OH HOW THINGS HAS CHANGED!
My first experience of life on Texas Death Row came on November 17th 1999. Like many others before me and after me who were uneducated about the ‘process’ of being a Texas Death Row inmate, I thought that my arrival here (then Ellis Unit) meant I would be executed/murdered on the spot. Naïveté has its own psychosis too. My emotions were a mix bag of Anger, fear, loneliness and complete confusion, not knowing should I begin to fight my captures (T.D.C.J’s officers) at that point and begin screaming defiant profanity laced obscenities such as “before I go, I’m taking ten of you dick suckin muther fuckers with me”! Thankfully, it never reached that point. Instead I was taken out of the van shackled as if I was just sold and brought straight from the 1620 May flower slave ship. I recall the feeling of having the invigorative sun rays beam across my sullen face. A missed feeling that hadn’t been experienced in seven months at that point. I recall entering from the back of the prison where general population inmates were showering, lined up so close to one another in the nude that it was penis on ass cheeks that juxtapose one inmate to another. My first thought from that sight was “I wont be showing no time soon. Not like that.”
When I entered the Hall leading to Death Row’s housing I recall getting light headed, an eerie dizzy feeling. On the floor was a food tray with a piece of chicken, a whole leg-quarter, sitting on top of it and at this point I had not eaten in a full day, so you damn right I wanted that piece of chicken. Once the door opened, my perspective on what I was facing opened to possibilities also. I heard laughter and hope within the voices of the condemn men. Many announced my arrival, “New guy on the Row!” soon after about one hundred dollars worth of snacks, food, hygiene, and writing supplies was generously gathered and given to me as a welcome care package. No words could ever express how affable the vibe was ‘back then’. When I was allowed to go to group recreation, some guys played basketball, others played hand ball or chess or dominos or cards. Some gathered in groups and held bible/religious studies based on their faith. There was singing and honest tears of remorse and conviction that was liken to a Holy Ghost revival. It was so powerful to me that those guys were the reason I picked up my bible and spiritually found myself, cause I wanted to feel the way they felt- spiritually.
Then in May 2000 came and all that changed. I say changed because Ellis Unit did not exist anymore for Death Row inmates, as all 427 D.R men were all transferred to the now names Allan B. Polunsky Unit. Where we were housed alone twenty four hours a day in solitary confinement. Gone was the group recreation and the television and all group activities. I recall one guy saying “It’s like being buried alive”
Correspondence became more in demand than ever. In fact; you may say that writing became the DNA to our sane existence. Some guys became friends to some big names like, Danny Glover, Bishop Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Sister Helen Prejean, Mick Jagger’s ex wife and a slew of celebrities wrote and visited guys on Texas death row. Many others who were not celebrities but had equal impact on many inmates lives, wrote often. I recall that ever week I had at least five new friends wanting to write and there was no pay web sites available. Back then I was ignorant and lazy and did not respond to any of their requests. Big mistake, I now know.
One day this older inmate from Dallas stared screaming, “Within five years this place (Tx. D.R) will be a house of madness”. A few days later he died in his sleep. In fact that year of 2000 many guys just dropped dead in their cells. Now I would dispute that after five years I didn’t see the exreme doom and gloom as the guy predicted. However I wasn’t looking to see it either. I was in denial, though such madness was ever present.
2000 also made news in Tx for breaking the record of most executions (40) in a single year. But for me it was June 2000 that made me realize exactly what the ‘struggle’ was all about. I caught my first summer cold in June of 200, My first nephew was born on the 16th of June, my cousin, Nina went to the Army on the 27th of June, but it was June 22nd 2000 that I’ll remember the most. The day of Gary Graham aka Shaka Sankofa’s execution/murder date. I didn’t know much about him, only that he said he was innocent (even his trial judge petitioned to spare his life over his doubts of his guilt). He was well respected and perhaps the most celebritized Texas Death Row ever. Very bright and articulate, and very much a self preservationist. The week leading up to his final day on earth, he physically fought any officer that he was near. The way he saw it, “If you were wearing the blue and grey uniform then you meant him harm, and he made it memorable for all those that was on his opposite side.
Hundreds protested for days outside this prison, across the street with signs showing support for Shaka Sankofa, Media vans with huge snazzy satellites posted on top, came to sensationalize what many thought to be a modern day lynching. Three dozen or so death row officers that month quit, wanting no part of judicial executions.
Thousands crowded the small street in front of the infamous slaughter house in Huntsville, Texas at the Walls unit where Death row inmates are hauled off to lay on a gurney and be injected with liquid poison to end life. The Klu Klux Klan was there, along with members from the New Black Panther Party. About a hundred of heavily armed state police, local police, prison officers and military personnel was also present to ‘keep the Peace (did you catch the ‘satire).
At some point hundreds of Sankofa’s supporters attempted to cross the barrier. I saw a photo in the newspaper of a fallen lady, trying desperately to cross over. That photo shot softened my ignorance towards the plight of these people who came to save a ‘Life’ a innocent life, because they simply believed in the ‘struggle’.
Unbeknown to everyone was that Sankofa was enduring his final struggle inside the execution chamber, He fought to the very end. Because he was willing to endure the same beating all of his supporters outside was enduring.
Days later jet magazine had a funeral photo of a quiescent Sankofa laying regally in a gold plated coffin, captured in their ‘Best photo’ preview. Thousands came to pay their respects to a man who was murdered by a Injustified system.
Back on the Row guys would protest every execution day. Some would fast, some would create a riot, leading to physical confrontation with officers, and some gave a moment of silence. No matter who did what or how the fact remained that our Death row society was united as one body of altrusistic solitude. Everyone was keen on who had dates pending, and offered some type of help or aid that each was able to offer. That’s how things were …Then”
Fastforward to ‘Now’, thirteen years later and the halls of death row is quiet, unlively even. Haggard faces now wear ‘D.R’ labelled jumpsuits, Nearly three hundred men and women has been executed/murdered since my arrival. Good men, like the extremely funny Kevin Kincy, the kind hearted Derrick Frazier, the knowledgeable Roy Pippen, the coolest guy ever, Donnie Miller, the gentle Bob cook, my kinfolk Milton Mathis, Big Jack and lil jack and on and on and on. The shit never seems to stop.
2013 has already began at a fast pace of judicial carnate, taking the lives of Carl Blue, Ricky Lewis, Ronnie Threadgill and a few others, Men I’ve been knowing all of my incarcerated years. Men who encouraged me to keep fighting for my freedom. Men who clothed me when I was nude. Fed me when I was famished. And listened to me when everyone in the freeword played deaf to my existence, gone is the freeworld support that we once had and to some degree we took for granted. No more celebrity pen pals. No more eater penpals in numbers that once filled every inmates mail call box. Gone is the unity that once solidified death row inmates as spiritually formable. Gone is Hope that baptized us with the endurance we needed to move forward daily. Gone is the altruism; only a faint residue remains. Gone are so many redemptive souls that could have made a positive change within society given another chance.
Perhaps that guy from Dallas who predicted madness was right. Perhaps the isolation has molested every ounce of inspiration from each of us. Perhaps a symbolic Dorthy of Oz can come into my life and teach me how to get Free. Perhaps my sadness evolves from the nostalgic memory of How things has changed.
Charles Chucky Mamou 2013