Note: This content is being shared with permission from personal correspondence
Hello, how are you? Well I hope. Been awhile since I last wrote so I figured I’d touch base with you.
Actually, some of the guys here wrote me a kite (message/note passed between prisoners), telling me of some of their concerns (pros & cons) of our recent move from the H-Unit to the A- Unit. They asked for me to write you, to let people know how they feel here, so that’s basically what I’m doing.
As you know Oklahoma’s death row has been housed on the infamous H-Unit here at Oklahoma State Penitentiary (O.S.P.) But, the ACLU of Oklahoma (American Civil Liberties Union- aclu.org), filed a 25+/- page report against the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in regard to how Oklahoma treats their inmates who are sentenced to the death penalty. If you’d like to read a copy of the report go to acluok.org, you’ll find it there.
Surprisingly, the Department of Corrections actually responded to the report too, though not everyone (inmates) is happy with the changes. With the exception of only nine or ten inmates, O.S.P. moved all of Death Row, for security reasons, to the A-Unit which is still on O.S.P. grounds just next to the H-Unit. It is an older building of course so it has a lot of issues. Inmate Clarence Goode Jr. wrote me a list of pros and cons based on input from the prisoners here. I’d like to list them so you and others may know the truth.
We were moved from H-Unit to the A-Unit on October 29, 2019 and we’re still here as of today.
Cons of moving from H-Unit to A-Unit:
- Instead of thousands of ants, now we have a ton of roaches, and come summer we fear it will be even worse.
- Smaller cells than Unit-H
- Cells leak all over due to building being old and roof having holes
- The rain knocks out the power in some cells because of leaking roof and water coming in through light fixtures, which is most definitely a fire hazard.
- Here on the A-Unit we have bunk beds. For some men their weight and age make it very hard to climb onto their bunks. There are no ladders; you have to kind of jump up on it. For the aging population here, and those out of shape, this presents a serious problem.
- O.S.P. wants the Death Row inmates to share cells (double cell). Some are ok with it, and some are not. Those who are not pose a threat to others. O.S.P. shouldn’t force inmates to live together if they don’t want to. Doing so puts the inmates in harm’s way and should be considered a security risk.
- There is mold in some cells due to the leaks everywhere. The mold smell in cells 6 and 9 is overwhelmingly strong.
- The A-Unit is old, outdated, and run down.
- No mirrors in cells to shave and cut hair in.
- There was no heat at all. It was so cold that by morning on very cold days there would be ice on the inside of the window just to give you an idea about the temperature. They have recently fixed that. Now it’s on full blast and between 90-100 degrees inside cells. No relief from the heat. Then come summer, I doubt we’ll have air conditioning like we did on H-Unit.
- Latex paint is on the walls, which some inmates are allergic to.
- Contact visits on Fridays only. Family now has to miss work and/or school in some cases. The contact visits are in full restraints (handcuffs, shackles, belly chain, and black box).
- Our new recreation yard is basically a dog cage.
- To have a visit, we have to walk back to H-Unit fully shackled. This causes abrasions to our ankles. It’s only about a five-minute walk but imagine trying to walk with your ankles cuffed together. It’s not easy.
- Added padlocks to existing door and bean holes on top of all the locks already there.
- We have to pass the phone to one another here but with it all locked up, we can’t. We must have a corrections officer open it up to pass it. Some will pass it and some won’t. Also, now we only have one phone, for double the amount of inmates.
- They’ve just started shaking down our cells two or three times a week now. Policy is once a week usually, unless for a reason. They seem to want to do it in the middle of the night, some inmates are unable to get a full nights rest because of this.
- They repeatedly tell us they’re short on staff, so we no longer get our one hour of recreation time, five days a week. Here lately it’s only been two or three times a week.
- They make us visit our attorneys in full restraints as well, same as with family visits. In the past at H-Unit you did not need the full restraints for attorney visits.
Pros of moving from H-Unit to A-Unit:
- No more shackles to go to shower and/or yard.
- Handcuffed in front, not back.
- Adjustable water temperature in showers. Also, single inmate showers, no more having to take a shower only inches away from another person.
- There are windows in the cells here on A-Unit. They allow some fresh air and natural light in.
- Contact visits here on A-Unit are better than H-Unit. The visitation rooms have vending machines from which our family can buy drinks and snacks for us. Unfortunately, our loved ones have to see us eat our snacks with our handcuffs on and they need to open up the snacks for us. We are not allowed to.
- Family can have a restroom break during visits.
- Flat digital tv antennas work here so we get a few added channels to enjoy.
- Our laundry is better here; it’s actually getting washed with detergent soap and being dried before coming back to us, unlike before.
So that is all. These are the concerns that some of the inmates have voiced to me, I’d like to add one more to it though, no longer are we underground now so, that’s another plus. The majority of inmates have been living that way on H-Unit for close to or over twenty years. The toll that living underground has taken on them can be seen on their faces. They all wear dark circles under their eyes from lack of exposure to any natural sunlight for years on end. Some inmates are happy with these new changes but the majority is not. I do realize this is prison, not the Holiday Inn, but the changes the ACLU were wanting for us aren’t really being fulfilled. Oklahoma is just doing what they basically want to do and the ACLU isn’t getting the full picture. Hopefully maybe once this comes out in print for all to see, my latest update, we can get it to the ACLU for them to read. That would be good.
On the note concerning executions, I don’t believe there will be anymore. If there are though you know there will be years and years of litigation over all the new guidelines and protocols. Not to mention, this is Oklahoma, they’ll screw up one way or another which will create even more trouble for the state. I’ve recently heard on CBS News that a government official (not associated with the Department of Corrections) has filed a bill to end the death penalty here in Oklahoma. If that gets passed, I’m sure all of us will have our sentences commuted to life sentences.
So that’s basically all I wanted to let you know. I hope you will share this so others may become informed about what is going on here specifically for Death Row in Oklahoma.
As for myself, I’ve been hanging in there. I have good days and bad days. Since coming to A-Unit I have had two contact visits with my 81 year old mother, which prior to now I’ve not been able to give a hug or kiss on the cheek to since 2005! So for that I am very grateful. She’s the only visitor I get so when I get a visit it’s very special.
I’ll close here for now. Take care and hope to hear from you or anyone else soon as well, soon!
My name is Wendell Arden Grissom. I’m 50 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.