Inside The Forbidden Outside
The Smith Unit – Prison #1
Jamie could see the Smith Unit long before they reached it. After the bus drove through the small town of Lamesa he saw it sitting way back off the road on flat, treeless, desert land. Ugly and boring. The prison was a series of large, connected concrete structures sprawled out in different directions. He was definitely a long way from the piney woods of East Texas.
Guards were in the towers at the corners, watching everything below. He could see big guns sticking out. Jamie wondered if they had ever used them to shoot someone trying to escape.
High metal fences inside even higher metal fences were topped with multiple rolls of razor wire. No, he decided. He doubted anyone could escape if they tried. The only set of buildings in sight, this monstrosity, was now his new home so he better get used to it.
Jamie could feel his stomach churning. He was scared and didn’t want to show it. Trying to calm his nerves, he took deep breaths and slowly blew them out. He had never been inside a prison, but he knew it would not be good it he appeared nervous or scared. The men inside would be looking for any weakness they could take advantage of. He was told not to look them in the eye or draw attention to himself. If he looked confrontational he might become a target before he had a chance to figure out what was up from down.
He saw two huge buildings with two floors of tiny windows. That must be where the prisoner cells were. He could see fields in the distance with people dressed in white, working in the rows of whatever they were growing.
Men on horseback with dogs walked next to the horses. Jamie frowned. Is this what his life was going to be now? It was hot as blazes outside. Maybe it was better than being kept inside, but he knew when he got overheated it could bring on a seizure. He didn’t think they’d care much about that.
He had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was a different world, inside a world that most people would never see, or even think of. He was now going to be part of a part of a society that would always be considered outcasts, even when they get out.
There were millions of people locked up in America; more than anywhere in the world.
It was a way of life for people like him, much more than whites, but it was still hard to believe there were so many, of either race who were locked up. They were being hid in plain sight if anyone bothered to look. They were able to provide jobs for people because someone had to look after them.
This was his new address. He had traded his name for a number. Towns with prisons were only to happy to have it there. Of course, they were far enough away so no one had to look at it. They could pretend it wasn’t there, unless it was putting food on their table.
Pains were taken to keep people from knowing what really went on inside, no matter how brutal it was. He didn’t really know himself yet how bad it could get. All he heard were stories. He learned a lot from talking to other dudes at the jail who had been locked up before. Would his time be any better?
Why would anyone care about people who were locked up? They were criminals. They were bad people. It didn’t matter what kind of criminal. Murderer, drug addict or bad check writer, they were all treated the same. He was about to find that out for himself.
Jamie told himself he didn’t care. He could make it, as long as he had Morgan and the kids, he didn’t need anything else. Just thinking about it made his heart hurt. All he knew, if he had been inside before, he wouldn’t do anything that would send him back here again.
He was headed into this prison and there was nothing he could do about it. He no longer had any control over his life, or anything in it. He better get used to it because it would be a long time before he got it back.
Do what you’re told, when you’d told to do it. Eat what you’re given you to eat, no matter how bad it is. Sleep when you’re told. Wake when you’re told, even if it is breakfast in the middle of the night. Shower when you’re told. Crap at the right time, before the toilets automatically flush. Wear the same prison uniform every day. There was no decision he could make on his own for the next seventeen years.
Jamie knew he had to worry about other inmates as much as he needed to worth about what the guards could do to him. There were different laws inside, enforced with a different set of rules. His rights as a human being were taken way. There was supposed to be prisoner’s rights, that maybe looked good on paper, but enforcing them was another matter. This would be a hard transition.
He wanted to scream at the driver, “Pull over. Let me off. This is a terrible mistake. I’m not supposed to be here,” but he didn’t. He kept his mouth shut. It would be a bad way to start day one.
None of the dudes he started with on this ride were still on the bus. One by one they had been dropped at other prisons and new faces came onboard. Five men got off with him at Smith Unit.
It was hot as hell when Jamie stepped down to the pavement. They were lined up in front of the bus. In spite of the heat, it felt good to stand and stretch his legs. Sitting so long made his knees swell.
The heat coming through the bottom of his slip-on tennis shoes would probably fry up some bacon and eggs. When Jamie was hungry he tortured himself thinking about the different food he knew he couldn’t have, and wouldn’t have again for a very long time. He really was hungry, though.
There were no clouds in the sky and the sun beating down was brutal. He wanted to shield his eyes but didn’t want to raise his hand to his face. It might look like an aggressive move. Three guards had walked up to the bus and two of them had a mean looking German Shepard at their side. He was not about to test them.
The third guard stood in front of them and carried a clip board. The first name called out was “James Cummings?”
“That’s me,” he answered back.
“When I speak, you say, yes Sir.” The guard instructed.
“Yes Sir,” Jamie repeated back.
He called off the rest names and said, “Follow the yellow line into the building. Stop at the desk on the right for instructions.” The guard backed away and they filed into the building.
The guard standing at the desk handed each of them a clean set of whites along with a worn, white towel wrapped around a tiny bar of soap. Jamie looked down at it. This was all he had. Everything else was gone. He didn’t know when, or if his property from the jail would be sent to him. He wasn’t counting on it. Others told him sometimes things had a way of getting lost when you were sent someplace.
They were taken into a room and told to get naked for a strip search. No privacy, of course. If anyone was embarrassed, too bad.
“Open your mouth,” he was told. “Stick your tongue out, then lift it up and down so I can see under your tongue and the roof of your mouth.”
“Put your hands behind your head,” while they patted him down and checked behind his ears and arm pits.
“Lift your balls,” was the next order, and Jamie listened. The guard then turned him around while he put on latex gloves to do a cavity search from behind. It wasn’t his first strip search. He knew there would be many more so he better get used to it.
The men were then taken to the shower, which was good because he he knew how much he stunk from the bus trip. They were naked as they followed orders to walk down the hall. He felt eyes sizing him up as they walked toward the showers. They entered one big room with a shower nozzle every three feet.
The mold on the floor and walls made him want to back out of the room before he touched anything. There were a few men already in there, standing under the water, going to town on themselves as if they were in a room by themselves. They didn’t seem to mind an audience.
He had five minutes to wash. As filthy as he was, it was barely enough time. He would have enjoyed standing there for awhile letting the water pour over his body, but he was no longer allowed to decide how long his shower would be. They shut the water off whether you were done or not.
When he tried to put on the clothes he was given, he realized they gave him a white shirt and pants that were way too small. Maybe it was done on purpose to see if he would complain. The pants had an elastic waist and drawstring but he could barely stretch the elastic enough to pull them up. He was going to split the seams for sure.
He was led to the first tier of a cell block in medium security. The cells lined the interior wall. There was a walkway around the second tier with men standing outside their cells, leaning over the railing looking to see who the new guy was. Cat calls and rude comments were shouted down at him. He ignored them. He was put in a cell with another person sitting on the bottom bunk. They didn’t say anything to each other. There was plenty of time for that later.
After a couple weeks he wondered if he was ever going to get his stuff from the jail. He didn’t know what they did with the clothes and shoes he had on when he was arrested. That stuff didn’t matter so much, but there was also papers he didn’t want to lose.
Maybe Morgan had them. There was also her letters to him and his pictures. She sent him pictures of herself and the kids and little Jamie’s pictures this first year. She also sent him pictures of his family. Now he had nothing.
So many times Jamie had laid the pictures out on his bunk and stared at each one, trying to memorize it. His mom and brother came to see him in the beginning and then they stopped. He didn’t understand why. All he had were their pictures and now they were most likely gone.
He missed them. He figured it was his fault his mom wouldn’t answer his letters. He gave her a hard time growing up. And the letters? Morgan’s letters were his lifeline. He reread them so many times. It was like she was talking to him. He didn’t feel lonely when he read them. Now he did. Now he had nothing. A little more of him was chipped away every day.
Jamie never knew who his dad was, at least not for sure. There was never a man who was active in his life. His mama didn’t talk to him about it. The other kids in the family each had fathers and he was jealous sometimes when they went off to spend the weekend with their other family and he had to stay home.
He got one letter at the prison from a man who said he was his father. Just one and then he never heard from him again. If he was his father, how come this was the first time he was hearing about it? Did this man write to his mom but never ask about him? Or he did ask about him but his mom never told him. What was the truth?
He told Jamie he just got out of prison. For what? Was he in since he was born? How come his mama didn’t write to tell him now that she gave his address to this man?
In this letter he asked Jamie to give him a chance to be a dad. He was twenty- five so it was a little late to be a dad. Still, Jamie told him it was okay and asked one thing from him; to give the love to his grandson that he never gave to him.
Jamie never heard from him again. He gained and lost a father in one letter. That was fast. Was this man really his father? Did it matter at this point? He was over not having a dad. He knew the most important thing now was that his son knew he had a dad.
His son would grow up knowing his father was in prison. He didn’t like it that and hurt real bad. Jamie knew he wouldn’t be there for all the growing up years. He wouldn’t be able to teach him anything. He couldn’t watch him play sports. He couldn’t help him with school or share holidays. So in a way he was absent just like whoever his own father was.
Maybe his dad loved him but couldn’t find a way to tell him because he was ashamed to tell him. Not knowing was worse because he thought his dad didn’t love him. But since he will never know the truth, it was too late to wonder what it would be.
Jamie did know one thing for sure. He loved his son. He wanted the best for him. He wanted him to grow up to be a good man. He had to trust that Morgan would raise him right and keep him safe. When he got out, Jamie would make it up to him as best he could.