Can anybody hear me? Is anybody there? Can anybody tell me How I’m supposed to bear The never ending silence of no one in my head Yet chaos on the outside makes me scream instead
Who am I to talk to? Who can understand? The pain of never knowing The thoughts of another man I wait beside my cell door For mail to call my name And hope I’m not forgotten I’m lonely just the same
Did anybody listen? To the cries they heard inside Did anybody wonder? If my hope for life had died Did anybody hear me? Did you wait outside my door? Or did you leave and walk away You’re not waiting anymore
“Mail call,” the female voice yelled as she came on the floor. Jamie had been asleep. Any time a woman came into the area they had to announce themselves. If they didn’t, no telling what they might catch someone doing, if you catch my drift.
As he sat up and stretched he wondered what the odds were he’d have mail today? He could use something new to read and think about. He needed some encouragement to keep going. He gave up waiting for family to write years ago. There was a time he’d look at pictures of his family every day wishing he could see them. He missed his mama. He used to think it was his fault she never wrote him, because he caused her so much trouble when he was a kid. But now he couldn’t find any excuse good enough, no matter what anyone says.
“I can’t write because it hurts me too much knowing you’re there.” What? Hurts who? Buy a card that says I love you. Wish you were here. Put a stamp on it and put it in a mail box. How much would that hurt? Better yet, how much would that help? Oh well, it’s long past.
He’s been ignored for so long he wasn’t able to care anymore. Oh, he knows he says that. He’d welcome her any day with big smiles but that wouldn’t erase the pain. Besides, she isn’t here anyway. No one in his family ever is. And it’s not like they lived far way. either. He doesn’t look at pictures anymore. It depresses him. They let him know how important he was to them a long time ago.
But there might be a letter from Sonni. It had been more than a week since the last one so it might be possible. He stood up to wait by the slot in the door just in case it opened.
She was all he had to hold on to. So many dudes in here had no one. Some of the things they had to do to survive he could never do. Prison law is different than on the outside. Some let themselves be used. Having someone on the outside was like gold. She was his only connection to this world to remember he was still part of it. She kept him sane and told him everything she knew about his boy. How he was doing in school and all that.
They made an odd sort of family, Nana, grandson and dad in the middle like an inside out oreo cookie. She called him a Hershey Kiss ’cause he was sweet chocolate. Anything to make him smile. She did her level best to keep his head screwed on straight when he started to slip down. He needed her. She needed him. She knew things about him even he couldn’t understand, whispering in his head to not give up. Always making him think about why things are the way they are.
At first he didn’t know why she was there. He thought he was a loser. What did she see in him? She laughed at him a little for saying this. Said she shook her head with a knowing smile. “You’re family”. He wasn’t alone. He thought about her a lot. She was in his head. They talked. Not talk for real. He wasn’t allowed to make phone calls. They joked about imagining they were riding bikes out in the country and would go to the top of a hill and sit and talk about things. Have a picnic. They would both think about it at 8 PM so they could go together. Thinking about each other at the same time. Sometimes she’d write it at the bottom of her letters to make a date to meet outside the prison.
Why did she care so much? Did she love him? “Of course,” She told him, “Love comes in many ways. Sometimes it comes and goes and you can’t remember who the feeling is attached to. But sometimes it is bigger than that. When you take it inside it becomes a part of you. No matter what, it is always there.
She called him Son. He called her Mom. At that time he needed a mother. Really she was a lot older than his mom, but she was beautyful to him. He was broken in a million tiny pieces and wanted to give up. He was going to die in here. She came right into his cell, into his head and wrapped her arms around his being. She told him he was safe. He wasn’t alone. Don’t worry. He didn’t have anyone else to think about. She always knew when he was worrying too much. About his future. About his son. All the things he couldn’t figure out while he was in here. He didn’t know how to figure things out. He could do nothin’ about any of these things, but he worried anyway.
The biggest pain causing him the most heartache was not being able to see his son. His son, who has his name yet he is like a figment of his imagination. Born after he was sent away he has only seen him a few times in his ten years of living. His family hasn’t brought him. The mom won’t bring him. Only Sonni when she comes to visit but she is too far away to come often.
His boy, who he loves most in the world. He was afraid he would hate him for not being there. Knowing he is there, on the outside and he can’t touch him. He touched him once, when he was a toddler. It was the only time, the only time and he was lost, eyes closed reliving the memory.
“Cummings!” He heard his name and it startled him. “You got mail, really you got a box.” He had to move away to the back of the cell and stand there with his hands showing because they had to open the cell door. The guard brought in a box and a letter. Jamie thanked him.
Only two things came in boxes. Food and books. Someone on the outside could go to the Texas prison website and order $60 in food four times a year. Not much but it was a few extras to supplement the garbage they served. Sonni got him some fun things. Cookies and Oatmeal Pies. Coffee. Something’s he could trade for stamps if he needed.
But this was a book box and he desperately needed books. They came from a used book store approved by the prison. All kinds. Mysteries, Sci fi, even romance and Westerns. 30 in all. That will keep him reading for awhile and get his mind off things and escape. But before he went through the books he settled down on the bed to read what Sonni had to say today.
He smiled. Sonni always had a lot say.
( This is not a book chapter. It is a submission for a writing class)
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After reading this, do you think you’ll think twice?
Pay attention to this bit of advice
I had needed to hear sweat words from you
but the letters never, ever, came through
Don’t get me wrong, you still have my love
It’s very real and comes from within
I’m locked up but only for now
I’m still waiting waiting waiting like it matters somehow
I wait to hear from those who say they love me
Instead I receive a letter so crystal clear I can’t see
This mailman brought invisible letters
missing the words, the feeling and thoughts
It hurts to this day what the invisible man brought
He brought me nothing
My life was still I lost.
Jamie sent me this poem. It is his first one that I know of. He told me awhile back he was writing a poem. He is writing to those people who didn’t care enough to pick up a pen and write back to him. Sadly, I don’t think they know what they are missing because they don’t know the man he has become. He has taught me a lot about many things. Two of them are patience and perseverance. I was overwhelmed when I read this, so I set it to music. It is at the top of the list at soundcloud by the same title as the poem and you can listen as you read. Enjoy. Please, leave a reply and tell him what you think. I send replies to him. You can also hear other piano recordings and you can listen as you read. Enjoy. http://soundcloud.com/sonni-quick
Today I started reading through old letters I sent Jamie. This one is six months old and it was written at the time after he had just lost his new privileges of being able to make phone calls and have contact visits – for three weeks. It was devastating to be sent back to lock up again after it took him another two years to reach a level where it was allowed. It happened because of lies by guards and no one would listen to you. The guards are always right and the inmates are always wrong – every time. If a guard does not back up whatever another guard says he, himself, will be retaliated against. When that happens it is hard to keep your anger from making you lash out.
I mention daimoku which is a Nichiren Buddhist chant – Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Like meditation it allows you to have better control of your mind, your thoughts. Practicing Buddhism has been very good for Jamie. It has been part of my life for a very long time. I started teaching Jamie Buddhist concepts and how to apply them at least 6 years ago. Being in prison is more difficult than you can imagine, knowing the years you lose, you will never get back, and the abuse you will have to take will be humiliating, because it is wrong and there is nothing you can do about it.
Chanting, with the deep breathing you have to do, lowers your stress level. High stress also makes his epileptic seizures more frequent. This allows the person inside to shine. We have to understand the right thing to do, instead of responding emotionally. But chanting doesn’t mean you will always do the right thing. We are human. We learn from our mistakes. Changing our habits and our reactions is a life long battle with ourselves. But I believe – asking someone or something outside ourselves to fix our problems that cause us unhappiness. Change must come from within. Chanting gives you time to think about your life and take responsibility for your actions. It is about gaining the wisdom to make the right decisions to change your life – to see things in a different perspective.
Living in a prison is about as close to the concept as hell as you can get. Buddhism does not look at hell as a place you go to when you die, but rather a life condition you live in here on earth. What better describes that life condition than a maximum security prison.
This letter was sent using jpay.com, a system set up for most state prisons, not federal. I can type an email letter, or send money through them. To send a letter costs one “stamp” per page. To send a picture is one stamp. Two pictures is two stamps. The advantage is they get it faster, and my typing is easier to read than my handwriting! I do write, though, because I know it is a more personal connection.
5/11/2015 5:18:10 PM
Just a quick letter today. I wanted you to know that I did talk to Ms Johnson in classification. She said you had to go to the UCC (prison court) on May 12 for a case. She said she didn’t have anymore information. She said after that you would be released, but she didn’t say released to where. Jamie, you can’t fight them. I know this is so hard. You worked so hard and waited so long for your privileges but they always find a way to knock you down even if they have to lie to do it. I know they didn’t do you right. You need to keep the bigger picture in mind and put all the rest of the garbage out where it belongs – in the trash. I know it’s hard.
You probably won’t get this letter in time – but chant daimoku (Nichiren Buddhism) before you go to court. Center your mind. Stay calm. You have grown so much and learned so much, but that doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes sometimes. The harder we try to change, life throws curve balls at us to keep us down. But if you remember there is something to learn from everything, you will be okay. This will be over one day. It will be behind you and you will have a chance to live again. Have faith in that. You will have a life and it will be a life you will be proud of. All of this you are going through is making you the person you are. A person with compassion. A person who will always know what it is like when the chips are down. You are learning things through all of this. I will be chanting for you tomorrow to be strong. Have no doubt, Jamie. Keep your dreams in the front of your head.
You might find this a bit funny. You REALLY upset Bill (my egotistic brother-in-law who uses his knowledge of the Bible as a way to feel important, but doesn’t apply any teachings inside the covers to his own life) with that plastic Christian remark you called him. If the shoe fits, wear it. My sister and family had a field day ripping you and me to shreds because of how much he “helped” you, and you had the nerve to expect him to follow through with the things he said he could do for you,. I should have known better. You bruised his inflated ego. If it weren’t true it wouldn’t have bothered him so much. He knows what he did – he just didn’t want anyone else to find out about it. He said were ungrateful. It must have made him feel good to rip apart our relationship. Well, I hope he enjoyed himself. After all he is such a sincere Christian. You are a much better man than he is. The law of cause and effect applies to him as well. Hearing those words, “Cause and effect” makes him go berserk with rage. But isn’t it the same as, “You reap what you sow”?
My mom wants to have a happy family. It ain’t gonna happen any time soon. I wouldn’t go to any family affairs if they invited me, which I doubt they will – because I don’t like to be around plastic people either. I have other people in my life who know who I am and care about me. After almost 5 years of trying to have a family since I moved here – I give up. I just can’t live life they way they do. I can’t pretend. But remember – the best revenge against people like that is to have a good, happy life. Live with the principles you know to be true. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
On that note – write me asap and let me know what’s up. What a mess this all is. I love you. Never forget that.
(Sonni’s note: This letter was written on 7/26/2011, while still in solitary confinement, ad seg. I had moved from Key West to Pa to get on the liver transplant list at Hershey Medical. Now it was just a waiting game. I had to get sicker before I’d get moved to the top of the list. That took almost another year. Jamie was very concerned about me, and wrote regularly knowing it had to be pretty bad if I voluntarily closed my retail store and moved north.)
Are things a little better being able to type? I know you can’t write anymore. Sorry it’s taken so long for me to write back. How are you feeling? Good, I hope. As for me I have some good news. It’s about how things are done here. They have it now where we have to get levels. There’s 3 levels, 3 being the lowest. I had to do 30 days level 3. Being at that level there’s no power or AC. I guess it’s to teach us a lesson? I’m a level two right now. I have power and it’s a lot cooler than at level 3. I have to do 60 days at level 2 to get my level 1. I don’t know anything about level 1 yet. I know they say we have to do 90 days there. I’m not sure, though. Don’t worry mom. I’m sure things will be fine.
There’s lots of officers, guards, who get off on having control over other people’s lives. I believe in karma as well. When I say half the guards get what they dish out I mean it. I just try to stop myself from falling into their traps. About the gas they spray us with, it’s not gasoline, it’s more like pepper spray or mace, although it has different kinds of peppers and chemicals in it. It’s real hot!! For two days my skin was burning. It felt like it had gotten inside my skin and was eating my flesh. Just the thought of it hurts.
Mom, what I’m fixing to tell you is very important. I told Megan the same thing. I understand that some things they might take out on me. However, as long as the warden and people around the warden sees what’s happening and sees the complaints they will leave me alone. What I’m saying is, as long as they know I have outside help they will leave me alone. They won’t mess with me like they do the others who don’t have help on the outside. That’s really why I try to keep in touch with family an all.
Look mom, things will be okay. As far as you writing my mom, please let her be, please. Just give her time to come around. If she don’t, it’s okay mom. She did her best raisin’ me, I promise you. I know you may feel there’s no excuse for what she’s doing. However, others families are going through worse things. It will be okay mom. I have to go for now mom.
Love always, Son
P.S. I received the books,thanks.
(Sonni’s note: It’s always best to start at the beginning when you read about Jamie to understand what has happened during his time inside. There is a story here and jumping in to the middle is sometimes confusing He. Follow the blog and found out about this man, Jamie. He calls me mom and talks about his mom. For long periods of time he hasn’t heard from his mother and he would get very depressed about it. Sometimes years went by before he heard from her again. Being in lockdown 23 hours a day with nothing but the letters I sent and magazines and books it was important for me to move into the position of mom and be there for him.
People can easily lose their sanity when they are completely cut off from human contact. It only takes 15 days for someone to start losing their mental stability. http://solitarywatch.com/facts/faq/
Having some you can communicate with, someone you talk to about what’s going on in your head helps them to cope. Because of being locked up in solitary as a juvenile (juvy) he was prone to serious bouts of depression and at times in these past years he has slipped in and out depression again. I wanted and needed to be in close contact with him to make sure he was okay. I was very concerned. At the same time he was the one wrote to me through my illness which spanned 4 years, so we were each in our own kind of prison.
Who was going to send him enough money to buy hygiene products and stamps. How about soap that isn’t made from lard and lye? The prisons aren’t very generous about giving you any necessities important for keeping a little dignity about your person. He gradually started calling me mom and I started calling him son. We are connected by blood with my grandson. At the time I will admit that I was very angry with his mother. There was a five year span when she never went to see him, although a large part of time he was far away in a different prison. She did go to see him a few times over a year ago. He needed her to come back and one day he waited 2 hours in the waiting room and she didn’t show. Maybe there are things I don’t know. He always said it was his fault, and to please not blame her. She worked very hard to take care of him growing up. He takes all responsibility. He didn’t want me to feel bad about her. I came to understand how he felt. She is his mother and he loves her. I’m not angry anymore. I just want him to be happy. I’d like to talk to her now, bring her into what is being done here. She can tell me what he was like growing up. There is always two sides to every story and I’d like to know what she thinks. Maybe someday.)
They read our letters before they send them out. The letters that come in get scanned. When Megan gave my brother money to try and get me an attorney, I wrote my brother and told him to give it back to her. ( He didn’t ) The Sargent called me down to his office saying I was trying to extort money from my brother. I looked at him and asked him if he was for real. He took my letter and threw it in the trash. He was not going to mail it. So yes mom, it’s hard for me to say what’s on my mind. They will read things the way they want to read them and try to find a way to get us into trouble. The people here do things to provoke us any way they can.
The things that be on my mind sometimes are not good. So I do my best to blow it off. Just today the nurse didn’t give me my seizure medication. It was the second time this week that she did that. I didn’t do nothing. I didn’t cause any problems. I just accepted it even though the pain I will have to go through later. I’m doing fine, mom, no trouble. I’m doing my best to stay away from it. So far so good. It’s hard sometimes, though, because you know they want you to get ticked off at them so they will have a reason to punish you.
I’m having some medical problems. My right hand and knee is swollen. My knee looks like a balloon and my hand feels like it had an IV in it for 48 hours. I’ve seen the doctor. She’s going to take some blood. She said she was going to check my white blood cells. I’m waiting for them to take the blood to see what’s wrong. Both of my knees are bad. Sometimes they both Swell up. I broke my left leg when I was young and my right one before I came in here. I got hit by a car. The doctor wrote me up for a cane. I felt I didn’t need it. I’ll let you know later what happens.
Ok, this next statement is going to hurt worse than anything. I write home, or to Megan and I really just beg them to write back to me. My family don’t have a reason why they shouldn’t help me or write to me. And Megan? Okay, I understand her situation with the kids and all. That’s why I don’t ask her for money. However, it hurts her just as much as it hurts me to be here. I know it’s my fault I’m here.
If only people knew how we are treated in here. I just want to say that I’m going to ask her and my family one more time to write to me. I’m going to give them three weeks.
(Sonni’s note: Quite a few times in his mind he’s given them this limit of time to write back. They have just so long to answer his letter or he won’t write again. They don’t write. They don’t know this. Maybe if they did know it, it would give them the incentive to write.)
I’m just going to give up. I’m going to stop writing them. I don’t want you to think I’m going to give up on Jamie and the kids. I’m just so hurt. I think I’ll give myself some time. I don’t want it to come to this, but it feels like this is what the others want. I know that Megan can’t help me, but it’s not about help. It’s about being there for each other no matter what. When I write I want to know how she, and the kids, are doing. I’m not looking for help. Knowing that they are okay is all I really need to know. Mom, I know you told me that if I every need anything to tell you, but I don’t like asking you for money. I just want to thank you for all your help, mom. Everybody needs somebody to talk to now and then, when someone loves someone. It not only hurts the flesh on the outside, it hurts the flesh on the inside as well. When people love each other and something goes wrong, it hurts both people not just one. I’m hurting, mom, and I’m falling fast. Please help me if you can. Everything is so confusing to me. In the letter Megan wrote to me she asked me to marry her. Yes, mom, I would do anything to marry her. But there are just some things she does that I just don’t understand. Well, it’s 2 am. I’m tired. I think I need to go to sleep.
( Sonni’s note: I know that Megan meant everything she wrote to him in the beginning. When we went to visit him in 2013 I could see how much she cared. When he gets out and they are face to face who knows what will happen. Maybe it was a romantic idea to wait for someone without thinking about how long that time actually was. I know she loved him, probably still does, but she was young and life moved on. She had a hard time trying to raise three children by herself and she didn’t want to be alone. Jamie has begged her to write to him and to make him a part of his son’s life but for whatever her reasons are she hasn’t done that. In the past some years it has been like pulling teeth to get her to write to him, to send him pictures and just to tell him how Jamie is. I think she knows I will keep him up with how his son is doing, and I have. She had another child a couple years after Jamie and was with another man for awhile but it didn’t work out. She had to work so very hard to take care of four children. She has been a good mother to her children who each have a different dad. I know that she cares for Jamie and she would never shut him out of their son’s life when he gets out. But the only thing he has had to keep him going, the only things that made him feel as though he did something good with his life was becoming a father. It has kept him going knowing someday he will be able to play that role.
Depression is so common in prison. Even more so when you have been locked up in solitary which Jamie has been for more than half of his time in there. The value of a letter is hard to express. Letters are read over and over. It is their connection to the world. Losing most of your twenties and likely most of your thirties, the prime young years of your adult life, knowing that you will never get them back is very difficult. When he gets out it will like having the life experience of a very young person. Starting out at that age, a time when you should already have your shit together, and having no idea how to function in society is why so many people getting out of prison can’t cope and end up back inside. It will take a lot of support to help him get on his feet. The double wammy of not having your family there to help makes it even harder, There is so much pain inside of him as he learns to deal with that, taking all the blame for their absence on himself like it is all his fault that his family is absent from his life. It makes my heart hurt with him.)
(Sonni’s note on 11/15, 2014: I have started going through letters I sent to him starting in 2010. That is when I started writing him through Jpay.com. I can pull up copies of my letters to him. From 2006 to 2010 my letters were all handwritten. I though it would clarify things if this could be read from both of us. This next section is my letter to him.
“You mentioned about letters being read. Do your letters to me get read? Wouldn’t that make it hard to say what’s on your mind? Everyone has good days and bad days. I noticed a long time ago that there is a little slip in your letters when I get them and I’ve wondered if people read them before they are sent. But son, I want you to understand that it doesn’t matter to me anything you might have done when you were younger. I know who you are now. You are a kind, caring person. You were not raised around people that were a good influence on you who made you feel you had a lot to offer with your life. I know you love your natural mother simply because she is your mother. You’ve tried so hard to get her to notice you. How she has treated you the past 5 years is awful. You said you apologized for anything you might have done as a kid. You don’t have anything to apologize to her. If anything, she needs to apologize to you for acting as though you don’t exist even though you have written her letter after letter asking her to please write. She didn’t teach you the things you needed to know growing up. But sometimes mothers are so busy providing for you that there is little time to be there. I understand that raising my own children. I don’t know of all your family members, but when you get out you need to put yourself first and do what you need to do to be proud of yourself and be a good father to your son, who I know is your whole world right now and gives you the reason you need to not get into trouble and make your parole. If there is ANYTHING I can do to help make that happen, I will, and then the rest is up to you. But when you do get out – and you will – you need to go say hello to your family and then tell them you are going to go get your life together and leave. Don’t get caught up with people who are not the best for you. I know you are lonely. I know there isn’t enough to occupy your mind, but you will get through this. You are getting closer and closer to finishing. Just keep your head on straight. Love, Mom )