INSIDE THE FORBIDDEN OUTSIDE
THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME – part 2
(Don’t forget to read part 1 before you read part 2)
In 2012 I was moved to yet another Texas prison, the GIB Lewis Unit, in Woodville, Tx. Now I was even closer to everyone. I’m only forty-five minutes away from my mother. All I could do was wait – and hope.
On September, 2013, I got a letter from mom. She was flying to Texas and was coming to see me. She had been sick for three years with a bad liver and had a liver transplant in the summer of 2012. She was sick for a lot longer than that, but the last years forced her to close her store in Key West and get on the transplant list. It was a difficult for her to give up everything and lose her health on top of it. I was worried about her. The liver came through unexpectedly and she didn’t have time to tell me. Her sister wrote me a message through JPay, the prison email service. Mom knew it was going to be awhile before she would be able to write to me and she knew I’d be worried to death about what was happening.
I was surprised when I got the letter saying she was coming to visit. It was only fifteen months since her surgery. She knows what it is like to have family who doesn’t care. When she moved to Pa to be near a transplant hospital she thought she’d have the support of her family, but she didn’t. They treated her with indifference. Even when she had the transplant no one called the hospital to see how she was. What kind of family is that? This is why she understands how I feel about my family. She knows how it feels when people don’t care. Even as sick as she was, she knew if I didn’t hear from her I’d worry because I knew how sick she was. This is what people do when they care. If someone says they care but their actions say something else, then they are not telling you the truth. They only say they care because it makes them feel less guilty. So she made sure I knew what was happening. Why is it that some people care about others and some people don’t? It’s not right. Maybe that is why Morgan’s mom and I hit it off so well. She wanted me to know important I was to her; important enough to make sure I knew what was going on.
In 2014 I was moved again to the Wynne Unit in Huntsville,Tx. In January 2016 I was moved to Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Tx. Moving people around like this keeps us from being able to make friends and keeps us in the frame of mind of always losing anything personal. The steal and break or property and we have no way of getting it back or replaced. There is nothing we can do to help ourselves, no recourse to take because they only deny doing it and we can’t prove it. Every time I’m moved more things are stolen from me. Tell me why i shouldn’t be mad
Some time passed and I was moved next was the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. A lot happened while I’ve been here. It took over a year, but my level was raised from ad seg to G4 and then to G2. While there I was able to make phone calls for a few weeks, I had a job in the laundry and was on the list for my GED. Because of actions by a guard it was stripped away and I lost it all. I was put back in lock up. It’s hard because I worked so hard to reach that point and in a matter of minutes it was all taken away. I became the punching bag of a few guards who had nothing better to do but throw their weight around and got angry. How could I not get angry? Anyone in my position would have gotten angry, too. I’ve been here awhile. I think this is the last stop before they ship me out to yet another prison, but I don’t know which one. There is no window in my cell, so I can’t see the sky. I haven’t seen it in months. I also haven’t breathed fresh air in all these months, either.
The cell they locked me in is like living in purgatory. Will I go up or down? For awhile they took everything away; even my mattress. I have no books and no personal belongings. I was only allowed paper, pen and a few hygiene products. They took away my rec, too, unless you count the other little windowless cell they take me to a couple times a week. Later, they did give most of my stuff back. This was their way of showing me they are in control and I better deal with it or pay a price. Even when I were able to go outside for rec it is inside a cage, like an animal. They should parade the tourists by me and tell them, “See people, here is what an honest to goodness criminal looks like. Don’t get too close, he bites!” What kind of recreation am I supposed to do there? Jump up and down? Do push ups? That’s what most of the inmates do. The guards are trying to break me. If it weren’t for my son, knowing I have him to live for, they would succeed.
I think they are trying to send me out west again. They’ve been shipping other inmates out there. It seems, all of a sudden, the prison is too full and there is no room for me in level G4. I admit, I’ve been on a downward cycle. But it didn’t help that I’ve been beaten up a few times and had my head rammed into a wall. It didn’t help that the guards filed thirteen sexual harassment charges against me that were false, just to make me look bad. It’s impossible to stand up for yourself when every single card in the deck is stacked against you. Whether I am right or wrong doesn’t make a damned bit of difference.
I was only supposed to be here for thirty days and then I would be sent back to G4 but they said there was no room for me there. So they kept me in solitary for months. Then I noticed people were leaving. They were shipping inmates out west. I don’t want to go back to west Texas. I know I rarely get visits, but if I am out west there is no way anyone could come visit even if they wanted to. They only thing I could was to do something bad to break their rules, then they would put me in G5, or ad seg. There was room for me there. So I started yelling at the guards and threatening them. I was very abusive verbally. It wasn’t right but it worked. They lowered my level from G4 to G5. It could take a year to get out. I’ve already done 4 years in ad seg, so I know how to bide my time. At least in G4 I can leave my cell to go to chow. One benefit is I’d get more hot food, and I would have limited time in the rec room where there are two TVs and have the option to play cards.
Mom, tell me, why am I alive? I have your letter in my hand. Your letter tells me I am still alive and you are the only one who knows I am still here. Can you tell me, what was my purpose in being born? Was I destined to be here from the very beginning of my life? Is this the reason? Is this the space I was supposed to fill all along? Am I of value to anyone? Or is it because I have a dollar value attached to my head? Is that the reason? Or did I do something so bad long ago and this is the effect; I deserve to be here? You know, what goes around comes around. Is that what it means to reap what you sow? Cause and effect? Was each day of my life working up to this moment of understanding? I have all these questions I need to find the answers to. Does it have to be this way? Have I been kidding myself by thinking, when I get out of here, I can make up for all the sadness in my life, and it will be replaced with happiness? How am I supposed to know how to be happy? Is it possible this has all been a bad dream, because if it is, I wish I could wake up now.
I wasn’t trying to get into trouble. I go back and forth in my head trying to understand the reason to keep trying. Sometimes I feel strong and sometimes I give in. If I could just know how my son is doing. He is all I have that gives value to my life and I couldn’t bear to lose him. The way things are going I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see or hear from him again. It’s hard not to think these thought. They scratch at the back of my head trying to get in.
It hurts me to sit and think like this, but as time passes and I don’t hear anything, the worst always comes to mind. You have been my only way, mom, to know how he is and I appreciate that more than you know. Without that I would have lost it already. Morgan gets mad if you talk about me or even say my name. What did I do to deserve that? Is it because the man she is living with gets jealous of me? Is she trying to make herself believe she doesn’t care anymore? Does she have to punish me because of that? You only talk to her because I ask you to. Who else will tell her to write?
Morgan has no way of understanding how alone I am and how hard it is. You see, I can’t figure out what I did to make Morgan want to punish me by not letting me know about my son. I don’t understand what I did. I have to stop thinking this way. If I didn’t have mom to remind me to stay focused on getting out of here I don’t know if I could do it. This is what happens to the inmates in here. They don’t have a reason to keep trying and they get in more and more trouble until they keep them locked up for good. Then they go nuts.
Once in awhile, when I’m about to give up, Morgan writes. I think that’s when her mother pushes her. Maybe she feels guilty about waiting so long. She doesn’t have to sit and write me long letters. Sure, I want to know she’s okay. I want her to be happy. I think she needs to separate herself from me, she thinks she has to separate Jamie, too. This man she is living with probably doesn’t like her writing to me. Maybe he’s worried about what will happen when I get out. Nothing will happen. She chose him, not me. I wouldn’t want to mess that up. I only want time with my boy. Even if she just put pictures or schoolwork in an envelope and sent it I’d be happy. I’d feel part of his life and would have something from him. Wouldn’t she want that if the shoe were on the other foot? I’ve sat in my cell and cried so many times because my heart is feeling so much loss.
I wonder if my family thinks life will go back to the way it was when I get out. I wonder if they have even thought of it at all? Will they help me get on my feet or help me get a job? I don’t think so. I’m not the child I was before. Besides, I don’t think we can just pick up the pieces and pretend the silence wasn’t there. That can’t happen. How could they look me in the eye and say they love me? There is no life to go back to. There is no home to go back to. Too many years have passed, and they aren’t done passing. But when I come up for parole I have to show I have a support system to help me. Where does that support come from?
The thought of my family giving up on me is also really hard to take. I guess it was just a matter of time. It happens to other dudes in here, too. People go on with their lives and forget people who are locked up, especially the ones who are locked up for a long time. When someone isn’t around, how long does it take for people to forget about you? They don’t know you anymore and you don’t know them. They only know you until the time you go in and I have been gone for most of 14 years now, if you count the four years in Juvy. Sometimes, I don’t think I should plan on making it home. I see what they do to some of the inmates. Not everyone goes home.
I want to make it home to everyone, but why go back to a place where no one loves or cares about me? They will have a party for me and everyone will be happy and give me big hugs. Then they will go on about their way thinking. I’m a man now and should figure everything out on my own. But I don’t know how to figure things out on my own. They won’t care. I’m not their responsibility. They have their own problems to deal with. I’m afraid because I don’t know if my son will hate me for not being there for him. I felt the same way about the dad I never had. You can’t love someone who was never there. Feelings don’t have a chance to grow. I’ll be a stranger to him. Maybe he’ll even be afraid of me. It’s would really hurt me if my only child hates me or doesn’t have interest in knowing me. Am I just feeling sorry for myself? Am I making a problem where there isn’t one?
I look at what happened in my life and how it all led me to this very place. I look at all the things I did as a kid and the trouble I got into. I know I was a difficult kid. I gave my mama a hard time. She did the best she could. She did what she knew how. I wouldn’t listen to her. Does giving a kid the belt teach him anything? Because I got into trouble as a kid, is this why she never tries to help me in here or answer a letter? How can a mother never ever answer even one letter I send her? Is it my fault? Is it too much to ask? It’s rare for me to hear from anyone. Would it have been different if I had growing up if I had a dad? No sense thinking about that because i can’t go back andf change that now. I have so many unanswered questions. This is what happens when you have too much time on your hands. Time is all I have now.
Will I always be judged by these years inside? Will people see me as a failure? Will being black make it extra hard? I feel I should know these answers but these are things you have to experience to know. I don’t think racism has changed since I got locked up. I’m in my thirties; I’m not a boy, but still I haven’t had a chance to learn these things on my own. I want to learn to be the father I never had. Maybe it’s too late for me, but I don’t think it is too late for my son. I want to change it for him so he doesn’t follow in my footsteps.
My mama had to go through a lot with me being sick when I was growing up. I guess I used up all the worrying she had. After I got locked up she ended up raising my sister’s kids because she got locked up, too, and then my niece’s kids, so she’s been raising kids all her life. Maybe she thought that since I was over twenty-one I was an adult and an adult shouldn’t need his mother. Tough love; She let me go. But the thing is, I still needed her. I still do. Just because I am a man does not mean I don’t need to know my mother loves me and is still there when I need her.
The world preys on boys like me. Black boys with no father. They’re locking up all the black men. It’s very deliberate. Mothers can’t be fathers. Mothers can’t be mothers, either, when they have to work all the time and be the only ones to discipline the kids because there is no one around to do that. Us kids were left to fend for ourselves most of the time. We weren’t little kids. But still, even teenagers need to have someone around to watch what they are doing and to try to teach them the things they need to learn.
Mama worked two jobs to take care of us kids. She made sure we were fed and had clothes. We weren’t on welfare or food stamps. She worked hard, so I can’t fault her for that. I think that is why, when Sonni came into my life, she took over the role of mother. She knew I needed a mom, and she’s been there every year since then. She can’t really come to visit me because she’s so far away. She can’t send much money, but she sends enough so I can get my hygiene and stamps and extra stuff when I need it, and she pays my medical fee each year so I can call for medical help. This is what a mom does. But aside from doing these things, I know she does this because she loves me. She tells me she loves me and I believe her.
All these years we’ve been writing, and with all the things we’ve shared, there is no way there isn’t love. Yes, she’s married and she loves her husband. I know she is twenty-nine years older than me and nine years older than my mother. But in prison, age, looks, race and anything else doesn’t matter. You could be an ugly dog, but it wouldn’t matter. Sometimes people love someone because they are beautiful and they are attracted to each other, but what happens when the beauty is gone? When all you do is write words, you get to know someone in a completely different way; from inside their mind. You end up loving the beauty of the person through the things they write to you. When those letters become hundreds of letters and you can reread all the way back to the first one, you can see how the caring grows. Above all, I don’t want to disappoint her or let her down. When I do things in here that I’m not proud of, I don’t want her to know these things because I don’t want her to think less of me. I know that doesn’t really matter because she says there is nothing that would make her go away. I just get disappointed in myself. My real mom only knows me as this boy she raised, but she doesn’t really know who I am. She doesn’t understand what her silence does to me. I know I can’t change that, but it is part of is the reason why this is so hard to take some days.
People on the outside have no idea what it’s like to live in a prison. They see TV shows and movies but they never tell it like it is. They don’t show the things that really happen. They don’t show guards beating the crap out of people or tasing and gassing them. I can’t change the channel and make it go away. There is no way to explain what it does to your head to be in here day after day, year after year. Growing up I had no common sense. No kid does. My wisdom was that of a boy. Yeah, I learned certain things in juvy but none it had anything to do with how to live your life and not screw it up.
When I get out, when I am nearly forty, how am I supposed to know what the right thing is to do? I will have to be so careful. The simplest thing could land me back in here again. I don’t know how to do the things an adult would know. How can I rely on my own wisdom when I don’t have any? The only things I know, is how to survive in here. It’s scary to think about being on the outside when I don’t know how to the necessary things to take care of myself. Everything will be so changed. My family might have a welcome home party for me, but most of the people won’t even know me. After that they’ll say, “You’re an adult. Go take care of yourself.”
When I get out of here half my life could be gone. How will I be able to pick up the pieces when I don’t know where the pieces are, or how to put them back together. I’m clueless. I have no experience how to live my life and be free to do what I want. I don’t remember what being free feels like. It is easy to see how inmates get institutionalized when they are in here too long. Some of them, when they get out, are only comfortable when they are in a tiny closed room. it makes them feel safe. I don’t want it to be that way for me.
Do you know what it feels like to have people look at you like you’re dirt, when they don’t even know who you are; just because your skin isn’t white? A white person can’t really know how that feels, to be looked at like that your entire life. In prison it’s even worse. What’s weird is even the black guards look down on me like I’m scum. But what can I do? They have control over my life and if I don’t kiss their ass they’ll lock me up in an even smaller room. Besides, they don’t care who I am. They get to bring out the bully part of their nature that gets off on hurting people.
I sit here for awhile and the reel in my head starts all over again. I need to keep the determination to change this. I want my life to go right for a change. I made mistakes. I loved a woman. I didn’t have the sense to know the right thing to do. I know that sounds like I’m making excuses, but it’s the truth. Because I loved her and needed to provide for her , I went with my cousin to a gaming hall where he pulled out his gun and it ruined my life. I didn’t think I had any choice. I couldn’t leave. Friends don’t leave friends behind. In juvy, that’s what you learn; loyalty.
“There is a baby on the way,” Morgan said one night, driving home the point that it takes money to have a baby. I was so happy but I didn’t know what to do. How was I supposed to get money to take care of her? I couldn’t get a job. I didn’t even have a GED. I couldn’t drive a car because I can’t have a license with epilepsy. We are all capable of doing stupid things when we love someone and our back is up against the wall. I did something crazy, and I didn’t understand what the effects could be because all I thought of was Morgan so I didn’t stop it from happening, and I could have. So that makes me just as guilty. I hadn’t been out of juvy for long. I was just being stupid. Who did I have to teach me? We learn from the people around us. I feel my son has paid the highest price for my mistakes. What a mess I made of things. There is no place like home. I lost mine. If I could just go back and start all over again . . .
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 sometimes i fall to the right and almost land on the floor! 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.
http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world
Sonni’s Pinterest boards
A Message From Someone Who Cares
I Love You Always, Daddy
A Roof Over My Head, Three Squares a Day and Free Medical
Sometimes They’ll Give You Candy
There Is No Place Like Home – part one
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