Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Letter to a Future Death Row Inmate, Part 21

by William “Big Will” Speer

Part 20 can be seen here

(Admin note: The author of this piece chose to write it in narrative form, rather than an actual letter. Here's to diversity!)

Voices overheard in dayrooms:

"Hey, who was that they just brought in?"

"I don’t know. He looked new."

"What cell did they put him in?"

"I don’t know what cell number it is but it’s the one that guy who just got executed used to live in."

"Oh, that's next to Big Will."

I hear the gate pop so I go to the door and look out. I see two officers bringing in some new guy. He's still wearing his county slides on his feet. It makes me think back to when I first came to DR, but at least I had property coming from population; this guy doesn’t look like he has anything.

He walks up to in front of my cell, looking at his empty cell. The officer is pushing the button to get the picket to roll the door, but the picket officer is looking the other way.

He looks up at me ... I see the uncertainty in his face. So I ask him his name, and he tells me. I say I'm Big Will. I ask him if he has any property. He says no, they took it all back in the county and wouldn’t let him bring it. I say, well, I don’t know what you lost but I can help you get what you need.

He looks at me and says, Oh no man, I aint gettin mixed up with none of that shit. I smile and laugh. No, man, its cool. Some of us know what its like to not have anything and know you need stuff. It aint no game you got to pay anything back.

Now, Speer, the officer chimes in, you can’t even wait for us to leave before you try to corrupt this guy. I smile as he says that trafficking and trading is against the rules. Now the door rolls and the officers go to put him in the cell and I tell him I’ll talk to him after they go. He says ok and steps into the cell. They remove the handcuffs and walk off. I say, ya'll make sure he gets his necessities. Don’t forget.

A few minutes go by and I hear the toilet flush and the sink water run, then a sigh. So, he says, this is it, huh? I say yeah, pretty much ... they'll bring you a mattress and necessities here shortly. He says, I hope so, cuz I had to sleep on steel in the county for over two weeks and that was some rough sleepin.

Well, they do that here, too, but that’s usually only when they want to punish you for whatever. Then they got every excuse in the book as to why they can’t find a mattress but they'll give you a. blanket to sleep on. He's quiet for awhile.

Well, how long have you been here? I tell him and he is quiet again, He then asks how long he's got. I say, honestly about 6 or 7 years but things could change for you. He asks how, and I say that laws sometimes change and I don’t know about your case but maybe you will get some action.

He said, yeah, I hope I do, cuz I don’t want to die here! I tell him that I know the feeling, and then he asks if this is where he'll stay until the end. I tell him that no, they move us once every six months to a year. Oh, cuz I heard that guy out there say I was going to the cell they just killed someone in. Its kind of creepy living in a cell they killed someone in.

I say, well they didn’t actually kill him in that cell but he did live there for a good year before they gave him his date and moved him to Death Watch on A-Pod.

He says it’s still creepy. I say, well, get used to it cuz every cell you go to will have had someone who lived in it and then got killed. He’s quiet again before saying, man, that’s depressing.

Yeah it is.

So, what do we get here? I say that I will show him my commissary list but I hope you got your eye-full of TV inside the county cuz there aint none here. And you don’t get to use a phone either. Not like in the county. You might get to make one 5 minute call every six months on a speaker phone with a ton of officers all round, but don’t count on it.

Man, that's all?

Yeah, and believe me they make it such a hassle so you don’t even try. I sure don’t, but then I don’t have anyone asking for a call either.

Yeah, I ran up some pretty high phone bills in the county so I know my people wont be asking for a while.

I say, speaking of your people, here let me give you some writing stuff and hygiene. I'll holler and see what else we can get you. Some guys have already got stuff together and are sending it to you. I’ll pick it up and get it over to you.

He says I sure do appreciate your help.

It's all good. I just ask to keep it real with me cuz all that what you did, who you were, don’t mean shit anymore. You are in a new world now and your word and respect is all you got.

I hear you man, he says. I did over a year in the county so I understand.

No, I say, in the county people are still trying to hold on to who they were. All that's dead now. Its brand new here: you can turn into a piece of shit or be cool and have your respect.

He shouts, hey, I’ll fight for my respect aint nobody going to disrespect me!

Well, you wont be doing any fighting with inmates cuz you'll never be around one to fight, "Cell Warrior" shit is about all there is and that don’t get no respect, not really.

Yeah, he says, that is not me, I was around a lot of that stuff in the county.

I send him my fishing line, Here, I say, get this. I slide him the bag with his stuff in it.

Thanks man. He says what’s your name again? Will?


Thanks, Will. I had a nickname I used to go by in the freeworld, but the guy who gave it to me snitch on me and then lied on me to help send me to death row. So I don’t go by that anymore.

Yeah, I say, nicknames can tell a lot about a person's character. I tell him that it’s real friendly here like an old folks home, really. For the most part you mind your own business, don’t look in people's cells, respect your neighbors and try not to yell or bang at night. The officers come around every 30 minutes sometimes. Sometimes its every hour or two, it sort of depends on what’s going on. You can ask them for whatever you need but if they are busy they will forget so you'll have to remind them ... a lot. Some of the officers got a real smart mouth, too. So watch yourself or you'll end up in a wreck. Try to keep things in perspective. Sometimes they just follow orders and don’t realize what they are saying or how it’s being taken. Like sit on your bunk; they only tell you that at chow time, but most will let you just stand back away from the door and then open the slot to feed you.

Oh, he says, so that’s how they feed us.

Yeah, I say, and the food is off and on one meal bad the next ok. But it's better than it was. Do you like to get out of your cell?

Yeah, but how he asks.

I tell him that you get to rec two hours a day, 5 days a week. The major is supposed to be looking at 6 days a week, but no word yet. They will come around each morning and ask you if you are going to rec and shower. You say yes, and they tell you the projected time. But know that shit changes around here so much don’t count on anything they tell you. Cuz some people verbally refuse or some other officer does not like the way the other officer set up the rec sheet and then they change it. Who knows; just know that it all can change. You'll strip out everywhere you go, going and coming. Get used to them seeing you cuz it’s your new way of life.

That sucks.

You get visits on a phone in a booth with glass between ya'll. No contact for DR. If you don’t know ask me and I will help you out. If you want to know about someone ask me and III tell you cuz there are some real pieces of trash around here. You'll see for the most part its best to be cautious and don’t take no cooked food from anyone until you get to know them if you care about what they might put in it. Again you got some real weirdos here. This place is nasty, too. Always wash your hands especially out in the dayroom and if you pick something up off the run. Sometimes you can catch the SSI wiping the table with the same rag he just wiped the toilet and sink with. Try to keep your shower slides on especially in the shower to prolong you from getting foot fungus. But you'll get it somehow anyway, be it through the socks or sheets. Once you do get it you'll have to put in a sick call form and well, good luck with all that is all I'll say. It takes awhile to get to get a sick-call answered around here.

If you like to read, your people can order you books and magazines from stores and companies out there. But most everything is bought off the commissary. It is a little deeper than the country for some stuff and a lot for others. They serve food around 3-5 AM for breakfast, 10:30-12:30 for lunch, and 5-7 for dinner.

How long will it take for me to get my ID card, he asks.

I tell him, oh, about 30 days or so.

Man, he whistles, now I can see why ya'll hooked me up.

I look down the run and see the guards coming our way. Well, I say, here they come with your stuff. I'll let you go make your bed, kick back and I'll holler at you later.

Yeah, he sighs. I’m tired. Thanks man.


(Admin note: You can find more writings by Big Will at Will's Story)
© Copyright 2011 by William Speer and Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

Monday, June 20, 2011

149's Corner - A Journal from Death Row - Entry #5

by Arnold Prieto Jr #999149

"A Dream No Longer Deferred"

Since my very first day on Death Row, I have tried to get some type of formal education, namely my GED or my High School diploma. Normally, inmates in general population are given the opportunity to achieve his/her GED by attending classes offered by the prison system. With that in mind, I was already setting my goals of finishing high school way back in county jail. Coming from a city like San Antonio, I saw first hand how the gang culture snapped up "new boots” and hoped that spending my time getting my diploma would distance me from such activities. I simply didn’t want to deal with the typical prison drama; I didn’t want to be some "everyday" convict. I was intent on not becoming part of such a world. Yes, I might be forced to live in prison, but it didn’t mean that I had to become it. Or so I thought, way back in 1995.

I was basically laughed at by both inmates and guards when I asked about how I was able to go about getting my opportunity to go to school. I was quickly learning that there were no such avenues open for Death Row but it didn’t really sink in until I asked the property officer who \vas in charge of all "outside purchases." Figuring he would be the one to ask ... boy, was I ever wrong! His response was a heavy one and one that I still t remember to this day. Officer Gaylon’s words were: "What does a dead inmate want with education?" That was heart breaking, not his ignorance so much, but rather the fact that it was true. So I stopped asking my "stupid questions" about school.

A couple of years later, Officer Gaylon was nabbed as part of a statewide sting operation that arrested pedophiles with child pornography. There are far more criminals than you know in prison; many of them go home at shift change.

As time passed, I could not help but notice that the majority of Death Row inmates were very uneducated. To this day, I still notice it. There is so little change here, and to a normal person that is a scary thing. I was not nor am now a well educated man, but I could see the lack of education in people and what it has done to them. This is a path I did not want to tread on but it is a path that I had no choice but to be on… until now. I was swallowed up by the uneducated masses of Death Row. Yes, I had given up.

I think we all gave up when they moved us to Polunsky. Because this unit is a lot more restrictive than Ellis-1 ever was, what little hope I was still holding on to in the back of my mind became what it always was… a stupid pipe dream. True I had taught myself how to draw and to always be "on top of my game," but "prison" education is nowhere close to the real mental challenges of a formal educational environment. Achieving a degree is something to be truly proud of, and that is maybe one of the reasons they denied us that chance. There are reasons why no one ever fights being strapped to the gurney.

Giving up my dream created a hole in my being ... like something was missing. Humans need dreams to survive. You know what I mean? School is not and never was a part of death row. For what? As Officer Gaylon said, "what does a dead inmate want with education?" I wonder if his attitude has changed, as he himself rots in a cell.

Things changed two years ago. An "Interoffice Communication" was posted on all the dayrooms concerning this matter. Well, according to the IOC, we were able to purchase correspondence courses though the mail at our expense. At least one inmate that I know had worked out a method of taking classes before this, but now they were admitting that they never had a right to deny us at all! Included in this list were home schooling programs, which was never allowed even when we were back at Ellis. I, for one, was very pleased, though I was surprised by the lack of joy in the men around me. Immediately, I began to become concerned with the cost. At that time, I didn’t have anyone out there in the freeworld to do any research for me. Feeling helpless sucks hardcore! (Not playing the victim here, just stating a fact.) But then a certain gringo moved into my section, and the research began in earnest. Holy crap! The costs were much higher than I had expected. Some HS equivalency courses cost as much as $2000.00 The cheapest came in at around $850.00, and even then I was asking myself how on earth I was supposed to get that kind of dough.

If I added up my 17 years worth of funds in my account, I know I wouldn’t get past ¾ of the $850.00. I brainstormed on this with T, and we came up with the idea of writing the school, to see if they had any sort of payment plan. Actually, what happened is, he asked me what I was waiting for. He's always nagging people about this stuff. I mostly answered back in frustration, saying, "Sure, let me just bend over and pull that money out of my back pocket." Seriously. My gym shorts have a back pocket, not what you were thinking. Anyway, he asked me if I had written them about scholarships or financial aid, and I had not even thought of doing, that. As soon as I got back into my cell, I wrote a letter to the school in question.

That school is Continental Academy in Florida. Mostly I was curious about the aid, plus I wanted to know what the curriculum was like. They responded quickly and with loads of information! Apparently, I can make a monthly payment of a minimum of $40.00 and I will receive 28 courses to accumulate the credits I need to get my high school diploma. Each grade level would consist of 7 courses starting at the 9th grade. HERE you can see a copy of the classes I signed up to take.

Here we are at the end of June and I have already finished my first course, which has been graded. I am a proud owner of a "B" for the course of "Career Research and Decision Making." This is a 12th grade course, but one that they recommend you take first, in order to get back into the feel of "school," and to help you establish good studying habits. I have now received all of my 9th grade courses. Yes, I am a freshman. Boy-o-boy, did certain people around here have fun with that. As everyone knows, freshmen in high school are known as "fish," and are normally taunted as a way of entry into high school. Certain people ought to remember that in these more modern days, such behavior would be considered bullying and charges could be filed! Wow, how the times have changed.

Anyway, my freshman courses consist of: Introduction to Computers, World Cultural Geography, English 1, Health-Life Management Skills, Consumer Math, Earth Science, and World History.

Each course consists of a textbook with practice problems. Let's take my consumer math course, which l am nearly done with. The course was 10 lessons long, and after each lesson I would go to the workbook and answer the questions on a scantron sheet. (See lessons HERE) After I finished the 10 lesson course and my homework from my workbook, I read a booklet called "things to remember," which is a full preview of the entire course. Now, the workbook exercises are open book assignments, but the tests are not. The math "End of Course Examination" had 50 questions, and you are to record your answers on an included scantron. I was a bit nervous about taking the first exam. I haven’t been nervous about taking a test since Junior High! I’m pretty sure the Flintstones were still barefooting their car around in those days.

I know what you are probably thinking: that I might have cheated by going back into the textbook while taking my closed book exam. I honestly don’t blame you for thinking that because for one you really don't know me, and secondly, its something you'd have thought of doing. As for me? I have a challenge now, and I am finally able to have that challenge after a decade and
a half of waiting. Cheating would sully the dream. I earned a "B" in my first course, and whatever I get for the rest of them, I will wear that mark on my chest with pride.

What I like about Continental Academy is that they have highly accredited instructors designing each course. Like Mr. Leon Kiston, who authored my consumer mathematics course. He has a BS in mathematics from Purdue, and also a JD from Illinois State Institute of Technology/Chicago-Kent College of Law, and has taught for more than 30 years. And that makes me feel very good, because I don’t want anyone to say, "oh, well, anyone can get a diploma from a diploma mill." These people are for real, and that makes the challenge feel real for me.

So the gray matter between my ears which was nothing but a deflated raisin this time last year has started to pump itself up a little bit. Not where I want it to be yet, but already I have noticed that my memory seems sharper. Sounds of whistles and bells tell me the cog wheels are back in action again! I freaking love it!

Officer Gaylon: eat your hat, wherever you find yourself.

This far, my plans are to work daily on my courses, taking each one on before moving to the next. This way, I feel I will get a better understanding of the material, instead of trying to do them all at once. I have a good tutor a few cells down, if it comes to that, and I don't mind the potential headaches. This has been a long time coming.

I feel human again! I feel like I am finally walking out of a cesspool of stagnant thoughts, words and senseless actions. I feel alive again. No wonder they have such an issue with us trying to better ourselves. It destroys their entire image of us. I can only imagine how I will feel after I get my diploma, and what I can attain for myself afterwards. Thomas has already got my college course "plan" worked out.

I think that I can speak on behalf of death row here in Texas when I say that if we were given the opportunity to learn a useful skill, this place would be very different. People here have no hope, no dreams, beyond the petty. This place is designed to kill these things, to break the spirit. In the days of slaves and plantations, the owners kept their "property" illiterate and uneducated. They would say that a dangerous slave was an educated slave! It seems Texas is mimicking this behavior, because smart convicts let the world know just how corrupt this place is, and how the corruption comes not from the inmates, but from the system itself. They say that education is expensive, but it costs (on average) about 2.5 million dollars to kill each one of us. 2.5 million to put a hit out on one of its own citizens, while it costs me 850 dollars to find the sorts of skills needed to survive in the world. Makes a lot of sense. But then, we are in Texas. Sense never had much to do with anything around here.

Arnold Prieto Jr

© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker & Arnold Prieto, Jr. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Letters to a Future Death Row Inmate, Part 20

by Robert Fratta

Part 19 can be seen here

Greetings fellow Death Row inmate,

I'm sorry I don’t know your name yet, but mine is Bobby Fratta. I came to D/R in '96, so I know how things work around here; including the games people play. I am coming to you as a Christian, and have no ulterior motive. Since u are new - it will take several weeks for TDCJ to process your ID card. U will need that card to purchase food, stamps, toothpaste, fan, and other needed items from the prison commissary. So even IF u have any money to be transferred from your county jail account, it will be a while before u can buy anything here. I never have much money, but always try to help new and needy inmates.

So enclosed in the bag are some stamps, paper, pen, envelopes, ear plugs, and snacks. There's no need to repay me. I believe u will find yourself compelled to help some new boot in the same manner down the road. This is how many of us are around here. You'll see :) I've also included the addresses of some pen pal orgs for prisoners. Unless u have family and friends who are willing and able to support u mentally, emotionally, and physically, and, who will stick with u, u will need to write up an ad to acquire new friends. In case u haven’t experienced it yet, most of our friends and family disown us when we are accused of a crime; and especially if we are convicted. As time goes by - it gets worse. The tremendous stress of our situation affects not only us, but any family and friends who stood by us from the onset. Because of that stress, they end up leaving us in order to maintain their lives and sanity. The same applies to any new friends u may acquire thru ads on prisoner sites. Once people discover how "needy" we are, most quickly disappear. I advise u not to get mad about it, but rather be thankful for any love u can receive and give in here. And since u are young, I suggest u take advantage of your youth by seeking new friends now. People out there, especially women, will only write new and young guys. If u get to be my age and length of time here - u'll discover no one really cares :( So having loved ones to write to and help u is definitely a priority in maintaining your sanity; especially since there will be guys here u wont get along with. U see, this administration wants us to be in chaos and not get along with each other. They refuse to let us choose who we want to live around on a section, so they choose for us. Their choice is a forced diversity that will include racists, gang members, yellers, drummers, a few quiet guys, and guys who talk all night; hence the ear plugs! :) Then there are also a few guys who will shoot darts at u, or spear u as u walk past their cell. Such violence would be impossible if the administration would very simply put plexiglass over our cell door windows and sides. Then neither inmates nor guards could be stabbed or "chucked on". But administration wants that so they can keep telling the public what animals we all are, and justify all the excessive money TDCJ spends on unneeded salaries, video camera system throughout the building, equipment, etc. And to prove my point and the hypocrisy and fact they want to torture us, u'll notice they've sealed off the shower doors so we sweat our butts off and can’t breathe, yet they refuse to seal off our cell doors - and our cells have a circulatory Al/C and heat system. Plus our cells are approximately 6' x 10', whereas the showers are all 3' x 4' enclosed booths!

U'll also discover TDCJ allows the general population ("GP") inmates to have TVs, work program, church services, in-cell craft working, outside recreation, group recreation, much better quality meals w/larger portions, daily access to telephones, and other things they refuse to us here. I've heard even the D/R women at Gatesville have most - if not all those G.P. rights. How they treat us men on D/R is intentional abuse and mistreatment TDCJ enjoys inflicting upon us. U'll also discover how they violate state and federal laws, plus their own rules and policies - routinely. Then when we file grievances on them, the grievances are all denied by TDCJ employees. Then the citizens out there in the free world always wonder why there is such a high rate of repeat offenders~ It's due to TDCJ showing all of us inmates system-wide that it's "ok" to disregard all the laws and rules!

Lastly, it doesn’t matter if u are innocent or guilty. There's a big chance u will die here; whether by execution, health issues, or suicide. So we must strive to make things right w/God. If you're guilty, I can tell u that God will forgive u. (See 1 John 1:9). Also, Moses murdered an Egyptian (see Exodus 2:11-12), yet God exalted him to work miracles and lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. King David committed adultery w/Bathsheba and intentionally sent her husband Uriah into frontline battle to be killed (2 Sam. 11:1-17) yet God exalted him and called David a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). And the Apostle Paul who wrote approximately half the books in the New Testament – persecuted the early Christians, overseeing and approving the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:54 - 8:3), yet Paul was still hand-picked by Jesus/Yahshua to be an Apostle (Acts 9:1-6 and 10:9). So if u haven’t already done so, I urge u to make Jesus/Yahshua Lord of your life. U may even become inspired to write articles based upon "revelations" and dreams as I have. I enjoy spending time fellowshipping w/God thru His Holy Spirit, and am hoping for someone out there to post my writings onto a website and be my webmaster. U are welcome to read my articles so we can discuss them and all the scriptures I quoted if u'd like when 1 of us gets to the dayroom outside our cells, or, if we can get out together in the atrium area.

I'm sorry, I have 1 more "lastly" :) U will hear alot of prison talk about someone being a snitch, "ho", etc. I suggest u take that kind of talk w/a grain of salt and change the topic to something pleasant. Simply learn to judge people for yourself based upon their actions, not their words. U'll see just how many liars and hypocrites there are around here, plus scam artists and those who wheel and deal and play games. This is yet another reason to seek fellowship w/God and people out there in the world. But for the most part, u will find the vast majority of guys here just want to get along w/one another. Do like me and look for the good in people here and focus on that. U'll be surprised at how much good u'll actually find here in Texas Death Row inmates :)

written by: Bobby Fratta
Polunsky Unit, #999189
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX. 77351

© Copyright 2011 by Robert Fratta and Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.