I didn't get much sleep last night because things broke out into chaos on Death Watch...It all started when the guy who is set for execution today [Larry Swearinger] was asked to pack his property up so that it could be ready to be picked up today when he left. Well, the guards didn't want to provide the property bags he needed to pack his things, but that was quickly resolved when some ranking officers showed up to take him to see the chaplain and have mass/confession. The sergeants told him he would get bags before the end of the night.
Larry left and was gone for about two hours. When he returned he asked the sergeants if he could give away some of his property to other guys like some books and food, and they said they didn't have a problem with it - they wouldn't pass it on for him, but they said they wouldn't stop him from passing it on either. When the sergeants left, Larry pulled out his fishing line and began to pass things out.
About five minutes after that the floor officers working the pod told him to stop. He said he had permission from the sergeants to pass his things, but one woman began to take the items being passed...Larry asked them to stop and the woman wouldn't, so Larry screamed,
“I'll be DEAD this time tomorrow! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Then, some other guys on one row began to scream and cuss at the guards which turned into them cussing back and telling the supervisors they were being threatened – no one had threatened anyone! We all just wanted to have Larry's wish respected, so that he could deal with his property as he wanted to. The sergeants had to get the items taken and return them to Larry...It was just a mess! After the sergeants left, the two floor officers continued to stir the guys on one row, saying things like,
“I can't wait 'til all of you whinie bitches are dead.” And other such charming comments.
At 5.30pm a new crew of Officers showed up for first shift and asked Larry if he wanted a shower. He went and had one, and then they put him in the day room. The property officer arrived and asked Larry what he wanted to do with the remaining property and he said he wanted it released to his family. That was a signal to us that he thinks this is the end for him...Some will tell the property officer to hold onto their things in case they return, and if they are killed they can have a loved one come to the unit and pick their stuff up.
We all talked to Larry as he waited in the day room for his 8am visit and then I went to the shower. As I was in the shower the officers arrived to take Larry away. I've seen this from a distance...guys leaving for their executions, but living on a section and watching it is something quite different. I don't even care who the person is, or what they may or may not have done, when you see someone taken away knowing that they are leaving to be killed...it does terrible things to you. You're not human if it doesn't! As the shower ran I could hear people yelling,
“Alright Larry! Hold your head up high!”
I couldn't help but get emotional...It's a very difficult thing to watch, and we're human beings...We shouldn't be doing this!
As I write this, Larry has one last appeal sitting before the Supreme Court, and it hasn't been decided upon yet. I think he felt it was the end for him. He said, right before he went to the shower,
“You know guys, I'm not going to lie...I'm scared right now. The times before I had a feeling I was going to get a stay. This time? I'm scared...”
How do you respond to something like that? What do you say? In prison there is this whole machismo thing – being too proud to show weakness or that you're frightened, and here was a guy admitting to all of us that he was scared.
I don't want to listen to the Execution Watch program tonight, but I guess I will...I recently turned down an interview with them. I can't participate in something like that.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
Rest In Peace, Larry Swearingen.
August 20th, 2019
Today is one of those days where I'm feeling really emotional...mostly because I've just received a published copy of my very first collection of Poetry I've written over the years called, 'A Constant Light', and I'm so happy!!! The way it's been put together has just blown me away completely, and when the mail room lady handed it to me and I could see what it was, I felt tears well up in my eyes...When she walked away, I broke down in tears.
Having this book published by Amazon is just as good as any publishing house, in my opinion, and means just as much to me. It has fulfilled a life long dream of mine that would never have come true if it weren't for my dear Catherine – she has done an amazing job! From the beautiful front cover to the back cover...I'm just blown away! I also want to say a huge thank you to her friend who provided us with the beautiful front cover photograph which she took. I can't thank you both enough for all of your time and hard work.
I want to be crystal clear here that ALL proceeds from this poetry collection (and any other writing we may publish in the future) is going to charity. I'm not making a single cent from this and that's what we decided would happen right from the beginning of the project. The charity we chose is called 'Children At Risk' in Texas, and their website address is https://childrenatrisk.org/. They used to have a program on KPFT 90.1 out of Houston and I was always impressed with their hard work towards ending child abuse and domestic violence, as well as their work in the education system to end illiteracy.
Today, I was also approving the final front cover for my first Memoir, 'Falling Down', and we are working very hard on the final edits before we publish, again on Amazon.
I encourage everyone to purchase the Poetry collection and support this wonderful charity. We will post verification of the proceeds as each donation is made, right here on the website.
Finally, I am also very worried for my girlfriend who is ill and going through some difficult treatment as well as coping with my situation, working as hard as she always does, and a list of other things...She is amazing to keep as strong as she does, and I'm thankful for the friends she has around her, as well as my own friends who are supporting her, and the kindness of others who have taken the time to ask her how she's doing...Please pray for her.
For now, things seem to be moving at a normal pace here. The guards are staying on top of things and I'll be next up for recreation. It's hot, and yes, it's still very stressful, but I have hope burning in my heart. I am truly blessed for the wonderful friends I have in my life, the love of my life, and the kindness of each and every one of the strangers who believe in me and support me...I am fortunate, and remember in my prayers all those who are less fortunate than myself. I am grateful...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 19th, 2019
Another blazing hot day...Our section was "off" for recreation so I woke up, began a letter to my girlfriend, and then exercised. My girlfriend and I write to each other every single day...It might not always be super long letters, but I take comfort in the fact that in the 19 months we've been together, our letters have never become 'run-of-the-mill'. Writing to each other just became part of our day - a way to spend a quiet moment or two to share what we're doing, thinking etc.
I was going to try and write a chapter in my new memoir, but found myself just staring at the typewriter...Since I've been here on death watch, it's become difficult to write new stuff. I think I have to admit to myself that the stress of the situation is getting to me. Yeah, I'm dealing with it...I'm not panicking, and I do truly have hope and confidence in how my lawyers are doing things, but a person can still be stressed by certain things.
Being on death watch used to mean that the inmates there were given 'top priority', but now, we're routinely met with more apathy and a 'let's ignore the problem' kind of attitude. We routinely get screwed over now...
Then, there's the heat - another issue that no one seems to want to address. One side of the pod (D, E, F section) has cold air blowing hard, so when the warden shows up he's like, "What's the big deal? It's cool!" People start yelling, "Go to A section...There's zero air! It's an inferno!" Even the guards are like, "Whew! It's flipping hot over here!" Yeah...but no one will listen to us! The last time maintenance was over here they used a digital thermometer and it registered 100F at just 10am! Hot? You think?
Finally, there's all these executions scheduled and these guards who are new and straight out of high school find us 'curious'...Like, we're some kind of zoo exhibit! They ask questions without thinking about the effect it might have on the person, and say things like, "So, Halprin, when are they going to kill you?" We get this day in, day out. How do you respond to something like that? I fight my instinct to say something sarcastic or smart assed...Instead, I just drop my head...ashamed...embarrassed.
So yeah, I have stress headaches and I'm sad often. I find the silliest and stupidest things like sentimental radio commercials make me cry uncontrollably. I guess this is what happens when you're demeaned and dehumanised on a daily basis. Rinse...wash...repeat...This is life on death watch.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 18th, 2019
I just finished reading a short novel called, 'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness. When I first received it I mistook it for a children's book and whilst always grateful to receive books, I first thought, "A children's book?" (Not that I'm above children's books...'Where The Wild Things Are' remains one of my all time favourite books - both the illustrated original, and Dave Eggers' take on it) and put it to the side for the moment.
I started doing some letter writing and then grabbed the book and looked at the cover, noticing a little banner in the corner that read, "Now a major motion picture." I thought, "Huh? I think I remember reading something about this and it being a good movie..." I started reading it and couldn't put it down! By the final chapter I was crying uncontrollably, I mean, the really ugly face kind of crying. It was easily one of the most beautifully haunting books I've ever read.
It takes place in England, and the principal character is a boy named 'Conor'. He's bullied, and his mom has cancer. One night a monster shows up and tells Conor, "I will tell you three tales. In return you will tell me your tale. You have no choice in the matter..." and from there the story moves between the tales and Conor navigating his life. It's a very deep and emotional read - the best stories always are.
Well, we had some good news when a guy over here had a stay of execution! I wasn't looking forward to seeing him leave on the scheduled day, and he had withdrawn the night before. His neighbour kept bugging him on Wednesday night and finally the guy yelled, "Leave me alone! I'm writing my goodbye letters!" My stomach tightened when he said that...I thought, "Dear G-d, please don't let it get that far for me..." What was so strange about it all is that a sergeant and lieutenant then showed up on our section a little after 10pm, and told the guy, "Hey, we just received word you got a stay. We're going to move you to B-Pod." I'd never known it to happen like that at night time. Of course, the section all cheered and clapped! We were all really happy for him.
Thursday morning I had a legal visit and it went well...more information to bolster my hope! Another Jewish organisation has filed a brief in support of me and I was excited to hear that...There are other good things coming down the pipe line soon, and maybe in September I'll know one way or the other what the Courts want to do.
You know, I was thinking about the 'Task Force' Greg Abbott put together to stop domestic terrorism and white supremacy, but I wonder if that goes as far as stopping white supremacist Judges who are biased against Jewish or minority defendants? I'd be curious to know his thoughts on it. If a person wields power (in my case the Judge) against a religious or other minority, and it causes harm (wrongful convictions, death penalty etc,) is that a form of terror? I'd be really curious to know.
Anyway, I left the visit with a ton of hope and positivity!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 13th, 2019
I can't express how hot it is right now...My fan is blowing 24/7 but offering little respite or relief for that matter. I just keep thinking though, "General population is 10 x's worse!"
I'm a little depressed today, but functioning...I would've liked to go to recreation, but they've cancelled it for pest control...I hope they make it up tomorrow. I did go ahead and exercise in my cell, but I would prefer to get outside and stretch my legs.
Last night I received some sample covers of my memoir from my girlfriend, and I was blown away with how awesome and striking they look...I know which one I want! They just all look amazing and I'm so proud of her and her level of creativity. She blows me away constantly!
As soon as I looked at the sample covers, I became all the more eager and excited to get the book published. This has been a life long dream of mine that she has helped make a reality - I love her so much...I can't say it enough!
Last night, on a radio program, I heard a song by the band Dashboard Confessional called, 'So long, so long'. I'd never heard it before but it was really good. The way it starts quiety with piano, and builds...It's a really sad song. I'd been waiting to hear a song request I made, U2's 'Unforgettable Fire', but they didn't play it...Maybe next week.
It's now after 5pm as I write this. We never got recreation...dinner was like something out of a horror movie, and I've been a bit down in the dumps. Here's hoping that tomorrow will be better!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 12th, 2019
It's been a stressful week, but more so for private reasons than any overall thing to do with my appeals or even what's going on back here (even though it seems we keep getting these new administrations that want to make life as unbearable as possible...more on that in a second). I am super worried about my girlfriend, and I can only hope that she'll continue to heal and get better...Please continue to pray for her!
Well, one reason things are stressful is that I'm not looking forward to going through the emotional stress of watching someone (he could still get a stay in the next couple of days) leave for an execution and never come back. All of these years it has been from a distance - I've been on the same pod and watched someone leave, from my window I've watched people be loaded into a van like cattle to the slaughter, and I've had friends executed. But...to be right here...to hear this dude every single day and to talk to him and then...the cell will be empty and that voice can no longer be heard, chatting...It's hard to think about. Sometimes I feel like we're dogs in a kennel waiting to be put to sleep.
On top of that, this new Major is enforcing all of these stupid rules (whilst they've always been on the books) that most administrations and officers have understood are dumb rules, and they never enforce them. As long as we remain relatively well behaved, there has been a tolerance for lesser infractions. But not now...This guy wants our beds made when we're not in them (out of habit from home, boarding school, and prison, I make sure I make mine as soon as I get up and then flip the mattress back so it's out of the way). He doesn't want anything on the floors except for shoes, and when we leave, the cell must be in perfect military grade order...If not, he has allowed the officers to cancel (we call it 'jack') our recreations and showers. We've got a crap ton of lazy guards - the worst it has ever been, and this gives them an excuse to take people's recreations and showers. The side effect of that is, however, irritated inmates, cussing, banging on doors, and just a generally unsafe and hostile environment for everyone. It's an unnecessary stress for those of us on death watch.
Then, the air cooling system is blowing out tepid air, and it has been 100 degrees or higher for almost a week now...so we're all just miserable. I've never run my fan like this 24/7, and have been waking up in puddles of sweat! I know if it's this bad here, the guys in general population who don't have any air cooling at all, except for personal fans and large warehouse fans mounted to the ceilings that do nothing but blow hot air around like a convection oven...I know they're wholly miserable!
I also feel bad for this guy with his execution date this week. It's already 10am as I write this and he's worried he won't be getting his last visits today as scheduled. That has to suck and should never be allowed to happen to anyone in this situation! In the last few days before execution, you're allowed all day visits with friends and family (I think up to ten people) and most guys leave at 8am. He is still in his cell and that makes me so sad...That being said, he's talking to a guy a few cells away and seems to be in okay spirits...Wait, he's going to visits now at 10.29am. Good...I was worried for him and the people here to visit him. I pray this man will get a stay...
Otherwise, I'm just doing what I normally do and trying to remain positive and upbeat. Please keep praying for my Taffy (my nickname for my girlfriend!) Thank you all.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 6th, 2019
I had these deep thoughts I wanted to spend time writing about, with regard to the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and one of these days I'll write about it because I'm starting to think that whilst gun culture is a big deal, I also think that the bigger problem is this country's revenge culture. We have to 'get everyone back' who has ever slighted us, or is a threat to us or has hurt us...I do want to write about it and I will, but today I'm switching gears...
My girlfriend has not been too well recently, and has had so much stress in her personal life, as well as handling the news about my execution date. She's been exhausted lately, and I'm super worried about her. I ask anyone who cares about us to pray for her in this time, and that she gets back to full strength quickly.
It can't be understated how important she is in my fight to live, and how much I love her and consider her my team mate in all of this. If I live, it will be because of her and because of my attorneys. Their resolve in this fight and their belief in me has been overwhelming. I may not express it every day in a journal, but she is the best thing that has happened to me. Someone recently told me, "I know why you love her so much." She is such a wonderful human being: a strong and independent woman, and a fighter. But her heart...her heart shines like none other. It seems crazy to say, "I don't want to ever love anyone else," but I really don't.
So, please pray for her to get better for me...It would mean so much...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 4th, 2019
Most people don't go outside and stand in the rain as it washes over their body, and have the thought, “Will this be the last time I ever stand in the rain?” I try not to entertain these thoughts...These, 'Is this the last time I'd do this or that?' thoughts, but it crept into my mind as I went outside alone yesterday.
I thought I was going outside to play basketball, but when no one else showed up I was almost relieved to have a couple of hours to reflect and pray in absolute silence...I was grateful for the peace and quiet.
The sky was a bright grey, the sun illuminating the clouds from behind. As I walked around the rec yard I felt a drop of rain, than another, then what seemed like a cascade of raindrops fell from the sky...I stopped walking around, looked up at the sky, and faced the question I was trying to push out of my mind; trying so desperately to ignore. Then, I embraced the rain! I took in a deep breath of fresh air, enjoying the rain's distinctive scent, and watching as the intense heat of the day caused the rain to evaporate quickly as it pounded the hot concrete.
Memories...memories of puddle hopping in Kentucky, mud fights in Arlington, Texas, with my best friend, Chad, and as a kid, almost getting struck by lightening when running for cover from rain and hail during a thunderstorm in Kentucky. Rain...The sadness of rain...The beauty of rain...
When the rain stopped I said, “God, don't let this stop...let me have this.” Of course, it had to come to an end and I stomped in the puddles that had collected in the rec yard. I embraced my inner child and puddle hopped one more time...Hopefully, not for the last time.
I'm sure that to those on the other side of the glass, I must have looked like I had lost my mind, but I didn't care. I never care in these moments...And why should we?
Courage, strength, hope and faith.
August 3rd, 2019
Yesterday was one of those days that really sucked...It all started with having one of the laziest, worst group of officers working. Wait, did I say 'working?' Oops! They didn't do any work, and whilst I'm fairly used to that and it's very frustrating, things move on and you can put your head down and try to stay busy with your own stuff. My neighbour to the right of me was gone to special visits with his family, so I knew I was going to be bumped up a round of recreation, so I kept myself busy until it was time...
Then, on third round, everything broke out into chaos. There was a guy in the day room who doesn't have a lot of support, so we're making sure that he has plenty of food, coffee, and things that he needs, so that his last days aren't completely miserable. Someone upstairs had sent him a bag of chips and some chicken pouches for him to take back to his cell when suddently a sergeant shows up and starts barking at the guard, "The new major watched him get that food, on the cameras! Take his food, put him in the shower and go in and take ALL of his property. He's getting put on Level 2!"
Well, this upset the whole section, and everyone was pleading with the sergeant, and saying, "C'mon, man, the dude has a freakin' month to live!" You're going to take all of his property? That's BS!"
Now, this particular sergeant is a young hot head with a 'small man complex' and starts barking, "Y'all shut the f**k up or we'll take everyone's property!" Of course, this resulted in a lot of guys cussing and threatening back.
They put the inmate in the shower and then I said, "Go ahead and put me out at recreation. I'm next up and the only way all of us have a chance to get our recreation is if you keep it moving." The sergeant ignored me and then the guards went in the dude's cell to take his stuff. Another sergeant, probably the only reasonable one, popped up and I said, "Man, tell them to put me out to recreation!" Fortunately, he did. Then, the officers got mad at me and started to gripe. I said, "I'm supposed to have recreation. It's your job. Don't gripe about having to do your job."
I went to recreation and the guards went back to the guy's cell and started packing things up. There was a friend of mine on B-Section, so I walked up to the bars to talk to him because he was asking what was going on, when a hot-headed female guard (and not to be disparaging, but...not the brightest tool in the shed) walks in. Now, when I'm upset or nervous I tend to walk with my hands crossed behind my back, and that's exactly where my hands were when she says, "Don't think about it!" I had no idea what she was talking about, so I say, "What? I'm not allowed to talk to the guy on B-Section?"
"You were going to shake his hand," she responded.
"My hands are behind my back. How am I going to shake his hand?"
"You need to calm down."
"I am calm. You're the one talking nonsensical," I said.
"Calm down!" She barked.
I squished up my face in a "really?" expression, took a mental deep breath and said, "This place has turned into a freaking mental institution." And I walked away.
"What did you say?" She barked again.
"I said, the insane are in charge of the asylum. Sheesh..."
"I'm not the one on death row facing an execution date."
"Yeah...real original, that one. Funny thing about that...Every person on this planet is walking around with an expiration date."
Someone yelled out their door at me to stop entertaining her nonsense, so I cut the conversation off. I was really mad though.
They continued to screw the section over for the rest of the evening.
This is what is upsetting for me...and I've said this since I've been on death watch. Something changed! During my many years of being on death row, the men who had execution dates were treated with a certain dignity and borderline compassion. I think under different administrations the consensus was, they could be killed, they're receiving their 'justice' why add to it? The guys on death watch were a top priority and even if someone was acting up, getting into trouble etc, they were given a chance or two to modify their behaviour before having their property taken, or being severely punished...But that seems to be out the window now.
On top of that, we're routinely screwed out of the things we're supposed to have if we are behaving, like, every other day an entire floor gets screwed out of recreation. We're no longer a priority...When we have an issue that needs to be addressed it gets ignored. I've never seen it this bad in all of my years back here and the truth is we're being the better human beings in this...NO ONE is threatening to hurt anyone. NO ONE is hurling hateful words. We're upset, but the so-called 'law abiding citizens and good people' are treating us worse than dog crap. So, who are the better human beings? When a human intentionally harms someone in the name of the State, then the State loses its moral superiority...But what do I know?
Anyway, onwards and upwards! I'm trying to not let it affect me.
I was reading a book of thoughts I received from one of my attorneys; it's by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. It's called 'The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy'. I've been reading a quote or two a day, reflecting upon it and seeing if I can apply it to my life. It's kind of helped in the last couple of days of chaos...
On Thursday I had a legal visit with an Investigator and paralegal who work for my attorneys, and it was a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed it and I'm just amazed by the hard work and HEART these wonderful human beings put into fighting for the guys they represent. I am so grateful for all of it!