Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fifty Thousand Words, Supposedly

August 15th 2009

One of my high school history teachers was something of a pothead. Actually, I guess he was probably my favorite high school teacher, although that probably had more to do with the fact that he would buy us bottles of whiskey for the Friday night football games. Whenever he was too lazy or hungover to bother with glancing at his teaching plan, he would grab one of the TV’s from the library and pop in some movie, usually one with some connection (though said connection could be pretty tenuous) to a historical event. Mr. S taught me all manner of useful life lessons, but the one that I am applying today is: when you run out of words, show some pictures.

And so I have a visual treat for you today: fifty photographs taken within the walls of the Polunsky Palace. Now, before some of you gleefully scamper off to the blogosphere to post about how “Death Row Inmate Still has Cameraphone; Whitaker to TDJC: Owned!”, I would like to inform you that these photos were provided by the State of Texas in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by attorney Yolanda Torres. Sorry, no scandal for you today. And now, without further ado, step into my world …(say that in a creepy Vincent Price voice, it will sound cooler).

It’s difficult to describe for you just how massive Polunsky is, unless you see it from ABOVE, but you can at least see some of the exterior from these first two photos.

One of the many gun-towers which ring the perimeter fence. Guards are armed with AR-15’s of the 5.56mm (.223) variety. Gun-boss is a highly sought after position in the penal world, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the vast stretches of boring shifts one encounters there.

View of the Death Row building from within the perimeter fence (taken, I believe, from near 1-Building)

This is the external hallway which connects 12-Building (DR) to the visitation room. The complex to the right is 11-Building. This is as close as we ever get to touching grass or being outdoors. If not for the fence, I sometimes feel I would gladly get whacked over the head with a baton for stumbling and falling into the field.

The B.O.S.S. chair. Basically, a metal detector for your backside. The upper portion sticking up on the right side is for scanning your mouth. Windows to 12-Control can be seen behind the chair. This is where all movements are monitored and controlled for the DR population.

Seal painted on the wall next to the DR entrance, just in case you weren’t sure about where you ended up in life.

Another view of 12-Control. Think Safety…when you are clubbing an offender unconscious. We wouldn’t want anyone to get carpal tunnel now, would we?

The rather anticlimactic entrance to the Death Capital of the Western World.

The first of the crash gates along the central DR hallway. In one of my earliest entries from 2007, I described how the paint scheme resembled the bleeping of a heart monitor, jagging up and down in the distinctive pattern which we are all familiar with. After a few “beats,” the line goes flat, about the time you reach the first gate. People wrote me angry letters, claiming that my words were more incendiary than veridical, and that no government body would do such a thing. You can see the horizontal flat line painted here with your own eyes, and in a later photo you will be able to see the last “gasp” bleep, before the line goes “dead.” For most of you, this is going to horrify or at least trouble your sensibilities, but you need to realize than Texans demand regular executions, and so they are simply riding the crest of public opinion with this kind of stuff. This is socially acceptable behavior in Redneckland.

The entrance to A-Pod, my current home.

1-Row, A-Section, A-Pod, otherwise known as DeathWatch. This is the last home for the men here living in Texas’ DR, as the final months of their lives wind down. The large doors are the cell entrances, and the small doors outlined in blue/green paint are the entrances to the pipe-chase. When you hear keys jangling about and the rusty creak of these small doors opening, you know they are about to shut off the water and institute a shake-down.

The inside of someone’s cell on DeathWatch. They picked a relatively clean cell, at least in terms of the amount of paint still on the walls. Nearly all of the paint in my cell has peeled off.

View of a home-made clothesline in a cell. This is a prime example of a TDCJ catch-22 type situation. They make an environment where is it IMPOSSIBLE not to catch a case from time to time (I’ve got two minor cases to my credit.) These clotheslines are contraband, and for having one you can be written up. It can even be classified as a “dangerous weapon.” And yet, we have to wash our clothes, somehow. Most of us use our sinks, though I have heard of men using their toilets as well. After this washing, these clothes must dry, right? This is common sense, and yet the system refuses to bother with creating a solution to this paradox, save writing cases. The massive amounts of minor cases are then collected, and eventually paraded about in front of the Clemency Board as proof that none of us are capable of rehabilitation. As if the existence of a clothesline somehow negates a persons right to live. I know you think I must be kidding, but I have known men who were denied clemency for disciplinary reasons, despite not having ever been tagged with a major case. You can see the small window I have mentioned in the past in this photograph.

Our sink-toilet combo.

The view of a cell door closing.

The showers in each section look like this. You are closed inside this chamber, then un-cuffed though the bean-chute, and must wait until the officers feel like returning for you. (Usually this takes 15 to 45 minutes, although we have been kept in here for more than two hours before or during shakedown.)

The manner in which food is delivered into each cell. Also, when you are cuffed you must back up to the chute, and slide your hands out behind you, so the officers can administer the restraints.

What an empty cell looks like, and the mattresses which are provided to us . This is basically what you get from the state after you arrive. If you have any money, you can purchase items from the commissary. I know many men who have lived for decades here in rooms nearly as empty as this. I have received some flak from people who were peeved off that I spent some of the money given to me on such men, as if this was some sort of betrayal of their intentions. I can appreciate someone wanting their gift to go where it was intended…but, come on, how could I not feel for such people? Look at the emptiness of this cell and tell me I don’t have an ethical obligation to try to help in some small way.

Another view of the window. You can see the mold growing up along the roofline, the result of leakage from the poor construction job you paid top-dollar for. Every single cell in the building leaks, most worse than this one. This has been deemed a health hazard, of course, but nobody really cares about enforcing such decrees. The fact that they released this photo pretty much proves how axiomatic their disdain is for the human rights crowd. In a different way, it also shows just how impotent are the people behind said HR movement.

The staircase leading to 2-Row, B-Section, A-Pod

A couple of officers standing around, which is pretty indicative of how they spend the majority of their time at work.

I really cannot believe they released these. The colossal arrogance of these people! This is the Cage. It is located in the main DR hallway. They place you inside of this sans clothing, as they shake down your house. All manner of people walk by this, as it is the main thoroughfare for the entire building. I guess this was designed as a shaming mechanism, although it is hard for me to conceive of anyone here even remembering what shame is after a few months. I’ve actually seen – with my own eyes, mind – men placed inside the Cage after being gassed and sprayed with CS/CN gas and paint balls, to prevent them from washing off the chemical agents. Ever used meat tenderizer? That’s what this stuff does to human skin. After a few hours in the Cage, you are as red as a lobster (even if you are black), and only then do they take you down to F-Pod.

A view of one of the sets of outdoor rec yards. This is all the socializing any of us ever get, talking through the mesh screen and bars.

The “tray-box”. Some men are placed in such cells for disciplinary reasons. It allows the officers to pass a tray to an inmate without the slot ever being open.

A view of 2-Row, F-Section, A-Pod. The door leads into the next section. There are divisions between each section, both on the first and second rows.

This cell has a plexi-glass shield covering the windows. This effectively prevents you from being able to hear your neighbors when they shout to you.

Many of the cells bear these burn marks. Setting fires is a pretty common means of getting the attention of a ranking officer. Another catch-22. If a regular guard is violating a rule, you have to rely on the same guard to get rank to resolve the situation. Now, you might ask, why would a guilty guard do such a thing? They wouldn’t, of course. So you set a fire and end up going to F-Pod because of a situation originally started by the system itself.

Some utter nonsense about “loyalty to the Institution.” “Remember, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.” Absolutely f-ing classic.

Hahaha…truly awesome. Nothing puts the “moron” in “oxymoron” like “TDCJ” and “Code of Ethics.” I have tears running down my face over this one. They have some weird, convoluted moral calculus going on around here, don’t they? “Be ethical, as we commit mass murder.”

The property room, I guess. I’ve never seen this place with my own eyes, but I don’t know what else it could be. I guess the answers this question about where all our stuff goes once it is confiscated.

One of the tray carriers, loaded with food for somebody. I don’t actually think this is from DR, because our carriers are much shorter, but maybe this photo is years old. Not sure.

One of the legal booths in the visitation rooms. This is actually the one reserved for “last visits” between men about to be killed and their families.

The room where I visited with the psychologist.

A view of the visitation room, from the perspective of the visitor.

The portion of the visitation room used by GP inmates.

The cells where DR inmates conduct their visits.

A legal booth inside of 12-Building, where offenders accused of committing crimes are interrogated.

Well I hope you enjoyed the little nickel-tour of my world. I have to believe that the more people know, the more they will agree with me on the need for intelligent prison reform. If nothing else, I think it’s pretty cool to get to see a place nearly inaccessible to normal people. Thanks for allowing me to help you waste time at work!

For where did Dante take the material of his hell but from our actual world? And yet he made a very proper hell of it.

Arthur Schopenhauer “Homo Homini Lupus”

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