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.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world
Sonni’s Pinterest boards

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?

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

Sonni Quick piano music complete list

Yep, Slavery is Still Legal – The 13th Amendment

13th amendment

 

Stop slavery

Jamie’s last letter also has a newspaper article included with that title. Parts of the article resonated with him and he underlined those places. Because he is living through what this newspaper is writing about it must have resonated fairly strongly with him. He carefully tore out the article to send to me.  I think it came from a USA Today by Jim Liske, the president of Prison Fellowship.  I don’t know the date except that it is fairly recent.

“13th AMENDMENT – Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United states, or any other place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Black vs White death penaltyWhen slavery was abolished there were many ways it could be worked around by increasing what was a crime for black people. The most glaring was the death penalty. There was only one crime that would send a white man to death row – Murder. Not so for the black man. There were dozens of crimes that would get him hanged. When we look at our prisons today and see the percentage of white vs black not much has changed.

A compilation of newspaper articles of glaring racial discrimination startingin 1961, which still exists today in the form of “white privilege”.  An interesting read by the Equal Justice Initiative – A History of Racial Injustice –  http://racialinjustice.eji.org

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/race-and-death-penalty

“On Sept 15, 1963, the bomb that killed four girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala, showed America just how far we had to go to fulfill the promise of justice and equality for all, even a century after the 13th amendment ended slavery. Half a century after the bombing, the struggle is not over, in part because language in that same amendment still undermines the equal humanity of more than 7 million Americans who have been convicted of a crime

Ratified at the end of the Civil War, the amendment abolished slavery with one critical exception: Slavery and involuntary servitude actually remain lawful “as a punishment for crime”. In other words, according to this punishment clause, with the wrong controlled substance in your trunk,  there is nothing in the 13th amendment to ensure you won’t be considered a slave of the state. The language was ambiguous enough to be grossly abused. Son the clause was being used to reinstate slavery under another guise.

In 1866, just a year after the Civil War, a black man convicted of theft in Maryland was advertised for sale in the newspaper as punishment. The word “vagrancy” was code for being young, black and unemployed -could yield similar results.

Decades later famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas described how the widespread “convict lease system” exploited the punishment clause “States claim to be too poor to maintain state convicts within prison walls, Hence the convicts are leased out to work for railway contractors, mining companies and those with LARGE FARMING PLANTATIONS.” These companies assume control of the convicts, work them as cheap labor and pay the states a handsome revenue for their labor. Nine-tenths of these convicts are negroes.” So many blacks were behind bars because law enforcement tended to target them.

Importantly, Supreme Court decisions ensured no one today is sentenced to actual “slavery” as a form of capital punishment but Douglass’ critique still rings true. Black men are incarcerated six times the rate of white men, thanks in part to uneven enforcement and sentencing in the “war on drugs”. While drug use rates vary little among the races, people of color stand a much better chance of being searched, prosecuted and convicted than whites and government studies have shown they serve longer sentences.”

Whenever corporations have taken over any institution and it became “for profit”, quality went down and prices went up. Two other good examples of this is education and medical care. The prisons became an excellent source for free, or nearly free labor. There are so many American corporations as well as foreign corporations who benefit from this. There is a lot of talk on the internet about lowering the prison population. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. I don’t believe it will amount to much. All corporations have stockholders to appease. Arrests may go down but sentences will go up. Our government has 20 year contracts with the corporations that run the prisons. That contract demands 90-100% capacity or they will have to pay the corporations money per empty bed that could amount to millions of dollars.

Slavery never ended. It’s time we do something about it. It is an ugly side of America.

Black and white hands

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