I Open My Eyes And Pray – Chapter

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I OPEN MY EYES AND PRAY

 

(This time I’m inserting the complete chapter because the end is needed for the beginning. If you do a search on the title, other chapters will pop up. anything with the book cover on it is part of the second draft. Anything else has good info, but I’m rewriting the entire book)

A newspaper and magazine began arriving in the mail in February. Sonni told him she took out subscriptions for him to help him understand his life. Jamie needed to look at his life from a different angle. He had only known one way of thinking. There was a God in the universe who made everything, controlled everything, kept an eye on you, and had a plan for your life – if you loved and worshiped only him. If you didn’t you went to hell. As far as he knew he was already there.
     That was the key. He had to love God and make Him the center of his life. God demanded that there be no other gods before him. So he knew about other God’s. Everything happened because of him, even if your life ended up in a bad place like prison.
     God supposedly created the sun and the moon and the planets – the whole shebang. If he didn’t believe that, he would die and go to hell. That was enough to scare him into believing it was true. Better to be safe than sorry, he thought.
     Recently, when he had studied Islam he learned different, interesting ideas, but it was still a God based, Supreme Being religion, except it was Allah you worshiped. Both were far away in the universe so you were expected to have faith with no answers because it had been passed down through many generations. But did that make it true? People believed in one or the other but they couldn’t both be true, right? Each had a different way of thinking about life and death.
     Jamie got into Islam because there was a community of brothers at the prison who took him in and helped him study. He liked it because they were into peace, not violence. He didn’t want to fight and it always seemed to follow him. Maybe he could learn discipline, but when he was moved to a different prison and wasn’t around them anymore there was no one to keep him on target. Praying five times a day? It was hard to keep it up by himself and he slacked off.
     Sonni didn’t tell him he was wrong or that he should stop doing it. He needed to find his own way. But little bit at a time she told him things. She didn’t tell him at first it was the way Buddhists think, because a lot of it was plain common sense when he thought about it. She gave him different options to think about.
     It caused him to be unhappy when he thought about the mess of he made of things? It didn’t have to go this way. He knew it was his own fault he ended up here, but he didn’t know how to look at it deeper than that. Why did he do things that caused him to lose so many years of his life and have to live in a place that was a living hell?
     Buddhism said if you make a cause you get an effect. Everything about his life was caused by something. It didn’t happen out of the blue. If he could figure this out maybe he could ’cause’ it to go in a better direction.
     What made him who he was in the first place? What made him different from the next person? Did God make him with epilepsy? If so it was a cruel joke.
     He did know he didn’t have to die to go to hell, because he was already there, with a bunch of other dudes. Most of them thought they were victims and weren’t really responsible for being here.
     It didn’t take rocket science to understand he needed to change his thinking or when he got out he might do the same crazy things that got him put in here. He needed to find better friends. It started with the people you chose to be in your life. But was it as easy as that? How do you meet the right people? You couldn’t look inside them to see who they were. People hid parts of themselves so it couldn’t be seen. Jamie didn’t think he was going to meet the right people in here.
     This Buddhist thinking could get pretty deep and he knew so little. It was like peeling layers of an onion. It got harder and harder to peel each layer and the smell got stronger as he faced parts of himself he didn’t like.
     He prayed and prayed to God to help him and nothing changed. He was told he needed more faith. How much faith did it take for God to notice he was hurting? The chaplain told him that is what it means to have faith, but so far his faith didn’t produce any good results. His life only got worse and worse. It was time to look at other options.
     Some of the articles in this new magazine made him feel like he could change his life, but first he had to change how he thought he ended up here. He needed to understand. It sounded so easy, but it wasn’t. He could change his thinking one minute, but if a guard mouthed off at him his anger popped out real fast before he could stop it.
     It was easy to fall into a victim way of thinking. He might deserve being here but that didn’t mean he deserved to be treated badly, like he wasn’t worth the space he took up.
He liked reading the weekly newspaper, the World Tribune, and the magazine, Living Buddhism. Did he believe everything he read? He didn’t know. He didn’t understand some of it but he was trying. Sonni said she had been studying this for a long time, so he was willing to listen. He wouldn’t understand everything right away.
     In lots of ways it was like Christianity, teaching you how to be a better person, but instead of praying to God to fix things he knew he had to fix things himself. He had the time to work it out. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do.
     Sonni was in the hospital a lot right now, sick most of the time. She was slowly climbing the transplant list. It wouldn’t be long now. He was sure she was doing a lot of chanting to keep her confidence high. But he was still worried about her and wished he could do something to help.
     All of her letters came through the Jpay system. She was having trouble typing because her hands shook from the medications. She wasn’t able to hold a pen anymore to write, so she picked out what she wanted to say one key at a time with one finger. She said it took her a long time to type a letter.

Jamie tried to turn off his brain. It hurt from so much thinking. Kicking back on his bunk he tried to think about his future instead of the past or present. Changing the past was impossible, but maybe he could do better at creating a future for himself in his brain.
Thing is, he would have never learned about this on his own, yet it makes sense. What if there had been no Sonni? What would he be thinking right now? Would he be praying? Probably, because he didn’t know anything else to do. If it was up to God to change his life he would do it when and if he was ready. It’s not up to us when that is.
     Buddhists pray, too – while they chant. But they don’t pray for something in the universe to fix them. They pray for the wisdom to understand what they need to do to fix themselves.
     Either God thinks you’re worthy or he doesn’t. Sure, he knew the phrase, you reap what you sow, but it wasn’t really taught or explained because God could always override it if he wanted. He could change a bad thing and make it disappear, but he never jumped in and changed any of the bad stuff that happened to him. God doesn’t answer all prayers so how do you know if it’s pointless to pray about something?
     Jamie had to think deeper about why he was here because it wasn’t by accident. He needed to change what he did because he never wanted to come back here, or any other prison, again. Prison made him think about his life and the ball was in his court to make it change.
     A lot of dudes ended up with another prison sentence after they got out, even though they said they were serious about doing things different and staying clean. Some had families and wanted to be better fathers. But it wasn’t always that easy and they ended up inside again. Why did that happen? Was it because they started doing the same things again that got them in trouble in the first place? Did they go back to the same friends? Maybe they couldn’t make enough money. It was hard to get a good job as an x-felon. Or maybe their old life was too tempting. It could be as simple as breaking parole; getting caught with someone who had a gun or being in the wrong place. Maybe they missed a meeting with their parole officer.

He didn’t want that to happen to him.

Jamie picked up the magazine that came in the mail today. He rolled his blanket into a pillow and lay down on the floor. After reading for a while he decided to chant a little. He told Sonni he would. It did make him feel better. It took deep breaths to chant and that helped him relax. He tried to block things out in his mind and think about positive things he wanted to happen when he got out.
     He never thought doing something like this would be interesting. It was like meditating and he enjoyed doing it. Could he really use chanting to improve himself? He felt it helped him focus his thoughts. That was a start.
     The magazine had articles about experiences people had when they set a goal and chanted to reach it. He liked reading those stories.
     There is a man who is the leader of the people who practice this type of Buddhism. There is more than one kind of Buddhism just like there are many different kinds Christianity and lots of different churches. His name is Daisaku Ikeda. He teaches the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. There is also Zen, Tibetan and Shinto Buddhism and others. They aren’t the same, just like Mormons aren’t like Catholics.
     “Nam myoho renge kyo is like the roar of a lion. Therefore what illness can be an obstacle,” Jamie read aloud from a page in the magazine.
     Reading the words was easy. He could skim it and move on, but there had to be a deeper meaning. If he didn’t take the time to try to understand it would be pointless.
     A lion is powerful – King of the jungle. When a lion roars animals stop and listen. So chanting is like a powerful roar that goes out into the universe. Reading the article he learned that the power of chanting can break through obstacles. An illness isn’t always being sick. It is anything that has the power to defeat you.
     The hardest thing about living your life alone, stuck in a small cell, is there is nothing to do but think. No matter how hard he tried not to, it was impossible to stop his brain from latching on to every thought that went though it. It was exhausting.

Jamie looked up toward the window. He couldn’t see much but he knew the sun was out. It was a good time of year. April was was one of the few months where it wasn’t too hot or too cold. Daytime and night hours were both comfortable. March wasn’t bad, either, but come May you could feel the heat start to rise. It would be good if he could be taken outside for rec. He’d like to see the sun. It got depressing being inside too much never getting any fresh air.
     Today was commissary. The guards should be coming soon to take him down. It usually happened once a month, unless they were on lockdown. Then it was canceled. There was a little money in his account that Sonni sent. He needed to get hygiene – deodorant, soap and some stamps if he had enough. If he runs out of stamps they’ll still send letters, but they’ll take the money back the next time Sonni sends any. What he really wanted was some chocolate. That put a smile on his face. Chocolate tasted like freedom If he closed his eyes when he ate it.
     Jamie got up and stood at the sink with a couple pieces of dirty clothing. He soaked the shirt he had taken off this morning when he did his bird bath at the sink. Using his last tiny piece of soap, he scrubbed the shirt the best he could and let it soak in the water a few minutes before rinsing it out. He hung it over the edge of the sink to dry while he waited for the guard to come and cuff him.
     When he could, Jamie washed his own clothes. He doubted if soap was put in the washers. Either they were cutting costs or the inmates running the huge commercial washers couldn’t be bothered.
     They also crammed the clothing in the washers so tight he doubted water could get through it and get everything wet, let alone washed and rinsed. When he was given clean clothes, like after a shower, they always smelled like the men who wore them before him. Even when he didn’t have enough soap he still rinsed them out. The water that came out of the faucet often had a bad smell so his clothes never smelled good, like he remembered when he was young and his mom did laundry.
     Jamie heard the guards stop at his cell door. There were always two when they had to take him somewhere. He turned his back to the door and waited for the food tray slot to open and put his hands through it to be cuffed. He moved away from the cell door and turned around.
     It was uneventful. The other guard felt him up like normal to make sure he wasn’t hiding nothing and put the chains on his ankles. Off they went. He forgot what it felt like to stride down the hallway at his natural speed. He could only separate his legs about a foot so it was more like shuffling than walking. Anyway, it felt good to get out of his cell.

     “Mind if I tag along?” Jamie smiled. He heard Sonni’s voice behind him.
     “What are you smiling for?” the guard asked, looking over at him.
     “Oh nothing,” he said back. “It feels good to be walking. Don’t you think it’s a beautiful day?”
     The guard snapped at him, “Don’t get smart with me, asshole, or I’ll return you to your cell and you can forget about commissary.” Jamie turned his face and was silent. He really wanted to go to commissary today or he’d have to wait a month.
     Sonni didn’t have to be quiet, though. She laughed at the exchange. “I’ve never had a chance to see the rest of this place so I thought I’d walk along.”
     Jamie never knew when she was going to pop in and he was sure glad to see her. She was looking good, but he realized that was the way she wanted him to see her in her dream. She was the one dreaming this time. She had a massive shot of chemo into the tumors in her liver not long ago and her hair fell out. You wouldn’t know that looking at her today. Her hair was long and silky-baby fine. It was also very strange seeing her walk beside him and the guards had no clue she was there. If they knew, they would be freaking out right now. It was hard to keep from laughing. He coughed instead.
     They walked down several hallways and through a few double sets of locked doors until they came to the commissary. Sonni was looking left and right taking it all in.
     “It’s an unfriendly place, isn’t it?” she asked. “The air is really stale.”
     She stood to the side when it was Jamie’s turn to go up to the counter that blocked the entrance to the room where they kept the commissary items. A woman was standing there and asked him for his ID. She needed to look him up and see if he had money on the books.
     “You have twenty dollars in your account,” she told him without looking him in the eye. Jamie told her what he needed.
     They walked back to his cell in silence and waited to talk until the guards left. If he appeared to be talking to himself they might think he was nuts. He didn’t want to give them any reason to write him up.
     “I’ve been worried about you,” Jamie told her quietly.
     “I know,” she said. She wanted to take his hand, but couldn’t. Living without the touch of another human being is hard. We were meant to be touched.
     “You’re so sick and there is nothing I can do,” he told her. “If something happens I won’t know.”
     “I’ll find a way to make sure you know, ” she assured him.
     “You’re all I have, the only one who shows me you care and I don’t want to lose you. I don’t think I can take that.” Jamie talked fast to get the words out. He didn’t want her to see him getting upset.
     “I know you are much sicker than you appear,” he looked down and almost whispered the words.
     “Isn’t that the beauty of dreams?” Sonni smiled as she talked.
     “We can go anywhere and be anyone we want.” She glanced over at the bed and saw the World Tribune laying there.
     “Have confidence,” she told him. “You’ve been reading, I see. What do you think?” She sat down on his bed and patted the thin mattress beside her for him to sit.
     “It sure makes me think about things I never thought about before.” Jamie nodded his head as he answered.
     “This is deeper thinking than anything I learned in my life before. It doesn’t say you have to believe in something you can’t see, but you should believe it anyway.”
     Jamie tried to find the words to explain what he meant. “Believe what you know to be there. See the actual proof of changes in your life.”
     “When you see what is happening in your life, something had to cause it to be there,” Sonni finished his thought and continued. “There are no accidents or bad luck. There is only effects of decisions you made, although it goes deeper than that because this isn’t our first rodeo show. If you focus on where you want to be in your life and seek the wisdom to change your life, you can.”

Sonni stopped there. “There is so much more to learn, and prison is giving you the time to learn it.”
     “It’s time for me to go now, Jamie, but I’ll be seeing you again soon.”
     That fast she was gone. She faded and disappeared like a genie in a bottle. Jamie sat there and went over everything in his head. It was quite a day.
     He still had hard years to get through, but everyone had hard years in one way or another. We all live some good years, too. Hopefully he’ll have lots of good years in his future.
     Even though Sonni is sick, she still has freedom. He doesn’t have freedom and without it, it isn’t much of a life. He can only pray things will get better for her, as he knows she prays for him. That’s all he can do for her. But Buddhists don’t close their eyes and pray, they open them and send their prayers into the universe and pray for protection.

Jamie picked up the World Tribune and began reading again where he left off.

 

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CIRCLES INSIDE CIRCLES – Chapter Rewrite

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Jamie was trying. He couldn’t try any harder. He wanted to understand how he could turn his life around and make it through these years in one piece. If he didn’t, the years would be wasted and he’d be a mess when he got out of prison. He couldn’t afford that. He had to make up for a lot of lost time.
     This is what happened when you felt you had endless time on your hands. It was hard to fill the empty spaces. Jamie sat on his bed. He stared at the wall and lost track of time. It had no meaning. He spaced out thinking about his life and what he could have done different. Sometimes he got tired of trying and wanted to melt into the wall and disappear.
    How was anyone supposed to live in conditions like this, then get out and have an okay life? How could he get over it as though it never happened and be happy? It was hard to remember what that was.
      Jamie never had a real chance to find out what he was good at. He wasn’t blaming anyone, the right circumstances were never there. No one taught him how to make something of himself. He just followed along with whatever happened at the moment. He didn’t know how to have a dream. He needed to figure out how to do that. All he knew for sure was the values he believed in didn’t seem to have the power to get him where he wanted to go.
     Maybe he needed to deepen his faith in God. Study more. Quite a few of the inmates also went to church. There were quite a few screwed up people who found religion after they were sentenced, and some went to church because it was something to do that got you out of your cell. Jamie really wanted to make it work but how were you supposed to know if it was making a difference in his life because nothing had changed for the better.
     He had the bible studies he sent for and was trying to study on his own. He hoped it would help. He had a lot of time to think about what he read. Still, it made no difference. He wasn’t giving up, but what could he do that would actually change things into a better direction instead of going in a circle that only went round and round? He wanted to learn something that would give him hope he was doing the right thing.

<<<>>>

Later that night, getting up for a drink, he fell and twisted his knee. It was swollen and hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. It was worse when he put his weight on it the next morning. It was so swollen he could hardly bend it. He put in for a medical call. A guard came get him with a wheelchair because there was no way he would be able to walk there.
     “What did you do?” the nurse asked after the guard helped him up onto the examining table.
     “Damn that hurts,” slipped out of Jamie’s mouth before he could stop it. He didn’t like to cuss around women.
     “I slipped on the carpeting,” he joked and tried to laugh.
     “No, really, my knee buckled. I went down and landed hard on the side of my knee and it twisted.” Jamie winced as he attempted to change position.
     “I’ve had problems with this knee before,” he told her.
     “I’ll have x- ray take a picture,” she concluded. “Make sure it isn’t fractured.
     The nurse pressed gently on different parts of the knee. “This feels like fluid, “she commented, “not just swelling from the damage caused by twisting it.”
     “Can the doctor do something? Could it be drained?” Jamie thought it would make his knee feel better if they were able to get the swelling down. Right now he could only bend it a couple inches.
     “No.” It only took a second for the nurse to answer.”The doctor won’t do it. The Medical Unit would never okay that kind of procedure.”
     The nurse stopped for a few seconds and thought carefully. “They’ll say it’s not medically necessary,” she finished saying, almost under her breath.
     She saw inmates all day long who had medical conditions that needed treatment, and she knew they would never receive it, or they would get the barest minimum care. She’d placate them making them think something would be done. Chronic illnesses with simple, effective treatments that could make their lives easier to bear would most likely be denied. Conditions got worse that could be fixed. Inmates paid precious dollars out of their accounts to be seen by a doctor and were usually given the runaround. They would receive token or incorrect treatments and blood tests might even be taken, but getting the right diagnoses and proper medication were much more difficult to get. This wasn’t the reason she became a nurse.
     Inmates coming into the prison with a known condition who had a history of medication had a better chance of receiving it, but if other conditions developed there was a good chance it wouldn’t be addressed. She did what she could.
     “Every day, try to work the knee by sitting on the edge of your bed and straightening your leg up and out and hold for a few seconds,” she instructed. “Then lower it down slowly.”
    “Its a simple exercise but it will help keep your knee muscles from locking up.”
     This was the reality of medical care in prisons and they got away with it. It didn’t matter what treatment would be best for him. It mattered what the medical corporation could provide without it costing them.
     The lack of quality care caused damage to those inside. Pain and suffering, mental and physical were common and it sometimes caused death. It was inhumane. Fluid on Jamie’s knee wouldn’t kill him, but it was painful moving around or standing, and would take a good while to heal itself.
     So why did they take an x-ray if they wouldn’t treat the problem? So they could show they provided adequate care? That was the law. The prisons had to provide care but they were never told what adequate care was, so they could do anything and say they treated him.
     The nurse would tell him to drink more water and take Tylenol and say in his file it was adequate medical care for anything that was wrong. It was the standard treatment for what he needed so it was a waste of money for most inmates to call and ask to go to the medical unit. If an inmate had the flu or anything catchy, the whole prison would get sick.
     Jamie was tired of being treated as though he didn’t matter, but what could he do about it? He did the best he could to win over his negative thoughts. Sometimes it wasn’t possible. He absolutely did the best he could, he thought to himself. He tried to keep the stress under control. Seizures were going to happen when they screwed up his medication or said he forgot to tell them to reorder it like that was his job. Sometimes they hit fast and he falls and gets banged up, and sometimes he falls off the bunk from thrashing about in his sleep.
     He laid down on his side and brought his knees up to his chest. He felt less vulnerable and less alone inside his circle of comfort.

<<<>>>

Day after day routines never changed. It was hard to remember what day it was. One of the hardest things about being in prison is the boredom. There wasn’t enough to do. Nothing new was added to think about, so his mind goes through the same circles of memory over and over again.
     Jamie was trying so hard to not let anything get to him where he would lash out in anger. He was feeling confident he had that under control. But if he couldn’t get out of his cell sometimes he knew he would go crazy.
     He needed to keep his privileges. He was feeling irritated today and he knew it, so he had to work harder to stay in control. It wouldn’t take much, so he stayed by himself.

Writing letters that were never answered was frustrating. It was a waste of precious stamps. He wrote because he thought people would want to know how he was doing, but he seldom got a letter back about how they were doing. He felt forgotten by everyone. There were probably new kids in his family he didn’t even know about. Children of cousins who probably didn’t have any idea about who he was. He was an outsider now. Not a happy thought.
     It had been almost three months since a letter came from anyone besides Sonni. She became his family so he usually called her Mom. She said he was like a son. She called him that because she said he needed family.
     Going to the day room was a good way to pass the time. He tried to enjoy it as best he could. Watching TV let him pretend he wasn’t here. It usually kept his mind off things for a short while. It worked sometimes and sometimes it didn’t. Time wasn’t exactly flying.
     It was summer, 2009, three and a half years since he was arrested. He was getting close to being one fourth through his sentence.
     Jamie decided to write to Sonni. She often asked him questions about what it was like in here. He opened his locker and took out a couple pieces of paper and sat down at the steel table that was connected to the toilet. He began drawing lines from top to bottom to look like lined tablet paper. 
     “Rec hours rotate,” he began writing. “We get four hours all total. Two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening between the hours of 6 -10 AM and 12- 4 PM. After that I’m in my cell the rest of the day.”
     He went on to explain that his custody level was G4 line 3. If he caught another case he would go down to G5 which was also adseg. He was almost to the point of being in 24 hour lockdown for a year if he didn’t cool it and control his anger. It was so hard to not get pissed off at things that went on in here, inmates and guards. But if he wanted to work his way back to population he needed to be G2 so he had to stay good with no new cases for seven more months.
     “There’s a lot more stuff I can do in population, like go to school and take trades,” he wrote. “I could also go to the library and have contact visits instead of visiting behind glass.” 
     Another reason he was trying hard to not get anymore write-ups was he wanted to apply for a hardship classification. Then he could ask to be moved closer to home because of a medical reason or a close family member who was sick.
     There was no reason for them to put him a prison that was a thousand miles away from home. He thought he was sent to West Texas as a way to punish him more by separating him from his family. But he would need their help to make it happen and that didn’t seem likely, at least not right now.
     It would be too easy to let depression take over if he thought too much about the free world and the things he’d like to see happen that were unlikely to happen. He needed to think of how to get through his time and not think about everything else he couldn’t change. He couldn’t even have a conversation with anyone to move it along.
     Jamie closed his eyes. Maybe he could go to sleep now so he didn’t have to think about any of this. He put his paper and pen aside until later. In a few minutes, as he felt himself drift off he heard, “James Cummings, mail.”

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How Do I Find My Way – ITFO Chapter

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 How Do I Find My Way

Later: that afternoon, after Jamie got back from the showers, he sat on the edge of his bunk and opened his locker. He took out a stack of letters he had saved. They had been read so many times the creases from folding and unfolding were getting weak.
      These letters were all he had to connect him to the free world. Other inmates knew when you got letters and knew you had someone on the outside. Many men had no one, especially those who had been locked up for a long time.
      Family or friends who wrote when you were first locked up often slowly stopped writing. Maybe they ran out of things to say or got tired of writing. Life went on for them but it stopped for those inside.
      One sure fire way to stop them from writing was to ask if they could send money. No one wanted to support someone inside. Many didn’t have the money. Jamie knew Morgan could barely made enough to take care of the children. She couldn’t support him. But there was no way to get any of the things he needed unless he asked for help. The prison didn’t provide things like deodorant and other hygiene products, stamps, paper or envelopes. He’d like to be able to get some food items and maybe a radio but the other items had to come first.
      If there was no one to put money on your books for commissary you had to find another way to trade for what you needed. That could get you into a lot of trouble if you got caught. If inmates could get paid for work they did they would have a little money to to spend at the commissary. He didn’t mean housekeeping or laundry jobs, but the jobs where they made things for corporations to sell. Inmates didn’t get paid for those jobs, either.
      Texas prisons didn’t pay anyone for working although most states did. Even though the pay might only be twenty cents an hour they could still accumulate twenty to thirty dollars in a month. Texas said they give time off your sentence for good behavior but they always find a way to take it away from you.
      Jamie rarely heard from anyone in his family, although he did in the beginning. He made himself believe they were busy and he would get a letter soon. But that day rarely arrived and it was hard to deal with it sometimes. If he didn’t have Sonni’s letters he didn’t know if he would make it through with his sanity in one piece.
      Every day he listened at mail call to hear if his name was called. What if she stopped writing? She said she would always write but he was still afraid her last letter might really be her last letter.
      Finally, Jamie got up the courage to ask her if she could send a little money. He told her over and over it was okay if she couldn’t. He didn’t want her to think he was using her for money. It was hard waiting to get a letter back after that one. He was afraid he had blown it and she would be upset.
      She wasn’t. She wrote back and asked him how to send it. He sent her a slip to fill out and told her to send it back with a money order. Jamie was relieved.
    Letters from Morgan came with longer silences in between. She finally wrote and told him there was a new man in her life. He wasn’t happy about it. In fact, it ripped him up, but he knew she needed to go on with her life. He couldn’t blame her for that, but it also meant he would learn less and less about his son. Sonni helped fill in the gaps but it was never enough.
      That did not mean he expected someone else should take care of his family. Sitting in here year after year was pointless when he should be home talking care of them himself. It was hard for Morgan to take care of three kids by herself.
      He didn’t know what to do to make things better for her. He wanted to help but there was nothing he could do. He felt like was letting all of them down. He should be able to do something, but he couldn’t.
      Jamie carefully arranged his letters in piles by who wrote them and the date, the oldest ones on the bottom. This way he could read everything in order from each person. There were not many piles. He passed the rest of the afternoon by reading letters.

As he read he realized his day today could have ended up a whole lot different than it did. He had a short fuse. He knew that. He had no patience with people who had the authority to mistreat people just because they were locked up and they felt like it. Inmates could not fight back. If they argued because of being mistreated they paid a price for it.
      During the shower when the guard cut off the water, if Jamie hadn’t stopped himself from reacting in anger, the guard could have written up a case on him. It could have taken a couple years or more to turn that around. He was supposed to take the abuse because he was the inmate and had no rights, at least none they would let him use.
      From the time he was seventeen and spent four years in juvenile detention, being lied to over and over, he learned to have no patience with guards and staff who treated people with disrespect.

    Jamie pushed those thoughts out of his head and opened a letter from Sonni. Even though he had read her letters over and over, sometimes a sentence jumped out that made sense in a way he didn’t catch before.
   “Don’t believe something is the truth just because someone told you it was the truth.” That made sense, but what truth was she talking about?
      “It’s easy to believe something when you’ve been told the same thing over and over, but that doesn’t mean it is true.” She must have been answering something he had written to her in his letter. What was it? He could not remember.
   “Everything in your life happens for a reason. Something caused it. Things do not happen out of the blue just because you can’t figure out what you did to cause it.” All of this made sense but he had never thought about it like this.
      No one had ever talked to Jamie about why things happened in his life. He handled things in his day as they happened. He knew he needed to have more self control over his anger because he learned it could mess up his day.
     Jamie never thought much about these things up until now because he was always busy trying to dig himself out from under some problem. He didn’t always think about why it happened.
      The main problem was he didn’t think about what caused his problems until it was too late. What was done was done. It was hard to wrap his head around figuring out why it happened.

Sometimes one thing led to another and that made something else happen. He could see it looking back but he couldn’t see it looking ahead. But it made sense if he made different decisions it would cause different outcomes. But how was he supposed know what to decide in a split second when there was no time to think about how it might work out?
      Sonni’s letters made him think about things he never thought about. He didn’t know to think about his life in a deeper way. He was told God oversaw everything and he tried to pray for the right thing to happen. He could plan and change things in anyone’s life if he wanted to. He could bless people with good things. His family was not the type who went to church every week or anything like that, but he assumed everyone believed in God and would go to heaven.
      He always began or ended a letter hoping the receiver would be blessed or that he had been blessed. He didn’t think about what he was writing. It was automatic thing he wrote in his letters.
     If everything happened for a reason, then what could he do to change all of this for himself so he could go home? How could he know what to do?
      Jamie repeated this over and over in his head. It was like one big giant puzzle. It was starting to make his head hurt. All along did he deserve to be in here? From the time he was born it was God’s plan? Did God plan some things but not all things. That didn’t make sense so he didn’t think so.
      Did he have a choice or was he supposed to end up in prison no matter what he did? He was told God gave people free will. What happened if that messed up His plan. Did He have to make a new one – for everyone? He was expected to believe things that didn’t make much sense. But that was faith, right? He believed because it was all he knew.
      Having so much time to think about this yet have no one to talk to is difficult. Jamie was brought up to believe in God and you were supposed to pray to him when life got rough. Did God want his life to be this way? This was too many questions.
      You reap what you sow. That phrase was in the Bible, but he never really thought about it. Growing up they weren’t really a Bible reading family. The pastor here said he should trust God to take care of everything. These two ideas were so opposite from each other.
      Jamie went to church every week. He was trying to do the right thing. He wanted to hear the message. Did it change anything? He believed in God because it was what he was told to believe by people who were smarter than him. He didn’t think to question it.
      Going to church didn’t change anything in his life. The prison chaplain pushed it on the men. In reality, this man wasn’t very nice to those who said they didn’t believe and didn’t want go to church. That seemed hypocritical to him.
      So why did he believe in God? What did that belief do for him that made his life better? What prayers did God answer that he could say for sure happened because God made it happen? Growing up, hearing God made the world, and when we die we go to heaven is a pretty powerful reason to want to believe. If everyone learned the same thing it was easy to go along with it. No one had any different ideas. Believe, or not believe, was pretty much it.
      Where would he be if he wasn’t in prison? Jamie would like to believe he would be home taking care of his family. He would have a job, but he didn’t have any idea what that would be or what he was qualified for. He did have a job for a while. He worked for a cleaning company that cleaned offices and schools. One day cleaning supplies came up missing. He got blamed and was fired. He didn’t do it, but that didn’t matter. They had someone to blame. Why would he risk his job by stealing cleaning supplies? No one thought about that.

     He went to church every Sunday. He even sent off for Bible studies. He didn’t go to church just to get of his cell. He wanted to hear the message. He was searching for answers, trying hard to figure things out. He wanted to make sense of things, but somehow it wasn’t working.
      Not knowing what was going on at home was getting to him. Day after day he waited and prayed a letter would come, and it rarely did. But then, just when he was ready to give up, he would hear the mail person call his name. A letter would come, his mind was eased, and he would feel better for a while. The emotional seesaw took its toll.
      Soon the cycle would start again and his anxiety would slowly build until he couldn’t sleep. Weeks and months went by. The hardest part about this was not knowing what was happening.. Why was he kept in the dark? His mom said some things at her last visit about maybe being sick but she didn’t exactly say what was wrong, or if anything definite was wrong. He had no way to find out.
      Jamie was scared to death something was going to happen to his mom. He didn’t think he could handle that in here. His mind was thinking crazy thoughts. He couldn’t think straight.
      On top of that he was worried about his own family. It was all his own fault. He wasn’t doing so good. This was all because he wasn’t around. No one thought he needed to know anything. So he sat and stressed every day and could not stop himself. He wrote this letter to Sonni:

<<< >>>

Hello Mom, 8/20/09

First I want to thank you for the love and support you’ve given me even though you didn’t have to. I’m real thankful for it. Well, I’ll get to the point of what I’m saying. It’s rough when I sit here waiting for mail and I don’t get any from nobody but you. So I’ve made up my mind to just do this time and put everything else behind me. This way I won’t have to stress myself out. I’m not giving up on my family. I just have to do this because I’m hurting myself. I know something is wrong. I can feel it.
I’m not saying I’m going to go off and get in trouble. I’m going to end my letter here. But before I do I want you to know I’m still going to keep my promise and stay out of trouble. And thank you for the book, mom. It was good.

Love, Jamie.

<<< >>>

Living in silence was hard for Jamie. He couldn’t deal with it. It made no sense. When it became too much for him he lashed out. Depression surfaced easily. Maybe his family thought if he didn’t know what was going on he wouldn’t worry. It was just the opposite. He did worry, because he didn’t know. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. He wrote many letters hoping he would get an answer back but no one wrote. Sonni’s letters were all he had to lean on. They were his lifeline. She promised she wouldn’t disappear.

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“Palpable Irony” Written by Inmate, Martin Lockett

palpable irony

Several months ago I read a book by Martin Lockett, “Palpable Irony: Losing My Freedom To Find My Purpose”  You can purchase it here

While I was reading the book I thought so much of Jamie.  Everything happens for a reason.  I think I was meant to know this young man. There are things about their lives that seem to run parallel.  They are within a year of the same age and they received the same sentence, seventeen years.  They went in almost at the same time and both still inside.

Where Jamie has used Buddhist study to learn about life and change the things that have caused him unhappiness, Martin turned to Christianity.  But instead of just saying he is a Christian but not applying what he learned to his life, he worked hard to be the man he knew he could be.  It was his second time in prison.  When he got out the first time he couldn’t maintain his Christian beliefs and within a year, his old life sucked him back in and smacked him across the face. It wasn’t being a criminal that landed him back in prison, it was poor judgement and a lack of being honest with himself.  As with Jamie, a year after he was released from Juvenile detention he went out to party one night with a cousin who had recently gotten out of prison, again.  Hindsight is 20/20. Being with him at all was a lapse in judgement and it cost him seventeen years of his life and being able to raise his son.

Sometimes though, when it looks like everything has gone wrong; you lose the woman you love and you lose years of your life you aren’t able to get back, you aren’t yet able to see what you have gained because you aren’t far enough to look back with that 20/20 hindsight.

I think Martin has gained much more than he lost and it will bring more to his life than if he had never gone in.  So which way would have been better?  Not go in, and continue to scam your way through life feeling lucky if don’t get caught, and maybe never have anything to be proud of?  Maybe never going to school or finding the right woman to love? Or is it better being forced to take the time to evaluate your life, change it, and then be a good influence on the people around you and help them change their life, too?  Read the book and decide for yourself.

Below is a letter I just received from Martin

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

 Dear SonniQ,

Thank you very much for your interest, thoughts, and response to my book. It always humbles me to hear how people I’ve never met read my story and was moved in some way. It’s encouraging to hear you say, “He was a success story when it could have easily gone the other way.” I attribute that to God and a lot of people who love and support me and what I aspire to do. Thank you for recommending the book on your blog as well — I appreciate that very much.

It sounds like you are Jamie’s primary support system. I commend you for that as I know it is not easy on you to do that. I pray that he is released soon. I think it’s tragic that he is not able to have any type of relationship with his son, especially since I have no doubt that his son is yearning for a relationship with his daddy. Unfortunately prison robs countless children of the opportunity to have meaningful relationships with their fathers. Obviously I don’t know the circumstances of your daughter and Jamie’s relationship, but my heart goes out to your grandson who is being deprived of bonding with his father. It nearly brought a tear to my eye hearing how his son wanted to give his daddy $2 to buy a soda. Kids are always the innocent bystanders harmed through this situation. I pray he and his son are able to reconcile when this is over. But in the meantime you are his angel, keeping him going in every way. I’m sure he tells you often as possible how much he appreciates you.

To personally answer your question, yes, I DO know how fortunate and “lucky” I am to be where I am, receiving the kind of services I am while incarcerated. Indeed, medium security and maximum security are worlds apart, and many inmates in maximum security prisons are treated worse than even unruly animals. It’s a disgrace that we allow such inhumane treatment of humans in our penal system, but we do. People are not outraged enough because it hasn’t happened to their family members directly. It’s a shame and my heart goes out to you, Jamie, and his son who has no idea how his father is being treated in that cold, dark place. Where is he? Texas? Yeah, I’m not surprised. I’ve heard enough horror stories about Texas prisons to last two lifetimes. How come Jamie can’t apply for medium custody? Is he in trouble a lot? That tends to happen more in prisons that lack any type of rehabilitative opportunities — not that I’m making excuses for misconduct because it still comes down to an individual choice. But certainly there’s more understanding in those horrid conditions why someone may act out.

You asked if I’m writing another book — yes. Actually, Adopt an Inmate will be helping me with the publishing process. I’m extremely grateful for their care, compassion, and willingness to help make prisoners’ lives more meaningful and manageable. My second book is actually a collection of a year’s worth of blogs that I wrote in 2014 that were dedicated to the important topics of how prison affects inmates and our families and loved ones. I wholeheartedly believe Jamie (and you) would enjoy it and find it worth your while. Oh, and we’ll see to it that the editing in this one is more consistent. 😉

It sounds like you are currently working on a book of Jamie’s life? Is Jamie contributing to it too? How far along are you? I hope you’re enjoying the process — I certainly did! It was cathartic in many ways. I assume you’ll be looking to publish it, no? When do you project it will be available for purchase? Keep Adopt an Inmate informed because I’d like to buy one of the first copies.

Thank you again for taking an interest in the things I write, SonniQ. You sound like a great person with a big heart and Jamie is fortunate to have someone like you in his corner. It’s unfortunate I can’t follow your blog and comment the way you do on mine, but I will someday! 🙂 In the meantime, continue to do the good work you’re doing and making a difference in the lives of people who need it the most. Take care, SonniQ.

Sincerely,

Martin Lockett

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Soon I will have a button that will take you to my newsletter sign up but until then I am using the one from WordPress. The next newsletter will be out in about two weeks.  I will have progress about the book which is about 4 weeks shy of being written and the first chapters are off an editor I really like.  ( I’ll see if she likes me, too!)  But I want to write about topics of our justice system that isn’t here at my blog.  It won’t be repetitious. Many of my readers are not bloggers here at WP. To be able to reach them it is very important for you to share what I do with your own social media. It is harder to sell a book if you don’t have anyone to tell.  I want sales to be put to good use for Jamie.  Just like Martin, when they get out they need to be able to start a new life.

You can use the form below, or you can send your email address to my new address at sonni@mynameisjamie.net

Allred Unit- Prison #8

Early Jan 2016

Hello mom, I’m sorry it to so long for me to write. Things have really been crazy the last few weeks. I have through hell and back. But that’s in the past. I’m not in the Wynne Unit no more. I’m now in N. Texas.

(  Sonni’s note: This is the 8th prison Jamie has been in. IF you would like to write to him here is his new address: James Cummings #1368189  12-Fpod-84, Allred Unit, 2101 FM 369 North, Iowa Park, Tx 76367 for those who have written and had birthday cards returned because he was transferred. If they were delivered, they haven’t sent his property to him yet so he doesn’t have any addresses, stamps, paper or ID to get any at the commissary. Hopefully he’ll get it, but last time the guards took things. It’s normal to be moved all over the state. There are more than 110 prisons just in Texas. Going to N Texas is better than going south. Texas is hot in the summer all over. But the south is hotter)

lockdown,voice from insideI am in ad seg, but believe it or not it’s okay as of right now. I am so glad to be away from Wynne Unit. It took two days to get here and we went through a little snow storm.

(Sonni’s note: Jamie told me a long time ago that he’d never seen snow. He’s never been out of Texas. So he must have enjoyed seeing snow. I just sent him a letter through jpay.com and sent a picture of the snow storm we just had on the east coast. 33″ and add 2 more feet of drifts. I hate cold weather. I prefer the tropics so I am typing right now wrapped up in three blankets! I hibernate in the winter.)

So far I’m okay. I’m still having chests pains here and there but I’ll be seeing a Dr here soon. They’ll start taking my medical fee out of any money you send until it’s paid. If you hadn’t been paying it all these years and helping me I wouldn’t have anything. I hope the send me all the books you had just sent.

( I buy them by the foot. A variety of all kinds of used books that measure three feet when stacked. I already bought another 3 feet. If he gets the last shipment h, too, he’ll be set for a couple months! In his property is also a radio. I found a neat article about how a monk sets his day. I jokingly told him he is like a monk who also lives in a cell. It helps to have a routine and stick to it spending so much time doing each thing and keeping his mind occupied in a positive way.

Source: Timo Waltari on Flickr
photo source: wikipedia commons (also from previous article)))

If you haven’t yet, read the post before this one about solitary confinement in the UK.  It’s hard to read what this kind of solitary does to the mind. It causes depression and mental illness. Suicide in prison is high. Depression and paranoia. Human beings are not meant to never be touched or talked to. Most people can’t handle it. Jamie is no stranger to solitary confinement or ad seg. They are both 23 hr a day lock down. Every three months they lock you down further to toss cells. Commissary is suspended even though he can only go once a month anyway and food rations are cut. Being able to stock up on food from the commissary is important.

Jamie studies Nichiren Buddhism. I started teaching him about 6-7 years ago. It’s not an easy practice to do every day without support. Compare it to taking out a gym membership. After going for awhile most people gradually stop going and make excuses why they can’t exercise that day, but they’ll go tomorrow and when they don’t see results they quit.  Buddhism produces actual results. It isn’t like Christianity where you go to church once a week, ask forgiveness and all is okay and you treat the world around you the same. We look at life and death in a different way and don’t think it was created by a god. It is different than a religion where a god is at the center. Since there is no god in Buddhism to worship, we don’t pray to an entity outside of us to change things in our life. We pray for the wisdom to know what to do to be able to change the part pf your nature that ends up causing you unhappiness. When you are able to change something on the inside, it affects your environment on the outside. 

We cause our own problems and over time we see the effects in our life around us. We can’t expect our life to change without doing the work. It’s like praying to change something and then holding out our hand expecting the benefit of cookies. We have to learn how to make better causes so we can be happy. In the last year, when Jamie was knocked down from G2 status that allowed him phone calls and had also allowed him to have a job – cleaning the showers – that he had worked hard to reach, because of the vindictiveness of a guard, it was a major let down for him and slowly he allowed his anger to have more control over his actions than common sense. He’s human. We’re all human, and we do or say things we later regret. But in prison you also have to deal with the rule that guards are always right and inmates are always wrong and there is nothing you can do about it. This has happened a number of time over the years where he had privileges taken away because of someone else has power over him.

But still, it is the result of cause that were made that put him in this situation to begin with, and only by changing how he deals with it can he change it. Wanting to change it doesn’t work by itself. If it were that easy to change, people would be doing it all the time. But they don’t and many fall back on, “That’s just the way I am.”

This is why we practice Nichiren Buddhism – not Tibetan or Zen or any other because they are ass different as Pentecostals and Catholics.If your faith only tells you what you should to be happy, but doesn’t tell you how to do it, then you have only half a teaching. Praising a god or any religion is not how you change the problems in your life. I’ve gone into this explanation because it’s a very important part of how he will be able to have the life he wants.  It’s up to him and asking an entity in the universe to fix his problems won’t work.  Ask any inmate in solitary confinement how that method is working for him.  If that worked we wouldn’t have the prison system we have because I’m sure there are a lot of inmates who are trying that method.  I don’t mean to disrespect anyone’s choice of faith.  I hadn’t intended this to be a post on faith, but it is a big part off how I keep his head above water.  I only know what works for me now and what hasn’t worked in the past. If anyone would like to know what this is go to http://sgi-usa.org.

So you had the chance to talk with the Warden when you called about my medications. The warden is just as bad as the guards. He’s the type of fool who tries to bone every female officer who works for him. When he can’t have his way he writes them up. This whole place is corrupt. I’ve had women who work here offer me sex. I would never have intercourse with them even if I wanted to. I’d be too scared because of HIV. A lot of these women have sex with these dudes and a lot of these dudes have sex with other dudes. So I have safe sex, with myself.

This seg is nothing like the last one. Officers here are respectful. I haven’t met them all yet but I’m going to do my best to be polite.

Do you think you can get Megan to bring little Jamie to see? If you are still planning on coming to Texas this spring I can’t wait to see you! I have to go for now. I only have one piece of paper and a stamp that I borrowed. I’ll write again as soon as I can. Please call Jamie. And tell him I love him.

Love you.

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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: itfonews@gmail.com

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Bible Thumping for Prison inmates

Photo credit: worddesign.biz
Photo credit: worddesign.biz

(Sonni’s note: I was going through a hard time. You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family, and I was going through yet another hopelessly dysfunctional episode with my dysfunctional family. It’s enough sometimes to ask yourself, why bother? Along with, knowing what Jamie has gone through with his, nothing gets any easier.

But, in this letter it is he who is picking me up and encouraging me, instead of the other way around. It’s so easy now to see how much he has grown. I know now he has grown strong enough to make it through this this time of being knocked back down and having all of his privileges, he had worked so hard for,taken away again. Knowing the prison system, it probably won’t be the last time, either. You don’t have to do anything wrong to get thrown back in lock up.If a guard doesn’t like you for any reason they’ll find a way to write a case against you…

February 14, 2015

Hello mom, I can tell by your letter you were hurt and upset. I’m sorry about the pain and hurtful emotions your family is giving you…However, know this. You know you have someone who loves and care for and about you, and that’s me and your kids and grandkids.

I’m sorry about what happened to your sister (quadruple heart bypass surgery). What you need to do is be strong. That hole? No,no,no I’ve been in that dark place plenty of times with my head down. Right now you need to be chanting for her just as you would chant for me. Give it some time and have faith just as you have had it all this time. Your sister will be fine.

(Sonni’s note:If you haven’t read other posts you might not know I am a Nichiren Buddhist and Jamie over the years has also studied. It has helped him to make sense of his life and to know it is how we react to these things in our lives that determines the effects we get, and the cycle goes on. Chanting is when we pray – not to something outside to fix of problems but to pray for wisdom to understand, and to have the confidence to not doubt the outcome. But we are human and we have to try every day to have the right attitude about our lives.

As for the situation with your family. I think they need some help, really. Anyone who can be so negative at you at such a time of not knowing the outcome of a family member will be, needs help. Especially ones that say they are good Christians. Because for anyone who will allow their anger and hate for anyone, family or friend, is a real selfish person. It’s something intheirlife that’s making them feel likeSHIT<em or are they just riding with something that have been drilled into their heads. Nieces and nephews, never give up on tryen to have a relationship with your family. Sometimes it takes situations like this to bring a family closer. It’s wrong the way they are treating you. This is your sister. Who give a shit what someone thinks. Devil, yeah anyone who acts the way they do and call themselves Christians are the damn Devil.

You know, the chaplain here acts the way they do. If you’re not a Christian he don’t like you. He tries to hide it but he’s not good at it at all. That’s another story. He says, “The lord’s will. We all was placed here to live and die,” point blank.
th (9)
You know what I find funny? Bill. The dude who was going to help me get a lawyer and come down here and was going to do all these things to help me? I find him funny because he became in here what we call a fake Christian. They are the ones who do everything that goes against what the Bible says. And him teaching Sunday school and all. Ha! He must love to hear himself talk. He’s the worst kind of Christian. Phoney. Them that say they know the most know the least. He just wants attention for himself. Come Sundays and Wednesdays he’s the first one out to church jumping up and down saying “praise God” Muthafucka like that I hate because they try to tell someone else how to live their life when he’s not living his life the way his Jesus say to. Bill’s a piece of shit and he will have a letter from me soon. He thinks he can go to jail for a few days because he pulled a gun on his wife when drunk one night and find the Lord and read some verses and think that changes him. Well we both know that did not happen. Lies are what a lot of Christians are good at, and Bill is a so called one. Bible thumping, that’s what it is.

We both are getting hit by big trucks right now. The only difference is, I told these people to fuck off. Yes, I have a lot of daimmoku (chanting) to do.

I been in lock up again since the third of Feb. I don’t know when they are going to let me out. I’m G4 for now, so it could still be worse. I’m chilling.

Happy Valentine’s Day Lovely Lady
Love always, So
Relax and chant, okay?

There’s No place For a Fish Out of Water

walking fish-cartoon 1

Ok, first I want to thank you for the way you broke everything down about Nichiren Buddhism for a better understanding. Because you’re right, there are religions that that promise people a great many things that will help them with their lives. To promise someone life after death is too much. How does this person know there’s life after death? They don’t. So why promise someone something when you can’t give it to them? I just never really understood the Bible in the way it contradicts itself in so many ways. Or why people would feel a book written by man thousands of years ago would be a nice way to live their life today by telling them how to live it. And then to have man rewrite it and add and take away things what was written is crazy. And it’s crazy and all how much sin went on at that time as well. I always had a hard time believing the Bible and Jesus. I read part of the Bible and even the Quran. I’ve been told the Quran is the only religious book that hasn’t been rewritten. I don’t believe it because I don’t know. The way you have broken down part of Buddhism, it shows it not to be a religion but a way of life. All causes and effects are a part of life. I do learn from what you send me. I also share it with my cellies and others. Oh yes, Megan taught me how to say the words and how to chant when she came to visit me before even though she stopped doing it. I know she used to do it everyday until she got around her dad’s family and they wouldn’t have accepted her doing any chanting, and she was around it when she a was little. She needed to be accepted.

l remember her visit just like it was yesterday. I chant. It’s just that I am very easily distracted. But I do chant. ( Nam Myo Renge Kyo ) Sometimes when I chant I find I won’t be saying anything because I find myself zoned out. I’ll catch myself staring at the wall or out the window at the sky. I feel my life has been a real waste. I sometimes feel there’s no place for me here. You know, like the way land is no place for a fish out of water. I feel like I’m a waste and out of place at times. I do my best to keep my head above water, but I can only swim for so long. Life goes on is what makes it worse.