What happens when they take you to Death Watch?
By Randy E. Halprin
In July 2019, I received an execution date of October 10th of the same year. On October 4th - just six days away from my scheduled execution - I received the news from my attorneys that the Court of Criminal Appeals had issued a stay, and forwarded my case to the Trial Court for review. At the time of writing this (April 2020) my case is still under review, and I wait with hope for the right outcome.
On the day I received my stay of execution, the feelings of gratefulness and relief were overwhelming. After moving from Death Watch – the isolated section they move us to when we receive an execution date – I realised there was a lot of psychological trauma I needed to process and deal with. It didn't hit me all at once, and even now I'm still dealing with that trauma...This is why I wanted to write something that might help others who are going through the same process, and even those without a formal execution date may benefit from being prepared.
I particularly wanted to write this piece (and share the attached document) in the hope that it will shed some light on how things are done once an execution date has been set. I have always believed that none of this process (or anything to do with the death penalty) should be carried out in any kind of secrecy, and that everyone should know what the process involves – particularly those who support the use of the death penalty.
When I found myself going through the ordeal of being taken to death watch, the clinical nature of the process left me cold...The feeling that this was being carried out in a 'behind closed doors' fashion, served to rubber-stamp my feelings that they were trying to remove the 'human being' from what they were doing. My sense of dignity kicked in, and I felt a surge of courage and strength that got me through what came next, and carried me all the way until I received my stay.
When someone here receives an execution date, the Death Row Administration is sent a copy of the court order and scheduled execution date. They will then notify a pod officer of the execution date, and ask them to escort the inmate to the Captain or Major's office. If the inmate is aware of his execution date before this meeting takes place (usually we are notified firstly by our attorneys) it's wise to have any belongings packed and ready to go. This expedites the moving process and decreases the chance losing any personal property. I lived out of my property bags for a few days before being moved.
Once the inmate is in the Captain or Major's office, they will hand the inmate a folder with the necessary paperwork, and this has to be filled out FOURTEEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE EXECUTION DATE. I recommend that the visitation list for final visits be filled out, together with a Will and the paperwork for the arrangements after death, as soon as possible. I've known it happen numerous times when the administration asks for the paperwork early (it happened to me!) or the inmate was not prepared or didn't have the required information to hand. The final visits are extremely important to both the person facing execution, and their loved ones, and it's a good idea to have these details worked out as far in advance as is possible.
There used to be a time when a person on Death Watch was not given special privileges per se but were nonetheless considered 'top priority' because of what was at stake. Sadly, this top priority does not exist anymore. You are no longer guaranteed recreation...You are no longer guaranteed a phone call. When and if this happens, it's important to have a loved one or friend stay active for you throughout the process, and they can call to complain to a Warden on your behalf. For an inmate on death watch to have the small privileges he is entitled to, active involvement in the process is imperative. When you call the prison to complain, be sure to express that you are not asking for anything more than the inmate is allowed to have as a 'Level One Offender'. You are not asking for special attention, ONLY what he is allowed to have and should have, especially in those final days. If a family member cannot stay involved, don't hesitate to ask the inmate's attorney to get involved. Someone must put pressure on the Administration.
On March 1st, 2020, the rules regarding mail were changed. We can no longer receive greetings cards on death row, or in any Texas prison. I lost count of all of the wonderful cards and letters I received from well-wishers when I was on death watch. I appreciated each and every one of them and they kept my spirits raised throughout that very dark period. With cards no longer allowed, a note on a plain piece of white paper will always be appreciated by someone on death watch. It lets the person know that there are people who care, and who are praying for them, and is very important in helping the condemned person get through that period.
Please read the document attached to familiarize yourself with the execution protocol. It isn't an easy read by any means, especially as it's so clinical in its approach to what is essentially preparations to murder someone. That said, being aware of everything that needs to be done can and will avoid any unnecessary stress, at a time when things can be so painful already.
I truly hope this helps, and may G-d help us to end the death penalty once and for all.
Randy E. Halprin
During his time on death watch, Randy wrote some very moving and traumatic accounts of seeing his fellow-inmates being taken to their deaths, and the trauma of all those on death watch in having to deal with these events. He also gave us some very valuable insight into what a death row prisoner's time is like on death watch.
You can read these death watch journals in the July 2019-December 2019 Journal tab.
Thank you for reading, and for your continued kindness and support.