INSIDE THE FORBIDDEN OUTSIDE
THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME – part 1
Standing here I can close my eyes, stretch out his arms and touch both walls of my cell. I can run my hands down the walls of my home. There has been so much unhappiness in this cell. I can feel it. I can smell the desperation of men who thought this might be the end of the road for them, the last place they will live. For some, it was. Will my desperation be added to it? The craving to leave this place gets so intense sometimes. Knowing I have no control over my life makes me want to hit the walls and scream. But I won’t. I’ll stuff it down. If I listen hard I can hear the echos of their cries of anguish and loneliness, but no one listened back, just like they aren’t listening now. Not many people could withstand this kind of loneliness, when you have only yourself to talk to. This is why so many men go insane in prison. Its easy to crawl so far down inside your head that you get lost, and can’t find your way out again.
These walls feel like they are part of me, like the skin on my bones. How small this cell is, the size of a small bathroom. It’s not the home I thought I would have. My home was supposed to have a family in it, but I guess it’s the home I chose by my actions. I was so stupid. There is nothing in here that belongs to me. Nothing personal. Nothing of comfort. I have my pictures, though, and I look at them every day. Maybe I should hang up a sign that says, “James lived here”. This way the next guy could see who he’s replacing and he can add his desperation to everyone else.
I fight to not become that person, and it’s hard. I have to make it through years of this shit, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that. Mom tries so hard to help me and keep me encouraged. I knows she’s right. I will get out of here someday. But I’m not dealing with someday. I have to deal with right now, today. I try not to worry her and make her think I’m doing okay, but I’m not, and she knows it. I tell her some of the stuff I go through, but I’m afraid she would be upset with me if she knew how hard it really was. She wants for me to be okay. I doesn’t want to disappoint her. I want to be the person she wants me to be. Nobody ever expected me to be anything, but she does. I have to try to live up to that. I also know, no matter what happens, she will be there for me. She doesn’t judge me. Everyone makes mistakes. She always says we can start new the next day and try again. She encourages me over and over to keep trying. Everyone has problems and it is possible to turn them around, but sometimes I fall down and it’s hard to get up.
In the beginning I tried hard to convince myself I could do this. This isn’t the way I wanted my life to be. I’m really not a bad person. I knows I have a problem with anger and that seems to get me into the most trouble, but everyone has something they need to overcome that gets in their way. The more I try to control it the harder it becomes. From the very beginning of my life its been hard and adding this to everything here made it worse. But can I say it is anyone’s fault but my own? Maybe that is what makes me the angriest, because I really can’t blame anyone else. Maybe if my family would have been there for me it would have been easier, but that isn’t the way it worked out. But my family isn’t there for me and Morgan won’t bring my son to see me. Year after year of this and it has made it harder for me and I admit, the things that go on in here do make me angry.
The sad thing is that I don’t think anyone thinks about me or how I feel. I’m not important to the people who should be there for me – my family. Everything has been taken away from me. Am I not worth loving? Has no one else ever made any mistakes? I don’t have the answers to this because no one talks to me. If I didn’t have Sonni – mom – I would have no one. Well, what good is this doing me, feeling sorry for myself? Suck it up and find a way to turn this around or destroy myself. I will find the answers to this. It has to be happening for a reason. Is there something I’m supposed to learn from this?
After I accepted the plea for seventeen years they didn’t move me to a prison for a long time. At least a year and a half. Morgan had been living in Key West with her mom until a year after Jamie Jr was born. She came back for a visit and she brought the baby to see me. The visit was behind glass. It’s so hard to hear with the phones and the plexi-glass is all scratched up. I wanted so bad to be able to hold my son, to feel his skin and smell his baby smell, but I couldn’t. It tore me up inside. But at least I could see him. It broke my heart.
By the time Morgan moved back to Texas for good, when little Jamie was a year old, I was already moved out to West Texas, the McConnell Unit in La Mesa. I couldn’t have sent me any farther away from my family and stay in Texas. In fact, it was the farthest I had ever been from home in my life.
La Mesa was a small town in the middle of nowhere. Many prisons were in small towns to keep them away from large populated areas. I know now exactly how it feels to be a slave. I worked in the fields and was guarded by men on horseback with rifles and dogs. East Texas is hot, but it is nothing like West Texas with its flat, barren fields, and very few trees. My epileptic seizures were more frequent when I was overheated, and the physical stress made it even worse.
I tried to tell that to a woman guard. She pretty much told me that no one cares. It didn’t matter to the prison. Medical problems are no excuse for not doing the work you are assigned to do. We weren’t paid anything because Texas doesn’t pay wages at any prison. Not even 20 cents an hour so I could buy deodorant. It was hell. But even so, being outside and able to breathe fresh air and see the sun was almost worth it.
In the beginning I was in Gen Pop – general population. It can be dangerous. Everyone kicks it with their own people for protection. It was safer to be with your own kind. I have to have eyes in the back of my head if I want to stay alive. For those who choose to join a gang, Your gang watches your back. But you have to be careful of the guards. Many of them are just as corrupt and dangerous as some of the gangs.
Guards can get other inmates to jump people they didn’t like and trade it for favors. Contraband comes in with the guards and the staff of the corporations that run the businesses inside the prison. Illegal, but profitable items come in with supplies. Some guards bring in cell phones, drugs and cigarettes. That is a well known fact even the media reports, but they can’t stop it. The guards aren’t paid well enough to not be tempted by the money inmates pay them. There are so many cell phones in the prison. They can’t find them faster than they are brought in, no matter how often they sweep the cells to find them. If you want drugs, the easiest place to get them is inside a prison. In fact, you can get anything you want if you know the right people. I don’t go near that stuff. It’s the last thing I need. Besides, you can’t trust anyone. They own you once they find your weakness.
I also never wanted to join any of the gangs in a prison. It’s an easy way to get killed, and you if were told to get revenge on some other inmate you have to do what you’re told, or someone else would get you. Blacks stayed with blacks, and Hispanics stayed with Hispanics. White people often joined the Aryans, even if they didn’t think white people were superior. You needed a gang to have your back. Instead, I joined the Muslims.
The Muslims taught peace. They would try to negotiate when gangs wanted to go to war with each other. The prayers done throughout the day were a tough discipline, but I needed that. I tried to believe the things it taught, about praising Allah and all that. But in many ways it was a lot like Christianity – believing in a God outside yourself that had a thinking mind. other people interpreted what he supposedly meant so they could tell you what to do and what to think. I was looking for something that would help me make sense of my life and how I got myself into this mess. If I could understand things maybe I could have a better life when I got out. It also gave him friends; a social life of sorts. Eventually, though, when I was sent to a different prison I lost these connections. I couldn’t keep up the practice every day on my own because I didn’t have a support structure anymore.
I had one visit while I was in that prison. I wasn’t expecting any visits because I was so far away from everyone, but one day Morgan, my mother and the kids drove across the state of Texas to see me. That is a hard trip. You drive for hours without even seeing a billboard. Megan asked my mother to come along because she needed help with the kids. My mother couldn’t have made the trip on her own, either.
I started getting letters from Sonni the previous year, after I had been inside for a couple years. She helped them make the trip. She hadn’t yet become “mom” to me. I didn’t understand yet what it was she saw in me and why I mattered to her, but I was grateful for the things she did to help me. It was the first time I saw his son since he was a little baby. Now he was a toddler. He was laughing and running everywhere. He loved putting coins in the snack machine. Having my family there and being able to see my son was the best day I had in a long, long time. The feeling of happiness was overwhelming. That memory got me through some pretty tough days when I wanted to give up. All I have is my memories and I have worn them out, playing them in my head so many times. What I didn’t know then, it was going to be another five years before I saw any of them again.
When I was moved from Le Mesa I was sent to a prison way down south in Beeville, near Brownsville, close to the Mexican border. It was another desolate place that was hot as hell. No matter what prison I was in there was no way around dealing with guards with bad attitudes. All I wanted was to be left alone. I was in a cell by myself, waiting out the time to get moved up to a better level. Often when you a guard puts on a uniform it brings out the worst in them. They have approval to abuse the inmates and if they want to physically hurt them no one is going to stop them. Inmates can’t fight back when they are in restraints. They don’t get in trouble. I’m sure they probably brag to the other guards to show what big men they are.
I spent most of my time writing letters and waiting to get one back, that never came. That’s family for you. It was getting harder and harder to keep myself together. Depressing kept creeping over me. I only wanted to know my family cared. Dealing with the silence was hard. I spent most of my day laying on my bunk sleeping. Guards came by and woke me up to make sure I was okay. I was refusing to eat. There didn’t seem to be a reason to eat anymore. Maybe I could starve myself to death. Eventually the prison psyche doctor came to talk to me and I was transferred to another prison in Richmond, which was on the outskirts of Houston. I was only supposed to only stay there for a little while. Hopefully, since I was closer to my family maybe they would come to see me. I got his hopes up. Surely now Morgan would come to see me and bring Jamie I was only two hours from Morgan and my family so there could be no excuse not to come.
I waited and waited. Every week I felt this was going to be the week I would get a visit. Sonni had long since became mom by now. I knew she was talking to Morgan to convince her to come visit but there were always excuses. I didn’t understand! Was Morgan punishing me by keeping my son away? Why? He’s my son, too! She didn’t have him by herself. I knew she had another man in her life, got married and even had another baby, but she couldn’t erase me from her life. Nothing could take away my son. Since no one would talk to me it left me to come up with my own explanations.
My depression got worse. When I was still in juvy for those four years, depression hit me hard then, too, and they moved me to a detention hall for people with problems. Throughout my life I had trouble handling difficult things. But now I had turned twenty-one and they had no choice, They had to let me go.
All these years locked up I had asked for so little. Wasn’t my sentence enough punishment? Did this have to be added to it? I knew life wasn’t easy for Morgan. She had to work a lot, sometimes two jobs, to take care of her children, but couldn’t she bring him at least once in awhile? Why did everyone care so little that I never had a chance to see my son? It was one thing that could make the difference of making it through this, yet no one cared? I am done now. I am going to let them go. I will give them two more weeks to answer my letters and if they don’t, I will cut them off and take them off my visitors list. Won’t they be surprised if they come to see me now and found out they can’t get in. Serves them right. It made me laugh in an odd kind of way. I know, what good would that do? They would never even know they were taken off the list. They weren’t going to come see me. If they were going to, they would have done it a long time ago.
2nd part to be continued . . .
I want to thank everyone who has been following this blog and those who have been reading the chapters of the book as I write and rewrite, finding my way. I’m very determined to do this, and do it right. Between writing the book and writing for my two blogs, and writing long letters to three inmates, and writing music, I write until my face hits the keyboard when I fall asleep. I have a band -aid on my nose. Every time you share something on your own SM, you help me tremendously. Every new address on the mailing list gives me more credibility for publishing. I hope you continue to give me pushes in the right direction.
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