It was July 2009. Jamie knew if he didn’t make parole he’d be staying until 2023, and he wouldn’t make it that long. He couldn’t wrap his head around being stuck in here for that many years. He needed to be home where he could take care of his family and raise his son. He had to stay focused on that. Morgan needed him home. She had to do everything for the family and it was too much. He was no help in here.
His first parole hearing wouldn’t happen until he was here for eight years. He had five to go which wasn’t even halfway. Doing the entire seventeen years would be impossible. He couldn’t do it. It was too depressing to think about.
Learning to keep his mouth shut and staying out of trouble wasn’t easy. It was his own fault. He wasn’t used to letting people get away with constantly disrespecting him. These guards were always mouthing off at him, trying to get him angry and pressing his buttons. He wondered if they were trained in how to be a jerk. Even when he was minding his own business they liked to throw their weight around like some kind of underpaid ass.
They would go on and on until he couldn’t take anymore and got sarcastic back. It didn’t matter if they started it. If he let himself get into it with them they had enough reason to write up a case on him. That was the reason why they did it. They weren’t the ones who were going to get in trouble. Right or wrong he was always in the wrong. Even if he tried to explain what happened, no one would listen to him.
He got mad at himself every time he let them get to him. The best thing to do was ignore them. Look away, but it wasn’t easy. They knew what to say to be insulting.
Ignoring other inmates who wanted to mess with him was hard, too. If he dissed the wrong dude it could get him hurt real bad. Jamie could take care of himself but he’d be written up if he got into it with anyone. So far he had only been written up twice this year and he wanted to keep it that way. He had to make it another seven months. Then he’d be raised back up to population and could work on getting a skill and study for his GED. He felt he’d come a long way. Now, if he could only keep it up.
Tempers were high for everyone. The heat brought out the worst in people. There was no AC and no let up on the heat, even at night. There was no way to get away from it as long as he was in Texas, so he better get used to it. Everyone here was in the same boat, even the guards.
He got regular letters from Sonni. He didn’t understand why she cared, but he was glad she did. He didn’t know her well enough yet to realize this was just how she was. If someone needed help she would do it.
Jamie was glad to have someone to write to. He knew his writing and spelling wasn’t too good, but who knew, back when he was going to school that he would need to write so many letters?
It was hard to keep all this stuff inside his head and not go crazy. He needed someone to write to about what was going on. Most of all, he needed to know he mattered to someone. Would she keep answering his letters? If he told her everything about him would it put her off? She told him she would always be there for him. It was hard at first to have that trust because he had been let down before. Did she know if she know about his past or what he had done? Maybe then she wouldn’t like him or want him around her family.
Jamie wasn’t the one who did the robbery at the club that got him arrested, but knew his friend had a gun in his backpack. He showed it to him. He thought he was joking about robbing the club. He was guilty of being there and that was all that mattered to the court. He couldn’t blame nobody else for what happened. He could’ve run when he saw what was going down, but friends don’t leave friends behind, do they? Maybe he would have if he had known what was going to happen.
When Sonni wrote to him about Key West she made him feel like he was part of her family. She wrote about her employees and what it was like working in her store and dealing with the people coming off the cruiseships. Morgan worked there with her until the baby was a year old and decided to move back to Texas.
Key West sounded like beautiful place, with palm trees and blue water. Lots of music. And fishing. He’d love to do some fishing in the ocean. It was different from any place he’d been, but then he really hadn’t been anywhere other than East Texas. He wished he could see it some day. When he was growing up he dreamed of being a truck driver so he could go all across the United States and see everything. That was probably out of the question now.
What helped him most of all when writing a letter, is having someone to talk to about how much he loved his family. He liked to see the words. Sonni wrote back with every detail she knew about their lives. Any little thing Jamie could picture in his head was priceless to him. He felt close to them even though there were many miles between them. It helped him get through the rough days.
Even though his family knew where he was, there was no way they could fully understand what he was going through. The conditions were horrible, but it was the effect it had on him mentally that was worse. Having one person who took the time to try and see things through his eyes was often the only difference between making it and giving up. Sometimes he pulled himself together because he didn’t want to disappoint her.
The visit, that one visit he had with his family gave him something to think about and remember every day. The memory of everyone laughing and talking to him over the phone in the booth helped him get through many nights.
Could they tell how close he was to losing it? Could they see on his face how much he wanted to give up? He tried to hide it. Behind his smile he was crying.
Their time together that day was too short. It was gone in a blink. It was a small bandaid on a big wound. Morgan said she still loved him and told him not to give up hope. No matter what, they would always have a son together. Time could never take that away no matter what happened.
Morgan promised she would write as soon as they got back home, so he would know they were okay. Next thing he knew they were waving goodbye and blowing kisses.
He closed his eyes and lived that day again from beginning to end, pausing at his favorite places, rewinding and playing it over again. He had every moment engraved in his head. With so much time on his hands with nothing to do, reliving that day was his favorite thing to do. It helped him forget reality.
When his family walked into the visiting room and Jamie laid eyes on his son emotion grabbed him in the chest. He was overwhelmed with love. He couldn’t stop thinking, “This is my son. This is my son.”
His son was growing up without him. No one could understand what it was like to be in a place like this, thinking everyday about a little boy he couldn’t see. They would never be able to get back the time they missed.
Would his son grow to love a man who was never there? His son, this smiling whirlwind of energy was what gave him hope, knowing he was waiting for him to get out. Jamie wanted to pick him up and swing him around. Hear him scream with laughter. Tickle him and laugh with him. He was dying inside. Not having his family was breaking him.
It had been hard for him when he had to grow up without a father. He watched his siblings go off to spend weekends with their fathers while he stayed home. He pretended it didn’t matter, but it did.
He and his mama didn’t talk about it, but that didn’t mean he didn’t wonder who he was. He had nothing to go on. There were no pictures to look at. His father was cut away from him completely. Was that good or bad? Did his father wonder what he was like?
Was it better for him to not know what his father looked like or where he was? He couldn’t miss someone who didn’t exist. But what did exist was knowing he didn’t have a father. Maybe he was being selfish, but he wanted his boy to know he was there. He wanted him to know he was loved. Nothing could ever change that. Jamie didn’t want to be this empty space in his son’s head where the thought of him was supposed to be.
To have so much love and not be able to show it because he could only look at them through glass was so cruel. The craving to wrap his arms around them was almost more than he could bear, but he didn’t want them to see that. He covered up the tears in his eyes with a smile. He wanted to touch him but couldn’t, so he wrapped his arms around his chest and held on to himself.
Little Jamie ran across the floor. He stumbled and fell, laughed and picked himself up. He ran back to the counter in front of the glass and laughed again. He knew he had an audience and ran off again.
Jamie watched him run. It grabbed his heart in a vise. He had screwed up so bad. It ripped him up not being able to watch him grow. Here he was, so close, but he still couldn’t reach far enough to touch him. He wanted to hold him, smell him, and kiss his skin to make sure he was real.
He could tell Little Jamie knew he was his father just by the way he looked him in the eye. When he took off running he stopped, turned around and looked back at him to ee if he was still watching. All Jamie had to do was give him a frown and point at the chairnin front of him and he went right over and sat down.
He didn’t know then that it would be another five years before he saw his son again, and when he did, he son wouldn’t know him. Not really. He shied away. He stared at his hands and would only answer a question with yes or no.
It felt so good to see and talk to his mom. He was too far away for her to come visit on her own. He missed her. She asked if he needed anything. He asked if she could help him get a fan. She told him when she got home she would send him the money. It cost twenty-two dollars and he had no other way of getting money.
Some states paid inmates a small amount of money to work, anywhere from ten cents an hour to maybe a dollar an hour for skilled labor. Texas won’t pay any amount of money for work no matter what the job was. They said they would give good time off your sentence, but they usually found a reason to take it away, even if they had make it up. The prison wasn’t above seeing up an inmate with false charges.
The afternoon sped by. Toward the end everyone but Morgan went off for one last trip to the vending machines. The kids sure did like to feed it quarters. The older kids had grown so much. In his heart he was acutely aware of the time he was losing with his family. Would he ever be able to make it up to them? Would he get home before they were grown?
Morgan sat in front of him silently as they looked each other in the eye. He didn’t know what to say to make it better.
“Every day I miss you so much,” Jamie began.”This isn’t the way I wanted it to be for us.”
“I know. I miss you, too.” He could see tears in her eyes. They put the palms of one hand on the glass and matched it.
“I don’t expect you to wait if you find someone else.”
She shook her head. “There isn’t anyone else,” she assured him with a little laugh. “When would I have time? Besides, who would want a woman with three kids?” She laughed again, trying to make light of it.
“I would,” he answered back. “I plan on making parole and coming home in five years, but that is still a long time. You can talk to me if you do meet someone.”
He paused and searched her eyes. “Please don’t hide anything from me because you think I’d be upset.”
“Promise me you’ll write,” he added. “I don’t think I could stand it if I didn’t at least have your letters. No matter what happens I’ll always love you.”
“I promise,” she lowered her eyes when she answered.
“Will you write when you get home so I know you got there safely?” She nodded her head.
“If you’re still there and waiting for me when I get out, I promise,” Jamie paused to let it sink in, “the second time around I will make it up to you.
A guard came over and told Morgan, “Five minutes. Wrap it up,” and walked back to where he was standing and folded his arms over his chest.
This was the hardest part, saying goodbye. When would he see them again? How many times could he say the words, I love you? They were going to walk out of the room and a guard would take him back to his cell. Now all he had left were the memories of the day to think about.
Jamie was more than glad they had come. It was better than he had hoped for. He had hope again. Everything was going to be okay.
Over time Sonni became like a mom to him. She signed her letters, Love, mom. Jamie needed family. He needed encouragement that he could make it, and he needed to understand who he was. Sonni helped him make sense of what was happening to him. She said he brought this into his life. There were lessons to learn. He didn’t quite understand what she meant by that. But he knew if he didn’t have plan he wouldn’t make it. In the Fall, after the visit, he wrote her this letter:
How are you? As for me I’m okay. I’ve been kinda upset. It’s been three months and I’ve only gotten one letter from Morgan. I’m trying to not let it get to me. I think she found someone else. I’m trying to control my emotions. I’m learning to have self control over my temper. So my days are going a lot better now.
I stay out of trouble by staying to myself. I have time every morning and evening in the day room for two hours. The rest of the time I’m in my cell. That’s because my custody level is G4 line 5. I am almost to where I’ll be in 24 hour lock up, if I get one more major case. If I make it seven months I’ll be put back in population. Then I can go to school and learn a trade and go to the library.
Thank you for caring about me. Yes, you can send books but you have to send them from someplace online. You can’t send them. We can also get magazines and puzzle books.
I have to go now. I forgot to say happy birthday. Write back soon, love,
THANKS FOR READING