Sometimes I feel like I’m still at the beginning of this nightmare. I lose all track of time and I forget how long I’ve been here. Sometimes I don’t count the days and let them slip by, hoping I’ll wake up and they will all be over. My sentence is 5,875 days, so why count them? I get through one day and then do the next. Every day is pretty much the same. Don’t get me wrong: There have been quite a few changes over time, and it has taught me a lot about myself, but it’s also taught me things I never knew about prison wish I never had to learn. It’s brutal. Prisoners get treated as though it doesn’t matter that they are human. Animals get treated better than we do. The only difference is that it’s illegal to treat animals inhumanely, but it isn’t illegal to treat humans that way. Something I feel like I’ll never get out of here, like that day will never come, but slow and sure, the years are adding up.
It doesn’t matter how good I am or if I cause trouble, because the guards will write up a case on me about anything, whether I did it or not. The prison sees guards as always being right and us convicted felons as always wrong, no matter what, so there is no point in fighting it. Even if guards witness you aren’t guilty, they won’t stand up for you. If they do, they will get in trouble, and they aren’t about to mess up their job and tell the truth; and if I try to stand up for myself, it gives them the right to hurt me by beating on me, spraying cans of pepper spray on me, or anything else they feel like doing. It always gets me in more trouble. It’s hard to let people walk all over you when you know it’s not true. It makes me angry and that gets me in more trouble.
But I’m not going to let them screw with my head. In a twisted way they would like to see that they beat me down. They might be able to get away with beating my body, but I won’t let them break me. I’ve seen how their inhumane treatment affects some of the men. They give in to it and it messes them up. When they get out: If they get out, and need to live on their own, they are too screwed up to make it, and end up back inside again, especially if they don’t have family outside to help them. They can’t handle the pressure of coping, and they certainly can’t work anymore. How do they survive?
Prisons are used as a place to dump crazy people. They need laws to protect them. This whole system is so screwed up. Even inmates that seem okay at first get institutionalized when they are in here too long. Even making the decision to leave the room and go pee without asking permission is impossible. Being in here is like being in a nightmare you can’t wake up from. Sometimes, when I wake up, I’m not always too sure what is real and what isn’t. It is easy to slide into a bad place in your head and it takes hold of you. That’s where going crazy begins.
If this isn’t a nightmare, then I don’t know what is. If I could go back to sleep, maybe when I wake up again, I’ll find it was only a bad dream. Wouldn’t that be great? If I could choose, maybe the dream could belong to someone else. I have wanted so much for this whole thing to be a dream, because if it isn’t, I know for sure, I’m having the worst damn time in my life that I’ve ever had. I want to get off this roller coaster ride. People can’t possibly understand what this is like, and I know the kids out there who are messing up don’t realize what the stakes are. When you’re a kid, either you don’t think bad things will happen to you, or you don’t care what happens.
I know this is not a dream. It’s just a game I play with myself, because for a few minutes I can convince myself that I’ll wake up and walk out of here. I do what I need to do to survive. There are only two people in this cell. Me and myself, and we talk to each other, because there is no one else to talk to. On the outside, no one understands what it is truly like to be locked up alone with yourself 24/7, in a cell with no one to talk to. It will make you crazyy all by itself. But I have mom. She’s the only one I write to about what I’m going through and about what it’s like in here. She writes me back. If I didn’t have anyone, and had no communication with the outside, without a doubt, this really would be hell.
It scares me that I might do something bad and it would make her not want to write to me anymore. I don’t think I would survive this, if I didn’t have her encouragement. She also helps me get the things I need. It wouldn’t hurt me if I lost that, but if I lost her, and I knew I wasn’t going to hear from her again, that would be really hard. She may be almost thirty years older than me, but that doesn’t matter. She is the only one who truly cares about me, and about what happens to me. She see me for who I really am, and doesn’t judge me by what happened to put me here. Whatever it is she sees in me, I’m glad she sees it.
I let my mind wander from one thing to the next, wondering if I’m starting to lose it. I pace back and forth, and back and forth. Maybe this is the way it starts when you start going crazy. It will creep up on me real slow until it has me by the throat. So I have to be careful. I’ve watched men go crazy; It’s not fun. How did it start for them? Did they know they were losing their mind? Could they feel themselves starting to lose it? Did they have these crazy conversations like I do? There are lots of crazy people in here. It had to be caused by the whole experience of being in prison. Not all the crazies were like that before they got here. I suppose they might have had some problems already, but at least they were functioning. Spend enough time alone in a cell and it pushes you over the edge. It’s such a helpless feeling.
Many of the crazy inmates were put here because they are crazy and there is no place else to stick them. Some of the lifers beat up on them, and even gang rape them, so they are put in solitary for their own protection. But locking them up like that certainly doesn’t do them any favors. The real truth is, the prison staff doesn’t want to mess with them. Some of them are a real pain in the ass. When they lock them up they can forget about them. They don’t care if they get crazier. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if there weren’t so damn many of them, but there are. It’s a real problem. But some of them aren’t completely sick in the head when they come here. It is being here, and the way they are treated that finishes them off. Don’t the people who run this place see what is happening? Don’t they care? I guess not. They go home at the end of the day and forget about it.
No one sees the crimes the guards do, or the way they sometimes let inmates die, just for kicks*. Not unless a member of their own family is affected does anyone finally get it and want to help. Better late then never, I suppose. Most people think we have it good in here. But really, I don’t think they want to know the truth. They’d rather stick their head in the sand. They also don’t want to see what some of these guys do to themselves. Suicides or attempted suicides happen all the time. They would gag if they could smell how bad it is. People don’t want to think about us. They want to pretend it’s not so bad. We get food and medical care and should be happy about that. We got it good. We aren’t anyone’s worry.
Some of these things now are getting out in the news, and people are starting to ask questions and demand change. Over the last few decades the justice system locked up a bunch of people on the ‘war on drugs’ who shouldn’t be locked up, or at least not for the length of time they gave them. Giving someone decades, or life without parole, goes beyond reason, especially if they didn’t hurt or kill anyone. What happens, when they get out, is they don’t know how to live anymore because they are all screwed up. They have been letting out more and more people because they found out they weren’t guilty. It’s great they were let out, but it doesn’t make up for the decades of life they lost. It doesn’t make up for the things they had to live through. How do they make up for that? Is money enough? Not a chance.
Mom tells me what’s in the news and what people say. Here in the US, this country by itself has more people locked up than most all the countries put together. America must have some pretty rotten people living here because so many have to be locked up*. The news tells people that black people have a gene that makes them prone to be criminals. They say we do and sell more drugs, and commit more crimes. The news says that over and over justify why they lock up so many of us. Everyone believes it and it keeps white people afraid of us. The women think we are going to grab their purses and run so they clutch them tightly if we walk by. They made people suspicious of anyone in a hoodie sweatshirt, like just wearing one will make you want to commit a crime. When people read this over and over they believe it. People suspect all blacks, but they don’t do the same thing to whites. Because of the centuries that black people were slaves, white people still think the have special privileges. Even if they don’t think they deserve it, over government, the justice system and police and organizations like treat them as if they do. Cops would never treat white people the way they treat us. Many white people still treat us as though we aren’t as good as them. I think that no matter how many years go by, we will ever be looked at as equals. Of course, that isn’t everyone. Mom is about as white as they come. She’s always fighting racism.
It is the minorities that get locked up the most. Minorities are mostly poor and can’t pay an attorney. The are low income because society doesn’t give the same privileges that white people get. Everyone knows it is true. That’s what happened to me. I couldn’t defend myself. If I had been white and had an attorney, I probably wouldn’t be in here, and if I was, I wouldn’t be in high security, and I’d be out by now. I don’t have any other offenses as an adult. I had no criminal record. I’m not saying I was innocent. I’m saying punishment is different if you are white. I have a juvy record but that is supposed to be sealed. I wouldn’t have gone to juvy if I had been white. I would have been giving a medal for trying to protect my mama from a bad person. But I’m black, so I’m not allowed to be right. I have to be seen as wrong, especially if a cop says I’m wrong. But it was the cop who did wrong. It didn’t matter. He was a white cop and I was a black teenager. Case closed.
Maybe I’m dead and this is hell. I have to laugh at that. I have to find amusement somehow. Now, If I were dead, and knew this is hell, I could probably deal with it better, because there wouldn’t be anymore questions about me being crazy. I wouldn’t have to think anymore about getting out. I would know that all eternity was going to be like this. It feels like an eternity already. Fire and brimstone, the preacher ranted on Sundays when I was a kid. it scared the daylights out of me. “Repent or you’ll go to hell,” he said, like I’m not in hell already and I haven’t even died yet. I would have a few things to say to that preacher today about the reality of hell. It’s right here and I’m living in it.
Maybe outside prison is the real hell. I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get out of here and that scares me. I have no real experience being an adult. How am I going to take care of myself? I don’t know even the basic things, like filling out a job application, since I don’t have any experience. How do you open a checking account or turn on utilities? I have absolutely nothing to start a life with. I sure as hell, pardon the pun, don’t want to go back to Nacogdoches. There is nothing for me there except trouble. So much has changed since I got here. Not knowing these things is scary and it makes me look like an idiot, and I’m not one. I just don’t know anything about how things are done now. I can’t count on my family. They aren’t here for me now so I know I’ll get no help from them later.
What if I did something without even meaning to and the police picked me up again, not giving me a chance? I know what it is like out there. Cops don’t need a reason to pick up blacks, charge them, and make them guilty of things they didn’t do. If someone really wanted to be a criminal and get away with it, they should become a cop. It’s hard as hell to convict a cop with anything. Murder? Not a problem. Drug dealing? They have the best connections. If you are racist, you’d be in good company, because racism is just fine if you’re a cop, because they can’t prove why you shot some poor black kid in the back. They just have to say they felt threatened. The news finds it’s way inside. I hear guys talk when they come back in again, because they did something that broke their parole. Wanting to stay out of prison is no promise that you will. Coming back into prison through the back door is an easy way to keep the prisons full and it doesn’t cost money to do it.
Yeah, some dudes do get into trouble when they get out. They get back with their friends and get into trouble, so it’s their own fault. They don’t know any other life. They all say they want to get a job, but do some illegal things on the side. They don’t learn. They still think they can beat the system. I think sometimes, where would I be if I didn’t have you to keep setting me straight and keeping me on track. I’d be a mess when I get out and would have no way to make it right. This place wears on you and turns you into the people they say you are. I don’t want to be here. I will do anything it takes to turn my life around. It takes a strong person to change and start over. I don’t want any old friends to come knocking on my door and see that nothing changed in their life. I don’t want to be around people like that. I have to go somewhere where my old life can’t suck me back in again. I have no reason to go be around old friends. My home town is a dead end and I want no part of it. No, I know for sure I am never coming back here. My life will be different. Nothing will bring me back here again.
But sometimes, when they get out, they can’t get a job no matter how hard they try. Society doesn’t want them around. No matter how straight they want to be, they still gotta eat or take care of their family, so they take a chances. Then it’s only a matter of time untill they’re picked up again. But the cops don’t need a reason to pick you up. They do it just to harass you. If they see you and they know you, you’re going to jail: Do not pass go. Just like in here, where the guards are always right, no matter what happens, it’s the same out there. Cops don’t need a reason to cuff you and throw you in jail, and probably beat the crap out of you along the way. I am not going to get picked up and brought back here again – ever. Not on my son’s life will that ever happen. I’m determined. Mom says to make a determination and focus on doing them, and that is one of mine.
Crazy thoughts were always shooting through my brain like this. I have way too much time to think. It’s hard remembering a time when I could laugh and smile. It was a long time ago, like a fading dream that came to the surface but I can’t quite remember the ending.
Sometimes it feels like my life in prison is something that isn’t happening to me, but instead, I walked into a theater into the middle of a movie I never saw the beginning of, and fell asleep before it got to the end. It’s the kind of dream where you feel yourself falling and you know if you hit the ground you’re going to die, and wake up startled and afraid to go back to sleep again. I have this dream over and over, like it is a premonition of some sort. But there is a hazy part I can’t see clearly. I would lie there for hours and think about it, but it is no use. Maybe I’m not supposed to see it. I need to snap out of this.
I lived that movie in my head over and over, never knowing if it was going to have a good ending. I never felt hope, only despair. Every time I go to sleep I’m afraid I’ll see it again and I almost always do. I have no one I can talk to in here and it gets me more depressed every day. It’s hard to shake out of it. Some days I’m better than others, but it always comes back and grabs me.
Once, when I woke up, I was running really fast from my dream. My heart was beating hard because I knew I was in a place that was really bad. It was hell and I couldn’t change it. So many times I woke up crying from my dreams. Crying for the loss. Crying for everything. I felt like the dream was never, ever, going to be over. I was lost forever. It felt like forever. Was I going to make it out of here? I buried my head wept.
This is what drives men mad: Going back and forth between sane and insane. This is what solitary confinement does to the mind; It creates hopelessness. I know there are men who are kept in solitary sometimes for decades. My sentence is only seventeen years, if the word ‘only’ means anything. Seventeen years is still an awfully long time. Babies grow up and graduate highschool in that amount of time and that is where my son will be if I never make parole. It depresses me to think of this lost time. I want so much to be a father to my son.
I remember what it was like in solitary when I was in the juvy system. It was no picnic, and it wasn’t much different. Alone is alone, no matter where you are. It’s insane to put a kid through that. What did they think it was going to accomplish? They ruined a lot of kids locking them up like that. I got so depressed, they put me in a juvenile detention hospital. They let me out after that, but they had no choice because I turned twenty-one. A person can only take so much deprivation, and a kid can’t hardly take any at all. I have already been put through more than a person should have to. I am not a bad person. I was locked up when I was a kid for one reason. The prison corporations make money off blacks and minorities for than any other race. Greed is a nasty thing. What had I ever done as a kid to deserve this? Nothing. This was a cop out to get me, and nobody had the power or money to stop what was happening. I shut down mentally. I was lost. Would any kid be okay after four years of this? I was only sentenced to nine months, but they wouldn’t let me out until they were forced to when I turned twenty-one. When the courts get you, they aren’t going to let you go. There is too much money made from locking people up. My family didn’t support me then, either. I didn’t understand why this was happening to me. I didn’t know kids were being prepped kids for adult prison. My life was expendable. It got named, ‘The School to Prison Pipeline’. Many black kids got funneled through. My number got called.
When mom started writing to me I finally found someone I could count on. She has always been there for me and I wasn’t alone anymore; At least not in my head. She gave me the reason I needed to keep fighting for my life, and it really was a fight. She always tries to help me figure out why it was happening to me. It was hard to open up to her. I wasn’t used to talking about my life. She tells me it is up to me to change my life. No one else can do it. I can’t blame anyone for what has happened to me. How is that possible? I don’t understand it. But she is so confident I will be able to make sense of my life and turn it around, so I can’t give up hope now. She’s counting on me. She tells me there is a purpose to my life; if I want it bad enough. If she believes I can do it, she is seeing something I can’t see yet. I’ll have to trust her.
I have to learn to control my emotions. That is not so easy. People can’t change something about themselves just because they want to. I need to have a calmer way of dealing with these things because I get pissed off so easy. It doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, they are in charge and I can’t do anything to change it by continuing to get angry. I have tried to show them the truth when guards write up cases on me that aren’t fair or outright lies and it doesn’t matter. The officers are going to believe the guards 100%. Even other guards will back up a guard in the wrong because it is part of their unwritten code. Guards can’t rat out a guard just like an inmate can’t rat out an inmate. If you do, your own kind will get back at you. Mom says, if I’m angry, I’m going to respond with anger. Anger is one of the hardest things for me to stop. I have a hot button and get angry fast. I don’t get angry just to be angry. I get angry when I see people doing the wrong thing and hurt people. I get in the most trouble because I try to help people here in the prison and the prison authorities don’t like that. When I do that I’m the one who ends up getting punished. There has to be a better way of dealing with these issues that don’t involve more punishment for myself.
If I can learn how to be in a better place in my head, I’ll react to things in a better way. That’s the key to this, mom says, and that comes from always being aware of how I’m feeling and the thoughts I’m having. Everyone has their own way of reacting. I know I react the same way all the time, and when I get angry, it’s hard for me to think about reacting a different way. In fact, it’s almost impossible. When I get angry, It pops out before I have time to think about it. Mom said, if it were easy to change, people would be doing it all the time, and they don’t, because they can’t. Its ingrained in them. It’s too easy to just give up. It’s easy to accept that it is the way they are. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not just me; it’s everyone. Mom said she’s been working on herself for a long time. It isn’t easy for her, either. She says we’re helping each other. I’m struggling to understand what she’s saying. I never knew any of these things before. But I keep listening because she says if I don’t change these things about myself, how will I be able to stop the anger when I get mad about something when I get out? She’s right. I haven’t been able to change this on my own so maybe she’s right. A good place to learn about it is where I am right now.
I know I don’t have to let these things be in control of my head anymore. I want to change, I really do. I don’t want to give up. I need a new dream. If I think about it real hard before I goes to sleep, maybe I can make a new dream happen that has a better ending. I think maybe I can do that if I try hard enough. I don’t have to believe my nightmare will come true.
There is nothing written in stone that says life has to go a certain way, so there sure isn’t anything written in stone that a dream has to happen. I don’t have to give in to despair. No one has ever talked to me about things like this, but mom seems so sure of the things she says. Much of it doesn’t make any sense to me and she says that’s okay. It will make sense if I keep trying to understand. That is what I’m going to do.
This is something else she tells me: If I think I can’t do something, then I can be sure I can’t, but if I think I CAN do something, then I will try harder to make it happen instead of giving up. It’s all about the way I think about it. Good thinking makes good things happen, but bad thinking can’t make good things happen. We are the way we think we are.
Cause and effect. Cause and effect. My life is my own doing. I know that already. But why does understanding that change anything? Because if I don’t learn from it, I’ll have to repeat it over and over until I do. I need to pay attention to the lessons my life is trying to show me. Stop making the same mistakes all over again. I’m tired of making the same mistakes. But it’s not easy to stop doing that. I get so mad sometimes. It takes every bit of control I have to not get mad. Sometimes I stays in control. But more often, I get too mad because of stupid things that happen, and that gets me into trouble.
I don’t get angry with the guards when I get into trouble for things I do that are wrong. That is my bad. but I shouldn’t get into trouble for things I don’t do. I think it makes you a man when you can own up to your own mistakes. Things are lopsided in here because the guards never have to own up to the things they do. This is supposed to be the justice system; When does it stop being a justice system when crimes are committed in here and the criminals in guard uniforms don’t have to be accountable. How does that get changed? I can’t change it, but someone needs to, because it isn’t right what is done to us in here. No one sticks up for us. Maybe some do, I don’t see it. I keep seeing them get away with murder, and that’s no pun. People shouldn’t be treated this way.
There is so much I don’t understand. Mom told me there is a reason for everything so I need to trust that. Life is so complicated; Really complicated. Why do I matter so much to her? So many questions. I have not mattered to anyone in a long time? People can say they love you, but most of the time it’s just a bunch of words because it’s never backed up by anything they do. Do they say they love me because they think they should. Are the words supposed to be enough? If they had any idea what it is like to be in here, maybe they would understand. I don’t see where anyone cares enough to find out how I am. Is that love?
I knows my mama loves me, in her own way. She gave birth to me. Is her responsibility over now because I’m grown? Could I treat my son this way? Never. This why Sonni told me to call her mom. She said I needed a mom. But why can I count on her, but I can’ t count on my family? Why is it so hard for my real mama to be there for me? She has no idea how bad it makes me feel. I’m always so happy to see her and I know she is happy to see me, but once she leaves the room on those rare times she comes to see me, it’s like, when she walks out of the room she forgets me. She’s done her duty and it’s time to go do something else. I’m tired of begging people write or to come to see me. I want to matter to my family once in awhile, and I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m just tired. I’m very, very tired of waiting for them to care. Mom says she understands. Her family never showed her they cared about her, either, when she moved home for a liver transplant. She told me I helped her, too. We help each other. That is what family does, right? If they care. I think we understand each other. We came into each others life for a reason. I can believe that.
All this thinking is starting to make my head hurt, or maybe I’m hungry. I’m always hungry. I think I’ll take a little nap and see if I can figure this out while I’m sleeping. I feel a little better now. I took a letter out of a book I’m reading, I’m using as a bookmark. It’s one of mom’s letters. I usually keep a favorite letter in whatever book I’m reading because I like to read them over and over. When I’m able to make phone calls, it sure will feel good to hear her voice.
Mom wrote some stuff in this letter that looks like gobbledy gook to me. She said it was Japanese. I sure don’t read that language! She wrote these words down: ‘nam myoho renge kyo’. That’s weird. I have 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. I have no idea what it means but I’ll try it because I told her I would. She’ll tell me more about it later. Maybe she is crazy, too because she wrote, If I said it over and ever, I could be happy. “What do I have to lose?” I laughed to myself. I guess it can’t hurt.” I fell asleep thinking about all of these things in my head. I had a much better dream that night.
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