My life is pure agony.
I really screwed things up for myself. I was sent to prison in 2006. This is not where I want to be, although I didn’t have any concrete plans for my life. I was happy that I wasn’t in juvenile detention anymore but I didn’t have a chance to make any plans and was living day to day. I didn’t know how to make plans. I was just a kid when they locked me up. In a way I was still a kid when they let me out when I was twenty one. When I met Morgan my only thought was to spend my life with her. For the first time I could remember, I was happy.
The day I was in was as far ahead as I thought. Nobody ever taught me anything about planning for a future. Black kids in my neighborhood didn’t think about things like going to college or learning to be somebody. We thought about surviving. It takes money and encouragement to have a future, and i didn’t have either. Besides, how was I supposed to think about my future? Being locked up in a box keeps you from doing that. It is easy to lose touch with reality when you don’t know how many days have passed because there is no calendar
I was taken from my family for good when I was fifteen, almost sixteen, and except for the one year I spent with Morgan, I didn’t have a life, let alone a future. Now I’m thirty-three and I still don’t have a future.
I never thought about anything until it was too late to do anything about it. I can’t go back and do it over again. This stress is squeezing my brain. I don’t know how long I can take this, as if I have the choice to do anything about it. I live one day at a time. One day after endless day and do my best to get through it.
Life has always had a way of kicking me in the ass, and then turning around and punching me in the face. There was nothing I could do but deal with it, although sometimes, I admit I didn’t deal with it very well.
I don’t think there is a better way to describe prison except as a pit of hell, although it’s one I have to live in while I’m awake, not dead. Sometimes I wish I were dead.
I don’t want to be awake, but the banging yanked me out of a dream. Dreams are the only way I can be someplace else. That pissed me off, and when reality set in and I realized I was awake and still here, it made me sad at the same time.
“Shut the hell up!” I heard someone yell from down the hall.
“Quit banging on your goddamn door!” I guess I wasn’t the only one who got woken up. The banging continued anyway.
Damn. I yank my pillow out from under my head and try to muffle the sound by putting it over my head. It’s quiet for a moment and then the pounding starts again. A long sigh escaped my throat. This is not a good way to start the day. It isn’t even light yet. I turn my face to look toward the window. I never have a clue what time it is, and the window is so filthy it’s hard to tell if it’s getting light. What did it matter? Time means nothing in here. I punch my pillow and let out my frustration. Even though it’s still night they will probably serve breakfast soon. They sometimes start as early as 3:30 AM.
Lights are left on 24/7 as a way to make us. There is no point to it except to prove who is boss. On top of everything, it is cold as hell. I laughed. Hot as hell – cold as hell. Like hell, the heat in prisons during the summer is as hot as hell, and the cold in the winter seeps into your bones and there is no way to get warm, so it’s cold as hell, too. I already know today is not going to be a good day.
I roll over and pull my blanket over my head. I start breathing under the blanket to create a little heat. The blanket stinks because it is never washed. I want to go back to sleep. It is the only way I can escape the walls of this cell.
The banging continues. He seems determined he isn’t going to be the only one who goes nuts. He doesn’t care if the rest of us are sleeping because he can no longer think clearly. There is nothing I can do about it. Men go crazy in here when they can’t take it anymore. They scream and yell and kick they door. Sometimes someone will save up their piss and throw it on the guards when they walk by. That might earn him a beating or maybe he’ll get sprayed down with chemicals. Sometimes they cut themselves. They are just looking for a way to get out. If they are bleeding they will get out, and then the nurse sews them up and puts them back in their cell and their time in lock up is increased. It doesn’t make sense. Treat insanity by making an inmate more insane.
Some dudes are crazy before they get here. They put them in solitary because they don’t know where else to put them. They say it’s for their own protection, as well as others safety. Sometimes they die because they don’t get the help they need when they need it the most. suicides are common. It’s higher here in adseg than any other classification in the prison The people who run this place just watch them until they die and then carry them out. Death by natural causes they say, and nobody says otherwise.
I often wish I could shut the crazies up. I know It really isn’t their fault. This place will make you crazy if you aren’t already. It makes you paranoid and disoriented when you don’t know if it’s night or day. If your marbles are a little loose, the guards rattle them until they completely fall apart.
Prison is not the best place to go crazy because then you become the butt of the guard’s jokes as if that’s what they wanted in the the first place. Inmates don’t get the help they need. There is nothing I can do if they are having a hard time. We’re all having a hard time. Every single one of us. There isn’t one person who lives in this unit that wouldn’t rather be somewhere else. All of us are trying to find a way to make it through this. It is the ultimate nightmare you where you never get to wake up.
I used to not mind it so much. Being alone is better than having run-ins with the guards at chow or in the halls. I’ve had enough of those. It’s a game I’ve tried to win, but learned I can’t. Right and wrong doesn’t mean shit in here. The guards have the power and they use it against you any time they want. It’s best to avoid them – if they let you.
I desperately want to go back to sleep. I was having such a good dream. It’s the same one I always have, dreaming about Morgan and our son, Jamie Jr., who I usually call Junior. I try to hold on to that dream as long as I can before reality sets in. If I’m lucky, I can pretend the noise I hear is the kids playing and making racket in their room while they get ready for school. Although it’s impossible, I pretend Morgan is making breakfast, and this morning I can smell bacon cooking. Fat chance of that happening, but i have a good imagination. In my dream, when she’s done, she’ll come back to bed. I can feel her lying next me, so warm and soft.
I love Morgan more than I have ever loved any woman. Not that I’ve had a chance to have many women in my life. From the moment I saw her, I knew I loved her. She is so beautiful to me, and her smile! She has a wonderful smile. I can’t imagine my life without her, even though I know I’m probably going to lose her. I try not to think about it because it’s unbearable, but it always sneaks into my mind before I can shut it off. In her letters when I first got arrested she would always tell me, ” I love you every day and twice on Sunday.” I hear her say that over and over in my head.
Life stopped for me. I can only look back. I want to think of the future but it scares me. Life went on for her and I’m sure she has left me behind.
“She cares, I know she does, but how can I ask her to wait for seventeen years?” I say out loud to myself.
“It’s too much time to ask anyone to wait.”
“Am I’m fooling myself thinking she will?” Her life will pull her in a direction – away from me.
I know another man will want to be with her. How long will she say no before the need to fill the void in her life overtakes her? Will she lie to me to make me happy? I hope she does. Will she lie to her next boyfriend about me? Will she be ashamed of me or talk bad about me?
I get off my bed and start pacing the floor. If anyone looks in my cell they’ll think I’m the crazy one talking to myself, waving my arms in the air.
“What will she tell Junior about me when he gets older?” I say to myself.
“Will he hate me for leaving him and his mother?” I couldn’t bear that.
“Will he think I’m a loser?”
Being alone with all these questions going around in my brain every day is hard. Am I strong enough to live through this? Sometimes I doubt it. I don’t have any experience dealing with these things. How can I figure it out on my own? Morgan says she means it.
She says she will wait for me, but how does she know how she’ll feel later? She doesn’t realize how long seventeen years is. I pretend to believe her or I’ll lose my mind, because no matter what, I will always love her – always.
The banging continues relentlessly. I’m offended. It’s cruel to have someone wake me this early. Will no one shut this dude up?
The only thing I have no one can take away is my memories, and over these years I’ve perfected the illusion, or delusion. Whatever. These dreams have to last me for a very long time, so I don’t appreciate this dude waking me up. I’ve only been in here a couple years so far, so I have a long way to go before I get out of this prison cell.
Some days I feel I’m losing the battle. These four walls of cold, gray stone and steel – a room with no color – is depressing. There are times I think I won’t live to get out of here. Something will happen. People die in here. Will I be one of them? In the beginning I thought I could do it. I convinced myself that somehow, if I was good enough, they’d let me out on parole. I would convince them at my parole hearing. They’d see I don’t belong in here. That won’t happen, I soon learned. They don’t parole anyone at their first parole hearing anyway. Not even whites. I had a lot to learn. But in the beginning I thought it would be over sooner than having to do the whole seventeen years. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t want to give up hope, but Texas doesn’t like to parole black men.
My problem is my temper. I have a short hot button and I lose control. I tell myself over and over not to lose control. “Don’t listen to them.” I tell myself, “They’re trying to piss you off.” They do. So they win and I lose.
When I get angry I lose control. It gives the guards the excuse to punish me more and put me in lockup. You’d think I would learn, but I don’t. I can’t do anything but attack them verbally, but they still write up a case on me. They can’t keep poking at me, calling me names, insulting me and attacking me with racial slurs and expect me to just stand there and do nothing. I have to defend myself somehow. My anger is my worst enemy. I need to learn to shut up and so far I haven’t done a good job.
Over and over I write to Morgan and say, ” I love you, babe. I’ll get out of here. I’ll be good. They’ll let me out,” begging her her over and over, like a broken record, to please not leave me. . . . Sometimes I fill a whole page just telling her how much I love her. I am so lost without her.
March 12, 2007
I haven’t been doing too good these past few weeks. I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble because I’ve had problems with the guards up here. Baby, I know I’m going to be here awhile and I try to not get myself down, you know, but it’s hard when the guards are out to get you because they know you aren’t going to take shit from them. That’s why I’m ready to get the hell away from this unit because they are all full of shit here. Anyway baby, I got the letter you sent me about you and Jr and I am so glad you two are doing good. I want you to know I love you baby and miss you all so much. I want you to be happy. I get to thinking about losing you and my family and it scares me. I don’t want that because without my family I’m nobody, baby.
Mamma wrote to me and told me she was going to send me some money when she got her income tax money, but I’m still waiting to see if she’s going to send it so I can get some food because I’m tired of eating this shit they give us here. I’ve already lost weight because I only eat every other day. The nurses have been talking about locking me up in lockdown because I don’t eat anuff shit. I told them I won’t eat anything at all if they do that, then they’ll have to send me to the hospital. Then they left me alone because they don’t want to have to pay for the hospital. My brother came to see me but they wouldn’t let me see him cause we were on lockdown. That’s really why I’ve been in a lot of trouble, because they punish everybody for some bullshit that one person does. I love you.
Every day I tell myself, I got too damn much time and she’s not going to be there and it hurts so bad because I really love you and it runs in and out of my head how bad it’s going to hurt if you really do leave me.
I’m not rushing you to write because I know you have lots to do. But going two-three weeks without a letter telling me how you and the family are doing is making me crazy.Tell me the truth. What’s going on? I would love to know, okay? I love you and miss you dearly.
I love you no matter what. Love you. W/B/S XOXO Love, hubby
When this letter was sent, I had already been locked up for fifteen months, starting out in Bartlett County Jail, in East Texas. After this, I was moved to West Texas, a boring twelve hour drive across the state, to the Smith Unit in La Mesa. Driving across the state of Texas is like driving across hell. Passing an occasional billboard was a relief because it reminded you there was civilization . . . somewhere.
Prison was going to be a lot worse than jail, but at the time I had no idea how much worse. I had a difficult time adjusting to losing my freedom. Initially, I think it is the hardest thing for every new inmate. You can’t eat when you want, or shower when you want. You have no choice about anything, and you have to learn to obey people who haven’t earned the respect of being obeyed, except for the uniform he/she was given to wear for his minimum wage babysitting job
Depression is high among all the inmates. Even if you don’t normally suffer from depression, it happens when you realize you’re stuck in here and there is nothing you can do about it. Then when the people guarding you are allowed to mistreat you and get away with it, that’s enough to make you want to explode. My time inside at the jail, before I was sent to the prison, had only been a taste of what was coming next.
When I was a teenager, my time in juvy was hard, and I got very depressed by the time they sent me home. I shouldn’t have even been sent to juvy. I didn’t do anything to deserve it. White cop, black teenager, everyone has heard the stories. I spent time in solitary confinement there, too, and that is is devastating, especially to a kid. It’s pretty much the same as solitary in an adult prison, but when you are a kid you have little defense against those who want to take advantage of you sexually. Fortunately I was a pretty big kid and could take care of myself; not all kids can. Most of the trouble I got in was because of defending myself from the staff. In juvy, I also knew I was going to get out. They would have to let me out when I turned twenty-one. My sentence was only nine months but that didn’t mean anything to them. As long as they could make money off me they kept me. They ruin the lives of most of these kids. I remember that most of them were foster kids. Who was going to protect them?
Prison is different. Seventeen years was hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s too long to imagine. It was almost as long as my entire life so far. How could I not get depressed about that? Some people get a lot more years than I did. How did they do it? One day at a time, I suppose. If it gets bad enough there is always suicide as an out. Me, I’m trying to hold on to my family. It’s hard and I’m feeling completely out of control.
The hardest thing about writing letters is counting the days and waiting to see if it’s going to be answered, even though you know it probably won’t be. The only good thing that happens is every time I wake up, one more boring, lonely,worthless day has passed.
I keep imagining the worst. It just won’t sink in. There is no getting out of here. If I don’t get a letter back from Morgan really soon I’ll be sure I’ve lost her. When I’m about to give up I’ll hear from her and feel better for awhile. Then weeks will go by and I’ll start to panic again. It made me panic every time it took too long. Our letter writing was pretty strong the first couple years. Now the letters have longer and longer spaces of time in between. What would I have to live for if I lost her? Nothing. not if I knew for sure she was gone. I won’t make it if she isn’t there waiting for me. Am I being fair if I try to hold her to her promise? Am I making her feel guilty? Am I pushing her away by declaring my love so often? How many times can you tell someone you love them on one piece of paper? A lot, I found out. There isn’t much else to say. I’m drowning.
I wouldn’t have made it as far as this if I didn’t think I had a wife waiting for me. We aren’t really married; not legally. I called her my wife, and she told the prison she was my wife, so they would talk to her if she called asking about me. We filled out the paperwork to be married by common law, but never mailed it in.
I lay in my bed and let my mind wander trying again to make sense of things. It gets confusing, so why do I keep trying? Some men have someone to live for and some don’t. If I didn’t have anyone, what is the point of holding myself together? I have already missed half my teens in juvy and now I’m working on my twenties, and I’ll probably lose all but one year of my thirties. I’ll be middle aged by the time I get out and I don’t have enough education to get a job at a fast food joint – not that anyone would hire me with prison convict written all over me. I could be here until 2023. Seventeen years is a long time.
This whole thing in here is a scam. All anyone had to do was look at the numbers since almost all of us is black. The media did a good job making people believe blacks commit more crimes and do more drugs. That’s a laugh. It must be in our genes they say. You’d have to be stupid to believe that. But people believe what they want to believe.
I know about the corporations that run this place. It’s all about the money. They make a ton by keeping us here. This whole war on drugs was an excuse for these corporations to take over. It was political. They convinced the government they could save the state money and they could use that for other things like schools.
Since the War on Drugs had already made people scared of black people it was easy to fill the prisons. Wear a hoodie and poof! Instant fear. Hear that enough times and it becomes truth. It gives cops permission to shoot and kill us. They still won’t prosecute the cops, so I must be right. Anyone with half a brain knows what’s going on. It’s scares me to think Junior could get caught up in this. It doesn’t matter that he’s half white. That makes it worse. The only skin color the cops sees is black. If the cop is racist they will find a way to hurt him if they can. It’s getting worse and it makes me worry for my son. Little Jamie has a brother who is also mixed race. I worry about both of them. I love all Morgan’s children as if they were my own.
Just like the cops, it also doesn’t matter what the guards do. There is no punishment for them, even if someone dies. They find a way to write up the paperwork so they don’t look guilty. There is no one in here to stick up for the inmates. A lot of the guards are worse than the inmates. It isn’t fair and I can’t do jack about it. Shut up or they’re likely to spit in my food or find worse ways to retaliate. I’ve already found out the ways they get back at people who try to cause them trouble.
After a day of treating inmates like dogs, do they go home and be good husbands and fathers? Can they turn it off like a light switch and become decent people at the end of the day, after some of the shit that goes on around here? I don’t see how that is possible.
I pull myself back together. My mind runs crazy over the same things every day. It don’t help me and it only makes me feel bad. My feet are freezing walking on the cement floor. I’m glad I remembered to put my socks on. I went back to my bed and crawled under my blanket, ragged as it is. The banging seemed stop for now.
I keep a picture of Morgan under my mattress, which is a three inch piece of foam, covered in plastic. I lay here and stare at her face, missing her, and what we could have had. I run my fingers over her face. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards for us but I’m not ready to give up. For me she hasn’t changed. She will always stay just like this. Maybe she has moved on but no one can take the past away from me. My life has only ever been full of maybes.
I can’t stop myself from thinking about my son. I close my eyes and picture him standing here beside me. I feel like I can reach out and give him a hug. God, I miss him so much. I’ll never be able to teach him things, like throw a ball, or ride a bike. Someone else will have to teach him that. It isn’t fair. I will never be able to get this time back. It’s gone forever.
A deep wrenching pain starts in my gut and wants to rip me apart. I wrap my arms around myself and hide my face. I don’t want anyone to hear me crying. I hear men lose control often enough and I don’t want them to know. Tears start to run down my face onto my neck. I wipe it away with the back of my hand. It’s easier to stay angry and keep that tough front going. If the guards hear me they’ll know they won and go back and tell everyone and they’ll laugh at me. I’m not really a tough guy. I only act that way when I have to defend myself. But that’s not how I want to be. If anyone sees you cry around here they’ll think you’re a pussy and it’ll be harder on you. So I suck it up and get myself under control.
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I think I am 2/3 finished with the first draft and am talking to an editor who is reviewing my outline. This is becoming a reality. I had no idea what I was doing when I started. I can tell you now I have loved every minute of the 15 months I’ve put into it – so far! I thought I could write it in 8 months. I must have re-written this particular chapter about 8 times, changing tenses and adding to it. This particular re-write today is going to an editor to analyze the content.