Music Box Dancer
by Sonni Quick
The Meaning Of It All
(Sonni’s note: Any music media files you hear that are scattered around on different posts and pages is something improvised at my piano by sitting and just playing without thinking ahead about what I was going to play. So yes, you will hear the odd wrong note. I tell my students there no wrong notes, only unintentional notes that may not sound like they belong unless you make them belong. Don’t fear the wrong note, just keep playing. When I first started recording pieces for this blog I did it by simply putting my tablet – my Nook – near the piano speaker, so you also get to hear the squeek of my stool, the sound of the keys hitting, and doubling of notes as my Nook is trying desperately to keep up with the sound. In later pieces I got a laptop so now I could plug my piano into it for a much better sounding recording, although I’m still working with the program. So forgive the oddities. They actually match the oddities of who I am!)
Before you start reading Jamie’s letters I want you to understand why I started this website – what it means to me. To find his letters go to the archive on the left where you can select the month. To understand Jamie’s story, start at the beginning.
Writing these posts has brought a whole new dimension to my life. It certainly has filled up the hours! I believe this is an important story to tell. It can impact many lives because there are so many other people who are going through many of the same thing that Jamie is.
In many ways, the people who are locked up are a forgotten part of society to all except the people who love them. They aren’t even a passing thought to people who are busy with their own lives. I believe that most people, when they do happen to read an article about prison injustice, or when they see something on TV about inmates, they think it can’t happen to them. How easily it can, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe they think that whatever happens to them inside is justified. Maybe they think it’s all part of their sentence and they deserve it. Being starved for more profit? Live in a tiny cement box? Serve them spoiled food or things barely edible. Who cares? It’s just good business for the corporations who were promised the prisons would be kept 100% full in exchange for campaign contributions. If the prison falls below 90% capacity the government has to pay them more to make up for it. Pretty sweet deal, don’t you think? Maybe they think the inmates are all just a bunch of losers and don’t deserve a chance to show society that they are worthwhile human beings.
I know there are people inside that should never be allowed out because mentally they are too broken to be able to exist outside without hurting other people in some way. There are also people who don’t have the knowledge and experience to get along on the outside and need lots of support and back-up. They may not be able to make it. Their home, where they function the best, may be inside.
Not everyone inside the prison is in solitary. Some are able to make friends and have a job. They have a life of sorts. It’s not great, but it isn’t solitary. Solitary destroys minds. It makes many people unable to ever regain a life where they can function on the outside. There can be no rehabilitation for these people. Many other inmates, in gen pop, need the rules that are imposed on them. There are also those who just screwed up. They made a bad choice. Some have problems with drugs. But many, with a strong desire to change, to make better causes in their lives, have a good chance of becoming someone they can be proud of. But none of these people deserve to be treated with such complete disrespect as though their lives have no value. People treat their dogs better than what they get inside.
In the summer there is no AC and in many places in the country the heat gets over a hundred and ten degrees and inmates die. Jamie told me he would lay naked on the cement floor at night, trying to feel a little coolness on his skin. In the winter they have no heat and he freezes. He puts on all the clothing he owns to try and get warm and it’s not enough. Why do that?
Many of these people have no family nor anyone who can help them get the small things, the things that make it tolerable. On the outside, we take for granted that we can just go into the cabinets in our bathroom and take out another roll of toilet paper or bar of soap, when we need it. Do we need a razor, tablet of paper, or a stamp? We just go to the nearest store and buy it whenever we want to. He can’t. Where is he going to get the money unless someone sends it to him?
At the time I wrote this, he has not been allowed to make a phone call. He’s never been able to call. Not even once. Hopefully in the future that will change. What is the purpose of doing that? Why make his whole family suffer? Is that kind of punishment going to accomplish anything? For eight years? It does more harm than good. I believe the prison system does it just because they can. No one is stopping them, yet. There are finally for states who won’t renew their contract. If these corporations can mentally break the people inside they won’t be going anywhere. Keeps the stay flow of money coming in. Eight years Jamie has been in ad seg. Some have been locked up like that for more than thirty years. How many lives does that destroy? Eventually he’s supposed to be able to get out of there and go home. They try to destroy them, break them, while they are inside and then they wonder why so many people end up back inside again because mentally they can’t cope and because they haven’t been able to acquire wisdom from life experiences on the outside. They say that phone calls are a privilege but they keep knocking him down so he can never earn that privilege. Eight years without making a call? That’s absurd.
I have grown to love him. Not in a romantic – I want to live the rest of my life with you – kind of way, but the kind of love a parent has for their child, and it’s hard when you know your son is hurting. There is definitely a connection between us and I would do anything I could to make his life easier. I want to teach him things he needs to know and open his eyes to ideas he has never thought. That is the role of a mother. It is the effect we have on other people that becomes our legacy. If what we do helps them change their life for the better, that is the way we live on. I know how much he loves his real mom. I know how much he misses her and wishes she would visit him more often than she has, but he doesn’t complain. In a way he feels he deserves it because of all the trouble he caused her growing up, and he’s sorry. I wonder if she understands the pain he is in for the choices he has made for his own life? As his mother, I imagine it has caused pain in her life, too.
I have only just begun to go back through the hundreds letters I have from him so I can bring out the issues that have been the most important. Even though his son, my grandson, doesn’t have him in his life today, he will be able to read this and have a good understanding of who his father is as he grows up. It is one thing I can give to both of them, to help bridge the gap of years they are missing.
Knowing him has changed my life. I want to pass this on to other people. I want to help make people aware that there are people inside who need our compassion and empathy. They need our help. The system needs to change.
Now go read his story . . .