A week our so ago I chance upon a video of a segment from the TV show Frontline. I watched it. It was heartbreaking. After the tragedy of Kalief Browder who committed suicide after three years in an adult prison as a teenager many people are more sensitive to the atrocities inflicted on youth, as well as adults, when they are made to endure years of solitary confinement. This young man, Alonza Thomas, spent 6 of a 13 year year sentence locked up in a cell by himself “for his own protection”, if you no what I mean.
I tracked him down and we talked face to face on video chat. What I found was a very scared, very lonely boy, because his life experiences not only didn’t allow him to grow up, he was scared of life as he now saw it. He had lived under such strict rules and had no idea now how to live life where he had the ability to set his own rules for himself.
He had violent experiences he can’t talk about because it makes him go to the “dark place” that is hard to get out of. I don’t know how much contact his family had with him during those years but I doubt it was enough. He, like Jamie, was moved to 6 different prisons and the distance often is makes it difficult. Time finished it off. Out of sight out of mind. The prison intends to destroy his mental health.
They threw him a party, as I imagine Jamie’s will, but then, because he is a grown man they will expect him to figure it out on his own with no knowledge of how to do that. He gets no help now so why expect they will help later? They won’t.
Alonza’s family expected him to figure it. Maybe they tried. Maybe when he didn’t fit in with his family of strangers they let him go. Whatever the reason, he spent the next 6 months sleeping in the park. He tried to go to a shelter but they required the men to shower together every day in one big room. Because of things that happened with the men in prison he is scared of being around men in any capacity, especially that one, so he was made to leave.
He hasn’t had contact with his mother in a year. Why? Is he not normal enough? Is he not her son anymore? I don’t have the answers. There is always more than one side to every story. I know I don’t have the complete story.
But this I do know – this would be Jamie’s story. Locked up before 17 with one year outside from 21 to 22. If Alonza had someone like me to reach in and grab hold could it have helped to have a different outcome? If someone had been able to teach him would it have made a difference? Why is it so important to me that I dedicate my life to changing even one person’s life?
Because . . . The only legacy we ever leave behind is the affect we have on other people’s lives.
We have more people locked up in America than any other country in the world, The US is in purple which means we lock up over 600 people per one hundred thousand people. This map is a few years old. It is actually closer to 700 now. That might no even seem like a lot. We have states were there a lower percentage, and then there are states that have towns where half the residents are either locked up now or they have been locked up. There is a reason for that. Many people are now only beginning to see what is going on. It’s now no longer hidden away. More and more it’s making it’s way into our headlines. Do we have more criminals? Do Americans have a greater tendency for crime? No. It’s just business, that’s all. Just like the south had plantations and needed slavery to continue because without it the plantation owners would have a money problem. Who cares if people were tortured, women and girls were raped, men were whipped and families were turn apart? It’s just the cost of doing business. They weren’t white so what was the big deal?
Most people really don’t understand the business of prisons. Aren’t they for locking up bad people? Well . . . yes. Some of them. People don’t thank that for many of the human beings living inside it is a living hell. The sentence they receive in the courtroom is only part of sentence they get. That sentence starts when they get inside and deal with their captors. Those people have the license to be as cruel as they want to be, and their bosses will just turn a blind eye, even if a person dies from the abuse. Prison conditions are not safe for inmates. There is no justice in prison.
I used to think if Jamie was locked up away from other inmates at least he would be safe. I know being out in the general population, or gen pop as it’s known, can be dangerous. There is wide variety of people locked up and many of them are people with nothing to lose. You can’t turn your back on anyone, or trust anyone at any time. It worried me when he said he was making it up the levels from G5, which is also called Adseg or administrative segregation. I suppose it is a nicer sounding word than calling it solitary confinement, or the hole. When you are locked up there you have no human contact with anyone unless it’s a guard grabbing hold of you either to cuff you or hurt you.
In adseg the guards are supposed to take you to shower three times a week, but that doesn’t mean they will. If you are in a prison in the south, like Texas, there is no air conditioning. It’s like living in an oven. If you have someone who puts money on your books, and if you allowed to go to the commissary once a month, you can buy deodorant. If not, you stink. Being able to take a shower is the only way to get a little relief from the relentless heat and humidity. Taking away your shower is one way they punish you. Taking away food is another. They may substitute it with something called food loaf your dog wouldn’t eat. Or they will take away being able to go to the commissary. Sometimes they even take away all of your property – everything, even your mattress.
Your food comes in through the food slot. Jamie has seen his food spit on before it was given to him, with a smirk on the guard’s face. You are supposed to be allowed outside your cell one hour a day to walk, while shackled, to another slightly larger cage. This is supposed to be your one hour allotment of being “outside”. In this tiny cage is where you are supposed to exercise, if you choose. You are in that cage alone. Sometimes that cage is indoors and you don’t even get to see the sky or breathe fresh air for months at a time. Even the strongest person can easily lose their mind. It has been proven that any more than fifteen days in these conditions like this can begin to alter the mind in negative, often irreversible ways that make it even harder for inmates to reintegrate back into society when they are finally let out.
Inmates lose the ability to tell if it is night or day. Lights are left on twenty four hours a day. There is no way of keeping time. Meals are often the same so you don’t know if you are being given breakfast or lunch. Paranoia easily sets in and conversations with people not really there are often the only ones to talk to. Many in solitary confinement will harm themselves physically, either to see if they are still alive or to kill themselves. If they don’t have something that will cut through the skin they might bite themselves to open a vein. If their mind is gone they might smear feces on themselves and on the walls and floor. Living every day in solitude with no one but yourself and your imagination can be pretty rough. Sometimes your imagination is not your friend, but instead preys on your fears, your loneliness and tears down your will to live along with your self esteem.
The effects of living in solitary are worse than most people can imagine. The isolation and deprivation are more than most people can handle. Often the people in solitary are those who are already insane. The mental hospitals were closed down. Law enforcement doesn’t know what to do with these vagrants they find. They can’t keep them at the jail. They can’t keep them in the hospitals. The only thing to do is lock them up. They won’t get the treatment they need and looking them up in isolation only makes them sicker. They can’t let them out in to the general population at this point because they would likely end up hurting someone. So the general thought was to put them in isolation because it is safer for them there. Doing that finishes off what is left of their sanity. There is no thought put into a prisoners mental health. It doesn’t matter. They don’t care.
What does it do to a guard’s mind after witnessing this day after day? Guards also have to work in these units without benefit of AC, wearing heavy uniforms and often protective gear for when they have to move an inmate from one location to another. They don’t care if an inmate are sick. Taking them to medical means more paperwork to fill out. It’s doubtful medical will do anything about it, anyway. So what if the inmate has a seizure from epilepsy? Medical care in prison is only given when they have no choice, and even then it’s substandard. They’ll just let the next guard on duty to take him to medical. Is that how people are cared for when they have a seizure? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? What happened to the guards ability to care about them because they are human beings? How can they clock out after their shift and go on and have a normal day? Guards don’t care if you get your shower, or if you have edible food or water. Mess with them and just shut your water off for days. If you die because of it there aren’t any repercussions, except maybe they’ll give you a job in another prison. If it’s bad enough you might get fired. But you won’t get convicted and go to prison just because your actions killed a few inmates.
Tempers run high on both sides. The inmates get angry, but they aren’t allowed to get angry. If they do the guards will write up a case on them. No one, not even the warden will do anything about it. They hear complaints all day long about the same thing. Instead of fixing the problems, they just let the officers and the supervisors do what they want. After all, they are just inmates. This needs to change. There is much about our prison system that needs to change, from locking up kids, straight through to solitary confinement. It’s big business and a lot of money is at stake in keeping the status quo.
Many guards, like our police, who have been in the news more often as the people get angrier and angrier at having their family and neighbors locked up. When you ask a child now what he wants to be when he grows up I doubt you will hear the words “I want to be a policeman” anymore. The police used to be a friend of the people who helped them. That changed a long time ago. There is so much corruption in our police force that many of them need to be locked up with the bad guys. I think many begin their jobs with the best of intention to do a good job, but it doesn’t take long to find out that being able to be a good cop is very hard to do. The nature of the job changes people.
Police, and prison guards, like their position of authority. It’s addicting. They take advantage of being able to make people do what they want them to do. Prison guard crimes don’t carry the same weight when it happens inside a prison instead of in society. But does that make them any safer to be around?Many think they are above the law because their superiors look the other way, condone their actions and make excuses for them when people die. They don’t have to live through the consequences of their actions. At least until now. Times may be changing. But as long as your superiors are telling you that inhumane treatment is acceptable, and people have no way to retaliate, it brings out the worst in their nature. Many people, men and women who get this job of authority are put into the position of being able to hurt people indiscriminately. Many people end up dead or at least seriously injured. What a perfect job for a sick mind.
Does that mean all guards or police are like that? Of course not. I believe the guards who work with the general population have a dangerous job. They are around many inmates who would rather see them dead. Guards have to worry about these inmates when they get released. Will any of them hunt down where they live and hurt their families? For all the inmates who shouldn’t be there with sentences that were too harsh, there are just as many very dangerous criminals who have life sentences and have nothing to lose if they hurt the people around them. That is why I was concerned when Jamie made it to G2 level, because you have to have eyes on the back of your head. There are gangs who would think nothing of sticking something sharp in you. Sometimes the guards get hurt, too.
The guards who work in the lower level units are different. That fear of being hurt by an inmate is pretty low, and they seem to enjoy provoking them to the point the inmate can’t take anymore and they lash out. If it is your nature, being able to hurt people you control is much more fun and amusing because there is nothing the inmate can do about it. The guards are always in the right and the inmate is always in the wrong.
Sometimes they are put into “The Hole” for only a small infraction of a rule, or for talking back. Sometimes they are put there for their own protection because their life is in danger. Because of the lack of mental hospitals there is no place to put people when they can’t live in society. It doesn’t mean they are criminal. It means they need to be in a hospital, not punished. When they keep them in isolation it furthers their psychosis. If they do harm themselves, they will be taken to medical to be stitched up and then put back in solitary with an increased sentence. It’s inhumane, and the inhumane guards who guard them develop their own psychosis that tells them it is okay to torture and harm the people locked up, and do it with a wink in their eye, knowing they have full power over the inmates, so they better get used to it.
(Sonni’s note: Will Jamie be able to get out of prison some day and be able to put this experience behind him? Will he be able to adjust to a “normal” life he has never experienced? Will the damage be too great? Will he be able to adjust? Chances are not in his favor if he doesn’t have enough support. My thanks again to everyone who sent him a message at email@example.com when I asked about a week go. I’ve sent off to him.)
How are you? Blessed as well I pray. As for me I’m doing okay. The property man brought me my things to me today. I have everything, except I still have no mattress. I’m sorry to have worried you, mom. It’s just things are hard in here. I’ve been stressing myself to a point. There’s a dude telling me I love Megan too much and that later down the line she will turn on me. I don’t pay him no mind because of the stories he’s told me about how he’s treated women. However, this is what hurt mom. Later that day the deputy called me and gave me child support papers. So I’ve been stressing on that. Not hearing from Megan haven’t made it no better. I wrote to her grandmother’s address and asked why. Nothing, I’m still waiting. I’m just going to have to write again. All I can do is pay she writes back.
Then on top all that I just got a letter telling me my great grandmother passed. I’m holdin up but I was upset because my family hides a lot of things from me. It’s like they don’t want to tell me anything until it’s all over. It hurts me that Megan isn’t writing me. I’m sure is because of this man she’s with. He’s the kind of man that uses a woman. I can tell. Me and him will cross one day. As for the new little one he’ll have a birthday in a few days. One year old. It’s good that you’re able to talk to little Jamie. I wish I could call and talk to the kids again. We had fun together at that one visit we had. I wish I could get a visit for Christmas our my birthday next month. Ill be 27 mom.
It’s hard to believe Megan got laid off. I couldn’t see it happening to her. It’s good she filled an appeal. Mom this is all my fault. Megan and the kids shouldn’t be going this. I blame myself for everything. I messed up her life and the kids lives by leaving them alone. As for her anniversary, I didn’t know she was still married. She told me she had gotten a divorce. How can that be? The same goes for BJ. She choose to have a life with him, and that didn’t work. Now, if he’s not trying to have a relationship with his son then he’s no good. I remember you said you cried when she got pregnant again. Oh I know you love little Ben, but since it didn’t work out it was just so much harder for her. I know one thing mom. Mine or not, Ill keep a relationship with them. I love them just like I love their mom. Even if they aren’t all mine. So you see, it really worries me about not hearing from her. And I don’t understand the child support papers. It would have been different if she did that when I came home. Well, I guess there is a reason for everything.
I have to go for now. Take care, mom
Love you, your son
P.S. Thank you for the present you are sending Jamie for me. And Merry Christmas!
(When I think of my life and the many twists and turns I’ve gone through and I look at those same years Jamie has gone through I can almost interchange the dates of his prison letters no matter how many years apart they are. Nothing changed except Megan’s letters began to get further apart. All he has is his memories because anything else is not something he wants to remember. All he can do is escape into his mind. He still loves a woman that in his mind never changed – never went on without him, although she is on her third or fourth “serious” relationship since he went in. She cried so sincerely she would wait for him. She meant it at the time but there was no way she could continue to raise her children by herself with her income potential. She went on with her life looking for elusive man who would be a good father for her children and good to her, as well. She even got married again and she had another child. Four children with four fathers and another one is in San Quentin.
Jamie is not responsible for her happiness or her unhappiness. He should not be carrying the guilt by himself. Megan’s life was set in motion long before she met Jamie, and so was his. Their lives collided. Because of the way they made their decisions is the reason for the outcome. Many different choices could have been made along the way. But when there is no thought of the consequences life just slaps you around and you spend more time running around picking up the pieces instead of moving forward. it doesn’t mean they would not have ended up in the same place. It means another path would have gotten them there. Megan would have met someone else to have a baby with, just like she met yet another man and did have a fourth child. Her causes for her life were made long ago. And Jamie, just because he might not have met Megan, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be in prison right now, but it could be for a different reason.
Things don’t happen by accident. But unless you have a way to learn these lessons about life you don’t realize the power you have to change the things that cause you unhappiness. That is why, some years ago I started to teach him the principles of Nichiren Buddhism – the law of cause and effect. Where you are today is the effect of previous causes and where you will be tomorrow comes from the causes you make today. Simple. A plan is not laid out for you for mysterious reasons – you make your own plan. It’s just easier to think you didn’t make that plan. God did. When you think like that, life just keeps knocking you sideways, until learn to make a different cause This is why many people really don’t start searching for answers until their life is a mess and you are willing to listen. For some people – inmates in this case – they find God. There is chaplain in every prison. There are many good things to learn through Christianity. This is not a slam on Christians. I grew us in the church, but I didn’t see people living what they were being taught. It was easy. Do what you want and ask for forgiveness. That didn’t work for me. I wanted better answers, so decades ago I started searching. Christianity does teach you how to be a good person and the reward is heaven. If the lessons are applied they will be in a better place. Buddhism teaches a lot of the same lessons, but it also explains the real consequences in your life today as you live it. Some inmates find the Islamic faith, which Jamie tried for awhile. That faith in prison teaches peace, not violence, but in the end it still didn’t have the answers he needed. He grew up knowing Christianity, but even that never explained the law of cause and effect even though it teaches – you reap what you sow – but it doesn’t teach why.
My purpose here is not to get into a religious discussion.. But what I see in society is a lot of very judgmental Christians who aren’t good people to people who don’t think like them. I do NOT see that in the Buddhist community. I have used Buddhist teachings to show Jamie how to understand why his life is the way it is and to apply them to his life so it makes sense. Then he can work on changing it.. What he knows now he didn’t know before. Even so, it doesn’t make the struggles go away. Things don’t change just because you want them to. And nothing “out there” is going to give you a benefit without you first making a cause for it – you reap what you sow – period. Buddhism has helped him keep his head on straight and to be able to pick himself up when he falls. There will always be obstacles – because that is how you learn and grow, All of us needs to respect others choice of faith. That alone will make this world a better place to live. Respect.
Megan has been with someone now for a year and a half and so far she seems to be happy. But she is still in the “getting to know you” phase. The work hasn’t even started. But while Jamie still loves her like time stopped, she doesn’t care about him anymore and gets angry if I mention his name. She won’t take “their” son to see him so the last time was when I visited him at the prison 2 years ago. Some men don’t want to be a father. Jamie does. How will their son feel when he grows up knowing she could have made the 3 hour drive to the prison, but won’t. I can see the possible effect of that, but she isn’t thinking of that. I’m not saying it should be all the time, but maybe his dad’s birthday? Father’s Day? I think this will have unintended consequences – a word I tried to teach many times.)
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…..I’ve written a lot about solitary confinement and ad seg. As you read this article remember that Jamie is doing his third round and the first two were for two years each. You will understand then why I have made so much effort trying to keep him sane and to know, no matter what, he was not alone. If his family cares about him I can’t understand why no effort has been made to help him AT ALL. I DON’T UNDERSTAND. If he was a lousy person who hurt people it might be one thing, but the only thing I can really see is times with depression. Given the fact that he grew up with severe epilepsy, not being able to have a childhood playing with friends and spending a lot of time alone afraid of the next seizure I just don’t understand how a family can just kick you to the curb. And he takes full responsibility and just keeps waiting for them to write.
Reading articles like this one makes me double my efforts.
Courts, legislators look to rein in a practice they say causes behavioral problems but state prison officials call an essential tool
By Milton J. Valencia
| Globe Staff
May 07, 2013
Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe
Jose Bou of Springfield was once a prisoner in solitary confinement, then sent to a minimum-security prison.
Neil Miller is still haunted by the seclusion, the disorientation, the darkness.
During his more than 10 years as a prisoner, Miller spent weeks, months, and once even two years in solitary confinement units, where inmates are kept for as many as 23 hours a day.
“It’s a mental game in there,” Miller, now 46, said recently, still reflecting the anger and acting out that repeatedly got him sent to what prisoners call “the hole.” “You’re fighting with your own sanity, trying to keep yourself together.”
How are you? Fine I hope and in the best of health as well. I received all of your letters. Before I got them I had written back to you but I wasn’t able to send it out. They took all my property. Then they gave it back to me and then they took it away again. In this letter I will explain to you how I have been feeling as well as let you know what happened with me.
For as long as a week I was picked on and refused showers, meals and recreation. I’ve been given every punishment they could give to me. I spoke with every ranking officer about an officer named Robert Curlee. He’s the one that refuses me everything. Guess what they tell me? Stop letting him get to you because he goes home at 1:00. So I say okay, I understand that except he does it to me every day, and ya’ll are not doing anything to stop him, not even talking to him about it. So I said, don’t worry about it. I went to see the warden in UCC ( the prison’s court) about a case I got. I talked to him about it and why I got it. However, when I talked to him about the officer and what he was doing to me he just waved me off like a fly. So guess what? Me being me I’m gonna speak my mind. You know I’m very outspoken.
So I told the warden, “You know I’ve tried to do the right thing, by talking to your ranking officer about a problem I’ve been happening with an officer of yours. I’ve just tried to explain that to you, but you showed me you don’t care by waving me off, so I don’t care, either. Fuck you!”
Of course I was locked back up in solitary confinement after that.
So here I am, having the same problem with the same officer. I called him to my door and asked him why he was doing what he was do?
He said, “It’s because gray rides with gray (guards), and if an officer tells me not to feed you or take you to shower, then I’m not going to do it.”
But I know no one is telling him such things. He’s doing it because we got into it once and he’s holding onto that.
So I say, “You know what? I’m tired of you doing me like this.”
He says, “so?”
So I say, “You know what? Keep messing with me. Call my bluff and I’m gonna beat your ass.”
He turned red. I told him, “I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had some bad news. Let me chill. If not, the first chance I get I’m gonna break your jaw.”
I told the same thing to the ranking officer. Guess what? Now he comes to my door and asks me how I’m doing.
(Sonni’s note: This is not exactly the best way to handle problems and can hurt things for him in the future, but when you are continually pushed to the limit what do you do? The warden wouldn’t listen. I’m sure he hears the same thing every day. He knows what the officers are doing to the inmates. This is part of what needs to be fixed. When people are treated inhumanely how much can you push them before they strike back. But that only gives them reason to keep doing it. How do we stop this treatment? I wish I had the answers to that.)
(Sonni’s note: This is an old letter, July 9, 2009. Every inmate is somebody’s son This is to all the people who know me who wonder why I’ve spent these years writing to Jamie. Maybe I should have done what everyone else has done and just let him sit there alone to wonder why his life doesn’t matter to the people who were supposed to love him. Maybe I should have been too busy,as well. Six years later and he is still waiting to get answers back from his letters. he still writes them although sometimes he says he’s going to stop. He makes up excuses because no one wants to think their family doesn’t care. After 9 years he’s just removed from their daily thought. maybe they are just thinking that they’ll wait till he gets out and then he can be part of the family again. It makes me hurt for him. I know, from my own experience that just because you have family, it doesn’t mean they have to love you. )
“Somebody’s Son” by Sonni Quick copyright 2015
To my dearest mom,
hello, how are you? Busy, busy busy, I’m sure. Every day I get to open my eyes and breathe fresh air in my lungs. I’m blessed, thank God.. So mom, how’s things going with you? Good I hope. I thought you would have written back by now so i could see what key West looks like. I’ve really been looking forward to the photos. However, I understand that you are really busy with the store so I’ll just relax and wait on them. Mom, I have a question . Is Megan okay? She hasn’t wrote me in awhile. I know I wrote her at least 3 or 4 letters. however I’m not getting any response from her. Is everything okay? That’s all I want to know. With me being here, most of the time I think the worst of a lot of things. It’s only because my family holds things from me, even if it’s a death in the family. I don’t understand. Megan just stopped writing. Why? Is it something or is it just something personal? Could you please let me know what’s wrong?
I understand that Alex’s dad is out and home now. However, I feel it shouldn’t stop her from letting me know how the family is doing. Jamie’s birthday will probably be done past the time you get this letter. Three years old already. She still hasn’t wrote me or nothing. I sent him my love on his special day as well as a card. It’s been almost a month and I haven’t heard from her and it’s driving me crazy. He’s my son, too. Like I say mom, when I don’t hear from her I only think the worst. It really hurts me not hearing from her for so long.
I wrote my mom and brother also. I put my feelings in their letters, too, just to let them know how I feel. You know, about the way they are treating me, like I’m not here so there is no reason to bother telling me anything. I let them know that’s bad. It only takes five minutes to say I love you, I miss you or to even see how I’m doing. I sometimes feel that if I’m not home then it’s like I don’t even matter to them. So I felt, I’ll just let them know how I feel about their way of seeing things. Right now I’m waiting to see if they are going to write back. If they do, more than likely it will be a few weeks. I’ll be blessed if I get that. (He wasn’t very blessed after all.) Well, I got to go, mom. It’s after 10 PM. I love you and thank you for keeping me strong!
I recently found letters from Jamie going back to early 2009. There are older ones, but I haven’t unpacked them yet from when I moved to Pa almost 5 years ago. Jamie had been inside for 3 1/2 years by now, staring at the inside of a concrete cell, the days slowly ticking by, reading and rereading the same books and letters, waiting every day for a letter to come from someone. Anyone. I was still living in Key West at the time waiting for my liver to totally crap out on me, a ticking time. I still had my retail store catering to tourists coming off the cruise ships. Looking out the store door I could beautiful turquoise water, palm trees and beautiful sunsets. I rode a bicycle for transportation because why drive anywhere for just a few blocks? I loved my life there.
Thanksgiving, 2006 I met my daughter’s boyfriend, Jamie, while visiting Texas. he was a very nice, shy young man. There was no way of knowing that in just a few months the world would come crashing in for him and my daughter’s since she was pregnant by him at this time, although she didn’t tell me. When Jamie got busted she moved to the Keys and stayed with me until the baby was a year old and then moved back to Texas. One day the thought crossed my mind to write to him and ask him how he was.
I didn’t know anything about prisons or prison life. Like anyone else, my knowledge came from TV and the movies. I didn’t actually know anyone inside. I’ve learned a great deal since then. This put my life into a direction I didn’t know it was going to go in. It was because he had no one else and his family wasn’t answering his letters nor giving him any help in any way. Help didn’t mean that it had to be money, although I’ve helped him enough to get hygiene products, some books, stamps and magazines. The real help was being his friend. Taking the time to let him know that someone cared. The longer the time passed the less and less he heard from anyone and no would send him even a nickle. I became “Mom”. He became “Son” I have never regretted one moment of it. I can honestly say I haven’t gotten much of any encouragement from my own family. he had been written off as a lost cause, or the term, “Once a loser, always a loser” was used. But I don’t buy that. I gotten to know him well enough to know there is a good person in there who with the right encouragement can have a life of value. So I refuse to give up. I want what I write to go wide and go deep. I know there is a way to turn a negative into a positive if that is what you want.
Since 2006 his life has changed little. Mine changed rapidly, because outside prison life doesn’t stop. He hasn’t even been allowed to see daylight for three months. So far he has spent well over 4 years in lockup with only his letters and books to keep his sanity. Many people in solitary lose their sanity . And if you have read any other chapters excerpts at Inside The Forbidden Outside then you have read about the effects of solitary confinement.
If you are in gen pop ( general population) with the rest of the inmates, it’s a very unsafe place to be. There are many who have nothing to lose and they have a law they abide that belongs to them. There are short times he made it up the levels – Ad seg, which is solitary or G5, then G4 then G2. He made it once to G2 for a short tyouime and could make phone calls for the first time, but that didn’t last long. He wanted to study for his GED and maybe learn a trade, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before they would find a way to knock him down again, and they did. When the prison owns you, they own you. You can trust no one. The guards can often as bad as the criminals only they get away with. They have their own kind of prison politics and I can promise you there is no justice in prison. Their special kind of crime is legal in there and torture is common. No, prison is not a place you want to be in.
What happens when he comes up for parole again in Oct of 2016? What happens when they ask him what he has done to “better” himself? He could say, “Gee whiz? What exactly could I do when you keep me locked in a 5’x 8′ cell, allowing guards to file false cases against me that i can’t fight and I can never win?”
Am I naive to think that I can write a book and somehow it will make a difference? That it will allow him to rise above the rest and they will see he should be let out? They will see he is a real person who only wants to go home and be a dad to a boy that no one will take to take him to visit with him? He is his reason for living. Can I make enough money from the book that it will help him be able to have a life? There is a prejudice against x-felons. it’s a life that society won’t want him to have because he will be someone people will be afraid of. His son is the only good thing he has to look forward to in his life, and that boy is my grandson, one of seven grandchildren. So I keep writing and I keep my determination high that I can do something for him that will make a difference.
Through these years of writing, in almost every single letter, he is waiting, constantly waiting to get the letters answered he wrote to all the people who were supposed to love him. Always waiting. Surely they will write back soon. Maybe they were working too hard or just busy. So after hundreds of letters he and I have written – he’s still waiting – and giving excuses because he wants to believe he matters.
I decided to give a little background history because I know many new readers don’t know his story and may not go back to the beginning. I hope you do take the time to read and I hope you go to the menu at the top and read the pages there as well as the posts. There is also a page of piano music links that has all the music I have written that are scattered on these posts. Music that expresses the emotions I feel when I write his story. I hope you take the time to listen.
Thanks for reading my rant. Sometimes I just have to get it off my chest. Follow the blog and keep up with his story and share it with people you know. The more readers I get, the more possible books I will sell. Help me help him. Thanks.
The weather is real crazy here. It’s hot for awhile and then it gets cold. I have a bad cold now because of this bad weather. It’s hot right now. I can’t tell you what it looks like outside. I’ve been locked up in here for three months. It will be like this for at least the next six to twelve months, because I’m level G5 again.( ad seg, solitary confinement) Don’t be mad or upset. I had to beat these people at their own game. Yes, even if it meant getting downgraded. They were going to ship me to another unit in West Texas. Reason being is because they said they didn’t have the bunks. So I did something and got myself put in G5 so they wouldn’t ship me. I need to be close to home right now.
You know that sometimes you can’t even tell some of the closest people everything at the time. Prime example, look what happened. One thing leads to another and things blow up. Why is a hard question to answer sometimes.
I write to Jamie and at times have someone draw or paint a card and send it to him. I’m not about anything anyone says. People can say whatever they want because between the letters that you an I have written he will always know how much I love him and nobody can take that away. It just hurts so bad because I have to go for so long without being able to see him now. It seems there are people on both sides who has done a lot lying. Everyone saying the other person isn’t telling the truth. But the way I see it, it’s in the past. I need to focus on now and the future.
You know, there’s one thing I know for sure. We, as humans, will suffer no matter what. We all get a taste of life. Throughout life we suffer many kinds of ways. But we, as humans, try to make the best of it in any way we can. I know, when I suffered from my seizures as a kid I didn’t like it. It scared the hell out of me. But I tried to make the best of it because of life itself. I used to run and cry when I knew it was fixing to happen to me again. The choking feeling was painful. It was the nerves over my body and it was so painful. Collapsing, falling down stairs. I fell into my mama’s glass coffee table. Yep, I got a scar on my left jaw line from it. There is no way I can get away from it so I just have to deal with it.
Thanks for calling and checking on my mom. Really, thanks. Please let me know everything that goes on. it hurts me that they keep stuff like this from me. We are always allowed ER calls when a family member calls with bad news. Yes, the chaplain let me call and talk for a few minutes. It was real painful because she couldn’t really talk. I did most of the talking because I didn’t want her talking too much because of the pain she was in. I could hear it in her voice.
It will be awhile before I get any phone privileges. Don’t worry. Next time you talk to her see if she had a chance to talk to little Jamie. My Mama’s birthday was on May 1. I sent her a birthday card. Ask her if she got it okay. Please tell her I said happy Mother’s day and happy mother’s day to you as well.
I’m gonna go for now. Love you.
P.S. Tell mama I love her and will pray for her and others.
(Sonni’s note: The sad thing is that he had to force them to write up a case on him. I called the prison two days ago. I pretended I was his bio mom. His mom said I should, to find out what was up with him because he sounded so desperate in his last letter because they wanted to send him to West Texas. It would put him so far out reach of anyone – if they chose to visit and there wouldn’t be any chance of seeing his son if my daughter changed her mind and took him there. They told me he had to go to UCC – internal court- because he threatened a guard. It didn’t seem right that he’d do that after everything he’d been in, but I know now he did it so they’d through him in solitary confinement again and then they wouldn’t send him to West Texas. This was a set up. Just reading his words,”THERE WASN’T AN EMPTY BUNK FOR HIM” anywhere?? I knew it, and he knew it,they would find a way to lock him up in solitary again. It was just a matter of time. It’s what they do. They keep them down. And now when he comes up for parole again in seventeen months, what do you think the verdict will be? Gotta keep these prisons full. The private prison corporation that owns Huntsville prison has been promised to be kept full. They are doing a good job of it. Read the chapter excerpt Fantasy Crimes and you will see what they threw him in lockup for 3 months ago. You tell me if you think it is right. You tell me if you think whole things was a set up.
(Sonni’s note: This is a repost from an early post a year ago with some catchups. To get it into the right social media channels because i knew so little about it then, if you had read the earlier version and wondered why it is here again. It is a compilation of things he wrote about in several letters that were written in 2012. It is now 2015. They had found a way to send him back again. Hopefully this will be a shorter time, but still they took away everything he worked for, swallowing his pride and letting them say what they wanted – to be “good” but you can never be good enough. They find a way, and if they don’t they make it up. So you understand, Ad Seg is about as low as you can go. It’s also called G5, administrative segregation and solitary confinement. It’s the hole. It’s a place where you have no privileges. You never touch another human being. You are behind glass if you have a visitor. You learn to love peanut butter because it’s a large portion of your diet. You will be treated as though you are worthless. You will be called names. You will be degraded. People will want to hurt you if you give them the opportunity. You are alone. Really alone with yourself. If you don’t have anyone who cares, or if you don’t like yourself very much, you’re going to have a hard time making it. Depression sets in. Many hear voices and hurt themselves. Some speak so little they lose the ability to talk. They get paranoid. Jamie knew, when they threw him back in there in 2012, all because of the lie from a guard who wanted to prove he could mess with him, that it was going to take at least another couple years before they’d let him out. He was right.
The only good thing about solitary, also called “the hole” is that he was safe from other inmates. But it doesn’t take much to break prison rules. There is no justice in prison. In addition to the guards, you have to be careful, there are violent prisoners who have nothing to lose who are going to try to mess with your life. How do you deal with it when someone comes up and puts themselves in your face and challenges you? It could be someone who wants be granted prison favors. Someone claims that your space belongs to them and they will try to take it from you. If they get away with it and you don’t try to stop them you are going to be in a whole different world of hurt from other inmates.)
No matter what I do, they always find a way to send me back. It took a couple years to get up to G4 the last time when I could to go to rec and watch TV and go to chow. But being allowed out of here means there’s gonna to be people, even guards who want to mess with me. But being allowed out of my cell is a kind of freedom. I can’t get out of here if I don’t get into a program.
It is so hard sitting in my cell day after day, trying to find ways to make the hours go by. I write letters but mostly I throw them away. It’s how I get my feelings out. But hardly anyone writes back but you. Once in awhile I get a letter from my sister or my cousin but not my mom. When I make it to G2 I can have contact visit. I can hug my son. At G2 I can make a phone call and I’ve never been able to make one. I would be able to take classes and learn things. I can be with people. I don’t think they want me to be able to do that. I will never be able to make parole unless I can show I’ve taken classes. But they won’t let me do that now. They don’t like to give black people parole. The longer they keep me here the more they make off me. They don’t care one bit if I am ever “rehabilitated”. Use ’em up, throw ’em out and pick ’em up again. You’re never free.
The last time I only made it to G4 for a short time. It took years to get that far. I was jumped and the officer even saw it, but I still caught a case for it. She even wrote that she saw the other dude hit me first, but there is a rule that if you swing at all, even if it is defending yourself, you get a case. I tried to avoid him twice but he was right on me and I was next to the fence and had nowhere to go. He was coming from breakfast really early one day and I had a chance to get him back, but I let it go. I wrote an appeal to try and get the case turned over and get my G4 rating back again, but I never heard anything back. So I’m playing the waiting game again. I wanted to cry. I have been going through this for so long it just hurts. Maybe in six months to a year I can get it back. ( Sonni’s note: It took until August 2014 to get out of solitary confinement, Ad Seg, G5)
But it doesn’t matter how hard I try. There is always something waiting to drag me back down again. I know that’s gonna happen. I have to see it and not react. I have to try harder not to let anyone make me do something I know will get me in trouble. I have a temper. Push me enough and I lose control. But I don’t have anything to prove to these people. I don’t have to prove I’m tough. If I don’t fight back next time it doesn’t mean that I’m a pussy. It means I have more to lose than they do. I have to do what is good for me. I have to remember that the next time someone gets in my face.
I wrote back about what I’ve learned through the research I’ve done into many areas concerning our prison injustice system. The things I didn’t know scared me. My only knowledge came from TV shows like Prison Break or Orange is the New Black. Since those shows are for entertainment purposes it doesn’t come close to telling you the truth. The attitude our country has about our inmates and how our justice system combined with the Prison Industrial Complex, which leads to how the lives of the inmates are impacted needs to change. I learned that people and organizations have being working to change this system but the government has created a monster it doesn’t know how to put down, and many unnecessary people have to pay the price for that.
Prison itself, in the solitary units, has created so many mentally ill people, who were functioning human beings when they first set foot into a solitary. Sometimes it is the infraction of a rule or the guard doesn’t like you and creates a case against you. Sometimes it is for “your own protection”, like a teenager certified as an adult and is preyed on by men who want to abuse them. That teenager could spend years alone in that cell – for his own good, of course. Solitary cells ruin people. It is over used and abused. They are left inside for too long and it destroys their mind. They usually end up hurting themselves by cutting open their veins, trying to bleed out, trying to commit suicide. Staff take them out of their cell, sends other inmates into the cells to clean up the blood from cut arteries, they sew them up the hurt inmate, put them back in their cell and double their sentence. They do it over and over. A three month sentence can easily turn into a year or two or ten. When that person is eventually released back into society, and most of them are if they don’t die inside, they are completely unable to take care of themselves and if they do have family they are often unrecognizable. They don’t know them anymore. Brothers and sisters are strangers. I strongly urge you to watch this: The Stickup Kid I have gotten to know this young man and we speak on a daily basis. He has a facebook page you can fain by searching his name. He is in bad need of friends to talk to. Also, he write powerful poetry explaining his life.
It has been determined that 15 days is all person can take without probable psychological damage. When they finally get out they often end up trying to kill someone else. They are nuts. So where do they put the mentally ill person they created? Back into a solitary cell. There are many of these cases of these people who are put down like dogs by guards, with the prison looking the other way, making excuses and defending the guards who do it. The harshest punishment for prison guard brutality is possibly getting fired, or sent to another prison unit. No real repercussion. The crimes guards commit have no consequences, yet these guards would have to be mentally. They are let out of the prison after every shift and allowed to live among the people. He could be your neighbor. Would you want him near you/ near your family? Do the guards have family? What do they say when they get home or talk to their friends? “Oh, today I murdered a person by putting him in a shower and turned on scalding hot water for hours, listened to him scream and scream until he died and his skin peeled off his body. True story. Another inmate was sent clean up the shower and he knew what he was looking at was the dead man’s skin. His file said he died of a heart attack. No crime was committed. The prison needs to protect themselves. Examples of three murders can be found at: Looking From The Other Side of The Prison Cell door – part two
Jamie has spent about 4 years in solitary confinement, which is also called Ad Seg. Two times of two years each, not far apart, and each one was a lie from a guard. One was a guard finding a knife on his sink when they were shaking down cells. A knife the guard put there. Even if Jamie had a knife, would you leave it on the sink when you know they are shaking down cells? The second time was because a big fat ugly female guard said he blew her a Kiss, and that is a crime because you are trying to consort with a guard. He was standing lion for his medications when he was looking around and saw the guard. Period. The he gets slapped with a case. What inmate in his right mind would blow a guard a kiss? I saw this guard when I visited with him in Oct 2013. You would not have blown her a kiss.
On another note, I am putting together an email to send to Jamie right now and putting in comments people have made. I have told him there are people who care. We have the ability to leave our house and talk to people. We still might not have anyone who cared how our day went, and those people become depressed and lonely and probably drink or take pills to get through their day. But Jamie knows there are people whose hearts have been touched. People who care. He is a good man. I want people to know him. People who care if he’s okay. That goes a long way in keeping his depression away. The post I wrote, In Prison Who Do You Have to Care About Your Day? is very real. How would you feel if you thought there was no one who cared about you, you saw no one, talked to no one, or had communication from anyone? What if no one even cared if you alive or dead? On the outside we have people I’d like for him to answer these comments so I can add them to the comment section.
You can send any words of encouragement to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to him. Each and every comment is a bright spot in his day.
There are so many people who have a misconception about prison and think they are only there to lock up bad people. That is only one reason. Our government needs to keep the prisons full, (while telling the public they are try to reduce their arrests) because of the huge demand in the public sector, the American companies who bid on prison labor, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So there may be fewer arrest this year but the sentences will be longer and the percentage of those paroled are fewer. Once in awhile a good thing happens and people cheer, but they really don’t know what is going on. A great many prison are owned privately through companies like Corcoran and CCA – there are more. The Prison Industrial Complex. They offer to help the states with their budget problems and if they take over the prison they will have more money for roads and education BUT they have to keep the prisons 90-100% full or the government has to pay them for the empty beds. This is why the US has the highest prison population in the world 500 out of every 100,000 people, and since approximately 65% of those are black people, there are entire towns that have 50% of there town locked up – for “walking while black”. But the media portrays it as though black people do more crimes, which they don’t. Black neighborhoods are patrolled for people to arrest. Are many of those arrest legitimate? Of course. But many of them aren’t. White people can be picked up doing the very same crime, yet they don’t end up in prison because of it.
Pa recently announced the building of a brand new $400 million SHU – solitary housing unit. Only for solitary confinement. They are also closing many schools for lack of funding. Can you figure out why there is a lack of funding? The US has also made it very clear to the world they do not use solitary confinement like this – as torture. They intend on locking people up for years, decades. You read that in the media and believe it. You believe black people are more dangerous than white people. Black people do more drugs and commit more crimes. This is all hogwash. This is the media making you believe what they want you to believe. Thank goodness there are many people who are not blinded by this garbage and know what is going on. Many people and organizations trying to change this conception. I am one of those people.
@Manuchettan, I realize I have written much more than a reply! I get on a roll sometimes and the words spill out. I go on a rant and get intense. I think I will turn this reply into a post – “Up Front and Personal”
I can’t thank you enough for reading these posts. It means a lot to me, Sonni
Thank you for your words. It’s hard,though, to get an accurate picture of the US through Hollywood, as you have to do in India. I am going to look for the prison movie you talked about, “Death Warrant”. Then I can tell you if it accurate. The thing, though, that you are very right about is that the atrocities don’t stop. Because of the things they do to inmates, an inmate learns to be very subservient, because if they aren’t, they pay for it. But even if the inmate is very docile and does nothing to provoke the guard, it doesn’t stop them from writing up false cases on them or from doing things like spitting in their food, or not letting them shower. Humanistic things.
When a human being finally gets out of prison, they don’t know how to act around people again. One woman told me her son even asked if it was okay to go use the bathroom. going outside is too much stimulus for them. Go to the blog “Breaking Free”. http://breakingfree.com and read about the communication between a mother and a son.
Reintegration to society is hard if you don’t have someone guiding you. Sometimes that doesn’t even work. At the 5 year mark after parole 71% of parolees are back in prison. For a variety of reasons. My concentration with Jamie has been to build his self confidence, his value as a human being. Keeping him from slipping into depression or keep thoughts of suicide away, which he tried when it was unbearable, has taken much effort. If I hadn’t been there, I don’t know what state of mind he would have. When someone has spent the years he has locked up in a a cell 23 hours a day it makes most men mentally ill.
If you have read any of the chapters I posted about the book Inside The Forbidden Outside, here is a sample chapter. Inside The Forbidden Outside . Fill Out the contact form below if you want to be on the mailing list for updates or other chapters posted.
When I started writing to Jamie 8 years ago, after he had been in for a year, I knew I was taking on a lifetime responsibility with a willing heart. I was not going to be able to just say hi and ask how he was doing and then not continue to write. He has no one else who writes to him. If he ever hears from a family member, it is usually a catch up about what is going on in the family, not a letter of caring how he was doing. Never a question of, “Is there anything you need or anything I could do to help”. Not even from his own mother. I know she loves him. I talked to her once. She’s okay with him calling me mom and is glad I’m there for him – but she isn’t there for him.
If you’d like to find out what solitary confinement, go to http://solitarywatch.com. Armando is one of the most interesting men I’ve known. Solitary confinement actually rehabilitated him. It was a benefit for him. His transformation is nothing short of incredible. He will never be released, but he is fighting to have a better life inside the prison walls, based on his conduct inside his 5×8′ cell. He is still a human being. yes, he did a horrible crime. He is paying for it. His behavior deserves what they call “program”. where can do art, or take classes. Why would someone on death row want to continue to learn anything? Because he is alive and he is human. His major crime now is that he is Hispanic. They have a special way of dealing with Hispanics. If the prisons say the want the inmates to be rehabilitated, which they really don’t, then he should at least have his accomplishments come with a few benefits for that. There is no reason for inhumane treatment. Common decency rewards. He is in for a contract murder. Goggle his name and read the articles written about the murder. He grew up in a violent family and lived in a violent community. It was all he knew. He was never taught right from wrong. Never thought about the consequences of his actions. He lived in the moment with the rewards his crimes brought to him. In prison he had to start all over and learn what what right and wrong was. Through the study of Buddhism he found out who he was, and found out what his life meant and what he needed to to change. When someone is never taught these things and the people around them all behave in a certain way, how can you not follow what that teaches you? This arrest was not his first murder and it was at the end of many crimes. It was his life and he knew nothing else. That is not Armando Macias today. I hope someday I can actually meet him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know it is long. Please comment about how you feel, even if it is criticism. I want to have a discussion with those who have something to say. Please