It is a process, writing, editing, chapters, blog posts, music, videos and poetry. I love doing all of it. It would be great if I could split my brain in two and do two things at the same time.
Today as I went through my notes I realized I had a half finished poem. That chapter was published about 6 months ago. Today I will post part of it for those who want to read it. Please subscribe for full chapters. Afterward just drop me a message and I’ll email the complete chapter to you.
It was so hard to keep his head together. Jamie’s mind went all over the place. It was hard when there was no one to talk to. There was no reason to not let his mind wander anywhere it wanted to go. He was so alone. He could only talk to himself. He was in 24/7 lock up for a year.
Administrative segregation, or adseg, it was called. Solitary in other prisons. It was all the same thing. He had tried so hard to not let this happen. Did it matter if he tried or not? Why did he agonize over it. He tried to stay away from trouble but it always found him, anyway. Mentally, he felt himself going down and there was nothing to keep him from smashing headfirst onto the bottom. He didn’t know what was going on. But he tried to get it together. Before this happened he tried. He didn’t know if he could try anymore. Before he got sent to lock up he had made a change in his life. It was a pretty big one. He thought at the time that maybe it would help, maybe not. Some dudes he met told him about Islam. He decided to join with them. They still believed in God, or Allah they called him, but there were a lot of differences in what the two religions believed. There were a lot of Christians and a lot of Muslims all saying they were right and the other was evil. His can they both be right? Islam has been around longer he was told. These inmates weren’t like a lot of the other ones. They didn’t talk tough. Peace was way more important than violence, than who was bigger and badder. He decided to give it a try because everything he had learned through the Bible didn’t do anything to help him. It never changed anything for him, no matter how much he prayed. His prayers weren’t answered. It didn’t make any difference and he thought by now something would have happened to let him know God was at least thinking about helping him. One of them gave him a book about the Islamic faith so he would have something to read and study. It wasn’t and he was supposed to pray five times a day. He needed a prayer rug to do it right but he didn’t have a way to get one. Still, he tried to learn and went to their meetings. Then this happened and he was more alone than ever. To have your life so controlled in prison was more than anyone could take without getting angry and wanting to bust everything up. How was he supposed to get rid of the anxiety? Eat now, sleep now, shower now, breathe now, take a crap now otherwise the toilet won’t flush and you have to look at and smell the shit all day. No, you can’t go to commissary. He couldn’t do anything unless it was at the right time that someone else determines. A year completely alone, meals alone and no one to talk to. It was too long. There was nothing to break the monotony, the boredom. Bits and pieces of thoughts swirled around in his brain and they wanted to make him crazy. Things were happening in his life on the outside he couldn’t control or fix. How could he deal with this confinement day after day and not be able to do anything about it? Not only that, he knew there was another man in Morgan’s life, but that had nothing to do with what they shared. But he couldn’t talk to her about it and it was killing him. He had to keep what they had separate from any other person. It was his sanity. The two ideas didn’t touch. He couldn’t handle thinking about it any other way. They shared the treasure of a son together. Nothing could take that away. She wouldn’t be with this dude if he hadn’t screwed up. He needed to believe she was still waiting, but it was getting harder and harder to do that. It was his own fault – all of it. Trying to find the answer wasn’t easy and many days he wanted to crawl under the floor and give up – just cash it in. Stop thinking of the future. He might not make make it that far. He might not get out of here. He started and stopped hunger strikes. He would only pull himself out of a funk because he was afraid of what it would do to his son. How would he deal with his own life when he grew up if he knew his father gave up on his?
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Christmas came and went as though it had never happened. Jamie watched as other dudes were taken to see their families and then listened to them talk about how happy they were to see their children. It was good to see someone happy. A few passed pictures around from cell to cell, proof of the family they knew was waiting for them on the outside. Their families loved them. He was getting used to it. He didn’t expect family to visit. It was too far away for anyone in his family to travel. Fortunately, the kitchen fed them pretty good this year. Enough to feel full. That didn’t happen very often. Throw the prisoners a bone once in awhile. Keep them happy with a little extra real food instead of slop. Getting mail would’ve helped. He received only one card from his brother and he smiled when he saw it. He usually sent one at the holidays. He didn’t get one from anyone else, not even Sonni and it had been three weeks. That wasn’t like her. He was worried. He felt something was wrong. It was already January fifth. He was glued to his cell door, standing in it all day waiting for mail delivery. Every time it passed him by his spirits sank a little lower. He was tired, mentally not physically. He felt like he was turning a corner and it wasn’t going to a good place. Once he turns it he wasn’t coming back. He felt like he was left out to dry on his own. It was hard to keep his head up. The feeling of loneliness was overwhelming. Was it so hard to send him a Christmas card? Then New Years passed and now his birthday was coming up in five days. Yes, he thought to himself, this was the hardest time of year to get through. All it showed him is how the ones who say they care, really don’t, or they’d find the time to tell him. Jamie went to his locker to get a sheet paper to write to his brother, then sat down on the edge of his bed. He had to try to get him to understand, if he has nobody outside these walls he’s like the walking dead. Picking up his pen to write he sat there instead with the pen in the air, staring at the wall. He couldn’t bring himself to start writing. Most of the time he crumpled up his letters and threw them away, anyway. He’d get his feelings out and then toss the letters. They wouldn’t understand. Besides, they had their own lives to worry about. They knew they weren’t helping him get through this. He didn’t have to tell them. They left him to think whatever he wanted. Jamie wrapped his arms over the top of his head and clasped his hands together pretending he was being given comfort. He breathed warm air into the crook of his elbow pretending it was someone else’s arm holding him. When he laid down he thought to himself he was heading on his way out soon. Maybe he’ll go to sleep and not wake up. He knee that this type of thinking is his depression talking to him but he couldn’t shake it off. Sometimes it snuck up on him. Then he has one down day after another. It’s hard to pull out of it. He knows he can’t take much more of this. He often found himself spacing out, staring at nothing. Then one of the other dudes would turn on his radio and he would find himself listening to it. Most of the music was in Spanish but that didn’t matter. On his pod there were two blacks and twelve Hispanics so he just had to deal with music from Spanish speaking radio stations. It was cool. He didn’t know what they were saying but music is music and he needed it to help him think straight about other things. Trying to find ways to keep his spirits up was hard so he had to use any way he could to get through another day. He needed to find a way to smile and be happy. He could only do that by crawling into his head to find memories or else make up something about what he wanted his future to be.
Morgan was still in his head a lot. She had a way of hiding in the shadows. He wondered if she had forgotten about him? Maybe she didn’t want to write and waste time anymore? That seemed pretty clear. Their son will be six this year and he has only seen him six times since he was born. A son he knows but doesn’t know. It hurt so much because in the future it will be his father he hates for not being there when he needed him. That is something Jamie wouldn’t be able to stand. He remembered telling himself he would never be like his daddy. Shit, he didn’t even know who that was for sure. At least his own son won’t have to worry about who his daddy is. He was sure he’d want to know about him, wouldn’t he? Jamie knew he was beating around the bush, always saying he was going to put his pen down and give up writing letters but he couldn’t do that as long as Sonni was writing to him. She was like a mom to him and cared about him like he was her family. He couldn’t let her down. He had to keep trying. Still he felt like he had been thrown to the dogs and there was no way to recover because he believed the statement, “Just because we don’t write to you doesn’t mean we don’t love you.” He thought he had a right to feel sorry for himself at least once in awhile. No one wanted to write to him or help him get things the prison doesn’t provide. They didn’t understand writing is the only way he could communicate with anyone. What other way was there? Phone? But no one registered their phone. How was that supposed to make him feel? He was in this cell because he made a mistake. But he needed to know people still cared. He couldn’t be the only person in his family to make a mistake. He felt like his whole life was a mistake from the start. He never thought Morgan would stay with him a long as she did. His heart was real tender and caring, and he cared for a lot of people who have stepped on him. He’s never been one to hold nothing against nobody and more than likely never would. That’s why he kept trying. He really needed to lay down now and try to go to sleep. He started thinking about Sonni. He knew she was sick, but he hadn’t heard from her, and she hadn’t popped in here to see him in three weeks. He was hoping she would feel better soon. He was sorry she was going through so much and he couldn’t help her. She would be blessed soon and then she wouldn’t have to worry about pain.
As he closed his eyes he had a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. It felt like butterflies and it made him dizzy even though he was laying down.
Jamie immediately started dreaming. It felt strange because he knew he was dreaming. He found himself walking down a hospital corridor but he didn’t know where he was or how he got there. Nothing looked familiar. There were no windows to see if it was dark outside, but it was so quiet he thought maybe it was the middle of the night. There was no hustle of nurses or other staff going in and out of the rooms and there was no one to ask him who he was looking for. There was no beeping from machines or lights flashing on and off outside the doors so nurses would know someone needed help. It was so quiet and it felt strange. Looking down at himself he saw he was still wearing his prison whites. Did he look like an inmate in case anyone saw him? He thought maybe he could pass for an orderly. He knew what room to turn into but he didn’t know how he knew that. He opened the door and quietly closed it behind him and walked over to the bed to see Sonni, sleeping. Should he wake her? At that moment he heard the door open again behind him and a light came on. He jumped and his heart started racing. He quickly turned around and saw a nurse walking toward the bed, pushing a machine in front of her with her right hand that held a blood pressure cuff and other instruments needed to take vitals. She had a clipboard in her left hand. What would she say? Should he not be here? What if she called a security guard? She didn’t say anything. She didn’t even acknowledge he was in the room and instead walked over to the bed and gently woke her by touching her arm. He heard a soft sigh as she woke up. “How are you feeling?” the nurse asked quietly. “Are you in any pain?” “Uh uh, no. I’m okay,” he barely heard her reply. The nurse took her blood pressure and temperature and then turned her back to him to fill a small cup with water from the sink near the bed. “I have a pain pill for you,” she said when she turned toward the sink. In that tiny second Sonni looked at Jamie and winked. It was the first indication she knew he was there. Did she know what was going on? He sure didn’t. Jamie also realized the nurse couldn’t see him. That’s why she didn’t say anything when she came in. The air still felt weird. It had a thick feeling almost like moving through cotton candy and there were no extra noises like from the fan near the window or. . . anything. It was like they were in a vacuum. The light that was on near the bathroom glowed a little as if there were extra colors in it. Hazy almost. Were they both in a dream or was he in her dream and she really was in a hospital bed? Maybe she was in his dream? It was confusing. He already thought it was strange that she came to visit him at the prison. Now this? What was going to happen next? The nurse handed Sonni a couple pills in a little cup and watched her swallow them. As she pulled the machine back toward the door she turned and asked, “Do you want me to turn out the light?” “Yes, but leave on the little one near the bathroom door, please.” The nurse nodded and soon after she quietly closed the door behind her. They both laughed a little at the weirdness of what just happened. “This is strange,” Jamie said. “Where are we?” “You’re in control of this one, Jamie,” she answered all smiling. “You came to see me.” “I did?” he asked with an incredulous look on his face? “How?”
This is the end of a partial chapter When you subscribe to ITFO News to can send me an email at email@example.com and ask me to email you the rest of the chapter or any other partial chapters I have posted. Please share and help me build a mailing list for when the book is done. I don’t hound your inbox. Most news letters are at least a month apart. Also let me know what you think about the story. Your input is needed. This is creative non fiction. His story and what happens is real, but I do get a little (a lot) creative when pulling the pieces together.
“I would enjoy riding my bike with you on a beautiful day,” Jamie called out into the universe with a slightly raised voice. He wondered if his words would reach Sonni and make her show up in his cell. He was lonely and desperately wanted someone to talk to.
If anyone had been passing by his cell door at that moment they would probably think he was losing it. Other dudes down the hall probably heard him call out but they were used to hearing strange things being said by men locked in isolation, away from others. Most of them talked to themselves, too.
“You ride your bike to the hill on one side and I’ll ride my bike from the other direction,” Jamie said, gesturing his arms to the right and left like he was directing traffic. It was such a beautiful day. The sky was bright blue with puffy clouds passing over the sky. He stood and watched them for awhile. The green grass was the color of new springtime grass with dandelions growing randomly all over the hill.
A thought came into his head – a memory, but he didn’t think it was his memory. That was strange. Maybe Sonni was in his head because he was seeing little girls with dandelions playing in a backyard. He was remembering children picking dandelions and holding them under each others chin. If there was a yellow glow on the skin it meant they were made of butter. A young child’s memory.
Jamie had stuffed so many of his own memories into the back of his brain he had trouble remembering anything good. Sonni asked him to write down what he remembered as a child because she was thinking about starting a blog about him. Why would anyone want to read a blog about him? He was nothing special and hadn’t done anything special so He was curious about what she saw in him.
He wrote to her about a couple things he remembered. They went to the zoo and his mom wouldn’t go in the snake house. That was funny, and they went to a pond to feed ducks. They were also going to see fireworks one July and he and his little brother had matching clothes for the special day. At the last minute his mom said they couldn’t go. That upset him but he was only eight years old and didn’t understand grown up stuff. So he sat on the steps of a house and listened to the boom! boom! He saw a glow in the sky, but he couldn’t see the fireworks. He remembered how deeply disappointed he was that night. He had been so excited about seeing the bright colors exploding in the sky. To this day, going to see fireworks was one of his favorite things to do.
Picturing the serenity in his mind as he rode his bicycle to the hill was a way of getting out of his stark gray cell and into the warmth and colors produced by the sun. A nice cool breeze rustled the grass. The tree at the top would be great if it had a tree house. The thick branches would make climbing easy. He pictured a treehouse with a rope ladder. Little Jamie was standing at the door waving to him below. He waved back. He could hear a train blowing it’s horn in the distance. It had been so long since he had seen a day like this.
With that picture in his head he closed his eyes and smiled. He pretended Sonni was standing there with him in this beautiful place even though he was really standing in his cell.
“We’ll meet at the hill and climb to the top.” He told her. Even though it was only in his imagination, it lifted his spirits when he thought about the day he was creating. “Let’s bring a picnic of our favorite food and talk about how the future will be.”
Whenever Jamie thought of the future, his son was there and they would be playing together, whatever little Jamie wanted to do. They would both be happy and laughing. He knew there was more to reality than that, but he only wanted to have happy thoughts. It was hard to develop a relationship with someone you never got to see or talk to. Did his son think about him? He was still very young, only five years old. He bonded to his oldest brother who was ten years older than him. He didn’t understand what prison was or why his father was there. He wouldn’t understand until he was older. He didn’t want him to be hurt by this, but there was no way it wouldn’t leave scars that needed to heal.
An occasional picture was all he received from Morgan. It was never enough to quiet the pain. He couldn’t join him for birthdays or Christmas. He wouldn’t be in his son’s memories at all when he grew up and thought about his childhood, except to remember his daddy was never there. All Jamie could do was imagine what it would be like and that always left a huge hole in his heart. When would he see his son again? “Things aren’t going so good for me,” he said, still talking to the universe. “I’m doing my best, but I’m not getting nowhere.” He got to his feet and slowly walked five feet toward the cell door, turned around and walked back. He repeated the pattern over and over. “I know you have been very sick and can’t write me all the time,” he said as he paced, pretending she was there, “but to tell you the truth it hurts me when I don’t hear from you.” “That’s because you’re the only one I’m used to hearing from,” his mouth turned into a downward smile. “So when I don’t hear from you it worries me and I think I won’t hear from you again.” “Sometimes I think you’re mad at me,” he said quietly to the empty air. He closed his eyes.” My mind is playing tricks on me.”
“I told you I wouldn’t give up on you,” her voice came from out of the blue. ” I’m not going to go away.” “I got your letter yesterday,” he heard her say. “I told Jamie happy birthday for you.” The unexpected sound of her voice made him jump. “He is getting so big.” Sonni smiled, and held up her hand to show how tall he was getting. “Geez, give me a little forewarning,” he said with a startled look on his face which settled into a smile. He was sure she wouldn’t be coming today. He never knew when she was going to pop in. Jamie’s days were long and boring, Sonni knew that. When all you have to look forward to is the possibility of a letter, your happiness rides on getting that letter, looking to see who sent it and feeling connected to reality that lives in the outside world. Letters are like gold and so many receive none. They keep you sane. Prison screws up many heads. She would never stop writing to him. “Does it take awhile to get my messages, and leave to get here?” he asked, “or is it like the old TV show, I Dream of Jeannie, and you zap yourself here with your arms crossed in front of you and a nod of your head?” He knew he sounded a little crazy, but then maybe he was a little crazy by now. How DID she get here? “Okay Jamie,” he said quietly to himself, “remember, her physical body is not really in this room.” He laughed at himself.
Jamie was relieved. He needed to see her, real or not. She had a way of helping him make sense of his life so he could learn to let his anger go. Yeah, he still had problems controlling it and it got him in trouble. Sometimes he started yelling and kicking the door trying to get rid of his anger. Sometimes he got into it with the guards because he was tired of being disrespected over every little thing. They tried to press his buttons to set him off. Sometimes they succeeded and he got angry. They could be such dicks. The guards often did things that would be considered criminal on the outside. They also do things to the inmates. They get hurt or killed. Although he hasn’t mentioned it much there was sex going all around him. Sometimes it’s between the guards and the inmates and sometimes it’s abusive. The guards bring in drugs and cell phones and set themselves in business. You couldn’t stop what is going on, but when you get hurt you need a way fight back against the abuse. No matter how wrong they were you couldn’t win. If he filed a grievance against a guard, the guard would retaliate. As prisoners they were supposed to have certain rights and being able to file a grievance because of mistreatment was one of them. It was pointless. The system was set up so prisoners would fail. Nothing good came of it when the guards had ways of getting back at them if they filed against them. It was more than that when it came to grievances. It is what the system was set up to do if you filed that grievance and went through the process, like a rat’s maze, chasing after a piece of cheese and finding out it was really arsenic with no way to save you. Most dudes, if they have been here for awhile don’t file grievances. After trying a couple times and getting denied you figure, what’s the use? Those who think they legally have a good case because what the guard did needed to be reported, might try to finish the process. The grievance process is set up so only filing a lawsuit will settle the grievance. You can’t win by just filing a grievance and hoping the right person read it and thought you needed to have justice. That wasn’t going to happen. You can only win if you have solid evidence that the officer was in the wrong. There would have to be evidence from a camera that the officer did what you claim. No officer will go against another officer even if he saw the officer doing it. If he did, the officers would retaliate against him. So if he wants to keep his job he needs to keep his mouth shut. If an inmate filed step one he’d have to wait 30 – 45 days to get it back – denied. Then he’d have to file step 2 and wait another 4 to 6 weeks to get that one back – denied. That is 2-3 months total. Step 2 along with step 1 is then filed in Huntsville with the TDCJ, for Texas prisons. If Huntsville sends it back not doing anything to correct the problem they will send all the paperwork back to him. If he wanted to continue the process he’d have to fill out a 1983 form for a lawsuit. He would have to take the officer to court and if he lost, because he didn’t have proof, then he’d owe the state $350. And since phones are illegal in prison, having proof by means of a cellphone is getting someone in serious trouble. This is a way to get more money out of the inmates and their families and it gives the officers time to get their stories straight. What good was having rights if you couldn’t act on them? It looked right on paper and that is what the outside world learned if they looked it up. Some people thought they had it pretty good inside – free healthcare, free food, free education, a free roof over their heads. They thought everything was handed to them on a silver platter without working for it. They even said prisoners wanted to come back to prison because they had it so good in here. What a joke. You had to be here to understand the truth of this place.
“My summer is all about sweating. Endless sweating. It’s 103° today and there is no AC,” Jamie began writing in a letter to Sonni. “It doesn’t matter if I’m playing Chess, Scrabble or watching TV,” he wrote. “I sweat. I’ll sweat off a few pounds by the end of the summer. lol.” “I wish I were home so I could enjoy the summer with the kids.” That thought made Jamie stop writing and follow his imagination.
Putting his pen down, he stared into the universe inside his head where the kids were playing and he was there enjoying it with them. Throwing a ball to his son, he imagined he clapped when the child picked himself up and came running willy nilly into daddy’s arms. Jamie picked him up and swung him around in the air, both of them laughing. Reality came crashing down. Missing this time was one of life’s cruelest jokes. His son will never be a young child again. He won’t ever experience the good times of childhood, between father and son, when they could be together.
There will be no memories of him in his son’s mind when he thinks of his growing up years. His father was never there to celebrate a birthday. No! It was everything. His father wasn’t there taking part in any aspect of his life at any time. He wouldn’t know if he loved his father or not. There was no part of him in his life. He remembered his happiness when he learned he was going to be a father. Another of life’s painful jokes was knowing he didn’t have the job skills to support them. You can’t feed a family with love alone. He had been out of juvenile detention for less than a year. He didn’t know what to do to get his life going. He had no one to teach him the direction he needed to go to make the right choices. He spent his time hanging out with friends who also had no idea what to do with their lives. He always thought he would have found a way to make it work but he didn’t have a chance. Life took over and set his fate in motion. It was no longer in his control. All of his choices were now made for him.
He could always find a way into his own little world to escape for awhile. Thinking with his eyes closed slowly put a smile on his face. Did the kids think about him sometimes, too, or were they forgetting all about him by now? It didn’t matter. He wouldn’t ever forget about them. “I dream about walking open-arm to Morgan and the kids and gathering them into a big hug,” he wrote after he picked up his pen again. “But they will all be grown up by then, and I won’t be able to pick up my son and swing him around.” Would his son even accept him after all this time? Would he be angry? Jamie knew how it felt having an absent father. There was always a hole inside. He couldn’t even fill it with a face because he didn’t know what he looked like. How do you love someone who isn’t there? How can his son love him? There was a man who recently wrote to him and said he was his father. How was he supposed to take that? He wasn’t entirely sure that this was his father. His mama never talked about him, so where did he come from? Where was he? “I think my father just got home from a place like this. Never once in my life did he write to see how I was. No explanation. What was I supposed to think?” He continued writing. “He wrote to my mom, I was told, but he never asked about me. Now he’s home and it’s the same way I guess. I did finally get one letter from him asking me to give him a second chance to be a dad.” This next thought was hard for Jamie. “So I told him okay and asked for one thing from him. Give the love to his grandson that he didn’t give to me. I never heard from him again. Why did he even ask?” Jamie stopped and thought about that for awhile before he continued writing. Why would his father not want to know him? How could he not want to know he was okay? He began writing again, “I understand what you said in your letter about prisoners not writing and how it ends up hurting their children. Please don’t put me in that category. I would give anything to be a father to my son. Sometimes my head is in a bad place. It is hard because I know how it feels. Jamie is too young to know if I write. But that doesn’t mean that me not being there isn’t hurting him. He needs to now he has a father and he is loved. It pains me deeply. I would do anything if I could fix this, but I can’t” Pretending to be with his family gave him a fleeting moment of happiness, followed by feeling the pain of his heart ripping in two. Sometimes it crippled him. “No one I love wants nothing to do with me. Out of sight, out of mind,” he wrote unhappily as he went back and forth between love for his family and feeling rejected by them. He couldn’t think of what he did to cause them to be that way. Was it his fault? If it was he didn’t know what to do to fix that, either. And he sure couldn’t fix it from in here.” “I really needed somebody to talk to about it,” He wrote. “I can’t keep it straight in my head.” Being able to pour out his feelings on paper helped him make sense of it. Every day Jamie sat and stared at the wall, thinking about his sentence and felt like giving up in every way, but he couldn’t. His son was important and that thought is what kept him glued together. “I’m sorry, mom. I have to go.” His brain felt pulled in every direction. “My head really hurts pretty bad right now. ” He put his pen down and rested his forehead in his cupped palms, elbows on the steel desk. He gently rubbed his temples with his thumbs, pretending they belonged to someone who cared about how hard this was and knew how much pain he was in. He wanted comfort; someone who would make it all go away, even for a little while. “I love you, mom. I know you care. Thank you for your love and understanding. Everyone needs someone to talk to now and then. God bless you. God bless you.”
Jamie broke down and wrote to his family again because he needed a little help. He needed a fan. It would help dry the sweat that soaked his body. The effort of breathing made him sweat.
It wasn’t unusual for at least a few men men to die in here each year because of the heat, especially the older ones who were sick with something. Even he, as young as he was, passed out a few times from heat stroke when his body overheated. He doubted they would do anything about it. Paying someone’s family off if they tried to sue the prison was cheaper than putting AC into an old prison. Oh well, they probably think, someone died. Who cares. There is more where they came from. A lot of the inmates didn’t have any family who cared if they died.
He didn’t have money in his account to buy stamps so he was considered to be indigent. He could send letters and they would be mailed, but the mail room would keep track of that money. When money was put on his books they would take it back. He owed them for ten stamps already. Jamie asked if someone could please send him $22 to buy a fan but he didn’t get a letter back. Maybe they would have the time to write to him next week. He had a lot of reasons in his head why a letter didn’t come. Most of all he didn’t want to believe it wouldn’t come. He had no choice. He asked Sonni and she sent the money to be deposited into his account. Maybe it was pride. When he asked her he apologized up and down. What else could he do? He didn’t want her to think he was using her. Worrying most about his mom he still wanted to know if she was okay. She didn’t have to send no money if it was hard for her. He loved his mom and just wanted to hear from her. Maybe she was busy and didn’t have time. That was the justification he used.
It would soon be little Jamie’s third birthday. He sent a letter inside a birthday card asking to please tell him happy birthday for him but he hadn’t heard back. Three years old already. Birthdays were hard for him. It drove home even harder how much he was missing. How many would pass by before would share one with him.
Jamie did what did every day. He sat on his bunk and stared at the wall, praying to make it through the day so could cross it off and begin the next one.
Sonni waited for these letters from Jamie to know he was doing okay. She couldn’t do anything to help him besides be there for him and answer his letters. Encourage him and let him know he wasn’t forgotten. Prisons scared her. She was afraid to call if he needed her to, but she did. It was out of her comfort zone. When she called the warden or medical unit she afraid of saying wrong thing. She was just beginning to learn what the prison system was about and it wasn’t what most people thought. Jamie poured everything he was feeling into his letters. She had no previous understanding about life in prison except what was shown in movies and TV shows. She didn’t know anyone who did time in prison when she starting writing to him. Going through these hard times with him was the first time she understood the devastating toll it took on the lives of those inside. Some were very dangerous people, but she knew many of them were badly treated by people far worse than the ones who were locked up. She was not going to the same thing others had and stop writing. She would not let him suffer with no way to release it.
Maybe this was the reason that brought them together. Everything happens for a reason. That is the law off cause and effect.
Sonni, how are you? Fine I hope. As for me I’ve been down and depressed lately. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about everything. Me, my future, how I’m going to take care of Jamie, my uncle who you say died in which no one told me about, only what you told me. Anyway that’s just part of it. There is still us and the problems we are having with our families. Then to make things worse there is the problem of not being able to see my son.
I’m allowed to buy books and magazines now if I have money in my account. It’s a long process though because I have to sign papers and they have to take thumb prints. Why thumb prints? Anyway in your letter you spoke about the summer heat. Yes it is heading this way again. (Hot) Hell yeah. There have been days I would pour water on the floor and lay down in it because it be so hot. There are also times when I don’t turn on the fan only because the heat would be too much for me. Yeah the good ole summer. I have passed out at least three times from the heat. The last time was when I was put in the hospital for a few days at the Wynne unit.
So my brother Antie has married yet again. Wife number three. I haven’t been to any of these weddings but I did meet the first two wifes. I thank you for wanting to send photos, but please don’t worry about it. I don’t even look at the ones I have. I don’t think about family. Why should I? They don’t think of me. They could never get together and come see me. Not ever. No one will have to worry about seeing me when I come home. (Hell) If I make it home.
I’ve been here so long I think crazy things. Look I just want to live my life. Family and friends yes I want. But I would rather just enjoy life with my son. I’ve always wanted to tell my son’s mother that I hoped she was happy who she was with. I never once tried to bring her down. I only wanted to be a good friend and father to her and my son. I was young, unemployed with a child on the way. I was scared, but not as scared as I am now. I know my relationship with my son hasn’t been good or easy. I know because I know how it feels.
Only difference between him and I is he knows me, only a little piece of me. It’s all my fault. I have not held my son in almost nine years. I was hoping to hold him in 2015 on my birthday when my mom came with my nieces when I had my one contact visit. I only get to see him when you come down to visit.
Anyway we are on lockdown. We should be off by the time you get this. I’m trying to get help by talking to these people. It’s not helping though. They have another unit I can go to, to talk to a doctor. The only thing is I would have to sit naked in a room for a day or two first. Why? It’s just the way they do things. Speaking of being in a room I wish we was sitting next to each other talking. Not in here but somewhere peaceful and quiet. I would like to talk about my life. The only thing is I try to erase as much as I can. Why? Because my life has not really been a life.
It’s been painful since 2000. I don’t think I ever told you I was sent to juvy for nothing. The real reason. My life ruined as a boy, for nothing. Back then when the police busted into my house and hurt my mom I never assaulted that cop. It was my little brother who hit him with that broom. I was the one charged for it. He was really young. Too young for juvenile detention. He was only defending our mom. I went to court and the lawyer told me and my mom I’d only have to do nine months, nothing more. So I took the sentence think that was all I was doing was nine months. I did it for my little brother. Then they wouldn’t let me go for four years and put me in solitary confinement because I got angry. My life has been down ever since. I have been so lonely and left out of so much. My life has been a waste. Every one I loved rejected me. How am I supposed to deal with that? I know I need to get the hell out of Texas, but where would I go? How do I do that with my son? So many unanswered questions.
It is hard having so much time to think. I miss seeing you. I wish you could visit. My time is 2/3 done if they don’t let me out. This is going to be the hardest time to do. It’s hard not letting it get to me.
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Being here is hard. Prison is hell. Jamie supposed if he were in a minimum or even a medium security prison it wouldn’t be so bad. There is a big difference between that and high security. No prison is fun but where his cell is, is more like hell. Not being able to change anything about your life is more than frustrating. Being treated like you have no worth is even worse.
He knows this is partly his fault. He was so angry when he got here. He had no control over it. He was angry because he knew there was no way he could change the way they treated him. They made sure to push all his buttons till he exploded. They treated him like he wasn’t worth dirt. No one would let themselves pretend it didn’t matter, and to them his life didn’t matter. He couldn’t do anything or say anything to defend himself. Being black, he was used to this kind of treatment from anyone in authority.
So yes, maybe it’s his own fault, but he reacted the only way he knew how. He got angry. He was just so tired of it all. How on earth was he going to do seventeen years. They planned on ruining him, using him all up. After all those years was he supposed to get out and go on with his life as though nothing happened? How does he work and take care of his family? Will they even be there? He can’t even think about that.
People on the outside have no idea how demeaning it is to be locked up like a rat and eat food not fit for a dog. When Jamie agreed to take the plea of seventeen years he did it out of fear. His mind was going around a million miles an hour. He was so scared. He didn’t have time to think about what it meant, and he didn’t have anyone on his side he could talk to. He didn’t know what to do. He was alone more now than he had ever been. But he had been alone most of his life anyway, so what was he expecting?
He never had an experience like this before, so how was he supposed to know if taking a plea was the right thing to do or not? He had his experiences with the juvenile system but it was nothing like this. Besides, they lied to him right in the courtroom. They said he only had to stay nine months. That was a joke on him because it ended up being an awfully long nine months. And for what? It was the cop who should have gotten charged. He’s the one who pushed his way into their house and hurt his mama. He wasn’t following a crime. He had no legal paper that said he could come into their home. He screwed up and someone had to pay. He couldn’t charge anyone with anything but they didn’t a real reason to put him in juvy. Who is the court going to side with, a black kid or an officer of the law?
Attorneys are supposed to know the right thing to do, but what do you do when your attorney has no interest or time to help you because he has to hurry on to his next case? He won’t make more money if he does his job right. He doesn’t care if he ends up screwing a man’s life. He’s just another black man. From the time he was young and saw the way cops looked at him, daring him to make one wrong move so they could justify slamming you on the ground. Doesn’t he have a right to be angry about that?
He saw his dreams fading right before his eyes and he wanted to cry because the pain was so bad. He didn’t want to cry in front of anyone so he clenched his fingernails into the palm of his hand trying to draw blood.
The only thing he would have to keep him company on this seventeen year journey was the small amount of time this past year that held pieces of the only happiness he had, and these pieces would have to last him a long time.
Jamie wouldn’t be able to see the face of his son when he was born. He was the only good thing that had come from his life and that hurt him the most. He would probably be sent to a prison as far from his family as possible. That’s what they do. He finally had something good that was his, but they had other intentions for him and took it away. He sometimes thought they did it on purpose as punishment. They made it impossible for family to come visit and make it a little easier to go through your time. No, they like to see you suffer. It’s such a crappy job so maybe it makes them feel better.
These prisons get built in low income, sad little towns in the middle of nowhere. It brings jobs to people who don’t have the intelligence to leave town or learn to do anything better. The pay is lousy and most of the people are uneducated. Put a uniform on them and they feel important. It goes to their head and they now have the right to be abusive and push people around. He supposed there might be some good people there but most of them get twisted around because they are allowed to do things that on the outside would get them sent to a prison. But no one is looking. They bring in drugs and cell phones and physically hurt inmates who can’t fight back. Some of those inmates die when they are done with them.
Jamie wasn’t a bad person. He knew in his heart there was good inside him, but he didn’t think anyone looked at him long enough to see it. Morgan did. He was pretty sure of that. He had never been happy before her. He only existed. All he had to hold on to were her promises she would always love him and would wait for him to get out. He had to believe that or it would tear him apart.
The public defender assigned to him when he was arrested was no real attorney. Jamie never even meet him until right before they were to go in to see the judge. It added a lot of stress. He wanted him to take a plea of forty years and didn’t want to give him time to think. Forty years? He didn’t have a record. He had never been charged with anything or even been arrested and the district attorney sent this pd to offer 40 years and plead guilty to something he didn’t do. Sure he had been there. They had gone out to party. His cousin even joked about robbing the place but he didn’t think he was serious. That was enough to make him guilty, too, and they wanted forty years out of him? He was supposed to agree with that?
Then the pd came back and offered 17 years. That was supposed to sound good now? If he didn’t take it he was told they’d pile on charges and he’d never get out. It’s easier to ruin a man and think it made you look good rather than finding out the truth and saving him and his family. That is so crooked.
This attorney was a puppet for the District Attorney, dressed in his cheap suit trying to look important. Jamie was just another person on his list that day to add a couple hundred dollars to his paycheck. He didn’t care a whit about what happened to him. He probably didn’t even know his name without looking down at the paper in his hand. His job is to make sure he scares him enough to take a plea. The truth has little to do with anything. This is what they do to people like him. They decide his life for him and send him off somewhere to be forgotten. He will make money now for the corporations who own him for as long as they can suck it out of him.
Jamie tried to be strong. He stood up for himself and said he didn’t want to take a plea. He wanted a chance to tell his side about what happened. He didn’t know then, they don’t let people like him get into a courtroom except to plead guilty. Only about 3% of arrests go to court. The dockets would be too full and it would cost too much money. If someone couldn’t pay for an attorney they were going to be forced to take a guilty plea whether they were guilty or not. Even if you were dead to rights innocent it’s a pretty big risk to take. A public defender isn’t going to work to prove your innocence. Maybe there are good ones out there who care, but to them it’s just another day on the job. The more clients they see, the more money they make. Jamie thought he had a right to an attorney. That is what the law said. It also said he had a right to a jury of his peers. They thought otherwise. To them he had no rights. Laws didn’t apply to him.
When Jamie went out that night with a friend he didn’t think he was going to pull out a gun and try to rob the club. He knew he had a gun in his backpack but he didn’t think he would use it. It was nuts to do that. Maybe he was just being naive. He had already been to prison twice and it was a three strikes state. Why would you gamble with your life that way? He hadn’t been out very long since his last arrest. This arrest would out him away for the rest of his life. No parole. Did be like it that better?
He had been in trouble most of his life but he was fun to go party with. Kinda crazy. Jamie wanted to go out and have a good time. Shoot some pool. He thought he had learned his lesson. But no judge would care that Jamie had no intention of robbing that place with him. His skin color doesn’t win that battle. All black men are criminals. Not with a public defender who doesn’t want to defend you anyway.
His mama didn’t have the kind of money it took to hire a real attorney. Jamie knew that. If she did, then what they did to him at juvenile court never would have happened. But the thing is, and he knew it then, too, cops don’t have to take responsibility for the things they do. They are protected. The court looks the other way. Cops can get away with just about anything. Just like it didn’t matter that the cop busted into their home and pushed his mama down. It only mattered that he reacted to it. What son wouldn’t try to protect his mother? Someone had to pay for the cop’s mistake. The cop needed them to look at someone else to be at fault for what he did. Since he was a juvenile and the cop couldn’t charge anyone in his family with a crime, they settled on taking his life and locking him up in juvenile detention for nine months. Except they wouldn’t let him out, not for more than four years. They thought his life had no value so why not ruin it while they collected money for him being there.
Jamie’s story isn’t special and he isn’t alone. Black people have gotten the bad end of the stick for a long time. Slavery never ended, it just changed. The people were convinced there was something bad inside them that made them criminals. A criminal gene. When movies and newspapers told white people over and over that people like him were dangerous, they believed it. It’s not even their fault. How are they supposed to know the truth? They heard it their whole lives. They were told having white skin made you privileged. It gave them the right to look down on other people. They listened to the news at night and this is what they were told. Isn’t the news supposed to tell the truth? What does it matter. There is no law that says they have to.
White courts lock up every black person they can. They need to fill the prisons with somebody. Contracts with the prison corporations said so. It was just a matter of time. Black people are easier to lock up. Most can’t afford a good attorney so it is easy to push them into taking a plea deal. lHe was twenty-two with no education or work experience, plus he had epilepsy, so who would want to hire him? He didn’t know how to do anything. Men disappear and the women left behind have so much hardship taking care of their families on their own with low paying jobs. Most need some kind of government help and it makes them look lazy, like they don’t want to get a job. His mama worked hard to take care of them. But there wasn’t a parent at home to help raise them. There are lots of women white and black raising kids alone but there are more black women who raise kids alone because their man is in prison.
Jamie didn’t have time to understand any of this before he met Morgan and she got pregnant. He had been locked up in juvy. He didn’t have a family in a long time. She was older than him by a few years and had two children already. She seemed so smart to him. She had gone to school and studied things. She encouraged him to want to go to school because she was going back to school at Angelina Jr College. He’d have to get a GED first because he didn’t make through tenth grade. But how did she think he would be able to provide for this ready made family of almost five people when he had no experience doing anything? But there was no sense thinking about any of that now. He had to figure out a way.
He wanted this so badly. A family of his own. Someone to love. He would do things different than what he had growing up. Jamie wanted to be a good father, even though he had no idea what that was. He didn’t even know who his father was, not even his name. He was kept in the dark so deep about how a family was supposed to act he didn’t once think to ask his mama who his father was. She never told him and he didn’t know to ask.
His two brothers and sister all had dads. They all had different dads and that was okay, he thought. He watched them leave on the weekends to visit their other families. He envied them because they had other people to love he didn’t have. Brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Even grandparents who loved them. But he wasn’ t included. He wasn’t part of anyone else. He had lots of relatives with his mom, mostly aunts, and he loved them so much. But still, without a dad there was a hole and he couldn’t fill it up with more people. That was what he wanted, what he needed, and now there was nobody there.
Jamie pictured his son growing up and playing ball with him and taking him fishing. He’d spend a lot time with him. He’d help him with homework. His son would always know how much he was loved. In his head he had this perfect picture of the family he wanted. Now he would have no way of doing that and it pained him. Maybe his son would hate him now. He really screwed things up.
Jamie had nothing to do but think and he had a lot of years to do it. He laid down on his bunk and turned his face to the wall. He studied the scratches on the wall other men had made. Everything had been painted white at some point but now it was more gray than white. He could see where names had been scratched in, and dates. Other men who had been just as bored as he was. He wished he could shut it out and make his mind blank, but the more he tried, the more his thoughts pushed their way back in. These thoughts kept banging around in his head. He wished he could make his brain shut up. He could see why so many went crazy in here. Maybe it was easier to let go. For him it was easier to let depression sneak in and bring him down. That happened in juvy and they sent him to a different place with kids with problems where they could watch him all the time. He couldn’t deal with it anymore. How was he going to make it through all this time and stay sane.
How does he change things to have a better future? How can you know something you have no way of knowing? He knows he has to make his life go in a different way but he needs help. He doesn’t know anything. He knows he needs to educate himself but where he is they won’t let him. Education is a privilege but without it he won’t stand a chance on the outside. He has to rely on Morgan for any kind of happiness but happiness alone doesn’t teach him what he needs. No one else he knows would care so that doesn’t help. Friends don’t last. They’re the first ones to drop you. It’s stupid to even think about it because he would be middle aged before he was released, if he didn’t make parole, and that was real iffy.
He knew from experience his family wouldn’t be there for him. They weren’t there for him when he was in juvy, either. It was rare for his mom to answer a letter. He supposed she loved him, and maybe she thought that was enough. He felt forgotten like no one cared. They were too busy living their own lives to spend five minutes seeing if he was okay. He was on his own. Should he give up and let his life take him wherever it goes and hope for best? Should he want a life he knows he can never have? Is it dumb to want something when you don’t know what that something is?
Jamie got up and started pacing. Three steps in one direction, turn around and three steps back. Back and forth. Over and over. Then he started to run in place trying to get his heart rate up. He even did some pushups to try to keep his body going. He was overweight when he got here. Not bad,! but still too much padding. It didn’t take long for that to come off with the crappy food they gave you. Some of it he really had to choke down and that was only because he was so hungry.
People get hard in prison. There is so much anger. They want to hurt the world that hurt them and lash out at anyone who gets too close. They also think they have to show how everyone how tough they are to survive. Jamie didn’t want to be that kind of person but sometimes his anger took control and he couldn’t stop it. He could take care of himself if he had to.
Sometimes he stood up for other inmates. Mostly new ones who didn’t know the ropes. Guards didn’t like it when he did that and it got him in trouble. Life should be fair, but in his world that rarely happens.
Most dudes don’t know what to do with their anger and the pent up energy that comes with it. Sometimes it just explodes because it needs to get out. Jamie tried hard to control it but sometimes someone just pushed and pushed and wouldn’t shut up. He knew his anger was one of the biggest things he needed to overcome. His mouth got him in trouble. Because he is alone he thinks so much about life and getting out, and that by itself can make a person angry.
Truthfully, it hurts so much when he gets in that type of mood it’s hard to keep the pain down. It rips him apart from his insides. He feels left out of life like he doesn’t exist and no one cares. He hopes he never treats anyone the way he’s been treated in here, like he doesn’t matter. But he can’t depend on someone else making him feel his life has value, he has to do that himself. Trouble is he doesn’t know where to begin.
Was it because he didn’t have a dad to teach him things when he was growing up? Who was supposed to teach him? There was no one. He doesn’t want to be that kind of dad to his son. But even if he knew who his dad was, maybe he would not have been a good dad. Maybe he was better off not knowing him. Was he alive? Maybe he’s in prison, just like him. Jamie had no idea who his family was. Surely there is family out there he doesn’t know. Does he have an grandma or maybe another brother or sister who doesn’t know about him, either? Was it fair that his mama cut him off from knowing?. Or maybe there was no one. That’s the point. He doesn’t know because it never was his decision.
He’s not a kid anymore. He wondered if his dad tried to see him and his mom wouldn’t let him. When he was a kid he didn’t know any better. As he got older he tried to make himself believe it didn’t matter. He can’t pretend anymore. He was going to be a dad, too. Somehow. Would he want his son to never know who he was? What if Morgan never told his son about him because he was in prison. He would be as dead to his son as his father was to him. How could his son not resent him for not being there? His own mama left him with all these unanswered questions. Was that fair? Half of him was his dad. He couldn’t be that bad if she had enough feeling for him to sleep with him. Does he look like him? Does he have the same mannerisms? Would he know him if he saw him? Does he know or care that he’s going to be a grandfather?
He had pushed this questions out of his head for a long time but now that he is going to be a father it made a difference. Who am I? Down the road would Morgan resent him and keep his son from him because she thought he wouldn’t be a good dad? He hoped she’d never do that. Nothing would keep him from his son. The older he got the more important it became. This is what happens when you have nothing to do but think.
There was another side to this. Why did his dad never try to see him? Did he agree to stay away? Did he think he would be bad for him? Did no one ever think he would grow up and want answers to these questions?
It was an awful feeling for Jamie to have his future at such odd ends, not being able to make any plans until he was almost middle age, with all of his twenties and thirties gone and then starting a brand new life like a teenager leaving home. That’s scary. Would he have gray in his hair? What kind of teenager would Jamie jr be?
What if the world continued to get more screwed up than it is and being black would be more dangerous than it is now? So many questions. His son might be half white but he doesn’t look it and to white people it wouldn’t matter. He’d still be black. But he didn’t want his son to be thinking being white was better. Skin color doesn’t make the man. It is who you are that matters.
After my injury I am trying to get back to finishing my book. Maybe letting it sit for a few months was be good so I can now look at it with a different perspective to make sure it says what I mean it to say. After this it will go to real editor who can see the areas that need work and help me put it together in the best way possible. You can’t properly edit your own writing because you’re too close to it. I’ve spent a long time working on this publication and I want it to be good – a realistic portal of life in prison and everything that is wrong with it. I’ll gladly consider any suggestions or ideas. I will be keeping up with the progress in the newsletter. Please subscribe below.
You wanted me to write more to you about how it was growing up. I don’t think I was happy but I didn’t realize it then because I didn’t know what it felt like to be happy. I don’t think I had any birthday parties with friends and family. We just didn’t do it. I don’t think being unhappy is unusual. I don’t think I was unhappy, I just wasn’t happy, either. I don’t have many happy memories. Most of the dudes I’ve talked to in here weren’t happy as kids, either. Maybe that’s part of the reason why we’re in here. I think if we aren’t happy as kids and don’t have a family who is there for us, how can we expect them to be there for us now sitting in a prison? My family doesn’t care about me in here. But I have you and you care about me. Otherwise I’d have no one.
How did I learn things about life? I guess I learned from everywhere. School and home and street friends. I was taught things by my mom, rules of what to do when she was working. But when she wasn’t around I usually did the opposite of what she wanted me to do. We had an aunt who lived down the street if we needed anything but we were mostly left up to ourselves to be good.
Once, I was placed in a children’s hospital because of my always leaving home. I had a problem with depression even as a child. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t like life having epilepsy. I wanted to be normal. It scared me and I didn’t really have anyone who could help me understand it. I always felt there was something wrong with me because I was different from the other kids. Sometimes my older brother and sister made fun of my seizures. I had so many seizures until I had brain surgery at age 12. It didn’t stop them but it helped.
I stayed in that children’s hospital for a few weeks but one day I begged my mom to come get me. She did but she never told me during the whole trip home that my cousin, who I was very close to had died. I got to my house and there were a lot of people there. It wasn’t until I walked into the the back room and saw him laid out did I know he died. I cried and cried. No one prepared me for the shock. I took that news real hard. He was my best friend. We were the only two sick kids in the family. Me, with epilepsy and him with sickle cell anemia. It didn’t matter he was older than me. I still think about him to this day.
It’s hard for me to write about myself. I know you want to know because of the book you started writing about me. I’ll do my best but so much of this I have stuffed deep inside and it makes me feel bad to remember it. Maybe it will get easier over time.
I’m still waiting for the books you sent. Hope they get here soon. The book on grammar will help me a lot. You asked if we could trade books we don’t want anymore. If an officer finds another inmate’s book in your cell they will take it and write up a case on you. It’s how they keep us down.
There are so many ordinary things that get you in trouble for no reason. So many dudes have no one to buy them books and time goes by so slow. What is the harm in sharing books? There is none, but if they can write up a case they can keep you locked up by yourself for longer time. Sometimes they let it go, but you never know if they will. So it would be taking a big chance to do it. They call it trafficking and trading, and it’s a major case – all for a book.
Time to go and get some sleep
Love to you, Son
(Sonni’s note: This letter was from some time ago. More than 2 1/2 years. I decided to reprint it to give newer readers a little more history on his life. I believe his story overall has a very powerful message. It is not an unusual story. There are many parallels with many of the stories in prison. So many inmates are not bad people. They are people who made a mistake and some are innocent and forced into plea deals. many of their mistakes were being born black in a society who still looks as whites being a superior race and blacks are meant to be used. The fact that so many parents today still pass down racism to their kids is truly sad. Of course that isn’t everyone, but looking at the percentages of white to black in our penal system tells the true story in this country who people say is a Christian nation but too many don’t live the Golden Rule. Will that change? Only when enough of us stand up for what is right and change what is wrong.
THE NEXT MONTHLY ISSUE OF THE ITFO NEWSLETTER WILL BE GOING OUT SOON. TAP THE LINK TO GET IT DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX. EACH ISSUE NOW WILL FOCUS ON A DIFFERENT ASPECT OF PRISON ISSUES EACH MONTH. THERE HAS BEEN NO TALK OF PRISON REFORM SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN WHEN EVERYONE JUMPED ON THE BANDWAGON SAYING THEY WOULD BE THE ONE TO FIX IT. NOW NOTHING IS BEING SAID. IT WILL BE THE PEOPLE DEMANDING CHANGE THAT HAS THE ONLY CHANCE OF CHANGING THIS. PLEASE POST THIS ON YOUR OWN SM AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO SHARE IT, TOO. WE’VE SEEN WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE COME TOGETHER AS THE AMERICAN INDIANS HAVE DONE. WE NEED TO MAKE PRISON REFORM IMPORTANT, NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT. CAN WE DO THAT?
If this doesn’t make you cry, nothing will. I found this as I was preparing the next issue of the ITFO Newsletter, which is about the children of inmates. Since I am still learning the program I couldn’t get this video to play when the newsletter was opened so I decided to post it separate. I’ll be posting the newsletter tomorrow.
The lives of children are severely affected when one or both parents are locked up. What happens to these lives as they grow up to be young adults? Do they follow in the same path because they see it as normal, thinking it will also be their future? Black children have been confronted with more of their relatives going to prison than the average white child. Do they accept it as inevitable because no one taught them there was another path they could take – before it became too late?
I want to tell you a story about my own childhood which explains how a child could think the course of their life followed a plan. Looking back on it my mother and I had a good laugh, but at the time it wasn’t so funny. When I was quite young, I learned my mother was raised by her grandmother, not her mother. She was only four years old. Both of her parents remarried. Neither new step parent wanted her to live with them because admitting there was a child from a previous marriage meant their spouse had been married before. Being divorced was shameful, so she was raised by her grandmother. When she was 11 years old it went to court for a custody battle and her grandmother was given full custody. Having to go to court was a horrible experience for her, sitting alone in a back room. and it remains a bad memory. At some point she told me about it when I asked her why she wasn’t raised by her parents. I must not have understood it because afterward I was convinced everyone had to go to court when they turned eleven. I had several years of being afraid because the closer I got to eleven the more was scared I became of having to go to court. By the time I reached eleven I matured enough to know I wouldn’t have to go, but not once did I confront my mother about how I felt because I thought I already knew the truth. It may sound silly, but at the time I thought I had no choice. This is the way a young child thinks.
How do children deal with life knowing their father mother, or both, is locked up? How many children grow up and the only visits they remember are in a prison visiting room, often behind a panel of glass with a telephone to speak into? Do we assume they know how to mentally process that? Are they more apt to think what happened to their parent will be part of their life if they see it all around them? Why would they think their life would be different? Even the act of “stop and frisk”, which was condemned in New York City as racial profiling, are acts children learned by watching what happened by cops who crossed the line by stalking black people for no other reason than because they were black and hoping they would find something on them that warranted an arrest. Is this all black children? Of course not, but it affects far too many.
In addition these children need to get a worthwhile education in schools that are often underfunded or perhaps closed because they are in disrepair or don’t have books and even qualified teachers. Going to a school far away is not easily accessible. Low income families often don’t have enough food and kids only have school lunches too rely on for food. I could go on. Many of these kids do not graduate. They fall in line with what others kids do and the cycle continues on. Many youth end up in juvenile detention and even truancy from school is one of the reasons they are put there. They become part of the school to prison pipeline. That becomes the prison to poverty pipeline. No education means no job. They have no life to go back to when they get out. They have to eat. If they want to be “rehabilitated” there has to be an open path to do that. There are few options. We need to stop this cycle and concentrate on raising capable people. But who cares? “They are just black kids and they get what they deserve,” is the thought of too many people. This is why there are more black kids than white who are locked up, and more black men than white in prison.
Blacks have long been sought after to fill the prisons starting with juvenile detention. Teachers have admitted they suspend black children much more often than white children. Is it too late to re-educate teachers about this treatment? Is it too late to re-educate cops? How many teachers would not be able to say out loud that they have been unfair? Their own education probably began with how they were raised and how their own family felt about blacks. But even today many people still believe black people are are less able than white people. They think blacks do more crimes, consume more drugs and the reason there are more blacks than whites in our prisons is because they were born with a gene that makes them want to commit crimes. This has been proven to be a fallacy, but it was what the media has reported and some people believe anything they read if that is what to believe.
But the real reason is so many children were raised themselves with one one parent or relative – if they were lucky – and the foster care system if they weren’t. Mothers can’t be fathers and young boys need the guidance of a man. So many didn’t have the experience of having a family who provided stability. That isn’t a guarantee, but sure helps. Kids look around them and follow the course they have been exposed to and that often leads to prison. At the same time that very system is doing everything they can to lock them up whether they are guilty or not. If this were not true, how could most of the people given pardons be able to prove they are innocent, even after they have 20 plus years imprisoned – and most of them are black people. This is the race that has been blamed for crimes and imprisoned even if they were out of town when the crime was committed. It didn’t matter. The police only needed someone – anyone – they could pin the crime on not caring they were ruining not only that person’s life, but the lives of their children.
Can these children now go out into the world as adults and lead a life they have never lived that makes them acceptable in society? Many don’t even have a GED or work experience and have to look for manual labor jobs. Many test with low IQs – not that they are retarded but because they don’t have enough education to pass simple tests. Children grow up to be adults and they have to live their lives still shackled. Finding a landlord to rent them an apartment is harder than getting a job. So it all goes back to their childhood and not having many of the advantages other children have. The children of inmates become the next generation of parents whose children are on the other side of the fence.
Think. What else is there to do but think? What would you do if there was nothing to do, day after day after day? Time wouldn’t matter. Would you care if breakfast was served at 3:30 in the morning in a room where the lights were on 24/7 and you were unfortunate enough to be in a room that had no window or if there was, there was nothing to see or it was to dirty to see anything. If there was no window would you even know what time it was?
Have you ever been sick and stuck in bed for a few days or a few weeks until you felt nuts if you couldn’t get out of there? If you were stuck in a cell by yourself for a few years what would you do to keep yourself sane? What would be the high points of your day? Could it be that you hoped the guard wouldn’t be too lazy to take you for a shower, by yourself, handcuffed and shackled?
How would you feel if the day went by and you hoped and hoped for a letter that didn’t come? You sent out a few letters hoping the person on the other end would be compassionate enough to realize that you needed to have them write back and you waited and waited and tried to make yourself think maybe they moved or didn’t get the letter. Maybe they didn’t have time to read it yet.
So you read a lot of books – if you can. Where are these books supposed to come from? Not everyone is able to go to the library. Being in adseg doesn’t allow it. Some can get out of their cells every day and some can’t. Is that their fault? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Being so alone really plays tricks with the mind. It makes you angry. It makes you sad. It makes you cry. It makes you want to give up – but you can’t. All you can do hopefully cross one more day off your sentence so freedom is one day closer.
Unfortunately this is what usually happens to people stuck away in a prison for years. People eventually go away. It happens to people who are sick, too. Friends that used to call or come by once in awhile to see how you are gradually stop coming by. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to say. They are uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable. They feel weird. They go on with their lives and pretend you died. It’s not their fault you are sick. Prison is the same. They don’t want to be reminded of where you are. It’s not their fault you are there and they tell you that.
What will happen with these people when you get out. Will they want to give you a hug as though you have just returned home after taking a very long trip to another country? Will they pretend everything is okay? Will they say, “It isn’t important now, so let’s not talk about it?” Will they think you will be so glad to see them, and so grateful they took time out of their busy day to see you only when it is over that you will forget the years of silence and the begging to see them? Are you supposed to forgive them for never bringing your son to see his father? Is that possible?
Will they say, “Welcome back to the family. Lets have a big family party,”and want to prepare your favorite foods to eat? What if you said you wanted pancakes and peanut butter because it was the only food you could think of, and they wouldn’t understand the irony of why you asked for those particular foods? He could never trust their intentions.
How would they feel if you said, “Who are you? I don’t know you. Go away.” Would it hurt their feelings? He hoped so. They never minded if they hurt his. How does he treat his mother? Can he forgive her? She is his mother. Not so fast. He kept telling himself she did her best when he was a kid. But he hasn’t been a kid in a long time. Has she been a mother to him when he has needed her as an adult, or are adult kids not supposed to ever need their mother? He will always be there for his son? She needs to understand how it feels to be hurt by someone you thought loved you. He wants her to say she is sorry for being so thoughtless, and sorry for the lies. He doesn’t think he will get it, though. It hurts when you think your mother doesn’t love you enough to even pretend. Even if she says she loves him, she doesn’t love him enough to understand how he feels. She doesn’t love him enough to help him. Ten years is a long time. He doesn’t know how he will handle this later. They have no right to be upset if he isn’t glad to see them. He doesn’t know if he could be glad. Oh well, he still has a long time to wait, but soon he will have only 1/3 of his time to go.
The last ten years and eight months have been a very long time. Absentee family in prison. Why? Even if his mother couldn’t physically make it in to see him it takes very little effort to write “I love you son” on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and put it in a mail. It might have brightened a very lonely day when he was feeling lonely. So little could have done so much. She doesn’t even have to sell her food like he does to get a stamp because he had to use the little bit of money he had left to buy deodorant so he wouldn’t stink in these very hot and sweaty cells with no air conditioning. Did she or anyone care about that? Anyone but Sonni?
He hated to always have to ask her for money because he knows her disability check doesn’t leave her with much but she is the only one he can count on. She always finds a way. She sends boxes of books so he can pass the time. A friend of hers has helped some, too, and she has also written some letters, but he hasn’t heard from her in awhile and doesn’t know why.
So he reads, and in his fantasies he can be somewhere else for awhile. He has routines he follows to get through the day. Some days he craves a hug. To feel his arms around another human being. The warmth. The rise and fall of breathing, feeling the heartbeat of another person. To give his son a hug for the very first time. This is what keeps him going.
These men in here who have no one to love and no one to love them back. At least he has that. Now he has lived through another day. He waits for another letter. Maybe he will be lucky today.