I felt like I was being swallowed by some huge beast

(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.

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11 Responses to “I felt like I was being swallowed by some huge beast”

  1. Melissa Gallop Says:

    I have been reading your blog, my heart breaks, the justice system is an oxymoron, I have been in my fair, albiet small amount of trouble with the law, it has ruined my life, though i am not behind bars. Australia is not as severe as America in its legal penalties. How do you cope?
    I have not seen a recent blog, ( I hope you are still with us)how long was your stay for? Did they finally tell you? Death is no answer! A way to clean the system, a better punishment is life, I cant think of anything worse. Do they expect you after 11 years to not embrace death? I see you dont, but i am sure many more do. Your blog has opened our eyes, thanking god I live in Australia, more the land of the home and the free here me thinks. take care sir, I will continue to think of you, your blogs will haunt me, and if they ever try to bring the death penalty to aus. I will be in the front lines fighting it.
    Yours. Melissa

  2. Françoise Says:

    Thank you, Jose Angel, for this heart-rending account of this kind of mental torture which should not exist anymore.
    As Melissa says, “I hope that you are still with us” ? If it is the case, God bless you too.

  3. Diana Says:

    After reading your story, and finding myself crying midway through…my eyes opened and I realized something…you’re just like me. You made a mistake, as we all have…but that doesn’t make you an evil person…and it doesn’t make your life any less important than mine.

    You should realize that God gave you a second chance because he forgives you…he let you live, because he saw your pain…and he washed you in his love, so that you could live to see another day. In atoning for your sin and asking forgiveness, you have cleansed your soul. Now is the time to start anew.

    God Bless you, and may you live to see the glory of each every new day that is in front of you right now.

  4. Josh Says:

    While I often find myself wondering in this day and age why we still put people to death, I cannot express such words of sorrow for Moreno. He killed a man in cold blood. Ripped apart a family and caused such great sorrow in this world. I find his prose to be quite moving, but what I find most odd is the lack of sympathy by Moreno. He talks about being afraid of God, but if a man ask for forgivness and believes it in his heart than God grants it. It seem that Moreno still has demons he needs to answer to.

  5. william Says:

    Your story is touching but let us not forget the fact that you killed a man with less disregard than the State has afforded you. We all make mistakes but we all are not murderers. We always remember the people that are alive yet seem to forget the victims that were brutally torchured and their lives taken by the same individuals asking for some sort of Reprieve. I have no remorse for a man on death row that has been found guilty of taken a life, because at some point he has put his life above the life of his victim and so should justice put that victim’s life above the life of that person sentenced to death. We are all human with a gift of reasoning and with this reasoning we make choices good or bad. In the end, we must pay one way or another for these choices we have made.

  6. thedebsterus Says:

    I can also agree with the other posts, that yes, its a fascinating concept that we still think those who have taken another should get to live. I don’t hear Moreno talking about his victim in this writing or how sorry he is for his victim’s family and how he thinks about him everyday wishing he could change his behaviors that day.

    The truth of the matter is, murder is becoming too common place in America. Our prisons are overflowing and too many criminals are being put back on the street who have committed serious crimes due to over population in the system. If someone has done the crime, they need to answer to our laws. I often wish other states would follow TX and put in an express lane to end violent offenders lives quicker. Did their victims get 20 years in advance to know when their last day alive would be? I think not…and we all need to think about that.

  7. Katy Says:

    Wow. I just read this in an article on cnn.com and it really made me think about what kind of a country we live in today. It’s easy to distance yourself from cold blooded murders like Moreno- death is justice, a life for a life- but when I read this letter, I almost started to cry. What he did is awful and unforgivable, but I believe that the government should be the bigger person and stop acting like the criminals it murders. There is no question that Jose Moreno should never be allowed out of prison, but killing him- especially in the systematic, chilling way described here- is just wrong. I know that many people, especially whose loved ones have been killed by someone like Moreno, feel that putting these criminals to death is only a small form of justice. I completely understand that view, but when you start to realize that these murderers in the newspapers are people- people who have made terrible mistakes, but people just the same- it seems a lot harder to feel comfortable with putting them to death. Could you be the one to push the needle in? I know that I couldn’t.
    This story has really inspired me to look for ways I can end the cruelty of capitol punishment. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  8. paul Says:

    is life in prison worse theen the death penalty
    i think so , but who am i to judge , as i believe the death penalty is also
    1 degree murder

  9. ohbrandi Says:

    I see no remorse, other than that of how you were affected. I don’t believe in this God you and so many others talk about, but I do believe in personal responsibility. You took a man’s life and though your story evoked emotions when I read it, it was not pity for you. It was disbelief that even now, it’s all about you.

    Good luck, dude.

  10. Stevie Says:

    This is one Hell of a story of redemption. I enjoyed the read and wish him as well as can be expected.

  11. ForestWander Says:

    Moses and Saul of Tarsus were given a stay as well.

    It was a little different but it was a stay for GOD to use them for HIS glory.

    Regardless of what anyone else says, seek GOD and pardon and forgiveness through Jesus.

    HE took more suffering than any death row inmate ever has and He would have done it if it had just been you alone that He was dying for.

    Through the Blood of Jesus you can be saved and God will impute HIS righteousness within you by nothing good that you have done but for HIS son’s name sake.

    God Bless you friend.

    Galatians 2:20
    I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

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