Thursday, July 31, 2014

No Mercy For Dogs Part 15

By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

To read Part 14, click here

My quest for new accommodations started out very poorly indeed. On the morning after my little narco-field trip to Aldama, it seemed a simple proposition, even considering the still significant language barrier. My main problem, I quickly realized, was the rather shallow pool of acquaintances I felt comfortable discussing the matter with. Version 1.0 of my plan was to spend some more time in the library, and then casually bring up the subject with Rosa, the librarian. She seemed very connected to the social life of Cerralvo - and "connected" in a very different, more normal sense of the word than virtually everyone else in my social circle.

I rose early, set about completing my chores, and took a cold shower that was fast seeming normal. In what I was beginning to understand was one of his great skills, Edgar showed up before I could leave the ranchita and foiled my plans. He had "found" (his word) a brand new Rockford Fosgate amplifier and wanted my help installing it in his truck. I sighed and spent the next three hours untangling the somewhat less-than-professional wiring job that the previous owner of the truck had left behind. I'm no stranger to this sort of work, but I couldn't make heads or tails of what the original intention had been. I think I actually removed about 70 feet of very high-grade wiring before it was all said and done. Edgar said that I could keep this, so I tucked it away and later sold it for fifty bucks, a substantial sum of money for me during that time.

Edgar may have already been well on his way to becoming a grade-A Lothario, but he didn't exactly excel in the art of subtlety. I didn't miss his attempts to discern where his father had disappeared to the day before, and why he had taken me. I felt bad lying to him, and even worse about the fact that he might have been seeing me as some sort of competition for his father's affections, but I didn't want to create any further "misunderstandings" about what I was doing down there. In any case, if the Hammer kept his word, Edgar would be introduced to that life before he knew it. I politely deflected his feeble interrogation mostly by getting him to talk about girls, a subject he was very keen on.

The amplifier had apparently not been damaged when it fell off the back of some tractor-trailer, and before long Edgar had something else to distract him. A pair of boxed twelves that had previously been power-deprived now bounced around happily in the passenger cab of the truck. These sat only a foot or two from the heads of the people sitting in the front seat, so riding around with Edgar soon became something of a dire emergency for one's inner ears. For my free labor, I had Edgar drive me to the library. I arrived with a distinct ringing in my ears and second thoughts about the entire project. I could still hear his bass thumping away as he turned down Avenida Alvaro Obregon towards the placita, two blocks away.

I didn't have much luck with Rosa, the librarian. She had always been kind to me during my visits to her temple of knowledge, but she seemed a little cold to me when I broached the subject of real estate. In fact, her abrupt change in demeanor startled me a little, and I think we were both relieved when I returned to my book. Despite the frigid caress of the air conditioning, I began to feel unwelcome in the library, the first time I had felt anything other than safety there. I left and walked across the Plaza Grande to a grilled chicken joint I had noticed in the past.

The grill was housed in one of the ancient adobe buildings that ringed the central portion of the town. The walls must have been four feet thick, the ceiling so low that I could touch it without stretching. The owner of the place laughed about the way that I kept looking up at the ceiling, and commented that "no te pegas en el coco," an expression that made me smile. Whatever the odd dimensions of the place, the food was excellent, and I sat there for some time mulling over my next move. Out of simple curiosity I asked the proprietor if he knew of anyone renting rooms, and it was as if a barely discernable barrier of shadow rose between us. He apologized, addressing me this time with usted, saying that his only business was "that of the chickens" and that he knew nothing about any houses or apartments. I thanked him and left. It was already hot as blazes, and I crossed the street and entered a Benevides pharmacy, mostly to get out of the sun. While there I asked the clerk if perhaps they had a printed real estate circular for Cerralvo. I think I got the idea across, but either the teller was simply bored with my queries or simply bored with everything, and she was of no assistance.

Over the course of the next hour I frequented several of the businesses around the plaza and got precisely the same result. Everyone was friendly, but none of them knew anything about rental properties and I suspected that as long as it was me who was asking, they never would. The lady at the Michoacana juice bar actually said that: nobody here knows anything about any houses. Given the paucity of my options, I actually bit the bullet and walked the four blocks to Don Antonio's barbershop. The man was there, quietly reading a book while he lounged in one of his colossal chairs. When I put the question to him he simply asked why I didn't ask my father about finding me a place. It was impossible to miss that he had loaded the "father" part with a massive quantity of loathing, and I remember Don Julian suggesting to me that I withhold from Gelo details of our contact. I didn't know what enmity existed between this group and the Hammer's, but it was obvious and extensive. When I asked where Julian was, Antonio told me simply that his friend travelled often, and wouldn't be back for several weeks. The dismissal was just as obvious as his feelings for my ersatz father. Obvious, too, was the fact that Don Ramos had marked me as his, and nobody was going to get into any dealings with me out of respect for his means and out of fear of what I might represent.

Defeated, I slunk back to the library, where I hid in the stacks with a book. My plan had been to wait for Pedro's arrival, but I began to notice that Rosa was looking in on me just a little too often to be explicable, so I returned my book to its place and left. I had nowhere else to go, so 1 began walking back to the ranch, feeling very much like a caged animal.

I was just about to cross the highway that marked a clear and abrupt divide between the town and the desert when fate, or what passes for fate to the damned, intervened. From somewhere off to my right I heard a loud clanging noise followed by a long and extremely energetic compilation of curse words. I had learned to identify (and deploy, sadly) most of these by this point, but seldom had I heard so many of them bunched into so tight a grouping. A few seconds later a thin man exited one of the dilapidated businesses that lined the highway, still cursing and dragging a box laden with what appeared to be random pieces of metal. These he began to toss angrily into the bed of an old Ford truck, before then pivoting and kicking an empty Corona bottle into the wall. It smashed in what he perceived to be a satisfactory manner, and then turned towards me, finally noticing that he had an audience.

"Fucker won't do that again," he said in Spanish, and I smiled, both from the silliness of the comment but probably more because I had actually understood him. I had not recognized him in his hat, but once he spoke I remembered him from the little grocery store that looked like a bomb shelter.

"Emilio, right?" I asked, heading in his direction. He replied with what I think meant "If I'm not, I'm a cabron for doing his job." He could tell that I didn't catch all of this, and waved his mood away with his left hand.

"Que hubole, gringo perdido?" He asked, extending his right hand, which I clasped in the Mexican manner. When we separated, I took a moment to survey the scene. Though it had obviously not been in operation for some years, the business Emilio was attempting to clean out had once been an automobile repair shop, or what they call a taller down south. There were worn-out tires piled up all over the place, a deep pit laid into the concrete over which a vehicle could be positioned so the undercarriage could be worked on, and one of those machines that helps you stretch a tire around a rim. Everything was stained with grease and oil, and a thick layer of desert grime covered the windows to the point that you couldn't see through them.

The conversation that followed was one of those mixtures of Spanglish and gestures that would continue to sustain my existence for the next few months. Emilio needed help loading the last piles of junk from the taller into his truck and a hand in cleaning out "a few spiders," and I needed to eat lunch and dinner. It seemed like a fair trade, since what I wanted more than anything else was to stay away from the ranch for a while.

It came out during our half-formed conversations that Emilio had purchased the building some years before, when the previous owner had moved to Monterrey. He knew next to nothing about auto repair, and instead thought that he could convert the space into a workshop for his side business, which entailed the repairing of damaged or blown speakers. Three years later he still hadn't gotten the ball rolling on this idea, and neither had he been able to find a tenant wanting to rent the space. This didn't surprise me because the location was awful and there were already nearly as many tallers in Cerralvo as depositos.

When Emilio first mentioned the failed search for a renter, I admit to having felt a surge of hope that perhaps serendipity was smiling upon me. This idea faded immediately as soon as I stepped inside. The place was a fricking wreck. Years of grime, grease, and oil had built up a sort of strata on the floors thick enough to actually grip one's shoes when you walked over it. The walls had once featured a thin layer of cosmetic concrete applied over the rough surface of the cinderblock supports, but this had calved off over the years; most of the fragments now lay piled up in tiny heaps on the floor. The tin roof had lines of little holes than ran in perfect patterns across the entire expanse of the ceiling/which let in tiny shafts of sunlight. It took me a moment to figure out that the tin roof had once been attached to another building, and these were the nail holes that had originally secured it to the ceiling supports. They looked sort of like stars suspended in a metal sky, if you didn't look at them too closely. Of all of the deficits attributable to the place, by far the worst were the "few spiders" that Emilio wanted evicted. He may have owned the shop legally, but it was the spiders who were the true lords of the castle. I couldn't have counted the little buggers if I had wanted to. The whole ceiling shimmered in webs, and there was a constant movement everywhere you looked. The whole time we spent ridding the building of rubble I could feel their creepy multi-faceted eyes watching me, waiting, planning. After a few hours I was slapping at my skin every time a bead of sweat ran down it.

The taller consisted of three rooms. The largest was meant to be a sales floor, and covered perhaps 400 square feet. Immediately behind this was a long, narrow space originally designed to be an office and storeroom. The final room was an internal workshop. This last had already been cleaned out and didn't look too wretched

I started to think that maybe I had been too hasty about writing the place off. During our lunch break at his tienda, I asked him if he would consider renting me the tiny office. His look was one that I was to encounter for the rest of my time in Mexico, a sort of bemused skepticism that some uppity gringo would choose to live like - or worse than - one of them.

Emilio seemed to be one of the few people in town who either didn't know who my "father" was or didn't care. Given the relative strength of the concept of family in Mexico, it was natural that he asked me why I didn't live with my own kin. I thought about it for a moment and told him I was tired of my relatives using me: ya me canse de que mis parientes me estén apergollando. He raised an eyebrow and then shrugged.

When we returned to the taller Emilio stood for a few moments in the doorway to the office, apparently calculating the place's worth. I began the work of igniting the arachnid holocaust, a task that I never really completed in all of the time that I lived in the backroom. If spiders ever evolve intelligence and write a definitive history of their early apocalypse myths, I'm pretty sure that I earned at least a few pages in the section on atrocities. Did you know that there are species of spiders that actually hiss? Me neither.

Emilio interrupted the slaughter at one point. He began ticking off points on his fingers, which I soon realized were reasons I shouldn't want to live there. First, and so obvious that I had completely missed it, was the fact that the taller had no restroom.

Instead, the building shared an outhouse with several other businesses and residences. This he took me outside to see for myself. I was expecting a hole in the ground, but the thing wasn't so bad, really. The outhouse was basically a bathroom with no house, consisting of maybe 40 square feet of space. There was a toilet with running water and a shower that gave the term "combo" a new meaning: the shower nozzle came out of the concrete wall directly above the toilet. I guess this saved on space, and the need to buy a cleaning utensil for the toilet. Something like thirty people shared this convenience, though I hardly ever saw any of them. I never understood exactly why, but the people living along la curva guarded their privacy in a way not found in the center of town.

Returning to the shop, Emilio continued to point out the reasons not to attempt to live there: the electricity in this part of town was iffy at best, the place leaked like a sieve, it smelled like a refinery, etc... I couldn't explain to him how much I preferred having to clear spider webs from my ears than to be caught in the Hammer's web, so I just shrugged and told him I'd lived in worse places.

"You escape from hell, cuate?" He asked, laughing. I paused for a moment, thinking he wasn't too far off the mark. He must have seen something in my eyes because his grin faded a little. I tried to dispel this with my own joke.

"Worse," I told him. "Vengo de Detroit." He didn't get it, but the moment passed. We spent the next three hours cleaning the rest of the rubble out and scraping the oily gunk off of the floors. Finally he came to a decision about my proposal.

"Bueno, pienso que tienes la chiluca vacia, pero..." he paused, pretending to think hard, before continuing in an English far more rotten than my Spanish. "I give you for tousand doolar cada mes."

Now it was my turn to curse him, which I did to the best of my ability. A thousand dollars a month was outrageous and he knew it. I think he just wanted to see if I got his sense of humor, so I obliged. By the time my tirade came to a close he had a goofy grin on his face and we got down to actually bargaining for the room. He started with a demand of 100 bucks a month, to which I responded that he ought to pay me that much just for thinking about living in such a dump. We finally settled on 40 dollars plus half of the electric bill. He ended up screwing me on the latter part of the deal, since I discovered after a few weeks that he was stealing the electricity from the taqueria and tortilleria complex next door. Once I worked this out - the live wires running out of the wall were a huge clue – we all had a good laugh and I stopped paying, too. Emilio was a crook, but he had a gazillion kids and I understood why he had bilked me. He was hard to dislike.

It was late afternoon when I bid Emilio farewell and set off across the desert to the ranchita. I was exhausted but content.

I still had to find some furniture for my little nook, but how hard could that be? I'd seen several mueblerias in town, and I was certain I could arrange a delivery of some items. I was in such a good mood by the time I reached the ranch that I decided to take a short nap. This was not my normal custom, and I can't help but wonder how the rest of the evening might have gone had I remained awake.

I awoke to the sounds of tires crunching gravel. Evening was setting in, and I spent a few minutes climbing back up to the realms of complete consciousness. Still weary, I stuck my head out of my stable to see who had arrived. One of Gelo's trucks was parked by the front gate, and when I walked to the front of the cabin area I saw him leading one of the horses to the back pasture. I didn't really want to talk to him, so the half of me wanting to go back to sleep won out. I lay back down and was soon out like a light.

An angry yell tore me off of my cot, and I nearly tripped over my sneakers in those first confusing seconds. Night had fallen on the ranch, and for a brief moment I could not figure out why I was standing up in the middle of my room, suddenly breathing hard and bathed in sweat. Then I heard it again: an enraged shout, a hint of violent movement, and then silence. Blackie was nowhere to be found, the second time in as many weeks where his presence might have been particularly useful. Not knowing what else to do, I slipped my shoes on and crept outside.

A livid conversation guided me towards the back end of the complex of buildings. As I approached, I saw that the entire back patio area was flooded with the headlights of a vehicle parked to my right, outside of my line of sight. When I peeked around the corner this nearly blinded me, but not before I witnessed a disaster in progress.

The Hammer lay face down on the ground. He was barely moving. Three large men stood in a circle around him, while a fourth stood by a primer-gray Dodge truck. This last brandished a tire iron, but the other three didn't appear to be armed. Not that this seemed to matter to the supposedly invincible narco-lord, who had obviously been caught off guard and flattened. As I watched, one of the men took out a rough expanse of rope and began tying Gelo's hands behind his back. I hadn't heard it over the sound of the blood rushing through my ears, but now I noticed that the men were talking down to the prone man, some laughing; at least one, a fat man in a red cap, was screaming. It was difficult to understand his staccato speech, but I was able to pick "wife" out of the stream, and the rest fell quickly into place; my pseudo-father hadn't been caught by the competition, merely a cuckolded husband. This beating was probably deserved, but such thoughts didn't enter into my mind until much later.

Humans like to pretend that in moments of great stress they rise to the occasion. This has not been my experience. Mostly I think we sink to the level of our training. A cop or a Marine might have known what to do in this situation, but the only think I could think about was the pistol the Hammer kept in the dresser in the first cabin. On some level I must have calculated that there was no way I was going to beat up four large and highly motivated men, even ones mostly bereft of weapons. I also must have realized that if the Hammer got murdered while I was sleeping 70 feet away, I was toast down here. I was not conscious of these thoughts, but they must have been there because I found myself quickly creeping back from the corner and then sprinting to the front of the ranch. It took me a moment to find the weapon. The cabin was pitch black but my fingers told me that the clip was full, so I pulled the slide back and then ran outside.

As soon as I stepped outside my whole world spun. That was my recollection then as well as now, though I don’t really know how to explain it. I think it was a combination of more than half a year of extreme stress and fear, plus the weight of once again trying to solve my problems with a gun, all jumbled together without any discernable zones of transition. I shook my head as if it was a kaleidoscope and I was trying to set everything into a different pattern. More angry shouting snapped me back to reality. I moved to the corner, took one last look, and then walked out into the light.

The Hammer was in an upright position on his knees, slouched, with his hands tied behind his back. The man with the crowbar was still near the hood of the truck, but two of the three that had knocked Gelo to the ground were now lounging around one of the picnic tables. The last man stood in front of Ramos, gesticulating and yelling. He didn't see me at first, but the reactions of his compadres to the pistol were immediate and he quickly spun around.

"Move," I told him, centering the pistol on his upper chest. "Now." The Hammer later told me that I had added, "I won't ask twice" somewhere in there, but I have zero remembrance of this. I should have noted how the presence of a gun didn't seem to scare the man it was aimed at, but I missed this. He merely shrugged and moved towards the others by the table.

"Can you get up?" I asked the Hammer, my eyes still on the trio. When I didn't hear a response I flicked my eyes back to him, thinking that maybe he had been gagged and I simply hadn't noticed. Instead I found him smiling.

There are a thousand ways to smile at someone, but I don't think I'd ever seen one quite like this before. It was the grin of the predator just before the killing blow. Mixed with this was genuine amusement coupled with pride. Then his hands came free from behind his back, and he stood up easily. I don't know what the four men read in my face, but it must have been very funny because within seconds they were guffawing, one of them slapping the palm of his meaty hand on the wooden table. The man with the crowbar turned, and in my zombie-state my aim changed to target him. He didn't care either, continuing his movement until he reached the bed of the truck, where he hefted up a small cooler.

My noetic horse still hadn't crossed the finish line. I was just too wired up on adrenaline to see the obvious. The popping of beer cans finally drove the point home. My body sagged a little, and slowly I lowered the pistol to point it at the ground at my feet. I didn't want to look at any of these men, so I hung my head.

My thoughts whirled. A test. It was all some sort of fucked up test. The Hammer must have been concerned by my apparent lack of initiative while we were at Aldama, and he wanted to see if I actually had a spine. On some level I understood this – or I would later, at any rate - but the only thing I could think of at the time was that this exam of his might have caused me to shoot someone. What if I had just come out blasting? He couldn’t have known that I wouldn't. It took me another few seconds to realize that Ramos never would have allowed this, and I finally looked up to find him slouching against the table, watching the gears turn in my head. His smile was still present, and this more than anything else catalyzed my actions.

I brought the weapon up and quickly aimed it at the massive PAN sign that Gelo's men had stolen from the side of the highway during the last election cycle. It was immense, made of the same reflective coated metal material used in signs in the US. I knew that I couldn't miss it even if I tried. I truly expected the pistol to merely click dry in my hands; instead it roared when I pulled the trigger, and the men again broke into riotous laughter

One of them even raised his beer to me. Still somewhat in a fog, I searched the face of the sign for an entry mark. Finding none, my rational mind arrived at the concept of a blank round. My emotional side wasn't quite there, so I again aimed the pistol, this time at the windshield of the gray truck. Twice more I pulled the trigger, and twice more the gun roared. The glass should have shattered inward, but instead I saw no sign of damage. This really caused the chorus to cheer, except for the man who had been holding the tire iron. He scowled instead, and I guessed that the truck was his.

Everything finally fell together for me, and when I looked back towards the Hammer the look on my face caused the men to abruptly quit laughing. I held their stare, turned around and walked away. I must have for a moment and then set the pistol down somewhere, though I have no idea where that might have been. The rest of that night is a blur to me now. I remember walking through the desert, and lying down in the middle of the soccer pitch; I had nowhere else to go, no desire to be anywhere but erased. At some point in the early morning hours I remembered the key Emilio had given me to the taller, so I returned there. I had no furniture, so I ended up lying down on the workbench
Emilio used to work on his speakers. 

I don't think I really slept. I don't know what one would call the half-state I drifted into; it was a liminal place, like being conscious in a dream kingdom. What had been thrust upon me became more and more real as the distance between then and now grew, and I began to wonder what I would have done had this evening not been a game. I was running from murder, a horror I had unleashed, yet I had never actually done the act of murder. In order to evade responsibility and insanity I had been pretending to myself that I probably couldn't have ever actually killed anyone, that I could think of the act and even help others commit it, but I wasn't brave enough to pull the trigger myself. That pretty illusion now lay in shatters at my feet. I had grabbed a gun, and had those men charged me, I'd have shot them all. How could I not have? It seemed obvious. I was truly as bad as
I pretended I wasn't.

I finally drifted off for a few hours, before the sound of roosters crowing in the distance woke me. I hadn't gotten used to this phenomenon even after all of these months, and the sound usually woke me up with a smile. That morning, it felt like I would never smile again, like all joy had been sandblasted from my life forever.

The sun was still at least 45 minutes from making an appearance I had no idea what my next move would be, or should be. I felt like I could never return to the ranch. I had probably -maybe- passed the Hammer's test, but it was also possible that I had disappointed him by walking away from him, by showing him my back. Some disappointments honor those that inspire them, but try telling that to a man with a private army. In the end, I surveiled the ranch for a while to ensure that no one was around, and then quickly packed all of my gear. I spent a few minutes collecting the cash that I had hid in buried coffee cans at certain points around the ranch. In a fit of pique I ended up stealing the Hammer's military cot. He had beds to take his whores to and so didn't need it, and Emilio's bench was nice but not exactly designed for lumbar support.

Once I returned to the taller with my things, I set the cot up in my office. The absurdity in my position was hard to miss. The message to runrunrun that had been parading through my head all morning had not abated with the change of residence, probably because what possible difference could a geographic move of less than a kilometer make in the disaster that was my life? I was still stuck in the Hammer's vice, still alone. Still me.

Cerralvo was just too small. It was both my shield as well as my trap, but at that moment its protective aura seemed far too weak to help me. Visions of Monterrey's immensity kept calling to me. Surely such a sprawl was beyond Don Ramos's eyes and ears? I had no real plan. I was winging it and doing so in a very desperate way. I packed my satchel with one change of clothes and a few hundred dollars; the rest of my money I hid in the rafters of the taller. Before the sun had really established itself in the eastern sky, I had purchased a ticket to Monterrey. Half an hour later, I was gone.

To be continued...

Education Update from Thomas:

It’s been awhile since I wrote about my progress in dirtying up the ivory tower. For those of you who are new to the site, I am currently working my way very slowly through a Master of Arts in the Humanities degree offered through California State University. Here is a copy of my most recent transcript  A  B. You will notice that I was unable to take a class during the summer semester. This was not by design. My regular readers will remember that the state threw up all manner of  barriers for me to hurdle as I was working on my BA. Well, they upped their game recently and started denying my textbooks using rather spurious justifications. This tactic was sprung on me several weeks before classes began in May, which pretty much scuttled the semester. I have taken new measures and everything looks good for the fall, however. These classes are already paid for. Unfortunately, the last year has seen most of my financial support evaporate for a variety of reasons, and I only have a few hundred dollars squirreled away for the spring. This program requires continual enrollment in the Spring and Fall semesters, so this is a real problem. As you can see from my bill for the last semester, $320 isn't going to even get my foot in the door.  If I have ever written anything that caused you to pause, to think, to change your mind, or even just amused you; if educating prisoners is something you believe in; if my life is something you deem to have value, please consider helping me by sending me $20 or any other amount you can manage. Every penny will go directly to my education fund, and I will never actually touch any of it. Donations can be made via Paypal, JPAY, or by sending a check to this address:

Minutes Before Six - TBW
2784 Homestead Road #301
Santa Clara, CA 95051

I have on a few occasions attempted to raise funds like this in the past, and the results have been practically non-existent. I think that most of you assume that someone else will take care of my needs, but this seldom happens. Please help. I truly appreciate you considering this, as I know budgets are tight and you have your own worries.  I simply can’t do this without you.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Death Watch Journals from Arnold Prieto and Miguel Angel Paredes

Many of you have come to know Arnold Prieto through his regular contributions of art and writing to Minutes Before Six. Miguel Angel Paredes' artwork has also been featured here for many years. They are currently on Death Watch together at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.  Miguel's execution date is set for October 28, 2014 and Arnold's is scheduled for January 21, 2015. Here are their accounts from Death Watch.

Death Watch Journal Entry #2
By Arnold Prieto 

Click here to see Entry #1

July 7, 2014

Admin note:  Arnold received notice of his Death Warrant on May 12. His attorney of record is aware of this fact and, as of this week, which is more than two months later, has yet to visit him or contact him at all.  

First and foremost I wish to ask for your forgiveness for taking so long in posting something from Death Watch. My silence has been a mixture of depression from being under the constant watchful eye of the state and the restlessness of having to wait for others to help save my life. In this case, the attorney the state has appointed to me has not shown up. I understand that the attorney is overworked and has other cases and deadlines that have to be met. A really nasty feeling indeed and I speak from experience. Anyhow, I have no other choice than to deal with the hand that has been dealt to me. As for the depressing feeling of having to live under these cameras, it has not gotten any easier as I had hoped it might. I still wake up at night and snap that I am on Death Watch once that I look up to the corner of the cell to see the camera. I was given my first warning just last week when I had covered the camera to use the restroom in peace as I normally would do once per day. I was told by the picket officer not to cover up my camera again or she would be giving me a disciplinary case for doing so. Normally the officers that are watching the cameras do not fret about us covering them up just as long as we do not do so for to long. I try to follow rules and regulations to the letter to avoid conflict.

Well, there hasn't been much going on in these few weeks aside from the week-long lock down for the ninety-day shakedowns that we are subjected to because, apparently, we might have a phone or some other contraband that we are not supposed to have...yeah right! I live in the most guarded and secured building in the system. So in reality, I do not see any purpose for the shakedowns every ninety days that we have to go through. It just seem more like a punishment to me then an actual security issue. This time, they took my extra sheet and my blanket, along with little odds and ends that was deemed contraband. What I did not like was the fact that we were only allowed to shower once in the eight days that we were locked down. We normally showered every other day, Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays. But this time around, we were only allowed to shower on Wednesday and we weren’t allowed to shave. I didn't like that we only showered once and that I was not allowed to shave my face by their rules and regulations or face punishment by the loss of class level (usually we would be leveled down to level 2 for ninety days) and a disciplinary case. It did not bother me about the shower; I used the sink for what we call a birdbath. It was not being able to shave the fur off my facet hat drove me nuts - haha! I am just happy that we are off lock down now.

On June 3rd, I was scheduled to be interviewed by a parole officer, and I think it went pretty well. She was very professional.  She asked me about everything that had to do with my life.  She had a file that must have been about eight inches thick and within that file my entire life was in between those pages and I mean from the day I was born till now. Every case that I had picked up while in prison, which were only nine disciplinary cases within a twenty year span, commendable by local standards. And none are violent or threatening towards another inmate or guard.

Anyway, the interview started with the simple questions and we walked through my entire life. All in all, the interview lasted about one and a half hours. Her job calls for her to write up a summary of that interview for the governor and the members of the Board of Pardons and Parole. She also asked me if I would like to meet with an actual clemency board member and to speak with him/her. I of course requested to do so. She tells me that I will get to meet one of the members in November. Am I nervous? Yes, because they will be instrumental in trying to save my life by commutation. I now wish to share something that was shared with me by another inmate, which is basically “the Texas clemency procedure in a nutshell,” as he called it:  

1st - A death warrant is signed by the state court judge, who sets the execution date.

2nd - A clemency petition is filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by the defense attorney on behalf of the prisoner.

3rd - Members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole review the petition and cast a vote on whether to recommend a commutation, conditional pardon or reprieve. They will also decide whether or not a hearing will be convened on the clemency petition to hear testimony from witnesses.

4th - If the majority of the Board votes for a commutation, the Board recommends to the governor that clemency be granted.

5th -The governor has full discretion to either accept or reject the Board’s recommendation on clemency.

6th -The Board has no independent power to commute the sentence. The governor can only commute a death sentence upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole. The Board has no power to grant relief, but can only make recommendations to the governor.  If the Board votes against clemency, the governor has no independent power to commute the sentence.

Under Texas law, the governor has the power to grant a condemned prisoner one 30-day stay of execution. No recommendation from the Board is necessary for the governor to take this action. Any further executive reprieves require approval by the majority of the Board, who then make a recommendation to the governor. The governor may formally request that the Board consider convening a full clemency hearing to review a petition of a condemned prisoner(s).

In Texas and elsewhere in the United States of America, clemency is see not as a due process right of all the condemned prisoners, but rather as a privilege to be dispensed or withheld as the state executive authority sees fit. There is no judicial oversight of clemency procedures and no legal guarantee of access to meaningful clemency review.

The deliberations of the 18-member Board of Pardons and Parole are shrouded in secrecy. Board members are appointed by the governor and are not directly accountable for their decisions to the public or to any legislative body. There seem to be no formal rules in place to guide the Board's decision-making procedures. Board members are scattered across eight regional offices throughout Texas. The Board does not convene, even in closed meetings, to discuss the clemency petition and hear the views of other members. Instead, members often communicate their individual decisions on clemency by fax.

The Board does not allow the prisoner's attorney to review and respond to material presented by the prosecutor in opposition to clemency. Without the opportunity to rebut, the defense is powerless if the prosecution fabricates material or makes exaggerated allegations in order to persuade the Board to deny clemency/mercy. In the one recent case in which the Board did convene clemency hearing (Johnny Garrett, l991), the prisoner was not allowed to attend. Board members have responsibility for all pardon and parole cases in Texas: Over 20,000 cases go through their offices each year. Despite persuasive ground for mercy in scores of cases, the Board of Pardon and Parole allows for executions to proceed with out meaningful clemency review. Even compelling evidence of innocence is not sufficient to obtain a hearing. Since l99l, at least five prisoners with unresolved cases of innocence have been executed here in Texas and none were granted clemency hearings. In 1992.Texas death row inmate Leonel Herrera uncovered startling new evidence of his innocence. Attorneys for Texas opposed his appeal to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that late claims of innocence should be resolved by clemency hearing. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that late evidence of innocence does not ordinarily entitle a defendant to new hearing. “Clemency,” the court stated, “is the historic remedy for preventing of miscarriages of Justice.” Three months later, Texas executed Leonel Herrera, after the Board of Pardons and Parole refused to convene a clemency hearing.

As you can see, the cards are stacked up against me. Nothing new really, since they have been stacked from the very beginning. I find it very odd that almost every one here on the row are first timers and have been here on the row without as so much as a threat towards another inmate or towards another guard. I just cannot see how the jury or the state can see into their crystal balls and see a youngster of 19-20 continuing to be a threat to general population, yet twenty years down the road having only nine disciplinary cases that were nothing more then minor infractions, which all lead to reprimands and actually seven were as such. Where is the dangerous killer and monster they for saw??? If they could have only seen me walking around and working with freeworld people with out so much as an incident AND WORKING WITH 12 INCH SCISSORS! Not to mention box cutters, and flammable liquids to boot!!! Hmmmmm what kind of monster could of been around such material without being.... well, a monster?! Maybe the crystal ball was cloudy during those days or maybe they did not shake the ball hard enough.

My dearest friend Bro Wayne said something to me today out in our visit that was very interesting...I believe he had quoted a condemned prisoner about to be put to death in Florida back in the days when the chair was still alive. He said, "The death penalty is for those that have no capital.  They are the ones that get punished" I believe that I have the quote correct and how true that is!  Welcome the civilized capitol of the world.....

Arnold Prieto was executed by the State of Texas on January 21, 2015

From Death Watch
By Miguel Angel Paredes

June 10, 2014

Dear Minute Before Six Readers:
I hope when this reaches y’all it’ll find y’all and y’alls loved ones in the best of health and highest spirits.

I am writing you these words to share with you the experiences of the condemned here on death watch - my experiences mainly.  This is where it gets a real as it can get in seeing death straight in the eyes, and have that marinate in one’s mind, to feel and savor what it feels to be gripped by death – no more putting it to the side while we have apparent time to spare, etc.  It’s where we are really put to the test in a huge way.  I want you to see and feel this, so you can maybe understand the graveness of the situation we find ourselves in.  So you can see I am not ignorant of this serious experience I am in the middle of, I was moved without a prior warning.  At first I thought I was being mistaken for my friend Arnold as he was already advised by the courts, and was waiting to be moved.  I tried asking why the captain wanted to see me, but they said they didn’t know – only were following orders.  I thought maybe it was one of those shake-downs they do by surprise, or something else, and at last, they had the wrong person.

When I was in front of the Captain, I asked her if she was sure she had the right person when she asked me if I knew I had a date, and as she read it out – Miguel Angel Paredes # 999400, I was like “yeah, that’s me,” and she told me, “You have an execution date set for October 28, 2014,” and asked if I had questions.  I told her I would talk to her later and thanked her.  I was wondering if I would be taken back to my cell, but when I asked, they said no – straight to A Pod - Death Watch.   My mind was working very fast, especially as I had been having things to do, and getting me out of the blue, the most similar is like getting a bucket of freezing water thrown on you.  As soon as I got here, people hollered at me.  Others wanted to know who had gotten here, and pretty much asked when my date was.  So when they placed me in the cell I was more trying to answer their questions, and being polite.  My mind was still registering what was taking place.  I saw the cell and the camera, so there was no doubt I was on Death Watch.  Very soon they brought my property, packed in a rush but searched and scanned.  It allowed me to excuse myself from the others and unpack my stuff.  It allowed me to allow my mind to go and digest everything.  As I was unpacking, the first thing that came to my mind was that I would be here along my friend Arnold, and that I would continue to share with him the love and things from God, as when we were on the other Pod.  We had become a lot closer than all the years we had been around, and especially we had been sharing very personal things about my spiritual experiences with God and Christ.  He seemed very receptive, and when he got a date, I tried to share some things with him but felt I could do more.  I had been sharing some things about this with my spiritual/adoptive mom, Dorothy, so when things happened the way they did, it’s something I took as coming from God.  And I have accepted it since then with grace, as I have come to care very deeply for Arnold, and I can be here with him as we face the situation together, instead of alone. As I put my things up, there came more questions, and more questions, and I really just wanted to sit and dwell on the situation, but I didn’t want to be rude to people.  Finally the recs were put up, and everyone to their cells.  I was exhausted to begin with, but then came to sit and write the hardest letters of my life, where I told my Mom Doro about my date and how I wanted to spend the remaining days, and what I thought about our friend while I was unpacking.  I was seeing death as if it would happen tomorrow, but that didn’t bother me.  What broke through all my strength and every might I could have, was seeing the pain in her face as I wrote her, being conscious that I couldn’t even shed my tears in private.  I had to be conscious of a stranger seeing me in my most private moments where I hadn’t allowed anyone, aside from my son and my birth parents to ever see, and yet here I was unable to contain it, every time I composed myself and I restarted writing and would see her face in desperate tears and pain, I would fall back into the deep sorrow.  I wrote some more to a beloved person in my life, and likewise, so much I wished to be able to take their pain unto myself, but I knew I could not, even if I walked unto death with a smile from ear to ear, it would not diminish their pain and sorrow.  It was all the writing I was able to do.  I stayed there in bed, wishing again and again to be able to take their pain away, but it was not up to me.  I just so much wished people would be more conscious of who gets hurt the most - both the condemned and society; to see who this really hits the hardest.  Now I have heard from my loved ones, and seen the signs of sleepless nights and sorrow in their face, and have heard so much of the pain they feel, that I wish none of this was real, not for me, but for them.  To save them from all that pain, that they do not deserve.  If I owe something, I willfully pay the price, even if that price is my life, but, what do they owe?  Why do they have to pay?  If a supposed cold blooded monster feels for them, why not society?  If with my death all will be erased and no one would be hurt again, I would gladly give it, but even though I am here as peaceful as a lamb in the slaughter house, and willing to accept my execution, it still doesn’t erase the pain in others.

Now I have read my order of execution, and it states time after time “DEATH UNTIL DEAD.”  I am o.k. with that, but can you be o.k. with the pain that is left behind? Only when I was lost and ignorant, I did not see all that pain, and thought, as long as I could handle the consequences, it was fair enough. When I was caught, all my rights were taken away.  I am not even allowed to put “Mr.” on my address here on my envelopes that I buy.  Much less make a decision from this side of the isle that can affect society.  So, who will care about the complete results of an execution?  You have a supposed cold blooded monster, in pain, weeping, not for myself but for others who have nothing to do with the wrongs committed in society.  I wish I could put all the blame on myself and have the power to change these things, but I don’t; only you, the people that hold the power now.  I hope with these words you can see who suffers, when things are a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye.  There are victims on both sides, two sides grieving a loved one, an eye for an eye, leaving everyone blind.  

These are things going on in my head.  I hope you can make sense of them. Thank you for hearing me out.  Blessings to you all!

By Miguel Angel Paredes

July 7, 2014

I had a lot of trouble understanding the purpose and nature of the commandments, as I saw how impossible it was to follow them, even for anyone willing to put them in practice.  Yet despite their controversy amongst society and how impossible it was for mankind to follow and observe them, the people who had a religious belief or doctrine defended them with shield and sword. Many were not shy to judge by them and punished, at times, by death those who broke them.  Others said: “I pretty much ‘had to’ or otherwise I would go to hell, and things like that.”  I am locked up in prison/Death Row, and even though there’s a lot of kind people and many well-intentioned, we did not get snatched up from the church choir as the norm and brought here.  So a lot of the norm is like “live it up,” pretty much in the underworld, and, in general, it’s usually pleasure that causes one to do the vast majority of those things.  So breaking pretty much all the commandments at one time or another is the norm, or they’re not really looked at unless you do it to them. 

For a long time, I thought it was a curse place on mankind.  For one party it was bad, for other good, depending on who you asked.  Pretty much the same way with any law of the land, that in some countries certain things are perfectly legal, while the very same is illegal in another, and this can be broken down from nation to nation, state to state, city to city, all the way to small congregations of people, regardless of religion or absence of it. The result’s pretty simple – you obey, you are left alone from legal persecution or penalties, or even praised and rewarded.  On the other end, if you do not obey, you get punished and get condemned and even at the end of the day, the very ones who go against the social majority have their own rules, rewards and punishments, with even lesser securities of one’s fair treatment, and tend to be equally brutal, or far more, to implement the penalties of beatings to death itself.

I wondered if this could also be a big joke, because at the end of the day both sides of the balance pretty much end up doing the very same.

As I have been growing in my spiritual walk, building an intimate relationship with my Father and knowing Christ, my Lord, I came across a verse, and have had very deep reflections on it, which has greatly helped me to deal with this and how I approach my beliefs and my dealings with myself and others, and really, when I am aware of the deep reflection on the verse, I find myself with full hands, which keeps my mind from playing cat and mouse, or trying to do back flips and landing in mid-air as to my convictions and conduct.

Christ once said, “Thou shall love God with all your mind, with all your heart and with all your soul.  You should love your neighbors as you love yourself.”  It says that the law and the prophets depended on these two commandments.  At first glance, this seems to be not enough as an instruction, or even a clear way of explaining something that pretty much seems impossible. Even Christianity says it is impossible for a person to observe all the law.

Yet, when I dwelled on it, I began to see deep within those very simple words, and I understood I had to search and find the meaning beyond human or religious instruction, as not even Christ sat down and gave a detailed written how-to-do manual.  I figured it would have been He who should have done it and He should have the clear-cut answer.  The answer He did give- but not in human dictated instruction - rather inviting us and instructing us to look deeper into ourselves by our own will.

I began to see the key word “LOVE” in my own journey.  I knew emotionalism, romanticism and the commercialized sense of love:  “You do this, I react like this.”, etc.  After many stumblings, falls, and wounds deep in my being, little by little I began seeing and learning what TRUE LOVE is, a love that is free, without any expectation, either of reaction or material kind, be it emotional or a commodity.  I was a grown man when I began learning this, and it took a lot of will power at times not the break and just go an eye for an eye, and distrust the whole world regardless if it was for supposed righteousness, emotional protection, bitterness or resentment.  I had to learn to accept the wounds I might receive as I opened my arms to embrace what I was perceiving as TRUE LOVE.

To love God with all my mind, all my heart and all my soul??? How could I love in that form, if I couldn’t even see Him??  I began to see people that I have come to love deeply, like my mother, my son, and people I have come to love regardless of anything.  It took my KNOWING them, some, I was a part of, an offspring of them like my parents and my siblings and my son, who is an offspring of me.  It took me to ACCEPT them regardless the things I did not like, the things I did not agree with and even the things that hurt me deep inside.  When I started looking at God, I began to see Him more and more, and it is not a secret - we are all the same essence in the universe when we it’s all broken down.  I forgot about my human barriers and the limitations that wouldn’t allow me before to see the wonderful manifestations of a Greater Force out there, recognizing that I was really not even as big as a grain of sand amongst the sea shore, or a drop of water in the ocean, within the vast universe and galaxies and the ones we don’t even know of, the complexity of even the human body so masterfully built, all of the marvelous nature over the face of the earth our eyes can gaze upon; the beauty we see that leaves us without words – even then we are only seeing a small fraction in our life-time.  This humbled me.  I learned to immerse myself in the silence and to be in contact and harmony with all of creation and the Supreme Being.  I started developing more and more deeply inside and getting enveloped in it.  So much, that I went from cursing God and denying His existence, to devoting Him my first thoughts and breaths of each day of my life.

Love my neighbors as I love MYSELF???  Since I was a little kid I was told about my gifts and talents by some people, yet I destroyed a good part of myself, nearly my very existence, so I had a long road to even love myself, much yet to love the other person as I love myself!  After much exploration into the depths of my being, cutting all the strings that held me down, taking out every dagger buried in my back, and healing the wounds that were infected after so many years of not attending to them and placing more and more harmful things on top, I began to naked myself, separate myself, and yes, to KNOW MYSELF, alone in front of God, answering for all the things in my life, purifying myself in the deepest form; giving account for all my acts, both good and bad, and at times even being very hard on myself for things I wanted to change but could not, so yes, I also had to ACCEPT myself.  It was easier when, deep inside, I felt God telling me, “I love you as you are”.  With time, understanding and accepting He was my Father and I his son, I have been able to accept myself and now I am able to love my neighbors as I love myself.  At one time I had felt nothing whenever I did harm to my neighbor.  Now I have come to see that WE are ALL part of his beautiful masterpiece called creation.  I began to see the things that brought me down and the things that nourished me.  I realized that I had a choice to my actions, to be aware and not merely react, but be in control of my actions.

I began to look again at the commandments in a completely different way, and weighing them on the scale of love; seeing them with eyes of LOVE.

I realized that I definitely do not want to kill someone I love.  On the contrary, even the thought of taking the life of someone I love troubles me.  I wish to nourish those whom I love and protect their lives to the best of my ability.

I do not want to lie to someone I love.  That would be betraying their trust and hurting their feelings, in some, to the point of even severing the bond.  Lying to them would also cause them emotional pain and even harm their future relationships.  Due to bad experiences, I prefer to be truthful with the ones I love, and build them up in trust and allow them to more firmly believe and trust in others.

I do not wish to steal or abuse those whom I love.  I would rather share with them joyfully that with which my Father blesses me with, and lend a hand where I am able.  Give when I am able to do so.

I do not wish to take the woman of the person I love.  I would rather enjoy seeing them happy and helping them settle their differences, or for them to see the things that draw them to each other.

I do not wish to disrespect my parents, as I have come to see that in my veins their blood flows through me, that I am a part of them, literally.  I am grateful for them raising me and caring for me from the time I was a defenseless baby, prone to any countless dangers of this world that could have ended my existence.

This is how I see the rest – the deeper meaning of the LOVE, LIFE and TRUTH that these bring forth when we follow the mantra of LOVE.  It doesn’t matter what one believes or not, these words and its meaning transcend all lines, and really put us in balance with LOVE when we see the cause and effect of our actions.  Even now that I have greatly grown spiritually, at times, it is no easy feat. Yet one thing I do know, that this has helped me to see if I am really acting out of love or not.  I can try to justify any action of mine and maybe even convince myself, but when I put it on the balance of love, it comes out very clear.  When I cause harm to someone, I am not acting under the guidance of love.  When I am following the guidance of love, it brings nourishment to others and to myself.

One commandment I hold very dearly as my inspiration, my mantra and my lighthouse when I am lost for words or solutions is when Christ said to love each other as He loved us, and in that way people would know we’re His disciples.  It took me to personally know Him and allow Him to come to life within me.  When I get hurt and the pain and fury builds up, I look at Him on that cross, beaten, tortured, wounded, in agony, and remembering that He willingly gave up His life out of love.  It humbles me and inspires me.  I grit my teeth and get ready to go out there again, and continue on His path of love.  When he asked our Father to forgive the people who did all these things to Him and shed his blood, I have to tell myself there is nothing I cannot forgive or endure.  It humbles me and tells me my burdens are a piece of cake compared to what He went through.  If one time I admired and respected men of leadership that did not forgive if I did certain wrongs, how much more could I admire such a Godly being who came as a servant, and out of love gave his life to give me life and realize that all of these things have transformed my life and have brought so much richness to my life and to all those who have come into my life.  The value is far more than anything one could accumulate in materialistic things.

When we look at the commandments with human eyes and human righteousness we become hardened of heart, so much that we put innocent beings to death.  When we look at them with spiritual eyes - with eyes of love – we forgive even the very one who hurts us and even takes our lives.  This is the truth that took place approximately a couple of thousand years ago, and that very principle is applied even to this very day, where even in the freest country on earth it is not unconstitutional to kill an innocent person, as long as he got a fair trial.

Miguel Angel Paredes was executed by the State of Texas on October 28, 2013

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Waste Warfare

By Mwandishi Mitchell

On November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day, I was placed in administrative custody, or as it's commonly known here -AC status. I'm in the hole doing twenty-three and one. Except on Wednesday and Friday, when there is no yard.

Compared to the ad-seg on Pelican Bay, this is a cakewalk. I'm allowed to have a chessboard, radio, television, books and magazines in my cell. So far, I haven't requested my T.V. or radio--I've left them packed away with my other personal property. They're distractions for me and I can get more writing done without them.

Unfortunately, though, I'm not housed with just AC status inmates. For some odd reason I'm on a disciplinary custody-DC status pod. The majority of the guys serving solitary confinement (well, I wouldn't even call it "solitary" because dudes have cellmates and you can talk to people in other cells) on this pod have received misconducts. My case is different; mine is a separation from staff. All I'm waiting for is my transfer to another plantation where Ill be placed back into the general population.

I think I'm a funny and jovial person to be around, but as I've seen over the years, there's not many people locked up in here who I'd want to be friends with. I can count on one hand people I'd call friends who I've met over the past eleven years. 

Would I be conceited if I said that the reason I don't have many friends is because there aren't many who can converse or match up to me intellectually in here? Maybe it would, but I don't want it to sound that way. But I can‘t learn anything from someone my age (41) who raps Meek Mill, Rick Ross, and whoever else's lyrics all day!? And I'm totally out of touch with the younger guys who are in their early 20's and 30's. I have tried teaching, tutoring, and mentoring them--which turned out to be feeble. For many of them, being a social outcast--drug dealer, stick-up man, murderer, etc… is all they know. And truthfully, this hurts me because eighty percent of them are Blacks and Latinos--and I don't see this changing anytime soon.

Since I've been down here the past three weeks I befriended a man named Omar. Omar is thirty-seven I believe, and he's on DC status serving 90 days for testing positive for marijuana. I had seen him before; he worked the cafeteria where I was housed in general population. I moved into the cell next door to him because, per Department of Corrections policy, you have to switch cells every 90 days. Omar is from Camden, New Jersey, just across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. 

From the onset, he seemed like a person that I could relate to: knowledgeable on current affairs and the plight of the recidivism of minorities in the penitentiary system. He has a good head on his shoulders and I was confused as to why and how he wound up in a place like this. I found out from him that it was a drug deal gone bad. He went with someone who he thought was purchasing drugs--but the guy he went with actually intended to rob the guy. The guy he was with shot and killed two people. When he got caught, he told the authorities Omar was with him. Omar went down as an accomplice. Come to find out, we've both been in prison for eleven years, and both of our DOC numbers start with GB!

In the hole arguments can get pretty wild very fast, and many times out of control. You really can‘t get your hands on someone that you are having a disagreement with. While in the RHU (Restricted Housing Unit), you are a level 5 inmate, which means that when you are brought out of your cell for any reason you will be handcuffed. Going to the shower, yard, medical, anywhere. Most of the time it's just a lot of hot air going back and forth, but every so often, you get "Shit Slayers!"

Shit Slayers, are feces throwers. These are guys who take their excrement and urine and put them into empty shampoo bottles, grape jelly containers--any plastic squeeze bottle they can get their hands on. They shake them up and let them sit for days--weeks even, waiting for a potential victim. It doesn't matter who you are, guard or inmate, if you talk trash or get into an argument with a Shit Slayer--expect to be fired upon! I've seen guys on their way to the shower, bang! Hit by a Shit Slayer. In the yard cage, bang! Hit by a Shit Slayer! There are serious medical risks that can occur as a result of these attacks, especially Hepatitis C. Just imagine being covered with feces and urine on your face, getting into your eyes and mouth. You could potentially be an unintentional victim by being in the middle yard cage of two people who are throwing excrement at one another. Fortunately, I have never experienced either or, and I'm not trying to!

Omar gets a cellmate named Dee. I would describe Dee as a repeat offender. He's only thirty-two and he's been in eight different state penitentiaries--eight! A very hostile and combative person who curses the guards at each and every opportunity he gets a chance. Dee will be maxing out from the hole in forty-three days. He doesn't have anything to lose or anything to look forward to once he's released. A fate that awaits many like him and is verified in the pages of Professor Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow.

The economy of the hole is run off of tobacco. Graterford is an institution that makes millions a year from tobacco sales. However, while in the RHU that privilege for the inmate is in abeyance. So, as it‘s not allowed, tobacco that's smuggled into the hole catches a pretty penny. Its value is quadrupled. A $2.43 pouch of Kite tobacco goes for $10-$15 here in the hole.

Well, Omar's cellmate, Dee, decides he's going to pull a fast one (or, what I would call a fiend-move) and put an indigent toothpaste that's given away freely by the institution, into a commissary bought box. The block-runners (workers) do the passing of items back and forth. They're the only ones who are allowed out and not handcuffed down here. 

"Hey, man, could ju get me sum'thin' ta smoke for dis toothpaste?" Dee asks the block-runner. I can hear him because he's directly next door to me.

"Yeah, no problem. Slide it unda' tha door," the block-runner says.

About three minutes later the block-runner comes back wearing an angry expression on his face and throws the toothpaste box under Dee and Omar's door.

Look at dis shit! I say to myself.

"Whut tha fuck wuz dat 'bout, cuz?" the block-runner asks Dee.

Another block-runner comes to their door. He says, "Man, whut kind of games are you playin', cannon? Why would ju do dat? On tha streets, if you gave him sum' fake coke and he sold it to sum'one--they‘d cum' back and shoot him, not you! You don't do dat to tha middleman!" the second block-runner says. 

The analogy makes perfect sense to me and should make sense to anyone else who knows about the streets. People have been hurt, and many have been killed for selling fake drugs that one perpetrated as real. 

"Man, fuck you and whoeva' you gave it to!" spat Dee.

"Where you from out dere, cannon?" the second block-runner asks Dee.

'Norristown," Dee replies proudly.

"Yeah, it figures. You'd be dead already in Philly!" the second block-runner responds.

While this exchange is going on I'm laughing to myself. Dee, is supposed to be regarded as someone who is "thorough." Well, I'm here to tell you that what he did is not a thorough move at all. It's maligned and dishonorable even for prison standards. There is still honor amongst thieves, y'know? However, Dee is respected as having street credibility. People are out there in the streets getting their heads blown off for these kinds of stunts.

The block-runners and Dee exchange more unpleasantries. Then the block- runners storm off. People on the pod are laughing and expressing their opinions about the whole scenario. So, I say as a joke to Dee:

"Damn, Dee, if I gave you a package back when I wuz livin' tha life, I'd have to seal all o' tha bags wit' a lighter!"

The entire bottom tier erupts in laughter.

"Whut are you laughing about, Mitch? You're a rat! Yeah, e'rybody, Mitch iz a faggot and a rat! You ratted on Benny-Do!" Dee hurls on my character.

I don't have anything against homosexuals. I used to--but I've grown to respect anyone for any lifestyle they choose to live. As long as they're not harming and killing anyone--to each, his own--and her own. But in the penitentiary there's two things you don't want to be labeled as (especially if you're not), and that is a homosexual, or a rat--and Dee has given me both.

When he says it, inside I laugh. I'm more amused than upset. My old-head and one of my mentors, Benny-Do, and I were walkies. Ten years my senior, he was like the big brother I never had.

We got out of the hole on the same day two years ago and were on the same block on the new side. He was brought down to the hole a month before me, and they shipped him to SCI Frackville for alleged "fraternization" with staff. The real reason is that he was a leader of men, who knew how to organize men--and the administration feared this.

Dee saying that I ratted on my mentor gets me infuriated! It isn't funny any longer as the argument continues. By him even insinuating something like this is a stab and low blow to my character. So now I'm throwing obscenities at him and we're going back and forth for the betterment of fifteen minutes. I know there is no way I can physically get my hands on him: My only other option is to send him a threat.

"Don't sign up for yard t'morrow, I'm goin' to shit chu' down!"

Now, I really don't mean this. Indeed, Shit Slayers are people who are working with diminished capacities. You have to figure, you've got to be messed up in the head to play in your own feces--especially the process of putting it in the bottle with your bare hands and everything.

"I throw shit, too! You ain't sayin' nuffin!" Dee counters.

Damn, I thought my threat would back him down. Now I have to save face and keep up the facade. Because in no way am I sick enough, or even disturbed enough to play in my own feces.

About two hours later I'm smelling feces from next door. Dee is getting his ammunition ready. Omar is mad at me because he has to be in the cell smelling his cellmate's feces. What Omar should've done is manned up and not permitted Dee to contain it in a milk carton.

The dudes down on the bottom of the pod are getting hyped. They actually want to see two guys throwing feces on one another. They're placing bets on who'll come out of the ordeal the worst. Really, sickening stuff. Gods know I don't belong here.

As fate would have it, the next day Omar and Dee get the last yard cage available, meaning there was no room for me. Because all I was going to do was to try and talk him down. Then I figured--what if I couldn't? So now, Omar and I haven't spoken to one another in three days. What bothers me is that how a person could be so easily influenced? Omar and I have had long conversations at length about doing positive things to uplift ourselves while we were in the belly of the beast. Even planned on keeping in touch with one another after I get to the next plantation. I guess that should tell me, that I trust people too easily. That I shouldn't open myself up to people that quickly. Because his cellmate and I had a disagreement, he sided with him who he's known less than me? But not only that--he knows (as does everybody on the pod) that the move Dee pulled was lame. I guess that’s what bothers me most. Omar has asked me to write letters to his stepmother which he passed off as his own because they were having personal problems. I didn't mind because I felt I was helping a friend. I have to believe in the mantra that friends are not that easy to come by--especially in here.

The nature of the penitentiary is that the sheep get eaten by the wolves. I'm not a wolf; but neither am I a sheep--so I guess I'm in the middle. It is easy for me to straddle the fence. I'm not an aggressive bullying type and I'm not a weakling whom a bully can prey upon. This ordeal I'm going through, this test of the Supreme Being, all has a meaning. Nowadays, I'm kind and considerate of other people's feelings. I feel like I could go into any five star restaurant and ask the sommelier for a sparkling white Bordeaux, and in the same day be at a Phillies game with a chili-cheese hot dog in one hand, and a draft Budweiser in the other. That's the real me. But the wolves usually interpret the nice side of me, and others, as weakness, and I refuse to be a victim.

One thing for sure, and two things are for certain: Mwandishi will not be involved in any feces biological warfare! Knowing where I'm at, I‘ll never use that threatening countermeasure again! Somebody put me to the test and scared the shit out of me--literally. Called bluff--and I quickly reneged, fast and in a hurry. Next time someone else threatens to have a feces fisticuffs with me, I'll promptly reply: "Hey, you got it, man. I don't want no problems! I'm a player, not a Shit Slayer!"

I am resolved to ostracize myself from mediocrity from here on out.

Mwandishi Mitchell GB 6474
SCI Houtzdale
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000