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This is Going To Be a Year of Change For Inmates – If We Try
There are quite a few people who have Facebook pages and groups who feel that prison reform is very important and it’s time for those changes to begin happening. We read a lot. We post articles we find that talk about the problem. Some of us have loved ones who are locked away so we have first hand knowledge of the cruelty they endure yet we don’t know how to change things. We stand a better chance of changing things if we come together and fight together. The powers that be – the government, prison industrial complex and the people who run the prisons don’t care how we feel because they are so sure there is nothing we can do. They think their profit is safe.
There are millions of us on the outside who can be a force to reckon with -if we organize. We don’t have to continue to let this happen. The blacks, the poor, the minorities, the juveniles are being used to make some people wealthy. The lying politicians at the beginning of this election cycle all said they were going to fix this. Half way through they stopped talking about at all. All politicians lie. No one is going to help. They all have a finger in the profit pie.
There are many groups of people in many states who are doing all they can. Some have attorneys who have a better grasp of the legalities but one major problem is – we are all separate. We may recognize the name of a group but we don’t know what their plan is. There is absolutely no cohesiveness. How can we support each other when we don’t communicate? This election showed us the power of the internet. We need to use it more effectively
There is so much that needs to be fixed but people feel helpless about what to do because the problem is so huge and has so many parts. Aside from the many people locked up there are millions of people on the outside who get hurt. Some of my friends and I are beginning to come together and talk, to see what we can do. No one group is going to fix the prison issues. The people need to help themselves. Watching what the American Indians did showed us we aren’t helpless. But did we really believe they would push them back? Really? It was an eye opener for me. So why are we letting them do this to us? It will take time to sort this out.
We need people with skills, fundraiser skills down the line. Social media skills, etc. who are willing to take on the corporations and their profit making machines and change the laws that are against the health of the people inside. Am I biting off more than I can chew? Probably, but I know if you reach for the stars and land on the moon you’re a hell of a lot closer next time you reach. You accomplish nothing if you don’t try.
I have been fighting for Jamie for almost a decade. I work on my projects that have to do with our prisons like a full time job – because it is. I spend most of my day researching, writing and connecting with people. I understand not everyone can do that because of commitments in their lives and families to care for. Some only have time to read and share it, but even that is so important.
There are many people who have no idea what the prisons have been built for and why we have more than anywhere else in the world. Many people believe everyone who is inside deserves to be there. They believe they are all bad guys, except we know that isn’t true because they are our husbands and wives, our children and our friends. We know what happened to put them in prison. Being guilty isn’t important. The truth isn’t important. Only money is important. Keeping prison beds full at all costs is important. Their only purpose is to fill a bed and they need someone to exploit to do that – and yes, there are bad people in there, too, as well as those who are mentally ill with no place to put them.
With 5% of the population and 25% of all the prisoners in the world, if that were true then America has a pretty lousy life philosophy if we truly produced that many hard core criminals who need our lengthy mandatory minimums. Everyone knows our prisons are a racket. Why is it being allowed? Why haven’t they been changed? Why is it allowed?
Judges sentence someone using the mandatory minimums because they have no choice. I am sure most people have never read what those minimums are. They use use the phrase “mandatory minimums” because they know it is something that should be changed because they heard it somewhere else. But what does it mean? When did it start? How does one go about changing any one of them because they all have different years they began, some as early as 250 years ago.
Regardless of when it started, the sentence is how many years they were to be incarcerated. The judge did NOT say they were to be abused in prison. THAT is criminal. They don’t have the right to starve them with rotten food. The law states they are to be cared for medically – and that means mental health, too. Women are to be cared for with women issues. Men and women who are raped should have the right to press charges – against the guards our other inmates. Some inmates have to contend with near daily rape. Just because they are incarcerated does that mean the staff has the right to abuse another human being with no consequences?
Everyone know this so why does it continue! Right to lifers say every life is precious and fight for that. When does a life lose the right to be precious? How many rapes does it take? How many beatings? How many ignored sick calls? For Jamie, how many epileptic seizures until he gets the right treatment?
The list of abuses goes on and on with the higher staff allowing it by looking the other way. In many cases the guards and staff are more criminal than those locked up. So often, if an inmate files a case against a guard, not only is it not filed, they retaliate against the inmate, and write up more cases against him, throw him in ad seg and take ALL of his belongings away, including even his mattress, his flimsy, thin, 3″ piece of foam. At Jamie’s last prison he had 13 sexual harassment cases filed against him in one month. He had to force them to move him by threatening a guard so they would classify him as ad seg (solitary) because then they would move him. He is safer now – but he is still in ad seg. He had to deal with having his belongings taken away. 19 books including his GED book. He recently got his radio back after a year. His fan was replaced with a broken one. They gave him 2 more years of ad seg because that is what they do. He’s endured this to get away from a prison where the guards beat him up more than once, split his head open with a wall and sprayed him with chemicals.
Often we read an article and move on, shaking our head, wondering who will fix this. I tend to get very angry when I write about these things but anger keeps me going. You can find me easily at:
http://facebook.com/JamieLifeInPrison and http://mynameisjamie.net A group of us are starting an alliance of people who want to do something. We have to start somewhere. Many have someone inside. If you want to help, come and talk with us. Prison reform isn’t an easy thing to change but we’ll give it all we have. We need the input of people with experience. We need people who have the ability to stick with something or at least to know what your level of commitment could be. Even if all you can do is pass info, or reach out to people you know, that would be a help. Let me know if you want to find out more. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back in touch with you. This isn’t a commitment on your part. It’s a beginning. If you see this after it’s posted on facebook you can leave me a message there as well.
There being different stages we will go through. We have to start at the bottom before we tackle issues. At the bottom is simply getting organized. And although many of us have people inside this is not about getting people out, it is about reforming the system, about fairness, about the prisons abiding by the law even as it stands now. We have to do that before changing bad laws. It took a long time to get here and it will take time and a lot of effort to change things.
Personally, I would like to see for each inmate:
Proper medical care – instead of using Tylenol for every condition. An outside system needs to be used to treat inmates that doesn’t say, for example, “You have water on the knee and it needs to be drained but the prison will never approve the cost. Here, take a Tylenol. Or, ” You have an abcessed tooth but it will be at least a month before we can get you to a dentist even if your face is swollen so bad you can’t eat. Here, take a Tylenol. Or, you had an epileptic seizure and you woke from it with your hands and feet cuffed, and not taken to medical because a guard didn’t want to do the paperwork. The prison medical corporations do not want to pay medical expenses. It is cheaper to let them die.
2. Decent, edible food they don’t have to be afraid to eat. The food corporations want to feed them on the cheap even if it kills them. We should make then feed their own families what they feed our families.
3. A cell that isn’t too hot or too cold. I’m tired of hearing about deaths from the heat. That is murder.
4. Ability to trace complaints against the guards by us on the outside so we know they are taken care of. They can’t be trusted and right now the fix is guarding the hen house. We get lip service by the warden. We need to know their complaints don’t end up in the trash and repercussions don’t blow back on the inmates. The prison has ways of stalling complaints so they become invalid. They do it on purpose so every single complaint is pointless. The law says they have the right to file for mistreatment but they is no law that says they have to do anything about it.
5. People on the outside need the ability to file against a guard or staff if inmates are abused, and bring legal charges if their behavior warrants it. We don’t all have money to hire attorneys, in fact most of us probably don’t but we need a way to make sure they are safe.
I’m going to stop there so the rest of you can add your concerns in the comments. If anyone has any idea of how to do this or has an idea of what to do first to get started, I’m listening. The tenetive name on facebook for this group is “Americans for Prison Reform.” Our prison system affects all of us.
I sure do hope to hear from you! Sonni
THE NEXT MONTHLY ISSUE OF THE ITFO NEWSLETTER WILL BE GOING OUT SOON. TAP THE LINK TO GET IT DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX. EACH ISSUE NOW WILL FOCUS ON A DIFFERENT ASPECT OF PRISON ISSUES EACH MONTH. THERE HAS BEEN NO TALK OF PRISON REFORM SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN WHEN EVERYONE JUMPED ON THE BANDWAGON SAYING THEY WOULD BE THE ONE TO FIX IT. NOW NOTHING IS BEING SAID. IT WILL BE THE PEOPLE DEMANDING CHANGE THAT HAS THE ONLY CHANCE OF CHANGING THIS. PLEASE POST THIS ON YOUR OWN SM AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO SHARE IT, TOO. WE’VE SEEN WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE COME TOGETHER AS THE AMERICAN INDIANS HAVE DONE. WE NEED TO MAKE PRISON REFORM IMPORTANT, NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT. CAN WE DO THAT?
This is an interview I did on the blog http://lifeofanelpasowoman.com. This is the first half of the interview so the word count is not over 3000 words! On Saturday Sept 3rd the 2nd half will be published. The interview is about why I blog about prison reform and how my life led to writing about Jamie Cummings.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative web site, around 2.3 million are incarcerated in the U.S. The U.S. locks up more people than any other country in the world. Blogger Sonni Quick is currently working on a book about the hundreds of letters she and Jamie Cummings have exchanged for years. Jamie is an inmate in a Texas prison. He’s also the father of one of Sonni’s grandsons. Sonni Quick’s blog, “My Name is Jamie” shares a variety of posts about their letters, the prison system, her music and more. Because of the interesting and robust information Sonni is sharing, her interview is broken up into two parts. Welcome to Life of an El Paso Woman, Sonni. *************************************************************************
Jamie and his son July 2013
SHARP TURN TO THE LEFT
Things happen in our lives that have the potential to change everything. We have the opportunity to make these turns or we can ignore them…
Author’s Note: Some of the information in this article could not be independently verified
Life has never been easy for 62-year-old Talib Akbar. Born in Mississippi (town unspecified), he was the youngest child in a family on the run from an abusive stepfather. They made their way to Arkansas, where he would spend most of his teen years. This is also where Akbar would do his first prison stint. Akbar did not specify what his crimes here were, but he did state they were non-violent crimes. He also claims to have done another stint in Iowa, also non-violent.
It was in 1986 that he first moved to Wisconsin. He and a friend moved to Green Bay to start a boxing club. His friend ended up gaining some traction and competing at a higher level, while Akbar stayed back to run the club. But for Akbar, it was in Wisconsin where his life would be permanently changed.
Nine years later, in 1995, Akbar was convicted of two counts of second-degree sexual assault, after a patient at the facility he was working at reported him. His trial was peculiar to say the least. He said he knew the moment he lost. “My attorney told me, ‘They want you,’” he said. His attorney subsequently quit.
After his attorney left him, he was forced to represent himself. Akbar said the jury would not allow him to present evidence that could have potentially exonerated him. Akbar would then be convicted of two counts of sexual assault. He was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of 10 years.
“I’ve never been a violent man my entire life,” said Akbar. “You ask anyone who knows me, I’m innocent of this crime.” While Akbar maintains his innocence, he also tries to maintain a positive attitude towards life. “That was just a chapter of my life,” he said. Akbar does not want to focus on what happened to land him in jail, so he has diverted his attention to prison reform. He says the horrors he has seen behind bars were enough to chill anyone to the bone.
Since being released, his life has focused on prison reform. He recalled a memory from part of his time done in Kettle Moraine, a town in southeastern Wisconsin, is also home to a prison facility. He remembered it was February, and another inmate was having convulsions. Having been trained in CPR, he tried to help. According to Akbar, he was then ordered back to his cell by a correctional officer, where he watched his fellow inmate die on the floor of the jail. “His name was Gilman, he was getting out in April,” explained Akbar. He claimed that once the officers arrived, it took them nearly half an hour to call the medical professionals.
While in prison, Akbar was subject to abuse himself. He claims that, while once being taken to the infirmary for an illness, the correctional officer groped him non-consensually. Akbar has also done multiple stints in solitary confinement, which has become the centerpiece of his activism. While in solitary confinement, he sketched the makeup of his cell; a group in Madison built the cell based on his sketch and has been touring around the state trying to expose the corruption within the Wisconsin correctional system, which made a stop at Beloit College in the fall of 2015. He says the corruption extends to much higher levels. He said some of the guards would often distribute the wrong medication to inmates. Whether or not the guards purposefully and maliciously distributed the wrong medication, or it was just negligence, Akbar stated that it needs to be changed.
While he was behind bars, he decided to put his time to good use. He has since become a paralegal, giving him a far better understanding of the legal system. Akbar hopes to use these skills to truly expose corruption in the system. In 1999, he tried to amend his sentence because he claimed that his sentence was extended without his knowledge. His sentence was changed from concurrent to consecutive without notifying him. His motion was denied, claiming the error did not lengthen his sentence and was a simple clerical error.
He also claims that the detective who investigated his case (name not given) had already decided his guilt, and overlooked evidence that could have potentially freed him. He had another friend who was investigated by the same detective during an appeal to be let out on parole. One of the last things his friend ever said to him was “I can’t go back to jail.” After an investigation by this detective, his friend committed suicide.
Akbar’s time in prison was, in his words, just a chapter of his life. He has many years ahead of him, during which he hopes to take time to continue to inform people about prison reform, to tell his stories and to enlighten people as to what’s really going on behind bars. “When you walk into prison, you lost control of all facets [of] life,” he says. That’s something he wants to change.
Why am I posting this? This is the next step for me in completing my journey. I have been writing this blog for almost a year and a half. Earlier this year I began writing the book Inside the Forbidden Outside. Many people have been following the story of Jamie Cummings. I have received many heartfelt responses and also many comments from people who had no idea what our prison system is about, and now they do. Nothing can change until people are aware there is something to change.
There have been a lot more articles in the media about these glaring problems, and it has already become part of the issues next years presidential candidates are choosing to talk about. Not because they believe in what they are saying, but because it has become a hot topic. Of course, each party blames the other party for being the country that has locked up the highest percentage of it’s citizens, especially the gap between black and white which is six to one. It’s almost as though they are noticing it for the first time.
What this tells me, the time to write this book is now. Over the year and a half it will be in the news more than it ever has been. Between the racism in our police force which leads to the racism in our prisons, which starts at the juvenile level, there is no better time than the present to step up my involvement.
I know a lot. I have researched every side of these issues. I have my experiences with Jamie Cummings and also Armando Macias on San Quentin’s death row, who also gets the bad end of the stick when it comes to racism. One important thing I am lacking, for this book to be successful, is the credibility of having hands on experience inside the prison system. Being able to work with people who are familiar with this system from the inside will be another piece of puzzle of that will help make this work.
Books aren’t written and then magically appear for sale. There has to be a funnel to send it out. The old days of sending a manuscript to a publisher and they take it over, give money up front and then promote your book and send you on book tours is over – unless you are an accomplished writer with a proven track record. That certainly isn’t me. But I do believe what I’m writing has value. Since I am self publishing I need to wear ten hats.
My main concern is when Jamie gets paroled – what then? Seriously, what then? Will they even parole him without having a GED, although it is the prison who has made sure he couldn’t study for it. 68% of all males in state and federal prisons do not have a GED. Does he move to his mother’s house, a house he has never lived in, with the man she recently married she claims is his real father, who never acknowledged him? That could be tense. How about moving in with family who showed him no support during his incarceration? No, “Hi Jamie, how are you? Remember, we love you!” How about finding a job in a small East Texas town that until twenty five years ago had unpaved streets in the black (ghetto) part of town? What would he do to earn money? It sounds pretty bleak to me.
This is what I see in my head: With book in hand, holding his head high, talking to communities, schools, boys and girls clubs, churches and other places, about the issues that lead kids through the juvy system and into the prisons right where the prison industrial complex wants them. The school to prison pipeline is very real and finally in the past year has been recognized as a real problem that needs to be addressed. The 6 to 1 odds come from the fact that the police raid these neighborhoods 6 times more than white neighborhoods. They are instructed to stay out of white neighborhoods because parents of these kids wouldn’t stand for it. Even in schools it is a fact that black kids are punished much harsher than white kids for doing the same things. These things need to change. Jamie’s experience can be used for positive change. His experience is not unique, but it takes someone with a desire to change, to use that experience to help people. If he needs me to lean on until he gets his bearings, then that is okay. During this time I will be writing the second book – his life on the outside.
How will I get the knowledge to do these things? Why would anyone listen to me if I approached them about setting up a community meeting? Who am I? I know that Texas has the same kind of volunteer services at their prisons as I am sure most all states, do. I live closest to the Maryland prisons and I was given the contact to call. It is my way in. Through the different services they provide along with different kinds of workshops with the inmates as well as training for people who want to learn how to facilitate a workshop is where I begin the process of credibility. They look for people with the ability to get up and speak to a room full of people, which I have no problem with.
The next step will learning how to translate that to Texas. Jamie needs to be able to tell the parole board why he should be released next Oct 2016. He needs to have a plan. Another inmate in a different prison told me if he could find a way to start a group inside the prison, perhaps fathers with children who are also separated from them it will show he is thinking about his future. How to accomplish that is a mystery, but maybe I can learn how that can happen, through the new experiences I will have.
I’m excited. When you want to do something bad enough, and you have no doubt you can do it, doors open up. I have unshakable belief I can do this.
writings. Help me build a larger readership base. I know this isn’t a fun topic. I’ve had two people in the last 24 hours who told me they couldn’t “like” my post – because they didn’t “like” what it was about. Feeling good about it is not the point. I want you to share it because you don’t like it, because it needs to change.
I wrote back about what I’ve learned through the research I’ve done into many areas concerning our prison injustice system. The things I didn’t know scared me. My only knowledge came from TV shows like Prison Break or Orange is the New Black. Since those shows are for entertainment purposes it doesn’t come close to telling you the truth. The attitude our country has about our inmates and how our justice system combined with the Prison Industrial Complex, which leads to how the lives of the inmates are impacted needs to change. I learned that people and organizations have being working to change this system but the government has created a monster it doesn’t know how to put down, and many unnecessary people have to pay the price for that.
Prison itself, in the solitary units, has created so many mentally ill people, who were functioning human beings when they first set foot into a solitary. Sometimes it is the infraction of a rule or the guard doesn’t like you and creates a case against you. Sometimes it is for “your own protection”, like a teenager certified as an adult and is preyed on by men who want to abuse them. That teenager could spend years alone in that cell – for his own good, of course. Solitary cells ruin people. It is over used and abused. They are left inside for too long and it destroys their mind. They usually end up hurting themselves by cutting open their veins, trying to bleed out, trying to commit suicide. Staff take them out of their cell, sends other inmates into the cells to clean up the blood from cut arteries, they sew them up the hurt inmate, put them back in their cell and double their sentence. They do it over and over. A three month sentence can easily turn into a year or two or ten. When that person is eventually released back into society, and most of them are if they don’t die inside, they are completely unable to take care of themselves and if they do have family they are often unrecognizable. They don’t know them anymore. Brothers and sisters are strangers. I strongly urge you to watch this: The Stickup Kid I have gotten to know this young man and we speak on a daily basis. He has a facebook page you can fain by searching his name. He is in bad need of friends to talk to. Also, he write powerful poetry explaining his life.
It has been determined that 15 days is all person can take without probable psychological damage. When they finally get out they often end up trying to kill someone else. They are nuts. So where do they put the mentally ill person they created? Back into a solitary cell. There are many of these cases of these people who are put down like dogs by guards, with the prison looking the other way, making excuses and defending the guards who do it. The harshest punishment for prison guard brutality is possibly getting fired, or sent to another prison unit. No real repercussion. The crimes guards commit have no consequences, yet these guards would have to be mentally. They are let out of the prison after every shift and allowed to live among the people. He could be your neighbor. Would you want him near you/ near your family? Do the guards have family? What do they say when they get home or talk to their friends? “Oh, today I murdered a person by putting him in a shower and turned on scalding hot water for hours, listened to him scream and scream until he died and his skin peeled off his body. True story. Another inmate was sent clean up the shower and he knew what he was looking at was the dead man’s skin. His file said he died of a heart attack. No crime was committed. The prison needs to protect themselves. Examples of three murders can be found at: Looking From The Other Side of The Prison Cell door – part two
Jamie has spent about 4 years in solitary confinement, which is also called Ad Seg. Two times of two years each, not far apart, and each one was a lie from a guard. One was a guard finding a knife on his sink when they were shaking down cells. A knife the guard put there. Even if Jamie had a knife, would you leave it on the sink when you know they are shaking down cells? The second time was because a big fat ugly female guard said he blew her a Kiss, and that is a crime because you are trying to consort with a guard. He was standing lion for his medications when he was looking around and saw the guard. Period. The he gets slapped with a case. What inmate in his right mind would blow a guard a kiss? I saw this guard when I visited with him in Oct 2013. You would not have blown her a kiss.
On another note, I am putting together an email to send to Jamie right now and putting in comments people have made. I have told him there are people who care. We have the ability to leave our house and talk to people. We still might not have anyone who cared how our day went, and those people become depressed and lonely and probably drink or take pills to get through their day. But Jamie knows there are people whose hearts have been touched. People who care. He is a good man. I want people to know him. People who care if he’s okay. That goes a long way in keeping his depression away. The post I wrote, In Prison Who Do You Have to Care About Your Day? is very real. How would you feel if you thought there was no one who cared about you, you saw no one, talked to no one, or had communication from anyone? What if no one even cared if you alive or dead? On the outside we have people I’d like for him to answer these comments so I can add them to the comment section.
You can send any words of encouragement to him at email@example.com and I will send it to him. Each and every comment is a bright spot in his day.
There are so many people who have a misconception about prison and think they are only there to lock up bad people. That is only one reason. Our government needs to keep the prisons full, (while telling the public they are try to reduce their arrests) because of the huge demand in the public sector, the American companies who bid on prison labor, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So there may be fewer arrest this year but the sentences will be longer and the percentage of those paroled are fewer. Once in awhile a good thing happens and people cheer, but they really don’t know what is going on. A great many prison are owned privately through companies like Corcoran and CCA – there are more. The Prison Industrial Complex. They offer to help the states with their budget problems and if they take over the prison they will have more money for roads and education BUT they have to keep the prisons 90-100% full or the government has to pay them for the empty beds. This is why the US has the highest prison population in the world 500 out of every 100,000 people, and since approximately 65% of those are black people, there are entire towns that have 50% of there town locked up – for “walking while black”. But the media portrays it as though black people do more crimes, which they don’t. Black neighborhoods are patrolled for people to arrest. Are many of those arrest legitimate? Of course. But many of them aren’t. White people can be picked up doing the very same crime, yet they don’t end up in prison because of it.
Pa recently announced the building of a brand new $400 million SHU – solitary housing unit. Only for solitary confinement. They are also closing many schools for lack of funding. Can you figure out why there is a lack of funding? The US has also made it very clear to the world they do not use solitary confinement like this – as torture. They intend on locking people up for years, decades. You read that in the media and believe it. You believe black people are more dangerous than white people. Black people do more drugs and commit more crimes. This is all hogwash. This is the media making you believe what they want you to believe. Thank goodness there are many people who are not blinded by this garbage and know what is going on. Many people and organizations trying to change this conception. I am one of those people.
@Manuchettan, I realize I have written much more than a reply! I get on a roll sometimes and the words spill out. I go on a rant and get intense. I think I will turn this reply into a post – “Up Front and Personal”
I can’t thank you enough for reading these posts. It means a lot to me, Sonni
Thank you for your words. It’s hard,though, to get an accurate picture of the US through Hollywood, as you have to do in India. I am going to look for the prison movie you talked about, “Death Warrant”. Then I can tell you if it accurate. The thing, though, that you are very right about is that the atrocities don’t stop. Because of the things they do to inmates, an inmate learns to be very subservient, because if they aren’t, they pay for it. But even if the inmate is very docile and does nothing to provoke the guard, it doesn’t stop them from writing up false cases on them or from doing things like spitting in their food, or not letting them shower. Humanistic things.
When a human being finally gets out of prison, they don’t know how to act around people again. One woman told me her son even asked if it was okay to go use the bathroom. going outside is too much stimulus for them. Go to the blog “Breaking Free”. http://breakingfree.com and read about the communication between a mother and a son.
Reintegration to society is hard if you don’t have someone guiding you. Sometimes that doesn’t even work. At the 5 year mark after parole 71% of parolees are back in prison. For a variety of reasons. My concentration with Jamie has been to build his self confidence, his value as a human being. Keeping him from slipping into depression or keep thoughts of suicide away, which he tried when it was unbearable, has taken much effort. If I hadn’t been there, I don’t know what state of mind he would have. When someone has spent the years he has locked up in a a cell 23 hours a day it makes most men mentally ill.
If you have read any of the chapters I posted about the book Inside The Forbidden Outside, here is a sample chapter. Inside The Forbidden Outside . Fill Out the contact form below if you want to be on the mailing list for updates or other chapters posted.
When I started writing to Jamie 8 years ago, after he had been in for a year, I knew I was taking on a lifetime responsibility with a willing heart. I was not going to be able to just say hi and ask how he was doing and then not continue to write. He has no one else who writes to him. If he ever hears from a family member, it is usually a catch up about what is going on in the family, not a letter of caring how he was doing. Never a question of, “Is there anything you need or anything I could do to help”. Not even from his own mother. I know she loves him. I talked to her once. She’s okay with him calling me mom and is glad I’m there for him – but she isn’t there for him.
If you’d like to find out what solitary confinement, go to http://solitarywatch.com. Armando is one of the most interesting men I’ve known. Solitary confinement actually rehabilitated him. It was a benefit for him. His transformation is nothing short of incredible. He will never be released, but he is fighting to have a better life inside the prison walls, based on his conduct inside his 5×8′ cell. He is still a human being. yes, he did a horrible crime. He is paying for it. His behavior deserves what they call “program”. where can do art, or take classes. Why would someone on death row want to continue to learn anything? Because he is alive and he is human. His major crime now is that he is Hispanic. They have a special way of dealing with Hispanics. If the prisons say the want the inmates to be rehabilitated, which they really don’t, then he should at least have his accomplishments come with a few benefits for that. There is no reason for inhumane treatment. Common decency rewards. He is in for a contract murder. Goggle his name and read the articles written about the murder. He grew up in a violent family and lived in a violent community. It was all he knew. He was never taught right from wrong. Never thought about the consequences of his actions. He lived in the moment with the rewards his crimes brought to him. In prison he had to start all over and learn what what right and wrong was. Through the study of Buddhism he found out who he was, and found out what his life meant and what he needed to to change. When someone is never taught these things and the people around them all behave in a certain way, how can you not follow what that teaches you? This arrest was not his first murder and it was at the end of many crimes. It was his life and he knew nothing else. That is not Armando Macias today. I hope someday I can actually meet him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know it is long. Please comment about how you feel, even if it is criticism. I want to have a discussion with those who have something to say. Please
This Youtube video made a very strong impression on me. It says what I have been saying all along. The reason why the police do what they do. They need to keep supplying the kids to the juvy system.
The money made from continuing the steady supply of people being processed into jail and then being railroaded into taking a plea by public defenders who work for the DA who works for the politcal system bought and paid for by the Prison Industrial system is too good to pass up.
This video shows how that process begins. It’s disgusting and it’s shameful. Many people thought the buying of people for profit ended with abolishing slavery. It didn’t. The white man just found a different way to enslave them.
It’s shameful that all the info out there for the American people to read and yet I still hear the words from some people saying “If you do the crime you got to do the time.”
Being guilty or innocent doesn’t matter any more. The police are not on your side. This scares me to death when I see the possibilities for when my two grandsons, who both have black fathers, and are going to grow up to be teenagers and it won’t matter if they are good kids or bad kids. The only thing important is the color of their skin.
By now, with everything that is managing to get into the media, it’s not possible for anyone to think it’s a fluke or to think there are more black criminals than white ones, and there is something inherently bad about people of color that gives them an extra reason to be criminals over white people. There isn’t. White people don’t get sought out, charged and sentenced with the same crimes. They don’t get pulled over more or slammed up a wall just because they are white and their only problem is walking down the street being looked at with suspician, also, just because they are white. White people wouldn’t put up with that indignity, especially if they did nothing wrong.
So let me bring this video to your attention and you share it with everyone on your own social media sites. let them know this is very real and it needs to stop.
I am posting this from the Abolitionist Law Center because it is something very important to me. You can read why when you read my reply at the end of the article. Jamie has epilepsy. I wouldn’t be able to post every letter he has written telling me about yet another seizure he had and what he thought might be reason he had it. An overwhelming number are caused by stress.
Often, someone knows when a seizure is about to happen and he can try to get in a safe place, but not always. The indignity he is show by the callousness of the guards is sickening. Too many people have so little regard for the life of an inmate, who is also a human being.
This article goes hand in hand with a recent post about the murders of several inmates where the guards were not held accountable for their actions, and it is the warden and the judge who determined that the guards we not at fault. Why is it that other murderers are incarcerated for the crimes they commit yet the staff who work for the prisons are let free to torture yet another inmate. Oh, maybe they’ll lose their job, but their nature, which allows them to think it’s okay to kill people, doesn’t go away just because they left the building. Other people will suffer because they are also very mentally ill. You can’t do things like that to people and not have it affect your life. Corizon, and CCA do it for profit which is just as sick. Prison deaths of this type are on their hands. There are links in this article. Educate yourself.
I watched this several times trying to imagine myself in this same situation. It’s easy to empathize with this man and say, “What a horrible thing it was to have to go through this.” Now watch it and pretend it is you. Tell me – How would you feel, especially if you were locked up like this year after year with no hope in sight. You’re a forgotten piece, of humanity except to a couple people if you’re lucky. Try to imagine having to go back out into society after this. Now imagine you’ve been in there for decades. You’ve grown old. Your mental acuity is gone. Your health is shot. The prison no longer wants to “care” for you so they dump you out onto the streets with 50 bucks, and 30 days worth of meds, and you are supposed to pick the pieces of a life that no longer exists and much of it is nothing at all like the world you once knew. Think about this.
It has been determined that it only takes 15 days for your brain to start deteriorating from the isolation. Paranoia sets in. If you already have problems mentally in any form it is going to deteriorate fast. Depression sets in. Jamie was in solitary confinement for a total of about 4 years. We wrote letters constantly. I was the voice that told him to hang on and made sure he knew his life had value.
He’s out of solitary now, which is also called ad seg or G5. When they classify you as G5 it takes a lot of hard work to not let it get to you and keep your sanity and not let trouble find you. He is now in G2 and I am waiting patiently for my very first phone call.
I recently saw another YouTube video about the children locked up. 22 states in the US allow children as young as 7 to be tried in adult court and segregated in adult prisons, ‘for their their protection’ https://mynameisjamie.net/young-kids-hard-time/
They took away any progress he made. He will have to work again to get any privileges back. He had applied to take his GED and now that hope is most likely gone. Somehow, to me, it seems deliberate. When he comes up for parole again in Oct, 2016, and he is unable to show he’s been able to better himself it gives reason to not grant it. But if is unable to learn anything what are his chances of survival? This is why I’m writing the book “Inside the Forbidden Outside”.
Subscribe to the newsletter on prison issues and inmate writings. As I build my mailing list for the book I’m writing about Jamie Cummings life, Inside The Forbidden Outside, keeping people informed along the way is important. Most of the information in the newsletter is not on this blog. We have a government now more gung-ho on locking up as many people as they can for even longer years. It is going to affect even more people who will get knocked sideways when they find themselves behind a steel door. Staying informed helps you protect yourself. Yes, it can happen to you, too.
If you know an inmate who writes poetry or is an artist or has a story you’d like to tell you can email me at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Protect yourself by having an attorney on call with an app on your phone. Stopped and given a ticket? harassed? Click on the link below and see why you need this. A friend has a brand new problem with a landlord. She had just signed up for the service. She didn’t even think about Legal Shield until I reminded her. Call me, email me, msg me at fb. It’s that easy. You can also contact me here:Legal Shield
This post is not a letter from Jamie. I’ve written about ad seg or solitary confinement in many of these posts. I think many people have a vague overall idea of what solitary confinement means, but not really. So when I came across this I decided to post it here as well as inserting the link on the left side of the page where there are other links you can tap into. When you realize how awful it would seem if you tried to visualize yourself in this situation, think of how it would be if you were left there for months, years or decades. Most likely you would go insane, and if you had any problems dealing with things before you went in, your time there would be even harder. Some inmates have done violent things and if they were put into gen pop ( general population ) they may still hurt people. But, if they’re isolated, and out of harms way, why do they have to also have to tolerate torture? They may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but did the sentence also include a clause that allows their jailers to make sure they’re as miserable as possible and make humiliation part of their sentence? In addition to these dangerous people there is also a large percentage of people who aren’t dangerous and are being held there simply because of the color of their skin. Some are imprisoned as a way to shut them up. Freedom of speech isn’t always free. There are many reasons why people could find themselves locked up in solitary.
There are many inmates, if they were allowed to do their sentence in a constructive atmosphere, even if they were sentenced to life without parole, and be able to do it in such a way that they can still develop a life inside, wouldn’t it benefit everyone? By allowing them the use of a library, correspondence classes or other means of rehabilitation they may not go insane from the deprivation of anything related to life. If recidivism is lowered then every cost goes down. Does a gang member, who was raised in the gang culture from childhood, who decides to join a gang because it seemed the only one way to go, and was then incarcerated for whatever reason, does that mean he doesn’t deserve a chance to help himself rise up from that and then maybe help others to not follow that path? Maybe then the return rate to prison would go down. If the prison system doesn’t change the way they do things might, there be another reason they want to keep the prisons full? Could it be the Prison Industrial Complex, which makes a ton of money from keeping the prisons full? There’s a website in my links list called Solitary Watch. They’re letting the voices of the inmates be heard. It’s a site well worth going to.
All of us are a product of our childhood. How we were raised, our influences, our family, or lack of family, determined how we started out in life. Many of these men and women, after understanding it was their life choices that brought them to where they are; shouldn’t there be a way for them to make amends if they can, or at least be able to make better causes that will in turn have better effects, even if the rest of their life takes place inside a prison? They are still human, and none of us are perfect. Every single one of us has done something that would qualify as a crime. We just didn’t caught. We get outraged when animals, even chickens are raised inhumanely. Can’t we have that same rage for humans?
At the top of the website are two links (soon to be three links). He was a gang member and he’s Hispanic. They have a special place for them in the SHU (special housing unit) at San Quentin. He was in and out of jail and prison most of his life and is now inside for a contract killing. He’s on death row, but that issue is now, hopefully, being taken off the table very soon. If they aren’t going to kill him, will he still have to spend his entire life completely unable to ever feel the touch of another human being, and never be allowed to hear the voice of a loved one on a phone call? They say phone calls are a privilege, but it’s a privilege that can never be earned. He’s only 34. He has a lot of life left. In the SHU they’re allowed even less than other people in solitary confinement. Before this, even other times he was locked up, he had never really thought about his life. He never wondered why he chose to do the things he did. He was told to kidnap and kill a man, so he did, never really thinking about the consequences of what he was about to do. He didn’t wonder why he was going to kill this man, he only knew it was for money. If you’re told to do something and you don’t do it, you could be punished by your gang in severe ways. It’s easy to see that the concept of right and wrong was never instilled in him growing up. Something was missing. We can’t know and understand these things if we haven’t been exposed to that teaching by the adults in our lives. He told me he had a violent upbringing and was beat every day. What does that teach you? Does it teach you value for human life?
This time in prison Armando found Buddhism which concentrates on our human nature and the law of cause and effect. Through years of meditation and seeking answers to understand why he is the was he is, he realized what he had done and chose to rehabilitate himself even though the prison system was trying so hard to destroy him. He found a way to structure a life inside his tiny cell. My letters from him are sincere and honest. His connection to me is one I know he cherishes. I help give him a connection to life. He has an outlet to express himself and someone who listens. I,too, have learned many things from him. I know I have taken on a lifetime commitment and it would be a blow if I ever severed that communication. I would never be afraid to be alone with him in his cell. He is not a danger to anyone. My commitment to Jamie is also lifetime, but he’s family and we’re connected by the blood of my grandson.
Between the years of letters from Jamie, who will be able to get out someday, and Armando, who will never get out, it has given me a deeper insight to what being isolated really means. In the beginning I didn’t really understand, even though I knew what the words meant. Now, having two half black grandsons, ages 6 and 8 and living in Texas, which is very racist, it scares me to know this racism will follow them throughout their lives. I know people will look at them and judge them by the color of their skin. They will be looked at as criminals if they are dressed the wrong way or have an expression on their face that someone thinks has criminal intent behind it and call the police because they suspect, wrongly, they may be a criminals. They’ll have to go through their life knowing that at anytime a cop could slam them up against a wall or shoot them for no just reason and get away with it. It scares me. It scares me so much. Our injustice system doesn’t need a reason to put a black man in prison, or a child in juvenile detention.
On this chart below, it shows the recidivism rate for people getting out of prison and going back in. When someone don’t have a way to learn and when he hasn’t had a way to relearn his value system, get the help he needs to acquire an education so he can make a living, what happens when he gets out? He goes back to where he is from. He may even have the resolve to do things differently this time around. He finds his friends again, possibly the only ones who showed him any caring in his life. He gets sucked back into the only life he knows and understands.
The states complain about all the money spent to support inmates. They don’t like to pay for good medical care, so inmates often go for long periods of time before any issue is resolved. Every type of service is skimped on. They don’t do what is needed so these people can lift themselves up so they don’t end up going right back inside. It gives meaning to the phrase: If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.