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

Latest

Destination Unknown

Greetings from the Texas Underground. Some recent changes have occurred in my 12’ x 9’ world that I’d like to share with you all.  I want to apologize first for not writing regularly and the lapse in time between updating everyone. I’ve filled numerous folders with countless pages of failed writings. After two years, writer’s block and I have begun to go our separate ways. The inability to convey my thoughts properly is absolutely debilitating.

So. I’ll begin with my interview three days ago with the Unit Classification Committee. After 13 years in “Safekeeping” I’ve officially requested to be reclassified and return to General Population. Approval was granted on the unit, and now I await an answer from the State Committee who will soon vote on my request. If they agree to remove my safekeeping status I will immediately be removed from Protective Custody and begin my adjustment in, well, unprotected custody. Yeah, some heavy shit, huh?

Let me explain my reasoning. At one time Safekeeping was an environment of guys from all walks of life. From former police officers and judges, to high profile cases and mass murders like the infamous Elmer Wayne Henley. Mixed within, also, are inmates most likely to be victimized by more aggressive offenders. I fit somewhere inside the chaos and recognized the sense of security “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” insanity provides. Over the years, Safekeeping has dwindled considerably. Many were shipped to other units or placed in Administrative Segregation.

I’ve been able to establish myself over the years beyond Safekeeping’s limitations and held jobs not previously offered to those in Protective Custody. Not to mention the radical change in dynamics of prison life in general. With the addition of thousands of cameras, the influx of men with beards and boobs, and the fact that there’s more transgenders in Population than there ever was in Safekeeping. In hopes of making my own transition, not the kind that requires hormone therapy and training bras, but the leap from the Bachelor’s degree to getting my Master’s at the School of Hard Knocks.

To be completely honest, as my 40th birthday approached I needed to take some greater leaps and challenge myself. For what it’s worth, these changes will empower me … and I desperately am in need of that.

Meanwhile, I recently completed a vocational trade in Masonry. 450 hours of brick, mortar, and steel-toed boots. The experience was eventful, to say the least. When I started telling guys the course was required now for parole because “Trump wants that fucking wall built, guys,” the little rumor went rampant, unit-wide. Everyone got a good laugh when I confessed to the fake news. We blasted some great music and escaped the madness from the main unit. Prison becomes a constant blur of mundane existence. It takes shit like bricks and wheelbarrows to jolt the spirit and enjoy the moment for what it’s worth. Plus, it helped that I talked the instructor into allowing us to have a graduation and cook a big spread. I am officially certified in masonry and I can Jon more build a fucking wall than I can jump over one.

Currently, I’m about 60% through my Automotive Electronics Vocation trade. Ok, I don’t exactly get under any hoods or lay on that thing with the wheels to inspect under carriages. But, when it comes to running diagnostics on the caps and listening to XM Radio, I’m a pro. I’m a lot less mechanic and more technician. Continuing the rumor mill tradition, I couldn’t help telling a few guys that the Throw Mama from the Train guard who makes our life miserable, has had a breathalyzer installed in her hoopy because of recent DWIs. This Old Bar Fly went ballistic when she heard about her car. There was definitely a sense of uncertainly in her fury that was wildly rewarding. But nothing is as bittersweet as getting behind the wheel, opening the sunroof, and imagining being on some highway somewhere else. Free again, carefree and unchained. The moment is priceless and the return to reality is devastating, but it is what it is …

Well, I guess this is where I’ll wrap things up. I’m grateful for the opportunity to write you tonight. Not only does it allow me to have a voice again but also the ability to help knock down the many walls we build around ourselves. I hope you continue down this road with me. I’m continually under construction and a man who’s unwilling to succumb to the treacherous weight of my world, although I often feel way too close to its edge.

My ultimate purpose and greatest reward would be for your own freedom to take on a much deeper meaning …  While I continue to learn that TRUE freedom is found deep within our souls … and something not even the flames of incarceration can burn.

Keven James, 9/18

PS: Just this morning I was informed that I am now classified as General Population. They approved my request. I was told to pack up my property and that I’ll be moved very shortly. You’re the first to know. Keep me in your prayers. And stay tuned …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw-0pbY9JeU

 

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Heart-Less

“What is to give light must endure burning.”

                                                                                     –V.F.

We accomplish certain things only because of our failures and defeats. The process of making the right choices and being able to determine their consequences, are all things that over time we are taught. I often wonder why my mind has allowed my heart to make the judgement calls. It’s almost as if no one else is listening. My heart has full possession of the helm. Something takes over my thought process, and immediately it becomes emotional.

Sometimes it will happen because of a single word. My memories flick like lightening bugs, tiny little sparks that grab hold of my attention. Each with its own measure of longing, remorse, warmth, and regret. Throughout the day these lights flash continually. Even as I type, even as I lay falling asleep, even as I mail an envelope. I make decisions that have the least potential of adding to the weight it all balances on my heart. My heart needs to rest. But how do you do this?

I’m not uncomfortable saying that I’m at the center of a major depression. The kind that warns you to seek shelter. The kind of depression that rains days on end. The kind that pours. I’m unsettled and feel beside myself. The things I once enjoyed I no longer have any desire to take on. I have to force myself to write or paint. I say this in a whisper but, in many ways, I feel like I’ve begun to let go.

That doesn’t make sense, does it? It’s like it’s happening without my knowledge.

I look at my journals from the past years, and my life now is very vacant. A lot of this possibly has to do with the fact that I’ve spent the last decade beside another person 24/7. The bonds that can be built in here are unique, to say the least. People become family. When you’re around someone for five years, you become accustomed to their presence. They become a brother, a best friend. Parting ways becomes a gut-wrenching process that feels like death. The only thing that puts it into perspective is the comfort of knowing this person you love is free. Knowing they will not have to endure this world any longer. Countless promises are made and carved in stone; to never abandon one another. Once again I learned these words become worthless.

I don’t know if I will ever have to face this anguish again. I don’t know where in my heart I’d find the capacity to even hold onto this. I just let things settle where they may, and I try to be a beacon of hope in a cascading world of despair. My heart continues to beat like the wings of wild birds in a cage.

2018 — My resolution is heart-less.

 

New Year’s Eve 2017

No Teeth, But Tits!

The industrial complexities and failures in the very basis of common-sense decision making, amplify the controlled chaos of mass incarceration. I’d like to give an example of just one of the most recent additions to the infamous Law and Order tactics and policies now being implemented behind these ancient walls.

Let’s just say, for example, that when I walk out of my 10 x 12 this morning, Lady Luck is not only nowhere in sight, but that bitch is somewhere in rehab. I could possibly avoid the terrorist attack I’m about to be bombed with, but I forget to remind myself I’m below the Mason-Dixon line. My “Ya’alls” and “Fixin’ to’s” are M.I.A. and when this 350 lbs. beast tells me to get out of his seat, I don’t comply. I buck, and let this linebacker know all about himself.

Fair enough, I’ve become accustomed to the steady diarrhea of the mouth, and put up with shit here every day. I’m from Philly, for God’s sake, I have my own arsenal of comebacks and get-rights. But, when it comes to someone bullying and trying to run shit (and I’m not getting paid for it), you got me fucked up. I quickly go from cool, calm and medicated to a crazed angry black woman in an oppressed society. Like an exorcism I explode, and everyone, including me, is mouthing the words “Where the hell did all that come from”?

As I regain consciousness after being trolleyed off to the unit’s infirmary by one of the (same trailer, different park) “nurses”, I realize something is missing. My teeth! After all the caps, crowns and braces, my precious teeth are in Fat Fuck’s fist.

Boy, you done lost all your teefs. You ain’t gonna have to worry about being out of commissary now,” says Side Show Sally the RN.

I’ll pause here. Though this is not (my) true story, it happens every day here. Do you think America has any idea, or even a slight inclination, of what transpires behind these hidden, forbidden, buried penitentiary complexes? Let me mention here, from both personal experience and a decade of observations, that the lack of basic human compassion by our very captors fuels this deep-seated revenge against the very ones we often must plead with for even the simplest of things, like toilet paper, or a blanket.

Back to the Insanity

Now, with large portions of my teeth missing and the ability to chew junk yarded, I can officially scratch gold teeth off my bucket list. And finally, to the main point of this story-telling. The following is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s option for the teethless:

  1. I will be provided a cup with my name on it (oh, and my inmate number).

  2. A pureed liquid diet will be whipped up for me. NOT ONCE! But three times a day. Slop processed for my consumption.

  3. And this here’s what country folk refer to as “Gettin’ fancy”: A meal card that no longer labels me as that old, mundane REGULAR or DIET bullshit (that’s so 1980s). Now, my new card says (almost in Las Vegas lights) LIQUID SERVING ONLY.

No, the state does not provide, in any shape, form or fashion (at your expense or their own), any options to fix your teeth. No dentures, no fixtures, no partials. You, my friend, not only struggle with your S’s, but a constant stream of spit every time you speak.

Now. You must acclimate yourself to the fact that instantaneously you’ve gone from looking decent enough to be picked up hitch-hiking to – Oh, my God – I look like that emaciated guy at the family reunion in West Virginia. Uncle Gummy, I’m so fucking Uncle Gummy now!

Attention Ladies and Gentlemen and gender-bending, 20 categories of fag tags and smoking legal weed at your queer cousin’s wedding … Are you ready for this?

Say I’m 50 now, I’ve been in prison for decades, I have a Duck Dynasty beard, and I decide one night I would look good in some tits. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. All Duck has to do is put a request into Medical for hormones. A few weeks later, Duck’s in the pill window picking up his boobs and excited as a mutherfucker. Six months later, Duck’s wearing a state-provided bra and selling three-minute sessions to anyone who has a few bags of coffee. Getter done! Getter done!

No teeth, but we got tits for ya! Now ain’t that some shit!

 

P.S. Happy New Year to everyone! I love and miss you in ways words can not express!

 

 

You’ll Stumble in My Footsteps

You’d think that after almost a decade in this place, I’d have this prison thing down pat. But every day continues to feel like the weight that I carried when I first made impact. It has never gotten easier or the complexities simpler. It’s remained a mass storage facility, that barely functions on archaic policies that apparently can only be enforced if you’re wearing a cowboy hat and a gun. Not only does it feel like I’m on another planet, it also operates on its own version of time, that remains at all times, in its only setting: SLOW.

Additional policies and additions to updated changes continually are posted like flyers. Just some reminders that if you’re capable of reading this, then give yourself two points. And if you need teeth that’s not an option, we do not provide anything. But hey, if you’re gay and all of a sudden transgender, then by God we’ll give you some estrogen to grow some tits. Can you even fathom that? If you lose all your teeth you’re provided with not one but two possible options. One is a free liquid diet, three times a day, that even comes with a plastic cup. The other option is to get nothing at all and, well, basically, go fuck yourself. “Free tits over here, get your free tits while they’re nice and hot,” I can hear the tit vendors cheering.

Nothing makes sense and I’ve come to understand Texas’ methods of corrections and confinement can be translated across the state as “a riddle trapped inside a rhyme.” I’d made an investment early on when I started doing time. I decided to comply with their rules instead of receiving infractions and throwing a wrench in its gears. But while the gang members and dope pushers keep them distracted, I’m going to research and educate myself and know what rules they simply make up, and which ones will get them fired. With some exceptions everyone employed here hates their co-workers and supervisors much more than they hate us. “Jack’s a great guy, he killed two people, but just look, who else can clean windows like that.” But, let one of them drink someone else’s soda, and the rage is on a whole other level. It’s everyone kissing each other’s ass, and throwing up in their mouth each time they do it. But for decades now they’ve relied on the buddy system and no credentials or degrees or an ounce of common sense. I don’t consider anymore correcting their English because “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” When Get-Er-Done is a mission statement and possum’s good eatin’ where would I begin to get them at least in the same year as every fucking body else.

I’ve cleaned my plate, and reeled in my line here recently and decided to redirect my focus. I’ve spent way too much of Texas’ time worrying about other people’s parole and release date, and what I can do to make things easier. While the spit on my face may not have been attractive, it must have been the look I was going for. Because I took leave of absence from recognizing when it was time to put myself in first place, first and foremost.

This is not coming from a place of sadness or even pity for myself. It’s a matter of respect for my mother, and how those who loved her failed. My mother’s final wish would have been for family to remember me. She’d never forgive them, not even for a moment, for dishonoring what she would absolutely expect of them. I wonder if down the line it will be them who suffer for their vacancy and more. That absolute heartlessness and lack of forgiveness that radiates in their soul. When their mother’s son, your brother, the oldest, has been sentenced by his loved one to the harshest kind of sentence. The one where you not only suffer with regret and remorse and complete absence of freedom, but have also been read his rights and served with the statement that you’re no longer cared for or loved. I have settled my own personal hell of abandonment and decided to march on. I don’t base my relevance or my need to be reminded that I matter anymore on people I once believed would always be there. I know as a survivor and my constant “under construction” signs that we are all works in progress. Collections of our own experiences and the average of those we surround ourselves with. I would tell you about the things they put me through, the pain I’ve been subjected to … but the Lord himself would blush. The countless feasts laid at my feet, the forbidden fruits for me to eat, but I think your pulse would start to rush.

I’m not looking for absolution, I’ve been forgiven for the things I’ve done. But before you come to any conclusion … try walking in my shoes … you’ll stumble in my footsteps.

Father Time

It’s hard to believe I’ve spent a decade of my life incarcerated. Life in prison can be an absolute, tormented balancing act on the sharp edge of massive heartache and each man’s own search for meaning. I have not sat idle. I divide and conquer as if this is all a study. To comprehend the complexities of prison life and all the elements and the inter-workings of this foreign world, it takes delicate handling. After ten years, I know this, for my integrity and being absolutely comfortable as an outsider. I do my time very differently than these other men. I’m not involved in all the politics and controversies here. They go full force. I don’t hustle politics or gamble.

What I do is inspire and remind people that true freedom can not be bought and sold in any courtroom. It’s without question something you have to discover within yourself. We all are deeply wounded and continuously degraded down here. Some have lost their will entirely. We roam, helpless, while our mothers, our fathers, and children pass away. Helpless. There’s a loneliness like nothing you’ve known that aches deep in your bones. The vacancy in the repeated abandonment and discarded promises were told every day from those of you who think they’re free. Are you free?

Over the decade, I’ve found pieces of my life’s puzzle in only ways God could have orchestrated. I’ve loved in ways that have taught me selflessness and how to be courageous. To love someone is to be courageous. Have you ever thought of it that way? I’ve said many good-byes and watched that last corner be turned and then VANISH. It’s comparable to a death. It really is, because that person is just instantaneously gone. Life moves on (and incredibly fast) when a man reclaims his freedom. I’ll hear from them for a few weeks, then maybe once a month. But the world begins to consume and command your every hour. I don’t allow myself to feel discarded or forgotten. I know with certainty that I made an impact on your life, and in some way will forever remain a part of it. With or without you in mine.

My days are very busy. I work as a clerk 0500 to 1600 hrs. I have an important job and actually enjoy being able to organize groups and create projects with individual accountability. The way I do things is not conventional here by any means. The system here is designed around old ideas and outdated solutions. Things have now been modernized and after a process of getting everyone familiar and on board, we have the best department in the state.

It is important, even behind these walls, to continually challenge yourself and adapt those processes to other areas of our lives. My challenge right now is a huge one. I’ve had some research done, and there has never been a study and/or book written about the communications between incarcerated men and their fathers. You hear every war story imaginable in here. I’ve noticed over the years that no one ever speaks of their father. This person, this part of your life, is sacred to a man. Much deeper emotions to talk about than say, a wife or mother. What was his nickname for you? Did he ever tell you he loved you? Do you hope to meet him someday? I’ve worked on a collection of 42 questions that I believe will grant others great insight on this topic. I’m going to interview as many men as possible. I’ve done five interviews already, and the intensity is obvious and present; I talk to my father first, and allow them to see my own vulnerability. What’s amazing is the person who has never even met his father, and yet has much more to talk about than those who have. One man watched, as a child, while his father beat up and raped his mother. It was when he watched his dad put his hands on his 8-year-old sister, that he stabbed him in the face and neck 21 times. He wipes tears away and asks me if anyone is looking. These stories are powerful and I’m looking forward to this project. It will become a published book. When a title surfaced that could not have fit better, that’s when I decided this has to be a book. Father Time.

What are reason and purpose in this life if not to be on a constant search for understanding and the ultimate realization that we may very well never find the answer. It’s our own individual quest. I’m sending this out with all my love and a single request, that each one of you look in the mirror and love that person you see in its reflection. Look in your mirror’s reflection, and treat that person well, you’re their protector.

Little Earthquakes

Always

Suns rise and set

Moons come and go

Stars journey to a distant sky

Tides ebb and flow

Clouds form and fade

as if to silently say

That all we ever really have

is tomorrow’s yesterday

But there’s one thing time

will never ever own

And one day time itself

will have to finally show

that though the winds of change

may carry away the days,

My heart will be here

holding you always…

all ways.

–Terah Cox

 

Epic

It’s not that I have changed my mind

Or misplaced all the reasons

And it’s not that I have lost my courage

It’s still secure and in safe-keeping

 

It’s the tangle of misconception

That ravages my spirit

The decision made to carry away

And annihilate my existence

 

Where in one’s soul does redemption go

When judgments have already denied it

And when the one’s you love, have turn and run

A sentence of a different confinement

 

I’m not quite certain if the search is over

Petals still cling to their vine

Like a poem to a poet

A voice to a choir

A riddle trapped inside a rhyme

EPIC.

–Keven James, April 2016