Depression, Chronic Illness and Solitary Confinement

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I’m not a professional so I can’t say for sure I know what I’m talking about. I only have my own observations of people who suffer from depression and also the what I’ve read. Depression is very real and it can be debilitating. My intention is not to make anyone uncomfortable or make light of their situation. I am only trying to understand something I don’t experience except on rare times when life temporarily gets overwhelming.

I’ve read the blogs of many people who suffer from depression and other chronic illnesses. Reading experiences is a best way to understand what they go through rather than only reading medical articles.

We all have deep sadness sometimes, and it can go on for a long time before we get a grip on it. Something happens to us sometimes we can’t find a place in our brains to put it, so it is always right in the front part of our thinking and it can stop us from living.

I’ve had times when I was down. It happened more when I very sick but I would find a way to pull myself out of it. The teachings from my practice of Buddhism gives me hope. I’m sure people of other faiths rely on their faith as well. I could that but sometimes people can’t.

Jamie has suffered suffered from depression since he was a child. Would it have been different if he didn’t have epilepsy that resulted in seizures from birth to present day? How does it feel knowing it will never stop unless science comes up with a cure?

How does a child deal with a hopelessness?  Do people think, “He’s only a kid.  He’ll snap out of it?”  Jamie doesn’t like to talk about it. It took a long time for me to understand  what it did to the relationships in his life with family and friends. It knocked his self worth down to nothing. Writing about it brings it back. He prefers to keep it locked away. It will have to be his choice to unlock it. Maybe talking about it could help but it is not my decision to make.

seizure webmdcom

I know there are different kinds of seizures and they affect people in different ways. It must be a dreadful feeling to know one is starting and it can’t be stopped. There is nothing you can do. Is there a feeling of embarrassment, not wanting to show what you think is your personal failing to other people? Do they talk about you behind your back, laughing, if they wanted to be cruel or even feeling sorry for you like you are a broken. It has been this way for him since before he even knew what it was.

I asked him if he could explain to me what it felt like. He wouldn’t, really couldn’t tell me. To write about it in detail would be like reliving it. It was too much for him. It was then that I finally realized that epilepsy was the underlying factor for everything. If this one biological thing had been different it would have changed everything in his life, but it couldn’t be changed. He tells me when he has another seizure and he tells me if it was bad enough to be taken to a real hospital or if the guards just let him lay there because they don’t want to do the paperwork. The prison is messing with his meds and won’t give him what he knows will work so the seizures are more frequent than necessary. But he doesn’t go into detail about the seizure itself. We do what we need to do to protect ourselves.

Would talking about it begin a healing process? Not to change epilepsy itself, but would it change what it does psychologically? I don’t know, but I do think that years of stuffing it down has caused insecurity that is easily rattled and it begins another episode of depression he can’t stop. Being completely alone in a cell with no one talk to makes it worse.

When that happens if he feels it is hopeless why should he even try to go on. No one will bring his son to see him unless I go to Texas. Family, his son, and my daughter all live in Texas within a couple hours of the prison.  Has anyone else made one trip to this prison? No.  In the past ten years he’s been locked is he not worth visiting, even when they learned he also has problems with his heart? No. I don’t have enough money to go often enough.

His family ignores him. He recently tried again and wrote to them – with no response. Would that make you depressed on top of everything else? The total lack of caring makes me angry beyond words. He sold his food for stamps because he couldn’t go to the commissary. Not meaning to make it worse for him, I waited too long to answer his last letter because of everything else I’m writing and he began thinking I was gone. I left him. I was mad at him. He thought he did something wrong. He has lost the one person who has been there for him nonstop all these years. I’ve been his rock and it was like I died. It sank him into a depression where he stopped eating and used sleep to escape.

He wrote a letter and poured out all the pain he was feeling, convincing himself it was all his fault. I felt horrible. But that day, after he wrote and sent that letter, he received my ten page letter. Because of things happening in my life it took about a week to write it –  in pieces. Sometimes I think he’s stronger than he is. Is it because I want him to be stronger?

I do know, and always have known, if I had never written that first letter he would not have made it this far. My daughter would still not be taking their son to see him. He is supposed to understand how hard it is on her yet she doesn’t understand the power she has to destroy him – or to make him happy. She doesn’t want for him to be happy – because of me. She’s angry at me for being there for him. His family would also still not be in his life. No one would be paying his medical fee, so his care would be even worse than it is. Medical care is not free.  I’m on disability.  It takes me months to pay off the fee and still have enough for a few basic necessities. He still would have no one who cared if he was okay. It doesn’t matter that Jamie’s son needs his father. Not “a” father – but his own father.  If I wasn’t there his depression would have destroyed him –  completely.

jamie cummings
Father on the left and son on the right – both eight years old.

His mother had him in therapy as a child and other times in his young life. It didn’t begin in prison. Because there is literally no help for those in prison who need it, when an inmate is locked up alone it often causes harm that can’t be undone. There are so many articles in the media about what happens to the mentally ill in prison and no one can seem to change it. Jamie is not mentally ill, but he does need people who care about him. He does NOT need to be made worse because the people in his life think he’s not worth their time of day.

He’s a big man, 6’2″. He is physically strong. He looks like he should be strong. But no one can see inside his head to find the scotch tape piecing him together. My daughter is very angry with me because she said I’m not allowing her to “let him go,” as if I’m doing this to her. She said my relationship with Jamie is gross. She’s angry at things I don’t even understand because it makes no sense. There aren’t any sides to take even though I feel as though I am supposed to take one. What is there to choose? She is my daughter. I love her and always will, but to do this will not make her happy. 

I don’t know why she is so angry except maybe this makes her look at things she doesn’t want to see. Jamie has asked only one thing of her – one thing.  To see his son.  He loves him.  Being a father gives him purpose when he doesn’t feel he has any.  It is not a big thing he asks.  My daughter does so much for her children.  She is a good mom – except for this.  It’s too much trouble to do this one thing. Give up an afternoon and let their son spend son time with his father.  Don’t do to your son what your father did to you – ignore you.

When Jamie got my ten page and realized I hadn’t left him – I was still there – he immediately wrote another letter and apologized. I can’t take for granted he will understand if I wait too long to write. Do any of us thoroughly understand what it is like to spend years locked away from all communication – away from people? We can’t. We have never been through it, let alone for ten years. There are inmates who are locked up for three or four decades. Are they supposed to come out of that okay? Did it accomplish anything good or productive? No. It’s cruel.  I will NOT be cruel and give up on him because I know there is a reason for me being there.  I see in him what he is capable of.  And I won’t let him give up on himself.  It is not an option.

I will continue to try, to learn, and help others if I can. This isn’t about me. It is about how I can use my life in a positive way. If anyone else doesn’t understand that I can’t make them understand. Sooner or later his family and I will meet eye to eye. I can’t promise to keep my mouth shut.

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My letter to Jamie at Huntsville Prison

I have posted so many letters from Jamie to me.  Today I decided to post one of my letters to Jamie.  This one was written earlier this month.  I usually write him about every week, but lately, since he lost his privileges and has been alone more, I’ve been writing more frequently.  I haven’t gotten a letter in the past couple weeks and it could be for a variety of reasons like being out of stamps and not allowed to go to the commissary, or he might be too down, or a letter is in the mail.  I try not to worry.  If I go for too long I call the prison and make sure he’s still there and okay.  I usually send my letters through http://jpay.com  His inmate number is 1368189.  if you wanted to write to him, it’s easy, and costs the price of a stamp.  If you don’t want to register with them.  Send him an email to mynameisjamie2@gmail.com and I will forward it to him through jpay.  He’d write you back if you left a return address.  If you aren’t comfortable with that, tell him to send his reply to me, and I will email it to you.  It doesn’t have to be long letter.  Just something that would put a smile on his face!

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prison Mail

May 5th 2015

Hello Son,

Is it stupid to ask how your day was today? Probably. It’s going to be a long hot summer. Starting off with something positive, Mike and I are setting up this year’s garden. Since I don’t think he gets enough exercise – no amount of suggesting it to him has any effect.  I can see this year it is an effort and he poops out quickly. Not that I can say anything different for myself. Being shut in the house all winter because of the cold does take an effect on muscle tone. I’m sure you feel it, too, but you still have the advantage of youth on your side.

The weather has been wonderful, and on the humid side, but I love humidity when compared to cold. We’ve been laying down an extra couple inches of fertilized dirt and I started planting vegetables and flowers. I’ll send pictures when it actually has green stuff growing in it! yes, I’ve had some sore muscles, but it’s a good sore because these muscles needed to be abused a bit.  Bending over is the only good position to be in for my back.  it separates the spine so it’s less painful.

I finished writing part of a chapter today. I have to look and see which ones I haven’t sent you yet. I started another blog. I think I told you. It has only partial chapters in to created interest. This one is about medical issues and this is only one part of the chapter – the time you had to go to the dentist to have some teeth cut out. Please read it and see if it is missing anything.  You wrote about it in two letters.  I so understand the pain you were in.

I know you don’t like to write about this, but your epilepsy has played a very major part in your life, and the way you have been treated at the prison during seizures has been so wrong. Honestly, how are they now? You sometimes tell me when you’ve had one, but how often do they occur and how different are they. I want to write more about medical experiences.  Seizures are different for different people.  I know it’s been hard on you since the day you were born.

I looked it up on the web to read what everyone else said, but each person experiences something different because they might be caused by some other problem. Will you tell me more about them? Your mother said you were born having a seizure and for a long time you had them one after another back to back. You couldn’t have been able to go to school, could you? She told me she never let you out of her sight – you could never go and play at friend’s houses or have sleep overs because she was afraid you’d have a seizure. Megan told me once that your siblings used to laugh at you and kick at you sometimes when you were having a seizure, but I don’t know if that was true. Is this why you didn’t have many friends? You must have been very lonely as a child. I haven’t done much research on it yet, but what is the long term affect? It can’t be good. Your mom said you had brain surgery when you were about 12 and it was able to stop some of the bleeding and it cut back on how many seizures you had, but it didn’t stop them completely. I know you’ve had quite a lot of seizures while you’ve been in there. I remember you told me once that you woke up from one to find you were cuffed – for their protection.

Because getting good medical care inside prison is a big issue for many people, I read about it a lot. This is why I want to write about this medical issue of yours and how it’s been treated, to come out in this book. You also mentioned in different letters in different years about the problem with your knees swelling and it’s been painful. I know you asked about getting the fluid drained and the dr said it would never be approved. A very simple procedure that would have helped the pain and they wouldn’t do it. You said once they told you had arthritis except that isn’t a symptom of arthritis I don’t think – at least it isn’t a symptom I ever heard of. Is this still a problem for you? You wrote about for several years at times. If there is anything else medical – even if it is someone else, if you can, tell me about it.

In your mid teens when you started hanging with the wrong people – I did the same thing. I was 17 when I started smoking pot but it wasn’t until I was 18 and left home that I got into harder drugs. I was always a loner and I didn’t know how to make friends. I couldn’t see why anyone would want to even be my friends, but when I did speed I was able to be outgoing and fun to be around. It helped me be a different person. I dropped out of college and mostly I hung out in pool halls and bars. I became a really good pool player – could beat most everyone unless they were pro.  There many things I was involved in that could have gotten me in trouble. But it didn’t.  I wasn’t a bad person, just a screwed up kid – just like you. You are paying such a high price for your mistakes.  Hopefully we will be able to create some good out of it and help other people through your experience.

Also – you should have got your stuff back by now – your books and other belongings they took away, but I will soon order you some more books. Well – better go to bed. Sleep well. Try to chant some D’s and keep your energy focused in a positive way and keep your future pictured in your mind until it becomes a reality. I’m right there with you. Remember that. Love, mom.