Inside The Forbidden Outside. Over the past many months I have been writing this book. What a learning process it has been. Writing a book is not like writing a blog post. I had a lot to learn. My first draft of 90,000 was an accomplishment in itself. You can do a search on the title and bring up chapters I posted during this time that are not going to be used, although some pieces of it might. I’ve talked to authors and editors and read and read and read to learn the craft of writing. No writing is ever wasted I was told because it takes time to find your “voice”. I also had to find the focus of the book/the story I was writing. My first manuscript was missing the continuity of the story and who was speaking it? Many people want to write a book. Some start but aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to learn how to write something of quality. It would be like saying you are going to paint a great picture. You can buy the paints, canvas and brushes but that doesn’t mean you can paint something that looks like what you what it to be. With books, crappy ebooks on Amazon are a dime a dozen and about a dime’s profit is all they will ever make. But they can say they are a published author for whatever that is worth to their ego.
I’ve been working with a developmental editor to help me with options on finding what it is I want to accomplish with this book or no one except people who love me will read it to the end. I’d really like some feed back on this. Either in comments or email or facebook messages. This is just the prologue, that has gone through 5 rewrites, begins with now, 11 years into a 17 year prison sentence. After this – Chapter one flips back to the day Jamie Cummings was born.
2016 – Year Ten
Sleep? On a night like this? Ungodly heat sucked every square inch of breathable air out of his cell. Jamie, frustrated because sleep wasn’t possible, pulled himself up to sit. Soaked with sweat, the sheet stuck to his skin. He could smell his own stink. Prisons, during the hottest months in Texas were unbearable.
How any prison could make the decision men could survive in this heat, because air-conditioning cost too much, should spend a day in here with them. What other choice existed for these sorry souls? What did it matter if they suffered? Only the medical unit had air conditioning and only an epileptic seizure let him through those doors.
Hunched over with his face cupped in his hands he took long deep breaths of hot humid air. Searing pain creeping up the back of his neck created a rhythmic pounding in his head. Pain forced his lips to press together, as he tried to stop himself from crying. Other dudes down the hall cried from their pain. He listened to them every day but he wanted to be stronger than that. He didn’t want to be weak and let them hear his sobs. He choked the sounds down his throat until he got himself under control.
Jamie stood and began pacing the floor. With his fists clenched by his sides he screamed at the gray walls, “I can’t take this no more. No man should have to suffer like this.” It was more than just the heat. It was everything they did to make him feel like he was worth nothing. He turned around and smashed his tightly clenched fist into the wall. He stood there and watched silently as bright red blood from his torn knuckles dripped down his fingers.
“At least I’m not dead. Dead men don’t bleed.”
Year after year he lived with epilepsy that haunted him from birth. Seizures were a brutal fact of his life. He never knew when one would crash through his brain. It wasn’t unusual to have one in his sleep. He wouldn’t know until it jerked him off his bed onto the floor, breaking a tooth or gashing a piece of him somewhere on something sharp. He would lay there, unable to move because he could feel his brain bouncing inside his head. His body was so tired it felt like it weighed many hundreds of pounds
He knew the warning signs when one was beginning. As a child he would run and jump on a grown up. Not understanding, they would push him off and he’d crumple to the floor. He was born with his own personal boogieman who attacked him whenever it wanted. Being hot and stressed, seizures were more frequent. He couldn’t control what happened. It was embarrassing because sometimes he peed himself. He might lay there so long it dried, but he could smell it. It often took hours to call for help.
Jamie reached over the toilet and turned on the water to rinse the blood from his hand. The water in the pipes sputtered out brown liquid. He wadded up a small piece of toilet paper to stop the bleeding and held it in front of the fan to dry. It would add a new scar to the others already there. He had to be careful using the toilet paper. He was only given one roll a month. God forbid he got the runs.
He did the only thing he knew to do. Sonni wrote over and over in her letters it would help him. He stared at the wall, cleared his brain and began saying, “Nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo,” breathing deep and relaxing his body, praying for calm and strength to make it through another day.
It would be hours til dawn and that would bring no relief. Daytime heat would climb to well over 100 degrees, maybe 110. Heat waves lasting weeks were normal. It wasn’t unusual to hear some dude passed out or died from heat stroke. Every year summer started earlier and lasted longer. The cheap plastic fan, bought at the commissary, did nothing more than stir hot air and dust.
He didn’t know how long he sat there and chanted those words. All he knew is the words had something to do with cause and effect. If he caused this to happen to himself he sure wanted it to change. He would do anything to change this if he could. Strange, it did make him feel better.
He went to the sink and turned the faucet back on. He was thirsty. He frowned at the water. They were supposed to drink this yet the reddish-brown color made him wonder if it was safe. A lot of dudes complained. Why did it have a rust color? Prison officials sent a paper around saying they tested the water and it was safe to drink. He doubted they tested it. He wasn’t going to believe anything they told him. They won’t put money into something they can get away with not fixing. They sent the paper around because the warden couldn’t afford the chance of a riot.
If money was in his account he could buy bottled water, if they let him go to the commissary. They only took him once a month, maybe, cuffed and shackled. Would prison staff drink the water? No, they had filtered water. The prison still used the original pipes put in a building built a long time ago. They’d let men die before they authorized any improvements that drained money out of their bank accounts. Besides, empty beds would be filled by other unfortunate inmates in no time.
He soaked his towel under the faucet and loosely rung out the water. He laid the dripping towel over the fan. For a short while slightly cooler air came through the material and soothed his face. He couldn’t keep the towel wet at night. It dried in minutes. Some nights, if the roaches left him alone, he lay naked on the floor. Cool cement helped more than laying on his bed.
He craved the feeling of a cool breeze. It would feel so good. He closed his eyes and with a little imagination heard air rustling through leaves of a tree. In his mind, beneath that tree, he sat still and listened to the birds chirping away, answering each other’s call. Memories of childhood surfaced; the sound of a lawnmower in early mornings and smelling wet cut grass. He breathed it in and filled his lungs. He let his breath out slowly. He ignored the smell of rancid bodies sweating in other cells, all in need of a shower.
Pretending he was with a woman put a smile on his face. He imagined the sensation of running his hands over her skin, her legs wrapped around him. He imagined her body pressed close to his and he felt the beating of her heart. He closed his hand over his throat and pretended the beating of his heart was hers. Losing his twenties and now his thirties, when hormones were raging wasn’t fair. These years were lost forever. The biggest loss, though, was needing and wanting to be loved. The lack of love and craving for comfort was the worst kind of torture he lived through.
It was hard to be here for years and have no one to talk to but himself. Conversations taking place only in your head can make you crazy after awhile.
“Can anybody hear me? Is anyone there?” He yelled out loud to no one so he could hear the sound of a voice. “Shut the hell up. I’m trying to sleep.” someone answered back. Sometimes different dudes yelled back and forth from the cells. They got to know each other a little that way, but it’s not the same as talking face to face.
Aside from his son, the most important person in his life these last ten years has been Sonni. He wished they could talk. They talked a few times about three years ago when he had phone privileges for a few weeks. She came to the prison three times and brought his son to see him. She would have come more but she was sick for a long time and had a liver transplant. They had an odd relationship, but she was the only one he knew he could count on to be there for him.
He asked her once in a letter, “Why do you write to me? Why do you care?” She wrote back, “You made me laugh. Why do I do this? Because you are family.” A now sixty-two year old white woman and a thirty-four year old black man, with a grandson/son connecting them. Yes, what an odd family unit they made.
Sonni’s letters kept him together. He knew he wasn’t alone. There was someone on the outside who knew he was here. He wasn’t completely forgotten. She was his lifeline. They met once, a few weeks before he was arrested, when she went to Texas to visit her daughter, Morgan, and her two kids. After spending the last four years in juvenile detention Jamie felt like he had a family. Morgan just found out she was pregnant. He had never been so happy. Since he was just being introduced to her mom they decided maybe telling her they were pregnant might be a little too much to take in all at once.
Morgan couldn’t wait for him and went on with her life. A seventeen year sentence is a long time. About a year later, Sonni wrote to see if he was okay. He wrote back, until there were five hundred letters between them. She kept him from falling into a pit. For ten years now he had someone who sent books, magazine subscriptions and deposited money in his account for stamps and other necessities. Otherwise he would have been one of many people inside who had no one helping them. No one in his family helped him or answered his letters. She saved his life in more ways than one.
Sonni is the one who wanted to write this book using his words from many letters, so she insisted they were writing it together. Jamie never thought he had a life worth putting into words for people to read. Maybe it wouldn’t have been a life worth reading had she not opened his eyes and made him understand he didn’t need to follow the path laid out for him. Most dudes can’t make it on the outside because they’re set up to fail.
Jamie gave the system too many years already. He won’t give them anymore after he leaves. He’s done. He wants a life. Sonni said his story was important and it needed to be written. This book would hopefully change the course of his life.
He thought people had the right to understand what happened that caused so many people to be locked up. Why does the US have the most prisoners in the entire world? Are Americans worse than other people, or is there another reason? Are they locking up people they shouldn’t and keeping them locked up longer than what was right? Why would they do that? Would his life story help other people? Could he make something positive from all this misery?
Through their letters, they learned more about each other than most people do who see each other every day. At first she was Mom and he was her Son. Over the years it became Jamie and Sonni. In prison, age doesn’t matter. Skin color doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Nothing matters except the thoughts communicated through the power of the written word.
Jamie laughed. The prison system probably kept the Post Office in business. People don’t write letters any more except for the ones in prison. Everything else was junk mail and bills. Sonni types emails and sends them on the internet, but he had to answer by writing with a pen, hand drawing the lines to write on.
He started digging around in his head for memories he wanted to forget. It wasn’t easy. Not being a writer or even having a GED, learning to explain how he felt has been hard. How do you find the right words when you don’t know them? His English and spelling wasn’t great but it got better after writing so many letters. Because writing about some things were painful, pulling them out of his head hurts. He stuffed the unpleasant things so far down he didn’t know if he wanted to bring them to the surface.
Sonni was right, though. How could he live his life a better way if he didn’t understand why he ended up in here? Why him? He wanted to know who he was. He never thought about the question, why? Think about the consequences of things he did? Nobody ever told him to do that.
He learned about about cause and effect. Did he think he could leave here and be happy just because he wanted it? He never planned for his future because he wasn’t quite seventeen when he landed in juvenile detention for a few months, but didn’t get out for over four years. There wasn’t even a crime committed to deserve doing that time. There were so many things he never had the chance to learn. So many things not done. He’ll have the wisdom of a kid when he gets out. How could he not screw up if he were on his own? She made him think about these things. If he didn’t, life would slap him around any way it wanted.
Jamie wants to change. He has to. He doesn’t want his son to go through what he has. That thought scared him. When he leaves the prison for good he wanted to use this life he lost, because of mistakes he made, as an example of what not to do. If good comes from that, this time in here wouldn’t be a total waste.
To tell his story so it makes sense, he needed to go back to the beginning, to January 10, 1983 . . .
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