Thursday, July 26, 2018

Shasta the Cat

By John Falk

It’s minutes before six and we’re all waiting for the Execution Watch radio show to come on the air so that us guys on Texas Death Row can sort of share Thomas Whitaker’s final moments with him as the State takes another life from us.

“What about you, Johnny Ray?” a voice hollers from a few cell doors down.

There are seven cells next to each other here on the bottom floor, which is so-called “one-row”. The voice coming from one of these cells is another person who will eventually take the same last walk that Thomas is taking right at this moment.

Facing our own date is so much easier than having to watch somebody else who we’ve come to love and respect as a brother here in the row. Some push people away after losing too many friends to those final minutes of “Execution Day,” as some people call it – as if it were some kind of bank holiday conveniently left off the calendar.

“What are you talking about?” I ask, trying to rein in my wandering thoughts.

“Reincarnation, dude!” the voice comes back. “Joe is coming back as a hawk. Micah as a lone wolf. And I’m coming back as an eagle. So, what animal are you coming back as?”

I think: You’ve got to be kidding me. These people are about to kill Thomas, and this is what we’re talking about? Really?!

The guys around me are veterans when it comes to watching their friends take that final walk. So, being one of the new guys over here, it’s only right for me to follow their lead. After all, maybe it’ll help absorb some of the sting from this moment.

“A cat,” came the thought, pouring from my mouth before there was any time to filter it through the turbulent emotions swimming in my head.

“What kind of cat?” asks the voice from one-row.

“A cat, man. You know, one of those domestic cats. Maybe a grey and white one, or something,” I say.

As only other guys on the row would probably understand – though God knows I can’t right now – an eruption of laughter follows my words, along with several humorous comments. But, for the life of me, nothing seems funny; certainly nothing that should cause such an outburst. Even during more normal times, it would be kind of strange, and today wasn’t a normal day.

Thomas was certainly involved in a horrible crime, but how could anyone see this man as Texas’s “worst of the worst?” I’ve been in this living hell that is the Texas prison system more than 32 years, and the “worst of the worst” don’t reside on death row, least of all Thomas.

As the laughter subsided, back comes the voice. “Dude, that is stupid. For real. Why would anyone want to come back as a stupid domestic cat when you could be anything in the world?”

In this moment, my thoughts lead me towards Shasta. But knowing how image is everything to us men, I respond, “Look at it this way, Bubba. I’ve spent decades around all you idiot hard-heads, and when you are all out there roaming in the wild, all alone and fighting to stay alive, I’ll be cuddled up next to some beautiful woman who loves her cat.”

As might be imagined, this creates an uproar of good-hearted laughter with calls of, “You tell ‘em, Johnny Ray!” 

I walk away from my cell door wondering what Thomas’s last moments might be feeling like, and I start to think about the final seconds of another friend… 

Shasta the cat was nothing close to acting like a normal feline. After catching her, along with her four sisters, it took weeks to train them all enough so that they became tame.

At the Wynne Unit of Hunstsville, Texas, there are many wild cats that roam all over the prison grounds, breeding almost as quick as the thousands of rats. Every so often the guards would have to kill lots of the cats with poisons and traps, as well as through the cruelty of one mean-bastard-of-a-guard known as Mr Keelings.

“Keelings is my name and killing is my game” was his favorite line.

It was Keelings’s job to help kill as many cats as possible at the Wynne Unit. He was known for luring them to him with food, only to cripple them with a devastating blow of his nightstick. Once he had maimed the harmless animals, he would then slowly step on them, crushing their small frames with his three hundred pounds of weight. It was terribly cruel, but he seemed to find some sort of sadistic pleasure watching the felines with broken spines squirm and scream in their final moments of pain and suffering. 

Shasta had the prettiest blue eyes. They contrasted with her grey and white coat, which also had touches of black mixed in. Having tamed Shasta, it became my responsibility to protect this beautiful and loving animal from the horrifying terror of Mr Keelings and his cat hunting proclivities. 

On the maintenance yard, where I was assigned to work as the equipment mechanic, Shasta would always follow me around, just as if she were a dog. She was an immediate rock star with the guards and prisoners alike. She remained at the prison with us, while her sisters went on to live in the homes of a few different guards.

In the evenings, just before it was time to leave the maintenance yard and head back to my housing area, Shasta would always be left inside the little shack, otherwise known as my “workshop.” She always seemed to know when it was time to return to the workshop. She would obediently run in there and play on the carpeted climbing station that some of us guys had made for her, figuring this would keep her occupied during the long hours through the night. She really loved the hanging tennis ball we installed on it for her too.

Nobody was happier to see me in the morning than Shasta was. Every day I would bring her a packet of mackerel, so she would have something more than just the dry cat food one of the guards had smuggled in to feed her. She was as jittery with joy as any frisky pup would be; meowing and purring with happiness pouring through her sweet, little heart.

One day, while I was on the maintenance yard, the voice of one of the security guards instructed me: “Falk! Get your things, you’re being reassigned to another job.”

Being reassigned meant I would no longer be working as the equipment mechanic there. It also meant that I could no longer protect this precious, loving animal who wouldn’t even bother the pigeons when they walked in the gravel yard, pecking amongst the small patches of grass under the bird house that had been built by some men in the carpenter’s shop. 

“Take care of Shasta, and make sure you guys lock her in the workshop every night before you head out. You know Mr Keelings won’t spare her if he finds her,” I told the guys gathering around Shasta and me, as she rested in my arms, purring her felicitous love. 

“Don’t worry, Johnny. You know how much we all love Shasta. We’ll take care of her, you’ll see,” said the guy who would be replacing me there.

After a couple of months passed by, a bunch of us were gathered in the living area, known as the “dayroom.” It had two televisions and several four stooled stainless-steel tables, along with some metal benches stationed around the place. The noise in there is probably on par with a crowded bar, with men conversing or shouting at the T.V. during their favorite sports program.

“Hey, look! It’s Mr Keelings,” someone yelled while pointing through the window.

“Oh, no!” another voice hollered out, “It’s Shasta! Johnny, it’s Shasta!”

Muscling through the mass of men, I finally made it next to the window to see a scene that made my pounding heart stop. As if she could feel my heart stop also, Shasta paused and stood staring at Mr Keelings. He then knelt down on his haunches, which I already knew to be his strike pose just before a paralyzing attack.

Shasta stood there as if she knew something wasn’t right. Men around me were shouting at Mr Keelings and Shasta at the same time, but we all knew what was coming, and that we were powerless to stop what we knew was so wrong.

Mr Keelings had something in his left hand, lowered to the ground. We all knew sweet, loving Shasta would trust even the very worst of men. Her gentle paws faithfully moved towards him and that fatal spot where death’s brutal club would come crashing down upon her fragile frame. 

Please, no! Dear God, don’t let her suffer, I silently prayed with all my heart while squeezing my eyes closed. It was beyond me to watch this happen. Fighting back tears, and clutching at the concrete window ledge to balance myself, the shouting and raging of men continued… 

Suddenly, shouts of excitable men were exploding around me now too, bringing me back to the reality of my existence on the row. All the men were cheering about something, as if there were a ballgame turned on. 

“What’s going on?” I ask, walking back up to my cell door.

“The Governor commuted him,” someone hollers from a few cells down. “The Governor commuted Thomas’s sentence to life without parole!”

Don’t they realize Life Without Parole is just a slower and more miserable death sentence?

Oh well, at least Thomas will live to see another day.  All life really does matter.  For that, I can only smile because he’s one lucky cat.

John Falk 999605
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Hello!  If “Shasta The Cat” touched you and you’d like to learn more about this guy from Houston, Texas, you can write or your every thought.  Hey, mail call is coming, so where is your letter?  I spend my days reading non-fiction mostly, exercising, studying to be a paralegal, writing, while telling some of the craziest stories you could imagine.  Love art (yes, I draw too) music, and getting to meet people with real stories of their own.  Life is too short to not explore every potential, so get at me.  I’d love to read how this story made you feel.  Hope to hear from you soon!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Life Story

By James Green

From childhood up to seven years of age is when a child’s life forces are released into fantasy, memory, and learning capacity.  Looking back on the first seven years of my childhood I can now say I’ve learned more from the raw, brittle lifestyles of the streets than during my early preschool and later high school years.

At the tender age of three, up until my seventh birthday, the reality of dope and its debilitating addiction was all around me.  Day in and day out, I was constantly bombarded by the effects of an illicit narcotic that mysteriously found its way into our community after the uprooting of the Panthers movement.

Whenever my mother would send us off to school, every three or four flights down the stairway we had to say, “Excuse me, Mister,” or “Excuse me, Miss,” because the hallway steps would be filled with dope fiends either using or in an unresponsive, head-downward nod, with a bloody needle lodged into his or her arm.  Some mornings I’d actually close my eyes and walk down the stairs to go outside and play.

Even though we were poor and lived in a housing project our mother always showered us with love.  She made sure we were properly clothed, fed, and lived in a clean apartment.  Unlike many of the friends I met during preschool whose mother or father were hooked on dope, I’d never imagined such a drug culture being so pervasive until I was invited to a few of my preschool friends’ houses.

Coming of age during a heroin epidemic.  At three or four years old, I could not see the full impact of dope in my community, although I saw various individuals on it, and knew something about them wasn’t right.  I guess, as a growing child, our brains spare us the ability to comprehend such harsh realities all at once.

But after my seventh birthday I became more aware and susceptible towards the reality of things around me.  My childish fantasies and fairytale imaginations began to fade, and a split between ‘me’ and the environment I found myself born into was fully established, revealing its good, bad, and the oh so prevalent ugly.

One bright sunny afternoon after school had let out, I was walking home and picked up a few small pebbles, tossing them into the sky.  Somehow or another, I became so absorbed in how high I was able to propel the stones upward that I hadn’t noticed a parked vehicle with a man inside who’d just finished emptying a needle full of dope into his arm.  There he lay slumped in a coma, dead to the world.

I tossed the last pebble into the skies, unaware of what would happen next.  On its way downward, the stone suddenly cracked the front windshield, startling the dope addict out of his drug-induced slumber.  I heard a car door slam, and saw a tall man walking towards me, wide-eyed, in a hurrying manner saying, “Come here, son, I got something for you.  Here you go, I got money, for you!”

My childlike innocence led me to believe that a kind person simply wanted to give me something, not knowing I’d just fractured a window and abruptly interfered with someone’s high.  I proceeded to walk towards him and quickly observed a strange rubber cord tightly wrapped around his upper left arm, where blood profusely poured down to his fingertips.

When he saw how fearful I’d become, after seeing blood trickle down his arm, the addict charged at me with a syringe he’d hid in his right hand all the while. I took off screaming, running as fast as I could, but the deranged fiend seemed to gain momentum, getting close enough that I felt his outstretched hand desperately grab at my book bag, saying “I’m a get you, catch you, you gonna die.”  

His threat made me run even faster.  I begged God not to let this man kill me.  Somehow or another, he began to gasp, wheeze and slow down to catch his breath.  I took a glance backward and noticed the man bent over, both hands on his knees, panting as if he yearned for breath.

I was frightened, traumatized, and absolutely puzzled as to why something like this would happen to me.  I was glad he’d stopped chasing me.  But, after catching my breath, after running such a long distance from school and home, it dawned on me that I was lost.  As I walked around aimlessly, trying to find my way home, I heard a loud screeching noise and, to my panic, it was the addict driving directly beside me.

Stopped at a red light, the ill-tempered fidgety, hostile user, rolled down the passenger side window yelling, “As soon as this light turn green, you little bastard.”  I started to cry as a last-ditch effort, seeking sympathy. But all I saw was a lit cigarette stuck to his parched lower lip, a cruel and grim look of disgust staring back at me.

This time I threw my backpack into a shrub and commenced to run opposite the traffic, giving me time to get farther away from this noxious heroin addict.  The cluster of vehicles saved my life. Looking back as I continued to run, I could see his frustration with the stopped traffic.  I hoped the nightmare had come to its end.

Being lost took its toll also, the trauma and confusion of walking for hours and not knowing where you’re going, especially as a child.  But something deep within me wouldn’t allow me to break down, nor give up hope in finding my way home.

Sure enough, I noticed a building located near my house and continued the line of travel until I got closer to our project.  Worried yet anxious to see my family prompted me to jog a little, and to my surprise I spotted my mother from a distance talking to some police officers.  I screamed out, “Mommmm!”  She quickly turned after hearing the voice of her only son, and ran toward me with open arms.  Her eyes said so much: Had someone hurt my son?  He’s not dead, thank God!  Where were you, boy?  Her kind and tense embrace spoke volumes.  In her arms I truly felt safe.

After a moment of silence and tears of joy, fused with a protective hug, Mom gently released me from her bosom, kneeled down and whispered, “I prayed for you, James, and God was with you.”  She then turned to the police, and said, “Officers, it’s my son.”  

They replied, “If you wish to further report anything, Miss, call us.”  

She said, “Okay, sir.”  We then walked home, and I took a shower. She fed me, and we sat on the couch and talked.  When she asked, “James… tell me what happened to you, baby?” I explained everything to her and my two sisters who listened with wide-eyed suspense. You could sense them envisioning themselves in my shoes, wondering how, or what they would’ve done under such circumstances.  After telling the whole story, my oldest sister who watched over us when mom wasn’t there, began to treat me a lot different.  She felt sorry for me and the trauma I suffered at the hands of an emotionally disturbed junkie.  My other sister saw me simply as her brave and courageous little brother.

Mom notified the school principal the next morning to explain what had happened.  They agreed with her decision to keep me from walking to school for at least three days, out of fear the junkie may return and something worse might happen.  I didn’t want to stay home. I loved school so much that I begged to return, but she wasn’t having that, so I had to suck it up.  My desire to get back to school was actually out of love for my teachers and friends who I’d met from different parts of the housing projects.  I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade when that ordeal occurred.  After returning, the teachers gave me a warm welcome, and used my situation as a teachable moment.

My sisters were told to guard over me, before, during, and after school, as a result of what happened.  They obeyed Mom’s orders to a T, like little bodyguards.  I couldn’t go anywhere without their consent.  To be honest, I became somewhat frustrated by their over-protective nature.  But now, looking back, I notice it was out of pure love for my life, safety, and wellbeing.

My sisters possessed a strong and profound love for me, one that transcended just being a baby brother.  They loved me more than I loved myself, I believe. They taught me so much, their loving discipline helping to shape and mold certain elements of my character.  After a month or so, they began to ease up on me a bit, once they saw that I had met a couple of friends who were constantly with me on a regular basis.

Tom and Jerry were two friends I’d hit it off with automatically.  Like kindred spirits, we loved football and basketball on the same intense level.  After school we would play for hours in the back of our housing project.  We had the same taste in rap music, but somewhat different in girls.  Other than that, we were alike.

We’d become inseparable, during school, recess, lunch, my house, you name it.  But what puzzled me most was that I’d never been to their home.  My mother didn’t mind though.  She was just happy I had befriended two companions who’d faithfully pick me up for school.  But then I noticed they would show up earlier than usual, just in time for breakfast.  Mom would then cook for me, Tom, and Jerry before leaving for school.

Tom and Jerry never mentioned their parents around me.  I tried to spark conversation about them, but they wouldn’t give in.  So, one day I thought I’d ask them to take me to see their mom and pop, but this time I wasn’t taking no for an answer.  They hesitated, glanced at one another, and reluctantly said, “Come on, man.” I was happy; they weren’t.

We headed toward a high rise building located at 11th St.  The elevators didn’t work, so we walked the stairs.  Tom (the youngest brother) reached out for Jerry’s hand because the stairways were pitch black.  You could barely see anything; all we had was our voices to guide us through.  Jerry took the lead, followed by Tom and me, “Come on ya’ll,” he yelled.  We began to run up the dark stairs as fast as possible.  “Don’t stop, run, run!” shouted Jerry.

The first flight of stairs we’d run up was littered with cans, broken liquor bottles, bags of trash and garbage tossed on the ground.  Farther upstairs I had to cover my nostrils, because the passageway reeked: a foul mixture of urine, feces, and some other unidentifiable smells that gave me an instant headache.

I heard voices bickering, shouting, cursing at one another, doors slamming, opening, closing, babies crying, televisions and radios blaring, all occurring at the same time, like some sort of chaotic symphony.  Finally, we reached the fifth floor, emerging from a dark, stench-ridden stairwell into a dimly lit hallway.  I became nauseated; it felt like the hallway was spinning slowly.

“Are you okay, James?” asked Tom. I told him I just felt a little woozy… that’s all.  Midway through the hall I spotted sunlight glimmering through a plastic window fitted into a wooden door barely hanging by the hinges.

Jerry moved the door that partitioned the hallway from the breezeway.  As we moved through, a draft of fresh air made me feel better.  I said “hi” to two ladies and a man who rubbed his arms up and down like he had the chills.  Bad.

The three grownups (neither of whom the brothers knew) stopped directly in front of the same apartment door as us.  Jerry knocked three times on the door, before saying “I don’t think anyone’s home ya’ll, let’s go!”  Then Tom, turning the knob, caused the door to open.

Entering the cloudy smoke-filled living room, both brothers hastily flopped down onto a dingy couch, as if they’d done something wrong by bringing me home with them. I hadn’t sat down yet.  From where I stood, the kitchen area was clearly visible.  I couldn’t help but notice a group of six or more people standing and sitting around the table in a hypnotic state.

One man was fastening a thick black leather belt, roughly, around the head of a dark-skinned bald man who sat calmly in a kitchen chair.  Once the belt had been secured tightly, the man who had fastened it took a dope needle and gently pushed it into a vein protruding from the bald man’s head.  Witnessing the tip of the needle go in left me shaken and frozen in time.

The person who stuck the needle into the man’s head slowly pulled it out and began to unbuckle the belt.  Once it had loosened, the dope fiend’s 250-pound body dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.  There I stood, totally paralyzed, palms sweating, knees shaking, thoughts racing.  Then someone said, “Yo!  Get that damn kid the F-outta here.”

A man came from out of the kitchen, grabbed me, then noticing Tom and Jerry on the couch, yelled, “What the hell?! We told ya’ll about bringing people here!”  He told the brothers to “get up off the couch.”  When they got up, he took and opened the foldaway couch bed, put the three of us inside, and quickly folded it back into a regular couch.

I instantly went into a panic attack. Tom and Jerry were both giggling as if they’d done this before, as a prank or something.  But I’d never been physically encased in a foldout couch, never!  I cried, “Please, mister, please let me outta here. I’m sorry, I won’t bother you again!”  Imagine being a frail seven-year-old kid smashed inside of a couch, a place of complete darkness.  I felt my lungs would suddenly collapse.  I couldn’t move or breathe. 

My mother would call my sisters and me to her bedroom just before our bedtime.  She’d get us all together to pray.  I was very little then, and couldn’t grasp fully the concept of needing God’s help.  But on this day, for the first time, I deeply prayed for God’s intervention.  Jerry stopped laughing, “Be quiet, James.  Somebody’s coming.”  The man who put us in the couch had finally let us out.  “You a cry baby,” he said.  As I wiped my tears, I asked to use the bathroom.

Straightening my shirt and jacket, after being stuffed into the dirty couch, I began walking in the direction of the bathroom, given permission to do so by the man who played the cruel trick on us – or should I say me – because the brothers seemed to think it was funny.

In passing, I briefly glanced into the kitchen area and saw three people kneeling over the body of the man who previously fell from the chair.  Others stood idly by.  While two people pumped his chest, a third individual smacked his face repeatedly.  I didn’t want to believe he was dead, but the person who shoved the dope needle in his head had a serious look on his face, as if he was no longer alive.

Someone took a plastic bag of ice and said, “Rub it between and around his legs, private area, and stomach.”  I didn’t know what to think or feel.  Deeply embarrassed, Jerry said, “Hurry up and use the bathroom so we can go out and play.”  His angry voice shook me out of a state of mental confusion and refocused my attention to using the toilet.

I turned the knob opening the bathroom door and walked in on one of the women I had spoken to before entering Tom and Jerry’s house.  She sat with her buttocks on the border of the porcelain sink, with one foot on the edge of the bathtub.  Her skirt pulled closely up to her stomach, with both legs open she took a shot of heroin into her womb.  I walked in and turned back around.  She said, “I am sorry, go ahead, use the toilet,” and walked past me.

She touched my head and whispered, “I am sorry, honey.”  Her voice was the only sense of humanity I felt throughout the whole shocking ordeal.  No one seemed to care for us.  Their spirits were cold, sort of like zombies, lacking human feeling and emotion.  I believed the sole purpose of those junkies was to shoot dope, in their head, arms, feet, hands, and private parts.

Tom was sitting on the lap of the man who I thought had died.  However, he was revived.  Obviously, I was immediately concerned for Tom, especially after noticing his older brother quietly standing in the doorway, motioning with his hand as a signal for us to leave.  Jerry was a very deep introvert who rarely said much, but in school he was a mathematical genius.

I recall one time he worked out a math equation while the class sat attentive and quiet, eyes glued to him and the chalkboard.  It was a tense moment because the teacher had challenged a student, and that never ever happened in our class.  The teacher was always right.  While Jerry worked on solving the math problem, I spotted four teachers peeking through the blinders at Jerry outdoing our teacher.  He was a whiz in my eyes too. 

I quickly followed Jerry’s lead.  While leaving I looked back for Tom who eventually caught up with us, right before re-entering the filthy stairway.  As we ran back downstairs, I sensed the brothers weren’t themselves.  Neither was I.  Entering the playground was not the same.  Normally we’d run to our special swings laughing, pushing one another.  That day, we were all silent.

Each of us sat on our playground swing emotionally drained.  Jerry, disquieted by his home environment, emitted a melancholy spirit instantly felt by Tom and I.  Not wanting to anger my friends, I said nothing regarding the fact that I hadn’t met their parents.  However, I desired to do so because their sons had shared such caring and giving spirit that I knew their parents had to be just like them.

After hugging the brothers, I headed home. That walk was the longest I’d ever took.  My adolescent mind was further troubled and perplexed as to how I might tell my mother everything that had happened at Tom and Jerry’s, without the risk of losing the first true friends I ever met. But after the previous incident where a dangerous addict chased me, I had to be forthright with my mother about everything I’d experienced this time around.  

She was hanging up clothes when I approached her.  She had the ability to read my face, knowing if I was troubled or not.  “James, what’s the matter?” she asked. We walked into the kitchen and sat down.  

Mom always allowed me the space to express my thoughts.  I revealed everything that occurred at my friends’ house.  She was totally outraged, angry, and immediately wanted to know where they lived and who their parents were.  I explained that I’d never met either parent, while also begging her not to end my friendship with Tom and Jerry.  I also promised, in tears, never to enter their house again.  She fully understood.

My mother foresaw her son’s innocence fading to the level of violent crime, drugs and alcohol, dealing and using, poverty, etc.  So she pulled no punches educating me about street life, the harmful effects of drugs on the mind and body.  She explained that my friends’ house was a “shooting gallery” and most likely their parents were addicts and I should never go inside that house again, ever.

I gave her my word and never went back.  Instead I’d yell up to their fifth-floor apartment window and they would run down to play with me.  Or they’d visit my house instead.

One day after school, Jerry had to stay behind for disciplinary reasons.  He’d gotten mad and smashed two of the classroom windows while fighting another student.  I truly believe he lashed out as a result of his frustrations with living in a drug-ridden environment.  The pressure must have weighed heavy on his mind, body, and soul, even at such a very young age.

Tom and I were left to walk home together without his big brother for the first time.  Tom suggested I go with him to get money from his mother so we could buy candy.  I told him that I couldn’t go up to his house.  He replied, “My mom is at the bar.  She knows I’m coming.”  Taking him at his word, we headed up to Broad Street where he quickly noticed his parents.

“There they go!” said Tom.  The closer we got, I could see his mom and dad both nodding.  His father leaned up against a pole dozing, his head slightly bent, as saliva dribbled down his mouth onto the pavement.  Tom called for his mother who raised her head sluggishly, but slowly, indicating she heard her son’s voice… somewhere.

Tom wasn’t as troubled by his parents’ excessive drug use as his big brother was.  I don’t know, maybe he was young and his love went beyond the obvious.  

While in front of the bar, his mother would snap out of short episodes of nodding, only to utter a few incoherent words that faded back into another sleep-like nod.  “You, my baby,” she muddled.

Her eyes barely opened as she struggled to speak.  Tom asked, “Mom, can I have some money?”  His mother, bent over, slowly straightening her back, began to search for a purse inside of her bra, while shifting through her breast area.  It dawned on me that she was pregnant, over six months.  I felt sad, not only for Tom and Jerry, but for the unborn child.

She pulled out her purse and gave Tom seventy-five cents and boy, was he happy. Back in 1974, three quarters went a long way.  Tom, with his wide, beautiful and joyful smile, said “Hi, Dad.”  I recognized their father now. It was the bald guy who had fallen out of the kitchen chair after having a dope needle injected into his head.  His dad grunted a few words aloud, rubbing his snotty nose, saying “Now go head home, boy. Now!”

A few weeks later, Tom and Jerry’s house was raided by both the housing authorities and police.  They never returned to school.  A rumor spread that the children were hauled off to state orphanages, and their parents were placed in police custody.  I never knew how accurate the rumor was, but I didn’t want to believe it for a long time.  Tom and Jerry were my first true friends.   I looked for them each time I passed their window.  But I never saw them again.

At the age of fourteen, I found myself confounded by all that my eyes were exposed to in the past as a child, both negative and positive.  It is said that from one through seven years of age lie the most crucial stages of a child’s mental development.  So, seven years later, now fourteen, I’d find various previously unknown personality traits that would appear and disappear from the surface of my conscious mind.

There I was, a young black male left to figure out life on the cuff, expected to properly function within a wicked subculture of crime, drug dealing, addiction, violence, and murder. I had no insight into the vicious cycle that revolves around inner-city life.  The Richard Allen Projects at such a young age became my second high school where I experienced another kind of education.

Baring all her raw and gritty realities 24/7, each day she’d faithfully expose the demise of the weak and the rise of the strong.  Like clockwork she became our teacher.  

Me and an elementary school friend named Relly would sit on his steps at the corner of 10th and Brown during 1980 and ‘81. We’d play basketball in front of his house until we were drained.  Then we’d walk to the store called George Taylor’s for something to drink and a honey bun, then head back to Relly’s steps to watch all the action that took place at the corner daily.  Something crazy always happened there.  Junkies, fiends, dealers, prostitute, johns, you name it, they were there 24 hours a day.

Our young minds were exposed to so much drug trafficking, day in and day out.  White people, black people, Hispanics, you name it, they all drove up and down the strip from 11th and Parish, to 10th and Brown in order to cop dope, cocaine, pills, and other drugs.  You’d wonder when the police would even drive around.  That was wishful thinking though, because they were petrified of driving through, let alone going inside Richard Allen Projects during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

We were allowed to sit on the steps in the daytime, but not after the sun went down.  It didn’t matter though, because during the day troublesome things would occur just as violently as they did during the night.  

The first serious drug-related crime we saw was two men who started out with a simple fight. A large crowd hovered around once they began fighting. We could hear them cheering.

“Nig*ah, bet them on Tommy.  Sh*t ni*gah, you ain’t say nothing… Bet it.”  

“Nawww, man!  Hands up – damn punk a*s nig*ah, Ooooooh, watch his upper cut, Tommy.” 

“Okaayyy, that mother fuc*er hit like a bag of bricks, don’t he?” 

Relly and I were two skinny boys that barely got a good glimpse of the action-packed fight, but we did catch one powerful blow Tommy threw that knocked the other fighter towards us.  “Diz-zam!  You see that punch?”  We tried to imitate how Tommy landed his blow, by punching at each other’s faces.  

“Yo, Yo, that ain’t cool, man!”  A light-skinned man in a trench coat had pulled out a gun and walked up behind Tommy as both fighters were throwing down fair and square.

I guess the crowd, including me, and Relly, thought the guy was going to try and hit Tommy over the back of his head.  But the man with the gun gripped Tommy’s shirt and fired three shots into his lower abdomen instead.  Pow! Pow! Pow! Everything stopped.  Tommy’s eyes stared towards the sky as if he saw something above.

I looked up but I saw nothing.  When I turned back to the fight, Tommy was lying on the ground, his cream-colored sweatshirt covered with his dark red blood.  The shooter and the guy Tommy had fought both ran off in the midst of the dispersing crowd.  “That was some rotten crap!  Dem, ni*gah’s petty as hell.”  

Others chimed in “Crazy crap, motherfuc*ers, can’t get a fair fight around here for nuffin!”

As the crowd tapered off, “Good rumble, call the cops.  

“I think somebody did.  Hope he ain’t dead.”  

Me and Relly went inside his house, and no one helped Tommy get up. This young man was a Golden Glove prize-fighter from 1978 to ‘79.  Before he was shot and killed, he was going to fight a professional boxer in two months.

The blood from Tommy’s body left a stain on the concrete right at the foul line of our basketball court, right where he was killed.  It’s strange though, whenever my friends and I would play ball, they would go to the foul line and shoot from the blood-stained spot, as if nothing ever happened there, but my memory always reminded me.

When I’d shoot, I would stand at least five feet away. Out of my respect for Tommy came a wicked jump shot from anywhere outside of that area.  Later, there were rumors that Tommy had fought the guy who’d stolen a drug dealer’s stash of dope hidden underneath a steel trashcan by a tree.

Tommy was given $20, so the story went, to beat the dude up for taking the drugs.  That was the reason given for Tommy’s senseless killing.  But nobody actually knew why he was killed and, to tell you the truth, not many cared.  It was just another day in the Richard Allen Projects.  The dope game did so much damage to an already dilapidated community, destroying the minds and hearts of those who unfortunately had to live there.

It was nothing to enter a project hallway and find a man or woman junkie with one sleeve rolled up, in a deep nod from shooting dope, dead to the world around them. Many individuals used dope to escape the pain, poverty, and social ills that were covertly engineered for that exact effect.

Me and Relly would play pranks on the fiends.  While they were nodding from the dope, we’d open the hallway door real wide, count up to three, then slam it as hard as we could, causing a loud, startling sound that would shock the junkie from his or her stupor.  They’d jump so high, in a panic, then run out the hallway cussing at us as we both ran out of the projects down the street.  Although we had fun times, the reality of crime, drugs, and poverty only worsened year after year.

My mother would buy me and my sisters special outfits for Easter Sunday!  We didn’t attend church much but Easter was the one time we’d all get dressed up.  I recall one Easter Sunday, during service, multiple gunshots rang out directly across from the church we were in.

Hearing gunshots was sort of the norm, but these were the type you’d stop whatever you were doing and drop for cover.  “O’Lord! Everyone hit the floor. Now! In Jesus’s name!”  The reverend screamed from his pulpit.  We all ducked between the pews in silence until the bullets could no longer be heard outside the church.

This was the first time I ever saw the pastor with a look of fear and uncertainty upon his dark-skinned, sweaty face.  I was shocked because the reverend had always exuded power, fearlessness, and full faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and that whatever transpired in this life was in the Lord’s hands.

His dissolving in front of the congregation was a sign that times were changing.  After the police showed up where the shooting took place, the minister told us to bow our heads in prayer.  “Lord, I ask that you bless your children as they leave your house of worship.  They will head out to resume their lives in the midst of such strife and death.  Father, walk with them, protect them, in your name.”  We exited the scene, cars trying to get out of the projects and the police stopping them from leaving.

Having no control over ones immediate environment of poverty, violence, senseless crime and drug wars, I look back at my life and all I've been through, and I can honestly say, I know there's a Just, Orderly, and Merciful Force within, and outside of us All, that maintain, sustain and balances every element of Life on this planet and throughout the Universe.

James Green BB5441
SCI Phoenix
P.O. Box 244
Collegeville, PA19426

My name is James Green,

By the grace of God I've made it thus far, being a man who've never been incarcerated as a juvenile nor an adult. I got caught up inside the War on Drugs & Crime Net casted out in the eighties on black brown & poor white citizen's during the Crack Era!

Again, but by Gods grace, I was able to turn my Solitary Confinement into what I call "Solitary Refinement". I believe one doesn't grow simply by experience, however, experience makes growth possible, growth resorts from contemplation of experience from the uniting of an inner & outer receptivity.

I pray my writings inspire & uplift all readers, for they are bits & pieces of the man I've become.

To find out more, write to or email via

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Gladiator School

By Lars Snow

The whole time I was in county jail, I heard over and over, "Don't go to Clallum Bay, it's a gladiator school." 

Outwardly I exuded this great confidence, a real I don't give a fuck attitude. They haven't seen a real gladiator yet! 

Inwardly, I was scared to death! Sixteen years old, in an adult jail, facing an adult murder charge, with real adults all around me. I was just a kid, I didn't belong there. I still had three more growth spurts before I reached the height I am now. Those people were career criminals and some were actual killers. What would've happen if they found out I wasn't trying kill anybody? I'm not a real killer. I feel bad enough I assaulted a man for his wallet! My world turned upside down - as did my stomach - when I found out that that same man died in the hospital three days later from my actions. It was an accident, I was a fake, a fraud. I didn't mean to kill anybody.

Adapt and overcome, right? I put on a facade, pretended nothing bothered me, practiced my thousand-yard stare in the mirror, and kept quiet. Pretend until the end, that was my motto. Just don't go to Clallum Bay! I wasn't a gladiator. I couldn't even grow a mustache yet. How were these people buying my act? Or were they? Was I as dumb as I've always been told and was falling perfectly into a trap? 

I never found out if there was a trap because my thousand-yard stare had its desired effect. Someone told a guard he felt intimated by me, so I was put in solitary confinement. Which is just big words that meant I was in a cell by myself rather than around a bunch of scary people I didn't want to be around anyway. Two birds and I didn't even have to throw a stone. The only thing left; don't go to Clallum Bay.

So, going through the entrance to Clallum Bay after a four hour prison bus transport, all I could think about was getting beat up, or stabbed, or worse. Getting off the bus and going into a small building where we (the other prisoners and I) were instructed to quickly get undressed and put on clothes they handed us, I got real familiar with what the ceiling looked like. I didn't want to be the one known to have wandering eyes. One of the things I was told in jail was that I would be "tested" right away by someone wanting to fight, to see if I will stand up for myself. Now I'm clothed and entering the main living unit, I see two guys get up and start to walk my way. OK, I thought, here we go. I balled up my fist, said a silent prayer that I wouldn't get beat up too bad, looked right at the bigger one and asked what the fuck was he looking at! He just gave me a weird look and said he was going over to use the phone. 

I was so confused, and relieved. This place was either less hard as what I was lead to believe, or I had my fear hidden perfectly. Either way, I entered the school of gladiators and survived. I am a gladiator.

Lars Snow was released from prison on May 8, 2018.  
He resides in Washington State and works as a licensed tattoo artist.  

Thursday, July 5, 2018


By Keith S. Hampton

I am a Texas criminal defense attorney and I wrote this short story because it seemed the only way to convey the reality of a former client’s ongoing cruel and unusual punishment, the scourge of his own madness that continues to this day. In my view, it took fictionalization to reflect truth. The main character is a real man suffering since an early age from a profound mental illness – schizophrenia, which, in this case, is cruelly alleviated by Nature, then aggravated by us.

I did not explicitly identify him, but it is not a difficult matter for the reader (most especially fellow death penalty lawyers) to determine who he is. I left the real names for the characters. Louis is still alive, but still on death row. Conroy lives as well. But so do the others.

The theme of the story is also true to actual, real-life jurisprudence regarding the subject of the story. Here is the winning brief before the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the subject of this short story. Compare it with the debate that we could have lost.


Beneath a night sky roiling in dark shades of purple, black, and blue with strands of red, yellow, and happier hues, sprinkled with pinpoints of stars that beamed and pulsated urgently, he awoke abruptly. He felt dizzy. He looked up, but one of the harder gusts of wind blew over his face and something – a small airborne creature, perhaps – suddenly slapped itself onto his whole head. In terror, he brushed it back into the wind, then, as best he could, he looked down upon his body.

He saw he wore a dirty blue shirt and blue jeans, both smudged with brown and black splotches. He turned his hands toward his eyes and saw they were blackened with dirt, and his bare feet were no better. His right hip was painful, and his whole body ached. He strained to focus on the landscape, and turned himself on his elbow for a fuller view.

He saw he was on a strange street, somewhere, in a city, it seemed. He was in an alleyway. The sidewalk appeared at first glance lightly yellowed and outlined in black and dark gray, curbed around the streets, including around the sharp angles of so many of the buildings. In the distance, he could barely make out the amber strands of the walkways, ellipses, rectangular trails, circles, outstretched into the horizon.

There were no cars or trucks or vehicles of any kind. The buildings, gigantic and drenched in a drab charcoal, rose so high into the sky, he could not see whether they stopped ascending. A sickening odor hung in the air. He strained to focus on the intersecting street.

If it were a city, it gave off the expected sounds of traffic and movement and lights. Yet the traffic sounded oddly muted, and horns honked with a peculiar electronic buzz. Lights on or near the various sidewalks glared as if they were angry surveillance devices, glowing more brightly as people passed them by. The white lights seemed especially menacing, aggressively beaming themselves in laser-like fashion at the heels of passers-by. But it was the movement of the people that so clearly informed him that he was in a city different from any he had ever known.

The people moved in waves of groups, almost militarily, in how they maneuvered away from him. Individual walkers who did not see him appeared ordinary, indifferent. But the odd behavior of small crowds of people told him he was something especially recognizable in some unfathomable way. He made brief eye contact with some of the ambulators, but each of them without exception reflected a sinister look. The inhabitants of the city plainly regarded him with extreme specificity and hatred, as one might loath a cockroach who was pretending to be a human being.

He found a shadow in a rounded corner, and rolled himself up into it. The buildings knifed the sky in Gothic spires reaching deep into the astral dome, flanked everywhere by huge flying buttresses and, just below them, strange elliptical portals dotting the cityscape. A soft florescent blue within the portals and other windows seemed to beckon him, but he quickly looked away in fear and directed his gaze elsewhere.

His pulse quickened and he opened his eyes fully. Raising himself, he quickly began walking amongst the inhabitants upon one of the available sidewalks, as the moonless night descended like a black cloud, consuming the last faint light of the sun, invading and enveloping the whole sky.

He walked slowly enough to ensure people passed him by. He adopted their razor-perfect posture to blend in, and observed their pace. He could hear the heels of shoes click upon the pavement, which glowed an eerie saffron incandescence, as he focused his attention downward.

Yet the people were not walking, but floating just above the sidewalk. In horror, he watched gliding past him the backs of legs, their movements smooth like skiers: legs in pants, legs in hose, legs naked and bleeding, insect-like legs, legs horrifically sheared, metal legs, blurred legs, and lower portions he knew would be impossible to describe. As they moved along the butternut paths, he saw intermittent explosions of purple and orange radiating from their movements, the odd lights receding from him until they appeared like the stars and planets in the night sky. He threw himself into pockets of shadows created by the looming architecture, darting from one such dark hole to another as he moved along the alien landscape.

He struggled to remember how he had come to be there. Only fleeting, dream-like images, nonsensical and jumbled, appeared in his memory –a shotgun, a woman and child, a vague sense of evil – flashes permeated with dread. He walked on, into the sulfurous night air, following a narrow path into the darkness.

The suddenness of their appearance startled him. They wore suits so dark he could not make them out, even in the soft ambiance of the city lights. Their faces were a ghastly white, and the lower halves of their bodies seemed to disappear in the shadows.

What he could see most clearly were their eyes and teeth. The whites of their eyes were almost blinding, each eye dotted with a tiny iris. They were the eyes of spiders.

Both were grinning with full sets of long teeth jutting out of their mouths, and he could barely make out the lightening-quick movements from their backs, as they shifted about in an apparent effort to hide their muscularity. They spoke in garbled sentences, and he could only make out, “come here, come here, come here” as they moved airily toward him. They were a blend of human and creature, or one mimicking the other, an obscene mock of humanly appearance.

In terror and disgust, he stepped back, hurling himself into a Roman-arched doorway. But there was no door. He fell into the dark entryway, tumbling violently down the long drop of steep stair-steps from the street, as the spider-creatures galloped behind. He fell prone onto the floor and saw instantly two perfectly laced military boots, starkly presented.

He looked up. “Wanna be spider meat?”

A stock man in green fatigues towered over him. The man reached out to him beyond his hand and almost to his elbow. He was a soldier. He pulled him up and, together, they ran. The soldier half-dragged him, running madly through the cavernous underground, past what appeared to be submarine-shaped cars that would appear and disappear, blinking into and out of existence, occasionally disgorging people from its door, who would then scatter fearfully in the manner of fleeing insects.

The man in fatigues ran hard, pulling his companion along with him like an escaping puppeteer dragging his marionette. At last, they came to a small house, its interior decorated with cowboy and military memorabilia. He rested in the lower bunk, while the military man retrieved a chair from the kitchenette and sat down across from the army-style bunk bed. The two ate.

“I am ... Louis,” he said, absent-mindedly.

“I am Ranahan. But people call me Sarge.”

He gave Louis a reassuring look. “I’m here to help,” he said like a Marine on a mission of

“You need some sleep and a bath. You’re safe here.”

Soon, Louis relaxed and drifted into sleep, free from the phantasms of his experience.


When he awoke, Louis was bathed in a lemony light, an overcast dominated by a dimly lit orange globe vainly seeking to penetrate the hazy sky like a sun. Sarge was with him, standing almost at attention. He had a rifle strapped to his back, and carried a shotgun easily in his hand. He peered through a crack in the blinds, then back at Louis.

“Who are these devils?” asked Louis.

“They are devils,” said Sarge, huskily. “And they pursue you in so many forms.”

“But why?”

“Don’t you remember? We killed two of them when they tried to kill your wife and daughter.”

Louis recalled, with sudden illumination. His wife’s own parents had been possessed of these evil beings, and they conspired to kill both her and their young daughter. He remembered how they had inhabited the elderly couple in grotesque mimicry of their true selves, and whispered delightedly about their murderous plans, smacking their lips wickedly at the thought of eating them all. One night, they at last attacked, but Sarge had appeared and repelled them with shotgun blasts to their sternums. They exploded on impact, and the devilish parasites inside were exposed and limp and dying behind the shattered bone of their victims.

“They’re here,” breathed Sarge. “We attack,” he announced, handing an oddly oversized handgun to Louis.

Outside, phantasms, shooting out from the sky and from the ground, in all manner of strange menacing shapes, appeared. Some dipped down against Louis with vicious effort, successive waves of gory assailants, descending rapidly upon them only to be repelled by Sarge. Louis had emptied his gun, and fallen. Eventually, the entities fled, and Sarge carried Louis back into the bunkhouse.

Louis did not climb into his bunk bed, but fell onto the slab floor, breathing exhaustedly, his consciousness never falling fully within the gravity of sleep. He lay in the twilight between his conscious mind and its perilous underworld. His body strained for rest, but his mind still struggled to make sense of his present circumstance.

After a time he could not measure, he opened his eyes in the near perfect darkness of Sarge’s cabin. He could hear a commotion in the back room, and soon heard Sarge’s cry, which seemed like a death-cry, both defiant and submissive. Louis lifted himself weakly. He felt a hand on his arm, and saw the ghastly spider eyes and the feel of so many appendages powerfully wrapping themselves around his body until he at last surrendered, drifting into an engulfing white light.

His eyes were shut, yet the light penetrated beyond his lids, growing in brightness and intensity. The soft slap of skin over eyes did little to prevent the harsh brilliance. He blinked.

He saw he was in a room floored with ugly linoleum, with walls that matched the drabness with the absence of color. A color, meshed in a redundant, stale pattern on the floor appeared as a sort of pale reptilian green. He was restrained in a bed.

He winced at the light from the ceiling, which appeared ordinary, yet struck him as vaguely malevolent. He made out shapes that became two people, a woman and an elderly man, staring at him.

“Hello, Louis,” said the woman with a friendly tone. She waited a moment, then said with concern, 

“Louis, how are you?”

He squinted hard and saw her smiling at him. He shifted his sight to the small old man dressed in medical garb, who was looking at him in a decidedly unpleasant manner. He stood near the door, his mood clearly dark.

“What do you think of this room?” she asked.

“Not much,” said Louis. “The green looks like vomit.”

She laughed softly. “That’s good. I think it looks like that, too, never liked it.”

She and the elderly doctor left, after having quizzed him with the sorts of questions any patient might expect from physicians. He dutifully opened a notebook and, from time to time, jotted notes of some sort. But they returned again and again, Dr. Spectar and Dr. Conroy, over the course of so many weeks that the exchanges became routine and the whole of his circumstance was filled with ordinariness, both dull and, in a way, sublime, free from the horrors of the city.

One morning, near the tropical green of the sprawling yard, Louis said to Dr. Spectar, “I’m feeling much better, the strange world so far behind me.” She smiled broadly. “That’s great, Louis, that’s really great, you’ve come along wonderfully.”

Louis strode forward, and, looking at his feet, asked, “But what happened to Sarge? What
happened to Ranahan?”

Her broad smile recoiled to a disappointed expression, and she glanced intensely and
knowingly at him. “Let’s find out.”

They entered a different entryway from the outside back into his room, into a larger facility filled with desks and offices framed by rectangular doorways and populated with uniformed officers, white-coated doctors, and smartly dressed assistants. Dr. Conroy occupied one office, made obvious by its more central location. Louis glanced about in search of Ranahan.

“Doctor Conroy, Louis wants to know what happened to Sarge,” she said somewhat coldly.

Conroy looked up with a surprised expression which settled into a grim countenance. “Have a seat,” he gestured. Then to himself, he muttered, “Protocol,” as he opened his notebook.

“Louis, what do you remember about Sarge? Try and think back.” Louis briefly closed his eyes, and said, “I remember him, but, like, in angles, sort of.”

Spectar’s eyes lit up. “Do you remember the night of the killing?”

Louis did remember seeing the presence of Sarge. He recalled him, but from an odd perspective, as if he was hovering above the scene. More clearly, he could see Sarge, his bulging biceps and the shotgun he held, the fatigues. “I see Sarge, shooting them.”

Louis hesitated, and then said, “He killed my mother-in-law and father-in-law.” Louis spoke slowly, lost in self-reflection.

Spectar glanced at Conroy. “He’s making a remarkable recovery, don’t you agree?”

“I note the progress,” said Conroy dismissively. He was carrying his notebook in an unusually careful manner, almost as if he were carrying an infant. He held it up, stared at it, and then relaxed his arms. He prepared to write something, and then decided against it.

“Do you know what Sarge was thinking, Louis?” she asked, but Conroy quickly admonished
Louis not to answer. “I think you need to rest, you’ve done quite a lot today.”

Spectar and Conroy walked away and down the hall, leaving Louis to wonder why they were
in such animated discussion about Conroy’s notebook.

As the weeks progressed, Louis replayed the scene in his mind again and again: Sarge with the shotgun, the shots fired in the kitchen of a small suburban home, the man and woman collapsing, and the screams. The screams, he noted, continued after the couple collapsed in death, which made no sense. He began to focus his attention on the screams. At first, they sounded almost like the squealing cries of animals. But as he strained to remember more, the pitch lowered and he could make out that they were human voices.

Conroy was with him, patiently listening to Louis describe his more detailed memories. From a slim vantage point, Louis could see the upper portion of his notepad and read: “Protocol.” “If they are human voices, perhaps they are saying something,” offered Conroy

“Yes,” said Louis, his eyes widening in unspeakable horror. The voices, he now knew, were his wife and child, and his wife was shouting, “Louis! Louis! My God!” His young daughter was wailing hysterically. As he looked down upon Sarge, he traced his body and saw that his arms led to himself. In the distorted reflection of a microwave oven, he glimpsed himself, deranged, and dressed in military clothing, camouflage markings smeared under his eyes, the shotgun in his hand. Louis began to cry heavily and painfully.

Conroy was stone-faced. As Louis convulsed in despair, Conroy involved himself in the notebook, then rose slowly, forcing himself off his chair, and left.

Soon, he reappeared with Spectar. She had an air of hopefulness.

“Louis, I understand you’ve made quite a breakthrough.” She was now comfortably holding Conroy’s notebook in one hand, and Louis’ hand in another.

Louis was still sobbing and did not speak.

“Now, Louis, I need for you to answer some questions for me right now, it’s quite important, can you do that for me?”

Louis could only stare down.

“That’s not helpful,” said Dr. Spectar more sternly. “Do you understand you murdered your wife’s parents?”

Louis nodded, and Dr. Spectar brightened considerably and made a quick mark in the notepad. “Now, 

Louis, this is very important – do you know where you are?”

“In a mental hospital,” he said, dully.

“Well, yes, in a manner of speaking,” she said impatiently. “Do you know what sort of mental hospital?” She rested the notebook against her bosom and waited for his reply with vigilance.

“No,” he said, after an effort.

“Let me help you. You’re in a prison hospital. Tell me, why, Louis, why would you be in a prison hospital?” Her tone grew more demanding, and the tempo of her speech quickened.

After some hesitation, Louis said, “Because I killed them?”

“Yes, excellent,” she said approvingly, forcefully making a mark in the notebook.

Conroy protested. “He doesn’t even recall his trial –”

“Not necessary that he does,” she snapped.

“Louis, do you know what happens to a person who murders?”

The mood between the doctors was tense. Eventually, Louis responded slowly as his own words told him his new nightmare: “They can be put to death.”

“That’s right! That’s right!” Spectar was triumphant, scribbling hard in the notepad. “And
you are now scheduled for execution tomorrow!” Conroy turned away.

“I’ll inform the warden immediately of his restoration,” she said, walking past the glum Conroy.

“This is a hospital –” began Conroy, but Spectar quickly shot back, “It’s a death chamber now. Protocol is satisfied.”

“Isn’t his madness torture enough?” shouted Conroy.

“But he has been restored, doctor,” she replied from down the hall. “He understands. He understands, now.”

She held in her hand Protocol, the checklist for the execution of the insane. It forbade killing a prisoner while in the throes of his insanity – a distasteful spectacle. But if the insane prisoner could know, as any sane man in any way, his impending doom and its general social purpose, the prospect of public embarrassment was avoided, and the execution could then promptly commence, virtually unnoticed. Protocol was the exalted instrument for humane restoration and for civilized execution. The last check marked in Protocol meant the condemned finally understood enough to be killed.

With Spectar’s announcement, the death needle had been prepared. It was large and filled with a bright red liquid. Once injected, the prisoner would appear to fall asleep, but in actuality, he would merely be paralyzed. The drug would slither through his body, scorching every vein and ultimately accumulating in his heart, which would eventually implode quietly inside the body. The prisoner would experience it all and remain fully conscious over his last hour of life, unable to escape his silent internal immolation. To spectators, he would merely appear to be napping. But he would know his execution, alone, in darkness and with cruel intimacy.

For the first hour, Louis’ mood was flat. But he soon began to experience the dread of death swelling within him over the hours, as this deepest fear finally and fully engulfed him. By the time the dawn came, Louis was seeing green ghoulish creatures writhe up from the floor tiles, the bright white light was blaring at him, the walls were detailing with high-pitched giggles new tortures he would endure.

When the doctors returned, they were spider-creatures again. He could not make out the look of frustration on Spectar’s face, which was now a hideous pale white, dotted with two small, cold eyes, blending easily into the blinding overhead light. Conroy appeared to be marking on a baby he held, now mutilating it with a knife.

They left, and Spectar walked down the hallway slowly and in disappointment. Conroy slumped as well. Protocol would begin anew.

Louis found himself amidst a sea of thick dark green grass, nearly the height of any ordinary man. He spied giant trees in distant clearings, clustered in islands. The sun hung low in dawn or dusk, while two moons rose together. The smaller moon brightly reflected both a subtle malevolence and some vague hope, while the other seemed grayer and older, as they hung with intensity in the half-lit sky.

As the grass blew back and forth to the rhythm of the wind, he saw strange hairy creatures racing at him out of the trees against the lemon sky. He ran madly through the teal blades towards a yellow meadow, the snorting and snarling of beasts growing louder as they tore through the massive field of leaves. In time, Sarge would appear and rescue him, and he once more would flee one universe filled with demons and hungry, devouring things, only to arrive at another, emerging, from time to time, to his restoration, permanently ensnared in the inescapable web of Protocol.

Keith S. Hampton

Keith S. Hampton is the only attorney in Texas who has twice removed a death-sentenced inmate through clemency from conservative Republican governors who were not required by the Supreme Court to commute those death sentences. He has twice won the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Lawyer of the Year. He has been repeatedly recognized in Best Lawyers in America and Texas Super Lawyers, and in June, 2018 he won the State Bar of Texas Judge Black Award. He recently won four not guilties by reason of insanity and twelve writ applications on behalf of people like Fran and Dan Keller and the San Antonio Four, all of whom were ultimately exonerated. For more information about him, visit his website at