It’s Hard to Walk Away From a Prison Visit

 

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It’s hard to walk away from a prison visit not knowing when another visit might be possible. Visits with Jamie will be behind glass until he is classified G2. To get to the visitors area I first had to go through a metal detector – remove everything, like at an airport, and go through a thorough pat down. They even checked my pockets and the cuffs on my pants to feel if anything was sewn inside. A woman behind glass took down his ID number, checked my DL and wrote down identification of my car. She called ahead to see if she could send me through.

This was my third and last visit. Visiting hours are only on the weekend. The adseg cubicles were full so I was given a card with a number and told to go back to my car, move to a different parking lot and wait – for about 1 1/2 hours. This visit was a regular visit – two hours. The previous two visits were special visits that had to be approved by the warden. On the Monday before I had to call at 8 am and submit my name and where I was traveling from because special visits are only granted for people coming long distances. They only reserve 5 cubicles (for 3,500 inmates) so there is no promise you’ll get approved. On Thursday you call back at 2 pm to see if the warden approved the visit. The weekend before I was approved. It was a two hour drive, then a four hour visit and two hours back. Two days in a row. This last visit was a regular visit for two hours. They close at five. As I sat in the parking lot waiting, I was afraid this delay would cut my visit short. He might think I wasn’t coming if it got too late.

I had to rent a car this time instead of using my daughter’s car and they didn’t open until 11 am. I couldn’t get on the road as early as I did the weekend before. I sat in my car and watched a series episode on Netflix to pass the time until I saw a staff car pull beside my car and wave me over. It took a little less than they thought. Someone must have left early. I was relieved. If it had taken as long as they said my visit would only be an hour. I knew by now he thought I wasn’t coming and he would have been so disappointed. I couldn’t get word to him for at least a couple days using JPay.com to send an email.

I went back through the metal detector and pat down and they waved me through. There is a decent length walkway outside leading to the main building. I stood and looked up at the layers of razor wire and guard tower. It was a beautiful afternoon, warm and sunny. Under a tree was a bench with a flower pot. There was a plaque indicating it was a memorial to “fallen guards”. I wondered if there was a memorial somewhere for all the prisoners who died from “natural” causes. I gave a little laugh under my breath knowing it was a stupid thought.

I thought about the visit I was going to have, knowing he would be disappointed because his son wasn’t with me. His son, Jamie, was going through his own issues with his father locked up and dealing with limited communication. He wouldn’t come with me to the prison this year. It’s hard on both of them, because they have never had time together to bond. They have never touched.

Letters are hard. Jamie can’t talk about his life in prison. There is no way to explain to a 12 year old what he’s going through. How often can he ask how he’s doing in school? He has started many letters he didn’t know his to finish. Little Jamie only knows he doesn’t have his father. He has only his mother’s live-in relationship, who he calls dad at his mother’s suggestion. This man has been good to him and has provided a good home, but it is still not his dad. Someday Jamie will get out of prison when his son is nearly out of school. He will have missed his entire childhood. But your children are your children long after childhood. Hopefully they will find a way to come together and understand each other.

As I walked toward the double doors for the next ID check I looked over my shoulder. The sun was shining and flowers were planted along the walkway. Pumpkins were set out for Halloween. It gave a false sense of normalcy to a place that was anything but normal. I mused, how nice it would if Jamie could take a walk outside. Just walk, in a stride the length of his legs instead of having a chain connecting his ankles forcing him to take short steps. He’d swing his arms in rhythm with his walk instead of being cuffed behind him. We often take for granted the little things we do without thinking

I looked over at one of the buildings. I was sure I was looking at prison cells because Jamie had described the windows. There were three floors of windows/slats in the wall. They werr about seven inches high and two feet long. Too high to look out but it would let light in. He drew me a picture of his cell. 5′ wide by 10′ long. Just big enough for his bunk, toilet and a place to sit and write. Storage was under the bunk. At an earlier prison he had bars at one end so anyone could see in. There was no privacy. His cell now has a steel door so unless the guard opens it he sees nothing.

During each of our visits I bought food for him from the vending machines. Barely edible sandwiches, snacks and sodas. It was like buying dinner at a gas station. Even when I buy him a food box and have it sent there is little real food to choose. 

I was assigned to seg 7. I sat down in front of the booth and waited. It had been 1 1/2 years. June ’16. The only good thing is that he was a little closer to the end. When they brought Jamie in they first uncuffed his ankles on the other side of the door, let him in and locked the door. He has to squat down facing me and put his hands back through a small opening so they coulf remove the cuffs on his wrists. You can see it in the picture.

There are 3 types of seating. An open room where inmates can sit with their visitors at a round table. There were quite a few kids. Everyone seemed happy. They were allowed to hold hands. The microwave was constantly busy heating up sandwiches. The inmates seated here were classified G2, the least restrictive. They could take classes and get certifications, make phone calls and work an unpaid job.

In the middle was an area for G4 and G5. The inmates are in a plexi-glass enclosure with about 12 chairs. Visitors sit on the other side in front of them with with short panels separating each one to give a little privacy. One inmate had eight visitors. 4 adults and 4 children. He was one of the lucky ones to have so much support from family.

There were 8 locked cubicles like the one I was sitting in front of. The phone was terrible. Distortion. I had to talk loudly. I would have asked to be moved but the rest were full. The past weekend I was at #3 and the phone was better. The folding chair I had to sit on was so low the counter hit me mid chest. The metal phone cord wasn’t very long and it killed my shoulder holding the phone to my ear. I suppose they don’t want anyone to get too comfortable.

The prison had been on lockdown for about 1 1/2 months. An inmate in gen pop (general population) committed suicide – hung himself. The entire prison went on lock down while they did an investigation to see if it was suicide or gang (or guard) related. “What more can they take away from you?” I asked him. “My one hour of rec.” In a solitary cage. If he was G4 he could go to the yard – play basketball and talk to people, which is also dangerous because guards have pet inmates who do their dirty work for privileges. He is never safe. Every time he has gotten out of seg something happened and he was put back. A guard can file a false case. One time he was sent to adseg for a couple years because a homemade knife “appeared” on his sink during a cell search. It doesn’t leave him with much hope when he gets out of adseg this time – sometime – that he’ll be able to stay out, but he has to try.

Jamie has been in 8 prisons. When they let him out it’s possible he could be moved to another prison. He has already been as far west and south in Texas as possible. It’s is a big state. He could be moved too far away for his son to travel to see him because no one will take him. I might be able visit and take him if he is a two day drive away.

My daughter hates that Jamie and I have been writing. After all, he was her old boyfriend. I had sent him a card many years ago asking how he was. If I had never met him maybe I wouldn’t have. He wrote back. Over time I learned I was the only one writing to him – even his family wouldn’t write – was I supposed to stop? When the writing continues for more than a decade was I not supposed to care about him? We’ve both been through our fair share of personal crisis. I’ve been there for him and he’s been there for me. No one else was willing to help him get simple necessities. Not having someone on the outside makes it easy to for the prison to break them. Depression takes hold when no one cares. Knowing him prompted my writing, my music and research for the truth. I wanted to help him and it would help myself. Give him dreams to hang on to. My daughter thinks it’s inappropriate. Too much has been said in front of their boy that would be hard for him to process.

Prison is a society unlike any other society and it changes you. It makes it nearly impossible to have a “normal” life because you have acquired no life experience that is needed to live in the “Free World”. How to survive in prison is all an inmate learns, which is why so many end up back inside. He can’t be expected to know things he has never done. The world has changed. Society as a while makes it hard. Anyone who has been in prison has to be dangerous.

Because of trauma, letters become emotional when pain and frustration boils over. I feel his loneliness, dispair and anger at not being able to change what happens. He is supposed to have rights, but he has no rights. It’s a farce. I am the only left to fight for him. I pour these emotions into my writing, music, poetry and letters. It’s all I can do to give him a feeling of self worth and to know he hasn’t been forgotten – because everyone else has. I do care. I can’t deny that. I have to see this through because to do anything less makes me just like everyone else.  I won’t do that.

If he does all of his time he gets out early 2023. About 5 years. That seems like a long time but he’s done more than 2/3 of his time. He wants to make get parol buthe doesn’t have his GED yet or a trained skill, a place to live and family who writes letters of support. These are needed. I have a lot to do to help make life possible on the outside. I’ll be 69 and my health isn’t great. I need to finish the book, develop a business around a brand, write this blog, work on my music business and build a mailing list to let people know. 

If you aren’t on the mailing list please subscribe below to get the ITFO NEWS. It is one way you can keep up with what is happening. It helps. You can share what I write. It does make a difference. I reach out to many people affected by the prisons. We are learning there is strength in numbers. We can use that strength to help the many people inside and their families.

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Do We Care About The Children of Inmates?

The lives of children are severely affected when one or both parents are locked up. What happens to these lives as they grow up to be young adults? Do they follow in the same path because they see it as normal, thinking it will also be their future? Black children have been confronted with more of their relatives going to prison than the average white child.  Do they accept it as inevitable because no one taught them there was another path they could take – before it became too late?

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On the left is Jamie Cummings at age 8 who was never told the name of his father and is believed to be in prison. On the right is his son, my grandson, Jamie at age eight. He has only seen his father a few times in prison behind glass. What does he think of this?  How does this affect him? Has anyone asked him how he really feels? I know what his father thinks. This is his deepest grief, not being able to be with his only child.

I want to tell you a story about my own childhood which explains how a child could think the course of their life followed a plan.  Looking back on it my mother and I had a good laugh, but at the time it wasn’t so funny. When I was quite young, I learned my mother was raised by her grandmother, not her mother. She was only four years old. Both of her parents remarried. Neither new step parent wanted her to live with them because admitting there was a child from a previous marriage meant their spouse had been married before. Being divorced was shameful, so she was raised by her grandmother.  When she was 11 years old it went to court for a custody battle and her grandmother was given full custody. Having to go to court was a horrible experience for her, sitting alone in a back room. and it remains a bad memory. At some point she told me about it when I asked her why she wasn’t raised by her parents. I must not have understood it because afterward I was convinced everyone had to go to court when they turned eleven. I had several years of being afraid because the closer I got to eleven the more was scared I became of having to go to court. By the time I reached eleven I matured enough to know I wouldn’t have to go, but not once did I confront my mother about how I felt because I thought I already knew the truth. It may sound silly, but at the time I thought I had no choice. This is the way a young child thinks.

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source credit: hopeformiami.org

How do children deal with life knowing their father mother, or both, is locked up?  How many children grow up and the only visits they remember are in a prison visiting room, often behind a panel of glass with a telephone to speak into? Do we assume they know how to mentally process that?  Are they more apt to think what happened to their parent will be part of their life if they see it all around them? Why would they think their life would be different? Even the act of “stop and frisk”, which was condemned in New York City as racial profiling, are acts children learned by watching what happened by cops who crossed the line by stalking black people for no other reason than because they were black and hoping they would find something on them that warranted an arrest. Is this all black children?  Of course not, but it affects far too many.

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credit source: Mlive.org          This looks like white children are smarter, but the real reason is they aren’t given the same quality of education with equal accessibility of educational programs and materials that cost money to provide.

In addition these children need to get a worthwhile education in schools that are often underfunded or perhaps closed because they are in disrepair or don’t have books and even qualified teachers. Going to a school far away is not easily accessible. Low income families often don’t have enough food and kids only have school lunches too rely on for food. I could go on.  Many of these kids do not graduate.  They fall in line with what others kids do and the cycle continues on. Many youth end up in juvenile detention and even truancy from school is one of the reasons they are put there. They become part of the school to prison pipeline. That becomes the prison to poverty pipeline. No education means no job.  They have no life to go back to when they get out. They have to eat. If they want to be “rehabilitated” there has to be an open path to do that. There are few options. We need to stop this cycle and concentrate on raising capable people. But who cares? “They are just black kids and they get what they deserve,” is the thought of too many people.  This is why there are more black kids than white who are locked up, and more black men than white in prison.

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source credit: breakawayoutreach.org

Blacks have long been sought after to fill the prisons starting with juvenile detention. Teachers have admitted they suspend black children much more often than white children. Is it too late to re-educate teachers about this treatment? Is it too late to re-educate cops? How many teachers would not be able to say out loud that they have been unfair? Their own education probably began with how they were raised and how their own family felt about blacks. But even today many people still believe black people are are less able than white people. They think blacks do more crimes, consume more drugs and the reason there are more blacks than whites in our prisons is because they were born with a gene that makes them want to commit crimes. This has been proven to be a fallacy, but it was what the media has reported and some people believe anything they read if that is what to believe.

But the real reason is so many children were raised themselves with one one parent or relative – if they were lucky – and the foster care system if they weren’t. Mothers can’t be fathers and young boys need the guidance of a man. So many didn’t have the experience of having a family who provided stability. That isn’t a guarantee, but sure helps. Kids look around them and follow the course they have been exposed to and that often leads to prison. At the same time that very system is doing everything they can to lock them up whether they are guilty or not. If this were not true, how could most of the people given pardons be able to prove they are innocent, even after they have 20 plus years imprisoned – and most of them are black people. This is the race that has been blamed for crimes and imprisoned even if they were out of town when the crime was committed.  It didn’t matter.  The police only needed someone – anyone – they could pin the crime on not caring they were ruining not only that person’s life,  but the lives of their children.

Can these children now go out into the world as adults and lead a life they have never lived that makes them acceptable in society? Many don’t even have a GED or work experience and have to look for manual labor jobs. Many test with low IQs – not that they are retarded but because they don’t have enough education to pass simple tests. Children grow up to be adults and they have to live their lives still shackled. Finding a landlord to rent them an apartment is harder than getting a job. So it all goes back to their childhood and not having many of the advantages other children have. The children of inmates become the next generation of parents whose children are on the other side of the fence.

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