What happens when I get out? I will want to live right, get a job and care for my family, but because I have been locked up, everyone who looks at me will only see is a person who has failed. It won’t matter who I am or why. Do you know why so many end up back in prison? I’ve talked to so many men over these years who have been in and out and back in again. It’s because during the time they are in here all they do is talk about doing what they did to get in prison the whole time they are in here. They can’t see themselves living any other kind of life. Some want to change but theyj think next time they won’t get caught.
You are right, depression is an issue for many. It’s too much to put on paper, really. Just so you know, I talked to a lady from Mental Health. She sees the stress and depression in here. She also told me she saw some thinking errors in our conversation. Of course I had left out a lot. We talked about my mom. I’m worried I might lose her while I’m in here. That scares me.
Okay now, get this. I promise you it happened. I woke up at the some time in the morning, crying. I was really sobbing. I looked at my clock and it was blinking. I was afraid. It was fear of what will happen. I knew it was 3 something. I could hear the guards. They were feeding breakfast. Why was I crying? I had this dream of being called to the fourth floor of a hospital only to be told my mom was dead. I remember in the dream I called my brother Anti to tell him. Then I just broke down. Yes, some of it is fear of what will happen. The struggle is always hard.
There will always be obstacles. Where will I live? I don’t know. I don’t want to stay in a halfway house. Texas is not where I want to be, but it is where my son is. I’ve never been anywhere else. This is not a good state for me. I want to see what else is out there. Wouldn’t it be great to take a road trip and drive all over and see everything? How do I know where I want to be if I haven’t been anywhere at all except inside walls?
Subscribe to my newsletter about prison issues and inmate writings. It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m editing. Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.
The piano music is titled “Inside The Forbidden Outside” copyright 2015 by Sonni Quick.
If you want to hear any of the other music go to http://soundcloud.com/sonni-quick. As with anything online, stats are important. Share, like or leave a comment for others to see. It would be a benefit for me. When my arm heals I’m coming out of retirement from music 14 years ago and play again.
For those not familiar with my music, it is all improvised. If there is an error it becomes part of the piece. I can’t play it again the same exact way. I recorded this as I was writing Jamie’s book. As my damaged arm becomes functional I can continue recording and editing the book.
When I woke this morning I had a vision of Jamie in the distance and these words came to mind. I thought how it must be to never be able to stretch out your arms and not touch something. His world is so small. No ability to run with abandon. We crave what we can’t have
As more years go by the races become more mixed. Really there aren’t many people who are entirely one race anymore. Most whites are a combination of at least several different white races. I am English, German, Irish and Welsh, maybe more. But it changes when the races are mixed with dark skin. Then any other country involved in the DNA disappears and they become just black. Obama is half white, but people don’t refer to him as white, even though is skin is lighter because of his whiteness. He is only black. He isn’t our first mixed race president, he is our first black president. This way the racists have more to feel negative about. So the white part of him is never talked about. His daughters are 1/4 white. Does that not count either? Does being mixed mean nothing?
Two of my grandsons are half black and half white, with a small part of American Indian, English, Irish, German and Welsh. Doesn’t that count? Are they only black? One has lighter skin and one doesn’t. Jamie has his father’s skin and hair. I have a half white and half black teenage granddaughter. Her black side is half African and half Island black. Her skin is fairly light and has beautiful curly, not kinky hair. I remember that her mother wanted so much for her to be white. She had white dolls, not black dolls. I have another grandson that has enough Hispanic in him that if he is with any number of races he can pass for them. Now all of my grandchildren have the same percentage of Chactaw Indian in them, too, which is very evident in my daughter because she takes after her grandmother, who isn’t full blood Indian. It was her grandmother. But some races are more dominant when the genes are passed. The black race is very strong genetically; stronger than the white race and so is American Indian.
I have also seen mixed race couples have twins and one comes out white and one comes out black. What are these kids called, because they both have the same genetics? will one girl have a harder life without the same privileges as the white sister? How do the introduce them without getting weird looks from people? This is my white daughter and this is my black daughter? How can one daughter have racism directed at her and her blond haired twin have a privileged life – unless she met someone, for any reason who couldn’t handle that there was black blood in her – perhaps the parents of a possible spouse because there would be a pretty good likelihood that she could have a black baby. OMG! And there are people who would think that way.
I don’t care if my grandchildren represent multiple races, I refer to them as my grandchildren. But when I show pictures of them to people and I clarify that they are my grandchildren I can see the look they give because it is obvious they are black. but what if I chose to introduce them as my white grandchildren, because they are, after all, just as white as they are black, and Jamie, who is the darkest of the three could very well have white children, too.
To me, the entire subject of racism is absurd because as the years go by it will get harder to separate people by their race. All of the ugly things white (privileged) people say; like black people are dumber, but it’s not their fault, it’s in their genes (or lack of decent schools and teachers) or that black people have a higher tendency to be criminals or black people do more drugs (statistically proven to be untrue) or black people want more handouts because they are lazy and all the rest of these things that are printed so white people can continue to believe they have a right to be privileged. If black people succeed I often read it is because it was given to them, bot that they earned it. The horrible things said about Malia Obama when she was accepted at Harvard is a perfect example.
So where is it all going? I’m in the middle of writing a letter to Jamie at prison. He wrote to me about the limited information they get about things on the news and wanted to know what was really going on. I told him, “When you get out, the world will not be what you remember. You have lived on the outside so little since you were a young boy, so what you remember doesn’t apply to what is happening now.”
That uncertainty must bother him not knowing what he will have to deal with – and knowing so many people are going to be hostile. The world is changing and not necessarily for the good. He will have to treat life so carefully to not end up back inside. He won’t have to intend to do anything wrong for someone to take it as such. He knows that from dealing with the institution inside the gray walls he is locked up in right now. He doesn’t have to do anything to find himself in the wrong.
Yes, I know he is very aware of being racially targeted. That is how he ended up locked up in the first place. And being racially targeted, even in juvenile detention,. where being called a nigger by white staff was not unusual. Of course, a teenager is going to have a temper when he is lied to repeatedly. Solitary confinement was used liberally to teach these niggers how to behave. No one was going to believe his side of any story. Black teens grow up knowing they will be lied to, lied about, and will always come out on the wrong end of the stick no matter what they say or do. White people have absolutely no idea what having to live like that is like. Maybe if they did they would learn not to judge so quickly. White people are NOT special people. They have just fooled themselves into thinking they are.
Because racism is through the roof with cops, black people have to worry still about getting killed. Don’t get indignant and insist it isn’t true. It is not the white people who have to fear for their lives from the cops in the same way. Do I have to worry about my grandsons? Does Jamie have to worry about his half white son. Will my other grandson have to worry have to worry? Will this boy’s father have to worry? My daughter isn’t worried because she is teaching them respect, but who is teaching the cops to have respect? I don’t see that happening. Who is teaching the judges to have respect who refuse to convict a cop when he murders yet another dark skinned person and uses the phrase, “I was afraid for my life, so I thought I’d better shoot him in the back before he turns around and tries to hurt me with the gun he isn’t carrying. Statistics about cop killing people have not been gathered in any kind of consistent manner until now. It is being fought for now. We need to know what is happening.
WHEN JAMIE IS RELEASED FROM PRISON
When Jamie gets out of prison, what will his world look like? How will he be treated? This hate that has been unleashed by Donald Trump who has whipped up his supporters into a frenzy of hate has made it okay for people to take matters into their own hands and shoot people they think is okay to shoot. When I think back to the history of Germany, did the German people just wake up one day and hate Jews? No. They had a leader who worked them and blamed them. He told his white Christian followers they were the privileged chosen race that God intended and he was such a devout Christian. Religion was used to pit people against people. This is what is happened with the Christians in this country. They are special. God loves them. Trump tells them over and over that hate is good. How do we put hate back in the bottle after the election?
Jamie wants to have a good life. Will he be allowed? He wants to help others to not have a life behind bars. He wants to be a father to his son. He wants to go to school. He wants a chance. Will he have that chance? Will the United States come to it’s senses before it reaches a point where it is impossible before it ruins my family, and many other families. It took a long time for me to understand what it meant to not be white. I didn’t know I had privileges that everyone didn’t have. I didn’t know I was “special”. I didn’t feel special, but the cops know I’m special. Growing up I knew I was different, but I didn’t know it came with privileges. That only makes me feel shame that some of my grandchildren are not privileged like me. It should make you feel shame, too.
tap this link to pull up the form to subscribe. If that doesn’t work, paste it into your browser -Thanks!
When I recently read the article below it really hit home. It is a subject that has been on my mind a lot. When Jamie, or any of the inmates I’ve come to know, is released, let alone the ones who have been released and are struggling so hard, how can we, as supposedly a caring society, continue to avert our eyes because we think it is not our responsibility to help them, Christian nation we are supposed to be. We are all linked. Helping this part of society helps us all. When vou take into consideration the large percentage of inmates who aren’t even guilty of a crime, and those who were driven insane by extended lockups in solitary confinement and af seg, often caused by our government and the push to lock up as much of the black population as possible through the made up “War on Drugs”, they deserve to have us help them reclaim what is left of their lives.
Judging by the comments left, there are still so many people who need to be educated about our prison population because they think ALL of them are criminals who are deserving of nothing even though they are capable of reading the news about the exonerations because evidence shows their lack of guilt in many cases. Putting them on the street with no help will create a criminal where there wasn’t one. So please, read this carefully and help when you have the opportunity to make a good cause.
New York Times – The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How to Help Former Inmates Thrive
By ROBERT E. RUBIN JUNE 3, 2016
I RECENTLY gave a talk at the state prison in San Quentin, Calif. At the event, a former inmate said, “I don’t understand why over the 18-year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison. But when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told ‘good luck.’ ”
He’s right. For our economy to succeed, we need to equip every American to be effective in the national work force. But the more than 600,000 people who leave prison every year are not getting the support they need. That fails them and fails the economy for all of us.
To prepare for my talk at San Quentin, I spoke with some of the people incarcerated there. I was trying to understand what I had to offer them in a speech — and I discovered how much they had to offer me. They are individuals — with a whole range of strengths, weaknesses and, yes, contributions still to make. And while there’s been a rightful focus on ending mass incarceration, there has been little public discussion of how we reintegrate this growing population.
Criminal justice reform is not just about being fair to the individuals who will be most directly affected, but it’s also about doing what’s right for our nation’s well-being. A 2009 study estimated that the official poverty rate would have declined by 10 percent for the years 1980 until 2004 had it not been for our incarceration policies. And while there hasn’t been a large-scale study of the economic effects of criminal-justice reform, most experts in the field agree that preparing people for life after prison is a critically important public investment that would alleviate poverty and increase worker productivity.
In California, incarceration policies have already changed, and the San Quentin inmates I spoke to said that the increased chance of freedom has changed the way they behave in prison. They said they were more focused on increasing their chances of parole and preparing for life after San Quentin by trying to learn the skills and behaviors that can lead to productive lives
When you witness the powerful effect the prospect of release has on changing behavior, it helps you realize how badly we are analyzing the effects of the current system on the outcomes we want for society. And when you analyze the economic effects of our current system, it becomes clear where it is failing.
How is giving a former inmate $200 and not much else — no suitable place to live, no help finding work, no help adjusting to life outside prison walls — preparing him for a productive life? Society imposes a stigma on former prisoners that makes all of that harder. All of this decreases the probability of success.
Inmates at San Quentin. Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times
There are five key areas where we could make a significant difference in improving the chance that individuals released from prison can make a successful transition to mainstream society.
First, we need to enhance educational opportunities for people inside prison and just out of it. Many prisons offer some level of basic education and G.E.D. preparation, but it is often inadequate, and higher education is almost entirely lacking. Fewer than one in 10 inmates has access to college-level classes. Inmates who are interested and qualified should have the opportunity to pursue a college education; it will only improve their chance to succeed when released.
Second, we should remove unfair barriers to employment. Many jobs now require professional certification, like being a barber in Connecticut or a truck driver in Texas, and state certification boards often bar former prisoners. We should eliminate those blanket prohibitions.
Third, we should support transitional assistance efforts across the country. For example, the New York-based Center for Employment Opportunities provides work in four states for people as soon as they are released, and couples those opportunities with skills programs, training and job placement. Efforts like these have proven records of success and should be deployed nationwide.
Fourth, we need to help the formerly incarcerated have access to secure and stable housing. Currently, many states ban former prisoners from living in assisted housing. We should instead give individual housing authorities discretion so they can protect the safety of residents but also offer housing to people leaving prison who are ready to start new, productive lives.
And finally, we should help people take advantage of health care coverage for which they are already eligible. Twenty-eight states expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and while most people just out of prison are eligible for it, too many are unaware or need assistance enrolling.
Of course, these investments cost money, but come with a significant return. Because efforts to help people make a successful transition back to mainstream society both reduce recidivism and equip former prisoners to be effective parts of the work force, it will help our economy over the long term.
Solving this problem begins with people outside prison recognizing the humanity of people inside prison. As one man incarcerated at San Quentin said to me: “Nobody is just the crime they committed. We are all much more than the worst thing we have done.”
People in prison are part of America, as are those who have been released. They are part of our society. And we have a powerful stake in their success.
Robert E. Rubin, the Treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999, is a co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 3, 2016, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Help Former Inmates Thrive. Today’s Paper
tap this link to pull up the form to subscribe. If that doesn’t work, paste it into your browser -Thanks!
How are you? Fine, I hope and getting some rest. However, knowing you, you are work work working on everything. Do me a favor and take a break okay? Enjoy what time you have to yourself. Sit outside and enjoy the little things, like the flowers, the sky’s view, the air and everything in view.
(Sonni’s note: Jamie is thinking of me being able to enjoy all the things he is unable to see. He doesn’t even have a window in his cell or AC in this hot Tx summer, yet he worries about me.)
I have been sitting here thinking hard about the questions you asked in your last letter but I have yet to come up with anything. You asked me what I thought I’d like to do when I get out prison. I have yet to come up with anything because I don’t know what will happen. However, I do know this. I want to be able to live my life and be able to take care of my family. What matters the most is my son. Most of my life I have lived in the system due to poor choices I made in my life. My future is my son. I don’t want his future being anything like this. It’s going to be hard, you and I both know this.
A lot of people knew me as Jamie, the boy. It’s been years since I just talked to anybody. In fact, I don’t talk to anyone about life but you. We are the only ones who conversates this way. No one else has tried to spark up a conversation about life. If it’s family, it’s just about what’s going on. I know most of the news I would get from my family is going to be bad. Maybe a little good news here and there. It’s the main reason I stopped writing. When I did write, no one wrote back. I have addresses to some people but I don’t write anymore. My mom moves so much I don’t know where she is. I don’t worry. I know how she is from a lifetime of experiences.
I have confidence in myself that when I get out of here I can take care of what I need to do. I intend to live a good life. Yes, there will be curves and hills. One step at a time. There will be lots to learn no master what. It’s for me to do my best and keep my son from this. My goal is to express my life to my son. I also need to express to my mother about how I felt as a young kid. To tell you the truth, I know it will hurt because it hurts me when I think about it. When I think about a lot of stuff that has to do with family, it hurts. There is not too much I can remember to be happy about. Just a very little. I try not to think about it. I try not to think of things from the past. But don’t worry. The truth is, everything will be okay.
Some people can not take the pressure but I have been under pressure for ten years. Fourteen, counting juvy. I have had a few melt downs, but I have come to understand that I have to have self control. Without it I have to constantly start over and never get anywhere in life. I have learned to accept some things and move on. Yes, I still get angry, but I just speak my mind. I don’t act on things like I used to. I don’t give these people a reason to get back at me.
Give your mother my love and tell her I’m chanting for her ( she had a stroke).
With love, Jamie
p.s. Is 2:44 am – very early in the morning. I better get this ready to go.
(Sonni’s note: Looking back over all these years of letter writing, this blog, and the book being written, “Inside The Forbidden Outside”, I see a different Jamie as he matures. At times I have been very worried, trying to break through when I thought he was giving up because the anger was so strong. But he has learned much through his study of Nichiren Buddhism about the power of the Law of Cause and Effect – or, you reap what you sow – if you are Christian – it is the same thing. For every action there is a reaction and WE determine what that is. I sense a maturity now in Jamie, and I can’t wait until he has the opportunity to have a life he doesn’t even know how to dream about yet.)
. . . I have written about Alonza before. I don’t want him to disappear. The abuse he suffered in prison should have never happened. The justice system used him as a poster boy. Google him and hear his story on Nightline.
You told me that most inmates who get out end up back inside again – 71%. That’s because that is how many go out in the world with the thought of making a change for themselves. some of them talk about making fast money. They talk about getting a job but doing something illegal on the side. Me, when I get out I want a job and I want to have my son in my life. I really want to talk to young males about the system. Not just black males, everyone.
I don’t want to scare them. I want to tell them the truth about how I spent my life behind bars; how I lost so many years I could have been doing something with my life. I want to tell them how I was treated by other inmates and officers. I don’t know why but it’s hard to put it on paper. I try sometimes, but something always happens. Sometimes the officers go through my stuff and (poof!) it disappears, like they don’t the information to get out. They did it to keep me down.
Anyway, I just want kids to know the truth as well as some of them who call themselves homeboys til they get put in a situation. I want them to know that life is nothing without freedom. Freedom is something the world has fought so hard for, only to give it away with a bad choice we made in life.
That is what I want to do. Schools, boys and girls clubs, Juvenile detention halls, internet, radio stations, etc. I’ve tried my best to stay on Jamie about somethings, however I know it’s nothing like me talking to him face to face. I said something to him about what goes on in the world. I ask him to be careful and stay away from trouble, although cops will make trouble for him even if he does nothing so he has to be aware of what is happening around him.
I wrote to Jamie and asked him if he has been reading like I asked him to. I told him to take 30 minutes to an hour to read and never be scared to ask for help. I tell him about stuff I hear on the news about kids. I just word it different and ask him to be careful when he’s outside. I need to spend more time parenting in prison than I have been. Sometimes I get caught up in my own problems when I should be building our relationship stronger.
Change of subject. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to write to my family and ripped the letter up after writing only a couple sentences. My mind goes black or there are things I want to say but don’t want to hurt anyone or make them mad, even though I am the one who should be mad. I think that is why I lash out at people. I have so much built up inside of me. By doing that is how I created more negative karma. You’re right, you can’t change anything through anger.
I understand you not liking the fact of me being in ad seg. Being here at the Allred Unit doesn’t have to be the same unless I make it the same. Now I am more focused than I have ever been. It’s quiet. I can think. I can chant without being bothered – and I can move the universe. When this is over I will stay on a positive track. I have changed my way of talking to the officers. I thank them for everything. I even say please to them now. This is something I haven’t really done before. However, I have to come to understand, if I stay respectful to them, they will to me. When I ask them something they will listen to me and then let me know if they can help me or not. Not once have I been turned down for help. But I don’t put anything past them because I know they work together.
I can’t wait until you come to visit. I hope it won’t be too much longer. It’s been so long. Love always, Son
( Sonni’s note: This is the first thing I posted on this blog in 2014 and it has been read about 1000 times. I decided to post it again because there are so many new people who come to this blog. it is hard to get a sense of who he is or why I do this so I wanted newer readers to have the opportunity to know I write for him – why it matters so much. I am going to repost some early posts. You’ll know by the dates. I hope you go on to read the chapters of the book I am now writing, “Inside The Forbidden Outside”. You can sign up to be on the mailing list at the bottom of this post. The success of this writing, and the fact that he wants to go in the direction of helping kids avoid making the same mistakes, and wanting to help others have a better life, using this book will be an important tool. You can help it be a success by sharing it with other people. I hope to be done writing it in the next 6 months, and the process of publishing will take at at least a year longer than that, if you are familiar with publishing. I think he is a very special man with a lot to give back to society. help me help him. It is extremely hard to have a successful life when inmates reintegrate into society after a long time because so many things have changed. What he has learned about his life while helping me to write this book, because he has had to look honestly at himself, is helping him to keep his determination strong to change.
There are many piano pieces throughout this blog. There is a reason for that. My life and Jamie’s life are intertwined. He has helped me survive and I have helped him. Everything happens for a reason. The people we meet are not by accident. He gave me the reason to start writing music again.
My Name Is Jamie – by Sonni Quick copyright 2014
My music pieces are improvisations. There are many throughout this blog. This piece of music is an early recording, before I had the means to record the way I do now. I wrote this after my liver transplant, when I was able to sit again at my piano. My playing changed. I used to write songs with lyrics, and do copy music of other artists. I lost the ability to sing, my vocal cords are shot, so the meaning needs to be expressed solely through my playing. I can’t explain this right, but when I lived through the transplant, my music changed. I no longer wanted to sound like someone else. My dream as a child was to play the most beautiful music in the world, but I didn’t know how to play what I could hear inside. Now, it may not be the most beautiful in the world, but to me it expresses what I feel inside. I crawl inside my piano and play it from the inside out. I kn0w. I sound a bit nutty, but it is the only way to describe it. Every time I sit down to play I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t listen to it while I play. I just play. I don’t listen to them until a few days has passed so I can listen to them as a stranger would hear them. I don’t remember them. It’s an odd experience. I can’t play them again unless I went back and charted them, which I may do someday. I hit an occasional wrong note. Oh well. My fingers play what they want to express. I play when I am feeling emotional. This piece is the first piece I played this way. I just let my fingers play what they wanted. This is the emotion I was feeling after reading one of Jamie’s letters. The emotion of Jamie’s loss. During the short time he was able to call me last year and I played this for him over the phone. It will be a long time before he can hear the other piano pieces i recorded for him. Sometimes I record a piece and give it as a gift. On the list below you will see one called Graduation Day. Currently it is my newest piece and I just sent it to my niece. I recorded it during her graduation. I want to off some of this music with the book when it is published. )
Last moments of being free
Today with my son Jamie jr.
I sit here in my prison cell, as I do every day, trying unsuccessfully not think too much. How can I pass this day quickly? How many hours can I sleep? How can I pretend that I am somewhere other than this place, trying to wish my life away? It’s sad. What a waste of my life. How did I let this happen to me? This isn’t where I was supposed to be. I want to be with my family. With the woman I love, and with my son and her other children. I think of them like they are my own. I try to not think about that too much anymore. I’ve lost so much I will never be able to get back.
From one human being to another, Jamie – I love you. Not a romantic love, but the love for you as a human being. You inspire me with the strength you have shown in making it through these things that have been done to you in the false name of Justice.)
I can never get back the time. They are all growing up without me. I’ve let everyone down. I know I’m not a bad person. I try to do the right thing, but sometimes, in the past, I did things on impulse. I never thought about what it would do to my life. I never thought I would end up here. Unless you’ve been here you have no way of understanding. This is a nightmare I can’t wake up from.
I often think I won’t make it. I feel like I want to explode inside. I tried to kill myself more than once, but I didn’t succeed. Sometimes I feel like I am under my cell, under the floor, and everything is on top of me. I feel like will never get out of here. I don’t care about eating most of the time. I’ve gone on hunger strikes. But mom, the woman I call mom, always talks me out of it by telling me that my life matters even if I don’t believe it does. You wouldn’t want to eat if you had to eat the food in here. Sometimes all they feed us is peanut butter.
Sometimes I don’t take my medications for epilepsy. The medical care in here is another story. One time I had a seizure and I woke up on the floor with my hands and feet in cuffs. There was no concern for me. They were afraid that they were going to get hurt. Amazing. Anywhere else a person would be taken to the hospital, but not here. Another time I fell off my bunk and broke my front teeth. I have had so many seizures and many times the guards let me lay here because they don’t want to do the paperwork. They do give me my seizure medication, most of the time, but I’m not too sure what it is. I’ve heard that drug companies try out new meds on us with the government’s permission – we have a debt to pay society, they say. But how many seizures can one person have and not have their brain all scrambled? People on the outside don’t treat their dogs the way they treat us in here. What does it matter? I don’t think it matters to my family, either. No one ever writes and asks me how I’m doing. I’ve given up waiting.
I know, I’m feeling sorry for myself. They didn’t put me here. I did. I was wrong to think they would care. Eight years in here. It tears my head up thinking about where I could be. Where would I be right now? I’d like to think I would have done something good with my life. Would Megan and I be together? Would I have been able to take care of my family? Would something else have happened to me because it was my karma to be in here? Eight years is very long time. I have nine more to go, unless they let me out of here someday. I’m not hopeful. My family doesn’t pay me any attention because they say they feel too much pain knowing I’m here, or they say they didn’t make me screw up, so they ignore me instead. It makes it easier for them. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s kinda screwed up, isn’t it?
There isn’t much I can do in here except think. I lay here hour after hour just thinking about things. Some of my memories are worn out by now. I try not to think about the memories that bring me down, but they seem to sneak in anyway. I have so many regrets. I try to replace those thoughts with good ones about the future. Sonni, who I call mom, tells me that the mind is very powerful and I can shape the future the way I want it to be. I need to think of the life I want to have when I get out of here. Focus on what CAN be, not what was in the past. The future hasn’t happened yet so i can shape that the way I want it to be. It’s hard not to get depressed. I have to work at that. Some day this will be over. i can do it.
Sonni might not be my mother, but she is the one who has been here for me. She treats me like I am her son. She keeps my head on straight when I’m really feeling bad. Over the years she has been my lifeline. She’s the one person I know I can count on. She helps me buy the things I need at the commissary and sends me books and magazines. But most of all she writes to me and I am so grateful for that. She’s done so much for me when she didn’t have to. I don’t know why she wanted to help me, but I’m glad she did. She’s my son’s grandmother, so she will always be a part of my family. I know I am important to her. But it’s a shame when you have a large family like I do. They live close enough to visit, but they don’t. I don’t even get a birthday card. It’s like I don’t exist anymore. Sometimes I am so hurt and angry. that is the hardest thing I have to overcome – my anger. I used to think it was my fault. Maybe it was because I gave my mom a hard time when I was growing up. Maybe she is just too busy working two jobs and she used to take care of my nieces when their mom was in jail. So maybe my family just doesn’t have any time for me.
I can’t say that my mother never visited me. She and Megan drove across the whole state of Texas when Jamie was little more than a baby. It was the only time I saw my son for 6 years until last October.
Megan brought all the kids to see me. It was great. I felt, for a little while that I had my family around me. It gave me good memories to think about over and over. I think I almost wore them out! For a long time I was moved around Texas and the first two were really far away. I’ve been in 6 prisons so far. But even when I moved closer it didn’t make much difference. My mother did come some months back. I was really surprised. She brought my nieces with her. She told me that she would be back every week. That made me feel really good, but she didn’t come back again for a long time. Megan brought my son Jamie Jr to see me in 2013 after much begging. She also brought the other kids. That made me so happy. They were so small the last time I saw them. They grew up.
The next month, November, Megan came back and brought Sonni, who from now on I’ll just call mom. That’s what we use in our letters. She lives in Pa. After all of the letters we’ve written, we finally got a chance to see each other eye to eye. She put her hand flat against the glass and I put my hand up to hers. I could feel the caring through the glass. I haven’t seen them since. Mom hasn’t been back to Tx yet. Soon I hope. A man named Melvin, who is a member of the SGI, the Nichiren Buddhist organization that sends me the reading materials about life that I am studying, has visited with me for awhile coming every couple months. It is teaching me how to change the things inside me that cause me unhappiness.
I met mom before Thanksgiving before I got busted. I was only 22 then. I’m 31 now. She took my picture when I walked into her room at the hotel. I was embarrassed and couldn’t look up into the camera.The next morning we all went out for breakfast. I wish I could turn back the clock and do things differently. Megan had just found out she was pregnant, but we didn’t tell anybody yet. It was only a month later that I got arrested. I was surprised when I got that first letter from her. I am so glad she took the time to write to me, and over time we got close. A lot of dudes in here don’t have anyone to write to.
I wish I could see my son more, but I doubt it’s going to happen. Megan’s life is too full of drama. It keeps her from being able to make the drive. It is a full day of driving so I guess it isn’t easy. I’ve given up expecting more. What I don’t understand is when they say things like, “Just because I don’t write you doesn’t mean I don’t love you” or ” I don’t write to you because it hurts me too much.” Hurts them?? They make it sound as though they are the ones being punished. It hurts me so I’ll hurt you more?? And someday, when I get out of here, am I supposed to open my arms and be glad to see everybody? When someone you love doesn’t write back to you, you make up all kinds of things in your head. It’s hard for me to believe they care.
If I could go back and do that night again, I wonder where I would be? If I had thought about that the night I chose to follow my friends maybe i would have had better common sense? I went out with my cousin and some friends. I was in Megan’s car. She tried to get me to stay home that night. We were smokin’ some weed. We just went out to party. This wasn’t supposed to happen.One guy made a joke about robbing this place. I think in a way I was shocked, but at the same time I didn’t try to stop him. I didn’t leave because friends don’t leave friends behind. I played a part as well by helping him. I was driving. He had a gun in his backpack. It was all so stupid.
You know the court appoints a lawyer for people who don’t have the money to hire an attorney. They aren’t on your side. This lawyer gets paid about $200, at $75 an hour, to help whoever needs help. But they don’t really care about helping you. They work for the DA so whatever deal the DA wants, that’s what they tell you to do. The first deal he came to me with was 45 years! No one got hurt. Yes, it was wrong. I accept responsibility for that. But a white guy could murder someone and not get 45 years. But when you can’t afford a lawyer and you’re black and live in Texas, you’re screwed. So I told them no deal and they set another court date. Then they enhanced my case to make it 15-99 years. Fifteen minimum until I probably die. This was to make me take the deal. They also don’t want to take the time and money to go to court. It’s called, clearing the docket. So then this lawyer said they would offer 17 years and I should take it. He never discussed the case with me. He didn’t know who I was. He didn’t care. He wasn’t there to help me. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to who would help me. This was a first offense. I did go to juvy on a nine month sentence when I was in tenth grade, but it wasn’t because of a crime. The school to prison pipeline is very real. That’s another story.
That was more than 8 years ago. I think I have a long way to go. They don’t like to let people out of here. They keep knocking us down so we never make the level to get out. Guards file false charges. One accused me of blowing her a kiss. If you saw her you would know that would have never happened. She was big and fat and ugly. Besides, who would be that stupid. But she wrote me up for it and got me in trouble.
Most of the time I spent in ad seg (administrative segregation), which is solitary with another name, and I can’t even leave my cell for meals. They let me out of my cell for an hour to go outside by myself to the cages if the weather is okay. A few times a week I go to the showers. They put my food through a slot in the door. Ad seg is also called G5. Recently I made it to G4 and I could go to chow. But a guy jumped me there. A guard saw it and said it wasn’t my fault but they still took my G4 away and put me back in G5. Now I have to wait another 6 months to a year to get out again. It has happened every time. Last time it took me more than two years to get back up to G4. When I do work my way up it is never for long. They always find a reason to send me back. because of that, in all these years they have never been able to make even one phone call. I would have to be G2 for that to happen. My son was born after this happened but I can never call him, never wish him happy birthday or tell him I love him. That sucks. It also means I can’t go to school. Without a GED I can’t even work at a fast food place. I couldn’t live on that anyway. This is why inmates can’t make it when they get out and why prison doors revolve. Let one person out while it brings another back in.
I spend a lot of time researching what is happening in our prison system, determined to find ways to not only help the public understand what it means to be in prison, but also to find ways that I can help, not only Jamie, but other people who have family and loved ones who are inside. What happens when an inmate gets out of prison largely depends on the support he has while still in prison. If that support is minimal, and there is no one to help him through the times when they have been abused by guards or giving little food and medical care. If other inmates have traumatized him and there is no help, who do they turn to? How do they learn how to turn their lives around so they don’t end up back inside again?
I have read many articles about the percentage of inmates – the recidivism rate – who go back. They don’t have the education they need to support themselves, and they don’t feel good about who they are. Many want to be able to get jobs but they don’t even know how to fill out a job application. They may be adults but that doesn’t mean they have the experience to live a life that we, on the outside, would call normal. Do they have any days where the word “Inmate” doesn’t feel as though it is imprinted on their forehead? Until the laws are changed, when an employer sees the box checked that asks if they were ever convicted of a felony, they know they won’t get hired anyway. What kind of job does an ex-felon get if they don’t even have a GED because the prison kept them on a level where education wasn’t a possibility. If they apply for higher education and the college see that same box checked they will most likely get turned down regardless of their abilities. And in Jamie’s case, he has epilepsy. He can’t do manual labor jobs dealing with machinery or even get a driver’s license. His survival of his time has not been easy. Preparation for the rest of the time in his life will be a challenge.
My my it seems as though both sides of the political fence is scrambling to see who can proclaim the loudest that prison populations need to be reduced. The public seems to finally be noticing there is something wrong with the percentage of black men locked up in prisons compared to white men and are realizing they’ve been sold a bill of goods making them believe black men are born with a stronger criminal streak than white men. Black men invoke such fear in the white man for his safety. Where did that fear come from? After the white men could no longer use them as slaves they had to come up with another way and that was through our prisons. Hundreds and hundreds of newly built prisons.
The ego streak in many white people who still feel they are better than black people goes back a long way. There is a lot of guilt for what we did to another nation of people. How could we possible accept them as equals after what we did to them? Continuing to enslave them and telling the people they have higher criminal tendencies, over and over until people believed them. They made their family’s lives as difficult as possible and rounded up every black man they could find and doled out the longest sentences they could – to protect everyone else, of course. And now they have a change of heart? Really?
Is this a bunch of hoopla in the year before an election where politicians promise everything they think the people want, but when the returns are in they just go about their usual business of catering to the corporations and the issues that make them money? Each political side blames the other. But why is it that this is the first election where both sides are trying to look like they give a rats ass about the inmates inside the prisons who are brutalized, underfed and are given insufficient healthcare because the prisons don’t want to pay for it? The families of the inmates have screamed for a long time about the mistreatment yet no one cared enough to ever make it an issue. So why now?
Everyone is now saying to we need to reduce the prison population but I don’t hear anything about what they will do with these released prisoners. They are under-educated. They won’t be given jobs because they are felons. They won’t be able to make money. Their families on the outside are usually poor because they have tried to raise their families without the men in their lives. If they live in subsidized housing, the fathers won’t be able to live with them or they will all be kicked out. They won’t be able to get government services like food stamps so they can eat. So how will they be able to survive without resorting to some kind of crime? Then, when they are arrested again, the media will scream that a mistake was made letting them go. They were given a second chance but they blew it. Yes, they were given a second chance but with their arms and legs still shackled. So what are these politicians, who are jumping on the band wagon now, and saying inmates should be released going to do to help them be successful? They couldn’t even get a job at a fast food joint. We know how difficult it is to take care of yourself or a family with that kind of pay.
They will be setting them up to fail.
What do they do with the prison corporations who have 20 year contracts with the government and have promises that the prisons will be kept 80-100% full – or the government will have to pay them for empty beds? It will cost millions of dollars of taxpayer revenue to let these inmates go. In addition to that, these corporations have paid these politicians a shit load in campaign contributions so they can continue to rake in the money they do on the backs of these inmates. Do you think they are going to easily let their fountain of income disappear without a major fight? In addition to the prison corporations that make this money, there is a very long list of American companies who use inmate slave labor to make the products they sell to us. This list of companies would drop your jaw. They have contracts with the prisons. Do you think they are going to just back off and start paying decent wages to Americans who need jobs when they can get it for pennies inside the prison?
There is something wrong with this picture and I am not hearing solutions to any of it. All I hear are politicians who want to get elected, joining in with everyone else who is saying they are going to be the one who is going to take care of this problem, and I say it is a bunch of bull. Do you think the building of new prisons for more inmates has stopped? Really?