I feel empty. My head has nothing new in it. Every day, same old thing.
I used to think the hardest part of being here was having to do the time. Don’t get me wrong, that is hard. But the hardest part is filling my head with something to think about that doesn’t end up making me crazy. Everything about my life makes me depressed – or angry. None of it has a good ending. I still have a long way to go. I better find a way to keep a grip on things.
It’s hard not to think about Morgan. It makes me feel so sad and alone. I see her life moving on without me. She has the kids. She has our son. She’s the one who gets to watch him grow and learn. She takes him to school, does his homework with him and watches him learn how to ride a bike. She’s the one who has to discipline the boys when they fight and gets to cook dinner and wash his clothes. She gets to do all the family things. She bakes birthday cakes and takes him trick-or-treating. She sees his happiness at Christmas when he opens his presents. I want to be able to do those things, but he’ll be all grown up before I get home. I’d like him to fall asleep next to me as he watches TV so I can carry him to his bed and tuck him in. I want to help him with his homework. I want that so bad. Now there’s some other dude who is raising my son and I don’t like that. He can’t love him like I do.
I know I must sound petty and jealous but I can’t help it. As more time goes by and I get done grieving about everything I’ll be better. Right now it is like a death, but worse, because I know she is out there. I know sooner or later I’m going to see her and all of this will come flooding back. Will I want reasons and explanations or will I just let it go, give her a hug and say it’s good to see her. I hope I can a bigger person than I feel I am right now. I wish I could be a bigger person but sometimes I can’t.
I make up things in my head and pretend I’m there on an ordinary day, but the way Jamie sees it, I’m not there. He doesn’t know me. I’m just this person he hears about, if his mom talks about me at all. What does she tell him? Does she tell him good things about me or does she put me down when she’s tired and angry at me? Does she tell him I’m a loser? Does she make me an example of someone he doesn’t want to grow up and be like? I don’t know. She doesn’t talk to me much so I don’t know what she says. Does she tell him that no matter what, I love him? Does she tell him I’m sorry? Because sorry is the biggest thing I feel. I let him down. He deserves a father he can count on.
Morgan used to always sign her letters with, “I love you every day and twice on Sundays.” I don’t think she thought how many Sundays it was going to be. Still, I hope when I get out we will still be able to get together as a family. I think it’s important for kids to see their mom and dad together. She rarely had that herself and I know how hard it must have been. We should try to do better for our son. I go back and forth being angry at her and angry at me. If we had a chance to talk about it maybe we could understand things better. But since she never comes that will never happen.
By the time I get out here, if I have to serve my whole sentence, Jamie will almost be an adult. He might say, “I don’t have to listen to you. You don’t have the right to tell me what to do. Look what you did to your own life.” He’d be right. Look what I have done to my own life. I wrecked it. I can’t blame anybody else for anything I go through in here. I don’t want him to end up like me. That would kill me.
The only good thing I did in my life was help make this boy, but really, all I am is a sperm donor. What kills me, there are so many men who leave their families voluntarily. They don’t want them. They don’t want the responsibility of taking care of them. They don’t care. They don’t want to give their hard earned money to their x-wife or girlfriend to help them. Their anger, when their relationship breaks up, makes it okay to punish the kids, too, while they try to get back at the woman. Some of them just don’t give a rat’s ass because they’re selfish. I would give my left nut to be able to help my son and be there for him. I love all Morgan’s kids. I loves them like they were my own. I’d gladly be their dad. When they were little I loved playing with them. They were my family. It was the happiest I ever was. I feel like I hurt their lives, too.
So yeah, when I have to think about something, what else do I have to think about that makes me feel good? I’ve done nothing but cause misery to people my whole life. I was a burden to my mom with my medical problems. This is what happens when I have too much time and nothing to do with it. My mind goes on and on and I can’t make it stop.This is why men go nuts. They have nothing else to think about.
No wonder nobody writes to me. They’re probably glad I’m out of the picture. OK, it sounds like I’m only feeling sorry for myself, and maybe I am, but what else could be the reason why I never hear from anyone? Really? What possible reason could they have? Maybe, they were too busy with there own life to include me in it. As more years go by i wonder if it will change. I’m not even close to the halfway mark. Maybe when I get over the hump it will be different. I wonder, though, do they think when I get out, we’ll just pick up where we let off like I was only away on a trip and now home and pretend everything is okay? Or are they just used to to me not being there and never give it much of any thought. We lose so many of our race to prison. We grow up expecting it. It’s no shock when people go to prison. The police in this town go after every black person they see, man or woman. It doesn’t take much to get locked up. We didn’t live in the rich side of town so no one has any money to get an attorney. If you got arrested, You were screwed.
The town I lived in, Nacogdoches, between Houston and Shreveport, La, was a university town. Steven F Austin University, added a lot of students during the school year. But I didn’t know of any black kids who went to school there. It wasn’t that long ago when the streets in the black part of town weren’t even paved. There isn’t much to offer high school kids when they got out of school. There isn’t anything there for me now. to want to goback there to live.
I began to hear the opening and closing of food slots down the hall so it must be time for breakfast. They wake us at 3:30 and feed us at 4.:30, which is another way to mess with us. There is no reason to look forward to breakfast. There are only two different breakfasts. The bring you three tiny pancakes and a tablespoon of peanut butter or two biscuits with peanut butter. The only time it changes is when they put us all on lockdown. Then they cut the peanut butter in half as a way to punish us, but to also save money. Anything to cut costs. Who cares if we are always hungry. What could we do about it, complain? Who would listen? We get just enough food so they don’t kill us from starvation. I’ve heard about major hunger strikes that some of the prisons have had, to try to get better treatment. There aren’t many ways to get people’s attention. A hunger strike is one way to do that.
When the guards want to punish inmates they serve food loaf. I think it’s leftover slop that is on the verge of going bad. They mash it into a loaf, cook it again with something that makes it stick together, and slice it. It is some of the grossest food I have ever tried to swallow and most of the time I don’t even try. It isn’t edible. They shouldn’t be allowed to give it to us, but who is going to stop them? The longest they are supposed to be able to feed it to us is six days. You get it for all three meals a day. But the last time they did it to me they served it to me for for sixteen days. They broke their own written rule – because what they did was starve me. I would have gotten sick if I actually ate it. They do what they want to us. The inmates who go to chow have it better. They get hot meals. Most of it is still slop, but it is better slop. You also get bigger portions. Even when they bring food to the cell I’m supposed to get a hot meal every three days but that’s a joke. It doesn’t happen. Who’s going to stand by and make it does?
A bad thing about going to chow are the fights. The guards start some of them, or they get one of the inmates who owes them a favor to start it. Someone will push someone or say something to start a fight. If that happens to me I can’t just stand there. If I do, everyone will think I’m a punk. There will always be someone trying to get someone else to fight. Even if a guard sees it and know the truth you can’t expect him to stand up for you, or even tell the truth. I tried to get a guard to tell the truth one time because he knew I didn’t start the fight, but guards always back each other up. I pushed it because I knew I was right, and the guard retaliated and wrote up a case on me. I got me into trouble and was put in lock up. Sometimes it’s better not to go to chow and get my meals in the cell instead, no matter how much I want to get out of this tiny space. The guards don’t like me because I speak my mind when they do something wrong. That gets me into trouble a lot. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. It’s a no-win situation.
“Cummings. Food!” The guard yells in. I hear the bolt slide and the narrow door open. He slides the food tray in and I take it. Yum, I think to myself sarcastically, we get pancakes today. If I’m lucky, tonight I might get Chicken Delight or Porcupine Balls as the main meal. The guys in the kitchen steal food from the guys who get their food taken to the cell, so I don’t get the portions I’m supposed to. Often it is only half portions. Since I’ve eaten in the chow hall I know what the portions are supposed to look like. But if i say anything they will end up spitting in my food or worse. If I lose anymore weight all of my bones are going to stick out. So I take the tray and sit down on my bunk and pick up a book to read. I have a few and I’ve read them more than once. I read and eat. Maybe later I’ll write some letters. Even though I don’t get answers to them, I still write. It gives me something to do. Most of the time I throw them away. I write because it gives me a chance to vent. But what is the point of telling them the same things I’ve already told them? If they didn’t answer the last letters, why would they answer these?
Later, after the guard comes back for the food tray, there’s a bang on my cell door and a guard yelled in, “Shower!” Finally, I’m going to be taken to the showers. They’re supposed to take me every other day, but that never happens, either. The guards are so lazy. All they are, really, are babysitters – and people to beat you up if they want. Being taken to the showers is one of the few times I get to leave my cell. In the summer it is the only way to get some relief from the ungodly heat. In Texas, these prisons are over 100 degrees for weeks on end. Washing off the sweat and grime is the only pleasure we get. We only get five minutes so we have to wash fast. Sometimes the showers are really dirty and moldy, but at least it’s water.
I’m also supposed to get an hour of rec every day, too, but it isn’t what most people would think of as rec. That’s why they say we are on 23 hour lockdown, but that doesn’t mean they take me every day. They take me when they want to. They take me to another cell that is a little bit bigger than the one I’m in now, except it doesn’t have a bunk or a toilet. It’s an empty cell we can exercise in if we want, but it’s not big enough to run in. A few steps and we’re at the other side. But you can jump up and down and do push ups. There’s no equipment or anything to work out with. It’s a joke really. It’s not even outside so I don’t get to see the sky. It’s different at each prisons. If I had in a high security level I could go out into the yard with other people. You have to be in gen pop – general population – to go out in the yard. That can be hard dangerous with all the different gangs. And each gang will command a different part of the yard like their own kingdom. Each gang has a shotcaller; the main man who runs the crew. Being in a gang meant you had to do what you were told. If you were told to hurt someone, you did it, or the same thing will be done to you. You can get really hurt with the different weapons people make and then bury in the dirt. Enough about that, right now I want to go get my shower.
“Turn around Cummings and put your arms back out through the slot. You know the drill.” Then they cuff me, a little tighter than they need to. Two guards come into my cell, strip search me, and tell me to squat and cough in case I’m hiding something up my butt. It’s humiliating. They chain my wrists to my waist and my ankles are cuffed with a chain between them so I have to shuffle to walk. There is only about a foot of chain between my feet so I’m not walking anywhere very fast. The showers are quite a walk. They are under the prison so we have to walk down several flights of stairs to get there. It’s no fun in chains. There are six of us going and when we’re done they will take more down. They take us to this big room that has a line of showerheads along the wall. Other guards brought down other men. There is no privacy. They uncuff us so we can wash. You know some of the guys are sizing you up for possible of sex. The joke about not dropping the soap in the shower and bending over to pick it up, is very real.
I know a lot of things can happen in the shower so I’m always aware of what is going on around me. Someone could get gang raped and the guards would let it happen. It could even be consensual sex, too. A dude might not be gay but when he isn’t getting out for a long time – or maybe not at all, there are some that will have sex any way they can get it. They better not come near me. I won’t go for that – no way. That is why I was born with a hand. Some of the newer prisons have showers in the cell. That might be good for obvious reasons, but it is one less time of being able to get out of the cell. You also can’t take a shower anytime you want, or in the summer the inmates would be standing under a steady stream of cold water. The water gets turned on for five minutes and then turned off. Just like the toilets. You can’t flush them when you want. They automatically flush a few times a day, so you better be careful when you crap or you’re going to be smelling it all day. They feed us a lot of beans, so with no ventilation in a tiny cell that is over 100 degrees, it can get pretty smelly.
Prison guards push men on men. They probably do it in women’s prisons, too. The strong always go after the weak. Inmates don’t have any control over anything in their lives so they try to control each other. Weaker and smaller people often give in, for their own safety, because they think they will have someone to protect them from other predators. Guards are sexually abusive to women, too, and they don’t have anyone to go to for protection. A lot of it starting to come out in the news more and more. It’s ironic that the people put in charge of guarding the criminals are often worse than the people they are guarding. Some the guards should be locked up for the things they do. It’s not all guards.But these guards who see what is wrong can’t report it because they will get demoted or transferred or have some of the guards after them. If they want to keep their jobs they are likely told they need to shut up about it and mind their own business. Bad guards give all guards a bad name, just like cops. The only ones you hear about are the bad ones.
In the men’s prison we are made to believe man on man sex is the “norm.” It’s okay to have a “punk.” They don’t think they are gay if they just let someone give them head, or they don’t think they are punks if they are the ones who do the stickin’ and not the one getting stuck. The guards promote this to tear us down and to separate us. It causes problems and fights and sometimes people get killed because of it. A lot of men who have big time end up laying with men because to go without sex your whole life will make you nuts. They think, “You do what you gotta do.” But not me. Ain’t gonna to happen.
There are many women who work here that are willing to sell themselves or just give it away. There is no excuse for men to lay with men unless that is what they want to do. I’ve seen men who only have a two year sentence get swallowed up in that game. There are a lot of predators here who have the “gift of gab” and have finessed a great game. They can talk a dude into giving up his virginity. I’ve seen it happen and it’s been tried on me, but I’m perceptive enough that I picked up on it after their first few sentences, even if they didn’t actually say anything provocative. The only thing they got from me was a dismissal. Some will get the hint, and then there are some you have to repeatedly drill it into their head vocally or physically. I can take care of myself. You have to do something about it because word will get around that they conned you into doing something you didn’t want to do, and you will never be able to live it down.
Sometimes they’ll give you candy, which is the oldest trick in the book. If someone ever puts a candy bar on your bunk and says you can have it, “It’s free,” it’s not. After a few more times of them giving candy to you, and you taking it . . . one day he’s going to want something in return. He’ll say, “I want that same candy bar back.” And you’ll say, “How am I going to give you back that same candy bar?” That is when you find out what you are about to lose. Back around thirty years ago it often cost lots of money to keep men away from their unwanted advances. Pay or play, and not just once. You paid, over and over to keep the last of your virginity. As inmates were fighting to keep themselves intact, the guards would just stand there and watch, or turn their heads away, but they didn’t stop what was happening. They fought them off until they couldn’t fight anymore. Laws were passed so they can’t extort money from you anymore, but they have finessed it into a game that still sucks in the inexperienced. “Let’s have a smoke together,” or they’ll bring food from the commissary to share. But nothing in prison is free. These men hit on men the same way they hit on women. Buy them a meal and they expect sex at the end. That hasn’t changed. They will try to convince the guy it won’t make him gay. He’ll tell you he won’t tell anybody. Within days, though, everyone knows and thinks you’re his punk and nothing you say will change that.
Like I said before, it’s safer to stay by yourself and do your time. Trouble always has a way of finding me, so I try to keep out of its way.
I want to thank everyone who has been following this blog and those who have been reading the chapters of the book as I write and rewrite, finding my way. I’m very determined to do this, and do it right. Between writing the book and writing for my two blogs, and writing long letters to three inmates, and writing music, I write from late morning until wee hours of the next morning. Any hours I haven’t filled I am studying the art of writing. Where do you put those damned semi-colons? Every time you share something, you help me tremendously. Every new address on the mailing list gives me more credibility for publishing. I hope you continue to give me pushes in the right direction.
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