The places we find ourselves imprisoned extend far beyond an actual prison. People all around the globe can be in a toxic relationship, an environment they have no choice to be raised in, or even the company of people they don’t want to be with. However, the most damaging in my opinion, is the mind. It is the one prison no man, woman, race or class is immune from experiencing.
After fourteen years of incarceration, twelve on death row, I have engaged in some serious introspection. I took a hard look at my past to figure how and why I find myself in this position. What I came to realize was gut wrenching.
There are three factors that contributed to my being here. The first is my pop’s suicide. Neither he nor my mother knew of her pregnancy when he decided to tap out on life. As his spark faded, my light was beginning to bloom, unbeknownst to them. I have always wondered, what if he knew about me? Would the thought alone have been enough for him to weather one dark day to see a brighter sky?
The second factor that contributed to my being here was my upbringing. Understandably so, Mom was a wreck after Pop’s death. It led her down a murky path of drug and alcohol abuse. Both became her escape from reality and responsibility. She saw more of the bar than she saw my brother and me. So much so, you’d think liquor and beer were her sons, not us.
Mom’s vice left us with no guidance. There were no teaching moments. No “let’s sit down and do homework.” No sharing of thoughts or feelings. The attention we received came in the form of abuse, both verbal and physical. She would come home and let us have it. The physical abuse we endured only toughened us up. Soon, we stopped crying altogether from beatings. A look of disdain replaced our tears.
The verbal abuse is what hurt more than any belt, cord, pan, or fist. Threats of “I’ll put you in the ground next to your dad,” would pierce my heart. I’d die over and over again when that third rail was struck. It left me thinking, who can love me if the one person who is supposed to doesn’t?
A trip to the public library set me off on a one-man war. My not-yet-teenage-self accessed archived microfilm of the local paper there. My discovery was contrary to what I was told about my pop’s death. Come to find out, my parents had a huge argument before his passing. The discovery brought to mind everything I was subjected to as a result of his death. It was then I began to act out unlink ever before. I ran the streets, hung out with older guys, and did whatever I wanted.
News of my girlfriend’s pregnancy was the first shot of the sun I could feel in life. It came a few months after the murder of my seventeen year old cousin, Claribel. Something in me just automatically perceived things in a different way. I remember sharing the pregnancy news with Mom vividly. We were living at 418 Pear Street, the slums of Reading. We were taking shots of Hennessy in celebration. And without any discussion I said, “I forgive you”. No talk ensured. She cried, I cried, and we hugged. We’ve been the closest we’ve ever been since this silent understanding. Something in me knew I could no longer blame Mom for what my pop chose to do. That’s my mom and I love her to the ends of the earth!
This epiphany occurred right before my seventeenth birthday. It didn’t entirely free me of my restraints, though. The damage was already done. I lacked a belief in self, suffered from depression, viewed proclamations of love as lip service, didn’t trust people, and found myself trapped in a city I no longer wished to be. But just when I began to put the pieces together, it all came crashing down.
A horrific accident occurred two years prior to my arrest. I was hit by a car and left for dead. I laid on a Florida road bleeding out for close to seven hours before being found. My neck, arms, and five ribs were broken. My hip was dislocated, liver lacerated, and I suffered knee damage. The doctors considered it a miracle I survived that long after losing so much blood with the injuries. “How” is a question I stopped asking long ago. “Why” continues to elude me. That was the crash. This is the burn.
I am on the Row for killing a man. The thing is, this man happened to be a cop. His public status and peaceful intentions were not known to me then. He was in plain clothes at two in the morning, with no badge, having made no announcement of his authority. These facts are uncontested. Even his partner confirmed they did not announce themselves. A man came running at my friends and me a little after shots were fired. I perceived him to be a threat. I tried to get away before firing. I did so as he gained on me.
My actions were reactions on the night of my arrest. The entire event unfolded in under thirty seconds. With my home having been shot-up on multiple occasions before, having been hit in a
drive-by, stabbed, having survived attempts on my life. I believed I was going to be killed on the night in question. With this in mind, I didn’t think I had a choice.
The police department, District Attorney’s office and Attorney General’s office did a number of things to secure my conviction. None were more glaring than what occurred at the onset of my incarceration. Although I was apprehended at the scene, gun in hand, it wasn’t enough in their eyes. I was strategically placed with an informant upon my arrival at the county jail. Not any old informant, either. It has come to light that he was actually a confidential informant for the Berks County District Attorney’s Office. He had cooperated in a bevy of cases prior to my arrest.
I speculate on why these people placed me with their informant. Didn’t they already have enough to convict me? What were they worried about, my self defense claim being valid? I believe there were two reasons for it. The first, to weaken my defense. The second, to bolster someone’s account they already viewed as inconclusive- the partner’s.
The State Attorney General’s office handled my trial. They used the informant’s testimony to destroy my defense and paint me as a calculated killer, all the while protecting him. It began with their priming of the jury, to the effect of, “sometimes deals need to be made with unsavory characters in cases like this. If we present any witnesses like this, you will know about it”. And yet, they purposely misled the jury in allowing the informant to perjure himself and not correcting it. He was presented as this honest guy coming forward to do the right thing. There is no way I can blame the jury, either. People have a propensity to believe a District Attorney; so why would the state’s Attorney General mislead them? The opinions on his testimony may have changed had they known he was a career informant and had accrued several arrests pre-trial only to get off scot free. Or the fact that he admitted trafficking drugs to his parole officer. Instead of so much as a violation, he was referred to the District Attorney’s office and recruited for another case. They needed his expertise that much to secure my conviction.
To bring this full circle, the last factor to my being here was the mindset I possessed. This is the gut wrenching realization I spoke of earlier. What I came to understand and see is my being responsible for everything due to the mindset I possessed. I was fixated on what my pop chose to do. I blamed my mom, took it out on her, and chose to act out in protest. I wasted so much time focusing on things beyond my power, things no kid should have to worry about. I squandered by intelligence by not believing in myself and downplaying it. I believed there was no way out of the hood. Fence after fence was mentally erected and I ran laps within its enclosures. I was the model captive.
Facing my demons and accepting responsibility was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but very necessary because it was the only way I could be free of the chains that bound me mentally.
I had to see my imperfections, acknowledge my faults, let go of the pain, and do my best to grow as an individual. I did not want to engage with the negative anymore, come out of the darkness and into the light. I wanted inner peace and in order to get close to it, I had to kill the old me mentally. I am all the better from it, too. What is so ironic is having once walked the world as a free man, yet a prisoner of the mind. Now I sit on Death Row freer than I’ve ever been mentally. If only I had known sooner.
A wise man once told me, “the only thing truly gangster in life is knowledge”. On that note, I urge you to acquire the almighty knowledge of self. Free your mind from the ties that bind it. Embrace the light within you. Be a prisoner no more.
The Beauty I See
When I looked in the mirror I discovered me.
Not the old
But a Brand New Me.
It was a sight to behold.
One that made me rejoice. “Hey you”, I said
As my eyes got moist.
“I’ve been calling you
In my loudest voice”.
It wasn’t my choice to hide The reflection replied.
I’ve patiently waited,
Why didn’t you look inside?
|Smart Communications/PA DOC |
Cletus Rivera HS2164
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733