When I started writing this blog for Jamie over three years ago it was because I thought people needed to hear his story. It wasn’t because his story was exceptionally different from other people in prison. It was because his story is too damned common. A large percentage of people live their lives oblivious to the pain and suffering inflicted on many people who are locked up in all kinds of detention centers – not because they are dangerous people, although there are many in prison who are – but because they are a source of profit for prison corporations and shareholders who have stock in the growing number of prisons. It is also a source of campaign donations for politicians who then bide by what the prison corporations want – more people to profit from and little oversight about the way they are treated and cared for. We know what the problems are but we can’t make them change.
I don’t blame people for not knowing. I didn’t know anything, either, before Jamie came into my life. All I knew was what I learned in TV series like Prison Break. I didn’t know it didn’t tell the whole story. I thought people were in prison because they deserved to be there. I didn’t spend any time thinking about whether the amount of years they were sentenced was fair. I didn’t know blacks and minorities were targeted. It didn’t affect my life – I thought. Then I met Jamie.
In the pages at the top of the blog is a page that was written at the beginning of my writing the blog. “My Name is Jamie”. If you don’t know his story that is a good place to start because it tells some of the reasons why he is there and what his life was like. There have been many changes since that was written. If you read through all 300 plus blog posts for the ones that include his letters you would be able to follow his life, but that would take a lot of dedication. Instead I thought I’d give you a synopsis of where he is now and what is going on.
In addition to this blog I am also writing a book, “Inside The Forbidden Outside”, which is in the second draft. It has taken me longer than I expected to write because I can only write one thing at a time. Two blogs, A newletter “ITFO News” and a book take time and I work on them in a cycle. Add to the mix all the required social media promotion to build a network. When I work on one I can’t work on another. I often work until the sun comes up.
In addition, I am an improv piano composer and I’m working on an album of music for the book. Much of the music was originally written for different blog posts you could find scattered throughout the blog. The music is sometimes painful and melancholy, relaxing and peaceful, best listened to with your eyes closed in the dark. Music promotion takes up another huge chunk of time. You can find my music at these two websites. Skunk Radio Live and ReverbNation. (the links are below the post) Share it if you like it. For anything on line – stats matter.
The reason for all of this is to create a place mentally for Jamie to go when he gets out in 2023. He needs something to work on that has meaning. A book to use to talk to people – help young people stay out of prison and give meaning to his 17 years inside. Turn a negative into a positive.
Jamie has been inside for 12 1/2 years. He has 4 1/2 years to go. He did 4 years in juvenile detention right before this on a charge he wasn’t guilty of. He took the fall for his younger brother and was told if he did the time for him he would only do nine months. There should have been no charge period. A cop illegally came into their home with no warrant and no cause for entry. His mother got hurt and his little brother hit the cop with a broom in defense. But Jamie was lied to. They didn’t let him go until he was twenty-one. This is in a chapter early in the book. With no education, no life experience, no job history and no counseling, what was he supposed to do?
I think the last 4 years of his sentence are going to be harder than the first four because he is tired. Burnt out. He will be 35 in January 2018. In the beginning he had no idea what to expect, he only knew it is going to be a long time. He hoped his family will be there to support him. He lost raising his only child, a boy, my grandson, who was born after he was arrested. He turned 11 this past July.
He waited and waited for his family to be there for him, giving them excuses of being busy and they will probably write later, which they never did. He asked for a little money to buy hygiene products and nothing was ever sent. He suffered from depression – and epilepsy. No one asked him how he was or if he needed anything. My daughter, his son’s mother went on with her life. He never blamed her for this. They hadn’t been together very long.
How would you feel if this was you and no one gave a damn how you were? The largest percentage of inmates come from the fostercare system, but he had a family and that family acted as though he didn’t exist. Letters weren’t answered. They still aren’t answered. The only person he has had through this is me – and through me, some of you who have written and encouraged him.
Jamie wasn’t guilt free but when you are black or a minority and have no money for an attorney they force you to take a plea deal with threats of a longer sentence if you don’t. If he had an attorney he would have never gotten 17 years. Only 3% of those arrested actual go to court to have their case heard. 97% only go to court to plead guilty – in and out of court in ten minutes. There are so many people arrested there is no time for anything more. this is also why there are so many, often after decades get their cases overturned. But nothing can back the years of suffering inside.
He has been moved around to eight prisons so far. He isn’t in gen pop where there is an opportunity to take classes or go to the library. Even so, gen pop is a dangerous place because there is a mix of inmates with nothing to lose. A lot of bad stuff happens, not only with the inmates with drugs and sex and fights with weapons, it also often includes participation with the guards. Jamie has been beaten, sprayed with gas and false cases have been filed against him he can do nothing about. At the last prison, in retribution for filing grievances against guards for their treatment they filed thirteen sexual harassment cases against him. He can’t fight that. It’s on his prison record.
Guards are always right and inmates are always wrong. It’s the same thing out here in the “free world” when it comes to cops and taking responsibility for the people they murder for no reason.
Today he still sits in adseg – administrative segregation – another name for solitary. When he was moved from the last prison 2 1/2 years ago because he was no longer safe there, he was given one year in adseg. Once he was moved they added two more years. Why? Because they can. He has a meeting this month to see if they will let him out. He has a 50/50 chance. If not, then the next meeting is in six months. Is this serving any purpose? Or does it make the guard’s job easier?
I’m worried about him. It is too much time alone. He turns down going to the shower and does a bird bath in the sink – to stay away from guards. He turns down his hour of rec for the same reason. He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of getting out of adseg. How will this affect him when he gets out? it isn’t a matter of, will it affect him? It is only a matter of how much. Reintegration will be hard.
This Fall I am making another trip to Texas for a few weeks. I went a year ago, too. I want to finish up on some details I need for the book. I can take his son to see him. I can encourage him to hang in there. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the things I am trying to do to create a life for him, which also has a benefit for me with my music and gives me a reason to keep on writing. There has to be a sequel about what happens next.
It’s important to focus on the positive. See yourself being successful with whatever you want to do. If your life is full of, “I can’t . . .” or “It won’t . . .” or “I could never . . .” then you won’t do anything. All you will do is sit back and feel sorry for yourself and the bad hand of cards you were dealt. It is up to each of us to make our lives work. But if no one teaches you how to do that, what can you do?
I have spent years teaching Jamie the law of life – the law of cause and effect. Some call it “You reap what you sow,” but many don’t take it seriously. Where we end up is the result of the things we have done, so it is up to us to do things to undo what we don’t like and get our life going in a positive direction.
I want to thank all the people who have encouraged me. It has kept me going when i doubt myself. It has helped give me the strength to not give up. Who am I to think I can accomplish these things? If I lose confidence I remember why I’m doing it and what the stakes are. My actions affect other people. Everyone else abandoned Jamie. It happens to most who spend a long time inside. I promised him I would be there and he is counting on that.
Next issue coming soon. The topic this month – Incarcerating The Innocent . . . AND . . . beginning today, until ten days after the next issue is published, anyone not currently receiving the issue in their email can tap the above button and enter a sweepstakes to win a signed copy of Sharron Grodzinsky’s “Waiting on the Outside.” Ten copies will be given away. No shipping fee. Absolutely free.
If you know an inmate who writes poetry or is an artist or has a story you’d like to tell you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
ReverbNation . . . Website of Indie music not on traditional radio stations. Sonni’s featured page.
SkunkRadioLive . . . Indie radio station out of London playing music composed for the book being written for Jamie. If you can, help support. It will all help Jamie in the end.
Protect yourself by having an attorney on call with an app on your phone. Stopped and given a ticket? harassed? Get screwed by a landlord? Customer not refund your money? Need a FREE will done? (normally about $300) Click on the link below and see why you need this. A friend has a brand new problem with a landlord. She had just signed up for the service. She didn’t even think about Legal Shield until I reminded her. All for muchless than a trip through Kentucky Fried Chicken. Call me, email me, msg me here or at FB. It’s that easy.
No one can make you do this, but it is why you have car insurance even though you are a good driver – the other person who hit you, isn’t. Then you call your insurance company. That is why you NEED Legal Shield.
“You stole the stereo outa my car, didn’t ja? Jamie’s older brother Danton screamed, the veins in his neck popping out. “I know you did it.” He cornered him against the back of the car, fist raised, ready to beat the crap out of him. Jamie had never seen his brother so angry. He wasn’t trying to steal it. Honest. He was only showing it to a friend and left it there. When he went back to get it, it was gone. He took off with it. Why did he do stupid stuff like that?
Danton tackled him to the ground. Next thing, mama was outside ordering them inside. Now. “What are you, stupid?” She swatted a book at them to get them inside. “Y’all want some know-it-all troublemaker neighbor to call the cops?” She was angry. Real angry. Belt swatting angry and she wasn’t afraid to use it. There was no ‘spare the rod’ in her house.
As she closed the door she peaked through the living room blinds and saw the flashing lights of two blue and white cop cars stopping in front of their house.
“Damn,” she said under breath. “Damn fool kids carrying on like that outside for everyone t’see.”
She had a tough enough time without tongues waggin’ an gossip flyin’. She closed her eyes and sighed. This was gonna to be trouble. Jamie had problems with this cop before. Always fixin’ to harass the kids in the neighborhood every chance he got.
They stomped heavy on the porch and one officer knocked on the door. Mama opened it a few inches. “What do you want Officer?” she asked in her most respectful Texas drawl.
“Heard there was a fight outside.”
“You know how boys are.” she said, shaking her head in a knowing gesture.
“Teenagers. Always fightin’ over somethin’. Everything’s under control officer.”
“I want to come inside and talk to them.” Through the opening in the door he could see them sitting on the couch.
“That won’t be necessary officer. As I said, I have everything under . . .”
Before she could finish speaking the cop kicked in the door. As he slammed his foot into the wood the force pushed her back a step. She half-turned, lost her balance and fell, breaking her wrist as she tried to break her fall.
Chaos broke out as her children rushed to her defense. As Danton jumped up from the couch and jumped toward the cop he was sprayed in the face with pepper spray by the other cop, who was waiting for the kids to try something. He backed away yelping in pain from burning eyes. Jamie ran to help his mother along with his older, quite pregnant sister.
No one noticed when the youngest brother grabbed a broom by the handle that was propped up against the wall. In anger for hurtin’ his mama, he whacked that cop with all the might his young arms had. The straw end created angry scratches on his arm. He didn’t know assaulting a cop was a crime. He was just a kid defending his mama. In this neighborhood you had to learn to defend the ones you loved.
The situation changed at break-neck speed from illegal entry and causing injury to a mother who did nothing wrong, to a chargeable offense of assaulting an officer – by a kid, which didn’t matter. Assault is assault, except when done illegally by an officer of the law. The charge should have been dropped. The cop shouldn’t have busted in the door. When you have to say ‘should’ it’s too late. Hanging black kids out to dry is their job.
Danton was put in the back of one police car and promptly kicked out the back window. Jamie and his younger brother were put in the back of the other car and their mother and sister were whisked away in an ambulance.
At the end of the day everyone went home but Jamie. Someone had to take the fall and be charged with something. The cop would never get charged no matter what he did. This was 1999. Cops got away with anything. Jamie’s life took a sharp left turn that day, forever changed.
A deal was made. His younger brother could have been sent to juvenile detention for hitting the cop, but he’d get beaten up in there, or worse. Bad things happened to young boys. A lawyer in the courthouse told Jamie to take the fall for him. Jamie was sixteen, almost seventeen. He was better able to take care of himself if trouble found him.
Jamie was told, “If you plead guilty for hitting the cop with the broom you’ll only do nine months. No more. Nine months and you’re out and your juvenile record will be sealed.”
That’s why it had to be him and not Danton. He was older. Not a juvenile any more. He’d miss a year of high school but he could take classes inside. Would he do that for his little brother?
Jamie thought about it. Could he do it? His brother wouldn’t last a day in there before he was ganged up on. It wasn’t fair. He only defended his mama. This was wrong. Asking him to take the punishment. What’s the point? Why punish him when he didn’t do nothin’? Wasn’t the person supposed to learn a lesson? What was this teaching him? That there’s no justice? There should have been no sentence for anyone, but mama didn’t have no extra money to pay a lawyer who would be on their side. She already worked too hard taking care of them.
He agreed. He did the time. He hated it. The staff kept trying to get in his face. Called him nigger this, nigger that, when no one was looking. But still, he did everything he was supposed to do. He went to school and attended Groups. He waited and waited until the time passed. Finally, the day came for him to go home. He was packed and ready when they told him, “You can’t go home.”
“What?” He didn’t believe them. “Why? I did the nine months.”
“You didn’t make level four. You can’t go home,” just as plain and matter of fact as you can get.
“I don’t know nothin’ about needing no level four.” There was something very wrong happening.
“The lawyer didn’t tell me or my mom about any of this. You never intended to let me go did you?” Silent pause.
With satisfaction they told him again he wasn’t going anywhere.
He ran back to his room and slammed the door. He sat on his bed and cried. He was angry. He was so angry. He wanted to go home. He did what he agreed to. He started kicking the door and walls. He wasn’t going to listen to them ever again. He was lied to. Lied to. for no reason except to hurt him. He had so much anger inside. He started throwing his stuff around and destroying the room.
An officer came to his room, cuffed him, and took him to 23 hour lock up in security. It’s like they planned this. They were ready. Solitary confinement with the fancy name Behavior Modification Program. BMP. Just as bad as adult solitary except kids can’t handle it. Some commit suicide in those cells. Three months they kept him in there.
After that everything went down hill. He caused all kinds of problems any chance he got. He got into fights. He was sent to solitary three times for three months. They brought him school work every day as if that made it better.
Jamie suffered from depression as a young child because of epilepsy and it hit him hard. He curled up into a ball. Much later he was sent to a facility for kids with mental problems. He wouldn’t eat. He laid on the bed and slept all the time. He didn’t hear from any family. One day a woman came to see him and they talked about things. Just things. She came back later that day and said, “You can go home now.” He had turned twenty-one.
# # # #
His mother picked him up the next day. It was a long drive. Not much of anything important was said while they drove through the state. Their talk touched on different people in the family and what they were doing, to catch him up on things. Everyone had a life that went on living. Only his had stopped. He could count how many letters he had got in four years on one hand.
No one could ever understand what he’d been through. They wouldn’t even want to hear. It was too close to home for them. Each of them lived life not knowing if it was going to be their turn someday.
Anyway, that was yesterday. Sweep it under the rug and move on. It would be a downer if they realized they could have helped him make it through. Write a letter maybe? Asked how he was. Showed they cared. That didn’t matter. They would show him now with a party. It was quickly planned for his homecoming but they arrived home too late. Most had already gone home.
A cousin asked, “Do you wanna walk over to my place? Show you where I live?” It was late but Jamie was keyed up from the day.
“Sure, why not.” He stayed awhile then begged off that he was tired and started walking home, cutting through the parking lot and walking past a security guard standing outside his little office of importance. Rent-a-cop. A puffed up ego in an official looking uniform.
“Hey boy. What are you doing here?”
“Visiting my cousin. I’m on my way home.”
“Yeah, right. Come over here. I wanna to talk to you.”
Jamie had done nothing wrong so he walked over and went into the security office. He didn’t know the guard had called the cops after seeing a black man suspiciously walking through the parking lot. He thought later, what do you do to act suspicious? He was only walking, hands in his pockets.
The cops showed up. No one wanted to listen or believe he was only walking home. Surely he was looking for a crime to commit. Someone to rip off. someone to hurt. With a gun pointed at him he was cuffed, put in the back of the cop car and taken to the police station.
Welcome home Jamie, he thought to himself. It was unfortunate for him that it was Friday night. He had to sit in jail for three days before he could go in front of a judge. Charged with what? Breathing?
Monday afternoon Jamie was led into the courtroom. He looked at the judge, startled. It was the attorney who had convinced him he would only do nine months in juvenile detention. He promised him. How ironic, he sighed, emotions flooding through every nerve path. Of all people he could be brought in front of after getting out after doing four years, it had to be this man. Life has a funny way of slapping you upside your head when you least expect it.
“James Cummings,” his name was called. The judge had yet to notice him. He stood, straight and respectful, head held high. He looked his old attorney dead in the eye. The judge looked back. He leaned his head forward slightly as if to see better, eyebrows knitting together as he stared at him. There was long, silent pause. They stayed like that until the judge looked away.
Chin in the air, with an official white man’s superior gaze, he looked down his nose and said, “I know you.”
“Yes. You do.” Jamie paused for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “I was the teenager you promised would only do a nine month sentence in juvenile detention four years ago after you convinced me to take the fall for my younger brother.” Lets get it out in the open.
“Ah yes, I remember now.” the judge relaxed back in his chair.
“I thought I recognized the name.How did that work out?”
He clearly didn’t know. Never checked up on his handiwork. Out of sight, out of mind. His life wasn’t important. He was on to screw the next black kid with no thought about what his actions might do. It was mostly black kids who were yanked through the system, as corrupt as it was.
“I just got out three days ago . . . sir. I was home only a couple hours, visiting with family I hadn’t seen in a long time, who grew up while I was away, paying – with strong emphasis – for my crime, when I was arrested simply for walking home, as if I had done ‘another crime‘ I needed to pay for.” Jamie’s words were slow and measured. Eyeball to eyeball his gaze never faltered from this man who had changed his life unfairly.
The judge broke eye contact and looked down at his hands. A long uncomfortable silence followed. Thoughts bombarded the judge’s mind, the least of which was what he had done to this young man.
His face snapped up. Defending himself in his head he thought, “I was only doing my job.”
“It was the best option for the family,” he tried to make himself believe. He now did the only thing he could do.
I have had so many hours to sit and think; my life playing over and over in my head like a loop that doesn’t know how to stop. I keep trying to make sense of what happened. It’s easy to look back and think; What if I did things differently? I know I can’t go back and do that, but I hope I’ve learned I can do things different in the future. I need to remember to think things through. How do I want this to turn out? Do people do that? How often do people take responsibility for their actions or do they blame others for what happens? Do they cry, “I’m just a victim! It’s not my fault.” I only know, If I don’t learn to think before I act, then life will keep slapping me in the face. Hopefully I have learned that lesson.
I don’t think I could have kept this from happening. Maybe I could have escaped this exact thing by not going out that night, but the cause had already been made for something like this to happen and there was no escaping it. My karma would it have caught up with me one way or another. Karma is karma and it is what it is. If a cause is made there will be an effect. I didn’t know about any of this back then. It is like gravity. There is no escaping it. If I jump off a cliff, I’m going splat on the ground. This is what happened here. My life went splat and I landed in a prison cell. I have to go through this to learn what I need to learn about life.
What would have happened if I didn’t go out that night? Four years in juvenile detention should have taught me more than it did. I knew my friend was bad news. He had been in and out of trouble his whole life. Just being around him was taking a chance. I knew that; of course I did, but I never really thought about it because some things you can’t know without being taught. I had no one to teach me. I don’t know if I would have listened if someone tried. The young think they already know enough.
I didn’t know what it meant to have priorities. I didn’t know how to set goals. Who did I know who had goals? I lived my life day by day and hoped the future would work itself out. I’m a good person. What did I do to have such a screwed up life? I began to feel trapped and up against a wall. I had to make some money. Morgan kept telling me I had to find a way to bring money home. But how was I supposed to do that? I didn’t even have a high school diploma. How was I supposed to support a family with five people? It was a lot of pressure knowing I was going to be a dad and needed to do things things I didn’t have a clue how I to do.
Who was going to give me a job? I can’t even get a drivers license because I have epilepsy. I have no job resume or references. I’ve been locked up since I was in the tenth grade. I would have to tell an employer I had epilepsy. The chances of having a seizure on the job would always be a possibility. I couldn’t work at a fast food place. If I had a seizure I could really get hurt in a kitchen or cause others to get hurt. No, there would be all kinds of excuses why they wouldn’t hire me. They weren’t supposed to discriminate, but they would anyway, knowing you weren’t going to file charges against a job that was only going to minimum wage. It’s not worth the trouble. I didn’t have many options except maybe manual labor. Stress and heat bring on seizures. Besides I wanted to do more with my life.
The night this went down, I went out to party with a friend; shoot some pool and have fun. I had lost my teen years from late sixteen to twenty-one to juvy. I met Morgan a few months before, soon after I got out. I fell in love with her the first time I laid eyes on her. I didn’t have a chance to get an education so I could at make decent money. Looking back, it was easy to see we should have put more thought into having a baby until we had better plans in place. Having a baby and figure out later how to make it work was not a good plan. But it is what it is.
I knew it was stupid going out that night. This dude was bad news. He was fun to hang out with, but he had been and out of trouble since he was a kid. It was only a matter of time before he got locked up for good. I was no angel growing up. I got in some trouble as a kid. A lot of boys do. But I was no criminal. Not like what you see on TV.
If I hadn’t locked me up for four years before this in juvy, maybe things would be different. All because a cop was determined to get me. I was only supposed to be there for nine months but they lied. If he hadn’t illegally shoved his way into our house and made my mama fall and break her wrist, I would have gone on to finish high school. I had problems with this cop before. Racism in the police is a common thing in Texas. They harass the blacks a lot. I’m not stupid. I know what it feels like to have racism directed at my face. Living in the south, black is not the right color to be, and I know I’m not the first person to say this.
I hold myself up and remember there are things I can do with my life when I get out and have another chance. I want to travel and see more of the country. I’ve never traveled outside of Texas. There is a whole world out there to see. I used to want to be a long distance truck driver so I could travel around and see it. That’s probably not possible because of my epilepsy, but I think about it a lot. I also want to help other kids; teach them not to ruin their lives and use my own life as an example. I want to do good with my life and I want my son to be proud of his dad.
Now it is 2016. I’ve been locked up in prison for more than ten years and my son is almost ten. These are years I can’t get back, so I have to believe I can change my life for the better so it isn’t wasted time. I am going to have a good life. I know I will do things better when I get out. Most dudes say that, but they get sucked back in. They don’t know how to do things any different. Not me; life is going to get better for me. I can feel it. I have to keep the big picture in my head. I have a son to take care of, and he is not going to end up in this place, even though the odds are against him and the cops are still racist when they see the color black. Has that changed since he was arrested? No, but I will make sure my son will not become part of the system.
It is not any of the guard’s fault I am in here. It was my own actions that put me here. But even though it is my fault, it doesn’t mean we have to live the way they make us live. There are things that need to change. Too many people are getting physically and mentally hurt because no one cares what happens to us. They think we deserve being treated like animals. The law wouldn’t like people treat animals the way they treat us. We are human beings. Our sentences do not include abuse. These guards, who treat us badly, will have consequences in their own lives for what they do to us. They think they are getting away with it, but they aren’t.
If I only ever learned one thing from my study of Buddhism, it is this: What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. The law of cause end effect. You get back what you dish out. It is all the same thing. No one gets away with anything. I’m paying for what I did and they will pay for what they do, too. I am learning how to change the negative things in my life to positive things. It’s hard, but I’m learning. The positive side of this lesson is it applies to all the good things you do, too. So the more positive things I do, the better my life will be.
I want to go back to that night, the one that set this all in motion. On January 26, 2006, around 9:30-10:00 at night, a friend came over and suggested we go out and party at a club in a nearby town. That night was not supposed to turn into anything illegal in any way, except that gaming halls themselves are illegal because gambling was still illegal in Texas. I don’t know if it still is. We were only going to do a little gambling and that’s it. We were smoking a little weed and jammin’ to the music. He made a statement about robbing the place but I didn’t take it seriously. He was always saying crazy things like that. Well, he ended up doing it. It shocked me. He had a gun in his backpack. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t do it. He was my friend. Friends don’t leave each other.
It didn’t work out for him. He didn’t rob the place but he did take out the gun. That is when I knew I needed to get out of there. He ran after me and jumped in the car as I tried to leave. As we left the place it was really crazy. It was dark and we were on a back road. I was driving like a bat out of hell to get away. As I passed a road he yelled at me to turn around because I missed a turn. I didn’t care about no turn. I was trying to get as far away as I could. He kept yelling so I turned around.
As I made it back to the turn, POW! The Sheriff was stopped at the stop sign. I looked in the rear view mirror and sure enough, he was doing a U-turn. He followed us as I drove. The next thing I knew there were cop cars everywhere.
So I told my “then” friend, “I’m fixing to pull over.” He was pissed, telling me not to.
I told him, “Fuck that, I’m not going to have a wreck.” The Sheriff was behind us. I pulled over. We sat there for about two long minutes.
The Sheriff called out to me. “Stick both hands out the window.” They all had their guns pointed at the car. I did what I was told.
“Take your left hand and turn off the car.” I did.
“Take your right hand and open the door.” After I opened the door he said, “Hold both hands out and keep them out in the air.” I did everything he said to do exactly as he said it.
“Stretch out in the road and if you move I will shoot you.” He was serious. I believed every word he said. We were on a back road. He could have done anything he wanted and no one would know anything different.
They did the same thing to my friend. We were searched and taken to the county. When we got to the jail they asked us why we did it.
I said, “Man, I was just gambling.” He asked me again. I gave him the same answer.
“All I was doing was gambling. Nothing else.” I was placed in a holding cell and I could see out the window. The next morning I saw Morgan. Another time I saw my mama. I was told nothing. Then they placed me in another cell for a few days and fed me TV dinners. Then they sent me to Newton, Tx to a holdover jail. When I got there it was a lot different from where I was before. They had tanks instead of cells. A tank is a big area with a lot of bunks. The biggest tanks hold almost sixty people. The one I was in had twenty-five to thirty people. There were a few tables, a TV, two shower stalls and two toilets. They kept a broom and mops in the tank for us to clean with. My bunk was all the way in the back by the toilets.
I went to court and they start talking about giving me forty-five years. forty-five years? Keep me looked up until I was sixty seven years for this? I don’t even have a record. I’ve never been arrested for a crime and they want to take away my life? Because I’m black and I don’t have a real attorney? I got angry. I turned them down. I didn’t do anything. I’m guilty of running because I was scared of what my friend did, but I never pulled a gun on anyone. I didn’t try to rob anyone of money. I’m only guilty of having a poor judgment of friends. I am NOT going to agree to forty-five years for that!
A few days pass by and they take me back to court. For the very first time I met the public defender who was supposed to be defending me, not railroading me. But he wasn’t interested in hearing what happened. His only job is to scare me into taking a plea. he didn’t care if I was guilty or not. This attorney, whose name I can’t remember told the district attorney they had enhanced my case from 5 to 99 years, to 15 to 99.
“Who? I asked him. “Who enhanced it? Are they charging me with things that didn’t happen?” All these thoughts are running around in my brain.
So I asked him, “What are you talking about?”
He looked at me with a bored expression on his face like I was taking up too much of his precious time. “It’s because of your juvenile record.”
I got confused. What did my juvenile record have to do with anything? Looking back, I know now that had to be a lie. A juvenile record is closed There is a reason for that and it’s so they can’t use something against someone for whatever happened while they were a kid. They can’t just go and look at it without a court order. They would be told it was inadmissible. Besides, I wasn’t there because I committed a crime. I hit a cop with a broom because he hurt my mother. No judge would let them use that and give me forty seven or ninety nine years. But I didn’t know then it was just a scare tactic.
Then he said, “The DA is offering 17 years and would go no lower.” They said if I didn’t take it they would take me to trial. It was a scare tactic. They were never going to let me go to trial, and they knew it. But I had no one to talk to about this. By now I was ready to give up. I couldn’t deal with it anymore and i didn’t know what to do.
Believe it or not, I even told the PD I wanted to go to court, but he backtracked real quick and said the DA wouldn’t talk to me. The DA probably didn’t even know who I was, and they were just trying to make me believe he had said all this stuff. I wasn’t important enough for him to want to spend any time with. But what was I supposed to do when I didn’t have anyone on my side? My life was a game to them. I think of these things later, but it’s too late. They didn’t give me time to think. They knew what they were doing. It wasn’t until much later when I learned about the corporations, and how they have a deal with the government to keep the prisons full, that this all started to make sense.
Since I didn’t have a real attorney, I knew I didn’t have anyone who would go to bat for me. I was screwed. Public defenders get paid by the hour so all they want is for you to get scared and agree to everything. That way they can get on to their next client they need to screw for a paycheck. Most of these dudes couldn’t make it as a real attorney so $75 an hour sounds pretty good to them. How many people can they screw in one day?
So I said to myself, “Fuck it. Let me get this over with.” I signed for the seventeen years and went back to the county jail in Newton.
I called Morgan for the first time. How was i supposed to tell her this? I explained the situation as best I could. I told her I understood she will want to get on with her life. I asked her to make sure our baby knows me and my family. That is all I asked of her. She went crazy on the phone and said she’s not going anywhere, and so on. We talked, but after our call I was still in a real fucked up mood. I went to my bunk, sat down, and just went into space not thinking about anything. I zoned out.
As I was sitting on my bunk, a white dude in his thirties came over to take a shit on the toilet beside my bunk. He didn’t flush. I asked him to flush. He didn’t say anything. When he comes from behind the stall, he goes to get the push broom, takes the stick out and threatens me – over flushing the damn toilet! I’m tired. It’s 1 am. I need sleep. I am in no mood for this. He threatens me that he’ll have me eating through a straw. Long story short, I lost it and took everything out on him. From the back of the tank to the front. He was no match for me at my age. The dude fell over a trash can, then shoved himself into it. Next thing I know he was ratting on me and ended up going to the hospital. It didn’t matter that he caused it and threatened me; I beat him up. I ended up in lock up for two weeks. Then I was transferred to tdcj – Texas Department of Criminal Justice – to the Holiday Unit. Now I was officially in my first prison unit instead of jail. Anger is going to be one of my biggest challenges to overcome.
The youth are our greatest commodity. We have left them a crappy world to live in because of the greed of certain corporations. It will be up to them to fix the problems we created. But all children are not created equally. Not all children have the good fortune to be born in good neighborhoods or go to good school in districts that have effective teachers. Which of these teachers are willing to teach kids who are raised in poverty with all the effects that come with it? The NRA has an agenda that insists everyone has a right to carry a gun. Teachers should carry. Students at universities should carry. They want everyone to carry a gun. Everyone means everyone. In some neighborhoods that means kids won’t survive very long because they all carry guns. More guns does not fix a gun problem. Where does it stop? How does it stop?
Most of these youths don’t come from stable homes with two parents, or even one parent. Many are in foster homes. Kids don’t ask to be born into violence, and they have no one to teach them a better way of life. They certainly don’t see a better way of life around them. The easiest way to deal with these children is for us to lock them up and throw away the key. They become the next batch of adult inmates the corporations use as money makers. The justice system doesn’t have enough help to deal with these kids. One probation officer may have up to 200 kids to monitor. How is that possible? It isn’t, so the kids become fodder. They slip through the cracks. There is no easy answer. But the bottom line is – these kids are people. They weren’t “born bad”. They were born without someone to give a shit. My question to you is: What are You going to do to help? I read what people say on facebook, when they shoot off their mouths about how fetus is a baby, even if it is only a 24 hour old clump of cells and that “baby” has a right to be born! That baby has the right to have a life, too, don’t you think? Or do you think, BFD, it’s not my problem. If you are going to take the time to adamantly, and even violently, vocalize your opinion that this baby has to be born, because that is what God wants, then you should also be prepared to do something to make sure this baby has a decent chance at a good life. You shouldn’t want one without the other. Not your problem? Did these kids deserve a chance the moment they were born? How does the overcrowding of prisons – paid for with your taxes – ever change if we don’t do something.
We hear, “Let’s Make America Great Again!” Fancy words that have absolutely no meaning if everyone waits around for someone else to do something. What’s the plan? All I hear are words and campaign hype. What are you going to do to help this country? Many people are all talk and no action. If we don’t raise the youth to be better, then nothing changes and we continue to implode.
Those who declare every baby has the “Right to Life”, should be saying, “Every baby has the right to have a good life.” We can’t insist people have to be born just for the sake of being born. There needs to be an agenda going with it which enables unwanted children to at least have a chance to be something other than profit for prison corporations. But there are no programs to enable children to have that. Most of the budget for this country goes into the military, instead of going into quality of life for the people. We all complain about the things our government doesn’t do for us. Us – means everyone. If all people do is complain, it never fixes anything.
I’ve heard people say, “No one made these kids commit a crime. They had a choice. But they have no wisdom, and no one to teach them right from wrong. Neither did you, when you were a kid. For many, there is no one to teach them. No one checks their homework or even knows if they went to school that day. The school to prison pipeline is a very real thing. There is no one at home to feed them, or buy them clothing. Many steal or sell drugs for these things. No one encourages them. If you are someone who believes that every clump of impregnated cells deserves to live, yet you do NOTHING to actually help one of these children have a life, then your negativity about abortions is meaningless, because you don’t do anything to help . If all life is precious – it includes these kids, too, whether they come from your home town, or from the ghetto.
Once these kids go through juvenile detention, experiencing the same physical abuse, sexual abuse, lack of mental illness help, and little chance of an education, they will never have a life most of us would consider “Normal”. Isn’t that a shame? You fought so hard for them to be born. If you care about the welfare of children, yet do nothing to help even one of them, then your opinion also means nothing. If you think they deserve to get life sentences because they had a life where no one showed them how life had value – “Get this broken child off the streets!”, then your opinion has no value. If you believe you are a compassionate person, yet have no compassion, what does that make you?
I know there are people who care. Maybe you want to do something, but don’t know what. If you are reading this online, then you can research options. You can write letters to organizations, or letters to editors. You can express yourself among your friends. You can befriend kids. You can stop assuming all black kids are thugs. You can volunteer at a school. You can help with homework. There is so much you can do. If you have a positive effect on the life of even one child, the ripple effect can spread to many others. Stop complaining about crime and start doing something to help change it.
When they were taken to juvenile court no one cared. Many were moved from one abusive foster parent to another. When they started doing petty crimes no one cared. When they ended back in juvenile court, the courts were too swamped and probation officers never checked on them to see if they were in school. They were sent to home probation. No one cared.
The saddest casualties of this rush to throw as many people in prison as possible, are the children. Yes, children often do serious crimes. Many of these kids were thrown away. They had abusive, neglectful, or addicted parents. Many were raised by the state and the only mentoring they got was from other, often young, people in the same shoes. These are ” at risk kids” with no wisdom, and no understanding of what they were doing to their lives and it doesn’t have to be that way. It is so sad. It rips my heart out.
Only their friends cared. Their barrio, their homies protected each other. They survived. The courts often did nothing. There was no time or resources to get these kids the help they needed. There are too many of them. The crime rate by children soared. Then one day the child finally did something really bad and this time they noticed. Now the court said,
“You are a horrible child, you’ve been in trouble for years. We told you to stay in school and you didn’t. You can’t be helped. We’re going to send you over to adult court, and they can deal with you.” What a relief they felt.
22 States certify children as young as 7 to be tried in adult court. By now their lives are lost. They become habitual offenders. They know no other life. They have no idea what it feels like to being loved, cared for, and raised to be the best they can be. 70% of all foster children end up in prison, and female foster children are 600x more likely to have a baby they struggle to raise on their own, but now they have someone who loves them unconditionally.
Sign up on the email list for the book “Inside The Forbidden Outside” currently being written about the troubled youth of Jamie Cummings that led to 17 years in prison of which he currently has 7 to go. Learn how he turned his life around. When he gets out, he wants to work with kids to teach them how not to do what he did. It is so hard to reintegrate into society and have a good life. Prejudice against ex-felons makes it hard to live. Proceeds from this book will help him get started again.
Jamie was often sick when he was young because he had epilepsy. It made him feel like he had been run over by a truck. Getting over a seizure wasn’t always easy. His mama didn’t like him to be out of her sight because she never knew when he was going to have another one. He could often see kids playing outside, but wasn’t allowed to play with them. Because of this, he didn’t have friends, except for one of his cousins who was also sick.
My mama never talked to me about who my dad was, and I didn’t ask. It didn’t seem important to me at the time. It didn’t bother me that each of us had a different dad, but sometimes I wished I had a dad to go visit, and to have other family my siblings didn’t have, but we seldom talked about it. They had other aunts and uncles and cousins.
Even now, I sometimes still think about this – until a year ago. On my thirty-second birthday, my mom came to visit me at the prison. It was the first and only time in ten years I had a visit sitting at a table that didn’t have a piece of plexiglass between us. I was able to give her a hug and hold her hand while we talked. Unless you’ve spent time in prison, where the lower levels don’t allow contact visits, you have no idea what it means to get a hug or hold someone’s hand. The craving for a personal touch can be overwhelming. Going for ten years without without being able to touch someone you love, is painful. For only a few weeks I was able to do that, or had the privilege of being able to make a phone call.
The only visit I had was from my mother and Sonni was the only person who registered her phone so I could call. Sonni said it was funny because she didn’t know I had a Texas twang, because it doesn’t come across in letters. When we met, it was so long ago. I guess she didn’t remember. It was so good, though, to hear her voice. After the visit from my mother, the prison staff found a way to take my privileges away, and I doubt I’ll be getting them back any time soon. I wish I could have seen my son. Maybe Morgan would have brought him if she knew it was only going to be for a short time, but no one knew my new privileges would be taken away again so soon.
My mom told me some big news. I was shocked! She got married – to my father! My real father. That was the last thing I thought I’d hear. I was so excited. I finally found out about my dad. She said he was a cop, but he’s retired now. While they were dating he would say to her, “I should have waited”, but he he never said why. Now she knew why. He got married right before they met, and he was trying to tell her he that he shouldn’t have gotten married so fast.
So he was newly married and started dating? That makes him a scumbag in my book. She said she broke up with him when she found out because she didn’t want to be the ‘other woman’. He told her if he couldn’t have her in his life, then he didn’t want to have anything to do with me, either. So here was this cop, who didn’t tell her he was married, who was now telling her he wasn’t going to take care of his responsibilities. I guess he was serious.
I never heard from him one time in my life. I would have thought, being a cop, he would want to at least know how I was doing. I was still his flesh and blood. If mama had gotten child support from him I would have known about it. She said this was why she didn’t tell me who he was. But now they are back together and married. That is so weird. She gave me his name and even his birthday, which was coming up soon. So I started writing him letters and even sent him a birthday card. I wanted him to get to know me. I thought, after all this time was I finally going to have a father.
I waited and waited, but I never got any answers to my letters. Something didn’t seem right. Why didn’t he write back to me? I guessed I still don’t have a dad after all. Maybe if he had been around to help raise me, things could have turned out different for me. Maybe he was embarrassed. I’m just guessing all that, but it’s probably true. That day, on my birthday, she also said she she almost had me aborted. That shocked me. It hurt, but I tried not to show it.
It was hard to sit there and not show how I was feeling. What a thing to tell me on my birthday, especially when she rarely comes to visit, anyway. This visit should have been a happy time. How could she tell me this after all this time? She almost aborted me? It really made me feel bad. Maybe I shouldn’t have been born. Did she think I needed to know? Did she think at all about how it would make me feel? That really sucks, don’t you think? That’s why I want to be a father to my boy. I don’t want him to grow up thinking I didn’t love him, because I do, and when I get out of here, I’m going to make damn sure he knows it.
To make it all worse, I’m almost sure she made it all made up. Why do people say things like that when the truth usually comes out at some point, anyway. She didn’t get married to anyone, let alone my dad. No wonder he never answered my letters. It makes me feel like a fool for pouring myself out to him. Did she read the letters I wrote? They went to her address. Maybe she should have had someone else write back and keep the lie going even longer. I haven’t seen her again since then. I’ll have to wait to see what she says next.
Sonni (mom) talked to Morgan and told her my mom told me who my dad was. She believed it, too. She was happy for me. No one should have to go through life and not know who their father is. She told Morgan the whole story. She was shocked that my mom could tell me something like that, and told her mom what she knew.
Some years back, Morgan was at my mama’s house with little Jamie, so he could visit with my family. She said there was a man there my mama used to live with a long time ago. He had been in prison for years. When he finally got out, he needed to have a place to go. If you get paroled you have to have an address to go to or they won’t release you. They verify it to prove you won’t be on the street. So he used my mom’s address and moved in with my her. Morgan said he was the spittin’ image of me. She said there was no doubt in her mind, this man was my dad. No one told me this. He wasn’t out very long. Morgan thinks he’s back inside again. I have no idea who he is or where he is, so I’m back at square one.
Morgan laughed when she heard my dad was supposed to be a cop. Why did my mom have to make him a cop? Maybe because it was the exact opposite of a felon, so maybe she thought that would make me feel better? There is something so wrong with this story. Does the truth even matter anymore? Wouldn’t you think my brothers or sister would know about her getting married? Wouldn’t someone have told me she had gotten married if it were true?
I know I rarely hear from anyone, but I think something as important as my mother marrying my father would have been important enough for someone to tell me. But no one did, so I have to believe I was set up. But I don’t know why. In the past, my mom would sometimes tell them not to tell me things she knew would upset me. But this was different. It would have made me happy. Is there a reason why I can’t know who my dad is? It can’t be worse than being lied to. The only thing I finally learned from this, Don’t believe anything unless I see it with my own two eyes. This is really screwed up, isn’t it?
Mom (Sonni) – I know this is a bit confusing going back and forth between mom and my mother, but I don’t usually talk about them in the same sentence. Mom wanted me to dig in my memories and tell her about my life growing up. She wanted to get to know this part of my life. Talking about myself isn’t something I’ve ever done. It’s not easy. No one has ever wanted to know these things, but I’m trying. It’s one thing to think about memories and another to find the right words to write them down. It’s not easy to talk about myself, but I’ll try.
Some of these early memories I haven’t thought about in a long time, and some things I think are best not remembered at all. When I was six or seven, my mom used to take us kids on picnics to the park, and sometimes we went to the zoo in Lufkin. It was fun spending time as a family. Mama would pack sandwiches, chips, soda and other snacks. We were a close family. We would play on the swings, the slide and other things at the park. We would run from one thing to the next. I especially loved the swings and I would try to go as high as I could and then jump off. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t go many times, but we made the best of it when we did. We even flew kites a few times. It was okay – more than okay. It was great.
Now, when we went to the zoo it was crazy. The way the zoo was laid out, was a big lake in the middle and there was a miniature train we rode through the woods. It was a small train visitors rode to sight-see the entire zoo. They were different types of birds around the lake, along with ducks and swans. There were even peacocks walking around and in the lake. It was a beautiful sight. I remembering trying to get mama to go into the reptile house with us. She said, “Only when pigs fly!”
I love animals and I love to read about them. Mama liked the parrots. There were so many different kinds. I think she especially liked the many colors they had. We would walk along the little lake and feed the ducks and swans. Mama used to joke and tell us we could have gone to our great grandmothers house if all we wanted to do was feed the ducks. That makes me want to laugh. Mrs Pinky Brown was her name, and she had a lot of animals herself. I might love animals, but you couldn’t pay me to hold a snake!
I remember when I was very young, but I can’t remember the exact age; it was back in the early 90’s. My great grandfather passed away. John Brown was his name. He was well up in age. He was unable to walk because both of his legs had been amputated, but I don’t know why. That is just how I remember him. I never got a chance to meet my grandfather. My mama’s dad died of a heart attack when he was thirty-nine.
When I was eight years old were were dressed an ready to go to the fireworks at the baseball park, but something happened and we couldn’t go. Mama bought shorts sets for me and my little brother. She took pictures of us wearing them. My older brother was with his dad at the time. I was upset because I had to watch the fireworks from home again. All I could see was the sky light up and hear the sounds from a distance, but I couldn’t really see them. I was sad because I really like to watch fireworks. The first time I left home at night, when I was a teenager, it was the fourth of July. A family a few streets over from us said I could watch the fireworks with them. I love them to this day.
I really hate this, having to remember stuff, because some things I don’t want to remember. Growing up, my favorite cousin was my Aunt Ann’s son. His name was Keithy. He passed away in 1996 from Sickle Cell Anemia. Since I have epilepsy, we were the sick ones in the family. He broke my heart so bad. We used to follow each other all the time. I didn’t matter he was older than me by six or seven years. We enjoyed each others company. We had each others back. We played together all the time. He loved to go fishing and I would go with him. There were times we didn’t catch anything, but we still loved to go. Sometimes we had our days when we were mad at each other, but it didn’t take long for us to make up. We always had lots of fun together.
There were also times I couldn’t visit him because he was too sick, and that made me mad; mad that he was sick. There were times he went to visit his dad’s family. One time when he came home he was sicker than usual. I went to visit with him one day, and when we were playing he just started crying. My aunt came in to help him and called my mom to come and take me home. While I was waiting for him to get better his pain got worse. I could hear his cries for help. It hurt so much to see him like that. His sickness got worse so I ended up having to stay home a lot.
That was when I started leaving home. I was depressed. I felt empty. I had no other friends and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about how I felt. So I started to leave the house, sometimes just to get away. It got to the point where I would leave in the middle of the night, trying to fill that blank space. I left home at night one too many times. My mom got worried about me and placed me in a children’s hospital. I didn’t like it there.
I don’t remember how long I was there. I do remember, one day they let me call home. I explained to my mama that I didn’t like this place, and I began to cry. I remember the day that broke my heart. It started out a happy that day because my mom came and brought me home from the hospital. She took me to my aunt’s house. There were a lot of people there. My mama took me to the back room where everybody was, and told me Keithy died. I broke down. My older brother grabbed me and told me not to cry, but we both cried. We went to the viewing and he looked so different. I remember touching him and asking my mom why he was so cold. Then we buried him.
The first time I stole something. I was around eight or nine, I think. My older brother and I went to the store on our bikes. While I was in the store I picked up a pack of skittles. After we left, as we were walking home, I waited to show my brother. When I did, he smiled and took them from me. He gave them to mama, and told her what I did. I was sent to my room. I had a friend named Brandon and he came over, asking if I could come out and play. When he found out I couldn’t, he went to my bedroom window. I told him what happened and he was upset.
Then one day, about a week later, we were at his uncle’s house. His mom was there. It was the first time I’d ever seen her and his dad was with her, too. We went outside to play basketball while they talked. We found out later it would be the last time we would ever play together. We said our goodbyes and I watched him leave. I walked home sad and mad. It was decided by the parents, we couldn’t play together anymore. Because of a pack of skittles? That didn’t make sense. Whatever the reason, it was the last I saw Brandon. He was the last real friend I ever had.
When I was in the tenth grade I had to leave Nacogdoches for awhile. I had gotten into some trouble. I guess you could say this next year was going to be the last formal schooling I was going to have. My mom thought I’d do better if I got away for awhile. I have an uncle who lives in Mesquite, Texas and I went to stay with him for a year while I was on juvy probation.
My uncle was a good man, I must say. He’s a parole officer for adults and over the years he worked his way up the system. He has a son that got 20 years in prison. I lived with him and went to school, but he wouldn’t trust me to go anywhere on my own. I remember I went outside across the street to a neighbors house. They had two boys about my age. I went over and we talked and played basketball. Then I went back home to my uncle’s house. My uncle questioned me about where I was and told me not to go over there anymore. I don’t know why.
We didn’t do anything wrong. I was bored, and it was fun to have someone to spend some time with. I guess he didn’t trust that I wouldn’t get in any trouble since he was responsible for me. He was never home when I got home from school because he had home visits to do for his job. I was supposed to come home and stay in the house or the yard. When it came time for me to report to my probation officer I had to walk or ride my cousin’s bike to the appointment . It was a long bike ride. It was the only time I was allowed to leave the house except when I went to school, so I began to really like the ride. It was nice being able to see more of the city.
I started to do community service at the Boys and Girl’s Club. One night my little cousin was with me, and we were riding our bikes home. It was a good distance between the house and the club. As we began the ride home it started to get dark. We were being careful, riding on the sidewalk. In one place we had to ride down a hill. This dude in a truck pulled out of the driveway of an apartment complex. He didn’t have his headlights on so he couldn’t see me. When he pulled out in front of me, I hit the front side of his truck and flew over it, breaking my left leg when I landed.
I remember hearing my cousin scream, and I heard myself yelling, I didn’t want to get into trouble. After that, I woke up in the hospital. I had a cast on my leg from my ankle up to my thigh. Later, after I left the hospital and went back to my uncle’s house, I called my cousin to check up on him. He came over when I called, but he stopped a good distance away from me and just looked at me. That’s all. He just looked at me. That was strange. Was there something wrong with me? He wouldn’t say anything, or come anywhere close to me after that. I never did know why.
After I completed my probation, my uncle asked me if I wanted to stay with him or go home. I told him I wanted to go home, but to this day I ask myself why I didn’t stay. I feel my life might have come out a lot better if I had. I tell myself I probably would have finished school, at least. Look at my age now. I’m in my thirties and I still haven’t been able to finish school. We never know when it happens, but each time we make a decision, it is going to take us in a different direction. If we thought about that we might make better decisions.
When I was sixteen, almost seventeen, I ended up at the Texas Youth Commission, better known as TYC, for four years. I was placed in there in 2000. The charge was assaulting a police officer. This charge never should have happened. The cop who charged me was harassing our family. It wasn’t the first time. Black kids are used to it. We got harassed all the time. Even when something is the cops fault, they are never the ones to get blamed. When you’re black and the cop is white it’s always going be your fault. There is nothing you can do about it. I’m beginning to understand that karma has a way of doing that to you.
This is what happened that day: My older brother and I got into a fight in the front yard. He had an amp for music in his car. I took it to a friend’s house across the street. I went back to get it, but it was gone. I don’t blame my brother for being mad at me. He thought I sold it, but I didn’t. My mama yelled at us to come in the house. Since there were four teenagers in my family, raising us wasn’t easy. I have two brothers and a sister. My mom had to play the part of both parents, and work all the time to take care of us. We didn’t have the supervision we needed.
Inside the house, while she was talking to us about what happened in front of the house, there was a knock on the door. When my mama answered it, there was a police officer standing there. We had problems with this officer before. He was bad news. One of the neighbors must have called the the cops when she saw us fighting. I don’t understand why she would do this, knowing it would cause problems for us. It was only two brothers fighting the way teenagers do. The officer wanted to speak to my brother and me, but my mama said no, she had everything under control. The officer wouldn’t listen to her, and called to us to come outside, anyway. My mama told him again that everything was fine.
She tried to close the door but the officer stopped her by putting his foot in the door. He tried again to push open the door. He wasn’t needed to settle a fight between my brother and I that was already over. He should have listened to my mama. He was determined to get inside out house, but there was no legal reason why my mom had to let him in. he didn’t have a search warrant and there was no crime committed. He could see were okay and didn’t need his help. When he tried to push open the door, my brother and I stood up. We both told him again, we had everything under control. He was still determined he was going to get inside the house. He pushed the door open so hard my mama fell to the floor, and broke her wrist. I knew this was going to be bad. My mama was screaming in pain. I helped her up off the floor, and my brother went after the officer for hurting her. He maced him. When he did that, my anger let loose, and I hit him with a broom! His arm was all cut up from the straws. Then my little brother came into the room and it was just broke out into hell.
My sister was pregnant at the time, but if she hadn’t been, she would have gone after the officer, too. An ambulance was called. My mama was taken to the hospital and my sister went with her. My older brother was placed in the back of a cop car. He was so angry because the officer maced him that he kicked out the car window. My little brother and I were put in a different car because we were minors. Let’s just say, I got the short end of the stick.
After a while, everyone got to go home except me. I was sent to do nine months in the TYC. I was the only one they could do anything to. My older brother was over eighteen, but no crime was committed, so they couldn’t charge him with anything. My younger brother was too young, and didn’t do anything. They brought him along instead of letting him go to the hospital. But I was an older minor so they got me for assaulting the officer. It didn’t matter what he had done to my mother, although later they did go to court about it. Nothing happened to the officer, of course. But they had to do something to one of us. Someone had to be at fault, and that someone was me.
When I got to juvenile detention, I stayed in my room and didn’t talk to anyone. I told myself that nine months in juvy isn’t that bad. I could do it. I did everything I was told to do. I went to school and attended groups. I waited and waited as time passed. There weren’t any problems. Finally, the day came for me to leave; at least I thought I was supposed to be able to go home on that day.
I was packed and ready to go, when the staff told me I couldn’t leave. I didn’t believe it. I got upset and asked why, my nine months were over? All this time, nobody told me I wouldn’t be able to leave. That is why I was counting the days. I wanted to go home. I asked them what i did wrong? They told me I didn’t have my level four to go home.
What the heck was a level four? I didn’t know anything about needing a level four. My lawyer didn’t tell me, and he sure didn’t tell my mom anything about this, either. They told me again, I couldn’t go home, so I went to my room and slammed the door. I sat in my room and cried. I just wanted to go home. Then I started kicking the door and walls. I wasn’t ready to listen to anything anyone had to say, because I was lied to. I had so much anger inside me. I started throwing the stuff I had packed, all over the room. I tried to destroy anything in the room. I had done everything I was told to do. There was no reason for me to not reach this level four. If I couldn’t reach it in these nine months, then no one could have reached it.
Is this what they do to all the kids they send here? Do they give them a sentence knowing there is no way the kid is going to get out? Do they lie to everyone, knowing they are going to keep the kids longer than they say? I was angrier than I have ever been. An officer came to my room and I was sent to solitary confinement; 23 hour lock up in security. That is the reward I got for following their rules.
Was I not supposed to be angry? Should I have just stood there quietly, and said okay? I don’t think so. No kid should ever be locked up like that. They thought this was the right thing to do? It wasn’t. All is did was make me angrier. It showed me there is no justice in the system, especially for black kids. They thought it was okay to wreck my life, take me away from my family and take away from being able to finish school? I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t deserve what they were doing to me and there was nothing my mama could do about it. Looking back at it, this is when my family let me go. This is when they stopped caring about what happened to me. I was never again around them long enough to know who I am.
From then on, at TYC, everything was always on the negative side. I caused all kinds of problems with school. I got into fights in the dorms. I had so much anger in me. I would take off running around the campus. I did everything I could to rebel. They weren’t going to let me go home if I behaved, so why behave? I got into it with the staff. It went from a nine month sentence, to four years.
What I didn’t know, there was no way they were going to let me go, for any reason. These places make money locking up kids. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Things went up and down with me. At some point, though, I finally stopped and started thinking. I wanted to go home. I needed to do the right things so they would let me go home. I still thought maybe they would let me out. It was a hard lesson to learn.
In the four years I was there, I only received four letters from home. I realize now, if my family couldn’t write to me then, why do I expect them to write to me now? I’ve written many letters, and it isn’t very often that anyone writes me back. It’s not their fault I’m here, I’ve been told. But does that stop them from caring, as well?
Anyway, I finally made it to level three. I was doing good and I got to do things I enjoyed. I went swimming, shot pool and watched movies. I did good for a year and a half. Then I received a letter from home; one of my aunts died. I lost it, and went downhill. I had a hard time dealing with death. There was no one to help me through it. Instead I was placed on BMP, Behavior Modification Program, for thirty days, which was 23 hour lockdown again. They brought my schoolwork to me. I got an hour of rec. I was on three of these BMPs all total. I didn’t care anymore what happened to me.
The last time I was sent there was because I hit one of the staff and broke his nose, so he filed charges on me. I hit him because he would pick on me for no fucking reason. It really gets to me when I think about it. It brings it all back like it was yesterday. He used to call me ‘nigger’. I know it sounds better to call it the’N’word but that’s not what he said. He didn’t call me the ‘N’ word’. He called me a nigger. I told his supervisor, but she didn’t believe me because of all the other trouble I caused on her dorm.
While I was finishing up on the third BMP program a Broward County police officer came and told the staff about the charges he filed on me and I was placed in the back of the patrol car and taken to Broward County Jail. Again, I was the only one to get in trouble. Why is it that I am expected to behave right, yet adults don’t have to? Was I more wrong than he was?
While I was in there I really started losing it because I knew what the outcome of my life was going to look like, with me ending up right where I am now. This would have probably happened to me no matter what I did. This is where my life was going. I know now it is my karma. I look at all the things I did. How could it have turned out any different? I had chances to change things, but I always screwed it up. I have no one to blame but myself.
During the time I was in county jail because of this man’s charges, I wasn’t myself, but I did try to stay out of people’s way. It wasn’t easy. I got into a fight over the TV, and once I got stabbed with a pen. I really lost it and went into a deep depression. I stopped eating. I couldn’t sleep. I thought of my aunt and cried. I was miserable and I couldn’t pull myself out of the depression. They placed me in a single cell and sent a doctor to come talk to me. Afterward, she talked to the judge and I was sent to a state hospital for more than three weeks so I could get some help with my depression. When it was over, they sent me home, finally.
My mama came to get me. It was a long drive home. There was a party waiting for me, but we got back so late most everyone had gone home. One of my cousins was still there, and he asked if I wanted to walk back to his apartment. I said sure. We visited for awhile, and then I started walking home. He lived in a complex that had a white security guard. The guard asked me to come into his office. He wanted to know what I was doing there so I told him I was visiting my cousin. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the back of a police car being arrested and taken to jail. For what? Because I was black and I looked suspicious.
This happened in 2004. I met Morgan in 2005. I met Sonni toward the end of that year. I ended up in prison soon after. Ain’t that crazy? I finally got home, but I placed myself around the wrong group of so-called friends. I lost myself again. But I’ll say this much, it won’t happen again. I’m going to change the direction my life has taken when I get out of here. I finally see what is happening, and it is up to me to change it. If I don’t, this will continue to happen until I do.
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This was originally posted over a year ago and I decided to post it again. With so many posts to read to learn about Jamie, it is easy after all this time for his story to get lost. Why does this matter? How did he get caught up in the school to prison pipeline that led to prison, as it does for a very high percentage of youth. Not only is their education is taken away, their self esteem is lost. They are not expected to succeed, and many don’t have parents who care. It became just as easy for kids to be put in solitary confinement as adults. They are sexually exploited. They become angry and they give up. They become the next crop of adults who feed the prison industrial complex. A different kind of slavery, but slavery none the less. Juvenile detention has only one direction – Do not pas go. Go directly to prison. They belong to the system now. And who cares? Not many.
Why is police racism encouraged by their superiors? Why do they look in the other direction or do whatever they can so these legal criminals don’t have to pay the price for their actions? In the part few years especially, it has become so much worse. Police brutality is off the charts. Why has it been more difficult for black kids than white kids? Why do blacks kids get taken to jail for simply walking down a street after dark because a white man “thought” he looked suspicious even though he hadn’t done anything wrong? Why are kids handcuffed in school for reasons that not long ago only got detention? Why? Because it became profitable.
There are still so many misconceptions by the average American because he gets his “news”, and I use that term loosely, from the media who is paid to report things in a biased way, or he learns from TV shows that aren’t based on reality, yet it is taken as truth.
Before I met Megan I had only been home for 9 months. I had done just 4 years in Texas Youth Commission, better known as TYC. I was placed in there in 2000 when I was not yet seventeen. The charge was assaulting a police officer. This never should have happened. The cop was harassing our family. It was his fault. But when you’re black and the cop is white it’s always your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it. I always seemed to do something to get me in trouble. I’m beginning to understand that karma has a way of doing that to you. This is the story of what happened that day.
My older brother and I got into a fight in the front yard. He had an amp for music in his car. I took it to a friend’s house across the street. I went back to get it but it was gone. I don’t blame my brother for being mad at me. He thought I sold it. We weren’t little kids and we fighting pretty good. My mama yelled at us to come in the house. There were four of us kids. Raising us wasn’t easy. I have two brothers and a sister. My mom had to play the part of both parents and work all the time to take care of us.
As she was talking to us inside the house about what happened outside there was a knock on the door. When my mama answered it there was a police officer standing there. One of the neighbors must of called them. The officer wanted to speak to my brother and me but my mama said no, she had everything under control. The officer didn’t listen to her and called to us anyway. My mama told him again she had everything under control. She was the parent. It should have ended there. Then my mama tried to close the door and the officer stopped her by putting his foot in the door. He pushed the door open again. My brother and I stood up. We told him again that we had everything under control. He was determined that he was going to get inside the house. He pushed the door open so hard that my mama fell to the floor. She broke her wrist. I knew this was going to be bad. We had problems with this officer before. He was bad news. I helped my mama up off the floor and my brother went after the officer for hurting her. The officer maced him. When he did that my anger let loose and I hit him with a broom! His arm was all cut up from the straws. Then my little brother came into the room and it was just hell. My sister was pregnant but if she wasn’t she would have gone after him, too.
My mama was taken to the hospital and my sister went with her. My older brother was placed in the back of the cop car. He was so angry because the officer maced him that he kicked out the car window. Me and my little brother were put in a different car because we were minors. Let’s just say that I got the short end of the stick. After a while everyone got to go home except me. I was sent to do 9 months in the TYC.
When I got there I stayed in my room and didn’t talk to anyone. I said to myself that nine months in juvy isn’t that bad. I could do it. I did everything I was told to do. I went to school and attended groups. I waited and waited as time passed. Finally, the day came for me to leave. At least I thought it was supposed to be the day I was going to leave. I was packed and ready to go when they told me I couldn’t go home. I didn’t believe it. I got really upset and asked them why? I did everything I was supposed to do. They told me I didn’t have my level four to go home. I said I didn’t know nothing about needing a level four . My lawyer didn’t tell me and he didn’t tell my mom neither about any of this. They told me again I couldn’t go home so I went to my room and slammed the door. I sat in my room and cried. I just wanted to go home. Then I started kicking the door and walls. I really wasn’t trying to listen to anyone because I was lied to. There was so much anger inside. I started throwing the stuff I had packed to leave. An officer came and I was sent to 23 hour lock up in security.
disclaimer: This is not Jamie, but it is a locked up child
From then on everything with me was always on the negative side. I caused all kinds of problems with school. I got into fights in the dorms. I would take off running around the campus. I did everything I could to rebel. I got into it with the staff. It went from a nine month sentence to them keeping me there for four years. I was so angry. I shouldn’t be there in the first place. Things went up and down with me. But at some point I finally stopped and started thinking. I wanted to go home. I needed to do the right things that would get me home.
(Sonni’s note: It always sounded fishy to me seeing the reason he was locked up. What kid would not defend their family in their own home. Isn’t it the same with the gun issue? You are supposed to have the right to defend yourself in your home? But this was a cop. Why is it legal for a cop to literally push his way into your home without a warrant? With no crime committed. Was it a good enough reason, to physically hurt the mother and then not expect that her kids were going to get upset and defend her? You can’t defend yourself from a cop? Looking at the behavior of the police today, why am I so amazed at that?
It’s police brutality. But why put Jamie in juvy? And why not prosecute his brother? Because they knew they couldn’t. But kids are different. They’ll put kids in juvy, sometimes even because they are absent from school. It’s called the school to prison pipeline. They know it sets the stage to push them clear through to prison. These kids get out without an education, learning more about crime then they ever knew going in. That kind of atmosphere would be of no help to any young person. They don’t get the help they need and they never learn their life has value. When the kids get upset and lash out they put them in solitary confinement in juvy is just as bad as solitary confinement in adult prison.
But there is another reason. There’s a lot of crooked business going on between judges and juvenile detention centers among other reasons. There’s a lot of money to be made. For example there has been a case in the Pa courts about this very thing. This judge sentenced thousands of kids to juvy in exchange for money. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
From the beginning they had no intention of letting Jamie go home.)
In the four years I was in juvy I only got four letters. I know now that if my family couldn’t write to me then why should I expect them to write me now? I’ve written a lot of letters and it isn’t very often that anyone writes me back. I can count on one hand how many I got.
Anyway, I finally made it to level three. I was doing good and I got to do a lot of things. I went swimming. I got to play pool and watch movies. I loved it. I did good for a year and a half. Then I received a letter from home. One of my aunts died. My grandmother had ten kids. Six boys and four girls. I’m crazy about my aunts. I only had three. I lost it and went downhill. I was placed on BMP, Behavior Modification Program, for thirty days. I had to deal with 23 hr a day lockdown. They brought my schoolwork to me. I got an hour of rec. I was on three of these BMPs all total. I didn’t care anymore. The last time I was sent there was because I hit one of the staff and broke his nose so they filed charges on me. I did it because he used to just pick on me for no fucking reason. It really gets to me when I think about it. It brings it all back like it was yesterday. He used to call me nigger. It hurt me and it ate at my feelings. I know it sounds better to call it the N’word but lets just say it the way he did, and he didn’t call me ‘N’word. He called me nigger. I told his supervisor but she didn’t believe me because of all the other trouble I caused on her dorm. While I was finishing up on the third program a Broward County police officer came and told the staff about the charges that were filed on me and I was placed in the back of the patrol car and taken to Broward County Jail.
While I was in there I really started losing it because I knew what the outcome of my life was going to look like, with me ending up right where I am now. This would have probably happened to me no matter what I did. This is where my life was going. I look at all the things I did. How could it have turned out any different? I had chances to change things but I always screwed it up. I have no one to blame but myself.
During the time I was in county jail I wasn’t myself. I did try to stay out of people’s way. It wasn’t easy. I got into a fight over the TV, and once I got stabbed with a pen. I really lost it and went into a deep depression. I stopped eating. I couldn’t sleep. I thought of my aunt and cried. I was miserable and I couldn’t pull myself out of it. They placed me in a single cell and sent a doctor to come talk to me. Afterward, she talked to the judge and I was sent to a state hospital for more than three weeks so I could get some help with my depression. When it was over they sent me home. Finally.
This was back in 2004. I met Megan in 2005. I ended up back in here in 2006. Ain’t that crazy? I finally got home but I placed myself around the wrong group of so-called friends. I lost myself again. But I’ll say this much, it won’t happen again. I’m going to change the direction my life has taken. I’m going to be the kind of person I can be proud of, and my son can be proud of, too.
Millions of men, women and even young children from neighborhoods and cities all over America, the land of milk and honey, the loving nation that so many say is “One Nation Under God” – who is professed to know your every thought and wants to have a mansion in heaven waiting for you when you die – yes – the people of THAT country, are locked away – out of sight – so you don’t have to even think about them during the time of holidays, while you buy and send the same type Xristmas card every year – and spend 49 cents – and still rising – until all cards become electronic – to send a card and probably only sign your name ( if you are old enough to know how to write in cursive) – Love, so and so, and you’ve done your duty and followed unwritten protocol that it is a must to profess your love for mankind and maybe even go to church – that one time each year you catch up on your going to church duty – and once again you did your loving Xristian duty to pretend you cared about all people by sending these cards to people who might wonder why they didn’t get a card because they sent one to you, although this duty is only done on holidays – but what about the millions of people who are locked away, many of them behind heavy steel doors, inhumanely treated into silence by people who enjoy having the power to do so – inmates who, if they received a card would cherish it while trying to imagine who took the time to care enough to spend 49 cents on a total stranger the rest of the world would rather forget ever existed, or didn’t even think if they existed at all in the first place – the millions of people locked away – some justly – some unjustly – but never the less are still human beings – with broken lives, when most people, even good ( they think) Xristians, in their judgmental way, choose who they believe are good enough to be part of their world, and the rest should be shut out -leave the country – test them – is their faith good enough to be in their presence? do they love God enough? because if they don’t, they no how to treat people who don’t have good Xristian values, and whether you are locked behind a steel door or have your head covered by a simple piece of cloth you aren’t good enough to be in my goddam Xristian country, they think – so children cry and grown men cry because these men didn’t have someone to send THEM a lousy friggin’ Xristmas card, even with only a signature wishing them a happy holiday – a happy what? Christmas, even though being merry or happy was something they weren’t allowed to be and prison guards made sure you were as unhappy as possible 363 days a year because Thanksgiving and Christmas, even though food there could never be mistaken as good, they made a small effort to not starve them on those days – Xristians wouldn’t do that on Xristmas so maybe their Xristianity came out on those days or surely God would be pissed as hell with them, as surely as he will be pissed at you if you are one of the self-centered Xristian Americans who have the audacity to think all Muslims are terrorists as though a Xristian who kill umpteen people at a Planned Parenthood clinic is something different because he was only upholding the righteous word of God, and even though you might say aloud that it was wrong, deep in your heart you are sure he was somehow justified and a part of you is glad he had the conviction to do what he believed was the right thing to do and the bible backs him up – it says so in black and white and every word in the bible is God’s actual words and that is the truth! and he most certainly is NOT a terrorist – and I say – you are most certainly NOT a Christian, for whatever that is worth during this time of another holiday, the one in which we usually express our love for other human beings to the point of spending our hard earned money on them, sometimes buying something -anything – even if it is just a hastily bought store item – nothing personal of course – those things weren’t on sale – just a gift, any gift – because we can’t show up for Xristmas dinner without a gift! to honor the birth of your savior, who didn’t save you from a goddam thing (the proof is in your actions) – not even yourself from your own hypocrisy, playing the game and being grateful you got through another Xristmas albeit a few pounds heavier for all the overeating and drinking you did because after all it IS Xristmas and that is what you do on Xristmas and later you can pay off your credit cards or return the gifts you got and exchange them for what you want instead – oh, the meaning of Xristmas, and the hearts of Americans, has gotten smaller every year and there is no room now in those hearts to care about the human beings locked away in a prison cell or have room to care about people who aren’t exactly like you – and you point at Bible verses that prove – to yourself – that it’s okay to be an ass – Isn’t there an ass in the manger scene with all the white people in it? and it’s easy to talk to your friends and demonize inmates, Muslims, people who need abortions, although you have never done one single, solitary thing for the actual people who were born to the raped, drug addicted, alcoholic, physically and sexually abused, neglected, worn out women who can’t care for a baby, and if they try, do so much harm to the child, who never learns what it means to have a good, loving family, so they end up in juvenile detention which 71% then end up in prison – but they MUST BE BORN! because God says so! – but that doesn’t mean you need to have anything to do with these horrible people who committed a crime because they lashed out at a world that didn’t have Xristmas presents waiting for THEM, because their mother was in prison for buying the drugs she took while she was pregnant and the child was busy trying to defend himself from sexually abusive foster parents who used the money they were given to raise them, on drugs instead of feeding the child who ran away to join a gang because he was looking for a family, and you say, “But he alone chose to commit that crime!” but what do you do when you are a child and you’re hungry, so he was given LWOP – life without parole because of mandatory minimums and you cheered because now you were safe from the monsters who could attack you in your safe neighborhood, safe from the motherless children who grew up and now have tattoos all over their bodies, and are herded into their bathroom-size cells they live in that probably have no windows, and no Xristmas cards, no Xristmas music softly playing in the background, no pretty trees with tinsel and lights and dinner on the table, and you don’t have to even think of them at all because you did your Xristian duty and made sure they were born. You have a clean and loving heart and God must love you very much for this – but if you really think you were born in HIS image then I feel overwhelmingly sorry for you because you missed the entire point of what it was supposed to mean to be a Xristian, and if there is a hell to go to after you die a horrible death for the causes you’ve made – remember, you reap what you sow – then you are lucky, because there is no such place as hell after death, you’ll get to experience it before you die – hell on earth – so remember these things and look at your life and see if you fit in this picture, and above all else:
P.S. There are also many good people who honestly care about those less fortunate and don’t condemn people for not being like themselves, and who, ridiculously don’t only want to let Muslims into our Xristian (cough) nation unless they are Xristians, which doesn’t make sense, does it, especially if they want them to be Xristians like they are. Pray for the confused because they are the ones more apt to become violent, as we have read recently, and out of fear, have attacked innocent people living in this country. This country is imploding and it is a sad sight indeed.
Unless you have a child – or know a child who is “at-risk” you don’t give it much thought. We read a lot about gangs and the violence that comes from it be we don’t understand why it happens or about the kids that get caught up in in it. The violence has increased so much over the years and the court system that is supposed to take care of it – can’t – it so the easiest thing to do is to either look the other way, or lock them up and get them off the street. What they don’t do is get them the help they need at a time where some of them can be saved. Juvenile courts are too chaotic. The don’t have the manpower or the resources adult courts have. Many crimes can’t be proven. Witnesses don’t show up. The reschedule court dates so often the people involved give up and don’t show up. When that happens the case is dismissed. Finally the kids are old enough to push over to adult court and have them tried there. So many of these kids are crying out for help and no one gives a crap. Case loads are so heavy they don’t have time.
If you live in a city that has a lot of gang activity, the kids who don’t have parents who end up in foster care also end up getting sucked into the life of a gang because at least now they have people in their life who care about them. Many of these people came from the same broken homes. They know how that feels. This cycle keeps churning out people who have to survive somehow. They don’t have educations. They can’t get good jobs. So, for them, crime pays. They start making regular visits to juvenile court, but there is no help. If they had been helped their life could have been different. ‘
States have gone back and forth over when it is okay to try kids as adults, especially when they do adult type crimes. Finally they have released the harm it causes to keep them in solitary confinement. Why anyone thinks it isn’t harmful to adults is beyond me. Maybe because by that time most of them have lives that are already ruined. To ruin someone so young with isolation gives that minor no chance. It’s such a shame that it had to take Kalief Browder committing suicide when he got out, to wake “them” up from the outcry from the public. America won’t even admit we keep keep adults in solitary for the decades we do. We don’t torture inmates they say.
It is easy to see that the way we deal minors only makes certain that when they get out, they will be full fledged criminals because they have no concept of how to live. They have more than likely never experienced anything close to having a normal life. I say “more than likely” because there has been a greater trend toward children coming from “good” homes and still deciding that the life of a “gangsta” has more appeal and excitement. But just like the sentences given out to older criminals, those children are looked at as having more promise and worth rehabilitating and get more breaks within the system. What helps is they have family support who show up at court hearings and typically hire real attorneys who have gone over their cases and planned a strategy so they don’t end up in prison at 16. Most juvenile offenders don’t get to see their attorney until the are sitting at a desk in front of the judge who will decide whether they stay in the juvenile system or proceed to prison.
If they go to prison they are subject to the same system as adults, which means, no rehabilitation and being subjected to adult predators. They come out with a felony record they will never escape from. Education becomes extremely hard to get and their spiral down happens quickly. The law isn’t set up to benefit minors. Juvenile courts are not allowed to consider why the child is there. What is his background? They can only look at the offense. But where do these kids come from? Why did it get to the point wher3e it became hopeless? Why wasn’t the child helped when there was plenty of time to do it, but feet were dragged and nothing was done?
These kids became a lost society, kept out of view. They eventually became found a home in prison with the same people they were with on the outside; friends back with friends. They never had anyone who cared so they gravitated to the only people who loved them, people like themselves. Of course there are exceptions. There are kids that just seem determined ruin any chance they had. They go against what their parents tried to provide for them who don’t understand what they did wrong or couldn’t see in time to fix. Maybe there was nothing that could be done. But I want to talk about those who had no choice. Those who were born into a life that pushed them into a life of crime because it was all they knew.
I write to several inmates about their life and how they feel about where they are. I want to tell you about one who recently confided in me:
“I want to explain the way culture and the environment I lived in all my life formed my outlook. Blacks are not the only ones being racially targeted. Growing up I remember if white people in cop cars saw you they were going to stop you. I remember that no matter what, you would be searched. Driving, they’d pull you over. It didn’t matter if there was a reason to pull you over. If you ran and they caught you they’d beat you, so you ran faster and you didn’t get caught. Staying there to find out meant you would probably go to jail. Innocence is not a factor. Never was, and it still isn’t.
I’m from the ghetto. There were foothills nearby. At times we’d see the KKK burning crosses in front of black people’s houses. That stopped in the 80’s. In 1992 there were the LA riots because Rodney King was beat up by cops. Only when I received my first prison sentence and reached my 20’s did I learn about the laws. They weren’t even supposed to be allowed to stop and search us for no reason, but the law never seems to apply to the police.
In prison, on paper, they say there are rehabilitation programs. They say that, but in reality there aren’t any. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to learn a better of living but I soon learned that it didn’t mean me. There was no rehabilitation for people like me.
There is a mentality you learn growing up and living like that. The chances of people escaping that life is small. Most don’t. I’m one of the ones who didn’t escape. all those programs for “at-risk” kids never existed back then. I don’t know many kids benefit from them today. Everyone went to jail. Punks went to jail. I accepted that mentality. It was all I knew. It didn’t scare me. In fact, jail was a vacation from an abusive home. Violence was normal to me, so gangbanging was no biggy.
When you see very few people you know not go to jail and many of them die, it become normal. When I got out of jail the first time all my good intentions faded in a second. I got out wanting to do good, but when you encounter a hugh problem, who you really are comes out. Your intentions disappear. It’s engraved in you.
So you ask, why did I go back to prison? Why is it that if I knew the consequences, why am I here? Because that is how it was. I had no place else to go. It is the only experience I knew.”
This man was raised in a violent home where he got beat every day. There was violence all around him. He didn’t have parents who made sure he had good food every day and went to school. There was no Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. There were no family Thanksgiving dinners and birthday parties. The kids I grew up with all had these things. We had families that cared. I’m sure violence existed but it never entered in my life. If you had his life what would you do? You would bond with other kids who had a life who could relate to yours. They were your family. You never really knew there was any other kind of life you could experience. There was no choice. You would end up in prison.
There many kids who don’t have families. Maybe the state took them away because of drugs and neglect. Many of the parents died and there was no place for the kids to go. We have all heard horror stories. The juvenile system is overloaded with kids who have no place to go. They get shifted between multiple foster home which are also rife with drug abuse and violence. There aren’t enough case workers who can take the time to care even if they wanted to. Nothing is done in a timely manner. Even when there is someone who is willing to take these kids in, the paperwork is insurmountable. The kids get lost in the system. They find themselves in and out of court until eventually they get old enough to prosecute. One more person locked up. Another one to take his place.
80% of those incarcerated went through the foster care system. Those are scary numbers. Doesn’t that tell you that if there were a better way of dealing with these throw away kids the prison population would go down? Isn’t it time something better should be done? Haven’t we had enough generations of throwaway kids?
Jamie started in the school to prison pipeline at the age of sixteen because a cop had a vendetta against his family. He literally pushed his way into their home, knocked his mother down and broke her wrist. Jamie defended his mother. Was that enough reason to put him in juvenile detention until he was 21, unable to get even a GED? What kind of job was he supposed to get. He might have legally been an adult, but he had no experience to draw on. He had also spent extended time in solitary confinement. In Juvy it was called “Behavior Modification Program” or BMP.
I recently started reading a book that was published in 1997. The title is,“No Matter How Loud I Shout -A Year In The Life Of Juvenile Court” – by Edward Humes. It takes place in juvenile courts in LA. The courts then, and now have no idea how to handle children criminals. Some are hardened criminals while still in their early teens and some get mixed up in something and learn their lesson. Some come from the streets and some come from the middle and upper middle income families where they have every opportunity a child could want. The conflict is when to prosecute them as adults. There can’t be one rule that covers everything that changes at an exact moment yet this is what they try to do. Are kids responsible for their actions and at one age. Some get their lives ruined and some get let go until the next crime they commit. It’s a tough call.
During this time this book was written I lived in LA until my children were teens. I went through rough times with my kids. When my son and daughter were 15 and 18 we moved away. I had to get them away. Educating them in public schools was impossible. I pulled them out of bad schools and put them in other bad schools hoping they would be better. But the writing was on the wall if we stayed. We loved north to a small town. My son got his act together and started working hard. My daughter got pregnant and had her first baby at 16.
When I read today about the juvenile courts in LA in the 90’s, knowing how easily it could have been my children I was reading about, it is scary. Today they are 35 and 38 and they have their own teenagers to worry about. It is much worse it today than it was in the 90’s. Kids have less and less respect for teachers or anyone in a position of authority. So many have less respect for themselves as well. They were never taught respect in their homes. Many parents wanted to be “friends” with their children instead of parents. These teenagers I am reading about in this book are in their 30’s now. Are they alive? Are they in prison?
As parents we want to say it won’t happen to our children. It does, and when they grab hold of your child, or your grandchildren, the system doesn’t plan on letting go until they have sucked every possible way of making money from them. Look at Jamie. He is now 32. He STILL doesn’t have a GED. Without that, how can he take other educational courses? How can he learn about something he is interested in when he doesn’t even know what that is?
Are there bad kids out there? Absolutely. Bad parents in bad neighborhoods, and bad parents in good neighborhoods. Some parents don’t want to believe their child would do these things, but they do. There is a saying, “If you continue to do what you always done you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.” Parents need to have a better perception of the life outside their children are exposed to. There is no one protecting them. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you are from or how much money you make. Some of the things my children tell me now they did 20 years ago had my jaw on the floor, similar to the things I told my parents long after the fact. We were lucky. Really lucky. Not everyone is.
In the past few years “The Law” has upped the ante. Now, instead of handling disciplinary issues that previously called for detention, being sent to the principle’s office or parents were called – now it is the police who called, who come and handcuff the children in the classroom and escort them out. Quite often the police are already located on school grounds replacing guidance counselors. They are also often taken into a courtroom in handcuffs, too. Why? Do the officers fear for their safety or is it for effect? Often the reason is not justified and does untold damage to the child’s self-esteem. Sadly, this affects black children more than it does white children and even Hispanic children. White children learn early in life that black is not as good as white and they carry that attitude into their adult lives and a new generation of racist attitudes is born.
An already bad situation with juvenile courts has been made worse. More adult criminals are cultivated. Black children learn their lives don’t have as much value. The juvenile courts are so overcrowded. There is no time for anyone to care. We need to do more to help in some way. Too many people are short in help and long in opinions and the children are thrown under the bus.
Since the late 1980s, at-risk teens have been subjugated to terrible injustices. Being socially labeled super-delinquents by politicians and media, legally tried as adults under get-tough legislation, and psychologically stunted by zero tolerance in schools and abuse in correctional facilities.
Today, you would imagine that America has found a better way to deal with juvenile delinquency and youth-gang crimes, but unfortunately, many states still implement outdated, misguided policies that continue to funnel teens into the juvenile justice system. This populates our prison systems. And to make matters worse, recidivism keeps increasing this rate—that is, teens become damaged goods after cycling through “the system” and often return to prison as adults.
According the Annie E. Casey Foundation, despite the good intentions and regulations in our system, teens do learn how to become better criminals from inmates, and…
Last year I joined EJI – Equal Justice Initiative – being able to watch and hear this video solidified for me exactly why I am doing what I do. I have joined and/or read about many organizations trying to change our injustice system. Why do I have the desire to fight to change the perception many people still have who think prison is just a place to lock up bad people. Unless you’ve actually done the homework and followed the trail, it is very easy to believe what you see on the media. But that is an issue for another post. It seems to be getting so much worse. There is a new injustice, a new murder or beating every week, by the police, and by the prison guards, and people are getting very very angry. Can you blame them? There is more to it when you take the time to understand. It is so easy to put people in prison who have been deemed unfit to be in society while also giving the prison industrial complex another body to fill a promised bed by our government. Why has our government promised that? How can prison population be reduced when the profit makers are fighting so hard to make sure we keep our inmate count as high as it is? How many more of our children are forced through this funnel to complete their profit agenda. People are more expendable now than they have ever been. Are my grandsons going to get sucked into this? It scares the crap out me.
It is very very easy for white people to say they aren’t racist, but have a black man approach them walking up the street and they are going to think of the possibility he is going to hurt them, steal their purse, or they’ll cross to the other side of the street just in case. I tested that theory on someone who declared she wasn’t racist, but still said she would be very suspicious of seeing a black boy in a sweatshirt with a hoodie? An article of clothing made her fearful. That was what the media has shoved down people’s throats. So she said she would be suspicious of anyone where she couldn’t see their face. So what about a wide brimmed hat, or a baseball cap and sunglasses. Would she be suspicious then? Does that count, or is it just hooded sweatshirts? She didn’t know what to say. She isn’t racist – but still thinks racist because the media has made her fearful of hooded sweatshirts.
But having the probability of that racism being directed at a member of your own family and you will be forced to look at yourself and the split second racist thoughts that fill your lead. Add to that all the people who are outright racist – against any race not like them and it becomes the powder keg it is now, where it’s okay to shoot a black man in the back seven times and try to say it was because you feared for your life.
The percentage of black children without a father is staggering. It is many times more than white children. The effects of only having one parent has an effect on children that really isn’t talked about, because we, as single mothers just suck it up and do what we have to do to take care of our children, and the ramifications later in life is where we see those effects the most. I understand that. So should my daughter, the mother of Jamie’s son, but it seems she doesn’t. I would think for that reason alone, my daughter would make an attempt on behalf of her son to help him know his father loves him. But later, when he grows up he will have all the letters his father wrote about how much he loves him and begging to see his son.
I do what I do in the hopes that it will help him create a life when he gets out where he will be able to help provide for his son; use the experience of his life to talk to children and communities. If he can be a positive example and role model and turn this negative experience into something positive, isn’t that worthwhile pursuing? How could he provide for a child without even a GED, any work experience or even the smallest amount of wisdom learned from life experiences? His teens years were spent being unjustly locked up in juvenile detention, and juvenile solitary confinement in detention centers too far away for family to visit if they wanted to. He was swept up by a cop with a vendetta. I’ve written about that story. When he gets paroled, sometime in his 30’s, he will still not have any life experience. Do I let my grandson’s father flounder with no guidance, when I can help? How does he not become one of the 71% of parolees who go back to prison because they don’t know how to make it outside? No one will rent to them or want to give them jobs. Having epilepsy with the possibility of a seizure at anytime is also a drawback. Life will be very hard.
If these writings that he and I are doing together are able to make a difference in his life where he can help provide for his son, hold his head up and set a good example, will it help his son, as well as his younger brother, who doesn’t have is father, either? Can fault be found by what I’m doing? If there is a possibility that I can actually get this book I’m writing, “Inside the Forbidden Outside” off the ground, is it not something worth trying? It’s easy to fail if you never try. It’s easy to give when it becomes too hard. I don’t live my life that way. Never have and I won’t start now. There is already a second book planned. I struggle to learn because I have a dream. I see this dream. I don’t take the easy way. Instead of encouragement I hear negativity, but I will not give up. Because I love my family, my kids and grandkids and because I love Jamie, as a man, a human being and a man with a life worth fighting for. I can see what the possibilities are, and I am the only one who has fought for him. No matter what, when my grandchildren are grown I hope they learn from me that you need to fight for the things that are important. I hope they look at my life as an example that life is for the living. His son will always know the love he has for him. No one can take that away.
I have several mottoes I have used to live my life. One of them is: There are people who make things happen, people who watch things happen and people who say, What happened? I am a person who makes things happen. The strength and intensity of my convictions scares people – because they have nothing worth fighting for.
Loving your children, by itself, will not protect them from the cops or the racism coming and they, too, will be easily swept up into the school to prison pipeline that has propelled far too many kids into, and it ruins their lives and you can’t do a damn thing about it unless you have a whole lot of money, and even that often doesn’t work. It would be better to join me in this fight. Help me fight for their lives instead of fight against me. It will be seen, perhaps, when it is too late, and you end up being the one trying to take care of someone who is locked up. The percentages are not in my grandson’s favor. A vast amount of people, especially during the next ten years will use every excuse to add one more juvenile to the roster of kids in detention to abuse, waiting until they are old enough to go to prison.
The prison industry uses the test scores of 3rd graders to determine how many beds they will need for adult prisons because they decide these kids will never have a good job and will instead turn to crime. Recently they filed felony charges against a 12 year old black boy with autism because he got emotional and panicked and pushed back against a cop who was trying to restrain him and the cop filed felony assault charges on him – this tiny boy with black glasses. Why would this cop do that? What was his training? This is what I am trying to fight against and too many people turn and look the other way after they see the blurb on TV news. After all, what can they do? The American people have looked the other way about many things far too often.