Thursday, March 3, 2016

Every Separation is a Link

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.   - Simone Well

By Armando Macias

Another death row story. Why are you reading this? Seriously, what do you plan on getting out of this? I will never know your response, and I guess it doesn't really matter. This writing will be part of my past and a few minutes of your present. Then what? You forget, move on? Or let me inspire you in some way?

Questions, questions, questions! Hope you're open to go on a trip, not only a description of my cell and program—other stories must do that already—so I'll skip that. In fact I wish to address you the reader. I must remind you, the world is only as deep as we are.

Toss out your preconceived ideas of what you expect to read right now. We all have prejudices, biases, morals, beliefs, with the common belief becoming the law. Let’s ignore all that for now. Sometimes it is best to show, not just tell. Do you believe in humane, rehabilitative progressive programs instead of the current draconian system? If so you are in the minority—for now. I write to open up one cell to you. Hope it shows truth. I hope you are up for some renovations in your home. Hope is the companion of change; change is part of this.

Fortunately change is fundamental. Change is a promise, and a curse, a whisper of magic. The new year makes change official. Change often masks questions and answers. Events, problems, people—they all often present themselves as questions or answers. Change distorts our established opinion, information, and ideas of people and issues. The need for change is what made this interaction possible.

Redirect your attention to the lovely room you use to defecate, shower/bathe, and freshen up: the almighty bathroom. Only then and only for this brief amount of time can this occur. Will you allow my words to rearrange it? Turn your sink and cabinets into empty space. Transform your bathtub into a bed. From now on all your valuable possessions must fit in 3 boxes, clothes included. But the prison decides what you can have. Magically zap the toilet into a combo toilet-sink. Now, cut a slot into the door for food trays to be slid in, but not enough to stick your head through. Did you image it? If so, voila the quintessential cell: your cell. When you physically step into your bathroom think of this, even if this is a laughable suggestion. The wonderful part of this is you can safely watch my world through your imagination. I have your attention so feel the question the bathroom just presented; feel the question solitary confinement presents to your spirit and mind. Remember the smell of faeces and urine? You drink and use lukewarm water to cook your instant soup and coffee.  Forget about hot food and drink. Ever taste bland, salt-less food you don't want to eat? That is prison food; now let it assault your tongue while eating next to your nifty toilet-sink combo. The food is served in small portions and warm bordering on cold by the time it arrives to your cell.  So don't expect a full warm belly. This is only a part of your new bathroom experience. From now on, strip search, show off your nude body to strangers, come out only in your underwear then be handcuffed every time you leave your bathroom; stay in your bathroom alone most of the day, with periods of being in there for days and weeks at a time until you die. Do you think you can turn to classes and other activities to leave your bathroom? Good luck. There is none of that. Religious services are one hour a week. Since I have been unable to get out of my cell for any of that, you’re stuck in your bathroom with me!  We do get yard time. With the rainy season being here, hope you enjoy getting wet in the rain. Once you go out you stay out there for your three hour yard time. Don't worry it's not every day, nor up to you when you go out. Don't bother to look in the mirror cause there is no mirror. Now what will you do? I'll tell you what will happen. Those sleepless nights you are up thinking of a problem you can’t solve? That is the norm when you are a captive in your bathroom separated from the possibility of enacting a solution. Your mind never stops thinking. Have you ever not had thoughts? Or maybe got lost in an emotion or experience? Very rarely, huh? Don't go crazy in your bathroom, but if you do, you'll not be the first or the last. It is known as S.H.U. (Security Housing Unit) syndrome, because these solitary confinement units damage the mind. Humans are social beings, and not meant to be isolated. The mind turns on itself if you are not careful. Even then, there is proof the brain changes. Watch David Eagles brain documentaries (Why Do You Need You?), or any of the recent studies. I never been on the internet but I hear information is easy to find. Your bathroom now has the power to physically change you against your will.
Under the proper conditions change can be mystical. Feel the mood I am writing in? Feel the question your bathroom presents? Throughout life we all feel a moment is more significant than another. Those moments become either answers or questions for us. We don't always know how to word it. Our memory is a recreation of an event. Since the present is involved in our memory it proves our memory slightly differs from the initial event. You need not worry, your bathroom is a constant so you'll never need to recreate this memory, just like my cell is a constant. The longer you spend in jail the more your past is linked with your cell, tainting what was once pure.

Had enough of your smelly bathroom? I have. What happens once you leave it? There is the mystery. A normal walk to the shower can be a beat down waiting to happen. One false move and the officers can hit you with their baton, and Taser you. After all you are condemned, so considered dangerous. It has happened before and it will happen again. (This is not particular to condemned men, it's common in prison, just look it up.) Now that you left your bathroom where do you wish to go? All your friends and loved ones are not allowed to stop by and when they do they must be approved and make an appointment to visit. A process that takes a long time to schedule because you must call on specific days, and hours, but they rarely answer the phone. Your visitor must be willing to call over and over until they get through. You could write and receive letters which officially takes 7 days to be delivered, but in reality is 10– 20 days.

Do you realize you’re not unique, just one of many unwillingly kept in your bathroom? On any given day you are just one of 80,000 kept in solitary confinement across the USA. Hope you don't mind becoming a number, no longer a name. I am A14624. Notice how, I just made you identical to everyone? Does your bathroom being like others equate you to everyone else? It is common to think all prisoners identical. Yes, I wear the same state-issued prison blues; I go outside and am one of thousands whom seek prison reform. The question now stands, am I a human to you or another writer on an anti-death penalty site on the computer? Change. Change is what needs to occur. How will you leave your bathroom? Most important of all, are you an answer for those who seek change? Or a question seeking a purpose to give you meaning? Well, that is a question with a living answer.  Does it truly matter?

Armando Macias AI4624
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin California 94974

Texas Prison Cell 
By Shawn Ali Bahrami

Well, there you are, you finally arrived. And I am glad you are here! With your clear law-abiding record, I am happy you made it this far into the convoluted confines of institutional living: my cell. What took you so long anyway? Got tired of the sensationalized, one-sided exaggerated interpretation of prison life you were getting from the manipulative media? Oh never mind, the point is, you've made it into my virtual prison environment on the Eastham Unit, where, in case you did not know, Bonnie helped Clyde escape from prison many years ago (true story). And now, my new curious civilian cellie, I will do my best to both educate and entertain you about the harsh reality of prison life from my first person, inmate perspective and maybe you too can help me escaping (mentally) in the process -wink-. Now if you will, just walk this way, ooh-careful, watch your stereotypical step; you may trip over a reputed rapist or a child molester who you feel deserves to do every day of his sentence, or you may stumble serendipitously into a miscarriage of justice like my own wrongful conviction in a place of punishment where there are so many incarcerated extremes living side by side.

Please take one more big step for me and enter into my hopeless abode amid the Prison Industrial Complex community. CRASH - Don't be frightened, that’s just my mental door, cell 6, closing shut on you. A cell-striking, ear splitting sound I hear several times a day that has become routine background noise for me over the years. So, you are here. Inside my Don't-Mess-With-Texas-Or-We'll-Lock-Your-Ass-Up prison cell. Yep, who would have thought you could be locked up from the comfort of your home through the medium of your computer screen. Let's just call it, um... vicarious virtual incarceration. The Internet -of everything- is really taking over isn't it? I would officially "welcome" you, but after spending the past 21 years of my life in what is basically a concrete and steel bathroom with the traditional, old-school Shawshank Redemption metal bars, I wouldn't wish this torturous existence on my worst enemy. Plus, I don’t want you to get too comfortable here with me, because you, as crazy as it may sound, you may get a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome and start liking it here. Like some of the guys that I've run into in here who act like they don't want to be released into the freeworld where their quality of life is worse than it is in prison.

Have a seat on my bunk (but again don't get too comfy) while I get us something hot to sip on. By approaching my lengthy journey as being sent away to quasi-university instead of prison, I have learned a lot over the years about sociological connections and interactions of life, people, things, and myself.. One of the things that I have learned is that coffee and conversation go hand-in-hand. Here you go, here is your steaming cup of coffee, you got it? Okay, I have my obligatory strong-shot cup, so it’s time for me to take my seat next to you  and start acquainting and assimilating - "lacing you up" if you prefer prison slang - into my crazy, twisted, prison world.

Hello there, civilized stranger, let me formally introduce myself to you: my name is Shawn Ali Bahrami (shaking your hand firmly), but I go by Shawn Ali because it's what my dad used to call me when he was pissed-off at me. However, to the compassionate conservative state of Texas I am offender #747451. I was 17 years old when I was kidnapped by a fallible overzealous Houston, Texas judicial system that was aggressively cracking down on gang violence in the early/mid 1990's war on crime era. As in all wars, there are Always innocent human casualties and collateral damage, and I'm just one of the many faux pas fatalities that was swallowed-up by the assembly jaws of Mass incarceration.

At the tender age of 17, I was not allowed to vote, not allowed to purchase a gun, not allowed to sign a lease on an apartment, not allowed to buy liquor, not allowed to buy cigarettes, not allowed to enjoy any of the so called privileges of being an adult. But in pragmatic Texas, I was old enough to suffer the punishments when they locked my ass up in an adult prison with a generous forty-year sentence for a crime -attempted capital murder- that I did NOT commit. (Note: a proposed bill in the recent 84th Texas legislature to treat 17 year olds as juveniles did not pass)

I've been caged inside a prison cell for more than half of my natural life - 17 years in society and now 21 years in prison - so I've been existing and living in this prison environment for so long now that the fuzzy memories my mind attempts to recall of what life was once like in the free society feel like an invention of my fertile imagination, something that I somewhere experienced in The Matrix movie, except, my life isn't a two hour move dramatization between good versus evil characters; my life in prison is my daily realty, a constant conflict where my mind battles my every waking second for my sanity, survival and salvation. Sometimes I feel like I was convicted in my mothers womb and born in a prison cell because waking up in this though-on-crime, you-can-check-in-but-you-can't-check-out Texas prison cell is ALL I KNOW.... physically.

However, the flame of hope that still burns bright in the midst of my darkest life tragedy is where the broken Texas judicial system succeeded in locking up my body, they failed miserably in trying to confine my spirit and mind. I've been transformed inwardly from my new-birth spiritual awakening and stepped up to the mental challenge of earning two college degrees behind bars. This helps me to transcend the double-layered razor wire fences. So you see my new friend and cellie, this is more than just a virtual prison cell you have entered, this tiny space where I translate my thoughts into words through my writing is a digital megaphone where my inward, painful screams for justice and truth can be voiced from my tiny cell and heard all across the world until someone-maybe you-listens. So any time you want to stop by my prison cell to gain a greater appreciation for your freedom and to liberate your mind, you are most welcome to join me!

"Open cell six" -CRASH

It was nice meeting you! You are free to go now.

Shawn Ali Bahrami 747451
Eastham Unit
2665 Prison Road #1
Lovelady, TX 75851
More of Shawn's writing can be found here:

                               Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six


marco said...

"Another death row story. Why are you reading this? Seriously, what do you plan on getting out of this?"

I write to a prisoner on death row, so I am interested in living conditions and the experiences of prisoners on death row.

Carmen Koenig said...

Dear Shawn Ali,
thank you so much for inviting me to your cell. I got a penpal in prison and try to imagine how it is to be in this awful environment. Would love to stop again by your cell if possible.
Greetings from Germany

A Friend said...

Shawn Ali appreciated your comments. You can find more of his writing at