This is the blog of Keven James Bramwell, an inmate in a maximum security Texas prison. These are his real-life stories of life in prison, and how he got there. Behind brick walls, steel doors, and iron gates, he shares the pages of his journals with the world. (Some material is adult in nature – reader discretion advised.) Cannot be reproduced without permission. COPYRIGHT 2011

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Deep In The Heart of Texas

The inter-workings of a century old system, slowly creek behind the barbed wired fences of the Texas penitentiary. Built on the fundamental principles of free labor and punishment, the elements of modern day imprisonment are still archaic and brutally harsh.

Deep in the heart of Texas, in one of the most incarcerated states of the country, are the mass industrial complexes that warehouses hundreds of thousands of prisoners. With the busiest death house in the nation, and it’s prehistoric reliance on penology for profit, there is a reason they call it the “Texas Empire.”

The unit I am on is surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland. They are three-story tiers house over 3,000 men in compact two-man cells. A city within itself, secured and covered walk-ways connect the multitude of buildings. Offices, solitary, an infirmary, a kitchen, the mail room, and segregation are all a part of prison life here. Just beyond the perimeter fence, the many complexes that piece together Texas’ multi-billion dollar corporation emerge. Manufacturing plants that process meat and animal feed, chicken farms, slaughter houses, and endless rows of crops are never closed for business. Livestock line the fences for miles, roaming in large herds. Then, too, apart of the money making machine that thrives every time a new sentence is being served.

Inmates are subjugated to work either to twelve hours a day without pay. If the mandated work is not carried out, disciplinary action will be enforced per the state handbook: Level 2 Offense Code 25, to be exact. The jobs are assigned by a classification committee. These jobs can easily range from working in the field, to a job at one of the many factories, or serving beans in the kitchen. The jobs are often grueling and can be very dangerous. We belong to an industry that would not survive without the hundreds of thousands of incarcerated men and women who drive their free-labor work force.

In order to see a clear picture and attempt to understand Texas’ mass incarceration, it is important to address the substantial factors that date back to slavery. The 13th amendment was established to prohibit slavery. The loop-hole in this amendment is where it states that slavery is prohibited “except as punishment for a crime.” With that loop-hole in place, forced labor has continued just as it had before the civil war.

When slavery was abolished and the emancipation finally took place in Texas, joy for some meant panic for others. Abandoning the enormous crops to yield, many of the slaves sought freedom elsewhere. As new laws were quickly established, and free labor was legally allocated to those who are punished, the inter-workings of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice pretentiously began to weave their web. Plantations soon became penitentiary farms. Masters became wardens, naming their empire after one another, county jails became hostels, and Texas rangers quickly pulled out their brand new lassos. The machine began to creek over a century ago, and has not hindered nor bowed its head since.

Now immersed deep within this Texas Empire, I look out through my narrow door after an exhausting day at work. I do all that I can to continue on each day, striving to have a purpose and refusing to silence my voice, in a place that is rooted in age old traditions and iniquities. It is the inter-workings of my own will and fortitude that have somehow continued to give me fuel for this fight.

–Keven James, January 17th 2015

99 Years

2015 — From The Pages of My Journals Part II

(99 Years)

“In the case of the State of Texas vs. the defendant, the court accepts your plea of guilty and at this time hereby sentences you to 99 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If you wish to appeal this decision, the court will hear your request at a later time. I will now release you into the custody of the department of corrections to begin fulfilling your obligations to the State”

My name is Keven James and about 9 years ago I stood in front of a judge in rural, backwoods, Texas.  I listened to those words and they would define the greatest battle I would ever face.

Shortly after a near-fatal auto accident, I lost myself in ways that I cannot even begin to describe.  I had a severe traumatic brain injury that put me in a coma.  This brain injury left me in intensive care after multiple life threatening surgeries.

After declining a plea at the advice of my public defender, I was at the mercy of the court.  There were no witnesses and no one was called to speak on my behalf.  Prior to being sentenced, no medical records, doctors letters, or neurologist reports were reviewed.  Without a jury and in under 40 minutes, I received the maximum sentence possible and will not see parole for another 20 years.

My life is a testament of how quickly one’s world can unravel.  I’m writing because I refuse to be silenced or give up my freedom of speech.  I have an unimaginable story to tell, and want to share the incredible highs and the devastating lows of it all.  There is a saying “out of sight, out of mind,” but even though I am behind these brick walls, steel doors and iron gates, I’ll never fold my wings.

I hope that through the pages of my journals you find strength and courage of your own.  For me, that would be the ultimate reward.

Let me take you on a journey…

–Keven James, February 2015

The Ending and The Beginning

This is the conclusion of Part I of my story. I look back at the past chapters and wish I could change many things. Instead though, I embrace them because all of it is apart of my journey.

Some time ago, I was contacted by a publisher about writing a book.  After some thought, I decided against it because I didn’t feel that the time was right.  Without my permission, a book was published of my early writings.  This book still remains for sale, even after trying to stop the continued publication.

At this moment in my life, I am facing a great turning point. As my dear friend prepares to leave, I prepare to face this foreign world now alone. I’ve lost several people in my family and hold close to my heart those who have never left my side.

The greatest reward for me would be my writing to reach out and touch the heart of someone suffering.  For them to find strength in my struggle, and the fuel to take the helm of their own survival.  That would be my last wish.  We are all human, and though the struggles we face may be different, the suffering in our hearts is all the same.

I’m not going to give up my freedom.  Not my freedom to become a better man, not my freedom to love, and not my freedom of speech.  I turn from a past that has crucified me, one that will always bleed for forgiveness.  I look ahead… into what? I do not know.  However, now I do so with my eyes wide open instead of closed.

–Keven James, February 2015

Starless Night

*Keven won first place in the state poetry contest for his poem Starless Night*

 

Starless Night

Barefoot on these coals I walk, head bowed and alone

The consequences of my sins reaping havoc on my soul

Searching through the sediment of ashes in my hands

I have found the things <hidden within> to make me a better man.

 

In my mirrors broken reflection there is a man who has changed

Carved from stone, my burdens my own, I take possession of the blame

Many of the ones I love have turned the other way

But in God’s eyes, I’m still his child, and His love <not theirs> saves.

 

Even though I’m far away and painfully forgotten

I still stand strong and march on with a heart that has not hardened

So think of me some time at night when there’s few stars in your sky

And know that I have starless nights but have yet to say goodbye.

 

–Keven James, December 15th 2014

Ultimate Survival

A few years ago I took a class called Cognitive Intervention.  We went through mock scenarios about common issues that generally cause problems between inmates.  It was an instructive class that I actually learned a lot from.  It reminds of you the best ways to meet your needs over time.  There were a lot of things about the class, though, that were hard to apply to every day prison life.

The daily course of life in prison often becomes so mundane that it doesn’t take much for it’s rhythm to be disturbed.  Brutal fights and arguments are an occurrence throughout the week.  Inmates and officers challenging each other even over the simplest of things.  You can imagine the tension and angst of 3,000 men — confined and property of the state of Texas.

There are two options when dealing with an aggressive person.  If someone puts their hands on you, you can protect yourself and fight back.  This action will unquestionably result in an infraction for a fighting case.  It seldom matters who started it, who did what, or how it ended.  The only question that will be asked is if it required medical attention or not.  Either way, you will undoubtedly receive a case.  This will send your ass to medium custody where you will only leave your cell a few times a day.  You will lose your class line and have to go before the Unit Classification Committee.  This is after you go before the makeshift court process that runs like a conveyor belt.  See you in a year.  The second option is to have your ass kicked and simply do nothing about it.  Scramble to get the guards attention.  Hide behind the spectators who are all amused by your “ho” actions.  Which is what you will be referred to from this point forward.  There is no “win” to this situation.  Lets hope you keep your teeth in tact… because there is no such thing as a cap, a crown, or a replacement here.

So in these critical moments, you assess quickly what will meet your needs the most over time. Many guys in here have absolutely nothing to lose.  They have lost everything already, abandoned their morals, and the value that they place on your life is obsolete.

I’m surrounded by guys three times my size.  Guys who grew up living on the streets, hustling and dealing. Many of them who are serving time for the one murder they got caught committing.  It’s violent, it’s foreign, and it’s the challenge of ultimate survival.  I’ve befriended many of the guys I live around each day.  I share things with them like the stories of my experiences running two businesses and what it was like when I lived in Pennsylvania.  I try to teach them the value of looking inside themselves and living for something much greater.  I stand strong and mighty because I’m proud of who I am.  I know the value of what lies inside my heart, and where exactly my courage and strength comes from.

I am literally in a third world country, surviving on the bare minimum, working long days for absolutely nothing.  In a place where covering your window with a towel to keep the freezing air off you at night, easily results in an infraction.  Broken seals, broken spirits, and lost hope and faith.  In the middle of it, often sinking from its enormity, I take a deep breath tonight and thank God that I’m still standing.

I’ve hesitated to write about all the intricacies of life inside these walls, sharing bits and pieces here and there.  This year, I’m going to bring you as close inside as possible… without shaving your head and putting you in Texas Department of Criminal Justice fatigues.  Pack your shit!!

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NScxTJlYIoE

Take To The Sky

After almost 15 years my dearest friend, Charlie Brandon, made parole this morning at 9:18AM. I’m proud of you, my brother, my hero. YOU’VE NEVER FOLDED YOUR WINGS

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From Work Station 14

The craft shop is active this morning with projects.  It’s a small, closed-in area with about 20 work stations.  Some guys work on leather and make everything from purses to saddles.  There is also a handful of woodworkers.  They build and design intricate cabinets, chests, and frames.  You name it, they can make it. These are craftsman who have spent years learning how to master their skills.

The craft shop I am in also has a few metal workers.  One, in particular, makes many of the badges and stripes that the officers wear.  It’s a privilege for us to be in the craft shop, and the waiting list is several years long.  You have to have an excellent disciplinary record, good standing line class, and maintain the required amount of money for your crafts available in your trust fund account.

Me, well, I’m at work station number 14. It is close to the windows where I often display my art. Although I work with metals and leather at times, I primarily paint and create abstract art pieces.  They are unusual and are oftentimes misunderstood in this environment.  Everywhere you turn, you see every replication of what I would call “penitentiary art.”  By penitentiary art, I mean pictures of bars, chains, guns, and clown faces. I admire the incredible talents of others, but hold steady to my own visions and ideas. I do that in all aspects of my life in here.

I’m not trained at painting or exactly familiar with most techniques.  So, when I visualize something, I pull from every corner to bring it to life.  Pieces of metal, scraps of wood, a discarded piece of canvas or leather.  That is what art is about for me.  No matter what it is that you enjoy working on, whether it is journalist, poetry, musical instruments, or picking up a paintbrush, make it your own.  Define the many layers of who you are by bringing those things you imagine and dream of to life.  Never discard them.

I hope to stay in the craft shop for a while, it helps to have a place to get away from the chaos.  The requirements I have to meet to stay in the shop can be difficult, though.  I must place small orders with vendors from approved list on a regular basis.  I’m not always able to do that.  Officers can purchase items from the craft shop, and I have a few buy some of my artwork.  That helps out a lot.  I’m looking forward to getting all my art online in hopes of being able to sell it.  Who knows, but either way, I’m thankful for the opportunity and the privilege of being able to share it with you.  After all, it is for you.

Covered in acrylics and sawdust,

Keven James — January 11th, 2015

Moonlit Gypsy

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