In prison I’m just a number, but I’m also a father and husband

In prison I’m just a number, but I’m also a father and husband

Beaumont Medium Federal Prison; Jefferson County, Texas — My name is James Andersen. After three years in the Bureau of Prisons, it sounds funny to be called James. Inmate Andersen J. #07253-010 is who I am now, just a number. They leave off the first name, that way they don’t feel so bad when they treat you the way they do. 

Inmate Andersen J. #07253-010, just one of the 1,600 men at Beaumont Medium who have spent the last year locked in a cell due to Covid-19. Not James Dayton Andersen, the father of four from Hot Springs, Arkansas, who loves his wife and kids more than anything in this world. 

Oh, and I can’t leave out MD, that is Monster Dog to the people who don’t know him. He is a 75-lb Pitbull that is more of a human than most of the people in this place, myself included. It is funny that I speak of humanity and say my dog is more of a person or human than we are. Well, not funny really, because I am not laughing at being dehumanized. 

I mean my food comes through a hole in my cell door, and my captors are so lazy and disrespectful that they throw my mail on the floor and kick it under the door to me. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

I find that hope in this place is almost impossible to retain. Every day I am literally becoming less of a human being. 

Having spent the last year locked in a cell because of COVID-19, I’ve had too much time to think and become lost in head and heart — finding my flaws and looking at my shortcomings has been hard on me. 

I don’t write about the victories of my past because it really matters to no one anymore. 

My Family is About All That Keeps me Fighting 

I don’t even know why I write this now, other than I still have a little fight left in me, I suppose. 

It’s been hard having to watch my wife and kids grow farther away from me. I try to hold on to them like my life depends on it, because in many ways it does. 

It has been enough to make a man go crazy. I sit here and fall apart. No matter how loud my voice is, inmate #07253-010 goes unheard. Just another drug addict with time and no voice. 

Before I relapsed, I was somebody. I was their Daddy.  I was her husband. To them I seemed invincible! 

They never really knew what the hell I had gone through as a child, because I tried my hardest to keep my past right where it was, in the past. But the past has a funny way of messing up the present. You can never really run away from who you are, or where you come from. 

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I could fill a book on my crazy childhood. From having cancer as a toddler — age one and a half — to watching my parents using meth, or my physical and sexual abuse as a child, on to my drug use at the ripe ole age of 11 or 12. 

I used drugs with my parents all through my teenage years and into my young adult life. It was just the way of things. I never really saw anything wrong with it. Even as I was on my way to prison the first time at 19, I still didn’t think it was because of drug use. 

It’s funny when a person goes to court. All that’s really talked about is the bad they’ve done. 

There is no record kept of upright — or upstanding — things a person has done. The bad always seems to outweigh the good. I mean God has his book, but he seems to be really silent when it comes to stuff like that. 

You can read court file after court file about what I’ve done in my past, but what you won’t see is that at the end of 2007 and early 2008, I was through. 

Through with prison. Through with drugs. Through with people living that lifestyle. Some of whom were my own family. 

The only way I was going to have something different in life was to change. So I did. 

I have always been a worker. So, I started working — getting my life in order. 

I was a father to my son — as much a part of his life as his mother would let me be. Around this same time, I met back up with the girl who is now my wife, Michelle. 

She was my one who got away. She also had a son who was the same age as mine, and we soon made play dates for the kids. She noticed the changes in me, and soon after we started doing this thing called life together. We were happy together. Our sons became friends. That made it easy to start our little family.

I look back on this time as part of the happiest time in my life. 

In 2009, with the economy in a recession and our first child on the way, I decided to take on another line of work. That October I started working for TexAmerican Food Blending. I came in at an entry level position, but within six months I was a shift supervisor. Soon after I was a production manager. 

By 2015, I had worked my way up to plant superintendent. I oversaw two different food production facilities and one warehouse, with about 20 employees who worked under me. 

I had taken a job and turned it into a career. Life was good!! In this time Michelle and I had gotten married, added two little girls to our family and bought a home.

I reached for the top. Foot by foot, inch by inch, and hard and as fast as I could, trying to make up for all my lost opportunities in the past, and I made it! 

I wanted to show the world that an ex-con could do it. The company loved me. I loved them. They took a chance with me, the ex-con who was still on supervised release from the BOP. I didn’t let them down. 

My Worst Drug Dealer Was a Doctor 

I got off of supervised release and kept up a normal life. That is until 2016. I’m not sure what month it was but I hurt my back while on the job. I went to the doctor, and they didn’t do much but give me a prescription for some pain pills. 

I didn’t really know anything about opiates. I mean I had seen stuff on TV, but that was about it. Just a little pill to help with the pain. No big deal, right? 

By the end of 2016, I had an opioid addiction that would rule and then ruin the life I worked so hard to build.  

Unable to control my drug use, I slipped over the edge, and my opiate addiction turned into a meth addiction. That destroyed everything I held dear. 

In January 2017 I lost my job. Because of my drug use, my wife didn’t want me around the kids or herself. She never turned her back on me, but she didn’t want a drug addict around, either. I struggled to be free of my addiction, but I was unable to comprehend the cunning nature of the demons I was fighting. Soon after losing my career, I lost my family, too. 

In September of 2017, I was busted with a large amount of meth while leaving Dallas. I was bonded out. About three weeks later my mother passed away from a heart attack which I feel was due to the stress of what I had going on in my life. When she passed, I used more and more. 

Soon after I started driving again. I got busted again in December of 2017, and I have been in the system ever since. 

I got sentenced to 30 years in May of 2019. 

So, I have started to pick up the pieces of my broken self. I once again took a hard look at myself. I looked much deeper this time. I mean I thought I was fixed already, so why did I fall down again? 

I learned about triggers. That’s what the opiates did, they triggered my addictive personality. I took a look at the abuse I’ve gone through in my life and started to address the scars. 

I didn’t understand why I was the way I was before. So I had to drag all of my past out and deal with it, and I found once you get all of your secrets out of the dark, they are easier to deal with. 

I was able to find the strong man I once was — the one my wife fell in love with, the one always there for his little girls, the one who once built a normal life for his wife and kids. 

I was right in the middle of trying to fix myself when COVID -19 hit, and the whole world lost its mind. 

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The world went on lockdown, and so did we. We had no COVID -19 cases, but they locked us down anyway. We have spent almost a whole year locked in a cell 23 hours a day. We come out for 15 minutes for a shower, phone call and email — IF you still have time.

The prolonged isolation, extreme loneliness and physical hardship we have experienced over the last year has wounded some of us in ways that will never heal. 

I know what little relationship I was able to have with my wife while being a prisoner has failed. I am never able to talk to my sons, and when I do their voices have changed so much I don’t even know who I am talking to. And my little girls, well, they are without their Daddy. 

By the time COVID did get here all of us were ready to get it, just so we could get it over with.  

Highs and Lows — and Steady Progress 

Want to know something? I am winning. I have stayed DRUG FREE through all of this. 

You may think, well that’s not hard, because you are locked in a cell all day. My friend, I’ll tell you, where there’s a will there’s a way. 

Over all of this I have gotten stronger, and I now understand why I failed. I didn’t have the right tools in my toolbox. My hope is, over the next 10-15 years — with the help of the programs offered — I’ll learn what tools I need so I will be in the salvageable group of prisoners, not counted in the irredeemable batch.  

My out date is 10-11-2043.

They said there is no victim in this case other than society at large. 

Well, I disagree. 

The victims in this case have been my wife and kids — my family as a whole. 

The pain I have caused them can only be healed with time and hard work. However, you can only do so much from a prison cell. Still, I’m trying. 

Every day I learn more about myself and why I failed. 

Every day I grow stronger. I am building myself back up. 

I have lost so much in all of this. 

I lost the love of my life, my kids and even my dog (who is like one of my kids). I also lost everything else a human holds dear. 

They say you don’t know what you have got until you have lost it all. My friend, that statement is so true. 

I still sit here hoping against all hope that somehow all of this could be wrong. That I would somehow wake up and all of this be a nightmarish dream.

It’s not a nightmare, though. I have had to make peace with all of this, so I can build myself back up and be a better human. I now use my story to reach out to other inmates struggling with drug use. I try to give them hope in this hopeless place. I try to help — even make — them see what they need to change before it’s too late. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope you can take something away from it. Everyone has a story. This is just part of mine. I hope the next few chapters are brighter than the last few, which they can be with your help.

James Andersen is 42 years old and from Hot Springs Arkansas. In 2017, he was arrested and charged in a 54-person federal indictment out of Dallas Texas. You can view his full bio here. 

James Andersen is 42 years old and from Hot Springs Arkansas. In 2017, he was arrested and charged in a 54-person federal indictment out of Dallas Texas. You can view his full bio here. 

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