February 2015 - Randy Halprin

Randy Halprin
 "We tend to see a person in the moment, not as the journey they travelled to get here."  Kat Lehmann

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February 23rd, 2015

I want to share a quote from a recent Texas Monthly article that I read not too long ago. It was taken from an interview with a retiring Judge from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Cathy Cochran. Now, this particular statement is made in regards to her handling of the Anthony Graves appeal that she ruled on. Some of you might know that years later Anthony Graves was acquitted of his crimes.  

"I felt terrible, because I didn't focus in. It was there, but I didn't see it. It just goes to show the frailty of human beings. Now, that is a good argument against the death penalty because human beings make mistakes. And I'm sure innocent people have been executed. That's the price you pay for being a human being in any kind of system. It's not going to be infallible. So do you not execute people at all because the system is not infallible? No!"

WHAAAAAAAAAT??? Okay, let me get this straight....It's okay if the state executes an innocent person because hey, people make mistakes and that's just one of the prices you pay for having people run the system...But Ms. Cochran, if that is the case, if people 'make mistakes' why then aren't you holding yourself to the same standard that you put on the very people who MADE MISTAKES to get in whatever situation they might be in? Where is the accountability? And tell me if I'm wrong, but say you're the executive of a business and you make a mistake that cost that business several million dollars in losses, aren't you going to be fired? So, if you make a mistake that cost someone their life, shouldn't YOU lose your job? Be held accountable? When the prosecutors or Judge make mistakes it's the old "Hey, we're only human!" excuse, but when it is someone like me, you throw the freakin' book at me!

When the reporter asked why the death penalty shouldn't be abolished if an innocent person is killed, she made some asinine argument that it would be a slippery slope, and people would want to change sentencing laws for other crimes and other nonsense. But she's missing one thing: Wouldn't it be better that an innocent person's life be spared, and serving a life sentence, over being...DEAD? You can't come back from the dead where as at least a person who is serving any sentence always has the hope that laws might change, or they'll be able to go through the appeals process. They're still alive: If you're in a position in which you admittedly say "I'm sure innocent people have been killed" don't you think a person of your magnitude has a moral obligation to not only speak out against the  death penalty, but also use the power that you have to abolish it?

In other news there's a lot of controversy around the so-called suicide of a guy on death row named Antonio Williams. He recently returned to Harris County for some hearings on his appeals. I'm not sure of the issues his attorneys were raising but on the news his Lawyer said that his appeals looked really good and it didn't make any sense for him to hang himself. The jail found him hanged in his cell by his own shoe laces. When we learned of the news it threw up some immediate alarms with guys who knew him because he just didn't seem like a person who would do that. By all accounts he was really happy and excited to head back to county jail. Granted, a lot of people who kill themselves rarely exhibit any outward signs that they're about to kill themself. I mean, look at Robin Williams for example. Still, this guy did have enemies and he was in a gang. Plus, he was never the kind of person who would bite his tongue if he felt wronged by a guard. I remember being his neighbor about a year and a half ago and this guard, Ms. Parker (at the time she went by Griffin) jacked him for his shower. When Antonio asked to talk to a ranking officer she refused to call one down to the pod. He finally talked to the Sergeant and the Sergeant said okay, you'll get your shower back just calm down. The Sergeant told Ms. Parker to return his shower and after he left she came in front of his cell and snidely said, "I don't give a fuck what the Sergeant just told me! You ain't getting no shower". Antonio only said, "You're sure right." And began plotting his revenge.

I had no idea what he had planned but he was yelling at other guys on the sections saying he was about to go to Level 3 disciplinary and I was thinking geeze, he's going to try to stab her or something, but at dinner time when they came in front of our cells to  pass out our trays he squirted her with liquified feces...it was disgusting. I watched as shit dripped off her face and my stomach churned. So, all that to say, it wouldn't be unlike him to have pissed off the wrong guard and they killed him. Some back here even said Ms. Parker might have had a hand in it, but I highly doubt that. Who knows what really happened? It's just crazy that it did. Another suicide of another death row inmate. Who cares, right? Who cares that conditions are bad enough that dudes would rather hang themselves than take chances on an appeal...


February 9th, 2015

It's been difficult to find the words to write since this past Wednesday when they executed another one of my co-defendants. It's not that I held the dude in the highest regard. To be quite frank, he was an asshole in general, to guys on death row and the 'establishment'. There is very little love lost there with him for who he was as a person. Yet, still, it was an another execution of another human being. Closer to home, one of my co-defendents, and it is scary to think about the system picking us off one by one. Three executed...three to go. Another issue that upset me was listening to the news and various programs - especially the 'Execution Watch' program on KPFT out of Houston, TX. I admire Ray Hill as a man and for the decades long efforts he's made in prison reform. There are few people in this state or even the country who have put in the work and made the changes he's made in state prisons. For that, he can't be touched. And while the execution watch program has its purpose, typically it is filled with such conjecture! A panel of so called" Criminal Defense  ttorneys" who seem to know very little about any real criminal defense or the people they're talking about on each execution. Deal with the cold hard facts, as horrible as they seem, but don't deal with conjecture.  It's frustrating!

They talked about the escape and why they thought we did it...For the most part they were right in saying that the men with the most time had nothing left to lose, but even for myself, while I had a relatively 'short' sentence compared to my co-defendants, I had little hope for myself. I had no friends, no family, no letters. At that time I still had a ways to go until I was up for parole, and when I tried to enrol in college I was denied and told that I still had 'too much time'. For a 23 year old, ten more years until I was even eligible for parole seemed an eternity. Had my family supported me I could see me holding onto something, but what did I have? When presented with an alternative, as scary as it seemed, it offered the fantasy of starting over. Dumb, naive, yes...but again - think back to when you were in your early 20's, did you ever think about what you were going to be doing ten years down the road? No! You live in the present, and instant gratification is the name of the game. So many times I sit here and day dream, and wish I could go back in time and shake the living hell out of my 23 year old self. But...while I'm not the sum total of my mistakes, I do believe they've shaped who I am now. And as awful as those events were and the tragedies that followed, I can say I am a better person. Still flawed has hell, but better.

Another thing that I find a bit irritating is when people say 'You had such a good life...I didn't have that and I'm okay. Why did you throw it away like that?" Good life? How? Because my adopted family was middle class and I never lacked for anything materialistically? Okay, wonderful! I'm grateful for those things and the opportunities that I had - always  will be. I've done more/seen more places by the age of 18 than most people have in a lifetime. But let's review the first five and a half years of my life...Drug addled biological parents. Pushed out a second story window, tooth knocked out at three, glass bottle smashed across my right wrist for which a visible scar still remains to this day. Nearly getting killed protecting my infant brother at three years old. Being abandoned in various places numerous times. These were the early 1980's people! The State didn't intervene until they absolutely had to back in those days...Finally placed in a foster home, beaten again, taken out of that foster home and reunited with my biological brother who WAS taken away by the State only to be told said foster home wanted to adopt Wesley, but NOT me. Thank GOD the social worker wouldn't allow us to be separated again. Being adopted was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I loved my parents from the very first day. I mean that with every inch of my being. But I was damaged goods. I had learning problems. I had social anxieties and avoidant personality disorder. I had the craziest, most imaginative imagination a kid could have. I was artistic. Instead of, and I truly don't blame my parents for this, focusing on my strengths and encouraging those things they instead focused on my weaknesses and so I spent time with shrinks who didn't give a fuck and tutors who bored the shit out of me. I'm just being honest. I  wasn't a dumb kid. It irritated me to hell that I was treated like one. I don't doubt my parents' love for me. I truly believe the did the best they could and knew how to do, but I didn't need tough love and a rigid environment. I needed love and encouragement. And while I did interpret being sent to school in Kentucky for bad grades as a form of abandonement in itself, it was ultimately something I did need because  it allowed me to be who I was. Instantly my grades shot up. I was on the honor roll. I was taking on leadership duties and getting awards. I started playing piano again and winning awards for that. I'm not ashamed to say I was freaking good at playing the piano. I could be me. I could be myself. And sure, ultimately, I ended up swimming too far from the shore, but when I was drowning and yelling for help, no one answered. I'm not writing all of this for a pity party. I just want people to know that what seemed like the good life on the surface was not as it was beneath. I battled a fucking leviathan. So here I am. Sitting in a 6'x 10' cell and typing me - my soul - on a matte colored sheet of paper... Isn't life wonderful?  

It looks like Ms. Cox has found a way to keep coming and I'm really happy about that. When I had that one visit and seeing how distraught she was in thinking that could be the last of the visits for guys on death row with her, it really upset me because this place, these guys are her life! There are some people who get so attatched to a particular passion whether it be a great romance of many years or a job or hobby that when it ends, it isn't long until their spirit breaks and they die of a broken heart. I worried about that with her. Her energy and love comes from knowing that in her heart she believes that ministering to guys beck here is her G-d given duty and purpose in life. When she's out in the visitation area you should see her in action. A 90 plus year old woman moving around and about like a teenager. It's awesome. So, I'm happy that, for now, she's able to still make it down.


February 2nd, 2015

When I woke up this morning I was a bit on the grumpy side. Mostly because I was a little irritated with how the guards asked if I wanted to go to rec. Now, I knew this morning was going to be on the cold side and I went to bed right after the super bowl last night just to make sure I'd be able to get up for first round. I don't have a problem with the cold, I really don't.  I actually enjoy it so long as I can come back inside and warm my bones...so when the guard woke me up and asked "You going to rec?" I gave the pre programmed response of 'yes'.  She then made this dramatic point of telling me how cold it was and was I sure.  Again, I said yes. Then, she says "Well you might get stuck out there for a while." I, again, said I'm going to rec. and then she made another dramatic point of telling my HOW COLD IT WAS... Frustrated that she was trying to talk me out of going outside and making her job easier for by not having to take someone the whole FIVE FEET walk it would be, I said, "Look, I wouldn't care if it was minus 30 and I was greeted by freaking Yeti outside. I'M GOING TO REC !" Sheesh...

It was chilly outside but bearable. Not basketball playing weather but I did manage to jog for thirty minutes. But the best part of it? Seeing the sky turn various shades of blue as the sun rose. It was so nice! It really perked me up and made my day so much better.

So, while I was outside I was talking about freedom and what it means to guys back here and I thought to myself, would he pass the test? What's the test? Well, it is a psychological experiment I created after listening to a movie called, "The Box". The premise of the movie is that a guy shows up at a family door step and offers a million dollars if they push a button on a box. The money is instantly wired to their account, but the catch is someone in the world - anyone - will be killed. Pretty horrible, but an interesting thought exercise...what would you do?  My '"test" is more of a thought exercise in seeing who back here is truly redeemed. So, the scenario is this, I tell the guy...

Two guards show up to your door. They tell you that the Major wants to speak to you and it would be worthwhile to go down there and see what he has to say. Curious, you tell them that you'll go. They pop your slot, place the hand cuffs on you and lead you down the hall way to the Major's Office. You enter the Major's Office and he tells the guards to remove the handcuffs from you....Now, this goes against protocol and you're really wondering what the hell is going on. The Major tells you to take a seat behind his desk. He begins to tap the keys on his keyboard and pulls up an image on the monitor. He swivels the monitor to face you and on it you see a section and the dayroom. He lets you stare at it for a second and then reaches into the desk drawer and oulls a small electronic box. On the box is a red button.

How are you?" The Major asks " Here's the deal...I'm willing to set you free today. Like let you go and send you out into the free world. No more Death Row. All you have to do is push the button on this box " He pauses and reads your face and continues... "The catch is that once you push the button two guards are going to appear on this screen, walk up to a cell door, open it and drag a random inmate to the dayroom. Then they'll shoot him in the head as you watch. You have five minutes to decide. If in that five minutes you don't push the button you'll be taken back to your cell. What do you think?  I'll leave the room and let you decide."

I stop there and then ask the guy what he'd do. "I'd push the mother fuckin button'!" I ask him why, and here's the interesting thing about this part. I'm always amazed at the responses I get in return - their justification on what is essentially murder for their release. "Well", he says, "I would think the guy would want me to push that button. He'd want me free."
"Yeah, but he'd be dead."
"That´s what I mean. "
"But what if this was a test. To see if you really are capable of being let back into society?"
"Well, I mean, what's the difference. I fail the test, go back to my cell... nothing changes."

If I said out of the 20 plus people I've asked about this scenario how many wouldn't push the button? One. One person said that he couldn't push the button. Crazy. I would've thought by adding the part where you had to WATCH the person be killed it would add an element of culpability, that maybe because they had to see the result of their action it would maybe disuade them from pushing the button, but it had little effect.

I  changed  the situation up a litttle bit hoping to see some sort of humanity in an act of bitter desperation...How important is freedom when you involve family. The scenario is this: You get brought to a room. In the room is a curtain that is nailed all the way to the floor. You can hear muffles behind the curtain so obviously someone is bound and gagged, but at this point you have no idea what is going on. A voice comes on a speaker above your head and then a steel drawer slides towards you from a panel in the wall. The voice on the speaker says...

"In the drawer is a gun fully loaded. Take the gun. Behind the the curtain is someone from YOUR family. Shoot at the curtain until the clip is empty and you'll be released and free to go, whereever you want to. You have five minutes to decide. If you try to remove the curtain or touch it in any way, you yourself will be shot and killed."

What is your choice?  I ask.
"Awww, man...A family member?  I can't do it."
Almost everyone says the same thing in this scenario; although, there are some people with some seriously unresolved family issues that would have no problem with shooting through the curtain.

I haven't exactly figured out what it means though and maybe I should ask why it is easier to kill an inmate than a family member? Even in situations where the inmate is a close friend they show no regrets in pushing the button. It is usually "He'd want me to push it. Or he'd do the same thing to me..."

You'll probably read my decision with a certain doubt, but I couldn't push the button. I have enough guilt issues from various events in my life that being free, knowing it came at the cost of another life, I don't believe I would ever feel free and the ghost of that person would always come to haunt me. I couldn't deal with that on my conscience. Freedom isn't worth that. Now, I'd do gay porn or eat a huge steaming bowl of shit and smile while doing it, but not at the cost of another life...

But yeah, obviously I have way too much time on my hands!


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