Chapter – Inside The Forbidden Outside
Jamie Cummings Incarceration 2006
Being here is hard. Prison is hell. Jamie supposed if he were in a minimum or even a medium security prison it wouldn’t be so bad. There is a big difference between that and high security. No prison is fun but where his cell is, is more like hell. Not being able to change anything about your life is more than frustrating. Being treated like you have no worth is even worse.
He knows this is partly his fault. He was so angry when he got here. He had no control over it. He was angry because he knew there was no way he could change the way they treated him. They made sure to push all his buttons till he exploded. They treated him like he wasn’t worth dirt. No one would let themselves pretend it didn’t matter, and to them his life didn’t matter. He couldn’t do anything or say anything to defend himself. Being black, he was used to this kind of treatment from anyone in authority.
So yes, maybe it’s his own fault, but he reacted the only way he knew how. He got angry. He was just so tired of it all. How on earth was he going to do seventeen years. They planned on ruining him, using him all up. After all those years was he supposed to get out and go on with his life as though nothing happened? How does he work and take care of his family? Will they even be there? He can’t even think about that.
People on the outside have no idea how demeaning it is to be locked up like a rat and eat food not fit for a dog. When Jamie agreed to take the plea of seventeen years he did it out of fear. His mind was going around a million miles an hour. He was so scared. He didn’t have time to think about what it meant, and he didn’t have anyone on his side he could talk to. He didn’t know what to do. He was alone more now than he had ever been. But he had been alone most of his life anyway, so what was he expecting?
He never had an experience like this before, so how was he supposed to know if taking a plea was the right thing to do or not? He had his experiences with the juvenile system but it was nothing like this. Besides, they lied to him right in the courtroom. They said he only had to stay nine months. That was a joke on him because it ended up being an awfully long nine months. And for what? It was the cop who should have gotten charged. He’s the one who pushed his way into their house and hurt his mama. He wasn’t following a crime. He had no legal paper that said he could come into their home. He screwed up and someone had to pay. He couldn’t charge anyone with anything but they didn’t a real reason to put him in juvy. Who is the court going to side with, a black kid or an officer of the law?
Attorneys are supposed to know the right thing to do, but what do you do when your attorney has no interest or time to help you because he has to hurry on to his next case? He won’t make more money if he does his job right. He doesn’t care if he ends up screwing a man’s life. He’s just another black man. From the time he was young and saw the way cops looked at him, daring him to make one wrong move so they could justify slamming you on the ground. Doesn’t he have a right to be angry about that?
He saw his dreams fading right before his eyes and he wanted to cry because the pain was so bad. He didn’t want to cry in front of anyone so he clenched his fingernails into the palm of his hand trying to draw blood.
The only thing he would have to keep him company on this seventeen year journey was the small amount of time this past year that held pieces of the only happiness he had, and these pieces would have to last him a long time.
Jamie wouldn’t be able to see the face of his son when he was born. He was the only good thing that had come from his life and that hurt him the most. He would probably be sent to a prison as far from his family as possible. That’s what they do. He finally had something good that was his, but they had other intentions for him and took it away. He sometimes thought they did it on purpose as punishment. They made it impossible for family to come visit and make it a little easier to go through your time. No, they like to see you suffer. It’s such a crappy job so maybe it makes them feel better.
These prisons get built in low income, sad little towns in the middle of nowhere. It brings jobs to people who don’t have the intelligence to leave town or learn to do anything better. The pay is lousy and most of the people are uneducated. Put a uniform on them and they feel important. It goes to their head and they now have the right to be abusive and push people around. He supposed there might be some good people there but most of them get twisted around because they are allowed to do things that on the outside would get them sent to a prison. But no one is looking. They bring in drugs and cell phones and physically hurt inmates who can’t fight back. Some of those inmates die when they are done with them.
Jamie wasn’t a bad person. He knew in his heart there was good inside him, but he didn’t think anyone looked at him long enough to see it. Morgan did. He was pretty sure of that. He had never been happy before her. He only existed. All he had to hold on to were her promises she would always love him and would wait for him to get out. He had to believe that or it would tear him apart.
The public defender assigned to him when he was arrested was no real attorney. Jamie never even meet him until right before they were to go in to see the judge. It added a lot of stress. He wanted him to take a plea of forty years and didn’t want to give him time to think. Forty years? He didn’t have a record. He had never been charged with anything or even been arrested and the district attorney sent this pd to offer 40 years and plead guilty to something he didn’t do. Sure he had been there. They had gone out to party. His cousin even joked about robbing the place but he didn’t think he was serious. That was enough to make him guilty, too, and they wanted forty years out of him? He was supposed to agree with that?
Then the pd came back and offered 17 years. That was supposed to sound good now? If he didn’t take it he was told they’d pile on charges and he’d never get out. It’s easier to ruin a man and think it made you look good rather than finding out the truth and saving him and his family. That is so crooked.
This attorney was a puppet for the District Attorney, dressed in his cheap suit trying to look important. Jamie was just another person on his list that day to add a couple hundred dollars to his paycheck. He didn’t care a whit about what happened to him. He probably didn’t even know his name without looking down at the paper in his hand. His job is to make sure he scares him enough to take a plea. The truth has little to do with anything. This is what they do to people like him. They decide his life for him and send him off somewhere to be forgotten. He will make money now for the corporations who own him for as long as they can suck it out of him.
Jamie tried to be strong. He stood up for himself and said he didn’t want to take a plea. He wanted a chance to tell his side about what happened. He didn’t know then, they don’t let people like him get into a courtroom except to plead guilty. Only about 3% of arrests go to court. The dockets would be too full and it would cost too much money. If someone couldn’t pay for an attorney they were going to be forced to take a guilty plea whether they were guilty or not. Even if you were dead to rights innocent it’s a pretty big risk to take. A public defender isn’t going to work to prove your innocence. Maybe there are good ones out there who care, but to them it’s just another day on the job. The more clients they see, the more money they make. Jamie thought he had a right to an attorney. That is what the law said. It also said he had a right to a jury of his peers. They thought otherwise. To them he had no rights. Laws didn’t apply to him.
When Jamie went out that night with a friend he didn’t think he was going to pull out a gun and try to rob the club. He knew he had a gun in his backpack but he didn’t think he would use it. It was nuts to do that. Maybe he was just being naive. He had already been to prison twice and it was a three strikes state. Why would you gamble with your life that way? He hadn’t been out very long since his last arrest. This arrest would out him away for the rest of his life. No parole. Did be like it that better?
He had been in trouble most of his life but he was fun to go party with. Kinda crazy. Jamie wanted to go out and have a good time. Shoot some pool. He thought he had learned his lesson. But no judge would care that Jamie had no intention of robbing that place with him. His skin color doesn’t win that battle. All black men are criminals. Not with a public defender who doesn’t want to defend you anyway.
His mama didn’t have the kind of money it took to hire a real attorney. Jamie knew that. If she did, then what they did to him at juvenile court never would have happened. But the thing is, and he knew it then, too, cops don’t have to take responsibility for the things they do. They are protected. The court looks the other way. Cops can get away with just about anything. Just like it didn’t matter that the cop busted into their home and pushed his mama down. It only mattered that he reacted to it. What son wouldn’t try to protect his mother? Someone had to pay for the cop’s mistake. The cop needed them to look at someone else to be at fault for what he did. Since he was a juvenile and the cop couldn’t charge anyone in his family with a crime, they settled on taking his life and locking him up in juvenile detention for nine months. Except they wouldn’t let him out, not for more than four years. They thought his life had no value so why not ruin it while they collected money for him being there.
Jamie’s story isn’t special and he isn’t alone. Black people have gotten the bad end of the stick for a long time. Slavery never ended, it just changed. The people were convinced there was something bad inside them that made them criminals. A criminal gene. When movies and newspapers told white people over and over that people like him were dangerous, they believed it. It’s not even their fault. How are they supposed to know the truth? They heard it their whole lives. They were told having white skin made you privileged. It gave them the right to look down on other people. They listened to the news at night and this is what they were told. Isn’t the news supposed to tell the truth? What does it matter. There is no law that says they have to.
White courts lock up every black person they can. They need to fill the prisons with somebody. Contracts with the prison corporations said so. It was just a matter of time. Black people are easier to lock up. Most can’t afford a good attorney so it is easy to push them into taking a plea deal. lHe was twenty-two with no education or work experience, plus he had epilepsy, so who would want to hire him? He didn’t know how to do anything. Men disappear and the women left behind have so much hardship taking care of their families on their own with low paying jobs. Most need some kind of government help and it makes them look lazy, like they don’t want to get a job. His mama worked hard to take care of them. But there wasn’t a parent at home to help raise them. There are lots of women white and black raising kids alone but there are more black women who raise kids alone because their man is in prison.
Jamie didn’t have time to understand any of this before he met Morgan and she got pregnant. He had been locked up in juvy. He didn’t have a family in a long time. She was older than him by a few years and had two children already. She seemed so smart to him. She had gone to school and studied things. She encouraged him to want to go to school because she was going back to school at Angelina Jr College. He’d have to get a GED first because he didn’t make through tenth grade. But how did she think he would be able to provide for this ready made family of almost five people when he had no experience doing anything? But there was no sense thinking about any of that now. He had to figure out a way.
He wanted this so badly. A family of his own. Someone to love. He would do things different than what he had growing up. Jamie wanted to be a good father, even though he had no idea what that was. He didn’t even know who his father was, not even his name. He was kept in the dark so deep about how a family was supposed to act he didn’t once think to ask his mama who his father was. She never told him and he didn’t know to ask.
His two brothers and sister all had dads. They all had different dads and that was okay, he thought. He watched them leave on the weekends to visit their other families. He envied them because they had other people to love he didn’t have. Brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Even grandparents who loved them. But he wasn’ t included. He wasn’t part of anyone else. He had lots of relatives with his mom, mostly aunts, and he loved them so much. But still, without a dad there was a hole and he couldn’t fill it up with more people. That was what he wanted, what he needed, and now there was nobody there.
Jamie pictured his son growing up and playing ball with him and taking him fishing. He’d spend a lot time with him. He’d help him with homework. His son would always know how much he was loved. In his head he had this perfect picture of the family he wanted. Now he would have no way of doing that and it pained him. Maybe his son would hate him now. He really screwed things up.
Jamie had nothing to do but think and he had a lot of years to do it. He laid down on his bunk and turned his face to the wall. He studied the scratches on the wall other men had made. Everything had been painted white at some point but now it was more gray than white. He could see where names had been scratched in, and dates. Other men who had been just as bored as he was. He wished he could shut it out and make his mind blank, but the more he tried, the more his thoughts pushed their way back in. These thoughts kept banging around in his head. He wished he could make his brain shut up. He could see why so many went crazy in here. Maybe it was easier to let go. For him it was easier to let depression sneak in and bring him down. That happened in juvy and they sent him to a different place with kids with problems where they could watch him all the time. He couldn’t deal with it anymore. How was he going to make it through all this time and stay sane.
How does he change things to have a better future? How can you know something you have no way of knowing? He knows he has to make his life go in a different way but he needs help. He doesn’t know anything. He knows he needs to educate himself but where he is they won’t let him. Education is a privilege but without it he won’t stand a chance on the outside. He has to rely on Morgan for any kind of happiness but happiness alone doesn’t teach him what he needs. No one else he knows would care so that doesn’t help. Friends don’t last. They’re the first ones to drop you. It’s stupid to even think about it because he would be middle aged before he was released, if he didn’t make parole, and that was real iffy.
He knew from experience his family wouldn’t be there for him. They weren’t there for him when he was in juvy, either. It was rare for his mom to answer a letter. He supposed she loved him, and maybe she thought that was enough. He felt forgotten like no one cared. They were too busy living their own lives to spend five minutes seeing if he was okay. He was on his own. Should he give up and let his life take him wherever it goes and hope for best? Should he want a life he knows he can never have? Is it dumb to want something when you don’t know what that something is?
Jamie got up and started pacing. Three steps in one direction, turn around and three steps back. Back and forth. Over and over. Then he started to run in place trying to get his heart rate up. He even did some pushups to try to keep his body going. He was overweight when he got here. Not bad,! but still too much padding. It didn’t take long for that to come off with the crappy food they gave you. Some of it he really had to choke down and that was only because he was so hungry.
People get hard in prison. There is so much anger. They want to hurt the world that hurt them and lash out at anyone who gets too close. They also think they have to show how everyone how tough they are to survive. Jamie didn’t want to be that kind of person but sometimes his anger took control and he couldn’t stop it. He could take care of himself if he had to.
Sometimes he stood up for other inmates. Mostly new ones who didn’t know the ropes. Guards didn’t like it when he did that and it got him in trouble. Life should be fair, but in his world that rarely happens.
Most dudes don’t know what to do with their anger and the pent up energy that comes with it. Sometimes it just explodes because it needs to get out. Jamie tried hard to control it but sometimes someone just pushed and pushed and wouldn’t shut up. He knew his anger was one of the biggest things he needed to overcome. His mouth got him in trouble. Because he is alone he thinks so much about life and getting out, and that by itself can make a person angry.
Truthfully, it hurts so much when he gets in that type of mood it’s hard to keep the pain down. It rips him apart from his insides. He feels left out of life like he doesn’t exist and no one cares. He hopes he never treats anyone the way he’s been treated in here, like he doesn’t matter. But he can’t depend on someone else making him feel his life has value, he has to do that himself. Trouble is he doesn’t know where to begin.
Was it because he didn’t have a dad to teach him things when he was growing up? Who was supposed to teach him? There was no one. He doesn’t want to be that kind of dad to his son. But even if he knew who his dad was, maybe he would not have been a good dad. Maybe he was better off not knowing him. Was he alive? Maybe he’s in prison, just like him. Jamie had no idea who his family was. Surely there is family out there he doesn’t know. Does he have an grandma or maybe another brother or sister who doesn’t know about him, either? Was it fair that his mama cut him off from knowing?. Or maybe there was no one. That’s the point. He doesn’t know because it never was his decision.
He’s not a kid anymore. He wondered if his dad tried to see him and his mom wouldn’t let him. When he was a kid he didn’t know any better. As he got older he tried to make himself believe it didn’t matter. He can’t pretend anymore. He was going to be a dad, too. Somehow. Would he want his son to never know who he was? What if Morgan never told his son about him because he was in prison. He would be as dead to his son as his father was to him. How could his son not resent him for not being there? His own mama left him with all these unanswered questions. Was that fair? Half of him was his dad. He couldn’t be that bad if she had enough feeling for him to sleep with him. Does he look like him? Does he have the same mannerisms? Would he know him if he saw him? Does he know or care that he’s going to be a grandfather?
He had pushed this questions out of his head for a long time but now that he is going to be a father it made a difference. Who am I? Down the road would Morgan resent him and keep his son from him because she thought he wouldn’t be a good dad? He hoped she’d never do that. Nothing would keep him from his son. The older he got the more important it became. This is what happens when you have nothing to do but think.
There was another side to this. Why did his dad never try to see him? Did he agree to stay away? Did he think he would be bad for him? Did no one ever think he would grow up and want answers to these questions?
It was an awful feeling for Jamie to have his future at such odd ends, not being able to make any plans until he was almost middle age, with all of his twenties and thirties gone and then starting a brand new life like a teenager leaving home. That’s scary. Would he have gray in his hair? What kind of teenager would Jamie jr be?
What if the world continued to get more screwed up than it is and being black would be more dangerous than it is now? So many questions. His son might be half white but he doesn’t look it and to white people it wouldn’t matter. He’d still be black. But he didn’t want his son to be thinking being white was better. Skin color doesn’t make the man. It is who you are that matters.
After my injury I am trying to get back to finishing my book. Maybe letting it sit for a few months was be good so I can now look at it with a different perspective to make sure it says what I mean it to say. After this it will go to real editor who can see the areas that need work and help me put it together in the best way possible. You can’t properly edit your own writing because you’re too close to it. I’ve spent a long time working on this publication and I want it to be good – a realistic portal of life in prison and everything that is wrong with it. I’ll gladly consider any suggestions or ideas. I will be keeping up with the progress in the newsletter. Please subscribe below.