Sunday morning and it is a bit on the nippy side. But spring is definitely in the air. Sunlight is pouring through my window as I sit here listening to a new sci-fi show that I've gotten into called "Colony". It's produced by one of the creators of "Lost" so I had to give it a try, and so far so good. Another good program I've gotten into is "Lucifer"...but it really isn't what you'd think with that title. Based on one of Neil Gaiman's characters in his graphic novel series "Sandman"...Anyways, Lucifer has abandoned hell and is roaming earth and the longer he spends on earth the more "human" he becomes. It's pretty funny.
So, last week I was moved to a cell on the opposite side of the pod (B-pod) and I have a pretty good view. There's a sidewalk and building behind me that leads to the inmate side of visitation so I can see guys coming and going all day long. But the greatest part of the view is cat watching...There is a generator on a concrete pad directly in front of me, and I can watch the cats all day, laying in the sun on the pad. There are three cats who "live" there...Two greyish colored cats and one bright orange cat with real tiny ears. Without a doubt the orange cat is running things because whenever he pops up they back away. The two grey cats get along but you can tell it is not something they particulary like. In fact, one of the grey cats got too close to the other and was hit upside the head about five times, by the other cat...like "back the eff up beeyotch! You be all up in my business..." Which then lead to an awkward stare off between the two. I swear, I could watch those fellas for hours. It is nice to be able to watch nature.
Besides liking this cell and location, I'm on the same row as one of my closest friends back here, Big Will...He's been really depressed over some personal things that have recently happened and I've been trying to lift his spirits...We got into a conversation about friends on the outside and people who write, and things that irk us, which is really two things in general: people who write with a lack of commitment, meaning, those who pop into our lives and then just disappear without any real reason or explanation; and the close friends who get upset with you for reasons beyond your control, and then refuse to discuss those things with you. What then happens is the prisoner gets worried, stresses out and doesn't know what to think because issues can sometimes take weeks to level themselves out, and we don't have a direct link to the outside in real time. Things move at the pace of the mail room and postal service. Contrary to popular belief, Death Row and Ad-Seg prisoners don't get to use the telephone like in General Population. We don't have access to the internet other than printed emails sent to us via a service like jpay.com. We're trapped in a cell all day long with no outlet, no means of really solving a problem. When communication is key, communication is limited, and therefore if your conversation and communication isn't strong in letters, it can lead to a break down between you and the friend, lover, or whoever...which isn't healthy for either party. If a problem arises, at least try to discuss the problem...Don't immediately assume things or make accusations without first giving the other person a chance at an explanation or a chance to defend themselves. The person on the outside is at an advantage because they can go about their life and bury themselves in distractions. We don't have that luxury, and problems are only magnified in our cells. Keep in mind, any problem large or small is enhanced BY THE ENVIRONMENT we live in, ten fold. A book or a radio is not going to offer up a suitable distraction. This is why it is so important to have that strong communication. And if you're going to disappear, at least HAVE THE BALLS TO SAY GOODBYE!
But life goes on and Big Will will get over whatever he's going through in time. It just sucks to be in that situation as I've been there before.
February 23rd, 2016
As I type this it is early on a Tuesday morning; rain is sputtering against my window, and after a couple of really humid and muggy days, it feels cool in here. So strange that the weather in Texas has pretty much skipped winter and gone straight into spring.
I wanted to get outside with my friend Irving today - that was the game plan anyway. He's one of the only few people I can get to actually exercise with me. Well, half exercise...The dude is amazing at yoga but has zero wind for cardio...Still, he tries. But since the outside rec. yards are shut down, I'll be going to the dayroom instead. It's been a relatively calm morning; maybe it's the weather, or maybe it's because I heard from one of the guards that those Ad-Seg guys they've been screwing over, have been shipped off the unit now...They kind of messed up the vibe of the whole pod, but it just serves to illustrate the point I made about depriving human beings of certain stimulations. It's as if they devolve...No books, no radio, no magazines to look at. All there is left to do is lose your ever loving mind, or act like idiots and scream out of your cell door all day long. It isn't just that isolating human beings is bad, it is also the fact that these humans have zero support from the outside. Nothing to keep their minds occupied.
In a lot of ways it isn't completely fair that guys on Death Row get a lot of support because, let's be honest, a lot of it is out of sympathy and pity. Please don't misunderstand me or interpret that support as being ungrateful. It is just that the mentality of a lot of people is "Okay, these guys are going to die...let's give them as comfortable a life as is possible before they die". Whereas, say a guy who robs a store, gets life in prison and then lands himself in Ad-Seg...You really don't think "poor guy". It is more like "Well, he should've behaved". The point is that a human being, whether on Death Row or in Ad-Seg, is still a human being. They need the encouragement and support as well. If only to keep them from losing their collective minds.
I don't think people can really grasp how isolating prison can be. Yes, there is the public mindset of "Well, it's prison...they are there to be punished". But at what cost? At what cost to society? And besides, is it ethical or moral to turn your back on those who are incarcerated? People are there for ugly things. I was there for a very ugly thing. But I was also very much human. There are those who want to change; to do better; to be better. But the system in Texas, as it is now, is not geared to help you be better. It is designed for one singular purpose: PUNISHMENT. But how can you expect people to strive for goodness if you punish without guidance? Example: what is more effective, sticking a kid in the corner for 30 minutes and then letting him go back to do whatever he was doing, or putting him in the corner, explaining why it happened, and then saying "but this is how you can prevent it from happening again?" Texas doesn't operate like that. They claim to have programs in place, they claim to even have "good time" but it is a facade. What good is "good time" when you end up having more days built up than your actual sentence? You spend your days in prison busting your ass working - without pay - or going to some kind of school, whether it be G.E.D. or some kind of remedial trade like fixing toilets or fluffing mattresses, being a role model prisoner and then coming up for parole for them to say, "Well, you just haven't been punished enough. So sorry". Or, say you do have a lengthy sentence and you're trying to get into school, only for them to say, "Yeah, you want to get an education but I'm sorry you just have too much time" or "Your sentence is too short for us to invest in any program for you. Good luck out there!" And WTF is up with states locking up teenagers FOR LIFE without even attempting to rehabilitate them?
My point is this: Texas has created its own monster and has done little to stop it. Family and friends are also crucial for survival in prison. I had neither when I was in General Population. I'm fortunate now, that I have some wonderful friends in my life who I consider to be family. I never felt more alone in my life than the five plus years I was in General Population. Hopelessness, isolation, despair...it's a bad combination. I'm a very introverted person, but I still like having people to laugh with, and share life with. To have hopes and dreams with. It is the experience of being a normal human being. How can you expect someone to act normal if they aren't treated as though they are normal?!
Anyway...Something else I would like to see happen is for more men to be involved in the anti death penalty movement. People in the reform movement have also commented on the abnormally large number of women drawn to the movement, and the sheer lack of male voices. We need to bring more men into the fold, and balance things up a bit. I'd like to see more men reach out to guys in prison or on Death Row. There just aren't enough, and I don't think there's anything emasculating about that.
Well, I didn't expect today's journal to be a long-winded rant but...oh well. Haha. I need to get ready for recreation and eat some lunch. I'll be headed out 3rd round. I might write some more later.
February 18th, 2016
Yesterday was one of those reflective days that I spent thinking about life and death. It started the evening before, after Gus Garcia's execution. I didn't really know the guy on any personal level, but seeing his interactions amongst other people, he was quiet, personable and never got in trouble. When I see things like that I wonder how can this person be a "continuing threat" to society? At some point people are going to have to start to re-evaluate that phrase...
So, right now there's a bit of shenanigans going on on B-pod, and we, the inmates, don't really know how to address it, because on one hand it doesn't personally affect us, but on the other some dudes in Ad-Seg are being royally screwed. Now, there are two schools of thought here: some guys feel like they deserve to be treated the way they are because they're acting like animals, meaning they keep pulling their dicks out on every female guard that passes by; and the other line of thinking is well, as messed up as that is, it doesn't warrant the kind of treatment the guards are giving them...They are starving them, and denying them access to water. I am in the second camp...Isolate them, lock them down, give them sack lunches...I'm okay with that, but do not use starvation as a method of control. Apparently those guys were placed on Ad-Seg because of the riot in GP that happened last week. Interestingly enough, that riot was started when a black dude was masturbating in the dayroom. A Mexican guy knocked him out and other black dudes jumped on the Mexican guy which kicked off a massive fight amongst the blacks and the Mexicans. They put all of the black guys on B-pod because it was a completely empty section. Myself, and a few others, caught wind of the starvation tactic when some guards were bragging about "jacking" their meals. They thought it was funny. Me and my friend Big Will said something along the lines of "Hey, no mater what they're doing, don't take their food. You have things you CAN do such as place a blanket over their door, write disciplinary cases, etc. but you CAN'T take their food". They claimed the order came from ranking officers and I personally said "Guess what dude, ranking officers cannot enforce orders that go against human rights or your conscience. There was a little thing called Nazi Germany, and guess what they did to the officers who said they were just following orders? They were hanged. An inmate shouldn't have to distinguish right from wrong to a guard..."
We'll see how this develops.
February 17th 2016
Something a guy never gets used to on Death Row is when a guy who lives on the same section as you goes to Death Watch. It usually happens like this: two guards show up out of the blue at some random time during the day...They say: "Leave all of your property where it is, strip out and hand us whatever clothing you want to take to A-pod. We'll pack your things for you, take them to the x-ray machine and go through everything and return it to you later this afternoon or tomorrow morning". They don't have to say you just received an execution date or that you're going to Death Watch. You just know.
Everyone on your section knows and there's a reverent silence as the guards stand there strip searching whoever it may be. Thoughts of your own mortality began to fog your mind. Some get scared. Others say: "That is fucked up", in disbelief. We all deal with it in our own way. And so it was with a guy today.....As they took him out he wished us all well and told us to keep our heads up. He looked a bit shell shocked as he only received the news from his attorneys via a letter earlier this morning.
My neighbor and I had a conversation at how messed up it was because Monday was a federal holiday meaning that the letter sent to him was sitting there since Friday, at the very least. His attorneys probably mailed it to him last Wednesday and so for almost a week, maybe longer, people have known he had an execution date and he knew nothing. I thought it was pretty shitty that his attorneys couldn't visit him or at least give him a phone call. Instead he had to find out in an indirect and impersonal manner. These are matters of life and death, and unless you live a thousand miles away you don't send a letter that says "Hey, just thought you should know...you're about to die in three months. Sorry, we did the best we could". What BS...
I think about how impersonal our justice system really is. We don't see an individual, only a crime. From the prosecutors to the jurors...they don't view you in terms of being human...That isn't to take away from the crime itself or the victim(s), but how can any society expect any kind of change in their criminal justice system when we only see victim vs. monster? Where is the human element in all of this? I had a whole bunch of other stuff to write about today, but seeing a guy walked off to his impending doom kind of stole the wind from my sails.
February 13th, 2016
I'm trapped in Kentucky right now. I've been writing my memoir and such a huge part of my life happened in Kentucky...When I'm writing it is like I'm there - everything. So strange. I also think it's funny that most of my time in Kentucky was spent wishing I was back home in Texas, and now it's like, I want to go back to Kentucky! Life manages to force things into perspective.
Nostalgia makes us long for even the worst of times. Life....But the good news is that I am hard at work, although something I've realized as a writer, is how little discipline in the craft I have. Haha. I love writing and painting pictures with words. I've always been able to write, but I don't like spending hours at a time over a piece of paper or typewriter writing. I'm too restless, and my mind wanders too much. Zero discipline! I get bored easily, and I end up questioning myself a lot. Like, did I write that paragraph well enough? Why did I write that sentence like that? Will people even find this stuff interesting? It isn't the same as blog or journal writing. When I do that I'm just writing. I don't bother correcting much or changing things. I'm writing as it is. I'm putting it all on paper and I'm done with it.
Holy crap!!! Oh man...this is freaking huge and breaking news...I don't even know how to process it right now. Justice Anton Scalia has passed away. God rest his soul. Truly. But to pass at a time when so many social issues are literally hanging in the balance - whoever Obama selects for appointment could shape the country for years to come. And...the death penalty. I'm just shocked. When I heard the news I stopped in my tracks like, WTF? Oh man, I can't even begin to fathom how badly conservatives are collectively shitting their pants right now. In fact, Ted Cruz, a Texas Senator and potential presidential candidate is already making comments via twitter saying Obama should allow the next President to pick a Justice. Really Ted? You think he's going to allow that to happen? There's no way someone doesn't get appointed. I don't even want to allow my mind to get too hopeful too soon.
Topic change! I will add this, we sure do know how to pick them in Texas, though. In fact, there's a woman running for the Texas State School Board right now, and she's called Mary Lou Bruner...She's a real doozy...She's on record saying Obama is a closet muslim, a homosexual (isn't that like well, never mind) that standard testing for schools is a communist plot, evolution is a tenant of the religion of atheism and Obama's political agenda is taken straight from the playbook of Joseph Stalin. Texas, y'all!
So, recently some guys had a National Geographic denied by the mail room for being "sexually explicit". I didn't know that NG had gone all porn, but apparently the TDCJ's decency standards have gone way overboard...I've railed on this issue before because it is ridiculous that as a grown ass man I can't even get comics that are geared for mature audiences, and God forbid there be like some cartoon boobies or sex. I assure you I'm not wackin' my willy to comics. It just sucks because we're regulated to PG-13 type material because of their fear that everyone is going to turn into a sexual predator if they see something of a sexual nature. But in fact, what they've tried to prevent has only increased! I can't offer any emperical evidence, but I know from what I've witnessed myself and heard from various officers, that masturbation cases on female guards has increased, and sexual assaults on inmates in general population are on the rise. It is ridiculous! But to even go as far as to deny science/art and educational material is beyond the realm of common sense!
Anyway...The weather here is astounding. Spring like in the middle of February. I can't believe it. And it is supposed to last as the rest of the country is being pummelled by the B movie of the week, "The Polar Vortex". Suck it, PV, bring on the spring!
February 11th, 2016
Today would've been the most awesome pre-spring day to go outside and play basketball. In fact, I was scheduled for 2nd round which would've been nice, but it wasn't to be. Apparently a riot broke out on 8 building which shut everything down. 8 building is what is refered to as close custody. It's youngsters, primarily gang members, who have limited privileges but are not yet Ad-Seg classified. I used to work that building on the Conally Unit and I hated it. Now, why this incident affected death row is anyone's guess. Probably just an excuse not to do recreation.
I also have an ant infestation in winter! They're coming from the foundation; I did my best to seal the holes/cracks and so far so good but last night some had made it to my bed. I pull the blanket up, put my ear plugs in and I think I felt something crawl on my thigh. I scratched at it but figuring it was a phantom crawler I settled back in to go to sleep when I felt a sharp bite on, of all places...wait for it...my balls! I threw the covers back, pulled my boxer shorts down and there, as if it was king of the mountain(s) was a little red ant. I looked at my bed...ANTS EVERYWHERE!!! I was not happy! I got everything under control though, and the boys seem to be okay. Whew!
It's evening now and I'm just waiting on mail and then I'm going to bed. What is that Elvis song that goes "In the cold Kentucky rain...?"...I hear it on the radio every now and then and it makes me think of Kentucky. I miss Kentucky...I'm actually writing about some of my "adventures" in Kentucky for my memoir right now. I just wrote a chapter on a place called Tolly Ho. I had some crazy stuff happen there.
Anyways, I'm rambling. Take care people.
February 9th, 2016
I don't think I've mentioned the great razor shortage of 2016 that TDCJ is undergoing...It seems whoever orders supplies for the entire system has made one of the great blunders of the 21st century. It's a bit crazy because in the 20 years that I've been incarcerated, the one thing the prison enforced more than anything else, was shaving. But now everyone is running around with beards and not just for religious purposes. Right now I have about a week's worth of growth on my face and my head, and man...not only do I look about fifteen years older than I am, but my stuff is grey...in fact, one of the mailroom ladies said this morning "Halprin, you look old!" And I have a young face! Word is that they'll have razors again on the 19th of February. I'll look like a hairy Bozo the clown by then!
Well, it is another sunny day and while the morning was cool it is starting to warm up. We had recreation today so I got up early, went to rec. at about 6 in the morning, jogged and did some leg exercises, came back in and immediately jumped into the shower which is rare, but I'm glad I got all of that out of the way because today is all about the Classic Club Hour...The station it comes on is having a fund drive and during the show, the DJ will do a two hour block. Can't wait to shake my groove thing!
Today is the New Hampshire primary and I'm eager to see if Bernie Sanders wins. I'm hoping so because he practically tied with Hillary Clinton in Iowa. I think that the more wins he can rack up, the more Black Democrats will learn about him and hopefully go for him. Right now, Hillary is the most popular amongst African American voters and the media is pretty much handing the south to her, but honestly, I think black people are more aligned with Bernie Sanders' policies than with Hillary's. They just don't know about him. Also, back in the 60's Bernie was in the trenches during the civil rights movement. He was there and gave his own blood, sweat, and tears to fight for equality. A lot of people don't know this about him, but neither is he the kind of guy to boast about all of that. He's very modest and sincere. I may piss some Hillary supporters off, but she's a politician and will say/do anything to get elected. Would I support her if she gets the party nomination? Sure. I would throw it all in, but Hillary is a moderate at best, in my opinion. Not a true blue progressive liberal like Sanders is. And now that the Bern is resonating with his progressive message, especially amongst young voters and millennials, Hillary is being forced to use phrases like "progressive" and "universal health care", when before, she wasn't. In fact, she said she didn't want to take up the universal health care fight with congress because she didn't believe it could win. And she may be right, but consider what happens if she doesn't fight: The Obama care program will be dismantled by the republicans. I think a lot of the disappointment with liberals in Obama is that it seemed he didn't fight HARD ENOUGH. They want someone who is going to at least try. When Hillary says it isn't a battle worth fighting for...she loses progressives. Also, in 2000 she said that the death penalty had her "unenthusiastic support". Unenthusiastic?! And it isn't just that...she just doesn't sound sincere or authentic. I don't discredit her work and record. But people want to know that you truly take their plights seriously.
I suppose I will have more on the subject at a later time. But right now, I'm feeling the BERN.
February 2nd, 2016
Another day in paradise...if paradise really means hell. Oh well. I'm trying to find motivation today. I actually started the day off motivated but the further it goes the less motivated I seem. Amazing how a place like this zaps all of the energy from you, even if your intentions when you begin the day, are to get things done.
Last week I received the reply to my grievance on the recreation schedule and it essentially was a non-response to the issues that I addressed. I didn't expect anything more than that, really...I'm debating on whether or not I want to file a follow up to it and have it sent to Huntsville, but I'm pretty sure it'll have the same response, so why bother? But you know what, screw it! I want someone to take the time to respond, so yeah, I'll file a "step 2" as it is referred to.
A funny thing happened last week. The officer who told me he responded to the grievance was pulling me out for recreation on Friday. On the way to the day room he says "Halprin, what kind of job did you have out there in the world?" I was like, "Uhhh. Subway? Sandwich artist. And I worked at a place called Steak Fest for a bit. Why?" I asked. "Oh. I don't know. I thought maybe you were doing something for a business or something. You just seem like a guy who's got it all figured out." I laughed and said "Dude, I've been locked up since I was 18 years old and I assure you I don't have it all figured out. I have almost nothing figured out. Maybe I just fake it really well." He said "Nah, what I mean is you just seem smart." I laughed so hard....."Yeah, I'm a smart guy who has done really, really dumb things. I wasted my parents' private school money." I just thought the interaction was funny because I had no idea where it came from. Really? A businessman...me?
Here's a thought I had the other day...I was bored and listening to a pop station and I was thinking about the state of mainstream music and how awful, really awful it is. I mean, sure, there are some songs that make you nod your head and dig inside of your brain and stay on a loop, but most of mainstream music is written/produced by about 5 people. This is most of the music you hear! It is insane. But something that irritates me more than anything is how some of these pop stations take an otherwise good song, say like something like Adele and put an EDM beat to it. I love electronic music. I mean, I was on the ground floor with new wave/industrial/techno in my teens. But that doesn't mean you can take a song like "Hello" and put a dance beat to it. It doesn't work. It is horrible. Or, how a lot of songs that would be otherwise good, have like this agressive "WHAT ! WHAT ! WHAT ! WHAT!" in the background...Please, corporate music companies, stop doing this to music! You make me want to stick pencils in my ears. And I hope I don't sound like an old dude who laments "the good ol' days of music". I like new music, but I expect a higher quality, I guess.