(Backstory: For those not familiar with the book it is a being written about Jamie Cummings, who is currently being held at Huntsville Prison in Texas. He has completed 9 of a 17 year sentence. This is a random chapter. This story is based on his life using hundreds of letters written to each other during these years. If you wish to read Chapter one you can find it here https://mynameisjamie.net/2015/01/27/insideout
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In some ways Jamie feels like he’s back at the beginning and opening his eyes for the first time to this nightmare. He was trying to wake himself up, having that same dream again. He was having this same dream over and over and it was beginning to freak him out. If he could just go back to sleep and wake up again, maybe he’d be in a different place, in some other person’s dream. Anyone’s dream would do.
“Maybe all this really did just happened yesterday,” Jamie mused. ” Maybe he hasn’t been here forever, it just feels like forever. Wouldn’t that be something?”
“Or maybe I’ve been been here forever.” he thought, “It’s my own personal version of hell.”
“Maybe that’s it. Everybody was really in a different kind of hell just for them. Everyone’s hell was different.” Now he’s beginning to think for real that he’s starting to go crazy. He didn’t believe in all that nonsense of heaven and hell, anyway. He thought all that got started just to scare people into believing it. It was just as nutty as his nightmares.
“That would be a really awful possibility,” he thought. A nightmare that just went round and round in circles like a merry-go-round, except, there was no way you could ever get off. The longer you were on it, the faster it would go, until you were hanging onto the neck of the horse with both arms wrapped around the head. Sometimes he felt like he was hanging onto that horse by a thread and the thread was starting to break.
“Sounds like that old time TV series, Twilight Zone,” he mumbled. He’d seen reruns of it as a kid and some of them really creeped him out.
Maybe this was the way being crazy started. The way your mind turned on you and made you think things in your head was real and you heard things you didn’t want to hear. Crept up on you real slow until it had you by the throat and wouldn’t let go. He needs to stop thinking this crap.
“Maybe I’m dead and this is hell.” He laughed, seriously a little crazy this time. “If I knew this was hell,” he thought. “I could probably deal with it better, knowing for sure this was it, I could stop wondering if I was ever going to get out. I wouldn’t have to worry no more about getting out of here.”
He wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. He’d just have to come up with a better plan for his days because right now he wasn’t dealing with this solitary crap very well. You’d think he’d know the ropes by now. No use about complaining. They’d only turn on him more if he did that.
“If eternity was going to be just like this, then accepting it is all anyone could do, or go crazy” he thought out loud.
“Problem is, it feels like an eternity already.” He was crazy for sure, having this dialogue with himself, but if he didn’t talk to himself, then he really wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. Being alone is being alone. People don’t understand how alone, alone really is. The guards didn’t want to have conversations with you. Probably told not to. You know you’re in bad shape when even having a conversation with a guard sounds good. He got up and started pacing the floor. Three steps up and three steps back. Three steps up and three steps back. He really wished he could go outside and run. Just run until he was tired. Run until he was out of breath.
“Don’t make friends with the inmates.” That’s what they probably taught the guards, although they most likely don’t use as nice a word as calling them inmates.
“Make them as miserable as you can, they were taught.” I think they take that part of their job really seriously.
One of guards said to them, “If any of you have a smile on your face then I’m not doing a good job.” They probably laughed with each other as they talked about the ways they had fun making them as miserable as they could.
He knew they tried to make people on the outside think it was all the inmates who do wrong and the guards would never did anything really bad, but he knew better. There was good guards and there was bad guards. To him it seemed the bad guards outnumbered the good guards. Only when one really slipped up and someone died did it bring any notice to the prison, but they always managed to find a way not to take responsibility. If a dude has a heart attack from the torture they did, then the heart attack was how he died, and the torture never becomes a part of it. He knew it was worse in some states than others. There were lots worse places than Texas, so maybe he should be glad he was here and not in a state like Alabama. That was worse.
“How long is an eternity supposed to feel like?” he thought, looking up at the ceiling, as if looking toward heaven was going to give him any answers.
“Probably the guys on death row have a better answer because they know there is no way, for any reason, they were ever going to get out of there.” They might keep them there for decades until they died, but they ain’t ever getting out of their one man cell.
“At least I know I’m going to get out someday,” he hoped. “Someday”
Besides, maybe outside was the real hell. He had no idea what he was going to do. It scared him. How did he know how he was going to be able to take care of himself? He didn’t even know how to do anything to take care of himself like most people already knew at his age. He didn’t even know how to get his lights turned on in a new apartment.
What if he did something without even meaning to and they picked him up again, not even giving him a chance? They wanted to make sure they got the inmates back. They owned you.
He knew, even when you’re on parole, they still own you. You’re still on paper. You still belong to them and they controlled your life. They really don’t want you to make it out there and they set you up to fail. Nine years inside and they make it so he can’t even get his GED. If he makes parole in 2016 they know he doesn’t have any way to take care of himself. Why else would he see the same people coming back again after they left?
It’s just their way of filling the prison through the back door. Pretend they were all for you getting out of there and having a life, and it’s all bullshit. No one is honest with you here about that. If he got caught walking crooked they’d probably say he was on drugs and lock him up, even if there was no drugs in him, it would be his words against theirs. They’d be the one to make it true.
Just like it was in here. People lie an getting people wrote up that wasn’t guilty of anything at all just so they could have someone owe them a favor. The truth doesn’t matter much in here, or out there. And he knew what it was like out there. Cops didn’t need no reason to pick up blacks and charge them with things and try to make them guilty of something they didn’t even do. He heard the stories. He heard the guys when they were brought back in again because they did something that broke their parole.
But it makes you think, “What’s the truth? Nobody knows what the truth is and nobody seems to care, neither.” He pressed the palm of his hand against his forehead, pressing on the tightening of his skin that was turning into a headache. He was getting himself worked up about things he couldn’t do nothing about.
“Damn, it’s depressing,” he said out loud. “Or it’s enough to make you depressed if you thought about it enough.”
Yeah, some of them that got paroled got into things they shouldn’t, so it was their own fault. He wasn’t going to do that. He had his son to think about. But the cops didn’t need a reason. And just like in here, where the guards are always right, no matter what happens, he was sure it was the same out there. He needed to get out of Texas. Cops didn’t need no reason to pick you up and put cuffs on you and throw you in jail. He wasn’t going to be like all the others and get picked up and brought back here again.
But how could he leave Texas with his son here? He’ll have to think about that later. First things first. He had to get to prove he didn’t belong here. Not on his son’s life would he do anything to end up back in here again.
“I have to keep my eye on the end game,” he determined. ” Maybe other people didn’t have a reason to change things, but he did, and he needed to remember that and not get all caught up on maybes and what ifs.”
Crazy thoughts were always shooting through his brain like this. He had way too much time to think. He had trouble remembering a time when he could laugh and smile. It was forever ago, like some repressed dream that came to the surface and he found himself inside a nightmare he couldn’t get out of. Bits and pieces of things he could make whole stories out of, if he wanted to. But he needed something positive to do.
Sometimes it seemed as if the dream was something that didn’t happened ‘to’ him, but instead he walked into a theatre into the middle of a movie where he never saw the beginning, and fell asleep before he got to the end. It was the kind of dream where you could feel yourself falling and you knew if you hit the ground you were going to die, and woke up startled and scared and afraid to go back to sleep again. When he was little and had bad dreams he used to think of cartoons and tried to stay awake. There were no cartoons in here.
Sometimes he had this dream over and over. Like it was a premonition of some sort making him feel like it was going to come true. But there was a hazy part he just couldn’t see quite clear. He would lay there for hours and think about it, but it was no use.
“I have to snap myself out of this,” he thought. “I have to write a letter or something and get my head together.” He’s been here long enough, and has been through other times like this, and he knew it was easy to spiral out of control.
He lived that movie in his head over and over, never knowing if he was going to die at the end. It never felt like it was okay. He never felt any hope, only despair. Every time he went to sleep he was afraid he would see it again and most always, he did. He had no one he could talk to about it and he just got more depressed every day.
When he woke in his dream he was running. Running so fast. His heart was beating so fast, knowing without a doubt that he was in a place that felt so wrong. It was hell. It was hell and he couldn’t change it. So many times he woke up crying. Crying for the loss. Crying for everything. And it was never, ever, going to be over. He was lost forever. It felt like forever. He was never going home. He buried his head in his pillow and he wept.
This is what drove men mad. This is what solitary confinement did to the mind. He spent more than 4 years in here. He should be crazy, too, and probably would be if it weren’t for Mom. She held on and wouldn’t let go. Two years each time. All for lies. The hopelessness. He knew there were men who were kept in places like this sometimes for decades. His sentence was only seventeen years, if the word ‘only’ means anything.
There are men here only because they’re mentally ill and there is nowhere else to put them so they lock them up in prison. They can’t survive around other people and being in solitary made it even worse. They lock them up for their own protection, they say, but that only gives them the right to abuse them, and to laugh at them and to do things to them that would be a crime on the outside. Sometimes they die because of the way they are treated. Out there these guards would be locked up because sane men didn’t do the things they did to people in here. In this place, people don’t have the rights of a dog. In fact, dogs have more rights because they’d haul you off to jail for torturing animals.
They torture the men. In the real sense. Physically torture them and some of them die. Because these men couldn’t stand being locked up, they would do things to themselves. He heard the stories. No one deserved to end up like the men in solitary confinement.
They would try to kill themselves by cutting their veins and smearing the blood all over the window in their door, and all over their walls and floor, trying to bleed out. They would take these men to medical and sew them up and instead of getting them help, they would double their time in solitary and it would happen all over again. They make them crazier and then punish them more because they got crazier.
Does that make sense to you? Now they just don’t know what to do with these men. They can’t let them out of their cell because they would probably try to kill someone. They’re completely loony. Maybe they should’ve thought of that before they destroyed the rest of their minds.
He remembers what it was like in solitary when he was in the juvy system. It was no picnic then, either. It wasn’t any different now. Alone is alone, no matter what age you are. A person can only take so much. He was so young then. Just seventeen. What did he know about being locked up like that? He got mad. They said he could go home after he did nine months and when he was packed, they wouldn’t let him go home.
They said “No, you can’t leave. You didn’t make your line class.”
“What line class?” He said. “You never told me about nothing about no line class” They lied to him! He got mad. He went to his room and started punching the walls. They were the liars! They put him in solitary for that. It was no picnic then, neither. It wasn’t any different now.
Oh, he didn’t want to think about this right now. He had taken so much already for too long. What had he ever done in his life to deserve this? They put him on antidepressants. Every time they saw him he was sleeping. Clearly depressed. Who wouldn’t be? All he wanted to do was sleep now.
All this thinking was starting to make his head hurt. Either that or maybe he was hungry. He was always hungry. Maybe he could pretend his peanut butter tonight was a piece of apple pie!
“Maybe I can dream about apple pie tonight,” he laughed and cried, and lay down on his bed.
“I’ll take a nap and see if I can figure all this out while I’m sleeping.” Even that bit of laughter made him feel little better. He has to be careful… It’s so easy to get your head in a funk and it drags down the whole day.
He pulled a letter out of a book. It was one of mom’s letters. He was using it as a bookmark. He kept it in the book he was reading so he could take it out and read it when he wanted. He read lots of her letters over and over. When he’s finally able to make phone calls it sure will be nice to talk to her.
She had written some stuff in this letter that looked like gobbledy gook to him. She said it was Japanese. She wrote these letters down ‘nam myoho renge kyo’ Weird. He had no clue how to say it or what it meant. She said it didn’t matter, just try to say it the way it looked. He had no idea what it meant but he tried anyway because he said he would. She’ll tell him more about it later. Maybe she was crazy, too, because she told him if he said it over and over he could be happy.
“What do I have to lose?” he laughed again. “Nobody else had any better suggestion, so I guess it can’t hurt.” He fell asleep thinking about all of these things in his head. He even had a dream about apple pie, but tasted just like peanut butter, what they give him every day for meals.