My Life on Texas Death Row
The two most common questions we get asked here are what is life like on death row (DR) and what is a typical day for me. So I thought I'd answer both questions in this one article.
Let me start by saying that there are two DRs in Texas, one for men and one for women. The women's is at a unit in Gatesville, which I think is close to Waco. The men's is in Livingston, which is about one and half hour northeast of Houston. Us men get treated much more harshly than the women, and I'll give examples shortly.
I first came to DR in May of '96. Back then, we were housed at a unit in Huntsville, which is about an hour west of here. When I arrived at the unit, it was nothing of what I expected. I was told that, because I was an ex-cop, I had to do at least six months time in "single-man recreation" as opposed to being in group recreation. Group recreation?! Yup, I had thought we'd all be separated somehow. Then they brought me to my wing, and I looked in and saw TVs along the wall and guys playing basketball and handball outside in the rec yard, all getting along just fine. Every race. As I walked to my cell towards the end of the run, I heard some guys taunting me with names like pig and wanting me to get outside with them. Since they had heard about me on TV, I expected that.
After I got inside my small cell, my neighbor, Earnest Willis, asked me if I needed anything, as did a few other neighbors. My first thought was that they were trying to "punk me out" somehow, so I declined and said I was fine. Yet within days, I was sent things like a new T-shirt by Genaro Comacho and toothpaste by Hank Skinner. Although I still received some taunts, I figured it was more just harassment and didn't feel threatened.
So two days after my arrival, when I was coming back form a routine medical check up, I asked the captain if I could be placed into group recreation with the rest of the guys if I signed some sort of release form if I was harmed. He told me there was such a form, and he took me to speak with the warden and classification committee. They agreed to release me, and I showed up in the next rec day's group. Long story short, I got along with everyone just fine. I worked out with them, played basketball and handball with them. It was in that rec group that I met Charles Hood who, to this day, is still my best fellow prisoner friend, even though he accepted a deal for a life sentence and is at a different level.
After six months, I became eligible for the work program. Work program?! Yup. I worked in the garment factory, making pants for the TDCJ guards. We had large pointed scissors, screwdrivers, needles, and other "weapons" at our disposal. Yet not one incident occurred!
I met some very decent people who had made some horrible choices in their lives that ended the lives of their victims, yet now they are totally changed men. Hood is one such person all of you reading this would love to have as your next door neighbor (if you didn't know his past). I met one of the best examples of a Christan ever, yet he was executed. His name was Jose Gutierrez (sp), and I'll never forget him. I also met someone I still consider to be my second best prisoner friend, Eric Cathey. I'm also still friends with Hank Skinner and never even knew he sent me that toothpaste until he finally admitted it to me last year!
Unfortunately, we all got transferred to this Polunsky Unit (or what we call living hell) in 2000. While the women still have group rec, a work program, TV, shaving razors, nail clippers, pencil sharpeners, multi-plug outlet extension cords, and church services, to my knowledge, us men have had all of that taken away from us. Why!? I didn't do anything to warrant such punishment or discrimination. But that's TDCJ Polunsky Unit officials for ya. And apparently the Texas Senate. John Whitmire knows all about these unjust actions against us and maybe even initiated some.
Polunsky has it so if one man does something wrong, they punish all 250 of us rather than the one man. One guy here, Richard Tabler, got a hold of cellphone and called Whitmire. He harassed or threatened him somehow. Yes, I agree we DO have guys in here who deserve to be punished for THEIR actions because THEY break rules. But now we ALL get locked down and severely shaken down every 90 days, whereas the women are one or two times a year like we men USED to be.
Here again, I (and others) did not and have not done anything wrong. Yet we get punished?! Can you imagine this kind of injustice happening to YOU all out there reading this? Your neighbor commits a crime and YOU get punished for it as well? This mentality by TDCJ is WHY we have prisoners who are released and commit crimes again. Because they have been TAUGHT by TDCJ's example of how just corrupt the system is. It gives them no hope or desire to want to do good. The system SHOULD lead BY EXAMPLE of doing things properly and justly. But the example is injustice and corruption, and many prisoners LEARN that example very well and exercise that knowledge when they get out.
There is SO MUCH EVIL here at Polunskey and TDCJ, and I'm NOT talking about the prisoners! Every day... EVERY DAY in this Plunsky hellhole is a "fight" for justice for me because I'm MISteated somehow. Even though I will not bother going to my single man rec time or even to the shower booth, I STILL get abused somehow. They are SUPPOSED to give us shaving razors when we go to the shower booth on Sunday, Wednesday, and Fridays. But do they? NO! I have not been able to shave in 26 days now, and there's no end in sight because they are claiming that they don't even have anymore razors on this unit because they are back ordered.
Now remember, the DR women have their own razors and can buy them from commissary along with 140,000 other TDCJ prisoners. But not us DR men because one man, who has since been executed, made a razor vest to protect himself from being beaten up by guards. They had even taken away our earplugs for about two years because of one guy. EARPLUGS!
Although I have to say that MOST guards are pretty decent with us, MOST of the officials here are not. They tend to hate us and want to inflict harsh treatments upon us for no valid reason at all. And BY FAR, the VAST majority of guards who mistreat me and others are WOMEN! Polunsky officials love placing women who are man-haters or have some "issue" where they feel a "need" to exercise abusive authority over men, over us DR men. Women oversee all our grievances, incoming, and outgoing mail, and monitoring video surveillance.
Oh, that's something else only us DR men have: video cameras watching us everywhere we go when we are out of our cells. And us DR men get stripped naked anytime we are coming back to our cells from the rec areas and visits. In other words, female guards are watching us men get naked all day long. Are male guards allowed to strip out the female prisoners? I'm just asking.
And can you imagine yourself not being able to clip your finger or toenails for four to five weeks? If not, come to men's DR! Here again, the women and 140,000 other prisoners can buy nail clippers for commissary. So the policy for us DR men is that nail clippers are to brought to us once every week. Are they? Pfft! See all my grievances on this matter, and see how the women always deny them. Then on my pod's night for the clippers, I have to ask. And ask, and ask, and ask for them for many hours before an officer MIGHT go get them and complain to me about it. Yeah, they complain even though I'm not even supposed to have to ask. Because they are supposed to be brought to me automatically. Just another "fight" I have to routinely deal with in here because Polunsky officials don't care.
Polunsky Unit has what they call six pods all for us DR men back when we had over 400 of us. Now with only about 290, two of the pods house general population (GP) and administrative segregation (ad-seg) guys. Each pod has a total of 84 cells, two rows of 42. Each pod is divided into six sections like a pie. In the middle of the pod is the picket where at least one officer remains to work the buttons that electronically pop shower and cell doors and gates open. Because everything is made with concrete and steel, it's LOUD in here and the sounds bounce of the walls. There SHOULD still be a popular blog that has pictures and more information about the cells and Unit. I THINK the addy is www.minutesbeforesix.com. You should check it out.
As for my routine day, depending what section I'm living in, breakfast is served about 3:15 AM. I save the food and go back to sleep until I'm awake again (about 5:30 AM) to ask if I'm going to recreation or to the shower. I rarely rec early, so I either refuse or say yes to a rec time that's after lunch. I go back to sleep till about 10 AM, if I'm lucky. But there are always interruptions for something.
Lunch is served about 10:30 AM, and that's when I eat my saved breakfast and save my lunch for my 1:30 snack. After I eat breakfast, I either read (if I have anything to read) or start writing letters. Or I get ready to go to rec IF I'm going soon thereafter. I then do a little workout, either in my cell or in the rec area, before my 1:30 PM snack. I then write or read or study legal material if I got some from the law library here. I do a lot of legal filing myself, pro se.
I generally do another little workout in the afternoon, eat another snack around 4 PM, and go back to writing or studying. I eat another snack about 6:30 PM. Dinner is served around that time sometimes, but I don't rely on what time it comes. Being hypoglycemic, I eat on my own schedule so longs as I have enough money sent to my account from people out there so I can buy food from commissary. But if I save dinner, I eat it around 9 PM, my last meal for the day.
I have NO control over what time they shower me, so that will vary anywhere from 5:35 AM to 11 PM. Mail gets brought to us around 9:30 PM, but can RARELY come as early as 7 PM to 1:23 AM the next day. Again, officials don't care how late we get kept from sleep, even though it SHOULD be on later than 10 PM. I TRY to be in bed by 10 PM, but that is RARE. So most nights I'm not asleep till anywhere from 11 PM to 12:20 AM, which is why I try to sleep until about 10 AM. I try for eight hours of sleep, but I usually don't get it. If I were out there and had my way, I'd be asleep by 10:30 PM and up by 7 AM.
My workouts don't last that long. We don't have weights around here, so I do pushups, pullups, and improvise exercises. I workout six days a week, and my total workout time each day is maybe 30 minutes. I take the Sabbath (Saturdays) off.
I stay in my cell a lot and mostly only go to the shower booth when it's razor day, so I can shave and cut my hair in there. In addition to writing letters, I do blog posts and work on a website project that I can hope can be posted on www.endradicalandreligioustensions.com. Wanna help me? No!? Well, that's okay. Just please send some money to my TDCJ account via jpay.com or ecommdirect (which costs less) so I can hire a website designer.
Oh, I get cuffed behind my back before I come out of my cell, or the rec area, or visitation. I'm cuffed like that wherever I go and escorted by two officers.
Most of the letters I write are either trying to get new friends or legal help.
Much of the sleep interruptions come from fellow prisoners too. For the past few months, I have two neighbors who talk to each other for several hours a day, even though they are separated by three cells. They are quite loud. Many nights, they don't even start a conversation till after 10 PM and go on loudly till 12:35 AM. I'm a firm believer that we should all stop BSing come 10 PM. Most guys agree with that, but some of that attitude of, "This is prison, and I'll do what I want when I want." That's the identical attitude that got them into prison in the first place! But they don't care.
Since coming to Polunsky, racism has increased TREMENDOUSLY, as we have what we call "cell warriors." They're real brave behind a steel door because we don't have group recreation anymore. At the initial unit, guys were more considerate and respectful.
Top officials of TDCJ wrote specific rules and regulations for death row. It's called the Death Row Plan, and Polunsky wardens are SUPPOSED to FOLLOW those rules. But do they? Pfft. Heck no.
Polunsky Unit officials have always done whatever they felt like doing to us DR men. Hence no razors, nail clippers, earplugs, etc. If you read the Death Row Plan, you'll see that there are three recreation schedules that Polunsky officials MUST choose from and assign us to follow. But instead, in typical Polunsky "do their own thing" fashion, they've assigned a totally different schedul to us that gives us LESS hours than the schedule we were on until 11/7/15. Then they cut it even shorter whenever they feel like it.
For example, today is 3/6/16. Last week, we were only allowed recreation on March 1, March 3, and March 5th. Today and several Sundays prior, they don't bother with recreation or showers because they always claim they are "shorthanded." Whereas I'm sure many officers get too drunk on Saturday nights to make it on Sundays.
1. Plan for alleged shortage by scheduling more officers to come in on Sundays since this is a recurring problem.
2. Better yet, only have one or two officers on each pod rather than the current amount.
3. As previously explained, we are cuffed and escorted by two officers everywhere we go. But so long as we are not leaving the pod (just going to rec or the shower), there is NO NEED for us to be escorted at all. One officer can sit in that picket and roll our doors open one at a time for us to walk to rec or shower by ourselves. It's totally safe since there'd be no one around to harm or get harmed. It would save taxpayers' dollars from having to hire more officers. That's the way this unit was designed, people. Our cells and the shower booths already have a wiring system so that speakers can be installed for us to call to the picket, and vice versa.
So you see, there really is NOT any shortage of officers but rather unnecessary employments and wasted manpower and efficiency. Furthermore, the current rec schedule is NOT authorized by the Death Row Plan. But Polunsky officials are ALWAYS violating the rules and the laws. But no one, including the government, cares about this corruption.
Also, in typical Polunsky fashion, first shift shut rec and showers down as I said. So now second shift came on duty tonight. Do you think THEY ran recs and showers? Heck NO! The reason? And I quote: "The lieutenant said that since first shift didn't do the showers, we're not going to do them either." I then asked, "Are you shorthanded too?"
The answer: "No. It's just that it's not right for first shift to do nothing and leave all the work for us."
Now, people, I agree that first shift is ALWAYS slow-bucking and shutting things down. That doesn't give second shift the right to deny us our recs and showers too! But this is TYPICAL Polunsky DR shift wars, and us men suffer for it. Again, no one cares about the mistreatment, abuses, and violations of the rules or laws or constitutional rights us DR men are SUPPOSED to be protected by.
Well, another day, another update. Now it's 3/7/16, and Polunsky officials have changed the days they will let us have shaving razors in the shower booth. The in-house rule is us men only get razors on our rec days, Monday through Friday. No weekend razors. Wow, talk about lazy!
People, on this new rec schedule, we rec on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one week, then Tuesday and Thursday the next week. And it keeps alternating like that. That means we will only get to shave two times a week one week, and three times a week another week. Just like this new rec schedule, this extreme limitation is NOT authorized by the Death Row Plan or any other written rules from TDCJ headquarters.
And remember, DR women and 140,000 other TDCJ inmates are allowed to buy razors from commissary and keep them in their cells.
This discrimination against us DR men keeps getting worse. What's really sad is that TDCJ made an AGREEMENT in a lawsuit against them made by inmate Ruiz, claiming that TDCJ would be giving ALL privileges BACK to us DR men so we'd be treated like the DR women and other inmates. No longer discriminated against. They made that agreement so the lawsuit would be dropped. So the suit was dropped ONLY because of the agreement TDCJ officially made. That agreement was approximately 14 years ago, and all Polunksy and TDCJ have done since then is take more and more away from us DR men.
Even through pro-death penalty people are always happy when the TDCJ takes more away from us, an official agreement is an official agreement. TDCJ officials are corrupt liars for going against their word and constantly inflicting more harsh abuses on us. It reminds me of the movie The Longest Yard where Burt Reynolds makes the deal with the warden so his fellow inmates wouldn't be abused anymore, but then the lying corrupt warden inflicts even more harm on the inmates. That's exactly what TDCJ and Polunskey officials have been and keep doing to us DR men. Lies are lies, and corruption is corruption. That's TDCJ for ya, and that's the example TDCJ is setting for ALL their inmates and their families and friends.
Since ACLU and other organizations and law firms won't file a class action lawsuit on our behalves, it's a shame that all the anti-death penalty people around the world who manage to collect tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for some guys in here don't pool together to hire an attorney to file another suit against TDCJ for all these abuses and mistreatments and violations of the Ruiz agreement, TDCJ rules, state and federal laws, and constitutional rights. Sadly, it'll never happen, no matter how often the folks of the KPFT prison show complain about our mistreatments on the radio. We need ACTIONS, not words.
I guess that's all for now, folks. I hope this enlightens readers to what my life is like on Texas death row. God bless.
Well, I spoke too soon. I want to make one more update before I mail this off to Between the Bars.
Today is March 8, 2016. Yesterday was our razor day, but first shift left 32 showers and a few recs for second shift to do. So second shift officers were griping about having to do some work 'cause they're just as lazy as the first shift. I was one of the 32 needing to shower and shave.
Well, in order to get guys to VR (verbally refuse) their shower, the second shift officers (Jordan McBride and Kendrick Ryans) LIED to us all by claiming first shift did not leave any razors for them to give us. Since I KNEW that was a lie, I told them I wanted to speak with rank. Mind you, I always talk respectfully to the officers, even when they are young and abusive. After telling me two more lies of excuses, both refused... REFUSED to get rank to speak with me to resolve the issue. And then they REFUSED to shower me by writing VR on the shower sheet. Just because I said I was going to write them up.
I get suicidal thoughts whenever this place abuses me like that, so I told a pill nurse who was making the rounds to please tell rank that I needed to speak with him because I was having suicidal thoughts again. She told McBride who was escorting her. Needless to say, McBride did NOT tell rank 'cause rank would have seen they DID have razors and made them shower me and give me one. HOPEFULLY, depending on who the rank is! Obviously the pill nurse didn't tell anyone either 'cause no one came to speak with me.
I was VERY upset and had to keep raying and trying to think nice thoughts to avoid the suicidal ones. I couldn't get to sleep till about 1:40 AM. Sure enough, this morning when first shift came on at 5:30 AM, the officers told me "well over 30 razors" were still in the picket and they realized that second shift didn't give us any. Thankfully, they gave them to me and the other guys who got screwed over by the second shift. But I had to shower and shave at 5:56 AM!
So this is a prime example of how my sleep gets interrupted routinely 'cause nothing ever runs smoothly around here. Polunsky Unit has ALWAYS been out of control with us DR men. The first unit (Ellis) was not. They treated us like all other TDCJ prisoners. In my four years there, I may have filed three grievances total. In my first four years here at Polunsky, probably 100. Then they placed a limit on the number we can file, naturally. But I've probably filed over 300 here. Again, no one cares about how we're treated.
Okay, I do believe th-th-th-th-that's all folks!
Polunsky Unit #999189
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
2018 apr 5
2017 nov 21
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2017 apr 19
2017 jan 27
2016 jul 7