Many of you have come to know Arnold Prieto through his regular contributions of art and writing to Minutes Before Six. Miguel Angel Paredes' artwork has also been featured here for many years. They are currently on Death Watch together at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Miguel's execution date is set for October 28, 2014 and Arnold's is scheduled for January 21, 2015. Here are their accounts from Death Watch.
Death Watch Journal Entry #2
By Arnold Prieto
Click here to see Entry #1
July 7, 2014
Admin note: Arnold received notice of his Death Warrant on May 12. His attorney of record is aware of this fact and, as of this week, which is more than two months later, has yet to visit him or contact him at all.
First and foremost I wish to ask for your forgiveness for taking so long in posting something from Death Watch. My silence has been a mixture of depression from being under the constant watchful eye of the state and the restlessness of having to wait for others to help save my life. In this case, the attorney the state has appointed to me has not shown up. I understand that the attorney is overworked and has other cases and deadlines that have to be met. A really nasty feeling indeed and I speak from experience. Anyhow, I have no other choice than to deal with the hand that has been dealt to me. As for the depressing feeling of having to live under these cameras, it has not gotten any easier as I had hoped it might. I still wake up at night and snap that I am on Death Watch once that I look up to the corner of the cell to see the camera. I was given my first warning just last week when I had covered the camera to use the restroom in peace as I normally would do once per day. I was told by the picket officer not to cover up my camera again or she would be giving me a disciplinary case for doing so. Normally the officers that are watching the cameras do not fret about us covering them up just as long as we do not do so for to long. I try to follow rules and regulations to the letter to avoid conflict.
Well, there hasn't been much going on in these few weeks aside from the week-long lock down for the ninety-day shakedowns that we are subjected to because, apparently, we might have a phone or some other contraband that we are not supposed to have...yeah right! I live in the most guarded and secured building in the system. So in reality, I do not see any purpose for the shakedowns every ninety days that we have to go through. It just seem more like a punishment to me then an actual security issue. This time, they took my extra sheet and my blanket, along with little odds and ends that was deemed contraband. What I did not like was the fact that we were only allowed to shower once in the eight days that we were locked down. We normally showered every other day, Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays. But this time around, we were only allowed to shower on Wednesday and we weren’t allowed to shave. I didn't like that we only showered once and that I was not allowed to shave my face by their rules and regulations or face punishment by the loss of class level (usually we would be leveled down to level 2 for ninety days) and a disciplinary case. It did not bother me about the shower; I used the sink for what we call a birdbath. It was not being able to shave the fur off my facet hat drove me nuts - haha! I am just happy that we are off lock down now.
On June 3rd, I was scheduled to be interviewed by a parole officer, and I think it went pretty well. She was very professional. She asked me about everything that had to do with my life. She had a file that must have been about eight inches thick and within that file my entire life was in between those pages and I mean from the day I was born till now. Every case that I had picked up while in prison, which were only nine disciplinary cases within a twenty year span, commendable by local standards. And none are violent or threatening towards another inmate or guard.
Anyway, the interview started with the simple questions and we walked through my entire life. All in all, the interview lasted about one and a half hours. Her job calls for her to write up a summary of that interview for the governor and the members of the Board of Pardons and Parole. She also asked me if I would like to meet with an actual clemency board member and to speak with him/her. I of course requested to do so. She tells me that I will get to meet one of the members in November. Am I nervous? Yes, because they will be instrumental in trying to save my life by commutation. I now wish to share something that was shared with me by another inmate, which is basically “the Texas clemency procedure in a nutshell,” as he called it:
1st - A death warrant is signed by the state court judge, who sets the execution date.
2nd - A clemency petition is filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by the defense attorney on behalf of the prisoner.
3rd - Members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole review the petition and cast a vote on whether to recommend a commutation, conditional pardon or reprieve. They will also decide whether or not a hearing will be convened on the clemency petition to hear testimony from witnesses.
4th - If the majority of the Board votes for a commutation, the Board recommends to the governor that clemency be granted.
5th -The governor has full discretion to either accept or reject the Board’s recommendation on clemency.
6th -The Board has no independent power to commute the sentence. The governor can only commute a death sentence upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole. The Board has no power to grant relief, but can only make recommendations to the governor. If the Board votes against clemency, the governor has no independent power to commute the sentence.
Under Texas law, the governor has the power to grant a condemned prisoner one 30-day stay of execution. No recommendation from the Board is necessary for the governor to take this action. Any further executive reprieves require approval by the majority of the Board, who then make a recommendation to the governor. The governor may formally request that the Board consider convening a full clemency hearing to review a petition of a condemned prisoner(s).
In Texas and elsewhere in the United States of America, clemency is see not as a due process right of all the condemned prisoners, but rather as a privilege to be dispensed or withheld as the state executive authority sees fit. There is no judicial oversight of clemency procedures and no legal guarantee of access to meaningful clemency review.
The deliberations of the 18-member Board of Pardons and Parole are shrouded in secrecy. Board members are appointed by the governor and are not directly accountable for their decisions to the public or to any legislative body. There seem to be no formal rules in place to guide the Board's decision-making procedures. Board members are scattered across eight regional offices throughout Texas. The Board does not convene, even in closed meetings, to discuss the clemency petition and hear the views of other members. Instead, members often communicate their individual decisions on clemency by fax.
The Board does not allow the prisoner's attorney to review and respond to material presented by the prosecutor in opposition to clemency. Without the opportunity to rebut, the defense is powerless if the prosecution fabricates material or makes exaggerated allegations in order to persuade the Board to deny clemency/mercy. In the one recent case in which the Board did convene clemency hearing (Johnny Garrett, l991), the prisoner was not allowed to attend. Board members have responsibility for all pardon and parole cases in Texas: Over 20,000 cases go through their offices each year. Despite persuasive ground for mercy in scores of cases, the Board of Pardon and Parole allows for executions to proceed with out meaningful clemency review. Even compelling evidence of innocence is not sufficient to obtain a hearing. Since l99l, at least five prisoners with unresolved cases of innocence have been executed here in Texas and none were granted clemency hearings. In 1992.Texas death row inmate Leonel Herrera uncovered startling new evidence of his innocence. Attorneys for Texas opposed his appeal to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that late claims of innocence should be resolved by clemency hearing. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that late evidence of innocence does not ordinarily entitle a defendant to new hearing. “Clemency,” the court stated, “is the historic remedy for preventing of miscarriages of Justice.” Three months later, Texas executed Leonel Herrera, after the Board of Pardons and Parole refused to convene a clemency hearing.
As you can see, the cards are stacked up against me. Nothing new really, since they have been stacked from the very beginning. I find it very odd that almost every one here on the row are first timers and have been here on the row without as so much as a threat towards another inmate or towards another guard. I just cannot see how the jury or the state can see into their crystal balls and see a youngster of 19-20 continuing to be a threat to general population, yet twenty years down the road having only nine disciplinary cases that were nothing more then minor infractions, which all lead to reprimands and actually seven were as such. Where is the dangerous killer and monster they for saw??? If they could have only seen me walking around and working with freeworld people with out so much as an incident AND WORKING WITH 12 INCH SCISSORS! Not to mention box cutters, and flammable liquids to boot!!! Hmmmmm what kind of monster could of been around such material without being.... well, a monster?! Maybe the crystal ball was cloudy during those days or maybe they did not shake the ball hard enough.
My dearest friend Bro Wayne said something to me today out in our visit that was very interesting...I believe he had quoted a condemned prisoner about to be put to death in Florida back in the days when the chair was still alive. He said, "The death penalty is for those that have no capital. They are the ones that get punished" I believe that I have the quote correct and how true that is! Welcome the civilized capitol of the world.....
Arnold Prieto 999149
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
From Death Watch
By Miguel Angel Paredes
June 10, 2014
Dear Minute Before Six Readers:
I hope when this reaches y’all it’ll find y’all and y’alls loved ones in the best of health and highest spirits.
I am writing you these words to share with you the experiences of the condemned here on death watch - my experiences mainly. This is where it gets a real as it can get in seeing death straight in the eyes, and have that marinate in one’s mind, to feel and savor what it feels to be gripped by death – no more putting it to the side while we have apparent time to spare, etc. It’s where we are really put to the test in a huge way. I want you to see and feel this, so you can maybe understand the graveness of the situation we find ourselves in. So you can see I am not ignorant of this serious experience I am in the middle of, I was moved without a prior warning. At first I thought I was being mistaken for my friend Arnold as he was already advised by the courts, and was waiting to be moved. I tried asking why the captain wanted to see me, but they said they didn’t know – only were following orders. I thought maybe it was one of those shake-downs they do by surprise, or something else, and at last, they had the wrong person.
When I was in front of the Captain, I asked her if she was sure she had the right person when she asked me if I knew I had a date, and as she read it out – Miguel Angel Paredes # 999400, I was like “yeah, that’s me,” and she told me, “You have an execution date set for October 28, 2014,” and asked if I had questions. I told her I would talk to her later and thanked her. I was wondering if I would be taken back to my cell, but when I asked, they said no – straight to A Pod - Death Watch. My mind was working very fast, especially as I had been having things to do, and getting me out of the blue, the most similar is like getting a bucket of freezing water thrown on you. As soon as I got here, people hollered at me. Others wanted to know who had gotten here, and pretty much asked when my date was. So when they placed me in the cell I was more trying to answer their questions, and being polite. My mind was still registering what was taking place. I saw the cell and the camera, so there was no doubt I was on Death Watch. Very soon they brought my property, packed in a rush but searched and scanned. It allowed me to excuse myself from the others and unpack my stuff. It allowed me to allow my mind to go and digest everything. As I was unpacking, the first thing that came to my mind was that I would be here along my friend Arnold, and that I would continue to share with him the love and things from God, as when we were on the other Pod. We had become a lot closer than all the years we had been around, and especially we had been sharing very personal things about my spiritual experiences with God and Christ. He seemed very receptive, and when he got a date, I tried to share some things with him but felt I could do more. I had been sharing some things about this with my spiritual/adoptive mom, Dorothy, so when things happened the way they did, it’s something I took as coming from God. And I have accepted it since then with grace, as I have come to care very deeply for Arnold, and I can be here with him as we face the situation together, instead of alone. As I put my things up, there came more questions, and more questions, and I really just wanted to sit and dwell on the situation, but I didn’t want to be rude to people. Finally the recs were put up, and everyone to their cells. I was exhausted to begin with, but then came to sit and write the hardest letters of my life, where I told my Mom Doro about my date and how I wanted to spend the remaining days, and what I thought about our friend while I was unpacking. I was seeing death as if it would happen tomorrow, but that didn’t bother me. What broke through all my strength and every might I could have, was seeing the pain in her face as I wrote her, being conscious that I couldn’t even shed my tears in private. I had to be conscious of a stranger seeing me in my most private moments where I hadn’t allowed anyone, aside from my son and my birth parents to ever see, and yet here I was unable to contain it, every time I composed myself and I restarted writing and would see her face in desperate tears and pain, I would fall back into the deep sorrow. I wrote some more to a beloved person in my life, and likewise, so much I wished to be able to take their pain unto myself, but I knew I could not, even if I walked unto death with a smile from ear to ear, it would not diminish their pain and sorrow. It was all the writing I was able to do. I stayed there in bed, wishing again and again to be able to take their pain away, but it was not up to me. I just so much wished people would be more conscious of who gets hurt the most - both the condemned and society; to see who this really hits the hardest. Now I have heard from my loved ones, and seen the signs of sleepless nights and sorrow in their face, and have heard so much of the pain they feel, that I wish none of this was real, not for me, but for them. To save them from all that pain, that they do not deserve. If I owe something, I willfully pay the price, even if that price is my life, but, what do they owe? Why do they have to pay? If a supposed cold blooded monster feels for them, why not society? If with my death all will be erased and no one would be hurt again, I would gladly give it, but even though I am here as peaceful as a lamb in the slaughter house, and willing to accept my execution, it still doesn’t erase the pain in others.
Now I have read my order of execution, and it states time after time “DEATH UNTIL DEAD.” I am o.k. with that, but can you be o.k. with the pain that is left behind? Only when I was lost and ignorant, I did not see all that pain, and thought, as long as I could handle the consequences, it was fair enough. When I was caught, all my rights were taken away. I am not even allowed to put “Mr.” on my address here on my envelopes that I buy. Much less make a decision from this side of the isle that can affect society. So, who will care about the complete results of an execution? You have a supposed cold blooded monster, in pain, weeping, not for myself but for others who have nothing to do with the wrongs committed in society. I wish I could put all the blame on myself and have the power to change these things, but I don’t; only you, the people that hold the power now. I hope with these words you can see who suffers, when things are a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye. There are victims on both sides, two sides grieving a loved one, an eye for an eye, leaving everyone blind.
These are things going on in my head. I hope you can make sense of them. Thank you for hearing me out. Blessings to you all!
By Miguel Angel Paredes
July 7, 2014
I had a lot of trouble understanding the purpose and nature of the commandments, as I saw how impossible it was to follow them, even for anyone willing to put them in practice. Yet despite their controversy amongst society and how impossible it was for mankind to follow and observe them, the people who had a religious belief or doctrine defended them with shield and sword. Many were not shy to judge by them and punished, at times, by death those who broke them. Others said: “I pretty much ‘had to’ or otherwise I would go to hell, and things like that.” I am locked up in prison/Death Row, and even though there’s a lot of kind people and many well-intentioned, we did not get snatched up from the church choir as the norm and brought here. So a lot of the norm is like “live it up,” pretty much in the underworld, and, in general, it’s usually pleasure that causes one to do the vast majority of those things. So breaking pretty much all the commandments at one time or another is the norm, or they’re not really looked at unless you do it to them.
For a long time, I thought it was a curse place on mankind. For one party it was bad, for other good, depending on who you asked. Pretty much the same way with any law of the land, that in some countries certain things are perfectly legal, while the very same is illegal in another, and this can be broken down from nation to nation, state to state, city to city, all the way to small congregations of people, regardless of religion or absence of it. The result’s pretty simple – you obey, you are left alone from legal persecution or penalties, or even praised and rewarded. On the other end, if you do not obey, you get punished and get condemned and even at the end of the day, the very ones who go against the social majority have their own rules, rewards and punishments, with even lesser securities of one’s fair treatment, and tend to be equally brutal, or far more, to implement the penalties of beatings to death itself.
I wondered if this could also be a big joke, because at the end of the day both sides of the balance pretty much end up doing the very same.
As I have been growing in my spiritual walk, building an intimate relationship with my Father and knowing Christ, my Lord, I came across a verse, and have had very deep reflections on it, which has greatly helped me to deal with this and how I approach my beliefs and my dealings with myself and others, and really, when I am aware of the deep reflection on the verse, I find myself with full hands, which keeps my mind from playing cat and mouse, or trying to do back flips and landing in mid-air as to my convictions and conduct.
Christ once said, “Thou shall love God with all your mind, with all your heart and with all your soul. You should love your neighbors as you love yourself.” It says that the law and the prophets depended on these two commandments. At first glance, this seems to be not enough as an instruction, or even a clear way of explaining something that pretty much seems impossible. Even Christianity says it is impossible for a person to observe all the law.
Yet, when I dwelled on it, I began to see deep within those very simple words, and I understood I had to search and find the meaning beyond human or religious instruction, as not even Christ sat down and gave a detailed written how-to-do manual. I figured it would have been He who should have done it and He should have the clear-cut answer. The answer He did give- but not in human dictated instruction - rather inviting us and instructing us to look deeper into ourselves by our own will.
I began to see the key word “LOVE” in my own journey. I knew emotionalism, romanticism and the commercialized sense of love: “You do this, I react like this.”, etc. After many stumblings, falls, and wounds deep in my being, little by little I began seeing and learning what TRUE LOVE is, a love that is free, without any expectation, either of reaction or material kind, be it emotional or a commodity. I was a grown man when I began learning this, and it took a lot of will power at times not the break and just go an eye for an eye, and distrust the whole world regardless if it was for supposed righteousness, emotional protection, bitterness or resentment. I had to learn to accept the wounds I might receive as I opened my arms to embrace what I was perceiving as TRUE LOVE.
To love God with all my mind, all my heart and all my soul??? How could I love in that form, if I couldn’t even see Him?? I began to see people that I have come to love deeply, like my mother, my son, and people I have come to love regardless of anything. It took my KNOWING them, some, I was a part of, an offspring of them like my parents and my siblings and my son, who is an offspring of me. It took me to ACCEPT them regardless the things I did not like, the things I did not agree with and even the things that hurt me deep inside. When I started looking at God, I began to see Him more and more, and it is not a secret - we are all the same essence in the universe when we it’s all broken down. I forgot about my human barriers and the limitations that wouldn’t allow me before to see the wonderful manifestations of a Greater Force out there, recognizing that I was really not even as big as a grain of sand amongst the sea shore, or a drop of water in the ocean, within the vast universe and galaxies and the ones we don’t even know of, the complexity of even the human body so masterfully built, all of the marvelous nature over the face of the earth our eyes can gaze upon; the beauty we see that leaves us without words – even then we are only seeing a small fraction in our life-time. This humbled me. I learned to immerse myself in the silence and to be in contact and harmony with all of creation and the Supreme Being. I started developing more and more deeply inside and getting enveloped in it. So much, that I went from cursing God and denying His existence, to devoting Him my first thoughts and breaths of each day of my life.
Love my neighbors as I love MYSELF??? Since I was a little kid I was told about my gifts and talents by some people, yet I destroyed a good part of myself, nearly my very existence, so I had a long road to even love myself, much yet to love the other person as I love myself! After much exploration into the depths of my being, cutting all the strings that held me down, taking out every dagger buried in my back, and healing the wounds that were infected after so many years of not attending to them and placing more and more harmful things on top, I began to naked myself, separate myself, and yes, to KNOW MYSELF, alone in front of God, answering for all the things in my life, purifying myself in the deepest form; giving account for all my acts, both good and bad, and at times even being very hard on myself for things I wanted to change but could not, so yes, I also had to ACCEPT myself. It was easier when, deep inside, I felt God telling me, “I love you as you are”. With time, understanding and accepting He was my Father and I his son, I have been able to accept myself and now I am able to love my neighbors as I love myself. At one time I had felt nothing whenever I did harm to my neighbor. Now I have come to see that WE are ALL part of his beautiful masterpiece called creation. I began to see the things that brought me down and the things that nourished me. I realized that I had a choice to my actions, to be aware and not merely react, but be in control of my actions.
I began to look again at the commandments in a completely different way, and weighing them on the scale of love; seeing them with eyes of LOVE.
I realized that I definitely do not want to kill someone I love. On the contrary, even the thought of taking the life of someone I love troubles me. I wish to nourish those whom I love and protect their lives to the best of my ability.
I do not want to lie to someone I love. That would be betraying their trust and hurting their feelings, in some, to the point of even severing the bond. Lying to them would also cause them emotional pain and even harm their future relationships. Due to bad experiences, I prefer to be truthful with the ones I love, and build them up in trust and allow them to more firmly believe and trust in others.
I do not wish to steal or abuse those whom I love. I would rather share with them joyfully that with which my Father blesses me with, and lend a hand where I am able. Give when I am able to do so.
I do not wish to take the woman of the person I love. I would rather enjoy seeing them happy and helping them settle their differences, or for them to see the things that draw them to each other.
I do not wish to disrespect my parents, as I have come to see that in my veins their blood flows through me, that I am a part of them, literally. I am grateful for them raising me and caring for me from the time I was a defenseless baby, prone to any countless dangers of this world that could have ended my existence.
This is how I see the rest – the deeper meaning of the LOVE, LIFE and TRUTH that these bring forth when we follow the mantra of LOVE. It doesn’t matter what one believes or not, these words and its meaning transcend all lines, and really put us in balance with LOVE when we see the cause and effect of our actions. Even now that I have greatly grown spiritually, at times, it is no easy feat. Yet one thing I do know, that this has helped me to see if I am really acting out of love or not. I can try to justify any action of mine and maybe even convince myself, but when I put it on the balance of love, it comes out very clear. When I cause harm to someone, I am not acting under the guidance of love. When I am following the guidance of love, it brings nourishment to others and to myself.
One commandment I hold very dearly as my inspiration, my mantra and my lighthouse when I am lost for words or solutions is when Christ said to love each other as He loved us, and in that way people would know we’re His disciples. It took me to personally know Him and allow Him to come to life within me. When I get hurt and the pain and fury builds up, I look at Him on that cross, beaten, tortured, wounded, in agony, and remembering that He willingly gave up His life out of love. It humbles me and inspires me. I grit my teeth and get ready to go out there again, and continue on His path of love. When he asked our Father to forgive the people who did all these things to Him and shed his blood, I have to tell myself there is nothing I cannot forgive or endure. It humbles me and tells me my burdens are a piece of cake compared to what He went through. If one time I admired and respected men of leadership that did not forgive if I did certain wrongs, how much more could I admire such a Godly being who came as a servant, and out of love gave his life to give me life and realize that all of these things have transformed my life and have brought so much richness to my life and to all those who have come into my life. The value is far more than anything one could accumulate in materialistic things.
When we look at the commandments with human eyes and human righteousness we become hardened of heart, so much that we put innocent beings to death. When we look at them with spiritual eyes - with eyes of love – we forgive even the very one who hurts us and even takes our lives. This is the truth that took place approximately a couple of thousand years ago, and that very principle is applied even to this very day, where even in the freest country on earth it is not unconstitutional to kill an innocent person, as long as he got a fair trial.
Miguel Angel Paredes 999400
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351