Interview with Travis Runnels

It’s good to have something positive to post in the middle of so many things that need to be changed in the prison system. I met the author of this blog through Armando, an inmate I’ve written about before who is on death row in Ca. He is also an artist and he knew Anja Claudia Pentrop, who lives in Germany. Coincidentally, she and I connected through Jamie’s facebook page – jamielifeinprison because she saw a post I had written about Armando. It’s amazing how small the world is.

She has given artists behind bars a platform to show their work. A person, any person, no matter what they have done isn’t defined by that action as being all they are. An artist is still an artist. A writer is still a writer, a father is still a father. Being in a prison for life is something you and I could never understand. Something wrong may have been committed but there is an entire person who has done many other things that make up who they are. If their punishment is life in prison then that is their punishment. I don’t believe in adding inhumane treatment out of vengeance if they have remorse. They have already been given the ultimate loss – their life was taken away.

So let the artist leave a legacy and leave a positive footprint in the sand.

Art Through Prison Bars

Before Travis got any kind of feedback of the collaborative art exhibition
„Death Penalty vs. Human Rights (1)”which I mentioned in the post before I sent him an interview to get his thoughts.

Also other death row prisoners from Zambia and the USA participated with art pieces inside the exhibition which was an idea by Travis and me.

The interview was given to some people from different newspaper so do not wonder that I am writing about myself as “an artist from Germany”.

Questions Anja Claudia Pentrop Answers Travis Runnels

You had worked with an artist from Germany to create an art show about the death penalty and human rights. What did that mean to you to be part of that creation and the organziation of the show?
A chance, an opportunity to reach out to people through words and images. It gave me a feeling of purpose that…

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My Last Day After 18 1/2 Years in Confinement

solitary confinement, fantasy crime, jamie cummings
photo source: turbosquid.com

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. I published this post before and it has been read and watched over 8500 times over more than two years. with a few updates it was worth published it again.  This is just as important now as it has ever been. There are links beneath the post when you click on it to take it out of the archive roll 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 number of years in ad seg and solitary confinement years largely in retaliation for standing up for his rights and the rights of other inmates; almost 11 years total in prison, first offense, with 6 years to go, and others like Armando Macias, who has become an interesting pen pal over the last couple years. He has 3 pages here that can be found at the top of the page in the white area of his writings about his experiences when he arrived on death row and the humiliations they put him through. I recently found out he just got married to his long ago love in his life. How do marriages work in prison? That is a topic for another post. I can only tell you now he is as happy as any other newly married man because he knows he is loved, regardless of his past. He has hope. I have learned more than I ever wish there was a need to know about prisons. It has opened up in a sense of compassion for people that most others would throw away as having no value. There are good and bad people in prison just as there are good and bad people in the population.

I sincerely hope you keep on reading while you are here, and return often. Jamie’s story is one that needs to be told. You probably came to this page from a social media site. If you go to the page that starts out with, “I want to encourage you . . .” You will find out the important places to start first reading that will give you a better understanding of the purpose of the blog. So often people do the wrong thing for the right reason but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. And it doesn’t mean he should lose so many years of his life because of it, unless there is financial motivation. During 9 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 my daughter, father to one of my grandsons, who 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 really a high 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 able to get an education will also make it harder. Renting a place to live will be the hardest. He is worried and he has a good reason to be.

In addition to these things you will find music media files on some of the posts. I am an improvisational pianist and and play and record music that fits the emotion of how I feel when I write. I hope you enjoy them. Any one of those pieces will take you to SoundCloud where there are 29 pieces total.

I’m writing a book about Jamie’s experiences with the justice system and bad prison policy in general titled “Inside the Forbidden Outside” Publishing a book when you have never published one is a daunting task. I spend most of my day writing and learning about the business of writing.

I also put out a newsletter once a month about prison issues, stories of other inmates, updates on how the book is coming along, and other information. You can sign up below.

Thank you.

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Condemned Inmatez Face New Execution Drug

This country has gone back and forth on the death penalty for many years. Many innocent people have been put to death. For that reason alone it should be abolished. Armando Macias, who I write about sits in San Quentin on Death Row. This article says it costs $185.000 to execute one person – with dignity. There is no money to feed these people food that isn’t slop, not even given salt to try to help get it down their throats but they will spend enough money to buy a house in many areas of the country to kill just one of them. Explain that to me.

Please go to Moorbeyz Blog and finish reading and to read other articles there. Please leave your like’s and comments there.

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Soon I will have a button that will take you to to my new newsletter sign up form. Until then, send your email address to my new address at squick@mynameisjamie.net. When my book on Jamie’s life is done, Inside The Forbidden Outside,the e-book version will be offered for free for the first ten days, and all I ask of you is to write a review. Reviews help sell books, and lack of reviews means it is often skipped over. If I already have your email address just write and tell me you’d like to do a review and I will contact you when it is ready.

 

Can Someone Be Happy on Death Row?

Mando-August-4-2013-001-2

I have written posts and pages about a man who lives on Death Row. I use the term “lives” because he has a life. It might not be the life he wants, or one you and I could tolerate, but it is the life he has and he is trying to make it the best life he can.  He has spent years studying to understand life to a greater extent than most people do. He had to go back to the earliest part of his life to understand and learn to appreciate it.

Most people float through their lives from day to day without much thought about why we are the way we are, or why we ended up with the life we have.  We often don’t take responsibility for making the causes we have, to end up where we are. I began writing to him a couple years ago because he intrigued me. I had gone to a pen pal site for inmates, not looking for someone to write to, because I was writing to Jamie, but because I thought this site might a place to put his info and acquire a pen pal or two for him.

Then I saw this post about an inmate named Armando Macias who was on death row, and he was a Buddhist. Since I am a Buddhist as well, I found that intriguing.  I doubted he was a Buddhist before he was sentenced to death row, and how does someone find that practice inside? There aren’t Buddhist monks in prison like there are chaplins. What has his study and practice changed his life to enable him to have quality in his life while living in a tiny bathroom sized cement box. We have had wonderful letters discussing the teachings of Buddhism while getting to know each other.

A member of my family, not understanding, even asked why why I would even want to have him for a friend?  Why would I even want to write to him/  He murdered someone!  He didn’t deserve to be a friend of mine. He no longer qualified to be a human being.  He was going to hell, I was told. Even though he understood what he did was wrong he didn’t deserve to be treated with kindness ever again for the rest of his life.  Because none of us are perfect and do things that are wrong does that mean we should be shunned?

I’m writing about him today because something a little strange happened two days ago. Most of my posts, no matter when they were written still get views. I think that is fairly normal on blogs that aren’t time sensitive, like news. He sent me something to me near the end of 2014 he had written. I broke it down into The parts and it can be found at the top of the site where all the pages are. It is called The Inhumane Society

I still get views every month on the entire series of three posts.  I was quite shocked the first time i read it because it was quite degrading. So far it has been read over 500 times.  That’s not bad because I was a fairly new blogger when I posted it. It showed me it was something people were interested in finding it out more about. People are realizing they have been lied to a great many things and they are tired of being lied to.  We need to insist even stronger we aren’t going to take it anymore. The days of being manipulated are coming to a fast close.

The other day, in the space of two hours, 62 people read this post. Read it yourself.  What do you think?  These were unique viewers.  My blog won’t register a viewer as “unique” if a person logs into the same post within 24 hours. What was bringing here? It wasn’t a new post, I’ve had a few take off and have had 800 to 5000 views over a couple weeks, but not when it had already been out for 1 1/2 years. Was it the subject and was was happening now to get a lot of traffic?  Why was it being quickly shared?  Mind you I’m not complaining.  Anyone who writes wants to have their words reads.

DEATH ROW AND THE DEATH PENALTY

There have been more articles written about the death row and the death penalty than there ever has been.  People want it changed and it has gone back and forth over the years.  The fact that it has been proven that we murdered innocent people and it is too late to give them their lives back.  to have that on your conscious is hard., I would think. Many people aren’t guilty and are used to falsely fill the prisons for the sake of the profit of the prisons.

Yes, there are some really bad people inside, but they are the minority, not the majority, and the length of sentences are often beyond reason. If they aren’t as bad as they have been out to be, simply to fill “for profit” prisons, that means the people in this country were taught to have no moral compass..

This brings me to the second problem I realized. America wants to insist this is a Christian Nation. If this were true – if this country was founded on Christianity, what the hell happened? Why does this piece of dirt that holds 5% of the world’s population have 25% of all the prisoners in the world? Do you see what I’m getting at? Either there is something ineffective about the teachings or there aren’t as many people really and truly “practicing” the teachings, living their lives as if the teachings make a difference. There is so much hate and so many hate crimes, and people think they have a right to do them. People either have no idea what the term”you reap what you sow” means, or they think it doesn’t apply to them.

I recently read a article on a Christian website. The preacher was teaching a lesson. He said to his followers, “You don’t have to worry about the phrase, you reap what you sow. Jesus died for your sins.” What??? It doesn’t matter what you do or who you hurt. You are saved and going to heaven.. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work like that.  You get back the effect of every bad -and good – thing you do. If you aren’t happy, it is for a reason. It also applies if you are happy. You have no one else but yourself that is responsible for your life. Even if you were taught differently, it doesn’t make it so.

This country should be overstuffed with happy Christians. Where are they? They are all out there proudly toting their guns In case their neighbor tries to shoot up the grocery store while they are in it.  A Christian country wanting to terrorize lgbt people because they say Good doesn’t like it. They terrorize Muslims because they say every single one of them wants to kill you in your sleep. And damn those Mexicans raping and killing our women. Then they teach this to a new generation of kids? Is this our Christian nation? It’s shameful.

Armando Macias studied all religions to find the truth about his life.  He did do something bad. But through this bad thing, with the teachings of Buddhism, which is doubtful you know anything about, he learned what it meant to truly be a human being. He is more free in that prison than most Americans are carrying they guns around because that is their god given freedom to protect themselves – from what?

NICHIREN BUDDHISM

It is Nichiren Buddhism I teach Jamie, so he will truly learn his value as human being. Praising an entity does not replace the work we need to do on ourselves that make us better people. We can’t say “Praise the Lord”, and then do as we damn well please and think we won’t have to pay the price for our actions.

This is my opinion. Please understand i am not lumping all Christians into this category.  You can believe what you want. Each of us to come to terms with our own life.  You can be angry or you can think about it. I’m not saying you should stop being a Christian. But understand why you are.  Was it told to you ha

I think it is hard to not try to analyze it, but that doesn’t change anything. So how does one change something that causes unhappiness? Let’s take a hard situation, since I mostly write about the prison system. Today I wore about juvenile detention and the artwork is from a man on death row. He committed a contract killing. Not his first offense. Read what he wrote about what happened the first time he was released. He wanted a better life. His karma was too strong. What is karma? The effect of causes made. If you want to know what causes you made in the past look at your life today. How do you want you future to be? Make the right causes. Otherwise life just slaps you around and if you really think life isn’t being fair it is easy to play victim and say it is not your fault – it was done to you by something outside your control. At that point many people would pray to God to fix it and when that doesn’t work they’d say it was part of God’s plan for them to suffer. So nothing changes and no responsibility is taken. Amen. Praise the lord!

How does someone change the fact they are on death row? or Ad Seg like Jamie? Physically, right now it won’t change. What changes is attitude and life Condition. You could call it moods. depending on your mood, when something happens you will react differently. If you are angry and a guard treated you badly, you’ll get pissed which will start a chain of events that could end up with you getting very hurt. If you have a higher life condition you might blow it off and the guard would  just walk away. You could have a higher life condition and instead, genuinely smile him.  After all, he has to work in this 100 degree weather with more clothes on than you and tempers are flaring. Now that he isn’t angry and you weren’t condescending to him maybe you’ll be the first one he takes to the shower and you thank him. Different causes. Different effects. This is all of life. This is how karma is made.

Everything you think, say or do creates karma. Even in a prison cell he can be happy. There are many kinds of prison cells. To escape unhappiness you have to understand the causes of your life. When you are in rhythm with the universe you will bring to you what you need, and when you try to change, your life will throw up obstacles to keep you down. Resistance to change. This is a life long battle. How do you get in rhythm? By chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” The law the cause and effect through sound and vibration.

Some people mediate, but that is too passive. You physically have to do something. Yes, you can think about change but it isn’t the same. There are so many things I want to do. None of it will happen unless I make the cause for it to happen. We understand that on a basic level. Can you even imagine what you could do if you took control of how you’re life actually went? So whether it is changing violence, or anger or jealousy or lack of confidence, or a hateful coworker, or not wanting to be alone, anything – if you have complete confidence your mind will figure out a way. But we are human and it is always 2 steps forward and one step back That is life.There is nothing supernatural about it. No God up there who has the ability to love no matter how much people want it to be so. Common sense. This, was the intro to Nichiren Buddhism 101. You don’t have to believe it, but millions of other Nichiren Buddhists in this country to do, which is why this is not a Christian nation.  We have to have laws for all people not just a select person.  There is no fat happy Buddha, either, BTW.  We don’t worship the man, we try to live what he taught.

This was not meant to insult anyone and their faith, only to bring to the surface the people that don’t practice their faith as it was meant to be, but instead use it to judge others they think should practice what they believe in, and use hate and violence to push their agenda – no matter what faith they have.

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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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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.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

Sonni Quick piano music complete list

Up Front and Personal about the Prison Industrial Complex and Solitary Confinement = Torture

law review blog, solitary confinement prison industrial complex, prison guard crimes, mass aincaceration. prisoner mental abuse
photo is from the Law Review Blog

This post is not a letter from Jamie. It is an extended reply I made to @manuchettan when he posted at https://mynameisjamie.net/2015/03/12/there-is-no-such-thing-as-justice-in-prison/.

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 mynameisjamie2@gamil.com 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.

Armando Macias, San Quentin death row, SHU, solitary housing unit, programs in prison
Armando Macias

The other man I write to on death row in San Quentin – Armando Macias – three pages of his you can find through the menu tab at the top. Here is the first part https://mynameisjamie.net/looking-from-the-other-side-of-the-prison-doorlooking-at-the-other-side-of-the-prison-cell-door/ Find out what they do to prisoners when they enter the death row unit. When I started writing to him I knew I was taking on a lifelong commitment. I will be posting more about him soon. He also wrote the post https://mynameisjamie.net/2015/01/06/lifes-cleaning-rag/ ( the girl in the mud is my grand daughter)

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

Black Hole. What is Solitary Confinement?

solitary

This post is not a letter from Jamie. I’ve written about ad seg or solitary confinement in many of these posts. I think many people have a vague overall idea of what solitary confinement means, but not really. So when I came across this I decided to post it here as well as inserting the link on the left side of the page where there are other links you can tap into. When you realize how awful it would seem if you tried to visualize yourself in this situation, think of how it would be if you were left there for months, years or decades. Most likely you would go insane, and if you had any problems dealing with things before you went in, your time there would be even harder. Some inmates have done violent things and if they were put into gen pop ( general population ) they may still hurt people. But, if they’re isolated, and out of harms way, why do they have to also have to tolerate torture? They may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but did the sentence also include a clause that allows their jailers to make sure they’re as miserable as possible and make humiliation part of their sentence? In addition to these dangerous people there is also a large percentage of people who aren’t dangerous and are being held there simply because of the color of their skin. Some are imprisoned as a way to shut them up. Freedom of speech isn’t always free. There are many reasons why people could find themselves locked up in solitary.

There are many inmates, if they were allowed to do their sentence in a constructive atmosphere, even if they were sentenced to life without parole, and be able to do it in such a way that they can still develop a life inside, wouldn’t it benefit everyone? By allowing them the use of a library, correspondence classes or other means of rehabilitation they may not go insane from the deprivation of anything related to life. If recidivism is lowered then every cost goes down. Does a gang member, who was raised in the gang culture from childhood, who decides to join a gang because it seemed the only one way to go, and was then incarcerated for whatever reason, does that mean he doesn’t deserve a chance to help himself rise up from that and then maybe help others to not follow that path? Maybe then the return rate to prison would go down. If the prison system doesn’t change the way they do things might, there be another reason they want to keep the prisons full? Could it be the Prison Industrial Complex, which makes a ton of money from keeping the prisons full? There’s a website in my links list called Solitary Watch. They’re letting the voices of the inmates be heard. It’s a site well worth going to.

All of us are a product of our childhood. How we were raised, our influences, our family, or lack of family, determined how we started out in life. Many of these men and women, after understanding it was their life choices that brought them to where they are; shouldn’t there be a way for them to make amends if they can, or at least be able to make better causes that will in turn have better effects, even if the rest of their life takes place inside a prison? They are still human, and none of us are perfect. Every single one of us has done something that would qualify as a crime. We just didn’t caught. We get outraged when animals, even chickens are raised inhumanely. Can’t we have that same rage for humans?

At the top of the website are two links (soon to be three links). He was a gang member and he’s Hispanic. They have a special place for them in the SHU (special housing unit) at San Quentin. He was in and out of jail and prison most of his life and is now inside for a contract killing. He’s on death row, but that issue is now, hopefully, being taken off the table very soon. If they aren’t going to kill him, will he still have to spend his entire life completely unable to ever feel the touch of another human being, and never be allowed to hear the voice of a loved one on a phone call? They say phone calls are a privilege, but it’s a privilege that can never be earned. He’s only 34. He has a lot of life left. In the SHU they’re allowed even less than other people in solitary confinement. Before this, even other times he was locked up, he had never really thought about his life. He never wondered why he chose to do the things he did. He was told to kidnap and kill a man, so he did, never really thinking about the consequences of what he was about to do. He didn’t wonder why he was going to kill this man, he only knew it was for money. If you’re told to do something and you don’t do it, you could be punished by your gang in severe ways. It’s easy to see that the concept of right and wrong was never instilled in him growing up. Something was missing. We can’t know and understand these things if we haven’t been exposed to that teaching by the adults in our lives. He told me he had a violent upbringing and was beat every day. What does that teach you? Does it teach you value for human life?

This time in prison Armando found Buddhism which concentrates on our human nature and the law of cause and effect. Through years of meditation and seeking answers to understand why he is the was he is, he realized what he had done and chose to rehabilitate himself even though the prison system was trying so hard to destroy him. He found a way to structure a life inside his tiny cell. My letters from him are sincere and honest. His connection to me is one I know he cherishes. I help give him a connection to life. He has an outlet to express himself and someone who listens. I,too, have learned many things from him. I know I have taken on a lifetime commitment and it would be a blow if I ever severed that communication. I would never be afraid to be alone with him in his cell. He is not a danger to anyone. My commitment to Jamie is also lifetime, but he’s family and we’re connected by the blood of my grandson.

Between the years of letters from Jamie, who will be able to get out someday, and Armando, who will never get out, it has given me a deeper insight to what being isolated really means. In the beginning I didn’t really understand, even though I knew what the words meant. Now, having two half black grandsons, ages 6 and 8 and living in Texas, which is very racist, it scares me to know this racism will follow them throughout their lives. I know people will look at them and judge them by the color of their skin. They will be looked at as criminals if they are dressed the wrong way or have an expression on their face that someone thinks has criminal intent behind it and call the police because they suspect, wrongly, they may be a criminals. They’ll have to go through their life knowing that at anytime a cop could slam them up against a wall or shoot them for no just reason and get away with it. It scares me. It scares me so much. Our injustice system doesn’t need a reason to put a black man in prison, or a child in juvenile detention.

On this chart below, it shows the recidivism rate for people getting out of prison and going back in. When someone don’t have a way to learn and when he hasn’t had a way to relearn his value system, get the help he needs to acquire an education so he can make a living, what happens when he gets out? He goes back to where he is from. He may even have the resolve to do things differently this time around. He finds his friends again, possibly the only ones who showed him any caring in his life. He gets sucked back into the only life he knows and understands.

The states complain about all the money spent to support inmates. They don’t like to pay for good medical care, so inmates often go for long periods of time before any issue is resolved. Every type of service is skimped on. They don’t do what is needed so these people can lift themselves up so they don’t end up going right back inside. It gives meaning to the phrase: If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.

 

Courtesy of: Infographic World