Some light, at last



Isabelle Deleze

To answer Valérie’s question, Yes, I was lucky and met Rogelio last Monday, November 17 at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. It was a visit that had been decided on and planned between us a long time ago. I had been preparing myself for this particular visit but how can one ever be prepared to say good-bye to a dear friend in such harrowing circumstances? I thought I was prepared but the closer the date, the stronger I hoped I would be. At least as strong as Rogelio himself appeared to be. And then, strangely, the fact of translating and writing his letters on the French blog helped me. It is difficult to explain but the inner strength that shows through his words reinforced my determination to be there and accompany him, as he wished so. If he were able to survive and make the best of his days under such harsh conditions, as described day after day, I could also be present at his side, listening, comforting, just being there.

I arrived in Texas on Saturday, November 15, stayed at a friend’s home and left to Livingston on Monday morning November 17. We rode with Rogelio’s sister, one of his nephews, three of his nieces and a little baby boy. A family car like many others on the freeway, but amazingly quiet, considering the number of people sitting inside. Each of us lost in one’s own thoughts. At about the same time, two of Rogelio’s brothers were down in South Texas, in Beeville. There at 8 a.m., a hearing would take place where a decision would be made as to whether Rogelio would be granted a stay or not.

Around 8:15, Rogelio’s sister could not help calling one of her brothers with her cellphone to know about the hearing. A very quick conversation in Spanish. I only grasped one word : STAY ! A real outburst of joy in the car! The frightened baby woke up and started crying a bit. His young mom comforted him, I also understood two words “Tio Roy” (uncle Roy). Our driver, another of Rogelio’s nieces stayed very calm (fortunately !) and said “I always knew he would get a stay, I kept calm about it.”

From then on, I do not know how we reached the prison gate. There was a lot of chatter, laughter, kisses and tears too. The guard on duty wrote down the number of persons inside the car, our names, the car’s license plate. The trunk was opened too. We parked the car and walked towards the reception building of the unit. Two adults only were allowed to visit Rogelio, for one or two hours at a time. Then two more other persons would be allowed in. Rogelio’s sister and I were the first ones to enter the prison. Strict controls, body search, verification of our ID card and passport. Rather severe expressions around us, but Rogelio’s sister and I had stars in our eyes because of the most wonderful news we had just heard. We were not sure yet if the same news had travelled to the prison.

Then we walked from one iron door to the other. Each time a lock is closed behind us before another door is unlocked. A long concrete path leads us to the building where the visits take place. A well-kept lawn grows on each side of the alley; all around stand many square blocks of grey concrete houses with long narrow windows, as Rogelio has described them. It is almost sure that many eyes follow us behind those windows. Some men hoping for a visit, some other men wondering who we are or others maybe knowing who we are visiting. Another door to pass through, two more locked doors to go through and then, finally, the large visiting room where soon we will meet with Rogelio. A large hall bordered on each side by about 15 cages closed at the back by an iron door with a wire netting on the upper part. a Plexiglas window separates the cage from the visiting area. On each side of it hangs a telephone, and in front sit two chairs for the visitors. Inside the booth are a metallic stool and a telephone. The guard who is responsible for the visiting room on that day asks us to sit in front of cage No. 30. So we do, waiting impatiently and still in a highly emotional state after the good news we had heard.

Loud rattling noises, boots and keys, a three-guards escort arrives in the hall behind the booth, surrounding Rogelio, whose wrists are handcuffed behind his back He is dressed in white overalls. On his back, two big letters painted in black: D R (death row). Immediately, he looks for us behind the door that a guard unlocks. He comes in; the door is locked behind him. Rogelio squats down and puts his hands in a slot at the bottom of the iron door. From the outside the same guard unbinds his handcuffs. “Free at last”, so to speak! Rogelio gets up again and comes closer to the window, smiles widely and puts both his hands on the Plexiglas against ours. It is the way to say “hello,” an opened hand towards the exterior and another one reaching out to him. Very touching and symbolic.

Such an immense joy to see him again! Also, a great surprise to see him looking so different, with beard and moustache. And, above all, this wonderful news that we are going to share with him real soon. Many smiles. The three of us grab the phones, words in Spanish to his sister, to me it will be “Ca va, Chabela ?” (Everything OK?). Obviously, he is a bit anxious, curious; his sister gives me the great pleasure to tell him of the fantastic news, which I write backwards on the window: Y A T S. Why? This is a way to communicate sometimes rather than saying things aloud. Rogelio looks incredulous and signals to me to write again. I write again: Y A T S. Stay! Big wide smiles in front and behind the Plexiglas. Misty eyes, hands that meet again on the window. The conversation starts immediately, such wonderful moments. So many projects to talk about, the future looks different. Everything seems possible. Rogelio talks and talks, there is so much to say.

He is both surprised and very happy that his journal is so widely read. His wish is to let people in the free world know about the death row inmates’ fate, especially during their last days on Death Watch. He talks of his choices in life that lead him where he is now. Regrets. Rogelio tells us of this gratitude for all the messages that he receives daily, directly or on his blogs. If he can, he will respond personally but his stamps are scarce these days, so he asks me to be his messenger and say “Thank You” to all of you. Your words are like sunrays, the bright light that allow him to move on in the darkness that overwhelms him at times.

Then it is time to share lunch with Rogelio on each side of the Plexiglas. “I’m starving,” he says. We had three paper bags of food brought to him by the guard on duty. They contained sandwiches, a hamburger, a salad, various sorts of chips, fruits, candies, a pecan pie, some chocolate bars, two sodas, all food he was looking forward so much to eating while visiting. His sister and I eat too, although our appetite is a bit lessened by the emotion. This is a rare pleasure for Rogelio to share a meal with someone else. It usually happens during visiting hours or sometimes when inmates share a special meal, they could order at the prison commissary, but each in his own cell.

We decide after the meal to leave him for a while and let two other family members come in but Rogelio, insists that I stay. “You’ve come so far!” My visits are less frequent, of course. His sister leaves the visiting room and one of his nieces comes in. She is very moved to see her Tio Roy, tears fall on her pretty face while she tells him of her life, her baby boy, her companion. She tells him of her affection, her hope to see him free one day. Three hours have gone by so quickly. Too quickly. It is at this moment that a high-ranking officer walks towards us in front of Booth No. 30. He greets us and asks for one of our phones to talk to Rogelio. He tells him that he got a stay! Rogelio’s eyes and mine meet shortly; we both know what it means.  His execution will not take place two days later, Thank God! It also means that the two long days of visits inmates was allowed to prior their execution will be cancelled immediately. In spite of the immense joy, I felt, it came as a shock. I tried to tell the officer where I came from. I talked about special visits allowed to visitors travelling from more than 500 miles (4 hours each day for two days). Nothing helps. The rules are the rules. And I sat there helplessly listening to the dialogue between Rogelio and the officer, who reminds him that he is on Level 3 (one visit of two hours a month only) and, with a very significant gesture, Rogelio is reminded of his beard!

His niece and I are allowed to stay 20 more minutes (until noon, exactly), no other visitor may enter the prison and see him in the meantime. Rogelio’s young niece is crying, I am trying to stay strong, but we are both so sad to leave him that soon and know that no other family member will be able to visit with him on that special day. In December, though Rogelio will be allowed to have one visit of two hours. He reminds us about it himself, seeing how sad we both look. And yet so very happy! Strange mixed emotions that we simply cannot control. The last image we have of him on that very beautiful day is that of a man, his wrists handcuffed behind his back, struggling to keep in his hindered hands two paper bags full of food. Precious food he did not have time to eat and that he is allowed to take back with him. Rogelio’s escort is there, surrounding him. He turns his head towards us, smiling, and walks back to his cell, with the wonderful news in his heart!

Rogelio’s niece and I walk out of the prison and back to the parking lot, where other family members have arrived in the meantime. All are so very happy about the stay he just received! There will be a joyful improvised family party, memories shared and plans made for the next months. This stay is a new hope that we all share with Rogelio. Of course, he was very present among us during this family celebration. We all wrote cards to him. I imagine his joy reading them, thinking of us all together, rejoicing over his stay. Wow! What a fabulous day! We were all so grateful to his legal team, Richard Ellis and Tina Church, to all who wrote, prayed and got involved in any way for his cause. Gratitude.


4 Responses to “Some light, at last”

  1. Tracey from Australia Says:

    Thank you Isabelle for sharing that with us. Reading it through you eyes made me feel like it was the first time I heard he received at stay again. You are both lucky to have such dear and close friends in each other. Best wishes.

  2. Petra Says:

    Isabelle, thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. I’m still trying to understand what death row is like. Rogelio and your blog have certainly helped me get a feeling of what it’s like. Thank you!

  3. K Says:

    Thanks for sharing this moments of that day with us…it was very touching. Thank you!

  4. Isabelle Says:

    Hello dear Buddy 🙂 Here is a message for you from our common friend in San Quentin :”Let him know that this old school warrior wishes him well and to stay strong. Nothing they do can wipe the smile and the free spirit from a good man”. I know it is difficult to stay strong at times Rogelio, after all we are only humans, aren’t we ? But never forget you are not alone, remember your are thought of a lot and loved very much. Got the pictures of your familia ? Hope it brought a smile on your face 🙂 Thinking of you.

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