The Long Journey Begins
Jamie’s son was born on July 7th, 2006. He was given his name, James. He might be in a bad place right now being locked up, but the day he found out his son was born was the happiest day he ever had.
Morgan called the prison and they got the message to him. He was a father! That caused a smile to spread over his entire face. He gave a little laugh. He couldn’t help himself. He wouldn’t know what his son looked like until Morgan sent him a picture, but he knew he was beautiful, because Morgan was beautiful. He wouldn’t be able to be a father, not like he wanted to. He tried not to think about that. Not today. He was going to be happy today.
A lot of the dudes were grinning and there were quite a few congratulations going around for him. Even a few of the guards said it. That surprised him. He guessed hearing about a new baby allowed them to let their “guard” down a little and act human for a change.
Jamie told everyone he came in contact with. This day would never come again and he wanted to make the most of it. It was the first time in more than seven months he had something, anything, to be happy about. Good things didn’t happen too often when you were locked up. Any reason you had to smile was a big deal.
He thought about his family. He missed them. He was gone for so long when he was in juvy. He wasn’t out long. They won’t even know him when he gets out this time. Everyone goes on with their lives. His son won’t really know him, either.
Families are a big deal when you’re locked up. It was often the most important thing to know family was there, caring and all. He needed his family to help him so he could get hygiene and stamps and things. He’s not able to get any kind of job yet to make some money. They don’t have jobs at the jails. All you do there is wait. But maybe when he gets settled he could get one. He didn’t care what the job was, He didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.
Some dudes had no family at all and some had families that had never been there for them even when they were kids. He heard a lot of stories, and most of them had hard times. Many said they weren’t guilty. He could understand that.
A few of those he talked to came from foster care. They’d been on their own a long time. And sometimes they had families where bridges had been burnt and their family had had enough. Tbey got tired when their son or husband kept getting in trouble or couldn’t get off drugs. Everyone had a story, even him.
Some had issues with their baby mamas and they couldn’t see their kids. Jamie was glad it wasn’t like that for him. His older brother had been good about writing him and he sent some money on occasion if he needed it. His mom never answered his letters, but he kept trying. He knew Morgan would never keep Jamie from him. She would never do that to him.
Living through a prison sentence, no matter how long if was, it was ten times harder when you didn’t have family who cared. Today, him being a new father gave some of the other men a reason to pull out pictures of their own kids and show him how proud they were to be fathers. That was the normal part of their life. The part they wanted to get back to.
A couple men said they were going to be better fathers when got out because they knew it was hurting their kids when they weren’t around. They wanted to be better fathers.
That was all Jamie thought about, being a dad. He daydreamed about it for hours. Not just a baby, but learning things a father would teach his son. How to ride a bike and throw a ball. Later they would go see sports games. They would do things together he never got a chance to do with his own father. There is just a big, empty hole there where memories of his father should be.
He tried to convince himself maybe he’d get out early and be there for him. All he could do was try. Stay to himself. Hopefully go to school and get his GED and train for a skill after that.
But why did they move him so far away. He couldn’t do anything about it, but they knew he had family. Morgan was down as his wife, even though they weren’t really married. They knew he had a mama and brothers and a sister. It made him feel alone.
Jamie had been moved out of solitary a while back, but he was still waiting to find out when he’d be moved to a prison. He was told it wouldn’t be long now. Since he was back in a dorm with other inmates he was able to make a phone call to Morgan.
She told him all about little Jamie. He stood there with the biggest grin on his face hearing all the details about his son. He wasn’t happy, though, hearing how hard it was for her in the delivery room.
“It wasn’t easy, Jamie. I had to have a c-section at the last minute. The doctor found the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times. They didn’t know that until they tried to take him out. That’s why he wouldn’t go down the birth canal. His vitals were dropping. The doctor had never seen that before. Without the surgery he would have died. He was lucky. We were lucky”
Morgan sounded tired. He wished he could’ve been there with her. She must have been scared. Healing from surgery, taking care of a newborn by herself, as well as the other kids, would wear her out. He was glad she was with her mom so she could help her. Now more than ever he realized how much he screwed up by going out that night.
“I’m sorry I’m not there to help you,” he spoke quietly. Jamie’s regrets would become a pain that never went away.
“More than anything,” he said, “I wish I could be there with you right now. Hold you in my arms with little Jamie between us. I want to protect both of you, and I can’t.”
A fifteen minute jail call goes by too fast. There was never enough time to say all you wanted to say. The sadness in his heart after he hung up the phone overshadowed the happiness he felt when he dialed her number.
Reality hit hard. He didn’t want to think he wouldn’t be able to raise his son. He would miss every first – first laugh, first step, first tooth, first birthday, second birthday and more after that. He would miss it all. And little Jamie would miss having his daddy.
Jamie found out he was being moved. They couldn’t have sent him any farther away from home. Was it on purpose? There were a hundred prisons they could have sent him to. They had to choose the one that was farthest away? It was clear across the state. East Texas, where he was from, was mostly pine trees and red dirt. West Texas was mostly desert.
There was no way now that his family could come and see him. No one could take off four days from work for a visit that was only a couple hours long. Making the drive in one day would be too hard. It looked like he was on his own.
Texas was a huge state to travel across. He had never been any farther west than Huntsville when he was on probation. He lived with his uncle during tenth grade. Now he was being to sent to the Smith Unit in La Mesa. By car it took about eighteen. By prison bus it would probably take four days. They didn’t take a direct route. They zigzagged to different prisons, picking up inmates and dropping others off. It was a trip to hell.
It was summer and scorching hot. Even though there was air conditioning it wasn’t strong enough to cool down the heat from the sun scorching the metal of the bus. Too many bodies inside didn’t help, either. Some of them stank pretty bad and that made it worse. They’d all end up stinking by the time they got where they were going.
Jamie wore the same white shirt and baggy elastic waist pants he put on the day they loaded up the men being transferred. He wouldn’t be able to take a shower until the bus arrived at Smith Unit, after be was processed. That could take awhile. No one cared if any of the inmates missed a shower, and no one cared how they felt about their travel experience. Suffering was part of their sentence. They deserved it, right?
After all the red tape was taken care of and he was assigned somewhere, he should be able to make a phone call to Morgan and see how she and little Jamie were doing.
In the bus the inmates were separated from the guard and the driver who were up front, but the guard in the back had to deal with the stink – and stay alert. They changed guards and drivers a few times when when they stopped at different prisons to exchange prisoners for others.
The men had to sit there silently waiting for the bus to start. The driver wasn’t allowed to let the engine idle when both guards weren’t onboard. They were standing outside having a smoke. The AC wouldn’t go on until the engine kicked over again. Jamie felt sweat drip down the side of his face. It was going to be a long, uncomfortable trip.
The seats on the bus were hard and uncomfortable like a city bus, not a Greyhound bus. There was no padding anywhere. They made sure they would be miserable. It was impossible for Jamie to stretch out his legs, so circulation was bad. He knew his ankles and feet would swell. The heat made it worse.
The guards were never amused by complaining. It was pointless anyway. There was nothing they could do. He knew it was gong to get worse the farther west they went when it became a drier heat. It sucked all the moisture out of his mouth and throat. He felt dehydrated. He craved water. They didn’t give them enough water. Less bathroom breaks that way, he guessed. But if anyone asked for water they just might make them wait even longer, just to make them feel worse.
It was impossible to do more than doze off for a few minutes of light sleep. The whirling sound of the tires as they turned on a road hot enough to melt the tires, was enough to lull the men into a stupor. Problem was, if they started falling to one side, the person next to them would give them a shove with their shoulder to tell them to straighten up.
Jamie was cuffed to another man, through rings on the seats. “I gotta piss. We gotta get up.” the man next to him said after they had been on the road for about an hour. “Guard, we need to go to the back of the bus.”
If one man needed to use the john, they both had to go. Peeing was one thing, but it wasn’t much fun if you needed to sit and take a shit. Sooner or later they all had to take a turn. The guard came and unlocked them from the seat, but not from each other. It was hard for two connected people to do anything that took co- ordination.
A guard stood near the door-less restroom. Jamie and the other inmate made their way to it by walking sideways past the other seats. He stood looking away with his arm inside the door, trying to give him a little privacy.
“Damn, it stinks.” Jamie muttered under his breath. Since they were cuffed they couldn’t easily clean up after themselves. There was pee on the floor and anywhere else it splashed. The toilet seat was kept up out of respect for those who needed to sit. After a couple days the smell was overwhelming. The men in the back had it the roughest.
Jamie desperately wanted to wash up. Splash water on his face and neck. He didn’t have any of his property. That would arrives in a later bus, so no one had deodorant, either.
The only good thing about traveling was being able to see outside. There wasn’t much to look at; west Texas was mostly desert. But the high point was being outside the walls and watching the day go from morning to night. Once he gets to his new home he is on the inside, and the outside becomes forbidden territory. The free world. A place he wouldn’t be able to go for a long time.
“Hey, you got any family?” Jamie asked the dude next to him.
“Shut up. No talking,” came from somewhere behind him.
After a minute or so he heard a whisper, “Two girls. Three and five. You?”
“Baby boy,” he whispered back. “Two months.” He glance to the right and saw him nod okay. “Too bad.”
They weren’t allowed off the bus for any reason because of security. Food was bought and passed out. It felt to Jamie as though they were never going to get to the other side. It was like an old Twilight Zone TV show where a scene was supposed to be real life but you found out at the end it wasn’t. It didn’t get anymore unreal than this.