Wednesday, January 5, 2011

149's Corner - A Journal from Death Row - Entry #2

by Arnold Prieto, Jr #999149

"Life on Ellis-One”

The morning sun was beautiful today. As I write you these words, the last of it is disappearing into a tiny sliver running along my side wall Sure am going to miss it when I’m gone.

Continuing my tale from the LAST TIME: Ellis-One was a much better Unit than the Polunsky Unit. At least after six months of segregation, you could come up before the classification committee, with the possibility that they would let you out of seg and into what was called "The Work Program." This was an entirely different world altogether. In segregation you had only a 3 hour recreation period, which consisted of 20 men, and which occurred every day, M-F. On Saturday and Sunday you’d be locked down. You would shower, of course, because at Ellis they understood such things were not "privileges" but rather "necessities." TV's would be on from 7AM to 10:30PM Sun-Mon, and 7AM to 12:30 Fri and Sat. The meals were always hot, all 3 meals! 3AM was breakfast, 9:30AM was lunch, and 4-5PM was supper. All meals would be delivered to each individual cell in a chow carrier or tray carrier. This was a metal rectangle box that stood upright, and the trays would be slid into rails that were situated on each side. 7 trays could fit into each carrier.

That was in seg, the worst it got. In the work program, there were many more freedoms. For starters, we each had a celly or cellmate in a cell twice as big as in seg. There were 4 metal bunks, 2 on each side of the cell. There was one toilet and one sink. Pretty spacious, especially considering how we live now. We would basically each choose a side, and that was our living arrangement. They ran what was called "ins and outs” every hour starting at 6:30AM. This meant that the cell doors would be open for about five minutes each hour, so you could choose to either stay in or move to the dayrooms or outside. What you chose was your choice until the next hour was up.

Chow was fed by the guards who'd stand behind a steam cart. Something like what you have seen in a cafeteria, except this cart had room for only five hot pans. The kitchen would send a chow cart with all of the meal pans enclosed, so all we had to do was transfer the pans to the steam cart to keep them all hot. Food was always served hot. In the last ten years that we have been on Polunsky. I can say we’ve had maybe 5 hot meals. Four of those times were when inspectors from Huntsville were present on the Unit. We always eat better when they show up. I have a theory as to why we don’t get hot meals here, but that will have to wait for now. I don’t want to be jumping from subject to subject in a chaotic manner. I know that I am hard enough to understand without all of that.

In the work program, you could stay out all day long until rack time at 10:30PM. Back in those times, there was something called “convict respect." Nowadays it’s all about “inmate respect." which is totally different. Yes, two different types of "respect"; again. I shall explain all of this in due course. As for the actual work program, now that was something to witness! On my first day of the program, I was called out at 730AM along with around 40 others. (There were 3½ blocks each with 60 convicts; that last ½ block was for “special inmates.") I was blown away when they issued me a pair of 14 inch metal scissors! So much for the idea that I am some sort of terrorist that cannot function in society. Ah, the things you all are sold. Along with these mammoth scissors, there were box cutters, large needles, all kinds of things that would no doubt shock society if they knew what we had access to! And all of this amongst the presence of civilian workers as well. The program consisted of making, sewing, cutting out the gray pants that the TDCJ officers wore to work throughout the system. I took great pride in my sewing techniques and the quality of work that I put in to everything. Most of those pants are still in use, and it is very likely that the guards who volunteer for the "strap-down" team at my execution will be wearing pants that one of us fashioned.

It is worth noting that during all the years that the work program was in swing, not once was there an incident of violence, despite the availability of useful weapons. Not once. In fact, I am pretty sure that is why they shut it down: too many people were trying to show that the concept of "future dangerousness" was voodoo science. So they took it away. I do know that every last one of us took great pride in our work, and in our stations. There were many rules that we followed to the "T” and during holidays, the head civilian, a Mr Duff, would buy us food from Burger King or some restaurant. Something we all looked forward to, though the best part of it all was being treated like a real human being for a short while.

Right about this time we started a silent movement which did not disturb the day. This was designed not to get us written up for "disturbing the peace.” When there was an execution, we wouldn’t eat during that day or in seg, we wouldn’t have the TV on from 4 to 630PM, as well. A show of solidarity. You don’t see that too often anymore. In fact, Thomas getting gassed while meditating in the dayroom in protest over Kevin’s execution was the last time I’ve seen this, or even heard about it. Out in the program we would have a minute of silence for the person who was executed the prior evening. Being so open, we all had a chance to get to know everyone very well. This was especially true for myself, who eventually transferred out of the work program to work as an SSI, or trustee. I worked trustee in J-21 and J-23, so I had a chance to know many people.

My duties as a trustee were to sweep, mop, and basically keep all 3 tiers clean. The bars would need dusting: and the tv's would need changing. I prepared the food, making sure all food was properly hot and ready for the guards to feed each cell. This was very important to me, to make sure that I was honoring each convict with my full attention. After chow I picked up all trays and slopped them (scraped out the uneaten food into a large pan for the hogs to eat). I also passed out juice which normally came with ice, which was great on those hot days. No one here has seen ice since we got to Polunsky. My other duties consisted of passing out linen, pillow cases (another thing we do without, since of course we have no pillows here), and paperwork. I worked 7 days a week, by choice, really. Most of these guys I served are dead now. Yeah, that unit was way better this one in many ways. People who got out of Ellis weren’t converted into monsters, the way you see people who get out of Polunsky. If anyone were watching, you could almost make Polunsky a co-defendant when someone who leaves here commits another crime. It’s all in the training.

I’ve been in prison since 1995 and was arrested March 4th 1994. I was 20 years old, and now I am not but 3 years from spending literally half my life in prison. My son was 4½ months old when I was arrested and when he came to see me for the first time in 6 years, I was looking into the eyes of a young man. He will be 17 on Oct 13th. He has a steady girlfriend his age. I had asked him if he is planning to make me a grandfather any time soon. Haha! He tells me not to count on it for now. There are people in the world who don’t want to become a grandparent as young as myself. I am 37, and most people would not want to see gray hairs on their head, either. I don’t know which would mortify you the most! When I got my first glimpses of gray hair, I was so very happy! To see a gray hair ... and just recently I was bursting with joy to see a few gray hairs on my jaw line, too. It couldn’t happen at a better time. I was feeling a bit down but that hair blew me out of such a mood. Haha, no, I’m not wired wrong, I just never thought that I would experience such little things. I never thought I would live this long. You ought to appreciate those gray hairs; they mean something important.

Well, I’ll stop for now. See you again soon.

My thought for today: Don’t worry about the big things that you have no control over, and enjoy the little things that you can.

Arnold Prieto Jr

© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker & Arnold Prieto, Jr. All rights reserved.

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