(Chapter – Inside the Forbidden Outside)
“You stole the stereo outa my car, didn’t ja? Jamie’s older brother Danton screamed, the veins in his neck popping out. “I know you did it.” He cornered him against the back of the car, fist raised, ready to beat the crap out of him. Jamie had never seen his brother so angry. He wasn’t trying to steal it. Honest. He was only showing it to a friend and left it there. When he went back to get it, it was gone. He took off with it. Why did he do stupid stuff like that?
Danton tackled him to the ground. Next thing, mama was outside ordering them inside. Now. “What are you, stupid?” She swatted a book at them to get them inside. “Y’all want some know-it-all troublemaker neighbor to call the cops?” She was angry. Real angry. Belt swatting angry and she wasn’t afraid to use it. There was no ‘spare the rod’ in her house.
As she closed the door she peaked through the living room blinds and saw the flashing lights of two blue and white cop cars stopping in front of their house.
“Damn,” she said under breath. “Damn fool kids carrying on like that outside for everyone t’see.”
She had a tough enough time without tongues waggin’ an gossip flyin’. She closed her eyes and sighed. This was gonna to be trouble. Jamie had problems with this cop before. Always fixin’ to harass the kids in the neighborhood every chance he got.
They stomped heavy on the porch and one officer knocked on the door. Mama opened it a few inches. “What do you want Officer?” she asked in her most respectful Texas drawl.
“Heard there was a fight outside.”
“You know how boys are.” she said, shaking her head in a knowing gesture.
“Teenagers. Always fightin’ over somethin’. Everything’s under control officer.”
“I want to come inside and talk to them.” Through the opening in the door he could see them sitting on the couch.
“That won’t be necessary officer. As I said, I have everything under . . .”
Before she could finish speaking the cop kicked in the door. As he slammed his foot into the wood the force pushed her back a step. She half-turned, lost her balance and fell, breaking her wrist as she tried to break her fall.
Chaos broke out as her children rushed to her defense. As Danton jumped up from the couch and jumped toward the cop he was sprayed in the face with pepper spray by the other cop, who was waiting for the kids to try something. He backed away yelping in pain from burning eyes. Jamie ran to help his mother along with his older, quite pregnant sister.
No one noticed when the youngest brother grabbed a broom by the handle that was propped up against the wall. In anger for hurtin’ his mama, he whacked that cop with all the might his young arms had. The straw end created angry scratches on his arm. He didn’t know assaulting a cop was a crime. He was just a kid defending his mama. In this neighborhood you had to learn to defend the ones you loved.
The situation changed at break-neck speed from illegal entry and causing injury to a mother who did nothing wrong, to a chargeable offense of assaulting an officer – by a kid, which didn’t matter. Assault is assault, except when done illegally by an officer of the law. The charge should have been dropped. The cop shouldn’t have busted in the door. When you have to say ‘should’ it’s too late. Hanging black kids out to dry is their job.
Danton was put in the back of one police car and promptly kicked out the back window. Jamie and his younger brother were put in the back of the other car and their mother and sister were whisked away in an ambulance.
At the end of the day everyone went home but Jamie. Someone had to take the fall and be charged with something. The cop would never get charged no matter what he did. This was 1999. Cops got away with anything. Jamie’s life took a sharp left turn that day, forever changed.
A deal was made. His younger brother could have been sent to juvenile detention for hitting the cop, but he’d get beaten up in there, or worse. Bad things happened to young boys. A lawyer in the courthouse told Jamie to take the fall for him. Jamie was sixteen, almost seventeen. He was better able to take care of himself if trouble found him.
Jamie was told, “If you plead guilty for hitting the cop with the broom you’ll only do nine months. No more. Nine months and you’re out and your juvenile record will be sealed.”
That’s why it had to be him and not Danton. He was older. Not a juvenile any more. He’d miss a year of high school but he could take classes inside. Would he do that for his little brother?
Jamie thought about it. Could he do it? His brother wouldn’t last a day in there before he was ganged up on. It wasn’t fair. He only defended his mama. This was wrong. Asking him to take the punishment. What’s the point? Why punish him when he didn’t do nothin’? Wasn’t the person supposed to learn a lesson? What was this teaching him? That there’s no justice? There should have been no sentence for anyone, but mama didn’t have no extra money to pay a lawyer who would be on their side. She already worked too hard taking care of them.
He agreed. He did the time. He hated it. The staff kept trying to get in his face. Called him nigger this, nigger that, when no one was looking. But still, he did everything he was supposed to do. He went to school and attended Groups. He waited and waited until the time passed. Finally, the day came for him to go home. He was packed and ready when they told him, “You can’t go home.”
“What?” He didn’t believe them. “Why? I did the nine months.”
“You didn’t make level four. You can’t go home,” just as plain and matter of fact as you can get.
“I don’t know nothin’ about needing no level four.” There was something very wrong happening.
“The lawyer didn’t tell me or my mom about any of this. You never intended to let me go did you?” Silent pause.
With satisfaction they told him again he wasn’t going anywhere.
He ran back to his room and slammed the door. He sat on his bed and cried. He was angry. He was so angry. He wanted to go home. He did what he agreed to. He started kicking the door and walls. He wasn’t going to listen to them ever again. He was lied to. Lied to. for no reason except to hurt him. He had so much anger inside. He started throwing his stuff around and destroying the room.
An officer came to his room, cuffed him, and took him to 23 hour lock up in security. It’s like they planned this. They were ready. Solitary confinement with the fancy name Behavior Modification Program. BMP. Just as bad as adult solitary except kids can’t handle it. Some commit suicide in those cells. Three months they kept him in there.
After that everything went down hill. He caused all kinds of problems any chance he got. He got into fights. He was sent to solitary three times for three months. They brought him school work every day as if that made it better.
Jamie suffered from depression as a young child because of epilepsy and it hit him hard. He curled up into a ball. Much later he was sent to a facility for kids with mental problems. He wouldn’t eat. He laid on the bed and slept all the time. He didn’t hear from any family. One day a woman came to see him and they talked about things. Just things. She came back later that day and said, “You can go home now.” He had turned twenty-one.
# # # #
His mother picked him up the next day. It was a long drive. Not much of anything important was said while they drove through the state. Their talk touched on different people in the family and what they were doing, to catch him up on things. Everyone had a life that went on living. Only his had stopped. He could count how many letters he had got in four years on one hand.
No one could ever understand what he’d been through. They wouldn’t even want to hear. It was too close to home for them. Each of them lived life not knowing if it was going to be their turn someday.
Anyway, that was yesterday. Sweep it under the rug and move on. It would be a downer if they realized they could have helped him make it through. Write a letter maybe? Asked how he was. Showed they cared. That didn’t matter. They would show him now with a party. It was quickly planned for his homecoming but they arrived home too late. Most had already gone home.
A cousin asked, “Do you wanna walk over to my place? Show you where I live?” It was late but Jamie was keyed up from the day.
“Sure, why not.” He stayed awhile then begged off that he was tired and started walking home, cutting through the parking lot and walking past a security guard standing outside his little office of importance. Rent-a-cop. A puffed up ego in an official looking uniform.
“Hey boy. What are you doing here?”
“Visiting my cousin. I’m on my way home.”
“Yeah, right. Come over here. I wanna to talk to you.”
Jamie had done nothing wrong so he walked over and went into the security office. He didn’t know the guard had called the cops after seeing a black man suspiciously walking through the parking lot. He thought later, what do you do to act suspicious? He was only walking, hands in his pockets.
The cops showed up. No one wanted to listen or believe he was only walking home. Surely he was looking for a crime to commit. Someone to rip off. someone to hurt. With a gun pointed at him he was cuffed, put in the back of the cop car and taken to the police station.
Welcome home Jamie, he thought to himself. It was unfortunate for him that it was Friday night. He had to sit in jail for three days before he could go in front of a judge. Charged with what? Breathing?
Monday afternoon Jamie was led into the courtroom. He looked at the judge, startled. It was the attorney who had convinced him he would only do nine months in juvenile detention. He promised him. How ironic, he sighed, emotions flooding through every nerve path. Of all people he could be brought in front of after getting out after doing four years, it had to be this man. Life has a funny way of slapping you upside your head when you least expect it.
“James Cummings,” his name was called. The judge had yet to notice him. He stood, straight and respectful, head held high. He looked his old attorney dead in the eye. The judge looked back. He leaned his head forward slightly as if to see better, eyebrows knitting together as he stared at him. There was long, silent pause. They stayed like that until the judge looked away.
Chin in the air, with an official white man’s superior gaze, he looked down his nose and said, “I know you.”
“Yes. You do.” Jamie paused for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “I was the teenager you promised would only do a nine month sentence in juvenile detention four years ago after you convinced me to take the fall for my younger brother.” Lets get it out in the open.
“Ah yes, I remember now.” the judge relaxed back in his chair.
“I thought I recognized the name.How did that work out?”
He clearly didn’t know. Never checked up on his handiwork. Out of sight, out of mind. His life wasn’t important. He was on to screw the next black kid with no thought about what his actions might do. It was mostly black kids who were yanked through the system, as corrupt as it was.
“I just got out three days ago . . . sir. I was home only a couple hours, visiting with family I hadn’t seen in a long time, who grew up while I was away, paying – with strong emphasis – for my crime, when I was arrested simply for walking home, as if I had done ‘another crime‘ I needed to pay for.” Jamie’s words were slow and measured. Eyeball to eyeball his gaze never faltered from this man who had changed his life unfairly.
The judge broke eye contact and looked down at his hands. A long uncomfortable silence followed. Thoughts bombarded the judge’s mind, the least of which was what he had done to this young man.
His face snapped up. Defending himself in his head he thought, “I was only doing my job.”
“It was the best option for the family,” he tried to make himself believe. He now did the only thing he could do.