Inside The Forbidden Outside
Looking Back – Year Eight
Jamie had too much time to sit and think inside his prison cell. This is why there were so many inmates who went crazy. They couldn’t stand being alone with themselves. They would lose track of time and start to get paranoid. If they don’t have anyone on the outside it’s even worse. At least he had Sonni, who he called mom in all the letters he wrote to her. She signed her letters, Mom, as well. It made them feel like family. In a way he was, since she was the grandmother of his son. She wrote to him and helped him get the things he needed. She helped fill his time. Even so, he had good years and bad years when he reached the end of his rope with the guards and lashed out.
He had been locked up for eight years by then and he had more time to think than he wanted. He had been moved around to different cells in different prisons, but this time was different; he had a window. There weren’t many windows in ad seg. They didn’t want the inmates in this section of the prison to have anything they could enjoy, and having a window to look out was enjoyment.
He was told he might be moved from ad seg up to G4 in a few months, which has a few more benefits. He would be able to walk to the chow hall instead of having his food slid through a slot in the door. When the food was being delivered he had to stand at the back of the cell with his hands in front of him, palms visible. He could then go get his food after the guard backed away. Then he need to back away so the guard could lock the slot again. This is one of the few times he saw anyone.
He didn’t know if he wanted to be moved up. He would stand for hours and look at the sky. People on the outside didn’t know how lucky they were to be able to look at the sky any time they wanted. At night he could see the moon and it was so beautiful. Mom sent him a book about Buddhism and there was a guidance in it about the moon, written by Daisaku Ikeda*:
“As you make your way home tonight may you pause for a moment to gaze up at the night sky and let your heart communicate with the moon in wordless dialogue. Perhaps you might compose a poem and set it down in your journal tonight. How good it is to have such a poetic spirit!”
He turned around, thirsty, and looked at the faucet over the sink. He wanted something to drink but he doubted the water that came out of the faucet was safe to drink. It was a muddy brown, but he didn’t know why. This prison was old. He thought maybe it came from rust from the old pipes. It couldn’t be good to drink, especially if it was a metal. But he had no choice. It was all he had so he drank as little as possible. How does the prison get away with that. How come no one has ever said, “You can’t get away with that! You can’t give the inmates water like this.” This was only one of the things they did and got away with and no one stopped them.
Jamie spent hours of his day thinking about his life. If he didn’t have a book to read there wasn’t much else to do. He thought about how to turn his life around. It was hard to think about what he wanted to do with his life when he had so little experience with living. It scared him sometimes. He didn’t want to get out someday and screw up. He had to do it right this time; not just for himself but for his son.
He didn’t know how to be an adult because he didn’t know how things worked out there, and anything he used to know he was sure had changed. It was a scary thought. If he got picked up again he could end up back in here. He knew a lot of blacks got harassed and arrested for no reason, just because they were black. He had to learn how to do this right. The only person he had was Sonni. His own family won’t be there for him, he knew that.
He already had one parole hearing about 5 years ago, but no one gets out on their first hearing. He also had nothing to show for himself. He didn’t even have his GED. An inmate can’t take classes when they are on the lower levels of solitary, G5 or ad seg, which is the same thing, because you aren’t allowed to leave your cell except to shower or go to rec which was an hour in another cage that was like a dog kennel.
They aren’t going to let anyone out on parole unless they meet all of the requirements. You have to have an address to go to and someone willing to give you a job. His real mother would need to write letters of support, as well as other letters from other people that would vouch for him so the parole board knows he has a chance of making it. None of that would happen for him. It was rare for anyone to write a letter or visit. Expecting his family to put together a parole packet for him was asking too much of them, he was sure. He hadn’t gotten any help so far so he doubted there would be any in his future. He didn’t know if he could ever make parole and if he didn’t he would be stuck in here for a long time. He has only done about half his time.
Jamie had a lot of problems with the guards. It was a low paying job and since most prisons are out in the sticks near small towns, many of the people they hire are uneducated and going nowhere with their lives. When you put a uniform on a lot of these guys it not only inflates their ego, the authority goes to their head and they get away with, and are encouraged to be abusive. The crimes they commit on the job should land them in a cell right next to the inmates but that never happens.
The sargaents and captains let them get away with mistreating the inmates. They never got in trouble. They would come around with cocky attitudes and press his buttons until he lost control of his anger. Then they could write up a case on him. Sometimes they wrote up completely false cases. He couldn’t fight it. If he tried to file a grievance it mysteriously got lost.Sometimes the guards would gang up on him five at a time and beat him, smash his head into wall or gas him
Inmates had the right to file grievances. That didn’t mean anything came of them. They were always turned down. Then they had the right to file a second grievance. It took at least thirty to forty days to get back each grievance and it was rare to have anything done about it – but they did have the right to file it. This process took almost three months to complete so most inmates thought, why bother, so the guards get away with whatever they are doing against them. Then the guards would retaliate. The inmates couldn’t do anything about that, either. The guards were always right and the inmates were always wrong. They enjoyed having the power to hurt people.
Sonni started a blog about him during his eighth year inside. By this time she said had hundreds of letters and he had a story that needed to be told. It was weird having someone write about your life. It was hard to answer the questions she asked. Jamie didn’t like bringing up his past because he would rather forget it. There was very little he could remember that was happy. Sonni sent him a few of the blog posts to read to see what he thought. It hurt. He cried because reading it made him relive his past and it was too hard to read about it.
Jamie understood why she was writing about him, but it wasn’t easy to read about his life typed up on pieces of paper. Why would anyone be interested enough in his life to read about him? He hadn’t done anything worthwhile. He often wondered why she was interested in writing about him. What did she see no one else saw? Whatever it was he was glad she saw it. It took trust to let someone that far inside his head and he trusted her. She wasn’t trying to play him. Telling him his life had value made him want to do better. Even when he screwed up she didn’t judge him. “Nobody’s perfect,” she said.”Keep trying.”
Jamie knew he wasn’t the same kid people thought of when they talked about him, but how do they know that? Maybe that’s why nobody wrote to him. What will they do when he gets out? Will they pretend all is okay and go on as if they did nothing wrong? He didn’t think he could do that. His family didn’t understand what they did to him. They never did see how much they hurt him by abandoning him all these years and he didn’t think anything would change for the next nine years of his sentence. He took responsibility for the things he did wrong, but he doubted they would ever understand the things they did wrong that told him year after year he wasn’t worth their time.
When Jamie was young, life was hard, and it was even harder because he didn’t have a father. He had three siblings and each of them had a different father. He didn’t even know his father’s name. No one cared how he felt not having a dad. He didn’t know how to open up and talk about things. Sonni was the only person he ever opened up to, and she had to pull it out of him. He had stuffed it down long ago and pretended he was okay. Really, it made him feel he was in a world by himself.
Jamie thought there must be something wrong with him because he was the only kid in the family who didn’t have a dad to visit on weekends. Why didn’t his mom tell him who his dad was? Why did he have to be hidden from him? He never knew the answers to these questions. He didn’t even know if his dad was alive. He couldn’t ask his mom now. She rarely came to the prison to see him and she never answered his letters, so he tried to forget about it.
When Jamie became a teenager he started hanging out with the wrong kids and picked up a few bad habits. He started selling drugs, a little here and there, so he could have some money in his pocket. Nothing big, but still it was the wrong thing to do. It showed him that what happened in a kid’s life affected what he did when he got older. If he had a man in his life who cared about him would that have made a difference? So many black kids don’t have fathers. Was there a reason why so many black men were locked up? Was it to screw up the kids so they could lock them up, too? If so, it worked.
When Jamie’s mom went to work on the night shift or when she went to sleep, he started sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. Sometimes, when he went to school he would leave before lunch. He got into trouble with his mom when he got caught stealing and skipping school. She never found out, though, about the drugs. But even if he got it didn’t make a difference. It didn’t teach him anything except to be more careful.
His mom did find out about a gun he once had, but he never used it. She told him to get rid of before he got into trouble and she was right about that. Look where he was now. He was still hanging out with the wrong people.
He would usually leave the house around 10pm. He was young, around 14 – 15 years old. It wasn’t his mom’s fault he turned out the way he did. She did the best she could. He was determined to do things the way he wanted, no matter what she said. He didn’t think he was an unusual teen, especially one who didn’t grow up with much discipline.
There was no one around to teach them to want to do better or even to talk about their future. It mattered how kids were raised. If no one expects them to try to be better how were they supposed know? The kids were usually left to do with they wanted when their mom was at work. There was a relative down the street if they needed anything but she didn’t really take notice of what they were doing so they could get away with just about anything. He didn’t have to be accountable to anyone. So his attitude was; he wasn’t going to start now.
Jamie felt free. Hanging around the older kids in the neighborhood made him feel cool. He was supposed to be inside before the streetlights came on, eat, clean up, bathe and be in bed by 9:30. He didn’t like the rules. It was a lot more fun staying out at night. It got to the point where he would stay gone for two or three days at a time. He knew he had it coming when he went home, so he would wait until his mom went to work, and then he would go home and eat and clean up. However, sometimes he would be tired and wanted to lay down and sleep. The belt would be waiting when he woke up. It didn’t do any good. It had long since had any effect to stop him from whatever he wanted to do. He didn’t understand how young he was or how little he knew, and he never really thought about how it affected his mom, not knowing where he was or if he was okay.
It would make him happy if he could see and hear from his mom, but she doesn’t seem to have any interest in coming to see him. His sister had been in and out trouble, too, and his mom ended up raising her kids, so maybe his mom just got tired of being a mother or thought he didn’t need one anymore. Maybe he used up all the love she had for him.
Is this why no one bothered answer his letters? It’s obvious no one cared enough to even find out how he was doing. Did he need anything? He gave them so many excuses for why they never wrote or came to see him. He brother did write back once and said, “It’s not my fault you’re in there.” He never wrote back again. Jamie would say things like, “I’ll give them two more weeks, and if they don’t write back by then I’m going to take them off my visitors list.” Like that was going to affect them. They didn’t know or care, and they wouldn’t visit to see they were kicked off, anyway.
When Jamie was a child the epileptic seizures scared him. Sonni kept asking him to write about what they were like, but it was so hard. He didn’t want to remember and he tried hard to stuff it all down deep. When he got out of here and he had one in front of her, what would she do? Maybe she wouldn’t be able to handle it and it would make her keep her distance. Still she kept asking so he had to say something.
When he was born he was seizing. The doctors didn’t think he would live. Unless he was asleep he always knew when one was starting and it frightened him because there was nothing he could do to stop it. His brain was on fire and his chest felt heavy like he couldn’t breathe. When he was young the seizures happened more frequently. Sometimes his older brother and sister would make fun of him. They couldn’t understand what he was going through. One time he fell down a flight of stairs and another time he smashed a glass coffee table with his face. He still had a scar down his jawline.
As a teenager, one day Jamie was found laying in the middle of the street. A person who found him thought he was drinking or on drugs but another man came by who knew who he was a guessed he had a seizure and took him to the hospital.
Here in prison he fell off a top bunk and broke off a tooth. If he had a bad seizure he’d be taken to the medical unit, but the guards have also let him lay there because they don’t want to do the paperwork so they wait to report it until change of shift. Jamie woke up from one seizure and found his wrists and ankles had been cuffed – for the officer’s safety. He couldn’t imagine anyone would do something like that to an epilepsy patient on the outside.
Some of the early memories Jamie hadn’t thought about in a long time. Some things were best not remembered. Some memories were to painful to try and find the words to write them down. Besides he had never talked about himself to anyone before this. No one had ever asked him how he felt about anything so he learned to stuff things down. All this remembering was new to him. He didn’t know how things were supposed to be, he only knew what had happened to him. He didn’t know what it was like to have a happy family; one with birthday parties and happy Christmas mornings.
Sonni told him she had a happy childhood and had lots of happy memories as a kid with a mom and a dad. Everyone sat down to dinner together and did things as a family. Jamie didn’t know what that was like. But even though Sonni started out with a happy family, when everyone grew up, her family wasn’t able to show they loved her any better than Jamie’s was. Do people get more self centered the older they get? Was he expecting to much from his family? They were absorbed with their own lives and didn’t have time for him. If his brother was in prison would he treat him the same way? He didn’t think so.
continued . . .
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