CIRCLES INSIDE CIRCLES – Chapter Rewrite

Last Note 2 sm

 

Jamie was trying. He couldn’t try any harder. He wanted to understand how he could turn his life around and make it through these years in one piece. If he didn’t, the years would be wasted and he’d be a mess when he got out of prison. He couldn’t afford that. He had to make up for a lot of lost time.
     This is what happened when you felt you had endless time on your hands. It was hard to fill the empty spaces. Jamie sat on his bed. He stared at the wall and lost track of time. It had no meaning. He spaced out thinking about his life and what he could have done different. Sometimes he got tired of trying and wanted to melt into the wall and disappear.
    How was anyone supposed to live in conditions like this, then get out and have an okay life? How could he get over it as though it never happened and be happy? It was hard to remember what that was.
      Jamie never had a real chance to find out what he was good at. He wasn’t blaming anyone, the right circumstances were never there. No one taught him how to make something of himself. He just followed along with whatever happened at the moment. He didn’t know how to have a dream. He needed to figure out how to do that. All he knew for sure was the values he believed in didn’t seem to have the power to get him where he wanted to go.
     Maybe he needed to deepen his faith in God. Study more. Quite a few of the inmates also went to church. There were quite a few screwed up people who found religion after they were sentenced, and some went to church because it was something to do that got you out of your cell. Jamie really wanted to make it work but how were you supposed to know if it was making a difference in his life because nothing had changed for the better.
     He had the bible studies he sent for and was trying to study on his own. He hoped it would help. He had a lot of time to think about what he read. Still, it made no difference. He wasn’t giving up, but what could he do that would actually change things into a better direction instead of going in a circle that only went round and round? He wanted to learn something that would give him hope he was doing the right thing.

<<<>>>

Later that night, getting up for a drink, he fell and twisted his knee. It was swollen and hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. It was worse when he put his weight on it the next morning. It was so swollen he could hardly bend it. He put in for a medical call. A guard came get him with a wheelchair because there was no way he would be able to walk there.
     “What did you do?” the nurse asked after the guard helped him up onto the examining table.
     “Damn that hurts,” slipped out of Jamie’s mouth before he could stop it. He didn’t like to cuss around women.
     “I slipped on the carpeting,” he joked and tried to laugh.
     “No, really, my knee buckled. I went down and landed hard on the side of my knee and it twisted.” Jamie winced as he attempted to change position.
     “I’ve had problems with this knee before,” he told her.
     “I’ll have x- ray take a picture,” she concluded. “Make sure it isn’t fractured.
     The nurse pressed gently on different parts of the knee. “This feels like fluid, “she commented, “not just swelling from the damage caused by twisting it.”
     “Can the doctor do something? Could it be drained?” Jamie thought it would make his knee feel better if they were able to get the swelling down. Right now he could only bend it a couple inches.
     “No.” It only took a second for the nurse to answer.”The doctor won’t do it. The Medical Unit would never okay that kind of procedure.”
     The nurse stopped for a few seconds and thought carefully. “They’ll say it’s not medically necessary,” she finished saying, almost under her breath.
     She saw inmates all day long who had medical conditions that needed treatment, and she knew they would never receive it, or they would get the barest minimum care. She’d placate them making them think something would be done. Chronic illnesses with simple, effective treatments that could make their lives easier to bear would most likely be denied. Conditions got worse that could be fixed. Inmates paid precious dollars out of their accounts to be seen by a doctor and were usually given the runaround. They would receive token or incorrect treatments and blood tests might even be taken, but getting the right diagnoses and proper medication were much more difficult to get. This wasn’t the reason she became a nurse.
     Inmates coming into the prison with a known condition who had a history of medication had a better chance of receiving it, but if other conditions developed there was a good chance it wouldn’t be addressed. She did what she could.
     “Every day, try to work the knee by sitting on the edge of your bed and straightening your leg up and out and hold for a few seconds,” she instructed. “Then lower it down slowly.”
    “Its a simple exercise but it will help keep your knee muscles from locking up.”
     This was the reality of medical care in prisons and they got away with it. It didn’t matter what treatment would be best for him. It mattered what the medical corporation could provide without it costing them.
     The lack of quality care caused damage to those inside. Pain and suffering, mental and physical were common and it sometimes caused death. It was inhumane. Fluid on Jamie’s knee wouldn’t kill him, but it was painful moving around or standing, and would take a good while to heal itself.
     So why did they take an x-ray if they wouldn’t treat the problem? So they could show they provided adequate care? That was the law. The prisons had to provide care but they were never told what adequate care was, so they could do anything and say they treated him.
     The nurse would tell him to drink more water and take Tylenol and say in his file it was adequate medical care for anything that was wrong. It was the standard treatment for what he needed so it was a waste of money for most inmates to call and ask to go to the medical unit. If an inmate had the flu or anything catchy, the whole prison would get sick.
     Jamie was tired of being treated as though he didn’t matter, but what could he do about it? He did the best he could to win over his negative thoughts. Sometimes it wasn’t possible. He absolutely did the best he could, he thought to himself. He tried to keep the stress under control. Seizures were going to happen when they screwed up his medication or said he forgot to tell them to reorder it like that was his job. Sometimes they hit fast and he falls and gets banged up, and sometimes he falls off the bunk from thrashing about in his sleep.
     He laid down on his side and brought his knees up to his chest. He felt less vulnerable and less alone inside his circle of comfort.

<<<>>>

Day after day routines never changed. It was hard to remember what day it was. One of the hardest things about being in prison is the boredom. There wasn’t enough to do. Nothing new was added to think about, so his mind goes through the same circles of memory over and over again.
     Jamie was trying so hard to not let anything get to him where he would lash out in anger. He was feeling confident he had that under control. But if he couldn’t get out of his cell sometimes he knew he would go crazy.
     He needed to keep his privileges. He was feeling irritated today and he knew it, so he had to work harder to stay in control. It wouldn’t take much, so he stayed by himself.

Writing letters that were never answered was frustrating. It was a waste of precious stamps. He wrote because he thought people would want to know how he was doing, but he seldom got a letter back about how they were doing. He felt forgotten by everyone. There were probably new kids in his family he didn’t even know about. Children of cousins who probably didn’t have any idea about who he was. He was an outsider now. Not a happy thought.
     It had been almost three months since a letter came from anyone besides Sonni. She became his family so he usually called her Mom. She said he was like a son. She called him that because she said he needed family.
     Going to the day room was a good way to pass the time. He tried to enjoy it as best he could. Watching TV let him pretend he wasn’t here. It usually kept his mind off things for a short while. It worked sometimes and sometimes it didn’t. Time wasn’t exactly flying.
     It was summer, 2009, three and a half years since he was arrested. He was getting close to being one fourth through his sentence.
     Jamie decided to write to Sonni. She often asked him questions about what it was like in here. He opened his locker and took out a couple pieces of paper and sat down at the steel table that was connected to the toilet. He began drawing lines from top to bottom to look like lined tablet paper. 
     “Rec hours rotate,” he began writing. “We get four hours all total. Two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening between the hours of 6 -10 AM and 12- 4 PM. After that I’m in my cell the rest of the day.”
     He went on to explain that his custody level was G4 line 3. If he caught another case he would go down to G5 which was also adseg. He was almost to the point of being in 24 hour lockdown for a year if he didn’t cool it and control his anger. It was so hard to not get pissed off at things that went on in here, inmates and guards. But if he wanted to work his way back to population he needed to be G2 so he had to stay good with no new cases for seven more months.
     “There’s a lot more stuff I can do in population, like go to school and take trades,” he wrote. “I could also go to the library and have contact visits instead of visiting behind glass.” 
     Another reason he was trying hard to not get anymore write-ups was he wanted to apply for a hardship classification. Then he could ask to be moved closer to home because of a medical reason or a close family member who was sick.
     There was no reason for them to put him a prison that was a thousand miles away from home. He thought he was sent to West Texas as a way to punish him more by separating him from his family. But he would need their help to make it happen and that didn’t seem likely, at least not right now.
     It would be too easy to let depression take over if he thought too much about the free world and the things he’d like to see happen that were unlikely to happen. He needed to think of how to get through his time and not think about everything else he couldn’t change. He couldn’t even have a conversation with anyone to move it along.
     Jamie closed his eyes. Maybe he could go to sleep now so he didn’t have to think about any of this. He put his paper and pen aside until later. In a few minutes, as he felt himself drift off he heard, “James Cummings, mail.”

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Americans For Prison Reform

This is Going To Be a Year of Change For Inmates – If We Try

There are quite a few people who have Facebook pages and groups who feel that prison reform is very important and it’s time for those changes to begin happening. We read a lot. We post articles we find that talk about the problem. Some of us have loved ones who are locked away so we have first hand knowledge of the cruelty they endure yet we don’t know how to change things. We stand a better chance of changing things if we come together and fight together.  The powers that be – the government, prison industrial complex and the people who run the prisons don’t care how we feel because they are so sure there is nothing we can do. They think their profit is safe.

There are millions of us on the outside who can be a force to reckon with -if we organize. We don’t have to continue to let this happen. The blacks, the poor, the minorities, the juveniles are being used to make some people wealthy. The lying politicians at the beginning of this election cycle all said they were going to fix this. Half way through they stopped talking about at all.  All politicians lie. No one is going to help. They all have a finger in the profit pie.

There are many groups of people in many states who are doing all they can. Some have attorneys who have a better grasp of the legalities but one major problem is – we are all separate. We may recognize the name of a group but we don’t know what their plan is. There is absolutely no cohesiveness. How can we support each other when we don’t communicate? This election showed us the power of the internet. We need to use it more effectively

There is so much that needs to be fixed but people feel helpless about what to do because the problem is so huge and has so many parts. Aside from the many people locked up there are millions of people on the outside who get hurt. Some of my friends and I are beginning to come together and talk, to see what we can do. No one group is going to fix the prison issues. The people need to help themselves. Watching what the American Indians did showed us we aren’t helpless.  But did we really believe they would push them back? Really? It was an eye opener for me. So why are we letting them do this to us? It will take time to sort this out.

We need people with skills, fundraiser skills down the line. Social media skills, etc. who are willing to take on the corporations and their profit making machines and change the laws that are against the health of the people inside. Am I biting off more than I can chew? Probably, but I know if you reach for the stars and land on the moon you’re a hell of a lot closer next time you reach. You accomplish nothing if you don’t try.

I have been fighting for Jamie for almost a decade. I work on my projects that have to do with our prisons like a full time job – because it is. I spend most of my day researching, writing and connecting with people. I understand not everyone can do that because of commitments in their lives and families to care for.  Some only have time to read and share it, but even that is so important.

There are many people who have no idea what the prisons have been built for and why we have more than anywhere else in the world. Many people believe everyone who is inside deserves to be there. They believe they are all bad guys, except we know that isn’t true  because they are our husbands and wives, our children and our friends. We know what happened to put them in prison. Being guilty isn’t important.  The truth isn’t important. Only money is important. Keeping prison beds full at all costs is important. Their only purpose is to fill a bed and they need someone to exploit to do that – and yes, there are bad people in there, too, as well as those who are mentally ill with no place to put them.

mentally ill inmates
photo credit: photos.pds.org

With 5% of the population and 25% of all the prisoners in the world, if that were true then America has a pretty lousy life philosophy if we truly produced that many hard core criminals who need our lengthy mandatory minimums. Everyone knows our prisons are a racket. Why is it being allowed? Why haven’t they been changed? Why is it allowed?

Judges sentence someone using the mandatory minimums because they have no choice. I am sure most people have never read what those minimums are. They use use the phrase “mandatory minimums” because they know it is something that should be changed because they heard it somewhere else. But what does it mean? When did it start? How does one go about changing any one of them because they all have different years they began, some as early as 250 years ago.

Regardless of when it started, the sentence is how many years they were to be incarcerated. The judge did NOT say they were to be abused in prison. THAT is criminal. They don’t have the right to starve them with rotten food. The law states they are to be cared for medically – and that means mental health, too. Women are to be cared for with women issues. Men and women who are raped should have the right to press charges – against the guards our other inmates. Some inmates have to contend with near daily rape. Just because they are incarcerated does that mean the staff has the right to abuse another human being with no consequences?

Everyone know this so why does it continue! Right to lifers say every life is precious and fight for that. When does  a life lose the right to be precious? How many rapes does it take? How many beatings? How many ignored sick calls? For Jamie, how many epileptic seizures until he gets the right treatment?

seizure webmdcom

The list of abuses goes on and on with the higher staff allowing it by looking the other way. In many cases the guards and staff are more criminal than those locked up. So often, if an inmate files a case against a guard, not only is it not filed, they retaliate against the inmate, and write up more cases against him, throw him in ad seg and take ALL of his belongings away, including even his mattress, his flimsy, thin, 3″ piece of foam. At Jamie’s last prison he had 13 sexual harassment cases filed against him in one month. He had to force them to move him by threatening a guard so they would classify him as ad seg (solitary) because then they would move him. He is safer now – but he is still in ad seg. He had to deal with having his belongings taken away. 19 books including his GED book. He recently got his radio back after a year. His fan was replaced with a broken one. They gave him 2 more years of ad seg because that is what they do. He’s endured this to get away from a prison where the guards beat him up more than once, split his head open with a wall and sprayed him with chemicals.

Often we read an article and move on, shaking our head, wondering who will fix this. I tend to get very angry when I write about these things but anger keeps me going. You can find me easily at:

http://facebook.com/JamieLifeInPrison and http://mynameisjamie.net  A group of us are starting an alliance of people who want to do something. We have to start somewhere. Many have someone inside. If you want to help, come and talk with us.  Prison reform isn’t an easy thing to change but we’ll give it all we have. We need the input of people with experience. We need people who have the ability to stick with something or at least to know what your level of commitment could be. Even if all you can do is pass info, or reach out to people you know, that would be a help.  Let me know if you want to find out more. Send me an email at squick@mynameisjamie.net and I’ll get back in touch with you. This isn’t a commitment on your part. It’s a beginning. If you see this after it’s posted on facebook you can leave me a message there as well.

=========================

There being different stages we will go through. We have to start at the bottom before we tackle issues. At the bottom is simply getting organized. And although many of us have people inside this is not about getting people out, it is about reforming the system, about fairness, about the prisons abiding by the law even as it stands now. We have to do that before changing bad laws. It took a long time to get here and it will take time and a lot of effort to change things.

Personally, I would like to see for each inmate:

  1. Proper medical care – instead of using Tylenol for every condition. An outside system needs to be used to treat inmates that doesn’t say, for example, “You have water on the knee and it needs to be drained but the prison will never approve the cost. Here, take a Tylenol. Or, ” You have an abcessed tooth but it will be at least a month before we can get you to a dentist even if your face is swollen so bad you can’t eat. Here, take a Tylenol. Or, you had an epileptic seizure and you woke from it with your hands and feet cuffed, and not taken to medical because a guard didn’t want to do the paperwork. The prison medical corporations do not want to pay medical expenses. It is cheaper to let them die.

2. Decent, edible food they don’t have to be afraid to eat. The food corporations want to feed them on the cheap even if it kills them. We should make then feed their own families what they feed our families.

 3. A cell that isn’t too hot or too cold. I’m tired of hearing about deaths from the heat. That is murder.

 4. Ability to trace complaints against the guards by us on the outside so we know they are taken care of. They can’t be trusted and right now the fix is guarding the hen house. We get lip service by the warden. We need to know their complaints don’t end up in the trash and repercussions don’t blow back on the inmates. The prison has ways of stalling complaints so they become invalid. They do it on purpose so every single complaint is pointless. The law says they have the right to file for mistreatment but they is no law that says they have to do anything about it.

 5. People on the outside need the ability to file against a guard or staff if inmates are abused, and bring legal charges if their behavior warrants it. We don’t all have money to hire attorneys, in fact most of us probably don’t but we need a way to make sure they are safe. 

I’m going to stop there so the rest of you can add your concerns in the comments. If anyone has any idea of how to do this or has an idea of what to do first to get started, I’m listening. The tenetive name on facebook for this group is “Americans for Prison Reform.” Our prison system affects all of us.

I sure do hope to hear from you!  Sonni

THE NEXT MONTHLY ISSUE OF THE ITFO NEWSLETTER WILL BE GOING OUT SOON. TAP THE LINK TO GET IT DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX. EACH ISSUE NOW WILL FOCUS ON A DIFFERENT ASPECT OF PRISON ISSUES EACH MONTH. THERE HAS BEEN NO TALK OF PRISON REFORM SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN WHEN EVERYONE JUMPED ON THE BANDWAGON SAYING THEY WOULD BE THE ONE TO FIX IT. NOW NOTHING IS BEING SAID. IT WILL BE THE PEOPLE DEMANDING CHANGE THAT HAS THE ONLY CHANCE OF CHANGING THIS. PLEASE POST THIS ON YOUR OWN SM AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO SHARE IT, TOO. WE’VE SEEN WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE COME TOGETHER AS THE AMERICAN INDIANS HAVE DONE. WE NEED TO MAKE PRISON REFORM IMPORTANT, NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT. CAN WE DO THAT?

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