Depression, Chronic Illness and Solitary Confinement

cartoon4 

I’m not a professional so I can’t say for sure I know what I’m talking about. I only have my own observations of people who suffer from depression and also the what I’ve read. Depression is very real and it can be debilitating. My intention is not to make anyone uncomfortable or make light of their situation. I am only trying to understand something I don’t experience except on rare times when life temporarily gets overwhelming.

I’ve read the blogs of many people who suffer from depression and other chronic illnesses. Reading experiences is a best way to understand what they go through rather than only reading medical articles.

We all have deep sadness sometimes, and it can go on for a long time before we get a grip on it. Something happens to us sometimes we can’t find a place in our brains to put it, so it is always right in the front part of our thinking and it can stop us from living.

I’ve had times when I was down. It happened more when I very sick but I would find a way to pull myself out of it. The teachings from my practice of Buddhism gives me hope. I’m sure people of other faiths rely on their faith as well. I could that but sometimes people can’t.

Jamie has suffered suffered from depression since he was a child. Would it have been different if he didn’t have epilepsy that resulted in seizures from birth to present day? How does it feel knowing it will never stop unless science comes up with a cure?

How does a child deal with a hopelessness?  Do people think, “He’s only a kid.  He’ll snap out of it?”  Jamie doesn’t like to talk about it. It took a long time for me to understand  what it did to the relationships in his life with family and friends. It knocked his self worth down to nothing. Writing about it brings it back. He prefers to keep it locked away. It will have to be his choice to unlock it. Maybe talking about it could help but it is not my decision to make.

seizure webmdcom

I know there are different kinds of seizures and they affect people in different ways. It must be a dreadful feeling to know one is starting and it can’t be stopped. There is nothing you can do. Is there a feeling of embarrassment, not wanting to show what you think is your personal failing to other people? Do they talk about you behind your back, laughing, if they wanted to be cruel or even feeling sorry for you like you are a broken. It has been this way for him since before he even knew what it was.

I asked him if he could explain to me what it felt like. He wouldn’t, really couldn’t tell me. To write about it in detail would be like reliving it. It was too much for him. It was then that I finally realized that epilepsy was the underlying factor for everything. If this one biological thing had been different it would have changed everything in his life, but it couldn’t be changed. He tells me when he has another seizure and he tells me if it was bad enough to be taken to a real hospital or if the guards just let him lay there because they don’t want to do the paperwork. The prison is messing with his meds and won’t give him what he knows will work so the seizures are more frequent than necessary. But he doesn’t go into detail about the seizure itself. We do what we need to do to protect ourselves.

Would talking about it begin a healing process? Not to change epilepsy itself, but would it change what it does psychologically? I don’t know, but I do think that years of stuffing it down has caused insecurity that is easily rattled and it begins another episode of depression he can’t stop. Being completely alone in a cell with no one talk to makes it worse.

When that happens if he feels it is hopeless why should he even try to go on. No one will bring his son to see him unless I go to Texas. Family, his son, and my daughter all live in Texas within a couple hours of the prison.  Has anyone else made one trip to this prison? No.  In the past ten years he’s been locked is he not worth visiting, even when they learned he also has problems with his heart? No. I don’t have enough money to go often enough.

His family ignores him. He recently tried again and wrote to them – with no response. Would that make you depressed on top of everything else? The total lack of caring makes me angry beyond words. He sold his food for stamps because he couldn’t go to the commissary. Not meaning to make it worse for him, I waited too long to answer his last letter because of everything else I’m writing and he began thinking I was gone. I left him. I was mad at him. He thought he did something wrong. He has lost the one person who has been there for him nonstop all these years. I’ve been his rock and it was like I died. It sank him into a depression where he stopped eating and used sleep to escape.

He wrote a letter and poured out all the pain he was feeling, convincing himself it was all his fault. I felt horrible. But that day, after he wrote and sent that letter, he received my ten page letter. Because of things happening in my life it took about a week to write it –  in pieces. Sometimes I think he’s stronger than he is. Is it because I want him to be stronger?

I do know, and always have known, if I had never written that first letter he would not have made it this far. My daughter would still not be taking their son to see him. He is supposed to understand how hard it is on her yet she doesn’t understand the power she has to destroy him – or to make him happy. She doesn’t want for him to be happy – because of me. She’s angry at me for being there for him. His family would also still not be in his life. No one would be paying his medical fee, so his care would be even worse than it is. Medical care is not free.  I’m on disability.  It takes me months to pay off the fee and still have enough for a few basic necessities. He still would have no one who cared if he was okay. It doesn’t matter that Jamie’s son needs his father. Not “a” father – but his own father.  If I wasn’t there his depression would have destroyed him –  completely.

jamie cummings
Father on the left and son on the right – both eight years old.

His mother had him in therapy as a child and other times in his young life. It didn’t begin in prison. Because there is literally no help for those in prison who need it, when an inmate is locked up alone it often causes harm that can’t be undone. There are so many articles in the media about what happens to the mentally ill in prison and no one can seem to change it. Jamie is not mentally ill, but he does need people who care about him. He does NOT need to be made worse because the people in his life think he’s not worth their time of day.

He’s a big man, 6’2″. He is physically strong. He looks like he should be strong. But no one can see inside his head to find the scotch tape piecing him together. My daughter is very angry with me because she said I’m not allowing her to “let him go,” as if I’m doing this to her. She said my relationship with Jamie is gross. She’s angry at things I don’t even understand because it makes no sense. There aren’t any sides to take even though I feel as though I am supposed to take one. What is there to choose? She is my daughter. I love her and always will, but to do this will not make her happy. 

I don’t know why she is so angry except maybe this makes her look at things she doesn’t want to see. Jamie has asked only one thing of her – one thing.  To see his son.  He loves him.  Being a father gives him purpose when he doesn’t feel he has any.  It is not a big thing he asks.  My daughter does so much for her children.  She is a good mom – except for this.  It’s too much trouble to do this one thing. Give up an afternoon and let their son spend son time with his father.  Don’t do to your son what your father did to you – ignore you.

When Jamie got my ten page and realized I hadn’t left him – I was still there – he immediately wrote another letter and apologized. I can’t take for granted he will understand if I wait too long to write. Do any of us thoroughly understand what it is like to spend years locked away from all communication – away from people? We can’t. We have never been through it, let alone for ten years. There are inmates who are locked up for three or four decades. Are they supposed to come out of that okay? Did it accomplish anything good or productive? No. It’s cruel.  I will NOT be cruel and give up on him because I know there is a reason for me being there.  I see in him what he is capable of.  And I won’t let him give up on himself.  It is not an option.

I will continue to try, to learn, and help others if I can. This isn’t about me. It is about how I can use my life in a positive way. If anyone else doesn’t understand that I can’t make them understand. Sooner or later his family and I will meet eye to eye. I can’t promise to keep my mouth shut.

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The Prison Stole My Books When They Moved Me

Hello mom,                                                                       April 1 st, 2016

How are you today? Fine and in the best of health I hope. I’m not too sure what the weather is like outside today. I don’t really go outside. However, I can tell that the weather is crazy just by sitting in this cell. When it gets hot and stuffy the walls will sweat. Then it will get child Then it has rained quite a but down here as well. Now that is Texas weather.

What kinds of herbs are you going to plant this year? Are you planting any flowers? I never took the time to enjoy the sight of a beautiful flower. My mom had a couple ivy plants and I’d water  our spray them every now and then.

So you know, you don’t have to keep worrying about the heat and me being hot. I just got a new fan today. Also the medical co pay is paid off. Thank you. I also write to Leah and thanked her, too, for helping me. My radio the property lady took? They are $20 and I should be able to get one soon. I miss not hearing what is going on in the world.

InsideOut,original music compositions by Sonni Quick,Jamie Cumminngs

Books. I never got my books back. I don’t know why they kept my GED study book. She told me I was not going to get it back. Why? Why did they take that one away? And she took the brand new one Melvin got for me. I didn’t get a chance to read it. I’m still pissed about that.  I wrote a step one grievance to try and get them back but I haven’t gotten it back with a reason yet.  That book is about a man who was framed for  three murders and was given a life sentence. He fought the system for 23 years for his freedom. I have his first book. She took the second one. I never got a chance to read it. I also would like to read the Jim Crow book. When I’m not sleeping or writing, I read.

I can read a book and be finished with it in a day and a half. I read them and pass them along to others to read. Where we are, on level three and two they take our property. So out of 83 people I’d say more than half have nothing to read. The ones who do have a few books they have read them over and over. So I’d let them read something. Then there is always someone to spoil everything. I let a dude read a book but I wanted it back because I hadn’t read it yet. He kept it. Anyway, I still have quite a few to read. Sending the books in the 30 book lots has really helped me a lot to keep my brain occupied. I’m okay.

I received some post cards from Sherrll and her husband, and Jason. I’ve been writing them back, too. Having other people write to me and having letters to write is so important. If people only understood it can make such a difference between making it and not making it. Doing time is easier when you know people care about you. I’m regret I agreed to do the 17 years. I didn’t think I had the choice. I lost so much I can never get back. So I have to make it worthwhile.

I meant what I said about showing respect and have so much determination to give it and show it. It is very strong.The nurse that returned your call about my seizure meds, remember, there are some who will help but most just try to cover their ass.  But she doesn’t really care and this is how I know. I just had that seizure that caused me to have those seven staples in my head. I was in a cell on row one. Now they have me in a cell on the second row. What am I doing on two when I have seizures. It is harder to get to me for help and more dangerous for me.

My seizure Med – Tegretal – I explained about the doctor taking away my meds at the last unit, Wynne unit. He told me the first time I saw him he wouldn’t put me back on Tegretal because my level was too low. Then he said he can’t do it because I had headaches. I told him when he asked me how I felt. I told them I HAD a headache which is common after a seizure. The doctor said he didn’t care he still won’t give the Tegretal. They want to put me on Dilantin, which I took as a kid and it has really heavy side effects – makes you feel like a zombie and made my gums bleed.

You said you sent a picture in your letter but there was no picture.  Someone took it.  I get your big envelopes when you print things out but I don’t know if anything is missing, so make a list of what should be ever in it.

I’m okay mom. Don’t wory.

Love to you, Jamie.

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This is the Internet radio show interview I did on the David Snape Show, and how to sign up for my new monthly newsletter about the book I’m writing, inmates who need pen pals,info about changes in the prison system, inmate stories that need to be told and other books inmates are writing.

Alonza Thomas – Heights – YouTube

Over the past year I’ve written about Alonza several times.  I’ve had the pleasure of skyping with him many times – a deep and thoughtful man trying to figure out how to begin his life again in a world that caused him pain.  We have read frequently the past year what effects are of solitary confinement. Because of what happened to Kalief Browder and his suicide caused by abuse and solitary confinement the law was changed and kids could no longer be held like that. Alonza had just turned 16 and California had just changed the law to try 16 year old kids as adults and he was the first one. He became their poster child/adult. He made it through 13 years but came out in a million tiny pieces he has been struggling to put back together. I’d like to say that today everything is great. I know he wishes it were. But the reality is the same as someone who has come back from war. On the outside everything seems to be okay, but the glue holding the pieces together never really dries. It is fragile and easily broken. He is safer inside his lonely room than facing the world outside.

I hope he someday heals. He’s a special person. He will always have a piece of my heart as I hold a piece of his.

Below the video is a link to other poetry. Below that is the piece Frontline did on him when he was released.


Link to Alonza’s poetry . . . .         Good Wouldn’t Exist Without Bad   

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Sonni’s Piano Music

YouTube 18 1/2 Years in Solitary

There is much I could say here about solitary confinement, but you can find many other posts and pages on my blog that speak of it. There are links on the right side of the page that can take you to other sites that will give you many more examples of it. The best one is Solitary Watch Between the story of the man this blog is about, who has spent a combined 5 years in Solitary confinement, and 10 years total in prison, first offense, with 7 years to go, and Armando Macias, who has 3 pages here and one post of his writings I have published, who is on death row in San Quentin, I have learned more than I ever wish there was a need to know.

I sincerely hope you keep on reading while you are here, and return often. Jamie’s story is one that needs to be told. Please share these posts as much as possible. If you go to the page that starts out with, “I want to encourage you . . .” You will find out the important places to start reading first that will give you a better understanding of the purpose of our prison system, which serves a purpose that is different from what most people realize. Prisons are full of more than just bad people or we wouldn’t be locking up more people in America than any other country. There is much money that can be made for the prison industrial complex. People often do the wrong thing for the right reason, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. So many people are locked up in mass incarceration for the wrong reasons and little is done to get him out because he can’t pay an attorney. Why should he should lose so many years of his life because of that unless there is financial motivation. During the eight years we have been writing it gave me a clear understanding of how necessary it was to help him. He mattered to me. This one human being, younger than the age of my daughter, father to my grandson, wants to have another chance at life.

Prisons are kept full using the backdoor method – mostly parole violations, not new crimes, although they do exist. Actual rehabilitation is not a priority. The fact that Jamie also has epilepsy and has had a multitude of seizures while inside, will only make it that much harder to find work. The fact that he spent over 4 years in juvy on a bogus charge from late 16 to 21, and not being able to get an education will also make it harder.

If we just sit back and read about these problems but do nothing to help, it will continue. Help me help him. Share this blog.

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James Ridgeway’s Solitary Reporting – The New Yorker

There may be no journalist in America who has collected more stories from prisoners in solitary confinement.

Source: James Ridgeway’s Solitary Reporting – The New Yorker

Prison officials rarely allow journalists to walk through their prisons, and even rarer is the warden who lets a reporter into his solitary-confinement unit. The voices of the men and women confined inside these prisons-within-a-prison are often the last ones that any prison administrator wants outsiders to hear. But the potential power of these prisoners’ stories to draw public attention—and propel politicians to act—was on display earlier this week, when President Obama announced a plan to decrease the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Obama cited the story of a young man named Kalief Browder, who spent nearly two years in solitary confinement on Rikers Island without having been convicted of a crime.

I wrote about Browder for this magazine in the fall of 2014, but there may be no reporter in the United States who has collected more stories of solitary-confinement prisoners than the veteran investigative reporter James Ridgeway. Since it is virtually impossible for a reporter to gain access to a solitary-confinement unit, Ridgeway came up with another strategy. “I wanted to use the prisoners themselves as reporters,” he told me. “Of course, that’s taboo in the mainstream press, since we all know they’re liars and double dealers and escape artists.” He chuckled. But breaking that taboo “didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “My position was: all we want to do here is, we want to know what is going on inside.”

Each week, Ridgeway leaves his home in Washington, D.C., walks to his local post office, and returns with about fifty letters from men and women locked in solitary-confinement units in prisons around the country. The letters began arriving in 2010, soon after Ridgeway launched a Web site, called Solitary Watch, with an editor named Jean Casella. “When we started, there was nobody writing about this,” she said. Ridgeway was then seventy-three years old. He dug into his retirement fund to help cover startup costs, and now, when he goes to the post office each week, he pushes a walker.

He began his journalism career more than fifty years ago, and for thirty years he was the Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. (We were colleagues there for about a decade.) Mother Jones once called him “one of the legends of modern muckraking.” By now, he has written so many books that he’s lost count. “Sixteen or seventeen,” he said. It’s actually eighteen, and next week will bring the tally to nineteen. “Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement,” which he co-edited with Casella and Sarah Shourd (who was held in solitary confinement in Iran for four hundred and ten days), will be released on February 2nd.

Many of the book’s stories are culled from the Web site, which publishes original news reporting as well as firsthand accounts of solitary confinement. The site gets about two thousand visitors a day, but one story drew six hundred thousand views. It was written by a New York prisoner named William Blake, who had then been held in solitary for nearly twenty-six years. Describing a solitary-confinement unit—which in New York is known as a “Special Housing Unit” (or “SHU”) or just “the box”—Blake wrote:

The box is a place like no other place on planet Earth. It’s a place where men full of rage can stand at their cell gates fulminating on their neighbor or neighbors, yelling and screaming and speaking some of the filthiest words that could ever come from a human mouth, do it for hours on end, and despite it all never suffer the loss of a single tooth, never get his head knocked clean off his shoulders. You will never hear words more despicable or see mouth wars more insane than what occurs all the time in SHU, not anywhere else in the world.… Day and night I have been awakened to the sound of the rage being loosed loudly on SHU gates, and I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t at times been one of the madmen doing the yelling.

There are now an estimated hundred thousand people in solitary confinement in prison in the United States. That number should fall in the coming months, in the wake of Obama’s executive actions, which ban solitary confinement in federal prison for all juveniles and for adult prisoners who commit only low-level infractions. Figuring out the true impact of Obama’s actions—and how many states and counties decide to follow his lead—will require the sort of close, relentless scrutiny that has become Solitary Watch’s specialty.

Meanwhile, letters from solitary-confinement prisoners continue to fill Ridgeway’s postal box. In a 2014 article in CounterPunch, he explained:

There are so many letters now that I cannot possibly reply to most of them, even with a couple of volunteers to help. So I buy packages of cards, and gather up all the ones sent to me for free by wildlife groups as thank-you gifts for donations. I start sending people in solitary pictures of polar bears and endangered gray wolves, with just a few handwritten words: “Thanks for your letter. Stay strong.” They write back with a level of gratitude totally disproportionate to my lame missives.

As the volume of letters coming in has grown, so have the descriptions of prisoners’ psychological torment. About one prisoner, Ridgeway recalled, “This guy would write me: ‘I tried to kill myself with the electric light socket, but couldn’t do it. I’m now testing to see if I’m going to slit my wrists.’ ” (Ridgeway made several phone calls, and, he said, somebody moved the man out of solitary and into a psychiatric hospital for prisoners.) “I feel so bad for some of these guys,” he said, “because they really do seem like potential suicides. Those people—I just promise them that I will read their letters and respond.”

Ridgeway will turn eighty this year. Lately, his eyesight has been weakening, making it much harder for him to read and file all the letters that sit in piles atop his desk. “I have so many right now I can’t face them,” he said. But he has no plans to stop. “Most of these guys I write to, all they want is to reach out and have a human hand,” he said. “I used to think they wanted their cases dealt with, but all they really want is just to have some sort of correspondence, some kind of contact with the outside world.”

In Prison There is No Way To Win From Losing

“Sending All My Love to You” is the latest piece I’ve written and recorded”

December, 2015

seizure webmdcom
photo source: webmd.com

Hello mom,
How are you? Fine and in the best of heath I hope. As for me, things are crazy here as always. On Friday Dec 11 I had to go to the hospital. I had a seizure while I was asleep. I’m okay, I just hurt my left shoulder. It hurts here and there. They took x-rays and said I’ll be fine. I’m still not getting the medication for my heart. Nothing new with these people.

( Sonni’s note: That makes me so angry that they are allowed to do this. Why is that even the rights the inmates are supposed to have, the prisons don’t have to follow, People in our government know they aren’t being followed, and people get hurt or die because of their negligence. I don’t get it.)

The medication for my seizures was changed. They can’t stop giving me that one. They can’t screw with that diagnoses and say I don’t that medication. With the change in this medication, I’ll see if it helps. the other medication was giving me bad headaches. I was taken off it. So far so good.

Oh, just so you know I received all the books you sent me except for one. Something with the subject matter they didn’t like. It’s okay. There’s a lot of good books here.

( Sonni’s note: I sent him 30 books from an website that sends books to inmates. http://imailtoprisons.com.   You can send new books and used books and its already approved by the prisons. Who cares if they are used? It will keep him reading for quite awhile and then he’ll read them all again. He asked if I could send him some Westerns. He had never said he was interested in that. Why not? Fortunately there were some Westerns in the lot. He said he was going to save them for last. I guess it is like eating dessert last. Save the best until last. I got a laugh out of that.)

I also got the big envelope with the book chapters you wrote for Inside The Forbidden Outside. I’m waiting to get some stamps so I can answer your questions. I also received a few letters from people who read the blog. It was really good to hear from other people. It makes me feel as though there are people who care and I didn’t feel so alone.  I got a couple letters from a woman named Leah.  She said she talks to you a lot online.  Another lady is Kelly Sherrell.  I’m waiting to get stamps so I can write back to them.

I really enjoy everything you sent in the big envelope.  That is some strong stuff you are writing. You know, it always good to hear when you are doing good.  But remember some things can be fixed and some things can’t.  Just like with these guards with the way they treat me  me and the shit I give them back.  It’s wrong on both our ends.  Someone has to be the bigger person and I see it’s going to have to be me, because the system doesn’t care nor do the people who works for them.  I’ve been through a lot and I’m tired, so I want you to know something.  This might upset you a bit, however I think this is the best thing for me, okay? I’ve been placed back in ad seg (another term for solitary confinement)  As of right now I’m waiting to be sent to another unit because they don’t have ad seg here – only G5 (that is really no different either.  It’s a classification, but you are still in lock down 23 hours a day and get served your meals through a slot in the door and have no communication with anyone. ) So I’m waiting to leave.  Please don’t be mad.  I could still make parole in ad seg, but I have to get my line class back and that will take a year.  Also inmates that go to ad seg get a lot help as far as programs and school when we get out.  I feel this will be a new start and I will get a lot out of this, mom, really.

solitary confinement, Jamie Cummings, ad seg, behind glass visitation
Jamie Cummings in Prison Whites

I’ve sat here and read your letter over and over about how to keep my mouth shut, however it was already too late.  I did this to myself and it hurts me to tell you I’m going back to ad seg. because I know it is something you don’t want.  I understand if you want to stop writing to me. (fat chance of that happening!)  Just know that I will try and I’ll keep trying, okay?  I won’t give up.

Please give me a little time.  I will beat this.  I’m going to overcome myself.  I feel that this would help me more.  They offer a lot to us when we get out of the seg program.  I know I can do it.  I’ve done it before.

One of the officers broke my ID so I can’t go to commissary and it will take me three weeks to get another one.  One of the dudes in here got some stuff for me that I needed, and I will be able to get it back to him when I get my new ID.

I won’t give up.  Like you always said, it’s two steps forward and 1 1/2 steps back.  Everything happens for a reason.  It is what I learn about myself that counts.  Sometimes when something looks like a bad thing, there is something good inside it to learn.  I have to learn  how to overcome my anger.  I know I get angry fast and if I don’t learn why it happens and how to control it, it will get me into trouble when I get out.  I want to have a good life when I get out, so I have to work on these things now.  There is a reason for this.  I can’t blame nobody else but myself.  Like you said many times, to be happy I need to understand cause and effect.  I need to make better causes to get better effects.

I need to get this in the mail.  I love you, mom.  I love you always

Jamie    Merry Christmas

(Sonni’s note:  my response to this will be in another post)

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About SoundCloud – Click on my face to bring up all 12 music pieces. Use headphones to listen in you can or you lose the richness of the piano tones. Otherwise it sounds tinny.  My Newest piece is titled “Sending All My Love To You” It should be at the top of the list. I am using Soundcloud now instead of inserting a music player. I only ask that if you like it, let me know.  I only know by the stats, just like blogging. Share it or like it or leave a comment if you want. Getting feedback helps me a lot and when someone is a newbie at a site like this it encourages others to listen as well. There are 12 music pieces there. I put them on my first CD for my mother to play and share with friends. When you aren’t a computer person it doesn’t help to tell someone to go to a computer to listen to it! I enjoy creating music. I hope you enjoy listening to it.

Why Solitary Confinement? What Did Jamie Do?

Solitary confinement Cell

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

(Sonni’s note: In my last post I was concerned because I found out Jamie was back in solitary confinement. After I posted it I found a letter from him in my mailbox. He explained what happened, but didn’t mention any cardiology appointments, so maybe it’s not time for it. He said it was “next month”, but the month has just started. He should not be going months without the necessary medications for his heart problems.)

10-28-15

HELLO MOM,

Sorry for the wait. I received the letters you sent. Please tell your mother I said hello. Tell her I’m sorry I haven’t written to her. I just didn’t know what to say. I don’t want to say nothing wrong. Well, not say nothing wrong, it’s just that I’m nervous, just like the first time you and I met. But please let her know I am very thankful for the encouragement that she sends to me, as well as the love.

So how are you doing? Well yes that really was a crazy question. It’s always good to know you’re doing better. I know you can’t stand being in bed all day. I’m glad the side effects from the Hep C drugs has lessened. Don’t worry about coming to see me this month. Your health always comes first.

I’m sure you want to know what’s happening with me. Remember the situation that happened with the dude who worked in the cafeteria who was putting his hands all over people’s food and didn’t wear gloves? https://mynameisjamie.net/2015/10/18/there-are-no-judges-here-and-some-things-you-cant-let-fly/

Well, it never ended until now. On October 15th, the officer this dude worked for retaliated against me. He walked up to me and started pushing and shoving me trying to provoke me. However I just smiled at him because there was another officer there. He was telling this officer to stop and trying to hold him back. Shit, that didn’t last long. because the officer tried to grab me by my shirt and slam me into the wall. However, I jerked away from him.

If he had managed to slam me into the wall it would have been face first. After that he reached out and put his arm around my throat. He told the other officer to take me down. He didn’t want to do it at first. I hadn’t done anything. But he ended up doing it. He grabbed my legs and I went down. The Officer  who started this had me around the neck. While I was on the floor he was choking me. Long story short I got an assault case and 15 days in solitary. I have 8 days left as of now.

The officers came up with a story and blamed everything on me. Even the officer who watched the other officer do all this blamed me – to cover his own ass. It’s against the rules, they say, for officers to side with inmates on anything. But he ended up getting into trouble anyway because he had me handcuffed in the front instead of the back. I was being moved to a different block at the time this all happened.

I told the Major warden that the officer did this because I beat up a  worker of his who jumped me when I reported his violations in the kitchen. I also told him that this officer had threatened to get me which he did. They are supposed to be doing an investigation but we both know how that will turn out. The Major even told me if everyone sticks to their story there is nothing he can do about it – even if he knows the truth he can’t prove it.

But get this – another officer – an African – told me he saw what was done to me. I write his name down and told the Major. I told him to question this officer because I didn’t trust the Sgt or the Capt-Lt. They don’t like me because I speak my mind and I speak up for others when their officers are in the wrong. Anyway, the Major goes and tells the Lt. Then the next thing I know they can’t get ahold of this officer to get his statement.

When he comes back to work the statement he gave me and the one he is saying now are completely different of course. He told them I pushed the officer. The next time I saw him I was hot. I aked him why he lied. He said, “Because”. I said, What the hell is, “Because?” But I know they probably threatened to give him probation or take away his job. The African officers here will kiss ass to keep their jobs. They come over here and take a lot out on blacks. Really. They are just about everywhere in the system. If only would work in the system to see how their families are being treated

(Sonni’s note: Jamie said something here I want to find out. He mentions Africans and blacks separately, like two different people. Are Africans being brought into the country to work as guards?)

Oh believe it or not two inmates died of heart attacks in the last two months. Medical is not here around the clock. They go home at 5:30 pm and don’t come back until 2:30 -3:00 am. There are too many sick people here to not have medical care available. If something bad happens the inmate has to be sent to another unit or the hospital depending on how bad the situation is. If I was having chest pains after 5:30 they would take me to a medical room with a computer and I would talk to a nurse in another unit at least 30 minutes away. She would tell me to drink water or some shit like, “You don’t looklike you’re in pain”, like she can tell by looking at me on a computer. (Sonni’s note: That is their answer for everything. Drink water. Does that work for you when you feel sick enough to need medical care?)Then she’ll send me back to my cell. They do that all the time.

http://www.fairwarning.org/2015/07/jail-medical-care/

(Sonni’s now: I still often hear people sarcastically talk about inmates getting free medical. They don’t understand what inmates have to go through to get treated and how often they don’t get it at all, or they aren’t given their meds. Often, medical conditions are left untreated until it’s too late. They die of “natural causes” when they often don’t need to die at all. Who cares except the families who often don’t have the money to pursue filing against the prison and proving negligence. Very very few times has an inmate won a medical suit against a prison. It also costs money to treat inmates and that cuts into their profit)

I need to get this in the mail . Love you
Love always, Son {{smile}}

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Changes On Death Row at San Quentin Prison

Solitary confinement

Dear Sonni,

Hello there.  It’s good to receive your letters. I apologize for not responding right away to your last letter and I received another one today. It’s labor day weekend so I’m gonna write you all weekend. I was out of stamps and paper plus I was not feeling well. I’m trying to figure out what is going on around here. Now I do which I’ll get to later 🙂

The AVP program you are involved in is something to be proud of. It seems very progressive. I see volunteers enter the church here and inmates pour in for various programs. I imagine many people in prison are helped through these programs. I’m proud of you.

(Sonni’s note: I’ve written several posts about AVP – Alternative To Violence project – workshops in the prisons in 36 states to help inmates deal with anger issues)

Here’s the news with me. There is a lawsuit here in the California courts over solitary confinement. You already know this. Us men on death row filed to join in. It came out in the news. The lawyers came to interview me so I could join. On September 1st they reached a settlement. CCR justice (in prison court). I don’t know the details but maybe you could look it up. On the news it said there was to be an end to unlimited isolation and there would be programs for the men. No more being locked up like this for decades simply because they consider you to be “associated” to a gang member. So I’m going to be cut loose from isolation. I’ll get to go to the program building. They have one year to implement these changes. 🙂 All I wanted was to be judged by my own behavior inside these walls, not by my race. I would not denounce those of my race simply because they, and myself, are Hispanic.

This means I’ll get to hug my family and I’ll get better food! 🙂 I’ll be able to use a phone and have fun! 🙂

For awhile I was unsure what would happen. I had filed another complaint because at first they told me it would take 4 more years. That morning the Lt denied my complaint but in the afternoon I heard they reached a settlement. I was happy. We all were 🙂

A Phillipine Buddhist visited me. She was good. We mediated together which is a first for me. She told me to try various meditations – all of which I’ve read about but is so different when you do it with someone else. She could tell if I was having difficulty with a certain mediation because a look in her eyes told me she could tell. She teaches yoga, mediation and travels the world learning from spiritual teachers. I don’t know if she’ll be able to come back again, though.

There is a Legionaires disease outbreak going on here right now. 6 confirmed cases. 95 more possibilities. It started here in my unit and then spread out into the prison. It must be in the water in the trays? The CDC is testing everything. No showers for us in this building. The news says we are getting showers, but not here. Only the main building. We get a gallon of bottled water every 24 hours, one hot meal (a small TV dinner) and 2 lunches. One is for breakfast. Needless to say it is not enough food. I am hungry.

You brought up a good topic about heaven. Heaven is backed by Christian biblical scripture. PBS did a documentary on the surroundings of the writers of early Jewish writings. The argument is: the story of the garden of Eden is about a garden where they believed gods lived. Not understanding anything, people automatically attribute it to there being a god that does things they think are beyond the ability of humans.

( Sonni’s note: considering what we now know about early man; skeletons unearthed that are many tens of thousands of years old – Adam and Eve, portrayed as Christians would want them to look just like us isn’t possible. Our supposed first man and woman would look more like apes than the beautiful man and woman with carefully placed fig leaves for modesty. But people can’t handle that picture just like they have to believe Jesus is a WHITE man with long flowing brown hair because they can’t worship a black man with nappy hair (per the Bible) because too many white people still feel they are better than black people. They want people to believe in their version of Jesus when it is built on lies and misconceptions? One white artist’s version of Jesus that has now become truth??)

This belief of heaven? There have been many human cultures. They all believed in an afterlife of some type. People are afraid of what happens after death.

Sonni, you asked me about my education. I started high school – 9th grade – but was arrested the first day of school. I went to another high school but was kicked out. I ended up going to school one day a week in my probation officer’s office. I picked up my first attempted murder charge at age 13 and other similar cases all of which I did just enough juvy time to beat it. A week after my 17th birthday I was back in juvy for 2 assaults with a deadly weapon. Later that night the detectives came to talk to me about the murders and I ended up with only one murder and 4 attempted murders. I came from a violent home where I was beat every day and lived in a violent neighborhood. There was no other way for my life to go. It is easy to say we all have choices but we don’t. You have to know what those choices are to choose them.

That was half my life ago. I don’t know how life is on the outside. So it’s not realistic to talk about a reality I know nothing about. All I know is I have a lot of patience now. I could live a normal life now. If they let me out I’d be okay. Is there a chance of that happening? I won’t allow myself to hope when that hope is not realistic. I will wait on the new settlement to see what improvements are made to my life inside here and think about what happiness that could bring.

Well Sonni, I hope all is well with you. It was good to have received your letters.

(Sonni’s note: It is easy to judge people for what they have done and hold it against them for the rest of their lives. I have been judged. I know what that feels like when people are determined to only look at half of a truth and deem it to be the entire truth. Many people have also given up the art of letter writing and many have even given up knowing how to write at all. The correct use of the English language, spelling and punctuation is slowly being forgotten. Young people have no knowledge of how to write cursive because it isn’t taught. It is the men and women in prison who continue to write our language. When was the last time YOU wrote a letter?

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On Death Row Having Hope Can Destroy you

Armando macias
There is another inmate I have been writing to for about one and a half years who is on death row in San Quentin. Sometimes being in that situation ends up destroying them, and sometimes it gives them the time and space to understand who they are, what they did, and how it brought them to this place. It doesn’t negate what they did. They are paying the price for what happened. But many men – and women – in this place were pushed along a timeline outside of their control from the day they were born into families filled with violence and beatings, or they were throwaway kids tossed about different state group homes, detention centers, and countless, often neglectful and violent foster homes filled with physical abuse along with alcohol and drug addiction. If they ran away the only neighborhoods outside their door were filled with street gangs with guns, death and drugs.

These young people found the “family” of love they were craving inside a street gang. These at risk children instinctively know that as children they should have someone to love and care for them so they go to the only people who open their arms and wrap them around these young bodies. But there is a very big price to pay for this love. They must do as they are told to do – without question. They wouldn’t hesitate to kill for the honor of their gang. They would also have to bring in money to survive through theft and selling drugs, and they have to kill those who disrespect them or try to kill them first. Sometimes that disrespect is only because someone in another gang looked then in the eye. As the years go by many of their homies died. The ages of the men and boys in each barrio was not very old. They didn’t live very long. They expected they would be killed any moment. They couldn’t get out. They were in for life. They knew no other way of life. They wouldn’t know where to go if they did get out. This was the only life they knew.

In Los Angeles, in the decades around the ’90’s, crime escalated. There were hundreds of gangs each trying to control a few blocks. Drive-bys from other gangs was expected and later retaliated against. There were many reasons that brought these minors into juvenile court, an over crowded, inefficient system that couldn’t handle the sheer number of broken children no one wanted. A single probation officer was expected to supervise hundreds of juvenile delinquents at one time. There isn’t even time to see if they are attending school let alone help them in any constructive way.

When they are brought into court there is nothing done for them. They slap their wrist. They let them go. If they do have parents no parental guidance is given. The crimes escalate. The court lowers the age children can be tried as adults – 22 states consider that age to be 7.

One of these juveniles is the man I write to, along he is long past being a juvenile. He is now in his 30’s. I don’t know all the crimes he has committed. I know he has been in and out of prison, once was for murder, and murder once again landed him on death row. This is where he began his search to find answers to make sense of his life.

It’s easy to think that everyone has choices and to an extent we do. But we have to know about those choices and the effects those choices make. You can not know something you have never been exposed to. These young people followed the path their life was headed just like we all have. Different sets of privileges, understandings and guidances urge our lives along a path that has been set by different causes and effects.

After being given the sentence death and entering prison this last time years ago this man searched through every religion to find something that helped him make sense of his life. He tried everything, even satanism. Nothing made sense because each one told him there was something else out there that had control of his life and could decide at any time to punish him or save him. And this entity did all of this because it loved him. All he had to do was love and trust this thing.

No one could see or talk to it but people claimed that God talked to them personally because they needed so badly to believe it was true. It was all about getting to heaven when you die. No thank you. He wanted to understand life, not death. All of this belief these people had never changed their lives or the kind of person they were.

If there had been a God and it just stood by and let his life happen this way from birth, he wanted no part of it. This was NOT the answer. He was not going to just blindly trust that NOW he was on death row, God was going to love him. No, this religion about an almighty God was for people who were unable to take responsibility for lives and needed it to be God’s plan for the reason why their lives were so fucked up.

He found Buddhism. He found the answers to his questions. He had the time to study and mediate. He learned what karma was. He could not change the past but he could affect the future.

The staff in San Quentin made his existence as miserable as they could. Because he is Hispanic it was even worse. In California the use of solitary confinement was used far beyond what most states did, keeping men locked up for decades for no reason. They were unable to call family. Visits were severely restricted. Inmates could only have three books. A cherished book would have to be given up if you wanted a new one. He was allowed no programs.

During this time I saw his profile on an online site of inmates looking for people to write to – a connection to the outside world. Our letter writing began. I initially chose to write to him because he said he was Buddhist and I was curious how that came to be.

After many letters it was easy to see that this man had rehabilitated himself in spite of the prison’s efforts to destroy him. He wants to create a life inside that he was never able have on the outside. Chances of ever getting out is not anything he contemplates. But he would like art supplies because he is quite a good artist and he would like to learn things. Why continue to treat him inhumanely? What purpose does it fill? He has been removed from society. There is no purpose in continued degradation.

Not everyone agrees with me. A devout Christian woman recently told me she was angry that I was writing to him because after what he did he deserved no forgivesness. Murder can not be forgiven. Hmm… I thought. This is the way a Christian thinks? Only certain offenses can be forgiven? He wasn’t asking for forgiveness and I never offered it. I, too, am Buddhist. I offered understanding and a chance for communication on a human level. I have learned much from our letters.

In 2016 California will decided on either abolishing the death sentence or carrying out that sentence in a shorter time and not letting inmates languish for decades waiting. The problem with the death sentence is that the verdict is wrong often enough that innocent people are put to death.

Recently California has made changes that has been long awaited prison reform. It has done away with indefinite solitary confinement which has affected many people who have been in complete lockdown often for decades who haven’t deserved that punishment. It will affect this man I write to. My next post will be his last letter to me describing his feelings about this change. When I read of this change in the media my first thought was of him, hoping it would allow him more life when he thought there was no hope. On death row, having hope can destroy you.

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Early Morning Pain – Prison is No Place To Keep Love Alive

burning heart flame
photo credit:
revalationsofprofoundlove.com

Early Morning Pain by Sonni Quick   copyright 2015

December 10, 2009

(Sonni’s note: It is still December 2009 4 1/2 years ago, as I continue to read older letters. The sad thing is that it is a letter I could have received today. He was G5 then and he is G5 now. I’ve begun to wonder why it is that there are inmates in some states who are at different level security prisons, yet the offense is the same, or an inmate who committed a far worse crime than Jamie did yet he is in medium security prison where Jamie is in a maximum security. Is it something than an attorney can help with? I don’t know. It took a lot of letters for me to start to understand what it all meant – how hard it was. I knew nothing when I started writing)

I’m now G5 which is 24 hour lockdown. I’ve been back here going on four weeks. life in prison. I’m good in a way because I haven’t been in no trouble. However, I’m also doing bad because they won’t give me any of my property. All I have is sheets, blanket, tissues and a few bars of soap. I don’t have a mattress. They haven’t given me one yet. I’m sleeping on an iron bunk. My back is killing me. My cellie lets me use his every now and then. I have nothing to do. I just sit here looking at the walls. I can’t do any of my studying because I have no books. I no longer get to go to the Islam services. I’ll do all my studying when I get my books back. I don’t know when that will be. It could be a month or two from now.

Mom, in your last letter you asked me if I needed anything. I was going to ask if you would send me a few books. However, I remember saying in a letter she wrote that you are a nice lady and to not take advantage of you. It really hurt me that she would think I would do that to you., so it’s okay about the books, mom, thanks anyway. I know you told me all I needed to do was ask. I told Megan that it hurt that she thought I would do that to you. I would never do that to someone I love, or even someone close to a loved one. Mom, I think she has moved on with her life, so I just want her to tell me that’s all. I don’t want to hold her up if she wants to move on. I just want her to know I really love her. I understand she is having it hard by herself. I can apologize a million and one times but it won’t help bring me back home. I messed up, but at the same time it’s just as hard in here, having someone run your life. People you don’t know who are 5 or 6 years younger than you. It hurts mom, really, to have someone run over you just because they can. There is lack of humanity in here.  They enjoy watching you suffer.

Well, I love you mom but I’m going to end this letter. My cellie is an old dick and he’s telling me why I love Megan. He’s been down the same road. I love you, mom. Write back soon please please. TELL MEGAN I LOVE HER PLEASE PLEASE. THANK YOU.

Ask her if her flame for me still burns? If it takes awhile for her to answer please tell me. Then I know she has moved on. Thank you. Sorry it took so long to write back.

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