Sunday, August 15, 2010

Letters to a Future Death Row Inmate, Part 4

by Arnold Prieto, Jr #999149

Part 3 can be seen here

Hey man!

What’s up? I saw you walk in earlier into our section. By the look on your face, I figured you just arrived into the Texas Death Machine!

Look man, don’t freak out, ok? This bag 1m sending you along with this kite is a little something until you get your ID issued, which will be a few months. So in the meantime the following items should hold you for a bit: there’s some hygiene items, a few snacks, a few stamps (so you can get into contact with your people in the world because nobody else is going to tell them where you are), envelopes, a writing tablet and a pen. That’s pretty much all I’ve got but I wont be needing it for too much longer anyway. No, I don’t want you to pay me back, or any of the other people who will send you stuff, at least not in like items. Pay me back in the form of helping out any newcomer you see drive up to the Row. In other words, don’t break the chain. The chain is all we’ve got back here. Remember that.

Death Row is not all what you thought it would be, huh? The look you had in your eyes today as you walked in, that’s the same face I had back in 1995. I was a first timer, too, with a wild imagination of what Death Row was going to be like. You are what, 19, 20 years old? About the same age as I was, when I heard the cell door slam shut in 95. It’s a weird feeling, huh? I mean, you are going to hear that door and others slamming every day and night until they shove a needle in your arm, but none of them will sound exactly like the first time. It’s like a drill sergeant standing behind you yelling right into your ear: "You are on Death Row now, boy! Suck it up!" Realize that you are not the only one traveling this road. We all started where you are right now.

Look around you, man. Those white, wet, peeling walls and steel gates and bars will break you down if you let it. And make no mistake, they want you broken. They want you stark raving mad, so they can pump you full of Haldol and Thorazine and wrap your mind in a chemical straight jacket, so that they can ignore you in peace. Trust me, I’ve seen it many times. I know of grown men who stand up on their beds to look out the window hours at a time. When their time comes up for their execution, they fall apart because that window was the only reality they knew. They simply couldn’t handle it when the true reality came a knocking. You need to understand that YOUR reality is Death Row my friend and that one day your number will be called. Facing reality: the key to survival here.

Look man, I’m not going to tell you how to do your time. But I’m speaking to you out of experience. Keep your family close to your heart. There will come a time when life will sweep them away for months or years at a time. They’ll get busy with their lives, and forget you, but don’t hate them for it. After all, you are the one in prison, not them. So don’t waste time and energy worrying about what you have no power over. Instead, try to be productive: use the library to study the issues in your case. Learn how they screwed you over, so you can try to stop that from happening again. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR APPEAL DEADLINES! This is paramount; many of us get killed not because our issues were never investigated, but because our attorneys misread a deadline. That is your reality now: no one will protect you, not your attorneys, not the judge, only you.

Find ways to occupy your mind in that cell. Learn to play chess or to draw. Always keep your cell in order and clean everyday. It does wonders for the psyche! If you don’t believe me, live dirty for a couple of weeks and then clean up. You’ll see how much better you feel. Exercise; nothing big, just enough cardio to keep the cardiac system going. Because this is NOT a place to be sick in. l’ve seen people -friends - die of Hep C, heart failures and kidney failure. A very sad thing to witness, because these people can only treat you "so much." Especially after the governor is telling state agencies to cut back 15%! So keep yourself in shape both mentally and physically.

Try to find someone educated to hang around. These people are pretty rare, but if you look, you will find someone that can teach you philosophy or another language, or maybe some mathematics. There’s a guy teaching a dayroom course on ethics in this section right now. Of the 14 people in the section, nine are participating. This is the type of thing the system hates, and the public never hears about. Participate!

Penpals, now these people who write us are part of our mental survival! So I tell you this: don’t bullcrap with these people who write you from the world. Be honest to them. Their friendship is very important. When you open a letter you just received, you are opening a door into another world. Their world. A reality that will make you laugh, cry, and share great moments. There will be a time when this place will make you feel like an animal, and its their letters that make you feel human again. Oh, before I forget, its a constant state of psychological warfare going on here. When you try to sleep, the guards will slam the gates, and shine flashlights into your face. They will shake you down at all hours of the night, throwing away things that belong to you, like mail and books. DO NOT GET ON THE "HIT LIST." This is a list of trouble-inmates that they treat like Nazi war criminals. You can get on it for bucking the system too much, and for making them look like fools. You get on that list, you had better be made of steel, because they are trying to destroy you. They are going to put insane inmates all around you, so that you have to hear them shouting and see them throwing feces all over the place, setting fires and flooding the run. There is no “good time” for dealing with frustrations, man. Once you see that this is a state of war, you’ve just gained yourself an advantage in the fight. Anyway, if a penpal sends you money be it one dollar or 100, make sure you thank them properly, because it’s their hard-earned money. You had better get smart with the cash, too, because its lean times back here for us.

Man, I don’t know what else to tell you. Be your own man, respect others and others will show you the same respect. Those who don’t, they are not convicts, just inmates, and they don’t deserve your attention. Stay out of peoples business in here and keep your nose clean. They will drop some bullshit cases on you, but trying to stay clear of them will minimize all of that.

Well, my friend, keep that commissary bag. It was given to me back when I drove up and now I’m giving it to you. They don’t sell those anymore, so it’s worth more than gold. It will serve you if you ever get off of Death Row and go to GP, too. But if you are still here and your number gets called, pass it on to someone else who just drove up.

You know, I wonder when this door closes for the last time for me soon if it will tell me something new. It’ll probably tell me the same thing that it has countless times before to countless others, that hope is pointless back here.

Never forget man:
  • Face reality;
  • Honesty to those in the world and back here who help you;
  • Try to be at least two steps ahead of the psychological war; and
  • Never Break the Chain

Finally, remember what a friend told me a few years ago: pain is weakness leaving the body.

Well, then, you take care of yourself, man.

With Respects,
Arnold Prieto, Jr

Artwork drawn by Arnold Prieto, Jr

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.


D Ruelas said...

Hi Arnoldo:
I have known about you through my good friend TW and am happy you are again in the same pod.
The time you have taken to write these recommendations for future DR inmates is very well used. Wouldn't it be great if they were really put in an "orientation book" and given to each DR newcomer? It would be of great value for them. Who knows...maybe some day...
My prayer is that some day SOON, the death penalty in Texas (and elsewhere) will be abolished!! In your lifetime. You ARE a human being...a human being that made a bad choice.
Thanks for taking time to share your experiences.
Ever since TW put up the picture of Jesus you drew, it has really amazed me! It is BEAUTIFULLY done!! God bless you and. Saludos. Dorothy

I don't know why said...

I would also like to thank you for taking the time to write these very interesting recommendations for us to read. You may feel as though you are shut away from the world; however, I can assure you that your words are being read, and they are appreciated from people all over the globe. (I type this from Sydney, Australia) Your artwork is absolutely fantastic, and you should continue drawing and showing such wonderful pieces. Thank you again for sharing your artwork and for taking the time to write.