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.
DEAD MEN DON’T BLEED
ten years later . . .
Sleep? On a humid night like this? Ungodly heat sucked every square inch of breathable air out of his 5ft by 9ft cement cell. He sat up. Soaked with sweat, the worn frayed sheet stuck to his skin. He could smell his own stink. Air conditioning doesn’t exist. Texas heat rose to over 110 degrees in the summer, for weeks at a time, sometimes, with no let up. There was AC in the medical unit but only an epileptic seizure got him through those doors.
Hunched over, face cupped in his hands, he took long deep breaths of hot 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. Every day he listened to men break down from insanity. He wanted to be stronger than them but some days were harder than others. He choked his sobs down his throat until he got his emotions under control.
He stood and paced, fists clenched by his sides. He screamed at the gray walls, “I can’t take this no more,” turned and smashed his right hand fist into the cinder block wall. He 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.
He reached over the toilet and turned on the water to rinse the blood from his hand. The water in the ancient pipes sputtered out rusty brown liquid. That was worrisome. What was making the water brown? Rust? Would it eventually kill him? He had no choice. It was all he had to drink.
He wadded up a small piece of wet toilet paper to wipe the bleeding and held his hand under the fan to dry. He had to be careful how much toilet paper he used. He was only given one small roll a week. God forbid he got the runs or even worms from undercooked pork and spoiled food.
Even though it was night it was sweltering. Some nights cooled down some but not this night. His cheap plastic fan only stirred hot air and dust. He wet a towel and covered the fan to blow slightly cooler air through the material. It dried quickly so it didn’t help much when he tried to sleep. Some nights, if the roaches let him alone he spilled water on the floor and lay naked on the cement.
Five minute showers, three times a week, were all he was allowed. It was his only relief, standing under cold water. Closing his eyes he craved the feel of a cool breeze; the soothing sound it made as it ruffled the leaves of a tree. From a childhood memory he could smell the scent of freshly mowed grass. He loved that smell. His imagination breathed it in and filled his lungs. People on the outside couldn’t imagine what things they would miss the most if they were locked up like this. He let his breath in and out slowly, ignoring the smell of rancid bodies sweating in other cells.
It was hard to be here for what seemed to be forever with conversations only taking place in his head. “Can anybody hear me? Is anyone there?” He yelled to the wall so he could hear the sound of his voice. “Shut the fuck up. I’m trying to sleep,” a voice down the hall answered back. Voices with no faces. Oh well, they disturbed his sleep often enough.
Jamie sat at the edge of his bed with only a three inch foam mattress for comfort. When he laid down he felt his hip bones grind into the cement slab beneath. It didn’t make for easy sleeping. He didn’t want to know how many men had used it before him. When the guards wanted to mess with him they took away his mattress and he had to earn it back. Jamie was tall and the bed was narrow. The thought of stretching out on a king sized comfortable bed was an impossible dream but he thought about it anyway.
It was hard not to sink into depression. Sometimes, so he could think, he crawled inside himself to cope with this ugliness. It was the constant going back and forth from this reality to hope that could drive a man crazy. It was easy to forget what was real and what wasn’t.
It would have been easier for him in here if he had his family. If they had shown they loved him, sometimes, but they didn’t. He was forgotten. Seventeen years was too long for them. He only had one person he could count on who taught him he had value. That was Sonni
She was all he had to make him feel loved. As a child he was pushed down a path meant to destroy the lives of black families. Slavery was illegal, but not in the prisons. They became the modern day slave plantations. Blacks would never be equal in the white man’s eyes. It was the biggest corporate racket in the US. The school to prison pipeline is real. Most kids and adults locked up were black, but most of the people in America are white.
Jamie sat in front of his fan, the stench of unwashed bodies in every breath he took. Without thinking he reached up and caressed the scar on top of his head. He needed nine staples to close the gap after being beaten by five guards and then sprayed in the face with burning chemicals.
Sounds from down the hall penetrated his thinking and jerked him back to reality. He glanced quickly toward the cell door. It was a food slot banging shut down the hall. It must be at 3 A.M. The guards were bringing breakfast trays. Peace and quiet was almost over. So many men in this unit were crazy from being locked up so long, and some were crazy when they got here. This was now the place to stack the mentally ill. He didn’t have to wonder what breakfast was going to be. A spoon of peanut butter and two biscuits or two small pancakes? No butter. No jelly and they’d be cold. Milk or juice. Not enough for a grown man.
Some people thought inmates had it good in here. “Three hots and a cot” and free medical careand a roof over their heads. They never spent time locked up. All illness is treated with water and Tylenol. If you are really sick with heart disease or diabetes you’ll probably die if you’re here too long. They don’t care. Treating you takes away their profit.
What would he be doing right now if he hadn’t been railroaded into juvy as a kid? Would he have ended up here? What if he had been able to finish school? He wasn’t a bad kid. He was just a black kid in a poor neighborhood where people like him were supposed to live. Would he fail when he got out? He’d be almost forty. What would he do? How would he live? What changed? He heard racism was worse than ever. Cops were ruthless and got away with murder. What if they came after him again? He worried about all these things and there was nothing he could do about it.
He wished he could take classes, but he couldn’t. He wanted his GED but he wasn’t allowed being in adseg, another name for solitary confinement. How far could he get with no education? He wanted to learn things. He knew he wasn’t stupid. But getting an education means he could rise up and be somebody and that was not on their agenda. It was important blacks be kept down We could one day get good enough to knock the white man off his privileged post. We weren’t supposed to be as good as they were. Slavery didn’t end, it just moved indoors.
Oh well, today’s another day. A long, hot, sweaty day. Maybe the guards would take him for a shower. That would feel good. Maybe he’ll write a letter or read for awhile and take his mind off things. He took a look at his smashed knuckles. They were gonna be sore for awhile – a reminder not to hit the wall. His body does still bleed.
To tell his story so it makes sense, he needed to go back to the beginning, to January 10, 1983 . . .
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If you know an inmate who writes poetry or is an artist or has a story you’d like to tell you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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