One Foot After The Other (and Don’t Look Back)

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The only legacy of real value you leave behind when you leave this earth is the effect you had on other people. It is powerful because you can change lives – for the better or for the worse. Affecting someone’s life means they will affect others. Lift them up or drag them down. In that way you live on through others long after you are gone.

What you do, say and think always has a consequence. We see that work in a negative way when parents, teachers and preachers teach children to be prejudiced and judgemental toward others in many ways. They grow up to be racist adults, or teens who bully classmates they think are inferior. They were taught to think like that.

Instead, think about how you want to affect the world around you. Take responsibility for all you do and don’t blame others for your life. This is what I have taught Jamie. He is responsible for his life as we all are. I have tried to show him through example. I’ve tried to teach him what he had no chance learn going through his youth. I’m sure his mother loved him. That love is unconditional, but we can only teach what we know.

The more you give the more you get. You reap what you sow – what goes around comes around, no matter what faith you practice. I practice Nichiren Buddhism. It has taught me more about myself than any other teaching. It taught me compassion for all people, not just people you decide is worthy based on your chosen faith. It taught me how to live and I’m still alive – so I can finish what I’ve started.

Life has been upside down the past few months. I didn’t have time to put out a newsletter  because there are only so many hours in a day. Many people have followed the blog at My Name is Jamie. Life in Prison and read blog posts about the reality of prison and how it affected his Jamie’s state of mind. I hope to think that being there for him and  knowing someone cared, helped him get through days when he felt like giving up. He couldn’t understand why his family wasn’t there to help him go through the extreme loneliness of a prison cell.

When I tried to encourage letters and explained to his family how lost Jamie felt I was told, “Just because he got hisself in trouble doesn’t mean my life stopped.”

I was then told, ” I’m not going to answer this because you’re really starting to piss me off.”

“My telling you the truth pisses you off?” I replied. “If I am wrong about any of this, please tell me where.”

“Really, it’s not your concern,” I was told. “Jamie lies a lot.”
That’s a good one. It’s hard to keep a lie going for ten years, especially when there is no reason.

“It is my concern,” I replied. “Tell me what the lie is.”

Silence

I couldn’t understand that attitude. This came from a blog post I wrote 3 1/2 years ago, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother” These excerpts were taken from that post. It still brings me to tears. I was helping his brother and for that I got slapped down. How dare I care. He’s the father of my grandson but his welfare was not my concern. 

I do not write about this in the book. I don’t say how I feel. The book isn’t about them. The most I say is how lonely he is not understanding why no one writes to him and I don’t mention any names.

Trying to finish the book and making the money to pay an editor has been a challenge. Opening an online store to make money has been fun – but more expensive than I thought. I didn’t know what I was doing. I paid marketing companies for guidance. I worked it and now I think I have a nice looking store with good products and I work on getting it in front of people every day. Slowly sales are picking up. Now I’m building a new website around the store that will have more to offer than just items to buy to give it value. I’ve learned, though, that making money the first year in business is difficult. Just staying afloat with enough sales to cover overhead eats up the most of the hours in my day and all of the profit. Most business apps have monthly fees. There are fees on top of fees.

My health is declining. I’ve been fighting for more life for 20 years when Hep C was diagnosed. Everything that could go wrong, has. I was stupid in my early 20’s and through a boyfriend I did IV drugs. It didn’t last long, but it was too late. But everything happens for a reason. What has it taught me about myself? So much. Symptoms started in my mid 30’s. I have fought hard to stay alive and today cancer is showing its head – again –

Radiation on my head after ear removal

The ugly scar you can see part of near the bottom of the photo toward the left is a botched skin graft that was supposed to heal into a thin line that eventually would fade. It is 6 months old and painful to touch because it cut into nerves. It’s more than 3″ long and still inflamed. The Dr wants to shoot a bunch of needles off cortisone into it. That will be painful. The red ball on top of my ear that looks like a wad of gum is where my ear was cut off. The skin graft was supposed be fashioned into a place my glasses arm could rest. A kinda sorta ear . There is nowhere now to put an arm from glasses. The bandaid is the biopsy site where the lump is. But hey! My hair color is real!

I’ve had several issues with cancer. Liver cancer and skin cancer – common with liver transplant patients. Which was in 2012. In Oct 2018  I had skin cancer and a pie wedge was cut out of one ear. It didn’t stop in January I ended up the top half of that ear cut off. “I am confident I got it all,” the Dr said. But he didn’t. I had radiation and it burnt off the hair on the side of the head. It didn’t stop it. Now it is spreading  internally and I have a lump on my neck. On July 15th I am having surgery – a neck dissection – to cut out all of the lymph nodes on the side and back of my neck and more radiation. If it spread further then it’s chemo time. My body can’t fight it because I’m on anti- rejection meds to suppress my immune system to keep the liver. I have lived so far for a reason.

My transplant doctor told me they lose more transplant patients because of squamous cell carcinoma than anything else. The fight is on.

I say this only because. . . I don’t know why I’m saying it other than it has complicated my life further and I’m trying to figure out where to put it in my head. I spent 12 years writing to him and 3.5 years writing this book and recording the music and videos to promote it. It’s given me a reason to keep going. I have to finish it.

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I wanted to write this book for the many people who have been through prison and understand the psychological effects of long term isolation. I want the profit from the sale of the book to help Jamie start his life again and be a father to his son, my grandson. Certain people have tried to turn this into something ugly. People enjoy negative gossip. They have no idea what this book is about. They have never read it or asked about it, but they’ve known I’ve been writing it.

Now Jamie is out, and the book isn’t complete yet. I need money and I’m stressing over the lack of it. I need to pay professional editors to work with me. This is why I started the store. Thank goodness he didn’t have to do the entire sentence and was paroled four years early. Now he can see his son, his only child.

I had just finished radiation from the last surgery and I couldn’t be there when he got out. No one was there. For thirteen years he was “Inside The Forbidden Outside. ” It was his first time being on the outside and he had to take a bus to his brother’s house. He had no way to call me even if he could. I was on a train headed back home because I found a lump on my neck.

A friend of 40 years, another musician, also a Nichiren Buddhist (and my 2nd ex-husband) suggested I start a gofundme campaign. It is really hard to ask for money. He told me there would be people who understood. I was amazed because I already have had a couple contributions. If you read the campaign you’ll see I will be sending them a free copy of the book and music when it’s published.

I estimate I have about 6 chapters to rewrite. This is the 2nd draft. With a story editor to guide me I’m sure there will be revisions. I can’t put out a book that is less than professional. There is also sequel planned, because this book only goes in time from 2006 to 2016. The sequel picks up there and goes through getting out and re-entry. Cancer isn’t going to stop me from finishing. But maybe, because of what is happening I should extend the chapters beyond 2016.

A BIT OF JAMIE’S EARLY LIFE, BEFORE PRISON.

To understand Jamie’s story a little more if you haven’t been to the blog and read the pages at the top ot any early affiliates

Jamie  spent so much of his life removed from society, never learning how life works. Four years in juvenile detention starting late in his 16th year, to keep his little brother from being sentenced after hitting a cop with a broom when he forced his way into their home. The cop knocked down their mother and broke her wrist. They wanted to send a little boy to juvenile detention for defending his mother because someone needed to be responsible and it just wasn’t going to be the cop. There have been many articles in the media showing cops doing the exact same thing to other families, but back then in the late ’90s the internet wasn’t what it is today.

The attorney convinced Jamie to do his brother’s nine month sentence, except they had no intention of letting him leave until he was 21. By then he was so depressed he was kept in a different facility far from home for incarcerated youth with mental issues. Epileptic seizures and having no family near was wrong.  He lost the rest of his youth and high school years. When was he supposed to develope the wisdom and social skills he needed to understand to get through life. Who were the right people to be friends with? So he picked the wrong people to be friends with. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong friends put him in prison before his son was born. I took care of my daughter until my grandson was a year old when she left to go back to Texas.

I helped Jamie through his prison sentence because everyone in his life who should have been there for him – wasn’t. No one helped him after the first year.  Letters and visits were as rare as snowstorms are in Texas. Money for things he needed, such as stamps and hygiene products or paying his medical fees were paid by me as well as books to read, extra food, ( he’s a big man) and even candy to bribe the guards.

Our letters are a journey through what went on his head. The emotional toll. He suffered through the heat with no air conditioning – summers when he passed out from the heat, and when guards cuffed his wrists and legs during a seizure, or when 5 guards picked him up and rammed his head into a wall or wouldn’t let him see a dentist when his impacted wisdom teeth got infected.

I will be there for him to lean on until his knowledge and experiencecatches up with his 36 years and he is a confident, strong man with a life of purpose.

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He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother

 

Because of the book I’m writing about Jamie Cummings, “Inside The Forbidden Outside” I’ve been re reading many letters I’ve received from him over the years, separating them into different subjects. For instance: medical care he’s received, treatment from the guards, solitary confinement – and lack of caring, help and communication from his family.

The hardest thing for him, has been been wrapping his head around the fact that his family isn’t there for him. Maybe in their head they think they are, but the reality is different. They probably were in the beginning, I think. They aren’t bad people. Maybe when he gets out they think it will pick up where it left off and everything will be hunky dory, but I don’t think so. I know how much he loves he loves his family, but I don’t think he will forget how many unanswered letters he wrote. They have no idea how many he wrote and tore up because he was venting the fact that they haven’t been there for him. I think, over time, they went on with their lives. Jamie became, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Maybe they thought there was nothing they could do and life went on – for them. Communication became less and less, and even helping him financially, so he could buy any luxury we take for granted, like real soap, became a “so what, it’s only soap” item. So he would write me, “Mom, please, can you help me?” Who else was he going to turn to? No one else was going to help him, that was clear. One relative recently told me, “It’s his own fault he got into trouble and went to prison.” My goodness sake, is that the reason they still tell themselves for not helping him, it’s not their fault because ten years he got into trouble? And oh, I can’t forget this: I was told it’s not my concern. It certainly hasn’t been their concern.

Not my concern? He’s my family. He IS my concern. He’s the father of one of my grandsons. We are connected by blood. I might be white as snow and he’s black as the ace of spades, but both bloods run in my grandson’s veins. But even if it didn’t, and I know this because of my own family, being related doesn’t mean the people in your family are going to actually take time out of their life to show they care about you.

After thinking about what was said, I realized they didn’t know him anymore. They knew a much younger Jamie. They don’t know the Jamie I know. They also have no idea what the effect of this experience of abuse has had on him. They also have no idea where he is going next. How could they? There will come a day when they will regret that as they try to claim him as their own, and he will say, “And where were you when I needed you?”

Jamie never placed blame on anyone but himself. Whenever he wonders why no one cares, he always says it is his fault. He thinks it is because he caused his mom a lot of trouble growing up? I think most kids do. So is that a reason for not helping him now? Is he getting a needed payback for being a kid? My goodness. He’s 33 now. I think he’s done paying for those mistakes. What he is doing now is a cry for help, “Please don’t let me disappear from your lives. I need you. I’m lonely. I want to know you care what happens to me.” So he waits and waits. He gives them a deadline. If they don’t write back in say, two weeks, he’ll take them off his visitors list. At the end of two weeks he’ll set another ultimatum. “They are busy,” he tries to convince himself, because the thought of them not caring is more than he can handle.

I wrote to one of his family today. I said, “Jamie needs his family.” Thinking your family doesn’t love you is hard to bear. I know sometimes he’s depressed. There are enough articles published for anyone to know about the devastating effects on the brain that are produced by solitary confinement. So I asked, “Why does no one bother send a birthday card or Xmas card? Why can no one put a few dollars in his account to buy the absolute basic necessities for survival?” My answer? “Just because he got hisself in trouble doesn’t mean my life stopped.”I guess that means it’s Jamie’s own fault for getting into trouble ten years ago,  so the family is off the hook. Does that mean, when he gets out in seven years, the excuse, when he tries to get his life together and needs help, becomes, “It’s not my fault he got into trouble 17 years ago”? When does that mistake finally get paid?

This family member didn’t know Jamie was transferred to another prison 2 months ago. I said he had no paper, no stamps, and a guard destroyed his ID. I told him everything that happened he didn’t know about. I asked him why? Why won’t anyone help? I even asked for help. He has epilepsy. He has to be able to call medical when he has a seizure. Medical care is not free, contrary to popular opinion. When I asked his mother to help she conveniently evaded the question. I know she heard me ask. I’m on disability, but I still pull it together AND send books and letters and magazines and newspaper clippings and most of all I send him love so he isn’t alone sitting in a cell that resembles hell.

He answered me with, ” I’m not going to answer this because you’re really starting to piss me off.”
“My telling you the truth pisses you off?” I replied. “If I am wrong about any of this, please tell me where.”
“Really, it’s not your concern. Jamie lies a lot”
That’s a good one. It’s hard to keep a lie going for ten years, especially when there is no reason. “It is my concern,” I said. “Tell me what the lie is.”

Silence

Everyone makes mistakes. Do we stop loving people because of it, and make sure for ten years they never forget, by ignoring them? Does it keep us from supporting them emotionally? We can’t pick up a $2.99 card that says, “Thinking of you,”put a stamp on it and toss it into a mailbox? Can’t we say, “No matter what, I love you and I’m here for you. You ain’t heavy, you’re my brother.”

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother
lyrics by the Hollies

The road is long
With many a winding turns
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another
It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother
He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

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By the I got done with this I was crying. I was feeling the pain I knew he felt