Death Row Conditions - Randy Halprin

Randy Halprin
"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending" C.S. Lewis
Go to content
Read about conditions on death row, Polunsky Unit...

Texas Death Row inmates live in extremely inhumane conditions. The men are kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours per day, and are allowed only a little time out of their cells for recreation, from Monday-Friday. At weekends and holidays there is no recreation time, and the only times spent outside of the cells during those periods are for showers, or if they are lucky enough, a visit on a Saturday night. To further confine the inmates, recreation days are not always "outside" days; some recreation times are spent inside, locked in a "day room".

The inmates on death row have no physical contact with other inmates, or with friends and family during visits. The only actual physical contact they have, of any kind, is when the guards handcuff them and escort them to and from recreation, showers, or visits. These men go years - sometimes decades - without a single touch, hug, or kiss from a loved one...Even those with children never get to hold them or play with them during visits.

All conversation during visits is conducted via telephone, with the inmate sitting in a "cage" behind perspex, as though they were exhibits of some kind...This treatment psychologically affects not only the inmates, but also their friends and loved ones who are also punished by these inhumane rules.

The Texas heat can become difficult for the men (and even the guards) to deal with during the summer months...They are allowed to own a fan, and there is an air cooling system in the building. However, Randy frequently reports that the air cooler is either cranked up high when it really isn't that warm, or turned right down low when dealing with extremely hot temperatures - and often, the air cooling system doesn't work at all for long periods.

More recently (autumn/winter 2018/2019) the air cooling system has not been in full working order, and major problems have arisen with mold and mildew that blooms on the walls when the air is stagnant. With the unit's windows incapable of being opened, the air cooling system is the only means of keeping the air circulating in the building - when it's not working, the men are at the mercy of the mold and mildrew growth, and Randy tells us he has to clean the walls free of mold, sometimes up to 4 times a day, to prevent the problem getting out of control.

The treatment of mentally ill inmates on death row is something that would not be tolerated in any other civil society. As an example, and also as a means of explaining the extent of the mold and mildew problems in Polunsky Unit, the following extract from one of Randy's journals depicts the state that an inmate's cell was found to be in, both as a result of the mold and mildew problems, and the inmate's own inability to care for himself properly due to his mental state:

"Let me give you an example of how serious this problem really is...Kwame  Rockwell...I've written about him before, and the fact that he's mentally ill. He does not function like the rest of us, and whilst he does occasionally go the shower, he had not been cleaning his cell. Now, I can make the argument (a very strong argument) that it isn't his responsibility to ensure that he regularly cleans his cell - his brain isn't even functioning on that level. And yet, the Warden and other ranking officers were "disgusted" at how bad his cell had become. Yesterday, they pulled Rockwell out of his cell and moved him to B-Pod. The sergeant was talking down to Rockwell as he stood on the run, and he stared back, blank-faced, as if he didn't even fully comprehend what was going on. When they pulled his property and laundry out of his cell, it was pitch black with mold! Another officer said his entire back wall was black with mold...Now, just three days prior to that the so-called psychiatric doctor or nurse or whatever the hell she calls herself (we've taken to calling her Doctor Death) supposedly came to check up on him to see how he was doing. She jotted a note down and walked off...Surely she could smell the mold and see that the wall was pitch black, and see how he was living! The mental health department here is a freakin' joke! She reminds me of the sadistic psych nurse on 'One Flew  Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.

As they were taking Rockwell off the pod, we were all telling the sergeant, "Don't get mad at him. It's YOUR duty to make sure he's taking care of himself. It's YOUR duty to look out for his mental wellness." Everything about the state's system is a sham. Wake up people, you've been bamboozled! Your tax dollars at work...!"

Polunsky Unit also has a set number of lock-downs every year, and these times can be particularly difficult for the men to cope with...They do not get a hot meal during lock-down times, and have to make do with what they call "sack lunches", which are basically peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with not much variation. It simply isn't enough food, and the calorie count per day is way too low for adult men (See "Lock Down Food Menu" that follows the picture section, under this tab). The meals are also served at particularly odd times in the day - breakfast at around 3am, lunch around 10.30am, and dinner around 4.30pm - and to be woken up at 3am for breakfast, is a particularly draconian routine for anyone.

The men on death row do not have jobs, there is little opportunity to interact with one another, and they are completely dependent on the guards working on any particular day to let them out to recreation, take them to the shower etc. This causes some frustration to inmates for a number of reasons, not least because some of the men end up losing their recreation period because things have not been run properly that day. At other times even showers are running late into the night. But the thing that really affects the men on chaotic days, is when their mail shows up very late - close to midnight on some days.

All that said, many of the men on Texas Death Row, including Randy, have risen above their conditions and maintain a positive outlook on their situation.  

Randy has written quite fitting captions for each of the pictures in the "tour", and these should guide you through the Unit. You will also find a link to an interesting article (published in "Mother Jones") under our News tab here on the site. The article cites Polunsky Unit as being one of America's top ten worst prisons.  See for yourself in the 'Picture Tour' section under the tab below....

Back to content