Ever try spinning seven plates at one time without letting any of them smash into tiny pieces on the floor? That is my life today. The fact that things are moving fast is a good thing, but it also means working from the time I wake until the very latest wee hours of the morning (sun-up). Two blogs, three fb pages or groups, other social media and connections, studying, writing – my work and editing others, and my The ITFO Newsletter which I am late getting out this month. Did I say seven plates?
Because I haven’t been able to post as often as I’d like because of this I thought it would be a good idea to tell you what is up.
The rewrite of the book, “Inside the Forbidden Outside” I started two years ago is in full swing. When it comes to learning a craft, you can really only learn it by making every possible mistake there is so you know how not to make it again. I am far from learning all I need to know, but I have learned enough to realize that first draft is only usable as far as pulling out certain facts and scenes in it, but as a book that is publishable, if I had tried it would have been as big of a disaster as some of the free books self published books I download from Nook – just to study how badly most of them have been edited.
I took two writing classes this past year and worked closely with a story editor to get it on track. If you have ever thought about writing, the University of Iowa teaches free six week courses in all kinds of writing. – called The Power of The Pen. Through that I met many other writers – some new, some published and 22 of us have joined together in a separate writer’s group to continue to read and critique each other’s writing. Because I also write poetry I am starting another class this week on poetry and playwriting. There are also good resources atAll Writer Workshops
Most of you have heard at least one piece of piano music I have recorded. It is on quite a few blog posts and 37 pieces can be found at SoundCloud. I was contacted by the GM of London based SkunkRadioLive about submitting my music to be aired on their show. They play an hour of instrumental music between 1 and 2 – their time or 8 AM EST. The music submitted is called an “audition”. They play it for a week. If it gets good feedback – from people liking it then there is the possibility of it played on a regular basis and having a digital album cover done to be used for promotion.
I would use the same title and artwork and that will be created for the book to better create a sellable brand. The attitude of “Write a book, put it on amazon and buyers will come” is a pipedream. I haven’t spent all this time developing something using hope to sell it with. I’m spending the hours to learn how to market my self, book and music together. I might be getting close to being a dinosaur in music – but the decades, playing, teaching and composing brings out the best in a player.
To pull this all together means I will have to get back out in the public and play gigs again. I retired fifteen years ago. My last gig was at La Te Da’s in Key West. I later went through years of illness after illness never thinking I’d be able to play again. It will still be a struggle, but I had to decide if I was still alive or dead – and being alive won the battle. Living on a disability check clinched the deal for me. Broke is not fun.
So, hang in there with me. I need your support. Jamie needs your support – because he is on the cover for all of this. I’m hoping to get down to the prison to see him after the worst of the Tx summer is over. I also plan on being back in the Keys this Winter. My son is moving back in a couple weeks. I HATE WINTER!
Life is for the living – go live it instead of just thinking about it!
Stay current on prison issues and inmate writings. As I build followers for Jamie with the book I’m writing about Jamie Cummings life, Inside The Forbidden Outside, keeping people informed along the way is important. It gives him a purpose when he gets out that he can help other lives. Much of the information is not on this blog and it’s important we reach people everywhere. We have a government now even more gung-ho on locking up as many people as they can for even longer years – making crimes out of things that were never crimes before to placate the prison corporations. It is going to affect even more people who will get knocked sideways when they find themselves behind a steel door. Staying informed helps you protect yourself, because, yes, it can happen to you, too.
If you know an inmate who writes poetry or is an artist or has a story you’d like to tell you can email me at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Protect yourself by having an attorney on call with an app on your phone. Stopped and given a ticket? harassed? Get screwed by a landlord? Customer not refund your money? Need a FREE will done? (normally about $300) Click on the link below and see why you need this. A friend has a brand new problem with a landlord. She had just signed up for the service. She didn’t even think about Legal Shield until I reminded her. All for muchless than a trip through Kentucky Fried Chicken. Call me, email me, msg me here or at FB. It’s that easy.
I can’t make you do this. It is why you have car insurance even though you are a good driver – the other person who hit you, isn’t. Then you call your insurance company. That is why you NEED Legal Shield. If I didn’t think this was true I wouldn’t waste the space putting it here.
There is no way I could add all the promo pictures and bands I worked with over the years. I also taught piano through most of these years as well. If I stay lucky and have at least another 20 years to compose, knowing the older the you get the more experience you have. As long as arthritis leaves my hands alone I’m going to be kicking butt somewhere. I won’t go down easy.
Some pieces have being eliminated because of sound quality. I have a much better way of recording. I can sit and play like this for hours and never play the same thing twice. Everything is improvised. I’m considering gigging again. I gave up playing in piano bars 12 years ago. I started in 1974 and moved on to fronting bands in 1981 and later, in the 90’s began to only teach. In 2000, in Key West I began playing as a solo artist again but later became to sick to play. Through all these I continued to teach and compose and had other “careers” in between. I regret I never had a chance to play with my son Robo who is one hell of a keyboard player – the fastest left hand I’ve ever seen.
Now at the ripe old age of . . . older than my grandchildren, my desire to write and perform burns a hole inside me. I have always believed if a dream comes to life inside it is there for a reason, so follow it. It is why I have done everything I’ve done in my life that has taken me to many different places ( and gave my kids a very unstable childhood, but they learned not to except the status quo or care about what other people think about they decided to do.) Go for it. We only remember one life.
So when my book is published – it is in the first round of editing – then I think I need to find a way to fit in one gig a week – find a nice restaurant that appreciates beautiful music playing while people socialize. Years ago I swore I’d never play another piano bar. They bored me. This is another time in my life. I’ve played many piano bars, from the Hyatt Regency in Houston to the Bahia Mar on Padre Island to La Te Da’s in Key West.
Soundcloud allows easier access for people who don’t follow the blog, but see it advertised in other places. I’ve taken off most of the duplicate music but left ones that are still found on earlier blog posts. Soundcloud also allows me better access to to stats to see what is being listened to and which ones are liked better. Older blog posts will still direct you here but new posts will only play soundcloud tracks.
Scattered through out the blog you will find many of these music pieces. These are all original
improvisations. “Inside the Forbidden Outside” Is the title of the book I’m writing about Jamie Cummings. I’ve been working on it for 1 1/2 years. Writing this while keeping up my 2 blogs has been work than I thought it would be. Marketing it takes another bundle of time. I would like to be able to offer this music in some way with the book when it is ready. It is the heart – the emotion that came from writing. The sadness of understanding what life is like for someone on the inside when the people you love don’t take the time to show they remember you are there. Find out what real loneliness feels like. This music is my sadness for him.
You can get on the mailing list for the new ITFO Newsletter – the initials for the name of the book – by going here http://eepurl.com/bZ8e71 (You may have to put the link in the browser until I figure out why it won’t link) It is a newsletter about the prison industry and the inmates inside. It is a part of this country that needs to change. You can reach me directly at: email@example.com. For the first three days after publication I will give out free ebooks through Kindle at Amazon, only asking that you please leave a review. You will know ahead of time when that happens. Reviews sell books. Money earned through this will help me help Jamie. If I already have your address and want to write a review just send a msg. The notice will be in the monthly newsletter I’ve started. I’ve been promoting early go grow an email list. I hoping to have it for sale before the end of the year.
This page has been being changed over to http://soundcloud.com/sonni-quick All new pieces are there, not here.. But still, this is part of my history and every piece was written for a reason.
This music is copyrighted. Please do not use it for ANY reason other than for your own listening. You may only share it with proper credit and a link back to the original site. Thank you.
Second Time Around – by Sonni Quick. Copyright 2015
The Fallen – by Sonni Quick copyright. 2015
Lost Love – by Sonni Quick. Copyright 2015
Yester Days – by Sonni Quick copyright 2015
Taking Back What They Took Away – by Sonni Quick copyright 2015
And The Rain Begins – by Sonni Quick copyright 2015
One day I asked Morgan for Jamie’s address. I wanted to send him a card. I don’t remember if it was a holiday or even why I wanted to do it. He popped into my mind one day and hoped he was doing okay.
Prisons were in a different world than anything I had experienced. I thought prisons were supposed to provide the essential things the prisoners needed. I was totally clueless about the US prison system. It didn’t take much research to find out how wrong I was.
Not long after I sent the card I got an answer back. He was surprised to hear from me, but it was a welcome surprise. It started a relationship through letters that became much more than I thought it would when we started. For the most part, the art of letter writing all but died when sending emails became easier than finding an envelope and stamp. Reading a letter by hand says much more than just what the words say. Jamie has many different styles of handwriting and I can immediately sends his mood by the way he writes. My handwriting is the same as it was when I was twenty and is quite illegible, so I type and print out about half the letters I send.
There is nothing interesting in the mail these days. It is all junk mail or bills. When I see I have a letter to read, I dump everything on the table and go get comfortable to read his letter, or other letters from other inmates I write to. When Jamie’s son gets older, if he wants his son to read the letters, he will get to know his father in ways he would never otherwise understand. Over the years these letters made me realize he had a story that should be told. I not only learned about what kind of man he was, but I learned the true story about what happens in the prison system. When I have other inmates telling me the same thing it makes it hard to have respect for the system. Finding out about how inmates are treated – abused- made me angry. I became frustrated because I wanted to do something to help him.
Because of propaganda, many people have the attitude of, “If you do the crime, you gotta do the time.” It’s not that easy to use that phrase in a general sense about all inmates. It’s not just about doing the time. It isn’t that cut and dried. Although there are many people locked up who should never be let out on the street, there are even more people being given sentences that don’t fit their crime, if they are even guilty in the first place. These people are valuable to the Prison Industrial Complex. They have a contract that stipulates their prison will be kept full, whether the people in it are guilty or not. Much of what is written about prisons in the media only tell a partial story. It doesn’t say enough about the extreme abuse prisoners have to endure, the same way it is hard to convict a cop. There is an image the system wants to preserve as cops and guards being people who uphold the law are in the right and have reasons to abuse people. If people believed otherwise they would lose control. Stories get twisted about how people were hurt to make people believe they only hurt people when it is justified. We know that isn’t true, but how many murder convictions have their been of cops and guards? Almost none. They are more likely to only get a short suspension, if even that, but they don’t end up in solitary confinement being treated the way they have treated others. There has been a lot of inhumane treatment and torture inside those walls for hundreds of years. The pain of knowing that, and personally knowing someone who was experiencing it started ripping me up inside, telling me I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. If you realize evil is taking place and you look in the other direction, you are condoning what is happening and that makes you guilty, too. From the warden on down, everyone who works in the prison knows what is happening, but there are seldom repercussions.
Inmates can’t fight back against what is done to them. It took until mid 2013, after receiving hundreds of letters, to realize this was a story that needed to be told. Not just for Jamie’s sake, but for all people, men and women, who were given unjust sentences so the prison corporations could fill beds at ‘for profit’ prisons. I watched a video* of an auction of a new prison to the highest bidder when the auctioneer, as a selling point, explained there would be a never ending supply of inmates to fill it. This was a prison built to hold illegal immigrants coming over the border. Instead of deporting them, it was financially in their favor to lock them up, even though they had committed no crime other than trying to find a better life. They didn’t deserve prison if the only motivation was profit. The bidding started at five million. These were men who were in the business of buying people for profit, and then denying them medicine and medical for even now profit.
Prisoners are a commodity; and they are expendable. They are just criminals, lower than the lowest. Drug companies us them to test new drugs, without their knowledge. Manufacturing companies bid on them as nearly free labor to make their products. Inmates purchase commissary items from companies who make a step profit selling to inmates. Prisons do not want to pay for medical tests and costly drugs unless they absolutely have no choice. There are different laws for inmates than there are for free people. I want to think the public wouldn’t tolerate it if they knew, but I’m not so sure anymore. But I do know there is an outrage if animals kept in cages are treated inhumanely so I have to have hope they would also be outraged if they knew what did to people.
There seems to be an abundance of hate in the world in the world. The call for justice is dim in the background of the noise of people screaming about the injustice done to them. How are they supposed to care about injustice done to people they loathe; convicted criminals. There are fights against this injustice but it isn’t loud enough. It may never be loud enough. Corporations have the money resources to fight change and they won’t give up their profit easily.
I began to put my thoughts on paper, writing and rewriting, encouraging Jamie to write to me about what happened earlier in his life. I needed to see if there was something I could do to make a difference. First I started a blog and began publishing some of his letters. I wanted to do more and began writing this book. Our letter writing began in 2008 when little Jamie was about between 1 1/2. My only intention was to hopefully brighten his day and let him know someone was thinking about him. I knew letters were often the only communication an inmate has with the outside. What I didn’t know then – I was the only person writing to Jamie, except for an occasional letter and pictures from my daughter that soon slowed from a trickle to a barely existent drop. Morgan soon met another man, got married, and had another baby boy. After that she turned off the baby making machine. She didn’t stay with the fourth baby’s father, either, and life was hard. She was working two jobs was so tired all the time. I wished I was closer to her so I could help more and even though she rarely asked me for money, I sent it to her anyway because I knew she needed it. Jamie was hurt because no one in his family answered his letters. I couldn’t stop writing to him. He needed me. I told him I adopted him so should call me mom. He needed someone to know what was happening to him and he needed someone to write to he could encourage, too. The letters weren’t just about him, they were also about me when I needed to talk about my day. He wanted to hear about my life. We needed each other to talk to. I can’t understand how a mother could not want to know how her son is, knowing how hard it was for him. How can you go for years and not want to see how your son was? I could understand if he was far away, but he wasn’t. I think I was more upset about that than he was. He had already given up. He spent years in ad seg – which is short for administrative segregation – which means you were locked up in a cell 23 hours a day. If you were lucky and were taken for a shower or in the cage to exercise. The human mind can’t take that kind of deprivation and stay sane. I knew he was desperately unhappy. Right before this he spent four years in juvenile detention on a charge that should not have happened. He had spent very little time on the outside since he was sixteen years old. A few years after he went inside they started charging inmates $100 a year if they wanted to be able to call for medical help, even if it was only one time in the year. Inmates went without help when they needed it and infections spread easily. Many couldn’t afford it. They could still ask for medical help but they would often be ignored. I started paying his fee every year because some of his epileptic seizures were pretty bad. There were times he needed to be taken to the hospital. No one was going to help me pay it even though I asked his family for help. The question was ignored. When I realized there was no one else but me to keep him going, I mentally reached inside his cell, grabbed hold of him. He became my son. I would joke and say he took after his father because he is as black as I am white. On prison forums on the internet, like M.I.S.S. – Mom’s With Incarcerated Sons Society, it is a place for moms to talk with each other and get support. There were a few with daughters. Men in prison have mothers, wives, girlfriends and children and many of them stick by their loved one and want to talk to other women who are going through the same thing. I told them he was my “adopted” son, but also told the truth and said he is the father of one of my grandsons. Jamie desperately needed someone to care about him. I could have never stopped writing to him. It was too important. I wasn’t going to be another person who made him think he didn’t matter, because he did matter. He needed someone he talk to about Morgan and his son until he could find the right place to put it. He was grieving. Through the years I connected him with his son through pictures and stories Morgan would tell me. Morgan started resenting me because I would ask her to write to him. She didn’t want me to talk about him anymore. She had let him go and didn’t want me telling her she should write. She couldn’t understand why he was so important to me. I could understand that, but I wasn’t going to stop writing. Jamie and I had each had each been given a prison sentence. We held each other up with encouragement and caring. I slowly began teaching him the life philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism. I knew how much benefit I gained from what I had learn over the years, and the wisdom I gained from many hours of chanting daimoku, which is the chantin of nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It got me through many crisis points in my life. I don’t think I would be alive today had I not made the continued effort to change the negative parts of my life. He needed to understand why his life was happening the way it was. Why him? What did he need to learn? Learning about the law of cause and effect and how the decisions we make in our lives affects our future, doesn’t allow us to stay in the victim mentality and think what happens to us is not our fault. We make the causes for our life to go in the direction it does. We can learn how to make different causes and gradually pull our life out of the tailspin we sometimes find ourselves in. Having so much alone time, sitting in a prison cell, is the perfect time to reflect about those causes we made in our life that put us where we are. We are the only ones who can change our destiny by making better causes and getting better effects. In Buddhism, prayers are not answered by someone or something outside yourself who has personal plans laid out for you. Only when you look inside yourself and change will it reflect in the outside world around you. Each person has the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to believe in. Does your faith show proof in your life, or is it blind faith with no results? I have tried to keep Jamie centered on being positive. Trying to stay on an even keel when there are other people trying to make him lose control of his anger isn’t easy. At times he has been ready to give up. I try to keep him thinking about his future. It wasn’t going to be successful unless he made the effort – the causes – for it to be that way. He needed know how to respond in a different way to his environment than with anger. Trying to keep his head together, while living in a single cell with no one to talk to, separated from humanity, is probably the hardest thing anyone could be expected to do. People are not meant for such solitude. It is why the percentage of inmates going insane and committing suicide is so high. It is living in hell. The fact that he has done as well as he has is incredible. It is not the same as telling some they need to have better behavior and expecting them to do it. There are so many other influences that make it hard to do. I try to keep him supplied with books and magazines, so he can imagine another world. It is the only way to escape reality. These years in prison he has endured so far is only the first half of his experience. Getting out and staying out is the second half. The recidivism percentage, the rate people end up back in prison is in the high 70%, so the chance of staying free is against you and not in your favor – especially if you don’t have emotional support. Almost every inmate wants to do better when he is free, but staying free does not happen by accident. He needs a plan and he has to have discipline. When he gets out and enters a society he doesn’t recognize, the going gets tough. This society won’t care if he makes it or not. Racism didn’t end while he’s been inside. Because we are human, we usually take two steps forward and one and a half steps back That makes it hard to see our progress. It’s been very hard, for both of us. It’s easy to get your legs yanked out from beneath you and react to things that cause even more negativity in your life, but if you learn how to get back up again and redetermine, there is hope. He is not a victim. He can change his life into a positive one. It can and will be a benefit to his life and will strengthen him as a human being, even if it is hard for him to see that right this minute. Everything happens for a reason. There is no such thing as luck and there are no miracles. There are only affects of causes, even if you don’t understand what they are. The phrases, “You reap what you sow”, “What goes around comes around.”, “You get back what you dish out”, holds true in all circumstances, not just once in awhile. Teaching someone in prison to understand this is difficult, but he has come a long way. Without understanding this he doesn’t have a chance of ever getting out of there and have his mind in one piece. If he understands this and puts it into practice he will turn this experience around to have a positive meaning in his life. There are those who think they can, and those who think they can’t, and they are both right. This will affect my grandson and what he teaches him about his life when he gets out. Black men have a one in three chance of ending up in prison because that is the way our justice system, through racism, has forced it to go. I have two half black grandsons and I fear for the racism that will come their way after they are not under the total control of the mother. White men don’t have to worry about prison the way black men does. White men aren’t accosted and harassed on the street just for being white. There are many people who live his story. There are many family members who are faced with this same thing when the men in their lives are locked up. Yes, some of it justified. Some of it is because neighborhoods have been so ground down they lost hope a long time ago. A prison sentence for one person is a prison sentence for the entire family and everyone suffers. Families don’t know how to help someone in prison and because most are low income they don’t have the money to visit, accept phone calls or hire attorneys who aren’t only trying to force a plea deal. Toward the end of 2013 I started his blog, mynameisjamie.net and began posting his letters. Slowly his story emerged. I also have copies of my letters to him. The responses I received kept me writing, and kept Jamie encouraged. today there are other people who write to him that let him know his life is important. There were even men who wrote to me and said his story made them cry. He began touching people’s hearts. I began searching for other blogs about people in prison, like I was doing, because I wanted to learn what was happening in other prisons. I started reading and learning. I began researching all aspects of the prison industry, from the juveniles to the elderly. What I learned was often shocking. I was appalled and angry. Some blogs or books published were about ex-gang members who turned their lives around. Other inmates were never going to get out and were trying to make sense of how they were going to survive a life sentence. Many went through years of searching, looking for answers. Some found God, some turned to the Muslim faith and some turned to Buddhism. And there are those who turned to negative ways of dealing with life such as white supremacy and other gangs to give them a sense of brotherhood. All Buddhism is not the same just like there are many sects of Christian religions, from Pentecostal to Jehovah Witness. Jamie is learning about Nichiren Buddhism. Most inmates join some kind of group, often for protection, and most stay within their own race. But Jamie has spent little time in the general population. He has spent years of his time in the lower levels * of prison, often in a cell by himself, locked up 23 hours a day. He is only let out to shower a few times a week and maybe to go to chow – maybe. No programs – no education – nothing in ten years. How would you be doing if you had to live like that? In 2015 I began to write this book with the hope of not only validating his life, but to also help people understand what this country has done to millions of people; how the combination of racism and greed flourished in the prisons. Nothing is going to change until people force it to change. We can’t continue to ignore what is happening. In order for anyone to say America is a great nation, it has to be earned. We have to care about the people, not just ‘say’ we care. I hope you learn something from this writing you can pass it on to someone else. This story is about creating an indomitable spirit that learns to never give up, no matter how bad it gets. You need to have no doubt you will get to the other side of whatever problem you face. There is something to learn from everything we go through. Jamie, today, at this moment is still sitting in a cell by himself, hopefully studying and planning for his future. Will he make parole someday? What will it take? It will depend on his determination. The parole board is not going to want to parole him, so it will be a fight. They do not like to parole black people. They usually get turned down, no matter what is recommended. Maybe, by the time I get to the end there will be better answers. Politicians are now saying they want to change the system and also release more people, but then why are they still building more prisons? The numbers don’t add up. It never will. It’s politics.
When your determination changes, everything will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think, “This is never going to work out,” then at that instant every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight.
— Daisaku Ikeda
I want to thank everyone who has been following this blog and those who have been reading the chapters of the book as I write and rewrite, finding my way. Every time you share something on your own SM, you help me tremendously. Every new address on the mailing list gives me more credibility for publishing. I hope you continue to give me pushes in the right direction.
“Nana, Nana”, I heard through the door. My grandchildren were banging on the door to the hotel room my husband and I had just checked into. I could hear childish laughter in the hall when I opened the door. My two young grandchildren came running into the room as I opened the door, greeting me with hugs around my waist. Too much time always passes before I get to see my grandchildren again. They grow so fast. I know now how my parents must have felt because I always lived so far from them when my own children were young. I might do a few things different if I had the chance to do it over again. Unfortunately, we never get a do-over and paybacks can be tough when we see the consequences of choices we made. It has been so hard being separated from my family for long periods of time. This time it has been two years. It was a happy time to see my daughter when she came into the hotel room with her current boyfriend coming in behind her. I had my camera in my hand, wanting to catch that first moment to look back on in later years. As it turned out, I have looked at that picture almost every day for the last couple years because it is on the opening page of the blog, “My Name Is Jamie. My Life In Prison,” I write for Jamie Cummings, the young man I met that night, The year was 2005. My husband and I made a trip to Texas from Key West, Florida, to spend Thanksgiving week with my daughter and grandchildren in Nacogdoches, a small university town in East Texas. It’s the town I lived in for a few years when I was married to my children’s father. My daughter chose to move to this town as an adult to be around her father’s family. It was a comfort knowing my daughter and grandchildren had family support. Jamie was a very shy, polite, young black man, a little over six feet tall, with a fair amount of meat on his bones. He clearly wasn’t starving, but he was clearly uncomfortable. No matter how hard I tried to coax him to look up into the camera for a picture, the photo I ended up taking of the four of them had him looking at his feet with a big grin on his face. It’s an endearing photo seeing his embarrassment. He had to be nervous, not knowing what kind of reception he was going to get from the white family of his girlfriend, but this was not the first black significant other of someone in my family. Skin color doesn’t matter to me. It isn’t how I judge someone’s worth. My only concern for Morgan was if she was happy, and it appeared she was. I didn’t know anything about Jamie, but on the surface, at least, everything seemed okay. We had a nice evening sitting in the building of the hotel’s heated indoor pool, talking while the children played in the water. Jamie clearly enjoyed the children and it was obvious they liked him, too. The following morning my husband and I treated everyone to breakfast. In Texas, children are raised to say yes ma’am, and no sir, every time you ask them a question. I don’t think I have ever been ma’am’d so many times in one day. If a child only answers a question with a yes or no, an adult will ask them, “Yes what?” until they get, “Yes ma’am”. If all children were taught to respect adults there would be less rude kids in schools who think it is okay to be disrespectful and say anything they want to teachers, or anyone else in authority. Children today are lacking the fundamentals of respect we showed adults when I was raised. It’s easy to see how much that has effected how they treat most things in life. Even Jamie ma’am’d me when I asked him a question. I told him it wasn’t necessary but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t stop himself. Since the habit was too ingrained to change, all I could was laugh. When you least expect it, life throws curveballs that end up affecting your life to the point of sending it down a completely different path. Jamie Cummings was one of those curveballs. He affected my life in ways I could have never imagined at the time. He became an important part of my life because we were there for each other during times of crisis. After after quite a few years passed, I realized he had a story that needed to be told.
Soon after my husband and I returned to Key West, Morgan called me and announced she was pregnant – again. She probably knew during the visit, but didn’t want to tell me and face to face and hear my reaction, for several reasons. One, she hadn’t known him very long, and she was having a hard enough time taking care of the two children she already had while trying sporadically to go to school. She also hard a hard time after her second child was born because she had eclampsia, a complication of pregnancy that can lead to seizures, as well as other symptoms. Morgan did had seizures after the birth and they continued as silent seizures for several years. To get pregnant again would be risky. Another pregnancy would have a high likelihood of more complications. It automatically put her new pregnancy in the high risk category. The first time she got pregnant, Morgan was only fifteen. In her immaturity she was so completely sure she could raise a child, go to school and work full time, all at the same time. She lost the rest of her youth and any possibility of finding out what she wanted to be. No more dreams. Only a life of raising children without having enough money. I understood how hard that was. I laid all the possible consequences out for her, assuring her I wasn’t going to raise my grandchildren. She needed to be sure this was what she wanted. I knew it would be her education that was going to suffer. I also knew if I made the decision for her, she would resent me later. It’s hard for a young girl to make a decision like that when they are too young to have any wisdom. She had to decide and know whatever she chose, it was going to be a choice she was going to have to live with. I would support whatever decision she made. This happened more than eighteen years ago, in 1995. The boy who was the father of her son wasn’t in the picture to help her. She received no help from him or his family through the years. He eventually landed in prison. Morgan and her son raised each other. He turned out to be a good kid with a good head on his shoulders. he’s going into the Marine Corps toward the end of 2016. She has the right to be very proud of him. She did a good job teaching him right from wrong. She depended on him to help pick up the slack when she was tired from working all the time. For many years he was the man of the house and helped raised the little ones. She was a fierce mother. At least Jamie has known through these years that his son, Jamie Jr., who was born after he was incarcerated, has been well cared for and loved. The year of our visit in 2005, Morgan was struggling to finish school at the local Jr College and was working as a nursing assistant. But that job, in Texas, doesn’t pay well. She hoped to go on to nursing school or business administration in the medical field, but her life pulled her in too many directions and she was unable to complete it. Now she was adding a third child; a baby with someone she had only known for a few months who wouldn’t be able to help financially. Jamie, too, didn’t have any education or experience to find the kind of work that would support a family. Love does not conquer all. It was a hardship neither of them would be able to easily overcome. On top of that he has epilepsy, which not only makes him unable to get a drivers license, which limits jobs, there were also medical concerns. Neither of them thought of the hardships they would have, bringing another child into their world with no money to care for it. Love does not pay the bills, either. But at least they had love and for a very short period of time they were happy. It didn’t last long. The only thing I could do was shake my head and keep my fingers crossed. It was not enough. Morgan always had a lot going on in her life. It was about to triple and I knew there was nothing I could do about it. She was in la la babyland and already buying little things for a baby boy. I remember being told about a cute little pair of red Nike infant shoes Jamie had bought for him. Jamie was so happy he was going to be a father. That never changed, but what happened next was tragic. About thirty days after we returned home I got a frantic phone call from Morgan. Jamie had been arrested, and her car had been impounded. She couldn’t get her car back because the fees were too high. She was frantic and didn’t know what to do. She tried to stay close to Jamie to support him while he was at the jail waiting to go to court, but without a car she couldn’t get the kids to school or make it to her doctor appointments. Since she had a high risk pregnancy, if she waited to long to get another doctor no one would take her because they wouldn’t want to be responsible if anything went wrong. She knew she couldn’t stay there. Family was only going to taxi her around for so long. There was no way she could survive on her own. Her grandmother wouldn’t let her move in with her. She had already taken in too many family members who couldn’t seem to get their lives together, and Jamie’s family wasn’t an option, so I bought a bus tickets for them to come to Key West to live with my husband and myself. In the back of our house was a small, connected apartment. She would have her own place and have privacy. It was a tiny place with a loft, a refrigerator, microwave and hot plate, a full bathroom and small livingroom. It looked like a dollhouse with a high pointed ceiling. There was a wooden boat ladder that went up to a loft where the two oldest children slept, which overlooked the livingroom. Morgan slept in a narrow day bed in the living room. It wasn’t nearly big enough, but at least this way I was close enough to help her and the kids when they needed it. No doctor in Key West would take her. I finally found a doctor in Miami, a eight hour round trip drive for every appointment and a planned C-section delivery to make sure her doctor would deliver the baby instead of a stand in at the Key West hospital. Key West wasn’t equipped for emergencies and there were complications with the delivery. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the babies neck three times. He could not have been born naturally. Jamie and Morgan had a son. Although Morgan promised to wait for Jamie, she was young and didn’t understand what kind of commitment that would mean. For a couple years she wrote to him every day, promising she would wait, until it finally hit her that he was going to be gone until she was more than forty years old. Gradually, she resumed her life. After all, she reasoned, they had only been physically together for a few short months. There wasn’t enough time invested in the relationship for her to wait that many years. She needed to justify to herself why she wasn’t waiting for him. It was understandable. It is hard for anyone to give up the rest of their youth. It was tragic for Jamie, though, because she didn’t know how to tell him. She stopped writing. he wanted to believe she was still waiting for him but it became obvious she wasn’t. He was the one inside a small cubicle with nowhere to go. Her life went on, while his stayed the same. Life couldn’t move on for him. There was only his past and his dreams for the future, and those dreams were evaporating. Memories of Morgan and imagining what his son was like, even if he couldn’t see him, were the things that kept Jamie going. He wouldn’t be able to help take care of him, or spend those first precious years with him as he learned to crawl, walk and talk, but he could close his eyes and pretend he was there. It was heartbreaking for him to miss this part of his son’s life. There are many people who have had the opportunity to be a parent but run in the other direction, but here was a man who desperately wanted to be a part of his son’s life and couldn’t. But your children are always your children no matter how old they are, and someday Jamie will have the chance to be a father. For right now, though, it has given him the reason to stay strong and keep fighting for his life.It was his reason to stay encouraged. We would make it through this time. Being a father was a way to make up for not having a father. He did not want his son to go through what he went through. He was sent far away from everyone, to the other side of Texas, so it was almost impossible for anyone to visit. He thought of Morgan as his wife and that was how she was listed on his paperwork so she would be able to call the prison if she needed to. It would take two days each way to drive across the state with three children. He was alone. He only had one visit during these first few years he was incarcerated. Megan came with the kids, and brought his mother with her. He didn’t see anyone again for another six years. Jamie rarely heard from his family. It was like being dropped into hell for eternity, because seventeen years feels like an eternity. He was young – only twenty two. It was almost as though he had died. It ground him down. He had already been gone for four years before this, in juvenile detention, so he guessed they really didn’t know him anymore, so why bother writing to him. He was prone to depression and it made it worse. Jamie always gave them excuses. He thought it was probably because he gave his mother a hard time when he growing up. Hogwash. When you love someone, you make time for them. Jamie believed Morgan intended to wait for him to get out. He knew she loved him, but if he didn’t make parole someday, their son would be ready to graduate highschool by the time he got out. He might make parole someday, but it wasn’t when you are black, poor and locked up in a Texas state prison.
At the time, I owned a retail store at the Westin Hotel that catered to the cruiseships that docked several times a week. I was able to give Morgan a job before and after the birth. Being able to have her and the kids near me for a year and a half is time I will always cherish. Little Jamie was a beautiful baby and it was nice having a new baby in the house. Morgan brought him to work with her, and many times I was trying to change diapers and make a bottle while working the cash register. It was chaotic. I fixed up a little supply area near the register with carpet and a gate when Jamie got big enough to crawl around. When the cruiseships unloaded we had wall to wall customers. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I so enjoyed having them there. The baby was quite a hit with the customers. Having my daughter live close so I could see her every day was something I never thought I’d have again. This was before the economy crashed, along with my health. To make matters worse, the BP oil spill happened in the Gulf, and the tourist trade took a big hit. Cruise prices were lowered down to the price of a motel room and no one had any money to spend. But right now it was only 2007 and we had no idea what was coming in the near future. Morgan wrote to Jamie regularly. While he was still in jail he was able to call, but each collect call was $25 for fifteen minutes so I had to restrict how often he could call. The price to make a phone call was been a huge problem in the jails and prisons. It was a burden for many families who couldn’t afford to pay that kind of money. It’s important for inmates to be able to stay in contact with family. The jail phone services were raping the families to get every last dime they could. Recently, because families have been fighting back, the phone charges have been lowered, but it could be a temporary change. The fight isn’t over. I didn’t have much communication with him at that time, beyond asking him how he was doing when he called. I felt bad he was in there. It sounded like he got a raw deal. Megan was trying to get money together to help get him an attorney. His brother said he knew someone who would take a deposit and they could pay it off. She sent him a fair amount of money but the attorney didn’t materialize and she didn’t get her money back. Jamie did seem like a good person when we met. I wasn’t sure exactly what happened that put him in there. I didn’t think I was getting the whole story, but most kids don’t tell their parents everything. I know I didn’t. I went with my gut which told me he got a raw deal and I still believe that now. Morgan kept me informed about how he was doing. After he was sentenced he was moved to a prison in West Texas. He was now no longer able to make calls. After Jamie was moved it was difficult for both of them. Even though Morgan couldn’t see him when she was in Key West, when he was moved to West Texas it was though he had moved to another country. After the baby was born I knew it wouldn’t take long for Morgan to want to go out with friends and party. We were in Key West, after all. For some time she tried to continue writing to him on a regular basis. I thought it might be possible she would want to continue the relationship when he got out. I knew she cared for him, but it proved to be too long to wait. She didn’t want to be alone. They stayed with us in Key West until little Jamie turned one year old. After that she wanted to go back to Texas. It was devastating to see her drive off with the kids. But now She would be close to her father’s family and also Jamie’s family, and they would enjoy being able to see Jamie’s son. The little apartment was too small with three children and she would never be able to make enough money to live here on her own. The cost of living is too high in Key West if you don’t have a decent income.
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Standing here I can close my eyes, stretch out his arms and touch both walls of my cell. I can run my hands down the walls of my home. There has been so much unhappiness in this cell. I can feel it. I can smell the desperation of men who thought this might be the end of the road for them, the last place they will live. For some, it was. Will my desperation be added to it? The craving to leave this place gets so intense sometimes. Knowing I have no control over my life makes me want to hit the walls and scream. But I won’t. I’ll stuff it down. If I listen hard I can hear the echos of their cries of anguish and loneliness, but no one listened back, just like they aren’t listening now. Not many people could withstand this kind of loneliness, when you have only yourself to talk to. This is why so many men go insane in prison. Its easy to crawl so far down inside your head that you get lost, and can’t find your way out again. These walls feel like they are part of me, like the skin on my bones. How small this cell is, the size of a small bathroom. It’s not the home I thought I would have. My home was supposed to have a family in it, but I guess it’s the home I chose by my actions. I was so stupid. There is nothing in here that belongs to me. Nothing personal. Nothing of comfort. I have my pictures, though, and I look at them every day. Maybe I should hang up a sign that says, “James lived here”. This way the next guy could see who he’s replacing and he can add his desperation to everyone else. I fight to not become that person, and it’s hard. I have to make it through years of this shit, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that. Mom tries so hard to help me and keep me encouraged. I knows she’s right. I will get out of here someday. But I’m not dealing with someday. I have to deal with right now, today. I try not to worry her and make her think I’m doing okay, but I’m not, and she knows it. I tell her some of the stuff I go through, but I’m afraid she would be upset with me if she knew how hard it really was. She wants for me to be okay. I doesn’t want to disappoint her. I want to be the person she wants me to be. Nobody ever expected me to be anything, but she does. I have to try to live up to that. I also know, no matter what happens, she will be there for me. She doesn’t judge me. Everyone makes mistakes. She always says we can start new the next day and try again. She encourages me over and over to keep trying. Everyone has problems and it is possible to turn them around, but sometimes I fall down and it’s hard to get up. In the beginning I tried hard to convince myself I could do this. This isn’t the way I wanted my life to be. I’m really not a bad person. I knows I have a problem with anger and that seems to get me into the most trouble, but everyone has something they need to overcome that gets in their way. The more I try to control it the harder it becomes. From the very beginning of my life its been hard and adding this to everything here made it worse. But can I say it is anyone’s fault but my own? Maybe that is what makes me the angriest, because I really can’t blame anyone else. Maybe if my family would have been there for me it would have been easier, but that isn’t the way it worked out. But my family isn’t there for me and Morgan won’t bring my son to see me. Year after year of this and it has made it harder for me and I admit, the things that go on in here do make me angry. The sad thing is that I don’t think anyone thinks about me or how I feel. I’m not important to the people who should be there for me – my family. Everything has been taken away from me. Am I not worth loving? Has no one else ever made any mistakes? I don’t have the answers to this because no one talks to me. If I didn’t have Sonni – mom – I would have no one. Well, what good is this doing me, feeling sorry for myself? Suck it up and find a way to turn this around or destroy myself. I will find the answers to this. It has to be happening for a reason. Is there something I’m supposed to learn from this?
After I accepted the plea for seventeen years they didn’t move me to a prison for a long time. At least a year and a half. Morgan had been living in Key West with her mom until a year after Jamie Jr was born. She came back for a visit and she brought the baby to see me. The visit was behind glass. It’s so hard to hear with the phones and the plexi-glass is all scratched up. I wanted so bad to be able to hold my son, to feel his skin and smell his baby smell, but I couldn’t. It tore me up inside. But at least I could see him. It broke my heart. By the time Morgan moved back to Texas for good, when little Jamie was a year old, I was already moved out to West Texas, the McConnell Unit in La Mesa. I couldn’t have sent me any farther away from my family and stay in Texas. In fact, it was the farthest I had ever been from home in my life. La Mesa was a small town in the middle of nowhere. Many prisons were in small towns to keep them away from large populated areas. I know now exactly how it feels to be a slave. I worked in the fields and was guarded by men on horseback with rifles and dogs. East Texas is hot, but it is nothing like West Texas with its flat, barren fields, and very few trees. My epileptic seizures were more frequent when I was overheated, and the physical stress made it even worse. I tried to tell that to a woman guard. She pretty much told me that no one cares. It didn’t matter to the prison. Medical problems are no excuse for not doing the work you are assigned to do. We weren’t paid anything because Texas doesn’t pay wages at any prison. Not even 20 cents an hour so I could buy deodorant. It was hell. But even so, being outside and able to breathe fresh air and see the sun was almost worth it.
In the beginning I was in Gen Pop – general population. It can be dangerous. Everyone kicks it with their own people for protection. It was safer to be with your own kind. I have to have eyes in the back of my head if I want to stay alive. For those who choose to join a gang, Your gang watches your back. But you have to be careful of the guards. Many of them are just as corrupt and dangerous as some of the gangs. Guards can get other inmates to jump people they didn’t like and trade it for favors. Contraband comes in with the guards and the staff of the corporations that run the businesses inside the prison. Illegal, but profitable items come in with supplies. Some guards bring in cell phones, drugs and cigarettes. That is a well known fact even the media reports, but they can’t stop it. The guards aren’t paid well enough to not be tempted by the money inmates pay them. There are so many cell phones in the prison. They can’t find them faster than they are brought in, no matter how often they sweep the cells to find them. If you want drugs, the easiest place to get them is inside a prison. In fact, you can get anything you want if you know the right people. I don’t go near that stuff. It’s the last thing I need. Besides, you can’t trust anyone. They own you once they find your weakness. I also never wanted to join any of the gangs in a prison. It’s an easy way to get killed, and you if were told to get revenge on some other inmate you have to do what you’re told, or someone else would get you. Blacks stayed with blacks, and Hispanics stayed with Hispanics. White people often joined the Aryans, even if they didn’t think white people were superior. You needed a gang to have your back. Instead, I joined the Muslims. The Muslims taught peace. They would try to negotiate when gangs wanted to go to war with each other. The prayers done throughout the day were a tough discipline, but I needed that. I tried to believe the things it taught, about praising Allah and all that. But in many ways it was a lot like Christianity – believing in a God outside yourself that had a thinking mind. other people interpreted what he supposedly meant so they could tell you what to do and what to think. I was looking for something that would help me make sense of my life and how I got myself into this mess. If I could understand things maybe I could have a better life when I got out. It also gave him friends; a social life of sorts. Eventually, though, when I was sent to a different prison I lost these connections. I couldn’t keep up the practice every day on my own because I didn’t have a support structure anymore. I had one visit while I was in that prison. I wasn’t expecting any visits because I was so far away from everyone, but one day Morgan, my mother and the kids drove across the state of Texas to see me. That is a hard trip. You drive for hours without even seeing a billboard. Megan asked my mother to come along because she needed help with the kids. My mother couldn’t have made the trip on her own, either. I started getting letters from Sonni the previous year, after I had been inside for a couple years. She helped them make the trip. She hadn’t yet become “mom” to me. I didn’t understand yet what it was she saw in me and why I mattered to her, but I was grateful for the things she did to help me. It was the first time I saw his son since he was a little baby. Now he was a toddler. He was laughing and running everywhere. He loved putting coins in the snack machine. Having my family there and being able to see my son was the best day I had in a long, long time. The feeling of happiness was overwhelming. That memory got me through some pretty tough days when I wanted to give up. All I have is my memories and I have worn them out, playing them in my head so many times. What I didn’t know then, it was going to be another five years before I saw any of them again. When I was moved from Le Mesa I was sent to a prison way down south in Beeville, near Brownsville, close to the Mexican border. It was another desolate place that was hot as hell. No matter what prison I was in there was no way around dealing with guards with bad attitudes. All I wanted was to be left alone. I was in a cell by myself, waiting out the time to get moved up to a better level. Often when you a guard puts on a uniform it brings out the worst in them. They have approval to abuse the inmates and if they want to physically hurt them no one is going to stop them. Inmates can’t fight back when they are in restraints. They don’t get in trouble. I’m sure they probably brag to the other guards to show what big men they are. I spent most of my time writing letters and waiting to get one back, that never came. That’s family for you. It was getting harder and harder to keep myself together. Depressing kept creeping over me. I only wanted to know my family cared. Dealing with the silence was hard. I spent most of my day laying on my bunk sleeping. Guards came by and woke me up to make sure I was okay. I was refusing to eat. There didn’t seem to be a reason to eat anymore. Maybe I could starve myself to death. Eventually the prison psyche doctor came to talk to me and I was transferred to another prison in Richmond, which was on the outskirts of Houston. I was only supposed to only stay there for a little while. Hopefully, since I was closer to my family maybe they would come to see me. I got his hopes up. Surely now Morgan would come to see me and bring Jamie I was only two hours from Morgan and my family so there could be no excuse not to come. I waited and waited. Every week I felt this was going to be the week I would get a visit. Sonni had long since became mom by now. I knew she was talking to Morgan to convince her to come visit but there were always excuses. I didn’t understand! Was Morgan punishing me by keeping my son away? Why? He’s my son, too! She didn’t have him by herself. I knew she had another man in her life, got married and even had another baby, but she couldn’t erase me from her life. Nothing could take away my son. Since no one would talk to me it left me to come up with my own explanations. My depression got worse. When I was still in juvy for those four years, depression hit me hard then, too, and they moved me to a detention hall for people with problems. Throughout my life I had trouble handling difficult things. But now I had turned twenty-one and they had no choice, They had to let me go. All these years locked up I had asked for so little. Wasn’t my sentence enough punishment? Did this have to be added to it? I knew life wasn’t easy for Morgan. She had to work a lot, sometimes two jobs, to take care of her children, but couldn’t she bring him at least once in awhile? Why did everyone care so little that I never had a chance to see my son? It was one thing that could make the difference of making it through this, yet no one cared? I am done now. I am going to let them go. I will give them two more weeks to answer my letters and if they don’t, I will cut them off and take them off my visitors list. Won’t they be surprised if they come to see me now and found out they can’t get in. Serves them right. It made me laugh in an odd kind of way. I know, what good would that do? They would never even know they were taken off the list. They weren’t going to come see me. If they were going to, they would have done it a long time ago.
2nd part to be continued . . .
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Jamie was often sick when he was young because he had epilepsy. It made him feel like he had been run over by a truck. Getting over a seizure wasn’t always easy. His mama didn’t like him to be out of her sight because she never knew when he was going to have another one. He could often see kids playing outside, but wasn’t allowed to play with them. Because of this, he didn’t have friends, except for one of his cousins who was also sick.
My mama never talked to me about who my dad was, and I didn’t ask. It didn’t seem important to me at the time. It didn’t bother me that each of us had a different dad, but sometimes I wished I had a dad to go visit, and to have other family my siblings didn’t have, but we seldom talked about it. They had other aunts and uncles and cousins.
Even now, I sometimes still think about this – until a year ago. On my thirty-second birthday, my mom came to visit me at the prison. It was the first and only time in ten years I had a visit sitting at a table that didn’t have a piece of plexiglass between us. I was able to give her a hug and hold her hand while we talked. Unless you’ve spent time in prison, where the lower levels don’t allow contact visits, you have no idea what it means to get a hug or hold someone’s hand. The craving for a personal touch can be overwhelming. Going for ten years without without being able to touch someone you love, is painful. For only a few weeks I was able to do that, or had the privilege of being able to make a phone call.
The only visit I had was from my mother and Sonni was the only person who registered her phone so I could call. Sonni said it was funny because she didn’t know I had a Texas twang, because it doesn’t come across in letters. When we met, it was so long ago. I guess she didn’t remember. It was so good, though, to hear her voice. After the visit from my mother, the prison staff found a way to take my privileges away, and I doubt I’ll be getting them back any time soon. I wish I could have seen my son. Maybe Morgan would have brought him if she knew it was only going to be for a short time, but no one knew my new privileges would be taken away again so soon.
My mom told me some big news. I was shocked! She got married – to my father! My real father. That was the last thing I thought I’d hear. I was so excited. I finally found out about my dad. She said he was a cop, but he’s retired now. While they were dating he would say to her, “I should have waited”, but he he never said why. Now she knew why. He got married right before they met, and he was trying to tell her he that he shouldn’t have gotten married so fast.
So he was newly married and started dating? That makes him a scumbag in my book. She said she broke up with him when she found out because she didn’t want to be the ‘other woman’. He told her if he couldn’t have her in his life, then he didn’t want to have anything to do with me, either. So here was this cop, who didn’t tell her he was married, who was now telling her he wasn’t going to take care of his responsibilities. I guess he was serious.
I never heard from him one time in my life. I would have thought, being a cop, he would want to at least know how I was doing. I was still his flesh and blood. If mama had gotten child support from him I would have known about it. She said this was why she didn’t tell me who he was. But now they are back together and married. That is so weird. She gave me his name and even his birthday, which was coming up soon. So I started writing him letters and even sent him a birthday card. I wanted him to get to know me. I thought, after all this time was I finally going to have a father.
I waited and waited, but I never got any answers to my letters. Something didn’t seem right. Why didn’t he write back to me? I guessed I still don’t have a dad after all. Maybe if he had been around to help raise me, things could have turned out different for me. Maybe he was embarrassed. I’m just guessing all that, but it’s probably true. That day, on my birthday, she also said she she almost had me aborted. That shocked me. It hurt, but I tried not to show it.
It was hard to sit there and not show how I was feeling. What a thing to tell me on my birthday, especially when she rarely comes to visit, anyway. This visit should have been a happy time. How could she tell me this after all this time? She almost aborted me? It really made me feel bad. Maybe I shouldn’t have been born. Did she think I needed to know? Did she think at all about how it would make me feel? That really sucks, don’t you think? That’s why I want to be a father to my boy. I don’t want him to grow up thinking I didn’t love him, because I do, and when I get out of here, I’m going to make damn sure he knows it.
To make it all worse, I’m almost sure she made it all made up. Why do people say things like that when the truth usually comes out at some point, anyway. She didn’t get married to anyone, let alone my dad. No wonder he never answered my letters. It makes me feel like a fool for pouring myself out to him. Did she read the letters I wrote? They went to her address. Maybe she should have had someone else write back and keep the lie going even longer. I haven’t seen her again since then. I’ll have to wait to see what she says next.
Sonni (mom) talked to Morgan and told her my mom told me who my dad was. She believed it, too. She was happy for me. No one should have to go through life and not know who their father is. She told Morgan the whole story. She was shocked that my mom could tell me something like that, and told her mom what she knew.
Some years back, Morgan was at my mama’s house with little Jamie, so he could visit with my family. She said there was a man there my mama used to live with a long time ago. He had been in prison for years. When he finally got out, he needed to have a place to go. If you get paroled you have to have an address to go to or they won’t release you. They verify it to prove you won’t be on the street. So he used my mom’s address and moved in with my her. Morgan said he was the spittin’ image of me. She said there was no doubt in her mind, this man was my dad. No one told me this. He wasn’t out very long. Morgan thinks he’s back inside again. I have no idea who he is or where he is, so I’m back at square one.
Morgan laughed when she heard my dad was supposed to be a cop. Why did my mom have to make him a cop? Maybe because it was the exact opposite of a felon, so maybe she thought that would make me feel better? There is something so wrong with this story. Does the truth even matter anymore? Wouldn’t you think my brothers or sister would know about her getting married? Wouldn’t someone have told me she had gotten married if it were true?
I know I rarely hear from anyone, but I think something as important as my mother marrying my father would have been important enough for someone to tell me. But no one did, so I have to believe I was set up. But I don’t know why. In the past, my mom would sometimes tell them not to tell me things she knew would upset me. But this was different. It would have made me happy. Is there a reason why I can’t know who my dad is? It can’t be worse than being lied to. The only thing I finally learned from this, Don’t believe anything unless I see it with my own two eyes. This is really screwed up, isn’t it?
Mom (Sonni) – I know this is a bit confusing going back and forth between mom and my mother, but I don’t usually talk about them in the same sentence. Mom wanted me to dig in my memories and tell her about my life growing up. She wanted to get to know this part of my life. Talking about myself isn’t something I’ve ever done. It’s not easy. No one has ever wanted to know these things, but I’m trying. It’s one thing to think about memories and another to find the right words to write them down. It’s not easy to talk about myself, but I’ll try.
Some of these early memories I haven’t thought about in a long time, and some things I think are best not remembered at all. When I was six or seven, my mom used to take us kids on picnics to the park, and sometimes we went to the zoo in Lufkin. It was fun spending time as a family. Mama would pack sandwiches, chips, soda and other snacks. We were a close family. We would play on the swings, the slide and other things at the park. We would run from one thing to the next. I especially loved the swings and I would try to go as high as I could and then jump off. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t go many times, but we made the best of it when we did. We even flew kites a few times. It was okay – more than okay. It was great.
Now, when we went to the zoo it was crazy. The way the zoo was laid out, was a big lake in the middle and there was a miniature train we rode through the woods. It was a small train visitors rode to sight-see the entire zoo. They were different types of birds around the lake, along with ducks and swans. There were even peacocks walking around and in the lake. It was a beautiful sight. I remembering trying to get mama to go into the reptile house with us. She said, “Only when pigs fly!”
I love animals and I love to read about them. Mama liked the parrots. There were so many different kinds. I think she especially liked the many colors they had. We would walk along the little lake and feed the ducks and swans. Mama used to joke and tell us we could have gone to our great grandmothers house if all we wanted to do was feed the ducks. That makes me want to laugh. Mrs Pinky Brown was her name, and she had a lot of animals herself. I might love animals, but you couldn’t pay me to hold a snake!
I remember when I was very young, but I can’t remember the exact age; it was back in the early 90’s. My great grandfather passed away. John Brown was his name. He was well up in age. He was unable to walk because both of his legs had been amputated, but I don’t know why. That is just how I remember him. I never got a chance to meet my grandfather. My mama’s dad died of a heart attack when he was thirty-nine.
When I was eight years old were were dressed an ready to go to the fireworks at the baseball park, but something happened and we couldn’t go. Mama bought shorts sets for me and my little brother. She took pictures of us wearing them. My older brother was with his dad at the time. I was upset because I had to watch the fireworks from home again. All I could see was the sky light up and hear the sounds from a distance, but I couldn’t really see them. I was sad because I really like to watch fireworks. The first time I left home at night, when I was a teenager, it was the fourth of July. A family a few streets over from us said I could watch the fireworks with them. I love them to this day.
I really hate this, having to remember stuff, because some things I don’t want to remember. Growing up, my favorite cousin was my Aunt Ann’s son. His name was Keithy. He passed away in 1996 from Sickle Cell Anemia. Since I have epilepsy, we were the sick ones in the family. He broke my heart so bad. We used to follow each other all the time. I didn’t matter he was older than me by six or seven years. We enjoyed each others company. We had each others back. We played together all the time. He loved to go fishing and I would go with him. There were times we didn’t catch anything, but we still loved to go. Sometimes we had our days when we were mad at each other, but it didn’t take long for us to make up. We always had lots of fun together.
There were also times I couldn’t visit him because he was too sick, and that made me mad; mad that he was sick. There were times he went to visit his dad’s family. One time when he came home he was sicker than usual. I went to visit with him one day, and when we were playing he just started crying. My aunt came in to help him and called my mom to come and take me home. While I was waiting for him to get better his pain got worse. I could hear his cries for help. It hurt so much to see him like that. His sickness got worse so I ended up having to stay home a lot.
That was when I started leaving home. I was depressed. I felt empty. I had no other friends and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about how I felt. So I started to leave the house, sometimes just to get away. It got to the point where I would leave in the middle of the night, trying to fill that blank space. I left home at night one too many times. My mom got worried about me and placed me in a children’s hospital. I didn’t like it there.
I don’t remember how long I was there. I do remember, one day they let me call home. I explained to my mama that I didn’t like this place, and I began to cry. I remember the day that broke my heart. It started out a happy that day because my mom came and brought me home from the hospital. She took me to my aunt’s house. There were a lot of people there. My mama took me to the back room where everybody was, and told me Keithy died. I broke down. My older brother grabbed me and told me not to cry, but we both cried. We went to the viewing and he looked so different. I remember touching him and asking my mom why he was so cold. Then we buried him.
The first time I stole something. I was around eight or nine, I think. My older brother and I went to the store on our bikes. While I was in the store I picked up a pack of skittles. After we left, as we were walking home, I waited to show my brother. When I did, he smiled and took them from me. He gave them to mama, and told her what I did. I was sent to my room. I had a friend named Brandon and he came over, asking if I could come out and play. When he found out I couldn’t, he went to my bedroom window. I told him what happened and he was upset.
Then one day, about a week later, we were at his uncle’s house. His mom was there. It was the first time I’d ever seen her and his dad was with her, too. We went outside to play basketball while they talked. We found out later it would be the last time we would ever play together. We said our goodbyes and I watched him leave. I walked home sad and mad. It was decided by the parents, we couldn’t play together anymore. Because of a pack of skittles? That didn’t make sense. Whatever the reason, it was the last I saw Brandon. He was the last real friend I ever had.
When I was in the tenth grade I had to leave Nacogdoches for awhile. I had gotten into some trouble. I guess you could say this next year was going to be the last formal schooling I was going to have. My mom thought I’d do better if I got away for awhile. I have an uncle who lives in Mesquite, Texas and I went to stay with him for a year while I was on juvy probation.
My uncle was a good man, I must say. He’s a parole officer for adults and over the years he worked his way up the system. He has a son that got 20 years in prison. I lived with him and went to school, but he wouldn’t trust me to go anywhere on my own. I remember I went outside across the street to a neighbors house. They had two boys about my age. I went over and we talked and played basketball. Then I went back home to my uncle’s house. My uncle questioned me about where I was and told me not to go over there anymore. I don’t know why.
We didn’t do anything wrong. I was bored, and it was fun to have someone to spend some time with. I guess he didn’t trust that I wouldn’t get in any trouble since he was responsible for me. He was never home when I got home from school because he had home visits to do for his job. I was supposed to come home and stay in the house or the yard. When it came time for me to report to my probation officer I had to walk or ride my cousin’s bike to the appointment . It was a long bike ride. It was the only time I was allowed to leave the house except when I went to school, so I began to really like the ride. It was nice being able to see more of the city.
I started to do community service at the Boys and Girl’s Club. One night my little cousin was with me, and we were riding our bikes home. It was a good distance between the house and the club. As we began the ride home it started to get dark. We were being careful, riding on the sidewalk. In one place we had to ride down a hill. This dude in a truck pulled out of the driveway of an apartment complex. He didn’t have his headlights on so he couldn’t see me. When he pulled out in front of me, I hit the front side of his truck and flew over it, breaking my left leg when I landed.
I remember hearing my cousin scream, and I heard myself yelling, I didn’t want to get into trouble. After that, I woke up in the hospital. I had a cast on my leg from my ankle up to my thigh. Later, after I left the hospital and went back to my uncle’s house, I called my cousin to check up on him. He came over when I called, but he stopped a good distance away from me and just looked at me. That’s all. He just looked at me. That was strange. Was there something wrong with me? He wouldn’t say anything, or come anywhere close to me after that. I never did know why.
After I completed my probation, my uncle asked me if I wanted to stay with him or go home. I told him I wanted to go home, but to this day I ask myself why I didn’t stay. I feel my life might have come out a lot better if I had. I tell myself I probably would have finished school, at least. Look at my age now. I’m in my thirties and I still haven’t been able to finish school. We never know when it happens, but each time we make a decision, it is going to take us in a different direction. If we thought about that we might make better decisions.
When I was sixteen, almost seventeen, I ended up at the Texas Youth Commission, better known as TYC, for four years. I was placed in there in 2000. The charge was assaulting a police officer. This charge never should have happened. The cop who charged me was harassing our family. It wasn’t the first time. Black kids are used to it. We got harassed all the time. Even when something is the cops fault, they are never the ones to get blamed. When you’re black and the cop is white it’s always going be your fault. There is nothing you can do about it. I’m beginning to understand that karma has a way of doing that to you.
This is what happened that day: My older brother and I got into a fight in the front yard. He had an amp for music in his car. I took it to a friend’s house across the street. I went back to get it, but it was gone. I don’t blame my brother for being mad at me. He thought I sold it, but I didn’t. My mama yelled at us to come in the house. Since there were four teenagers in my family, raising us wasn’t easy. I have two brothers and a sister. My mom had to play the part of both parents, and work all the time to take care of us. We didn’t have the supervision we needed.
Inside the house, while she was talking to us about what happened in front of the house, there was a knock on the door. When my mama answered it, there was a police officer standing there. We had problems with this officer before. He was bad news. One of the neighbors must have called the the cops when she saw us fighting. I don’t understand why she would do this, knowing it would cause problems for us. It was only two brothers fighting the way teenagers do. The officer wanted to speak to my brother and me, but my mama said no, she had everything under control. The officer wouldn’t listen to her, and called to us to come outside, anyway. My mama told him again that everything was fine.
She tried to close the door but the officer stopped her by putting his foot in the door. He tried again to push open the door. He wasn’t needed to settle a fight between my brother and I that was already over. He should have listened to my mama. He was determined to get inside out house, but there was no legal reason why my mom had to let him in. he didn’t have a search warrant and there was no crime committed. He could see were okay and didn’t need his help. When he tried to push open the door, my brother and I stood up. We both told him again, we had everything under control. He was still determined he was going to get inside the house. He pushed the door open so hard my mama fell to the floor, and broke her wrist. I knew this was going to be bad. My mama was screaming in pain. I helped her up off the floor, and my brother went after the officer for hurting her. He maced him. When he did that, my anger let loose, and I hit him with a broom! His arm was all cut up from the straws. Then my little brother came into the room and it was just broke out into hell.
My sister was pregnant at the time, but if she hadn’t been, she would have gone after the officer, too. An ambulance was called. My mama was taken to the hospital and my sister went with her. My older brother was placed in the back of a cop car. He was so angry because the officer maced him that he kicked out the car window. My little brother and I were put in a different car because we were minors. Let’s just say, I got the short end of the stick.
After a while, everyone got to go home except me. I was sent to do nine months in the TYC. I was the only one they could do anything to. My older brother was over eighteen, but no crime was committed, so they couldn’t charge him with anything. My younger brother was too young, and didn’t do anything. They brought him along instead of letting him go to the hospital. But I was an older minor so they got me for assaulting the officer. It didn’t matter what he had done to my mother, although later they did go to court about it. Nothing happened to the officer, of course. But they had to do something to one of us. Someone had to be at fault, and that someone was me.
When I got to juvenile detention, I stayed in my room and didn’t talk to anyone. I told myself that nine months in juvy isn’t that bad. I could do it. I did everything I was told to do. I went to school and attended groups. I waited and waited as time passed. There weren’t any problems. Finally, the day came for me to leave; at least I thought I was supposed to be able to go home on that day.
I was packed and ready to go, when the staff told me I couldn’t leave. I didn’t believe it. I got upset and asked why, my nine months were over? All this time, nobody told me I wouldn’t be able to leave. That is why I was counting the days. I wanted to go home. I asked them what i did wrong? They told me I didn’t have my level four to go home.
What the heck was a level four? I didn’t know anything about needing a level four. My lawyer didn’t tell me, and he sure didn’t tell my mom anything about this, either. They told me again, I couldn’t go home, so I went to my room and slammed the door. I sat in my room and cried. I just wanted to go home. Then I started kicking the door and walls. I wasn’t ready to listen to anything anyone had to say, because I was lied to. I had so much anger inside me. I started throwing the stuff I had packed, all over the room. I tried to destroy anything in the room. I had done everything I was told to do. There was no reason for me to not reach this level four. If I couldn’t reach it in these nine months, then no one could have reached it.
Is this what they do to all the kids they send here? Do they give them a sentence knowing there is no way the kid is going to get out? Do they lie to everyone, knowing they are going to keep the kids longer than they say? I was angrier than I have ever been. An officer came to my room and I was sent to solitary confinement; 23 hour lock up in security. That is the reward I got for following their rules.
Was I not supposed to be angry? Should I have just stood there quietly, and said okay? I don’t think so. No kid should ever be locked up like that. They thought this was the right thing to do? It wasn’t. All is did was make me angrier. It showed me there is no justice in the system, especially for black kids. They thought it was okay to wreck my life, take me away from my family and take away from being able to finish school? I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t deserve what they were doing to me and there was nothing my mama could do about it. Looking back at it, this is when my family let me go. This is when they stopped caring about what happened to me. I was never again around them long enough to know who I am.
From then on, at TYC, everything was always on the negative side. I caused all kinds of problems with school. I got into fights in the dorms. I had so much anger in me. I would take off running around the campus. I did everything I could to rebel. They weren’t going to let me go home if I behaved, so why behave? I got into it with the staff. It went from a nine month sentence, to four years.
What I didn’t know, there was no way they were going to let me go, for any reason. These places make money locking up kids. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Things went up and down with me. At some point, though, I finally stopped and started thinking. I wanted to go home. I needed to do the right things so they would let me go home. I still thought maybe they would let me out. It was a hard lesson to learn.
In the four years I was there, I only received four letters from home. I realize now, if my family couldn’t write to me then, why do I expect them to write to me now? I’ve written many letters, and it isn’t very often that anyone writes me back. It’s not their fault I’m here, I’ve been told. But does that stop them from caring, as well?
Anyway, I finally made it to level three. I was doing good and I got to do things I enjoyed. I went swimming, shot pool and watched movies. I did good for a year and a half. Then I received a letter from home; one of my aunts died. I lost it, and went downhill. I had a hard time dealing with death. There was no one to help me through it. Instead I was placed on BMP, Behavior Modification Program, for thirty days, which was 23 hour lockdown again. They brought my schoolwork to me. I got an hour of rec. I was on three of these BMPs all total. I didn’t care anymore what happened to me.
The last time I was sent there was because I hit one of the staff and broke his nose, so he filed charges on me. I hit him because he would pick on me for no fucking reason. It really gets to me when I think about it. It brings it all back like it was yesterday. He used to call me ‘nigger’. I know it sounds better to call it the’N’word but that’s not what he said. He didn’t call me the ‘N’ word’. He called me a nigger. I told his supervisor, but she didn’t believe me because of all the other trouble I caused on her dorm.
While I was finishing up on the third BMP program a Broward County police officer came and told the staff about the charges he filed on me and I was placed in the back of the patrol car and taken to Broward County Jail. Again, I was the only one to get in trouble. Why is it that I am expected to behave right, yet adults don’t have to? Was I more wrong than he was?
While I was in there I really started losing it because I knew what the outcome of my life was going to look like, with me ending up right where I am now. This would have probably happened to me no matter what I did. This is where my life was going. I know now it is my karma. I look at all the things I did. How could it have turned out any different? I had chances to change things, but I always screwed it up. I have no one to blame but myself.
During the time I was in county jail because of this man’s charges, I wasn’t myself, but I did try to stay out of people’s way. It wasn’t easy. I got into a fight over the TV, and once I got stabbed with a pen. I really lost it and went into a deep depression. I stopped eating. I couldn’t sleep. I thought of my aunt and cried. I was miserable and I couldn’t pull myself out of the depression. They placed me in a single cell and sent a doctor to come talk to me. Afterward, she talked to the judge and I was sent to a state hospital for more than three weeks so I could get some help with my depression. When it was over, they sent me home, finally.
My mama came to get me. It was a long drive home. There was a party waiting for me, but we got back so late most everyone had gone home. One of my cousins was still there, and he asked if I wanted to walk back to his apartment. I said sure. We visited for awhile, and then I started walking home. He lived in a complex that had a white security guard. The guard asked me to come into his office. He wanted to know what I was doing there so I told him I was visiting my cousin. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the back of a police car being arrested and taken to jail. For what? Because I was black and I looked suspicious.
This happened in 2004. I met Morgan in 2005. I met Sonni toward the end of that year. I ended up in prison soon after. Ain’t that crazy? I finally got home, but I placed myself around the wrong group of so-called friends. I lost myself again. But I’ll say this much, it won’t happen again. I’m going to change the direction my life has taken when I get out of here. I finally see what is happening, and it is up to me to change it. If I don’t, this will continue to happen until I do.
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This is a reblog of the forward to the book. I separated it from the first chapter
My Name is Maesha. I’m a Canadian and I live in Toronto, Ontario. I’ve just recently ‘met’ your ‘mom’ Sonni online through blogging. I have to tell you that immediately I felt her deep and loving kindred spirit. It’s easy to see that she loves you a great deal. The effort she is making to bring your story to others is inspiring and noble. I wish you could see it. What she is doing would give you so much hope!
I can’t say I’m enjoying reading about the experience you are having in life, where you are at this very moment. My world was so vastly different than yours, so much so that I have a difficult time understanding sometimes. It does make me sad. It’s difficult to learn what I’m learning about the system. And when Sonni writes a post, I feel your pain.
There’s a part of me that hopes that by taking on some of that sorrow less of it will find its way to you. Sonni is doing that for you. You may not see her directly, but she is your very own tiny piece of heaven.
Jamie, you are still a young man. And when you get out, you will still be young enough with a lot of time to bring to the world all the beautiful human worth you possess. There are sources of strength deep within you. You are a survivor. I suppose we are all survivors in some capacity. We must continuously search for strength and the courage to go on, to become stronger and stronger.
Sending strength and hope, with a side dish of love.
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Many many thanks to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing, and to those who have written words of encouragement to Jamie. Just a little reminder, a few posts ago I mentioned that his birthday is coming up on the tenth of January. He said is still in solitary it will probably be another year before they let him out. He thinks they are going to move him to a different prison. I don’t know now, when I go to visit him hopefully in March, if I will be able to take his son to see him. I will visit him anywhere, but picking up his son and taking him might be difficult. Texas is a big state. He hasn’t been moved yet.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Today I started reading through old letters I sent Jamie. This one is six months old and it was written at the time after he had just lost his new privileges of being able to make phone calls and have contact visits – for three weeks. It was devastating to be sent back to lock up again after it took him another two years to reach a level where it was allowed. It happened because of lies by guards and no one would listen to you. The guards are always right and the inmates are always wrong – every time. If a guard does not back up whatever another guard says he, himself, will be retaliated against. When that happens it is hard to keep your anger from making you lash out.
I mention daimoku which is a Nichiren Buddhist chant – Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Like meditation it allows you to have better control of your mind, your thoughts. Practicing Buddhism has been very good for Jamie. It has been part of my life for a very long time. I started teaching Jamie Buddhist concepts and how to apply them at least 6 years ago. Being in prison is more difficult than you can imagine, knowing the years you lose, you will never get back, and the abuse you will have to take will be humiliating, because it is wrong and there is nothing you can do about it.
Chanting, with the deep breathing you have to do, lowers your stress level. High stress also makes his epileptic seizures more frequent. This allows the person inside to shine. We have to understand the right thing to do, instead of responding emotionally. But chanting doesn’t mean you will always do the right thing. We are human. We learn from our mistakes. Changing our habits and our reactions is a life long battle with ourselves. But I believe – asking someone or something outside ourselves to fix our problems that cause us unhappiness. Change must come from within. Chanting gives you time to think about your life and take responsibility for your actions. It is about gaining the wisdom to make the right decisions to change your life – to see things in a different perspective.
Living in a prison is about as close to the concept as hell as you can get. Buddhism does not look at hell as a place you go to when you die, but rather a life condition you live in here on earth. What better describes that life condition than a maximum security prison.
This letter was sent using jpay.com, a system set up for most state prisons, not federal. I can type an email letter, or send money through them. To send a letter costs one “stamp” per page. To send a picture is one stamp. Two pictures is two stamps. The advantage is they get it faster, and my typing is easier to read than my handwriting! I do write, though, because I know it is a more personal connection.
5/11/2015 5:18:10 PM
Just a quick letter today. I wanted you to know that I did talk to Ms Johnson in classification. She said you had to go to the UCC (prison court) on May 12 for a case. She said she didn’t have anymore information. She said after that you would be released, but she didn’t say released to where. Jamie, you can’t fight them. I know this is so hard. You worked so hard and waited so long for your privileges but they always find a way to knock you down even if they have to lie to do it. I know they didn’t do you right. You need to keep the bigger picture in mind and put all the rest of the garbage out where it belongs – in the trash. I know it’s hard.
You probably won’t get this letter in time – but chant daimoku (Nichiren Buddhism) before you go to court. Center your mind. Stay calm. You have grown so much and learned so much, but that doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes sometimes. The harder we try to change, life throws curve balls at us to keep us down. But if you remember there is something to learn from everything, you will be okay. This will be over one day. It will be behind you and you will have a chance to live again. Have faith in that. You will have a life and it will be a life you will be proud of. All of this you are going through is making you the person you are. A person with compassion. A person who will always know what it is like when the chips are down. You are learning things through all of this. I will be chanting for you tomorrow to be strong. Have no doubt, Jamie. Keep your dreams in the front of your head.
You might find this a bit funny. You REALLY upset Bill (my egotistic brother-in-law who uses his knowledge of the Bible as a way to feel important, but doesn’t apply any teachings inside the covers to his own life) with that plastic Christian remark you called him. If the shoe fits, wear it. My sister and family had a field day ripping you and me to shreds because of how much he “helped” you, and you had the nerve to expect him to follow through with the things he said he could do for you,. I should have known better. You bruised his inflated ego. If it weren’t true it wouldn’t have bothered him so much. He knows what he did – he just didn’t want anyone else to find out about it. He said were ungrateful. It must have made him feel good to rip apart our relationship. Well, I hope he enjoyed himself. After all he is such a sincere Christian. You are a much better man than he is. The law of cause and effect applies to him as well. Hearing those words, “Cause and effect” makes him go berserk with rage. But isn’t it the same as, “You reap what you sow”?
My mom wants to have a happy family. It ain’t gonna happen any time soon. I wouldn’t go to any family affairs if they invited me, which I doubt they will – because I don’t like to be around plastic people either. I have other people in my life who know who I am and care about me. After almost 5 years of trying to have a family since I moved here – I give up. I just can’t live life they way they do. I can’t pretend. But remember – the best revenge against people like that is to have a good, happy life. Live with the principles you know to be true. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
On that note – write me asap and let me know what’s up. What a mess this all is. I love you. Never forget that.
The hardest lesson to learn in life is the one you realize, no matter what you do, there is nothing you can do to make it better. You can’t make up for it. But you can learn to pay attention to the things you do now, because there are effects to every cause we make, good and bad. These causes send our life in directions we often later regret. We can’t go back and do things over, but we can do things in the future a better way.
Because Jamie sits in prison, does that make him a bad person? Should one of his consequences be that people will now look at him through the lens of “once a loser always a loser?” These people – these people who committed a crime – they will always be criminals. They may deserve a second chance, but not near me; not in my neighborhood. Many people think that way. Inmates are judged harshly by people who don’t think of the things they did but didn’t get caught. Haven’t we all done things we aren’t proud of? I often read comments like this people have left at the end of articles.
One: there are four kinds of incarcerated people. People who should never be allowed to roam free among people because their crimes have proven they have no idea what the difference is between right and wrong. Two: We have no place to house the mentally ill. They don’t get the treatment they should and are instead put in solitary confinement cells and neglected until their insanity is complete. These people often die in prison from neglect. Three: There are those that made a stupid mistake. They aren’t a danger to society and want another chance to prove it. Four: The innocent, and there are quite a few of those if you take the time to read the pleas of help from people who are supporting people who have been charged with crimes they didn’t commit.
Judging from the number of people who were set free from prison, often after being incarcerated for decades, because they were finally proven innocent show you how deliberate the judicial system has been to lock up as many blacks and minorities as possible. These incarcerated people are just as valauble to the the corporations who want them for free labor as plantations owners were in the past who needed slaves. No difference. The blacks and minorities are often forced to take pleas by public defenders who work for the District Attorney, not the people they are supposed to be defending. These people either take the plea deal or they are threatened with having more charges added. This is what happened to Jamie. He wanted to go to court. He wanted to explain his side of the story, but he would never get that chance. He was told he had to accept the seventeen year plea deal or he could get up to ninety-nine years if he insisted on going to court. He became one more person to help fill quota the Prison Industrial Complex has been promised by our government. The corporations were the prisons will be kept full or they would be paid for each empty bed. No one cared what happened to the people. He was no longer a human being. He was a number.
So year after year Jamie sits in his prison cell and tries to live through the grief of his ruined life. His life is in the letters he wrote to me. After years of writing, I learned for the first time, why our prisons are continuously being built. At the time, though, I never even knew they were being built. It never made it into the news. The only people who understood what was happening was the black community, but if anything at all was said, it was to instill in the minds of white people that black people were dangerous, less intelligent, and they were lazy and didn’t want to work. But that was no more or less true of the white population, either. It just wasn’t talked about because white people had to keep the privilege of being white and that meant they needed to at least appear to be superior.
I thought, like everyone else, that the purpose of our prisons was to lock up bad people so it would be safe for everyone else. That is true. There are some extremely bad people in prison. But when a closer look is taken, it seems that in the 1980’s and 90’s our country spawned a very large number of people we needed to be protected from because more and more new prisons e. How come we had so many more dangerous people who needed to be locked up for the rest of their lives? There were so many more people who were given LWOP – life without parole. But the average person didn’t know this. It wasn’t reported in the news. It has only been only in recent years that we have been able to look back and see what has happened every year since the “War of Drugs” began. It finally came to light that the United States, who has 5% of the world’s population now had 25% of the world’s prisoners. To make it worse, there were 6 times more black people locked up than white people, even though 77% of our population is white and 13% is black as of the census report in 2014. One of every three black men can expect to spend time in prison during their life time. The government, the media and the people who own the prison corporations has done a hatchet job on the black population in America by making people believe black people were to be feared; they had the tendency to be criminals in their genes. The black race was expendable simply because they weren’t good enough to be white. Authorities were picking people off the street and jailing them for no other reason than walking down the street in colored skin; any color other than white. Now people know the truth, but changing their hearts is next to impossible.
I have hundreds of letters sent me over the years explaining the heartfelt grief he lives with because he was separated from his familhy. He is ultimately responsible because of the causes he made that wounded both his life and Morgan’s. He is a parent who has never had the chance to hold his son, so no matter what, he as a right to his grief.
This first excerpt was sent to me when his son was two and a half. We had been writing for about a year. It wasn’t an easy trip for her to make because it was sixteen hours of driving alone, not taking into account the need to stop for food and bathroom breaks for five people. Jamie’s mother drove with them to help with the kids. Jamie had seen his son only one time before this when he was a baby, still in a carrier. This was the happiest letter he ever wrote to me. This visit, when he could see him on his feet and running around, carried him through many bleak days and extremely lonely nights. This was one of five times he has seen him in nine and a half years, as of 2015, and at each visit there had been a piece of plexiglass between them. He has never been able to hold him. Even so, this visit created a memory he has relived a thousand times. It was also the last time he saw him until 2013, four years later. This separation caused him to feel so much guilt because he felt he had let his son down. He wasn’t there when he should have been. He had countless hours of time alone with nothing to do but think about this. These thoughts went around in his head on an endless loop.
Frustration was high for Jamie because there was nothing he could do to change anything. Morgan made it more difficult for him because of her lack of communication. But there are two sides to every story. This was not about her deliberately making life hard for him. For her it was about survival and trying to make a life for her and her four children, working two jobs because there was only having one income to support them. She had another child, and taking all the children to the prison and paying the expenses along the way was hard. She was exhausted all the time because she rarely had a day off. Eventually it became a long time and she went on with her life. Jamie couldn’t go on with his and he became bitter. He only wanted to see his son. But it just wasn’t his son. No one in his family seemed to care enough to be there for him. Years went by between visits from his mother. He felt forgotten. I know what it feels like to think your family doesn’t care about you. It was hard for him to see it any other way than what it was.
Morgan had to prioritize what was important so she could take care of her children. She didn’t stop writing to Jamie because she stopped caring that he was the father of their son. She did it because of the emotional overload of dealing with it. She couldn’t be responsible for Jamie’s happiness while working seventy hours a week taking care of the needs of her children. Was it right or wrong? It is not for anyone else to judge. It is only unfortunate that sometimes our decisions end up hurting other people. It will be up to both of them at a later date, after he is released from prison, to see what puzzle pieces fit together so they can both be parents to their son.
AN INMATE ONLY HAS ONLY MEMORIES
June 1, 2009
How are you? Fine I hope. As for me I am as happy as can be. Thanks to you I was able to see my wife and kids. ( Sonni’s note: He and Morgan were not married, but they did fill out a common law marriage form that never got filed, so in his mind he considered her to be his wife and she identified herself to any prison official as being his wife so they would talk to her.)
Thank you. I love you so much for helping to make this happen. We had fun. We talked and laughed and shared our love with one another. Me and the kids talked a lot. They were just as happy to see me as Morgan, I think. We talked about how they were doing in school, and about the things they were going to do for the summer. I really enjoyed talking to them. It was like spending time with them at home. Me and Jamie had fun talking to each other, too. He’s a real good talker. Ha ha. That boy can run, too. He’s short, but fast. If there is one thing I know he loves, it’s money! Every few minutes he wanted to go to the machines. He also knows right from wrong. He kept running off but when he saw me get up and look at him he came right back every time.My little one, my son, he is the most cute boy. Me and him, we tried to talk. (smile)
Me and my mom talked a while and then Morgan and I spent the last hour talking, sharing our love for one another. I love her so much and my heart goes out to her. She is the best thing to ever happen to me. She is the most beautiful woman I ever met and she has the most beautiful voice! Without her and the kids there is no ‘me’. That is why I’m staying out of trouble and staying to myself so I can try to make my first parole (it didn’t happen). I want to be with my family so bad. Seeing them was so wonderful.
Two days later . . .
So how’s things in the Keys? Alyssa said she was ready to come visit. I told her to have fun. She said she couldn’t wait to help out at the store. Thank you again for all your help. I love you always.
I sit here and replay the visit with my family over and over. It was so wonderful. I loved every second of it. Morgan’s daughter got mad and said she was going to sue these people! She said it wasn’t right they couldn’t have a contact visit.
She is a very smart young lady. She told me she wants to be a doctor. I told her to stay positive and do good in school and she can do anything she sets her mind on doing. Alex told me I look different. I told him it’s because I have on glasses. I didn’t wear them when I was at home. We talked about him going to visit his dad. I think it’s good Morgan is giving him a chance to spend time with him. I feel that every man or woman should be given a second chance unless they don’t want to live the right path. I think it’s good she’s giving his dad another chance to get to know him. Maybe they will build a better father-son relationship. I pray they will get along okay.
So, how are you mom, really? How is Mike doing? I can’t wait to come home so I can come and visit with you, mom. Maybe I could even help around the house or the store you have in Key West. Morgan wants to go on a cruise, but I’m scared of boats. I’ve never been on one, neither. I’ve been on a plane, though. To tell the truth I’ve never been outside Texas. So that is something I want to do with my family. Explore different states and sights. It would be fun I think. It would be fun to be a truck driver but I doubt that could happen with my epilepsy. I would love to drive all over the country.
Well, mom, I’ve got to go.
I love you, your son-in-law.
IN PRISON STILL WAITING FOR MY FAMILY TO CARE
April 1, 2011
April fool’s day! Except I think it’s been me who has been the fool. But I pray that you’re okay, as well as Morgan and the kids. Things have been real scary the past few weeks. I’ve been through a lot. It’s been hard because I feel as though everyone has given up on me. No one writes to check on me, or even to say hi. I’ve lost faith in them and myself as well. I have been so down.
I’ve been getting into trouble. I feel there’s no reason to try anymore. I feel this way because I don’t even know how my little Jamie is doing. The way things are going I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see or hear from him again. It hurts me to sit and think like this, but as time passes and I don’t hear anything, the worst comes to mind.
I’ve sat in my cell and cried so many times because my heart is telling me I’m losing him. Also, because the thought of my family giving up on me is really hard to take. I guess it was just a matter of time, really, to tell the truth. I don’t plan on making it home. It’s hard to not look for the worst of things in here. Lord knows, I want to make it home to everyone, but why go back to a place where no one loves or cares about you. Then I just know little Jamie will hate me for not being there for him. I felt the same way about my dad. It’s really going to hurt me to have my only child hate me.
But how are you? Is everything okay? I thought I would give you some time before I wrote again. I know you must be tired and have other things you’d like to do. However, as long as you are blessed and okay, then I am okay as well. How is Morgan?. Tell her I miss her and I really would like to hear from her. Well, I’m out of time. I hope I hear from you real soon. Love you. Tell Morgan and the kids I love them. Would you ask her if she would call my brother and see if he can send some money for hygiene products please.
PRISON SENTENCES ARE JUST AS LONG FOR CHILDREN
I’m just lonely and it hurts. I miss everyone so much. It seems as if no one cares at all how I’m doing. And it bothers me that the woman I care so much for isn’t worried about my health or well being. No one stays in touch with me at all. It hurts that Morgan is treating me as if I’m not Jamie’s dad. What I mean is, she don’t tell me nothing about how he’s doing. Everything I know comes from you. I’m very thankful for that. I would love to hear from Morgan once or twice a month. What’s so hard about that? I get mad and try to write her to let her know I’m mad but I end up throwing the letter away. I tell myself it’s all my fault I’m here. Then again, it’s no reason for her to not stay in touch. If not for her then for the kids. I do love them and miss them so much.
It hurts so much not being there for Jamie. I’ve missed out on so much. I’m trying. I’m staying clear of trouble. I come up for parole on July 27, 2014. That’s one reason why I try to stay in touch with everyone. If these people decided to give me parole and they can’t get in touch with nobody I will have to wait for them to find me a half way house. I’m being treated like an unknown person by them.
So, if it stays like this, why should I try? My son is young and he has dyslexia. It’s hard for him to write. But still, Megan could give him some paper and let him color a picture for me. EVERY little thing touches my heart. I miss him so much. I sit here trying to read and my mind wanders thinking of everyone, from the night me and Morgan met, even to the day I met her dad, to the day I first met my son. That was the most wonderful moment in my life. Please talk to Morgan for me. Ask her what’s wrong. Why don’t she write to me? Tell her all she has to do is let me know. I can’t put up too much of an argument here. I just want the truth, that’s all. I’m going to close this letter. Take it easy, okay? Take one day at a time. The pain will be over soon and things will be just as beautiful as before. I love you mom.
I LOVE YOU ALWAYS, DADDY
August 4, 2014
(This is a letter Jamie wrote after his son’s eighth birthday. He included a letter he wanted me to send to his son.)
I sit and think a lot. I sit and think about how life will be when I get home, wherever that is. A lot of this has been frustrating. Father’s day was real hurtful for me. It was on a weekend. I didn’t hear from or see Morgan with Jamie, or from anyone else, either. I was hoping that since it was a weekend that she’d bring my son. Oh well, it wasn’t a surprise to me. And now Jamie just had his birthday. 8 years old. It hurts like hell that I didn’t get to see him on his birthday. I’m having something made for him. I spent everything I had left to get it done. It’s still not finished. Would you call him please and tell him I did not forget him? Tell him I love him and happy birthday. I wrote him a letter would you send it to him? I sold my food to get a stamp to send this letter to you.
(Jamie’s letter to his son) Guess who? Yes it’s me, Daddy. First I want to say I’m sorry this is so late. I have never forgotten about you. Not did I forget about your birthday. I’m getting something made for you. You will like it when you see it. I love you Jamie. I will always love you.
So happy birthday from a father to his son. I will always love you no matter what. Life is hard but we’re blessed to have it. We’re blessed to have each other. Strong faith will always keep us together. Even if I’m not home, believe, my love is so strong!! No one can break our chain of love we have for each other and that I have for you. I know it hurts, me not being home, but know that I think about you all the time. I didn’t forget your birthday and never will.
What did you do for your birthday? I hope you had lots of fun!! If I was there we would have lots of stuff to do together. Movies, swimming, basketball, football, fishing. Lots of stuff. I couldn’t be there with you because of a poor choice I made a long time ago and I’m sorry. Making a poor choice will hurt your life, son. So be sure to live life in a positive way. Stay away from trouble, drugs and stupidity. Nobody means you any good if they are trying to get you to do wrong. Stay in school and pay good attention. Work hard for what you want. I did not do that and that is why I’m in jail. Listen to me son, nothing is worse than having your freedom taken away. Please stay away from trouble. Pay close attention to your education.
I love you always, Daddy
A PRISON CELL IS THE LONELIEST PLACE TO BE
November 12, 2014
It’s ok. Don’t worry about me. I tell myself, don’t be discouraged. That is only downing myself. Always keep your confidence and you will succeed. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I don’t want anyone to feel as though I’m begging or even asking too much. I’m sorry. Please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. This is what I get for breaking the law. Please, I just need help seeing my son. That’s all. I want nothing else. And I will chant for you, too, I promise I will.
I ask myself over and over, why won’t Morgan come and bring my son? I do deserve to see my son. He is all I have. However, Morgan, I guess, feels different. Maybe I should try to get moved to another unit. I would probably have to get in trouble, though, to do that. That wouldn’t be good. But if I was moved father away from home then everyone would be able to use excuses like, “It’s too far away” or “I can’t afford the gas”. Then it would be easier for them to let themselves off the hook. Maybe Morgan just wants to keep me from him. I hate to think that but it’s hard not to.
If I knew people cared as they say they do, it would be a lot easier on me. Without you I would know nothing. Megan has kept me blind for so long on how little Jamie is doing. That hurts like hell! Why? Why would she want to hurt me like that? Oh, forget I asked that question. There have been many times I have wanted to give up. There are lots of people with lots on their plate and they still manage to find the time and come to see the person they say they love. Life is full of unanswered questions.
I’ve written letters to my mother. A lot of the time I get them back. She moves around a lot. The last address I got was my grandmother’s. My (biological) mom came to visited me last year. First time in at least 5 years. It’s not her fault, though. I was in a couple units that were far away. Clear across Texas. Too far to make it there and back in a day. A few days maybe. I’m closer now so maybe I’ll get to see her more often. She said she was going to come visit me more often. I told her twice a month would be great. I waited and waited, hoping each weekend that she’d come. Five months went by. She never came back until a couple weeks ago. I was really glad to see her.
It would be good if I could get Morgan to take Jamie to my mom’s house and then she could bring Jamie. Then we could take some pictures together. But they aren’t getting along too good right now. The person who misses out the most is Jamie. He needs all of his family. I’m just asking a favor for me and my son. I wish I could see my grandmother, too. Maybe she could come with my mom sometime if she’s well enough. Oh, I guess that’s enough about all of this. It gets me depressed just thinking about.
PRISON VISIT – ONE YEAR UPDATE
May 4, 2015
It’s really cold. I think it maybe snowed but I can’t tell for sure because I can’t see out a window anymore. I never get any sun at all. In my last cell there was a window and I could see outside. I would pretend I was out there. If you’ve never been locked up you wouldn’t know how it feels to have no control over anything you do. You can’t make anything change. There is so much space in my head. I try hard to fill it up with things but sooner or later I give up and go to sleep.
Some years back, before you got sick , you wrote and told me to imagine we were outside riding bikes and we would ride to the top of a hill, meet there, and have a picnic. We could do that together at the same time. It would be a way for me to escape. It was really the first time I talked about how powerful the mind is and how important it is to have hope. You told me over and over how important my life is. I don’t understand what you saw in me, but I’m glad you did. It’s like my family washed their hands of me. It wasn’t important to let me know they still loved me. It was like I died or something. You kept me from disappearing or at the least become like so many people in here who have no hope. This place has a way of making you feel really small and you took hold of me and taught me how to keep it together.
I’ve been thinking about my son a lot. I was so happy to see him in October (2013) when Morgan came. I wanted to see him so bad. He’s all I have. He’s the only thing I have that makes life worth living. He’s the only real thing that proves I lived. I don’t think Morgan really understands how important he is to me. The thought of him keeps me trying. I didn’t want to feel sure she would really bring him to see me. I didn’t even know for sure if they were coming. You told me she was trying to make sure she would make it. Morgan kept saying she would but something always got in the way. Really, I about gave up because the disappointment was too hard to bear. She said she’d come before and then couldn’t. But this time, when the officer came to my cell and told me I had visitors, well all I can say is that this big feeling of happiness came over me and I smiled so big. I was finally going to see my son. She had her two other sons with her.
Before that day, it was hard knowing he was out there and I couldn’t see him. I wondered if he was going to be angry with me when he grew up for not being there. Maybe he would be ashamed for anyone to know his dad was in prison. I’m so sorry I can’t be there for him right now. I know I can’t expect Morgan to stay by herself till I get out. She’ll have another man in her life but it would rip me up if my son called some other man dad. Or if some man tried to come between me and my son.
I’m missing all of these years with him I can never get back. When I saw him he was really shy. It was hard to get him to talk to me. I can’t blame him for that. He was probably scared. He was hardly more than a baby the last time he saw me. I want so badly to be able to give him a hug and tell him how much I love him. More than anything he is the one thing in my life that gives me the reason to want to get out of here and have a good life. I want to be a good father. Having him is the only thing I have done right. He’s the only good thing I have.
Morgan doesn’t write to me very often. I’ve begged her to so many times. I think she would if she really wanted to. Instead of telling me the truth she gives me all of these excuses like she wrote a bunch of letters but her boyfriend or whoever found them and threw them away every single time she wrote one. It was one excuse after the other. I think if someone wanted to write a letter they would find a way to get it into the mailbox without getting caught. She shouldn’t need to sneak. Nothing anyone can do will make me not exist. I will always be his father. She should be able to write a letter and tell me about my boy without getting into trouble. So that doesn’t make sense.
Why doesn’t she hardly send me any pictures? Sometimes I get out all the pictures I have and I go over them one by one and think of all the memories I have. I just stare at them and make them part of my day and pretend I am in the picture instead of being here.
THERE IS NO WAY TO BE A DAD IN PRISON
July 17, 2015
Morgan is with another man. Jamie accepts that man because he is little. But it isn’t the same as having your own dad. When Morgan and I were together, her other kids, Alex and Alyssa accepted me, not just because I was with Morgan, but because I loved her, and them. When I was young my dad wasn’t there, but I didn’t accept anyone else even though there were other men in my mom’s life. Do you see where I’m going? Some dads have a chance, but not many. Some men try to be a dad and some don’t. Some don’t care about other men’s kids. They don’t feel any responsibility to them and they don’t love them. But I love all Morgan’s kids. I think of all of them as mine. I wish I knew more about how they are doing. I want Jamie to know that even though I can’t be there every day I love him so much. I care how he is doing in school. I wish I could know more about how his school day is and what he is learning. I hope his writing gets better so he can write to me, even if it is only a sentence or two. That would make me happy. But I can tell you, I could never accept my son bonding with another man. I am his father, his only father.
I should be able to see Jamie once or twice a month. What’s twice a month? Is that too much to ask? I have seen him so little. I want to be able to talk to him. I want him to see me. I want to tell him how important he is to me. I understand we have to get to know each other through letters, but the thing is, he’s only seven. You and I understand the rough road in life and we can explain things in letters. Jamie can’t do that. But he is important so I have to find a way to get through to him. I need to change things for him so he never goes through what I’m going through. I can start that by changing who I am. Change the karma. That will affect his life, too.