How Much More Can I Take
Jamie lost track of time. He tried to mark the days by tearing threads out of his blanket, but he no longer knew what a day was. When did it begin and when did it end? It felt like he had been in the hole for a lot longer than he probably was. There was no way to know the time of day. That was intentional, adding to his disorientation by deliberately keeping him off balance. If the system could break him mentally it was an added bonus for them. People who work in a miserable setting enjoyed causing misery to others.
The grunge on the tiny window high up on the wall only let greasy light through. It was worse than the times he spent in solitary when he was in juvenile detention, and that was hard to deal with. He didn’t know how to process what they did to him. If adults can’t wrap their head around that kind of deprivation, how could a kid?
Those memories and the scars it created were carved images in his head he could never forget. This time he felt like there was no hope, like everything good in his life was gone and he was never getting out. He wanted to crawl inside himself. The feeling of despair was complete.
The only thing that broke up his day was when they brought food. Most of it was the same, and too awful to eat. He didn’t eat. He didn’t know if he was being served breakfast or dinner and doubted it was being given to him at normal eating hours. No one answered his questions or told him what time it was. He gave up asking.
Jamie laid there. He knew he lost weight and he also knew he stank pretty bad. Showers were out of the question. He wasn’t sure which smelled worse, him or the room itself.
One day it was over. Just like that. He had no idea they were going to let him out. He heard the lock turn in the door and it opened. They said his time was done. The guard threw clean clothes at him and he was taken to the shower. Afterward he was taken to a dorm similar to the one he was in before, but smaller. A bunk was pointed out. He guessed he wouldn’t be beating up anyone else after this.
A few months later, a guard came to the cell door and called out his name. His son has been born on July 7th, 2006, at 4:20 A.M. Finally, his son was here and he was okay. He was relieved.
He knew it was going to be a boy and that his name would be James. Jamie might be in a bad place right now being locked up, but the day he found out his son was born felt like the happiest day he ever had in his entire life. He was beaming. He was a father! That caused a smile to spread over his entire face. Jamie laughed. He couldn’t help himself. His cheeks hurt from grinning so big.
Morgan had sent him one of those pictures they take at doctor appointments of the baby when it’s still inside. Jamie knew his son would be beautiful, because Morgan was beautiful. She also sent him a picture with her big tummy. Sometimes he took out the picture and stroked the growing mound with his finger, wishing he could feel the baby move and stretch. It made him realize how much he was missing.
He might not be able to be the kind of father he wanted to be, but he would do his best. He tried not to think about that. Not today. He was going to be happy on this day.
Little Jamie was planned to be born on July 7th. Morgan and her mom drove to Miami the day before and got a hotel room because they had to be at the hospital early in the morning. After taking her to a room on the labor and delivery floor, one of the nurses gave her a medicine to start the labor. The medicine didn’t work. More than twelve hours later Jamie Jr. showed no sign of being born.
The hospital where the doctor worked was a four hour drive from Key West. Morgan didn’t want to go into labor and not be able to make it to her doctor. If she had the baby in the Key West hospital she would get the doctor on call. Someone she didn’t know. She had problems with the delivery of her last baby. If there were more problems with this one they would fly her by helicopter to Jackson Memorial Hospital, which wasn’t the right hospital, either.
Jamie didn’t realize how tense he was about the upcoming birth until it was over and he was able to relax. Not knowing what was happening and being out of the loop was the hardest to deal with.
A lot of the dudes in his dorm were grinning and quite a few congratulations were going around. Even a couple of the guards congratulated him. That surprised him. He guessed hearing about a new baby allowed them to act human for a change.
Jamie told everyone. This day would never come again and he wanted to make the most of it. It was the first time in more than seven months he had something, anything, to be happy about. Good things didn’t happen very often when you were locked up. Any reason you had to smile was a big deal, even if that reason belonged to someone else.
He thought about his family. He missed them. He couldn’t share this with them. He was gone for four years when he was in juvenile detention and he did those years alone. He hadn’t been free for long before this happened. They weren’t there for him then, either. He didn’t feel like he was a part of his family for a long, but he still missed them. He wanted them to miss him, too. He felt like an outsider. Nobody told him nothing about what was going on in their lives.
He needed his family to help him get hygiene and stamps and other things because he was not able to get any kind of job to make money. They don’t have jobs at jails. Not ones that pay you. All you do is wait, sometimes for years. But maybe when he gets sent off and settled they’ll give him a job.
Jamie didn’t care what the job was, he didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. Even if it only paid twenty- two cents as hour, like he heard many jobs in prison did, it would still add up to dollars he could spend.
Some dudes had problems with their baby mamas and couldn’t see their kids. Jamie was glad it wasn’t like that with him and Morgan. She would never keep Jamie Jr. from him. He didn’t have to worry about that.
Since he was let out of solitary and back in a dorm he was able to make a phone call to Morgan. She told him all about their baby. He stood there, still grinning, listening to all the details. He wasn’t happy, though, hearing how hard it was for her in the delivery room.
“It wasn’t easy, Jamie.” Morgan told him quietly. “I had to have a c-section at the last minute. The doctor found the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times. They didn’t know that until they tried to take him out. That’s why he wouldn’t go down the birth canal. His vitals were dropping. The doctor had never seen a cord wrapped around a neck like that. Without surgery he would have died. He was lucky. We were all lucky”
Morgan sounded tired. He wished he could’ve been there with her. She must have been scared. Healing from surgery, taking care of a newborn by herself, as well as the other kids, would wear her out. He was glad she was with her mom so she could help her. Now more than ever he realized how much he screwed up by going out that night.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you,” he spoke quietly. Jamie’s regrets would become a pain that never healed.
“More than anything,” he said, “I wish I could be there with you right now. Hold you in my arms with little Jamie between us. I want to protect both of you, and I can’t.” The anguish in his voice made his throat tighten.
A fifteen minute jail call goes by too fast. There was never enough time to say all you wanted to say. The sadness in his heart after he hung up overshadowed the happiness he felt when he dialed her number.
Reality hit hard. He didn’t want to think he wouldn’t be able to raise his son. He would miss every first – first laugh, first step, first tooth, first birthday, second birthday and more after that. He would miss it all. And little Jamie would miss having a daddy.
He found out he was finally being moved. They couldn’t have sent him any farther away from home. Was it on purpose? There were a hundred prisons they could have sent him to. They had to choose one that was clear across the state where no one could visit if they wanted to? East Texas, where he was from, was had hills, pine trees and red dirt. West Texas was flat, a desert.
There was no way now his family could come and see him. They had the perfect excuse. Making the drive in one day was impossible, especially with kids in the car. It looked like he was on his own for sure.
Texas was a huge state to travel across. He had never been any farther west than Huntsville. Now he was being to sent to Smith Unit in Lamesa. By car it took about eighteen hours. By prison bus it would probably take four days. They wouldn’t take a direct route. They’d zigzagged to different prisons, picking up inmates and dropping others off. It would be a trip through hell.
It was summer and scorching hot. Even though there was air conditioning on the bus, it wasn’t strong enough to keep it cool from the heat of the sun scorching the metal of the bus. Having so many unwashed bodies inside that stank didn’t help, either.
Through the entire trip across the state, Jamie wore the same white shirt and baggy elastic waist pants he put on the day they loaded up the men who were being transferred. He wouldn’t be able to take another shower until after he was processed when the bus arrived at the prison. No one cared if the inmates missed a shower, and no one cared how they felt about riding on the uncomfortable metal seats on the bus. Suffering was part of their sentence. They deserved it, right?
After all the red tape was taken care of and he was assigned to a cell block, he should be able to make a phone call to Morgan and see how she and little Jamie were doing. He didn’t know then it would be weeks before he was allowed to make that call.
Prison was going to be a lot different than jail. Jamie didn’t know how different, but he was going to do his best to do it right so maybe he could get out early. He also hoped maybe after awhile he could request to be moved closer to his family. If Morgan moved back to Texas he would do that for sure.
Seated on the bus, the inmates were separated from the guard and driver up front. There was another guard and a dog in the back to keep them in line if needed. The guard had to deal with the stink right along with them.
Guards and drivers changed a few times when they stopped at prisons along the way, exchanging some prisoners for others. The guards got to walk around and stretch their legs. The prisoners weren’t so lucky.
The men had to sit silently and wait for the driver of the bus to start the engine again. He wasn’t allowed to let the engine idle if the guards weren’t onboard. They were standing outside having a smoke. The AC wouldn’t go on again until the engine kicked over. Jamie felt sweat drip down the side of his face. It was going to be a long, uncomfortable ride.
The seats on the bus were hard like a city bus, not a Greyhound bus. There was no padding anywhere. The seats didn’t go back to make it possible to sleep or even relax. They were straight up and only came as high as his shoulder blades. There was no way he was getting comfortable. No way to sleep without dropping his chin to his chest. Because he was a big guy he couldn’t move his arms. either. The bus was made to make sure the men would be miserable.
It was impossible for Jamie to stretch out his legs, so circulation was cut off at the knee. He couldn’t even cross a leg over his knee to get in a different position, and relieve one foot from hanging straight down. He knew his ankles and feet would swell. The heat made it worse.
The guards were never amused by complaining. It was pointless, anyway. There was nothing they could do. He knew it was going to get worse the farther west they drove, when it became a drier heat. It sucked all the moisture out of his mouth and throat. He felt dehydrated and craved water. They weren’t given enough water. Less bathroom breaks that way, he guessed. But if anyone asked for water they just might make them wait even longer. Anything to make them feel worse.
It was impossible to do more than doze off for a few minutes of light sleep. The whirring sound of the tires, as they turned on a road that was hot enough to melt rubber, was enough to lull the men into a stupor. Problem was, if they started falling to one side, the person next to them would give them a shove with their shoulder to tell them to straighten up.
Jamie was cuffed to the man beside him. “I gotta piss.” The man nudged him. “We gotta get up,” he said almost in a whisper. This wasn’t their first trip to the toilet.
“Guard, we need to go to the back of the bus,” he said loudly over his shoulder.
If one man needed to use the john, they both had to go. Peeing was one thing, but it wasn’t much fun if you needed to sit and take a shit. No matter how hard they tried not to, sooner or later they all had to take a turn sitting on the seat.
The guard came and unlocked them from the bus seat, but not from each other. It was hard for two connected people to do anything that took co-ordination.
The guard returned to the back of the bus and stood near the door-less restroom. There was no privacy. Jamie and this other prisoner made their way to the back by walking sideways past the seats. When the other inmate stood inside the small closet-sized restroom, Jamie stood outside the doorway, and looked away, with his arm inside attached wrist to wrist down near this dudes privates. He was trying to give him a little privacy. He didn’t want to picture his wrist and hand participating with this stranger relieving himself.
“Damn, it stinks in here.” Jamie muttered under his breath, trying not to cough as the dude finished up. Since they were all cuffed no one could easily clean up after themselves. There was pee on the floor, and anywhere else it splashed. The toilet seat was kept up out of respect for those who needed to sit, but it was still a mess. Forget washing your hands. How could you? After a couple days the smell was overwhelming. All they did was spray Lysol around the cubicle. Mixing with it was the heavy odor of a port-a-potty type toilet, along with body odor, making it hard to breathe. The men sitting in the back had it the roughest.
Jamie desperately wanted to wash up. Splash water on his face and neck. Put on deodorant to mask his smell. He wished he had his property. That was supposed to arrive in a later bus, he was told, so no one else had any deodorant, either.
The only good thing about traveling on this bus was being able to see outside. There wasn’t much to look at but he could still see the horizon pass by. He supposed some people liked living in the West Texas desert but it sure looked boring to him.
It was almost exciting to see a billboard and read the advertisement of some business trying to sell something. Insurance, an attorney office or a number to call if you feel suicidal. But there was also a high point knowing you were outside the walls and you could watch the day go from morning to night.
Once he got to the Smith Unit he would be on the inside, and the outside became forbidden territory. The free world. A place he wouldn’t be able to live in again for a long time.
“Hey, you got any family?” Jamie whispered to the dude next to him.
“Shut up. No talking,” came from somewhere behind him.
After a minute or so he heard a whisper, “Two girls. Three and five. You?”
“Baby boy,” he whispered back. He glanced to the right and saw him nod. “Sorry, man.” He knew Jamie would miss the time of his baby being a baby.
It felt to Jamie as though they were never going to get to the other side of Texas. It felt like an old Twilight Zone TV show where a scene was supposed to be real life, but you found out at the end it wasn’t. You never got to where you were going. The bus kept traveling down the highway. It didn’t get anymore unreal than that.