Winter was coming fast, even faster than his spinning runaway mind! Every day that passed was a little colder than the day before. He didn’t think it was going to be warm at all today. He pulled his hands out, from under the one blanket he had, to cover himself. He was lying on his side in a fetal position and was breathing under the covers to create a little warmth. It was horribly thin and worn. How many other inmates had used it before it was given to him? He tried to imagine himself in a regular bed with a real mattress instead of this thin, three inch foam mat with a plastic cover. The thought of getting under a nice warm comforter was almost too much to bear. Someday, he smiled, someday.
Jamie turned his head toward the window while reaching up to rub his eyes to clear his vision to see if it was close to sun up. It was still fairly dark. It did not help that the window was filthy. It probably hadn’t been washed since the prison was built back in the 1800’s. He opened his mouth and enjoyed the pleasure of a big yawn. He read somewhere that when when you yawn, your body is trying to get more oxygen. All he knew was the oxygen in this room was pretty damn cold! If it was any colder he would be able to see his breath. No heat. No AC;(1)unbearable in both the winter and the summer. He never got used to the extreme temperatures in this place.
Jamie was thankful he had a window in this cell because so often. he didn’t. You had no way of knowing if it was day or night. They left the lights on 24/7. Many times he stood in front of this window and thought about what it would feel like to walk through the doors and go outside and start walking down the road and go anywhere he wanted to. He forgot what that felt like. He didn’t appreciate being free until he lost it.
In a letter he once got from Mom, she said they should mentally meet on a certain day and imagine riding their bicycles to the top of a hill and talk under a tree. They did that more than once. It was a nice thought, knowing someone was thinking about you at the same time you were thinking about them. In a small way, for a little while he could pretend he was outside this building. Mom was always saying things like that to encourage him. She wanted to keep him thinking about his future so he would not forget he was going to have a future someday. He had someone who believed in him, a mom he could count on.
When he was moved from the last prison to this one, a lot of his stuff came up missing. Pictures, books, letters and a new stack of twelve writing tablets mom had recently sent. He put in a complaint, but he knew it would come to nothing. How was he supposed to prove his stuff was gone, when it wasn’t possible to prove he owned it in the first place? He was in a different prison now, so trying to explain that the guards at his last prison had stolen his belongings was a lost cause. Besides, the prison wouldn’t take the time to make a phone call about something the other guards would lie about. Guards were always right and inmates were always wrong. It was a fact of life in prison.
Jamie was still tired and didn’t want to get up. What for? Was he going somewhere? Was he getting ready to do something? It didn’t matter if he got up or not. He slept off and on all day. He had a few books to read he had already read several times. He would probably read them a few more times for lack of anything else to read. Mom told him in her last letter she ordered a few more books for him. His favorites were mystery books. She said the book she wanted to write about him was because many people have gone through the same thing he was going through; caught in an “injustice system” hell-bent on filling the prisons with people who were given sentences that didn’t fit the crimes.
A lot of money was made from the people who never had a chance to plead their case in front of a judge, same as him. he didn’t have an attorney who was interested in defending him. Public defenders were paid by the District Attorney to make people like him go away. It was easier – and cheaper – to scare him into taking a plea bargain by threatening him with a sentence that would ruin his life. Should he take the sure thing of a seventeen year plea bargain or take the chance of getting ninety-nine years in a trial?
Jamie had so many things to tell mom If she was going to write this book. So many things were difficult to think about, let alone write about, and he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to think hard enough to remember it. But because it was so easy for other people to pass judgement on him he needed to try to set the record straight and let everyone know there are real people with real lives who were stuck in this hell with no help. They could ignore he was in here but he wasn’t going to allow it without fighting back. Could his story make a difference?
Jamie continued to lay on his bed and his thoughts turned again to his son. It was the only thing that could take him out of this place. Sometimes his daydreams were so good he could see his son as if he were standing right beside him. He almost felt he could reach out his arms and give him a hug. God, he missed him so much. A deep wrenching pain started in his chest as he tried to fight back tears. He wrapped his arms around himself and put his face in his blanket as the tears ran down his cheeks. He didn’t want anyone to hear him crying. He heard crying often enough as men lost control and despair spilled from their guts. It was hell to be in a place like this where you have no choices and there is nothing you could do about it except to try to get through one more endless, meaningless, boring day.
He pulled a well worn picture out from under his pillow. He kept it close. He lightly touched the picture with the tips of his fingers, caressing Morgan’s face. She was beautiful and had a wonderful smile. For the short time they were together she made him feel like he was important to someone. He knew it was over, but it was all he had. He could still pretend.
Jamie closed his eyes and a deep sigh built in his chest. The memory of Morgan was so strong he could almost feel warmth radiating from the picture he was holding as if she were lying next to him. And his son, Jamie? It still amazed him that this boy came from him. Bringing this child into the world was the one good thing he had done in his life. It was the only thing he had to hang on to whenever he started to lose grip on reality. He wanted desperately to get home so he could be a father to his son.
No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get these thoughts out of his head. Being by himself, It was the only thing he had to think about. Holding the picture made him feel as if his family was right there next to him. He wondered if his son dreamed about him, too. Did Morgan think about him at all? He hoped so. He couldn’t expect her wait for him all these years, but in the beginning, she promised she would. He was sure she meant it when she said it. She was pregnant. She wanted this baby with him and wanted to wait. But seventeen years was a long time for anyone to wait, especially someone so young who needed a man in her life to help raise her children.
Some people received prison sentences a lot longer than his, especially with the mandatory minimum laws created in the 1980’s (?), but the only sentence that mattered to him was his own. He tried not think about that, or it would easily break him. He didn’t want to think about anything that could make him give up hope.
As time went on, Morgan’s letters came less and less. She had excuses for why she couldn’t write. She said her her new husband always found the letters and threw them away. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but every letter she wrote? Did he go digging through her stuff? It sounded fishy. And so what? They had a son together and nothing was going to change that. From what Morgan said, this husband of hers really didn’t care about their son. He never tried to be a father to him. Maybe he was jealous of him, even though Jamie was no threat to him being locked up. But this man knew they didn’t separate because they wanted to.
Jamie was hurt when Morgan married this new boyfriend, but he couldn’t blame her for doing it. She wanted a man in her life who was going to be there, and Jamie definitely was not there, that’s for sure. He always thought he could make it up to her some day. But so much time had already gone by and there were more years to go. Jamie knew he could never get that time back again. Everything would be different. He was sorry. He was so, so sorry. He had really screwed up everything.
Morgan had another baby but their relationship didn’t last. They made each other miserable and she ended up kicking him out. You can’t make someone be the right person when they aren’t, just because you want create a family. Here she was now with another little baby to take care of. It didn’t matter to Jamie who the father of baby was. He would love them all and be a father to all of them – if he had the chance.
Jamie glanced over at the window but he couldn’t see much because it still wasn’t light enough. The window had a long reinforced glass slit about 5 inches wide and a few feet long. No one could squeeze through that if they wanted to escape. Unless it rained against it and cleaned it some, you couldn’t see much of anything. He doubted the windows were ever cleaned by the prison since the day it was built.
He wasn’t allowed to go to chow for meals when he was on on 23 hour lockdown. Sometimes the guards brought breakfast as early as 3:30 AM, but that was only to screw with the inmates. Breakfast wasn’t something you looked forward to eating, but if you didn’t wake up and eat, you wouldn’t get anything else until lunch. There would be two small pancakes or biscuits and a tablespoon of peanut butter. There was never any other variety. Lunch or dinner was usually some kind of mystery meat sandwich and maybe a piece of fruit or a small cup of the nastiest applesauce he ever tasted.
Inmates were supposed to get a hot meal every three days but the prison often didn’t follow rules that were written for the inmate’s welfare. Who was going to make them follow rules? It was the same with how often they were supposed to take him to the showers. The guards were lazy. People on the outside didn’t understand these things and mocked the inmates saying they should consider themselves lucky because they got three squares a day. If they had to eat what the inmates were given they would be singing a different tune. This is the reason why Jamie lost so much weight.
Jamie was hungry all the time. It wasn’t unusual for even the small amount of food they brought him, to be cut down when they wanted more profit. It didn’t matter if you were over 6’3″ or under 5’6″, everyone got the same amount of food. If you didn’t have any money, sometimes food was traded. That was one of the many rules the prison had. You weren’t allowed to barter anything, even to get a stamp. If you were caught breaking any rule, you would end up losing privileges. If there were no more privileges to take away they would take your mattress. Did that stop the inmates from trading? Of course not. Sometimes they they had no choice.
If an officer wanted to punish you harder for some infraction of their rules, they gave you food loaf three times a day. That was what they called the slop they molded into a loaf and sliced. It was inedible, but you had to find a way to choke it down or go hungry. They thought, if any inmate had a smile on his face they were not doing their job. It was their purpose in life to make you as miserable as they could, and they worked hard to do that. six days was the max they could do that to you, but last time they did it for sixteen days. Who was going to stop them?
If he had enough money he could buy things at the commissary, but they charged a lot. It didn’t help that most of the time he could only go one time a month. Mom helped him get a radio and a fan. The heat and humidity in Texas during the summer cooked you like a hot dog. He also bought a hot pot to heat food. If he had any money after getting necessities he could buy snacks, soda and stuff like raman noodles and coffee, but he had to save enough to get stamps. Money didn’t go very far.
Mom used to send paper and envelopes, but not anymore. They changed it to force you to buy from their new supplier at the commissary. It’s more expensive, but this way the prison gets to make profit from selling it. Since many men wrote letters, the prison made a lot of profit on the sale of paper.
At the beginning of the year it was tougher to have enough money because there was medical fee of a hundred dollars that had to be paid to the prison.(3)The prison took half the money mom sent until it was paid. Even if an inmate only needed to call for medical help one time in the year they charged him $100, even though most of the medical care wasn’t really medical care at all.
Depending on the time of day he called for a nurse there wasn’t one in the building. This kind of sloppy, inadequate care would never be tolerated on the outside. Many men wouldn’t call for help when they needed it because, either they didn’t have the money, or they didn’t want to take the chance it would be only time they needed help and they would end up paying a hundred dollars for nothing. Because of this, disease and illness often spread rampantly, like wildfire, through the prison.
Jamie was born with epilepsy. Because of this he needed to be able to call for help when he had a seizure. If that fee wasn’t paid, he would wait a long time to see a nurse, if he saw one at all. They did little to help, but if it was a bad seizure they would do routine tests to see how much anti-seizure medication was in his blood. Even that depended on the guard and whether he wanted to fill out the necessary paperwork.
Sometimes, when there was no medical staff working he had to talk to a nurse using video chat on a computer. If he was in pain she would probably say, “You don’t look like you’re in pain. Go drink water.” That was really a big help. It became worse when he developed heart problems. The remedy for just about everything was to drink water. If you were lucky you got a Tylenol.
The medical unit wouldn’t listen to outside doctors when they said he needed certain medications and tests. They didn’t want to approve them because then they would have to pay for them. He was lucky to get seizure medication, although he never knew exactly what they were giving him because they often changed the pills. Jamie had heard they used inmates like guinea pigs to test drugs. He would not be surprised if it were true.
“Oh, I am going to have to get up and pee,” Jamie said, to no one in particular, pulling himself out of his thoughts. “No way around that.” He stretched his feet and ankles to get the blood flowing, and then slowly stretched out his legs. He had a problem with his knees and legs swelling and the pain often made it difficult to walk. His knees swelled up like balloons. He was pretty sure it was water on the knee. He asked the nurse if he could get them drained. Her response was an automatic, “Oh, they will never approve that.” Even a simple, inexpensive, in-house procedure could not get an approval. It was easier to let him stay in pain. What did they care? All Jamie could do was try to keep his circulation going as much as he could and stretch his legs to keep them from tightening up.
He carefully put his picture of Morgan back under his pillow and swung his legs off the side of his mattress. He put his feet gingerly on the cement floor. It was friggin’ cold. He was glad he had on socks. He reached out his hand and grabbed the side of the sink to help him stand up. He could hear his joints creak when he moved, because he had been lying in one place too long. His body protested at being made to move. If he wanted, he could stretch his arms out from his sides and easily touch both walls of his cement home, and he could do this without even turning around. The toilet was connected to the sink, with a piece of metal sticking out from the side that served as his table. There was a little stool connected to it. His cement coffin was only 5′ by 10′ – the size of a closet.
Jamie was wearing every stitch of clothing he had, which wasn’t much, trying to stay warm. In the summer, during the intense Texas heat, he sometimes took off his clothes in the evening and lay down on the cement floor trying to feel a little coolness. Temperatures inside could stay well over a hundred degrees for weeks at a time in the summer. But he could only lay on the floor if the cell he was in was roach free.
There were only a few months out of the year that were not too hot or too cold. He was dressed in white. Everything he owned was white. It got dirty fast, but he guessed the dudes in the laundry room could bleach the hell out of it and kill the germs. The stench of unwashed bodies around here was almost toxic, especially in the summer.
Jamie looked down at himself. He really needed to get some warmer clothing. He hated to ask mom for money. She was on disability since she had her liver transplant. But wearing Long Johns under his prison whites would go a long way in keeping him warm. She couldn’t help unless he asked.
Okay, time is up, Jamie needed to relieve himself. He reached out and grabbed hold of the sink to steady himself. The sink was above the toilet bowl. After, he washed his face with what was left of a little piece of soap, cupped his hands and drank some water out of the sink. He hated to do that because the water had a brownish tint to it. Who knows where it came from or what the pipes were like the water traveled through. He had no choice; it was the only water available. He could choose between the sink or the toilet.
The other inmates start to wake up, ready for another day of banging on the walls and yelling at something or nothing at all. Jamie couldn’t blame them. It was the only way to get their pain out. Some cried just to make sure they weren’t dead. If someone wanted to describe hell, it would look and sound an awful lot like this place.
This day would end up being exactly like thousands of days before it. Jamie walked a few steps to the window to see if he could tell what kind of day it was going to be. He said to himself, “At least I have a window. There are some small things to be thankful for.”