Thursday, June 26, 2014

Manufacturing Anomie*

By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

*This story won first prize in the fiction category of the 2014 Annual PEN Prison Writing Contest

Which one of you OJTs is Adams?

That's me, Sarge.

Adams, you with me for the rest of the mornin’. Come along, now.

Yes, sir.

Oh, and I know how that wall was done built by the lowest bidder and all that shit, but do you think the rest of you fucks could find somethin' constructive to do besides keepin’ it upright? You got twelve trustees in this hall. What's the point of having free labor if'n you ain't using it. Get me?

Yes sir.

Sorry sir.

We're on it, Sarge.

You, Adams, how long you been trainin’?

This is my fourth day, sir.

Fourth day, is it? Well, yer in for a treat. The sumbitch who had a date next Tuesday went and offed hisself last night, so we got to take this here PROP-O5 and inventory his junk before we can release it to his kin. I hope you is the nosy type.

Um...I guess I can do nosy if you need me to. What did you mean about a date next Tuesday?

Look at me son, and stop for a second. This is death row. You understand what that means? We ain't the commonwealth of Massa-fucking-chusetts. When we says we gonna kill a man, we do it. 'Date' means execution date, you understand?

And this guy...he killed himself before his date? Like suicide?Why would he do that?

Fuck me, Adams, I couldn't tell ya. And I couldn't be hogtied into carin’, truth be told. The good Lord made this world fulla different folks, and I got enough trouble lookin’ after my own without inquiring into the strokes of some crazy bastards. Ain't for us to wonder about, son. What is for us to wonder about is makin’ sure there ain't no contraband in this property, and that's what we're about. Come on, A-pod is this way.

I never been on A-pod before.

We on the way to DeathWatch. You just stick to your task and ignore the Offenders. They all got they backs against the wall now so don't take none of ‘em at their word, and don't take none of their shit, neither. ‘Member you is an officer of the State of Texas, and act like it.

Ain't they behind steel doors?

Pfft, you think that'd stop any of 'em if they decided to up and harpoon your fat ass? Eyes front son. Here we go. Look out, Picket officer! Roll A-section crash-gate and 3-cage!

Looks like somebody already bagged up his stuff, Sarge.

Yeah, Schlemiel did, before he cut his throat.

Oh...that's his name? Was his name, I mean?

I guess he was packed and ready to go. Peter was one neat and tidy Offender, I will give him that. Even died clean, looks like. Mostly.

Jesus, is that...

Now you just watch where you stand. We'll get us some disinfectant in here and clean all that right up. Every cell in this place has had its share of blood, so don't you go all squeamish on me now. You going to make it?

Yes...yes, sir.

Good. Now, I'm going to divide these bags up. These here look like hygiene items, so they won't take long. Just dump this shit out over there on the bed. Now, when you take apart some of this stuff, run this here metal-wand over it. I'll show you. Hand me that

                                                                                        toothpaste and soap. That was sure unexpected and very kind of you, Mrs Hoffen. It was really a surprise to find money on my books because I usually only get a little from my Ma at Christmas-time. I been here two Christmases now, but maybe you already know that. I know all sorts of information is out there on the internets but I never really got on too well with the technology so when people talk about all of these "double-Us-this” and "applications-that” it's mostly over my head. I was told when I got here that random people would pop up outta nowhere to write me but so far you are really the first normal person what done so. I don't mean to be rude to the others, but ain't none of ‘em smell right to me, if you know what I mean. It's like they addicted to death and they wanna get real close to it while stayin’ safe, if that makes any sense. I don't really know what to write about, to be honest with you. I never really wrote much in the freeworld. Didn't do so great with books and school and all that. I can take apart and put back together most anything mechanical that I can get my hands on, though I guess that ain't worth a hill of beans when you is livin’ in solitary confinement. So, I'm 23. I have a brother and a sister, both older, but I don't really hear from ‘em much these days. I ain't seen hide nor hair of my Pa since I was 6 and to hear my Ma tell it, I ain't missin’ much. She works at the feed lot in town, so I don't see her much because the hours are so long. Plus, Livingston is a real drive from Moil Springs, which is about where I used to live. I had a wife but I ain't heard from her since I was in the County Jail when she mailed me the papers. I didn't contest nothin’ cuz there ain't no kids or money and anyhow I had tried to tell her three years ago when we got hitched that I was a losin’ proposition but you know how some women is when they get an idea in their heads. No offense, I mean. You seem right normal and I don't get no weird feeling from your card so I guess if you want you can drop me a

                                                                                                               line they use to send shit tween cells. You put that to one side, away from the rest of the stuff.

How do they make ‘em, Sarge?

They pull apart the sheets, one strand at a time, and then braid ‘em together.

And we let them do that?

Hell no we don't let them do that. That's Destruction of State Property and also Trafficing and Trading when they use ‘em. Those are both Major Cases. You write em up and send em to the hole for 90 days.

But all the cells is already solitary...ain't the whole building the hole?

Well...yeah...but...look here, Level 3 is a whole hell of a lot worse.

Oh...but what if they are just sending food to someone who can't get...

Look here, Adams. You seem a bit citified to me, so l'm gonna tell you to check your damned pansy-ass GPS device. You in Polunsky, boy. This the big time, you follow me? Some officers'll wait years to get a transfer to this prison. Maybe one day the offenders'll be sending tacos, but the next it will be a shank with a sharp-ass tip and your name floatin’ across the eyes of some sociopath sumbitch. After a few years back here ain't none of them got any human left in ‘em. You remember that. This place kills ‘em long afore they get dead. Now, you see passin’ from one cell to the next and you just write ‘em up. We clear on this?

Yes sir. I'm done with this sack.

Go through it again. Major's orders: we check everything twice.


Look, the Major is like your pappy. No, he's like God, okay? He don't hafta’ make sense. He tells you to go through somethin’ twice, we do it twice ‘cause we love and respect him. We don't want him embarrassed ‘cause if he looks stupid to someone in the warden's office there'll be hell to pay and I've got five grades on your CO-1 ass. You follow me?

Yes sir. It looks like in this sack all we got is some papers and some letters and photo

                                                                                                                                   graphs of the beach. I'm a little embarrassed to tell you this, but I've never seen the ocean before. I guess the furthest I've ever been from the town I grew up in was a trip to Dallas we took when I was 9. Before I came down here, I mean, and that weren't by choice. Oh, sorry...I meant "wasn't by choice," right? See? I told you I was using that dictionary and grammar book you sent. I'm still not giving up "ain't" yet, though. I know it's not proper but you Yanks are going to have to pry that one out of my cold dead hands, as they seem to be saying a lot down here of late. Anyways, I want to confess something to you so please don't laugh. Those photos of the bay have been on my wall for a few days now and I keep looking at them and they make me feel kinda strange but a good strange, you know? So I read somewhere that the water has lots of salt in it so I traded for some salt packets from my neighbor and filled up my cup with warm water and just dumped that salt in there and put the whole thing up to my nose. Now when I stare at those photos it feels like I'm kinda there. Sometimes the officers'll ask what I'm about and I just tell them I'm going to the beach for the day and they look at me all weird but I’m used to that. I've never seen fireflies before either, but I haven't figured out how to rig up some of them in my cell as of yet. Anyways, I don't know if you noticed this Mrs. Hoffen but I received your first letter exactly two years ago next Friday, so happy anniversary and all that. And I mean no offense to Frank about all that neither. He's been a blessing to me, too, a real blessing. I don't know why but anniversaries seem to stick in my head better now than they did when I was free. Maybe because I only know a few people now? They killed Hacksaw Blue a year ago last Wednesday. He was 26, a year older than I am now. So was Flint. 26, I mean. They seem old to me in memory but I am almost their age. I guess only the dead stay young forever. I don't feel 25, though. Sometimes I don't feel I’ve aged none - any, sorry - since my arrest. I was 21 then, and in this world of bars and all this concrete you always feel like you are falling behind the people your own age.  I mean, I don't know anything about taxes or politics or...fuck (sorry) anything, really. It's like they cemented me at 21. In other ways I feel old, real old. What is worse? Knowing that I'm stuck at 21 or being ignorant of it like most of these guys? To feel 85 even though I've never really seen anything of life? I don't know if this comes through so well in my letters, but you are one of the few things in my life that makes me happy. If it weren't for you and the books you have sent me, I think I'd have lost my mind and become like so many of these loonies. It seems like some kind of cruel prank that I had to come to death row to meet someone who actually wanted to be kind to me. Sometimes...I...I think there is a part of me that wants to get so sad that death would be welcome. Does that make any sense?
I don't seem to ever know how to say what I mean; stuff just comes out all wrong. But at least I know how to use a semi-colon now, and I hope that you noticed it. Look out, Jonathan Franzen, I'm gunnin' for you! Yee haw! I bet that is the first time in the English language that "yee haw" and "Franzen" were used in the same sentence. To think that I once thought books weren't for me, or that the


on those candy bars, Adams?

I see six, Sarge.

Go ahead and put zero on the PROP-O5 and help yourself. All this sortin’ is hard work, ain't it?

Uh...I'm gonna pass. You take ‘em.

Well don't say I didn't give you a chance for ‘em.

How long you been at this, Sarge?

I'm comin up on 21 years, son. 13 of that here on the Row.

How many...executions you witnessed?

Hell, I don't count. I don't know. A couple of hundred, I expect. And I can tell where you're going next with this, so don't even start down that road. They's guilty and there ain't no two ways about it. Our job is to obey the orders of our bosses, to follow the Chain of Command. For you, that's me. For me, that's my Lieutenants. They obey the Captain, and that chain goes on up until you get to the Governor. You got to trust we know what we are about or else the whole damned thing comes a crashin’ down and then we got some Harvard sumbitch from the federal guvment sippin’ a latte in his Prius tellin’ us how to live our lives. Leave the business of the inmates to the courts. Anything beyond that is between them and God. Now, it looks like we are done with the property. Now we gotta go through these letters, make sure there ain't no suicide note or some kinda message to his people about revenge. You take this stack, and hand me one of those Snicker

                                                                                                                    bars and bars and bars, that's all I see anymore. If you took them away, I think I'd still see them. I can't explain it better than that. Until recently you have been very careful about not treading into forbidden territory since I told you She had written, and I appreciate it. I just...look, I know I minimized what She meant to me in the past. I made a joke or used a loaded "anyway" to change the subject, but some things just don't get any better by talking about them. So why are you asking all of these questions now? She was my angel, and then she was a set of divorce papers and about 40 returned letters and a gateway to loneliness and self-hatred. She was my first kiss, my first everything. I can't even remember what it is like to touch anyone anymore, so what good is talking about this stuff? You've led a good life. Your parents seemed to care for you, you had a good experience at college and then met Frank and I guess the stars were always lined up for you two because you've never looked away. That is great. I'm sure there were rough patches and I don't mean to minimize that but you've been really lucky. Please understand that I am not mad at you for your charmed life. I'm envious but not angry. But you could never know what it is to go the first 17 years of your life not knowing what it felt like to feel safe anywhere or be accepted by anyone. That is not something that can be explained, only experienced. You can't understand what it feels like to know that you are so broken inside that you will never be loved by anyone, ever. When you walk into a room everyone looks at you and appreciates you because you are beautiful and you carry yourself with confidence. Hell, men have probably been staring at you since you were about 13 or so and you have gotten so used to this that you take it for granted. You could never understand what it is to be ugly, to have everyone in a room look at you and then through you because what is there isn't worth noticing or remembering. And then to know what it feels like for someone to come out of the dark like She did and to really see you and tell you all of those things that you hear in the dreams you won't even allow yourself to remember in the morning, it's like...I read in that physics book you sent me that you would never know if a nearby star went into supernova, because the blast would be moving at the speed of light. Just -boom- and this entire corner of the galaxy would be reduced to its component atoms. She came into my life like that. I didn't know what hit me. There was light for a time and then I evaporated. And then there was nothing left after she was gone. Is that what you wanted me to admit? That when my sister sends me photographs off of Facebook of my angel with her kids and her new husband who is everything I could never be and her perfect little life all laid out how I never could have managed for her I don't feel anything for weeks, anything at all? Is that what you wanted to hear? That I'm a coward and a loser and that I still love her and...look, we've been writing now for close to four years and you know how I feel for you. But please don't think that because you are my only friend that this gives you license to

                                                                 look at this little girlie, would ya?

I see her, Sarge.

Doesn't it just toast your grits to see some punk in a cage with a fine piece of ass like that?

I think she was his wife. I saw a bunch of her photos in with some letters.

Stupid broads...I'll never understand em. They've been messed up since Eve. They always seem to

searching for an answer to your question for years now, but I still haven't come to a satisfactory place. I know I killed Mr. Lurdan but I don't really know why I did it. Everyone pretends like all we do is planned but it seems to me that we mostly just act and then justify our actions in hindsight. The things he said to me that night were things I've been hearing all my life. They were bad but they weren't any worse than what I got at home as a kid. I don't even really remember how it happened. What I mostly remember is what they said happened in court. I was drinking but I wasn't drunk. I just remember him and that other one, the one they call Timmet that showed up at my trial in the snakeskin boots and that bolo tie, they were just laughing and saying those things about me not having big hands and what that meant and about how no wonder She always snuck out to the bar when I was working and the red neon Budweiser sign over the bar got all bright and suddenly all the world was neon red light and then everyone was screaming and I was laughing and crying at the same time and my arms were tired and bleeding and broken and everything smelled like copper pennies and I still smell and taste that sometimes and then I sat down at the bar and finished my beer and I knew Mr.Lurdan was dead or dying on the floor and my pocket knife was stuck in his chest and I guess I knew that all of that was my fault but it just wouldn't connect at the moment. They said I was cold-blooded at trial just to sit down and drink a beer like that but I wasn't even there, I tell you. Anyways, if I can't feel anything like they said, why does everything always hurt so bad? And the thing is, I don't know how it came to that. I can piece some of it together, but nothing adds up when you step back and look at it in sequence. When I was 9, I saw this older neighborhood boy catching dragonflies and then tearing their wings off. I started crying and punching him and he beat me up pretty good and everyone made fun of me for caring about a stupid insect and how I deserved my two black eyes. How did I get from that to this? I feel like there must be an answer somewhere, some way to connect these two dots on the graph of my life, but I can't find the

                               letters in this pile we toss out.

Why, Sarge?

Too much talk about prison life, son. The public, they don't understand the things we got to do to protect ‘em. They want to be safe, but they don't want to know what it takes to get that safety. So we do what we hafta’ and protect ‘em from knowin’ the nature of the beast. I don't think his people'd mind much if some of them photos go missin, neither. Let me see. Oh yeah, howdy there little missus, with you and your

                        bad manners not to have written you by now. I am truly sorry, Mrs. Hoffen. I know you must have freaked out when you saw I had a date set, and I should have sent you something. Well, I am now. Better late than never, right? I am sending this to you through my attorney because there is no way they are going to let this letter out of the unit. By the time you read this, it will be too late to stop me from doing what I know I need to do. You have been my only friend these last six years so I feel I owe you an explanation. I didn't read any of the letters you sent me the last 9 months, but I can imagine what was in them. I don't really know where to begin. I'm not feeling very clear these days about much of anything, but I shall make an attempt. I haven't really been right for years now, but I guess you know that. The catalyst for my present decision started with the rec yard, of all things. You know we recreate alone, always alone. On a few of the yards, the ones that face the outer wall of 12-building, there are these little square indentions cut into the pre-fab concrete at regular intervals at ground level. I couldn't ever figure out what they were for, until one day I realized that they were spots for drains to be installed. Obviously the unit never got around to cutting them out. I don't know how to put this...those holes...they just possessed me. This isn't rational, I know, but I couldn't get them and what they meant out of my mind. I started cutting into one near the toilet with the metal rod of my hot-pot, a little each day. I had a piece of 2x2 concrete that plugged the hole up real nice and I worked on this hole for more than three months. Well, during the first week of October - they tell me it was on the 3rd, but I don't remember any of this - I must have felt like I was getting close and I guess I tuned the rest of the world out because they tell me when they came to get me I was just lying there with my arm stuck through the wall and my hand was gripping the grass on the other side. I wish I could remember it because I haven't touched anything soft in more than 9 years now and I guess when I managed it I went to some other place. They gassed me, so they say, but I didn't move, just laid there. They came in with the goon-squad and tried to carry me off but I started kicking and screaming nonsense and wouldn't let go of the hole and it took nine of them to get me on the gurney. My fingers on my right hand are still all bent up so I think one of them must have gone to the other side of the wall and broken them but it doesn't matter now. I absolutely don't recall my first 40 days or so of my time on Level 3. I must have eaten sometime and all of that, but the rest of the time they tell me I just sat there, staring at the wall or the floor. They wouldn't give me any clothes or a mattress so I must have slept on the metal bunk or the concrete or something. The first thing I really remembered was your photographs of the ocean and the taste of salt water. I was crying and I don't know why but I remember thinking that maybe that's where the oceans came from. If you tallied up all of the tears that fell down from the faces of all the humans that ever lived, I bet it would add up to the oceans and then some, a real ocean of tears. And that's the thing: I don't understand any of this. I don't understand why no one ever liked me much or why I was never good at anything. It seems like everyone should be at least okay at something, but I never was. I don't understand why they say I am evil and why everyone in my life just accepted this and left me. I guess they must be right because they say it so loudly but I don't think I can take it anymore. I'm tired, Mrs. Hoffen. Just so tired. Everyone says that I owe them a life so I guess I'm going to give it to them. It never did me any good so I think they are getting a worse deal than they imagine. I haven't had any real choices in so long that this feels right. They were going to kill me anyways but this way they get to save some gasoline and some overtime hours and whatever the poison costs. I'm sorry. I don't know what comes after this place but it's got to be better than this. Even if it's nothing, it would be better than this. Maybe they will have fireflies there? I hope that you will understand me and that you can carry

    on with those four bags and I'll take these here two and we will get these to the property officer to release to the family. You done good, Adams.

Thank you, sir.

Watch that crash-gate now. It's about to be lunchtime, so after we drop this shit off you can sign out. You want to catch some Whataburger with me? They give a discount to prison guards.

No, I don't think...I'm not real hungry right now.

Your loss, I tell you. you...I you ever...

Ever what, Adams?

Oh...nevermind. It was nothing. Nothing at all.

Thomas Whitaker 999522
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hello Darkness – My Old Friend*

By Michael Lambrix 

*This story received an honorable mention in the memoir category of the 2014 Annual PEN Prison Writing Contest

It is there in the dimly lit shadows of the darkness that I find my comfort within this concrete crypt I am condemned to not merely live, but ever so very slowly, die within.  I could simply reach up above my steel bunk and pull the long string that dangles down from the fixture above and flood the confines with that artificial light, but I choose not to. The darkness is my sanctuary, where despite all the misery and chaos around me, I can retreat and sit silently and find my solitude in this cell on Florida’s infamous Death Row. The brightness of that light would be unnecessarily intrusive, an unwelcome invasion that would serve to deprive me of those stolen moments in time, in which I am able to momentarily detach from the reality around me and retreat back into my own little corner, in my own little world.

I already know too well what the light world would reveal, as all day of every day now, for not merely months, or a few years, but for decade after seemingly endless decade, and yet another decade still, I have sat in this cold, concrete cage and I know it as only a condemned man can, so intimately well that even when I close my eyes, I can count the number of concrete blocks on each wall, I can still see that plain and deliberately featureless, faded soft pastel beige walls, accented by the dark, heavy wool horse blanket that I am required to cover my bunk with each morning, as God forbid I might be tempted to sleep a  few hours during the day and then there’s the black bars at the front of the cell, each bar spaced precisely four inches apart, which allow me to look outward a few short feet upon yet another wall of heavy steel bars, separating the outer catwalk and not too far beyond that, the fortified narrow windows, long ago covered with dust and debris, and yet in defiance, still barely allowing just enough light through to know when it is day and when it becomes night.

During the warmer months, these narrow windows are opened just enough to allow a bit of air to flow through. From time to time small birds will venture in and awaken me from my early morning sleep with their chirping, which at first I found inviting, as if they brought life itself to this culture of cold death.  But at some point along the path of time, this incessant chirping became unbearable, as if their only intent was to tease and taunt me, to so cruelly mock the man in the gilded cage before they fly away. I began to find myself being driven by an overwhelming anger within me to yell and scream at these demonic winged monsters and even throw small items at the window screen to chase them away.  After a while, birds no longer came to visit as much and I find myself missing my little friends now.

Once upon a time this relentlessly monotonous micro-environment I am entombed within could be brought to life with a few photos, faded reflections of a life that once was, but the powers that be decreed that any sign of life hung from the walls was somehow a security threat and not even one photo would be allowed. To violate this draconian rule would result in the loss of the photo, an immediate transfer to “lock-up” and the loss of the very few “privileges” we might be afforded. Given that few privileges are even allowed, this “punishment” would almost be ironically meaningless, if not for the disruption to this methodical routine we come to almost religiously cling to.

I’m told that long term solitary confinement under such objectively oppressive physical conditions and the deliberate deprivation of any meaningful interaction with others will inevitably drive even the strongest of men insane and I’m sure there are many who believe this to be true. Some might even argue convincingly that this inevitable insanity is the objective, as when the monsters of my fate cannot break the body, they become that much more determined to break the spirit. But nobody yet has told me exactly where that elusive line is that separates sanity from the slippery slide down the proverbial rabbit hole leading into that bottomless abyss of madness, in which seems that each of us is expected to descend is?

Each week the prison psychologist will make his rounds of the death row unit and always without even so much as stopping, do the required welfare check on each of us, as the state has a vested interest in proving we have not become insane.  We all know that our psychological state is irrelevant.  Even those who have long ago slipped beneath the murky surface of insanity will be automatically assigned a normal rating each week; any other conclusion that might dare to call our sanity into question might later serve to obstruct the state’s objective of putting us to death.  Becoming insane and being recognised as insane are two totally different things and prison staff who conduct these psychological drive-bys are part of the machine.

I struggle to understand who these people are who so pretentiously proclaim themselves to be normal and insist that insanity is such a bad thing.  If I have learned nothing else in all the years that I have been entombed in my solitary crypt awaiting the uncertainty of my fate, it is that my self-structured psychosis provides my mental escape from this thing they want to claim to be reality and that it is this reality that sucks, not insanity.

When I sit silently in the comforting darkness of my solitary crypt, I can often listen to the many others around me in this monolithic warehouse of tormented souls, or on the increasingly rare occasion when I might reluctantly venture out for a few hours of “outdoor” recreation on the razor-wired concrete pad they call our recreation yard and am able to see and even look into the windows of the lost souls of condemned men around me, I find that I envy those who now have that empty look in their eyes, those who have already been blessed by the detachment from that burden of reality that still weighs down heavily upon those of us not so fortunate.

For them, they are the lucky ones, no longer imprisoned by this cruel world around them.  For them, the past, the present and even the future and with it the uncertainty of their judicially imposed fate have lost all meaning and although their physical body may remain condemned to that solitary cage, their spirit is free to fly away and soar high above the stormy clouds and into that picture perfect blue sky beyond and as I witness their existence in a world of their own making, I come to appreciate that insanity is something any sane man in my predicament can only envy and I as again retreat back into the recesses of my voluntary darkness do I find myself praying to a long deaf god that I too one day soon might be blessed by this gift of insanity, so that I too might find my own reprieve from the harsh truth of reality.

Then there’s that whimsical wisp of hope that keeps me pushing forward and I am reminded of a particular scene in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” in which the seasoned convict (played by Morgan Freeman) is sitting at the table in the prison chow hall, looking up at the fresh meat fate cast down upon them, and offers this profound truth, that every convict will inevitably learn in their own way, ”Hope will drive you insane.” Perhaps that is why in Dante’s “Inferno,” as the desperate soul slowly stepped through that passageway leading down to into the very depths of hell itself, he took a moment to absorb those words inscribed above that portal into hell – “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.” Despite that paradox of clinging to hope as a means of sustaining the strength to survive, yet knowing that each time that hope is crushed, insanity steps another step toward you, so many still so desperately cling to their hope.

But can hope drive a man insane if what he truly hopes for is insanity? Only the helplessly naïve would think that life and death were black and white, as only by being condemned to living within the very shadows of death, while hopelessly bearing witness as one by one around you are put to death in such an arbitrary and utterly unpredictable manner, can you come to understand that death itself comes in an infinite array of shades of grey – and even long before they might come to drag the next man away do we know that physical death too often follows long after the man within that fleshy vessel has already died a slow and tortuous death of the spirit within.

To understand the therapeutic value of my voluntary darkness, one must first appreciate that death too often is not a singular event, but a prolonged journey towards that finality that is marked by the degradation of the inner-will with each stumbling step. In my voluntary darkness, I have come to know that a man’s worst fate is not to be condemned to death, but as if peeling away the layers of a onion, each day is another step in which that will to live is maliciously stripped away until only the inner core itself remains, a mere fragment of the man that once was. With each layer, that light of life within the windows of the soul dims just a bit more and the world within takes on a darker shade of grey and only in our arrogance do we attempt to define the precise moment of a physical death. 

Only by attempting to understand why a condemned man might be relentlessly haunted by such thoughts might another understand why the darkness has become my friend and why as I so willingly surrender to that darkness, I place such value in the power to be able to choose whether to pull that string or not.  Each day I alone decide whether in that moment I will live or die as in that voluntary darkness I inflict death upon the reality that imprisons me and in the shadows of my refuge, I find a fleeting sense of peace, knowing only too well that in the coming days, or weeks, or months they will soon enough come to lead me away and as they place me in that solitary cell, just outside that solid steel door that leads into the execution chamber, I will no longer be blessed with the power to retreat into that comforting refuge of my voluntary darkness, but will instead be dragged into a brightly lit room, then strapped upon a gurney, as just a few feet away, on the other side of a glass wall, a small crowd of witnesses will have willingly gathered to silently witness my state sanctioned execution.

As I then lay physically restrained and powerless upon that gurney, as those who have so methodically stalked my death for so many years nod to the masked executioner standing but a few feet away, as he pushes down on the plunger that will send that lethal cocktail of chemicals into my veins, and as I draw that final breath, I will once again find comfort and peace as the light fades away and as that darkness of death descends down upon me, the temptation of pulling that string will be no more.  Just as in my solitary cell I have been condemned to live alone, I too will now die alone and in the end, darkness will be my only remaining friend.

Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tearing Down the House of Gemini

By Steve Bartholomew

Night of needles, night of flux.

The way he held it up by the plunger, that dainty stem of anti-future, wagging it like a clinical scepter. Made whatever qualms I'd had feel superstitious in the face of such ceremony. I stared into the thin shaft of amber, hypnotized by the dim light trapped there. By now our relationship did not admit quibbles of risk or the weighing of moments and so just like that he slipped the stainless sliver into the flesh of my arm.

No doctoral sting, just a thick crest of veinous cold. My last human thought vaguely questioned the implications of a process that looked as innocuous as an inoculation. Then he grinned a hijacker's grin and sent me across the event horizon.

Between rapture and rupture is a wash of inner crisis, an implosion of senses exquisite and near death.

I felt unlatched from the waves of tear-streaked air, throwing off the body heat of a locomotive. My language collapsed but here was the world finally unfiltered, a ruckus of streamers and vibrating flyspecks. Arm in arm we danced along the curb, shimmer-eyed and bloated with void. A mad tarantella among swirling trash.

I love you, man, I said.

"Love me? Hell, you are me, now."

Science holds that identical twins share more than just physical attributes, that we have in common an annoying percentage of non-physical traits. Essentially, they say, our personalities overlap. This much, I can tell you, is true. But what studies don't show is that sometimes we also end up sharing responsibility for each other's actions. I am in prison for much of my life not because my identity was mistaken for my twin's, but because it was displaced by his. I do not bother trying to convince anyone of this. When I scream that they are holding the wrong guy, I do so in silence.

This is a story of misguided loyalty, of counterfeit oaths in mingled blood. Maybe I should apologize in advance for there not being a moral. You see, some twins compete for dominance, their wills so at odds that they are unable to occupy the same airspace. But that was never a chapter in our story. I embraced and then clung to my twin until I didn't know where I ended and he began.

Oh, the cliché of being separated at birth, in this case a tale so undramatic as to be remarkable only in its banality. I could labor on about the depressive baggage of a fractured home life, or how an imperfect childhood eroded my moral footings, but the truth is I'd have to exaggerate the facts or fabricate new ones to make that part of my story worth listening to. Growing up, I never suspected I had a twin wandering the world. How could I have known? I suppose there is an ill-fated sensibility lurking within certain parent-child conversations, the sort of unpacked distaste that makes avoiding seem like sparing. Like not telling a kid he has a cancer gene. I can't blame my parents for hoping I'd remain oblivious.

It wasn't until I was a teenager, adrift and alone on the streets, that I met him. Or I should say, he met me. Because he found me as if he'd been searching for me all along, and maybe he had. Had I known he existed, there‘s no telling whether I'd have watched out for him or looked for him. I was not exactly a contemplative boy.

He crept up behind me at s party one night, a party that until then had seemed no different from the hundreds before. Cheap beer and red cups, small pipes of brass, some of glass, and the kegger Barbies not quite bored enough to talk to me. He covered my eyes with a mirror, saying, "Guess who?" and in the space of a sharp inhale it seemed I'd always known him. That face, like looking at an enchanted version of myself. Here were my dull, familiar features suddenly razorblade sharp and radioactive, doused in discovery. In his eyes, the dilated sparkle of a split-second life. This had to be the joy of wholeness making my heart do a jungle war beat. "You‘ll never be alone again," he swore, breathless in his first litany. What he meant was: You will forever be alone, but I'll keep you from caring much.

We'd never let anyone see us together, because we thought that made us seem mysterious, or at least artful. He taught me to lace up my secrets as tight as his combat boots. But no one could tell which of us they were talking to anyway. Back then, they‘d tell me I was getting too skinny sometimes, but they were really talking to him.

He was a frantic pulse of aimless ambition, a beehive of schemes. From a distance you could mistake his churning for frightening productivity, an antic bustle evoking Fred Flintstone stuck on a freeway cloverleaf. "You've been sleeping away your pathetic life," he'd say, and then his favorite mantra: "Time for sleep when you're dead."

Early on, he caught me cringing once or twice at the details of our next mission, some slick-mitted come-up or an iffy gambit where the risk towered over the pay. Those times, he'd berate me with a look, saying, "Think how I feel. Finding out my identical twin's a sister." If I argued, it was s side-windowed murmur on the way there. Living in his shadow, I forgot what the sun felt like. It no longer felt important to think of who I'd been before we met.

We started peddling the very thing that had brought us together, a temporary gig, this way to feed a growing habit. We met a scattered tribe, a hundred human wisps and a hundred more, flamboyant in their shab. They spoke in voices as ousted as my own, and their vision reached right to the surface of a moment. You're one of us, they seemed to say, a scion of dispossession. I learned to consider the world in terms of exploitable weaknesses, ways to bleed off the excess. My impression was that they liked me, or were at least enough like me for it not to matter. Here was my first taste of the solicitude of others, an answer to my long-denied need for inclusion.

I had a small circle of once-a-month friends from before, the workaday knowing of others that takes years to settle in. But I could gauge the dwindling of our commonality by the elongation of their looks. Unafflicted friends just don't stare at each other. After a while we stopped visiting them. They're yawners, he would say, memorabilia of a former life, and they definitely do not get us.

His friends had the ulterior wavelength of plots about them, the folk you're ambivalent about until they betray you, after which you find yourself pretending to overlook their trespass because you've already invested so much energy in tolerating them that you no longer question whether they're worth knowing. And you're so convinced their company is better than none at all that you find yourself longing for the assault on your patience. I often mistook stage presence for sincerity.

Girls found him more intriguing than me, mainly the ones whose natures, you only later realize, rival antifreeze in both sweetness and toxicity. I projected my instinct for companionship onto flash-bang relationships where the connection runs as deep as sweat and expectations only rise to the level of what the other person is probably lying about. Sometimes breaking up meant coming home to find out most of my possessions had also left me for someone else. Other times it simply meant that I'd gone to jail for a week or a month longer than she was willing to wait. He insisted this was the price of having so much fun.

The passage of time was another sensibility we jettisoned. The meaning of "last week," or "the day after tomorrow" became abstract, a fact we found distinguishing. He told me these were only concepts needed by those poor nappers chained to death anchors like jobs and sleep. Sometimes a holiday would surface, the odd day that rang in the fog--a birthday or the get-together of a life left ashore.

A gray afternoon of biting wind and strikingly empty streets. We were driving slow along a thoroughfare abandoned by traffic. I pulled over in a sudden trance of dread, a blunt pulse wedging up into my throat. I turned his face toward me and stared into the baggies beneath his eyes.

Oh no, I said. My family. It's Christmas, I think. It must be, because everything's closed. I'm supposed to--

"Go fall asleep in your mashed potatoes again? You ain’t doing nothing else, way you are.  When'd you sleep last?"

I tried to remember when or where but could find neither among the blur of recent past events.

"Besides," he continued, "they don't feel like my family."

Well, I should at least call.

"And what, tell them the truth? Or maybe another song and dance. Some heartstring ditty about a sick friend. Either way you‘re grinching up Christmas, dig? Later, man. You can always figure out something to tell them later. There’s not one thing you can do about it now."

The grim sense in this let me fasten to my circumstance its own causation, a condition as blameless as weather, incorrigible as leukemia.

Another day, further along the selfsame road.

Oh, my little boy, I cried out, swerving. Jesus, the radio just said it's Thursday and I remember saying I'd go see my son on Thursday. Was it today? It's been...

His eyes were beetles crawling through my skull. "Too long? Right-o. Told his mom you wouldn't show up like this again. Remember that? Face it, better off staying clear."

Our exchanges merged into a soliloquy, a script ghost-written by an unreliable narrator.

When we got out of prison--the first year of many we'd spend together behind bars--Skinny Me decided the smart bet was to stop dealing and start stealing. A lowering of place on the foodless chain for sure, so as a small concession to conceit he affixed on me like a romantic bumper sticker the title of Professional Thief. A term connoting integrity, or at least purpose, because he knew I would respect a decent pretense even if no one else did. He said that if we only burglarized houses left vacant by people who'd died, the homeowners wouldn‘t complain. "After all," he said, "liberating items from the dead is more like recycling than stealing, anyway. No victim, no crime, man. Who's to say you ain't an early archeologist?"

I shrugged and said, Okay. He handed me the obituaries and the yellow pages. 

"And if the junk in them storage units mattered so god awful much," he said, "they wouldn‘t of left it piled around, boxed up. Can't tell me nobody'd even know what‘s missing. Besides, whole joint's insured."

Together we wormed past fences and any fear of getting caught. We practiced slithering like an art form and admired beauty to a degree commensurate with its resale value. Finally, even the crookedest antique storeowner shook her bewigged head and said, "Look, man."

"It ain't a lie if no one says otherwise," Skinny Me declared, his twiggish arm outstretched in a grand gesture of offering. "For all you know, them cars are abandoned. You don't see nobody sayin’ different, do ya?"

But they got papers in the glovebox, I said. With names on them, and pictures. Personal shi--

“No. They definitely don't. Not if you quit tryin’ to read every bit of trash like a nosey parker. Think of it like you're a motivated valet."

If I gave you a number, my guess as to how many cars, you might think I am embellishing for effect. Twenty, maybe twenty-five. Picture that many, if you would. A small parking lot to you, or maybe a fleet. A good night for us. Now smear that math across years.

"You want what they got--them beautiful sleepers? You ain't gonna find it in their cars, dig? Find it in their mailbox."

But doesn't that ruin their—

"What? Accounts and such? Credit? Digital monopoly money, man. Zeroes and ones on a screen somewhere. F.D.I.E., or whatever, they pick up the check. Hell, the whole checkbook. It's called wealth redistribution, man. What you have here is your basic socialist missionary, like Robin Hood with much looser pants."

What if I went legit? I asked either of us. I could get a job doing... I don't know. Go back to fixing cars instead of stealing them. I can--

"Do what, work an eight hour shift? You can’t stay awake two hours on your own." He showed me my reflection in a spoon. "This face gets arrested, not hired. Besides, this here's all you're good at. You want to quit? How bout quit half-assing and be what you are. You're the villain. Take some goddamn pride in it."

His truths felt more coherent than mine. Reality had become something easier matched to fictions.

Since we'd never been seen in the act, went his reasoning, we must be invisible, too. When a man shot me twice in the back with a rifle as we were speeding away in his truck, Skinny Me took the wheel and whispered through loosening teeth, "Now they gone and done it. Now we need to pack heat, too." 

I frightened some people, hurt others, and took from them all. Some we felt deserved it. Others, even we knew, did not.

When we came to prison for our fourth time, we arrived with twenty-two years to serve. Serve as what? I wondered. A chance for us to bond even deeper, he figured. Not much else to consider, since we had long since grafted our souls together. It took a couple years of walking the yard with him, and as him, to begin asking the questions for which Skinny Me never had an answer. I began to ponder my own edges, what defined me and how I felt about that. I held my own sanity to the light, doing so in a way particular to the self-obliterated.

Nothing like tedium and a poor view to help your attention fold in on itself. I had to learn the ugliness of overdue honesty, the discomfort of introspection. Something almost spiritual in the unstrung marionette rummaging through his crumpled form for substance. I could feel Skinny Me growing desperate, that familiar pitching, like some rabid thing, starved and scratching to be let back in. "we've been sewn together so long," he cried, "you won't even find the stitches."

Maybe I could wait a little longer, I thought. I might have another run in me. But what if I'm stuck looking at the world through his peephole? I could try cutting him away. But what about the holes that will leave? Sometimes it's less frightening to go on wondering how weak you are than to find out you don't like the answer. And what if I fail? "You only succeed at destroying," he hissed. I might find nothing more than a different version of him, and I will have made these incisions for nothing. Or I can go on clinging to his reality. There is bound to be some way to justify all this ruin, anywhere else to hang the blame.

The first cut bled through my every thought.

It turns out the little badger called conscience is as strident as it is patient, regurgitating the chewed up bits of memories I hate most.

That moment arrived nine years ago. I made vows. Chemical chastity. And poverty, or at least the acceptance of it, if that's all I can earn. I set one overarching goal: to be someone who wants what a person should want. And now I am durably alone with questions no less unanswerable.

Who is this person I experience everything as, the one I call just me? If I am solely the man who sits here writing, the mere thinker of these thoughts, episodic and genuinely detached from my twin, then I am no more a robber than you, no more inclined to cause suffering than any among you. That person lets himself feel as if he could even belong among you. But if I am someone who lives in terms of my own narrative, which I seem to be--well, isn‘t my history the architecture of my being? If it is true that we are what we remember, then I am by definition mostly Skinny Me.

I make no claims of being in any way undeserving of my fate. Whether or not I am at a fundamental remove from Skinny Me, my Being renatured in ways more existential than the ponderable pounds I’ve gained, I recognize the balance between deeds and comeuppance, karma and gavels. I am finely attuned to consequence now.

But there is nothing redemptive here. I am a societal deposit accruing no interest. When I emerge from my concrete chrysalis as a resolute moth, moralized and afraid of heights--what then? I can't equate twinlessness in and of itself with stoning for any of what I‘ve done. Salvation has the ring of fraud, a mental hat-trick to keep from acknowledging how actual people feel about me. I‘ve been the scourge for a long time. That feels like owing what I'm not allowed to give, because this alone can't serve as recompense, not in any real sense. So, world, do we shake hands when this is all done, wipe our bloody noses and say we're square?

These are admissions I could live without making. But living with myself is another matter. Even though the shape of my life's trajectory is simply that of someone I no longer conceive of as me--Skinny or otherwise--I own it. Because it turns out that the opposite of an alter ego is not ego, it's humility. Pride at the expense of transparency is just a prettier ski mask.

I struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Maybe because as a child I was indoctrinated with what I believe to be a flawed version of it--in essence, permission to trespass again. Not something I would expect from others, or consider for myself. But looked at from a different, single-cheeked perspective, forgiving myself even incrementally for yesterday is the only way to progress toward being mindful today.

One of my dearest friends teaches meditation. She has an instinctive wisdom that is not unlike a lighthouse. She knows I sometimes overthink and clutter things up like e child who knows too many words. The simplest insights are the hardest for me to grasp, but the most transformative. She has worked patiently to convince me that forgiving myself isn't absolution, it's simply accepting who I am in this moment as being of value, and moving forward. Set aside the heart-stones of shame, she says to me. Particle entanglement was easier for me to picture, at first. Because prison is an engine of despair that leaks bitter sludge onto you, and whose exhaust tastes of worthlessness. Prison would have you be your own cell.

So how do I get there from here? Forgiving is a dicey business that feels unnatural to begin with. Self-forgiving has the added layer of being incredibly difficult even while, or maybe because of, feeling like an easy way out. I've been conditioned by another dogma, that of the retributive justice model, which says that my prior acts are predicates of my being. On paper, I am a thief, a drug dealer and manufacturer; I am an extortionist and kidnapper. I am an attempted murderer. In the narrow mind of the law, these categorical tags are less mutable than gender, more predictive than IQ and of more interest than even my name, since the law prefers my serial number anyway. Legally, I am no more than, and will never be less than, my rap sheet. It's no small thing to break with such an ingrained species of thinking and say that there is a difference between a person and his worst acts--that I can choose to forgive one and not the other.

Buddhist scholar Noah Levine says that hurt people hurt people. This was a radical axiom to me, the idea that the grief I caused arose from the suffering I chose to drag around inside myself. The truth in these four words resonated outward. Because we're all raised to believe we are blessed, or maybe cursed, at birth with free will, right? That we (which must mean what, our souls?) have ultimate control over our brains and therefore, our sense of self should be defined by our actions. Whether that is true or not is for people smarter than me to argue about, but taken to its logical conclusion, such a strict view sneaks of a bleak world, doesn't it? One in which people must be choosing to be depressed, where bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are alternative lifestyles, and suicide occurs as s mode of self-expression.

I am not comparing myself in terms of culpability to the mentally ill. But any lucid observer would describe the mental state I call Skinny Me as pathological. Thankfully, that state doesn't exist anymore. I realize I no longer have to identify with the misery that birthed him, that kept him skinnily fed for so long.

Before being executed for his crimes, Michael Ross wrote candidly about the unsummoned urges to harm women that would overcome his volition, even his reveries, whenever he was not medicated. He was born with the brain of a rapist. Whether or not one believes what he wrote, one would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that sometimes a person can be held behaviorally hostage by a damaged, faulty--or in my case, polluted--brain. Any organ will malfunction if mistreated or structurally unsound--the only difference with the brain is that it happens to be the one that decides how we relate to the world. A frightening reminder of how illusory our sense of selfiness really is.

After these years of observing my mind from a safe distance, I can say with certainty that I don't have the brain of someone who lies, steals, or hurts people, including myself. And so, I don't.

A side effect of honesty is gratitude. Not everyone severs his twin. Of those who do, many suffer diminished faculties in one way or another. I am grateful for the ability to regret meaningfully, because otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here clearing away the brush, so to speak. I am grateful to be heard, and for that I must thank you. 

I don't know what it is to reminisce for the experiential content. My memories are mostly cautionary. I would leave them buried, but silent decay doesn't seem to honor the spirit of regret. And dragging the waters is all I can do. Owning my cast is the closest I can come to making amends for it, since I don't even know To Whom  It May Concern. Maybe that‘s you.

The modern incarnation of justice only allows for absence and suffering as payment, neither of which ever gets at the principle of the debt. Maybe a great swath of unlivable life, of time voided, is the only compensation my former community wants from me.

This isn't unreasonable--the spokesman of society perceives me, not my twin, as the author of my actions, and their retributive impulse is strong. I can remember times when I sought comfort, or at least solace, in vengeance. Maybe the vendetta urge answers to a societal need, one slaked only by some metric of suffering. I wish it worked cut so neatly. But the truth is that this grand theory of subtraction, where the taking cycles endlessly, seems to be a zero-sum game, at least for you and me.

So what became of my twin? Skinny Me gave me a flawed identity in exchange for my life. Not a good idea to turn your back on someone like that. I keep one eye peeled for him and re-banish him every day. I keep my mental fist clenched. He still circles me but we no longer trade tirades. His orbit has drifted him beyond eyesight, but I still feel a tiny wobble once in a while, a distant tug reminding me. I found out the path between disgrace and grace is long, forked and mostly unnoticed. Whether I even arrive is maybe a matter best decided by others. I am content to be on my way,

I don’t talk much about Skinny Me. Not out of shame, because in prison you lose a proper sense of what you should be ashamed of--but to deprive him of precious airtime. I've held a few of his secrets to the light for the first time here to deny him the last of his shadows. And it seems like healing isn't something you're supposed to do in the dark.

Fortification is something my twin can respect. He notes my vigilance, but is not overly impressed. I know this because faceless and foreign though he may be in my memories, Skinny Me still stalks my dreams in combat boots.

Steven Bartholomew 987300
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

To view Steve's art, click here


Here is a video clip of a stunningly beautiful reading of
an excerpt from Steve’s essay by Katherine Hervey

Katherin Hervey is a multimedia producer, college instructor and restorative justice facilitator for incarcerated populations. She is also a former Los Angeles Public Defender. As a multimedia producer she was the Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of Shades of Contradiction, a nationally distributed not-for-profit arts and culture magazine dedicated to promoting critical thinking and creative action; and co-founded Raw Love Productions, a multi-media production company focusing on visual storytelling. Alongside her partner Massimo Bardetti, she is currently producing THE PRISON WITHIN, an interactive web-based documentary exposing the failure of the U.S. justice system to restore justice through the stories of those most impacted.

Katherin first met Steve as in instructor for University Beyond Bars inside the WA Monroe Correctional Complex, and continued filming him as a character in THE PRISON WITHIN. She chose this piece, "Tearing Down the House of Gemini" because it showcases Steve Bartholomew's emotional depth - his willingness to dig deep within himself and reflect what he discovers through the creative process.

To support and join the mailing list of THE PRISON WITHIN go to:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Death Watch Journal - Entry #1

Arnold Prieto Jr. has been a contributor to Minutes Before Six as both a writer and an artist since 2010. Arnold is an incredibly talented artist and an honest writer.  His words and art come from the heart and he has an enormous heart. Arnold is a son, a brother, a father, and a loyal friend.   He is loved by many people on both sides of the bars.  On May 12 he received an order (here and here) for his execution, and he was moved to Death Watch on May 15, where he will be held until his execution on January 21, 2015. This news has been crushing not only to Arnold, but to those of us who know and care about him.

Arnold will be keeping a journal from Death Watch and we will post his entries as they are received.  Please check back regularly for them, and show your support in the comments section.  

Arnold’s birthday is June 9.  Birthday cards, letters, and emails and donations through Jpay are welcome and appreciated.  Please let Arnold know that he matters and you are thinking of him.  You will not regret reaching out.

Death Watch Journal - Entry #1
By Arnold Prieto Jr.

May 12, 2014
As the mist of my early morning dream of walking down the long corridors of a futuristic warehouse dissipated, I heard my name being called from far away.

It was 6:32 a.m. and the far away voice was that of a female mailroom staff member: “Prieto 999149? Show me your ID!  You have a certified letter….”

As I was walking to my cell door in a morning fog, I instantly realized what was actually waiting for me at my door… Death.

After getting my ID back from the mailroom lady, she opened the legal letter before me and inspected the legal contents without reading the actual legal papers. She passed it to me after she saw that it was cleared of any contraband.  She walked off to continue her workday, her life, not knowing that she was a messenger of death. I fault her not, of course, for doing her job.

Sure enough, the letter contained an order to set an execution date (add link) and my warrant of execution (add link).  As I read the order I heard clear as a bell the ticking hand very loudly…click…and it started to tick.  The cosmic clock on the waist on Azrael has started for me.  I’ll be quite honest with you; while I read my legal papers and how my life had an expiration date, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. As you can see from the order of execution and warrant, my number is to be punched on January 21st, 2015. My ticket has been called.“149! 149!” calls the Angel of Death. So I step forward and out of the formation of “normal” and on to the conveyer belt towards the Texas killing machine behind four other men. And so the process starts now…

May 15, 2014

Today is Thursday night and I have been moved to Death Watch. Death Watch is a section of fourteen cells that have 24/7 surveillance.  In each cell there is a camera that has night vision as well. It took three days to be moved because TDCJ had to process the warrant that validated my execution date.

I was already waiting for the move, so I had all my property packed and ready to go.  After lunch I was escorted to the Captain’s office for the interview with her.  The Captain proceeded to tell me that I was given an execution date for January 21, 2015 and basically, what I needed to know and gave me a copy of The Execution Summary and Notification of Execution Date

Captain Tamez did her job very well and professionally, she answered all my questions with short and precise answers.  During my interview with the Captain, my property was being packed into a laundry buggy to be x-rayed and shaken down for any pills and any other contraband.  I am not allowed to keep my “KOPs”(“keep on person”) medications.  In my case, it is my blood pressure meds.  I now have to depend on a pill tech to bring me my medication twice a day.

After my call with Captain Tamez, I was escorted straight to A-Pod 12 cell in the Death Watch section.  As I walked in I heard my name called from all those guys that know me, but as I walked into the Death Watch Section, I heard four guys call out: Meme (Manuel Vazquez), T-Rock (Trottie), Big White (Garcia White), and Miguel Angel Paredes (Mexican Dude).

The loudest was that of Mexican Dude: “Prieto!! Man, I got a cold bucket of water!!!” He made that comment because we were living on the same pod before he was moved to Death Watch!  He was not given any kind of legal notice as I was, so on Wednesday, May14, he was called to the Captain’s office and he was told that he had an execution date for October. Mexican Dude actually thought he was confused with me because his name (Parades) is similar and he was living in 7 cell while I was living in 17 cell.

I feel for my young friend, for that’s one hell of a rude awakening indeed!  The guards packed all his property while I packed mine myself. Now we are but one cell apart from one another.  He is holding on strong….

As I now sit on Death Watch, in this cold cell penning this entry, I cannot help but think of the opening of an Iron Maiden song called: “Hallow Be Thy Name.”  It opens like this:

“I’m waiting in my cold cellWhen the bells begin to chime….”

Unfortunately, the song is about a condemned man sentenced to the Gallow’s Pole. I’ll be right back…

I just had to stare up into the camera for a minute or so!  I needed to stare back at it for a while to let it know that I too can stare back at it! And yes, I did blink first.

Yeah, I can now see that it’s going to take me a while before I get used to it.  I have no choice but to get used to it somehow…

Arnold Prieto 999149
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351