Today hasn't been too bad of a day. Of course, with each day of the week now, I'm a bit anxious and scared that some guards are going to pop up at my cell door and say, "The Major wants to speak with you." When they do that it usually means you'll be given a copy of your death warrant and taken over to A-Pod, A-section...I have to push forward and act like each day is normal, and of course I pray that something positive will happen, but I'm human and have my own fears like everyone else.
We didn't have recreation today on my section, but I was happy to make it to the shower early in the morning. I finally typed out chapter two of my new memoir. I've been struggling lately because of all of the stress in dealing with my legal affairs, but also, I've been trying to figure out the pacing of the memoir and which events I want to write about. Because this particular memoir is about my childhood, and not just a particular chapter of my life, I want to tell the stories that mean the most to me...Sifting through memories and being able to move through the years. I think I've got it mapped out fairly well though, and we'll see how it all shapes up! I'll get the chapters posted as I write them.
The pod had commissary today so there's always the excitement of that as well.
Courage. Strength, Hope and Faith.
July 2nd, 2019
Today has been the opposite of yesterday...I'll put it like this: first round rec has been in the day room for over four hours! As I type this, I'm still not scheduled for rec...I keep telling myself to stay focused and not let it frustrate me.
Something cool did happen last night though...On Monday nights from 9pm to midnight, there's a program called "Reach Out In The Darkness" on KPFT. They do requests and play every genre of music, so from time to time me and some friends send in a letter to request some songs. My recent request, "Special" by Garbage, was played. My friend wanted to hear some Smiths he'd never heard, and I suggested, "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" and they played it! Man, talk about a flood of memories coming back to me...I can remember my guitarist playing it on his acoustic guitar, and me singing along to it. We both loved The Smiths' album, "The Queen is Dead" so much! It was a real treat to hear that song last night.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 8th, 2019
As I write this the air-cooling system on 12 building (where death row is housed) is acting up, and it is HOT!! I hope they get it sorted out soon. It'll take a few officers to really complain before they will take some action. I do empathize with them...We can strip down to our boxers, get under a fan, and splash water on ourselves. They've got to wear a bunch of protective gear and can't take it off...Their stab proof vests probably weigh about 15lbs!
On Thursday night, one of my good friends back here, Blaine, suddenly got very sick. He kept throwing up over and over, so we began to scream for the guards to call medical. A male officer came through and he said he'd call,, but the female officer stopped him from doing so! When she came out to do her security check, I stopped her and said, "Look, when you pass by Milam's cell, will you check on him? He's been down there sick and throwing up." She pursed her lips and said, "Well...here's the thing...I heard some guys on the run saying, 'Do it louder. She can't hear you!' So I think he's faking it. I said, "You did not hear that, you're trippin'." She nodded her head to me and said, "I did."
In that instant I was so upset! She walked down the run and I repeated what she just told me to some other guys and they were furious, so we all started yelling for the control offficer to call medical, and a ranking officer. Blaine started throwing up again and she came to our section's gate and I said, "Do you hear that? He is not faking it! Call medical now!"
She left, and about an hour later came back and checked on him. Then she told us, "Look, this is what's going on...A bunch of people are throwing up everywhere. Medical thinks it's food poisoning from tonight's dinner...Youre going to have to ride it out, but if it gets worse, let us know."
Of course, guys were yelling at her about not taking it seriously at first, and her saying that Blaine was faking it...All she said was, "Well, you can't say that some guys don't fake it to get attention!"
That was her logic...Because some people fake it, all of us must be faking it. Whenever I see this mentality I'm reminded of the man I watched die in the bed right next to me, back in 1998 at the Choice Moore Unit. He had come back from the hospital, but was still complaining of chest pains. When he went to medical their response was, "The hospital wouldn't have sent you back if there was something still wrong with you." He died of a massive heart attack a few hours later.
So, it turned out the chicken was spoiled at dinner. They had used leftovers from a baked chicken they served on diet trays. It was mixed into some kind of noodle mess...I never eat it when they do that, because it never looks edible to me. As far as I know, no one in the kitchen is being held responsible.
(The AC is pumping cool air again!!! Woo hoo!!)
Friday was a chaotic day and I waited forever for a shower. Over the weekend I listened to the radio and did some more writing work, and today is another one of those chaotic days where no one seems to know what they're doing. I'm honestly just killing time until a music program tonight.
As of now, there's no legal updates either...I'm still anxious, but trying to not let the stress weigh me down too much.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
On 10th July, 2019, Randy received an execution date of 10th October. Thankfully, he received a Stay on 4th October.
The following journals were written whilst Randy was on death watch, and some may be distressing to read.
July 14th, 2019
As I write this I'm on 'Death Watch'...It's where they move you when you receive an execution date. The section, whilst being on A-Pod with five other sections, is pretty much isolated from the other inmates who don't have execution dates. I've never understood the purpose of it unless you're days away from being murdered, but it is what it is and has been a practice since death row inmates were moved from the Ellis Unit in early 2000.
My attorney visited on Tuesday to tell me that on July 3rd, the Judge had signed an order to issue me an execution date of 10th October, 2019 - the day after Yom Kippur. We talked for a while and he told me what they'd be working on in the mean time, and that the fight was far from over. He told me to not mope about because the courts are going to have to address this racist/bigoted judge...I told him my biggest concern was having to live under a camera 24/7, but more so, seeing guys leaving for executions and never coming back. I know, as one who is very emotional as it is, that it's going to affect me badly...I can block a camera out of my mind and just go about life like it isn't there, but I can't block out someone being taken away to be killed.
I told my attorney, "Well, I'm glad the stress of waiting on a date is over. I'll go back to my cell and pack my stuff up, and be prepared for when they take me off the pod." I also told him that I'm still hopeful, and then I surprised myself when I said this - but it is a true statement - I said, "I've been through worse." In all my 41 years of life, I've been beaten, had a front tooth knocked out as a child, when I was beaten, had my wrist cut with a glass baby bottle after being shoved down some stairs when I was just 3 1/2 years old...I've been treated badly in foster homes, damn near killed myself in a scooter accident, been involved with drugs and was homeless, been in one of the worst prisons in Texas, escaped, been shot...I really don't consider myself a victim by any means, but I say these things as a 'survivor' - a survivor and a fighter! I have an incredibly strong will to survive and to live, and I've truly been through worse.
So, after my attorney and I had finished discussing everything, we made some small talk. Then he had to see another client, so I waited to be taken back to my cell. When I returned, I told my friends on that section that I had a date and Blaine, who has been through the stress of an execution date before (and thankfully received a stay!) gave me some advice, and told me what to expect when I was on Death Watch. I started packing things up, just leaving out the essential items like my radio, hygiene, etc.
Wednesday came and I hadn't been moved, then Thursday went by...I had heard them mention my execution date on TNS news, as well as some other things about the judge, and by 1pm I was starting to feel like I was safe for that day when suddenly two guards showed up and said, "Let's go. Put your jumper on, the Captain wants to see you." I unplugged my radio, wrapped it up and shoved it into a bag. Then I was strip searched before I got dressed and taken to the Captain's office. As I walked off the pod, guys from all over began to yell 'goodbyes' to me and to wish me well. Some said, "You'll be back!" When I got there, he told me to sit in a chair in front of his desk. He asked the two guards to leave and shut the door behind them and I sat down as he fumbled with a manilla envelope.
"You know why you're here?"
"Yeah, I've got an execution date for October 10th. My attorney told me on Tuesday." I said.
"You know, we have no history of you ever being violent, nor acting out or causing any trouble here." He said. "Let me ask you a question...You weren't a shooter, were you?"
"No, sir! And neither was Murphy!"
"Yeah, well, you knew what you were getting into when you escaped," he said, letting it hang there in the air...
He then went off on a little tangent about Patrick being denied the presence of his spiritual adviser, and I felt uncomfortable with the conversation...So I said, "That's his own business."
Then he explained the manilla envelope and what was inside...There were papers I had to have filled out 14 days before my execution, a Will, details about the disposing of my body etc. He said if I needed anything or had an issue, to ask someone to contact him and he'd take care of it. I told him my property was already packed up, and he said I'd have it as soon as possible. They had to go through all of it first. He told me I'd be living in 12 cell, then he handed the folder to me and called the officers back in to take me to A-Pod.
As I was going into the hallway, I ran in to my friend, Big Foot - he was in a wheelchair for some reason, and was on his way to medical. He locked eyes with me and I said, "I have a date for October, bro." He told me he knew, and to keep my head up and he was praying for me. We made the turn into A-Pod, and entered...
When I got to the cell the first thing I noticed was how hot it was over here. An inferno! The air isn't working at all...Then, I noticed how filthy the cell was. It hadn't been cleaned in a very long time. Dirt, dust and dead bugs were everywhere! They took off my handcuffs, and then my neighbor sent me some cleaning supplies. I was drenched in sweat as I cleaned the cell and I asked the guards if I could at least have my fan and my mattress, but when they made the call to the lieutenant, he said 'no'.
They brought my mail from B-Pod a little bit later, but I didn't get any of my property until after midnight. I unpacked, had my cell in order by 1am, and just crashed out, exhausted.
Friday was a new day, and the love and support I've been shown by everyone over here has been overwhelming! One guy told me, "Dude, you're universally loved by everyone." I was choked up when he said it, I mean, you want to know that you've had a positive effect on someone's life, but to hear someone tell you that directly...It meant a lot.
It's actually bonkers over here in how they run things! It used to be that Death Watch was top priority - ranking officers, guards, everyone made it a priority to get the recreation and showers finished, but we're routinely screwed over now. On Friday, I didn't even make it to the shower, so now I have to file a grievance. I don't want to spend my time over here fighting these people about the things we should have...I was told by the guys over here that they're routinely screwed over on recreation and showers. I made the comment to one apathetic guard, "This place used to be run like a well-oiled machine..." He just shrugged his shoulders and walked off.
During my time here, I'm going to do my best to draw attention to the treatment of these guys in the hope that we can get something changed. It's ridiculous, and has been bonkers since I've been over here. My neighbour teased me and said, "Geeze, everything was running smoothly until you showed up." I said, "Well, you guys are more than welcome to kick me out of here!"
I've made my mind up that I'm going to live my life as I always do...Of course, I'll make plans for the worst, but I need to keep my mind, my health, stay positive! A lot of guys get over here and give up - I refuse to give up...I'll give up when they have me in the ground!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 15th, 2019
I woke up this morning and reaffirmed the conscious decision I made yesterday to live my life on death watch as normally as I can, and try not to let it affect me. It's easier said than done but I see no reason to be all doom and gloom at this point. I think the biggest thing that bothers me the most is living under a flippin' camera! But really, it's a mental thing...I have to be creative in certain aspects, but it isn't that big of a deal, although someone told me that when a person is 14 days away from their execution, the scrutiny over every aspect of your privacy is enhanced and they watch you even more closely.
So, after waking up and praying, I got outside to exercise and was fortunate to receive a shower fairly early. Another thing I have to get used to is not being able to shave every single day. When you're not on death watch or on discipline, they issue you your own razor so you can have a shave every single day. But here, they only allow you to use a razor on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It's an attempt to keep you from killing yourself before the State can, and man...that is the absolute definition of irony!
It got me thinking again about revenge...I've written about this before, but I'm still baffled about how vengeful our society - especially our justice system - really is. When you think about a lot of our legislative polices etc, and even how our government responds to a lot of issues in a vengeful way...no wonder we have such a violent society. I've read and heard it several times that violence is cyclical...Well, the death penalty is one way of carrying on the cycle of violence.
In my case, it's raised several notches higher. I mean, you know I'm not a shooter! You know my judge hated me not only because I was an escapee, but also because he hated Jewish people for a lot of horrible reasons. But the State STILL wants to kill me!...It's baffling...It's enough to make you cynical and jaded, but I still have hope! If I didn't, I'd go crazy.
A few weeks ago I was in the dayroom on B-Pod and I was talking to a guy about forgiveness. A guard (one who had recently screwed me over by taking my recreation and shower because I wasn't awake) was eavesdropping...
I had just said, "I find it easy to forgive as I've gotten older, and I eventually came around to forgiving all who have wronged me."
The guard jumped into the conversation and said, mockingly, "I forgive you!"
I became serious, looked him in the eyes and said, "No...I forgive you from the other day."
He paused...I don't think he was expecting me to answer him.
He walked away and then came back and said, "Forgive, but don't forget!"
And to that I responded with, "But...You're not truly forgiving if you don't forget. The issue just festers, and even though you say you forgive someone, if you don't do the forgetting part, you're quick to throw whatever it is they've done right back in their face...The other day you took my recreation and shower for no good reason other than you could, but I forgive you and today is a new day. I've not treated you like you screwed me over...If I didn't forget, I'd be holding it all in...letting it fester"
He ended up agreeing with me, and hopefully I gave him something to think about. We need more forgiveness in our society.
The conversation also reminded me of my own shortcomings when it comes to forgiveness. I'm human, and from time to time I will stay angry about something or someone for longer than I should. Whenever I look at all of these cameras around me, in this cell, in the day room etc...And then I think about all of the policy changes that happened after a death row inmate called a Senator from an illegal cell phone, and threatened him, I sometimes think, "Freakin' dude! This is why it's so crappy here!"
Well, that dude is living right next to me...He's not on death watch, but since that event in 2008 he's been living under constant supervision. Now, if I were to believe that the world isn't full of shades of grey and it's just plainly black and white, or if I happened to believe there are certain absolutes when it comes to human behaviour, I'd have the mindset to think, "That dude is a freakin' moron and deserves every bit of what's he's getting..." But I don't think that way at all...I hold onto the shades of grey in life because it helps me to understand myself, as well as others. When I came over here and found out he was my neighbor, my reaction was to ostracise him and ignore him...To not even acknowledge his existence because of what he did. But, after thinking about it for a long time, I reminded myself that even though this guy has pissed us all off by doing something stupid, he's still much more than even the worst thing he's ever done - this applies to everyone, and not just those we choose to speak up for.
Yesterday, he was asking some guys for food and coffee and they gave him some...I didn't give him anything at the time, but after observing his behaviour and actions, and his interactions with the guards and other guys over here, I realised I was harboring some resentment towards him. I wasn't even fully aware of it until I'd spent time thinking and observing the whole situation. I realised I had chosen to ignore him, and that bothered me.
Having spent that time observing him and his behaviour, I noticed that like most of us, when he's treated with kindness he in turn acts with kindness. When he's ignored by eveyone and ostracised, he in turn acts out. I don't know anything about his childhood, but I thought back to my own childhood and things I've heard from other people about theirs and I realized that I was ostracising him and it shocked me. I asked G-d to forgive me for this and almost without even thinking about it, I reached into my locker and pulled out a bag of coffee, then I pushed it out my door for him to take in. I banged on the wall and he was surprised I was even talking to him...I said, "There's a bag of coffee in front of your door. If you need anything else, just ask."
I felt good for breaking that cycle...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 18th, 2019
I can't believe I've been on Death Watch for a week...I've been told by other guys over here that time moves very differently once you receive a date, but I didn't quite understand it until now. It's like the days whiz by in their own time vortex...I wake up, then the next thing I know is the day is over with. Even when waiting on recreation when you're set up for 4th or 5th round, it still goes by in a blur! Maybe it's because your priorities become very different – my own priorities are the friendships I have and trying to live. Sure, I've always been trying to live, but in the space of my own existence, and not the actual fight for my own life. Friendships, whilst they have always been important, become even more important because you want every single letter to really mean something.
It's been an interesting couple of days. I had every intention of writing yesterday, but my radio went haywire and so I spent the day fixing it and I have it all stable again. I wanted to write about the day I had on Tuesday, though...I woke up that morning at 7am and I'd barely opened my eyes when I was told that a clemency officer wanted to see me, so I slammed my coffee, splashed water on my face, and brushed my teeth. I had been advised by other guys back here that I shouldn't go to the meeting...They said it would be a horrible experience and I'd spend several hours defending myself whilst they beat up on me, wanting to know why I did this or that. One friend back here told me that it was particularly bad for him. He said, “When you get over there....don't go. They're going to treat you like crap.”
So, two officers showed up at my door, strip searched me, and then I got dressed. I was taken to a legal booth and sat for about five minutes (this was around 7.30am). Shortly afterwards, a woman introduced herself and had a file with some information, questions, and a writing tablet. She asked me my ID number, my birthdate etc, and then started with the questions.
She wasn't mean, in fact, she was quite the opposite. She was polite, and we spent almost two hours jumping around different parts of my life and over some of my offences. What I did notice was that the way she questioned me – by jumping from the escape, the robbery, then to my first offence, and then to something else – was just all over the place and without any kind of order...I think it was done this way to weed out inconsistencies. But I was clear. I was concise. I was honest and remorseful. None of my accounts have ever changed in all of these years, and I know I am standing on truth. In the end, she asked, “Anything else you want to add or say?” And I told her, “I mean, ultimately, all I can do is ask for mercy.”
She looked at me and said, “Ah! You said the magic words...I need you to write that” She handed me a sheet and her pen, and I wrote what was in my heart, and that I am deeply sorry for any harm my choices and actions caused anyone...I wrote that I am NOT a killer, and that I ask the State of Texas for mercy...
She had a copy of it made for me, and then left me there. I waited for a bit to be taken back to my cell, and as I waited I wrote to my attorneys to let them know I had had my clemency meetings...Just a few minutes later, I was told I had an attorney visit!
I had a really good talk with my attorneys and they told me there were some more filings to be made, and that things looked very good. I think they're going to ask the CCA for a stay, and see what happens. I have no idea if that will even be granted or how long it will take, but with everything he's told me, I feel hopeful.
There's a lot of positive things in the works and I'm deeply moved and humbled by the support and outreach from organisations and other places that have shown concern. What's been on my mind the most, though, is this: if I survive this mess, if I'm given a second chance at life, this is NOT something I'm going to blow! I will do everything in my power to live a life that is giving and helpful to others. I will do my very best to show people that their supporting me has not been for nothing...I want to make everyone proud!
So, today is another hot day and I'm waiting on recreation, trying to keep busy and stay focused and positive...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 21st, 2019
It's been a relatively normal weekend. We don't have recreation on Sundays, so I've been stuck in the cell all day long, just tying to keep busy. Yesterday was an outside day, so I woke at 5.30am to go out and play basketball with another guy who likes to play ball.
We made it out there a little after 6 and started playing. Now, when I was on B-Pod we were playing games to 100, so I was used to that jog pace and not the quick, fast-paced games of 'the first person to make ten shots'. I had to adjust and lost more games than I really should have because my pacing was all out of whack! However, we did tie up at 10 games to 10, and the dude called it quits on me! I said, “Come on, man! We can't go in on a tie! Let's at least play one more game.” He wouldn't budge though...
Since I've been over here I've really been trying to motivate these guys and get them to come out of their cells, and not withdraw from the world because they are on death watch. There's no reason to show the white flag or let this place steal any kind of peace you might still have.
The other thing I've done is to encourage these guys to make the guards put us back into our cells when our two hours are up. If we let it go over the two hours, someone else is going to be screwed out of their rec, so we kind of have to monitor ourselves on the time. If we don't, the guards are going to lolligag around and just not do it.
The Head Warden, Butcher, came around on Friday and I talked to him about how we were full to the max on A-Section and because of that it was an impossibility for all of us to get our recreation because we can only recreate on our own section. He said he “might" look into allowing us to recreate on other sections. I mean, it really makes no sense! Technically, we all have execution dates because we all have death sentences...It doesn't or it shouldn't matter whether or not someone is 90 days away. It's my understanding that when death row was on the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, they didn't separate a person who was given an execution date until they were a few days away from their date. It wasn't until they were on Polunsky Unit that they started that practice.
I suppose we'll see what happens. I'm not going to allow this section or this place to steal my peace.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 22nd, 2019
Monday...I woke up a little before 7am and set about my day. I wanted to get a workout in before they started showers, but they never started showers at all...We've got a super lazy crew of officers! A-section doesn't have recreation on Mondays so we're trapped in our cells, but on the other sections, the first round of rec was left in the day rooms for almost FIVE hours! That's insanity...
On the plus side I did have a morning of really good music as a bunch of stations from Austin were coming in crystal clear. If I said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Houston radio sucks! Has anyone heard Lana Del Ray's cover of Sublime's “Doing Time?” If not, I recommend listening to it immediately. I've never been a big fan of Sublime, but she did a really good job of breathing new life into the song.
Other than that it has been another typical day here...Hot, boring, and moving at a very slow pace.
It's later now, and we just heard that a death row inmate – a severely mentally ill man – suffered a massive heart attack...None of us ever really know when our time is up. Sadly, I don't think the poor man had any family in the States – he was a Mexican national. May he rest in peace.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 23rd, 2019
Yesterday turned into a nightmare...Besides only getting 2 rounds of recreation out during the day time, when the night time crew came on, they were short handed because more officers had quit. I was surprised though, when they still tried to pull out another round of rec and start showers...However, their attempt to keep things moving was futile because I went to the shower at 7.30pm and was trapped in there until almost 9pm. It was a mess! They ultimately shut everything down at 9, and did no more rec or showers.
Today is turning into the same mess that yesterday was...It's 10.14am and first round of rec is still out. They've been out there for over 4 hours now. I'm scheduled for fourth round (I was bumped up from fifth) but it looks like at this point it'll be second shift, if at all.
The fact of the matter is that no one wants to work in prisons anymore. They get paid peanuts, they're treated like crap by the State, and have to deal with the stresses of this environment as well...I know it's difficult and I'm constantly telling myself to be empathetic to the situation. It's frustrating though, especially when certain guards do abuse their authority or take things out on us, but it cements in my mind that Texas is long overdue for criminal justice reform. There are people in prison who would be much better off in a program that focuses on true rehabilitation, and turns them into productive members of society. I don't think it's a liberal or bleeding heart idea that it can and should happen – there are plenty of people who have turned their lives around and done well after coming out of prison, and plenty more who are worthy of that second chance. The system as it is now, has not been working for 30 years...Start thinking outside of the box! Why does everything have to be punishment/revenge based?
Anyway, so last night I was listening to a radio program that takes requests from prisoners etc, and it was on KPFT. It's called “Reach Out Into The Darkness” and several weeks ago I requested a Cure song that I had never heard before called, “Underneath The Stars.” I'd all but given up on them playing it so when they finally did last night...Holy Cow...AMAZING! It gave me goosebumps, and had my eyes welling up with tears. The song was one of the most beautiful Cure songs I've ever heard! I kept thinking, “I have to hear this again! I have to hear this again!” The song was on the 4.13 Dream album – an album I've not been able to hear because I was locked up when it was released.
I know another program on KPFT called, “Sound Awake,” is doing a two hour Cure special to honour the 30 year release of “Love Song” at the end of September...So I might write that program and see if he'll be willing to play that song. I really need to hear it again!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 24th, 2019
Last night I was vultured...You're aware that it happens, and many years ago when I used to get moved from pod to pod, week to week, I'd been asked to vulture a person on death watch, and I told them they were out of their mind! But to have it done when you yourself is on death watch...It's a very strange feeling.
You're probably wondering what 'vultured' means. It's a term we use back here to refer to a person who doesn't have an execution date who asks a person with an execution date for their food, electronic items, etc if they make it to their date.
So, I'm in the day room having my recreation when a guy on B-Section calls me over to talk through the bars for a bit. He's known to have a massive ego and only really cares about himself, but I have try to understand him and just take the dude in very small doses. I made small talk with him and then went back to talking to someone on my own section, when he called me back over again.
“Hey, I have a question for you,” he said.
“Okay, shoot,” I said.
“What are you going to do with your electronics when they kill you?”
I paused for a second, not quite believing what he'd just asked.
“Did you really just vulture me?” I asked.
“Heh heh heh...It's nothing personal, but I mean, c'mon! You're part of the TX 7. You know you're a dead man! Seriously though, can I have your electronics?”
I really wanted to bark at him, but I took a deep breath and said, “Apparently you've not heard about recent developments in my case, and even if they do kill me, I'd give my things to my people or to someone here who can't afford a radio or a typewriter, not someone who cons people for their money on a regular basis. Be careful not to vulture people when you're almost at the end of your appeals, dude, because it's really bad karma...” and I walked off.
Sheesh...this place! There are some really caring people back here, and I've met many of them, but people come in all different ways, and back here it's easy to fall prey to desperation.
I didn't make it to bed until midnight last night, and then they kept turning the cell lights on all through the night. I thought we were going to have a new recreation schedule today and Wednesday would be a day off from rec, but they asked me if I was going out first round, and off I went, despite the poor night's sleep I had the night before. I played some ball outside and won 23-17. It was lovely...A nice cool front came through and it felt like a spring morning. I loved it! When I came back in the guards put us straight into the shower so we didn't have to wait all day long like we've had to this past few days.
All in all, it hasn't been too bad a day!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
July 28th, 2019
It's the last Sunday of the month, and I'm sitting here at 9.33am with a sheet drying on a clothes line, and typing this journal entry. Oh, and it's EXTREMELY hot!!
It's been a busy few days...On Thursday, I had an attorney visit and met a couple of really cool interns working with my attorneys on my appeals. They wanted to meet me, so they came along to the visit and I really enjoyed meeting them.
We talked about things they are working on and I'll know more when I have another legal visit this coming week, but I'm still full of hope. They're an excellent group of people and I couldn't feel more fortunate and blessed to have the team that I have. Even if I weren't to survive all of this, I would have the comfort of knowing they did everything they could.
We had another guy come to Death Watch with an execution date set for some time in November...That makes a total of 12 men on the list, and the biggest number of executions scheduled, in a long time. With this comes more problems with our recreation schedule because we are only allowed to recreate on our own section. We're allowed 2 hours on five days a week, and they shut recreation down typically around 10pm, so you can imagine the problem this creates.
So, as a collective, we've all agreed to monitor our time and try to only take about an hour each so that others get a chance to come out of their cells. We make sure the officers come and get us and grab the next guy, and so on and so forth. No one has been selfish in demanding their own full two hours, and I'm incredibly proud of these guys that we can all work together, agree, and get along on this. We realise and understand that we're all on the sinking boat together, and the only way to ensure that it doesn't go down is for all of us to bail the water out as a group. It would be easy for someone to say, "Pffft! Screw you guys! These are the last days of my life and I don't give a flying flip about you or anything else...I'm getting my full two hours!" But that hasn't happened at all, and Friday ran very smoothly in getting everyone out to rec.
Saturday was an outside day and I went out first round. I played basketball, winning 16-14, came in and went straight to the shower, and stayed busy the entire day. My neighbor had heard about the hot pockets I sometimes make and asked if I wouldn't mind cooking some up, so I did. They were barbecue chicken and came out really well, if I'm allowed to too my own horn! Then I listened to Sound Awake at 10pm until midnight (not one of the better shows he's done, for the end of the month classic club special) and was in bed by midnight.
So, going back to Thursday, and my first legal visit, I was having a conversation with two of my attorneys from the Capital Habeus Unit in Austin and the conversation turned to what it felt like to have someone hate you for merely being Jewish. I said it was weird, and explained how growing up, I'd only ever had a couple of experiences where someone attacked me for it...One being in the 7th grade, involving a stupid kid, and the other time was the Palestinian people who ran the Steak Fest restaurant I worked at in Kentucky. At least I could look back and empathise with the Palestinians' own struggles in Israel, and their treatment from the government, even if I was (at the time) confused as to why they singled me out for merely being Jewish. My experience attending a fundamentally Baptist Boarding School was very difficult...but even that, it was never, "You f****** Jew!" It came from the Baptists wanting to save my soul...I never interpreted it as being anti-Semitic or anything like that. Yes, it was confusing and hurtful to be told I was going to hell every single day, but I suppose they rationalized it from a skewed and perverted perspective of love? I don't know...
Then I told them that my experience is not even remotely close to the guys around me who come from poverty and being minorities. I understand that. Here I am, this white Jewish dude who grew up in an upper middle class family, who was able to travel and go to Disney World every year, who attended a boarding school in Kentucky, who could say, "Hey, dad? Can I have twenty bucks to go hang out at the mall and see a movie?" Not once in my adoptive life did my parents ever say to me, "No, son, we can't afford it...We need to buy groceries or pay bills..." A lot of guys around me have never been outside of their own neighbourhoods. As well as all that, I've never been profiled and I've never been stopped by the police because of the color of my skin. I did benefit from white privilege, and no one ever knew I was Jewish unless I brought it up or they saw the Star of David I used to wear.
Yes, the Judge singled me out for being Jewish and it sucks...but in a lot of ways, I don't feel I'm any more special than anyone else. Do I think every single case that came before him, where the defendant was a minority, should be looked at again? Absolutely!
I don't think my experience is anything like that of a lot of guys around me...I had opportunities in life, I had a chance at a nice life and I blew it. I mean, that is the simple truth. I can point at things my parents got wrong...I can point out periods in my life where, had something been a little different I might not be where I'm at, but the fact remains I blew it in a lot of ways. I don't believe I'm any better or any more deserving than the people around me.
My attorneys and I talked a little bit more, and one of them said he was 'moved' by what I had said, and it was powerful that I recognized that. It's almost impossible to ignore when you're living on a section and there might be two or three white guys, and the rest are either black or Latino.
When it comes to this Judge though, I do want people to understand that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere...He shouldn't be allowed to get away with the mistreatment of anyone, whether Latino, black, Catholic or Jewish. I hope it is my case that sheds more light on the courts for everyone, and that others will be given another chance as well...I really do.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 3rd, 2019
Yesterday was one of those days that really sucked...It all started with having one of the laziest, worst group of officers working. Wait, did I say 'working?' Oops! They didn't do any work, and whilst I'm fairly used to that and it's very frustrating, things move on and you can put your head down and try to stay busy with your own stuff. My neighbour to the right of me was gone to special visits with his family, so I knew I was going to be bumped up a round of recreation, so I kept myself busy until it was time...
Then, on third round, everything broke out into chaos. There was a guy in the day room who doesn't have a lot of support, so we're making sure that he has plenty of food, coffee, and things that he needs, so that his last days aren't completely miserable. Someone upstairs had sent him a bag of chips and some chicken pouches for him to take back to his cell when suddently a sergeant shows up and starts barking at the guard, "The new major watched him get that food, on the cameras! Take his food, put him in the shower and go in and take ALL of his property. He's getting put on Level 2!"
Well, this upset the whole section, and everyone was pleading with the sergeant, and saying, "C'mon, man, the dude has a freakin' month to live!" You're going to take all of his property? That's BS!"
Now, this particular sergeant is a young hot head with a 'small man complex' and starts barking, "Y'all shut the f**k up or we'll take everyone's property!" Of course, this resulted in a lot of guys cussing and threatening back.
They put the inmate in the shower and then I said, "Go ahead and put me out at recreation. I'm next up and the only way all of us have a chance to get our recreation is if you keep it moving." The sergeant ignored me and then the guards went in the dude's cell to take his stuff. Another sergeant, probably the only reasonable one, popped up and I said, "Man, tell them to put me out to recreation!" Fortunately, he did. Then, the officers got mad at me and started to gripe. I said, "I'm supposed to have recreation. It's your job. Don't gripe about having to do your job."
I went to recreation and the guards went back to the guy's cell and started packing things up. There was a friend of mine on B-Section, so I walked up to the bars to talk to him because he was asking what was going on, when a hot-headed female guard (and not to be disparaging, but...not the brightest tool in the shed) walks in. Now, when I'm upset or nervous I tend to walk with my hands crossed behind my back, and that's exactly where my hands were when she says, "Don't think about it!" I had no idea what she was talking about, so I say, "What? I'm not allowed to talk to the guy on B-Section?"
"You were going to shake his hand," she responded.
"My hands are behind my back. How am I going to shake his hand?"
"You need to calm down."
"I am calm. You're the one talking nonsensical," I said.
"Calm down!" She barked.
I squished up my face in a "really?" expression, took a mental deep breath and said, "This place has turned into a freaking mental institution." And I walked away.
"What did you say?" She barked again.
"I said, the insane are in charge of the asylum. Sheesh..."
"I'm not the one on death row facing an execution date."
"Yeah...real original, that one. Funny thing about that...Every person on this planet is walking around with an expiration date."
Someone yelled out their door at me to stop entertaining her nonsense, so I cut the conversation off. I was really mad though.
They continued to screw the section over for the rest of the evening.
This is what is upsetting for me...and I've said this since I've been on death watch. Something changed! During my many years of being on death row, the men who had execution dates were treated with a certain dignity and borderline compassion. I think under different administrations the consensus was, they could be killed, they're receiving their 'justice' why add to it? The guys on death watch were a top priority and even if someone was acting up, getting into trouble etc, they were given a chance or two to modify their behaviour before having their property taken, or being severely punished...But that seems to be out the window now.
On top of that, we're routinely screwed out of the things we're supposed to have if we are behaving, like, every other day an entire floor gets screwed out of recreation. We're no longer a priority...When we have an issue that needs to be addressed it gets ignored. I've never seen it this bad in all of my years back here and the truth is we're being the better human beings in this...NO ONE is threatening to hurt anyone. NO ONE is hurling hateful words. We're upset, but the so-called 'law abiding citizens and good people' are treating us worse than dog crap. So, who are the better human beings? When a human intentionally harms someone in the name of the State, then the State loses its moral superiority...But what do I know?
Anyway, onwards and upwards! I'm trying to not let it affect me.
I was reading a book of thoughts I received from one of my attorneys; it's by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. It's called 'The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy'. I've been reading a quote or two a day, reflecting upon it and seeing if I can apply it to my life. It's kind of helped in the last couple of days of chaos...
On Thursday I had a legal visit with an Investigator and paralegal who work for my attorneys, and it was a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed it and I'm just amazed by the hard work and HEART these wonderful human beings put into fighting for the guys they represent. I am so grateful for all of it!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 4th, 2019
Most people don't go outside and stand in the rain as it washes over their body, and have the thought, “Will this be the last time I ever stand in the rain?” I try not to entertain these thoughts...These, 'Is this the last time I'd do this or that?' thoughts, but it crept into my mind as I went outside alone yesterday.
I thought I was going outside to play basketball, but when no one else showed up I was almost relieved to have a couple of hours to reflect and pray in absolute silence...I was grateful for the peace and quiet.
The sky was a bright grey, the sun illuminating the clouds from behind. As I walked around the rec yard I felt a drop of rain, than another, then what seemed like a cascade of raindrops fell from the sky...I stopped walking around, looked up at the sky, and faced the question I was trying to push out of my mind; trying so desperately to ignore. Then, I embraced the rain! I took in a deep breath of fresh air, enjoying the rain's distinctive scent, and watching as the intense heat of the day caused the rain to evaporate quickly as it pounded the hot concrete.
Memories...memories of puddle hopping in Kentucky, mud fights in Arlington, Texas, with my best friend, Chad, and as a kid, almost getting struck by lightening when running for cover from rain and hail during a thunderstorm in Kentucky. Rain...The sadness of rain...The beauty of rain...
When the rain stopped I said, “God, don't let this stop...let me have this.” Of course, it had to come to an end and I stomped in the puddles that had collected in the rec yard. I embraced my inner child and puddle hopped one more time...Hopefully, not for the last time.
I'm sure that to those on the other side of the glass, I must have looked like I had lost my mind, but I didn't care. I never care in these moments...And why should we?
Courage, strength, hope and faith.
August 6th, 2019
I had these deep thoughts I wanted to spend time writing about, with regard to the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and one of these days I'll write about it because I'm starting to think that whilst gun culture is a big deal, I also think that the bigger problem is this country's revenge culture. We have to 'get everyone back' who has ever slighted us, or is a threat to us or has hurt us...I do want to write about it and I will, but today I'm switching gears...
My girlfriend has not been too well recently, and has had so much stress in her personal life, as well as handling the news about my execution date. She's been exhausted lately, and I'm super worried about her. I ask anyone who cares about us to pray for her in this time, and that she gets back to full strength quickly.
It can't be understated how important she is in my fight to live, and how much I love her and consider her my team mate in all of this. If I live, it will be because of her and because of my attorneys. Their resolve in this fight and their belief in me has been overwhelming. I may not express it every day in a journal, but she is the best thing that has happened to me. Someone recently told me, "I know why you love her so much." She is such a wonderful human being: a strong and independent woman, and a fighter. But her heart...her heart shines like none other. It seems crazy to say, "I don't want to ever love anyone else," but I really don't.
So, please pray for her to get better for me...It would mean so much...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 12th, 2019
It's been a stressful week, but more so for private reasons than any overall thing to do with my appeals or even what's going on back here (even though it seems we keep getting these new administrations that want to make life as unbearable as possible...more on that in a second). I am super worried about my girlfriend, and I can only hope that she'll continue to heal and get better...Please continue to pray for her!
Well, one reason things are stressful is that I'm not looking forward to going through the emotional stress of watching someone (he could still get a stay in the next couple of days) leave for an execution and never come back. All of these years it has been from a distance - I've been on the same pod and watched someone leave, from my window I've watched people be loaded into a van like cattle to the slaughter, and I've had friends executed. But...to be right here...to hear this dude every single day and to talk to him and then...the cell will be empty and that voice can no longer be heard, chatting...It's hard to think about. Sometimes I feel like we're dogs in a kennel waiting to be put to sleep.
On top of that, this new Major is enforcing all of these stupid rules (whilst they've always been on the books) that most administrations and officers have understood are dumb rules, and they never enforce them. As long as we remain relatively well behaved, there has been a tolerance for lesser infractions. But not now...This guy wants our beds made when we're not in them (out of habit from home, boarding school, and prison, I make sure I make mine as soon as I get up and then flip the mattress back so it's out of the way). He doesn't want anything on the floors except for shoes, and when we leave, the cell must be in perfect military grade order...If not, he has allowed the officers to cancel (we call it 'jack') our recreations and showers. We've got a crap ton of lazy guards - the worst it has ever been, and this gives them an excuse to take people's recreations and showers. The side effect of that is, however, irritated inmates, cussing, banging on doors, and just a generally unsafe and hostile environment for everyone. It's an unnecessary stress for those of us on death watch.
Then, the air cooling system is blowing out tepid air, and it has been 100 degrees or higher for almost a week now...so we're all just miserable. I've never run my fan like this 24/7, and have been waking up in puddles of sweat! I know if it's this bad here, the guys in general population who don't have any air cooling at all, except for personal fans and large warehouse fans mounted to the ceilings that do nothing but blow hot air around like a convection oven...I know they're wholly miserable!
I also feel bad for this guy with his execution date this week. It's already 10am as I write this and he's worried he won't be getting his last visits today as scheduled. That has to suck and should never be allowed to happen to anyone in this situation! In the last few days before execution, you're allowed all day visits with friends and family (I think up to ten people) and most guys leave at 8am. He is still in his cell and that makes me so sad...That being said, he's talking to a guy a few cells away and seems to be in okay spirits...Wait, he's going to visits now at 10.29am. Good...I was worried for him and the people here to visit him. I pray this man will get a stay...
Otherwise, I'm just doing what I normally do and trying to remain positive and upbeat. Please keep praying for my Taffy (my nickname for my girlfriend!) Thank you all.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 13th, 2019
I can't express how hot it is right now...My fan is blowing 24/7 but offering little respite or relief for that matter. I just keep thinking though, "General population is 10 x's worse!"
I'm a little depressed today, but functioning...I would've liked to go to recreation, but they've cancelled it for pest control...I hope they make it up tomorrow. I did go ahead and exercise in my cell, but I would prefer to get outside and stretch my legs.
Last night I received some sample covers of my memoir from my girlfriend, and I was blown away with how awesome and striking they look...I know which one I want! They just all look amazing and I'm so proud of her and her level of creativity. She blows me away constantly!
As soon as I looked at the sample covers, I became all the more eager and excited to get the book published. This has been a life long dream of mine that she has helped make a reality - I love her so much...I can't say it enough!
Last night, on a radio program, I heard a song by the band Dashboard Confessional called, 'So long, so long'. I'd never heard it before but it was really good. The way it starts quiety with piano, and builds...It's a really sad song. I'd been waiting to hear a song request I made, U2's 'Unforgettable Fire', but they didn't play it...Maybe next week.
It's now after 5pm as I write this. We never got recreation...dinner was like something out of a horror movie, and I've been a bit down in the dumps. Here's hoping that tomorrow will be better!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 18th, 2019
I just finished reading a short novel called, 'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness. When I first received it I mistook it for a children's book and whilst always grateful to receive books, I first thought, "A children's book?" (Not that I'm above children's books...'Where The Wild Things Are' remains one of my all time favourite books - both the illustrated original, and Dave Eggers' take on it) and put it to the side for the moment.
I started doing some letter writing and then grabbed the book and looked at the cover, noticing a little banner in the corner that read, "Now a major motion picture." I thought, "Huh? I think I remember reading something about this and it being a good movie..." I started reading it and couldn't put it down! By the final chapter I was crying uncontrollably, I mean, the really ugly face kind of crying. It was easily one of the most beautifully haunting books I've ever read.
It takes place in England, and the principal character is a boy named 'Conor'. He's bullied, and his mom has cancer. One night a monster shows up and tells Conor, "I will tell you three tales. In return you will tell me your tale. You have no choice in the matter..." and from there the story moves between the tales and Conor navigating his life. It's a very deep and emotional read - the best stories always are.
Well, we had some good news when a guy over here had a stay of execution! I wasn't looking forward to seeing him leave on the scheduled day, and he had withdrawn the night before. His neighbour kept bugging him on Wednesday night and finally the guy yelled, "Leave me alone! I'm writing my goodbye letters!" My stomach tightened when he said that...I thought, "Dear G-d, please don't let it get that far for me..." What was so strange about it all is that a sergeant and lieutenant then showed up on our section a little after 10pm, and told the guy, "Hey, we just received word you got a stay. We're going to move you to B-Pod." I'd never known it to happen like that at night time. Of course, the section all cheered and clapped! We were all really happy for him.
Thursday morning I had a legal visit and it went well...more information to bolster my hope! Another Jewish organisation has filed a brief in support of me and I was excited to hear that...There are other good things coming down the pipe line soon, and maybe in September I'll know one way or the other what the Courts want to do.
You know, I was thinking about the 'Task Force' Greg Abbott put together to stop domestic terrorism and white supremacy, but I wonder if that goes as far as stopping white supremacist Judges who are biased against Jewish or minority defendants? I'd be curious to know his thoughts on it. If a person wields power (in my case the Judge) against a religious or other minority, and it causes harm (wrongful convictions, death penalty etc,) is that a form of terror? I'd be really curious to know.
Anyway, I left the visit with a ton of hope and positivity!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 19th, 2019
Another blazing hot day...Our section was "off" for recreation so I woke up, began a letter to my girlfriend, and then exercised. My girlfriend and I write to each other every single day...It might not always be super long letters, but I take comfort in the fact that in the 19 months we've been together, our letters have never become 'run-of-the-mill'. Writing to each other just became part of our day - a way to spend a quiet moment or two to share what we're doing, thinking etc.
I was going to try and write a chapter in my new memoir, but found myself just staring at the typewriter...Since I've been here on death watch, it's become difficult to write new stuff. I think I have to admit to myself that the stress of the situation is getting to me. Yeah, I'm dealing with it...I'm not panicking, and I do truly have hope and confidence in how my lawyers are doing things, but a person can still be stressed by certain things.
Being on death watch used to mean that the inmates there were given 'top priority', but now, we're routinely met with more apathy and a 'let's ignore the problem' kind of attitude. We routinely get screwed over now...
Then, there's the heat - another issue that no one seems to want to address. One side of the pod (D, E, F section) has cold air blowing hard, so when the warden shows up he's like, "What's the big deal? It's cool!" People start yelling, "Go to A section...There's zero air! It's an inferno!" Even the guards are like, "Whew! It's flipping hot over here!" Yeah...but no one will listen to us! The last time maintenance was over here they used a digital thermometer and it registered 100F at just 10am! Hot? You think?
Finally, there's all these executions scheduled and these guards who are new and straight out of high school find us 'curious'...Like, we're some kind of zoo exhibit! They ask questions without thinking about the effect it might have on the person, and say things like, "So, Halprin, when are they going to kill you?" We get this day in, day out. How do you respond to something like that? I fight my instinct to say something sarcastic or smart assed...Instead, I just drop my head...ashamed...embarrassed.
So yeah, I have stress headaches and I'm sad often. I find the silliest and stupidest things like sentimental radio commercials make me cry uncontrollably. I guess this is what happens when you're demeaned and dehumanised on a daily basis. Rinse...wash...repeat...This is life on death watch.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 20th, 2019
Today is one of those days where I'm feeling really emotional...mostly because I've just received a published copy of my very first collection of Poetry I've written over the years called, 'A Constant Light', and I'm so happy!!! The way it's been put together has just blown me away completely, and when the mail room lady handed it to me and I could see what it was, I felt tears well up in my eyes...When she walked away, I broke down in tears.
Having this book published by Amazon is just as good as any publishing house, in my opinion, and means just as much to me. It has fulfilled a life long dream of mine that would never have come true if it weren't for my dear Catherine – she has done an amazing job! From the beautiful front cover to the back cover...I'm just blown away! I also want to say a huge thank you to her friend who provided us with the beautiful front cover photograph which she took. I can't thank you both enough for all of your time and hard work.
I want to be crystal clear here that ALL proceeds from this poetry collection (and any other writing we may publish in the future) is going to charity. I'm not making a single cent from this and that's what we decided would happen right from the beginning of the project. The charity we chose is called 'Children At Risk' in Texas, and their website address is https://childrenatrisk.org/. They used to have a program on KPFT 90.1 out of Houston and I was always impressed with their hard work towards ending child abuse and domestic violence, as well as their work in the education system to end illiteracy.
Today, I was also approving the final front cover for my first Memoir, 'Falling Down', and we are working very hard on the final edits before we publish, again on Amazon.
I encourage everyone to purchase the Poetry collection and support this wonderful charity. We will post verification of the proceeds as each donation is made, right here on the website.
Finally, I am also very worried for my girlfriend who is ill and going through some difficult treatment as well as coping with my situation, working as hard as she always does, and a list of other things...She is amazing to keep as strong as she does, and I'm thankful for the friends she has around her, as well as my own friends who are supporting her, and the kindness of others who have taken the time to ask her how she's doing...Please pray for her.
For now, things seem to be moving at a normal pace here. The guards are staying on top of things and I'll be next up for recreation. It's hot, and yes, it's still very stressful, but I have hope burning in my heart. I am truly blessed for the wonderful friends I have in my life, the love of my life, and the kindness of each and every one of the strangers who believe in me and support me...I am fortunate, and remember in my prayers all those who are less fortunate than myself. I am grateful...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
August 21st, 2019
I didn't get much sleep last night because things broke out into chaos on Death Watch...It all started when the guy who is set for execution today [Larry Swearinger] was asked to pack his property up so that it could be ready to be picked up today when he left. Well, the guards didn't want to provide the property bags he needed to pack his things, but that was quickly resolved when some ranking officers showed up to take him to see the chaplain and have mass/confession. The sergeants told him he would get bags before the end of the night.
Larry left and was gone for about two hours. When he returned he asked the sergeants if he could give away some of his property to other guys like some books and food, and they said they didn't have a problem with it - they wouldn't pass it on for him, but they said they wouldn't stop him from passing it on either. When the sergeants left, Larry pulled out his fishing line and began to pass things out.
About five minutes after that the floor officers working the pod told him to stop. He said he had permission from the sergeants to pass his things, but one woman began to take the items being passed...Larry asked them to stop and the woman wouldn't, so Larry screamed,
“I'll be DEAD this time tomorrow! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Then, some other guys on one row began to scream and cuss at the guards which turned into them cussing back and telling the supervisors they were being threatened – no one had threatened anyone! We all just wanted to have Larry's wish respected, so that he could deal with his property as he wanted to. The sergeants had to get the items taken and return them to Larry...It was just a mess! After the sergeants left, the two floor officers continued to stir the guys on one row, saying things like,
“I can't wait 'til all of you whinie bitches are dead.” And other such charming comments.
At 5.30pm a new crew of Officers showed up for first shift and asked Larry if he wanted a shower. He went and had one, and then they put him in the day room. The property officer arrived and asked Larry what he wanted to do with the remaining property and he said he wanted it released to his family. That was a signal to us that he thinks this is the end for him...Some will tell the property officer to hold onto their things in case they return, and if they are killed they can have a loved one come to the unit and pick their stuff up.
We all talked to Larry as he waited in the day room for his 8am visit and then I went to the shower. As I was in the shower the officers arrived to take Larry away. I've seen this from a distance...guys leaving for their executions, but living on a section and watching it is something quite different. I don't even care who the person is, or what they may or may not have done, when you see someone taken away knowing that they are leaving to be killed...it does terrible things to you. You're not human if it doesn't! As the shower ran I could hear people yelling,
“Alright Larry! Hold your head up high!”
I couldn't help but get emotional...It's a very difficult thing to watch, and we're human beings...We shouldn't be doing this!
As I write this, Larry has one last appeal sitting before the Supreme Court, and it hasn't been decided upon yet. I think he felt it was the end for him. He said, right before he went to the shower,
“You know guys, I'm not going to lie...I'm scared right now. The times before I had a feeling I was going to get a stay. This time? I'm scared...”
How do you respond to something like that? What do you say? In prison there is this whole machismo thing – being too proud to show weakness or that you're frightened, and here was a guy admitting to all of us that he was scared.
I don't want to listen to the Execution Watch program tonight, but I guess I will...I recently turned down an interview with them. I can't participate in something like that.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
Rest In Peace, Larry Swearingen.
September 2nd, 2019
I'm going to try this writing thing today, and see if I can get something out. Here, lately, I've found myself staring at the typewriter and not being able to produce anything of substance. Not that a million different things aren't going on in my head, I'm just having difficulty transferring those thoughts to this space. There's this lingering monster in the background saying to me...
“What if these are your last words?”
And I have to turn my head, look over my shoulder and tell him...
“Shut the hell up, man.”
Then he sniggers and I snap the typewriter lid down, put it away and say...
“Tomorrow I'll write something.”
When I first came to death watch I told myself I would give it until September and then start taking things a bit more seriously, prepare myself if 'the end' should come. Time moves at such a different speed over here...It feels like I've been here a year, but it also feels like I've been here a day. When I changed my calendar over yesterday I thought, “Shit...it's September.” And whilst I am still optimistic and hopeful (a lot of good things are in the works and most people around me are of the mind that I'll be spared) the reality remains that I'm still on Death Watch.
There's an execution this week, and the execution a couple of weeks ago made it all the more real. My neighbor to the right of me – a guy who isn't even fighting his case, and has essentially dropped his appeals, said...
“Geeze...I just realised this shit is real.”
Yeah, it's real.
The night before Larry's execution was a tough one...When he began to give all of his stuff away there was the realisation that if he believed it was the end – enough to give away everything he owned – then it was probably going to happen...He was conceding. The next morning when they put him in the day room before 8am so he could have his last visits before leaving for Huntsville, he said...
Regardless of whether you believe he was innocent or not, hearing those words coming from a grown man is enough to shake you to the core.
In all of my years of being on death row I've watched a person's last days from a distance. Whether I was on another section or another pod. I've shook the hands of men leaving for their very last visit, as they passed by the bars of a day room...If you're human, it's extremely emotional!
When you're not on death watch, you can push it out of your mind...Go back to the life you were living...Go back to a conversation with a friend on your section...Go back to playing your Scrabble game, or whatever you're doing. When you get back into your cell you can put on a music station or program and drown it out of your mind. Then, it's a new day. You thank G-d for the life you have and carry on as best you can.
Being on death watch doesn't allow you to go back to 'life as normal' because the following week there's another execution and another and another. Right now I'm trying to process that there's one in a couple of days. Then, another just before my birthday...Meanwhile, there's a monster lurking behind me saying...
“October is approaching awfully fast...Whatchya gonna do?”
The guy whose execution it is next week, I've really taken to him in these last couple of months. I do think he has a very good chance of a stay (G-d willing) but seeing him have his 'last spend' just cut me up...A last spend is something they allow a person when they're only 14 days away from their execution – clearing out their commissary account, buying a stack of food or whatever they want to buy just in case, and it's like...Man...THIS SHIT IS REAL! He asked me if it got to his last week, would I sing and 'party' with him...
“Do this for me if it gets to the end,” he said.
I said, “Alright, dude...We'll sing and have a good time.”
“Alrighty! That means a lot to me,” he said.
I'm getting emotional just writing that...
I'm processing everything differently right now as well. One of my closest friends back here received a stay at the beginning of this year. When we talked about his experience, he told me...
“It'll change you...this experience.”
It's like I'm playing a game of chicken with death...
On a lighter note, over the weekend the guy who turned me onto the graphic novel series, 'Deadly Class', gave me all seven of the books he had! Just gave them to me! I was really moved, and really grateful. I love this series so much I had already told him I'd like to buy the whole collection if I got a stay.
September...It's still hot as blazes in Livingston. About a week ago there was a weather report that it was going to get to 'fall-like temperatures' by Labor Day weekend...Right now as I type this it's 97 degrees!
I am hoping that some good things are coming in the next few weeks. One of my biggest concerns is having this appeals thing come down to the last minute...I'm strong, mentally, but I don't know if I'm that strong. Nor do I want my girlfriend or any of my friends to suffer that wait either. It's a horrible thing to put people through...My girlfriend is dealing with an illness that's really difficult, and my friends all have their own personal worries too...It hurts me to know they are suffering...It's scary to think about.
There are a lot of good things in the works and I'm eager to find out how a couple of things in particular are shaking out. Please...continue to pray for all of us back here.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
September 4th, 2019
I woke up this morning a little after 5.30am when the officer asked if I wanted to go outside. I'd forgotten that we were now getting 6 days of recreation, as Wednesday is an 'off' day for 12 building. But because we kept raising complaints about getting screwed over, they gave us this day now.
I asked the officer who I would be going outside with and he told me I'd probably be by myself because no one else wanted to go outside. That was fine by me. I jumped out of bed, drank a quick cup of coffee, and cleaned up. Then I started a letter off to my girlfriend, as I do every morning, whilst I waited.
There's an execution today so they had to take the man (we call him “Billy Jack”) to the shower, then put him in the day room. He had to stay there until they get his property, and he either leaves the unit or goes to visit. After they did that, the officers came and took me outside. I was feeling low because of the execution and on the way outside I told Billy Jack I would pray for him and to keep his head up. He nodded at me and said...
It was pitch black outside...I could hear birds chirping, the electric hum of the fence that surrounds death row, and cars passing by on the street in the distance. I said my prayers outside, stretched, and then grabbed the basketball and practised my shot for about 30 minutes. Then I began exercising and thinking about everything...I have so much on my mind and it was good to just enjoy the peace and quiet outside in the fresh air, on my own, and it was shaping up to be a warm and quite lovely morning.
When I was outside two birds flew into the rec yard and sat on the bars. The top of the bars has a net strewn over it to keep the birds out so they can't poop all over the place. However, one part of the net is ripped, so every now and then birds will come in. I was watching the birds watching me when one of them flew through the rip in the net. The other bird followed but couldn't find the rip to get back out. It started to chirp loudly and fly around in circles and it was clearly in a panic. The chirps grew louder, like a frightened kid, then thankfully the little fella found his way out. I kept trying to will him to find his way...I was saying “It's right there, dude!” And I pointed at the rip. It made me realise that nothing on this planet is meant to be caged. I could relate to his distress...
When it was time to come back in, Billy Jack was still in the day room. He was expecting a visit at 9am, and I went to the shower. A couple of guys were talking to him before he left. Goofily, and because I know he loves classic country music and he always sings George Strait, I started singing the song, 'Amarillo by Morning'. He closed his eyes and rocked his head with a big giant smile and when I finished he said, “Thanks for that, man!”
At 9 on the dot the guards came to take him to his visit and we all yelled our goodbyes...This is somethiing I will never get used to.
It's much later now and we've heard the news that Billy Jack was executed. It's deathly silent here right now and my neighbour just said, “Shit...this is really real.”
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
RIP Billy Jack...
September 11th, 2019
I am still having difficulties writing journals whilst I'm on death watch. It's really hard when every week you watch as someone leaves to never come back because they've been killed. Mark Soliz was the latest person to be killed by the state...I had come to really like Mark as I got to know him better while he was over here. He was a very good spirited person and nothing like the media has portrayed him. He had asked me to read some of his legal work and filings because he didn't really understand what was happening in his case, and what his attorneys were arguing, so I helped him as best I could.
On Tuesday morning Mark left for his last visit around 8.45am and we were all happy to know that his family were here for him - they also attended the vigil of his execution. I was extremely hopeful that he would get a stay, and I was very emotional when he didn't return...
Throughout the turmoil of Mark's execution, I had the other end of the roller coaster to deal with as well. After seeing my attorney and wading through a lot of stuff, there was a lot of good things happening. I know the facts are on my side...I am innocent and have maintained my innocence for over 18 years, as well as never changing a word of my truth. I know how everything looks, but being grounded in all of this is very important too.
My girlfriend regularly sends me piles of support messages that come to her by email, via the website, Twitter etc, and I remain humbled by all of it. There have been trolls and haters for sure, but we don't entertain them, and neither do my friends. When people behave that way it's because they are behind a computer screen...G-d bless them. Aside from all of that, I want to say a very heartfelt 'thank you' to the people who have pushed my story around, shared it everywhere, and showed true concern and support.
One thing I've said before in my journals, and I've recently said to my attorney...
"I've been blown away by everyone's dedication and hard work in my case, and having so many people step out on a limb for me and showing support. I tell myself every day, I'm not going to let them down. I can't let them down!”
And I mean every word of that. I've always been someone who thrives and flourishes when I'm supported and encouraged. Call it positive reinforcement or whatever...I like to make people proud of me and I always do my best when I have been encouraged. I get encouragement by the bucketful from my girlfriend and my friends, and nothing matters more to me right now than seeing how proud my friends and girlfriend are of me. I won't let them down...I won't let society down..I won't let myself down!
So, I wait on pins checking the hourly news updates to see if any ruling pops up. My biggest fear is that this will get down to the wire and I really hope the courts don't do this – more for my girlfriend's and my friends' sakes who are sitting with frayed nerves and praying for a miracle. Even if it was bad news, I'd rather know so I can be prepared...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
RIP Mark Soliz...I'll miss you, man.
September 12th, 2019
Today wasn't a terrible day. Things seemed to be moving at a decent pace and the guards weren't lazy. We've had some cloud cover today as well, so it didn't feel as hot. The nights have been pleasant and I can tell we're starting to finally ease into fall. It's a slow start, but a start at least.
I was thinking about a conversation I had with a guy the other day about the attention my appeals are getting. He said he had received a letter from one of his friends saying that I was “undeserving” of the attention suddenly being given, and that it was unfair when so many other people back here deserve attention to their own cases.
I don't know what qualifies as undeserving or deserving, but I agree that it's unfair that everyone doesn't have an attorney who does the work they're supposed to do, and ensure that their client has a fair chance in their trial, and in their appeals.
When I think about my surviving co-defendant not getting enough attention to the fact that he was not a shooter and shouldn't even be on death row because he didn't kill anyone, there's no doubt in my mind that the justice system is not fair...Justice just doesn't seem to be equal.
I was talking about this with one of my attorneys recently when I said...
“I sometimes wish I wasn't one of the few with good representation – everyone should receive good representation.”
My attorney agreed...It's demoralizing that we have the system we have, but on thinking about my own situation, and going back to some misguided person's opinion that I am somehow “undeserving,” I came to the conclusion: Why, instead of worrying about why someone is deserving or undeserving, or why something is fair or isn't fair, why don't these people who complain, actively do something about it? If you're an American citizen you have the power to vote! You have freedom of speech...You are guaranteed the right to go out there and have civil discussions and debates to educate people! You can vote in or vote out the politicians who write the rules, and who make the laws governing our justice system. You could divert the energy you spend talking about me being “undeserving” and instead use that energy to do something good, or work towards fighting for equal, fair, and diligent representation for all death row inmates, and their Constitutional right to a fair trial.
It does no good to sit around moping and whining about why this person is getting good representation and someone else isn't...If you feel there are people not getting the representation they should have, then do something about it!
In my case, believe me, I know the chances I had in life and I blew them...I can't deny that. I had a better life than most – materially at least. I was a privileged white Jewish dude, and unless someone saw my Star of David or I told people I was Jewish, you couldn't pick me out from Adam. That being said, the judge in my trial was aware of the fact that I was Jewish, and after the escape there were numerous articles about my Bar-Mitzvah, me growing up Jewish etc.
So, the fact that he actively showed a hatred for that, and for me...I've said it before, it was a strange thing to hear. I've only had a handful of experiences where I was singled out specifically because I was Jewish. It pales in comparison to the millions of black people who experience racism and hatred every single day of their lives, in some instances. They didn't have a fair trial either! They should be in the same position as I am right now.
I guess my point in all of this is that it's made me much more aware of how unfair everything is, and if anyone thinks I believe I am any more deserving than anyone else – I don't! I have hoped that people would see that this awareness of what can happen to someone in a capital trial, might actually make more people wake up and listen, or start doing something to change the system for their loved ones. I cannot say it enough: everyone should have fair and equal representation, and the chance at a fair appeals process.
I've been humbled by this experience, and I don't want to let anyone down. I want to take this chance – if given to me – to do right, to be a voice for those who can't speak out. I want to bring awareness to reform issues and change the system from within. I do have a lot of 'lofty' goals, but I'll try my damned best to make them a reality!
I am most grateful to everyone who has stood beside me and will continue to stand by me – deservedly or not.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
September 14th, 2019
It's an early Saturday morning and I'm trying to keep busy. I had planned to write something yesterday, but I ended up going to recreation earlier than I expected and then I had a surprise legal visit in the afternoon. By the time I got back I just wanted to write to my girl for a bit and wait on the Prison Show to hear her wonderful voice.
Well, to my surprise, a few minutes after shift change the guards passed out the mail! We usually don't get it until some time after 9pm at the earliest. I had received a beautiful birthday message from my girl (which contained several wonderful little messages from other friends) which made me really happy. I waited on the show at 9pm and was surprised they didn't do a death row segment this week as they typically do each and every week.
Right before they went to the telephone calls they did a 'break song' and played The Cure's, "A letter to Elise" which surprised the heck out of me because they usually play a country song or something. I was singing every single word, and even doing all of the instrument parts and my neighbour said...
"How do you know every single part to the song? You were even singing the guitar solo!"
I told him it was one of my favourite Cure songs and at school, we used to play it in my band all of the time. I know every single note to that song, on every single instrument!
The calls started and at about 10.16pm I heard my girlfriend...my lovely Catherine...It touched me so much to get the birthday greetings and she relayed some from our friends, and said there had been a ton of messages for me online as well, which I'm very grateful for.
It's been a very, very stressful time for both of us going through this process and I'm continually blown away by her strength and her warrior mentality in all of this...I am also grateful to my friends who support Catherine in the fight for my life, and who are there with her and for her, every single day. It means a lot to both of us...Thank you!
In life, you meet a lot of talkers...People who say, "Oh, I'm against this or that...I do this or that...I wish this was different." People will often talk a good game, and then you have people who really walk the walk and throw themselves into a cause wholeheartedly - even as they juggle a billion other things in their life. They don't make excuses...They just do it. My Taffy, and my friends supporting her, most definitely fall into the category of the “do-ers”. I couldn't be more proud of her, nor more grateful and humbled for having her and all of my friends by my side. I love you all so much!
Taffy and I have both said that please G-d if I survive this mess, we are going to go back to just being 'us', and I really can't wait for that. We are both exhausted, and we're both introverted people who are private and independent. Being 'out there' in the fight can be both emotionally and physically draining for her and for my friends - it's counter-intuitive, even for me, to be out there with everything. I'm very grateful for the support and attention to my case, but it's also a bit weird for me to deal with...When I was young and wanted to be a 'rock star' it wasn't fame that I wanted; I just wanted the music aspect of it...To share music with the world. I would've been one of those performers shrouded in mystery...I just wanted to 'do music'.
Anyway, she made my birthday special with that shout out, and hearing her tell me all the 'Happy Birthday' messages from my friends, just made the whole day so special. I was hoping to get the birthday cards she sent, and she sent along a birthday card from her friend's son, my little buddy. I had received a picture in color of him dressed up as Yoda, and I have it on my desk so I can look at it and smile. I was told 'he' sent me some more pictures and a card, so I hope I will get them all soon!
It sucks being over here for my birthday...But I do have a ton of hope that I'll make it to 43. It means a lot to have everyone's well wishes and support. Thank you!
Things continue to look positive. I just hate the waiting game. That is where the majority of my stress is coming from. I'm looking forward to seeing my Rabbi on Tuesday though, so I have that to look forward to!
Here's to hoping this next week brings something really good...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
September 15th, 2019
It's Sunday, and it's turned into one of those days that surprises you...Not in a bad way, but in the way you feel fortunate. I had told myself last night that if they tried to put me outside first round, I was going to skip out on it because I did have some things I wanted to get done today. So, when the guard woke me up at 5.30am, and asked me if I was going outside I said...
"Third," she said.
"Yeah, I'm going." I said, before rolling over and falling back to sleep.
I woke up at 8am, so I got up and started a letter to my girlfriend when suddenly the guards were at my door saying that some people had skipped out on rec, and I'd been bumped up! I was disappointed because I was actually looking forward to third round because it would be prime time sunshine.
Anyway, I went outside with a guy down the run and we talked as we walked around. The weather was quite nice, even at that time. I had thrown out the possibility of trying to stay outside longer if the guards would let us and the dude said...
"Not me, I'm trying to catch the noon football game."
When the guards came to get us I was sitting in a small patch of sunshine and said...
"Hey, do y'all have another round of rec set up for outside?"
"No," said the female guard.
"Well, do you think I can stay out a little bit longer? I never get any sunshine and if there's no one else going outside, I'd really appreciate it."
She looked at the dude and then he looked at her and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "I don't care" and then she said...
"We'll come back to get you at noon."
"Thanks, man!" I said.
They took the other guy back inside and I walked around enjoying the sun directly over me at this point. There was a little weed poking through some cement against the wall and I walked over to it to check its health and then poured a little water on it. I thought, "Here we are...they say we're all monsters and killers and I'm giving water to a weed..."
For the rest of my time outside I thought about my girlfriend and how much I miss her and love her, and prayed her health would improve. I thought about what could happen to me in the next few weeks, and then a kind of peace came over me and I really believed that things were going to be okay. Something good is going to happen in these next couple of weeks. I felt extremely blessed and grateful for that time out there. At noon no one showed up and then the next thing I knew it was past 1pm...When the guards came to get me I thanked them for the extra time outside, but I am now very red from the sun. Who cares? I needed it!
When I got back to my cell I wrote a letter to one of my favourite radio programs on KPFT because on the 28th, 'Sound Awake' is going to do a 2 hour Cure special!! The DJ is going to take requests and I really want to hear a song off the Blood Flowers Album called "The Last Day of Summer". It's not a very long song, but it is one of my favourites. I haven't heard it in 19 years, so I hope he'll play it.
Here's to hoping that this week brings some good news!
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith!
September 17th, 2019
Today was a good day.
As always, I began my day with a letter to my girlfriend, and then
around 1.30pm I was told I had a minister visit. I had been expecting
to see my Rabbis this week and wasn't sure what time they'd be here,
but as soon as they told me to get ready I was eager to get away from
When I got out there I
saw Rabbi Goldstein first. I had met him once before
in a prior visit and he came across as very warm. He had told me that
in life we must constantly take stock of the things we do and aim to
do better and more. I took the words to heart.
In today's visit we
talked 'business' at the beginning, about the possibility of the
execution and plans etc. He told me,
“You know, a lot of people are
praying, care about you and love you.”
I told him,
for the best. I feel okay about things right now. I'm hoping, but also trying to mentally prepare for the end, should it come.”
He told me
about the importance of asking G-d for mercy and the importance of
Rosh Hoshana going into Yom Kippur. The King is in the field (G-d)
and during this time he's paying close attention to our
prayers, especially our prayers for mercy. He's also taking stock of
what we do in our life leading up to Yom Kippur.
I felt good. Like all
of this is happening for a reason. I told him,
“I've said this to a
bunch of people...and because I've been overwhelmed by so much
support and outpouring of concern...I can't let them down if G-d
gives me a second chance. I won't let them down.”
As he was switching
places with Rabbi Gordon who was visiting another Jewish inmate, he
picked up his shofar. Rabbi Gordon said a prayer in Hebrew and then
he blew it. It was wonderful hearing the shofar and a flood of
memories from my own childhood came rushing back. I closed my eyes as
the ram horn blew. Then, I told Rabbi Goldstein,
and he repeated it back to me.
When I visited with
Rabbi Gordon we talked all manner of things. The story he
told that stuck with me the most was one of a man walking down the
beach; the tide had carried hundreds of star fish into the shore and
he began picking them up and casting them back into the ocean.
Another man walked up and asked,
“What are you doing?”
“I'm saving these
star fish. They'll die if I don't throw them back into the ocean.”
“Are you crazy?” The other man asked. “There's hundreds of them! You'll never save
them all and it doesn't matter anyway because they'll just be washed
back to shore!
The man reached down,
grabbed another star fish, and threw it back into the water.
mattered to that one.”
We talked some more and
I told him I wanted him to see me on the last day, should it come. He
promised to be there. I also said I wanted to don Tefillin if
possible. He said,
“I'll be there and hey, if you get a stay, both
Rabbi Goldstein and I will visit on the 10th anyway, and
we'll celebrate your new life!”
It was a good time and
I felt refreshed and renewed. I do have a lot of hope and whilst I'm
getting to the three week mark, I have to believe this is going to
have a good outcome.
I returned to the
building at around 4pm and went straight to recreation. Now I'm back
in and winding down...
Here's to hoping for
good things to happen soon.
Courage. Strength. Hope
September 22nd, 2019
It's a Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting here listening to Casey Kasem's classic top 40 - it's a rebroadcast from September of 1986. I've always liked listening to these because you hear songs you've not heard in ages – especially from the 40 spot to about the top 20. After you get to the 20 spot it's pretty much stuff you hear on the radio all the time, but those first 20...there are some real gems and memories attached to those. I often think, “Wow... this song should have had a longer life!” For example, “Only Human” by the Human League is on in the 36 position on the charts...I like “Don't You Want Me Baby?” a lot, but this song is far better! You don't hear this song very often.
I think I'll be all over the place in this journal because my thoughts are a bit jumpy. I'm hoping for good news this week...More than just hoping – I'm praying! That being said, I am getting a bit scared for so many reasons...On Thursday I have to turn in my paper work for arrangements should I be MURDERED. I also have to make a Will, and finalise a number of other things, and my trust fund account will be closed after I make a 'last spend' at commissary.
Of course, I would hope that I get a stay before all of this, but one of my fears is that the courts will drag this out to the end – not just for me, but for my girlfriend, friends, and everyone involved. It seems cruel to put all parties involved, including the officer's family, through all of this. Of course, I'm praying that the courts will do the right thing, especially the CCA in Texas; I know so many people have spoken out on my behalf, especially in the legal world, and this has meant so much to me.
I would also like to thank Dave Atwood, a true legend in the abolitionist movement against the Death Penalty; I was surprised and humbled when on the Prison Show last Friday (20th) he highlighted what was going on with my case and spoke out about it. It meant a lot!
I'm grateful for everyone's prayers and support and I even forgive the haters who have so viciously attacked me, my girlfriend, and my friends who all work so hard in the fight for me...I love you all...Please keep praying like you've never prayed before...
So, on Wednesday night I had a real treat! I had my once-every-90-days phone call privilege when I got to speak to my Catherine. I had talked to the new Major earlier in the day to see if he could speed up my request which I had put in almost two weeks before, and he said,
“I'll look into it.”
I'll be honest... I thought, 'Oh, one of those lines. So, basically, wait like everyone else?' Then to my surprise, later that evening some guards showed up and said,
“Want your phone call?”
It was like medicine to talk to her!! We talked about our little buddy, the son of her best friend, and she said he could now pick me out in a picture. I was smiling so big! I told her,
“Give that little dude a big hug from me and thank him for my birthday card!” (He'd sent me some really cute pictures of himself inside a Star Wars birthday card!)
We talked for a few minutes (typically death row inmates only receive a 5 minute call every 90 days) and then I had to go. It sucked, but I've been in the clouds ever since the call...I went to sleep with a huge smile.
Thursday came and there was a little excitement and chaos because a guy on Death Watch I firmly believe is wrongfully convicted, Rodney Reed, had a media visit with none other than Dr Phil himself. We were kind of teasing him saying,
“Mr Hollywood made the big lights!”
The ranking officers were making this huge spectacle out of everything and it turned into a dog and pony shpw - they wanted him freshly shaved and wearing a bright white uniform. There was one point where the sergeant got into an argument with Rodney over clothing; Rodney's clothes were clean and really white, but she was trying to force him into a pressed jumper that wasn't nearly as white. She kept saying,
“The warden wants you to wear this! This is whiter!”
We were like,
“That isn't white!”
Eventually, it took two other officers to convince the woman that Rodney's clothing was indeed better than what she was offering!
He came back from the interview and rumors began to swirl that Dr Phil would be coming back here to death watch to check things out. Cleaning crews came out of nowhere and began scrubbing and wiping things down. I said,
“Damn shame it takes Dr Phil to get this place cleaned up...”
But in the end, nothing came of it...He never showed up. It would've been cool to say 'hello', I suppose.
I also had a legal visit with one of the investigators in my legal team, on Thursday...It turned into a five hour chat fest. I really enjoyed it and getting to know him a bit better. We're about the same age and seemed to really click. We spent a lot of time talking about social injustice, reform, and implicit bias and white privilege. Not conversations I get to have every day, but really engaging.
On Friday, everything was shut down because no one came to work due to mass flooding in surrounding areas due to a tropical storm. These floods seem to be becoming a regular thing, yet people deny climate change.
Saturday was cool...I was scheduled for recreation 2nd round. My neighbour, Justen, asked if I wouldn't mind swapping with him because he wanted to go out earlier, and it worked for me because I didn't want to miss Batman 1989, the movie. Well, a guy downstairs was scheduled for outside rec, 3rd round, and asked if I wanted to swap with him because he didn't want to go outside. I said,
“Yeah, no problem, if the officers okay it.”
We talked to the guards and one said,
“You'll be by yourself.”
So, I listened to Batman 1989 and if I can geek out a bit...This has always been my favourite of all of the Batman movies! Directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, it blew me away when me and my best friend, Chad, went to see it the day it came out. We were 12 years old.
From the visuals, the acting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, to the cinematic score by Danny Elfman, I became obsessed with the movie. I hadn't seen or listened to it in many, many years, so I did wonder if it would hold up to a 42 year old adult. Well...it held up! I found myself flooded with memories of being a kid, the excitement...I could 'see' every scene in my mind's eye and I'll be damned if Jack Nicholson's performance still isn't the best! Yeah, Heath Ledger was good, but Jack Nicholson WAS the Joker of the comic books.
And the score...holy cow! Sweeping and grand! Danny Elfman is a musical genius...That last scene where the music builds and swells as the camera pans up the side of a gothic building, then we see Batman's silhouette against a black sky illuminated by the bat signal. Agh!!! Goosebumps! (ha ha).
After the movie, I went outside and it was beautiful...A nice breeze, not quite fall, but almost there. I shot the basketball for a bit and then walked around meditating and praying.
There are two plants growing through the concrete alongside different walls, and one of them is on the verge of death. Each time I go outside I water both of them...The last time I was outside I gave some water to the dying one and the guy I was outside with said,
“Why bother? That one is dying.”
I shrugged and said,
“It's still alive right now...”
So, I go and check on it and I was stunned to see it looking healthy and having grown a little...It really took my breath away and I thought,
“Okay G-d...is this a sign?”
I gave it a little more water and then watered the one that was healthy already. I thought about the story Rabbi Gordon told me about the star fish, when the man on the beach saved as many as he could...We should never give up on something or someone even if we 'feel' they're lost.
Now, as it's the last day of summer (check out The Cure song, 'The Last Day of Summer'...heartbreaking but beautiful) I wonder what fall will bring. I wonder what this new week will bring...I hope and I pray for good things.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
September 24th, 2019
I had every intention to write an entry yesterday but by the end of the day I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that I said to myself, “Write something tomorrow” and here I am!
The day started off with me getting into a frustrating conversation with the captain over death row. Since last week the warden's secretary had been hounding me for my 'death' paper work. Besides not having any desire to fill it out, I was initially told by the captain the night I moved to death watch, that I didn't have to turn it in until 14 days out from my execution. So,I kept telling everyone that was sent to my door that I'd turn it in in 14 days away.
Yesterday morning a sergeant came to my door and said,
“They need your paper work."
I breathed a long sigh and said,
“Look, I was told by the Captain that I didn't have to turn it into anyone until 14 days out.”
“Oh, okay. I'll go tell the secretary that.” And she left. Twenty minutes later the captain comes into death watch, walks up to my door and says,
“What's the problem?”
“What do you mean? YOU told me I didn't have to turn it in until 14 days away from my execution.”
“Oh, you want to play it like that? You want to say black is black, white is white, green is green? We can play that game.”
I was dumbfounded. I'm literally thinking in my mind, “What the hell is going on here?” So, instead of saying something smart assed, I said,
“You told me 14 days. How else was I supposed to interpret that?”
“Well, everyone knows that's not what I meant. You need to have it filled out and then we'll go over it on Thursday.”
“Okay, but you can see how I misunderstood you?”
“You want to be difficult? I can be difficult. Have your paper work ready by tomorrow.”
“I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm going by what you said.”
He walked off and I was just like...that was strange! I could fill the paper work out in five minutes and I did, but I mean, when someone tells you it isn't due until 14 days away how else are you supposed to interpret it?
After that I was told I had a legal visit. I guess this was about 10am and so I left for that. I spent over 4 hours talking with one of my attorneys and I'm just amazed at how hard they are fighting and always touched by how much they all believe in me. It was a good visit. It took forever for me to get back to my cell, but I came back to the wonderful news that one of the guys scheduled for execution next week received a stay.
After I was back, I pretty much went straight to recreation and was stuck out there until 8pm. By the time I got back in I was exhausted...I waited on mail which wasn't fully passed out until after 11pm, and then went to sleep.
When I woke up this morning were were on lock down which meant no rec or showers. I went ahead and took a bird bath out of my sink, and then was about to start my day when I was told one of the Clemency board members wanted to see me. I wasn't expecting a meeting today, but I prayed really quickly and went out there.
Everyone I've talked to over here, or who has had a stay, has talked about how dreadful their experience with Clemency has been. But both times I've found it okay. The first time I talked to a woman and today a very kind older man. It wasn't horrible, although the first interview was quite intense. This time around, the man said,
“I'm not going to ask any questions, whatever you feel like you need to say, you can say it.”
There was two other younger guys taking notes as I talked. I owned responsibility for my actions, talked about remorse, and over the years self-reflecting on how my choices have affected people. I asked for forgiveness and I asked for mercy. I told him I believe I'm a better person today, and whilst I know the odds are against me, if I was to be shown mercy I would make my loved ones who believe in me, very proud. I don't want to let anyone down.
I told him that whilst I didn't want to die, I was at peace with whatever outcome might come and I accept my fate. He thanked me and I thanked him, and that was that. He was very kind, though. I never felt intimidated or judged. There was no smug attitude. He let me say what I needed to say.
After that it took me some time to get back to my cell. I told everyone around me about the meeting, and then my sack lunch arrived so I ate that and have been keeping busy ever since.
I am so anxious about everything, but the more I read the legal work the more I understand the magnitude of support from various clergy, Rabbis, lawyers etc. I just feel like something good has to happen. It's a hard thing to get around...
Oh, one thing I forgot about yesterday...As I was waiting to go back to my cell after seeing my laywer, I talked to a couple of guys from B-Pod - the pod I was on the night I received my execution date, and was moved to Death Watch. One of them said,
“Man, there's two cells open right now! Everyone is hoping you land in one of them! We're waiting and wondering what is taking so long! Everyone over here misses you...”
I was really touched by that and I said,
"Just make sure one of them stays open 'cause I'm on my way back over!”
I really hope and pray that I am.
It's going to be a wild two weeks going forward, and I'm trying to be as emotionally strong as I can be. My girlfriend once sent me this card that says, “Tough Cookie,” and it has a picture of a cookie with a tough guy face and strong arms flexing...I often say, “I'm a tough cookie.” I think I'll be okay.
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
September 25th, 2019
Today has been a weird day...Of course, there's an execution still pending at the time I write this, but the entire vibe of the day is stranger than other executions days.
I recently learned about being denied at the 5th Circuit and I'm amazed that they could rule so quickly! My attorneys had just filed an opposition to the State's filing, and pointed out their MANY errors, on Friday 20th, so to think they could receive a response from the State that Monday, and ruled on the very same day?!?
Anyway, I still have the CCA and my original appeal still pending in the Supreme Court, and a team of excellent lawyers who won't give up! Hope is still alive for sure.
So, when I woke up today they were supposed to do showers, but they didn't. They said we'll get them tonight. We did get a hot breakfast though, at about 6.30am, and we're having fried chicken at lunch time. I'm always uncomfortable having such a good meal on an execution day – it seems wrong and it's weird. How do you enjoy it?
Well, we were thinking about the guy who is to be executed today, Robert Sparks. He was supposed to be going for a visit but he refused it, and at the time of typing this (11.24am) he is still in his cell. The ranking officers did give him two lunch trays which was kind of them, but he's still waiting to leave for Huntsville.
The captain came by my cell a short while ago and we talked. Surprisingly, he apologized for snapping at me the other day, and told me,
“If it gets to that last week and you need anything, within reason, holler at me. I'll do what I can.” I thanked him.
Meanwhile, a huge clean up crew poured into the pod and began cleaning frantically, and shortly after that a tour of 'Big Wigs', wardens, politicians etc, came onto our section and began looking at the cells. They never came upstairs, but they were downstairs looking around...It was interesting to say the least.
The captain then came back and asked if I wanted to do a media visit and I turned it down...I promised my attorneys, and my girlfriend and friends agree, that I won't do any press right now. In one way it feels difficult to turn it down because a part of me wants to say my piece, but I also know that things can be twisted around and taken out of context, which can cause damage. It's best I save my voice for this journal where I know my words will not be misconstrued because they are MY words.
It's just a strange day here today and my mind is all over the place. I can't explain the weird vibe, but I have to remain hopeful and positive...I have to believe. One of my most favourite scenes in the movie, The Empire Strikes Back, is when Luke Skywalker (after being prompted by Obi-Wan Kenobi's force ghost on Hoth) has to go to the Daggobah System to find a Master Jedi named Yoda. When he begins to train with Yoda, his self doubt often gets the best of him to Yoda's frustration. Sure, Like can move some rocks around, but Yoda encourages Luke to remove his crashed X-Wing fighter from a swamp...Luke makes an attempt but fails and says,
Yoda, in one of his best lines tells Luke firmly, but compassionately,
“Too big? Judge me by my size do you? And where you should not for the Force is my ally and a powerful ally it is.”
He then walks to the bank of the swamp and uses the force to lift the jet from the water. Luke, stunned, says,
“I...I don't believe it.”
“That is why you fail,” Yoda replies.
There's a lot to be gained from that scene...Regardless of what you believe, or what religion you are, at some point we have to have the faith that things will work out in our most difficult times. It's hard to believe sometimes, but also, faith is all we have at times.
We'll see how this day progresses...
It's 12.24pm now and I knew there was a weird energy to this day...A dark energy. Some of it manifested a little after noon when they came to get Robert Sparks to take him to Huntsville. First, a lieutenant showed up...Apparently Robert had blocked off his window so it was pitch black. The lieutenant began to ask Robert to respond, and there was no response. I had actually thought that maybe he was trying to kill himself because he got on his radio and began calling the wardens, medical, and other officers. He started yelling,
“Roll the door! Roll the door!”
Well, wardens and everyone under the sun flooded the pod and then the use of force team showed up. The door was opened and there was struggling and fighting going on, and then someone was yelling,
“Stop resisting! Stop resisting!”
A few minutes passed and then they dragged Robert out of the cell and threw him on a rolling gurney and wheeled him away.
It was very upsetting to see all of this and my adrenaline spiked...I was shaking...
2pm...They just brought someone else to death watch – a guy named Abel Ochoa, from Dallas County. He and I were on the same floor back in Dallas County as I was going to trial. Dallas is churning these execution dates out!
There is still no word from the Supreme Court on Robert's appeal...
It's a bit later now and I've been anxiously listening for news on Robert Sparks' issue with a Bailiff having worn a tie with a syringe on it during his trial. I had this same Bailiff in my trial and he wore the same tie; my attorneys addressed this years ago, so we'll see what happens for Robert...
6.05pm...Well, the Supreme Court turned him down...I guess that's that. His life is over. It's a life...A life is a life. I can only continue to hope and pray that my fate won't be the same. Things like this shake up my confidence. But I have to be strong. I have to believe...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
RIP Robert Sparks
September 26th, 2019
Today started with a trip to see the warden. When I entered the office they had the handcuffs removed and I sat down on a bench. We went over some 'end of life' paper work and other things, and I hated having to fill it out...I guess everyone has to do it at some point or another. The major and warden were respectful, kind and patient; they asked if I needed anything and I said,
“I'm pretty low maintenance...I'll figure it all out.”
They did tell me though, that after Robert Sparks' fight with the guards before his execution, they made a policy change: on a person's last day they will be watched at all times.
I made my last trip to commissary today as well, and bought candy bars for everyone on my section, and ice cream for the guys upstairs near me...It's the least I could do. After today, unless I receive a stay, they close my account down.
When I got back to my cell I was told I had a legal visit and my attorneys informed me I was denied by the 5CA. However, my appeal in the CCA is still pending, and there's also the Supreme Court. When I read the ruling from the 5CA they agreed that the accusations against the Judge were valid, and taken as truth, and even went as far as to say they were 'deplorable'...but, they kind of kicked the can down the road. It was a long shot, and I wasn't so much upset as frustrated. I mean, why can't anyone just do the right thing?
What frustrates me a lot in this whole mess is that this isn't about me getting any 'favour', and it most certainly isn't about being deserving or undeserving – everyone is entitled to a fair trial. It's simply about doing the right thing.
So, this is disappointing, but the fight is far from over and I will ride this roller coaster until it jumps the tracks. I can't break in spirit...Yes, I'm scared, and I feel like I'm hanging upside down over a swamp full of alligators...but maybe, just maybe...I'll be able to swing myself up to safety.
Please, everyone, continue to pray. This isn't over...
Courage. Strength. Hope and Faith.
September 29th, 2019
It's an early Sunday morning as I write this...Rosh Hashana begins tonight, so L'Shana Tova to everyone! (Happy Jewish New Year!) May G-d grant us a sweet new year.
I hope that this week brings good news...I was reading over my CCA filing as well as the filing on the non-opposition from the District Attorney, and it's strong! Of course, it's not outside the realm of possibility that they'd find some technicality on which to deny my claim, but it would look bad if they did. I have to believe they will do the right thing...It's going to be a very anxious week.
Yesterday I felt weird. It's hard to explain what I'm going through right now..I'm in this physical and emotional limbo as I wait on the courts. If this drags out until the very end, waiting on a stay from the Supreme Court, I don't know how I can mentally or even spiritually prepare for that, if that makes sense. It's making me restless...I have things I want to do and get on with, but it requires me knowing I have time (like finishing my second memoir). I have goals...Dreams...
Another thing that's strange (and I suppose it's how people deal with the grief) is that some have already put me in the grave...Okay, so I have 10 days left at the time of writing this, and depending on how slow the mail is, I could actually be gone by the time anyone reads this...but I'm alive right now. In a philosophical sense, however, I'm kind of Schrödinger's cat: both alive and dead...But right now, I'm very much alive. In the meantime I go through each day with hope all the way until 6pm on October 10th.
Yesterday I cooked a batch of Tacos for the guys up here, and today I cooked another batch – I'm at my best when I'm doing things for other people because it eases my mind.
Last night on KPFT I was listening to the program 'Sound Awake'. They did a two hour Cure special and it was heavenly! I felt really blessed to be able to listen to it, and my girlfriend listened to it at the same time...We shared it as a 'date'. I was singing away to every one of the songs and a flood of memories came washing over me. When they played From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea I remembered how I used to sing it over and over with the guitarist in my band when I was at boarding school. The song was too complex for a three piece band, but it didn't stop me wanting to sing it and hum it all the time.
So...I have to go into next week believing a miracle will happen! There's a great line of dialogue in the first volume of Deadly Class, by Rick Remender. In the story the main character, Marcus, is struggling in life and doesn't believe in G-d; but one day he's contemplating jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and says,
“When things get bad enough, I pray for help, and tonight things are bad and I need help. Need some reason to keep fighting.”
May God hear the prayers of my friends, and those who unflinchingly support me, as well as my own prayers. I pray...I pray for mercy.