Prison Hunger Strike

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(Sonni’s note: In the past few years entire prisons have gone on hunger strikes, the most notable in California during the summer of 2013. 33 of California’s prisons joined in with thousands of inmates from all over the country in protest of the way they were being treated. Families stood in protest outside the prisons as well.  A few inmates died as the result of a hunger strike that lasted 50 days, because they wouldn’t give in. Realizing that the inmates were willing to die for their cause,I am sure, had a lot to do with them relenting.  Why was it so impossible for the prison officials to see these people as people – as living breathing people, with some of them there unjustly as the evidence now shows.  Eventually they were granted a few small concessions but it was too little and they didn’t apply to the people who were the most confined – those on death row – Those in the SHU Secure Housing Unit.   Jamie spent a total of 4 years locked up in solitary.

I wasn’t going to print this yet, because I’m waiting for a letter.  He was able to get his privileges back and could call me for two weeks. He was able to have ONE contact visit with his natural mother on his 32nd  birthday. They found a way to throw him back in solitary last week. I knew it was going to happen.  I just knew it.  Their rules to stay out of solitary are hard to play by.  You can not argue with an officer even if you are right.  If they say the snow is black and you say it is white you are insubordinate.  He got to make one last phone call, and then was stripped him of all of his privileges and  is once again getting his food through a slot in the door.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/09/california-prison-hunger-strike-30000_n_3567639.html

Those on death row. Why would someone scheduled to be murdered by the state be interested in a class of education?  I’m sure that’s what the must have thought. Why would any of these concessions be of any importance to them, even though many of them had been locked up for decades and large portion of them were mentally or insane because of the deprivations? But there are many others that want to be able use the rest of their life, if they are still to killed, in a way that at least allows them to give some value to their own lives. Maybe they did something horrible. Maybe they are falsely accused. Maybe they are a victim of circumstance. It doesn’t matter. The are still human.  They are living out the worst things anyone can go through to pay for their transgressions – they are waiting to die. That is their sentence. That is their punishment.  So why the need to keep punishing by not allowing them some comfort while they wait.  Justice was served.  What is wrong with supplying them some art supplies so they can draw? They were promised that.  This next excerpt is credited to http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jul/25/pelican-bay-prison-hunger-strike where you can read the entire article.

Largely unrestrained by courts, legislatures or public opinion, solitary confinement has become routine – a punishment of first resort for all sorts of prison infractions. Today, a prisoner can be placed in solitary not only for violence, but for any form of “insubordination” towards prison officials, or for possession of contraband (which includes not only drugs but cell phones, cash or too many postage stamps). Some inmates are sent to solitary confinement for exhibiting the symptoms of untreated mental illness. Others, including juveniles in adult prisons, end up in isolation for their own “protection” because they are targets of prison rape. Many of the men in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit are there because they’ve been “validated” as gang members, based on their tattoos or on the say-so of other inmates, who are rewarded for “snitching”

(So this is the setting for this blog post.  Hunger strikes are a common thing when inmates are treated badly.  It is their only method of defense and a way to make a statement.  This isn’t the only time he stopped eating and he at one time stopped taking his meds because he thought he was being used as a lab rat – which is something the prisons do.  Who better to experiment a new drug on than a worthless inmate.  He was a pretty big guy when I first met him.  He was a real skinny guy when I saw him in Oct of 2013.  His clothing was falling off him – literally.  The Beeville prisons raises hogs. That is why everything they fed them was some kind of pork often made into loafs that were unrecognizable as anything he could identify.  The prisons do not like to pay medical bills, though they do everything in their power to cause ill health.  Why is this not being stopped?  Why are they allowed to commit crimes on those that are still human beings?  Isn’t this in itself also a crime?  If someone murders someone on the outside and it is a homicide and they get life in prison, should the person committing the same crime inside a prison get the same punishment? Why are there two sets of standards?)

This is a letter Jamie wrote on 8/28/12 when he was at the McConnell Unit in Beeville,Tx

Hi Mom, How is everything.  I know you are home from your surgery.  I hope everything is okay.  I have to take a lot of pills. Some are my seizure meds for epilepsy and also fluxotine for depression. I’ve taken off some pounds lately. I stopped eating because I’m on a hunger strike. They feed us pork every day and I’m tired of it. Sometimes they sub it with peanut butter or two slices of cheese.

This unit is getting really bad. They just had a riot in the chow hall and a dude got stabbed four times and died. Another one was stabbed 23 times but he lived. He was lucky. I’m losing it in here.

I’ve written lots of letters but nobody writes me back but you. I don’t understand why I keep writing but I do. Maybe I think it will change. I think this is one of the reasons why I get depressed. I can’t make sense of it. People don’t understand how important it is. I still have a year and a half before I come up for parole, in 2014, so there isn’t anything else I can do except sit here. It hurts because we are all suffering badly. There’s nothing I can do about these things. I want to just give up on everything. I’m trying. I really am. Everyone is so quick to judge me. It’s nothing new to me. I can be doing good but I’ll still be judged because of my past. I don’t know where things will end up. Again, I’m losing it. I had some crazy thoughts. The nurse asks me what’s wrong and I just look at them crazy. I know they can’t understand. I guess this is my life. Tomorrow I’m going on strike with my medication. Life is so painful. Why not add more. I have nothing. My fan broke and its August in Texas. It is so hot. And these people took my hot pot that I can cook in because of a loose wire. I can’t take this no more. So what I’m saying is that I’m giving up. Why not? It seems like everyone else has. I read because there’s nothing else I can do, sitting in this cell all day and night. This is where everyone wants me and it’s starting to feel as though this is where I belong. I love you, as well as everybody else, but I can’t take it. Please try to understand. I have fallen and have no reason to get up. I have a year left in ad seg, (solitary confinement – administrative segregation) maybe less. I’m trying, but it seems that nobody cares.

(note from Sonni – Jamie scared me with this letter. I could see how terribly depressed he was. I begged him to eat and take his meds but by then a couple more weeks had passed. Depression is something that runs rampant in the prisons. No one can live with that kind of solitude. What does it prove? What’s the purpose? He never did get out of ad seg. No human being can live through that. He is doing better psychologically. But it has been a challenge.)

( another note: this one written today.  He never did get out of solitary until this past November. Then he was moved to G4 and then G2.  G5 is actually the same as ad seg or solitary.  Then in December he made it to G2.  Finally.  Then in the middle of January he could make phone calls.  I was the only one who hooked up my phone so he could call.  No member of his family did.  Now it’s all taken away – again.  I don’t know for how long,)

Counting Down my Prison Sentence

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It’s 2014. Eight years. Things are going to change for me. These walls won’t change, but what goes on in my head will change. If not, then my life is all a waste. I can’t let that happen. I never thought this would happen to me. I was excited when Megan told me she was going to have a baby. We bought a few baby things. I remember a little red pair of Nike shoes with the swoosh on the side. They were so tiny. I was so happy. I never got a chance to see him or have a chance to hold his little body in my arms. He will probably be my only child and because of what I did he and I have lost so much. But Megan is a good mother so my son is lucky to have someone who loves him.

I turned thirty one in January.  I was twenty two when I was locked up.  These years have been depressing.  It would be so easy to let it get to me and turn me into someone I don’t like.  How could anyone have hope in this place?

It’s rigged to keep you down. But the beginning of this year was been different.  I got birthday cards from some people I didn’t know.  They wished me happy birthday and encouraged me to keep fighting.  Not the fighting with fists kind of fighting, but the mental kind of fighting. Fighting with yourself to stay positive.  To have hope.  To remember that someday I will get out of here and have a life.

Do you know what it’s like to go through any kind of special day and have no one remember you?  That’s the way it has been every year until now.  But this year I got cards from five new friends and mom, Megan and Jamie.  It was really great.  All that mail.  I got cards from Steve, Victor, Marcia, Kathy and Carol. I never knew I had so many friends, and I know there are more out there. They are all members if the SGI-USA who are Nichiren Buddhists.  They didn’t judge me because I was in prison.  It made me happy, though, because I knew I wasn’t alone.  There are people out there who know I’m in here. People who cared enough to write to me.  Some of the inmates here don’t have anyone at all.  No one they can talk to.  No one who will help them get even the simple things they need like deodorant or soap.  I wouldn’t have anyone if it weren’t for mom.

Megan hardly ever writes and only once in a long, long while do I get a letter from family.  I gave up a long time ago expecting any letters.  Every once in a while I got a letter from my sister.  So I have a surprise for everyone.  I’m taking everyone off my visitors list.  What’s the point?  They won’t even know I took them off. This way I’ll stop looking for them to come and see me.  I won’t have to worry about that anymore.  Why have people on a visiting list if they don’t ever come and see you?  I really don’t mean that.  I’m feeling bad.  I wish my mama would come.  I know she is so busy working two jobs.  I think maybe it’s my fault because I gave her a hard time growing up.  I miss my family.

I did get a letter from Megan.  She um her card with perfume.  When they brought it to me I was sleeping.  I had a towel on the floor by the door and it got slid under it.  I woke up smelling something really, really good but I couldn’t figure out where the smell was coming from.  Finally, a guy from the cell across told me they brought mail and slid it under the door.  Wow, it sure did smell good!  It woke me up!

(Sonni’s note: Jamie often went back and forth wanting to take everyone off his visitors list or wanting to stop writing them.  He was hurt.  He felt it was his fault that his family rarely wrote to him.  He thought that somehow he deserved it.  But maybe it was because they didn’t really know how to communicate.  Maybe they didn’t think he would amount to anything so why try.  I don’t know.  I didn’t understand the lack of interest, either.  No one helped him get the basic things a person needs for taking care of hygiene  issues.  My situation didn’t allow me to help as much as he needed, but I tried.  If we care about someone we don’t give up on them, and if you are hurting because you feel you have been forgotten, don’t give up on those people you love.  Become a person and them it’s possible to take a negative situation and use it as the stage to become a person they would want to be around.  Come out of prison a better person than when you went in.I tell how constantly how proud oh him I am because he’s weathered through this ok. He’ll be a stronger person and a good father because of it.

Little Green Bars of Lye Soap

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Hello Mom.

How are you?  In the best of health as always I hope.  Mom, if you can, I need some hygiene.  I only have enough toothpaste for a few weeks and enough deodorant for about a week.  I have no soap.  I’m using little green bars of lye soap  ( Sonni’s note: that the prisons make, and you really don’t want to use it on your body.  It’s really made of lard and lye and you feel dirtier after you use it than you were before.  It’s all the prison will give you for free and you’re supposed to use it to wash your hair and body and use it to shave with. )  that is 1 inch by
1 1/2″.  If you can’t, I understand.  I will still love ya.

(Sonni’s note: I wonder how his family thinks he is surviving? Does they ever wonder how he is supposed to get the personal items that would make a difference in his day?  Do they even think about it?  Are they so sure that someone else will do the things they won’t.  Family should support family, but I know that isn’t always the case.  It’s the little things that make you feel human.  The things we take for granted.  Why is it so hard for family to remember that a family member is locked up? how hard is it to send a card and say a few lines just to say you are thinking of them? I’m shaking my head. As the years go by it is common for the connection to the outside to get stretched thin to the breaking point. It happens at a time when the communication is needed the most.  So I will continue to send him what money I can to help him through, along with a few books and magazine subscriptions. It’s not nearly enough but at least he can get some of the personal items he needs.)

It’s cold down here.  It’s only 50, but there’s no heat and the windows are broke out.  I sleep in all my clothes, even my jacket and blanket but it’s no good. There’s too many broken windows.

I’ve taken a lot of shit so I can get my G2 and be able to hold my son.  You know, I sit in this place so depressed, all because of my actions true. But never did I think that the ones who said they loved me would leave me high and dry.  However, there is no pain like the pain one gets from family.  They have a life, true indeed, but what mother or family member wouldn’t want to know how her son or brother was doing?  Just the other day I had another seizure.  They don’t care.  They know I have them, but they don’t know how I’m doing afterwards. There have been times I have just sat and cried because I know one day my temper will get the best of me.  I be so mad at times I just keep this negative force around me.  That’s my problem.  It’s the negative reaction I have when I’m depressed and mad.

It’s late and I’m tired but before I go I want you to know this.  I’m no Muslim.  There are many goals but only one path.  I’ve been reading and studying on everything.  I can’t speak about something I don’t know.  Religion is a BIG subject.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and other news of injustice around the world.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

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(Sonni’s note: This is one of the early posts, from February 18. Sometimes the things Jamie writes about will come in several letters. I go through them and find the pieces and put it together into one. Sometimes I’ll add a sentence so you’ll understand.   I’ll go back into a post and add something else he wrote about the same thing.  Sometimes I have to change the way it is written but I never try to write his spirit out of it.  When he gets the chance to read this when he gets out, he’ll be able to see how much his life has affected other people in a positive way.  Please leave a reply on a post or two if you like what you read. It only takes a minute and would mean so much. Also, come back and read again. Start at the beginning. Get to know him – and me, too.  Thanks)

For the last couple years mom has been telling me about Nichiren Buddhism. At first I didn’t know what to think. Some dudes in here get religion. Mostly it’s Christianity because there is support for that in here. Some years back I got introduced to Islamic teachings. I really tried to understand it. There is usually a group that practices it. Maybe it does help them in here. I don’t know. I gave it a good shot but it wasn’t enough and I drifted away. Mom has practiced Buddhism for a long time. Twenty five years. She didn’t say anything about it for a long time but a couple years ago, when I was going through a really bad time, she started to write to me about it. It made a lot of sense. It made me think of things in a way I hadn’t thought before. She talked to me about happiness, about what it is and what it means. Even though I’m in this place I can still find a place in my head to be happy, sometimes.  I know I can change the way I think and what I do, and when I do that it will have an effect on the space around me. It’s about the law of cause and effect.

People say things like, “What goes around comes around”, and Christians say, “You reap what you sow”. It’s all the same thing. But it’s supposed to be everything you say and do. All the good and all the bad. So I look at what I do and think about what would happen if I did something different. Like when someone tries to jumps me. I would defend myself. If I didn’t then other dudes would think they could run over me. But if I could find a way to not fight then I could raise up my level. So what is the best thing to do? Not fighting is not easy. When you want to change something then something else always comes up to challenge that, to make you do the thing you don’t want to do. Buddhism calls it obstacles. It’s the things that make you not be able to change. The things that keep you down. I’m trying to learn to chant. That’s nam myoho renge kyo. (Sonni’s note: translation is – Devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound and vibration.  The translation is really much longer but it’ll do for now.)

The time that Megan came to visit last Oct she taught me how to say it. I try to do it at 5:00 AM when there isn’t as much noise. When everyone wakes up they can get pretty loud. I wish I had someone to chant with me. I need to hear it again. There is something else called gongyo. Mom sent me this little book with all these oriental words and a way of spelling it using abc, but it is still spelling out words in another language. She said it didn’t matter if I did it right or wrong as long as I tried as best I could.

I’ve been reading this book, The Wisdom of Modern Life, and I love it. It has guidances for every day of the year. This is the one that was on January 17th, “When you devote yourself to achieving your goal, you will not be bothered by shallow criticism. Nothing important can be accomplished if you allow yourself to be swayed by some trifling matter, always looking over your shoulder and wondering what others are saying or thinking. The key to achievement is to move forward along your chosen path with firm determination.”

This something that Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? Do not say you will do it “someday”. Do not say that “someone” will do it. You are the one. Now is the time for youth to take full responsibility and courageously pave the way for the people’s triumph.”

There is so much I’ve learned that I never thought about before. I have been so depressed so much at times. But I know now that my life is the effect of all the causes I made in the past. It is no one’s fault but my ownI an here. But I will still have a life when this is over. I will get out of here. I have to make the causes now for the kind of life I want have and what kind of person I’m going to be when I get out.  I can decide the parts of me I need to change. It isn’t going to happen just because I wish for it. I need to start now. I can’t wait until later.  It’s gonna be hard but I think if I try I’ll be able to do it. I need to see what is important and do it no matter what happens, no matter what gets in the way.

 (Sonni’s note: Chanting for these things is praying but it is not the same as those that pray to some entity that is out there somewhere. You don’t chant for something else to fix things in your life. That never works anyway. Change comes from within. Pray to have the wisdom to know what to change. Chant to be happy and chant for the people in your life to be happy. Christianity and Buddhism say a lot of the same things, but are far apart in the reasoning of how to get to the place you want to be. This Buddhism is not what most people think it is. Most think of monks and depriving yourself or they think of the Dalai Lama or Zen or one of many other sects of Buddhism, but it isn’t that. There is just as many types of Buddhism as there are types of Christian sects. I find that this makes sense to me. Here ends your lesson in Nichiren Buddhism. (smile) Do a search on the SGI-USA if you are interested in finding out more.)

Now I feel I have a chance. I do have a life worth living.

I Love you Always, Daddy

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I sit and think a lot. I sit and think about how life will be when I get home, wherever that is. A lot of this has been frustrating. Father’s day was real hurtful for me. It was on a weekend. I didn’t hear from or see Megan with Jamie, or from anyone else, either. I was hoping that since it was a weekend that she’d bring my son. Oh well, it wasn’t a surprise to me. And now Jamie just had his birthday. 8 years old. It hurts like hell that I didn’t get to see him on his birthday. I’m having something made for him. I spent everything I had left to get it done. It’s still not finished. Would you call him please and tell him I did not forget him? Tell him I love him and happy birthday. I wrote him a letter would you send it to him? I sold my food to get a stamp to send this letter to you.

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(Jamie’s letter) Guess who? Yes it’s me, Daddy. First I want to say I’m sorry this is so late. I have never forgotten about you. Not did I forget about your birthday. I’m getting something made for you. You will like it when you see it. I love you Jamie. I will always love you.

So happy birthday from a father to his son. I will always love you no matter what. Life is hard but we’re blessed to have it. We’re blessed to have each other. Strong faith will always keep us together. Even if I’m not home, believe, my love is so strong!! No one can break our chain of love we have for each other and that I have for you. I know it hurts, me not being home, but know that I think about you all the time. I didn’t forget your birthday and never will.

What did you do for your birthday? I hope you had lots of fun!! If I was there we would have lots of stuff to do together. Movies, swimming, basketball, football, fishing. Lots of stuff. I couldn’t be there with you because of a poor choice I made a long time ago and I’m sorry. Making a poor choice will hurt your life, son. So be sure to live life in a positive way. Stay away from trouble, drugs and stupidity. Nobody means you any good if they are trying to get you to do wrong. Stay in school and pay good attention. Work hard for what you want. I did not do that and that is why I’m in jail. Listen to me son, nothing is worse than having your freedom taken away. Please stay away from trouble. Pay close attention to your education.

I love you always, Daddy

I Miss My Son

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I’m just lonely and it hurts.  I miss everyone so much.  It seems as if no one cares at all how I’m doing.  And it bothers me that the woman I care so much for isn’t worried about my health or well being.  No one stays in touch with me at all.  It hurts that Megan is treating me as if I’m not Jamie’s dad.  What I mean is, she don’t tell me nothing about how he’s doing.  Everything I know comes from you.  I’m very thankful for that.  I would love to hear from Megan once or twice a month.  What’s so hard about that?  I get mad and try to write her to let her know I’m mad but I end up throwing the letter away.  I tell myself it’s all my fault I’m here.  Then again, it’s no reason for her to not stay in touch. If not for her then for the kids. I do love them and miss them so much.

It hurts so much not being there for Jamie.  I’ve missed out on so much.  I’m trying.  I’m staying clear of trouble.  I come up for parole on July 27, 2014.  That’s one reason why I try to stay in touch with everyone.  If these people decided to give me parole and they can’t get in touch with nobody I will have to wait for them to find me a half way house.  I’m being treated like an unknown person by them.

(note from Sonni: at least 3 months before a parole hearing, a parole packet should be sent to the parole board to read. It’s important because it tells them what kind of support Jamie has.  The chances of going back in are higher for those who don’t have family support.  They want to see that there are people who will b help him get back on his feet. When an inmate has no one, he has to figure out himself how to get his life together. He may not have those life skills. So many inmates don’t. Jamie has never had the opportunity to live on his own to gain the experience he needs to live. There is much we take for granted; How to turn on utilities, how to open a bank account, how to do laundry. These are things we find easy. He doesn’t know how. He is going to need help and guidance to figure out all he’ll need to do to survive.

If there is no parole packet the parole board won’t know if there is support from the family, so his chance for getting paroled gets slim.  But if there were letters from family and friends, past teachers or people in the community who would write a letter on his behalf, and if the board knew he would get financial help till he could get a job, it would help. But getting a job will be difficult in his case. His epilepsy hinders him getting a job. He can’t get a driver’s license. He didn’t have a chance to get any training in his short time in the free world, but he was collecting disability because of having epilepsy. That in itself makes it hard to find a job.   These are all obstacles. But not impossible obstacles. Let’s call them challenges needing lots of determination.)

So, if it stays like this, why should I try?  My son is young and he has dyslexia.  It’s hard for him to write.  It shouldn’t be nothing for Megan to give him some paper and let him color a picture for me.  EVERY little thing touches my heart.  I miss him so much. I sit here trying to read and my mind wanders thinking of everyone, from the night me and Megan met, even to the day I met Megan’s dad, to the day I first met my son.  That was the most wonderful moment in my life.  Please talk to Megan for me.  Ask her what’s wrong.  Why don’t she write to me?  Tell her all she has to do is let me know.  I can’t put up too much of an argument here.  I just want the truth, that’s all.  I’m going to close this letter.  Take it easy, okay?  Take one day at a time. The pain will be over soon and things will be just as beautiful as before. I love you mom

(Sonni’s note: Reading this letter again brings tears to my eyes. His pain pours out through his words. He has always expressed so much caring to me about these things that are important to him.  It’s all he has that gives meaning to his life.  His heart is big.  He wrote this six weeks after I had a liver transplant. The healing had been very painful.  He has always shown concern for me.  He has kept my spirit up while I try to keep him going, too. Two wounded people living through the consequences of our own making.  Cause and effect is very strict. Long ago I began calling him son, and he began calling me mom. He needed someone to hold him up during the times he couldn’t do it himself. I felt honored.)