Jamie was trying. He couldn’t try any harder. He wanted to understand how he could turn his life around and make it through these years in one piece. If he didn’t, the years would be wasted and he’d be a mess when he got out of prison. He couldn’t afford that. He had to make up for a lot of lost time.
This is what happened when you felt you had endless time on your hands. It was hard to fill the empty spaces. Jamie sat on his bed. He stared at the wall and lost track of time. It had no meaning. He spaced out thinking about his life and what he could have done different. Sometimes he got tired of trying and wanted to melt into the wall and disappear.
How was anyone supposed to live in conditions like this, then get out and have an okay life? How could he get over it as though it never happened and be happy? It was hard to remember what that was.
Jamie never had a real chance to find out what he was good at. He wasn’t blaming anyone, the right circumstances were never there. No one taught him how to make something of himself. He just followed along with whatever happened at the moment. He didn’t know how to have a dream. He needed to figure out how to do that. All he knew for sure was the values he believed in didn’t seem to have the power to get him where he wanted to go.
Maybe he needed to deepen his faith in God. Study more. Quite a few of the inmates also went to church. There were quite a few screwed up people who found religion after they were sentenced, and some went to church because it was something to do that got you out of your cell. Jamie really wanted to make it work but how were you supposed to know if it was making a difference in his life because nothing had changed for the better.
He had the bible studies he sent for and was trying to study on his own. He hoped it would help. He had a lot of time to think about what he read. Still, it made no difference. He wasn’t giving up, but what could he do that would actually change things into a better direction instead of going in a circle that only went round and round? He wanted to learn something that would give him hope he was doing the right thing.
Later that night, getting up for a drink, he fell and twisted his knee. It was swollen and hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. It was worse when he put his weight on it the next morning. It was so swollen he could hardly bend it. He put in for a medical call. A guard came get him with a wheelchair because there was no way he would be able to walk there.
“What did you do?” the nurse asked after the guard helped him up onto the examining table.
“Damn that hurts,” slipped out of Jamie’s mouth before he could stop it. He didn’t like to cuss around women.
“I slipped on the carpeting,” he joked and tried to laugh.
“No, really, my knee buckled. I went down and landed hard on the side of my knee and it twisted.” Jamie winced as he attempted to change position.
“I’ve had problems with this knee before,” he told her.
“I’ll have x- ray take a picture,” she concluded. “Make sure it isn’t fractured.
The nurse pressed gently on different parts of the knee. “This feels like fluid, “she commented, “not just swelling from the damage caused by twisting it.”
“Can the doctor do something? Could it be drained?” Jamie thought it would make his knee feel better if they were able to get the swelling down. Right now he could only bend it a couple inches.
“No.” It only took a second for the nurse to answer.”The doctor won’t do it. The Medical Unit would never okay that kind of procedure.”
The nurse stopped for a few seconds and thought carefully. “They’ll say it’s not medically necessary,” she finished saying, almost under her breath.
She saw inmates all day long who had medical conditions that needed treatment, and she knew they would never receive it, or they would get the barest minimum care. She’d placate them making them think something would be done. Chronic illnesses with simple, effective treatments that could make their lives easier to bear would most likely be denied. Conditions got worse that could be fixed. Inmates paid precious dollars out of their accounts to be seen by a doctor and were usually given the runaround. They would receive token or incorrect treatments and blood tests might even be taken, but getting the right diagnoses and proper medication were much more difficult to get. This wasn’t the reason she became a nurse.
Inmates coming into the prison with a known condition who had a history of medication had a better chance of receiving it, but if other conditions developed there was a good chance it wouldn’t be addressed. She did what she could.
“Every day, try to work the knee by sitting on the edge of your bed and straightening your leg up and out and hold for a few seconds,” she instructed. “Then lower it down slowly.”
“Its a simple exercise but it will help keep your knee muscles from locking up.”
This was the reality of medical care in prisons and they got away with it. It didn’t matter what treatment would be best for him. It mattered what the medical corporation could provide without it costing them.
The lack of quality care caused damage to those inside. Pain and suffering, mental and physical were common and it sometimes caused death. It was inhumane. Fluid on Jamie’s knee wouldn’t kill him, but it was painful moving around or standing, and would take a good while to heal itself.
So why did they take an x-ray if they wouldn’t treat the problem? So they could show they provided adequate care? That was the law. The prisons had to provide care but they were never told what adequate care was, so they could do anything and say they treated him.
The nurse would tell him to drink more water and take Tylenol and say in his file it was adequate medical care for anything that was wrong. It was the standard treatment for what he needed so it was a waste of money for most inmates to call and ask to go to the medical unit. If an inmate had the flu or anything catchy, the whole prison would get sick.
Jamie was tired of being treated as though he didn’t matter, but what could he do about it? He did the best he could to win over his negative thoughts. Sometimes it wasn’t possible. He absolutely did the best he could, he thought to himself. He tried to keep the stress under control. Seizures were going to happen when they screwed up his medication or said he forgot to tell them to reorder it like that was his job. Sometimes they hit fast and he falls and gets banged up, and sometimes he falls off the bunk from thrashing about in his sleep.
He laid down on his side and brought his knees up to his chest. He felt less vulnerable and less alone inside his circle of comfort.
Day after day routines never changed. It was hard to remember what day it was. One of the hardest things about being in prison is the boredom. There wasn’t enough to do. Nothing new was added to think about, so his mind goes through the same circles of memory over and over again.
Jamie was trying so hard to not let anything get to him where he would lash out in anger. He was feeling confident he had that under control. But if he couldn’t get out of his cell sometimes he knew he would go crazy.
He needed to keep his privileges. He was feeling irritated today and he knew it, so he had to work harder to stay in control. It wouldn’t take much, so he stayed by himself.
Writing letters that were never answered was frustrating. It was a waste of precious stamps. He wrote because he thought people would want to know how he was doing, but he seldom got a letter back about how they were doing. He felt forgotten by everyone. There were probably new kids in his family he didn’t even know about. Children of cousins who probably didn’t have any idea about who he was. He was an outsider now. Not a happy thought.
It had been almost three months since a letter came from anyone besides Sonni. She became his family so he usually called her Mom. She said he was like a son. She called him that because she said he needed family.
Going to the day room was a good way to pass the time. He tried to enjoy it as best he could. Watching TV let him pretend he wasn’t here. It usually kept his mind off things for a short while. It worked sometimes and sometimes it didn’t. Time wasn’t exactly flying.
It was summer, 2009, three and a half years since he was arrested. He was getting close to being one fourth through his sentence.
Jamie decided to write to Sonni. She often asked him questions about what it was like in here. He opened his locker and took out a couple pieces of paper and sat down at the steel table that was connected to the toilet. He began drawing lines from top to bottom to look like lined tablet paper.
“Rec hours rotate,” he began writing. “We get four hours all total. Two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening between the hours of 6 -10 AM and 12- 4 PM. After that I’m in my cell the rest of the day.”
He went on to explain that his custody level was G4 line 3. If he caught another case he would go down to G5 which was also adseg. He was almost to the point of being in 24 hour lockdown for a year if he didn’t cool it and control his anger. It was so hard to not get pissed off at things that went on in here, inmates and guards. But if he wanted to work his way back to population he needed to be G2 so he had to stay good with no new cases for seven more months.
“There’s a lot more stuff I can do in population, like go to school and take trades,” he wrote. “I could also go to the library and have contact visits instead of visiting behind glass.”
Another reason he was trying hard to not get anymore write-ups was he wanted to apply for a hardship classification. Then he could ask to be moved closer to home because of a medical reason or a close family member who was sick.
There was no reason for them to put him a prison that was a thousand miles away from home. He thought he was sent to West Texas as a way to punish him more by separating him from his family. But he would need their help to make it happen and that didn’t seem likely, at least not right now.
It would be too easy to let depression take over if he thought too much about the free world and the things he’d like to see happen that were unlikely to happen. He needed to think of how to get through his time and not think about everything else he couldn’t change. He couldn’t even have a conversation with anyone to move it along.
Jamie closed his eyes. Maybe he could go to sleep now so he didn’t have to think about any of this. He put his paper and pen aside until later. In a few minutes, as he felt himself drift off he heard, “James Cummings, mail.”
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