Thursday, April 12, 2018

Oklahoma Department of Corrections and Death Row

By Wendell Grissom

Admin Note:  Via personal correspondence, I asked Wendell Grissom to educate me on Death Row in Oklahoma.  I received a letter back in response and I'm sharing an edited version of it with his permission.  I am deeply shocked and disturbed by what he's described and I imagine you will be too. I hope you will leave a comment for Wendell and be moved to stand up against the conditions that he and so many others endure.


I figured today would be a good day to sit down and write a bit about the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and their Death Row. I don´t know exactly what you´d like to know, but I´ll try to tell you what all I can.

First, I´ve been on Oklahoma´s Death Row since June 30th of 2008. It wasn´t good when I first got here and it´s only gotten worse since.  Please don´t mistake what I have to say as just an inmate who'd like to tell a bunch of lies to try to make Oklahoma look bad.  What I have to say is true, or at least, has been my experience.  If there´s praise to be given, I most certainly would give it, but unfortunately there´s not much to “praise about” here.  

Oklahoma´s Death Row is located on the H-Unit, which is separate but still part of the Oklahoma State Prison, better known as “OSP.”  OSP has a very long and dark history. Anyone with a computer and internet access can read it for themselves. But the H-Unit was built for Death Row and Disciplinary Unit (D.U.).  Oklahoma treats their death row inmates the same as they do their D.U. inmates, yet most on death row, in spite of what we’ve done, are not the type of inmates that the D.U. is normally receiving and dealing with. D.U. is for troublemakers, gang related inmates and the like. Most all the inmates here on death row are quiet and don´t really cause any problems. We do have a few knuckleheads, but they´re usually only acting up when one of the corrections officers working here does something to provoke them.

The H-Unit is underground. My cell is four cement walls and a cement ceiling. The only window I have is in the door and it looks out into the hallway.  We are supposed to receive one hour of recreation every day, but there´s no “yard” to go to here. All that is available for us is roughly 18´ X 25´ cement. You can´t see anything because of the 25-30 foot cement walls, and the only opening is at the very top, which allows fresh air and if the sun´s out, a little sunlight (if you go at the right time of day). There´s no place to sit, and no restroom either. Inmates just have to go on the ground if it´s an emergency, because the c/o´s (corrections officers) aren’t going let you come back in. I personally don´t go to the yard here, because to me, it´s not worth going.  So yes, if you´re wondering, I´ve been in this cell since 2008. The only times I leave it are for visits or medical appointments. Also, the c/o´s try to discourage inmates from going to the yard by making us strip down – handcuffed and shackled, then once you´re on the yard, they go into your cell and tear it all up. I´ve learned it´s better to just stay in my cell.

The H-Unit was built and designed for inmates to move on their own, and when I first got here, it was that way. But some inmate on the D.U. side did something, so now whenever we leave our cells, we're stripped and chained all up.

I´m sure you´ve probably heard some of the controversy regarding the executions here in Oklahoma in the past two or three years. Oklahoma was making mistake after mistake. This is public record. Look up the executions of inmates Clayton Lockett, Charles Warner and the three attempts to execute Richard Glossip. Oklahoma has no qualifications to properly carry out an execution. The State was trying to literally use whatever they wanted, ignoring its own protocol and guidelines. This caused inmate Clayton Lockett an unbearable amount of pain and suffering. At the time of his execution, I was in the cell located directly under the execution chamber and Richard Glossip was my cellie then.  We could hear Clayton Lockett screaming, it was so loud and horrible. It took Clayton Lockett roughly 45 to 60 minutes to die, and it wasn´t by the lethal injection drugs OSP used, it was finally from a massive heart attack because of what they were doing to him. Now, I know all this sounds unreal. I´m sure people think that OSP is surely more trained and professional than that, but the simple truth is, they aren´t. And yet they´re in charge of it all.  You or anyone else who would like to read about it, if you have any doubts, can go look it up and read it with your own eyes. Clayton Lockett's execution brought worldwide news and coverage. OSP and the DOC came under investigation. Then came inmate Charles Warner´s execution. OSP used non-approved drugs to kill Mr. Warner. It was not only un-approved, but illegal as well. This brought on even more trouble for the state of Oklahoma.  Then came Richard Glossip´s execution. The first and second execution dates got stayed by the courts, but on the 3rd attempt, they took Mr. Glossip all the way, right down to where they strapped hi down and put the needle into his arm. Then they let him literally lay there for two hours, thinking that at any minute he was going to die. He kept asking, “What´s wrong?” No one would give him an answer. Then they finally came and got him, took him out and put him back in with me in my cell. As I told you, we had been cellies for over four years. That two hour experience up there really affected Richard’s state of mind. I´m no psychologist but it did something to him, and he´s still not the same up to this very day. If you´d like to read more on Richard Glossip and his story, go to:

Like I said, all I´ve been telling you is public record. The Department of Corrections (DOC) here in Oklahoma went through a huge change.  The Head Director of Oklahoma DOC was fired, our warden here was forced to retire, a whole lot of people were hired to “fix” Oklahoma, they´ve come up with new execution protocols and soon it´ll be up and going again, but at the moment, it´s all still on hold.

But all I´ve been talking about so far, is executions.  Let´s talk about other issues here.

1. The canteen dept. here will sell you something then not bring it to you.  Yet when you ask about it, they say they brought it, end of story.  There´s nothing you can do either, because no one cares here about you, the inmate.

2. My friend, Raymond Johnson, ordered $60 in songs for his MP3 and $20 for a new set of headphones, back in April of 2017. He´s never got them, nor has he received a refund of his money.  I myself lost a $28 hobbycraft order due to “OSP lost it.” I never did get it and, of course, no refund either.  It happens a lot here, the “system” beating us out of our money in some way or another, but no one holds them accountable for it.  We can´t do anything, and no one else cares to try on our behalf.

3.  My friend, Raymond Johnson, has written down some of his concerns as well, they are as follows:
   a. Wrongful death lawsuits (not for botched executions).
   b. Guards (c/o´s) facing felony charges for not helping an inmate who was inside his cell on fire.     They simply let him burn to death, when all they had to do was, open the door and put it out. (All public record!)
   c. The Trust fund department controlling our money, won´t give us statements when we ask for one.  I personally believe it´s because they don´t want us having a record of our money and where it goes, basically to cover their own butts.
  d. Visitation: Our families come from long distances, mine from Arkansas, Raymond´s from Kentucky. Yet sometimes they´ll be turned away for no legitimate or reasonable reason at all.  Some of the excuses have been: no sandals or certain types of clothing items, no jewelry, any excuse they can find.  My mother, who´s 79 years old, dressed as a 79 year old dresses, has been turned away on 3-4 different occasions.  Last being, she had to go to the bathroom, and they made her leave.  Here at the H-Unit, we have no physical contact at all.  I have absolutely no way to touch my mother or anyone else who comes to visit.  We both have to yell at each other through a small hole in the Plexiglas in order to talk or hear each other.
   e. The administration here covers up for one another. The inmate can clearly be in the right, but we will always be in the wrong.

4. Inmate Mail:  When we write a letter, we have to give it to a c/o to put into the mailbag. And a c/o brings us our incoming mail.  There have been guards deliberately tossing our outgoing and incoming mail into the trash, yet no one does anything.  They do whatever they want, and they´re not held accountable.

I could literally go one and on, one of my biggest issues here of late was over the lack of dental care.  They will not give us any dental care. All they do is pull out our teeth and just to get them to do that takes an act of God.  In the past month, I have had to get three teeth pulled out and it took me over a year and extreme pain to get it done.  My attorneys finally called up here and made them take me out to pull my teeth.  I could of kept them if only they´d filled a simple cavity five years ago.  And if you're in pain, sorry, no pain meds for inmates.

Now, as for the medical department, here, I have no complaints.  The medical department has always helped me if I needed it.  I guess they don´t think we deserve dental care though, which is a whole other department.

You know, I realize where I´m at, in prison.  It´s not supposed to be like a summer camp experience.  But our punishment is being here, and for some, eventually being executed. Yet, these c/o´s come in intentionally, just trying to make our every single day here a living hell in whatever way they can.  We´re still human beings.  People don´t treat dogs the way we´re treated here.  The food is always cold, nasty.  They butcher horses here in Oklahoma and the meat goes to the prison system. I´m not going to eat a horse.  I did once by accident, it wasn´t very good at all.  Hell, what´s next? Dogs? Cats?  It all almost seems too bizarre, yet I tell you the very truth.

My friend Jared Jones, who lived in the cell next to me, he took his own life about six months ago.  He felt that suicide was better than to go another day in here.  To tell you the truth, I´ve been fighting suicidal thoughts myself a lot here lately.  I´m tired.  I just sit in a cement square box day in and day out, year after year.  I´ve been in here since June of 2008.

You know, it was once said that you can judge a society by how they treat their lowest citizens in it.

Also, Paul Harvey, a respected radio personality, said once over the radio, that “If you want to see the real scum of the earth, go to any prison at shift change.”  How true that is.  

Yes, I did some horrible things and even though I was intoxicated beyond any sense or reason, there´s absolutely no excuse for it.  But I didn´t try to get away with what I did, once I sobered up, I felt so bad that I confessed to it all.  I admitted what I had done and I´ll pay for it with my own life when Oklahoma executes me.  All I ask, all of any of us ask, is to be treated with the respect we give you, to live out what we have left to live in peace.

I´m in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is supposed to be considered the Bible Belt.  Well, I´d like to meet some of these so called Bible people, because all I´ve known since being here is mean, spiteful, hateful people.  I haven´t seen nor met the prison chaplain even.  I honestly don´t think we even have one here.  All I´ve seen here in Oklahoma is people who are just waiting to kill us.  Oklahoma´s so kill happy that they even went as far as to put the State´s right to kill as punishment into the State´s Constitution, and guess what?  On voting day, 70% of Oklahomans voted for it.  Sounds to me a whole lot of people have no problem with killing a human being.  Wasn´t one of the 10 Commandments “Thou shalt not kill”?  Guess these Bible Belt Christians missed that one, and the one about mercy and forgiveness.  But I don´t hate them, I´m just telling you how it is here in Oklahoma. It´s really sad people believe and are the way they are.  Our world is full of hate, anger, revenge.  I almost welcome my upcoming execution, be it when it is, just so I can leave this place, even if it´s through death.  This isn´t no life, hell, I´m already inside my tomb, only I´m not dead yet, is all.  I even sleep on a cement slab.

Though it is the way it is here in Oklahoma, I´ve chosen not to hate back.  What use would that do?  I would only become like them, and I sure won´t stoop down to their level.  We all (every single citizen in the world) have sinned and broken the law at some point or another. I know a lot of these so called self-righteous people watching over me, some actually should be in here with me.

The human race will never be perfect. It´s in our genes to fail, be it in any manner, it keeps pushing forward and growing as we go mentally, spiritually and emotionally.  I hate where I´m at, I´m sincerely regretful for what I´ve done and if I could give my own life to undo it, I would, in a minute. But the reality of it is, I can´t.  But I can accept the responsibility of what I´ve done and do all within my power to try to help bring peace to the victims involved.  If I have to die for them to find closure, peace, healing then as soon as the state´s ready, I will be too.  I only wish that they could see and understand the sorrow, regret and sadness I feel for what I´ve done, then maybe they could understand and see that I´m not the monster they think I am and truly understand the pain that I feel for what I have done to them.

Well, I guess this is it.  Is this what you were wanting?  I did not know what to really write, this is just what came out as I went.  If you would like to ask me specific questions, I could answer them for you? Or give me an idea of what else you´re looking for……..

Wendell Grissom 575281
Oklahoma State Prison
P.O. Box 97
McAlester, OK 74502
My name is Wendell Arden Grissom.  I’m 48 years old, 5’10”, 180 lbs, with black hair.   I enjoy reading and writing, motorcycles, hunting and fishing, traveling and family.  I’m divorced, no children.  I’m a truck driver by trade and have traveled through all 48 of the continental United States.  I’m currently on Death Row in Oklahoma.  If anyone would care to write to me, I’d welcome all letters.


Ken said...

Wendell - Let me start by saying how sorry I am to hear about the conditions in Oklahoma's death row. I knew Texas was pretty bad, but it sounds like it's even worse in Oklahoma. While I realize you're there by your own hand, you have already been given your punishment and the wait for that punishment should be in a humane environment. It sickens me to hear that you don't get things you pay for, I can imagine how frustrating and how upsetting that is, especially given the limited resources most inmates already have. Unfortunately, in most prisons, the CO's tend to be the types that couldn't make it into law enforcement (because of thier clearly bad attitude and mean spirit) so they take the next thing, prison. These CO's are control, power hungry people and wouldn't likely last 5 minutes as an inmate. It sounds like you're heart is in the right place, I'm sorry you're conditions are so poor and I am in complete agreement that you should be treated with some dignity and respect. There is simply no reason for a modern society to treat anyone like this. Keep your head up and thanks for sharing. I hope to see more of your writings here on MB6. Until next time, I wish you well.

Joana said...

I followed the case of a man who was executed in october ...last year.....I felt so bad..........I feel so sorry to see how the system works in USA ....This makes me feel ungry....governors do whatever they like....

Unknown said...

Everything that Wendell Grissom has Saud it positively true. His description on the conditions are true., except he held back it seems because it's much worse than he explained. My loved one is also on H-Unit at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP). And I can't tell you it's much more grim than he said. The visit area is a set of 4 rectangular shaped box type rooms , I'd say they're about 5x8. One end has a double sided plastic or plexiglass window.The Inmates side has bars also. There is a square at the bottom ofeach window. It's a welded piece of metal with holes all over and a piece of mesh in between each metal piece I guess to make the little hole uneven. That's where you talk. Its very uncomfortable for both parties. There are welded to the ground hard stools that , if you don't mind my bluntness, wouldn't work for someone with a big butt. When I first started going to visit there was a coke machine on visitors side but for whatever reason they took it out. We aren't allowed to have a drink or snack for the entire visit. And yes, if you have to use the restroom they terminate the visit. The inmates side has no air flow in the sweat boxes as I call them. When it's hot out side my guy looks like he's about to pass out. Anytime an inmate is taken out of their sales they must be cuffed up stripped down to their boxers and that is how they are moved one time I was visiting and their officers were moving an inmate from an attorney visit back to his cell and passed right in front of us so I saw another man in his boxers without any regard from the guards at all. how embarrassing could that be much less,it was embarrassing for me I felt sorry for that inmate I saw that day.once my loved one was finally taken to have a tooth pulled after months and months of being in pain begging guards to take him to Medical which went unnoticed until about two and a half months later. his cheek was swollen to the to the degree that it looked like he was in severe pain. After his tooth was pulled as they were taking him back to his cell he told me that he reached down and grabbed some grass and pulled it out of the yard .it was the first time in nearly 17 years that he had seen or touched grass. the inmates are kept in a Cell 24 hours a day with barely any light at all there's no windows there's no sunlight the only window is on the door facing the gallery as you would might want to call it. the only air that they breathe is refurbished air that sometimes burns their eyes so bad that they cough and cough and cry because someone close by was pepper sprayed. it goes through the vents and then to other cells as if it was them that got the pepper spray. can you imagine living in a hole in the ground never seeing sunlight for 20 years? the fact that they move the inmates in boxers is a some kind of punishment that they impose on them and it never made any sense to me. it's ridiculous. The men never have any kind of physical contact with anyone at all ever unless they are fortunate enough to have a celly. It's like they are in a coffin. They aren't allowed to have water pots to heat water for the noodles they can buy on canteen. They're forced to eat cold soggy ones. The food portions are barely big enough to feed a child in 1st grade. These are men . And they feed them child size meals. Many go hungry for hours and hours. I could go on and on and I will after I see the feedback reguarding this comment

Bridge Mulhall said...

Those conditions are sickening. Thanks for sharing Wendell. I wish you all the best.

Joseph Muldoon said...

"I knew Texas was pretty bad, but it sounds like it's even worse in Oklahoma."

Oklahoma's H-Unit is indeed one of the harshest death rows in the country, but it's definitely not as bad as Polunsky.

For one thing, the inmates are allowed to have TVs in their cells and have group recreation time (i.e. several inmates go to 'yard' at the same time, where they can interact). They can order free world food for their last meal (though they're limited to $15, an amount which hasn't been adjusted for inflation in over 20 years). They can also attend religious group services.

It's still a hell on earth of course, but not quite the depths of hell that Polunsky is.

Oklahoma used to be the busiest death row in the US, back in the 90s and early 2000s, much like Texas is today. But today executions are a lot less frequent than in Texas.

"Unfortunately, in most prisons, the CO's tend to be the types that couldn't make it into law enforcement (because of thier clearly bad attitude and mean spirit) so they take the next thing, prison. These CO's are control, power hungry people and wouldn't likely last 5 minutes as an inmate."

I personally wouldn't make such sweeping negative generalizations about the COs. I'm sure they have their fair share of douche guards as does any prison, but like any prison they have their fair share of good guards as well.

Annie said...

Wendell, it’s nice to meet you and thank you so much for sharing your essay. You write so well and you are clearly a bright, honest and warm gentleman. I am so sorry to learn of the state of affairs you are in; it is despicable and upsetting and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. I cannot believe they can take your mail and your money that way with no repercussions. (I don’t know how to even start talking about the botched executions - that’s going to take a while to comprehend so forgive me for holding back on that).

The feeling of powerlessness is utterly soul destroying and the idea that you are trapped in your cell all day, every day makes it hard to breathe. I so very much hope you are able to find some moments of positivity. Would it do good to write to the prison governor? The senator? Are you able to receive gifts? (I would gladly replace the purchase you were so wrongfully denied. And your friend’s music too. I guess this might be difficult but at the very least I want you to know people care and feel anger on your behalf).

You said you’d be happy to answer questions; I’d be interested to know if you have access to books and newspapers. And if so, what kind. I’d also be interested to know that, when hearing from people on the outside, what kind of thing would you like to hear about? (My cousin worked on a cruise liner for a few months going between England and New York and she was desperate to hear about trees and countryside because she didn’t see any for weeks at a time!). By the way it is very cool that you have seen so much of America. I live in the north of England (which is lovely but quite grey and damp!) and I have always been so delighted by the idea that one single nation contains pretty much all of the terrains and weather the world has to offer. And you have seen it, which is really quite awesome.

So Wendell, I wish you well and hope you are able to respond. I also hope it brings you joy and comfort that you are in people’s thoughts and that we are angry for you and want things to be better for you. If you are having a low moment, do remember that and get strength from it. You are heard and you are thought about.

Kindest regards

Random citizen said...

Very harsh conditions in Oklahoma. Shortly after the H unit was constructed, the warden commented that the new unit increased safety for both the public and the guards. In OK and here in TX, there is no rehab consideration. The state would prefer a much shorter appeals process; both for justice and fort the safety of the guards. The longer these prisoners are kept in prison, the more dangerous the situatuon becomes for all. All dp cases are sad and tragic. Yes, the prisoners should be treated as humans, but the bottom line is, if you kill in these states, be prepared....

In Wendells case it is hard to see how the dp was applied, but it was. He murdered a young lady while commiting a robbery. Maybe he was drunk, but that hardly ever is considered in these cases.

The botched execution of Clayton Lockett happened 4 yrs ago. Horriffic, s was his crime. He shot a girl and buried her alive. Tragic

A Friend said...

To Ken from Wendell: Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement.

A Friend said...

To Annie from Wendell: Thank you so very much for all your kind words and encouragement, I sincerely appreciate them. You asked me if I have access to books and newspapers? Yes, we’re allowed to receive books, and magazines and newspapers but they have to be from a vendor that’s approved by the DOC, such as, also paperback books and new books only, no used. As for what I enjoy writing about, anything and everything (smile). Life experiences, work experience, etc… For example, being I was a truck driver, I’m able to talk about my traveling throughout the United States, places I’ve been to and stuff . You said you hoped I would respond? Feel free to write directly to me – my address is above, at the end of my story. I’m hoping to hear from you soon, God bless, Wendell.

Karen Schmidt said...

I have seen all to well the horrible conditions at the Oklahoma state penitentiary H-Unit for years now. Everything Wendell Grissom had said is the truth. But I believe he was a bit to kind because the situation is must worse than he said. I actually call the guards cript keepers because that's exactly what it is. A tomb or cript as you will. There is barely any light inside these men's cells. It's a darkNess that cannot be escaped. What would anyone expect, they are buried underground. They have no windows , no real sunlight at all ever. The air stinks because it's coming from a broke down rigged up air conditioner. They're suppose to have outside air blowing thru the vents but it's not it's recycled. the food is ice cold by the time it gets to the unit and passed out. At times thyell get 1 boiled egg 6 french fries and a slop of gravy . ThatS all they are fed most of the time. Portions like that. Imagine yourself being locked in a tomb for years and years on end.with no interaction what so ever with anyone but the guards as they walk you to the shower . This is June 12 2018 and over the weekend they had yet another suicide. A man hung himself. It's been the 4th suicide in the past 2 years. Living in a dark dank cell alone for years is enough to drive anyone mad! These men are suffering to a degree that most animals don't go thru . And people listen up , you wouldn't believe the positive, loving caring , sweet guys that oklahoma have labeled monsters live in horrid conditions yet still manage to be the most positive men I've ever know. WE HAVE TO STOP OKLAHOMA FROM MURDERING ANOTHER ONE OF THESE AMAZING MEN! I tell you that I would allow many of them to take care of my kids or me anytime. They are not what they're made out to be. You have to understand that oklahoma has these tricks they use to gain a capital conviction that are not what the truth truly is. All it takes is 3 mitigators to give a death sentence. and if you'll look for yourself you'll see that every case is riddled with these lies of the state's doing.oklahoma has the #1 leading incarceration rate in the world. . Not in the US, , the WORLD. They kill in the name of justice but justice isn't served. Watching a man die does no jusTice to anyone. All it does is create more victims . This is 2018. It's time to stand up to a murderous Government who have by all means GOT IT WRONG! LISTENING TO ANOTHER MAN SCREAMING FOR A HOUR THAT HIS SKIN IS ON FIRE UNTIL HIS HEART FINALLY GAVE OUT IS THE MOST CRUEL , ATTROTIOUS AND HEINOUS THING someone COULD DO TO
ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. How premeditated , cold and callous are the men who've thought out the torture plans for a man of our own reguard. ?? END the Death penalty. IT'S JUST THE RIGHT THING TO DO..