Archive for October, 2009

This is not normal. It really is not.

October 31, 2009

October 15, 2009 | Thursday

IT’S ON PARTICULAR days that I stop to consider the daily nuisances about the day around me as I am doing right now. Sitting on this steel bunk, I could hear the squeaking wheels of the clean clothes cart (well, the clean part s not so true) that was pushed into the cellblock with an eagle-eyed officer in tow. Walking up to each cell door, the officer asks if you need an exchange. Only socks, boxers, jumpsuits and towels are exchanged. However, you’re better off washing your own clothes, even if it is a chore. The reward is knowing that your clothes are indeed cleaned and, besides, personal socks, boxers, T-shirts and gym shorts must be wasted in the sink regardless. The officer went down the line to each cell, asking. I watched him as he went up the stairs to ask men in the seven cells above me on the second tier and then walk back down, escorting the three general-population inmates who pushed the clothes carts off into the next section. I could still hear the squeaking wheels.

It is lunchtime now, and as I look down the walkway I can see the officers who are feeding us lunch on plastic trays, as has been the case for so many years. One officer is holding two pitchers of juice and the other is toting around the tray carrier and metal slot bar used to open the slot on the cell door through which we are handed our tray and served juice. And now two officers have come on the section to escort somebody (a Death Row prisoner) to a scheduled visit with family or a friend who cares about him.

I have just been advised by an officer that my hour of recreation is scheduled and will be coming up soon. I should get ready.

Somehow, we get used to these daily nuisances as one day rolls into the next and it becomes normal to us. This is not normal. It really is not, but I’ve survived it for almost two decades now. I often wonder how, myself, and perhaps it can be summed up in one word: headstrong? Maybe.

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For me, today was good

October 31, 2009

October 12, 2009 | Monday

NO MAIL WILL be either outgoing or incoming today because years ago Christopher Columbus lied his way into history and today is Columbus Day. Not good, actually, it is Monday and hardly an mail could be handed out anyway because a new system has been implemented by the administration and lowly officers can now ask their way into reading prisoners’ mail. This is a violation of federal postal codes, but hey, laws mean nothing when the administration comes up with another variation of a stranglehold in attempting to choke our hope and resolve. Our mail may be delayed, but hope will remain. As strong as ever. Gotta smile about that. Hope. La esperanza sigue. So I am drinking a cup of coffee and reading through a newspaper that sometimes gets passed from cell to cell. It is not current but that does not matter because it’s news and that matters. It’s mental stimulation that matters. It’s an escape into the world at large and sporting events! Speaking of sports, the Dallas Cowboys won yesterday. Heard that on the radio. For those of you who don’t know, Dallas Cowboys rule the sports world. Instead of Columbus Day, today should be Cowboys Day. That’s real.

Monday night

WELL, DEFINITELY NO mail arrived, but the day was good. I was out in the “outside” recreation cage, which is basically a huge box with bars on top, so when it began to rain I was at the right place, at the right time because I love rain. I love its cleansing nature and was lucky enough to be poured on today. 🙂 I know that you probably avoid rain at all costs because it gets you all wet, but that’s the point. Try running around in it like a crazy somebody (carefully, of course). Surrender yourself for just a few minutes and laugh on the rain. It will be good for you. For me, today was good.

The steel door is slamming shut again, and it’s loud. Another night is rolling into tomorrow.

October 19, 2009

October 10, 2009 | Saturday

ANOTHER DAY GOES by in an institutional penitentiary. More precisely, on Texas’ Death Row, Cellblock A, Section C, Cell 30. In this cell, you find me, on this day. It’s a Saturday night and unusually quiet, except for the guards’ doing their normal security rounds, which echo the slamming of steel doors throughout. This, of course, would not be normal to you, as it once was not normal to me. It was in those days when I used to caution myself against becoming institutionalized. It was in those days when I never knew the amount of stress the mind can cope with, nor how easy it is to slip into depression or insanity. Institutionalization will happen to anyone who is incarcerated for prolonged periods of time. I have lost my battle against institutionalization (humongous word!) inn small ways, but gained better understanding of my emotional condition and spiritual self although I do remain a work in progress, human in every sense of the word.

Only yesterday, after an amazing visit with my friend Juana, two guards handcuffed and escorted me back to this cell. For some strange reason, on our way here, one guard simply state to me, “You are not crazy.” I quickly uttered something that came to mind:
In my own way, I think all of us are a little crazy.”

I may say this because I believe that no one of us who lives, breathes and is able to think intelligently is of one mind or one total personality. We constantly change our minds, both immediately and in long-term ways. Call it the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. A chance in our emotional state of mind will likely change our choice from one minute to the next. A change in circumstances will make us somewhat different in 10 years than we feel now.

Today marks 16 years to the day when I was placed in segregation and isolated in an area about the size of a walk-in-closet. All those years ago, on that night, when an older man attempted to have his way with me, I changed from one minute to the next to prevent it and, unfortunately, this ended in tragedy. A sentence of death and 16 years of isolation has been the result so far. In all, it has almost been 20 years since I lost my freedom. The past 16 years I have been segregated and transferred to different maximum-security prisons across the state of Texas. Eleven of those years I have remained on Death Row. I’ve experienced the worst sort of places and have seen men in total despair who gave in to insanity, later mumbling their irrational thoughts to nobody in particular or hurting themselves in way you cannot imagine.

I want to introduce you to a friend whom I lost on the 23rd of January, 2008, José Flores. Despair pushed him into suicide. He was found during the early morning count. Two deep gashes on either side of his throat were the cause of his death, but other wounds that were more telling of how disturbed he had become were deep slashes on his forehead. This is a case in the extreme, although it began as a mild form of craziness.

The steel door is slammed shut again, and it’s loud. Another night is rolling into tomorrow.

Not long ago, my cousin Linda closed a letter to me with this quote: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Gracias, prima.

On my own, I celebrated my birthday

October 16, 2009

October 1, 2009

RECENTLY, AN OLD acquaintance was moved into a cell by where I am located on this cellblock. It has been seven years since we were separated by circumstances and cement walls although we both have remained on Death Row. It seems strange that in only a few months of conversation, we quickly reconnected and caught up on each other’s life. We have a lot in common. Both of us lost our freedom at a very young age and lack experience of the world in general. But when he told me that he has had trouble understanding women, I totally understood what he meant because I share in those types of complications. Some bad, some good. Most hard to comprehend.

Oh, look there! It’s a football. 🙂  Not really, but isn’t it easier to talk about football, dude? Yes, of course, but . . .

He asked me what it felt like to be on Death Watch and to have gotten close to being executed. He wanted to know what it was like to be grazed by “Death’s icy touch.” Hmm… I told him that during those days I kept a journal, which you’ve read and are reading now. I reminded him that I’m still on Death Row and he should realize that he is also. It’s crazy how we do allow ourselves to forget our immediate condition in order to better deal with it.

The night stretched out, as did our conversation, because he asked me if I cold remember my first day in prison. It had been so many years ago and I’ve hardly ever thought about it. I doubted that I could remember too well, but as our conversation continued, scenes of that day began to play through my thoughts. Since I recounted that day on May 28, 1991, I have thought more about it and “felt” what I did back then and because of this, I’ve come to understand myself better today. The 28th day of May 1991, was a day before my birthday. On the night before, I was unable to sleep because along with others who were sentenced to prison, I was told to get myself ready, that we were being transferred to the state penitentiary. I thought that I had just come through the stormiest time of my life after being arrested for a murder that I do not recall, and worse, is that I was manipulated into confessing to it by an investigator named Joe Alvarado.

Alvarado testified in open court that I had volunteered a statement in which I admitted guilt, but that was never true. I was faced with being sent to Death Row and executed (ironic?) if I challenged this accusation. Or plead guilty and accept a life sentence. Knowing that I never would be believed over the testimony of Alvarado, I chose to live and plead guilty to the charges of murder. After having been incarcerated in the county jail for over 10 months, I was now on my way to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where I was to begin serving a life sentence.

I recall feeling uneasy, sad and reluctant to go. My mom came to mind. I realized then that my only support would now be hundreds of miles away and, because of her financial hardship, I had no idea when I would see her again. I truly felt all alone and frightened. Since that night, only in particular instances have I shed tears, but on that night and under the blanket where nobody could see me, I cried. I was a confused teen-age kid.

When morning came, I was escorted to an area where I was shackled. It’s at this point that I withdrew into myself because I hardly recall many details of the drive, however vividly I remember prison tales swirling through my mind and having to unclench my fist repeatedly. My jaw grew sore from being so tense. I do not know that we stopped at another jail and other prisoners were loaded into the bus as we headed north into the state’s prison stronghold, Huntsville.

Eventually, we arrived at the diagnostic unit in Huntsville. I was unshackled and, along with others, led into a building that resembled a bullpen. Holding areas. We went to and through each stage, being searched and leaving behind a bit of dignity and inhibition at every point until, in herds, we found ourselves in a large shower area and stripped of our clothes. We were sprayed with some type of chemicals and minutes later all the shower stalls came on to wash us off.

As we came out of the shower area, each of us was given a towel to dry off with and clothes, along with a pair of boots to wear. We were led down a hallway and told that if we had money, we could now buy hygiene items, stamps to write home with and snacks or general store items. We continued down the hallway and into a holding area next to the cellblock where we would be housed.

The holding area is actually called a “dayroom” and had benches, where we could sit. I stood the whole time while we waited to be escorted to the chow hall for supper. I recall watching others interact, sizing each other up or talking about things that leave me now. It was about their futures, in one way or another. My mouth was closed. My eyes and ears open. In the chow hall, we were only given a few minutes to eat as an officer came by and knocked on the table, signaling that out time was up. That knock has lasted for years, because it became a habit, even among prisoners, to knock as we left the table. In single file, we were escorted back to the cellblock where we were assigned a cell. Even as exhausted as I was, sleep would not come and late that night I sat on the cold steel bunk. I quietly pushed a match into a cupcake that I had bought form the prison store. On my own, I celebrated my birthday and then deliberately extinguished my emotions again. I could not be a kid any longer. On that day I withdrew into myself and unconsciously learned to repress who I had always been in order to survive in prison.

I stayed on that diagnostic unit for a month until my health was evaluated, orientation (a joke) given and whatever passes for classification criteria was reviewed. I was then assigned to a maximum security prison unit.

This was in the summer of 1991. I wonder: do you recall where you were?

Life’s an amazing thing

October 9, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009 | 11:39 p.m.

WELL, ANOTHER DAY is almost past, but before I close my eyes and drift off, I thought to write about something that has been on my mind lately. It’s about life’s purpose. I could have jumped blindly into a choice of belief, although I thought and considered that leap to soar and not fall flat on my face. This has happened before and it was after a very different time of my life and because of my circumstances. When this came about, I turned my eyes to religion, naturally, but I had fallen so far away from God and doubted that he existed. I won’t get too deep with this but these days I find myself wondering about life’s purpose. Life is an amazing thing. My eyes are getting heavy now and I am going to drift off. Creation or evolution? Hmmm.

Football, and a prayer

October 9, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009 | 10:40 a.m.

IT’S ALMOST 11 A.M. and I am on something and waiting for something. I am on my football kick, as it’s football Sunday and I have decided to enjoy the season no matter how hard things may get. I need to keep living my life. The 2007 and 2008 seasons were not much fun as I was anxious about an execution date.

Living is not all about football. However, it serves to remind me not to dwell on the things I cannot change. Football is something I enjoy and I intend to enjoy as many moments that bring me joy.

Writing as a way to socialize does this too!

The other thing I am waiting on is almost here. I believe in the power of positive thoughts and vibes. Prayer. I should tell you about big John. Big John is a chaplain on Death Row. If you saw him and didn’t know that he was a chaplain you would think that he is a Texas Ranger or a warden! I once did. Ha! Big John and his booming voice came by, checking on us and I have had a feeling of dread that I really have not wanted to discuss, but I did ask him if, while at church today, he would ray for me at 11 a.m. And it’s coming up on that time!

Ten minutes later: That was great. Anybody have ideas about what a universal language would be love, a language that could speak to the soul through emotional understanding? Curious. Thanks, Big John.

A sort of crazy normalcy

October 9, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

IT’S A SUNDAY morning on Death Row. A very quiet morning, as you may imagine, due to several reasons. It is very early, the whole cellblock was searched yesterday, as were we, but truly, the quiet is deeper than that. We live in isolation. I have lived in isolation for almost 16 years, so it’s a sort of normalcy for me, and in each mind exists a whole world of its own. But the condemned around me and I share this isolation. After all, we are all the same in our sentence of death.

Although I do not have a definite execution date at the moment, I remain on the cellblock where “Death Watch” is housed, those men who have specific execution days. There are 84 cells in this cellblock where I am housed. However, the cellblock (or row) is divided in half by a huge wall and this side where I am kept is divided into three sections of 14 cells per section. It would be A Section, cells one through 14. B Section would be cells 15 through 28 and C Section is Cells 29 through 42. I am in 30 Cell, C Section. B Section is empty and it serves to separate us from A Section, Death Watch. We do still communicate with men on Death Watch whom we’ve known through the years, though. Where there is a will, there is a way. It’s not very difficult, actually, if one has a voice that carries. You’ve communicated in this manner? We have that in common, then!

A Re-introduction

October 8, 2009

September 25, 2009

HELLO. I HAVE thought over and over again about how I may to re-introduce myself to you all. As I sit here and write today I am more conscious now about what writing a blog is about. I have been incarcerated almost 20 years, so you can imagine how I know about the Internet. I am aware now, too of the number of “you all” who kept up with me when I last wrote this journal. I began this journal because of my impending execution date. I was not sure if the strength would be in me to continue my daily letter writing to friends., although I was sure I wanted them to know what I was going through. I began in ignorance of what a blog was and totally unaware that my plight would garner the attention that it did. I doubt my friends were surprised, though, because they’ve known me for a decade-plus and their shock over the horrendous prison experiences that I considered normal at the time of telling were exasperating to them. “You all” who through walked to the execution chamber know me from that experience – an experience that still makes me shudder at times.

To reintroduce myself I would have had to introduce myself, and I don’t think I ever did that. I apologize. Hi. My name is Rogelio. Roy. And I do not claim to be extraordinary in an sense of the word. In fact, I am like you in the most basic desires, body and spirit.

Some of you have wondered how I got to the point where you found me counting off the days toward my execution date. I began with a short summary of my case history and as I continue pushing my pen around in thought, it occurs to me that maybe I should consider some sort of direction. When I last wrote, it was more about my days and thoughts leading up to my execution, which, fortunately, did not take place. It was a daily journal, but I want to expand on that. I may not write every day. However, I will regularly post day entries about past experiences, future thoughts or things of the now. That thing about a sort of direction? Nope. Only took a minute to consider how confining that could be, and I’ve had enough of that!

If you have only a media-hyped or vague idea of what prison – and a death row experience, in particular — can be like, my life will introduce you to the true experiences and struggle.

We are on a regional lock-down status, with means that this unit, along with a dozen other units in the region, are on lock-down status and are being searched thoroughly. Tomorrow the search on death row begins, although after death row has been searched every day for the past months by a select squad of officers who have become known as “The Shakedown Crew,” nothing is likely to turn up. I doubt that even a bottle of prison wine will be found, as most of the makers have been run out of business by the constant harassment and searches.

I really should get ready for the trespass now, but before I put down this pen, I eagerly welcome you to join me. Instead of daily postings, I will post days as an entry, this being entry No. 1.

Shakedown! Shakedown! What a way to put my pen down, but those words alert everyone that the shakedown crew is about. Now I gotta go hide myself!