How Do I Find My Way
Later: that afternoon, after Jamie got back from the showers, he sat on the edge of his bunk and opened his locker. He took out a stack of letters he had saved. They had been read so many times the creases from folding and unfolding were getting weak.
These letters were all he had to connect him to the free world. Other inmates knew when you got letters and knew you had someone on the outside. Many men had no one, especially those who had been locked up for a long time.
Family or friends who wrote when you were first locked up often slowly stopped writing. Maybe they ran out of things to say or got tired of writing. Life went on for them but it stopped for those inside.
One sure fire way to stop them from writing was to ask if they could send money. No one wanted to support someone inside. Many didn’t have the money. Jamie knew Morgan could barely made enough to take care of the children. She couldn’t support him. But there was no way to get any of the things he needed unless he asked for help. The prison didn’t provide things like deodorant and other hygiene products, stamps, paper or envelopes. He’d like to be able to get some food items and maybe a radio but the other items had to come first.
If there was no one to put money on your books for commissary you had to find another way to trade for what you needed. That could get you into a lot of trouble if you got caught. If inmates could get paid for work they did they would have a little money to to spend at the commissary. He didn’t mean housekeeping or laundry jobs, but the jobs where they made things for corporations to sell. Inmates didn’t get paid for those jobs, either.
Texas prisons didn’t pay anyone for working although most states did. Even though the pay might only be twenty cents an hour they could still accumulate twenty to thirty dollars in a month. Texas said they give time off your sentence for good behavior but they always find a way to take it away from you.
Jamie rarely heard from anyone in his family, although he did in the beginning. He made himself believe they were busy and he would get a letter soon. But that day rarely arrived and it was hard to deal with it sometimes. If he didn’t have Sonni’s letters he didn’t know if he would make it through with his sanity in one piece.
Every day he listened at mail call to hear if his name was called. What if she stopped writing? She said she would always write but he was still afraid her last letter might really be her last letter.
Finally, Jamie got up the courage to ask her if she could send a little money. He told her over and over it was okay if she couldn’t. He didn’t want her to think he was using her for money. It was hard waiting to get a letter back after that one. He was afraid he had blown it and she would be upset.
She wasn’t. She wrote back and asked him how to send it. He sent her a slip to fill out and told her to send it back with a money order. Jamie was relieved.
Letters from Morgan came with longer silences in between. She finally wrote and told him there was a new man in her life. He wasn’t happy about it. In fact, it ripped him up, but he knew she needed to go on with her life. He couldn’t blame her for that, but it also meant he would learn less and less about his son. Sonni helped fill in the gaps but it was never enough.
That did not mean he expected someone else should take care of his family. Sitting in here year after year was pointless when he should be home talking care of them himself. It was hard for Morgan to take care of three kids by herself.
He didn’t know what to do to make things better for her. He wanted to help but there was nothing he could do. He felt like was letting all of them down. He should be able to do something, but he couldn’t.
Jamie carefully arranged his letters in piles by who wrote them and the date, the oldest ones on the bottom. This way he could read everything in order from each person. There were not many piles. He passed the rest of the afternoon by reading letters.
As he read he realized his day today could have ended up a whole lot different than it did. He had a short fuse. He knew that. He had no patience with people who had the authority to mistreat people just because they were locked up and they felt like it. Inmates could not fight back. If they argued because of being mistreated they paid a price for it.
During the shower when the guard cut off the water, if Jamie hadn’t stopped himself from reacting in anger, the guard could have written up a case on him. It could have taken a couple years or more to turn that around. He was supposed to take the abuse because he was the inmate and had no rights, at least none they would let him use.
From the time he was seventeen and spent four years in juvenile detention, being lied to over and over, he learned to have no patience with guards and staff who treated people with disrespect.
Jamie pushed those thoughts out of his head and opened a letter from Sonni. Even though he had read her letters over and over, sometimes a sentence jumped out that made sense in a way he didn’t catch before.
“Don’t believe something is the truth just because someone told you it was the truth.” That made sense, but what truth was she talking about?
“It’s easy to believe something when you’ve been told the same thing over and over, but that doesn’t mean it is true.” She must have been answering something he had written to her in his letter. What was it? He could not remember.
“Everything in your life happens for a reason. Something caused it. Things do not happen out of the blue just because you can’t figure out what you did to cause it.” All of this made sense but he had never thought about it like this.
No one had ever talked to Jamie about why things happened in his life. He handled things in his day as they happened. He knew he needed to have more self control over his anger because he learned it could mess up his day.
Jamie never thought much about these things up until now because he was always busy trying to dig himself out from under some problem. He didn’t always think about why it happened.
The main problem was he didn’t think about what caused his problems until it was too late. What was done was done. It was hard to wrap his head around figuring out why it happened.
Sometimes one thing led to another and that made something else happen. He could see it looking back but he couldn’t see it looking ahead. But it made sense if he made different decisions it would cause different outcomes. But how was he supposed know what to decide in a split second when there was no time to think about how it might work out?
Sonni’s letters made him think about things he never thought about. He didn’t know to think about his life in a deeper way. He was told God oversaw everything and he tried to pray for the right thing to happen. He could plan and change things in anyone’s life if he wanted to. He could bless people with good things. His family was not the type who went to church every week or anything like that, but he assumed everyone believed in God and would go to heaven.
He always began or ended a letter hoping the receiver would be blessed or that he had been blessed. He didn’t think about what he was writing. It was automatic thing he wrote in his letters.
If everything happened for a reason, then what could he do to change all of this for himself so he could go home? How could he know what to do?
Jamie repeated this over and over in his head. It was like one big giant puzzle. It was starting to make his head hurt. All along did he deserve to be in here? From the time he was born it was God’s plan? Did God plan some things but not all things. That didn’t make sense so he didn’t think so.
Did he have a choice or was he supposed to end up in prison no matter what he did? He was told God gave people free will. What happened if that messed up His plan. Did He have to make a new one – for everyone? He was expected to believe things that didn’t make much sense. But that was faith, right? He believed because it was all he knew.
Having so much time to think about this yet have no one to talk to is difficult. Jamie was brought up to believe in God and you were supposed to pray to him when life got rough. Did God want his life to be this way? This was too many questions.
You reap what you sow. That phrase was in the Bible, but he never really thought about it. Growing up they weren’t really a Bible reading family. The pastor here said he should trust God to take care of everything. These two ideas were so opposite from each other.
Jamie went to church every week. He was trying to do the right thing. He wanted to hear the message. Did it change anything? He believed in God because it was what he was told to believe by people who were smarter than him. He didn’t think to question it.
Going to church didn’t change anything in his life. The prison chaplain pushed it on the men. In reality, this man wasn’t very nice to those who said they didn’t believe and didn’t want go to church. That seemed hypocritical to him.
So why did he believe in God? What did that belief do for him that made his life better? What prayers did God answer that he could say for sure happened because God made it happen? Growing up, hearing God made the world, and when we die we go to heaven is a pretty powerful reason to want to believe. If everyone learned the same thing it was easy to go along with it. No one had any different ideas. Believe, or not believe, was pretty much it.
Where would he be if he wasn’t in prison? Jamie would like to believe he would be home taking care of his family. He would have a job, but he didn’t have any idea what that would be or what he was qualified for. He did have a job for a while. He worked for a cleaning company that cleaned offices and schools. One day cleaning supplies came up missing. He got blamed and was fired. He didn’t do it, but that didn’t matter. They had someone to blame. Why would he risk his job by stealing cleaning supplies? No one thought about that.
He went to church every Sunday. He even sent off for Bible studies. He didn’t go to church just to get of his cell. He wanted to hear the message. He was searching for answers, trying hard to figure things out. He wanted to make sense of things, but somehow it wasn’t working.
Not knowing what was going on at home was getting to him. Day after day he waited and prayed a letter would come, and it rarely did. But then, just when he was ready to give up, he would hear the mail person call his name. A letter would come, his mind was eased, and he would feel better for a while. The emotional seesaw took its toll.
Soon the cycle would start again and his anxiety would slowly build until he couldn’t sleep. Weeks and months went by. The hardest part about this was not knowing what was happening.. Why was he kept in the dark? His mom said some things at her last visit about maybe being sick but she didn’t exactly say what was wrong, or if anything definite was wrong. He had no way to find out.
Jamie was scared to death something was going to happen to his mom. He didn’t think he could handle that in here. His mind was thinking crazy thoughts. He couldn’t think straight.
On top of that he was worried about his own family. It was all his own fault. He wasn’t doing so good. This was all because he wasn’t around. No one thought he needed to know anything. So he sat and stressed every day and could not stop himself. He wrote this letter to Sonni:
Hello Mom, 8/20/09
First I want to thank you for the love and support you’ve given me even though you didn’t have to. I’m real thankful for it. Well, I’ll get to the point of what I’m saying. It’s rough when I sit here waiting for mail and I don’t get any from nobody but you. So I’ve made up my mind to just do this time and put everything else behind me. This way I won’t have to stress myself out. I’m not giving up on my family. I just have to do this because I’m hurting myself. I know something is wrong. I can feel it.
I’m not saying I’m going to go off and get in trouble. I’m going to end my letter here. But before I do I want you to know I’m still going to keep my promise and stay out of trouble. And thank you for the book, mom. It was good.
Living in silence was hard for Jamie. He couldn’t deal with it. It made no sense. When it became too much for him he lashed out. Depression surfaced easily. Maybe his family thought if he didn’t know what was going on he wouldn’t worry. It was just the opposite. He did worry, because he didn’t know. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. He wrote many letters hoping he would get an answer back but no one wrote. Sonni’s letters were all he had to lean on. They were his lifeline. She promised she wouldn’t disappear.
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