In The Beginning I thought He was Safe in The Hole – Part One

world map of inmates

We have more people locked up in America than any other country in the world,  The US is in purple which means we lock up over 600 people per one hundred thousand people. This map is a few years old. It is actually closer to 700 now. That might no even seem like a lot.  We have states were there a lower percentage, and then there are states that have towns where half the residents are either locked up now or they have been locked up. There is a reason for that.  Many people are now only beginning to see what is going on.  It’s now no longer hidden away.  More and more it’s making it’s way into our headlines.  Do we have more criminals?  Do Americans  have a greater tendency for crime?  No.  It’s just business, that’s all.  Just like the south had plantations and needed slavery to continue because without it the plantation owners would have a money problem.  Who cares if people were tortured, women and girls were raped, men were whipped and families were turn apart?  It’s just the cost of doing business.   They weren’t white so what was the big deal?

Most people really don’t understand the business of prisons.  Aren’t they for locking up bad people?  Well . . . yes.  Some of them.  People don’t thank that for many of the human beings living inside it is a living hell. The sentence they receive in the courtroom is only part of sentence they get. That sentence starts when they get inside and deal with their captors. Those people have the license to be as cruel as they want to be, and their bosses will just turn a blind eye, even if a person dies from the abuse. Prison conditions are not safe for inmates. There is no justice in prison.

I used to think if Jamie was locked up away from other inmates at least he would be safe. I know being out in the general population, or gen pop as it’s known, can be dangerous. There is wide variety of people locked up and many of them are people with nothing to lose. You can’t turn your back on anyone, or trust anyone at any time. It worried me when he said he was making it up the levels from G5, which is also called Adseg or administrative segregation. I suppose it is a nicer sounding word than calling it solitary confinement, or the hole. When you are locked up there you have no human contact with anyone unless it’s a guard grabbing hold of you either to cuff you or hurt you.

In adseg the guards are supposed to take you to shower three times a week, but that doesn’t mean they will. If you are in a prison in the south, like Texas, there is no air conditioning. It’s like living in an oven. If you have someone who puts money on your books, and if you allowed to go to the commissary once a month, you can buy deodorant. If not, you stink. Being able to take a shower is the only way to get a little relief from the relentless heat and humidity. Taking away your shower is one way they punish you. Taking away food is another. They may substitute it with something called food loaf your dog wouldn’t eat. Or they will take away being able to go to the commissary. Sometimes they even take away all of your property – everything, even your mattress.

Your food comes in through the food slot. Jamie has seen his food spit on before it was given to him, with a smirk on the guard’s face. You are supposed to be allowed outside your cell one hour a day to walk, while shackled, to another slightly larger cage. This is supposed to be your one hour allotment of being “outside”. In this tiny cage is where you are supposed to exercise, if you choose. You are in that cage alone. Sometimes that cage is indoors and you don’t even get to see the sky or breathe fresh air for months at a time. Even the strongest person can easily lose their mind. It has been proven that any more than fifteen days in these conditions like this can begin to alter the mind in negative, often irreversible ways that make it even harder for inmates to reintegrate back into society when they are finally let out.

mentally ill inmates
photo credit:
photos.pds.org

Inmates lose the ability to tell if it is night or day. Lights are left on twenty four hours a day. There is no way of keeping time. Meals are often the same so you don’t know if you are being given breakfast or lunch. Paranoia easily sets in and conversations with people not really there are often the only ones to talk to. Many in solitary confinement will harm themselves physically, either to see if they are still alive or to kill themselves. If they don’t have something that will cut through the skin they might bite themselves to open a vein. If their mind is gone they might smear feces on themselves and on the walls and floor. Living every day in solitude with no one but yourself and your imagination can be pretty rough. Sometimes your imagination is not your friend, but instead preys on your fears, your loneliness and tears down your will to live along with your self esteem.

The effects of living in solitary are worse than most people can imagine. The isolation and deprivation are more than most people can handle. Often the people in solitary are those who are already insane. The mental hospitals were closed down. Law enforcement doesn’t know what to do with these vagrants they find. They can’t keep them at the jail. They can’t keep them in the hospitals. The only thing to do is lock them up. They won’t get the treatment they need and looking them up in isolation only makes them sicker. They can’t let them out in to the general population at this point because they would likely end up hurting someone. So the general thought was to put them in isolation because it is safer for them there. Doing that finishes off what is left of their sanity. There is no thought put into a prisoners mental health. It doesn’t matter. They don’t care.

What does it do to a guard’s mind after witnessing this day after day? Guards also have to work in these units without benefit of AC, wearing heavy uniforms and often protective gear for when they have to move an inmate from one location to another. They don’t care if an inmate are sick. Taking them to medical means more paperwork to fill out. It’s doubtful medical will do anything about it, anyway. So what if the inmate has a seizure from epilepsy? Medical care in prison is only given when they have no choice, and even then it’s substandard. They’ll just let the next guard on duty to take him to medical. Is that how people are cared for when they have a seizure? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? What happened to the guards ability to care about them because they are human beings? How can they clock out after their shift and go on and have a normal day? Guards don’t care if you get your shower, or if you have edible food or water. Mess with them and just shut your water off for days. If you die because of it there aren’t any repercussions, except maybe they’ll give you a job in another prison. If it’s bad enough you might get fired. But you won’t get convicted and go to prison just because your actions killed a few inmates.

Tempers run high on both sides. The inmates get angry, but they aren’t allowed to get angry. If they do the guards will write up a case on them. No one, not even the warden will do anything about it. They hear complaints all day long about the same thing. Instead of fixing the problems, they just let the officers and the supervisors do what they want. After all, they are just inmates. This needs to change. There is much about our prison system that needs to change, from locking up kids, straight through to solitary confinement. It’s big business and a lot of money is at stake in keeping the status quo.
Many guards, like our police, who have been in the news more often as the people get angrier and angrier at having their family and neighbors locked up. When you ask a child now what he wants to be when he grows up I doubt you will hear the words “I want to be a policeman” anymore. The police used to be a friend of the people who helped them. That changed a long time ago. There is so much corruption in our police force that many of them need to be locked up with the bad guys. I think many begin their jobs with the best of intention to do a good job, but it doesn’t take long to find out that being able to be a good cop is very hard to do. The nature of the job changes people.

Police, and prison guards, like their position of authority. It’s addicting. They take advantage of being able to make people do what they want them to do. Prison guard crimes don’t carry the same weight when it happens inside a prison instead of in society. But does that make them any safer to be around?Many think they are above the law because their superiors look the other way, condone their actions and make excuses for them when people die. They don’t have to live through the consequences of their actions. At least until now. Times may be changing. But as long as your superiors are telling you that inhumane treatment is acceptable, and people have no way to retaliate, it brings out the worst in their nature. Many people, men and women who get this job of authority are put into the position of being able to hurt people indiscriminately. Many people end up dead or at least seriously injured. What a perfect job for a sick mind.

Does that mean all guards or police are like that? Of course not. I believe the guards who work with the general population have a dangerous job. They are around many inmates who would rather see them dead. Guards have to worry about these inmates when they get released. Will any of them hunt down where they live and hurt their families? For all the inmates who shouldn’t be there with sentences that were too harsh, there are just as many very dangerous criminals who have life sentences and have nothing to lose if they hurt the people around them. That is why I was concerned when Jamie made it to G2 level, because you have to have eyes on the back of your head. There are gangs who would think nothing of sticking something sharp in you. Sometimes the guards get hurt, too.

The guards who work in the lower level units are different. That fear of being hurt by an inmate is pretty low, and they seem to enjoy provoking them to the point the inmate can’t take anymore and they lash out. If it is your nature, being able to hurt people you control is much more fun and amusing because there is nothing the inmate can do about it. The guards are always in the right and the inmate is always in the wrong.

Sometimes they are put into “The Hole” for only a small infraction of a rule, or for talking back. Sometimes they are put there for their own protection because their life is in danger. Because of the lack of mental hospitals there is no place to put people when they can’t live in society. It doesn’t mean they are criminal. It means they need to be in a hospital, not punished. When they keep them in isolation it furthers their psychosis. If they do harm themselves, they will be taken to medical to be stitched up and then put back in solitary with an increased sentence. It’s inhumane, and the inhumane guards who guard them develop their own psychosis that tells them it is okay to torture and harm the people locked up, and do it with a wink in their eye, knowing they have full power over the inmates, so they better get used to it.

End part one

Inside The Forbidden Outside chapter – Nightmares

photo credit:  play2compete.co.uk
photo credit: play2compete.co.uk

(Backstory: For those not familiar with the book it is a being written about Jamie Cummings, who is currently being held at Huntsville Prison in Texas. He has completed 9 of a 17 year sentence. This is a random chapter. This story is based on his life using hundreds of letters written to each other during these years. If you wish to read Chapter one you can find it here https://mynameisjamie.net/2015/01/27/insideout

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THE NIGHTMARE

In some ways Jamie feels like he’s back at the beginning and opening his eyes for the first time to this nightmare. He was trying to wake himself up, having that same dream again. He was having this same dream over and over and it was beginning to freak him out. If he could just go back to sleep and wake up again, maybe he’d be in a different place, in some other person’s dream. Anyone’s dream would do.

“Maybe all this really did just happened yesterday,” Jamie mused. ” Maybe he hasn’t been here forever, it just feels like forever. Wouldn’t that be something?”

“Or maybe I’ve been been here forever.” he thought, “It’s my own personal version of hell.”

Depressed1“Maybe that’s it. Everybody was really in a different kind of hell just for them. Everyone’s hell was different.” Now he’s beginning to think for real that he’s starting to go crazy. He didn’t believe in all that nonsense of heaven and hell, anyway. He thought all that got started just to scare people into believing it. It was just as nutty as his nightmares.

“That would be a really awful possibility,” he thought. A nightmare that just went round and round in circles like a merry-go-round, except, there was no way you could ever get off. The longer you were on it, the faster it would go, until you were hanging onto the neck of the horse with both arms wrapped around the head. Sometimes he felt like he was hanging onto that horse by a thread and the thread was starting to break.

“Sounds like that old time TV series, Twilight Zone,” he mumbled. He’d seen reruns of it as a kid and some of them really creeped him out.

Maybe this was the way being crazy started. The way your mind turned on you and made you think things in your head was real and you heard things you didn’t want to hear. Crept up on you real slow until it had you by the throat and wouldn’t let go. He needs to stop thinking this crap.

“Maybe I’m dead and this is hell.” He laughed, seriously a little crazy this time. “If I knew this was hell,” he thought. “I could probably deal with it better, knowing for sure this was it, I could stop wondering if I was ever going to get out. I wouldn’t have to worry no more about getting out of here.”

He wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. He’d just have to come up with a better plan for his days because right now he wasn’t dealing with this solitary crap very well. You’d think he’d know the ropes by now. No use about complaining. They’d only turn on him more if he did that.

“If eternity was going to be just like this, then accepting it is all anyone could do, or go crazy” he thought out loud.

“Problem is, it feels like an eternity already.” He was crazy for sure, having this dialogue with himself, but if he didn’t talk to himself, then he really wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. Being alone is being alone. People don’t understand how alone, alone really is. The guards didn’t want to have conversations with you. Probably told not to. You know you’re in bad shape when even having a conversation with a guard sounds good. He got up and started pacing the floor. Three steps up and three steps back. Three steps up and three steps back. He really wished he could go outside and run. Just run until he was tired. Run until he was out of breath.

“Don’t make friends with the inmates.” That’s what they probably taught the guards, although they most likely don’t use as nice a word as calling them inmates.

“Make them as miserable as you can, they were taught.” I think they take that part of their job really seriously.

One of guards said to them, “If any of you have a smile on your face then I’m not doing a good job.” They probably laughed with each other as they talked about the ways they had fun making them as miserable as they could.

He knew they tried to make people on the outside think it was all the inmates who do wrong and the guards would never did anything really bad, but he knew better. There was good guards and there was bad guards. To him it seemed the bad guards outnumbered the good guards. Only when one really slipped up and someone died did it bring any notice to the prison, but they always managed to find a way not to take responsibility. If a dude has a heart attack from the torture they did, then the heart attack was how he died, and the torture never becomes a part of it. He knew it was worse in some states than others. There were lots worse places than Texas, so maybe he should be glad he was here and not in a state like Alabama. That was worse.

“How long is an eternity supposed to feel like?” he thought, looking up at the ceiling, as if looking toward heaven was going to give him any answers.

“Probably the guys on death row have a better answer because they know there is no way, for any reason, they were ever going to get out of there.” They might keep them there for decades until they died, but they ain’t ever getting out of their one man cell.

“At least I know I’m going to get out someday,” he hoped. “Someday”

Besides, maybe outside was the real hell. He had no idea what he was going to do. It scared him. How did he know how he was going to be able to take care of himself? He didn’t even know how to do anything to take care of himself like most people already knew at his age. He didn’t even know how to get his lights turned on in a new apartment.

What if he did something without even meaning to and they picked him up again, not even giving him a chance? They wanted to make sure they got the inmates back. They owned you.

He knew, even when you’re on parole, they still own you. You’re still on paper. You still belong to them and they controlled your life. They really don’t want you to make it out there and they set you up to fail. Nine years inside and they make it so he can’t even get his GED. If he makes parole in 2016 they know he doesn’t have any way to take care of himself. Why else would he see the same people coming back again after they left?

It’s just their way of filling the prison through the back door. Pretend they were all for you getting out of there and having a life, and it’s all bullshit. No one is honest with you here about that. If he got caught walking crooked they’d probably say he was on drugs and lock him up, even if there was no drugs in him, it would be his words against theirs. They’d be the one to make it true.

Just like it was in here. People lie an getting people wrote up that wasn’t guilty of anything at all just so they could have someone owe them a favor. The truth doesn’t matter much in here, or out there. And he knew what it was like out there. Cops didn’t need no reason to pick up blacks and charge them with things and try to make them guilty of something they didn’t even do. He heard the stories. He heard the guys when they were brought back in again because they did something that broke their parole.

But it makes you think, “What’s the truth? Nobody knows what the truth is and nobody seems to care, neither.” He pressed the palm of his hand against his forehead, pressing on the tightening of his skin that was turning into a headache. He was getting himself worked up about things he couldn’t do nothing about.

“Damn, it’s depressing,” he said out loud. “Or it’s enough to make you depressed if you thought about it enough.”

Yeah, some of them that got paroled got into things they shouldn’t, so it was their own fault. He wasn’t going to do that. He had his son to think about. But the cops didn’t need a reason. And just like in here, where the guards are always right, no matter what happens, he was sure it was the same out there. He needed to get out of Texas. Cops didn’t need no reason to pick you up and put cuffs on you and throw you in jail. He wasn’t going to be like all the others and get picked up and brought back here again.

But how could he leave Texas with his son here? He’ll have to think about that later. First things first. He had to get to prove he didn’t belong here. Not on his son’s life would he do anything to end up back in here again.

“I have to keep my eye on the end game,” he determined. ” Maybe other people didn’t have a reason to change things, but he did, and he needed to remember that and not get all caught up on maybes and what ifs.”

Crazy thoughts were always shooting through his brain like this. He had way too much time to think. He had trouble remembering a time when he could laugh and smile. It was forever ago, like some repressed dream that came to the surface and he found himself inside a nightmare he couldn’t get out of. Bits and pieces of things he could make whole stories out of, if he wanted to. But he needed something positive to do.

Sometimes it seemed as if the dream was something that didn’t happened ‘to’ him, but instead he walked into a theatre into the middle of a movie where he never saw the beginning, and fell asleep before he got to the end. It was the kind of dream where you could feel yourself falling and you knew if you hit the ground you were going to die, and woke up startled and scared and afraid to go back to sleep again. When he was little and had bad dreams he used to think of cartoons and tried to stay awake. There were no cartoons in here.

Sometimes he had this dream over and over. Like it was a premonition of some sort making him feel like it was going to come true. But there was a hazy part he just couldn’t see quite clear. He would lay there for hours and think about it, but it was no use.

“I have to snap myself out of this,” he thought. “I have to write a letter or something and get my head together.” He’s been here long enough, and has been through other times like this, and he knew it was easy to spiral out of control.

He lived that movie in his head over and over, never knowing if he was going to die at the end. It never felt like it was okay. He never felt any hope, only despair. Every time he went to sleep he was afraid he would see it again and most always, he did. He had no one he could talk to about it and he just got more depressed every day.

When he woke in his dream he was running. Running so fast. His heart was beating so fast, knowing without a doubt that he was in a place that felt so wrong. It was hell. It was hell and he couldn’t change it. So many times he woke up crying. Crying for the loss. Crying for everything. And it was never, ever, going to be over. He was lost forever. It felt like forever. He was never going home. He buried his head in his pillow and he wept.

*********************

This is what drove men mad. This is what solitary confinement did to the mind. He spent more than 4 years in here. He should be crazy, too, and probably would be if it weren’t for Mom. She held on and wouldn’t let go. Two years each time. All for lies. The hopelessness. He knew there were men who were kept in places like this sometimes for decades. His sentence was only seventeen years, if the word ‘only’ means anything.

credit: solitarywatch.com
credit: solitarywatch.com

There are men here only because they’re mentally ill and there is nowhere else to put them so they lock them up in prison. They can’t survive around other people and being in solitary made it even worse. They lock them up for their own protection, they say, but that only gives them the right to abuse them, and to laugh at them and to do things to them that would be a crime on the outside. Sometimes they die because of the way they are treated. Out there these guards would be locked up because sane men didn’t do the things they did to people in here. In this place, people don’t have the rights of a dog. In fact, dogs have more rights because they’d haul you off to jail for torturing animals.

They torture the men. In the real sense. Physically torture them and some of them die. Because these men couldn’t stand being locked up, they would do things to themselves. He heard the stories. No one deserved to end up like the men in solitary confinement.

They would try to kill themselves by cutting their veins and smearing the blood all over the window in their door, and all over their walls and floor, trying to bleed out. They would take these men to medical and sew them up and instead of getting them help, they would double their time in solitary and it would happen all over again. They make them crazier and then punish them more because they got crazier.

Does that make sense to you? Now they just don’t know what to do with these men. They can’t let them out of their cell because they would probably try to kill someone. They’re completely loony. Maybe they should’ve thought of that before they destroyed the rest of their minds.

He remembers what it was like in solitary when he was in the juvy system. It was no picnic then, either. It wasn’t any different now. Alone is alone, no matter what age you are. A person can only take so much. He was so young then. Just seventeen. What did he know about being locked up like that? He got mad. They said he could go home after he did nine months and when he was packed, they wouldn’t let him go home.

They said “No, you can’t leave. You didn’t make your line class.”

“What line class?” He said. “You never told me about nothing about no line class” They lied to him! He got mad. He went to his room and started punching the walls. They were the liars! They put him in solitary for that. It was no picnic then, neither. It wasn’t any different now.

Oh, he didn’t want to think about this right now. He had taken so much already for too long. What had he ever done in his life to deserve this? They put him on antidepressants. Every time they saw him he was sleeping. Clearly depressed. Who wouldn’t be? All he wanted to do was sleep now.
All this thinking was starting to make his head hurt. Either that or maybe he was hungry. He was always hungry. Maybe he could pretend his peanut butter tonight was a piece of apple pie!

“Maybe I can dream about apple pie tonight,” he laughed and cried, and lay down on his bed.

“I’ll take a nap and see if I can figure all this out while I’m sleeping.” Even that bit of laughter made him feel little better. He has to be careful… It’s so easy to get your head in a funk and it drags down the whole day.

He pulled a letter out of a book. It was one of mom’s letters. He was using it as a bookmark. He kept it in the book he was reading so he could take it out and read it when he wanted. He read lots of her letters over and over. When he’s finally able to make phone calls it sure will be nice to talk to her.

She had written some stuff in this letter that looked like gobbledy gook to him. She said it was Japanese. She wrote these letters down ‘nam myoho renge kyo’ Weird. He had no clue how to say it or what it meant. She said it didn’t matter, just try to say it the way it looked. He had no idea what it meant but he tried anyway because he said he would. She’ll tell him more about it later. Maybe she was crazy, too, because she told him if he said it over and over he could be happy.

“What do I have to lose?” he laughed again. “Nobody else had any better suggestion, so I guess it can’t hurt.” He fell asleep thinking about all of these things in his head. He even had a dream about apple pie, but tasted just like peanut butter, what they give him every day for meals.