Knowing Eli

I’m not a convict. Let’s get that straight first. I’ve been incarcerated for almost 25 years. I have some convict ways, but I lean toward keeping myself safe and others that I have a feeling share the same values that I’ve clung to desperately…

I will not tell on someone if they are doing something against the rules, unless their actions would endanger others.  That includes officers, despite my like or dislike of them.

My dad, Bob, told me years ago, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.” My dad never came close to being in prison, but he nailed that one.

So, a day into the exodus of myself and my fellow inmates during an evacuation caused by a storm, I met a kindred soul.  We had only been away from our unit for a day when, on my way to breakfast, I saw a cat.  It was grey, with the greenest eyes you ever saw.  Emerald green.  Irish – a good sign.

I haven’t talked about cats, but I’ll freely admit it, I’m a cat person. I love dogs, but I adore cats. Dog is man’s best friend, no matter what. Cats are friends ‘cause they want to be.

That being said, this cat caught my gaze, and while he sat just on the other side of our fenced in enclosure, his eyes followed me for about twenty feet.  He was definitely checking me out, and as I walked the twenty feet to my temporary living area, there was definitely twenty seconds of dialog between us.

The officer at the check point followed my gaze and told me that the cat’s name was Eli.   He told me that in the five years he’d known the cat, Eli had never let a human touch him.

So, the gauntlet was thrown down. The next morning I coaxed the cat near the gate and stroked his head and scratched his ears. The officer couldn’t believe it.

“He’s never done that before,” the man said.

“That’s because he isn’t a ‘he’. He is a she. Her name is not Eli, it’s Ellen.”

“How can you tell?”

“Well, since we’re friends now, I was able to see she lacks the proper equipment to be a he.”

“I’ll be damned,” he replied.

So, every morning I brought Ellen a boiled egg.  And she let me pet her for however long I wanted.  But if anyone else approached her, she’d hiss, but stand her ground.  Territory is everything to a cat.

One morning, she followed me to the chapel (we were living on the floor).

I sat down on the steps leading in, and Ellen climbed onto my lap and started to purr. If anyone approached, she became offensive, but she never scratched me. I bought three packs of mackerel at commissary that day, and she ate well for the entire time I was there, 21 days.

One day, I went outside after a rainstorm, and she was on the outside of one of the dorms, sitting on a window sill. I called out her name, and one of the other officers said, “You’re wasting your time. That cat is feral.”

Ellen’s ears perked up, and she came running into my arms. I wish I had put some mackerel on the bet.

I saw her the day before we left to come back to my unit of assignment. She weaved through my legs about a dozen times, and when I picked her up, she licked my nose.  I guess she knew I was leaving.

I haven’t had any human contact, except for a brief visit from my daughter, in 24 years. That one instant, with Ellen in my arms, meant more to me than I can put into words.

When you separate people from the ones they love and care about, and deprive them of touch, you create a painful place inside peoples’ hearts.

But they haven’t been able to do that in mine.  Ellen knew that.  Cats know about pure hearts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

New Beginnings – Robert Booker, Sr., The Author

Prison shouldn’t only be a place that causes enough discomfort and pain to make people pay for their wrongs.  The system should be built from the bottom up with the mindset and goal of ‘change’.   Redemption.  New beginnings.  A system that is built to grow hopelessness and anger and solitude is destined for failure.

Somebody recently asked me if I wanted to see everybody set free from prison.  That is such a shallow question and was asked to be argumentative.   I didn’t let the individual pull me into a conversation that was clearly not going anywhere.

No.  I don’t think prison doors should be opened wide.  Absolutely not.  There are some scary people everywhere, and a lot of them need to be contained or monitored for others and their own safety.  But, that reality can’t be used to overshadow all the others.  Innocent people are sitting on death row.  That is a fact.  The guilt and threat of some can’t be used to overshadow all the injustice happening to the others.   It often is.  One serial killer or rapist or child abuser will be held up as  a reason to be ‘tough on crime’.  To those people using that argument I say – no kidding.  Sensible and fair and human justice does not include recklessness, so don’t use that as an argument to treat ten percent of our population like garbage.

People are incarcerated who will never threaten society and are there because our system is in a shambles.  One such person is Robert Booker.  In spite of over twenty years in prison, he has remained positive and has been working for a brighter future.    I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him for urbanfiction.org,  and I was moved by his positive outlook on his new beginning.

Mr. Booker will one day have it, in spite of an overly harsh sentence for a nonviolent crime.  At one point he was serving life, but after nearly 25 years, President Obama commuted his sentence from 38 years to 30, and he hopes to be free soon.   The time he spends now serves no purpose, but he is not wasting it.  Talking with him has been a pleasure, and I am excited to see where he goes with rest of his life and his new beginning.   You can follow Robert and his future writing accomplishments at Robert Booker, Sr. – The Author.

What Are The Things I See?

What is the view from inside my cell, what are the things I see?

I see the walls, with their peeling paint and scribbled words left behind by hands that made this cell their home before me.

There are tiny squares that make up the door frame, and I can sometimes try to make out was is happening just beyond my reach.

Standing on top of a stack of books, I can look out the window located just about at the top of the cell. Seeing off into the distance over the razor wire, there are guard towers and buildings inside the prison fencing.

I can look in the stainless steel wall around the sink and toilet combo and see my reflection gaze back at me in its shiny surface.  I look and wonder just how many images and memories are stored in that steel, pictures of faces that have looking into it, staring with their eyes full of different hopes and dreams.

This is my reality, my view of the world as I’ve come to know it over the years, enclosed by four square walls of the dullest white.

 

Travis Runnels, is a published author, who is currently working on his second novel.

Travis Runnels #999505
3872 FM 350
Livingston, TX 77351

Vigil On The Row

Another domino is falling, to be toppled over by a substance injected into its core, within days to be marked by a grave stone in memory of who it was and what it represented in this lifetime.

For hours it’s a waiting game, defined by the unknown, to live or to die, what will be their fate beyond this day, these minutes, each and every second that passes?

Everyone is holding their breath and wondering with conflicting emotions.  Family members are embracing hope that humanity will come to the forefront, and they will not have to mourn this day.  The victim’s family also wait, but with anticipation and a different kind of hope that is laced with pain, anger and vengeance, wishing for a twisted form of justice that will never bring the closure they seek.

Guards wait with the indifference of those who’ve done this before and, just as factory workers view boxing up goods for shipment, they glance at their watches, waiting for the shift to be over and thinking of going home.  They are blind to the fact that a man’s life will be taken as part of their work shift, it’s become routine.

The clock continues ticking, later and later the day wears on and the sky begins to darken, the stars making an appearance, and the sun finally lays down to rest as darkness descends.  The street lights come on, and still, nothing is decided.  The cruelest part of it all becomes when there starts to form within the heart of the the condemned a false sense of hope that they will survive, they will get a stay of execution.

Even the family begins to hope with the passage of time and no news coming.  For whatever reason could there be such a delay in such a monumental decision?  Everyone gets antsy within their own thoughts that are all based upon what they hope to come out of the situation.

Then the ax drops, all the lights and power of hope are extinguished with the ring of a phone.   The execution is to proceed as planned.  No stay, no last second decision after so many hour of nothingness, and with the finality of a last breath, the leather straps and restraints are buckled and locked on the body of the condemned.

This is the hard core reality of legalized, state sanctioned murder.

 

Travis Runnels, is a published author, who is currently working on his second novel.

Travis Runnels #999505
3872 FM 350
Livingston, TX 77351

I’m Still Breathing

You can cast me in the darkest pit
and turn from it while seething.
And erase me from this very world,
but baby, I’m still breathing.
Does it really make me worthless
and deserving of no love?
‘Cause the strength to overcome your madness
courses through my blood.
Just like town halls and chow calls
your antics are meant to weaken.
Just like fish under mountains of troubled waters,
still, I’m breathing.
Did you think that I would take it
now you want to unleash your wrath,
‘Cause I’m angry, black, and dysfunctional
the product of your bloodbath.
Do you really mean to demean
my legacy to a lie?
‘Cause I take your punches in the gut
while holding my head high.
You can dub me a gangster, thug, or crook
a hoodlum, or a heathen
and strip from me everything I love
but still, like wine, I’m breathing.
Do you really think that I deserved
the lashings on my back.
‘Cause I made it through your troubled storm
with my soul still intact.
Til the ashes of Mother Earth yields up the voices of my people,
I’m breathing.
Til the day when materialism no longer determines my equal,
I’m breathing.
Til chains, chairs, and chambers are no longer justices’ end and my fellow American can call me brother, regardless of my skin,
I’m still breathing.
When my past sins reinvent themselves as my present day regrets,
I’m breathing.
When the weight of the entire world is riding on my chest,
I’m breathing.
When reason enough for the war to be won
is just knowing that I’m somebody’s son
and I’m breathing,
I’m breathing
I’m still breathing

*This poem was written as an homage to Maya Angelou’s – “Still I Rise”

Chanton ©

Did Texas Just Execute An Innocent Man?

This week while I was driving my kids home from swim practice, a man lost his fight to live.  He didn’t struggle during his execution, but he chanted, trying to make his voice heard and be a part of this place till his last breath.

Most of us are wired to try to save lives, I hope.   Preserve it.  People get paid to keep us safe, heal our bodies and minds, improve the length and quality of our lives.  That makes it hard for me to come to terms with a state strapping a person down and employing people to take their life – while they are immobile – while invited guests watch.  Some people call that justice – I call it barbaric.  I call it the ultimate irony.  I call it a lot of things, but justice isn’t one of them.

Some firmly believe Robert Pruett was innocent of the crime he was put to death for.  They were fighting and calling and praying until the end.  Texas can’t argue some of the reasons they believe that.

Robert grew up knowing what struggle was.  His dad wasn’t always around and was incarcerated for some of his childhood, while his mother tried to numb herself with drugs and moved from trailer park to trailer park.  There weren’t family meals shared around a dinner table, hugs when you needed them, and displays of unconditional love.  He never knew that life.

Stock Photo

When his father wasn’t in jail, the man was running from trouble with his family in tow.  He also taught his little boy how to get high when he was seven years old.  Robert was raised rough, and it was all he knew.  And when he was fifteen years old, he got into a fight with Raymond Yarbrough, a 29-year old man who lived in the same trailer park.  Things got out of hand when Robert’s father and brother got involved.  According to the prosecution and the state and everyone – Robert’s father stabbed Yarbrough to death, while Robert held the man down.  That has never been in question.

At sixteen years of age, Robert Pruett was essentially sentenced to life in prison, receiving 99 years for his participation in Yarbrough’s death.   A boy, who never received any guidance in his life and only knew abuse of all kinds, held down his neighbor while the authority figure in his life, his father, his role model, his guardian, violently killed the man.  Robert wasn’t wired to do anything less.  He needed intervention way before that day, he needed an advocate, a hero, somebody to rescue him – but he never got that.  Instead, Texas felt justice would be served by putting him in prison until he died of old age.

So the sentence began.  The story didn’t end there though.  When Pruett was twenty he was accused of killing a corrections officer.  Daniel Nagle was found stabbed, and the cause of his death was actually reported to be a heart attack.  Two years later, a jury found Robert Pruett guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to death.

It’s not that cut and dry.  Texas doesn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Robert Pruett killed that officer.  Even if the cause of his death was bleeding from the stab wounds, which it wasn’t, there is doubt that the man Texas put to death this week even committed the stabbing.

Eighteen years after the officer’s death, Robert Pruett maintained his innocence.  What’s more, some of the inmates whose testimony was used to convict Robert received rewards for the cooperation.  Often times, in the world of prison, inmates testimony is excluded as ‘untrustworthy’ if it doesn’t benefit the institution, but if it can further their cause – an inmate’s testimony can send someone to the death chamber.   The jury didn’t know that the witnesses benefited from their testimony.

Outside of the inmates, there was no physical or DNA evidence to put Robert Pruitt at the scene of the crime.  In a crime that takes place in such close quarters, it seems logical to think Robert’s DNA would be found on something – the weapon, the torn up disciplinary paper next to the body, the body itself.  There was none.  There was nothing found on Robert’s body either.  Nothing.

I wasn’t on the jury.  I don’t know what they were thinking, but I’ve seen aggressive lawyers paint pictures.  The truth gets blurry – it can actually sometimes get obscured from view.  In a world of smoke and mirrors, should there be a death sentence?  Should death be decided based on ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’?

Corruption takes place in prisons all the time. There is story after story of officers going rogue.  They lose perspective.  According to one report, the officer that was killed had some enemies at the prison because he was trying to shed light on some corruption at the facility.

Everything I read about Robert Pruett leads me to believe he was a smart man.  In addition to the many questions raised in his case, I find myself questioning a man murdering someone who wrote him up and then tossing the torn up report next to the dead body.  It defies logic to try and stay so tidy that you don’t leave any DNA behind, but you leave a torn up note with your name on it.  Again – Robert’s DNA was not found on the note or the weapon.  And the victim’s blood was not found on Robert.

It’s pointless now to argue whether Robert Pruett murdered anyone.  People will continue to question it without me.  But, there is one thing there is no question about.  The state of Texas buckled Robert Pruett down and calmly injected enough poison into his system to end his life, with witnesses watching every moment of the process.  That we know.  We also know that Texas will continue to do that as long as the laws allow.

REFERENCES

Baptiste, Nathalie. “Junk Science? Unreliable Witnesses? No Matter, Texas Plans to Execute Robert Pruett Anyway Mother Jones – 2017-10-10T10:00:11.000Z.” Junk Science? Unreliable Witnesses? No Matter, Texas Plans to Execute Robert Pruett Anyway, Mother Jones, 10 Oct. 2017, dailyreadlist.com/article/junk-science-unreliable-witnesses-no-matter-tex-71.

Randall, Kate. “Robert Pruett, First Imprisoned at Age 16, Executed in Texas despite Questions about Evidence.” Dolphnsix Intelligent News Agency, www.dolphnsix.com/news/5430477/robert-pruett-first-imprisoned-executed-texas.

Robinson, Nathan J. “Texas Should Not Execute Robert Pruett Tonight.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/texas-robert-pruett-execution.html.

“Texas Inmate Executed for Prison Guard’s Death.” Fox News, FOX News Network, www.foxnews.com/us/2017/10/12/texas-inmate-executed-for-prison-guards-death.html.

Free Novel by Robert Booker, Sr. – Incarcerated Author

On October 13 and 14 Robert Booker, will be running a two day promotion for his book Tales From The Yard: Volume One. This is his fifth novel, and Robert Booker’s work is urban fiction at it’s finest. From prison – authors can’t promote their work. So, he is offering these free kindle editions in the hope of getting some Reviews. Get a free copy, and if you like what you read – leave him a review! All of his books are available through Amazon.   Times running out – get it quick!

Click HERE for your copy!

The World According To AARP

I never thought much about old people growing up.  I mean, I never really noticed the daily things that go into being elderly.  I used to hear my grandfather or my grandmother talk about their rheumatism or arthritis or the famous ‘creaking old bones’ or how their knees hurt before it rains, but when you’re twelve years old, you’re more concerned with riding your bike to town or buying comic books at the drug store.  When you’re twelve years old you’re immortal, full of ‘piss and vinegar’ like my dad used to say.

That being said, I’m starting to see the light at the nursing home entrance.  I’m surrounded by walkers, canes and crutches (oh, my).  It’s like a geriatric Wizard of Oz, without the magic slippers.   I live  in a minimum security unit in the Southeast corner of Texas, south of Houston.  There are around 1,500 inmates here, 450-500 of which are medically unassigned  – pardon the expression, ‘the broke dicks’.

We don’t work in the kitchen, the laundry or the unit cannery.  We don’t clean dorms or floors or anything.  Most of us are over the age of fifty.  Most have done the required amout of ‘flat time’ to be eligible for parole.  Most have little or no disciplinary problems or records.  Some have families to parole home to.

Some have everything an incarcerated individual could dream of, three meals a day, a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, a phone available to call their loved ones, and $95 every two weeks to spend at the unit commissary, where they can buy things like stamps, paper, envelopes, soft drinks, snacks, coffee and tea, or hygiene products like soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.

But you can’t by time.  You can’t buy a visit from your family or friends.  In most of our cases, time is the enemy now.

I’m not a soap box kind of guy.  I’m not a crusader or an advocate, however, I’m a very emotionally connected person.  When I watch the television or listen to NPR and I hear of a tragedy or see human suffering, I’m deeply affected. When I see a man in his 70’s and 80’s being set off for parole after twenty years or more of being a model prisoner, I ask myself two questions.

Why?  and How much longer?

I’m starting to ask those two questions in reference to myself.  I was 32 years young when I arrived here.  Now I’m 57, and I came up for parole ten years ago.  I have less than a dozen minor disciplinary cases over the last twenty-five years, most of these are directly related to my being a diabetic.  I’ve been a Type I diabetic since I was eleven years old.

I’ve never been in a fight.

I’ve never tested positive for any drugs.

I’ve never extorted anyone for anything.

I’ve never disobeyed a direct order or had any problems with staff or guards.

I’ve done every possible thing these folks have asked of me to go home.

Yet, I’m still here, and I’m not alone.  And I’m getting older, and so are my brothers and sisters.

It is stated that it takes $30,000 to feed, house, clothe and guard me, plus medical expenses.  That’s over $750,000 for the time I’ve been here, plus two visits to the hospital – close to a million dollars.

How many books could that buy for students?

How may hospital wings could that build?

How many roads and bridges could that repair?

How many homeless could that feed?

I want to make one thing clear – I’m not saying that prisons should be abolished. They are, as my dad used to say, a ‘necessary evil’.  There are a group of people who should be incarcerated for what  they’ve done.  But everyone deserves a chance to redeem himself, because everyone, incarcerated or not, makes mistakes.  Everyone has momentary lapses of reason.  Everyone is human.

No one is above the law and no one deserves to be abandoned by it.

I’ve met some truly amazing individuals in the last 25 years, people who would give anything for a second chance.

My dad used to say, ‘We live life forwards, but we learn from it in reverse’.  Those who learn should be rewarded.  Those who do not should continue to be guarded.  I’ve seen inmates leave here only to return two or three times because they were uneducated, unprepared, and overwhelmed, but there are some of us here who are not.

I consider myself lucky.  I had a father who was my best friend, who loved and trusted me, and who, in his 56 years on this planet, never let me down.  And I cry every day, not because I’m behind these walls, but because I miss him and I let him down.  And because my time on this earth is growing short, and I might not get the opportunity to right what I did wrong.

I can’t undo what I’ve done, I can’t change the past.  But I can undo some of the damage and I can change the future, and I will if given the chance…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583