Welcome to the "Life On Death Row" space of my website, where I aim to share with you the day to day trials of living in solitary confinement, and life in general on a daily basis on Death Row.
Below, you'll see a series of pictures that depict our surroundings and living conditions - from what a typical cell on Texas Death Row looks like, to our outside recreation cages, and the visitation booths/areas. I hope this will give you a general idea of the place, and as you read through my various journal entries, you'll be able to match an image to what I'm writing about on any particular day.
My Webmaster has written a detailed account of life on death row, as well as a mapped-out lock down food menu, and together we plan on adding a lot more to this section of my website, over time.
Below, you will see a very moving Memoir written back in 2007, detailing the very particular series of events that takes place on the day of an execution...It's my plan to add more pieces of writing to this section, from other inmates back here, as well as pictures of artwork some of the men produce - there are many talented people on death row.
I'm sure you will agree that there is much humanity in what you will see and read here.
Randy Ethan Halprin
Take a "tour" of the Polunsky Unit where Randy is currently housed...
Texas Death Row inmates live in extremely inhumane conditions. The men are kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours per day, and are allowed only a little time out of their cells for recreation, from Monday-Friday. At weekends and holidays there is no recreation time, and the only times spent outside of the cells during those periods are for showers, or if they are lucky enough, a visit on a Saturday night. To further confine the inmates, recreation days are not always "outside" days; some recreation times are spent inside, locked in a "day room".
The inmates on death row have no physical contact with other inmates, or with friends and family during visits. The only actual physical contact they have, of any kind, is when the guards handcuff them and escort them to and from recreation, showers, or visits. These men go years - sometimes decades - without a single touch, hug, or kiss from a loved one...Even those with children never get to hold them or play with them during visits. All conversation during visits is conducted via telephone, with the inmate sitting in a "cage" behind perspex, as though they were exhibits of some kind...This treatment psychologically affects not only the inmates, but also their friends and loved ones who are also punished by these inhumane rules.
The Texas heat can become difficult for the men (and even the guards) to deal with during the summer months...They are allowed to own a fan, and there is an air cooling system in the building. However, Randy frequently reports that the air cooler is either cranked up high when it really isn't that warm, or turned right down low when dealing with extremely hot temperatures - and often, the air cooling system doesn't work at all for long periods. More recently (autumn/winter 2018/2019) the air cooling system has not been in full working order, and major problems have arisen with mold and mildew that blooms on the walls when the air is stagnant. With the unit's windows incapable of being opened, the air cooling system is the only means of keeping the air circulating in the building - when it's not working, the men are at the mercy of the mold and mildrew growth, and Randy tells us he has to clean the walls free of mold, sometimes up to 4 times a day, to prevent the problem getting out of control.
The treatment of mentally ill inmates on death row is something that would not be tolerated in any other civil society. As an example, and also as a means of explaining the extent of the mold and mildew problems in Polunsky Unit, the following extract from one of Randy's journals depicts the state that an inmate's cell was found to be in, both as a result of the mold and mildew problems, and the inmate's own inability to care for himself properly due to his mental state:
"Let me give you an example of how serious this problem really is...Kwame Rockwell...I've written about him before, and the fact that he's mentally ill. He does not function like the rest of us, and whilst he does occasionally go the shower, he had not been cleaning his cell. Now, I can make the argument (a very strong argument) that it isn't his responsibility to ensure that he regularly cleans his cell - his brain isn't even functioning on that level. And yet, the Warden and other ranking officers were "disgusted" at how bad his cell had become. Yesterday, they pulled Rockwell out of his cell and moved him to B-Pod. The sergeant was talking down to Rockwell as he stood on the run, and he stared back, blank-faced, as if he didn't even fully comprehend what was going on. When they pulled his property and laundry out of his cell, it was pitch black with mold! Another officer said his entire back wall was black with mold...Now, just three days prior to that the so-called psychiatric doctor or nurse or whatever the hell she calls herself (we've taken to calling her Doctor Death) supposedly came to check up on him to see how he was doing. She jotted a note down and walked off...Surely she could smell the mold and see that the wall was pitch black, and see how he was living! The mental health department here is a freakin' joke! She reminds me of the sadistic psych nurse on 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.
As they were taking Rockwell off the pod, we were all telling the sergeant, "Don't get mad at him. It's YOUR duty to make sure he's taking care of himself. It's YOUR duty to look out for his mental wellness." Everything about the state's system is a sham. Wake up people, you've been bamboozled! Your tax dollars at work...!"
Polunsky Unit also has a set number of lock-downs every year, and these times can be particularly difficult for the men to cope with...They do not get a hot meal during lock-down times, and have to make do with what they call "sack lunches", which are basically peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with not much variation. It simply isn't enough food, and the calorie count per day is way too low for adult men (See "Lock Down Food Menu" that follows the picture section, under this tab). The meals are also served at particularly odd times in the day - breakfast at around 3am, lunch around 10.30am, and dinner around 4.30pm - and to be woken up at 3am for breakfast, is a particularly draconian routine for anyone.
The men on death row do not have jobs, there is little opportunity to interact with one another, and they are completely dependent on the guards working on any particular day to let them out to recreation, take them to the shower etc. This causes some frustration to inmates for a number of reasons, not least because some of the men end up losing their recreation period because things have not been run properly that day. At other times even showers are running late into the night. But the thing that really affects the men on chaotic days, is when their mail shows up very late - close to midnight on some days.
All that said, many of the men on Texas Death Row, including Randy, have risen above their conditions and maintain a positive outlook on their situation.
Randy has written quite fitting captions for each of the pictures in the "tour", and these should guide you through the Unit. You will also find a link to an interesting article (published in "Mother Jones") in our **News** section here on the site. The article cites Polunsky Unit as being one of America's top ten worst prisons. See for yourself in the following pictures....
Lock Down Food Menu
We've recently been looking into the calorific value of the food served to the men on Polunsky Unit, during lockdown periods, and it definitely falls short on both calories and nutritional value.
For example, breakfast can be either:
3 pancakes (3" diameter) at just 80 calories each, with a single serve pack of syrup which is sugar free, and provides no calorific value at all; or
a single serve box of cereal at 90 calories per serving, a medium sized boiled egg at approximately 78 calories, and a biscuit measuring 1.5" in diameter, which is just 100 calories.
So, breakfast is roughly around the 250 calorie mark. Up to around a year ago, the inmates were given a small bag of prunes or raisins with each meal, but that has all but stopped recently, so lowers both calorific and nutritional value even further. Bearing in mind that most of what the inmates get for breakfast is made up of sugar and refined carbs, and very little in the way of actual nutrition, they are most likely experiencing a sugar rush for half an hour after eating breakfast, and then crashing low until lunch comes. This type of diet contributes to diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.
Lunch is equally lacking in variety, nutrition, and calories..It can be either:
a sandwich comprising of two small to medium sized slices of white bread, with a smear of peanut butter and jelly - a meagre half tablespoon of each - amounting to 84 calories per slice of bread, and 55 calories in total for the peanut butter and jelly. The peanut butter is also cut with oil, to make it go further. So, this sandwich offering comes out at approximately 223 calories; or
a bologna sandwich...Once again, two slices of nutritionally-lacking white bread with just one slice of bologna - 4.5" in diameter - is what the men can expect to find in their sack lunch. The slice of bologna is just 70 calories, and together with the two slices of bread at 84 calories per slice, adds up to a meagre 238 calories!
Let's presume the men are lucky enough to get both sandwiches in their sack lunch, the total number of calories for lunch comes in at 461, and when added to the calories for breakfast, this brings the number of calories, so far, to approximately 711.
Dinner needs to be a banquet to reach the requiste number of calories for men, for a day...But it isn't! The offering for this meal is usually:
a salami sandwich - again, on white bread - each slice at 84 calories. A serving of salami is roughly two thin slices of 4.5" in diameter, and the calorie count for each serving is 82...Let's presume there are two slices of salami in the sandwich, which brings the calorie count for this offering to a paltry 250 calories; and/or
sometimes the men will get either another peanut butter and jelly sandwich (calorie count above) or a chicken patty sandwich...A standard size chicken patty will have a calorific range of between 230 calories and 287 calories...Now, if they serve it as a sandwich (let's again presume it's two small to medium slices of white bread at 84 calories per slice) and generously include the 287 calorie chicken patty, then the total calorific value of the chicken patty sandwich is 455 calories. We'll generously assume that the men get both sandwiches for dinner, which brings the total number of calories for this meal, to 705.
In summary, combined with the calories for breakfast and lunch, this brings the daily approximate total number of calories on lock down days, to 1416...For grown, adult men!
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, sedentary men and moderately active men of 60 years old and younger, need at least 2,200 calories a day for healthy weight maintenance. Active men aged 19 to 35 need as many as 3,000 calories a day to maintain their body weight. Therefore, many men who consume 2,000 calories a day, or less, will start to lose weight. The men on Polunsky Unit get nowhere near this amount of food/calories during lock downs, and many are forced to rely on sugar and refined carbohydrate snacks, to keep hunger at bay...Sadly, some of the men without any outside support, don't even have those snacks to rely on.
The website, livestrong.com (a reputable US website for health, fitness and weight loss) says, “Calories for Tall People: If you are approximately 6 feet tall, you should consume about 2,100 to 2,450 calories each day to maintain a weight of 160 lbs.” Okay, that's a pretty broad scope, but it does provide a general idea.
During the lock down in autumn 2018, Randy noticed that the food offerings were becoming much less than during previous lock downs, and filed a grievance at the Unit. The grievance was returned, informing him that the guidelines were being met...This led us to calculate the approximate calorific values of the food provided, and to say that "guidelines are being met" leaves a lot to be desired!
Please see a scanned copy of the grievance below, and apologies for the poor quality - these grievances are printed on very flimsy paper, which makes it difficult to achieve good scanning quality.
UPDATE - Spring Lock Down 2019: We would like to give credit to the new Head Warden, Warden Butcher, who has recently returned to Polunsky Unit, and has overhauled the Lock Down Food Menu to include hot trays at mealtimes, where possible, and depending on how things are running on any particular day. This means a lot to many of us back here, and we are always grateful for each and every small mercy. We still get some horrible sack lunches etc, on some days, but the occasional hot trays make a lot of difference.
I've included the following Memoir here, of a man named Jose Moreno, who wrote a very candid account of his final hours leading up to execution...I felt it fitting to include it here, as it's part of life on Polunsky Unit, Death Row.
By Jose Moreno...A Memoir
(by Randy E. Halprin)
The following is an account of the final hours leading up to someone's execution. It's a very moving account that I really wanted to publish here on my website, and was written by a man named Jose Moreno. Even now, in 2007, Jose still faces execution - that possibility still looms over his head, like a dark cloud. But since receiving his stay of execution and returning to death row, he has found peace, and God.
I wanted to share this testimony, even though I'm not a Christian myself, if only to show that redemption is possible...Even in the last moments of a person's life.
Texas Death Row - September 22nd, 2007
(by Jose Angel Moreno)
The barbaric practice of legal execution has become so common - especially in the State of Texas - that many people often compare it with and see it no different than animal euthanization. It's easy to see the process as nothing more than putting someone to sleep. Unfortunately, for those who find themselves condemned to execution, it is not that simple.
Execution by any means is a torture of the psyche. It is not something I would wish anyone to experience. But for those of you that would like an idea of the terror that someone experiences during those final moments before an execution, then continue reading..
Allow me to introduce myself...I am Jose, and I have been on death row for a little over two decades. Luckily, I have survived four execution dates, including one this year that came within three hours of being strapped to the gurney and given a lethal injection. I am not the first person to come so close and escape execution. Many more have come even closer. I personally know several lucky survivors. What we all share in this ordeal is a traumatic life-altering experience. What I hope to show you, the reader, is the deep level of anguish I went through and the frightening realization that I came to in the end. Something only someone about to die can ever understand.
For the majority of my life I have been a blissful agnostic, a belief (or lack of) that I can no longer hold. Over the years there have been numerous Christians who have tried to change my belief, especially during the last few months before my execution date. They see this as their last opportunity to convince me to accept Jesus so that I can die in peace. Every one of the Christians failed to reach me. On the days leading up to my execution date, it is one celebration after another. My friends on deathwatch are preparing special meals, my family and friends on the outside are travelling great distances to come visit me, the prison officials and administration are actually displaying a decency that I have never seen before. Sympathy for the condemned is soothing to a degree, but then comes the moment when all of that is forgotten. It's time to go to your death.
That exact moment begins when Assistant Warden Billy Hirsch comes to notify me personally that my visit is over at exactly noon on what is to be the day of my execution, May 10, 2007. My family knows the moment is coming and so we sit in silence. No one says a word, hoping that time will slow down or stop all together. My father's head is hung down, he looks utterly dejected. At that point I realize that I have failed to be a son that a father can be proud of. Hopelessness and helplessness start to seep into me. I watch as my family is led out in tears. Later, I discover that not only are my family escorted out of the prison, but several prison vehicles follow my family on their way to the Walls Unit, where my execution is to take place. When I am escorted out of the visiting room, I see a dozen or so civilian-dressed people, all there just to get a glimpse of the condemned prisoner. I don't recognize any of them, but they are undoubtedly VIP's, directors, parole-board members, wardens, and high-ranking prison administration employees - all here for the show.
From visitation I am escorted back to 12 building, where death-row inmates are housed. On my long walk to the rear of the building where a strip-and-search cage is located, I notice that not only is the whole building on lockdown just for this special event, but neatly tucked away in one of the side hallways is a five-man response team, all suited and ready to respond in case the dozen officers escorting me can't restrain me if I won't co-operate. In fact, when I get to the cage, Warden Hirsch steps up behind me and places his hands and arms in my back in a provocative manner presumably just to test me and see if I am going to get hostile. After a thorough search I am allowed to dress in all new state clothes and I am escorted to the back gate where a transport van awaits. Warden Hirsch's last words to me are, "Thanks for being a man about this."
After I am loaded into a small, cramped compartment in the back of the van, it slowly starts making its way out of the unit. When I get to the end of 12 Building, I'm looking in the windows for my friends and I see a brightly colored piece of paper waving back and forth to get my attention. The van is carrying me and five prison officers; the officers are are given AR-15 rifles, street sweeper type shotguns, and small caliber handguns, at the back gate. The van is preceded and followed by civilian vehicles and personnel, all heavily armed.
The drive to the Walls Unit takes about an hour due to security reasons, because they don't take a direct route. When we finally arrive at the Walls Unit, the transport vehicles are admitted through the first of many gates. To get from the back gate to where the execution chamber is, the transport vehicles must maneuver through a maze of narrow passageways between huge buildings. I feel like I am being swallowed by a gigantic beast.
When the engines on the vehicles are finally turned off, we are parked right outside the death chamber. From there I hobble the few feet it takes to get to the holding area next to the execution chamber. The prison employees along the way all stop what they're doing to gawk at the condemned on his way to death.
Once in the holding area, the only door in or out is locked behind me. Immediately I begin to get claustrophobic because the ceiling in the holding area is too low for its long length and to make it worse there are no windows. It feels like I am in an underground dungeon. The air has an eerie antiseptic chemical smell to it, and the floor is polished to a glass shine. Add to that the dim lighting, and the only other door in this room being at the end, leading to the execution chamber...a dead end in more than just one meaning.
The holding area comprises a row of cells, and the walkway in front of the cells has several tables of varying sizes and a few chairs, and in the room with me are about a dozen hand-picked prison officers of no less than sergeant rank. Most are heavy-built and tall, more than capable of subduing a single inmate. To prove this point they began removing all the restraints that had me hobbling: leg-irons, handcuffs, hogtie chain, and the big leather belt around my waist. Then I am stripped of the new clothing I received at the Polunsky Unit so I can be thoroughly searched again and given new Walls Unit clothing. The old clothing is heaped on top of my property that has been following me everywhere I go, two bundles of legal documents, records, books, receipts, and other now useless paperwork I have collected over more than two decades. I'd given away all my valuables long before I started my journey to the Walls Unit. There isn't even a Bible in my property.
Once I've redressed, I am allowed to walk freely as I proceed to the table where an old ranking official will take two sets of fingerprints - to make sure they are killing the right person, I guess. Once finished, I am allowed to walk to one of the cells. The cell is clean and the mattress, pillow, sheets and pillowcase are all brand new. The sheets are put on the mattress in prison fashion, tied underneath and tightened down. The pillow is fluffy. After I wash the ink off my hands I lay down in the bunk; I'm exhausted and very sleepy because I haven't slept in two days and can't sleep now either, because I'm told we await the arrival of the unit's warden, C. Thomas O'Reilly - it's about 10 minutes later when he arrives. All the while there is an officer sitting right in front of the cell, watching everything I do - the rest of the officers are off to each side or walking around.
The other tables in the room are for refreshments and snacks, and three huge containers of hot coffee, tea, and juice. Milk is chilling in a container of ice. The one item that stands out most is a big silver platter with all sorts of sweets on it: cookies, buns, rolls, pastries, etc. This silver platter must go back a long way, and it has probably served hundreds of condemned prisoners - it certainly doesn't belong in a prison! Even if I wasn't terrified and was capable of eating, I probably wouldn't have wanted to touch any of the sweets on it, not that I am offered anything anyway. The party doesn't start until after the warden has had a chance to talk to you.
When the Walls Unit warden shows up, he starts off by explaining to me what is going to happen. At three o'clock they will allow me to walk into the next cell where I will be behind a screen. Then my spiritual advisor will be admitted and I can visit up to an hour. At 4 p.m. they will bring the last meal. He has a copy of my last meal request in his hands, and he comments that I have a lot of food listed (pork chops, fajitas, spicy fried chicken, beef enchiladas, refried beans, Mexican-style rice, pico do gallo, guacamole, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, black olives, garlic clove, corn tortillas, flour tortillas, empanas and a whole truffle) and then he asks if I'm really that hungry. Of course, I wasn't hungry at all, even though I hadn't eaten in at least a day, but I answered that I only wanted to sample everything. He then said they would fix most what I requested but they weren't going to be able to find the truffle.
He then says he is going to leave and I won't see him again until 6 p.m., or when the courts notify him that all my appeals are finally exhausted. At that point he will return and say, "It's time." I will then walk out of the cell and go directly to that door (he points at it, and I can see it clearly from inside the cell). "On the other side of that door is the execution chamber," he continues. "You will be helped up onto the gurney, and you will be strapped down. Then, two medically trained personnel will stand next to you - one on each side - and they will proceed to insert a catheter into each arm. A sheet will be placed over your body up to your chest. Then, I will stand behind your head and the chaplain will stand by your feet, holding one of your ankles if you want him to hold you. Then I will ask you if you have a last statement. "Do you have a last statement?" I answer him that I am still undecided. I certainly didn't have a last statement prepared, and all the jokes I contemplated saying were the last things on my mind. The warden continued, "I will give you two minutes to make your last statement but I'm flexible, depending on what you are saying. I have two rules: one, no profanity or cursing, and two, it must be in English because I don't understand Spanish." Then he tells me that if I get a stay of execution the chaplain will come and inform me of it.
Finally, he asks me if I have any questions and it is at this time that I am supposed to ask for any special requests, like the telephone. The warden tells me that I can call as many people as I want but the person must live in the continental U.S. and all phone calls will stop at 5 p.m. When the warden leaves, that's the cue for the party to start. The chaplain pours me a tea and offers me the infamous silver platter. I ask for milk instead. Then I get right on the phone. The first person I talk to is my friend of 27 years, but I'm not doing much talking because I'm trying to choke down the sobs. Right then, I am more scared than I've ever been in my whole life. I talk on the phone for about half-an-hour and then the chaplain informs me that I had received a stay of execution! Immediately the special privileges are terminated and the party is over, but now I'm crying tears of joy.
The mad hurry to transport me back to the Polunsky Unit is immediately underway. The return trip is much quicker but on that ride back to death row I had the following revelation: dying is like walking through a one-way door; once you step through, there is no coming back to this side. When you are about to cross that metaphorical door to the unknown, that's when you comprehend the staggering losses you will have. You are going to lose everything you value and love. What will you gain on the other side? Certainly not any of your family and friends from this existence! When we die, the bonds in our relationship with others are severed. You can't even count on having someone waiting for you on the other side. For an agnostic there is little to look forward to. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, all have something to expect. I, on the other hand, had nothing.
Everything I had done to make my final days pleasant - the parties I had with my friends on death watch, all the "final" letters I left for my family, all of the special visits I received during those days, the special Shout-Out show that played hours of my favorite music on KDOL 96.1, the treats on that silver platter, my last meal, and even being able to call anyone I wanted to - none of that mattered. I realized that at 5 p.m. I was going to have to stop talking on the phone, and my friends from death watch were not going to be in the cells next to me. In the execution chamber, no one was going to be there with me except some chaplain I've only known for a day. Even if my family and all my loved ones could have been there holding me during the execution, this was a journey that I was going to be making by myself. It wasn't dying that I was so scared of at that moment, it was the fear of God. Afterwards, on the ride back to the Polunsky Unit, I realized that I almost died outside the grace of God. Instead of indulging in those materialistic gifts the State of Texas (and possibly Satan) was using to distract me, I should have been on my knees praying.
Since returning to death row at the Polunsky Unit, my hands stopped shaking after two days and my sleep returned to normal after three days. The experience of visiting the death chamber as a potential participant instead of a tourist, has changed my life completely. The person that went to the Walls Unit is not the same person that came back. It is my hope and prayers that I never again find myself in that evil place. But the possibility exists, as my appeals have not succeeded. I have only won a temporary reprieve.
However, if I must return to face the ultimate punishment, next time I will be in the grace of God.
Rodolfo (Rudy) Medrano #999501, made this heart by teasing out the threads on a cotton handkerchief, to make the tassles. The heart was then hand painted by Irving Alvin Davis #999423
This heart was again made by Rodolfo Medrano, and the Snoopy was drawn by Randy!
This beautiful painting is by Reinaldo Dennes #999248. Reinaldo loves to share his work, and know that it brings enjoyment to others.
During his time on death row, Randy has written several poems, memoirs and journals, and he has also taken a course in Paralegal studies...Here are his certificates and grades...
Randy wrote to author Jeffrey Brown a few years ago, who was kind enough to reach out to Randy in response...Here's a copy of the card he sent:
"...the State avoids discussing the merits except the disclaimer at the end stating the “Attorney General’s Office” finds the allegations “troubling to say the least” and “abhorrent.”