Friday, August 10, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Lifer... I Gotta Say It Was A Good Day

By Santonio D. Murff

A sunny blue sky and a cool summer breeze greeted me as I bounced out of bed with an exaggerated stretch and a tarzanic yawn that notified the world that I was high on life and ready to face a new day. The chirping wrens at play and the fluffy white clouds floating by outside the wide, nearly floor-to-ceiling window at the head of my bed added marvelously to the ambience. Ms. Wilson added that touch of sexiness that always made a day special to me.

“Well, someone sure seems to have waken up on the right side of the bunk this morning," she cracked, pausing in front of my cubicle with a smile.

"How could I not, waking up to someone as beautiful as you?" I winked, bouncing to the back of the dormitory to handle my hygienic needs.

I greeted a couple of the other brothers in passing and paused before the middle mirror above one of the three sinks that the twenty-two men in the dorm shared. I struck a couple of narcissistic poses and blew myself a kiss. "Still handsome as ever. Boy, I love you!" I cooed to my reflection as Ms. Wilson passed me by, bubbling with laughter.

“You are so crazy," she shot over her shoulder with a chuckle.

“About you," I shot right back at her.

Hygienic needs handled, I strolled back to my cubicle and peeled out my tight-whited best uniform. Freshly pressed from me sleeping with them beneath my mat all night and faintly scented from the magazine sample of Cool Water Cologne that I'd sprinkled with a couple of drops of water and left in the breast pocket overnight -- they had me feeling so fresh and so clean as I slid into them. A new white tee, white socks, and my brand new New Balance Tennis shoes completed the ensemble.

“Tell the truth and shame the devil," I crowed as I strutted up to the front table where Ms. Wilson had taken a seat, "I'm looking and smelling good! You want me, don't you?"

She cracked up at that and waved me away with a promising, "Get out and we'll talk about it."

I took a seat at the table and turned to pick up the phone receiver beside it. I punched in my mommie's digits and went through all of the necessary formalities to hear her smooth, rich as molasses voice. My spirits leaped for the heavens when I did. "Happy Mother's Day!" I boomed loud enough for the world to hear.  "You knows, I loves me some you!"

"Thank you, I love too, baby.” She was already laughing. For the next 15 minutes I kept her doing so. We reminisced about the joys of the past and thanked God for the joys of the present. I thanked her for always being there and let her know that she is the very best gift that God ever gave me.

"I can't wait to pick you up and swang you around," I joked.

“We'll be there," she promised.

We exchanged love and hung up before the operator could cut our conversation short.

I punched in some more digits, went through the formalities again and waited. As soon as Joy came on the line, I was on her, "I don't know who he is and I don't care, but you better wake him up and get him outta there--NOW!" I had to yell over her and the ear-hustling Ms. Wilson's laughter.

“Boy, ain't nobody at this house," she chuckled with sleep still heavy in her voice.

“Well, Happy Mother's Day then!"

“Thank you, San. How are you doing?"

“Betterl Now that I know somebody ain't sleepin' in my bed," I butchered an old Dru Hill song; singing with all I had, which wasn't much.

“Still can't sing," she laughed.

“No, but still trying," I laughed too.

Joy and I had been high school sweethearts. We shared a child. I was exceedingly proud of the woman that she'd grown into and made it a point to tell her that often. Now, nearly twenty years since we'd separated, we were friends with over two decades of memories between us.

“I'll get Pooh," she broke the reverie.

“I don't want to talk to that ungrateful child of yours! I'm still waiting on his letter." We shared another laugh at our son's procrastinating ways. "I called to talk to my first love!"

We talked, flirted, and laughed for ten minutes. Then I fussed at Pooh for two minutes, before letting him know how much he was loved and missed for the last three.

I hung up the phone and spun to Ms. Wilson. "And now to my greatest love, Happy Mother's Day, baby!"

“You ain't nothing but a flirt, San-Man," she shook her head with a knowing smile.

“And you ain't nothing but FINE!" I nodded my head with a knowing smile, biting down on my bottom lip with passion.

She gave me the laugh I wanted and we talked about everything beneath the sun, and tripped out on the daily dose of Jerry Springer drama that the dorm stayed tuned- in to. Hours later, at 1p.m., my name was called for a visit.

“Mama here, to see her baby!" I cried to much laughter.

We'd been blessed with an outside contact visit. I stepped out into the invigorating breeze and kept my promise. I scooped up my beautiful mother and swung her around as she shrieked with glee and laughter. "Happy Mother's Day, Mama! You are looking good," I settled her back to her feet and got a swat on my shoulder for my troubles. "What's up, lil brother?" I gave my brother Ken a big hug.

“What up, bro?" He was the first to take a seat at the picnic table we’d been assigned for the visit. We followed suit and the fun began.

Mama told stories about me and my mischief as a child. I told stories about him and his. We laughed, reminisced, and snacked our way through the first half of the visit. I explained to them my intentions of pushing my Righteous Movement to educate and empower the next generation to survive and succeed forward. We talked of me possibly winning the nationwide PEN Prison Writing Contest for my memoir “Retired From the Game Two” and the publishing of my first novel “The San-Man: 7 Days of Hell.” I could only cheese at the pride I saw in my mother's eyes.

That's what I lived for, to bring her joy.

They delivered other family members love and support. Ken promised to bring Pooh down soon. There was another round of hugs, another twirl for my mother, and an exchanging of "I love you’s" before they headed to the car to head home. I smiled all the way back to the dorm. The day had started out good. It had become great.

“What's up, San-Man?" Marty, one of my co-workers from the kitchen, hollered as I passed through the inmate dining hall. "You have a good-one?"

"It was more than marvelous," I assured him, passing on through the chow hall, still full of root beers, chips, and candy from the visit that indeed was a good one.

“It's days like this that make you realize it ain't all bad, huh bruh?" Some brother who I didn't even know chuckled behind me after noticing my jubilant move. I turned and met his eyes with a smile. "It's days like this that make you realize it ain’t all bad," I answered his question and echoed his sentiments exactly.

I bounded up the 20 concrete steps that led up to A-8 dorm, where I resided, two at a time. Ms. Wilson had left at 2p.m., but the fabulously fine Ms. Walters had filled her position nicely. The seductive aroma of her perfume caressed my nostrils and played with my emotions as I paused at the top of the stairs with my hands on my hips and a flirtatious smirk on my lips to savor her beauty for a second. The woman had the most luscious promising lips I've ever seen.

"Don't even go there, Murff," she stopped me before I got started.

"Yeeeah, I better not," I drawled, "I may not ever make it back if I do."

Her carefree laughter rung out as I made my way to my cubicle. I confirmed to a couple of the brothers that I had had a good visit and I immediately broke out my best friend, my new typewriter, to record May 13, 2012 for all posterity--well, at least so I could go back and relive it at will.

"What are you working on now?" Ms. Walters had snuck up on me.

"Our pre-nup. I know what your plans are!"

“To take you for your typewriter?" She fed right in to my foolishness.

"I knew it! You are so transparent."

We shared a laugh and then quickly got caught up in the drama going on around the unit. The Stringfellow Unit was better than any soap opera ever written. The latest greatest scandal was about a new female officer who'd broken the "walked-off" record. She'd started in mid-March, been in an intimate relationship with an offender by April, and had gotten walked-off (fired) by May. Another victim of “The Game." (Note:  “The Game” is a prison term for officers and offenders living outside of the rules, rather that be by hustling together or engaging in an illicit relationship.)

“My next project is going to be a how-to manual called ‘Surviving The Game’” I joked.

"I can't wait to read that one," she said earnestly.

"Let me find out," I arched a scrutinizing brow.

"It's just entertainment to me; I bettin' not!" She swung her ponytail side to side with a frown of dismissal.

"You bettin---NOT!" I echoed with the passion of the jealous hearted and set-off her laughter once more.

Hours later, after she had departed for home, and the short-short memoir had been completed and put away, I lie back on my mat with my hands folded together to make a cradle behind my head, looking up to the golden moon and sparkling stars that had risen to take the long set sun's place and I had to say, "It was a good day".

The End.

Commentary… A Day In The Life Of A Lifer

This short-short was inspired by, and this commentary is in response to, the young lady who inquired of Thomas, “If prison life is so horrible, why then is nearly everyone on Death Row trying to get their death sentence commuted to Life Without the Possibility of Parole?'

Beyond what to me are the two most obvious reasons: most people out there and in here do not want to die (no matter their current conditions) and the fact that as long as you're breathing, you have a chance--a chance to laugh again, a chance to love again, a chance, no matter how minute, to be free again--a chance at a many things that death denies you; I think the most honest and simple answer to your question is that prison life is NOT as horrendous an ordeal, for most, as we make it out to be.

In Texas, where I've been incarcerated for nearly two decades, rapes and murders have not been the norm for at least ten years. Not only have they implemented a zero tolerance policy concerning any extortion activities and sexual abuse, but they've created over a dozen "Safe Prisons' for offenders with sex crimes, ex-gang affiliations, or any other histories that could possibly put their lives in danger. If you even feel threatened, all it takes is one word to any officer and you will immediately be whisked away to safety as the matter is investigated.

So the fear factor has pretty much been factored out.

Next, you must understand that a person with a Capital Life Sentence like myself or LWOP has the same privileges, opportunities, and freedoms (for the most part) as an offender with five years. The only exception being that Lifers can not work outside the prison gates, they can't be housed outside the gates at the camp, and it is usually harder for him or her to get any funding for college or trades through the state. We walk the same halls. Shower in the same stalls. Use the same phones. Have access to the same law and recreational libraries.  We lift weights, play ball, and walk the same gyms and recreational yards. We live together and we eat together. We are allotted the same contact visits with our families

All of these freedoms, opportunities, and privileges are the benefits that will be immediately reaped by an offender who has his death sentence commuted to LWOP. Then, there is the opportunity to sit at a table in the dayroom, or catch a secluded spot in your work area, and conversate, laugh, and flirt--ENJOY--the company of a beautiful woman! THAT has never failed to lift my spirits and brighten even the darkest of days. AND, WE CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT AND STRESS RELIEF THAT COMES FROM HAVING THAT HANGMAN'S NOOSE TAKEN FROM AROUND YOUR NECK!

I could go on and on about the joy your continuing to breath will bring to your family and loved ones. I could speak of all of the good you could do from behind prison walls. I could give you example after example of people who even from Death Row chose to use their stumbling blocks as steppingstones for others. People like Stanley "Big Tookie" Williams who was nominated for three Nobel Peace Prizes while on Death Row. But instead, I'll merely tell you to try not to have such a self-centered outlook on the matter, and you'll see that a whole world of opportunities (and chances) remain as long as you continue to draw a breath. It's up to you to take advantage of the opportunities and make it happen.

"Don't make excuses. Make a difference!" is the Righteous Movement philosophy that I live by and that I share with my son and others. As Thomas said, we don't live in a vacuum. Our deaths will affect many people. I say, our lives can too! I try to live everyday to make sure that that is a positive productive effect.

In the end, young sister, it is not where you are physically or financially that matters most. It is where you are mentally and spiritually that will truly define what you will do with your remaining time. It doesn't matter if that time is on Death Row. It doesn't matter if it is spent in general population as a Lifer. It doesn't matter if that time is spent in Beverly Hills or Bed-stuy. What matters is what you do with it!


S.D. Murff --5/29/12

Santonio Murff #0352714
Tarrent County Correction Center
100 N. Lamar Street- 60 A
Fort Worth, Texas 76102


Anonymous said...

As a staunch opponent of the death penalty, I must say, your post doesn't do the movement end capital punishment any favors. By hitting us over the head with how LWOP really ain't do bad you've effectively made a argument for the virtue of capital punishement for those who've committed the most heinous of crimes.

I doubt it was your intention, but you've inadvertantly made a good case for the death penalty here; namely that is arguably a necessary evil for the worst offender inasmuch as the alternative - LWOP - just ain't so bad.

I must say also that as much as I am irrevocably opposed to capital punishment, as I read the tales of condemned men I am struck by how in many cases the extraordinary burden of living in such sparse conditions with the omnipresent threat of death seems to cause them to become truly remorseful for the crimes that led them there. Mark Stroman is one that comes to mind; you yourself mentioned Tookie Williams. There are many others.

These cases compel one to ask the uncomfortable question; "Is there some redemptive virtue to this horror?" Would these men have undergone the same 'soul searching' and reevaluation of their ways had they NOT been on the row?

Ultimately, I think even if the hellish conditions of death row do have the power to make even the most hardened and remorseless killer find the capacity for empathy for others and genuine remorse for their acts, the ends don't justify the means. What these tales do show however is the extraordinary fact that even those who commit the most senseless and despicable acts imaginable (men like Stroman and Williams) CAN change. Surely there must exist a more humane, efficient means of faciltating that change than housing a man in a concrete box 23 hours a day to contemplate his impendng doom for a decade or so.

But I digress.

In any event, I continue to be somewhat disturbed by your preoccupation with sex. It seems as though sll of your posts invariably return to this theme of "the game". Frankly, it's kinda creepy. I'm almost afraid to look up your criminal history for fear of what I might find there.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it or bring a prude here, who knows.

Other than that, your cheerful exuberance is a refreshing change of pace to the very depressing (if fascinating) dark musings one finds here.

[Try doing a rated G post next time, just for kicks, huh? Later...]

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Santonio Murff in response to Joe G's comment above:

Mr. Joe G., I've been fortunate enough to have your responses to my writings forwarded to me. I feel obligated to respond in kind. I was told many many moons ago that good writing makes the reader feel something. So it doesn't matter whether I am stimulating emotions of love, hate, joy, sadness, or in your words, "disturbing"--I take it as a compliment that I am not boring you. And, I do thank you for feeling enough to respond to my experiences. I love exchanges of thoughts, opinions, and experiences with individuals who come from a different walk of life. It is how we learn and grow as a people, and bridge the terror of the unknown. I encourage you to STOP fearing what you don't understand. As a matter-of-fact, please allow me a moment to share my thoughts.

"The Game" is merely a term that convicts use for offenders who live outside the rules of the penal institution that they are residing in; rather that be by selling contraband like phones, cigarettes, and narcotics or trying to win the affections of a female officer. I don't wish to upset your sensibilities, but "The Game" is a reality in every prison that I've been housed in in my 17 flat years of incarceration.

I have no preoccupation with sex. Well, no more so than any other healthy male in his prime. My only preoccupation is with staying true to "MY" experiences and writing about what I know. You will discover this, and a deeper insight to me, by following my future posts which I am keeping "G" just for you, Joe. However; I do fail to see anything that you could find disturbing about the pure (even if prohibited) love that blossomed between Brooke and I in RFTG or the obvious joy that a young man finds in the company and conversation of compassionate women in “A Day in the Life of a Lifer.” If it is the setting that disturbs or creeps you out; then I'm sorry, but it happens--DAILY! If anything; I feel a man of your obvious intelligence and compassion should be disturbed by a sadistic state like Texas that locks teenagers up for decades for non-violent offenses to keep the profit margin soaring for this' new profit-driven prison industry. How sick and creepy is it for a nation to invest in the failing of its young? And, though I'm sure this is a question your sensibilities will revolt against, contemplating for too long: "How cruel and unusual is it for a young man or woman with a healthy libido in their sexual prime to be incarcerated for decades or life with no legal or possible means of ever experiencing the intimacy shared between a husband and wife? Allow me to fill you in on something that you‘ll seldom read about or see discussed on chat lines or on blogs. The sex-drive does not die when one's freedom is snatched away.

To again alleviate your fears and answer your question: YES! You are reading too much into it. (FYI: I've never committed a sex crime. I‘ve never been accused of committing a sex crime. And, I most certainly have never been convicted of any sex crimes.) So, PLEASE feel free to look me no. I am an opponent of the death penalty, but I did not pen either of the two posts that you've reed with a political agenda in mind.
You have e million incarcerated men and women who can paint you all of the horrid, depressing tales of incarceration that you care to reed. And, I'd be one of the first to stand up and fall (if necessary) for prison reform, because it is desperately needed on many fronts, but the dark musings are not my story. Mine is one of an adolescent who was breast-fed on poverty, violence, and miseducation who chose to educate and elevate himself above his negative self-destructive ways...end then to educate and elevate others.

A Friend said...

Santonio Murff continued...

A men who spent 81/2 years in that hellhole of administrative segregation without so much as a window for the first lout years, but didn't break, go insane, or commit suicide like many do, but came out stronger and more spiritual; no longer running with the devil, but instead flying high with God!

You spore or Stanley Big Tookie Williams, but you have very little understanding of such a man if you think that it is the outer conditions that can stimulate change in him. Allow me to answer the question that I believe you pose. NO! There is no redemptive virtue to be found in the horribly sadistic practice of locking men in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, every day, for years, and denying them any access to state and federally funded tools to educate or rehabilitate themselves and all of the unit funded programs, classes, educational opportunities and religious services that could stimulate positive change in them.

I assure you such dire conditions end grave depravations drives many more mad or turns them more heinous than it will ever help. I know from experience-~MY OWN!--that change must start from within, and that change for the better is almost always fueled by maturity, education, end a Higher tower. I’m 100% positive that it was those three factors that wrought the Righteous change in me, and I truly believe from all I know and have read about Tookie (inc1ud1ng his book Blue Rage/Black Redemption) that it was those three too that empowered Tookie to battle his demons and win. Those dire conditions and depravations if anything work to curtail and limit the opportunities and stimulations that could spark that flame for change in all but the strongest of men.
Stay tuned for more refreshing changes of pace as MB6 continues to push the boundaries that you've grown use to.