As I type this, Polunsky Unit has just officially started its own radio station. I don't know who is doing the programming, but it's a really good mix of mostly indie music – I just heard some Cat Power and a bit of Norah Jones, and now they're playing a TDCJ Corona Virus update.
It's kind of exciting that they've started their own unit radio station...One of the promos they ran said it was only 'pushing 17 watts', but hey, that's enough to cover the entire unit and it sounds really good. I'm mostly excited because I'm so sick and tired of mainstream music...All I have is KPFT and they're not doing live DJs and programming right now, so this is something different. To have music I like is a blessing.
Well, visits are still cancelled for inmates here, and I guess this is going to go on until May. They've required the guards to all wear face masks now, but it took them 3 weeks to do so, and they only did it when they thought they might have two cases of Corona Virus on Death Row. It turned out they didn't, but now the administration is being super cautious and I'm grateful for that.
One of the things they've started doing is spraying things down with bleach, on a regular basis, and even allowing us to have some sprayed onto a cloth we use to wipe our cells down. I can't really criticise their response at this point, and I hope they keep this up.
They've also been allowing us to stay in contact with our families by allowing us 5 minute phone calls – normally, it would be one phone call every 90 days for those of us on death row, but because visitation is shut down for the moment, this has been a good thing for us back here, and for our loved ones.
Last week they began to replace cameras that were installed here in 2009. The new cameras are state of the art, and it begs the question,
“Where on earth are they getting the money?”
These cameras are close to $1600 each! There are no less than 30 cameras on each pod, so...do the math! That's a ridiculous amount of money that prevents nothing, and is just a way to make a case for an inmate sharing food or books etc. In this time of COVID-19 and collapsing economies, I think the money could be better spent elsewhere – think of the rehabilitation and/or restorative justice programs that money could fund.
Today, I went outside and it was awesome! Clear blue sky, and sunny. It was a much needed respite from a weekend of rain. I exercised and then laid in the sun, reflecting on how grateful I am to be alive...I am blessed to have friends who sincerely and genuinely love me, and want me to succeed in whatever life I might have...I am blessed and grateful to have a wonderful girlfriend who nudges me in a supportive and encouraging way, and is always there for me...I am grateful for the Rabbis who keep in contact with me and genuinely care about me, and my spirituality...I'm grateful for the friends I have who help others back here, and on the outside – they do it quietly and with love and kindness. To love a guy in my situation and to genuinely worry about me, even though I always say, “I'm fine, and doing good,” I'm very grateful. And to have the love and concern of one of my younger brothers as well...I can't express how blessed I feel to have all of that and more.
I'm also super grateful for the friends and neighbours my girlfriend has, who look after her so well during this time. She is on a list of people who have to be 'shielded' from COVID-19 because of a serious illness last year that she is still recovering from, and which means her immune system is compromised. She will have to remain isolated at home until there is a vaccine. Her friends and neighbours drop off groceries and other supplies to her house (from a distance) and check she's doing okay until it's safe for her to get back to any kind of normal. I wish I could hug each and every one of them, and tell them how much that means to me that they care for her.
I've always believed that there is far more good than bad in this world, and that people are always capable of redemption...Some of the stories I am hearing daily in the media where people are engaging in acts of true and altruistic kindness, and helping each other in these difficult times, are so touching and inspiring. No one on this planet is perfect, but we become stronger and better people when we help others, forgive others, and care for others.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
Stay safe and well!
April 8th, 2020
On Monday 6th April I was listening to the evening news when I heard that the Supreme Court had declined to hear my appeal. We knew it would be a possibility, and weren't too concerned because we are still in the State Court with the issue of my biased and bigoted Judge still being mitigated.
The Supreme Court's decision – especially with Justice Sotomayor's stern words to the State Court about being disturbed by the facts of my case - is by no means a bad thing.
On Tuesday morning I woke up feeling hopeful! Word had come from a trustee that movies would be playing on the new unit radio station...As soon as I put it on, a movie had just begun. Then I was told I had an attorney phone call, and I knew that as soon as I got talking with them my spirits would be raised, and they were! They reassured me that we are still very much in the fight, and there is plenty to hope for. Even outside the legal talk, it was just wonderful to know they were all safe and well and doing alright in this craziness of COVID-19.
When I got back to my cell I was thinking about the new warden allowing us to have movies again, and how positive that felt to all of us back here. There was also a notice up saying that they'd hold Church services for Easter on the new radio station, and the general population TV channel. The prison chapel is closed during this 'shelter in place' order in Texas, and this decision means a lot to many people back here.
I went outside this morning to exercise with a friend, and had a good two hours out there. When I came back in I cleaned up and did some of my writing work, and as I write this it's sundown, and officially Passover! I plan to do a mini personal Seder, eat a little Matzo, and then relax and go to sleep.
Here's to a ton of hope, and I pray everyone is safe and well.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
Note from the Webmaster: We were informed yesterday (30th April) that Polunsky Unit has been locked down. It's believed that a few guards have tested positive for COVID-19. In recent letters from Randy, he told us of a couple of instances where guards have come to work coughing, and were clearly sick. They were sent home on the same day, but only after they were there for a few hours.
Naturally, as family members and friends of a loved one on Polunsky Unit, we are terrified...We ask for prayers for Randy, and everyone on Polunsky Unit, that they will remain safe and well.
The friends of Randy Halprin
April 12th, 2020
Easter Sunday...It's super quiet right now as I write this. Everyone is waiting for lunch and generally we get a decent meal on this day, so, we'll see. For Passover meals they've been giving some pretty good stuff – they're not really Kosher for Passover meals, but I appreciate they're trying.
I was telling someone yesterday that ever since this new administration has taken over, and we have a new Head Warden, things seem different. Even a lot of the guards' attitudes have changed – in spite of the disruption caused by COVID-19. People just seem to be in a better mood.
I've done my fair share of complaining about things over the years, and one of my goals in life is to see some much needed change within the prison system...I'm much more on the side of restorative justice, and I've never seen the benefit of pure punishment or vengeance to 'protect society'. It's never worked, and it doesn't work now. When you treat people in a humane way and you give them something to work towards, they tend to improve. They go on to assist and mentor others around them, and they should be supported in that. I don't think that prisons should be country clubs, but they shouldn't be the oppressive places they are, fostering an atmosphere devoid of all hope. We need educational and vocational programs in place as well as incentives for good behaviour.
To give credit where it's due, the new warden has hit the ground running and things changed pretty quickly. I know that the virus situation and being more proactive has probably helped speed things up, but things have happened back here that have never happened since I've been on death row. Before the pandemic hit we had a clean-up crew who would come around every few days, if we were lucky. But when the virus hit they began to show up a bit more often, wiping things down with bleach and disinfectant. This was reassuring.
Then, the administration decided to assign a trustee to each pod on 12 Building who would do the cleaning. After each recreation round the trustee has been going into the rec yard and spraying disinfectant everywhere wiping down the bars, the tables, and workout equipment. He cleans, mops, wipes things down, and even helps to pass out lunch. It took a while for all of this to sink in with all of us here, because this has NEVER happened before..To be honest, this pod has never been cleaner!
Once a day we've seen a whole clean up crew coming around with an Officer and they mop, scrub the showers, and offer each of us some bleach water so we can sanitize our own cells. It's pretty remarkable. To be able to wipe my cell down with bleach each day is great, and my walls have never been cleaner. All of this cleaning has definitely toned down the incessant stench that permeates this place as well.
Something else the new administration has been allowing for 12 Building specifically (and I've talked about this in a previous journal) is a five minute phone call every couple of weeks. Before, it was one phone call every 90 days, but because visits are cancelled indefinitely, this is a great way of easing every family's and inmates' concerns. The calls are allowed only with people on our visitation list, and to be able to hear my girlfriend's voice and know that she is okay, has been awesome.
We are also having scheduled calls with our attorneys, and these calls last for 30 minutes. This has eased the worries of many of us back here, to know our attorneys are still working hard for us during this pandemic.
Many of us are enjoying the new prison radio station...They've set it up so that throughout the day there are prison updates and COVID-19 information on how to take care of yourself, encouraging prisoners to practice social distancing (how does that work in any general population?!?!???) and what to do if you get sick. Because the chapel building is closed, they've been broadcasting religious services for ALL faiths, and they've had services for the various Christian denominations as well as services for Jewish and Muslim people. This is unprecedented and something I hope continues beyond COVID-19.
At 4pm they stop playing music and the channel clicks over to movies that the whole unit can listen to on their radios. When the movies end, it clicks back over to music and they play entire albums until about 6am. I've heard a couple of albums from new artists I've never heard before, and hopefully they'll play some older favourites – that would be amazing!
From conversations I've had with trustees from general population, the return of movies is a very good incentive for them and keeps restlessness at bay whilst various activities and programs are suspended. I firmly believe that under the prior administration none of this would happen. I've suggested to some back here that we should say, “thank you” to the new warden when he comes through – a few people scoffed at the idea, but others agreed with me. I mean, why not? It's always good to say, “thank you” and show some appreciation for what we're getting.
There are some rumors flying around about other programs coming to death row, but I tend to be sceptical for a number of reasons – not least because I've been here for almost 17 years, and rarely have I seen any exciting rumors come to fruition. But honestly, with all of the immediate changes going on at the Unit level, a little optimism is seeping in.
When lunch came it was pretty good...There was baked chicken, some ham (which I gave to my neighbour) corn bread, green bean salad, and apple cobbler made out of oats.
Yes, things have been improving and I'm grateful for those things, and grateful to still be alive and to see some of these changes being made. To witness people feeling a little hope - even in these weird and uncertain times - feeds my own feelings of hope. To hear a person listening to his radio and saying,
“I love that song!”
(I've done that quite a bit recently!)
Or to hear them say,
“Did you listen to that movie last night? It was cool!”
All of these things help in this bleak place...Please G-d may this continue, and may we all remain safe and well during this worrying time.
To everyone out there, whether you know me or not: please take care, and stay safe and well! I send you all...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 13th, 2020
Monday...A cool front moved in last night and it got a bit cold. It's still cold this morning but there's glorious sunshine pouring through the window, and I caught a really pretty sunrise.
I had every intention of going outside this morning, and I was hoping I would be scheduled for 2nd round, but when I woke up, the prison radio station was play New Order's greatest hits! I listened to that and then they played 'Republic', another New Order album. I also noticed that we had this particularly nasty female guard working, so I decided not to go out so I could avoid her.
I heard on the news that our Governor, Gregg Abbott, will be extending the state disaster for COVID-19 for an additional 30 days. I don't know if this applies to the stay at home orders, or if it will affect the TDCJ, but as a cautionary measure it's a very good thing. He also talked about getting some economical help to small and private businesses affected at State level.
I think the big concern is that if you just let things go 'back to normal' it will create a second wave of the virus. More people will be exposed to it, and unfortunately, we're not doing a nationwide test of potentially infected people. It would be smart to test everyone you possibly can, then have a slow roll out of the work force.
I guess we'll see what happens...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 14th, 2020
Another day in Corona limbo...I've noticed that some guards are getting a bit lazy with how they're taking this. I don't know if it's a sort of Corona fatigue or what, but it seems since last night the hyper-vigilance went out the window! Literally, like a light switch!
I mentioned in a recent journal that TDCJ were requiring the officers to wear face masks, and one of the guards last night refused to wear his...He went as far as calling all of this a 'democratic plot' blaming the Democrat political party in the US responsible for all of it, and a plot to take over the government. I told the dude, and he had to be no more than 20 years old...
“I don't mean to get into a political debate with you, but to kind of point out the obvious, Texas is a Republican controlled State, and if you kind of want to go a little further than that, the President is a Republican and the US Senate is Republican controlled...I don't think the Democrats have a whole lot to say or control in this matter. But what do I know? Maybe it's a 'deep state' plot?”
Sometimes people make me scratch my head...I mean, when I'm listening to talk radio, whether it's programs on conservative radio or even liberal radio like KPFT or NPR, and a person begins with,
“I read on the internet...”
I immediately think,
“Oh G-d! What kind of bat crap craziness is about to come out of their mouth?”
If this pandemic has exposed anything, it's how many absolutely insane people there are out there. Remember when times were simpler and there were only misguided fools who were convinced that the earth was still flat? Man...I miss those days!
But I digress...So, getting back to what I was saying about hyper-vigilance and all of that, there's been NO clean up crew today! No bleach to wipe things down – nothing!
Anyway, yesterday afternoon around 3.30pm, the new prison radio station switched over to broadcasting the afternoon movies, and a dream of mine was fulfilled when 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' came on! I'd been hoping to get to hear it for so long now. After that, 'Blade Runner 2049' came on, and then, some kind of western movie. I was waiting on a Jpay from my Taffy and ended up falling asleep until I was woken up by a sergeant to receive my Jpays.
Today has been one of those 'ho-hum' days, but I'm trying to keep busy. On this section I live on, it's a no-recreation day, so I'm trapped in the cell. But my writing, listening to the radio, and watching the birds outside of my window keeps my mind occupied.
Be safe, and stay well!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 15th, 2020
Yesterday was a really strange day. As I reported, the clean up crew never came around, but we had two lovely (and I mean that in the kindness sense) officers working the pod. They are both older than the other guards and were a bit slow in running a pod on their own, but there was a young guard in her early 20s working the control center, and she never came out to help. In the end only two rounds of rec were done and a handful of showers. The second shift officers had two rounds of rec to get done, and about 70 showers, before everything gets shut down at 10.30pm.
Mail didn't get passed out until after midnight, and I always wait for my girlfriend's Jpay. We write to each other every single day, even when there's nothing much to say, but we always share our day with one another. When I didn't receive any mail, I was so frustrated...In these extremely worrying times with a massive pandemic going on, information is vital for us in here. Being someone with very high levels of anxiety at times, my mind starts jumping all over the place with worry...
I tried to get to sleep after not receiving my mail, but ended up listening to the prison radio station. They played the entire Nirvana 'Never Mind' album, which was a treat! I remember being only 13 years old when it came out and it was taking the world by storm. My parents always screened my music before allowing me to buy it, and I remember trying to get it and they said,
At the time, alternative music was just beginning to blow up and I was shaking off the shackles of pop music, and discovering this entire new world of music. My friend, Jason Goldberg, had the cassette and I asked him if I could make a copy...I had a dual tape deck stereo that had this function where you could speed up the process of making a copy. I loved it, and copied many tapes from my friends - albums that my parents wouldn't let me buy.
So, listening to that album last night and being reminded of how good it was...I was surprised that I wasn't a big Nirvana fan in the '90s, but I did tend to go against what was popular when it came to music.
Anyway...I finally fell asleep and then woke up at 5.30am to prepare for recreation, when the first shift guards said they were doing showers only. There would be no recreation because the generators were having maintenance work done. I rolled back over in bed and slept until 8.30 – it was just what I needed because I've been severely emotionally stressed with everything that's been going on. Not getting my mail and worrying about my girlfriend and my friends, not seeing my attorneys, and not being able to see my Rabbi before Passover, as well as hearing all of the sad stories about this awful virus and how it's affecting so many people, and how many are dying...All of it has been getting on top of me.
I know things will return to some kind of 'normal' soon, but it does feel like we're all in the Twilight Zone here. The Corona clean up crew did come through this morning, which was reassuring, although I don't know why they didn't come yesterday.
That's pretty much everything for now.
Stay safe and well...I send you all,
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 19th, 2020
It's a balmy Sunday afternoon as I write this...I'm listening to some '90s alternative music on the prison radio station, and waiting on the sergeant to come back around to pick up the latest phone call requests. Again, to give credit where credit is due, the administration have been doing well in giving us these phone calls during this COVID-19 outbreak. To be able to have that 5 minutes on the phone with my girlfriend is a wonderful thing, and gives us both a much-needed boost.
They have regulated the movies lately by limiting us to 4 new movies a day - 2 older ones, and 2 new ones. Some of the movies are better than others, obviously, but since they started up again I've already managed to listen to a few on my bucket list!
The real treat is this radio station, and I know I go on about it endlessly, but it has raised the spirits of so many of us back here. My only small 'complaint' is that my sleep schedule has gone out the window and I'm finding myself tuning in at 3am to hear some of the full albums they play. This morning I heard 10 album songs by The Cure at 3.30am, but I managed to get back to sleep again until 8am.
During the daytime they've arranged the music like this:
So, everyone can get to hear some of their favourite music genres, which is fair, and late nights are for full albums, and a mixture of album cuts from all genres.
Throughout the day they'll have unit updates, positive messages, news breaks, or even various religious services. This is a really ground-breaking thing that the new warden has allowed, and I firmly believe that this is how you affect lives and make room for people to grow and to change, in giving us something like opening up music for all to enjoy...It's a well known fact that the arts have a major affect in helping all of us to grow and become better human beings, no matter who we are or what our situation. And to offer religious services is something many of us back here really appreciate. I don't personally know the warden's views on restorative justice, but a key tenet of that is to treat us like human beings. Giving us the radio station is a valid step towards that.
Finally, after almost 17 years on death row, things are beginning to feel a bit different on Polunsky Unit. They're still keeping up the cleaning, and on Friday they gave us individual cell rags to keep our own cells clean. I think they were tired of people tearing up towels to use as a cleaning rag. They still come around with bleach, and spray it on the rag so we can wipe things down as we wish.
On the radio station, they just announced that they will air a chapter from an audio book each night at 10pm...That's something I will look forward to!
A huge thunderstorm has just come through here...Outside, growing through a section of bars and peat moss, is a small sapling that some of us are trying to keep alive. It looks delicate, but it seems so strong, and we see it as a sign of strength and hope that it stays alive and seems to be thriving...I wonder if it will survive this storm?
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 26th, 2020
I feel like I've stepped into the twilight zone...Not that these past weeks haven't been weird enough, but it went to another level in the last few days.
On Wednesday night they passed out inmate made masks for every prisoner. It's a good thing they're doing this, but man...they are so difficult to breathe through! They're made out of a thick material – part sheet and part jumper-like-material - and we're required to wear them when we leave our cells whether for a shower, a phone call, medical, recreation etc. I have no complaint about that, but I just wish they were easier to breathe through.
I seriously thought about making my own mask from a t-shirt or something, just so I could breathe properly, but I don't know how 'safe' either of these things really are. I'm wondering if, with the Officers wearing actual medical face masks, this might provide protection for us? It's not safe to advocate anything other than what scientists and doctors tell us, and I think we all feel extra-vigilant about things in light of Trump thinking out loud, and without the benefit of medical expertise! Please do NOT ingest detergent to 'kill the virus'!!
So, we've got the masks...Thursday came around and a tornado hit Polk County, which is where Livingston is situated. The closest town to us is Onalaska, and I heard on the news that that town was wiped off the map...We didn't even know there was a tornado in the area! I remember seeing the sky go dark suddenly, and a massive storm moved in; the power kept fluctuating and then 30 minutes later it was over with. The next day we learned it was an EF4 Tornado! We also learned that a lot of the guards who work here lost their homes, and sadly, some people lost their lives. It's so sad that this has happened to anyone.
Since then, understandably, it's been short staffed here so no recreation. They did attempt to get us out to rec on Friday, but only managed 2 rounds. On Saturday, nobody went to recreation and they passed out sack meals for breakfast – 2 pancakes, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich...We don't know if we'll get a hot meal today.
I've no need to tell anyone that these are the strangest of times...That said, things are slowly opening back up in Texas, and we're all wondering when the prison will resume visits and legal visits.
As of now we continue to get the bleach to wipe our cells down, and whilst the clean-up crew hasn't been here in the last two days, they've had a trustee come in and clean things himself.
I'm hanging in there, and thank you to everyone for all of your kind and supportive thoughts, prayers, and messages. Outside of the precautions for the virus, things are relatively the same as we're all stuck in our cells all day long...
I hope and pray you are all doing well and staying safe. I send you all,
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 28th, 2020
It's a relatively peaceful Tuesday...I've been keeping busy much of the day because our section has an 'off' day for recreation. It's a bit grey as I write this, but the sun seems to be in a battle with the clouds.
Yesterday, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and whilst it was a train wreck of a day, I went outside with my neighbor - a guy we call, 'Gato' (Spanish for 'cat') - and we were able to enjoy four hours of prime sunshine. Whilst we were outside we talked, and sometimes I have difficulty understanding Gato because of his accent, but he's a nice guy who makes me laugh and has a surprisingly good knowledge of music going back to the 1980s. It's kinda sad that some people think he's weird, but to me, he's a nice dude. We spent some time testing each other's knowledge of music and he'd sing a piece of a song and I would try to guess it, and vice versa. It passed the time, and nothing makes me happier than talking about music, so it was a quick 4 hours.
I came in quite sun burned, and my head is a bit tender today...I think they're going to begin the summer 'heat restrictions' soon - probably May 1st. They'll give us ice during those heat-restricted months, so having a cold bottle of water or soda is a real treat. The downside is that recreation will be closed from 1pm until 6pm, and that always screws things up for us.
From what I've heard from the trustees in general population, they've not been getting any new movies and they don't know whether or not they will. They said that the warden is still 'working it out'. As it stands, the movie channel comes on at 3.15pm each day, and plays one Christian or 'feel good' movie, and then plays nature films until 7pm, then it shuts off. They had a nice run of new movies for a bit until there were some kind of complaints - some rumors say it was inmates, some say it was officers...Anyway, they've suspended it for the moment. But who knows? I'm just really pleased with this new prison radio station.
This past Sunday was a day of more great music; they seemed to play about two album's worth of Smashing Pumpkins, and I had forgotten how much I really loved their music. I kept thinking as they played all of these great '90s bands,
"It's like whoever programmed this music, had every CD I ever owned in the free world!"
I stand by the declaration that Smashing Pumpkins' 'Stand Inside Your Love' is their best.
I teased one of my friends the other day, by pretending to be upset when he told me,
"Hey, did you listen to that station on Thursday night when they played 3 hours of The Cure?"
"What?!?!? you didn't think to wake me up?"
"Well, I tried to tell the guard to wake you up, but she didn't want to disturb you." He said.
"Dude...You move heaven and earth to get me up when something like that comes on!"
Seriously though, it's a really cool thing they're doing with this radio station, and they recently stared doing audio book readings at night as well as one hour of a particular band each night at 9pm.
I'm wondering what TDCJ is going to do now that our Governor is easing restrictions in Texas, and dealing with the virus. Businesses are opening back up, but they're required to only allow a certain amount of patrons in at a time, as well as observing social distancing at 6ft. In visitation here, the legal and regular visitation booths are sardine-canned together, so there really is no safe way to observe social distancing. We're wondering if they will begin to limit the amount of people that can visit per day, whether it be regular, minister, or legal. There's a lot of questions that need to answered.
The TDCJ also seems to be tweaking the new mail room restrictions and rules when it comes to things like cards. A notice has been posted that on the TDCJ website, there's a list of approved third party vendors who will print and send cards from the business to the inmate. I think this is great because it allows loved ones to still send holiday, love and greetings cards, as well as birthday cards. These things go a long way towards lifting the spirits of everyone back here.
We also heard that they're not putting restrictions on ordering food packages, if you're not on an inmate's visitation list - please do NOT rely on this information because it's still just a rumor going around back here. If you want to check the situation out properly, please call Huntsville who will be able to confirm or deny for sure.
I'm really trying to find my groove again with my journal writing, and I do feel like I've turned a corner and I'm getting back into it. It's nice to be able to sit at the typewriter and not freeze up and think,
"What on earth do I write about?"
I hope it continues...I also hope that every one of you is safe and well, and ignoring anything that comes out of our President's mouth!! And if you're a US citizen, please register to vote. November will be here sooner than you think!
I send you all,
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
April 30th, 2020
The twilight zone continues...Yesterday started off quite promising, and was actually really peaceful. I went to recreation around 8.30am and came back to my cell around 11am. I had lunch and waited on a shower, and we had a really good crew of officers and no chaos whatsoever. Then they put 3rd round of rec out and within ten minutes they came back around and said,
"The unit is going on lockdown. There are confirmed corona cases!"
We didn't know whether it was inmates or guards with the virus...One minute people were saying it was inmates, and the next it was guards.
Anyway, dinner was given to us in sack lunch bags. Our pod was scheduled to go to commissary that night, but we were told that it was cancelled for the foreseeable future as well. Everything was a mess!
When I woke up this morning, I got my breakfast sack and started my day. I went to the prison radio station to see if there were any updates or announcements on what's going on, and Warden Perez gave a public service announcement which basically said that the unit was on restricted movement/quarantine lockdown with only essential trustees coming to work. He confirmed that several guards had tested positive with antibodies, and they didn't know whether or not they had the virus. Out of caution, they decided to shut things down. He said the administration didn't want to lock down the unit, but had no choice. Well, at least he took the time to explain things to us.
What really sucks is that he said the telephone calls would be suspended for the time being as well, so outside of mail (which is running at an all time low) we are now completely cut off from the outside world, friends and family. The USPS is in dire straits and needs money urgently, but because we have a petty president with a personal agenda against Jeff Bezos (because he owns the Washington Post and Amazon, and Amazon relies on the USPS) he refuses to allow government funding of the postal service. I have to say it, but Trump is a royal A-hole. Because of what he's doing, the USPS has been making cuts to save money, and this has slowed the mail down considerably - it took 10 days for a letter to get to me from my home town of Arlington, Texas. I could get there faster just by walking!
This all sucks, but there's little we can do but ride it out. I'm grateful for the prison radio station and Warden Perez giving us information and updates. Being 'in-the-know' about anything here is especially new to us and helps to prevent unrest, and inmates acting out either because of restlessness or fear or worry.
In other news, my girlfriend's friends' children have taken to calling me 'Bambi'...The youngest couldn't pronounce my name, and the nearest he came to it was 'Bambi', which is so cute. I laughed so hard when she told me in our last phone call, and it keeps making me smile as I sit here with so much uncertaintly. You have to find the smiles and laughs, even in the darkness. Some people choose to be negative, and I keep trying to boost those around me who are on their way down the rabbit-hole of pessimism. I tell them to,
I always find myself feeling sad and disappointed in people who try to bring others down in these times, whether it be back here, out there, online, whatever...I'm saddened by tribalism and cliques when we should all be pulling together and finding solutions. But I also believe that there are far more genuine people in the fight for fairness and real justice.
Maybe it's a little 'Pollyanna-ish' but we're much stronger if we hope together, pray together, fight on the same team - no matter what we are fighting against. Where's the glory in tearing people down, or taunting or goading others? Victory comes in the efforts of the many, so please, reject tribalism...reject meanness...reject hate...reject pessimism.
In the words of Yoda, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
I send you all,
Courage. Strength. HOPE and Faith.
May 1st, 2020
It's the first day of May, and the third day of our 'quarantine' lockdown. We had showers this morning – our first in 3 days! I'm not understanding the restricting of showers as it is crucial for us to be clean and sanitised, but they're doing it. Interestingly enough, today is the first day of opening things up in the State of Texas.
[Note from the Webmaster: In a phone call with Randy on Saturday night, 9th May, Randy said, “they've lifted the lockdown.” At first we believed he was referring to the Polunsky Unit lockdown, and we shared the news via our blog/announcements on the website. When we subsequently read through this journal entry, we believe he may have been referring to the State lockdown being lifted. We apologise for any confusion that may have arisen as a result of this, and thank you for your understanding].
Several counties tried to impose a mandatory use of face masks – punishable by fine if they refused – but our Governor, Gregg Abbott, rescinded the order and said,
“We suggest you wear them but you don't have to.”
So, of course, several officers here are not wearing them right now. One woman in particular was catching grief from her co-workers and the inmates on the pod I live on, and she said,
“They can't force me. I'm protected by the Constitution...I have rights!”
“Yeah...But I don't think you have the right to potentially infect everyone around you.”
Anyway...We didn't receive breakfast until 11.14am and then 30 minutes later, lunch showed up. Who knows what's going on around here anymore?
I've been thinking a lot about a quote from Yoda that I mentioned in an earlier journal. I've never been on the modern form of social media or the internet – the last time I used a computer it was the early days of the internet in 1996! I've never understood things like trolling, or why people behave a certain way because they're behind a computer screen. If I had to guess, I'd say they'd most likely behave more kindly in person. I sometimes find myself wondering why that is...Jealousy? Envy? A false sense of control or power? Does tearing someone else down bring some kind of contentment or joy?
I personally believe it comes from a lack of contentment, and some suffering...It's often easier to act out than to look within and fix whatever problems there might be. Suffering, Yoda said, leads to the dark side. When a soul suffers and is unhappy, they have to bring someone else down or hurt them emotionally in order to feel better. Why not try something different? What about kindness? What about compassion? Love? Offering a word of kindness can make the worst situation feel better, and in turn, you might receive some kindness and understanding yourself...As the kindness builds, your spirits will lift, and your suffering will be eased.
Some days I am grumpy, just like everyone else, and I often don't feel like interacting with anyone...I moan and complain but I force myself to do something kind, and when I do, I immediately feel better. Being kind is so much easier and more compassionate than alienating someone because you suffer.
Anyway, I send you all,
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 3rd, 2020
Sunday morning, and another day under quarantine. On Friday I talked to a sergeant and he said that he thought this would go on for 14 days, possibly. They've given regular updates on the prison radio station 106.5, but they've not told us how long this could go on for. The latest public service announcement was about commissary, and they basically said that on the second week we'd be able to purchase writing supplies, stamps and hygiene, and that's it. If this stretches to a third week, they said we'd be allowed a $15 general spend for some snacks, or whatever we want except for ice cream. They also explained in fuller detail about the two guards who tested positive.
It's interesting that the TDCJ and this current administration is being so open with information of late. I've been locked up for two and a half decades, and it's the opposite of what I'm used to with Texas, so it gives me hope that things are changing.
I think the most ground-breaking thing to date is this new prison radio station. It's a game changer, and I think that some guys around me who were initially cynical about the station, are changing their minds. One guy said to me,
“You know, I thought this station was BS when it started, but I really appreciate all of the information on it.”
Yesterday, they played 4 movies, including a Christian movie, and the excellent 'Hidden Figures' – a movie about the African-American mathematicians who helped NASA get to space and the moon. Then later that evening, they played some movie about these people working for an oil company, and going to Asia to work there. Their plane crashes into the desert in China, and they have to figure out how to survive. It was pretty good. They also played, 'The Outlaw Josie Wales' with Clint Eastwood...I stayed up about 30 minutes after that and then went to sleep.
I woke up at about 5.15am on Sunday morning, after a weird dream where I was being screwed out of a phone call to my girlfriend, and I was really upset – thankfully, it was just a dream!
At 5.30am two guards came to our section to perform what they call an 'Integrity Check'. They pull each person out of the cell to make sure no one is trying to make a hole in the wall or broken something in the cell. The male officer was wearing his face mask, but the female officer – the same one who said she had 'rights' on Friday – wasn't wearing hers (even though TDCJ policy requires all Officers to wear a face mask right now). So, before I came out of the cell, I put my mask on. Some guys around me teased me for putting it on, but I said,
“I don't want to be near anyone who refuses to wear a mask. It's pure stupidity and they have to hold our arm when we're out of our cells, and we can't stand at a six feet distance. No thank you! I'll wear my mask.”
Her faced turned red and I could tell she was annoyed, but my thinking is this: you may think it's all a hoax, or your 'rights' are being trampled on, but we're on quarantine for a reason! The unit is taking it seriously enough to have shut down everything, but it doesn't mean you have a right to put my health at risk. Am I wrong on this? Then, with these integrity checks, the guards are touching everything...I have to immediately wipe everything down as soon as can, and I will continue to be super cautious.
Otherwise, things are going okay and I'm remaining positive and hopeful about things eventually returning to normal. It would be nice to get out and have some of this beautiful weather we're having of late before we get to the extreme heat...Texas!
I send you all,
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 5th, 2020
It's Cinco de Mayo, but there'll be no partying on the Polunsky Unit this year. As I type this up today, I'm running on fumes because I only got about 3 hours sleep last night. I had every intention of going to bed at a normal hour, but at first I was restless as I waited on mail...My girlfriend writes a Jpay to me every single day, and I can't settle until I receive it and know she's okay.
Around 11pm the prison radio station 106.5, began to play Norah Jones' first album! I'd never heard it before and as I listened, I was impressed. After that Halsey's first album came on and I listened to all of that. There was a few good songs on it but whilst the lyrics were quasi-deep, the album felt like it just meandered through, if that makes sense. It didn't move me emotionally, and the song writing felt flat.
Mail finally came close to 1am...Yes, you read that correctly: 1am!! When I got my mail I heard INXS playing on the radio which turned out to be their greatest hits album. To hear songs like, 'Original Sin', 'Beautiful Girl', and others made it worth staying up to hear. I told myself,
"Okay, it's time to go to bed."
Then U2's best of 1980-1990 came on! AGH!!! I was in pure heaven and had the opportunity to hear songs I've not heard in years! I had tears streaming down my face when I heard, 'Bad' and 'All I Want is You'. A flood of memories returned as I used to play along with some of these songs on my keyboard.
As a child I went through music 'stages' from country music, to bubble-gum-pop like Debbie Gibson(!), R&B and '80s rap. In the late '80s my favourite radio station would play the top 40 and whilst I knew most of the groups around at the time, I didn't KNOW their music. So, when I first heard 'Mysterious Ways' come on the readio station, I immediately loved it and began to listen to more and more of U2 and other bands. It changed me on a cellular level! When I received a tonne of gift certificates for my Bar-Mitzvah, I bought all the music I could afford, and listened to it all the time.
It's true that The Cure became my most favourite band, and remain my most favourite. But U2 was my first love...I have a lot of memories attached to their songs. In those twilight hours I was lost in the music and I felt the most free I've felt in a long, long time.
I finally went to sleep a little after 5am, and told myself that whenever I woke up I would start my day because I don't want to ruin my sleep pattern. I'm truly so grateful for this station given to us by the Polunsky administration.
I want to close off with a little 'mix tape' of my favourite U2 songs. I hope people will take the time to listen to these songs, and hopefully like them! Ready?
New Year's Day
Out of Control
All I Want is You
Until the End of the World
Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
Stuck in a Moment
Faraway so Close
One Tree Hill
Staring at the Sun
Red Hill Mining Town
Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own
Running to Stand Still
That's a nice start, and hightlights how diverse their sound is.
As I type this a storm is moving in...It's supposed to come and go, but lately when we've gotten these pop up storms, they've been really violent. I hope they don't affect anyone - especially those recovering from the vicious tornado a couple of weeks ago. It's getting really dark and some weather alert alarms are going off on the radio...Ugh!
I hope every one is doing okay and keeping strong, safe and well in these crazy times.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 6th, 2020
One week officially under quarantine...Yesterday evening I listened to the movies, 'Spiderman: Home Coming,' and a newer movie, 'Battle Angel: Alita,' which I'm sure was a visual fancy, but geeze, it did suck sour lemon balls! The plot made absolutely no sense and that was a let down because both James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez were involved in making the movie.
After that, Duran Duran's greatest hits were playing on 106.5, so I listened for a couple of my favourite songs from them. I'm a bit hit and miss with that band...They have some great songs, but others I can't stand.
Anyway, I forced myself to sleep after that and was suddenly awakened when an officer was screaming at 3 in the morning that we needed to turn in our commissary lists for a stamps and hygiene spend. I quickly filled it out, turned it in, and fell asleep listening to some Boston album. Then I woke back up around 6am and a Britney Spears album was playing which made me chuckle to myself. I guess the wardens had to add that to the mix for that one guy who probably wrote a grievance and said,
“Hey...Y'all ain't playing any NSYNC, Back Street Boys or Britney! I need my Britney and it ain't fair you're playing all of this other crap!”
I fell back to sleep and got up around 7.30am, and went straight to the shower.
It's been a nice and peaceful spring day, and it looks absolutely gorgeous outside of my window. The birds seem content at the very least!
We've had a slew of new guards show up and I'm assuming it has something to do with not being able to work anywhere else, and this is a safe bet. But once the economy picks back up, they'll quit and we'll go right back to being short handed. If the TDCJ were smart, they'd at least make them sign a contract to stay a minimum of one year. Nobody wants 'fired from a prison' on their resume, so they won't try to get fired to get out of it. We'll see what happens...I know they're in for the shock of their lives working here!
Nothing else to report on today, but I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe and healthy.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 7th, 2020
I'm listening to the prison radio station which has now been named 'The Tank' on 106.5. This station is going to be the death of me! I'm getting very little sleep and finding myself having to sleep in a bit later in the morning (which I don't like) because they've been hitting it out of the park on the late night albums!
Last night they played two Paramore albums, and whilst I've heard their music on the radio before, and liked it, I hadn't been able to form a real opinion of the band because I've never heard one of their albums in its entirety. I don't like to say a particular band is 'badass' just off hearing singles...In my younger days I've bought many CDs and then thought,
“Well that was crap!”
Paramore sold me though! Not a single dud song on the albums. I fell asleep around 1am and in the morning I woke up to two guys making a lot of noise. I managed to get back to sleep and woke up again at 5am to a normal breakfast and A Flock of Seagulls' album of hits was playing. I listened to that and after Adele's '19' started, I fell back to sleep again until close to 9am.
When I started the day they were beginning recreation again, but whilst there is no lockdown now, they're still putting massive restrictions on us – commissary will be restricted, as well as visitation. They posted a notice a short while ago saying that until Greg Abbott, our governor, believes that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, visitation will be cancelled. However, bi-weekly phone calls will resume for us.
Okay...I believe the administration is being fair, and they've gone above and beyond in so many things, but I have to call 'bull crap' on this keeping visitation closed...You're telling me it's perfectly safe to open up beauty shops and other businesses, but you can't safely open visitation? I mean, just set up a reservation system for friends, family, ministers, and lawyers. Limit the amount of people who come in, insist on the wearing of face masks, and keep people at a six foot distance. You can even screen for temperatures at the front gate. Some are saying this could go on all summer long! If it's 'safe' enough for businesses to open and amusement parks and everything else, why not visitation? You can figure out a safe way to do it!
I did get to go outside today and was stuck there for over 4 hours. It was in the afternoon, and the sun was fully over the recreation yard, so there was no shade at all and I was completely cooked! I'm like cherry red and my nose and neck feel like they're on fire. Ugh...Believe, me, I didn't want to get burnt this badly!
Keep safe and well!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 10th, 2020
Today is Mother's Day...Happy Mother's day to all of the moms out there, and to my own. Even though I've not talked to you in 24 years, I still miss you just as much as the day I left home.
I also want to wish my little brother, Jimmy, a happy birthday, as his birthday was just a few days ago. Happy Birthday, Jimmy! I love you, and I'm blessed to have your love.
It's been an interesting weekend, and Friday was absolute madness. It started off okay, even though things were a bit tense because we have this really mean female officer working our pod for several days now, and there's just no way to describe her other than sadistic! She believes that in everything she does she has Jesus on her side – even when she screws inmates over when they've done nothing wrong on any typical day. She writes bogus cases (fortunately, the sergeant has been throwing them away) on people, and she intentionally picks fights with the officers she works with when they 'side' with inmates, calling them “inmate lovers” or “siding with scum” as she refers to us. Several guys back here have written grievances against her and have complained to everyone with any kind of authority...But still, they let her work here, and who knows why?
Well, on Friday it all exploded...She got into a verbal fight with another guard who cussed her from Texas, all around the world, and back to Texas again. She was taken off the pod, but there were only two officers working at that point so I was stuck at rec in the dayroom, for a total of 7 hours! She's working our pod today, but is a little more subdued, so we'll see how long that lasts.
Saturday was a much better day...Early that morning I went outside at 6.30am. It was cool, and the air was fresh – I loved every minute of it. When I came back inside everyone was buzzing because they had announced they were going to do phone calls that day. I made it out to mine around 4pm, and they took me to a different office this time around. When the guy who went in before me came out, he said,
“They've got a TV mounted to the wall. It's on but muted. Don't look at it...It'll mess your head up!”
I laughed and thought,
I stepped into the office and sure enough there was a huge flat screen television on the wall, with a movie playing, although it was muted. As the Officers got the phone and called the switchboard, I stared at the TV. Now, believe it or not, I've never seen television on a flat screen. I've never seen a high definition television before either, and it's been almost 20 years since I've seen a movie. I've seen the old tube TVs in passing, and that was a bit weird, but this was madness! The movie didn't even look real and it felt like I was watching robots act because I'm guessing my brain was not used to seeing the rate of frames per second that the movie had.
Anyway...The call went through but the first time there was no answer. They called again and when I looked back up at the screen, it was a video game commercial and that blew my mind. I couldn't believe how real the images looked for a video game! As the phone rang again I stared at the screen taking in as much as I could. My girlfriend answered and I looked down at the phone as I talked to her on the speaker. It was really great, and I was over the moon to hear her voice and chat for a few minutes. I really needed that and it put a lot of pep in my step!
Five minutes isn't enough time, but it's definitely something I'm very, very grateful for. We said “I love you” to one another and when the call ended the sergeant sitting at the desk asked how I was doing, and we chatted for a few seconds. He said,
“You had the strangest look on your face when you looked at the TV.”
“I've never seen a flat screen TV before,” I said.
“Jesus Christ, dude...Well, maybe you guys will get TVs eventually. The administration is trying, but there's a lot of politics and red tape with people in Austin. Don't lose hope.”
“That would be a very good thing,” I told him. “Thanks for the call.” I said as I was being taken out of the room.
The rest of the weekend has been peaceful and I'm still over the moon.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 11th, 2020
Last night I listened to the movie, 'Forest Gump. It's just as good now as it was when it first came out! I remember the very first time I watched it in the theater...I was home from Kentucky and my best friend, Chad, and I, had intended to go and see the movie, 'True Lies'. We didn't know it was rated 'R' and when his parents dropped us off at the cinema we were asked for our IDs because we were underage, so we opted to see Forrest Gump instead. It's been a favourite ever since!
Something I've noticed with movies in the past couple of decades is that you just don't get those memorable quotes that movies of the '70s, '80s, and '90s used to have. I mean, a lot of films – even the old black and white films – always had those memorable lines that people still quote to this day. When was the last time you quoted a line from a recent movie and got a laugh because EVERYONE knew what you were referencing? Forrest Gump has so many of those wonderful quotes...I've even heard some of the younger guards here quote lines from Forrest Gump and even old movies.
After the movie I wound down and fell asleep pretty quickly, I woke up at 6.30am and was happy we had a really good crew of officers who get the work done, and who keep things light and positive – you have no idea how much less stressful it is to have that one small thing in our day.
I was scheduled for second round of recreation, so I shaved, and then I started my daily letter to my girlfriend. I was out at rec by 7.45am and it was a beautiful day! The air was clean and cool, and I decided to really push myself hard on my workout and take advantage of it not being too hot. The latest weather report said that it was probably the last of the cooler days, and summer is about to his us hard!
After I finished I talked with my neighbour, 'Gato', and had some laughs. I came back in, had lunch, and then got to work on restructuring my second memoir – the one about my early childhood – and I feel I can now move forward with it. I'm excited about it because when I started it out I wasn't too happy with the pace, but now I feel I can move forward with it. Stay tuned as Catherine will post each chapter in the Memoirs section of the website, as and when I send them to her. I also intend to publish it (once we've published Falling Down) and again, all proceeds will go to charity. There is nothing I want more than to give back by telling my own story in the hope that it helps others...It's the very least I can do.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 13th, 2020
Yesterday started off nice enough, but towards the later half of the day it exploded into chaos and it was too loud to think, or even write for that matter. Plus, I was still a bit emotionally upset from listening to the movie 'Seven Pounds' starring Will Smith. It's a great movie, but I warn you: you'll be crying like a baby!
I spent a lot of time thinking about the moral and ethical implications of his 'selfless' acts. I don't want to spoil anything about the movie in case anyone reading this has never seen it, but whilst it was brave and commendable, I came to the conclusion that ultimately his act of good will was incredibly selfish because the one thing the movie doesn't answer is the 'after' of his acts. The people who loved him and had invested in him...he took that away. I don't know...I mean, had he not done anything to help these people, it didn't close the door on the fact that something could still have been done to help them. I'm being incredibly vague, I know, but just watch it and really think about it.
Last night's movies on 106.5FM, 'The Tank' was a football movie called 'Greater', and then the live action remake of Disney's 'Aladdin', which I quite enjoyed. I have a lot of memories of my brothers attached to the animated version, and found myself singing along with the songs. There's a guy a few cells away from me and he's always amazed by my music memory and how I can recall lyrics and music to so many songs. Admittedly, I belted out a few of the 'Aladdin' songs and he said,
“Randy! Jesus! You even know Disney songs?!? What can I say?”
Today has been okay. We're a bit anxious because it was reported on the news that the TDCJ is going to implement system wide COVID-19 testing, which is a good thing, I think. I'd rather they take every precaution they can to make sure nothing flares up here. That being said, the anxiety comes in because all it's going to take is one or more cases to bring everything here to a standstill, and we'll be locked down and trapped in our cells. Trust me, a lock down in prison cannot compare to a lock down out there where you have distractions...Being trapped without visits, without phone calls, without fresh air, and only having showers every other day...Ugh....I really hope it doesn't happen.
They've not disclosed how they intend to begin the testing and none of the guards here know anything. In fact, when it was brought to their attention they became a little panicky themselves. But it was reported on the news and it comes from the Executive Director of TDCJ, so who knows? I'm willing to bet they'll write disciplinary cases for guys who refuse to get tested. Years ago there was a directive for every inmate to have blood taken for a DNA database, and to hopefully close cold cases...Guys who refused were written disciplinary cases. We'll see how it goes!
The music on the prison radio station has changed a bit – I think for the better! The weekend schedule is still the same for now, but it seems like Monday-Thursday is a bit of a trade off. It goes Christian song, secular song, and so on and so forth. That's okay with me because the secular music is stuff like The Cure, The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, and other great bands.
It's a gift! It's ground-breaking, and deserves to be appreciated.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 17th, 2020
It's Sunday morning as I write this and I'm getting things done for the day, before the evening movies come on. Yesterday I listened to a really good one with Robert Duvall, 'Second Hand Lions,' and I really enjoyed it. Then, they played 'X-Men: The Dark Phoenix', which is a fairly new movie. It wasn't too bad. Some of the action movies are hard to follow because all you hear for long periods of time are explosions and gun fire, but I consider listening to movies a good mental exercise, and it keeps the imagination fired up!
The prison radio station continues to tweak its programming. They've pretty much eliminated their themes for each day and are playing Christian songs as every other song on their line up. But on Friday they began their 'Daily Album' in which they'll play an entire album at 3pm each day. Yesterday was Daft Punk, and today is the Bangles. I think that on Friday they did Def Lepard. One really good thing they're doing for illiterate inmates is a nightly 10pm broadcast of a reading from an audio book. I think that's really great, and the really important thing is they're trying to find a balance for everyone's taste and needs. I tried to explain this to someone the other day when he was getting frustrated by all of the changes.
"It's hard to please 3000 inmates," I said, "but at least they trying to do something for everyone. We should try to enjoy it as much as possible because if we get another administration, they might not be as open and accommodating, and they may even take it all away."
Friday was bit chaotic and I was trapped out at recreation for over five hours. They keep putting this really hateful woman on our pod for some reason and they know she stirs up trouble every time she works. It always ends up in chaos, and then second shift is left with the mess of having to do first shift's work. Nuts...!
Yesterday I went to rec and they had a guard from general population helping out in the control center. Well, one of the things we (as inmates) do for each other is to help pass books and food to other guys back here. Official TDCJ policy calls it 'Trafficking and Trading'. I should also add that the 5th Circuit courts have ruled it's okay for inmates to 'communally share' in an effort to build good will and sharing amongst us; and the majority of officers and ranking officers understand that we share and don't enforce the policy. Well, this woman zeroed in on me and was making a big fuss about me passing some magazines and food. I worried that I was going to get a disciplinary case, and was stressed for much of the afternoon, but nothing came of it. Even if she had written me up, it wouldn't stop me from helping someone else again.
Back here we depend on one another and we need one another, as inmates. I want to help others, and whether that's giving my own personal stuff or helping someone pass something along, I will do it - the majority of us do it, and that's how it is!
Here's to hoping that the coming week is good and peaceful!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 19th, 2020
Today has been pure and unadulterated chaos...Absolute insanity! We have a crew of guards who are so lazy, and have done next to no work for the entire day. One officer, whilst a pleasant enough person who doesn't make trouble and try to screw any of us over, cannot seem to stop talking. It's just "Blahblahblahblahblahblah" ALL DAY LONG!!! Have you ever met someone like that, and in your mind you're screaming, "WILL YOU JUST ZIP IT?!?!? FOR THE LOVE OF G-D, JUST BREATHE!!!" How do they even function without taking a breath?
Anyway, I thought was going to get a shower early in the morning as our section doesn't even have recreation, but not today. I've been a little on the grumpy side because they woke us up at 2.30am to pass out mail, and it was hard to get back to sleep after that. I talked to a sergeant about it today, and he said,
"That shouldn't have happened."
So, maybe it won't happen again, we'll see.
Yesterday, whilst not a lot went on during the day, it wasn't a bad day at all. I went outside and had some sunshine and a good work out with the guy I went outside with. It sucks that we can't play basketball right now because of the virus, but still, just being able to get outside and get some fresh air is great.
Last night's movies were, 'Winters Tale', and 'Men In Black 4', and geeze the MIB movie was a horrible movie! Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones weren't in it, and it didn't have any of the slapstick humour of the originals...It was a snooze fest, and if you wanted to see it, don't bother - it's not a 'real' MIB movies.
I hope everyone is staying safe and well.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 22nd, 2020
Friday....Entering into Memorial Day weekend. I realised earlier this week that it was going to be the 25 year anniversary of when I left home at 17 years old, and set in motion a chain of events that led to my downfall. I'll be reflecting on it and will most likely feel depressed.
Today hasn't been a bad day at all, really. I went to recreation at 3rd round, and it was absolutely quiet and peaceful. Those are the best kind of recreation periods! I don't mind chatting with a few people or helping to get a book or some snacks passed around, but I really like to go out there now and then just to exercise, walk around, and think in the peace and quiet. Two hours of that is good enough for me, but it's when things carry on for hours on end, and/or explodes into chaos that irritates me. I don't get the joy out of recreation that I once did, but I do like getting out of my cell and moving around for a bit.
Years ago, recreation used to be fun...The guards really didn't care what you did as long as it wasn't some kind of breach of security. People cooked, sent food, or something to drink, played games like Scrabble, and you could have some really good coversations with an entire section. Sadly, that doesn't happen as much now, and a lot of the 'life' has been drained out of people back here. Many of the guys have exhausted all of their appeals, and the stress of waiting on a date is something I wouldn't wish on anyone. So, many of the guys back here are on edge, understandably. Add to that the stress of a bunch of lazy guards who don't do their work, and often we're waiting all day for recreation or a shower, or past midnight to get our mail...I know all of this is small potatoes to people out there and you probably think,
"Oh, stop your whining, and think of all the people out here losing their minds over a shelter in place/stay at home order over this COVID-19 virus..."
But...We don't have the distractions that a lot of people have in their own homes.
Anyway, here's a thought I had whilst out at rec: I was thinking about a lot of these protests to 'open things up' and I was listening to FOX News and heard someone say,
"I'm not gonna live in fear!"
The reporter pointed out that he had a gun strapped to him, and I was thinking,
"Okay...you're not going to 'fear' a virus, or live in fear, but you're carrying a gun all day long to protect yourself?!? Isn't the carrying of a gun a form of fear?"
So, here's the best thing that happened today, and I'm still buzzing from it! At 3pm on the Prison Radio Station, they've been playing an 'album of the day'. For the past few days it's been Country music like Garth Brooks and George Strait, but I went to the station today to see what they were playing. It was silent when I first tuned in, and then came the sound of wind chimes...I knew those wind chimes!! It was the intro to The Cure's 'Disintegration'!!! Then the track, 'Plainsong' came on and I went,
I wanted to be sure they were going to be playing the whole album, so I wainted for 'Pictures of You' to come on as it's the second track. Sure enough, it came on and I was in pure music heaven as I listened to the entire album! I had tears streaming down my face by the time, 'Swimming the Same Deep Water as You' began to play, and memories flooded back to me of when I was a teen going to school in Kentucky. I could play the keyboard parts and I wanted to record it, but I needed to catch the sound of rolling thunder and rain, like on the album. I had this rinky-dinky microphone that didn't pick up sound very well, so I took one of the speakers on my stereo and rigged it to turn it into a big spacial microphone that I put at my window during a thunderstorm. Then I listened to the playback on my cassette and it wasn't that great, but it did the job (ha ha).
It was so good to hear that album though...I was grateful for the opportunity.
We received our mail early tonight which we all really appreciated.
Stay safe and well!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
May 23rd, 2020
Today is the day I left home 25 years ago...I think the saddest part of my memories on this day was leaving my little brothers behind. I just can't believe I was so impulsive, and I wonder what my life would be now had I just stayed home. I can make the argument that it would have changed the whole trajectory of my life moving forward, and I wouldn't be here...Not that I wouldn't have done something else that was impulsive and stupid, but it wouldn't have been on the same level as leaving home, getting in trouble in Louisville, Kentucky, or going to summer school and getting kicked out for being 'suicidal' as the Preident of the school believed.
Anyway...if you haven't already read the website version of my memoir, I recommend that you do. We're hoping to have a printed copy quite soon, and ALL proceeds are being donated to charity. If I can help people and give back to society by sharing my regret and remorse, it's worth it. If I can save some teenager from making the same stupid mistakes that I did, or get just one parent to listen to their kid and their problems...It's worth it!
On another note...For a long time I've wanted to help people in Ad-Seg (also known as 'Restrictive Housing') to have access to radios, because the majority of those people cannot afford them. I was talking to a good friend of mine, Clinton, and we bounced ideas around, and he has similar ideas about helping these people. He said he was working on something and maybe we'll actually be able to get something to happen. I'll hopefully have more information soon. Clinton told me that he wanted to talk to the administration and either set up a 'lending program' where someone who didn't have a radio could borrow one from the administration, or have an outside group provide radios like CARE does with fans for indigent inmates. I really want to do something and it's been a long term goal of mine for when I get off death row...But why not start now?
Hoping everyone is safe and well...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
WARNING: THE CONTENT IN THIS JOURNAL ENTRY, WHILST NOT INTENDED TO, MAY CAUSE OFFENCE.
June 7th, 2020
It's hard to believe that we're already into one week of the month of June. I think I've said it before, but I feel like we're living in the twilight zone back here. Things seem so totally unreal at this moment in time, and I think it's one of those events that comes only every few decades that rattles humanity and changes the course of history. Everyone thought it was going to be the Occupy Movement, but that fizzled out and people went back to their lives and it was all back to the 'same old, same old' of corrupt politicians and corporate greed. Anyway, more on recent events in a bit.
Catching people up on life back here, and under this COVID-19 crisis...We're still not receiving visits. Whilst we're supposed to have phone calls to our loved ones, that has now stalled because the prison has been short staffed. [Note from the Webmaster: Calls have once again resumed!]. Some guys back here have been filling out grievances relating to our lack of access to the outside world, and our missing Jpay letters. I'm really hoping that if people on the outside can be involved and put pressure on State Reps on issues like allowing Texas prisoners to have Jpay tablets, it would benefit everyone involved – even the TDCJ. It would mean less work for mail room staff, an electronic archive for the State or even County District Attorneys, and it would also facilitate and foster better relationships with friends and family – especially during this pandemic!
I've noticed people back here becoming more agitated, and we've been snapping at one another more as well. I think this has a lot to do with how slow the mail is, but especially because people aren't getting visits from their attorneys, their ministers of faith, or friends and family. Getting out of the cell for a visit and getting away from this place for a couple of hours is like a 'reset' button. This place ceases to exist for a short period of time...Even when I'm having a visit with my attorneys, we talk the legal stuff and I get updates, but then we connect as human beings, and often we talk about our lives...We vent, or whatever. We need that as human beings and I think – or I would hope – that this pandemic and the isolation and quarantine would show how we just work better as a species when we're interacting with one another.
As scary and awful as it was to escape from prison (and I wish with all of my heart that I never did it) the ability to interact with someone on the outside, whilst being temporary and almost an illusion, was a good feeling. To go to a store and have the person at the cash register smile and say,
“How are you today?”
And to be able to smile back and say,
“I'm fine. Thank you.”
It's a feeling that can't be described! Maybe, people who have spent the last few months trapped in their homes and are able to get back to their lives as States begin to open back up, will understand this feeling.
We've been on a kind of semi-lockdown since Saturday morning because they have State Medical Teams on Polunsky, administering COVID-19 tests. They're going to do every single inmate on the unit, and we had ours this morning. It was really quick and simple...A nurse (in full PPE gear) told me to cough into the crook of my arm three times. Then, I stuck my hand out the food slot and a fair amount of hand sanitizer was poured into my hands. I was told to clean my hands and then they gave me a mouth swab, dropped it into a sealed container and that was that. I really hope that no one tests positive...Aside from the fact that I want everyone safe, it would activate a 14 days (or possibly longer) lockdown until everyone tests negative. Ugh....With the marches on both right and left of the political spectrum, it feels inevitable that a guard will (or indeed has) brought the virus in.
Anyway...Back to recent events! I've not been able to write much recently because of the chaos here and having a heavy heart with the killing of George Floyd. I've been trying to articulate how it has made me feel: a mixture of anger, sadness, shame...One of my closest friends back here is black – Irving Davis. We've been friends for the whole 17 years I've been here and we're both self-identified 'geeks', and share similar tastes in a lot of things, including music. He has told me over the years how some black people here say he's not, 'black enough', and he's told me,
“I'll never feel like I'm accepted by a lot of white people either, because I'm black.”
We've talked about white privilege, inherent racism, and similar topics over the years, and whilst we've not 100% agreed on everything, we've always considered one another as friends and brothers.
Looking back over my life, I've been extremely fortunate in a lot of respects – at least on the material side of things. When I was adopted I had the quintessential 'white suburban middle class life' and whilst I'm Jewish and have two younger Korean brothers, I still experienced a good portion of my life with privilege. Trips to the malls, going to the movies, cool clothes, and boarding school were all part of my life and I took them for granted. Even when I was temporarily homeless in 1996, I was afforded a certain a mount of privilege because I looked like the 'All-American' teenager.
It wasn't until I went to school in Kentucky that I saw racism in a really 'upfront' way. During elementary school I saw a kid being teased because he was black, but when I told my parents they instilled it in me that under no circumstances was it ever okay to judge a person based on the color of their skin. Did I really understand it? I don't think so! My closest run in with any kind of bigotry was in the 7th grade when a kid named Chance teased me relentlessly for being Jewish – I ended up suspended for a couple of days for fighting with him when I'd had enough. That was it.
So, when I went to school in Oneida, Kentucky, I experienced racism against black people on a level I had never been exposed to. And yet, even in witnessing that treatment and fundamentally understanding it was WRONG, as a white person, did I do anything to lift those people up? Not as much as I should! Was I guilty of my own inherent bias? Absolutely! The sin is that because of the privilege of being white, I never noticed it. I just thought,
“It's wrong to hate people because of their race.”
If anyone had ever said anything about my brothers being Asian, I probably would've kicked their ass, and yet, I would still laugh when someone made an inappropriate joke...The sin was not acknowledging that it was harmful to others.
Other incidences of my own inherent bias was when I was homeless...Behind the shelter I was staying at was the government housing. To get to downtown Lexington quicker you could cross some train tracks, hop a fence and cut through what was called the 'ghetto'. The first few times I did it I was unreasonably terrified because of the images put into my mind from TV, and terms used in movies such as, 'gang-bangers', 'thugs', and other stereotypes of young black people. It was an idiotic thought to have because whilst I might have raised a few eyebrows, cutting through the neighbourhood, nobody ever said a derogatory word to me...No one threatened me in any way at all, and nor did it feel threatening either. People said 'hello', waved, and were polite. I've written about this, and other incidents, in my Memoir, Falling Down which you can read here on my website.
I was listening to the radio the other day and Rush Limbaugh said that the term 'white privilege' and 'inherent bias', were 'liberal constructs'...Something made up to make white people feel guilty of things that happened before they were born. He and others refuse to acknowledge that we do benefit from a certain white privilege. I'm liberal, yes, but it took me a lot of self-reflection to see that I'm guilty of my own biases. It's taken conversations with friends of color to see the hurt on their faces when talking about their experiences. To use the metaphor of the red or blue pill in the movie, 'The Matrix', you have to make a choice. When you choose to accept things as they really are, you do become aware. You're awakened. Sympathy is not the same as empathy...It's too generic and empty to say,
“I really sympathize with your struggle.”
That's great, but can you empathize? When you can open your heart and allow yourself to feel the pain of others, it's like being in the Matrix – you see things you might never have noticed before.
And finally, my readers will all know that I received a stay of execution because the presiding judge in my trial was a bigot, and made several racial and religious comments about me, and people of color. Whilst I'm glad that this was discovered and investigated by my hard-working and diligent attorneys who went much further than the extra mile and left no stone unturned, I feel incredibly fortunate that it was discovered and I was given a stay.
I can't help but wonder about the countless others who came before that judge....Whether Latin or African-American, Judge Vickers Cunningham has quite possibly put them behind bars either unjustly or unfairly. I had a voice and many, many good voices behind me who fought to save me...But those others who came before him never had that. I'm calling on people to be the voice of the voiceless and try, in some kind of way, to help them as well. I was lucky to have the right attorneys who did the necessary work, but so many others don't – and how does anyone ever have a chance with attorneys who don't do the work they're supposed to?
Right now, there's a black man sitting behind bars, pleading for someone to listen to him...To speak up for him! Please be his voice, and a voice for others. Open your eyes...your minds...your hearts! Choose the red pill...
Black Lives Matter.
Courage. Strength, Hope and Faith.
June 14th, 2020
Sunday...peaceful and quiet. It's the one day that the entire building is 'off' from recreation, and today I'm enjoying it after a week of pure chaos - moreso than usual! I don't know what has happened but it feels like someone set off a chaos bomb in this place. Initially, when the new administration took over, everything was running smoothly - they handled the corona virus issues with a certain professionalism and there seemed to be a real 'hands on' approach to addressing the problems on the unit. Because visitation had been cancelled for the foreseeable future, they were allowing a certain amount of privileges, the most important one being that we could call our loved ones for five minutes every two weeks...That's been suspended now, and we don't know if or when they'll start the calls up again.
At the height of the corona outbreak, and the stay at home orders that were issued, there was an influx of new officers here. But once they started opening Texas up again, things hit a brick wall and now we're back to being short staffed again. It seems the only ones who stay to work here are the extremely lazy ones. Recently, my neighbour had been left in the day room for 6 hours!! I don't mind being out of the cell, but it means that others then lose out on their recreation time, and lately, we've all be losing out on basic things like showers - out of the last 5 days, we had ONE shower.
I get so tired of complaining about these things, but when you see all of these things happening daily, along with the food at an all time low, and seeing so many disciplinary cases occurring because the guys here are plain restless, it's difficult to not complain...Who can blame people for becoming irritated when we have to fight for the most basic things we're entitled to? Many of us feel that this unit is a ticking time bomb, and on the Ad-Seg unit there are daily 'use of forces' because of assaults on staff, refusing to come out of their cells, or 'jacking' the handcuffs or the walkway. It's become very stressful, and I feel overwhelmed by the madness.
I'm trying to keep lighthearted but I sometimes struggle to get my work done because I can't think straight when it's so loud, and I can't blame anyone for fighting for things they are supposed to have back here. I think the biggest issue is that people are really feeling it badly without visits, and without the phone calls...We are even more cut off from the outside world, and this adds to a lot of the restlessness. If only the TDCJ would allow us to have the Jpay tablets, we could at least know that our loved ones are okay - we don't even get our Jpays regularly anymore. All that said, with the number of infections in Texas rising to 42% (currently) I can't see them opening visits up any time soon.
I'll try to write more frequent journals..I need to put my head down and try to rise above the stress.
Anyway...I hope everyone is doing okay.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
June 29th, 2020
I've been in a bit of a mild depression. It's been difficult to function on a level where outside of writing letters, I've not been able to get any writing work done satisfactorily. COVID-19 continues and because we have irresponsible governors who care more about politics and capitalism instead of saving lives, Texas has a crisis on its hands.
Of course, out of an abundance of caution, TDCJ continues to keep things buttoned down. I do understand that, but without alternatives to keep us occupied it feels like we're on a never-ending lockdown, and even further cut off from the world.
On death row we've not had recreation since last Wednesday due to a staff shortage on a critical level. No one is coming to work...And those who are newly hired, quit after only a few weeks. We don't get regular hot meals, and the sack lunches are at an all time low. There were reports recently that sack lunches were supposed to improve, but that hasn't happened on Polunsky yet.
Anyway, with almost no recreation, often getting screwed out of a shower, no phone calls, and no visits...It's definitely taking its toll on all of us.
On the good news side of things, several guys have had their death sentences overturned. Two of them had been locked up since the 1980s, and rumor has it they were given parole, which is amazing! I feel like we're on a (very slow) road to ending the death penalty. I don't even understand how it's economically feasible to carry on with it as things are, and it definitely isn't sustainable during this pandemic. How can the State even afford executions?
Well, they must have had a bunch of complaints on the prison radio station because it's suddenly become better again! They're playing some episodes from the 1980s sitcom, 'Samford and Son'...The humor still holds up! I wish they'd bring the movies back, but I'm being greedy...Maybe they will for the 4th July weekend!