Jamie was often sick when he was young because he had epilepsy. It made him feel like he had been run over by a truck. Getting over a seizure wasn’t always easy. His mama didn’t like him to be out of her sight because she never knew when he was going to have another one. He could often see kids playing outside, but wasn’t allowed to play with them. Because of this, he didn’t have friends, except for one of his cousins who was also sick.
My mama never talked to me about who my dad was, and I didn’t ask. It didn’t seem important to me at the time. It didn’t bother me that each of us had a different dad, but sometimes I wished I had a dad to go visit, and to have other family my siblings didn’t have, but we seldom talked about it. They had other aunts and uncles and cousins.
Even now, I sometimes still think about this – until a year ago. On my thirty-second birthday, my mom came to visit me at the prison. It was the first and only time in ten years I had a visit sitting at a table that didn’t have a piece of plexiglass between us. I was able to give her a hug and hold her hand while we talked. Unless you’ve spent time in prison, where the lower levels don’t allow contact visits, you have no idea what it means to get a hug or hold someone’s hand. The craving for a personal touch can be overwhelming. Going for ten years without without being able to touch someone you love, is painful. For only a few weeks I was able to do that, or had the privilege of being able to make a phone call.
The only visit I had was from my mother and Sonni was the only person who registered her phone so I could call. Sonni said it was funny because she didn’t know I had a Texas twang, because it doesn’t come across in letters. When we met, it was so long ago. I guess she didn’t remember. It was so good, though, to hear her voice. After the visit from my mother, the prison staff found a way to take my privileges away, and I doubt I’ll be getting them back any time soon. I wish I could have seen my son. Maybe Morgan would have brought him if she knew it was only going to be for a short time, but no one knew my new privileges would be taken away again so soon.
My mom told me some big news. I was shocked! She got married – to my father! My real father. That was the last thing I thought I’d hear. I was so excited. I finally found out about my dad. She said he was a cop, but he’s retired now. While they were dating he would say to her, “I should have waited”, but he he never said why. Now she knew why. He got married right before they met, and he was trying to tell her he that he shouldn’t have gotten married so fast.
So he was newly married and started dating? That makes him a scumbag in my book. She said she broke up with him when she found out because she didn’t want to be the ‘other woman’. He told her if he couldn’t have her in his life, then he didn’t want to have anything to do with me, either. So here was this cop, who didn’t tell her he was married, who was now telling her he wasn’t going to take care of his responsibilities. I guess he was serious.
I never heard from him one time in my life. I would have thought, being a cop, he would want to at least know how I was doing. I was still his flesh and blood. If mama had gotten child support from him I would have known about it. She said this was why she didn’t tell me who he was. But now they are back together and married. That is so weird. She gave me his name and even his birthday, which was coming up soon. So I started writing him letters and even sent him a birthday card. I wanted him to get to know me. I thought, after all this time was I finally going to have a father.
I waited and waited, but I never got any answers to my letters. Something didn’t seem right. Why didn’t he write back to me? I guessed I still don’t have a dad after all. Maybe if he had been around to help raise me, things could have turned out different for me. Maybe he was embarrassed. I’m just guessing all that, but it’s probably true. That day, on my birthday, she also said she she almost had me aborted. That shocked me. It hurt, but I tried not to show it.
It was hard to sit there and not show how I was feeling. What a thing to tell me on my birthday, especially when she rarely comes to visit, anyway. This visit should have been a happy time. How could she tell me this after all this time? She almost aborted me? It really made me feel bad. Maybe I shouldn’t have been born. Did she think I needed to know? Did she think at all about how it would make me feel? That really sucks, don’t you think? That’s why I want to be a father to my boy. I don’t want him to grow up thinking I didn’t love him, because I do, and when I get out of here, I’m going to make damn sure he knows it.
To make it all worse, I’m almost sure she made it all made up. Why do people say things like that when the truth usually comes out at some point, anyway. She didn’t get married to anyone, let alone my dad. No wonder he never answered my letters. It makes me feel like a fool for pouring myself out to him. Did she read the letters I wrote? They went to her address. Maybe she should have had someone else write back and keep the lie going even longer. I haven’t seen her again since then. I’ll have to wait to see what she says next.
Sonni (mom) talked to Morgan and told her my mom told me who my dad was. She believed it, too. She was happy for me. No one should have to go through life and not know who their father is. She told Morgan the whole story. She was shocked that my mom could tell me something like that, and told her mom what she knew.
Some years back, Morgan was at my mama’s house with little Jamie, so he could visit with my family. She said there was a man there my mama used to live with a long time ago. He had been in prison for years. When he finally got out, he needed to have a place to go. If you get paroled you have to have an address to go to or they won’t release you. They verify it to prove you won’t be on the street. So he used my mom’s address and moved in with my her. Morgan said he was the spittin’ image of me. She said there was no doubt in her mind, this man was my dad. No one told me this. He wasn’t out very long. Morgan thinks he’s back inside again. I have no idea who he is or where he is, so I’m back at square one.
Morgan laughed when she heard my dad was supposed to be a cop. Why did my mom have to make him a cop? Maybe because it was the exact opposite of a felon, so maybe she thought that would make me feel better? There is something so wrong with this story. Does the truth even matter anymore? Wouldn’t you think my brothers or sister would know about her getting married? Wouldn’t someone have told me she had gotten married if it were true?
I know I rarely hear from anyone, but I think something as important as my mother marrying my father would have been important enough for someone to tell me. But no one did, so I have to believe I was set up. But I don’t know why. In the past, my mom would sometimes tell them not to tell me things she knew would upset me. But this was different. It would have made me happy. Is there a reason why I can’t know who my dad is? It can’t be worse than being lied to. The only thing I finally learned from this, Don’t believe anything unless I see it with my own two eyes. This is really screwed up, isn’t it?
Mom (Sonni) – I know this is a bit confusing going back and forth between mom and my mother, but I don’t usually talk about them in the same sentence. Mom wanted me to dig in my memories and tell her about my life growing up. She wanted to get to know this part of my life. Talking about myself isn’t something I’ve ever done. It’s not easy. No one has ever wanted to know these things, but I’m trying. It’s one thing to think about memories and another to find the right words to write them down. It’s not easy to talk about myself, but I’ll try.
Some of these early memories I haven’t thought about in a long time, and some things I think are best not remembered at all. When I was six or seven, my mom used to take us kids on picnics to the park, and sometimes we went to the zoo in Lufkin. It was fun spending time as a family. Mama would pack sandwiches, chips, soda and other snacks. We were a close family. We would play on the swings, the slide and other things at the park. We would run from one thing to the next. I especially loved the swings and I would try to go as high as I could and then jump off. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t go many times, but we made the best of it when we did. We even flew kites a few times. It was okay – more than okay. It was great.
Now, when we went to the zoo it was crazy. The way the zoo was laid out, was a big lake in the middle and there was a miniature train we rode through the woods. It was a small train visitors rode to sight-see the entire zoo. They were different types of birds around the lake, along with ducks and swans. There were even peacocks walking around and in the lake. It was a beautiful sight. I remembering trying to get mama to go into the reptile house with us. She said, “Only when pigs fly!”
I love animals and I love to read about them. Mama liked the parrots. There were so many different kinds. I think she especially liked the many colors they had. We would walk along the little lake and feed the ducks and swans. Mama used to joke and tell us we could have gone to our great grandmothers house if all we wanted to do was feed the ducks. That makes me want to laugh. Mrs Pinky Brown was her name, and she had a lot of animals herself. I might love animals, but you couldn’t pay me to hold a snake!
I remember when I was very young, but I can’t remember the exact age; it was back in the early 90’s. My great grandfather passed away. John Brown was his name. He was well up in age. He was unable to walk because both of his legs had been amputated, but I don’t know why. That is just how I remember him. I never got a chance to meet my grandfather. My mama’s dad died of a heart attack when he was thirty-nine.
When I was eight years old were were dressed an ready to go to the fireworks at the baseball park, but something happened and we couldn’t go. Mama bought shorts sets for me and my little brother. She took pictures of us wearing them. My older brother was with his dad at the time. I was upset because I had to watch the fireworks from home again. All I could see was the sky light up and hear the sounds from a distance, but I couldn’t really see them. I was sad because I really like to watch fireworks. The first time I left home at night, when I was a teenager, it was the fourth of July. A family a few streets over from us said I could watch the fireworks with them. I love them to this day.
I really hate this, having to remember stuff, because some things I don’t want to remember. Growing up, my favorite cousin was my Aunt Ann’s son. His name was Keithy. He passed away in 1996 from Sickle Cell Anemia. Since I have epilepsy, we were the sick ones in the family. He broke my heart so bad. We used to follow each other all the time. I didn’t matter he was older than me by six or seven years. We enjoyed each others company. We had each others back. We played together all the time. He loved to go fishing and I would go with him. There were times we didn’t catch anything, but we still loved to go. Sometimes we had our days when we were mad at each other, but it didn’t take long for us to make up. We always had lots of fun together.
There were also times I couldn’t visit him because he was too sick, and that made me mad; mad that he was sick. There were times he went to visit his dad’s family. One time when he came home he was sicker than usual. I went to visit with him one day, and when we were playing he just started crying. My aunt came in to help him and called my mom to come and take me home. While I was waiting for him to get better his pain got worse. I could hear his cries for help. It hurt so much to see him like that. His sickness got worse so I ended up having to stay home a lot.
That was when I started leaving home. I was depressed. I felt empty. I had no other friends and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about how I felt. So I started to leave the house, sometimes just to get away. It got to the point where I would leave in the middle of the night, trying to fill that blank space. I left home at night one too many times. My mom got worried about me and placed me in a children’s hospital. I didn’t like it there.
I don’t remember how long I was there. I do remember, one day they let me call home. I explained to my mama that I didn’t like this place, and I began to cry. I remember the day that broke my heart. It started out a happy that day because my mom came and brought me home from the hospital. She took me to my aunt’s house. There were a lot of people there. My mama took me to the back room where everybody was, and told me Keithy died. I broke down. My older brother grabbed me and told me not to cry, but we both cried. We went to the viewing and he looked so different. I remember touching him and asking my mom why he was so cold. Then we buried him.
The first time I stole something. I was around eight or nine, I think. My older brother and I went to the store on our bikes. While I was in the store I picked up a pack of skittles. After we left, as we were walking home, I waited to show my brother. When I did, he smiled and took them from me. He gave them to mama, and told her what I did. I was sent to my room. I had a friend named Brandon and he came over, asking if I could come out and play. When he found out I couldn’t, he went to my bedroom window. I told him what happened and he was upset.
Then one day, about a week later, we were at his uncle’s house. His mom was there. It was the first time I’d ever seen her and his dad was with her, too. We went outside to play basketball while they talked. We found out later it would be the last time we would ever play together. We said our goodbyes and I watched him leave. I walked home sad and mad. It was decided by the parents, we couldn’t play together anymore. Because of a pack of skittles? That didn’t make sense. Whatever the reason, it was the last I saw Brandon. He was the last real friend I ever had.
When I was in the tenth grade I had to leave Nacogdoches for awhile. I had gotten into some trouble. I guess you could say this next year was going to be the last formal schooling I was going to have. My mom thought I’d do better if I got away for awhile. I have an uncle who lives in Mesquite, Texas and I went to stay with him for a year while I was on juvy probation.
My uncle was a good man, I must say. He’s a parole officer for adults and over the years he worked his way up the system. He has a son that got 20 years in prison. I lived with him and went to school, but he wouldn’t trust me to go anywhere on my own. I remember I went outside across the street to a neighbors house. They had two boys about my age. I went over and we talked and played basketball. Then I went back home to my uncle’s house. My uncle questioned me about where I was and told me not to go over there anymore. I don’t know why.
We didn’t do anything wrong. I was bored, and it was fun to have someone to spend some time with. I guess he didn’t trust that I wouldn’t get in any trouble since he was responsible for me. He was never home when I got home from school because he had home visits to do for his job. I was supposed to come home and stay in the house or the yard. When it came time for me to report to my probation officer I had to walk or ride my cousin’s bike to the appointment . It was a long bike ride. It was the only time I was allowed to leave the house except when I went to school, so I began to really like the ride. It was nice being able to see more of the city.
I started to do community service at the Boys and Girl’s Club. One night my little cousin was with me, and we were riding our bikes home. It was a good distance between the house and the club. As we began the ride home it started to get dark. We were being careful, riding on the sidewalk. In one place we had to ride down a hill. This dude in a truck pulled out of the driveway of an apartment complex. He didn’t have his headlights on so he couldn’t see me. When he pulled out in front of me, I hit the front side of his truck and flew over it, breaking my left leg when I landed.
I remember hearing my cousin scream, and I heard myself yelling, I didn’t want to get into trouble. After that, I woke up in the hospital. I had a cast on my leg from my ankle up to my thigh. Later, after I left the hospital and went back to my uncle’s house, I called my cousin to check up on him. He came over when I called, but he stopped a good distance away from me and just looked at me. That’s all. He just looked at me. That was strange. Was there something wrong with me? He wouldn’t say anything, or come anywhere close to me after that. I never did know why.
After I completed my probation, my uncle asked me if I wanted to stay with him or go home. I told him I wanted to go home, but to this day I ask myself why I didn’t stay. I feel my life might have come out a lot better if I had. I tell myself I probably would have finished school, at least. Look at my age now. I’m in my thirties and I still haven’t been able to finish school. We never know when it happens, but each time we make a decision, it is going to take us in a different direction. If we thought about that we might make better decisions.
When I was sixteen, almost seventeen, I ended up at the Texas Youth Commission, better known as TYC, for four years. I was placed in there in 2000. The charge was assaulting a police officer. This charge never should have happened. The cop who charged me was harassing our family. It wasn’t the first time. Black kids are used to it. We got harassed all the time. Even when something is the cops fault, they are never the ones to get blamed. When you’re black and the cop is white it’s always going be your fault. There is nothing you can do about it. I’m beginning to understand that karma has a way of doing that to you.
This is what happened that day: My older brother and I got into a fight in the front yard. He had an amp for music in his car. I took it to a friend’s house across the street. I went back to get it, but it was gone. I don’t blame my brother for being mad at me. He thought I sold it, but I didn’t. My mama yelled at us to come in the house. Since there were four teenagers in my family, raising us wasn’t easy. I have two brothers and a sister. My mom had to play the part of both parents, and work all the time to take care of us. We didn’t have the supervision we needed.
Inside the house, while she was talking to us about what happened in front of the house, there was a knock on the door. When my mama answered it, there was a police officer standing there. We had problems with this officer before. He was bad news. One of the neighbors must have called the the cops when she saw us fighting. I don’t understand why she would do this, knowing it would cause problems for us. It was only two brothers fighting the way teenagers do. The officer wanted to speak to my brother and me, but my mama said no, she had everything under control. The officer wouldn’t listen to her, and called to us to come outside, anyway. My mama told him again that everything was fine.
She tried to close the door but the officer stopped her by putting his foot in the door. He tried again to push open the door. He wasn’t needed to settle a fight between my brother and I that was already over. He should have listened to my mama. He was determined to get inside out house, but there was no legal reason why my mom had to let him in. he didn’t have a search warrant and there was no crime committed. He could see were okay and didn’t need his help. When he tried to push open the door, my brother and I stood up. We both told him again, we had everything under control. He was still determined he was going to get inside the house. He pushed the door open so hard my mama fell to the floor, and broke her wrist. I knew this was going to be bad. My mama was screaming in pain. I helped her up off the floor, and my brother went after the officer for hurting her. He maced him. When he did that, my anger let loose, and I hit him with a broom! His arm was all cut up from the straws. Then my little brother came into the room and it was just broke out into hell.
My sister was pregnant at the time, but if she hadn’t been, she would have gone after the officer, too. An ambulance was called. My mama was taken to the hospital and my sister went with her. My older brother was placed in the back of a cop car. He was so angry because the officer maced him that he kicked out the car window. My little brother and I were put in a different car because we were minors. Let’s just say, I got the short end of the stick.
After a while, everyone got to go home except me. I was sent to do nine months in the TYC. I was the only one they could do anything to. My older brother was over eighteen, but no crime was committed, so they couldn’t charge him with anything. My younger brother was too young, and didn’t do anything. They brought him along instead of letting him go to the hospital. But I was an older minor so they got me for assaulting the officer. It didn’t matter what he had done to my mother, although later they did go to court about it. Nothing happened to the officer, of course. But they had to do something to one of us. Someone had to be at fault, and that someone was me.
When I got to juvenile detention, I stayed in my room and didn’t talk to anyone. I told myself that nine months in juvy isn’t that bad. I could do it. I did everything I was told to do. I went to school and attended groups. I waited and waited as time passed. There weren’t any problems. Finally, the day came for me to leave; at least I thought I was supposed to be able to go home on that day.
I was packed and ready to go, when the staff told me I couldn’t leave. I didn’t believe it. I got upset and asked why, my nine months were over? All this time, nobody told me I wouldn’t be able to leave. That is why I was counting the days. I wanted to go home. I asked them what i did wrong? They told me I didn’t have my level four to go home.
What the heck was a level four? I didn’t know anything about needing a level four. My lawyer didn’t tell me, and he sure didn’t tell my mom anything about this, either. They told me again, I couldn’t go home, so I went to my room and slammed the door. I sat in my room and cried. I just wanted to go home. Then I started kicking the door and walls. I wasn’t ready to listen to anything anyone had to say, because I was lied to. I had so much anger inside me. I started throwing the stuff I had packed, all over the room. I tried to destroy anything in the room. I had done everything I was told to do. There was no reason for me to not reach this level four. If I couldn’t reach it in these nine months, then no one could have reached it.
Is this what they do to all the kids they send here? Do they give them a sentence knowing there is no way the kid is going to get out? Do they lie to everyone, knowing they are going to keep the kids longer than they say? I was angrier than I have ever been. An officer came to my room and I was sent to solitary confinement; 23 hour lock up in security. That is the reward I got for following their rules.
Was I not supposed to be angry? Should I have just stood there quietly, and said okay? I don’t think so. No kid should ever be locked up like that. They thought this was the right thing to do? It wasn’t. All is did was make me angrier. It showed me there is no justice in the system, especially for black kids. They thought it was okay to wreck my life, take me away from my family and take away from being able to finish school? I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t deserve what they were doing to me and there was nothing my mama could do about it. Looking back at it, this is when my family let me go. This is when they stopped caring about what happened to me. I was never again around them long enough to know who I am.
From then on, at TYC, everything was always on the negative side. I caused all kinds of problems with school. I got into fights in the dorms. I had so much anger in me. I would take off running around the campus. I did everything I could to rebel. They weren’t going to let me go home if I behaved, so why behave? I got into it with the staff. It went from a nine month sentence, to four years.
What I didn’t know, there was no way they were going to let me go, for any reason. These places make money locking up kids. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Things went up and down with me. At some point, though, I finally stopped and started thinking. I wanted to go home. I needed to do the right things so they would let me go home. I still thought maybe they would let me out. It was a hard lesson to learn.
In the four years I was there, I only received four letters from home. I realize now, if my family couldn’t write to me then, why do I expect them to write to me now? I’ve written many letters, and it isn’t very often that anyone writes me back. It’s not their fault I’m here, I’ve been told. But does that stop them from caring, as well?
Anyway, I finally made it to level three. I was doing good and I got to do things I enjoyed. I went swimming, shot pool and watched movies. I did good for a year and a half. Then I received a letter from home; one of my aunts died. I lost it, and went downhill. I had a hard time dealing with death. There was no one to help me through it. Instead I was placed on BMP, Behavior Modification Program, for thirty days, which was 23 hour lockdown again. They brought my schoolwork to me. I got an hour of rec. I was on three of these BMPs all total. I didn’t care anymore what happened to me.
The last time I was sent there was because I hit one of the staff and broke his nose, so he filed charges on me. I hit him because he would pick on me for no fucking reason. It really gets to me when I think about it. It brings it all back like it was yesterday. He used to call me ‘nigger’. I know it sounds better to call it the’N’word but that’s not what he said. He didn’t call me the ‘N’ word’. He called me a nigger. I told his supervisor, but she didn’t believe me because of all the other trouble I caused on her dorm.
While I was finishing up on the third BMP program a Broward County police officer came and told the staff about the charges he filed on me and I was placed in the back of the patrol car and taken to Broward County Jail. Again, I was the only one to get in trouble. Why is it that I am expected to behave right, yet adults don’t have to? Was I more wrong than he was?
While I was in there I really started losing it because I knew what the outcome of my life was going to look like, with me ending up right where I am now. This would have probably happened to me no matter what I did. This is where my life was going. I know now it is my karma. I look at all the things I did. How could it have turned out any different? I had chances to change things, but I always screwed it up. I have no one to blame but myself.
During the time I was in county jail because of this man’s charges, I wasn’t myself, but I did try to stay out of people’s way. It wasn’t easy. I got into a fight over the TV, and once I got stabbed with a pen. I really lost it and went into a deep depression. I stopped eating. I couldn’t sleep. I thought of my aunt and cried. I was miserable and I couldn’t pull myself out of the depression. They placed me in a single cell and sent a doctor to come talk to me. Afterward, she talked to the judge and I was sent to a state hospital for more than three weeks so I could get some help with my depression. When it was over, they sent me home, finally.
My mama came to get me. It was a long drive home. There was a party waiting for me, but we got back so late most everyone had gone home. One of my cousins was still there, and he asked if I wanted to walk back to his apartment. I said sure. We visited for awhile, and then I started walking home. He lived in a complex that had a white security guard. The guard asked me to come into his office. He wanted to know what I was doing there so I told him I was visiting my cousin. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the back of a police car being arrested and taken to jail. For what? Because I was black and I looked suspicious.
This happened in 2004. I met Morgan in 2005. I met Sonni toward the end of that year. I ended up in prison soon after. Ain’t that crazy? I finally got home, but I placed myself around the wrong group of so-called friends. I lost myself again. But I’ll say this much, it won’t happen again. I’m going to change the direction my life has taken when I get out of here. I finally see what is happening, and it is up to me to change it. If I don’t, this will continue to happen until I do.
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