Well, it is the last day of the month and I'm always amazed at how slow and boring things can seem here and then WHAM the month is over and you're left scratching your head wondering about where the past month went.
Today has been whizzing by at a quick pace. I got up and immediately started working on a second draft for my memoir. I have to rewrite a bunch of things because I'm not really liking the narrative flow and I don't like how I kind of did things chronologically. Someone back here told me that memoirs are best told when they're out of order and besides I just thought of a really unique way of flipping the beginning and the end...I start it off with uncertainty, a foreboding sense of peril and by the end, I'm at a period in my life when I had my whole life ahead of me and so much hope. My dad figures largely in the story as well, because inspite of my dad's rigidness and tough love policy, inspite of the fact my family has disowned me, I still hear his voice and he still plays a big part in my life. I hold no ill will towards my family at all, and can truly say that the love I have for them is unconditional. Sure, I might get angry or upset at the way they've handled all of this...my incarceration and my being on death row, but there's not an ounce of hatred towards them. I don't even blame them for things. Do I think they mishandled things? Got some things wrong with the way I needed to be raised? Sure, but show me a parent that gets it 100% correct. I have no children, but I'm smart enough to know there's a learning curve with child raising. But also to be forgiven in one's life, you have to be able to give forgiveness. And I completely forgive them. There's not a day that goes by that I don't hope to have some sort of reconciliation. To have them back in my life.
I think back to all the good times, and the closeness I did have with my dad...We were really close at times. When I was young I knew my dad had my back; I knew he was never going to hurt me, and not every child has that comfort and safety. I can remember when I was 13 or 14 and in Jr. High. This was before I left for Kentucky. There was a kid named Chance (just the name sounds douchey, right?) and when he found out I was Jewish he would taunt me and tease me. This was the first time in my life I'd ever been exposed to anti-semitism and I didn't understand it. I don't even remember coming home and telling my parents about it, I just dealt with it. I mean, being a nerdy kid in Elementary school I was used to being teased. The one advantage I had now, as opposed to when I was a kid, was that I was a pretty big teen. Close to 5'10"...about 170 pounds. Anyway, he just kept at it. I guess another advantage I had was the boxing and karate lessons I was having from Chief Bill Waybourne, the head of Police and my dad's close friend.
On one particular day, in between classes, Chance came near me and started saying things like "Heil Hitler!"...I'd had enough...I grabbed him, slung him to the ground, and started to punch the living crap out of him. He tried to stop me, grabbing my shirt and ripping it and that just pissed me off even more. Teachers ran out of class rooms and tugged me back, but I was still trying to lunge after him. Other students stood in the hallway with jaws dropped open. I must've looked possessed.
We were both placed in detention and sent home with notes of suspension for three days. When I got back home mom was in the sunroom and I was surprised she was back from work early. She noticed my torn shirt and said...
"I got into a fight"
"With who?" she said
"A kid named Chance...we got suspended for three days."
"Mom! It wasn't my fault! He kept teasing me and making fun of me for being Jewish!"
"How long has this been going on for?"
"Weeks" I said
"Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Who wants to be a tattle tell? I don't want to be that kid!"
"Well...lets see what your dad says when he gets home. Until then, go to your room. No T.V."
"I didn't start it!"
Dad finally came home and mom talked to him. One of the things I really liked about my dad is when we had a talk it was usually just me and him. He'd come into my room and sit on the bed, or call me into his office, which was a converted bedroom in our house.
"Tell me what happened" He asked. I told him the very same thing as I told mom and he was incredulous. He couldn't believe that I was the one being punished when clearly he would've done the very same thing....
"We are both going to the school tomorrow and I'm talking to the principal" He said.
"Am I grounded ?"
The next day we went to the school and I remember sitting in the principal's office with my dad, and listening to him as he talked. He told them that under the circumstances he felt it ridiculous that I was being punished as well. The principal went on about zero tolerance for any kind of fights, even in case of self defense.
"Well, how do you guys deal with racism or antisemitism?" My dad asked.
"We have sent a letter to his family and when he returns we will tell him that it is unacceptable. What we can do is allow your son to complete his assignments so he doesn't get zeros for those days. Chance will not get the same privilege."
My dad seemed to accept that and said "Looks like the one thing you didn't escape is your school work."
I just remember things like that and they make me smile.
In other news, my second response to the state's arguments are due today. They were due on the 24th but my attorney was able to get a week's extension. I'll need prayers from those who care and I really appreciate it. I'll know by whatever is filed what kind of attorney I really have, and if he's got my best interests at heart...I can only hope he does. I need something good to happen. Please send good vibes my way!
August 26th, 2015
Woke up this morning at 5:20 a.m. and went outside at 6 a.m. I was expecting that it was going to be humid because that is usually the way it is in this part of Texas after some storms: muggy and sticky...But when I stepped outside it was absolutely beautiful. Really nice and cool, a slight breeze...It felt good.
A memory popped up this morning...After leaving Gurney Unit in Tennessee Colony, I was shipped to Bonham Texas, not far from Dallas. It was another transfer unit called Choice Moore, only at this particular unit, while still being a transfer place, one could be there for two years and it was a bit settled in. I started off in the Hoe Squad and from there worked my way into inside yard crew, mowing lawns and doing general upkeep. They needed some guys to tear up the floors by hand - literally a chisel and a hammer. They wanted to put in some kind of grittier cement to keep inmates from slipping as the concrete at that time was super slick. That kind of concrete floor that almost looks polished. I volunteered as it seemed like something different to do, and a couple of guys I hung out with wanted to do it also. We had to wear eye goggles but they would get foggy with sweat and I had them hanging off my nose so I could see. As I was chipping away at the floor a piece of concrete ricocheted off the wall and hit me right in the eye. "Crap !" I said, jumping back. I rubbed my eye and it felt like something - maybe a shard - was stuck in there. I told the guard who watched over us and he sent me to medical. When I got to medical, the nurse called the doctor over and he put on those jewel goggles and looked at my eye. He said "This isn't good. Looks like there is a small fragment stuck in there. I'm going to send you to Galveston right now". In my mind, I was like hell yeah! Field trip! Who cares if I'm going to lose my eyeball! Mind you, I hadn't seen the outside world in quite a while and while I didn't want to be hog tied and shackled up in the back of a small van for a three hour ride, I was excited to get a glimpse of what was going on out there.
The doctor patched up my eye and told me to leave it alone and I sat waiting as they rounded up some guards to take me to the hospital in Galveston. My eye was real watery and I couldn't help but rub it and when I did I felt the shard come out. I looked at the tiny little fragment and told the nurse "Uh...I think it fell out". She yelled at me and said "Stop rubbing your eye! You wanna lose it?" When the doctor checked on me again I told him the same thing and he said "Let's just be on the safe side" which is rare for a TDC doctor to say! Usually they don't want to send you to the doctor or hospital unless your liver is about to fall out. Or you fall over dead, which would be pointless, but hey this is prison!
They shackled me up, and I climbed into the back of the van. This was around three in the afternoon. We drove right through rush hour and down town Houston and it was awesome. The cars, the signs...Everything! Got to Galveston, had the eye doctor look at me and he confirmed what I had believed, that it fell out. He gave me some eye drops because my eye was slightly scratched and they sent me back to Bonham. The drive back was in the dark. When we hit the long stretches of nothing, the sky would light up with stars. I took in as much as could. It was a really wonderful experience and I was a bit bummed that I wouldn't be able to see them again for God knows how long, because of the prison's light polution.
August 25th, 2015
I'm sitting here waiting for recreation, and I'm set up later for the day. Earlier, the new Major was walking around and so far here's the deal and what his pet peeves are...Cleanliness, check. Cell compliance...apparently he wants all cells to be in "compliance". This is going to be a problem for some because guys have been living a particular way for years. Now, what this means is there are certain arbitrary rules for how a cell should be maintained. When I was in general population they were strictly enforced, and you could get a disciplinary case for being "out of compliance". Don't be surprised if you hear about guys getting disciplinary cases or going to level 2 for not adhering to these rules...
So, how should a cell be properly maintained? Well, the rules are fairly clear and there's not a lot of room for ambiguity. Your clothes line can only be out from 6 p.m 'til 6 a.m. Nothing on the walls except one picture and a calendar. Your bed must be made if you leave your cell. Nothing at all on the floors. You're allowed a radio on your desk but everything else must be stored away when you leave your cell. Your shelf is allowed one hygiene item each. And so forth...What I worry about is that these enforcements are going to give the real a-hole guards an excuse to terrorize certain people. It is still too early to say...
So, this day just got freaking better!!! I turned on KPFT for a music show called "Sound Awake". They play a lot of indie/modern rock etc...Well at 2 p.m. the D.J is playing "Head On The Door" by the Cure - the whole album! I'm so there! I'm finally going to get to hear my favorite song called "Push" after 18 something years! As a whole, though, it's a damn good album and still holds up today. Man, I wouldn't have even thought it was released 30 years ago. I was barely 8 years old! Other good songs worth checking out on that album are "Close to me", "The blood", "A night like this", "In between days"...Man, I'm getting jumpy/excited and I have to wait 40 more minutes. Torture. Torture, I tell you!
I had a feel good moment, a boost of self esteem today out at rec. I was exercising and I've been on this super health kick. Honestly, I don't think I've been so serious and just pushing myself since I used to play soccer as a teen. My weight has always fluctuated. I'll just be straight, I like junk food. Chips, cookies...it doesn't matter...I prefer chips over everything and can eat a giant bag in one sitting like I was afraid someone was going to snatch it away from me...I will fight to death for that bag of chips! It's my kryptonite. Over the years, here, with stress and depression I bounce up and down with my weight. Mind you, I do still treat myself to a bag of chips here and there, but as a whole I'm doing good. I feel like I'm getting where I need to be and my cardio work out is insane. So, while I do push-ups and such, I prefer an overall body-weight regiment.
There are guys back here who do 1000 push ups...They stick their chest out and walk around like a proud rooster. So I'm doing my exercices and this guy says...
"How many push-ups you doing?"
I said "Maybe 250...Today is lower body for me though. That is what I'm focusing on".
"I do 1500. What you're doing ain't about nothin'".
So this other guy says "Really? Dude, have you seen his cardio? He goes 25 minutes like a maniac".
"Yeah, but he ain't doin' shit on push-ups.
"Can you do Randy's cardio circuit?"
"Man, that's kindergarten shit".
Mind you, I'm feeling mighty awkward walking around the day room as these two dudes talk about me...
"Really" the other guy says. "Tell you what. I'll bet push-ups and pull ups that you can't last 25 minutes".
"Bet that! You down for that, Randy ?"
"Yeah, sure, why not. Go on ahead and stretch out" I said.
We stretched and I asked if he was ready. He said he was and off we went. What I do is two minutes fast pace jog, then for a minute I'll call out an exercise, jumping jacks, lunges, burpees, every other two minutes. No break, no rest to catch your wind...At about the 15 minute mark he was slowing down. At 20 he was about to quit but I was yelling "Come on! It ain't shit! Remember?" He crapped out at 22 minutes. Just hit the floor panting like some dude wandering the desert. "Well, I see where you're your results from". I told him "Dude, you can do push-ups all day long, but you've got to do more than that to get your wind up, your heart rate up, and to burn fat".
But it made me feel pretty good. Next week I'll take it to 30 minutes. I feel really good and people are seeing results so it is cool. So long as I can get five days in, I feel good. If I miss a day for being depressed or whatever I always try to make it up. Now I just gotta work on that chips addiction...
20 minutes 'til The Cure...Man, come on! A storm seems to be moving in. I think we're going to have an early fall this year.
Going to close here...
August 24th, 2015
Never start a day with the thought process of "this is going to be a bad day" all because one little thing that happens early on, put you in a state of ire...
I wake up at 5:20am, drink my (well, more like slam - I can't stand the taste of plain coffee) morning cup of joe and brush my teeth. I'm sitting on my bunk waiting for the guard to come around when I hear the door open near 42 cell. I'm like, WHAT??? The female officer is setting up recreation backwards. I'm getting upset and thinking I could've slept in for another hour! This is going to be a bad day, I can already tell...throwing a little fit in my mind. She gets to my cell and says "you going to rec ?" Yeah. "Second round". Grrrrr. Mumble. Mumble.
They start pulling out the guys for first round recreation and one dude decides he doesn't feel like going and wants to sleep in and it sets off a chain reaction of other people set up who don't want to go out. Needless to say, I ended up going out first round of rec. Everything worked out. The day was much better. I think when we get into the pattern of allowing one bad thing to set us off on the course of negativity we kind of make the rest of the day bad. A sort of self fulfilled prophecy. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else. But I was telling myself while I was exercising that I'm going to make more of an effort to not let something that is truly minor in the greater scheme of things, derail me and dictate how my day is going to turn out. Once the negativity sets in you just start looking for excuses or reasons to be negative, and then you're just a psychic vampire for everyone else. Make the day work for you.
So...in other news, we're in the process of going through an administration change on Twelve Building (Death Row/Ad-Seg). We seem to go through these changes every few years and now we've got a new Captain and Major. Inevitably things are going to change. For the worst is yet to be determined, but the one thing I do know from many years of this stuff, is that every Major has his or her pet peeves and always makes some kind of change or tweak. From what I've heard this new Major is a clean freak and to that I say THANK GOD! Why? Because this building has been filthy for years. Mold in the showers, day rooms with dust and cobwebs everywhere. Filthy, bird shit covered outside recreation wards (the birds like to roost on the bars late at night/early morning before sunrise). I could go on and on. I'm sure that some of you who write guys back here have heard about the HUGE ant problem we're having on the building. In twelve years the administration has always taken a lackadaisical approach to how they maintain this building. If this new Major is a clean freak it'll be the first time in a long time this place really, finally gets clean. Hooray! And I hope by clean it doesn't mean just painting over everything, because that is what previous Majors have done...
I've never understood why this building has gone through so many administration changes...I know that some use it as a political stepping stone. Like, "I was the Major of Death Row! I didn't let those sunsabitches get away with anything!" Well, good for you fine sir...here's a Warden promotion! (actually the irony in that is, around 2008, when this place was at its most corrupt, the Major was actually promoted to Warden, after an inmate called a Senator and threatened him, using a cell phone, no less!) I think since I've been here we've had five or six Majors...Crazy.
To be continued...
August 20th, 2015
I didn't write anything yesterday because I was kind of depressed. It hit me out of nowhere and I felt overwhelmed and undeserving. When I get depressed it is like a fog settles in over my mind. I'm easily irritated, and I get really lethargic. I just didn't feel like doing anything. I'm feeling a little bit better - I can function at least, but I didn't even go to recreation which is a rarity for me. I just don't feel like having any interaction other than with paper. It's dark and raining as well, and while I appreciate the break from the heat, some sunshine sure could go a long way right about now.
I was moved to a new cell last night. For those that don't understand why I'm always in a "new cell", I'm considered an escape risk because I escaped 15 years ago...Since then, they've moved me to a different pod/cell at about or around two weeks. I really don't mind because it really does break up the monotony and if I'm in a particular area I don't want to be for six months like everyone else, I know I only have to put up with it for two weeks. A lot of guys say "there's no way I could get moved every two weeks". I just make it work for me the best that I can. I'm sure you can find a silver lining in just about everything. Even bad things that happen. Well, I lost my good sunset view, but now I get to catch good sun rises (when it's not raining!) and I get to watch people come and go on the front side of the prison. Cool.
I'm really glad that people, for the most part are responding positively towards my writing. I know I'm not for everyone, and that is why I always suggest checking out other voices. This is the world through my eyes, and I was kind of...I guess hurt when I received a response to something I wrote about a person being "bat shit crazy", saying it was harsh...Here's the thing, while I will NEVER censor myself, I truly do not try to be mean or harsh towards anyone or anything. I'm not a mean spirited person, and I'm not a fan of people who are. When I write, I think of things that will illustrate or describe a situation, often times with humor. I am opinionated and passionate about certain topics, but I do keep in mind that many people are reading this and some might not respond well. But please never think I'm going out of my way to be mean or harsh...That really isn't who I am or what I'm about. I know that my writings are not for everybody and I understand that. I don't write from a place of ego or for self serving interest. I really don't. The writing process for me is more therapy than anything else. A way to work through the neurosis of my own mind. That being said, I enjoy having an audience and sounding board, and I appreciate any kind of feedback and constructive criticism. I'm open to questions and suggestions.
So, yesterday I heard something that made me even more depressed as I stared at the ceiling and listened to the noise around me...A guy on the section I was living on was having a conversation from C-Day room, with a guy that was in A-Day room, the "Death Watch" section. They keep that section isolated from everyone else for what reason, I don't know. The guy on C section asked how the death watch guy was and he said "Ah, man, you know how it is...everyone forgets about you when you're over here". Hearing that kind of stung me because it's true...Even I've been guilty of avoiding that section before. I laid there thinking about it and I think it comes down to this: the Death Watch section is an actual physical manifestation of the reality of our situation. It's 14 cells that NONE of us ever want to be placed in. It represents our worries and fears. It represents all of the uncertainties...All of the unknowns...And so, yes, we avoid it, at the cost of guys thinking no one gives a hoot about them anymore. It's shitty and selfish and ALL of us back here are guilty of it. I told myself that I was going to go out of my way to say hello to more men over there as I passed it by. It is the least any of us can do, I think.
Not really sure what I'm going to do for the rest of the day...
August 18th, 2015
It's the afternoon now as I'm typing this. I went out to recreation for a couple of hours and exercised, and then got into a conversation about movies and and how "classics" were defined etc...I'm a movie/cinema junkie. I wouldn't say it is equal to my love of music, but it isn't far behind. I mean, given the choice between a CD player or MP3 player and a DVD player, the music is just going to win every single time. That being said, I freakin' love movies. And so we started talking about some of the great 80's films and then I asked this one guy if he'd seen any of the new stills from the upcoming Star Wars movie, because in the latest Entertainment Weekly there were some more pictures. I told him I'd send the magazine to him if he wanted to check it out. I then geeked out for 45 minutes with this guy on all things Star Wars...I can't express how much those movies meant to me. They were my childhood. They were what inspired my fascination with the universe. I can recite whole pieces of dialogue from those movies. So, saying I'm super excited about the Force Awakens, the new movie...Understatement of the year! True, I may never see it in my life time (could the universe ever be so cruel???) but that doesn't mean I don't want to know every little detail, see every single picture, read every article, every book related to this movie! I geek out every time I see a new image or a magazine article. I don't get Vanity Fair, but when I learned that it would have pictures of the movie...I went on the hunt tracking down a copy from anyone back here who might have a subscription. Yes, I found it!
The conversation turned to the funny when my friend Jeff, probably one of the craziest/funniest guys I know back here, started asking questions like....
"So, is Darth Vader going to be in it?"
"No, Jeff, Darth Vader died in Return of the Jedi."
"Yeah, he died, but turned for the good after fighting Luke Skywalker."
"Are you kidding me? I thought he was running around with the Ewoks !"
"Well, what about that funny little green bastard, yogurt or what's his name? Is he gonna be in it ?"
"Seriously? Yoda? Jeff, he died too."
"What? How was he killed?"
"He wasn't killed, Jeff...dude died of natural causes - old age. He was hundreds of years old living in a freakin' swamp!"
"Oh man...I could've sworn they all lived!"
"Sorry man, I probably just messed up your whole childhood...your entire belief system has been shattered!"
Everyone was laughing so hard. I couldn't believe he was serious!
Well, after that we went back to talking about great movies growing up. Goonies, The Explorers, Stand by me, Top Gun,...On and on. Flight of the Navigator, which was probably a bad movie for me to have seen because it created this whole little obsession with aliens and wanting to be abducted. What is so great about these movies is decades later and they still hold up! I haven't seen a movie in 14 years now...14 YEARS! So I can't really say that about a lot of the movies now, but from the 80's into the mid-90's there were some strong movies. I don't know what would hold up these days. Not to say I haven't heard some really great movies, but seeing them could change the game, and my impression.
Not sure what else I'm going to be doing for the rest of the day. I really need to get some reading done...
August 17th, 2015
An early morning and I'm sooo not feeling it. Had to put up with someone sending me an irate message calling me a dick sucker this and a dick sucker that all because of, well, it doesn't matter, but I was civil in my response back to him. I basically said what I should've said years ago..."Dude, you're real quick to cast blame and fault, judgement and hate towards others, but you never look at the really messed up shitty things you, yourself do. I've been your friend all these years - even with your HUGE flaws, but have never cast judgement towards you, hell I've even defended you at times, and this is what I get? I wish you all the best". I don't get it...We're all in the same boat, here. All facing the very same uncertainties and jealousy, envy and hate really have no place here. Because I wouldn't or couldn't condone something that the better of my conscience spoke to me about and said, damn...that is too far...maybe I should speak about it and I'm a dick sucker? So be it.
Sometimes I really feel that back here we can be our own worst enemies. For the most part there is a sense of community. Most try to look out for each other, but I have noticed this growing trend from being in years of isolation that people are becoming more insular, more selfish and angry, over the stupidest things in the world. More and more each day some are turning on one another...Fewer people going to recreation and socializing. Jealousies, envy, and paranoia fueled by the fire that is death row and Ad-Seg...If you write to people back here tell them to hold onto CIVILITY and their HUMANITY. It's the last vestige of hope we've got back here.
So, earlier, before the cursing and such, I was listening to The Edge out of Dallas...While it has been awesome to be able to listen to, it has become a bit corporatized which annoys me. It has lost a little of its sparkle, but the shine is still here. In my teens, really from about 1992 until late 1996 this was my station. Before finding alternative music I was pretty much into all things pop and R&B...Then, something clicked in me. A lot of people cite Nirvana, and while I like some of their songs and I clearly remember trashing around my room to "Smells Like Teen Spirit", it wasn't THE catalyst...I'd always liked the bit of new wave I'd hear here and there, even some of the modern rock in the late 80's but it wasn't until U2's "Achtung Baby" that made me say, whoa...what is going on here. The song "Mysterious Ways" was just an ear orgasm. So much going on from the wah-wah of the guitar to the dance beat of the rythm section...I had to, I needed to hear more! I bought the album with a music store gift certificate I'd gotten for my Bar-Mitzvah and it was goodbye Debbie Gibson and hello Bono...I went on a bit of an obsession with U2 after that and began to listen to The Edge just to hear more U2, I then was exposed to this whole world of music I'd never heard before. Bands like The Violent Femmes and early Nine Inch Nails...The Cure was always on my peripheral, but it wasn't until summer camp of 1992 and one of my camp mates, who turned me on to the wonders of their music, and U2, while being a love...was easily replaced with the whimsy of Robert Smith. No other band has held my heart the way that The Cure has for all of these years...
I grew up playing the piano, but around the age of 12 I lost the drive for it. Oh, I still played but I wanted to play what I wanted to play. I was tired of going to lessons and playing the same notes over and over of all the same things...It was all so boring. I didn't want to learn piano theory or how to read music, I wanted to just play by ear. Play the songs I would hear on the radio. So, to the disappointment of my parents, I told them I wanted to quit playing. I lost the passion for it. Structure is good for some things, but when it came to my creativity and my imagination...that kind of rigidness and structure just turned me off. I didn't touch the piano in our house until around 1993, when I was going to school in Kentucky. And why did I start again? Because I wanted to learn all of the songs I was hearing. It was The Cure song "Trust", a really beautiful piano ballad, that I really wanted to figure out, and I did it with ease...I went on to other songs, other groups. I then considered starting up piano lessons again at our school because they had a piano lab. I talked to my dad about it and shared an interest in getting my own keyboard. My dad told me on the phone "You take the class and on the next school break, when you're home, play me something and I'll take you out to buy a keyboard". And he kept his word on that. I remember popping a CD into the stereo and playing right along with it and he was stunned. We went out that evening and he bought me a keyboard.
Another little known fact about me...I played viola in elementary school and while I have always loved the sound of the viola, the instructor we had was mean and abusive, and I wanted no part of that, so it went no further.
I realized that I wanted to do something with music...play, be in a band, write it, sing it - anything! My problem with that was, I'm very shy. I'm an introvert and not a good performer. I'd be shaking to the bones when I would do a piano recital at school. A small group, no problem...a big group, problem. But I wanted to perform and knew it deep within...never more so than when one afternoon I was walking in the dormrooms and heard some guys jamming out, playing some songs from the Smashing Pumpkins...I knocked on their door and asked...
"Do you know the song Mayonnaise?" One of the guys began to play it and I started to sing it, right on cue. Man, the thrill and the chills I had getting into the music! It was like electricity running through me. My favorite lyrics is the part at the end where Billy Corgan just yells out "I just want to be me! When I can. I will. Try to understand that when I can, I will". I knew at that moment, when the feedback washed away into a magnetic hum over the amps, THIS is what I wanted to do. Had to do. There was no question.
Not long after that me and my friend, Dan, started our own little group. I get so mad at myself at times, because with a bit more drive, more focus, less getting caught up in my own melodrama...I think I could've been somewhere. I still day dream about it, and listening to The Edge these past two weeks just pushes me into the face of all those memories again.
Well, I still have a lot to get done before recreation, so I need to get to it. At least we're having a bit of a cool front...haha. If 94 F counts as one. Well, if it is, I'll take it! Amazing what a ten degree difference makes.
August 13th, 2015
I realized the date today and thought, man...in just a month I'll be 38 years old. Where on earth is the time going? I think about my childhood, and my parents were in their thirties when I was adopted, and I would think, wow...they're so old! And now, being close to my forties and I still feel youthful and much of what I grew up with and loved...well, I still love! I guess it is a gerational thing.
We finally had a little break from the heat, not much, but a break at least...Some storms rolled in Tuesday night. I was watching the one on Tuesday, out my window, and it was so awesome to watch the sky turn from a bright blue to a dark grey with flashes of lightning on the horizon. It actually reminded me of that scene in Independence Day, the movie when the spaceships were rolling across the sky under the cover of storms. Unfortunately this wasn't an alien invasion. One part of the sky looked heavenly, though. A patch of grayish white clouds, the sun hidden just behind it, and sun rays exploding radiantly outwards like some sort of cosmic burst. I could've stared at it for hours. As the storm picked up strength we temporarily lost power.
The next day it was muggy but clear for most of the day, and I was waiting to go outside, as it was our section's outside day. Since it has been so hot they've kept the outside recreation yards closed from 11am until 6pm, and I was set up for the 6pm recreation...at shift change another storm rolled in closing the rec. yards so I had to get my recreation inside. Some guys were screwed out of rec. completely because they do not run rec. past 10.30pm nor do they do showers after that time...one of those things that was bound to happen eventually.
There's a funny situation going on in Texas prisons and I'm starting to see the guards and the administration really don't quite know how to deal with it, but I'm finding it very humorous! So, the federal courts recently ruled for all state prisons that an inmate should be allowed to grow a religious beard if his religion requires it. I'm sure you could say any belief requires it, you wanted to. For Texas this has been a nightmare because for so many years an inmate had to be clean shaven at all times. I can remember being threatened with cases and screamed at by guards so many different times for not being clean shaven. In fact, when I first entered prison I was still attached to my free world sideburns and would grow them out past the earlobe and get in trouble so many different times. I was turning out for dinner one time and this sergeant was standing by the dorm door, he stops me and says "What the fuck is that on your face? Go back and shave them goddamn shit stains off right now!". For the state it has always been the excuse of "security" that they wouldn't allow an inmate to grow a beard or have facial hair...
The policy has changed, though and it is like trying to stop a train midcourse, all of a sudden. The guards and ranking officers so used to telling inmates to shave, and now you've got these guys, for "religious" purposes growing a beard. My neighbor is one of these guys and he was going to a visit yesterday and he has about a week's worth of growth. The guard taking him out was like...
"When was the last time you shaved?"
"Uhhh. I don't have to shave anymore"
"What do you mean you don't have to shave? You're to be clean shaven at all times! I don't have to let you out of this cell until you are clean shaven!"
The inmate kind of laughs, goes and digs some paper work and hands it to him and says "actually you kind of do, don't you?" Another guy was saying that he was in the hallway when the Major and Captain were "mean mugging" him for having an early beard. Pretty soon you're going to see guys everywhere with beards. I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to it. For the record, I have ZERO plans on growing a beard...I cannot stand hair on my face. It itches, it looks gnarly and I've got waaaaay too many grey hairs.
There was another execution yesterday - #10 - and thank God there isn't one today as was scheduled...The guy received a stay yesterday. It always boggles the mind when the courts wait until the very last minute to issue a stay of execution. It has to qualify as some sort of mental torture. To think that you're about to die in a day or hours and then, when I'm sure the courts could have issued a stay much earlier during that 90 day period before an execution, they say "Hey! It is your lucky day...you get to live a little bit longer and then go through the process all over again!" America!!!
So...back to when I first entered prison. I previously wrote about getting off the bus, getting screamed at, being scared and naked...After you go through all of that you get your picture taken for a state issued I.D. card that has, in big red letters "OFFENDER". From what I've heard the old I.D.'s used to have "INMATE" and then they changed. Many people hate it now because one, for what it implies - a sex offender. And two, for many guys who are released on parole this is their only form of personal identification upon release. Can you imagine the looks a person gets when presenting at a restaurant or business, or even to a police officer if asked? I can only imagine the humiliation.
After the picture you get your housing assignment and are taken to a large dormitory. At the Gurney Unit it is like a giant tin warehouse.There are metal dividers between every two bunk beds. There is zero privacy and I, being only 19 and full of raging hormones thought "how on earth am I supposed to whack off?" Well, one eventually finds creative ways to do it discretly!
Here's where things got really awkward and embarrassing...the televisions were mounted right about the showers and toilets so you were inevitably going to get an eye full of soaped up penis...it was just going to happen. Let me tell you, there's nothing like watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then having a literal "stake" coming into your peripheral. Real life vampire slaying!
It was hot so the dorms stunk to high heaven. Sweat, body odor, the bathrooms. Like a truck stop bathroom. I remember entering into the dorm and being hit by wave after wave of pure stink. I found my bunk area, which was shared by two black dudes and another white guy like myself. I was always told during my period in county jail "Stick with your own". That meant only white dudes hung out with white dudes, black with black and so forth. It was contrary to who I am because I was raised in a multi-cultural family. I mean, my two little brothers were Korean so I would think "What is my own?" I don't have an "own". I shook hands with the two black guys and the white guy and settled in. I'll be completely honest here, and I've never understood why some white guys have such a problem or say that prison is what drove them to racism...I never really had any problems with blacks or Mexicans. Hell, some of the worst, more disgusting people were white guys. Did I mainly hang out with white guys? Sure. It is just the way the environment is, but I never had a problem. Not even with being Jewish and all...I learned that prison is a lot of exagerated machismo and bluster. Guys over compensating for their own insecurities and shortcomings. I'm gonna be the biggest gorilla on the block. I've seen guys try to hog gay dudes thinking the gay guy was just going to roll over and take it, and then mister toughy have his ass handed to him on SPECTACULAR gold leafed plate. The truth is a prick comes in any shade, shape or color. Any problem I had in prison was from someone being a dick for the sake of being a dick, or tempers flaring. Not because I hated them for the color of their skin or whatever. I felt sorry for people who lived like that. I felt sorry for people who lived their life in fear of another race...
Well, I'll stop there for now. More to be told. So much more.
August 12th, 2015
I'm trying to find a bit of motivation to write through this heat...Lunch is here so another interruption (or excuse!) to pause for a second. I'm back. It was some kind of weird sloppy joe mix. I think it was made with cat. Yummy!
So first I wanted to thank Sister Helen Prejean for taking a moment to write about my case and showing support. When I received word about it...well, I was shocked and I'm grateful for it. I really am. Reading her words, I got a bit choked up. I just wish she could speak out for more people. I'm just one of many.
I was thinking about what I wrote yesterday and telling a story from working in the fields and it brought back a flood of other memories. I really don't and haven't discussed with anyone I know about my time in general population. It's not that it was a traumatizing experience for me...I have the same attachment to those memories as I do the ones of being on death row, which is practically none. I can remember events, things, people...but those years, they are more of a big white void in my brain. I can recall things, but if I don't, those memories turn into a hum. I've spent so many years reflecting on my life growing up, years in Kentucky and the whys of the path I eventually went down, I never thought to analyze the years in prison other than the feelings that lead to my eventual escape. And yet, there are some good memories, scary memories, even funny memories of those five years of being in general population. I think that it is about time to start sharing them...
I can't remember exactly what month I went to prison. I think it was June or July. I was only 19 years old at the time. I went to jail September 5th of 1996 - that date I'll never forget. I was in Tarrant County Jail, in Ft Worth, Texas. Yesterday I think I said I was there for almost a year and a half, but thinking back it had to have been more like 9 or 10 months. When it was time to go to TDCJ I left Tarrant County Jail, and stayed at some kind of holding facility until the state could pick up prisoners. I was only there for a few weeks and then it was off to Tennessee Colony, and the Gurney Unit.
The bus pulled into a fenced in area and male officers in their uniforms surrounded the bus. Immediately when the bus doors opened they began to scream at the shackled men. "Line up! Shut the fuck up! I don't want to hear one goddamn word from anyone's mouth! When the shackles come off the clothes come off! I said shut the fuck up and move! Let's go!"
I remember chills coming over me and immediate panic. Scenes from the movie "Schindler's List" flashed in my head...frightened Jews being rounded up and forced into the train cars. I'd never been completely naked in front of a bunch of other men, even in our school's gym... when it was time to hit the showers we all stayed in our boxer shorts.
The shackles were removed and immediately another male guard was in my face. "Strip the fuck down and stand in line! Move it! Over there. What the fuck is wrong white boy?"
I began getting naked, shivering cold in 90 degree heat. I stood in the growing line of men, shaking as well. One prisoner found the whole event funny and began to crack jokes. Like jackals, two officers were on him, grabbing his arms and pulling him out of the line. They forced him to the ground where another guard placed handcuffs on him. "You want to make noise. You want to act like a damn fool and you'll go straight to lock up. Stand in line, nuts to ass, and SHUT.THE.FUCK.UP!" Jaws clenched tightly like steel traps on each of us.
We stood there for a few more minutes and then another officer barked more orders, "Here's how it is... One by one you'll move forward...Run your fingers through your hair, behind your ears, open your mouth and wiggle your tongue around. Lift your nut sack up. Turn around, spread your ass cheeks. Lift the bottom of your feet and wiggle your toes around. Step to the side and call out your boxer shorts size. Someone will throw you a pair. Put them on and stand in the next line."
We all did what we were told, and then we were marched forward, through another gate and into a building. Inside the building were barber shop chairs. We were told to sit in the chair, an inmate barber stepped in behind us and with a pair of hair clippers, began to buzz our hair off. After that we were handed a razor, told to throw the boxer shorts off and into a pile and told to get in the shower and shave. Back then the razors were horrible. Super dull and single bladed, it was like taking the lid off a tin can and scraping it against your face. We all shaved as fast as we could, stepped out of shower and were handed a new pair of boxer shorts, got in another line and then walked to a counter and asked what size clothing we were. I said, still used to "free world" clothing, "size 36" and the female guard behind the counter laughed. "No, we deal in Xs here..." "Oh, sorry. Uhm...XL". I was handed a pair of pants and shirt, told to get dressed and sit down on a series of benches. By this time the fear has subsided and I was more amused and curious of the whole thing. My survival mode had kicked in and now it was about gathering as much information, observing how everything operated, how the guards acted and what kind of behaviors they responded best to. Watching the inmates and finding the guys I'd most easiest get along with and have similar interests. I've been thrown in numerous different scenarios my whole life. At first I react with fear and uncertainty and then, it's like something clicks inside of me, I go on auto pilot and my brain just tells me "SURVIVE"! From the beatings of my biological parents, to foster homes, adoption and school in Kentucky, even being homeless for a brief while. I figure out a way to adapt and make it work. Now 19 and in prison, I had to make it work. This was just day one. Many more days to go...
So, that is where I'll stop for now. I was actually interrupted in my writing for recreation and now it is much later in the afternoon and I'm ready to wind down, listen to some NPR (national public radio) and the world news, read a bit and wait on mail. I had to wash in my sink when I got back to my cell because the guards jacked my shower...I'm sure that those who write guys back here on death row know about this, but it's a trade off instead of a case. The guard will take a person's shower for "traffic and trading" which was for me passing a freaking magazine to someone from another person and I got caught because they had some new guards working. It was that or get a discipline case...don't get me started on the absurdity of it all. I'm just ready for this day to be over. Get the mail and go to bed. I'll write more throughout the days and months, when I'm up to it, about my days in general population.
August 11th, 2015
Where to begin? With the EXTREME heat we've been having it has been so hard to concentrate on anything else. They don't allow us multi outlets in our cells anymore (something they banned a few years back) so we can only plug in two items at a time. My fan and radio win out most of the time and typewriter be damned! But I really need to write so...here I am. The sacrifices I make in this place!
Speaking of heat, we've had triple digit temps for over a week now, and I've been locked up for almost or a little past (sooooo strange to write that) 18 years, and never in all those years have they closed the outside recreation yards because of the heat. But since last Friday they will not allow anyone outside from 11am 'til 6pm. A lot of guys have complained about it, but here's the thing - no one is really getting screwed out of rec. because by the time second shift gets here most of the recreation is finished inside so the guys have the option of staying inside to recreate or still go outside. I would be upset if we DIDN'T have this option, but we do. Who wants to be outside in what is essentially a concrete box covered with steel bars just so you can fry on the pavement for two hours? NOT ME! My skin is delicate enough. I don't tan easily and I fear that exposed to 100 plus degree weather would just cause me to burst into flames.
I can remember when I first went to prison; they placed me on a transfer unit in Tennessee Colony. Basically the point of a transfer unit is to give you temporary housing until a prison unit or facility is assigned for the individual prisoner. You go through what could be a month, or a year long, "classification" process. Tests, evaluations, crimes are all considered. Even religion.
I had been in county jail for over a year and a half by the time I received my sentence and left from Fort Worth to the Gurney Unit. I hadn't been exposed to any direct sunlight during that entire time and I was placed in this transfer facility at the height of summer. It was hot enough in the tin "dorms" we were placed in, but I was also being assigned to the "Hoe Squad" (not to be confused with the "ho squad" a pilot television show I just made up about a bunch of prostitutes who join the police force to get righteous revenge on the pimps that control them) Anyways...sorry. Haha.
Tennessee Colony has some of the largest fields in the prison system and workers from surrounding prisons are also sent to pick okra, maize, green beans, etc. We would turn out for work at six in the morning, hop into the back of trailers and ride out to these massive fields with the blackest soil you've ever seen in your life. We would hop off the trailer, be handed an "aggie" or hoe and told to "pair up". The inmates would immediately fall in lines of two and walk towards the fields. I had never done such physical labor in my life. Our job was to till the soil by sheer human force. Boring, agonizing and back breaking work. Each "row" of tillers would have a lead man who would call out a cadence to set the pace we would work. Often the counts would turn into old slave songs "one, two, three, four step! One, two, three, four step! One day when I am free...I'll drink by the river on hands and knees..." And on and on it would go.
By mid day we would load back into the trailers and head back for lunch, turn back out for work and start all over again. The sun was beating down, and being an indigent inmate early on I didn't have the luxury of buying sunblock. You couldn't even get it for free from medical at this time in 1997. And so I just baked. Well, fried was more like it...I was miserable, and at the end of the day I laid in my bunk bed, damn near in tears for so many reasons, and in so much pain. My skin was red and blistering, and I was a mess.
The next day I flat out refused to return to work. No way was I going back out to that without some kind of protection. When I was served a disciplinary case later that day the sergeant serving the case said "Look boy, I see your predicament so all you need to do is go to medical, get a pass and tell them you need sunblock and a hat. They'll give you a pass and I won't send you to lock-up for refusing to work". I was fortunate he wasn't being such a hard ass towards me. When I went to medical they lotioned me up with aloe vera and gave me a bottle of sunblock along with a hat. It helped tremendously. And back to work I was...
In about 1998 or 99 the state made it policy that all offenders were to be given a hat, and sunblock, if they couldn't afford it, and also if the temperature was over a certain degree, we had to head back towards the prison. On the Connally Unit, the prison I'd been officially assigned to in South Texas, it meant only working half days. You had to do a mandatory 90 days in the fields at any assigned unit, but after that and unless you were just a complete screw up, you could request a job assignment elsewhere.
Texas is always a few steps behind in the way it treats its prisoners compared with the rest of the States. Like now, most prisons have zero air conditioning. Oh, the buildings with no ventilation like the Death Row building have very minor air conditioning, but as a whole it is hot as holy fuck. I know the prisoners in general population are suffering hard. I feel for them. I've been there and it isn't something you forget easily. Maybe that is the reason I see them shutting the recreation yards down outside as a good thing. I can empathize. On the plus side, there is a strong push to force Texas to add air conditioning to the units that have none. Never mind the health issues. There was a recent scandal where it was discovered that the state was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to air condition the hog pens on certain units but not the cell blocks. Texas y'all!!
August 2nd, 2015
It's been an interesting weekend to say the least...Yesterday was an ever loving nightmare as we had the spawn of satan working on our pod and wreaking holy havoc upon our mortal souls. I made the mistake of saying something sarcastic to this demon child and so while I was out at recreation she went into my cell and tore it the hell up! I just watched from the dayroom as things went flying out. True they were technically "contraband" items - little nick nack stuff like a fishing line, but unnecessary to say the least. Whatever. I felt like an extra on the Sharknado movies...She did a few other guys the same way. Live and let live. I bit my tongue.
So, I was thinking about a recent journal entry I wrote, and I hope I didn't offend anyone by my little rant about crazy chicks who write guys back here. I was more or less venting because a friend of mine had some unnecessary madness from someone I deemed batshit crazy, and I was upset about it. But it did get me to thinking about the various kinds of relationships that people have with prisoners. I think there are three categories: the "groupie" kind where both guy and girl capitalize on the immediate attention, or gravitate towards the more high profile cases of guys on death row...just like a rock star, the inmate feeds his ego and the female (or male, I'm sure there are male groupies too!) either wants to bang the inmate and feed off of the attention that hooking up with someone in prison gives them...
It fizzles out, the attention fades and they move on to the next inmate and so forth. Then, there's the supernova relationship...A person reaches out with the intentions of offering help or friendship, but you immediately click and things/love happen really fast. They're passionate and immediate...You get caught up in its gravity and then...like a collapsing star it turns into a black hole of emptiness, regret, and sadness when it ends (been there are time or two myself). And then there's the slow burn kind of love...the one that starts out purely platonic. A friendship begins and builds and then some years down the line you realize that you've loved each other all along. You've spent so much time writing each other, visits and such, that it is like you become each others' symbiote...
Everyone needs love one way or the other and I truly believe that a relationship with the right love and care can be meaningful back here, but I'm skeptical of the groupies...I am skeptical of the women who build their lives around death row or prison - those that seem to be pulled to this life. Let me be clear, though, there's a big difference between someone who gravitates to "this life" and those who see a big case on TV, or are touched by a particular person's story and want to help in some kind of way. It isn't the same at all. Even if you think, wow...it's a damn shame that guy is locked up because he's attractive...or whatever. I don't equate the two of them. Crazy chicks and groupies MAKE this their world, and for reasons known only to them, their relationships are all here, and not outside. Anyways, that is my little ramble on the subject, a head scratcher for sure, but these are my thoughts, not yours...Told you I can be a bit neurotic.