Drac Payne – My Soulmate

Returning Tenx9 storyteller Drac Payne shares of missing his soulmate Lorrain, and of missing her death while he was incarcerated for 34 years. 

Over the last 34 years I have been incarcerated, I was just released this past January 15th, so I could have come up with several pages of what I have missed over the last 34 years. Instead I want to tell you who I miss and more specifically a death I missed.

Her name is Lorrain and she was my soul mate for the last 27 years of my incarceration.

She made sure that I learned something new each and every day.  She taught me how to pay it forward because she really believe that if people would take the time to help each other then the world would be a better place.

If I mention about someone in the prison unit that I lived in being unable to buy shoes or clothes during package month, then she would have me to find out their sizes and she would get them what they needed.  During the Christmas month, she would buy two individuals Christmas packages each year.  You should have seen the guys faces when their names were called saying that they had Christmas packages.

Lorrain had M.S. and was bed ridden the last three years of her life, but that never stopped her from teaching me. She would order us the same books and we would read them and then talk about them for days on the phone.  We would talk to each other three or four times a day. She always wanted to hear how my day went and what was going on in the unit that I lived.

During the last 6 months of her life, it was very hard on both of us, because we knew that she would not be around to see me get out. During this time her body was shutting down limb by limb. Her hands would not work right and that made her mad, because her mind was sharp as ever. The nurses at the Nursing home notice this and would start taking their breaks around the time that I would call so that they could help her with our phone calls.

When her time was getting close she would talk to me about moving on in life without her.  We both knew that she would not be around to see me get out of prison and that in truth hurt us both.  She made sure that emotionally I was prepared for life without her and that I could handle what ever society threw at me.  She is the biggest reason that I am who I am today.

Then the day came that I really didn’t want.  I tried to call her in the morning like I always did but could not reach her.  The nurses were not even answering the phone like they normally did.  I knew something was not right, so I started to worry about her.  I went to my counselor and explained that I needed an emergency phone call because I knew something was wrong.  His response was “If she is gone someone will call”.

I was finally able to make a call to the nursing home around three that afternoon in the chaplains’ office.  I talked to one of the nurses that always helped Lorrain.  She told me “Sorry honey, she passed away at 6:15 this morning” The nurse informed me that she called the prison three times to have the message relayed to me.  She also told me that Hospice called three times with the same message.  The officers who took the call did not tell anyone.  They did not tell the Chaplains office or their shift supervisor.  I did not find out until some six hours after she had passed away. I sat in the chaplains office and cried.  I felt like my world had ended, and in a way it had.  She was all I had on the outside.

I knew that I would not be allowed to attend her funeral and say goodbye because the Tennessee Department of Corrections does not allow this. I was not allowed to say goodbye. That afternoon while sitting in my cell, I had every intentions of taking my own life, because I could not see a world without her in it. After count time I went back over to the chaplains office and talked to her, and some insiders who I now consider my brothers and more importantly family.  They sat and talked and helped me get thru my grieve.

I thought about all the things that I missed with Lorrain.  The books we read together and talked about, the conversations about our life with or without each other, but above everything that I missed about her, the one thing that I miss the most, is her voice saying I love you.

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Michael McRay – I Was in Prison

Tenx9 Nashville founder and co-host Michael McRay tells a story for “I Was in Prison” about scars on a man in a mental health pod at Riverbend prison. 

Drac Payne – I Was in Prison

At Tenx9 Nashville’s special event, “I Was in Prison,” Drac Payne speaks of death, friendship, and rehumanization after 34 years in prison. 

“From Dehumanizing to Humanizing”

I was placed in prison for second degree murder in 1982 at the age of 18. My first thought was that I would not survive in prison.  I’m only 18. Just a few years later, my ex-cellie tried to kill me. I was convicted of Murder 1st degree and sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Upon arriving at Brushy Mountain in 1982 the first thing that I saw was how inmates were being dehumanized by officers.  I saw officers beating inmates with little sticks that they carried around their waist. I saw inmates being told that they could not go and see their love ones in the hospital or even attend their funeral if they passed away.  I listen time and time again over my 34 years, officers yelling, and screaming at inmates as if they were two year old children.

I learned quickly how the system was bent on dehumanizing individuals, you’re told when to eat, when to sleep, when to go outside.  Officers would even pull you into a building and make you strip naked just to see if you are carrying a weapon. Being dehumanized every day is the norm in prison but nowhere did I see this more clearly than in the death of my friend Jerry Honey.  Jerry had Hepatitis C and was in the last stages of his life.  We use to walk around in the unit that we lived in talking.  He would look at his swollen stomach and then tell me that he wish that he could drop this baby so that he would be ok.  We would just look at each other and laugh.  A lot of us knew that he did not have much time left.  We would spend as much time with him as possible to make his last days on earth pleasant.  The community stepped up and took care of Jerry.  We cleaned his cell when it needed cleaning, and brought his food to him every day. If he just wanted to sit and talk, someone was always there.

Jerry was constantly in pain.  His swollen stomach kept him in misery. Sometimes he would say he wished he had a gun so he would stop hurting so bad.  Day after day, we watched the prison system turn their backs on Honey.  Some days he couldn’t get the painkillers he needed; other times, they wouldn’t drain the fluid from his stomach.  By the end, Jerry really did look 8 months pregnant.  He was only in his 50’s but you might of thought he was 70.  It seemed clear to us that the prison system only thought of us as disposable objects.  They didn’t care.

The prison system wanted to send Jerry to Special Needs, which is a medical prison for prisoners, but we knew that if he was sent there, he would die without his friends or his community around him and Jerry did not want that. We fought to keep him around us, like he wanted.  One of a prisoner’s biggest fears is dying alone, forgotten. At night, sometimes I would lie in bed and think, If I died tonight, “Would I be missed?” Who would even know or even care? When Jerry’s time was drawing near, some of the staff noticed how the community was taking care of Jerry and they knew this was what he wanted.

In the midst of a system that thrives on cultures of death and suffering, I was able to see and participate in a community that was built on a culture of life and love for each other.

Jerry died with his community around him like he wanted. He died holding the hand of Chaplain Alexander, with his celly right beside him. He died with dignity, respect, and as a human being.

Even though I’ve lived firsthand the apathy and dehumanization of the prison system, I have also seen that none of us has to die alone. Through communities of love and friendship, we can resist the isolation and sorrow of a system that thinks we are disposable.

I want to close with this poem by my dear friend Tony Vick who remains locked up.

 

I Shall Not Die Alone

If today becomes my last moment on earth,

I shall not die alone.

I will not hear the whisper of hope

mutter from a stranger.

I will not seek comfort from a preacher

whom I’ve never met.

But I will remember the eyes that have looked into

mine with love and inspiration.

Drifting through my mind will be words that

have uplifted me the real me.

The one not bridled with deceptions and fear.

I will feel the touches of those who

were not afraid to reach out to an

outcast of the world.

If today is my last day, I don’t need

medical folk simply doing their job.

I just need to remember

Remember the words of my God.

Remember the love of my friends.

 I SHALL NOT DIE ALONE.

 My friend Jerry did not die alone.

I Was In Prison – The Understory

Deep gratitude to our storytellers tonight. It was a privilege to hear your words, your lives & your dignity. – cary.

In prison…

I watch. Minute by minute. Second by second. My son: stripped, beaten, killed.

No breath? No justice.

I read. I learn. “The way out is in one of those books.” I get out.

No attorneys? No friends? No justice.

I teach. I am banned from teaching. I am heartbroken. I keep teaching.

No teaching? No ideas? No justice.

I keep vigil. For my friend. Dying. Surrounded by community, care, love.

No humanity? No dignity? No justice.

I fall in love. The prison is hell. A monster. Yet it is my church: holy.

No collaboration? No community? No resistance. No restoration. No justice.

I see scars. Tears. Anger. I see more scars. Self-violence. Unbearable pain to erase unbearable pain.

No voice? No peace of mind? No sky? No relief. No justice.

I visit. They abuse my husband. They abuse me. We sue. They punish us both.

No freedom of speech? No litigation? No reform? No justice.

I am sitting in prison. I am sentenced to death. I am angry. My mother dies. My world shatters. I pick myself up.

No direction? No purpose? No advocacy? No justice.

I am a threat to the system itself. I am exiled. Solitary. Caged. Animal. Tortured.

No humanity? No reconcilliation? No love? No hope?      No justice?

There would be no me.