Before you start reading Jamie’s letters I want you to understand why I started this website – what it means to me. To find his letters go to the archive on the left where you can select the month. To understand Jamie’s story, start at the beginning. There are also pages at the top that are separate from his letters.
Jamie is an important part of my life even though I only met him one time before his incarceration, and one time when I visited him in prison, with him sitting on the other side of the glass. Nine years have passed and hundreds of letters have been exchanged. Little by little I go through earlier letters to bring out this story of this young man as he emerges into someone I am very proud to know. He has changed my life.
This website is a labor of love for me. When Jamie gets released he will know how many people had the chance to read and understand his story.
Tears Falling by Sonni Quick
In many ways, the people who are locked up are a forgotten part of society to all except the people who love them. Even many of those people fade away over time. Out of sight. . . out of mind.
I believe many people think, “If you do the crime, you have to do the time.” Maybe they think it can’t happen to them. How easily it can, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are many “crimes” that used to get a slap on wrist or maybe a fine or probation. Not any more. Now you get time, and if you’re black or a person of color your sentence will be longer. You’ll end up with even more time if you have no one to fight for you. The poor are targeted for a reason.
Prisons need to be kept full. It’s big business. The Prison Industrial Complex needs to be paid. It’s quite a racket. Much of our justice system is bought and paid for. What we have now is a new slave system. When one person gets released there is another person to take his place. “http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/09/private-prisons-occupancy-quota-cca-crime
Maybe people think whatever happens to them while they are inside is justified. Long sentences are given to show our justice system is tough on crime, but giving someone decades for many crimes goes way beyond reason. The sentences don’t fit the crime. Many of these people come out broken, with no concept of how to put their lives together and end up right back in. Many inmates are subjected to abuse by the guards. Anyone who has the life condition called; “kick the dog syndrome” finds being a prison guard to be the perfect job. It needs to change but there are people fighting tooth and nail to not let that happen.
Inmates live in a tiny cement boxes. On average they are 5×10. Many don’t even have a tiny window to see the sky. Their world is all shades of gray. They are served food that is barely edible, sometimes living on a scoop of peanut butter and 2 biscuits for breakfast and dinner, day after day during frequent, long periods of lockdown. Most inmates are always hungry, unless you have money for commissary. Food is money. It’s traded for things you can’t get because there is no money on your books.
They don’t have heat in the winter or AC in the summer. There is mold in the showers. They get medical care but it isn’t the kind you would want, and it’s not free. You have to suffer a lot before you get care, if you are lucky.
Because of long sentences the fastest growing part of the prison population is the elderly, made worse with medical problems caused by the lack of good nutrition. Because they don’t want to pay for the medical care of an aging prison population they are dumping some of them right onto the streets, some straight from solitary, with only 30 days of meds. Some inmates, who have only known their prison cell as their home for most of their adult life have no knowledge or ability to care for themselves. They have to learn to navigate a world that is strange to them. So much has changed. Where do they go now? Their family is likely gone or scattered.
If Jamie does his entire sentence he will be 40 when he gets out. He’s be incarcerated since he was 17. Except for a brief period at the age of 21, when he got out of juvy and met my daughter and they ended up producing a son, he has been inside the justice system for 13 years at this point. But at 40 he has a chance of having a life – if he has good support. There is a post called “Juvy to Prison”. It’s his story of how he got selected for that, and after a supposed 9 month sentence, they still didn’t let him go for 4 years. To make it worse, because he got so angry and ran to his room and started throwing his things around they locked him up him solitary confinement as punishment. Up to the day he was supposed to go home, with his bag packed, they still didn’t tell him, until he let it known that he was ready to leave.
Many prison guards are brutal and use unnecessary force whether they need to or not. Being a guard brings out the worst part of their human nature. They provoke the inmates to see if they can get them to respond so they have an excuse to physically restrain them and maybe get in a few body hits for good measure. It gives them a reason to lock them up. Having that authority is often abused. There is often retaliation if an inmate files a complaint. Guards stick together and lie for each other.
All of this is just good business for the corporations who were promised the prisons would be kept 100% full in exchange for campaign contributions. If the prison falls below 90% capacity the government has to pay them money to make up for it. They don’t lose. Pretty sweet deal, don’t you think?
I know there are people inside that should never be allowed out because mentally they are too broken to exist outside on their own. There are also people who don’t have the knowledge and experience to make it outside and go back to the only lifestyle they know and end up back inside. Their home, where they function best, may be inside.
Not everyone inside the prison is in solitary. Some are able to have a job. Those jobs are a double edged sword. Quite a few major corporations rely on prison slave labor and ‘used’ for their skills. These inmates make make zero to .23 an hour, with no overtime, vacation pay or benefits. No human resources or union is going to go to bat for you.
There are different kinds of inmates. For those in solitary confinement, it can destroy your mind from being so isolated from any kind of human activity. It can make you unable to ever be stable enough to can function on the outside. Many other inmates, in gen pop, need the rules that are imposed on them. There are also those who just screwed up. They made a bad choice. Some have problems with drugs. But many, with a strong desire to change, to make better causes in their lives, have a good chance of becoming someone they can be proud of. And let’s not forget the people who have been unjustly punished and finding justice is nearly impossible. But none of these people deserve to be treated with such complete disrespect as though their lives have no value. People treat their dogs better than what they get inside.
In the summer there is no AC and in many places in the country the heat gets over a hundred and ten degrees and inmates die. Jamie told me he would lay naked on the cement floor at night, trying to feel a little coolness on his skin. In the winter they have no heat and he freezes. He puts on all the clothing he owns to try and get warm and it’s not enough to feel warm.
Many of these people have no family nor anyone who can help them find justice or be able to get the small things a that make it tolerable. we take for granted that we can just go into the cabinets in our bathroom and take out another roll of toilet paper or bar of soap, when we need it. Jamie can’t. Where is he going to get the money unless someone sends it to him.
He’s never been able to make a phone call. What is the purpose of doing that? It does more harm than good. The ones who can make phone calls? It’s going to cost an unreasonable amount of money which puts a great hardship on the family that has to pay for it. It’s just another way for them to profit off the inmates. No one is stopping them, yet.
There are finally four states now who won’t renew their contract with corporations like CCA – Corrections Corporation of America. Go to their main website. They sound like such a good corporation. Ha! This only one of the corporations that are under contract with the prisons to provide different things for the inmates. Food contracts, program contracts, and medical contracts. Of course they are going to do the least amount they can get away with so they can make as much money as possible. There are so many lawsuits against these corporations but they make more profit doing a lousy job than the cost to pay the fines.
If you are white and have an attorney I promise you that you won’t have it as bad as Jamie. He has spent a majority of his time some far in ad seg, solitary confinement. If you have someone to fight for you, they can’t get away with as much. You’ll have easier time.
There is definitely a connection between Jamie and I, and I would do anything I could to make his time easier. I want to teach him things he needs to know and open his eyes to ideas he has never thought. It is the effect we have on other people that becomes our legacy. If what we do helps people change their life for the better, that is the way we live on. He calls me mom but I know how much he loves his real mom. I know how much he misses her and wishes she would visit him more often than she has, but he doesn’t complain. I wonder if she understands the pain he is in for the choices he has made for his own life? As his mother, has it caused pain in her life, too?
I have only just begun to go back through the hundreds letters I have from him to bring out the issues that have been the most important. Even though his son, my grandson, doesn’t have him in his life today, he will be able to read this and have a good understanding of who his father is as he grows up. It is one thing I can give to both of them, to help bridge the gap of years they are missing.
Knowing him has changed my life. I want to pass this on to other people. I want to help people become aware there are people inside who need our compassion and empathy. They need our help. The system needs to change.
Now go read his story . . . and help the word get out.