By Arnold Prieto
Since entering prison in 1994, I have known eight men who ended their lives with their own hand. The first was in Ellis-one Unit. The other seven men were here on Polunsky Unit, over the last 12 years.
Gunther and I were neighbors on the J-21 block at Ellis-one. This man was fascinated with the mass murder of the Jewish nation during the World War II. He had pictures, literature and books, etc.
Well, one morning we both get our K.O.Ps (Keep on Person Medication Pack) of Sudafed, which we called “reds” because of the red coating. We both started our cheap high by taking 10 reds and chasing them with a good strong coffee. Sometime during our Sudafed-induced conversation, or 15 reds later, we started talking about death. As I recall, he did most of the talking. Anyway, after we finally closed our crazy conversation, I didn’t think much of it, and pulled out material to make a couple of jewelry boxes. Next thing I know, it’s morning and I feel the crash coming so I took 10 more reds with coffee to hold me over for ½ the day. As I start to clean up my cell and get ready for recreation, I hear the wing boss rattling Gunther’s door. He had apparently covered his cell up with a sheet so the officers could not see him, which at that time, was normal. But Gunther was being unresponsive when the guards called out to him. By that time, one guard lets out a curse under his breath while opening Gunther’s tray to pull the bed sheet down. When he does that, the second guard yells to the picket boss to come up to 2 row and roll 7 cell, and to get rank and medical down to our wing. So I hear the picket boss yell out into the hallway (the pickets were opened to the hallway, separated only by bars). “Rank! Rank! Medical! Medical J-21!!” Next thing I see are a sleuth of rank, guards and nurse. Gunther had hung himself and it seems he must have been dead all night!
The difference between those who contemplate taking their lives and those who are intent on killing themselves is this: one who only contemplates suicide will talk about it, as if his/her rationale side is reaching out for help!
On the other hand, there are those who’d smile at you all day only to find out they killed themselves at the end of that day. As if they are standing with their backs towards the abyss waving good-bye to everyone in their own way…
Selwyn Davis was known here as S.P. and he is the main reason I write this entry. S.P. was the last person to take his life that I know. Out of the eight men I knew who took their own lives, S.P.’s suicide affected me the most because I had sincere sympathy for him. I hope you understand why by the end of this entry.
I first met S.P. when he was moved next door to me about three years ago. During that time Thomas lived 2 cells down from me. I quickly found out that he suffered from Schizophrenia. For example, his case consisted of the murder of a Hispanic woman and rape of her 15-year-old daughter. So he instantly thought all Mexicans were going to do him harm, which of course, was never true.
In addition to from suffering from mental illness, his social skills were not the best. He would say things that would get him ridiculed by others here. There was a time when inmates thought he was gay because of a comment he had made. Depression was something else he suffered from time to time. There were a couple of times that I had to tell him to snap out of it! He would sleep 3 – 4 days straight without getting up to shower or recreate. The guards would wake him up for his tray and he would only refuse.
He wouldn’t get any mail, never made commissary (Thomas and I would help him by sending him some soups, hygiene items and coffee), suffered from schizophrenia and depression, and to add to his problems, he had bad body odor. I for one do not know how it just stayed with him. I can only think it was a medical condition or something. At that time we lived right in front of the section day room, so inmates could literally see into our cells. Inmates would tell him how bad he smelled, but did any of those sorry bastards help him out with some bars of soap? Nope! Instead they would brag of the money they had or the support they had.
I once asked one of those inmates why he tortured S.P. in that manner? His response was, “Fuck that Dude! “ I lost respect for that chump because he is always preaching Jesus to his people…enough said with that.
I convinced S.P. to wash his own bed sheets once a week as I do. Washing his sheets made a small difference with the odor. At first I thought that the sheets we were being issued was the problem because of the greasy odor they have (thus why I wash my own and have been for years). I was wrong.
As a man, I would be truly embarrassed beyond anything if a pretty woman told me I smelled bad. Well, there was such a person who would remind S.P. of his body odor constantly, even after coming out of the shower.
If there was ever a person who walked the earth that no matter how he turned, he would always turn left…that would be S.P. I genuinely felt sorry for my fellow human being!
One day he asked me if I believed “a God” existed. I told him yes, but that he had to look within himself to find the answer for himself. We were separated finally after he acted out by arguing with the shakedown crew as they shook his cell down. If I just could have had a chance to talk to him, I know I could have convinced him that it was not a conspiracy against him; that it was only a random shakedown. Unfortunately, I was out on recreation when all that happened, and he was gassed and sent to Level 2 for 90 days. Within those 90 days he tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists and neck. After spending a few weeks at the psych ward unit at Jester 4, he came back to finish his level 2 punishment.
When someone told me about how S.P. tried to kill himself, it made me sad. “Hey Prieto, your friend almost killed himself!” The way it was said made me realize that much more how “alone” S.P. was here on the Row…in the world.
We ran across one another months later and I got a chance to see the bulging fleshy scars on his neck and wrists where the razor blade ran its nasty course. He was outside by himself so I asked the guard to put me out there with him, which surprised him because no one wanted to be out there with him! I told S.P. that cutting on himself was never the answer nor would it solve anything. He talked about how everything sucked, how everything he experienced was weird and how everything happened to him! He spoke about his mother who also suffered from mental illness and who was homeless. I tried to pull him out of his funk by making fun of others, which he always laughed at. I believed I had succeeded because at the end of our rec time, he said, “Thanks man, I needed that.”
We were once again separated as part of the major “shuffle” throughout the building. A few weeks later, I found out that he had succeeded in taking his own life by ingesting a large amount of pills. What kind of pills? I don’t know. I think he was saving the pills he was given by the pill nurse who’d just give out the medication without staying present to see if he’d take it. He must of collected the dosage he ended up taking his life with.
It took me a while to write this entry because I felt I had failed him somehow. I feel as though I failed someone I loved in my world.
I cannot help but to wonder though if I made the mistake of not letting the psych department know that I thought that S.P. would try to hurt himself again. Did I do enough to convince S.P. that suicide was not the answer? People who believe suicide to be the only solution, as S.P. did, will not talk about it. Or maybe he would have talked about it if we had more time…..
“I’m living in a world of shit!” were the last words the chubby kid who shot himself in the movie “Full Metal Jacket”
R.I.P. Selwyn Davis.
A note to friends, family and supporters about my grades:
English 3…or any English course is tough! So I am very pleased to see my grade after I had initially thought that I might of failed for sure!
Caribbean Studies, Leadership Skills and Development were interesting courses.
Economics, American Government, Pre-Algebra and Physical Science were awesome course! Like all school courses, they were accompanied with a headache as well. LOL Seriously though, I did learn a lot from all my courses.
I feel a mixture of great pride, excitement and sadness as I look at my grades and at the 6 courses I have left to achieve my High School Diploma.
Pride and excitement because I am literally within reach of an accomplished dream! Just an awesome goal from within my everyday solitary confinement!
Quickly does my pride turn into sadness because I see the end of my education! I feel sadness that I can only dream of continuing my education. I yell out of frustration within my silence, “I am a man, damn it, not a dog in a dog pound waiting to be put down!
Half a dream is better than no dream at all…
My 3.9 grade point average is dedicated to my close friends, family, and of course to the Swedish Stranger. Never stop learning.
Arnold Prieto Jr 999149
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351