I'm definitely on the mend...I still have a slight cough that is more irritating than anything, and I have a mild headache – nothing like the one I had a few days ago that literally had my eyeballs throbbing! I feel really fortunate that I got through having COVID, and believe me, when people say,
“Oh, it's just like the 'flu...”
No, it's not!! I've had the 'flu almost every year and this is NOTHING like the 'flu.
The sad news in all of this is that the guy downstairs in 63 cell went to the hospital late Thursday night, and hasn't been back since. He goes by the nick name, 'Tree', and already has a slew of medical issues, including diabetes.
What gets me in all of this is how – as of today – they're still trying to sweep all of this under the rug and fudge the numbers. They've done zero testing since Tree left to go to the hospital. They passed out some cleaning supplies and even came around FINALLY spraying vital oxide everywhere, but that's been it...Nothing else has changed. I was certain that once Tree left in an ambulance, we might've been put on quarantine. The guards and ranking officers can walk around and hear ¾ of the pod coughing and moaning in pain. It's ridiculous...It has me really angry with how all of this is being handled.
I shouldn't be surprised though...This has been how the virus has been handled in Texas by our wonderful Governor. All that being said, I'm just really grateful to have gotten through it and I will be even more careful going forward.
I still have myself on a 'self-quarentine' and don't plan on coming out of my cell until Tuesday, when I should have a legal phone call scheduled. And I'm going to give it a full 14 days before I go back to having recreation.
Otherwise, the weekend has been uneventful. I'm keeping busy as best I can, and I'm looking forward to a new week.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
January 25th, 2021
Now that we are in the midst of a full-on COVID outbreak on 12 Building, suddenly the guards and administration want to start taking the virus seriously again. Well, they can't put that genie back in the bottle because it's spreading like wild fire back here.
On one hand, I feel very blessed that I'm on the mend. On the other hand, I'm very upset that it even got to this point. The guy, 'Tree', is still in the hospital and we don't know what has happened and haven't even had an update. My neighbour had a phone call over the weekend, and he told his friend about it, and the only thing that worries me about that is his wife reading on Facebook that her husband is in the hospital...I can only imagine the panic that would cause, and I pray everything turns out okay for them.
Anyways, today they came around spraying vital oxide and the administration are making the guards wear N95 masks, but it does little to guard others when they don't wear it properly and pull the mask down to their chins or below their noses. Then, some of the inmates here are going out to rec and not wearing their masks either, and saying things like,
“If I haven't gotten it by now, I'm not going to get it.”
You know, I can't help but think back to when I was on B-pod and from my cell I could see the front of the prison and the guards coming and going. Any number would be walking around in clusters, as well as not wearing their masks until they walked into the very first building. I firmly believe I was moved to A-pod so that I couldn't write about things like that, and here we are facing what I predicted would happen.
As I write this in the evening time, they're short staffed and only 8 guards showed up to work on 12 Building for second shift. The first shift guards are still here until they can find people to relieve them on duty. Just craziness all around...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 3rd, 2021
I went to bed last night around 10.30pm, and was too tired to stay up and wait on the mail. We had our COVID testing last night and they are doing mass testing for the entire unit. I don't really know how long this virus stays in a person's body so I'm expecting that I'll test positive, especially since I still have a nagging cough. I mean, otherwise, I feel fine.
It's going to be interesting to see how bad the outbreak is. As of yesterday, the warden gave a statement on the prison radio station and said there were only 25 confirmed cases of COVID...But you have to keep in mind that this was during their random spot testing. They didn't test the neighbors of the confirmed, or any other guys on the sections. So, you have to know there's going to be a lot more coming up positive. It's simple math.
When they came to our doors, what I found a bit troubling is that it wasn't medical personnel doing the testing, but instead, guards. Now, I could be wrong here, but I don't think these guards are in any kind of way trained, and probably shouldn't be handling anything to do with medical. That just doesn't feel right to me. If you were going to Walmart and the greeter at the front door said,
“Howdy! Welcome to Walmart! I'll have to test you for COVID before you come in...”
You'd probably ask if they were a nurse or some other professionally trained medical person.
“Oh no, sweetie...I'm just a little old door greeter!”
I bet you'd turn right round and head back to your car. Just sayin'...
So, they come to our door, stick a q-tip thingy through the screen of our door and tell us to grab it, cough into our elbow three times, then run the q-tip around our mouth and gums, and then we put it back through the screen and they put into a vial with some sort of solution in it. They screw the cap on and put it into a biohazard bag with our information on it, and that's that. All done.
In other news...Yesterday we had sack meals, but today we're having regular trays. That's pretty much been the day – no rec, no showers, and just trapped in our cells.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 11th, 2021
I begin this entry with a heavy heart...We lost someone from death row due to COVID complications. His name was Jorge Villanueva and he lived downstairs along with some of the disabled men on that run. He left to go to the hospital (at the time he was sick, but we had not yet known that we were in the middle of a COVID outbreak) for a liver biopsy, as they believed he had cancer at the time. He had 'flu like symptoms at the time and well, that turned out to be COVID and we learned that he passed just a couple of days ago. Very sad...
As far as I know, on D/E/F sections, no one has tested positive for COVID and the remaining guys that were positive at the time of the testing were moved, scatter shot-like, to the other side of the pod in A/B/C sections. It's been a mess with the way they've been doing everything and it's clear that they had no real plan in place when the outbreak hit. In fact, one Lieutenant said as he passed through,
“We're trying to figure this out as we go.”
My neighbor was dumbfounded, and told me,
“They've been dealing with a pandemic for a year now, and they're trying to figure this out as they go? No wonder all of us were sick and it took weeks to start doing something about it.”
In fact, until Tree had gone to hospital for what turned out to be COVID, they had done nothing at that point! Guards were coming and going from work when they were sick, guys back here were coughing and hacking, and they just went on 'business as usual.' I shouldn't be surprised at all of this, but I am...I always am.
So, as it stands, we're still on a quarantine lockdown, and it will remain that way for at least another week and a half. We had hoped that we'd go to commissary but they've returned our orders. Showers are 3 times per week and we're receiving sack meals, although for lunch yesterday we did have a hot tray. Last night we received some real milk in a carton, and that was really good! I can't understand why they only give us real milk on a COVID lockdown...Why not every day, regardless of an outbreak?
We went from warm weather the past couple of days, to a really nice cold front. What has me most excited about this current cold front is the latest weather report which says that we could possibly have snow- SNOW! Yes, snow could be coming by Monday! That would be really nice to see coming down outside of my window.
That's been pretty much it for the past two days...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
February 16th, 2021
As I write this, Texas is experiencing one of its deepest freezes it has ever experienced in recorded history. Over the weekend the reports had been hyping up the coming winter storm, and whilst Livingston did get some snow and ice, I don't think it was nearly as much as neighboring towns and cities. It was quite lovely though....To wake up to see the grass and road that runs behind the building, covered in white dust!
I will say this...It's COLD!!!! Having lived in Kentucky I know cold, but we're at 9 degrees F right now and as I type this out I'm freezing. Yesterday was bad, but with a lot of cloud cover it wasn't nearly as freezing as it is right now. I have thermals on, two pairs of socks, clothing on top of that, and a head cap. My cell is colder than other cells for several reasons: I live in one of four corner cells on the building...I have the back wall to contend with, and then, the pipe chase wall where all of the plumbing is accessed via the outside of the building. Other cells have their pipe chase inside of the building, so, the cold seeps into the pipe chase of my cell and slips through the cracks and crevices. No amount of heat (when it's this cold) is doing any good. I was freezing last night when I went to bed, and even though my blanket does keep me relatively warm, when it gets to BELOW ZERO over night, well, I might as well be using a sheet!
I woke up at 6.55am when the night time guards (yes, they are still here!) were passing out breakfast sacks. I got up, got dressed, worked out...thinking I would have to have a bird bath. To my surprise the guards started doing showers and said they would run them until 9.30am. Then, the night time guards will leave to go to sleep in their cars as the Livingston Roads are closed. For the past couple of days, the guards that have been here since the winter storm started, have been trapped and not allowed to leave the unit. That really has to suck!
The thing is, they're still going to be trapped because another winter storm is supposed to be moving in this afternoon, with sleet and snow predicted. We've got two more days of extreme cold and then on the weekend it's expected to warm back up.
Something funny happened on the prison radio station last night. So, at 6pm each evening, they play the 'Evening Audio Movie' where they'll play a movie for the prisoners that don't have access to television – death row/ad seg/closed custody. Now, I've been listening to movies since I've been here, and listening to movies requires a bit of exercising of the imagination muscle. You have to allow your imagination to take over and fill in the blanks for what you can't see. You do that from sound cues like foot steps, doors closing, things banging, cars running or explosions and gun fights. When I listen to a movie my surroundings disappear and I can literally 'see' a movie in my mind. The really good movies are when an actor can emote 'body language' through their dialogue. It's not difficult for me to follow.
Well, last night, the movie 'Anna' was on, and the prison DJ said he was going to narrate the film as it played. Now, at first I thought he was doing that because the first part of the movie was in Russian and admittedly, it was difficult to follow. But as the movie continued the DJ would say – over the film - “Anna is walking down a hall...She turns to the left and now she's walking again. Okay, now Anna just opened a door and there's a KGB guy. He's talking to her, looking her body up and down. He wants her...Okay, now Anna grabs her gun and she shoots someone walking towards her...”
He does this throughout the entire movie!!!!! It was driving me nuts. I can appreciate what he was doing and the intent behind it. I'm sure some guy told him,
“Hey man, I don't know what is going on in these movies you're playing.”
So, I wrote a little note to send to the DJ and said, basically, that it was distracting and part of the magic of listening to a movie is allowing the imagination to take over. I'm just one voice, and if there's a majority that wants that, then it's cool. But I had to express my opinion (ha ha). I did, however hear others guys complaining about it as well.
That being said, “Anna” is a really good spy thriller with lots of twists and turns. The night before – and narrative free, I should add, we heard 'The Old Guard' which was a fairly decent movie as well. That movie is based on a comic book series by the great and super smart Greg Rucka – I highly recommend his Lazarus series.
Before the freeze, we were scheduled to be off this quarantine lockdown by next Monday. I hope that still stands as now the number of COVID cases are beginning to drop. I think the official number of confirmed cases was 38, maybe 40 cases, but now it's in the 20s. So, that's good! Now let's just hope they'll stop letting sick guards come to work in the future...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 23rd, 2021
Another day on COVID lockdown. I think we have to go until last week of March. What worries a lot of us is that it's also about time for a Spring shakedown/lockdown that they do each year, so there's the possibility that right after the COVID lockdown, there'll be a shakedown/lockdown on its heels. I hate being trapped in this cell and I need to get out and get some fresh air and sunshine. We pretty much lost our spring and summer due to COVID last year, so I hope we don't have a repeat of that this year.
The weekend was fairly boring, although there was some good music programs on the prison radio station, as well as some new movies to listen to. Friday night they played an entire night of albums – Tool, Sound Garden, STP, White Zombie, Nine Inch Nails, Prodigy...It was pretty cool. On Saturday night they played the horror movie, 'The Grudge' and then a Pearl Jam and Ben Harper concert until 10pm.
On Sunday I listened to some Star Wars and then the night time movie was a new movie called, 'Killerman' which was a crime drama with a tonne of twists and turns. It was pretty cool I'd have loved to actually see that movie.
I've been keeping busy writing some silly stories about my misadventures at boarding school...I want it to be funny and light-hearted. There was a lot of psychological trauma from attending that school, but there was also some really funny and crazy moments. That's what the memoir will be about. So, when I woke up this morning I forced myself to exercise and then clean up and get to work. I finished the first story and will continue on, trying to do one story a day.
Otherwise, things are moving along in this place...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 28th, 2021
A very Happy Passover! It's Sunday morning, a bit humid and grey, but I'm feeling okay. I had a really wonderful Seder with the guys around me. A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I'd lead it because the guys didn't really know what to do, so I agreed.
A growing tradition amongst Christians is to honor Passover, and because I'm the sole Jewish guy on my section, I was asked to lead it. I thought it was an honor...Well, during our talks of preparations and what I wanted to do and what we'd improvise for certain items, one of my friends, Big Will, said he wanted to read the Haggadah. So, what we worked out is he'd lead the Seder, I'd guide him and recite the Hebrew prayers. I found myself becoming a bit emotional throughout the service, one, because we had about 7 guys participating, and two, in that moment I felt close to G-d and a flood of childhood memories came rushing back to me. I had a really good time and so did the other guys participating. It was an honor for me.
What really impressed me is that as we were doing this, the entire half of this pod was absolutely quiet and respectful. Afterwards I said,
“Leshanah haba'ah be-rushalayim- next year in Jerusalem!” the guys were happy and celebrating. It was probably one of the coolest things I've experienced since being here...Especially in a time when things have been so stressful, depressing, and tense. We could actually RELAX and enjoy ourselves.
So, in the past few days it's been okay. On Thursday I had a really good call with my attorneys. Nothing new is really happening, as yet, so we just caught up with each other and talked about how they're doing visits etc. It was agreed that they wanted to wait until it was safe and they'd been vaccinated before they start making trips up to the unit to see clients. My girlfriend had just mentioned something similar about how crazy it is to be opening up visits when things aren't safe, and even guards haven't been vaccinated. The danger is that visitors can catch it from guards, and take it home to their friends and families...We don't even know when we'll be off this current COVID lockdown.
Today I've been mostly kicking back. I've been listening to the movies, 'Avengers' and 'Infinity War' and 'End Game'. Really cool movies, and pretty funny too.
I'm in a fairly good mood...just getting through the days as best I can.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 29th 2021
Today has been pure and unadulterated insanity! It actually started late last night when the guard woke us up saying we had to hurry and make our commissary list out because we'd be allowed to spend $30 plus stamps.. After that I went back to sleep and woke up to craziness, further pushed into chaos as commissary showed up super early. It's weird eating ice cream at 7.30am! Your stomach is like, “Whoa...what's going on here?”
I think we might be getting off this lockdown in another day or so...On the prison radio station they said that starting on Tuesday, for guys in population, they'd be broadcasting church services for various faiths on the unit TV channel, from Tuesday until Thursday. I'm assuming they'll then give them the secular content like movies, for the weekends. It's cool they have that. As of right now, general population (outside of the trustees) are on lockdown and cannot watch television. They're only allowed to use the phones.
It went from grey and humid to clear and dry today. Absolutely beautiful! Every day I've been looking at the grass outside becoming greener, and watching the trees bud. I imagine that the tree I can see best will be fully leaved in two more weeks...It's really coming to life.
Something I forgot to mention yesterday was that on Friday I received kind of packet in the mail about changes to the Law Of Parties, and the push to pass a bill in the Texas legislation. The bill would be great only that it's not retroactive so that those lobbying for it – mainly family members of people like Jeff Wood – would be left dealing with the same problem that they're lobbying against...However, one lawyer did write a very good article in February, called,
'Inviting Common Sense Into the Texas Law of Parties Doctrine.' by Amanda Marzullo.
You should be able to find it easily online. I recommend reading the article and thinking about the issue because the California Legislation has already made changes to their Felony Murder rule...
Something interesting that is going on in TDCJ is they're changing the way they refer to prisoners, moving away from the term 'Offender' to either 'Client' or 'Inmate'. Honestly, I'd rather be called 'Inmate' or 'Client' than 'Offender'. There are so many assumptions that come with that word, plus, when a prisoner gets out of TDCJ it's demoralising to have an ID card that says, 'Offender' until they can get a real ID or driver's licence. So, things are beginning to change – a small change is better than no change!
I've been spending most of the day working on my new memoir, 'Groove is in the Heart' and listening to the radio. I haven't really been working on my horror story...I have so much to work out with it and it's daunting. I do want to tackle it though, even if the first draft is crap.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
March 30th, 2021
I was pleasantly
surprised to wake up and be scheduled for recreation this morning,
even if that started a bit bumpy because these new officers are not
being properly trained. The female officer setting up recreation
asked if I was going out and I said, 'yes' and then she told me it
was our section's inside day! I said,
“It's our outside
She told me it was our
inside day and I said,
“No, we're on
Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
She wasn't trying to
hear it and scheduled me for the day room. About 10 minutes later the
senior officer came through and said,
up...ya'll are going outside.”
I got ready and started
to stretch as I waited for the guards to take me outside. It was warm
and a bit grey, but otherwise, I was just grateful for some fresh
air! I jogged and did some leg exercises, and then came back in not
really expecting to make it to the shower anytime soon, but the
guards put us in around 10am. I was happy to get all of that out of
the way because second shift were shorthanded and didn't do any
Most of the day I've
felt drained. I'm not sure what it is...maybe the humidity. As soon
as my radio program, 'The Lizard Lounge' is over with, I'm going to
Courage. Strength. Hope
March 31st, 2021
The last day of the month...I woke up after a fitful night of sleep and started my day hoping that there was recreation...but it was cancelled because nobody showed up to work on first shift. They're supposed to do showers, but they don't even have the guards to do that.
I was talking to a guy earlier about a grievance he filed on the officers not wearing their face masks or even wearing the properly. The warden – our death row warden, Rigsby – wrote on the response that his claim was unfounded, and upon investigation it was shown that officers are wearing masks etc. We both laughed because clearly there was no investigation and the warden was basically calling the dude a liar. Any random check of the camera system or its archives, would show that the inmate was right. I mean...why have a camera system if they NEVER use it to check things? Drugs are still coming in...phones are still coming in...officers get away with all sorts, but let one of the guys on death watch cover the camera in his cell so he can use the bathroom, or to take care of personal business, and there will be 20 officers standing at the door within seconds, with cans of gas...It's ridiculous!
I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do for the day. It's grey, wet and just 'bleh'. I've already exercised, and I've had two hard boiled eggs for breakfast.
Something cool I did see this morning is in the tree that's blooming. I was watching the nest sitting upon one of the branches, and it looks like there are two chicks up there because I could see movement in the nest and the heads bobbing about. The mother was perched on the branch a few inches away and was looking all around. Maybe for breakfast? That was so cool.
The other day I was listening to a radio station that plays a lot of music from the '70s/'80s/'90s...The song 'Tiny Dancer' by Elton John came on and I started laughing to myself as I changed the lyrics from,
“Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer...” to
“Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”
I feel like someone has probably done that before, so it might not be original, but having that thought in my head lead to this little skit I made up about Elton John being in front of a record label executive, and playing the song for him for the very first time...
“Well?” Elton John asks as the last notes of the song play out.
The record executive opens his eyes, having listened to the song very intently.
“The piano bars are lovely. That opening line, what was it? (begins to sing) 'Blue Jean Baby...L.A. Lady...' I love it!” The executive says.
“I feel like there's a 'but' coming.” Elton replies.
The record executive pauses and looks at Elton as he composes his thoughts.
“Elton. Baby...You know no one loves you more than me! You're a star! But...we've got to do something about that chorus.”
“But I love Tony Danza!” Elton John proclaims.
“I get it! Who doesn't? Look, Elton Baby, no one in this industry is more progressive than me. I'm at clubs with all kinds of people every week! I can disco with the best of them, baby! But the US market just isn't ready for something like that. How about we change it to something else?”