music and let it play itself. My fingers know what to do like a typist knows a keyboard. I knew what I was feeling so I mentally get out of the way and let my fingers express what I felt. Because what I feel is pain, physically and emotionally, there is pain in the music. I don’t listen while I play. I just play. I hear it in the background like it comes from somewhere else. I record everything. I sometimes don’t listen back for days so I can hear it as a stranger. I can never replay anything because it is all free style – I improvise. After that it is gone.

When I listen to music I recorded two years ago and those recorded recently, I can hear a change and it is getting closer to what is inside. I’m know I’m not done yet. Where is it going? I don’t know. The process and progress is exciting. There ARE advantages to aging – experience and wisdom. The more I immerse myself in the emotion I want to convey, the more that feeling emerges. Yes, there is, technically, an occasional wrong note – but are they really wrong notes or part of the process?

I enjoy sharing my music. You can find all of it at  Sound Cloud. There are a couple hours of recorded music.  Leave a comment. Add a like. Stats are the name of the game for anything online. Who says a 62 year old woman is too old to keep creating something new? I’ve had about 10,000 pieces listened to. If it went no farther I’d be happy, but I don’t think I’m done.

My favorite way to play is in a completely dark room or even blindfolded. When you listen, dim the lights and close your eyes. Put your head back. This is dream music. What does it make you feel? Play it again. Where does it take you? What do you hear? I have asked people these questions. Strangely, I often get the same answers. What do you hear? These two pieces are two of my favorites and completely different. Picking up Broken Pieces Brings Tears to my eyes. A newer piece is K’lee written for a man whose words affected my Life. On my other blog watchandwhirl.com is a post, “Talking to my Younger Self.” It was written because of him.

ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE MYSELF

I thought about this question and saved it for last. That one word for me is “passionate.” I do everything intensely. I often push myself through a wall of pain that is there every day. I could give in to it, but no one could ever understand what it means anyway. But it helps me see and understand the pain in others and it allows me to be there for them. That requires passion.

Some people want to leave a legacy when they are gone so they aren’t forgotten. They want to do something great or pass on a lot of money. But a true legacy is how you have affected other lives. Because of you, did you change someone’s life in a positive way, and then they, too, have affected other lives? This is how you live on. This is the only way we can truly change the world. If people can’t manage that on a small scale we will never see great change.

“The change in a single human being can change the world”

EJI’s New Museum on Slavery to Prison

 

Enslavement to Incarceration

Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative has been a strong figure in today’s fight for equal justice. In a society that proclaims all men are created equal, many white people have made a mockery of it’s meaning.

When all humans are born they are born with equal possibilities that are crushed through every step of life. If their skin isn’t white, there is no equality. All non European white people learn very early in life they are superior to others. Does that mean they ARE superior? No, but it is shoved down their throat with the same absolute sureness as when people thought the world was flat and they were scared they would fall off if they sailed their ships to close to the edge.

Even when it was proven there was no edge to fall from, many people wanted to believe that truth was wrong. They declared, regardless of the truth, the world was going to stay flat no matter what. They wanted their belief to hold true because they has believed it so long.

Far too many people don’t want to give up the believe they are special and privileged, with superior intelligence; more deserving in any way. Some, like Ben Carson, the “See, I have a token black man in my administration’s cabinet,”  man who was willing to speak aloud the words that tried to make a new truth by saying, “Slaves were really immigrants.” as if they voluntary came to America to start a new life volunteering to be slaves. The fact they were chained lying side by side in the belly of ships, kidnapped from their family and land, dying in their own filth didn’t matter.

Lost forever was any respect the white man thought he deserved over and above any other human of any  race and color. In fact it makes the skin of those white people who believe they deserve privilege,  a boring skin of non color because the ugliness of their nature shows in all aspects of the nature of their life.

I can say these things about my fellow man because I am white. I am ashamed of those people of my race. I am thankful not everyone of my race believes with the ignorance of those who do and that gives me hope.

We see many things of color and exclaim, “Oh, how beautiful. The richness, and warmth of the beauty of color can bring tears to our eyes. Like the opening of a flower, color can warm and melt our hearts. From the music and passion of cultures to the tastes of  exotic mixes of foods. The stories of centuries of history. The children, all with slightly different shades of color – and what do we white people want to do with that?

Kill, enslave, mutilate, rape and incarcerate. Hide it away and make ourselves believe that what we did was . . . okay. We had a right. We were superior in every way. We said it enough until we believed it until we could not see we were ultimately responsible for creating the cause that has led to the death and destruction of any race that challenged any people who dared make the white man understand they are NOT the superior race they think they are.

They are poor. They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They want to suck off the the government’s teat so they can produce more babies and rape us of our hard earned money. Feed them for free.  Clothe them with money from free government checks. They don’t want to go to school. They could rise up if    they wanted to even though our shoes are standing on the back of their necks, face down in the street with a gun aimed to kill if they move a muscle.

This white man has no depth of heart and soul. They have only fake happiness that  comes with acquiring “things” that make them look rich. How empty is that life?  There is no unshakeable, absolute happiness that comes with the sureness of knowing from where you come and who you are.

Too many plastic pale faces trying to ignore the pain the white man inflicted. They want to erase that from  and pretend they didn’t beat, enslave and rape stolen people. That will no longer stand. Later generations stand as new generation of white people still try to manipulate their lives and make it look as though the condition of their lives was caused by them.

Keep trying to put the supposed superior race at the to of the list if you can, but the only way respect can be regained is by embracing the truth of what was done. Elevate their history and make amends for pasts mistakes and apologize by treating each person with the respect they deserve simply for being human. Wipe the arrogant look off your face.

The black man is not yours to use as a tool to create wealth. Our country is failing on many levels because of greed that puts the wealth of the few above the lives of many. Our world can no longer support this way of thinking.

This needs to be a museum of PAST history not current daily life.

ITFO Newsletter # 10 Can I Make it on the Outside?

bird in cage

How many years did you do? Or how many years did your loved one or friend do inside the walls of a different society almost oblivious of what is going on in the outside world. Snippets of information gets inside but unless you’ve been able to feel the hatred and the racism freely being shown in the world today, you have no idea what you will be walking into.

Maybe you have friends and family and maybe you don’t.  Maybe you have been inside so long you will be a stranger to the people you knew long ago. Maybe you aren’t the same person any more with the same beliefs about life.  How will you explain yourself to people who will look at your face and all they will see is the word felon across your forehead every time they look at you.  Maybe you have tattoos everywhere that people in job interviews will look at and judge you to be a problem to have around, even though they don’t know you.

Can you make enough money to live? Where will you live? How many of your old friends are still around and do you really even want to see them? You have been told most people don’t make it.  Most people end up back inside within a few years.  You never had a regular job because you were so young when you got here. Now you are middle aged. How do you begin life now? You look over your shoulder at every cop you see and they all seem to be staring at you, looking for a reason to lock you up again.

You know you are on your own.  You have met many guys who call prison “home” because they have been inside more than outside.  That isn’t you. How do you protect yourself from a society that doesn’t want you to be part of it. You are used to being tough on the outside to survive, but you don’t want to have to live like that anymore.



There is more to the newsletter.  Just click on this link and it will take you to it.

 

Serving Life – Youtube

This is a trailer to the documentary you can choose to watch.  I have read so much about Angola prison, a place where very few prisoners ever make it home again.  When they are sentenced, they go there to die.  Inmates have to learn to take care of the ones who get too old and sick

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ITFO Newsletter

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