January 3rd, 2022
A new year and I'm looking forward to the possibility of a new beginning. It's already trending in the right way and I do feel a bit lighter in hope and heart.
Now, condition-wise here it's at an all time low, but I refuse to allow that to bring me down into a pit of despair or negativity. But, so people know, it's not uncommon for us to now go 6 days in a row without a shower. We only get recreation around twice a month (if that) and lately it's been sack meals on a regular basis. This is all due to extreme staff shortages, and some guys have begun a hunger strike in protest. They plan on carry it into January 17th and then a 'phase two' that I won't get into at this point as I hope it doesn't go that far.
Meanwhile, I'm easing back into writing more regularly here, doing a lot of introspection and re-evaluation of myself. I know I've fallen short over the past year and in trying to do better, it's acknowledging those shortcomings and hurting the feelings of the one I love and preventing that happening again. I've decided to re-read a book on compassion that I've not looked at in years, and I've also begun a daily meditation book on Jewish wisdom...I just want to do better.
So, yeah...2022 will be what we choose to make it. It reminds me of what someone once told me when I came to prison: “Prison is only as bad as you allow it to be.” I think you can apply that to the new year. If we go into it and work on it to be good, it will be okay...Bring it on!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 5th, 2022
Another day of no recreation, no showers, and sack meals. I mentioned the hunger strike going on the other day and I joked that with the way these meals are – literally a PB&J sandwich and a small cup of rice with meat – we might as well be considered a part of that hunger strike as well.
Speaking of the hunger strike, the death row warden came through making a fuss and threatening the guys, saying he doesn't “cater to terrorists.” He then ordered the property officer to remove any food items from their cells. Than, as a way to 'get back at them' he bumped our pod up on the commissary rotation list so we can go to store on Friday, and these guys on hunger strike will see the bags of food and not be able to go to make store. It's all very cruel and intentional.
It's not like these guys have a bunch of unrealistic demands...There are a couple that they want that aren't realistic, but they can return our phone calls, bring back special visits, and create a more positive environment by encouraging both physical and mental health welfare. Heck, a member of mental health staff hasn't been through in months! We routinely have one officer working the pod, while another officer bounces between two pods to do a security check. How do we not have the National Guard in here? Why is the general public not informed? It's got to change because I'm telling you now...this is a recipe for disaster! Whether it be security, mental health, physical health, or worse.
I suggest people contact politicians, state officials, even the media, and ask what's going on at Polunsky. Why are state officials seemingly trying to cover up a crisis or not address these staff issues? Giving a $500 gift certificate to employees to recruit people is not a solution – yes, TDCJ is really doing that. When you fix how the prisons are run, you will keep employees, but when you have a 22 year old, barely educated, no life experience etc, becoming a 'supervisor' and sergeant, telling people twice their age what to do...You can't expect people to want to work here.
Something has to change and people on the outside can't sit by passively...We can only do so much on our own.
But enough of that...I refuse to let it bring me down and infect my hope and positivity. I do however have a brief little rant on the arbitrariness of the death penalty...Yesterday I was listening to the news about a guy from Harris County (The Houston area) receiving an execution date. I won't go into the crime other than to say it's very politically motivated in the sense that the Harris County DA has chosen to seek an execution date for him, now that his appeals are exhausted. There are dozens of others whose appeals have been completely – and I mean done, finished, nothing left to file, exhausted, for YEARS, but because this case is specifically politically motivated, he's the one who gets an execution date?? Does this seem okay to people?
Don't look at the crime...Don't look at what you believe or don't believe concerning the death penalty. If the punishment can't equally be applied, how then is it fair? Why is it okay for the DA to decide which execution dates are positively expedient, and which aren't? Why does the DA get to say,
“For this case...we're doing it for closure, justice, for the victim's family”
Let me be clear...I want NO ONE to have a date, but you can't claim to have a fair system when it's clearly not. A similar situation happened to me...My appeals weren't even finished but because I was a 'part' of the 'TX 7', the DA didn't even care. Meanwhile, another guy's appeals – out of the same court – had completely exhausted, and to this day he still hasn't received an execution date. Why do we allow politics into the mix? If justice is truly equal (and it really isn't) then why the cherry picking on the issue of the death penalty?
Rant over...I just wish people would think about things.
That's about it for the day!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 6th, 2022
Thursday morning...another day without showers. You know, I am capable of taking care of myself. I can use my sink to 'bathe' and it's effective enough to stay clean, but what about these guys that either have horrible hygiene habits, or are mentally ill? Days on end without being taken to the shower has got to lead to some real funkiness in some of these cells.
So, the hunger-strike is on day four now, and one of the men involved was taken to talk to one of the wardens (I don't know which one, yet). We don't yet know what it's about, but I'll have an update whenever the guy returns.
Okay, update...as of now, we were told that our 5 minute phone calls will be returned. The problem now is the lack of staff to do the calls so we don't know when they'll happen. They are waiting on the orders for the televisions to put up in the day rooms, and of course whenever Securus puts in the system for the tablets, we'll receive our tablets when its up and running. So, whatever the Head Warden told the guys they feel it's enough to end the hunger strike. Not all of the guys are going to stop the hunger strike though, as they want to see action, and not just be told what they want to hear. But it appears to be a step in the right direction.
I still think it's incumbent on those who do support us back here to stay on the administration and Huntsville. No one is asking for anything out of the ordinary, and it's well within policy to be treated humanely when the rest of the country is decades ahead of the TDCJ in terms of treatment, conditions, and technology. I don't expect to live in a country club, but I do expect to be treated like a human being; to bathe, to get out of my cell so I can stretch my legs, to have access to talk to loved ones. We're not China or Iran...We're the United States of America.
I find it ironic that a lot of the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' people are the same ones who are outraged by the treatment of those that tried to destroy the capital building a year ago today. I hear Trump supporters, conservatives, say,
“They feed them horrible, they keep them isolated blah blah blah”
As if this is out of the ordinary treatment. Well,it's not! This is how some prisons treat people who break the law, right or wrong. The capital rioters did break the law, but because you support them, they're suddenly being treated unfairly. Maybe these people will realise that hundreds of thousands of prisoners are treated this way, or worse. These people do deserve to be treated humanely. I 100% agree, but so do we. The solution is simple. It's been said you can judge a society by the way they treat its prisoners. That's a powerful observation.
Okay, so the hunger strike is over. If the warden doesn't keep his word they'll move into 'phase two' and that entails disruption. I've advised against any act of violence or anything that can be construed as a violent act. I told them it was counter productive and they would lose any credibility as well as control over their message. You can't argue you don't want to be treated like an animal and then turn around and act like an animal...I really hope that sinks in and they take heed of that.
An important notice per Warden Dickerson for people who visit Polunsky Unit from over 250 miles – you do qualify for an 'extended' four hour visit. If the secretary tells you “no”, then you need to ask the secretary her name and then ask to speak to Warden Dickerson. He said himself, while there are no 'special' visits you may ask for an extended visit and receive it on your schedule day (for death row that would be Tuesday/Thursday, or Saturday night).
Also, vaccinated or not, all visitors are required to pass a COVID test before entering the unit and must show up to the unit one hour before their scheduled visits.
That's all the current information available at this point.
Amazingly, as I write this they've started showers. We were told not to expect them over the weekend. Showers will be when they can free up the officers to do them from pod to pod, so it won't be an every day thing...
Bird bathing out of the sink gets the job done, and I have to thank the heavens for running water in my cell. I'm grateful for that and mindful that a good portion of the world doesn't have even the most basic of running and clean water facilities. Please don't misinterpret my gripes...but geeze, nothing beats a hot shower.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 8th, 2022
Saturday...I've spent a good amount of the day writing and keeping busy. I'm reflecting a lot on my time here which lead to a really deep conversation with a guy a few cells down the run. I've known him for 18 plus years now, and it hasn't been until the last 5 or 6 years we became good friends. Different lives, philosophies, and outlooks...He lacks a filter so when he speaks or gives an opinion you get it in full – no holds barred. That's been off putting for me, but over the years – while still being blunt at times – he's learned to 'think' before he speaks and honestly, he's turned into one of the most selfless and giving people back here.
So, we began to talk and he said,
“Randy, help me figure something out...I've thought about this for a while now...Don't take this the wrong way or as an insult...”
“Okay,” I said, not really sure where he was going.
“You escaped in 2000 because you had no hope. You had no family, and didn't want to be in prison for 30 years...But now, you're fighting tooth and nail, and I genuinely hope you win, knowing it might result in a life effing sentence! If you couldn't do a 30 year sentence, why on earth would you want a life sentence? You're back where you started!”
I told him he was right...At 23 I had nothing. No support, no family, no friends...No hope. Thirty years might have just as well been a life sentence. I had no sense of self or purpose. I had no goals, and while music was always a dream – a fantasy of sorts – I didn't ground it in a purpose-driven reality. Any other 'talent' such as writing, was under-developed. I had ideas aplenty, but no direction and no confidence...But being alone? That deep-seated fear of being alone in prison? That was the catalyst and ultimate driving force. I was sold on the idea of starting over, being wherever I wanted to be and that fantasy of a 'new life'...It wasn't until after the escape and the horrors that followed that I said,
“What have I gotten myself into?”
While being a screw-up and making awful decisions as a teen, I was not who my co-defendants were. I truly wanted no part of it. Even though before the escape I knew what they wanted to do to 'situate' everyone, I didn't want to scare or hurt anyone. And I wanted no part of guns! I've never liked guns. I wish with all of me that I could go back in time and keep myself in prison. I wish that none of what followed ever happened. Never mind what happened to me...If I could prevent countless lives from having been forever affected, I would.
When I came to death row I was stone set against the idea of life in prison. I was in no hurry to die, especially for something I didn't take part in, but the idea of the rest of my life in prison? I couldn't fathom it and honestly, with how most people were executed back in those days, (over 200 since I've been here) I didn't expect to last long. I even wrote a poem about it back here called, 'Terminal Illness'. My days were numbered and I was certain of it. All I could do was live as best I could.
I suffered depression and still struggle with insecurity, hopelessness, and a fear of dying alone. My late friend and mentor, who saw potential in me (having been an English teacher and a writer himself) began to encourage me to write more...
“Don't focus on being technical, we'll work on that. Just write.”
Then he encouraged me to write a journal...
“Don't focus on content. Whether it's a paragraph or a page, look inward and write.”
Another friend I was getting to know was a psychologist. I shared a few journals and he said,
“May I put these on my page?”
“Sure, yeah. Whatever. Go for it.”
Suddenly people were interested in my thoughts...He offered to build the very first website I had back in 2005. Two years into being on death row. As I developed as a writer and found my 'voice', I grew into a confidence, but more importantly, I grew as a person. I began to view life through a completely different lens. When I first read 'Field Notes on the Compassionate Life' it opened me up to mindfulness, compassion, and empathy as a way of life. Sometimes I struggled, and even had a few set backs. Conditions, apathy, cruel guards, losing friends or someone you love for reasons beyond your control can fuel resentment, fear, and self-doubt. It can make you say,
“What am I not doing right? Why do I keep losing everything?”
“Why can't I break old behaviour patterns?”
Okay, I'm not as bad with impulse control, but its still there! I still don't always think! It can lead to anger...It can lead to selfishness...I've even turned my back on G-d a few times.
But even through all of that, my will to live...to fight...to want so much more out of life...to right my wrongs, and to give, just grew. Even with legal set back after set back, all I could do was push forward. I refused to just quit.
When I had a date I was awestruck by the amount of support that poured out. I'll forever be grateful for that. My faith had returned a year or two before and meeting a Rabbi for the first time in years, reconnected me to my Jewish heart. I could clearly see that while I had turned my back on G-d, G-d has always been there. It helped me to get through being on death watch. The love of friends, and Taffy, showed me I wasn't alone. But even after my stay, as amazing as it was, and as grateful as I had been, I still had trouble seeing a 'future'. Fears of being alone, abandoned, living a life in horrible conditions, crept back in...Where is the purpose or meaning in that? It sucked!
I struggled...I got angry again...I made poor and self-sabotaging choices...I pushed Taffy away – the person I loved more than anything, but she still stood by me – because I was hurt over things that came solely from my own fears, and an inability to communicate at times...I switched off my mindfulness, went on autopilot and thought only of myself. How could I expect to find meaning and purpose in that way?
Even if I 'knew' what I wanted to do (to be better, to give, to help others in prison) I couldn't 'see' a pathway to get there. Yeah, I prayed and G-d gave me sign after sign, and showed me a way...But I couldn't see it until two things happened:
- the Field Minister asked me the “Why you” question, and
- I almost completely lost the one person I loved so much, and more than anything else in the world: my Taffy...I almost lost her not because she wanted to leave, but because I pushed her away.
When I talked to a guy called Tim – a devout Christian dude – outside one day, I knew that sometimes you can't expect it all to work out, or for life to be all hunky dory...You have to do your part, put the work in. My friend, David, had told me this years ago and I'd forgotten it. Regardless of your belief system, (I'm not Christian) I do think that G-d can reveal 'truths' in numerous ways. I had a way to move forward on a much clearer path with the sunlight leading the way. Things have happened since then that I can only describe as 'divine'. I have Taffy, the love of my life, back with me; and our openness, our honesty, and our laying bare our fears, vulnerabilities, and insights into myself, but more importantly, being told by Taffy,
“I know your potential for goodness, and for doing great things. I want to help you get there.”
My heart grew 3 times bigger!
The same Field Minister recently told me,
“Almost all of the Field Ministers, and soon to be graduating class of peer counsellors, have either life or capital life sentences. You don't have to be a Christian to be either. Yes, the Field Minister program is rooted in Christian practice, but there's nothing saying it's a requirement. Our duty isn't to preach or convert – it's to be of service to your fellow inmates.”
“That's it. That's what I want. I want a life of purpose and service.”
“Dude, if you can give your word as a man, you'll put in the work, truly dedicate yourself to this – and let me tell you, it ain't easy. We get threatened, we get cussed at, we have to listen to horrendous life stories from other inmates. We have to pass on news of family members dying of COVID on a daily basis. It's hard. If you are real about it, if you came back after a new trial, I'll get you in that program.”
I looked at him with a bit of doubt and said,
“Man..I'm an escapee...The State will never allow it, not after all that happened.”
“Randy, I WILL get you in that program. If I have to put MY credibility, hard earned trust, and word on the line, I will. I know you have a plan...You have purpose.”
So, why fight on if it means a life sentence? Because 'purpose' isn't restricted whether you're locked up or free. To quote a favourite line from 'Shawshank Redemption'
“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
No part of our future is written in stone. “Always in motion it is” as Yoda said. Our choices, our decisions, by definition of 'free will'...Those things are up to us. G-d may very well know the outcome, but how we get there is up to us. I couldn't see that at 23 years old...Heck, I couldn't see that two years ago.
If I can somehow prevent one person from going to prison, or help a troubled youth, or convince parents to not close the door on their screw-up child, or keep a guy from returning to prison ever again...That life sentence is worth it. Do I want a life sentence? Uh...no...but if that happens I have the choice on whether I make it the most fulfilling life possible, or walk away in misery. I want a life of light and love.
For all of that...my pouring out my heart...I got a,
“Cool. You do you!” ha ha
I don't know if others were listening or not, but I hope it helped someone if they were.
I've said this before and haven't always done this, but true compassion comes through work...It comes from a determined way of life. Kindness is easy, but kindness can be merely window dressing. Some people are truly and naturally kind, but compassion requires the practice of putting self – ego – behind in service of a fellow human being. Just as forgiveness is an action and a choice. I have a lot to work on within myself, and I know the road ahead is going to be long, stressful, and full of bumps, but I'm up for the challenge. I have all I need...I'm ready for the journey!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 12th, 2022
Wednesday...The days are clicking by. It's 90 days exactly since the Judge made her recommendation for a new trial. I guess the CCA could make its ruling any time going forward. It could be now...It could be months. I always find it interesting when the courts want to rush appeals or attorneys, and then when something is sat on a desk they'll take their time deciding
Yesterday, Huntsville Maintenance (the TDCJ control headquarters) came checking the coax outlets in our day rooms, preparing to hook up the TVs – we still don't know when all of this will happen, but hey, it's a step in the right direction. In the meantime, the chaplaincy has been given permission to roll in a huge TV to each section to show a movie every now and then. We don't know when this will happen either.
The prison radio station was on National Public Radio today, which is cool! Now, if only someone would report on conditions!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 17th, 2022
It's Martin Luther King Day and I'm recovering after a weird 3 ½ day virus. Omicron? I don't know, but I can't rule it out. The symptoms were almost identical to whatever it was I had in Dallas, but shorter lived. What I do know is that Omicron has been going through the unit like wild fire, so I can't rule it out. So weird though, to be sick at the exact same time as I was sick last year.
We've had showers today which was a pleasant surprise. I was out of bed at 6am and exercised and had my shower, and I'm using today to restart the new year and push on through.
It dawned on me that today is thirty years to the day that I first attended school at Oneida Baptist Institute, a boarding school in Kentucky. I remember sitting class as a video of U2's 'Pride: In the Name of Love' was playing on a news channel. I don't remember much else of that day. Well, someone made fun of my name and called me 'Randy Travis' and a girl said, “The new boy is cute.” (ha ha). So strange what sticks in our memories.
Thirty years...wow...Much of my memory of being a teenager remains strongly intact. There are areas that are a blur, but part of it feels like yesterday. I do miss Kentucky in some ways...The rolling hills and mountains, the crisp fresh air filled with the sweet smell of pine and oak. The snow and mild summers. A beautiful land. You often don't realise how much you miss something until you're parted from it. Kentucky will always be a part of me.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 19th, 2022
It's a warm Wednesday and I'm trapped in the cell. I slept in until 7.30am this morning because I got up at 4am for breakfast, and The Tank was really jamming! I heard a 10 minute live version of the Cure's song, 'Faith' and it blew my mind. There was a bunch of good music on, so I listened for an hour and went back to sleep.
Breakfast turned into a debacle and it had me a little upset, but even though I was screwed over, the guard must have felt bad for giving my tray to someone else and offered me an extra one. I turned it down, but did thank him. I just wasn't happy how initially he deliberately tried to miss me out of breakfast and I caught him.
We've not had clean clothes in a couple of days, which now seems to be another thing going out the window along with recreation and the rare shower. I heard on the prison radio station that the unit just received a huge truck load of 'meals ready to eat' (MREs). These are supposed to mitigate the paltriness of the sack meals we routinely receive. If true, it'll be a great improvement on sack meals. I say, bring it on!
That's the day...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 20th, 2022
As I write this, the place has exploded into mess and chaos...so loud! I guess everyone is restless because we've been cooped up for so long. I'm on day four of my 'super' workouts and it's helping to mitigate a bit of the stress and anxiety of being trapped in the cell for so long.
The administration keeps asking for patience and they tell us,
“TVs and tablets are coming!”
But they're not coming quickly enough. These things appear to still be some time away. I can handle it, but others are starting to mentally and emotionally break down. There's a lot of growing anger back here and if it boils over God help us all. I pray it doesn't because it won't be good for us condition-wise as it'll give haters ammunition. Some of these officers are already starting propaganda to derail the tablet program by lying and telling people on the outside that it will allow us open access to the internet, which is a lie. It's a closed network! Securus tech controls all content. No one can give an example of the tablets ever being hacked to access things they aren't supposed to. TDCJ would never allow the tablet program if they believed it wasn't 100% secure, and a closed network.
Most officers are for it though. It's just moving so slowly.
My anxiety is mostly coming from the wait on the CCA. I had made an active choice when I returned from Dallas to not let the conditions here poison me. I'm doing surprisingly well on that front.
I'll pause here as the guards just told me I had a legal phone call...
I'm back from my call. I really enjoy talking to my legal team. They informed me that a Minister wrote a supportive Op-Ed piece on my case. It's been published in a Conservative Evangelical publication called The Baptist Standard. I was a little surprised at that, but I'm extremely grateful that someone in the Christian community would see the injustice in my case and agree it's an issue that should be taken seriously by all faiths.
There's a link to the article under the 'Welcome' tab, in 'Announcements'.
Otherwise, as of now, there's no movement in the courts and we're waiting on the CCA's decision. I did discover, on the way back to my cell, that Securus is on the unit and they've for sure begun to put in the infrastructure for the tablets. Very exciting!!
Tonight's movie on The Tank is 'Harriet' which is about the life of Harriet Tubman, and the underground rail road. I'm looking forward to that.
Well, on with the day!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 21st, 2022
As I write this it's 6.40pm and I'm listening to 'Return of the Jedi' – my favourite of all the Star Wars movies. Yeah, I like the Ewoks....I have no shame in that.
It's actually the perfect distraction because I'm a little down...Our section was supposed to have a phone call today. We were missed out of it on MLK day and then it happened again. Every other section has had 3 phone calls since they re-started them, and the section I live on just keeps getting screwed over. It's frustrating. Tomorrow we're going to complain, and whilst I'm happy that people are getting their calls again, it's only fair that we, too get ours.
I really wanted to call Taffy, even if only for a few minutes...Those few minutes would make up for the two months of no recreation, for sure!
Anyways, apparently they had a lot of the mentally ill come in today from wherever they were. They'll be housed on D/E/F pods. I think it'll fundamentally change the building and how its run, but I'm hoping for the best.
I'll go ahead and announce that in a few weeks I'll have a new poetry collection published on Amazon. I'm very excited about it and my Webmaster will post details of it soon. [Note from the Webmaster: Randy's new poetry book, 'Nothing Beats As Loud As My Heart', is now published and can be found on paperback and Kindle on Amazon]. The goal is to have it available to purchase by Valentine's Day.
A bit later, it will be the official release of my memoir, 'Falling Down'. I'm getting back into the process of writing a screenplay as well. It's great to be on a creative roll again.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 22nd, 2022
Today feels 'different'...I can't explain it. We have no recreation, no showers, but I feel more hopeful and positive. There's a couple of reasons why...Firstly, as I write this they've been wheeling in a HUGE 60” TV and DVD player to each death row section, showing us movies – movies we haven't seen in (for some) 20 plus years. That's pretty big news!
The second reason is Securus is installing the infrastructure to get the tablet system up and running. It's projected to take 1 ½ months-2months to get it all installed.
But the biggest thing is how last night I received a Jpay from my good friend, Clinton Young – all it said was “You're next!” And it included a picture of him free – I mean, like, FREE, in the world. I thought it was so cool and I just smiled and thought...wow, anything is really possible. He spent 18 ½ years on death row, had an execution date, and now he is free. I've been thinking of how hard he fought for that moment and never gave up. So many of us dream of that second chance and I have to say...I'd been getting into this 'growing comfortable' with the possibility of a life sentence, but while I can accept that, I also know that nothing is impossible. Sure, there are the odds, but Hans Solo says it best in Empire Strikes Back - “Never tell me the odds.” The fact that Clinton's words were “You're next” - that was like a realisation...A Eureka moment for me.
I have this sort of prayer/mantra this morning where I say, “G-d is good. G-d is merciful. I will win my appeals. I will live.” And now I'm going to add even more to it. I will one day have a true second chance.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 25th, 2022
There's a new officer running all over the place – 4 working our pod today and we still can't get recreation. So, I sit in my cell trying to keep myself busy and positive.
There's a guy on the run that is starting to get on my nerves...He's like the dude version of a 'Debbie Downer'. He lives in misery and everything is so negative. He wants to argue about every little thing, and he calls people who reach out in friendship to us from the outside, 'crazy' or 'having psychological issues' if they want to be our friend. And yet, there's also a side of him that can be helpful and nice. The duality of humans...When he goes negative and dark I take a deep breath and say,
“Don't let it get to you.”
Like, last night there was a heartbreaking movie called 'I Still Believe' on The Tank...Ugh...A very sad movie and yeah, I was all teared up listening to it, and this guy says, trying to clown me...
“I bet Randy is in his cell crying right now with this pussy-ass movie.”
“Yeah....Yeah, I am. I'm not a sociopath.”
I think that with the lack of recreation we're all getting under each others' skins. I'm sure I'm equally as annoying to others when I sing to a great song.
This morning I was listening to some pop radio station where the morning DJ's have this thing called 'revenge' in which a person calls their ex up and clowns them on the radio. A lot of the morning shows do little bits like this for the entertainment of their listeners and I thought, you know...this can't be healthy. It's done for laughs, but what about the damage it does to society as a whole, when programs encourage 'revenge' for the sake of entertainment. It's kind of twisted when you really stop to think about it.
I think the growing cases of domestic violence are because we're lacking in empathy and compassion. We feel slighted so we have to get the other back. When media or social media encourage this kind of behaviour, we can't sit back and be shocked because we – as a society – have encouraged it. Think about it...think of how revenge driven our society is whether its social/domestic issues at home, in our justice system or even in politics. Look at all of the reality shows out there that play up “drama” for entertainment value. It's soul sucking...It's dangerous.
It's just something that has been swirling around my brain. I'm reading 'Field Notes On The Compassionate Life', and I read it years ago and recently felt the need to reconnect with the ideas in the book...I highly recommend it for people to read.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 26th, 2022
Another day of no recreation and no showers, but I'm managing to keep the day moving. I'm smiling because the 'Buzz' around here has been about my friend, Clinton, becoming free. Even the guards are talking about it. I'm smiling to myself because this is a dude that has been my friend for most of my time here.
We actually began talking when in 2005 we were both on 'Level 2' discipline...I had been put on discipline along with my entire section for something we didn't even do, after the Major at the time got mad that a few guys were yelling at the guards following a use of force. It sucked, but I made the best of my 90 days on F-Pod.
Clinton and I started to talk, go outside to rec and kick it, and play a little basketball. Even though our personalities are drastically different, politically, and how we see the world, we never let that get in the way of our friendship. At that time I was trying to be vegetarian, and I offered him the turkey off my Thanksgiving tray.
There was this one time, a crazy dude named 'Chester' was in the day room, and he began to do Kung Fu moves like he was beating someone up. Then Chester pulled out an imaginary pen and did a signature...We were laughing so hard! Clinton said,
“He whooped that dude's ass so bad that he had to sign that ass whooping.”
Years later we were outside on a hot summer day...The outside rec yards were filthy so we decided to clean it all up. We clogged the drains in the concrete and began to flush the outside toilets until the water spilled over..Soon the entire rec yard was filled with water. We splashed around and kicked water at each other like little kids. Through the window a commissary lady saw us, ran off and told a sergeant what we were doing. When he came outside to investigate, Clinton said,
“We're cleaning the rec yard. What's up?”
The sergeant looked at us, looked at the water and said,
Then he just walked off.
Clinton always had these grand ideas...Even bigger than mine, and I'd piss him off at times when I'd say,
“Dude...Keep yourself grounded.”
But often he'd pull his ideas off and I realise now that it's because he always believed. Even when the odds were against him. He never gave up or quit. It's inspiring! Clinton and I share the common goal of improving life, not just for those on death row, but for all prisoners.
I am proud to be his friend over the years, and seeing him succeed in life is what I hope he does. He's inspired me to believe more in my own achievements and goals. I know he'll be a force for good in the world. I think those that get off death row have an obligation to show the world the humanity and that we're not who the state or media portrays us to be. I really hope I have my chance to do that. I really do!
I just heard on the prison radio station that Clinton did an interview with Keri Blakinger of the Marshall Project, so I hope the station gets a hold of it and plays it.
It looks like another week without a ruling from the CCA on my case...I remain hopeful. Please...pray for me!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 28th, 2022
Over two months now without recreation and three days without a shower. Crazy...Really crazy.
As I write this, 12 Building, where death row is housed along with the 'Restrictive Housing' inmates, is undergoing a massive transformation that gives me cause for alarm.
Apparently, they are shipping in a bunch of mentally ill inmates, swapping them out with the restrictive housing inmates. I don't know the number of inmates but the goal is to house a large number of mentally ill people on 12 Building.
I think this will be an unmitigated disaster for several reasons:
- The officers that work this building are NOT trained to work with mental health patients. In a solitary confinement environment the solution to deal with someone who is having a mental breakdown is to use force. Plus, placing an already mentally ill person in solitary only accelerates the problem causing further deterioration. Psychologists and neuroscientists know this.
- The Polunsky psychiatric department is a joke. They don't do routine check ups, as is required for ALL inmates on 12 Building. They don't do counselling. They don't care if an inmate is living in an unsanitary cell. I can give countless examples of abuse by the psychiatric department. One doctor being so cruel and apathetic that I nicknamed her, 'Nurse Ratched', from 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest'.
- I believe that housing these guys here is going to lead to a greater staffing issue because most guards are young and aren't prepared to deal with an inmate going through a mental crisis. The stress will cause them to quit.
I've been incarcerated for 25 ½ years now...I know how the system works and I know what will happen. Mark my words: it'll be a mess.
On a happier note, our section is supposed to get to watch a movie today or tomorrow. Even if it's a 'faith based' movie, I'll watch because I've not seen a full movie up close and personal on a flat screen TV ever in my life. This will be the very first time. I'm kind of curious to see how my brain responds to it. I'm taking a scientific approach to all of this...ha ha.
It's later now....I had a call with my legal team – no news as yet. The hallway was as busy as Grand Central Station as they are shipping 170 men from AD-SEG. I must have seen about 30-40 officers moving around. It looked wild. Apparently, from one of the sergeants, the mentally ill people coming in are going to be the first participants in a new mental health program. I still don't know how putting the mentally ill in solitary confinement helps anyone, but who knows? With all that's going on, the Field Minister said that we probably won't get to watch a movie this weekend. I was disappointed to hear that, but maybe next week! I do hope the mental health program is good, though.
All in all, there's much to look forward to and though the conditions suck here, I feel intuitively that better things are on the horizon.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 30th, 2022
It's Sunday and we're at the tail end of another month. I've been on cruise control this weekend, listening to some movies, doing a little writing, catching up on reading, and doing a whole lot of thinking.
Even though I've made a conscious decision to not inject too much politics into my writings of late, I find myself chomping at the bit to get on my soap box. What really has my goat is when politicians and far right pundits say liberals or the Democratic party don't care about keeping the country safe, or they've turned their backs on police...That same 'tough on crime' rhetoric is creeping back into the national dialogue that created more jails, prisons, and young minorities to fill up the prisons, giving the US the title of 'most incarcerated in the world'.
You hear them talking about too many criminals on bail, and we need more jail space, and if you say, “wait...hold on...we've tried this before and it was a disaster” you are anti-police or against keeping communities safe. When it comes to bail – and what you aren't hearing from the right is, for every one person that makes bail, and commits another crime, violent or otherwise, 20 others aren't getting in trouble.
We can build more jails and prisons, but who's going to work in them? The major counties such as Harris, Bexar, Dallas, and Tarrant, are facing critical staff shortages. The Texas prison system is facing the same crisis.
We know that locking everyone up isn't the solution, and yet, as in the definition of insanity, the US keeps on trying the same things expecting different results. Why is it that Republicans at large blame Democrats for the rising violence in cities, when it's their policies and legislation that have lead to this unease? They continue to pass laws that make it easier to obtain guns; they de-fund our educational system; they won't pour money into solutions that do work such as drug treatment programs, and mental health programs; they refuse to give money to lower income areas, but will give huge breaks to pharmaceutical companies that have created many of these opiate crises we've seen.
So, I ask you this question: If people on the left have offered solution after solution or at least said, “Let's just try this...please!” And Republicans declare them being soft on crime or refuse to offer any other solution other than 'lock 'em all up', who is really at fault? Who doesn't have the police's back?
Don't buy it, folks – as a person locked up for more than half of my life, I can see the problems from the inside out. You need people to offer up progressive, even experimental solutions. You need the resources to implement these things.
Take the prison radio station here on Polunsky Unit. In spite of all the TDCJ's problems, the radio station with all it has to offer from faith based programs (of all faiths), educational programming, entertainment, and also offering up the ability for us in solitary confinement to interact with the station and participate as a community member with the Unit at large – it has changed lives. You need a person that can think outside of the box, like Warden Dickerson, but more importantly, you need a willing society to say “You know what? Nothing thus far has worked...let's try something different.”
Stop believing that people on the left are 'soft on crime'. Stop believing Democrats don't care. At least they're willing to try new ideas. I assure you they care more about criminal justice and the police than those on the right that claim they do. They, on the left just want the system to be truly fair...Is that too much to ask for?
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 2nd, 2022
We're all bracing ourselves for the winter storm that's on its way in right now...I remember when it hit last year. We'd just gotten past the first big COVID outbreak, learned that of a guy died from COVID (he lived under us at the time) and another guy, 'Tree', landed in the hospital. Then...the storm of all storms hit and we were freezing! The heat was out and then the pipes burst so we had no water. The two times in the three days they brought us any water, it was so filthy and disgusting...It got to the point where we were wondering if we boiled our own pee in a hot pot, would it be safe to drink? Eventually, they allowed us to buy 6 bottles of 16 ounce water bottles. Geeze, what a nightmare of a time! The winter storm isn't expected to be as severe this year, but it will be in the 20s here in Livingston.
They did phone calls yesterday...Apparently, now we can only call those on our visitation list. A couple of my neighbours were upset at that but I had a wonderful call with Taffy, and it put some pep in my step for sure.
One of the Field Ministers came by and said they were going to try to get the TVs over to my section in a day or two so we can watch a movie. I hope they do. I'm just curious to see what it's going to look like.
Honestly, outside of the possibility to have phone calls via the tablets, when they come, most people are excited to be able to purchase movies on them. Now, don't get me wrong. I do think that'll be awesome and I'm equally excited, but it's the music app I'm most looking forward to....I get to rediscover music, and not be force fed the garbage that plays out on mainstream radio, and to actually find new and great music, or music I've never heard before. To hear old favourite albums, bands etc I really can't wait. I told the guys around me that they might not hear from me for a few days as I have years of music to catch up on. There will be dancing and booty shaking...So...
“If the cell is rockin' don't come knockin'!”
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 3rd, 2022
Today is like a ghost town here...As I write this, they've kept the lights off unless there's a security check, but they're so short staffed they have one female officer going between A and B Pods to do security checks. I don't think anyone came to work because of the big winter storm and freeze expected to happen. It's a bit weird it's happening at the exact same time as it happened last year. Most of us are prepared this time, though. We're loaded up on bottled water, we have containers filled up as well. We were caught off our toes last year, and three days of no water was not a fun experience. I hope it's not bad though, and no burst pipes!
I was talking to a guy a few cells down, named Ivan Cantu. He was telling me about his podcast that makes the case for his innocence. He's always claimed his innocence, but he doesn't want to tell you that...Instead, he tells you all of the time,
“I want people to decide for themselves. Look at all of the facts and evidence and come to their own conclusion. I think if they do that, and see all of that I lay out there – the good, the bad, and everything in between, they'll realise I'm telling the truth."
I've not heard his podcast but I felt it worth mentioning here – it's called, 'Cousins by Blood' and it can be found on almost any platform that carries podcasts. And again, come to your own conclusion! From my personal conversations with him, I'm convinced, and I think he's a kind dude. But come to your own conclusion. In a strange 'it's a small world' kind of way, he went to school with my ex-wife, and they once knew each other. Crazy...
I'm really making the effort to reconnect with my writing. I think my biggest hurdle has been the lack of stimuli and things happening back here, to write about. When I used to move every week or two weeks, I had new things to write about. Incidences, people, events. Now, after 19 years I don't get moved any more which is cool, but with not having recreation and only talking to the guys near me, and the conditions in this place...I can either gripe about things (which, I'm trying not to do anymore – negativity is poison to the soul) or stare at a piece of paper and wonder what to write about.
The flip side of that, creatively, my brain is firing on all cylinders! I had an idea for an app that (if) no one else has done it yet would be revolutionary. It's something the world needs and I'd be sad if it's already been done though (ha ha).
I have several ideas for a screen play which I'm already working on. Then, there's the release of another poetry collection, and then my Memoir. I'm super excited. I've been writing a follow up Memoir in my head and once I have some resolution in my appeals, I will get it on paper. It will be about life in prison, and the true account of the escape. All proceeds from that Memoir will be donated to a fallen officer foundation/fund of some sort. I'm limited in the ways I can give back to society, but I'm trying to do my best. It's putting the whole compassion, remorse, redemption into action.
Anyways, I may not always have something to write about, but there will be more content, on the site, so please keep checking back, and spread the word amongst your friends to visit randy-halprin.net.
On a final note, today, I heard a report that there's been a shortage of blood supplies. People aren't donating. I'd like to encourage people to give 'the gift of life' and go out and give blood. Take a little time out of the day and save a life...Please.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 4th, 2022
Something happened yesterday that, had it been under serious conditions and for real, would have been frightening. But because it was just a “drill” it was more of a comedy farce.
They ran a suicide drill even though there were only two guards that could perform it...Generally, fully staffed, about ten guards would pass into the section, to the cell where the 'suicide' is happening, and do their drill. They bring in medical equipment, a bag that has cutting tools in case it's a 'hanging', as well as a nurse on standby. They pick a random cell, often an unsuspecting inmate – it once happened to me while I was having a bit of 'private time' with myself, and scared the bejeezus out of me, and it was quite embarrassing!
So, the gate to our section pops open and the two guards go to the cell and say,
“Are you killing yourself? Are you okay? Do you need help?”
No bag, no equipment...A nurse in her 70s(!) wanders in a few minutes behind to offer help if it's needed....
As I'm watching, jokingly, I said,
“You know, I don't want to be the one to say this, but if this was a real incident....you'd have probably been better off bringing a body bag. I'm just saying!”
Some guys around me laughed...Gallows humor!
Yeah, but quite scary to think they wouldn't have been able to do anything if it had been the real thing. It reminded me of a fire drill I watched years ago. The guards poured into the section, locked themselves in the day room, and got a water hose to put out an 'electrical' fire...It was like watching one of those 1920s Charlie Chaplain movies. I could hear the silly piano music playing in my head as I watched. I even said,
“Yeah, y'all will hear about it in the news tomorrow. 14 inmates on death row die in a fire...We are so screwed.”
I'd be crying every day if I couldn't laugh about this stuff.
Today's staff shortage was probably the worst it's ever been. They had one floor officer for three pods. If someone has any serious medical issue they're not going to be able to get help. We're not living in a safe environment. We've not had showers in five days now. It's crazy, and the state doesn't appear to be trying to address it. For all of the talk about addressing issues from Greg Abbott, he seems to be ignoring the crisis going on in county jails as well as within Texas prisons, and yet, in a crisis of a lack of correctional officers, you hear a lot about being tougher on crime and locking up more people...Okay, that's fine, but who is going to watch over these people you're packing into jails and prisons? Who is going to keep these inmates from hurting each other or the correctional officers? All you hear from these politicians is 'Tough On Crime!” But they never look at the problems their blanket solution of locking everyone up creates. They never come to the table with ideas on how to keep people out of jails. Investing in schools, teachers, arts programs, after school programs, offering kids and teens in high risk/high poverty areas alternatives to keep them from joining gangs. When people do offer fresh new ideas they're labelled as being soft on crime, or bleeding heart liberals.
The United States has the highest amount of citizens incarcerated IN THE WORLD. Think about that! We have some of the highest rates of gun violence, domestic violence, mass shootings...Some of the highest rates of mental health crisis...All of the wealth and military might in the world doesn't protect us from within. We're rotting from the inside out. It's not Al Qaeda or ISIS that's destroying us. We're doing it to ourselves. When does it stop? When do we stop allowing politicians to weaponize our education system, our health system, our workers, and the people who want to come to our country to work?
Sigh...I just feel that we can do so much better. I think we've lost (and I'm guilty of this as well) sight of the golden rule 'Love Thy Neighbor'. It doesn't mean we should expect a Utopia, but we can all do better.
I've been trying, myself, to begin each day with a grateful heart, because even in this sucky situation that I can only blame myself for being in, I do have much to be grateful for.
Now, as I write this it's later in the day and I had a good legal phone call. Nothing to really report, but it was nice to talk. The only issue I had was it took forever to get back to my call – two hours – and I really needed to use the bathroom.
When I got back to my cell the guys around me had pitched in to make enchiladas which surprised me, but they were really good! The guy that made the cheese sauce, nailed it!
It's time to wrap this up for the day and unwind.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 5th, 2022
A cold Saturday morning and day 6 without a proper shower. I'm not even sure how that's legal at this point, but they're doing it. I guess what boggles my mind is how little about the staff shortages you hear on the local and state news. It's like it's purposely being silenced. Very weird. I wish someone would contact a Houston news outlet – there's an investigative reporter and show called 'The Isiah Factor' on Houston's Fox 26. I think he'd be the perfect person to contact, but maybe he's part of the deliberate silencing too.
Anyways, I'm doing the best I can to deal with things and thank G-d we have running water in our cells!
I woke up a little after 5am to listen to a 'Flock of Seagulls' album on The Tank. As good as they are, I'm surprised they never had a super successful career. There's not a dud of a song on their albums in the 1980s and yet they are only ever really recognised for 'And I Run'.
After that I listened to a band I'd never heard of before, 'Porcupine Tree', and I was really impressed. A bit of 'Tool', a bit of 'Chevelle' and smart songwriting all rolled up into one. I really liked it.
Today is movie day and so I'll relax and listen...I have the movie 'La Bamba' playing right now. It's the story of the rock 'n' roll legend Ritchie Valens who died along with Buddy Holly in the late '50s, tragically, in an airplane crash. If Ritchie Valens doesn't ring a bell think of the song 'La Bamba' – classic oldie! I have a head full of the oldies because that's pretty much what I grew up on, and my dad played them 24/7.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 6th, 2022
I was listening to 'Avatar' yesterday and while it's a cool – very cool – movie, I couldn't help but think about when the movie first came out, and people on the far right, certain politicians and Fox News, were equating the movie to indoctrination and I thought, “Since when has the truth become indoctrination?” Whether it be about settlers coming to North America, treatment of indigenous people, slavery, destruction of the environment for malls, parking lots and resources...Why are some people so afraid of history and the truth?
I also have a problem with people who say, “I'm just living my truth...” Now, there's only one truth. If you mean you're being true to yourself and how you identify with the world that's one thing, but if you mean there are different 'truths' or two sides to a story, well you're not really talking about truth, you're talking about perspective. There's a difference.
Anyway, I'm wondering what message 'Avatar 2' will have whenever it comes out.
Another thought I've had is on Civil Service. It doesn't matter what office or what service...I've been wondering when this idea of getting into civil service deserves some kind of respect or accolades, or that you must have the support of the community. Moral support is great and it does push you – or should push you to be better, but you volunteer because it's supposed to be a selfless act. Whether it be the military or politics. You put your head down and DO THE WORK. If a person volunteers or works in a homeless shelter, and there are people trying to obstruct that work by passing city ordinances that keep people from helping the homeless...Do these people start whining about the lack of respect? Do they give up on helping the homeless? No, they put their heads down and do the work. Just do your job and serve the people. If you do it right, the support and accolades will come. It's called Civil Service for a reason.
Yeah, I'm full of thoughts of late!
We're on day 7 without a shower and our section still hasn't had it's 'movie', either. The movie isn't a big deal, but man...7 days without a shower is a bit ridiculous.
I'll wrap this up for the day. Everyone please be safe and take care out there!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 8th, 2022
I jumped out of bed at about 5.40am and started the day with my workout. I didn't expect to get a shower and was prepared to have a bird bath in my sink, when a little after 6.40am a lieutenant showed up and began to help pull people out for showers. That worked for me. I'll take a shower over a rinse from the sink any day.
The day itself has been quiet and peaceful. I looked out of my window a few times and it looks lovely. The sky, blue with some big fluffy clouds. They actually look like big yummy marshmallows.
I've been kind of reflecting on what life might be like when – having hope that the CCA rule in my favour! - I have a resolution on this big giant mess. I've written before about a life sentence and how, if having no other choice I could accept it, and live life to the fullest by being of service to others. I've wondered how long I'd be in isolation because of the escape, and many people have told me I'd never have a chance to get into general population. But yesterday gave me even more hope! There were two guys in segregation who had escaped several times during the '90s. They were housed on another pod (12 Building, Polunsky Unit, is considered the most secure building in ALL of Texas' prisons, so other 'escape risks' are housed here) and yesterday, after years – decades – of isolation, were being given their 2nd chance and were released back into general population. I thought, “wow...it is actually possible.” I might truly be able to get into the peer mentor/counselling program! Anything is possible.
I can't describe how much hope that injected into my spirit. I've been thinking about it a lot since yesterday afternoon.
It's hard to explain the peace that has settled onto me in these past weeks...I don't feel the anxiety I once had...I don't feel stressed...I find myself so emotional at times – in a very good and positive way – I truly feel better and happier than I have in a long time. I wish I could share the feeling with others so they could feel it too!
Courage. Strength, Hope and Faith.
February 12th, 2022
It's a peaceful Saturday afternoon as I write this. Looking out of my window, the sky is charcoal grey and there's a chill in the air. The complete opposite of yesterday's weather which felt like a spring day. I had a legal visit in the afternoon, yesterday, and I was outside briefly...just those few precious minutes going to the visitation building was a boost to my spirit. I took in deep breaths of air –fresh air – and smiled to myself.
When I walked into the visitation building it was full of general population inmates and families having visits. Death row's visits are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday nights, so it was a bit of a shock to see faces I've never seen before, families hugging their loved ones, a couple kissing as they began their visit, kids sitting in the laps of their fathers...
I watched as I waited for my investigator to join me in the legal booth and my heart panged with a longing and desire to have visits like that one day...I pray that I will.
It was a great visit. Still no news from the CCA but I'm not worried about it. I have hope and faith whether it's next week or next summer.
When I got back to my cell I put on The Tank radio station. They had a woman on the show – the person supervising the peer support counselling program. It's a program that works in tandem with the Field Minister program. Whereas the Field Minister program is more Christian oriented (though, you aren't excluded if you're of another faith, but the curriculum is rooted in the Judeo/Christian practice, and the goal isn't to convert you to Christianity) the peer support counselling is not rooted in religion, but the goal and mission statement is the same: To allow prisoners help other prisoners. Another great thing is that having an alternative to the Field Ministers – giving inmates that don't want to speak to someone coming from a religious training, or fear that they'll be preached to – another avenue to feel comfortable enough to reach out for help they might need, or just to have someone to talk to.
They're trained in suicide prevention/awareness, drug counselling, and being listeners. The idea being that you are much more willing to (as an inmate) talk to someone who has been in your shoes. This and the Field Minister program is experimental and ground breaking, but I see with my own eyes that it's making a difference. Another benefit is that they have the ear of the administration and can act as advocates for us – especially those in solitary confinement, because they can tell the warden what we need, what needs to be addressed, and how to solve what typically can be an easy fix. Often what happens is officers can only see an issue and solution through their world view. If you have the opinion that all inmates are pieces of garbage, deserve no sympathy and are apathetic or even intentionally dismissive towards them...99% of all problems within the institution, come as a result of this. Instead of de-escalating an issue, it escalates and leads to more problems, even violence.
Having inmates in a position to identify a problem, do what they can to help in resolving that issue, leads to a more positive environment. It's better spiritually and mentally. It's safer for everyone.
In my second chance, G-d willing, I will be a part of one of these programs. I really believe it's my calling and I feel I'm in a unique position because I've been through life experiences, exposed to every facet of life. I was an abused child, I was adopted, and had a lot of material riches, and yet suffered with the trauma of abuse and abandonment issues. I made horrible choices as a teen, was abandoned again, did drugs, lost all support from family and friends. I was homeless, and on drugs, and the cycle of abuse reared its horrible head and in a brief moment I became an abuser. I landed in prison as a teen, alone, and scared...I lost all hope and it lead to the horrible decision of escaping as some naïve and foolish fix to my problems...I'm then sentenced to death, even when all evidence and statements from my co-defendants show that I'm not a killer...I've spent almost two decades on death row. It's a heck of a story and that experience will hopefully be enough to convince someone struggling with issues of hopelessness, helplessness in prison, or the struggle of breaking destructive cycles and behaviour. I can say “Dude, I've seen I all, done it all. It can get better. You can do better. I've got your back!”
If someone had done that for me when I was 23 years old, I'd never have escaped. Instead, I was lead the other way and manipulated into believing that it wouldn't get better.
I really want to be a part of these programs. Even if I was free, I'd be doing something similar. I'd love to take a page out of the ex-inmate, Adam West's book. He was a meth addict that had everything in life a person could ever hope for. He was even once involved in politics in DC. But his drug addition grew so bad that he began to steal and even once breaking into a police car impound to destroy evidence! He was eventually caught and given 60 years, but in a twist of fate, he miraculously made his first parole after years of bettering himself. He's now dedicated his life to trying to help people before they come to prison, as well as giving back into prisons, and in speaking to prisoners and offering hope. The dude is still on parole! He could've said,
“Screw this place. I'm fine...”
My Taffy always tells me that because I can be patient, a good listener, and I'm good at calming people down, she can see how effective that would be. That's sweet of her to say, and she has so much faith and belief in me. I'm beyond lucky to have her support and encouragement. Deep down inside it's what I feel I'm being called to do, and I know, if given that chance, I will.
The Field Ministers just rolled the TV and movie into B-section. I can hear 'Avatar' blasting! We should be able to watch it next weekend, I hope. Very exciting!
I'll close today by saying how excited I am to have another collection of poetry published and available on Amazon and Kindle. I received my copy last night and I literally did a happy dance! The cover – designed by my girlfriend, Taffy – is gorgeous!! It's laid out beautifully...Trust me (if I can give my own book a plug here), having this is far, far better than just reading the poems on a website. Nothing beats having a physical copy yourself, or to give as a gift. 'Nothing Beats As Loud As My Heart' would make a perfect gift, and I would appreciate the support!
The physical publication of my memoir, 'Falling Down' is hot on its heels...We're doing the final edit as I write this, and working out the formatting issues, and it'll be available soon. All proceeds from the memoir will go to charity.
It's an exciting time for me and I'm looking forward to being a force for good in the world.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 13th, 2022
7.14am...Sunday morning...I've been up since 4am. My eyes shot open and so I grabbed my headphones, turned on The Tank, and listened to some great songs for the next hour. I'll never pass up an opportunity for great music, even if I really want to sleep.
It reminds me of when I was in general population back in 1998-2000 on the Connally Unit. The Unit was about 45 minutes away from San Antonio, and San Antonio's radio stations were so-so at the time. They had a rock station, but they didn't have a college rock or alternative station. Late at night, however, the Austin radio stations would fade in and Austin, being the live music capital of the world and all, was music heaven...Indie music, college rock, alternative...I'd listen until breakfast, which came at 3am, get back to my cell, and sleep for a couple of hours until 6am when I had to get up for work. When you're in your early 20s you can pull that off, but in your 40s it feels like being hit by a truck! Still, great music is always worth it.
I'm flipping through a copy of Entertainment Weekly that a friend passed to me earlier, and I saw a little dig at 'Star Wars: The Phantom Menace'. I don't get why people attack that movie (or any other of the Star Wars movies made outside of the original trilogy for that matter).
I'll admit, when I first watched The Phantom Menace I had a shock factor, like, WTF? I didn't know what to think. Like everyone else, I initially couldn't stand Jar-Jar Binks...I think going into the movie I expected the same formats as the original trilogy, which was a mistake, and the mistake of many because George Lucas had no intention of rehashing the original trilogy. Instead, while wanting to show how a sweet kid could turn to the dark side, he also wanted to show how through political machinations, lies, manipulation and fear, they could be used (in the right hands) as weapons to weaken and ruin even the strongest of democracies. Keep in mind, this was before the terror attacks of 9-11, Bush, and going further, Trump. The movies would brilliantly put the pieces in place like a chess game as Palpatine (AKA Darth Sidious) made his moves to destroy the Jedi Order, turn Anakin, and seize control over the galaxy by promising to 'restore order, justice and peace' – a galaxy that he destroyed. (Sound familiar? The age old promise of countless dictators). Anakin's innocence and capacity for love was ultimately his undoing because of his fear of losing those he loved. I can so relate to that as many of my own mistakes are due to the fear of losing my love, being abandoned, or dying alone.
The prequels were a cautionary tale...But I get it. People wanted the original Star Wars....That fast paced excitement, wonder and hope – the faith that if we love each other, and believe in the power of friendship, it's enough to overcome evil. These movies will always be my first love and the new trilogy tried to restore those themes. But the prequels...I've fallen in love with them. Even Jar Jar Binks – he was the heart of the first prequel. Annoying? Sure, but had it not been for Qui Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi rescuing him, they wouldn't have unified the Gungans and the Naboo people. They wouldn't have had to go to Tatooine...(Oh geeze, I also just had the realisation that had they not saved Jar Jar, there might not have been a Darth Vadar! Oops!)
Here's an experiment for true Star Wars fans. Even those that don't like the prequels...Put a day to the side and instead of watching the movies and being distracted by the visual effects etc, just listen to the movies. It'll free your brain to focus more on the story and how brilliantly the stories are constructed. I promise, it'll change your entire perspective/opinion on those movies. I know it did mine! And as a bonus, by just listening to those countless times, it allowed me to learn new character voices as an impersonator. I have a large repertoire for it!
I've always been able to do a pretty good Yoda, but now I can do Jar Jar Binks, the leader of the Gungans, the leader of the Trade Federation (for some reason dude sounds Japanese...) and General Grievous. But nothing beats my Palpatine/Darth Sidious (both his softer voice and his harsh evil voice). I don't think any of the newer movies had any standout character voices, but for anyone asking, Rogue One and the Last Jedi are my favourites of the newer ones.
Geeze...I think I just showed what a true geek I am! Whatever...I embrace it wholeheartedly. Taffy has a pair of Yoda slippers and a set of Star Wars Pajamas waiting on me if I'm ever free! Ha ha...I joked with her that if people were visiting us I'd look like a 5 year old! I was oddly okay with that...Don't judge me!
Today is Super Bowl day, so once the game gets going I know it's going to get rowdy here. I don't know if I'll catch it this year...It depends what the movie is for the night...I'm a bit turned off by the idea that a 30 second Super Bowl commercial is costing 7 million dollars a spot! 30 seconds for 7 million dollars! So you realise how many people suffering hunger that could feed? How many low income students it could put through college? 7 million dollars to get you to buy....Beer. I think it highlights just how warped our priorities are. Look, I'm not some Marxist socialist. Capitalism in and of itself is not a necessarily evil thing...When regulated right, it can be great for society...and I don't mean by taking all of your taxes to feed bureaucracy. I mean making things a bit more fair and beneficial to all citizens. Invest in education, and free college vocational programs. Build and fix our infrastructure, money for mental health programs and drug treatment programs, invest in sciences and the arts...Higher wages, living wages, and universal health care...Don't buy the messaging by politicians that we can't afford it. There's never any problems or resistance in spending trillions on the military – much of which is wasted.
We give tax breaks to companies that are pulling in record profits each year – even during a pandemic and supply chain shortages. Meanwhile, many are wondering where their next meal is going to come from, even as they work two jobs.
When did we become so selfish? Where did 'love thy neighbor' go? You don't have to be a Marxist socialist to just want a better life for everyone. I'm often amazed at how often we cut off our nose to spite our face, or we vote against our interests because a politician plays to our baser instincts and fears, with idiotic issues. You'll vote for politicians as you wonder if you'll have a job next week or be able to pay rent, while they're wearing tailored suits, driving $100,000 cars, and playing the markets while they protect corporations for their own political power...But hey, if they can convince you that elementary schools are trying to make your children transgendered, or teach critical race theory, and tear your fellow citizen up...they win all the way to the bank.
Pull your blinders off people! Tell me I'm crazy, that it's not that easy to manipulate you...To take control of you...get you to fear the boogie man so easily...
And since I'm on my soap box right now (hey, look, I blame the triple shot cup of coffee I had to get me going! Ha ha) I'll talk about these trucker protests that happened in Canada, and now across the world all because they're wanting an end to vaccine mandates...
First, let's just get this out right at the beginning...There have always been vaccination mandates...Your child cannot go to school if they don't have their shots. Why? So your child doesn't end up dying of measles, small pox, whooping cough, polio etc. All viruses we have either eradicated or limited, but in a sad twist of fate are beginning to return because of conspiracy theories of vaccines causing autism etc...None of it is scientifically true. Also, the government tells you what to do for your health and life all of the time! Anti-smoking advertisements, seat belt laws, child safety laws, helmets...Who complains to a restaurant because they have dress codes? There's a reason why when you're sitting in a Subway shop no one walks in with their giblets hanging out, or some dude with nasty black bare feet can't come waltzing in.
I won't even (okay I will) point out the hypocrisy in declaring “my body, my health, my choice!” by politicians, fundamentalists and others who actively try to restrict women of this very thing! Huh!
But back to the truckers...So, being forced to have a vaccine against their will is harnessing their ability to earn a living because if they refuse they will either lose their jobs or won't be able to cross the borders to do their job. Yet, they'll block roads and the border crossings preventing others from doing their jobs, or running their businesses and making a living, risking their financial stability and security by holding them hostage. Never mind the fact that most citizens don't have a problem with the mandates if it means a return to whatever is normalcy these days.
Don't compare this to the civil rights marches. For shame if you do, because the civil rights marches, whether it be the suffrage movement or civil liberties for Black people, was about the fundamental constitutional right to be treated equally. To be treated as a citizen and have those rights guaranteed as a citizen and human being.
This scenario is apples and oranges...It's about sacrifices made for the greater good. Has the CDC or the federal government been perfect in trying to contain the pandemic? No, but what we've learned about this virus is that it's constantly evolving. The poor response by the Trump administration early on, and making it a weapon for political power, could have prevented a lot of this. Unfortunately, for the Biden administration, they're having to constantly play catch up. The fact remains that science gave us a tool and new technology to mitigate the loss of life. No vaccine is 100% effective, but both Pfizer and Moderna have shown that while you may be able to still contract or spread the virus, it reduces the chances by up to 97% of landing in the hospital or dying. I believe I've had the first wave of Corona last year, which kicked my butt...Body aches, chills, fever, loss of taste for two weeks...just awful. Then, in Dallas I'm pretty sure I had the Delta variant, but I was already vaccinated. I didn't feel sick, but I lost my voice for several days and had a month long cough that I eventually recovered from. I gave the vaccine credit for this. A month ago I had my booster shot, caught what I believed was Omicron, as it was passing through, and in 2 ½ days I was fine. I felt a little tired, congested, and had a frog voice, but no other symptoms.
The point is I believe the science and from being sick three times in the space of a year (I usually only get sick once a year) I'm perfectly fine because of the vaccine.
Just as a mask is there to protect you from getting the virus from me, the vaccine is to protect me from dying from the virus. It's that simple.
Should the government mandate the vaccine? I personally believe so because the purpose is to get things back to a normal functioning society, and for your uber-capitalists, get business back to normal. If people are dropping like flies, you can't really do that. So, you think it fair that a business or restaurant hire you, knowing you carry a risk to the business by not being vaccinated? I believe businesses should provide health insurance, but should they be forced to swallow the cost of a rising premium because you don't want to take care of yourself? Should a person waiting on cancer treatment or check ups have to put their health on hold because you're clogging up the hospitals?
If you want to make the argument that these pharmaceutical companies want to push the vaccine because they're getting billions in revenue, I'll meet you half way and say yes, they make way too much effing money. That, however, is an issue that we the people have to force congress to address.
But if your argument is 'freedom' or some ridiculous conspiracy theory that's going to turn you into 'pig man' (shout out Seinfeld episode!) well you're just flat out wrong. No one is keeping you from your freedom, but you. No one is taking your job. There has to be a point where, as a people, the interest is the whole.
When did selfishness become an acceptable behaviour? I mean, I remember at school when a kid would bring candy, and all of us would look at him or her, salivating for a bit of a sugar rush ourselves...The teacher would say, “No candy unless you brought some for everyone.” The point being that the kid was in a class with other students who were without.
I know, not comparable to a vaccine, but the fact remains we're doing a horrible job of looking out for one another. I don't know what happened. You don't want to get a vaccine? That is your opinion, your life, but don't be a hypocrite about it. I pray you don't end up in the hospital or die. I really do!
Whew! That's been inside of me for quite a while! (ha ha). Feels great to get it out.
Anyways, on with the day I suppose. I'm listening to 'Cider House Rules' right now and taking it easy...I didn't mean to get all 'preachy'. I know people are fired up on both sides and maybe that's part of the problems. I truly am a person that believes in dialogue and hearing 'the other side' but I also can't be silent when I see things being twisted and turned, the ignoring of facts, and the illogical behavior and hypocrisy of it all. I'm well aware that it also exists within those on the left as well. One example is cancel culture, which I'm firmly opposed to. From the perspective of a prisoner and my desire to be forgiven, to learn, and to grow and be given another chance, I believe all deserve a shot at redemption if they ask for it and show sincerity. We humans are kind of predisposed to stupidity, but we can learn. It makes no sense to ruin a person's life because they said something foolish, or for having a differing opinion that lies beyond what most of society thinks on an issue. And it definitely makes no sense to punish someone now for something they wrote or said 30 years to. When for the most part – right or wrong – it was culturally acceptable. If John Hughes was still alive, by those standards, he'd never be able to make a movie today! In 'Sixteen Candles' one of the characters gives permission to another to rape her just because she's passed out and drunk. In other movies they're littered with homophobic slurs...We've probably all said or done something stupid in our lives, just give a person a chance to atone and learn. If they can't or they refuse, well, then run 'em out on a rail, but geeze...what happened to second chances? Even my trial judge, I've already forgiven him. I hope he's learned from all of this as I've tried to learn from my mistakes.
Alright, alright...no more thoughts for the day. I guess I've been keeping a lot bottled up!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 14th, 2022
Valentine's Day...I was sitting here thinking about the great Cure love songs today, and I thought I'd compose a list of them...Not the heartbreak ones, but the ones that express the emotion and elation of being in love. As I've shared them with Taffy, my Valentine, over the years, I hope you'll share them with yours. Who cares if it's a made up holiday to sell chocolates and cards? Personally, I was always a fan of those little candy hearts with the sentiment stamped on them!
ALL of these songs are by The Cure...
Friday I'm In Love
Underneath The Stars
Six Different Ways
Why Can't I Be You
If Only Tonight
One More Time
There Is No If
Just Like Heaven
The Perfect Girlfriend
I was asked an interesting question today. Someone called me to the door and asked,
“Hey Randy...do you feel like you've paid your debt to society?”
I guess we could all easily answer, “Yes.” But I mean, how do you measure that debt? We're on death row to be executed, put down like dogs...On the surface I guess for a court, that's the debt, but is that what society demands?
Say you're one of those people that are really innocent – and I believe there are a few – or those that were sent here under an arbitrary and capricious statute – the law of parties – that makes you an equal partner in a crime even if you didn't really do anything to participate in a murder...What's the 'debt' to be paid there?
I will always have regrets and remorse for the hurt I've caused. For lives that were affected, and I carry that with me each and every day, and I ask for forgiveness every day in my prayers. I carry it in my heart and even if some don't believe me or forgive me, I know my own heart and G-d knows my heart. All I can do is my very best to live a life of purpose and service. I'm FAR from perfect...I stumble...I make mistakes...But even in those moments I also do my best to pick myself back up and push forward in bettering myself.
People who know me know that when I'm wrong on something, I acknowledge it, atone for it, and try to learn.
Still, it's hard for me to say for myself whether I've paid my debt or not. Is it even a question for me to answer? I guess I'd just like to know what the measurement is judged by. I think we'd all like to be judged by the amount of good things we've done, not by the bad, but for some reason the bad is always heavier on that scale. It's a weird standard for society to judge by, don't you think?
I asked the guy why he had been thinking about that question, and he said,
“Two DJs of Houston's Pop FM station, are particularly hateful when it comes to prisoners and one of them said she wished she was on the parole board to ensure no prisoner was ever released. I got to thinking about what it meant to pay our debt to society”
Anyways, his question made me think!
The Field Minister stopped by and told me he was going to try to get us our movie this week. They jumped over to A-Pod and were working their way through the sections showing 'Avatar'. By his report, guys were blown away – some in tears from being overwhelmed. I'm excited to see it.
Well, Happy Valentine's y'all, and may everyone be lucky enough to have someone to love and be loved by, as I do!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 16th, 2022
Surprisingly, as I write this, they're doing recreation. I had already started to exercise as they were setting up rec. The guards are not happy about it and they have an attitude because, after 2 months, they've actually got to do some work...but I'm just happy to be able to get out of the cell.
I wanted to thank those who showed an interest in my latest poetry collection. It's a very special project between me and my sweetheart, Taffy. It was amazing that we pulled it off before Valentine's Day!
It's a really gorgeous book, and I'm very proud of it. But something I have to say that's disappointed me is that it became labelled as #PrisonPoetry on social media – it's NOT prison poetry, it's MY poetry, and I feel very strongly about that. Strictly speaking I don't really view it as poetry at all because I tend to write those pieces as 'lyrics'. I hear a melody or a beat and I write it out like a song. They're actually just lyrics. All that being said, I'm not tethered to prison when I write anything. In my heart and mind...writing is an expression of FREEDOM. The label #PrisonPoetry or any kind of art is pejorative. Like, “Wow! Look at what a prisoner did. Who knew they could be talented?”
Art is art...You don't do a painting at home or write something and say, “Hey, check out my #HousePoetry...” It should be no different for art from a prison that also happens to be a prisoner who created it. I would hope that anything I create, or any of us create back here, stands on its own as art in its own right, and as my latest poetry collection is intended to do – and not because I'm in prison. If you buy it for that reason, you lost sight of the intent...Anyways, that's all I wanted to say on that.
Well, it's Wednesday and I'm on pins and needles as I wait on the news and any potential CCA rulings that come down today. I'm trying to keep focus and positivity, and praying, and who knows? Today could be the day.
Just made it to recreation. It was nice to get out of the cell and move around a bit. Apparently, they're going to try to get us out at least one day a week. Well...one day is better than no days at all. After rec was finished I made it straight to the shower which was a blessing.
I've not heard anything on the news today about any CCA ruling, so I suppose I'm still waiting. I refuse to get all worked up about it. I'm cool as a cucumber. I believe it's going to work out the right way.
I was showing off my newly published poetry book to a few guys while I was outside at rec, and they were awestruck! Everyone commented on how beautiful it looks, and I got a bunch of compliments which made me smile so big...But really, I'm so proud of my Taffy because none of it could have been done without her. She designed the cover, compiled all of the content, and put it all together. It's just as much hers as it is mine, and I definitely see it as 'our project' as we'd been discussing it for a while. Wait until you see a physical copy of my memoir – it's going to look amazing, and we've both put a lot of work into it to get it just right. I'm just really happy to realise some of our projects together, and I am one heck of a lucky dude to have her help in everything...I really am...I love you, Taffy!
As they did rec today, I'm guessing we'll get our movie some time in the next couple of days. A rumor going around is that Polunsky Unit will have its tablet system up and running some time in March. Whilst I'm excited about the 'perks' (movies, music etc.) I'm most excited about talking on the phone to the people I care about and love, in real time. That's going to be the best thing about it all.
Anyways, that's been the day in a nutshell!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 19th, 2022
I think the guys around me think I've lost my mind...I was sitting on my bed when I suddenly had a 'vision' of sorts...I'd been thinking of all the changes that are slowly happening and getting excited about watching 'Avatar' (which still hasn't happened for our section...it's supposed to be either today or tomorrow...hopefully!) when suddenly out of nowhere I thought to myself, “wouldn't it be cool if we could have one of those big carnival style popcorn machines donated, and we could have a bowl of popcorn as we watched the movie? Both inmates and officers would enjoy it!” I hopped up and went to the door to propose my idea and my neighbor said,
“Really, Randy? A popcorn machine?”
“Why not? I mean, if it was donated to the Field Minister program...it would benefit everyone and be a morale booster. Would you like a bowl of freshly popped popcorn to go with a movie? Wouldn't an officer like to have some? We gotta start dreaming big around here. Clinton would be proud of me!”
I added the last part because my friend, Clinton Young, would often have these extravagant and ridiculous ideas and I'd say,
“Man...you need to stay grounded.”
It really pissed him off! Well, he's made a believer out of me, and why not? He's free after 20 years.... Why, then, can I not dream big? I told the guys around me,
“Well, when that badass popcorn machine comes rolling in with the TVs, you can tell the guards to just give me your popcorn.”
There's no better time than now to push for grand ideas and for those that think inmates shouldn't be pampered – many states already do this. In fact, when I was awaiting extradition in Colarado back in 2001, the jail used to hand out a fresh paper sack of popcorn every Friday night...The jail had a 'movie night' to keep the inmates pacified. We didn't get the movie, but we got the popcorn, which was was nice. Come on! Let's make it happen!
It's a calm and beautiful Saturday. I talked to the Field Minsters yesterday, and these guys...man, they blow me away. They're just inmates and yet their dedication and advocacy for us in solitary/death row, goes above and beyond. I had an extra copy of my poetry book, 'Nothing Beats As Loud As My Heart', and gave it to the Field Minister 'Troop' as a thank you. He smiled real big and asked,
“Can I read some of this the radio?”
And I said,
I told him,
“You see how gorgeous that book is? My Taffy designed it.”
He looked at me and said,
“Taffy? Who's that?”
“It's my nickname for my girlfriend.”
He said the book looked beautiful, and that made me so proud.
But, yeah, they really do a lot for us and I know most of us appreciate it. They don't preach or try to convert, they work by 'faith in action' which is an aspect of any religion that I really admire. It's what I personally believe that any of our belief systems require. You can preach all day, or worry about a person's soul or whatever...But how does that make life better in the now? In the present? Better for all of us? In Judaism, the belief is that the Messiah can't come until we do our part to make the planet better, by our deeds. It's a straightforward concept...'Love Thy Neighbor'.
Anyway, we asked about 'Avatar' and it's supposed to come today or tomorrow. I'll write a report on it once I've seen it.
My Taffy shared Clinton Young's post with me about how he went from reading the 'Walking Dead' graphic novels to watching the series on TV, and how I had been the one to get him into that...He was hooked! We had both developed an insanely (and probably unhealthy ha ha) obsession with comics after that. It got so bad at one point that we were trying to figure out ways to get the 'censored' ones to us. Someone heard us talking and said,
“Wait...when everyone else is trying to get ILLEGAL things, you guys are trying to get comics?!? What is wrong with y'all?”
It's hilarious to think about it in context...Yep, the comic book geeks...At that time, it was a nice mental escape. A lot of it was the visual stimulation that these comics provided for us,and the conversations which stimulated us intellectually. A lot of what the publishing company IMAGE does is inject social commentary into their story lines. So, he and I would talk about (he from his conservative perspective, me from my liberal perspective) what the series was trying to get across. I'm really touched that he remembers those moments and is now able to watch a TV show based on what we once shared together.
Maybe, once I'm off death row I'll share some of the funnier moments we've had over the years!
Here's a political thought for the day...have you ever wondered why a lot of the Republican political ads are focused on being tougher on crime? Because they've got nothing else! Which says to me that a lot of what the Biden administration is doing, whether it be for the economy (there's no easy fix for inflation until supply chains are back up, which is a global problem and not a unique US problem) or COVID...is working. When a political party has to resort to scaring you or use wedge issues, it means that they have NOTHING...Unfortunately, it's human nature to be scared...What a bunch of snowflakes, huh? And it's too easy to manipulate people through fear. Republicans in power know this...Just sayin'!
It's later now and we just watched 'Avatar'...I'm going to try to put into words what the experience was...again, like the other movies, it took a bit for my brain to 'adjust' to what I was watching. When the spaceship lands on Pandora, it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Seeing the 'mechs', the computer graphics, and technology...then to see the actual transfer to the avatar Na'vi being...unbelievable! I was processing images, colors, CGI graphics, and special effects I've never seen before. The movie itself (while I've listened to it and know the plot) was amazing. The Na'vi – and the motion capture technology they used to bring them to life – were unbelievably real. The facial expressions were totally convincing, and there was no 'uncanny valley' (a technical term that describes how most computer generated human-like images aren't convincing, or we, as humans don't connect with it).
There were several scenes where I was actually moved to tears. My neighbor heard me sniffling and said,
“Are you sniffling?”
What can I say, I was moved!
It was a really awesome movie and I feel lucky to have finally been able to watch it! I'm still processing it...in awe. I can't explain or articulate what it's like to go 21 years without seeing a movie like 'Avatar'. I feel like I've been blind and have seen for the first time in my life. It's a mind screw.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 20th, 2022
I woke up with 'Avatar' still on the brain...I was talking to the guys around me and we all agreed that if it was available for rental on the tablet, we would be watching it again.
We had showers today which came as a surprise. The Sergeant doing them was a bit of a jerk. When someone said,
“Why can't we get recreation?”
A legitimate question by all means...The Sergeant said,
“Stop bitching like a little baby!”
I couldn't bite my tongue, so I said,
“Why is he 'bitching' when it's something we are supposed to get? Rec isn't a privilege – we're allowed time outside of our cells.”
The Sergeant looked at me and curled his lip up in a primitive gesture to show his fangs, and walked away. I joked to the other guys that apparently he thinks he's an ape.
“Ooooh, bared teeth. Scary! If I was a chimpanzee...”
It got some laughs.
Otherwise it's been a peaceful day of just getting my work done!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 21st, 2022
Presidents Day...A very warm and humid day. I woke up at 5.50am and hit the ground running! I worked out to David Bowie's 'Greatest Hits' on The Tank, and bathed out of my sink because there's no showers today.
It's been a pretty boring day to be honest. I've been laying under a fan, listening to movies all day on The Tank. They've played 'The Boiler Room' which was really good. And 'Rise of the Planet of Apes' which I really liked and would love to actually see at some point. 'Revenge of the Nerds' and 'New Jack City'. Last night I listened to a really good movie, 'Don't Look Up' which I recommend. When 'Matrix Resurrections' came on I got excited. I'm sure the movie was probably cool, visually, but I was disappointed by the plot. Quite frankly, the movie sucked and had none of the intrigue and existentialism that the original trilogy had. It didn't make me think. It was corny at times and the acting...everyone seemed phony. Will I still watch it? Probably, but what a let down.
My neighbor did some cooking today and it came out pretty good. It made up for the slop they gave us at lunch and dinner. Dinner looked so horrible that everyone but one person on my section turned down their trays. It feels awful to waste so much food, but if they made it edible, or half way decent, they wouldn't have to waste so much of it.
I think we should have rec on Wednesday or Thursday. I'm looking forward to that.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 24th, 2022
It's a grey wet and cold Thursday. Trapped in the cell and little to do to pass the time but listen to news about Russia invading Ukraine...Just horrible stuff and I can't believe in 2022 that this crap still goes on. Worse, I can't believe we, as citizens of the world who are mostly peaceful people, allow a handful of leaders in the world to decide who are our enemies and who aren't...Think about that – a few men decide who you're supposed to hate. That's insanity! Yet, we allow it time and time again. When does the world say enough is enough? There's enough resources and wealth on this planet to benefit every single human being – I don't mean some fairy tale unrealistic utopia of rainbows and unicorns, but just saying,
“Hey, we don't have to kill each other for this crap – we can share and everyone can benefit.”
Well...let's hope this doesn't lead to WWIII!
Warden Dickerson gave a tablet update for the unit, the other day, and where Securus is at in terms of getting everything ready to go...He said it was 30-60 days out and if I had to guess, it's somewhere in between, because, as I write this Securus has been wiring up the wifi signal boosters (again, people, don't freak out...It's a secure closed network) on the building I live on. The excitement is growing and the guys around me have been playing this, 'what's the first thing you want to do on your tablet?' game. I mean, besides the obvious like hopefully being able to make calls, we all ask each other what movies we're going to watch, which TV shows, music etc...You have to keep in mind that until recently, some of us haven't even seen movies in two decades! I keep saying I'm doing Star Wars, but after having seen Avatar, I really want to watch it again! But then there are other movies I'd love to watch...I'm a person that just loves cinema and all of its genres, so I wouldn't know where to start! Or do I do TV first? 'Lost' is my favourite series of all time, but I've only ever listened to it. Do I binge that if it's available? I just don't know! One guy said he loves the 60s sitcom, 'Green Acres'...It's funny to hear everyone talk about what they'd love to see. I have so much music to catch up on it's not even funny. I said,
“Guys, we're entering into the dawn of a new era for us. It's truly a brave new world.”
My neighbor joked,
“If you cried over watching Avatar last week, I'm going to hear you in sobs when you watch something on your tablet.”
To which I replied,
“Hey, dude...I have no shame. No shame whatsoever.”
Every day is another day closer. It's going to fundamentally change everything, and for the cynics out there, we're already getting reports from other units that it has made a tremendous difference in calming irritated inmates after two years of COVID restrictions and little recreation, and has turned the day rooms into ghost towns. It used to be that the day room was like a wild west saloon – noise, dominoes slamming on steel tables, people arguing, TV blaring, and the occasional brawl...Now people are going out there in silence to get away from their cell mate.
Things are changing, and it's a good change. You'd have to be a nut to think it's a bad thing because whilst no one should expect prison to be a country club, they should be safe for both the prisoner and the officer. There should be access to more educational and religious programs that can easily be accessible via a tablet. Education is one of the most important components in reducing recidivism. There should be more access to families and friends because strong relationships are another crucial component in reducing recidivism. It's been said that you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners. It's not about being 'soft' on pampering. True rehabilitation comes from treating even the worst as capable of redemption and offers a pathway to a second chance.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 28th, 2022
Wow...It's the last day of the month. I'm always amazed by how quickly a day, a week, or a month can shoot by even when it's beyond boring in this place. We've had one day of recreation in over two months, and I've only had about 4 minutes of fresh air in two months. I'm looking out my window and seeing the first signs of spring as the season is moving in, and I wish I could just get two hours. Two stinking hours of sunshine and fresh air...I know the COVID lockdowns were horrible for people, but at least you could step outside and feel the wind, feel the sunshine, and take a breath of air...I've not done that in two months...Do people really believe that it's okay to do that to humans? Look, I know it's not entirely TDCJ's fault. They truly are dealing with a severe staff shortage...we just have to persevere.
I threw out a challenge to some of the guys around me for when we get the tablets, and if there are movies offered for free, I said,
“The challenge is you have to watch a movie from every decade, if its available. That means if there's a silent 1920s film, you have to watch it...”
Some guys were adamant that they'd never watch an old black and white movie while some are going to take the challenge. One guy is particularly looking forward to it because he's never seen any of the old classics. My mom was a big fan of Turner Classic Movies, and when I'd be forced to fold laundry with her, we'd be watching those old movies, and I grew up to like many of them.
Following the news in Ukraine is very sad, but while not a fan of Fox News, I have to say that the straight reporting over there on what's going on has been really good.
And finally, I wanted to thank everyone for their interest in my book, Nothing Beats As Loud As My Heart, poetry collection. I'm touched, and extremely grateful. Thank you!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 1st, 2022
March...Spring is almost here and we're another day closer to getting our tablets. I can't believe that soon we will actually be in the 21st Century!
There are guys around me that have never even used a computer, let alone a touch screen. For myself, I've not touched a computer since 1996, and I've joked with my girlfriend that my brain is still operating on Windows '95. It's going to be wild!
So, in all of the coverage of Ukraine and being touched by the stories of courage and the like, I can't help but wonder why other conflicts in the world are not covered or cared about to the extent that this war in Ukraine is. Don't get me wrong, it's awful all the same, but I just get irritated when western media picks and chooses its atrocities...Nor do people rally to the countless atrocities that occur around the world every single day. Everyone talks about war crimes perpetuated by Russia, and we sanction them immediately, but we don't do the same to other countries because we buy cheap goods from them?
I find it all hypocritical how we choose our battles...
I didn't get much sleep last night because the guards surprised us by doing phone calls when we thought they wouldn't be happening, after 11pm...I was able to call my girlfriend which was awesome!
I went outside today and it was perfect! It felt like spring...not cold or warm, just perfect. I sat in the sun for a bit and walked around and thought about life and things...All everyone wants to talk about these days is the tablets, and I understand. I get just as excited, but I also like to get lost inside my head and think for a bit...It was peaceful and I felt like I was in a mental reset as I took in the fresh air.
I feel blessed to have gotten outside today...I feel blessed to have the love of my Taffy, friends, and the support of strangers. Tomorrow is the day in which they release CCA rulings, so I'm wondering if it'll be the big day or not? I'll be following the news intently while also praying for some other important things going on that are a bit personal, but I pray will work out all the same for my Taffy...I know it'll all be okay!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 6th, 2022
It's been a bit of a boring weekend. I've not been doing too much other than a lot of thinking, and listening to music and movies on the Prison Radio Station. I listened to 'The Ghostbusters: Afterlife' last night and it wasn't horrible, but I think it lacked a bit of what made the original a classic. After that, they played a really good Interpol concert. A great band! I'll definitely be checking out more of their music when we get the tablets.
There's been some good news this past week for Death Row...There was a stay of execution on the guy who was looking at the 8th for a date,and another guy was granted a reversal of his appeals and will be getting off death row. It was granted by the CCA and with two down...they say things happen in threes, so I've got to be next, right? Please G-d let that be the case!
It's been really warm and humid. I think there's a cool front coming through, but it's not expected to last long. It's safe to say spring is here and with daylight savings next weekend, the days will be longer.
I'll close this with a quote from Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson:
“While we may be aware of our personal flaws, for the most part we cover them up with self love. We need to do the same for others – overlook their flaws. Especially since we never truly know what's going on inside another person's mind and heart.”
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 9th, 2022
Yesterday was absolute chaos and mayhem. Someone near me joked that our recreation, when it happens (which is about once a week the past few times) comes at a cost, and man was he right! It started when two new guards were doing a job they have never had to do or were even trained to do. One was extremely old and the other very young. The experienced officer was in the control center. She should have been on the floor, but she said they needed to learn, a baptism of fire of sorts. Sink or swim. Unfortunately, we were caught in the middle.
I was scheduled for second round when they put my neighbor into his cell and were to get me next. I was standing at the door, at the ready, when the two guards began to argue what they should do nexr – get me into the day room or go ahead and put my neighbor into the shower. I offered that they could put my neighbor in the shower and then get me as the shower was only a few steps away. They argued some more and then went to get my neighbor. Then, the woman in the control center started to scream at them from afar to get me to rec. They stopped, came to my cell, and then the old dude said,
“I ain't letting no woman tell me what to do!”
The young female officer said,
“What's that supposed to mean?”
Then they argued some more. Finally, I said,
“Hey! You've been standing here between me and my neighbor arguing! Get me to rec and you can finish this debate on the pros and cons of being a misogynist! I just want to go to recreation!”
They stopped and FINALLY came and stripped me out and got me to rec.
I exercised for an hour at rec, and then talked to some guys in their cells and helped pass some books and food. One guy offered me two tacos he made and I have to say they were delicious.
After two hours I made it back to my cell and had my shower and eased into the rest of the day. It should have been that simple, and as I prepared to start my work for the day, two guys on my section got into a 'knock out drag out' argument, and it went on and on with them screaming and cussing at each other. It was the most immature argument I've heard in quite some time, but I guess they needed to get it out of their system out of pure frustration at the conditions and such. A couple of us tried to 'break it up' and put an end to it, but it did no good. They just went back at it...
I think it was just a series of events and the conditions here that lead to it, as I've been hearing other arguments on section near us as well...It can be difficult sitting in a cell 24/7 with nothing to do. For better or worse, because A-Pod is pretty much the faith based pod they get a lot of perks – additional movies, treats like cookies and such, and that's making some guys angry as well because they feel they shouldn't have to be religious to get those perks. I can see it that way, but I also know that the 'sacrifice' those guys have to make is they have to be on their utmost best behaviour. They have to attend classes, such as the Bridges to Life – a program that shows criminals the damage their crimes have done to victims, and other classes. So, it's not like they're just sitting over there having the time of their life each and every day. They have to do the work. And from my understanding of it, all faiths are welcome, but it's mostly Judaeo-Christian in nature.
Regardless of that, I do think that once the tablets arrive, things will get better, and as I tell guys who get frustrated, having one movie every two to three weeks is more than we've had in two decades so 'take the win'. Appreciate it and believe that better things will come. I'm sure of it.
I was in bed around 10.30pm last night and jumped out of bed at 6am to exercise and listen to the '90s female rockers. I'm going to ask the station if they'll do a spot light of music I'm compiling in a list...I do a lot of that for the station because of my vast knowledge of alternative music, and it's fun to get involved.
We didn't have recreation today, but it has been peaceful. I've kept as busy as I can all while monitoring the Texas news to see if the CCA would make a ruling on my case. Nope. Nothing today.
I wanted to ask people to consider finding a good charity organisation to help Ukranians and the refugees fleeing into nearby countries. Some of the stories I've been hearing are just heartbreaking, especially the ones of the frightened children that could possibly lose their fathers forever...Please, think about doing something for them.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 13th, 2022
Daylight savings has me a little out of whack, but I'm adjusting. I was hoping on a shower this morning, as it's now day three without one, but that isn't happening. It's showing no sign of improvement with the staff shortage. I think yesterday, for 12 Building, only 10 officers showed up to work. They had one officer doing security checks on three pods. Today, the same officer said he's doing security checks on four pods and even joked that one of these days they'll just be down to 6 officers working in the control centers and that's it.
And that is the crux of it all...You've got all of these politicians calling to get 'tough on crime' again and lock everyone up, take away bail, and to hand out more severe sentences. They already pass out life sentences to young people like Halloween candy! Yet, they remain blind to the problems within the system...Specifically that people don't want to work in prisons anymore. They don't want to work in jails. They don't want to work in State prisons all across the United States. What do you do?
I got into a bit of a heated debate with a guy here that lives near me. One of the Field Ministers said there had been complaints on another pod that the movie being shown, Black Hawk Down was too violent...they didn't want to see limbs being blown off and guts hanging out, so the Field Minister had switched the movie up to a cartoon called Boss Baby...It was a stop gap measure until he can get his hands on some other movies they're waiting on approval to be shown back here. Well, the guy told the Field Minister,
“Don't bring that crap over here. We don't want to watch it.”
I sat there thinking,
“Does this dude think he's just going to speak for all of us?”
So, I went to the door and said,
“Hey, don't do that. Don't speak for everyone because me, personally, I don't have a problem with it. I'm sure they'll eventually have some better movies. Some of us haven't even seen a cartoon in two decades.”
The Field Minister said it was really funny, and we'd be surprised, so more of us said,
“Yeah, bring it. We'll watch whatever you bring.”
The guy got mad and started to be really disrespectful which was mind boggling. Take the win. Something is better than nothing.
I wanted to be a smart ass and say,
“Hey...when you get your tablet you can watch anything you want to watch.”
But I left it alone.
Other than that, nothing has really been going on. It's been a really boring weekend and I'm trying to get through it and into a new week of hope.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 14th 2022
I knew something felt 'off' when I woke up this morning...Getting sack meals for lunch or dinner hasn't been out of the ordinary because of the extreme staff shortages, but lately we've been getting hot breakfasts. Well, this morning we had a sack meal for breakfast. When I woke up and began to exercise, an officer passed through for a security check, and someone asked what was going on and she told the guy that we were on the spring lockdown. It's expected to last 3 – 3 ½ weeks as they start shaking down the entire unit. Honestly, it doesn't really matter to us because we never leave our cell anymore anyways. It'll just stop phone calls for the next few weeks, which really sucks and we'll have to wait on our next movie. Maybe with inmates locked up in their cells the company installing the equipment for the tablets will be able to move faster...that's the hope!
I had a legal call today and it was nice to get out of the cell for about thirty minutes. It was a nice call, and while there was no news on a ruling from the CCA, we're all still holding out for hope. My lawyers told me not to read into anything with the CCA taking so long to make a decision. There is no way to guage what's going on. In fact, I've known guys that have waited for years on a ruling.
The really cool thing during the call was to hear someone's music to one of my poems in my latest poetry collection. The guy wrote music to accompany one of the poems I wrote for my Taffy, 'Love Birds', and it sounded really mellow and folksy, and got my vote of approval! I've asked to get his permission to post it on the site, and hopefully we can get it up so everyone can listen to it...It sounds great, and I was really moved that a musician would help me to fulfil a dream.
The day has been a bit boring and we've been waiting all day for lunch. At the time that I write this we've been waiting 13 hours for lunch!
So, that's the day in a nutshell.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 15th, 2022
I woke up at 5.45am and started exercising...Lunch came yesterday at about 6.30pm and dinner was around midnight, so I had taken the sandwich from dinner and put it in my hot pot to keep overnight and eat as a 'post-workout' meal. They did showers which was nice, particularly after going 4 days without one. I came back in from the shower and ate my PB&J sandwich, and then decided to leave the other sandwich for later. At least it'll be nice and hot and well cooked!
We had quite a storm last night and it knocked over a dead tree that was behind a building in front of my window. Thank goodness there were no bird nests in that tree, but I was shocked to see the tree gone...I'm sure all of the rain and wind knocked it over.
That's really all that has happened today.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 17th, 2022
Another boring day on lockdown and I'm feeling a bit anxious as I check the news every hour to see if the CCA will make a ruling on my case...Nope. I have to wait another week.
I did catch an interesting interview with the TDCJ Executive Director, Bryan Collier, and I have to say that I was impressed with his vision for Texas prisons. He's implemented a plan called the '2030 Plan'. The goal is to have jobs established, upon release, for every inmate that gets out of prison. Basically, the idea is to have the job interview process take place before the prisoner makes parole. When he gets out, the job is waiting so that they don't have to return to crime or the streets. It's pretty bold. He also wanted to work out a deal with Securus to have the radio station here on Polunsky, live streamed to every prison in Texas, on their tablets. That's pretty cool. He said that on the units that already have their tablets, he can see the 'positive' impact it's having in these prisons. Day rooms are ghost towns. The living areas much quieter, and the fights have dropped because people don't want to lose their privileges. That was cool to hear.
They turned the AC on today because of spring. I'm pretty sure they'll take the jackets and blankets when it's our turn for the shakedown. Better to have the AC on now than wait until it reaches 90F.
Something else I learned today is the prison created a new job position called a 'Retention Officer' – an employee whose sole purpose is to keep morale up for the officers to they won't quit. It's worth a shot, but I think it's the wrong approach. Won't work. You have to get the administration to treat officers like humans, and get supervisors to actually lead, but what do I know?
One other thing the Executive Director said on the interview – and this set off a little alarm bell within me...he said he'd like to get to a point where no physical mail comes into the prison anymore, and we just use the messaging on the tablets...I don't like this and feel strongly that people should be vocal about this NOW before it gets implemented in the future. Not everyone uses computers, and there's a certain intimacy that comes from receiving a physical letter or even a card. Plus, while the tablet does have access to over 50,000 free books, I know there are people that like holding physical copies of books, and there might be an ebook on the tablet that someone would want to read...or even magazines and comics. So, I'm asking people to speak up about it now because if they ever decided to go all digital with mail, that will be the end of snail mail.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 20th, 2022
Woohoo! Spring is officially here! I love spring almost as much as I love autumn. I'm just hoping that whenever this lockdown is over with, we'll be able to get out of our cells more and I can get out and get some sunshine. I'm so white right now that I'm borderline translucent...I just want to get some fresh air into my lungs and hear the birds singing.
We're heading into our second week of the lockdown. We've been told that our building will probably be the last building that is searched, so we've about two more weeks to go. The administration wants to have everything finished up before all the big holidays kick off in April...Everything is converging with Ramadan, Passover, and Easter. Plus, they have some kind of thing kicking off for some Christian groups as well. And while I'm sure everyone is excited about all of the approaching holidays, I think the fact that we're closer to receiving our tablets is what has everyone most excited.
Last night was particularly boring and someone was talking on the run last night and told another guy,
“Think about it...maybe in a month or less from now your Saturday nights will be talking to your family or watching a movie or listening to a cool podcast...”
I smiled and I thought to myself,
“No doubt...it's going to forever change how we do things back here.”
I'm hoping this new week brings about good things. I have a feeling it will. I'm going to try to get my head back in the game and focus a bit better on my projects and ideas I've had for some other things. I'll be good, I'm sure.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 23rd, 2022
I couldn't sleep last night...I went to bed at 10pm after I read my girlfriend's Jpay, and initially fell asleep quickly, because it had been a long day and the night before I kept waking up to use the bathroom. I felt like an old man and kept thinking,
“Why on earth am I peeing so much?” Yeah, I know...TMI!
So, I pull the blanket up, say my prayers, and Bam! Asleep in seconds. Then, my eyes opened at 1am as I heard food slots open and breakfast sacks being passed out. Most officers just hang the bag in the slot (and a few jerks just toss it on your floor like feeding a dog) so I had no intention of getting out of bed. I rolled over and closed my eyes...but couldn't fall back to sleep. I tried a breathing technique that usually gets me back to sleep but it didn't work, and so I lay there in the dark, eventually getting out of bed to grab the sack. I ate the peanut butter sandwich, crawled back into bed, and let my mind wander.
The pod was so still and silent...peaceful...perfect. No one yelling...No chaos...No radio blaring. Darkness and silence. I prayed that should today be the day of the CCA ruling, it be favorable and G-d grants me mercy, and a second chance. I thought about my Taffy and how wonderful she is...I thought of life and how jacked up the world seems to be right now. Lately, I've been thinking about all of the violence, specifically gun violence, and what I think is behind it. It feels random, right? Someone walks into a mall, or store...opens fire. Someone shoots into a car or home...Someone gets into an argument, gets mad and shoots the other person...
It's easy to blame the guns...I hate guns – absolutely the worst thing human beings ever created, and there's little doubt that guns make it easier to perpetuate acts of violence, but is it the cause? No.
I have no empirical evidence...I'm just thinking out loud, but why is the US one of the most violent countries in the world? A first world, technologically advanced super power...Wealthy beyond measure. I think it's two fold:
- We value goods over life; and
- We're a revenge driven society.
Everyone must pay. Our economy is product and entertainment driven. Hear me out...I'm not going to go all 'socialism is the answer' here. I used to identify as a socialist, but what I really believed in was a social system of programs that benefit all citizens, while maintaining a free but fair capital driven economy. No one wants to have to give up their hard earned money for high taxes, especially when its carelessly spent by politicians for their own agendas. But if you could see the benefits of carefully spent dollars in education, health care, parks, roads, infrastructure...If you could actually see where these taxes are spent and how it could benefit so many people. You could take pride and say “my taxes built that” or “my taxes saved lives with universal health care.”
But no...it's “Don't take what's mine! Go fend for yourself.” Instead, our material society tells you to waste your money on the newest cellphone you really don't need.
Hey, I love material crap too. I love movies. I love music. I love stereos and TVs, and I'd probably have a cool phone, maybe Star Wars toys too. But do we need to buy, buy, buy? Do we need closets and closets of clothes, or to replace shoes every month? Watches, jewellery, that you rarely even wear?
Yes, capitalism fuels invention and technology, but there's technology that pushes humanity forward, and there's disposable tech...a cool gadget to distract you from reality. You're told you need it. You need new clothing every month. You need a new car every year...You're 'influenced' and made to feel less of a person if you don't get it. Resentment, envy, and jealousy bubbles up when someone else has it and you don't. People begin to rob and steal. A life is valued less than an iPhone.
If people buy less does the economy slow down? Yes, but so does everything else. People may pay a little more for things, but as the economy levels out, so does life. You can appreciate it more instead of being stressed all of the time. Everyone now is in a great big hurry to go nowhere. People sacrifice sanity and peaceful living for a job that sees you as expendable. Your health suffers, your family suffers. Humanity suffers.
I lived comfortably as a kid...Big home, travelling, private school, teenage comforts, but when I wanted something that was 'cool' and popular, my dad would often say,
“Be happy with what you have and not with what you don't have.”
It irritated me and I envied the kids with the newest pair of Air Jordans, but really, my feet were just fine.
As for revenge...It's in everything we do. Our criminal justice system is built around it. We must punish. Teach a lesson. Execute them or lock them up for life. Our use of the death penalty says,
“Killing is wrong, but we're going to kill you because society needs justice and closure. You have no redemption value. You have no value at all.”
The way we sentence young people for crimes, leaves them to believe they have no value either. Do the crime. Do the time. Wash, rinse, repeat. If we focused on restorative justice and being smart on crime, we could break the cycle. Some criminals that are young just need the right tools. They aren't forever lost or need to be punished in the most severe way to prove you're 'tough on crime'. Politicians, some police and district attorneys have been trying the same old tough on crime thing for decades and if it hasn't worked yet, it ain't ever going to work. You know the old adage,
“Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result, is insanity.”
Then, we make enemies of one another by focusing on our differences instead of what we have in common...I'm pitted against you because my political view is ruining the country, you're told to believe, or the other way around. This only fuels anger and resentment. I've got to stop you at all costs. People become radicalised when they begin to see another side as a threat or as 'evil'...Their minds twist, and suddenly they believe it's okay to walk into a synagogue and kill the congregates, or a Walmart in El Paso to stop the illegals.
We're lead to feel you have no right to get in my way. Cut me off in traffic? Let me grab my gun and teach you a lesson. Walk through my neighbourhood and you fit the profile of a gangster? You got it coming. Shove me in line at a store? I shoot you. Disrespect me at a club? I shoot you. I 'fear' for my life? I shoot you. You cheat on me? I shoot you. An eye for an eye leaves us all blind.
The only exception I make is true self-defence. But revenge serves no one. It's not always easy to walk away, but often if a person just pauses, steps outside of the moment, allows it to pass, they're better off for it. In prison it's often viewed as weak to 'walk away' or to not get someone back for slighting you, but I've long held the opinion that it takes a stronger person to walk away.
In the past decade – well, really two decades – the US has been this bubbling cauldron of stewing hatred. Politicians have weaponised just about every issue. It's seeped into every aspect of life. It's multiplied 100 fold in the past few years. Both political parties are equally guilty. This hatred has poisoned the soul of our country. There's never a solution...Just reactions and drowning out the other. You really wonder why violence is on the rise? What do we do when the cauldron spills over? I think if people would just simmer down, actually talk, be respectful, and work together for the greater good, solutions can be found. There's no reason why you can't have your guns without feeling that at any moment you may need to use it. I don't need to be your best friend to work with you and see your humanity. People shouldn't feel they need to rob or steal to have money or nice things...or feel it's their only option. Domestic violence shouldn't be the solution to stress within a family unit. Police shouldn't feel they're not appreciated, but also feel encouraged to speak out against bad apples in their ranks. People shouldn't be cancelled for saying something stupid, when we all have said stupid things in our lives or made mistakes. Schools shouldn't be weaponised. Health care shouldn't be either.
We can respect religious freedoms for all without hiding behind it to hate others. When our brothers and sisters speak of systemic issues and the pain of it, we should listen and try to understand why they hurt. We should not dismiss it and say,
“They just want to use the race card. They want to blame everyone else.”
Politics can be a sinister game. Remove the money from it and it's neutered. Level the playing field by cutting out special interests and return the power to the people, and suddenly wedge issues begin to wither away and politicians hopefully begin to address the real issues we all care about: Living freely, safely, and comfortably. We don't need a utopia but there's no reason why we should have the problems we have! It's mind blowing.
Anyways...enough of that stream of consciousness thought exercise...I'm just babbling out loud. Well, one more thought...In Judaism, we believe there are two inclinations to the human being: Evil – which is our animal/flesh side, and Good – our soul. Forgive me if I mangle in this as I'm not a Talmudic scholar! We are capable of both evil acts and good, but through our mistakes and good deeds, as well as our desire to be close to G-d, our good inclination overpowers evil. A revered Rebbe said, “A little bit of light can chase out the darkness wherever it touches.”
Americans have an incredible capacity for goodness. We're usually one of the first to speak out against cruelty and injustices anywhere in the world. Look at how our citizens have responded to natural disasters. Our government offers aid, sure, but the people – THE PEOPLE – open their hearts and give what they can. We send our first responders, food, medicine, clothing, builders and materials. Look at the countless charity drives for food, clothing etc for the people of Ukraine.
So, it must be confusing to people in other parts of the world to see us so divided and at each other's throats now. It sucks because it gives authoritarian governments a way to say,
“Who are they to tell us what to do, or complain and make accusations about human rights abuses...Look at what they do to their own people!”
I don't like the term, 'American exceptionalism' because it implies that we are divinely blessed and greater than others. We aren't, and that so called 'greatness' comes at the expense and off the backs of others through genocide and slavery. We don't like to swallow that harsh pill, but it's true. However, good can blossom out of bad. Many of us on death row are examples of that, and while our pasts are dark, a little bit of light can chase it away and we can be real leaders and examples to the world. I think the Ukranian President said it best in a speech to our congress... “You are the leader of the free world...So lead.”
Alrighty, I'm done this time...ha ha. There are just those time I can't get what's in my brain on a loop out onto paper. Then, like Moses beating the rock with a stick for water, a verbal flood of thoughts comes pouring out, often to the dismay, probably, of my Taffy who graciously types all of this out for me – thank you, honey! I guess I just have a lot of nervous energy of late. I'm anxious for the CCA ruling!
There was a collective groan yesterday when the warden announced that the projected tablet date was pushed back to June! You'd think a multi-million dollar tech company like Securus would have a gazillion employees, but they're apparently suffering a staff shortage as well. Sigh...We'll get there eventually.
It looks like there'll be no ruling from the CCA this week, and so I press on! I'll keep hoping and praying for the good outcome.
If none of today's journal makes sense, I blame a lack of sleep! I kind of let loose...It happens from time to time, so thanks for sticking around.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 24th, 2022
I woke up this morning to Sonny and Cher's I got you, babe, and had a mild fright thinking,
“Oh no...it's happening to me”
Well, I won't know for sure until tomorrow morning, but I swear if I wake up and that song is playing again,, I'm throwing myself down the stairs...For anyone that has no idea what I'm talking about – there's a great '90s Bill Murray film called Groundhog Day, in which he gets caught in a time loop having to relive the same day, every day. Each morning starts with I got you, babe on his clock radio alarm.
I finally had an uninterrupted night of sleep! It was lovely....My neighbor had an over the counter antihistamine they sell on commissary that leaves you slightly drowsy, and it did wonders. I generally don't take meds. I'll pop the occasional aspirin if I get a headache, but even that's rare for me. Any ache or pain in my old age of 44 years, I can tough through, but I needed sleep badly. My mind feels refreshed.
We had showers today as well. What's weird is we seem to get more showers on a lockdown (almost every other day) when we often go 4-7 days when not on a lockdown. I can never figure the pattern out...It's an exercise in futility. If everything runs perfectly one day you cannot expect the same result the next day. In fact, prepare yourself for it to go completely bonkers.
Well, a bit of good news/bad news...The Supreme Court ruled today that TDCJ must allow a minister of any faith to touch a condemned prisoner as he is executed. The bad news is this now paves the way for executions to resume again and opens up the possibility that many counties will now move to set execution dates for those who have exhausted their appeals, including my co-defendant, Patrick Murphy, who was the the first person to receive a stay and appeal to the Supreme Court to allow his Buddhist Monk to touch him as he was put to death.
That's been my day...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 25th, 2022
Friday...Today was one of those days where I would have really liked to get out of my cell, if only for a short while. I've felt bored, restless...a bit anxious, and here I am at the end of the day listening to an hour of Fiona Apple on the Prison Radio station.
Speaking of the Prison Radio station, it was announced today that they'd no longer be showing 'Rated R' movies on the general population unit channel on the weekends as a reward for 'good behaviour', good work etc. They put a handful of these movies on for them to watch. It's been pretty effective at keeping fights down as well because no one wants to lose the movie weekends. The movies are all donated by volunteers, churches, and inmates families. No movie is paid for by the state. Then, for those that can't watch TV, the radio station plays the audio from those movies every evening – typically one movie per night.
On one hand, I can understand – today's movies can really push the boundaries in terms of violence or sexual content. I can see how the administration would find it hard to promote change, rehabilitation, and redemptive behaviour by showing certain films that have gratuitous violence, sex, drug use, criminal behavior. On the other hand, there are decent rated 'R' movies that are based on historical events, might have a salty language (but I mean, we're in prison and even the guards curse like sailors) or even slapstick or blue comedy...Then, you have '80s/'90s movies that are considered classics that were rated 'R' but by today's standards would get a PG13 rating. I just wish a little consideration would be given instead of a blanket ban of all rated 'R' movies. But, it's a privilege and PG13 movies are better than no movies. It is what it is.
I was listening to a couple of guys talk about yesterday's Supreme Court ruling allowing a minister of any faith into the execution chamber to pray out loud and touch the condemned person. They seemed a bit excited at the 'win' without really thinking about what the win means. So, one guy says,
“Yeah, so 'so and so' gets to have his pastor in the execution chamber. It's about time!” And the other guy replied,
“I know. It's about time the Supreme Court ruled in our favour on something.”
And I'm sitting here, pit in my stomach, thinking,
“Dudes...what it means is there are no road blocks moving forward on executions. All these guys that gets stays as the Supreme Court decided...they're all going to get dates again! All of these counties that were hesitant to set execution dates on the countless men who have exhausted their appeals...they might move to set dates on them knowing there's nothing to hold it up now. It's a win...sure. A win that's gonna get a bunch of people killed.”
I hate to sound cynical, but when you hear your former prosecutor talking to a reporter on the news about your co-defendant, saying,
“Had TDCJ not wasted all of this time and money, this guy should've been executed two years ago!”
It makes you realise that there's still a large segment of society that wants us all dead. They smell blood in the water and it's also an election year. The stall on executions over the past couple of years has lulled us into a false sense of a belief that things are coming to an end. Yes, it's true that more and more people are beginning to change their minds on executions and the list of states that have abolished the DP is ever growing. But if you think Texas is ready to put it to an end, you better wake up. I don't think people realise how many men around me have exhausted their appeals...I mean completely finished...Nothing to file...No last minute appeal. DONE. They've been either fortunate that they are in counties that have a DA who is a Democrat and really doesn't want to set a date if they don't have to (of course, unless trying to score political points with particularly 'high profile' cases) or events of COVID, and the minister issue gave them cause to wait and see what happens.
I'm not going to be negative or the bearer of bad news, but people need to wake up. It's scary. One of my neighbors is someone who was recently turned down by the Supreme Court...His lawyers told him the DA wouldn't set a date until the Supreme Court ruled on the minister issue. He heard it would at least get him to June. He's very upset now knowing what's coming. I told him I'm here if he needs to talk or has any questions, but all he said was,
“I'll be alright.”
Listening to these guys talk without understanding the magnitude of the situation....Ugh....I just wonder what could have been done in these past two years to push for change? I will say this to end this depressing thought...On a note of optimism and hope...There's a new class of whip smart lawyers that work on capital cases. They know the old tricks don't work, and they have approached trying to save a defendant in new ways. They think outside the box and they have been incredibly successful in saving guys. I've seen more people get off death row in the past couple of years than in the 18 plus years I've been on death row. Some of us owe our lives to these amazing attorneys, and to our personal advocates – my Taffy, in my case.
Anyways...I hope I feel a bit less restless over the weekend...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 28th, 2022
Yesterday threw my equilibrium off...I woke up looking forward to the day and week – more so because I learned over the weekend that I was accepted onto a course called, 'Overcomers'. I had heard that on the prison radio station and I thought,
“I wonder since the class is taught over the radio if I can take it?”
I sent in a request and on Saturday learned I'd been accepted! I was told I needed to catch up on 3 weeks of work, but that was okay. I've also requested to take the 'Voyager' course – a sort of self-improvement/life tools class, and I'm waiting to see if I've been accepted into that.
I started my day like any other – writing to my Taffy – when I was told to pack up my stuff because I'd be moving to C-Pod, A-Section. I wasn't happy because it's where they move most of the trouble makers. I asked to talk to a sergeant and when he came and asked what the deal is he told me it was my time to move and that's where I was going. I packed my things and waited and waited. I didn't end up moving until close to 10pm – I wasn't a happy camper. Two guys near me were cussing each other out, and the energy over here is totally negative....Banging...screaming...a mess! I was exhausted, and so I quickly settled in with as much as I could, wrote a request to the secretary over moves to see if I could move back to B-Pod and put my ear plugs in and went to sleep.
I woke back up at 5.50am, got up to finish taking care of my cell. The two guys arguing the night before started up again, and the section erupted into chaos. Fortunately, Field Minister Troop came by and I told him I wanted to get back to B-Pod. He told me to write another request to the secretary to try to move and said he'd put in a word for me as well. So, all of the pieces are in place and I'll have to wait a few days to see if I can move again.
Push comes to shove in two months, I'll just request to go to the Faith Based section, when the new session happens. That's if the CCA doesn't rule on my behalf by then, which could happen! I hope...
Most of C-Pod is ad-seg as well, so the vibe over here is pretty bad. I just keep thinking,
“Of all the places they could have moved me to, why over here?”
It's just odd. I'll adjust, of course, and survive. But I'd rather be near my friends. It makes time a little easier.
Well, looks like as I write this I'm headed back to B-Pod! I thought it would take a few days, but it was less than 24 hours! Praise G-d! More next time.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 31st, 2022
It's been a long chaotic and stressful week, but today is the first day I've felt settled. Monday night I was moved from B-Pod to C-Pod. I didn't want to get trapped in that madhouse and so on Tuesday, and with the help of Field Minister 'Troop', he talked to the secretary in charge of moves and was able to get me back to B-Pod, 84 cell. It's not the greatest of cell locations, but I was just grateful to not have to live on C-Pod. The energy was so dark and heavy...everyone was fighting, and one guy kept banging on the walls. It was just insane!
The section I live on now is so peaceful, quiet...A few of my friends are nearby and everyone is super positive. I liked my cell on the other side of the pod, but a couple of guys were so negative and pessimistic that it was distracting, and to be honest, was starting to get to me. I wanted to move, but just not all the way to C-Pod.
The cell I'm in now was a nightmare to clean...Do you know the creepy house on the movie IT? It felt like that....there were cobwebs everywhere, cockroaches...the walls and floors were filthy. I was a bit upset at first and thought,
“How on earth can someone live like this?”
But my neighbor said the guy that lived in the cell before me had some kind of medical condition...It still sucked to clean and took me a couple of days to feel at ease. It's still all good, and I'll take this cell over C-Pod any day.
It was a gorgeous spring day today, and I'm in good spirits, and kept myself busy. Yeah, it's been a peaceful day and full of good vibes.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.