Saturday, December 4, 2010

149's Corner - A Journal from Death Row - Entry #1

by Arnold Prieto, Jr #999149

As the morning sun began peeking into my room, I began getting ready for what I have come to call my "morning ritual.” I love looking out at the morning sun as it finds its way through my tiny window. Its natural light is much easier on my old eyes than the fluorescent lights in the cells, and I seem to see much better with the sun bathing my room.

Well, this morning was much clearer than I could have imagined! I found myself in a very tranquil state as I sat on my concrete floor enjoying the sun. Then the feeling of "Death Row" came upon me. I know where I am at and I hold no illusions about it, but every once in awhile you are hit with a moment of "realizing it” as if it was the first time I’ve had it or as if I had stayed on the Row all of these years only to realize it for the first time. This feeling brings with it the knowledge that things are coming to and end for me. I truly tried to hold onto that feeling for as long as I could.

After a few hours of meditating I saw an image in my head that comes from daydreaming, I guess. It was of a grandfather clock sitting in the corner of a room where death sat in all its regalness. Death stirred every time the minute hand moved. I believe that what I felt this morning as I sat on my floor enjoying the sun was the actual tick of the minute hand on that clock.

I shared this experience with a loved one this afternoon in a letter. Feeling that it was such a personal experience that I couldn’t share it with anyone but her. Well, it is still stuck in my mind so I thought that maybe the only way to dispel it would be to share my craziness with others. :)

I’m not a man who looks for signs or whatever in life, in order to proceed in a certain way, etc ... but I couldn’t help but to think that my friends invitation to write for his website might be a good way to rid myself of a lot of things I have been feeling. I speak, of course, of Thomas Whitaker. So, I am going to take him up on his offer. You’ll just have to forgive me though because I’m nowhere close to being a writer of any sort!

I guess I should say a little about myself, so you can have a mental picture of who this Mexican-American is: I’m not perfect, I’m not always right, I’m not tall nor handsome (but then, I wouldn’t want to be ... handsome that is, in a warehouse full of men, ha!). I’m not covered in tattoos, even after spending almost half of my life on the Row. For two reasons: number one, Hepatitis C and other blood diseases are rampant back here due to the practice of sharing needles, tattoo or otherwise. Second, I hate needles! I’d rather set myself on fire than to punish myself with hours of grueling needlework on my skin! Ironic, isn’t it? Fear of needles, and I end up on the busiest Death Row in the Western World. I just don’t know what’s worse: Hep C or needles. I’ve known many men who died from Hep C, and it is a slow, agonizing death. There are lots of people around me who have it now. I try to always stay conscious about who around me has it, NOT to be nosey but to be aware. You have to understand, I live in a warehouse full of people who are capable of just about anything. It wouldn’t be much of a chore for someone infected to give it to another through food or drink. Nope, not being paranoid, I’ve just seen this happen too many times, both on purpose and through accident. Especially on purpose ... and all for the dumbest of reasons ... just because someone didn’t like the case someone was convicted for. Both of those men have been executed already.

I guess that brings up the topic of friends. In prison you don’t have friends. But there will come a day when a man shows his true colors, as we say, and shows you he can be trusted. Later, he may become a person you can call a "real friend." I’ve used the word friend only 4 times in my years on the Row. Andrew Flores, who was known to us as "Showtime", was my first friend. He was executed in 2005. John Joe "Ash" Amador was my second friend, and at the end, my brother-in-law. He was executed in 2008. Adrian Estrada and Thomas Whitaker are the only living friends I have left on the Row. In a way, I am glad my time has come to an end, because I don’t think I could see 2 more friends get murdered by the state.

(I keep saying that "my time is up," so I guess I had better explain this a bit: I’m awaiting an execution date because my appeals have run their course through the system. I intend to keep writing this journal once they give me a date, though you will have to excuse me because I’ve never written any sort of journal before.)

My friend Showtime was a good friend, indeed. Before we were moved to this unit, Death Row resided at the Ellis-One Unit. Ellis was a much older farm than Polunsky, built when they didn’t look at prisoners as some sort of animal to be warehoused. We had far more freedom in those days. For example, we had group recreation, which consisted of 20 men. For three hours we could play basketball, handball (my favorite game), dominoes, chess, Scrabble, watch TV, and, most importantly, we were able to hang out and socialize with one another. We had TV's on the wall facing our cells or in the front side of the block. One thing for sure, though, when it was 105° outside, it was 110° inside in our cells! We had no ventilation systems like we do here, with the "climate control system", as they call it. In 1996, it was one hell of a cold winter! I personally loved it! I prefer to be cold than to try to survive in this Texas heat. You can get warmer much easier than you can get cooler; anyways, that’s my philosophy, and I’m sticking to it! J Anyway, Showtime and I always made a good team, be it in a game of dominoes, basketball, or handball.

The day that I called him my friend was the day he stepped up with me when I had a "misunderstanding" with a couple of convicts. He could have easily stayed out of the fray but he didn’t. So I guess you can say that was our first time we ever paired up as a team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Mr Badass, and I have had my behind handed to me on a platter many times throughout my life, but sometimes in prison the tension makes things happen, and Showtime had my back. Since that day, we were the best of friends. Once, in 1998, we were talking about all the food we ate in the free world and only ended up making ourselves hungry. This is pretty common back here, and I have no idea why we do this to ourselves. They had already fed us chow and neither of us went to commissary, so between us we had only one can of beans, haha. You know what, though? We split that can. You don’t see that sort of thing very often, inside or outside.

When Showtime was executed, I had a hard time accepting it. I wont lie to you, I shed tears for my brother, my friend. Never in my life have I felt so damned helpless. He taught me that a friend doesn’t let another friend down, but that is exactly how I felt. That day and for the following week, I couldn’t talk to a guard. Showtime left me with something outside of a friendship, also: a minister! The last 2 weeks of his life Showtime accepted Jesus into his life, thanks to Rev Whiteside, a volunteer chaplain. The day after his execution, I got a visit from this man, and I was pretty angry until he told me that he was there at Showtime’s request. To this day, Rev Whiteside pulls me out for a minister visit, keeping his promise to Showtime.

Friendship, you don’t know what it means until you lose it.

I will continue to talk of some of these men as I continue writing. I will say this, though: I’ve been blessed to be able to know such good people in a place that knows only decay

Well, its 11:02 PM, and its about time for me to go to sleep. Thought for the day: Tell your best friend what he/she means to you ...

Hasta Luego,
Arnold Prieto, Jr

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker & Arnold Prieto, Jr. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

sros said...

For someone who professes not to be a great writer, this entry was one of the most moving I've read. Mr. Prieto's descriptions of his friendships and his anguish at their ending shows that those on death row are human also.