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CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?
“Put your shirt back on,” a female guard barked at him. Jamie and other inmates were being led back inside after working in the fields. “You can’t walk around like that.”
“I need to cool down. I’m on seizure medication,” Jamie tried to tell her so she would understand. She cut him off mid sentence.
“I don’t give a crap what your excuse is,” she fired back. “Put your goddamn shirt back on,” then turned and started in on another inmate.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied with all the respect he could muster. No point in pissing off a guard. He couldn’t win that fight. He was learning he had to show respect and not expect any in return.
Jamie continued down the hall until he reached his cell and went inside hoping his cellmate wasn’t there. He wanted to get some rest. His cell door was unlocked during the day, but in the evening all the doors were locked at the same time after the guards did the count to make sure they weren’t missing anyone. They needed to know everyone was in their cell and no one was someplace they shouldn’t be.
He knew there were inmates who sold drugs and hid it in places outside their cell so they couldn’t get caught with it. Sometimes it was the guards who smuggled it in for them. You could get any kind of drug you wanted. Hooch was made, too. They could distill just about anything and make it into alcohol. Most of it tasted pretty nasty, but if it got you drunk that was all that mattered.
He tried it a couple times but it wasn’t for him. If they got caught making it, so what. They were already locked up. They might do some time in solitary, but it was worth the chance if they wanted to get a buzz.
General population – gen pop – his classification, meant he wasn’t confined to his cell and had more liberties than other classifications. G2,G4, G5, ad seg and solitary got lower and lower with less and less liberties. Some of the dudes couldn’t even leave their cell to go to chow, and had to be cuffed and in leg chains if they went anywhere. That wasn’t fun. They had a food tray shoved through a slot in their door. He never wanted it to get that bad. He needed to be able to at least walk around.
It could be dangerous outside his cell, but it could be dangerous in his cell, too, if someone had a beef with him and came looking for him. He could never let his guard down. Having eyes in the back of your head could save your life.
Prison rules about how to show someone respect wasn’t the same in here as it was in the free world. Some of the dudes were lifers and had nothing to lose if they hurt you. He always had to be careful. Someone could be carrying a shank. There were lots of things that could be turned into a knife. Stabbings weren’t uncommon, especially among the gangs.
He could go hang out in the day room if he wanted, but he was too tired to do that right now. Besides, he was really grungy and needed to clean up. It was hot and stuffy, but it was like that anywhere he went.
His cellmate wasn’t there and Jamie was glad. They pretty much ignored each other. It was easier that way. He didn’t want to get to know him or be friends. He was an asshole with a bad attitude most of the time. He did nothing but complain and Jamie was tired of hearing him blame everything that happened in his life on someone else.
He stripped off his clothes and wet his towel in the sink. He did his best to wash down his body using a small piece of soap he had left. Not until after the first of the month would he be given the meager supplies the prison was obligated to give him.
They gave him a small tube of toothpaste each month, and every three months they gave him a new cheap toothbrush with bristles that fell out. It only had a three inch handle so it would be hard to file down into a blade. Much too small for a man’s hand, too.
He got three little soaps, smaller than the soap you got in a motel room. It was made here in the prison and had lard and lye in it. It could take your skin off if you left it on too long. These the bars had to take care of all his cleaning. His body, the clothing he handwashed or cleaning his cell. It didn’t last long. Right now he needed to clean up as best he could. His skin was sticky with sweat. He felt dirty.
Jamie would sweat rivers down his chest when he was outside. In this heat and humidity he was always soaked. Working out in the fields was some of the worst heat he ever felt.
It was back-breaking work even on a cool day. Constantly bending over and pulling up vegetables was hard as hell on his back. He was constantly bending backward and rubbing the muscles in the small of his back. He never got used to it.
When he bent over and his head hung down, the sweat ran into his eyes, and it stung. He tied a piece of cloth around his forehead but once it was soaked the sweat dripped anyway. It was hot and humid in East Texas, but West Texas was a different kind of hot. It sure felt like the sun had to be closer to the earth. When it beat down on you, and you got fried crispy like piece of chicken.
Jamie knew what the slaves must’ve gone through long ago when they were forced to work the fields. Prison guards, slave owners, they were probably the same.
Funny, now that he thought about it. They had overseers that probably walked the fields with whips and dogs just like the guards, except the guards had guns. Slave owners wouldn’t shoot their slaves because they paid a lot of money for them, like cattle. They needed their money’s worth out of them.
All of them here in this prison were owned, just like slaves were. There was little difference between now and then except the slaves had their women to go to at the end of the day for comfort and he didn’t, not that he’d want Morgan to be here. But he did wish he could see her and little Jamie once in a while.
“Stop it,” he argued with himself under his breath. “Just stop it.” He tried not to think about her all the time because it made him depressed. He tried to push it out his head.
Jamie rinsed out his towel and hung it to dry by putting it over the round metal stool bolted to floor near the toilet. He stretched out on the lower bunk with his feet hanging over the end.
Because of his epilepsy he wasn’t supposed to work in the sun. There were side effects from the medicine that sometimes made him feel bad. When he was overheated it could bring on a seizure. He wanted to be able to go outside so he rarely talked about it. Outside he could pretend he wasn’t here. In his mind he was able to start walking and keep on going. For a short while he was free.
Jamie had felt like he was about to keel over and needed to cool down. That was why he had taken off his shirt. And he wasn’t naked, neither, no matter what she thought. He still had on his tank which was completely soaked.
Coming inside wasn’t much relief. There was no air conditioning. If it was 105° outside, it was going to be 95° inside. All he could do was sweat. Playing cards or watching TV made him sweat.
He wrote to his mom to see if she would send some money so he could buy a fan, but he didn’t hear back. Maybe she’ll send a letter later, sometime next week. It was always next week. He gave her excuses why she didn’t write. He never gave up hope. He didn’t care if she sent any money or not, he just wanted to hear from her. Was she okay? He loved his mama whether she wrote or not. He wished she would write.
The field he worked in was huge. They grew a lot of different vegetables. Guards rode around on horses holding rifles. It looked like a different time in history. They had attack dogs walking around with them, too, in case one of them tried to run, which would be really stupid. There was no place to run except across the field and no way could anyone outrun those dogs in this heat. They’d probably drop dead of heat stroke.
Even though it was stifling hot he still liked to go outside. As long as he could see the sky he felt free. He knew Morgan was seeing the same sky he was. Maybe they were both looking up at the same time. That was a new thought. He’d have to ask her to look up at a certain time. It was one thing they could do together.
He had been here now for close to two years. In a way it seemed the time had gone by fast, and other times it crawled in slow motion. He tried to stick to himself and stay out of trouble. All he had to break up the boredom were Morgan’s letters. He daydreamed a lot. He would picture walking out of the prison and walking up to her with open arms. She was his family, her and the kids. They were all he had. To be honest he felt unloved by his family. He felt they didn’t want anything to do with him and that made him depressed and stressed out.
Now, maybe it was his imagination but it seemed Morgan wasn’t writing back as much, and was taking longer between letters. He knew she was busy and all, taking care of three kids wasn’t easy, but she used to always find time, even if it was just a few lines.
Maybe he was reading too much into it. He was afraid of losing her. What if it was over between them and he was by himself. What if he had no one to go home to? Sometimes when he thought about the years ahead he wanted to give up, but he couldn’t. And he had to make it. No matter who leaves him he always had his son. He couldn’t give up on him.
His head started to pound. It was rocking back and forth between his temples. With one hand on either side if his head, he pressed. Not knowing what was going on really screwed with his head. He curled over and put his head on his knees. The pounding blood only made his head hurt worse. This is why some dudes went batshit crazy when they were locked up.
Was anybody out there? Did anyone think about him in here all alone with nobody? Did anybody care? If he screamed would anybody hear?
Today was his son’s birthday. Jamie bit his lower lip to keep himself together. It was heartbreaking to not be there. He never got to hold him. He would never get this time back.
Jamie managed a smile as he pictured his son in his head. But why hadn’t she written back yet? He was starting to get worried. He sent a birthday card and put a letter for her inside. This was probably the longest he had gone without hearing from her. Maybe she had something she wanted to tell him but didn’t want to say it. Maybe she was seeing someone.
Even though it scared him to think he would lose her, he understand the reality of how many years he could be gone. He had a meeting with the parole board when he reached five years, but if he didn’t get it they would probably put him off for another five.
Jamie couldn’t give up on the hope of being released. But if he wasn’t, he knew he would be locked up too long to expect anyone to wait for him. Why would anyone else commit to being alone if they didn’t need to? It was a long time to ask someone to wait. He told Morgan in a letter she could talk to him about anything. If she wanted to move forward with her life he would understand. They could still write to each other and she could tell him about Jamie. But to not at least write? He couldn’t stand that.
He thought he was the type of man who would want the mother of his son to be happy, not depressed and stressing. He wanted her to leave the stressing to him. But if she did find someone else he wanted her to say goodbye, not just stop writing and make him worry.
It was easy to let his mind go crazy with all the possibilities that could go wrong with him locked up. It was hard to stop thinking about it.
He closed his eyes. He was all twisted up inside worrying about not knowing what was going on in the world outside. There was nothing he could do about it. Not even make a phone call to find out. He had no numbers to call. No one registered their phone because it was too expensive, he guessed. He just had to wait.
He fell asleep. He let go of the worry. His brain stopped spinning and he relaxed.
“Mail,” the sound bounced inside his head. “Mail.” Jamie was suddenly wide awake, listening. He didn’t jump up, but he still hoped there was mail for him. His head felt better. The pressure was gone. He could hear the cart being wheeled down the hall and soon come to a stop at his cell door.
“Cummings,” was called out. “James Cummings, here’s your mail.” The inmate who delivered the mail reached in and handed him a letter. Then he turned to continue walking down the hall.
“Thanks,” Jamie called out after him and looked down at the letter. He had expected it to be from Morgan, but it wasn’t. It was from her mom. Her mom?
He sat down on the bed and stared at it for a few seconds. Why did she write? She had never written to him before this. Was it bad news? It had to be bad news. Did Morgan get her mom to write and break up with him? It looked like a card, but it wasn’t a holiday or anything. Finally, he ran out of excuses and starting opening the envelope.
At that moment, before he had a chance to finish opening it, his cellmate walked in, pissed off and cussing up a storm. Jamie didn’t know why and wasn’t interested in finding out. The sound of his voice was instantly bringing his headache back again. He had to get out of here.
He got up and headed down to the day room, hoping to find an empty table. He wanted some privacy to read and think. There were two tvs tuned to separate sports stations. If it wasn’t sports it was soap operas. They loved the soaps. People got hurt if they tried to change the channel. It wasn’t worth it. The old timers always got first dibs.
He found a table and set the envelope in front of him. He looked at it again, front and back. She sent it from Key West. It was a card. A generic one. Nothing special. Did she just sign her name or did she say anything? He opened the card to see she wrote up the whole inside. He settled back to read:
I should have written before, but time flies so fast some days. I have been very busy at the store. I thought of you many times these last couple years. I should have written before now. Morgan fills me in with how you are when I ask her. I know it has been very rough for you and I’m sorry you were moved so far away from your family. It would be easier if you could see them.
I miss not have Morgan and the kids here. Little Jamie had only turned one year old when they left. One day they were here and the next day they were gone. I asked her for your address.
I know she wants to come see you but she can’t afford it. Traveling with the kids would be hard. I told her if she could find someone to go with her I would pay her expenses and also pay for a motel. She asked your mom to go with her and she said yes. I’m sure she will write and tell you the weekend they are coming. You will finally get to see your son.
Write back if you want and I’ll answer your letter.
Take care, Sonni
Jamie sat there not knowing what to think. He closed his eyes and one tear rolled down his cheek.