I think this has been one of the most difficult periods of my life, over the past 16 years. I've had some real humdingers but this definitely goes in the top five. It just seems to be one event after another and I really wanted the new year to start off with hope and promise. I joke about Trump ushering in the end of the world, but fuck, if it really doesn't feel like it right now.
Where to even begin? It started two months ago, when I moved into this godforsaken cell. At the time I was living on A-pod, and I'd had a visit on a Friday afternoon; when I came back from visit and stepped onto the death row building, an officer said that I was moved to C-pod while at my visit. I said "whoa...you already moved my property?" I begin thinking about things going missing, lazy guards haphazardly throwing my stuff into a move buggy and then chucking it all haphazardly into my cell. My mind was reeling and I felt like I was being kidnapped and whisked away! When I got to C-pod the guards walked me to 34 cell and I could see that everything was piled on top of the metal bunk. It didn't look nice and neat, but it did look like everything was there. I walked in, let them take the handcuffs off and looked around the cell. It was filthy! I could see mold covering the back wall, dirt and dust bunnies the size of tumbleweeds on the floor, the toilet looked like something out of a horror movie. I half expected a clawed hand to pop out of it and drag me down. I probably would've let it had I known what was to come over the next two months.
Anyways, I took a deep breath and began cleaning which took about three hours. I was not happy. I generally tell myself that I can deal with insanity on a particular section or cell because I rarely ever spend more than two weeks there. It actually makes life a whole lot easier to live like that. A messed up cell? I'll be okay...It's only two weeks. Irritating neighbors? Only have to put up with it for two weeks. But as problems mounted, two weeks turned into three, three turned into a month and a month into two. Ten weeks I've been in this purgatory! I've seen two guys get stabbed right in front my cell (well, not really stabbed, but the other inmates sure were trying hard for it to be a stabbing). People yelling and screaming at each other, guards screwing people over. It is like I've had a front row seat to madness...Problems only got worse when my sink's drain began to back up, and this nasty black water began to rise from the drain, and I raised holy hell to get it fixed. The Sergeant called down an emergency plumber to fix it, and he did fix it, but in the process, he ended up busting another pipe...The exchange went like this:
"Your sink drainin' now?"
I said "Yeah...but there's freakin' water coming from under my toilet. What the hell?"
And he came back with "Oh yeah, I think I broke something, and I don't have the parts to fix it. We'll get back down here tomorrow. Gotta go!"
So, "Tomorrow" turned into 3 1/2 weeks! I battled water every day, and I complained to everyone: a Major, the Warden, anyone I could and it was like "Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh...We'll look into." Look into it? You can't see the puddle of water in my cell? I'm starting to believe that C-pod was built upon an ancient native american burial ground and the spirits are pissed.
But all of that is small potatoes to the worst of it. Two weeks ago I received a letter that my best friend David passed away from a heart attack. I've written about him in the past...When I first got into this whole mess with the escape and everything else, he wrote to me out of the blue - 16 years ago. It was a very simple and kind letter that basically said, "Hey, inspite of everything that is going on, you're a human being and I'm praying for you." I can't really remember what I thought at the time, but I did respond and thank him for the kind words. We began to write, and over the years formed almost a father/son like relationship. He encouraged me to write, and he was an English teacher at one time, so guided me in finding my own voice. He encouraged me to write my thoughts down (another friend also encouraged and offered to start publishing them on their website which turned into the first incarnation of my website) and try to process things. In my life there hasn't been anyone who was more loyal, more encouraging, and loving than David.
David was a Marine, and he would use a latin saying that embodies a Marine: "Semper Fi", meaning "Always Faithful". He closed every letter with that. I began to close my letters to him with that as well. Over the past few years I knew he was slowing down. It was mostly due to a wound he suffered during the Vietnam war, but he had a lot of aches and pains. I'd encourage him to at least use his treadmill and keep active. What is so strange about all of this is that I think he knew that his life was winding down. I say that because about two weeks before I received word that he died, he told me in a letter: "I'm going to have a friend contact you if anything happens to me." He also made a few extravagant purchases that left me scratching my head. He'd just bought a new television last fall, a pretty fancy one, and then in that same letter telling me about having a friend contact me, he said he bought a 4K flatscreen and he knew he didn't need it, but what the heck.
When I first received the letter about his death I didn't recognize the name. It was from the same town as David but it didn't register that this was the friend. In fact, I thought "Why is David sending me a letter from someone else?" I opened it and...I stared at the words for a few minutes. I thought, I JUST heard from him...How could he be gone? I was confused. It took about 30 minutes for the news to hit me and when it did it was like a bag of bricks came crashing down on me. I've cried in the past. I get teary eyed over certain events or stories, but my whole entire body began to shake. My mentor, my friend, even father-like...He was gone.
I still half expect to get a letter from him when they pass out mail. Last week I received another letter from his friend with a copy of his will and that was touching. I remember having a conversation with David years ago about being killed by the state; I've always had a fear of dying alone...I've had it since I first experienced a death with my grandfather's passing. But on death row, one of my biggest concerns was not having a proper funeral, and having to be buried under some inmate number in a State prison cemetery. I NEVER want that to happen. Yeah, it is just a body and what does it matter, but the thought, the very idea of this State having possession over ME for the rest of time? No fucking way. It was just one of many conversations we shared over the years.
When I read the will, under article II, specific gifts, the first paragraph says this: "It is my heartfelt intention that during my lifetime I shall make all necessary arrangements, including payment in advance, for a funeral service and a burial plot for my friend, Randy Halprin, an inmate currently residing in Polunsky Unit, located in Livingston, Texas 77351. If I have not yet accomplished this intention at the date of my death, this is my first bequest. I was really touched by the gesture. I've long decided that I would rather be cremated than buried, but still...The fact that he never forgot our conversation and my worries, is proof alone of the kind of man he was.