What is There To Do in a Solitary Cell?

white guy stack of bksThink.  What else is there to do but think? What would you do if there was nothing to do, day after day after day? Time wouldn’t matter.  Would you care if breakfast was served at 3:30 in the morning in a room where the lights were on 24/7 and you were unfortunate enough to be in a room that had no window or if there was, there was nothing to see or it was to dirty to see anything. If there was no window would you even know what time it was?

Have you ever been sick and stuck in bed for a few days or a few weeks until you felt nuts if you couldn’t get out of there?  If you were stuck in a cell by yourself for a few years what would you do to keep yourself sane?  What would be the high points of your day?  Could it be that you hoped the guard wouldn’t be too lazy to take you for a shower, by yourself, handcuffed and shackled?

How would you feel if the day went by and you hoped and hoped for a letter that didn’t come? You sent out a few letters hoping the person on the other end would be compassionate enough to realize that you needed to have them write back and you waited and waited and tried to make yourself think maybe they moved or didn’t get the letter.  Maybe they didn’t have time to read it yet.white buy pulling paper

So you read a lot of books – if you can.  Where are these books supposed to come from? Not everyone is able to go to the library. Being in adseg doesn’t allow it. Some can get out of their cells every day and some can’t.  Is that their fault?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Being so alone really plays tricks with the mind.  It makes you angry.  It makes you sad.  It makes you cry.  It makes you want to give up – but you can’t.  All you can do hopefully cross one more day off your sentence so freedom is one day closer.

Unfortunately this is what usually happens to people stuck away in a prison for years.  People eventually go away. It happens to people who are sick, too.  Friends that used to call or come by once in awhile to see how you are gradually stop coming by.  They don’t know what to do.  They don’t know what to say.  They are uncomfortable.  They are uncomfortable.  They feel weird.  They go on with their lives and pretend you died.  It’s not their fault you are sick. Prison is the same.  They don’t want to be reminded of where you are.  It’s not their fault you are there and they tell you that.

What will happen with these people when you get out.  Will they want to give you a hug as though you have just returned home after taking a very long trip to another country?  Will they pretend everything is okay? Will they say,  “It isn’t important now, so let’s not talk about it?” Will they think you will be so glad to see them, and so grateful they took time out of their busy day to see you only when it is over that you will forget the years of silence and the begging to see them? Are you supposed to forgive them for never bringing your son to see his father? Is that possible?

Will they say, “Welcome back to the family.  Lets have a big family party,”and want to prepare your favorite foods to eat? What if you said you wanted pancakes and peanut butter because it was the only food you could think of, and they wouldn’t understand the irony of why you asked for those particular foods? He could never trust their intentions.

How would they feel if you said, “Who are you? I don’t know you. Go away.” Would it hurt their feelings? He hoped so. They never minded if they hurt his.  How does he treat his mother?  Can he forgive her?  She is his mother.  Not so fast.  He kept telling himself she did her best when he was a kid. But he hasn’t been a kid in a long time.  Has she been a mother to him when he has needed her as an adult, or are adult kids not supposed to ever need their mother?  He will always be there for his son? She needs to understand how it feels to be hurt by someone you thought loved you. He wants her to say she is sorry for being so thoughtless, and sorry for the lies.  He doesn’t think he will get it, though.  It hurts when you think your mother doesn’t love you  enough to even pretend.  Even if she says she loves him, she doesn’t love him enough to understand how he feels.  She doesn’t love him enough to help him.  Ten years is a long time.  He doesn’t know how he will handle this later. They have no right to be upset if he isn’t glad to see them.  He doesn’t know if he could be glad.  Oh well, he still has a long time to wait, but soon he will have only 1/3 of his time to go.

The last ten years and eight months have been a very long time. Absentee family in prison. Why? Even if his mother couldn’t physically make it in to see him it takes very little effort to write “I love you son” on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and put it in a mail. It might have brightened a very lonely day when he was feeling lonely.  So little could have done so much. She doesn’t even have to sell her food like he does to get a stamp  because he had to use the little bit of money he had left to buy deodorant so he wouldn’t stink in these very hot and sweaty cells with no air conditioning. Did she or anyone care about that?  Anyone but Sonni?

He hated to always have to ask her for money because he knows her disability check doesn’t leave her with much but she is the only one he can count on.  She always finds a way. She sends boxes of books so he can pass the time. A friend of hers has helped some, too, and she has also written some letters, but he hasn’t heard from her in awhile and doesn’t know why.

white guy red bkSo he reads, and in his fantasies he can be somewhere else for awhile.  He has routines he follows to get through the day. Some days he craves a hug.  To feel his arms around another human being.  The warmth. The rise and fall of breathing, feeling the heartbeat of another person. To give his son a hug for the very first time.  This is what keeps him going.

These men in here who have no one to love and no one to love them back.  At least he has that.  Now he has lived through another day. He waits for another letter.  Maybe he will be lucky today.

This is the first post I put on this blog in 2014. It will help you get to know Jamie a little better.

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Depression, Chronic Illness and Solitary Confinement

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I’m not a professional so I can’t say for sure I know what I’m talking about. I only have my own observations of people who suffer from depression and also the what I’ve read. Depression is very real and it can be debilitating. My intention is not to make anyone uncomfortable or make light of their situation. I am only trying to understand something I don’t experience except on rare times when life temporarily gets overwhelming.

I’ve read the blogs of many people who suffer from depression and other chronic illnesses. Reading experiences is a best way to understand what they go through rather than only reading medical articles.

We all have deep sadness sometimes, and it can go on for a long time before we get a grip on it. Something happens to us sometimes we can’t find a place in our brains to put it, so it is always right in the front part of our thinking and it can stop us from living.

I’ve had times when I was down. It happened more when I very sick but I would find a way to pull myself out of it. The teachings from my practice of Buddhism gives me hope. I’m sure people of other faiths rely on their faith as well. I could that but sometimes people can’t.

Jamie has suffered suffered from depression since he was a child. Would it have been different if he didn’t have epilepsy that resulted in seizures from birth to present day? How does it feel knowing it will never stop unless science comes up with a cure?

How does a child deal with a hopelessness?  Do people think, “He’s only a kid.  He’ll snap out of it?”  Jamie doesn’t like to talk about it. It took a long time for me to understand  what it did to the relationships in his life with family and friends. It knocked his self worth down to nothing. Writing about it brings it back. He prefers to keep it locked away. It will have to be his choice to unlock it. Maybe talking about it could help but it is not my decision to make.

seizure webmdcom

I know there are different kinds of seizures and they affect people in different ways. It must be a dreadful feeling to know one is starting and it can’t be stopped. There is nothing you can do. Is there a feeling of embarrassment, not wanting to show what you think is your personal failing to other people? Do they talk about you behind your back, laughing, if they wanted to be cruel or even feeling sorry for you like you are a broken. It has been this way for him since before he even knew what it was.

I asked him if he could explain to me what it felt like. He wouldn’t, really couldn’t tell me. To write about it in detail would be like reliving it. It was too much for him. It was then that I finally realized that epilepsy was the underlying factor for everything. If this one biological thing had been different it would have changed everything in his life, but it couldn’t be changed. He tells me when he has another seizure and he tells me if it was bad enough to be taken to a real hospital or if the guards just let him lay there because they don’t want to do the paperwork. The prison is messing with his meds and won’t give him what he knows will work so the seizures are more frequent than necessary. But he doesn’t go into detail about the seizure itself. We do what we need to do to protect ourselves.

Would talking about it begin a healing process? Not to change epilepsy itself, but would it change what it does psychologically? I don’t know, but I do think that years of stuffing it down has caused insecurity that is easily rattled and it begins another episode of depression he can’t stop. Being completely alone in a cell with no one talk to makes it worse.

When that happens if he feels it is hopeless why should he even try to go on. No one will bring his son to see him unless I go to Texas. Family, his son, and my daughter all live in Texas within a couple hours of the prison.  Has anyone else made one trip to this prison? No.  In the past ten years he’s been locked is he not worth visiting, even when they learned he also has problems with his heart? No. I don’t have enough money to go often enough.

His family ignores him. He recently tried again and wrote to them – with no response. Would that make you depressed on top of everything else? The total lack of caring makes me angry beyond words. He sold his food for stamps because he couldn’t go to the commissary. Not meaning to make it worse for him, I waited too long to answer his last letter because of everything else I’m writing and he began thinking I was gone. I left him. I was mad at him. He thought he did something wrong. He has lost the one person who has been there for him nonstop all these years. I’ve been his rock and it was like I died. It sank him into a depression where he stopped eating and used sleep to escape.

He wrote a letter and poured out all the pain he was feeling, convincing himself it was all his fault. I felt horrible. But that day, after he wrote and sent that letter, he received my ten page letter. Because of things happening in my life it took about a week to write it –  in pieces. Sometimes I think he’s stronger than he is. Is it because I want him to be stronger?

I do know, and always have known, if I had never written that first letter he would not have made it this far. My daughter would still not be taking their son to see him. He is supposed to understand how hard it is on her yet she doesn’t understand the power she has to destroy him – or to make him happy. She doesn’t want for him to be happy – because of me. She’s angry at me for being there for him. His family would also still not be in his life. No one would be paying his medical fee, so his care would be even worse than it is. Medical care is not free.  I’m on disability.  It takes me months to pay off the fee and still have enough for a few basic necessities. He still would have no one who cared if he was okay. It doesn’t matter that Jamie’s son needs his father. Not “a” father – but his own father.  If I wasn’t there his depression would have destroyed him –  completely.

jamie cummings
Father on the left and son on the right – both eight years old.

His mother had him in therapy as a child and other times in his young life. It didn’t begin in prison. Because there is literally no help for those in prison who need it, when an inmate is locked up alone it often causes harm that can’t be undone. There are so many articles in the media about what happens to the mentally ill in prison and no one can seem to change it. Jamie is not mentally ill, but he does need people who care about him. He does NOT need to be made worse because the people in his life think he’s not worth their time of day.

He’s a big man, 6’2″. He is physically strong. He looks like he should be strong. But no one can see inside his head to find the scotch tape piecing him together. My daughter is very angry with me because she said I’m not allowing her to “let him go,” as if I’m doing this to her. She said my relationship with Jamie is gross. She’s angry at things I don’t even understand because it makes no sense. There aren’t any sides to take even though I feel as though I am supposed to take one. What is there to choose? She is my daughter. I love her and always will, but to do this will not make her happy. 

I don’t know why she is so angry except maybe this makes her look at things she doesn’t want to see. Jamie has asked only one thing of her – one thing.  To see his son.  He loves him.  Being a father gives him purpose when he doesn’t feel he has any.  It is not a big thing he asks.  My daughter does so much for her children.  She is a good mom – except for this.  It’s too much trouble to do this one thing. Give up an afternoon and let their son spend son time with his father.  Don’t do to your son what your father did to you – ignore you.

When Jamie got my ten page and realized I hadn’t left him – I was still there – he immediately wrote another letter and apologized. I can’t take for granted he will understand if I wait too long to write. Do any of us thoroughly understand what it is like to spend years locked away from all communication – away from people? We can’t. We have never been through it, let alone for ten years. There are inmates who are locked up for three or four decades. Are they supposed to come out of that okay? Did it accomplish anything good or productive? No. It’s cruel.  I will NOT be cruel and give up on him because I know there is a reason for me being there.  I see in him what he is capable of.  And I won’t let him give up on himself.  It is not an option.

I will continue to try, to learn, and help others if I can. This isn’t about me. It is about how I can use my life in a positive way. If anyone else doesn’t understand that I can’t make them understand. Sooner or later his family and I will meet eye to eye. I can’t promise to keep my mouth shut.

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Picking Up Broken Pieces Inside AdSeg

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June 3rd, 2016

Hello mom,
I received your letter today and boy, that sure was one long letter. I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can. I will also give you my true thoughts. I’ve really been sitting and thinking about my future. So many things just pop into my head, even when I don’t want to think about it. Please know that I’m okay. Sometimes I just go into a shell to get away. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it isn’t. But I’m fine, okay, so don’t worry.

(Sonni’s note: But I do worry. No matter how strong someone may think they are, if you spend time in solitary for an extended period of time you can’t help but be affected by it. Sometimes you have a grip on your head when you’re alone and sometimes you don’t, and it gets to you. I have studied extensively the effects of solitary. Unless you have been there no one can know – including myself, what it is like to go weeks, months and years with no one but yourself to communicate with. No physical touch, no words except orders, no one to talk to about these things in your head.

I had a few rather callous conversations with people who don’t understand and are quick to place blame. “It’s his own fault. He put himself there.” Nobody blamed anyone else, so why are they so quick to make sure you know that. Strangers and family. They think, he is in prison, he shouldn’t be making any mistakes, so it’s his fault. Don’t you think he know that? Do you think he should have learned to behave 100% of the time and never give in to emotions.. The inmate must never forget they are to blame.

Jamie has had some very tough times this last ten plus years – for a variety of reasons – some are because of things he has done and some are because of retaliation from prison guards who have let their authority go to their heads and there are no repercussions for the things they do to inmates. They think, even if he is being continually mistreated, he is supposed to remailn calm and don’t contradict guards when they accuse him of doing something he didn’t do. Jamie fills out grievances that are never filed. He is carried down a flight of stairs face first with the guards hooking their arms through the cuffs on his wrists and ankles after having a seizure, because the guards are too lazy to get the board he is to be carried on, strapped on his side in case he has another seizure. . . . .

But he is not to get mad? He is supposed to stay in control and be polite no matter what they do to him? But he is a human being. We all have emotions. Even with an animal, if you treat him bad often enough he is going too bite you. So here we have a human being – someone I know very well and he is expected to do something you yourself would not able to do. You might think you could, but you couldn’t.

Someone said to me, “But you would think by now, after ten years, he would have learned!” Does that mean, no matter what is done to him he is supposed to stand there and not react in any way, always staying polite. Never should he ever reach the point where he can’t take it anymore. Maybe he should crawl into his head so far that he can’t find his way to normalcy when he gets out? How is he supposed to interact with other people when it’s been driven into him that who he is, what he thinks and how he feels really has no importance.

I tell him constantly his life has value. He won’t have a clue what to do when he gets out, but no one who knows him will have much patience with that. They won’t help because they have no clue what solitary confinement is and they will expect that since he is a grown man he should know what to do. Honestly, no one gives a damn what happens to him. He is going to have to prove himself to them before they trust him enough to even be nice. Why should he have to do that?

If he had been a drug addict or a violent person who hurt someone or had a string of convictions that says this guy is trouble – stay away from him; I could understand their skepticism. Except for this, he has not one conviction on his record. Was he perfect? No, but then neither was I. I did things in my youth that could have gotten me prison time had I got caught. I know lots of things people who didn’t get caught for things they did. Have I made them prove themselves to me? I’d like to flush his family down the toilet.

When I read his letters there are times when I can tell he’s in trouble – not physically, but mentally. He tries to stay strong in his letters to me. But he will also apologize to me when he thinks something happened and he should have been in better control. It’s okay. tomorrow is another day. Start over and focus again on your future. Imagine where you’ll be and the
things you want to do. What have you learned that can help other people

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

I’ve been asked, “Why is he back in ad seg again. What did he do?” He probably reached the end of his rope one day and got angry. You aren’t allowed to get angry. Everyone single person has gotten angry and yelled at someone. What if you weren’t allowed to ever get angry and you had to push it down deep inside. Could you do it and NEVER fail? You would just quiet your mind and not react – month after month after month? No, you couldn’t, and then they would give you more time in adseg. It is a lose/lose situation
Many inmates spend years locked up alone. They never get out. How does the prison do it, because it is against the law now to punish someone with more than fifteen days of solitary? By creating more cases. It takes a long time to get out of the lower classifications of prison. Solitary, ad seg (G5) and often G4. If the guards can’t find a way to sentence you with more time, they will just make something up. Do you think they wouldn’t do that? The more people that are locked up like that, the less they have to do. If you were paid what guards were paid you wouldn’t want to do much, either. Besides, they have to endure heat, too. But they get to go home at the end of the day. Still, it’s s sucky job, so amuse yourself and go pick on some inmates. No one will care. Guards stick together just like cops.)
I got a letter from someone who reads your blog. She said her son just got 20 years. She asked me for some pointers. I told her that family support is very important. ( something his own family will never understand) I also gave her some do’s and don’ts to give to her son. She said she was thinking about getting him an attorney, one who used to be a felon. Bad move. I told her to be careful. Make sure he works for a firm so he is legit. Some are just out to get your money because you are vulnerable.

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

biz card
Beware this picture is 30 years old!

So you want to play gigs again. Really! that sounds cool. I think you still have what it takes. I’m sure you are asking yourself, how could I say that? I’ve never heard you play. Passion. It’s because you have a lot of passion and I know that must be in your music. I know you can do it. Go ahead and start gigs again and do something for me while you do it. Enjoy yourself. That’s all for now. I’ll be waiting on you.

(Listen to this piece – really listen to it. Close your eyes.  Put your head back . Tell me what it means to you. Can you tell me what I’m saying?.

I had quit writing music about twelve years ago. I had no more reason to write. I had convinced myself my years of playing professionally were over. I was still teaching, but i played with headphones on so no one would accidentally hear me. I was told my playing might bother people.  I had also been sick for a long time and couldn’t sit up for long. I had nothing to write about. As I began this blog I wanted to play music again. As I healed I started playing my piano more and more. Something had changed, though.  My entire thought process for writing had become something else.  I stopped writing songs and crawled into the music. I started out writing music for Jamie. Music is emotional. Going through these years of keeping him going brought something into my music that wasn’t there before. Now, probably only one day a week, I want to find a nice piano bar or restaurant that would like beautiful music in the background. My days of fronting a band are long over. Now, as you see posts that have music on them you will understand a little more why I insert them.)

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The Prison Stole My Books When They Moved Me

Hello mom,                                                                       April 1 st, 2016

How are you today? Fine and in the best of health I hope. I’m not too sure what the weather is like outside today. I don’t really go outside. However, I can tell that the weather is crazy just by sitting in this cell. When it gets hot and stuffy the walls will sweat. Then it will get child Then it has rained quite a but down here as well. Now that is Texas weather.

What kinds of herbs are you going to plant this year? Are you planting any flowers? I never took the time to enjoy the sight of a beautiful flower. My mom had a couple ivy plants and I’d water  our spray them every now and then.

So you know, you don’t have to keep worrying about the heat and me being hot. I just got a new fan today. Also the medical co pay is paid off. Thank you. I also write to Leah and thanked her, too, for helping me. My radio the property lady took? They are $20 and I should be able to get one soon. I miss not hearing what is going on in the world.

InsideOut,original music compositions by Sonni Quick,Jamie Cumminngs

Books. I never got my books back. I don’t know why they kept my GED study book. She told me I was not going to get it back. Why? Why did they take that one away? And she took the brand new one Melvin got for me. I didn’t get a chance to read it. I’m still pissed about that.  I wrote a step one grievance to try and get them back but I haven’t gotten it back with a reason yet.  That book is about a man who was framed for  three murders and was given a life sentence. He fought the system for 23 years for his freedom. I have his first book. She took the second one. I never got a chance to read it. I also would like to read the Jim Crow book. When I’m not sleeping or writing, I read.

I can read a book and be finished with it in a day and a half. I read them and pass them along to others to read. Where we are, on level three and two they take our property. So out of 83 people I’d say more than half have nothing to read. The ones who do have a few books they have read them over and over. So I’d let them read something. Then there is always someone to spoil everything. I let a dude read a book but I wanted it back because I hadn’t read it yet. He kept it. Anyway, I still have quite a few to read. Sending the books in the 30 book lots has really helped me a lot to keep my brain occupied. I’m okay.

I received some post cards from Sherrll and her husband, and Jason. I’ve been writing them back, too. Having other people write to me and having letters to write is so important. If people only understood it can make such a difference between making it and not making it. Doing time is easier when you know people care about you. I’m regret I agreed to do the 17 years. I didn’t think I had the choice. I lost so much I can never get back. So I have to make it worthwhile.

I meant what I said about showing respect and have so much determination to give it and show it. It is very strong.The nurse that returned your call about my seizure meds, remember, there are some who will help but most just try to cover their ass.  But she doesn’t really care and this is how I know. I just had that seizure that caused me to have those seven staples in my head. I was in a cell on row one. Now they have me in a cell on the second row. What am I doing on two when I have seizures. It is harder to get to me for help and more dangerous for me.

My seizure Med – Tegretal – I explained about the doctor taking away my meds at the last unit, Wynne unit. He told me the first time I saw him he wouldn’t put me back on Tegretal because my level was too low. Then he said he can’t do it because I had headaches. I told him when he asked me how I felt. I told them I HAD a headache which is common after a seizure. The doctor said he didn’t care he still won’t give the Tegretal. They want to put me on Dilantin, which I took as a kid and it has really heavy side effects – makes you feel like a zombie and made my gums bleed.

You said you sent a picture in your letter but there was no picture.  Someone took it.  I get your big envelopes when you print things out but I don’t know if anything is missing, so make a list of what should be ever in it.

I’m okay mom. Don’t wory.

Love to you, Jamie.

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This is the Internet radio show interview I did on the David Snape Show, and how to sign up for my new monthly newsletter about the book I’m writing, inmates who need pen pals,info about changes in the prison system, inmate stories that need to be told and other books inmates are writing.

David Snape Show 2 (4.4.16)

I did an internet radio show on the David Shape Show about the US prison system, Jamie Cummings and how he deals with epilepsy in a system that doesn’t care about medical care for the inmates.  When you go to the show it is quite long, a little over two hours. If you move the bar ahead one hour and twenty minutes it should be shortly before the interview starts.

We also talked about the youth in juvenile detention and how children are treated in schools using cops for discipline instead of detention, and putting handcuffs on them and seating them in the rear seat of a patrol car.

We talked about the book I’m writing about Jamie’s life, “Inside The Forbidden Outside”. You can find chapters on the blog. It’s more than half done and the editing process has begun.

We also discussed the piano music I’m writing for the book which will be included inside the back cover. At the end of the show one of my more recent pieces will be played.

This is the first of hopefully more media I will be doing over time to advertise the book that I hope will lead to being able to lecture on the prison industry. When Jamie is finally released he will be able to join me. He wants to work with the youth using his life as an example, in hopes of being able to turn their lives around before they, too, end up in the system. One in three black males end up in prison. Contrary to racist belief it is not because crime is in their genes. It is because of government pushing the War of Drugs on to black men’s shoulders making you believe through the media that they are dangerous.

Kids don’t understand the ramification of their choices until it’s too late. When someone has been incarcerated for a long time, and Jamie has been locked up for 14 years counting time in juvenile detention. Unfortunately, the four years in juvy was not because he committed a crime. It was because he defended his mother from a cop who illegally entered their home. He injured his mother and she was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He hit the cop with a broom. It cost him the rest of his high school years and four years of his life.

This story needs to be shared. Unfortunately, it happens far to often to too many black youth. I am asking for you to please share this on your own social media. The success of the book will be determined by how well this info gets pushed through sites on the web. It bring so much encouragement to Jamie as he sit in his cell 23 hours a day, working his way again, up through the levels. He has received letters from some of you. Knowing someone cares enough to write matters more than you know.

Thank you for tuning in to the show. Let me know what you think.

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David Snape Show - Bourne and Beyond

On the show, we look back at the career of Ronnie Corbett. Why both the UK steel industry and Qatar’s World cup are in tatters. And can Rihanna make it 3 weeks in number 1 in the Itunes Power rankings?
All that plus this weeks post of the week: What Am i reflecting by Nancy Ruminski.
This weeks new artist showcase: The Ellipsis, Robyn Sherwell and Mt.Wolf
Two interviews: one with last week’s new artist showcase star, Salix Willow. And Sonni Quick with one of the most hardhitting interviews we have ever done, talking about the US prison system and Jamie Cummings who has epilepsy and how he’s been treated in there.

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Alonza Thomas – Heights – YouTube

Over the past year I’ve written about Alonza several times.  I’ve had the pleasure of skyping with him many times – a deep and thoughtful man trying to figure out how to begin his life again in a world that caused him pain.  We have read frequently the past year what effects are of solitary confinement. Because of what happened to Kalief Browder and his suicide caused by abuse and solitary confinement the law was changed and kids could no longer be held like that. Alonza had just turned 16 and California had just changed the law to try 16 year old kids as adults and he was the first one. He became their poster child/adult. He made it through 13 years but came out in a million tiny pieces he has been struggling to put back together. I’d like to say that today everything is great. I know he wishes it were. But the reality is the same as someone who has come back from war. On the outside everything seems to be okay, but the glue holding the pieces together never really dries. It is fragile and easily broken. He is safer inside his lonely room than facing the world outside.

I hope he someday heals. He’s a special person. He will always have a piece of my heart as I hold a piece of his.

Below the video is a link to other poetry. Below that is the piece Frontline did on him when he was released.


Link to Alonza’s poetry . . . .         Good Wouldn’t Exist Without Bad   

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Sonni’s Piano Music

YouTube 18 1/2 Years in Solitary

There is much I could say here about solitary confinement, but you can find many other posts and pages on my blog that speak of it. There are links on the right side of the page that can take you to other sites that will give you many more examples of it. The best one is Solitary Watch Between the story of the man this blog is about, who has spent a combined 5 years in Solitary confinement, and 10 years total in prison, first offense, with 7 years to go, and Armando Macias, who has 3 pages here and one post of his writings I have published, who is on death row in San Quentin, I have learned more than I ever wish there was a need to know.

I sincerely hope you keep on reading while you are here, and return often. Jamie’s story is one that needs to be told. Please share these posts as much as possible. If you go to the page that starts out with, “I want to encourage you . . .” You will find out the important places to start reading first that will give you a better understanding of the purpose of our prison system, which serves a purpose that is different from what most people realize. Prisons are full of more than just bad people or we wouldn’t be locking up more people in America than any other country. There is much money that can be made for the prison industrial complex. People often do the wrong thing for the right reason, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. So many people are locked up in mass incarceration for the wrong reasons and little is done to get him out because he can’t pay an attorney. Why should he should lose so many years of his life because of that unless there is financial motivation. During the eight years we have been writing it gave me a clear understanding of how necessary it was to help him. He mattered to me. This one human being, younger than the age of my daughter, father to my grandson, wants to have another chance at life.

Prisons are kept full using the backdoor method – mostly parole violations, not new crimes, although they do exist. Actual rehabilitation is not a priority. The fact that Jamie also has epilepsy and has had a multitude of seizures while inside, will only make it that much harder to find work. The fact that he spent over 4 years in juvy on a bogus charge from late 16 to 21, and not being able to get an education will also make it harder.

If we just sit back and read about these problems but do nothing to help, it will continue. Help me help him. Share this blog.

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https://mynameisjamie.net/2016/01/31/inside-the-forbidden-outside-chapter-the-nightmare/

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He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother

 

Because of the book I’m writing about Jamie Cummings, “Inside The Forbidden Outside” I’ve been re reading many letters I’ve received from him over the years, separating them into different subjects. For instance: medical care he’s received, treatment from the guards, solitary confinement – and lack of caring, help and communication from his family.

The hardest thing for him, has been been wrapping his head around the fact that his family isn’t there for him. Maybe in their head they think they are, but the reality is different. They probably were in the beginning, I think. They aren’t bad people. Maybe when he gets out they think it will pick up where it left off and everything will be hunky dory, but I don’t think so. I know how much he loves he loves his family, but I don’t think he will forget how many unanswered letters he wrote. They have no idea how many he wrote and tore up because he was venting the fact that they haven’t been there for him. I think, over time, they went on with their lives. Jamie became, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Maybe they thought there was nothing they could do and life went on – for them. Communication became less and less, and even helping him financially, so he could buy any luxury we take for granted, like real soap, became a “so what, it’s only soap” item. So he would write me, “Mom, please, can you help me?” Who else was he going to turn to? No one else was going to help him, that was clear. One relative recently told me, “It’s his own fault he got into trouble and went to prison.” My goodness sake, is that the reason they still tell themselves for not helping him, it’s not their fault because ten years he got into trouble? And oh, I can’t forget this: I was told it’s not my concern. It certainly hasn’t been their concern.

Not my concern? He’s my family. He IS my concern. He’s the father of one of my grandsons. We are connected by blood. I might be white as snow and he’s black as the ace of spades, but both bloods run in my grandson’s veins. But even if it didn’t, and I know this because of my own family, being related doesn’t mean the people in your family are going to actually take time out of their life to show they care about you.

After thinking about what was said, I realized they didn’t know him anymore. They knew a much younger Jamie. They don’t know the Jamie I know. They also have no idea what the effect of this experience of abuse has had on him. They also have no idea where he is going next. How could they? There will come a day when they will regret that as they try to claim him as their own, and he will say, “And where were you when I needed you?”

Jamie never placed blame on anyone but himself. Whenever he wonders why no one cares, he always says it is his fault. He thinks it is because he caused his mom a lot of trouble growing up? I think most kids do. So is that a reason for not helping him now? Is he getting a needed payback for being a kid? My goodness. He’s 33 now. I think he’s done paying for those mistakes. What he is doing now is a cry for help, “Please don’t let me disappear from your lives. I need you. I’m lonely. I want to know you care what happens to me.” So he waits and waits. He gives them a deadline. If they don’t write back in say, two weeks, he’ll take them off his visitors list. At the end of two weeks he’ll set another ultimatum. “They are busy,” he tries to convince himself, because the thought of them not caring is more than he can handle.

I wrote to one of his family today. I said, “Jamie needs his family.” Thinking your family doesn’t love you is hard to bear. I know sometimes he’s depressed. There are enough articles published for anyone to know about the devastating effects on the brain that are produced by solitary confinement. So I asked, “Why does no one bother send a birthday card or Xmas card? Why can no one put a few dollars in his account to buy the absolute basic necessities for survival?” My answer? “Just because he got hisself in trouble doesn’t mean my life stopped.”I guess that means it’s Jamie’s own fault for getting into trouble ten years ago,  so the family is off the hook. Does that mean, when he gets out in seven years, the excuse, when he tries to get his life together and needs help, becomes, “It’s not my fault he got into trouble 17 years ago”? When does that mistake finally get paid?

This family member didn’t know Jamie was transferred to another prison 2 months ago. I said he had no paper, no stamps, and a guard destroyed his ID. I told him everything that happened he didn’t know about. I asked him why? Why won’t anyone help? I even asked for help. He has epilepsy. He has to be able to call medical when he has a seizure. Medical care is not free, contrary to popular opinion. When I asked his mother to help she conveniently evaded the question. I know she heard me ask. I’m on disability, but I still pull it together AND send books and letters and magazines and newspaper clippings and most of all I send him love so he isn’t alone sitting in a cell that resembles hell.

He answered me with, ” I’m not going to answer this because you’re really starting to piss me off.”
“My telling you the truth pisses you off?” I replied. “If I am wrong about any of this, please tell me where.”
“Really, it’s not your concern. Jamie lies a lot”
That’s a good one. It’s hard to keep a lie going for ten years, especially when there is no reason. “It is my concern,” I said. “Tell me what the lie is.”

Silence

Everyone makes mistakes. Do we stop loving people because of it, and make sure for ten years they never forget, by ignoring them? Does it keep us from supporting them emotionally? We can’t pick up a $2.99 card that says, “Thinking of you,”put a stamp on it and toss it into a mailbox? Can’t we say, “No matter what, I love you and I’m here for you. You ain’t heavy, you’re my brother.”

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother
lyrics by the Hollies

The road is long
With many a winding turns
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another
It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother
He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

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By the I got done with this I was crying. I was feeling the pain I knew he felt

Right and Wrong Has Different Rules For Prison Guards

This is a repost from 2014. Nothing has changed. There is a different set of rules between right and wrong than there is in the free world.

prison guard

My focus has been the injustice that has been shown to Jamie, and to all other prisoners as well. It’s about the injustice shown when he was a teenager, locked up for nine months that became 4 years.  They finally had to let him go because he turned 21 and they couldn’t hold him any longer. It is also about the injustice shown him when he was picked up for the charge of ‘aggravated assault’ because he was with someone who decided to use his gun to rob a place and he tried to run away, and the injustice of never having any justice at all because his woefully inadequate public defender, who is in the pocket of the district attorney knew it was his job to scare him to death so he would take a plea of 17 years insteadof going to court and possibly getting up to 99 years. What would you do if you were faced with that? You’d probably take the plea, too.

The years spent in solitary confinement, being treated as a subhuman being not deserving of human rights, is now hoping against hope that nothing will stop him from being allowed to make his very first phone call to his son since the day he was born. That is a lot of injustices, isn’t it? That has been my focus of this post.

There is another side of the story. The prison system is genuinely, very corrupt, filled with people and corporations looking to make a buck any way they can, even if it means hurting people. The security guards are to blame for the inhumane way they treat inmates. They are allowed to do this. The prison officers look the other way. The prison industrial complex sets the tone for this while taking advantage of prisoners. The security guards aren’t the ones who line the pockets of the government agencies and politicians so that the vote goes for the corporations and against the people. Corporations have been getting their way for a long time and there hasn’t been a whole lot anyone has been able to do to stop it. Money goes a long way in keeping information about their abuses from getting into the wrong hands and used against them, but even if it does and they have to pay off the lawsuits, they still made more money off the backs of the people than what it costs them to pay up, so I guess it’s worth it to them.

I could go into a long tirade against the corporations that cheat the inmates by not providing the care they so proudly proclaim they do on their websites, cheat the government and cheat people out of years of their lives all for the sake of a buck, but that isn’t my focus today. I want to focus on the prison guard himself. What kind of man or woman becomes a prison guard and what kind of nature does a person have to have that allows him to justify his actions and tell himself that what he/she is doing is ok? The prison says it’s ok if they torture inmates, so why not? But how do they live with themselves when they have participated in inhumane treatment of human beings? How can they do it and go home to their friends and family and tell them about their day? Who were they when they started and who did they become? Was that nature there all along and all it needed was a shove in the right direction? But still. I know that not everyone who works in a prison is like this. There have to be some good people who work there, too.

There are some careers where you have to turn off your emotions. If you are affected by the environment you work in, it could take you into a very dark place. If you got too involved, how could you turn it off at the end of the day? Is being a prison guard a role you play that gets put into the locker at the end of the day the way an exotic dancer puts her costumes in her suitcase and walks out the door at the end of a shift?

Is a prison guard always a prison guard? When does it become an identity instead of a job? Another profession that abuses the right to hurt people are the very people who are supposed to protect and serve the people of our communities. We know who they are. We read the news. We watch it on TV. We aren’t surprised any more when we hear of one more case where the bounds of the law were stepped over and another person was needlessly taken advantage of, hurt or killed. We would be shocked if it all stopped and the law was actually used to help us instead of control us. The days of Andy of Mayberry are long over.

The government has insisted that we don’t torture inmates.  How can they say that and who believes them? On Nov. 12 and 13, the practice of holding incarcerated people in prolonged isolation will come under international scrutiny when the U.S. government goes before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva.

http://solitarywatch.com/2014/10/14/u-s-government-tells-un-committee-on-torture-there-is-no-systematic-use-of-solitary-confinement-in-the-united-states/

It’s part of a periodic review to assess if this country has been compliant concerning the guidelines of the Convention Against Torture and the first U.S. review under Obama’s administration. I think we know the answer to that. But I think anything said will just be lip service and they will continue to do things exactly the way they have been doing it.

But I’m getting off the subject. I want to find out who the people are who actually enforce the rules of behavior that says it’s ok to treat people so badly that they sometimes die from the abuse. What kind of prison guard can stand by and watch that happen? Apparently quite a few.

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James Ridgeway’s Solitary Reporting – The New Yorker

There may be no journalist in America who has collected more stories from prisoners in solitary confinement.

Source: James Ridgeway’s Solitary Reporting – The New Yorker

Prison officials rarely allow journalists to walk through their prisons, and even rarer is the warden who lets a reporter into his solitary-confinement unit. The voices of the men and women confined inside these prisons-within-a-prison are often the last ones that any prison administrator wants outsiders to hear. But the potential power of these prisoners’ stories to draw public attention—and propel politicians to act—was on display earlier this week, when President Obama announced a plan to decrease the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Obama cited the story of a young man named Kalief Browder, who spent nearly two years in solitary confinement on Rikers Island without having been convicted of a crime.

I wrote about Browder for this magazine in the fall of 2014, but there may be no reporter in the United States who has collected more stories of solitary-confinement prisoners than the veteran investigative reporter James Ridgeway. Since it is virtually impossible for a reporter to gain access to a solitary-confinement unit, Ridgeway came up with another strategy. “I wanted to use the prisoners themselves as reporters,” he told me. “Of course, that’s taboo in the mainstream press, since we all know they’re liars and double dealers and escape artists.” He chuckled. But breaking that taboo “didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “My position was: all we want to do here is, we want to know what is going on inside.”

Each week, Ridgeway leaves his home in Washington, D.C., walks to his local post office, and returns with about fifty letters from men and women locked in solitary-confinement units in prisons around the country. The letters began arriving in 2010, soon after Ridgeway launched a Web site, called Solitary Watch, with an editor named Jean Casella. “When we started, there was nobody writing about this,” she said. Ridgeway was then seventy-three years old. He dug into his retirement fund to help cover startup costs, and now, when he goes to the post office each week, he pushes a walker.

He began his journalism career more than fifty years ago, and for thirty years he was the Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. (We were colleagues there for about a decade.) Mother Jones once called him “one of the legends of modern muckraking.” By now, he has written so many books that he’s lost count. “Sixteen or seventeen,” he said. It’s actually eighteen, and next week will bring the tally to nineteen. “Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement,” which he co-edited with Casella and Sarah Shourd (who was held in solitary confinement in Iran for four hundred and ten days), will be released on February 2nd.

Many of the book’s stories are culled from the Web site, which publishes original news reporting as well as firsthand accounts of solitary confinement. The site gets about two thousand visitors a day, but one story drew six hundred thousand views. It was written by a New York prisoner named William Blake, who had then been held in solitary for nearly twenty-six years. Describing a solitary-confinement unit—which in New York is known as a “Special Housing Unit” (or “SHU”) or just “the box”—Blake wrote:

The box is a place like no other place on planet Earth. It’s a place where men full of rage can stand at their cell gates fulminating on their neighbor or neighbors, yelling and screaming and speaking some of the filthiest words that could ever come from a human mouth, do it for hours on end, and despite it all never suffer the loss of a single tooth, never get his head knocked clean off his shoulders. You will never hear words more despicable or see mouth wars more insane than what occurs all the time in SHU, not anywhere else in the world.… Day and night I have been awakened to the sound of the rage being loosed loudly on SHU gates, and I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t at times been one of the madmen doing the yelling.

There are now an estimated hundred thousand people in solitary confinement in prison in the United States. That number should fall in the coming months, in the wake of Obama’s executive actions, which ban solitary confinement in federal prison for all juveniles and for adult prisoners who commit only low-level infractions. Figuring out the true impact of Obama’s actions—and how many states and counties decide to follow his lead—will require the sort of close, relentless scrutiny that has become Solitary Watch’s specialty.

Meanwhile, letters from solitary-confinement prisoners continue to fill Ridgeway’s postal box. In a 2014 article in CounterPunch, he explained:

There are so many letters now that I cannot possibly reply to most of them, even with a couple of volunteers to help. So I buy packages of cards, and gather up all the ones sent to me for free by wildlife groups as thank-you gifts for donations. I start sending people in solitary pictures of polar bears and endangered gray wolves, with just a few handwritten words: “Thanks for your letter. Stay strong.” They write back with a level of gratitude totally disproportionate to my lame missives.

As the volume of letters coming in has grown, so have the descriptions of prisoners’ psychological torment. About one prisoner, Ridgeway recalled, “This guy would write me: ‘I tried to kill myself with the electric light socket, but couldn’t do it. I’m now testing to see if I’m going to slit my wrists.’ ” (Ridgeway made several phone calls, and, he said, somebody moved the man out of solitary and into a psychiatric hospital for prisoners.) “I feel so bad for some of these guys,” he said, “because they really do seem like potential suicides. Those people—I just promise them that I will read their letters and respond.”

Ridgeway will turn eighty this year. Lately, his eyesight has been weakening, making it much harder for him to read and file all the letters that sit in piles atop his desk. “I have so many right now I can’t face them,” he said. But he has no plans to stop. “Most of these guys I write to, all they want is to reach out and have a human hand,” he said. “I used to think they wanted their cases dealt with, but all they really want is just to have some sort of correspondence, some kind of contact with the outside world.”