Archive for October, 2008

I felt like I was being swallowed by some huge beast

October 31, 2008

(Rogelio has asked that I post this letter written by Jose Angel Moreno after he was granted a stay of execution last year. It is a chilling account of what a condemned man goes through on the last day of his life. — JRP)

This letter is to all the friends I left behind on Death Watch: Leonel Rodriguez, Mangy Dogg, Chino Ruiz, K-loc(o), and Gilberto Guadalupe Reyes.

I haven’t been back from death-house two days yet and already you all have found a way to send me a card with all those touching words in it. One would think that I had died over there. But, you know what, fellas? It was real good to hear from you guys.

Maybe I did die over there. The experience was life-changing, even borderline traumatic. The person that left to the Walls Unit on that day is definitely not the same person that came back. You all knew me, who I was, my beliefs (or lack of) and all the crazy things I did. If we could talk, like the many days and nights we did, you all would know for a fact that something happened to Moreno. Since we can’t talk, hence the letter.

OK, imagining that we were all talking again — which is a possibility, especially since I don’t know what kind of “stay” I received or what is happening with my case — all of you would be asking me questions about what it is like at the Walls Unit. So, allow me to assuage your curiosity.

The drive over is less than an hour because I got my stay around 3, and by 4, I was back. When you finally get to the Walls, the transport vehicles are admitted through one gate after another, all the while driving through twists and turns, around huge buildings, like if you’re travelling through a maze. I felt like I was being swallowed by a huge beast. When they finally turn the van off, you are parked right outside the death chamber.

Let me back up a little, because I forgot to tell you what happens here (Polunsky) before you leave.

When your final visit is almost up, the warden (Hirsch) comes to pick you up. From that point on, every officer that has any dealings with you is a sergeant or higher, mostly lieutenants and captains. When you come out of the visiting room, there is a lot of freeworld people there. I didn’t recognize any, except the wardens. From there, you are escorted to a cage where you are searched thoroughly (you know, lift your feet and wiggle your toes, bend over and spread your ass-cheeks, then with the same hands stick your fingers in your mouth and pull your mouth open so they can check your other cheeks!) and given all brand-new clothing and cloth shoes. From there (cage at E-pod) I am escorted back to the front for the metal detector machines. But at that time, I notice that not only is the whole building on lock-down, but they have a full response team all suited up, tucked away in one of the small side hallways, just in case the 20-30 ranking officers and civilians can’t handle the situation. After running both metal detectors over your whole body, you are taken out and to the cramped transport van. The last thing Warden Hirsch says to me is, “Thanks for being a man about all this.”

Now, getting back to the death chamber. Once they get you out of the van and walk you the few feet to the holding area right next to the death chamber, they lock the door and repeat the process of removing the leg irons, belts, handcuffs and hog chain. They strip you right there in front of them (no cage necessary because there’s about 12 built or big rank all around you — a major or two, captains, and lieutenants). After they search you and dress you in their brand-new clothing, they allow you to walk over to the finger-printing booth (two sets of prints) and walk to their holding cell. There’s a new mattress, pillow, sheets and pillowcase. All brand-new. Nothing but first-class treatment. Then you are told by the chaplain (Hart, likely) that we wait for Warden O’Reiley (?). It took about 10 minutes for him to arrive for me, and all during this time there is an officer sitting right in front of your cell and several others in the rest of the room. Off to the side there is a table with all sorts of goodies on it. You know those huge 10-gallon containers they bring our juice/tea to the pods? Well, there’s three of them on the table. One with coffee, one tea, and I think one of juice. Then there’s milk cartons chilling on ice and a BIG silver platter with all sorts of sweets on it: cookies, buns, rolls, pastries, etc.

When the warden shows up, I think he is there to gauge how you are going to behave. He starts off by telling you what is going to happen. At 3 o’clock they will let you walk out of your cell and walk to the next cell where you will be behind a screen so you can visit with your spiritual advisor. The spiritual advisor visit lasts about an hour. Then, at 4, they will bring your last meal. He has a copy of your last meal in his hands and he might ask you something about it, like if you have a lot of food on there (like I did). He might ask if you’re really that hungry? Then he tells you that he is going to leave and you won’t see him no more until 6, when he comes to get you. He will say, “It’s time.” At that point, you will walk out of the cell and directly through that door (you can see it from the cell, it’s only about 10-15 feet), that’s the execution chamber. You will then be placed on the gurney and strapped down. Then two medically trained personnel will stand on each side and inject a catheter into each arm. Then he (warden) will stand behind your head and ask you if you have a last statement. He will give you about two minutes but is flexible, depending on what you are saying. He has two rules: 1) No profanity or cussing, and 2) It must be in English.

Then he tells you that if you get a stay, the chaplain will come inform you. Finally, he asks if you have any questions. It is at this time you are supposed to ask him to use the telephone and smoke cigarettes as per the instructions you will receive from the chaplain the day before. He tells you that the chaplain will provide the cigarettes and that you can call as many people as you want but the person must be in the continental U.S., and all phone calls will stop at 5.

So the warden leaves and I get right on the phone. I get some very sweet tea, a milk, and wait for him to light me a cigarette. The first person I talk to on the phone is my oldest (longest-lasting) friend, Linda. But I wasn’t doing much talking because I was trying to choke down my sobbing. (Sobbing is uncontrollable crying). It was at this point that it all made sense to me and I was more scared than I’ve ever been in my whole life.

Now, let me tell you what made so much sense to me:

Everything I did as a bon voyage, all the letters I wrote, all the parties we had, all the substances I abused and enjoyed at that moment, my special Sho-out show with all my music, my very special visits, my friends on Death Watch, the cigarettes from the chaplain, the treats on that silver platter, my last meal, and even being able to call anyone I want — none of that mattered. I realized that at 5, I had to stop talking on the phone, then in the execution chamber, no one was going to be there with me except some chaplain I didn’t even know (not Lopez or even Vitela). Even if my family could hold me at the moment, I was making this journey by myself. And it wasn’t dying I was so scared of. It was GOD!

Instead of indulging in these materialistic gifts the state of Texas was using to distract me, I should have been on my knees praying. At about 3, the chaplain old me I got a stay, all my privilges immediately got taken away, and I was still reeling from the shock when Michelle Lyons came in and started asking me questions for the media. On the ride back, I realized that I almost died outside the grace of God.

By now, K-loc (and possibly Reyes too) is thinking that I lost it. But Leonel (and maybe Chino), on the other hand, is probably thinking I gained it. There was a lot of people praying for me. San Fernando Cathedral held a mass for me. My cousin works at Incarnate Word and he got the nuns to pray for me. People from all over sent me letters in those last days. Woody, Rivas, and even Big Tex said they were praying for me.

Let’s forget Divine Providence. Leonel, do you remember how you told me that you should quit doing something for your jefita’s sake but it’s hard, because you enjoy it so much? Remember what Donnie Miller said about it? If, at any time in his life, now is when he needs to be clear-headed. He was right! This situation is very important. The last thing we should do is distract ourselves. What we have to do is focus so that we will be prepared and ready because in the end, nothing else matters. Instead of altering your mind, you need to purge it so that you can mediate, contemplate and figure out what it is you need to do so that you can be at peace on the day of your execution. That way you can face reality. Just in case Divine Providence doesn’t come to your rescue.

I will be praying for all of you and I hope that you all start praying for yourselves.

Peace, Moreno.


Rogelio responds to comments

October 29, 2008

Rogelio has asked that I post these responses to some of the comments left regarding his journal entries, as well as messages to various other people. As you can read, he has neither stamps nor envelopes, so he cannot write any letters. — JRP

To the students of St. Michel in Switzerland:

Olivier/Jean-Iudovic: Merci beaucoup. Your moral support is uplifting. Keep well.

Jeremy/Damien: Justice is blind in this country, my friends. Look no further than the current crisis, the ruined lives and the government bailout. 

Revan: My best to you on your graduation in June, 2009!

Mathias: Your kind words are appreciated. Thanks.

Avrelie/Audry: Ironically, the death penalty does exist and in a country that defends human rights? The USA.

Valentin/ Jannis: I miss most  the common hug, a sincere and caring smile. We do as best as we can. Merci.

To others who have commented:

Corrine (Day 35): This place is an oxymoron and it’s just conflicting. I understand the ignorance of it and hope my words show this.

Rhianon (Rogelio, artist): And you know that I love you, too. Always keep this in mind: my love for you will not falter, nor fail. I will always love  you. 

Corrine: (Day 38): It gets difficult at times, but I find things to look forward to. I don’t know where the strength comes from, other than to say that God walks with us. The strength has always been within you.  

Marianne (Rogelio, Artist): Got your letter. We are on lock-down and have no stamps nor envelopes! Your letter brought smiles. I pray that I get a “stay,” Marianne, because I don’t want to miss out on your friendship.

Francoise (Day 28): Thank you for the wonderful poem. HOPE. I had not quite seen it in that light but it makes so much sense. And I thank you for all your kind words and thoughts. You are a lot like Isabelle. Hug her for me? Merci.

Christiane (Day 37): Your words of approval are so welcomed. Thanks for caring. God bless.

Art Taylor (Day 38): Keep me in your prayers, always!

Isabelle: I know what you are going trough, Buddy, and I wish that I could shield you from it. All these years you’ve been so good to me. You have shown me love that I never had nor fully comprehended, but this love has allowed me to grow, become a more complete man. Simply put, I cannot imagine life without you. For all that you are and continue to be, thanks.  Chingos de carino. Me.

Lucky (About Deathwatchjournal): Your letter was so needed. Thanks for the laughs. I am short of stamps and envelopes but will write when I am able. 🙂

Ruth (About Deathwatchjournal): Please tell Margy that I have no stamps and envelopes but will answer her as soon as I can. Thanks. And hello!

Kiki (Days 7, 9, 11, 17): Your comments are well received, welcomed. God will see me through. My foundation is solid and will keep me upright. Thanks for your warm thoughts and kind words.

Paloma (Day 32): It’s comforting to know that all of you have me in your thoughts. Gracias. Aqui sigo fuerte.

Julie Schubert: Received our letter but have no postage to write, but as soon as I am able, I will answer.

Carmen Bitsch: Hola! Got your letters (#4 and #6) but I do not have postage to respond. 😦  We are on lock-down status and they are really stepping on us.

Tabetha: Hey, I’ve got your letter but have no postage nor envelopes to respond. Sorry. As soon as we are given the chance to get some, I will get with you, cool? Alright, have you called Juan?

Adela: I know you read this journal,  m’hita, and just want to tell you that I love you and that I wish things were different. I always remember you as a little girl, when you weren’t but 4 or 5, and I miss those days. Tell everyone — your mom, tios, all — that I love them. Your Tio, Roy.

Voiceless witness

October 27, 2008

The following was written, in French, by a Swiss universitiy student. It was translated into English by her friend, Sonia Menoud:

A title that calls attention. I wish to be anything but a “voiceless witness.” This is why I’m writing to you, dear Rogelio. Since I’ve heard about your fate, there hasn’t been a single day when I haven’t thought of you. Truly.

In my own way, I’ve kept a sort of diary: I wrote down in a notebook the “extraordinary” events which have punctuated my days. These events, I offered them to you, in silence. But the recent reading of Isabelle’s letter, “Autumn letter to Rogelio,” encouraged me to share these moments with you. Here are some of them:


15th October.

After eating with JB (a schoolmate), my sister and I are heading to the sports hall of the University. While my sister is gazing at posters on the walls of the room, a seventy-year old man–short-sized, wearing a black beret, his jacket covering a hunched back—talks to my sister. I told myself: here’s a priest who knows my sister (she plays the organ and is conducting a Church choir. She is acquainted with almost all the Vatican). A priest. Probably. The sports hall is located next to the University chapel, and besides, I noticed on the man’s jacket, at the level of his chest, something that is sparkling: a cross? All the arguments worked in favour of my hypothesis, until I heard the man uttering these words to my sister, “Yes, the girls I’m coaching bought these gloves.”

My hypothetical priest was in fact a boxing coach!! As we say in French, l’habit ne fait pas le moine: el vestido no hace la monja? I smiled.


15th October, still.

I’m studying at the library. The weather outside is beautiful. I can’t concentrate on my readings, and I’m thinking of you, Rogelio. I decide to go out of the library and take a picture with my mobile. For you. It is fall, even though we don’t really see it on the picture (but I know that Isabelle gave you a fine description of our autumns.) Still, this is beautiful. It’s Fribourg. Next time, I’ll take a camera 🙂


16th October.

Today, at the checkout of the supermarket, while I’m paying my yogurt, I realize that I don’t have any spoon. So I ask the checkout assistant for a plastic spoon. She informs me where to find it. Oops, tiny problem: I would have to make my way among the line of people who are behind me, and the task looks difficult. I’m about to give it up when a man, at the very end of the line (so far away that I wonder whether we really are in the same shop J grabs a spoon, hands it to the man in front of him, and so on. I thank each of them, at each intermediary. A litany of thanks for a tiny spoon. Lovely.

In the same way, through a series of intermediaries, your journal has been sent to me, Rogelio. From mouth to ear. Mouths that protest . Who think that your words are more than useful, but necessary. I believe in the power of these continuities.


17th October.

I was supposed to give a lesson of flute to a six-year old boy. I completely forgot. The child came to my place, but I was not there. My sister welcomed him and explained to him that I’d forgotten about the lesson. To what he replied, “Oh, great. I can continue to help my grandmother to arranger her flowers!”

Either the child hates my classes, or he’s gifted as a florist, or perhaps a child is naturally optimistic and knows how to make the best of any situation.

I’d go for the third option, a lesson of life for everybody!


18th October.

I’m spending an evening at home, in front of the fireplace with some friends. We’re learning Lithuanian dances from a …Lithuanian, of course. And we’re making some “vin cuit”: a speciality from here. We boil some pears in a big container during 24 hours, which makes a sort of very dense syrup. It’s delicious!


19th October.

A hiking day in the mountain. I would like you to see the landscape. I’m thinking of you.

And I will always continue to think of you, Rogelio!






New entries

October 25, 2008

I have just posted two new journal entries from Rogelio — JRP

October 15, 2008
Me and my friend Maria from Dallas

Me and my friend Maria from Dallas

October 15, 2008
Me and my beard

Me and my beard

Responses from Rogelio

October 15, 2008

October 14, 2008

I received a letter from Rogelio today. He asked me to post these responses to some of the comments that have been made by readers of this blog. –JRP


Chabela! Nice to red you on the Internet . . . well, sort of :-). Jonathan got the card. Like my beard? Juanski said that he’d grow a beard if you would?! Solidarity, Buddy! Huge grin!


For your words of encouragement, gracias. My hope has yet to dim.


Three words, but they mean a lot: I believe now.


All those exclamation marks . . . you’re doing like Rianon!!!!! Not feeling too well. My feet are sore. I think it’s tumors growing in my ankles. (Insiders’ joke . . . haven’t lost my mind, yet.)


What do you think of my beard? I look like a caveman? You’re just jealous 🙂


Comment ca va, mon amie? I have read your   words and appreciate that you are with me in thought. Merci beaucoup.


My words began to show somebody, anybody, what it’s like to walk in these shoes. I hardly thought it would mean much, as I told your Tio. I am convinced now that it is more than I thought and glad this has bred positive vibes. Your words gave weight to that. Thank you.


If not for your Tio Mumu, you never would have typed this text to me…I wouldn’t be the person I am now. I’m sure that you realize how amazing, how thoughtful and caring your Tio Mumu is, and I should thank you for allowing me to borrow your Tio these past 9 years. I know without a doubt that my life would have turned out differently, more productive, if I had had a Tio Mumu while growing up. He’s a decent and extraordinary person. The thanks go to him for touching all our lives.

Rogelio, Artist

October 13, 2008

Rogelio, Artist 1

October 13, 2008

Ann and Paloma have written about Rogelio’s use of art in his correspondence. Here are examples of his work. They are the front and back of a Christmas post card he sent me. The face he uses here is similar to the emoticons he uses in his correspondence. The caption for the cartoon in the second image reads, “Just walking in your neighborhood.” Note the bar code on the left, with his TDCJ number.


The Last Sequence: Suffocation is a horrible feeling

October 11, 2008

(This article was written by Rogelio last year. He refers to it in Day 34 of his Journal — JRP)

SODIUM THIOPENTAL. Pancuronium Bromide. Potassium Chloride. Most Americans never have to think of these alphabetical soup words. But I do, for these are the chemicals administered to those executed in Texas and are just as lethal as a bowl of poisonous soup. These tongue-twisting chemicals will be death to me as soon as the State of Texas has its way.

 Because I would rather know the truth and be informed of the method and sequence of the final moments of my life, I look these words over, hoping to uncover what they truly mean. I wonder how it will feel, when they do their job, and what words will escape my lips.

I cannot say what thoughts will dominate the moment. Right now, however, Sodium Thiopental comes to mind. An ultra short-acting barbiturate, it is the first chemical used in the sequence of execution. Once it is administered, I will lose consciousness.

Medically, Sodium Thiopental is used to induce, rather than maintain, anesthesia during surgery. Unless it somehow fails, it will render me unconscious and I will be unaware of my surroundings. Pancuronium Bromide, the second lethal chemical to enter my bloodstream, will paralyze my muscles entirely and collapse my respiratory system. My body will sense the flood of chemicals and struggle, helplessly, to fight them off. Gasping several times, my lungs will collapse. I will be in the process of dying. Potassium Chloride, the final and fatal lethal chemical to be administered, will cause a massive heart attack. It will take only nine minutes for these chemicals to perform their assigned tasks. When they do, I will then be pronounced dead.

I have sat and thought about this sequence of events that will lead to the end of me, physically. I’ve also considered what I could possibly experience during every stage of the execution. What I know is that on my appointed day of execution, I will be strapped to the gurney in Texas’ death chamber. The sequence will begin and whatever thoughts will be racing through my mind should slowly fade as the first chemicals take effect and I lose consciousness.

If you could be there to witness this, I would appear to you to be peacefully asleep. Looks, however, can be deceiving. Recently, I read a sworn statement by Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist, concerning these chemicals. He stated Sodium Thiopental will crystallize once it comes into contact with pancuronium bromide. What this means is that I would suddenly wake as the paralyzing chemical takes effect. Awake, I will be fully aware yet unable to express the agony my body must surely be feeling.

Suffocation is a horrible feeling. Imagine yourself desperately trying to breathe while unable to even budge. It would appear to you that I am peacefully asleep, but the moment that I gasp, my body will be frantically fighting for survival. For me, time will take on the appearance of nonexistence.

A slow, torturous execution will be unfolding before your unknowing eyes, if you can still see me peacefully asleep. Lastly, and not uncruelly, the third chemical activates all the nerve fibers in the veins, delivering the maximum amount of pain possible, as it firmly takes hold of my heart and stops it completely.

This, then, is the truth of it: when the time comes, these will be the final sequence of events in this condemned man’s life. 

— Rogelio Reyes Cannady