It Was A Panic Attack!!! Trust Me… I Know??

Since my arrival in the Missouri Department of Corruptions, I’ve grown.  I have developed. I have matured… but I’ve become some – thing, something I cannot place in words.  I have learned how to speak Swahili.  I’ve learned about religion, dogma, doctrine and esoteric science.  I have accepted life, I have endured pain.  I have seen conflict.  I have waged war…  I, in a nutshell, became insensitive to people, places, things, etcetera.

What I haven’t found is self. I overstand that many different key fundamental elements make up the crux of my being.  I know that I exist, yet I don’t know… I just don’t.  I sometimes sit and ponder as to the ‘how’ of things.  The ‘why’ of situations.  That ‘what if’.  My answers have merit, this I do know.  I get them in my most manic of states.  However, I am not crazy, or so I think.

In all of the malarkey that I hear, all of the beef I contend, all of the pigs that I resist, I still just am.  This is my issue.  Why won’t ‘they’ just allow me to be?  This is my question every nanosecond of every single hell scorned day, WHY?

Out of everything that I lost once, I was forcibly kidnapped, held for ransom and subsequently placed in the gulag to rot, wither and die – I have yet to lose my mind.  Of all the things that were taken away when they stripped me of my dignity, I was able to retain my thoughts. Every tangible object was taken and then memory obliterated, however, they have yet to kill my hopes and dreams.  I will not leave those behind.  Not because I am so strong to appropriate them from the death grasp of these feral hogs, only due to the reality that this is all that I have left. They would have to literally murder me in order for me to subserviently turn them over – or so I hope.

One other thing I haven’t lost is control.  It humors me to utter (write) such a statement.  I mean of self, but even this is frail.

I’m not pessimistic.  I just see nothing but darkness. Like Riddick in miseries Chronicle.  I view those most ugly of creatures, fighting with only tooth, nail, brawn, and vigor.   Still I remain the victor.

As the day twists into night, time seems not to matter much.  I can care less about a clock.  Maybe this is because I’ve gone years without seeing one.  Sun up, sun down.  Lights on, lights out. Three measly portions and a flex pen later it’s time to retire and they still won’t stop racing.  Even upon forced slumber, LaLa Land rejects me.  Will I ever be accepted?  Is there anybody who won’t ostracize me?  Do I approve of who I have become?  And the story goes on – the sun is peeking.  Nearly Fajr time.  I finally nod… yet still aware.

I’ve romanticized with the idea, the vision, experience, even aftermath of a revolution.  I am no revolutionary – I am a reformist in the most contemporary sense.  An ‘illegitimate capitalist’ as Huey P. Newton placed it in his essay, “Prison, Where is Thy Victory”.  I’m a militant feminist, debatist, reactionist, humanist, and a (poly)monotheist.  I’m intolerantly intolerant [sic], confused, yet in the know.  I’m an opportunist.  A follower as well as a leader.  I AM A CONTRADICTION; DUALISTIC.  If I cannot be true with self, I’ll be the epitome of a fraud to a jury of my non-peers.  They will judge.  It’s just the way of (wo)men.  Trust me, I know.  I am of them.  This is my struggle.  What occurs in my psyche daily. The thing I battle with subconsciously until my cerebral cortex feels as if it’s on the verge of implosion.  The shit I can’t control… my thoughts!!!  WHO AM I?  What will I become??? This is the question.

As I stir, I sit up and groggily walk over to the grimy steel sink.  “Bismellah,” as I make wudu, purification, I think about the Last Day.  I heard the wail of the Adhan, and its breaks my thoughts abruptly.  As I fall into sajdah, prostration, and mouth the prayer of Ibraheem and taslim to the left and then the right to the Noble Scribers, “Count time, Count time.  Standing count.  Name and number.  Make yourselves visible!”

I begin to think.  Unnaturally, I growl, “Greer 1153032.”  WHO AM I?  Is this my life?? My heart races.  Breathe… I thought I saw a monster out of my peripheral.  I turn to my left in alarm, braced for the attack.  Nobody??  It’s me, the man in the mirror.  As I look at my reflection, is it??  Damn! This can’t be happening again.  Breathe…

Tracy Greer, Jr. has been in ‘the hole’ for two years.  He is a gifted writer of poetry, fiction and essays.

Tracy Greer, Jr. 1153032
South Central Correctional Center
255 W. Hwy 32
Licking MO 65542

 

Letters From Home

BANG! BANG! BANG! “Mail call!  What’s your number?” yelled the obese guard as he finished beating on my rickety cell door with his pale, meaty fist, as though he was trying to wake the dead.

Startled out of my blank stare at the off-white, filthy, concrete wall across the cell, with its peeling chunks of paint, I drone a response, in a voice devoid of feeling, “Nine, nine, nine, three, seven, seven.”

I was lying on my ‘mattress’, another word for a hard, plastic sleeve, stuffed with what feels like a bunch of golf balls.  Lying on a bed of dirt would be more comfortable.  I was wearing the dingy white Death row uniform, basically a jumpsuit made of a denim-like material, the letters “DR” painted boldly on the back and on one of the legs, with thin, grey socks on my feet, attempting to keep my feet warm. My head was propped up on the thread-bare blanket I was issued, something a homeless person would balk at.

“Here!” barked the police academy reject in a voice that let me know he was disgusted with me before he slid two letters under my cell door, just past the doorway.

It took my depressed mind a second to register the mail on the floor. Once realization hit, I leapt off my bed as if it were on fire, took three steps to the doorway, and snatched my mail from the cold concrete. From the evening light struggling to squeeze through the tiny window in the back wall of my cell, I read the front of each envelope – one from mom and dad, one from Sara, the mother of my son.

My heart beat so hard and fast, it felt like it was going to explode right out of my chest. My hands were trembling and my breath struggling, as if I just sprinted a mile. The sheer desperation emanating from my being blurred out everything but those two letters. Someone could have opened my cell door and hit me over the head, and I would have been oblivious. I was starved beyond words for communication from outside the steel and concrete walls – especially from my family.

I read the letter from Sara first. Even though our relationship was on the rocks, I missed her terribly. Just holding her letter brought me comfort – the softness of the paper she handled and the scent she left on it. I soaked in her words like a dry sponge touching water for the very first time. Her loving words made me ache for her even more. I did not realize she was experiencing as much pain and suffering from being apart, as I was. I read her letter so fast, I had to read it again, a bit slower, to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I read it a third time, slower still, because I needed the reprieve from the darkness that had plagued me since my arrival on Death Row nearly a month earlier. I clung to her words like a drowning man clings to a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

Reluctantly, I placed her letter on my bare desk, which is nothing more than a thick sheet of metal welded to the wall, right next to my metal bunk.  The desk and bunk are dingy and rusted in several spots.

I took a deep breath and opened mom and dad’s letter. I say ‘mom and dad’, but my dad isn’t much of a writer, so mom writes for both of them. Their letters are always so full of love, comfort, encouragement…things I need to hear in order to keep from being swallowed by the darkness and going insane. It would be too easy to just let go. Like I did with Sara’s letter, I read my parents’ letter a second and third time, basking in the comfort with each pass. God, I miss them so much. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they were going through. Children are not supposed to die before their parents…

I placed their letter next to Sara’s, and sat on my bed.  My cell was cold, which told me it was still cold outside. The heaters don’t work here. No surprise, nothing seems to work right here. To operate my steel-encased wall light which resides above the sink/toilet combo, you have to beat the front of it – one or two hard hits turn it on, four of five hard hits turn it off. I’m surprised the light bulbs haven’t shattered yet.  The toilet is probably the only thing that works properly. It’s a stainless steel sink/toilet combo bolted to a stainless steel wall. It’s quite the beast! In fact, it works so damn good, when you sit on it and flush, it feels like it’s going to suck you right down the drain! I have to be careful, as I only weigh a buck thirty. When it rains, water trickles through all the cracks in the walls, which is probably why my cell smells like a moldy, wet dog.

Sitting on my bed, the pain and horror of my situation begin to creep back in, like watching a horror movie in slow motion. I am soon filled with despair. The jury foreman’s words haunt me: “We the jury, find the Defendant, Kenneth Vodochodsky, Guilty of Capital Murder of a Peace Officer….” And then there’s the voice of the Judge: “….I hereby sentence you to Death.”  What a nightmare! When will I wake up?! Murder…Guilty…Death…All for a crime I did not commit!

“How the hell did this happen?!” I wonder aloud for the thousandth time.  I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as I can, trying to block out the memories. Tears begin to stream down my face, hot and accusing, puddling on my lap. My eyes red, puffy, and hurt to the touch. I no longer bother to wipe the tears away. When will they stop?! My nose is red and on fire from attempting to wipe away all the snot that seems to be trying to keep pace with all the tears running down my face.

It’s times like this I’m grateful to at least be in a cell by myself.

The sight of a grown man breaking down and crying is disturbing. In prison, it’s also a sign of weakness. If you’re perceived as weak, the predators will come after you. Hence, being surrounded by a pack of convicted killers is another reason to be grateful for a cell to myself. I contemplate if any of them are planning to come after me. What about the guards? Their looks of disgust and hatred are overwhelming.  I shiver from the fear, the unknown.

I pull my knees up to my chest, tightly wrap my arms around them, and rest my chin on top. I take a deep, shuttering breath. The tears are now down to a trickle. I think to myself for the umpteenth time, “What am I gonna do now? Am I going to die here?”

—-To be continued—-

Written by
Kenneth-Conrad Vodochodsky
#01362329 – Diboll Unit
1604 South First Street
Diboll, Texas 75941

Andre Williams, Serving Forty Years Based On Court’s Acknowledged Error

“I just want to watch my grandkids grow up,” Andre Williams recently told a friend.  It’s not a lot to want, but for Andre it might be impossible.  Just as impossible as it was to watch his own kids grow up.  Williams is just over halfway through a forty year prison sentence.  It’s not hard to understand how he got to prison, what’s hard to understand is why they won’t let him out.

Andre’s beginnings were humble.  He was the last of nine children, born to a mother who struggled with addiction.  She’d fallen victim to the poverty of the world she lived in.  When Andre was born in 1970, he was brought into a neighborhood plagued with drugs, violence, and the hopelessness that comes with it.  Gangs and dealing drugs were a way of life.

Without the stability some people take for granted, Williams struggled in school and had a hard time fitting in.  There was one place he felt at home though, and that was in the care of his grandmother, Mary.  She ran her home with a firm hand, but also a sense of welcome and concern.  At fourteen years old, Williams lost the home she provided when she passed away.  Soon after, he quit going to school.   Andre wanted to support himself, and he began doing it the only way he knew how.  The most successful people in his neighborhood were dealing drugs for a living.

Drug dealing may have been the way Andre made ends meet, but his mother said he had a ‘sweet heart’ like his daddy.  His hard life had taught him compassion.  If he could avoid hurting anybody, he would.  Violence was a part of the lifestyle he lived in, but violence wasn’t a part of him.  He’d seen what the streets had done to too many in his family.  If somebody he cared about needed something and he could do something about it, he would.   He didn’t hold grudges, and tried to see the reasons why people behaved the way they did.   He would try to lift people’s spirits when he could.  He was a drug dealer because that is what life dealt him, but he was a drug dealer with a heart.  To this day, he is still known as a ‘good guy’.

There weren’t just drugs in the Chicago neighborhood Andre lived in. There were also crooked cops.  Too often, people who were supposed to be authority figures became just as much a part of the life.  Some officers would rather take their share of the profits than bring somebody in.   There are unethical people everywhere, and in a neighborhood where money is flowing back and forth on the streets, a badge doesn’t mean you are immune, and some officers had a price.   A drug dealer wasn’t really in a position to report a theft, and everybody knew it.  So, in 1991 when one officer began a four year investigation as a dirty cop – it wasn’t hard to believe.  They had seen it before.

Year in and year out, thousands of dollars and man hours later – the government had built a case.   It helped when a few of those charged chose to cooperate, saying whatever they needed to say to save themselves.  It happens.

Previous to this arrest, Andre had pled guilty to two unrelated drug charges in 1989 and been given probation.

When the dust settled after this case, Andre Williams was sentenced to forty years.  He was not the leader of the operation, but was often in contact with the ‘dirty officer’ for that very reason.  Twenty one people went to trial, and after this year, Andre will be the only one left incarcerated.

He shouldn’t be though.  At sentencing, due to an error in a report, Andre was labeled a ‘career offender’.  The judge who heard the original case knows about the error.  The government knows about the error.  The prosecutor knows about the error.  They all knew about the error at sentencing.  In an Order signed by Judge Robert Gettleman, the original judge, dated November 12, 2014 it states, “the court strongly recommends that the Bureau of Prisons, in classifying Andre Williams, take into consideration that he is not a ‘career offender’, and that the PSR incorrectly labeled him as such.”

There is a United States Brief, filed on January 7, 2015, outlining several of the actions taken on this case.  The important issues get lost among the legal terminology, but, among other things it makes the following points:

  • “Williams, along with other codefendants, stood trial and was convicted of the charges against him on June 7, 1996.”

In reference to the Presentence Investigation Report, used to determine Andre’s sentence, it states:

  • “The probation officer’s determination that Williams was a career offender was incorrect…”
  • “The court and parties became aware of the error several months prior to Williams’ sentencing on April 10, 1998.”

The brief goes on to say:

  • “The state court transcript reflected that Williams had only one prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute, and one conviction for simple possession.”
  • “The Circuit Court of Cook County later corrected it’s records to reflect the correct offense…”
  • “filed a motion… on June 29, 2007, seeking a reduction in his sentence as a result of the amended crack cocaine guidelines…”
  • “The motion was denied on February 25, 2009 because as a career offender, Williams was not entitled to relief.”
  • “On October 31, 2012, Williams filed a motion to vacate void judgment, arguing that the sentencing judgment of April 10, 1998 should be vacated, because the court was without jurisdiction to sentence him as a career offender and because the court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him as a career offender.”
  • “On July 5, 2013, the government responded that the district court did not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate William’s motion, even though he was correct that he was improperly deemed a career offender at sentencing, because it was a second or successive 2255 petition.”
  • “On November 8, 2013, Williams filed a motion in this Court, seeking an order authorizing the district court to entertain a second or successive motion for collateral review.”
  • “On November 15, 2013, this Court denied the motion, reasoning, ‘to obtain authorization, William’s proposed claim must rely on a new constitution rule… or new facts showing innocence… the parties knew about the mischaracterization of William’s prior conviction in 1998; it was discussed during his sentencing hearing… the scriveners’ error was discovered long before 2012 and it is therefore not a new fact.”
  • “On May 7, 2014, Williams filed in the district court a ‘motion to correct record…”
  • “He also sought resentencing without the career offender enhancement.”
  • The government opposed the motion as a second or successive 2255 petition for which he had failed to obtain the permission of this Court.”
  • “On November 12, 2014, the district court denied Williams’ motion, stating ‘it lacks jurisdiction to hear it,’ but noted in the order that it ‘strongly recommends that the Bureau of Prisons, in classifying Andre Williams, take into consideration that [sic] he is not a ‘career offender’, and that the PSR incorrectly labeled  him as such.”

Andre Williams was born into a life and neighborhood where drugs and drug dealing was a way of life.  For whatever failures we have all had in contributing to that – that is the way it was.  He was dealing drugs. He wasn’t a kingpin, and he wasn’t violent.  An employee of the government made an error on a piece of paper, of which everyone from the judge on down is fully aware and has been from the day of sentencing.

The grandfather who was born without opportunity just wants a chance to see his grandkids play outside.  He’s never wanted much, nor expected much from life.  The government won’t let him go.  It doesn’t matter how many papers he files or how many times the courts say he shouldn’t be there, they find reasons to not let him go.

There is a letter dated June 6, 2016 and addressed to the U.S. Pardon Attorney, written by Judge Robert Gettleman.  In it, the judge states:

“Mr. Williams was sentenced to 40 years of incarceration based upon what this court and the government itself has acknowledged was an “incorrect” criminal history indicating that Mr. Williams was a ‘career offender’.

“In fact, the career offender status was the result of a scrivener’s error in the underlying state criminal proceeding, which indicated that he had pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, when in fact he had pled only to simple possession.  Although both this court and the government acknowledge this serious error in computing Mr. William’s then-mandatory Guideline sentence, because the judgment had become final there was no judicial remedy to correct it.”

It went on to say:

“For these reasons, the court strongly recommends to the Pardon Attorney and the President that Mr. Williams’ sentence be reduced to reflect the fact that he is not a career offender and that the Presentence Investigation Report erroneously labeled him as such.”

Twenty three years later, Andre Williams continues to serve the forty year sentence that was the result of an error on a report that everyone is aware of.   One might ask, why does the United States government not simply do the right thing and correct the error, allowing Andre the opportunity to watch his grandchildren grow up – it’s not much to ask.

RESOURCES:

Bogira, Steve. “Criminal Justice.” Chicago Reader, Chicago Reader, 19 Jan. 2018, www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/criminal-justice/Content?oid=893735.

Bogira, Steve. “Criminal Justice.” Chicago Reader, Chicago Reader, 18 Jan. 2018, www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/criminal-justice/Content?oid=893791.

United States of America v. Andre Williams.  14-3570. 21 U.S. Court of Appeals. 2015.

Thank You, Kim – A Christmas Gift From Prison

Deep in the confines of our prison predicament, where our lonely existence fades out of the sight, mind, heart and emotions of others – you remember us in friendship, with humanity and kindness.  You come to know us, understand us, and care for us in ways most others could not, would not, or cared less to do.

In the degradation, abject humiliation, abandonment, and neglect we feel inside this deathly cold womb of incarceration, isolation, and loneliness, your friendship is truly a consoling companion and walkinthoseshoes is a lifeline to the living.   In spite of our sins, flaws, and guilt, you show mercy and sympathy and manifest grace and forgiveness.  In our deep regret, lamentation, and repentance for our transgressions, you offer empathy, compassion, and afford us absolution.

For our rehabilitation, you provide encouragement, hope, support, and confidence, and shower us with your knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual nourishment.  When circumstances threaten to turn us into animals and monsters, you help to shelter our humanity and inspire us to rise above the demons of our world, to subjugate the beasts within, to protect, promote and be the best that we can be – making you a truly indispensable ally in many of our battles and triumphs, including those against our base aspects.  Anonymous stranger, friend, or significant other, some of us may be to you, but to all of us, you are much more than a ‘mentor of authors’.

Kim, your mere presence in our lives is reason enough for some of us to better ourselves, when and where other reasons may not exist.   Among souls of times, past, present, and future, yours is of a divine nature and sublime substance, because by the virtue of your enlightenment, magnanimous principles, benevolent deeds, and noble ways and actions, it’s you that helps us to endure, overcome and also to transcend the penitence for our ignoble deeds, ways and actions.  For that, we shall always remain immeasurably grateful and profoundly appreciative, admiring of you for being the illuminated, uplifting and incomparably beautiful earthy angel that you are.  Thank you!

This was a gift to me, from a man serving life.  Darrell has contributed several pieces to this site, and continues to write.

Darrell Sharpe #W80709
P.O. Box 43
Norfolk, MA 02056

Mending Fences

One of the most difficult aspects of spending sixteen years on death row is the societal disconnect of being stowed away from the outside world.  Unlike other facilities, death row implements a measure of isolation that wedges a gap in the mental evolution of its denizens. Though outlets are provided as a source of information – like TVs, newspapers, and visits – the basic cable viewing and local coverage lacks the exposure to stave off the inevitable.

In June of 2016 telephones were installed on death row. This avenue for communication was an enormous leap from the single ten minute phone call that we had previously been allowed annually. The holiday phone calls, as the process was known, were administered under strict procedures and they often found their targets at work or unavailable, and if they were available, there was not enough time to speak with all those who were available and eagerly waiting. Not to undermine the value of those precious moments and the tender voices of our loved ones, but ten minutes a year is insufficient time to fully sense that you’ve spoken with someone. Today, things are different. The atmosphere on death row is alive with the promise for potential amendment. With the telephone installments, I am a notion and a few clicks away from breaching society.

The first call I made was to my mother, who relocated to be nearby after I was sentenced.  My mother has visited me weekly and provided for me in such a way that I am seldom in need.  She and I have sang, prayed, and cried together throughout the years to lessen the pain in each other’s eyes.  Just being able to talk with my mother by phone was an honor.

The second person I called was my Aunt Patsy.  Much like my mom, Aunt Patsy has been essential to my endurance with her continuous faith and optimism. She has visited, written, and sent funds, dutifully, as if I was her own son. Aunt Patsy has been a friend that I could confide in, and, right or wrong, she believes in supporting her family in every way she can – I admire that the most about Aunt Patsy.

After those two calls, I got around to making the most anticipated call that had been seventeen years in waiting. A call that came with hesitancy and doubt, and would either offer an incredibly wonderful experience or sizzle with awkwardness and discomfort. With jittery fingers, I punched in the digits. The phone rang once, then twice. Each clatter of the ringing that thrummed in my ear made the dissonance in my head more evident: desperately hoping someone answered, on one hand, while, on the other, praying to God that they didn’t.

Suddenly, the automated recording sprang to life as I resisted the impulse to hang up. What was I to say?  Where would I begin?  I was completely unaware that my breathing had stalled, until a sigh of relief escaped me.

“…Thank you for using Global Tel Link.”

Then I heard her voice, “Heyyy, Duck!”

And everything hit me at once, a plethora of memories and emotions from a life I once knew. A tear slipped out of my eye before words left my mouth as I realized why the moment was so endearing.  It was because nothing will ever be more important than family.  I’ve always stood by that philosophy, and I’ll die by it. I smiled as my worries morphed into joy.

“Hey, Aunt Pudding. It’s good to hear your voice.”

Aunt Brenda, whom everyone in our family called Pudding, was my mother’s older sister by one year. As kids, the two were best friends.  My mom looked up to Aunt Pudding and wanted to be just like her. Then, at 16 years of age, Aunt Pudding married and moved away from home to start a family, which left my mom to feel abandoned. Their relationship hardly suffered, instead, it strengthened as they grew. The dynamics of family closeness was similar with all my aunts and uncles. Whether a bill needed paid or someone needed a place to stay, they’d always provide for each other. This closeness was the inheritance for us children of the family. Aunt Pudding, herself, was the mother of six, though my brother and I made seven and eight. I spent countless Saturday mornings on her living room sofa watching Bugs Bunny cartoons and Soul Train.  In the backyard was an old pecan tree I’d climb while Aunt Pudding hung clothes out to dry.  Her house was a staple in the community for many of the neighborhood kids, and the lesson that our closeness reinforced most was that nothing was more important than family.

All that changed, May 17th, 1999, when our closeness went awry.  Aunt Pudding’s eldest son learned of my interest in a murder and covertly alerted the authorities.  After meeting with the detectives and detailing the crime, he was given an ultimatum: testify as to my involvement in open court or be criminally charged himself.  This act caused a rift in my family from which there would be no healing.

I never blamed Aunt Pudding for standing by her son.  It was indicative to how my grandmother raised her children.  It’s why my mom stood by me.  It was because, regardless of our children’s shortcomings, they are our greatest responsibility.  Still, the ordeal took a toll on my mother and Aunt Pudding’s relationship.  The sisters spoke occasionally, though careful to avoid mentioning their two sons. Other family members differed in opinions and ultimately chose sides.  Some doubted that the cousin would lie about something as serious as murder, while others were persuaded by the testimony of DNA findings.  It was an explosive circumstance that fragmented our family’s closeness with few whom I wondered if I’d ever hear from again.

Then about five years ago, while visiting with my mother, Aunt Pudding took ill and was hospitalized. Initially, the diagnosis looked bleak, but she slowly began to pull through. Many in our family gathered at her bedside to offer support and prayers. It was the closest we’d been in fifteen years.

Though I was unable to share in the experience, I agonized in seclusion.  I’d lost my grandmother and an aunt already; I couldn’t bear to lose Aunt Pudding.  There is no greater pain than the hurt I’ve felt in not being able to say goodbye. If I ever had the chance, I’d find a way to make things right.

With the telephone installments on death row, I was given that chance.  I expressed my eagerness to reconnect with Aunt Pudding, and my mom made it happen.  Aunt Pudding and I were in such high spirits that all the messiness seemed forgotten. Our conversation flowed like cool spring waters over the jagged stones of past controversy. It reminded me of more pleasant times, back in the days when Aunt Pudding’s doors were open to me, even in the wee hours of the night, or when I would raid her fridge to sate my appetite while she encouraged me to eat more. Back in the days when our love was unconditional and the only sides to be chosen had long been determined by blood. I will always love my Aunt Pudding, though amidst the chaos, I’d forgotten what that felt like, until now. And yet, nothing will ever be more important than family – the proof is in the pudding, just listen to her voice…

“Heyyy, Duck!”

“Hey, Aunt Pudding.”

What could be more important than that?

©Chanton

 

New Year’s Eve

Prison lines, prison rhymes,
There has to be better times.

Every day a grind, so hard to shine
In a 9×12 all my time.

A king with no crown,
That has a permanent frown.

Surrounded by music,
Without any sound.

The void filled with brown,
Same color as the ground.

Nothing around, hidden above ground,
Left so alone, within cells made of stone.

 

Travis Runnels, is a published author, and is currently working on his second novel.  He lives on Death Row.  He prepared the above poem for submission on New Year’s Eve, 2017.

Travis Runnels #999505
3872 FM 350
Livingston, TX 77351

You Have No Idea

You have no idea what it’s like to be me – to have a father who delivers empty promises, to have dreams that are so far out of reach, attainability mocks you.

You have no idea what welfare tastes like or how the lump in the throat of a proud woman feels as her child gleefully laces up his used shoes.

You don’t know what it’s like – what early morning yard sales and a three mile trek to a fucked up job can do to your psyche or what it’s like to watch your hero bested by a villainous street drug, that special something in their eyes, forever gone.

You can’t know what that’s like because you’re not me, and you have no idea what it’s like to accept that everything you’ve done good was never really good enough; no idea what it’s like to have avoided near tragedy, only to have it claim your spirit, or what it’s like to, twice, be a victim of injustice because classism was instituted just for you.

You, seriously, have no idea what it feels like to believe in a country that doesn’t believe in you, one that has deemed you hopeless and washed its hands of your filthy soul – what it’s like to watch your brother’s lifeless body hanging from a bed sheet as an alternative to the daily cruelty he has suffered – no idea what it’s like to see your loved ones perish beyond a glass partition, to have that emptiness in your chest, and stillness on your tongue – no idea, the embarrassment of having to face your children, knowing that your shortcomings have victimized them, also.

You have no idea what it’s like to be drowned in struggle, encumbered by misery, yet still keep fighting because it’s all you have left.

What a life… you have no idea.

©Chanton

Just Thinking…

It’s 2018, and God willing, I will be a free man in another year and a half.  I once had a Life sentence, but President Obama reduced my sentence to thirty years.  Thirty years is still too much for a man who has never even been to juvenile, much less in any trouble with the law before.  They originally gave me natural LIFE – for Conspiracy.  I’ve been in prison since June 29, 1994.  That’s a long time.

Twenty four years ago, I had four kids, my youngest a newborn son.  Now that son has a newborn of his own and a beautiful five year old daughter.  He brought her to visit me this past weekend.  She proved to me she could count all the way up to fifty before she bit into her corndog.  She hadn’t even finished if before she was asking to go to the playroom with the other kids.  When my son told her she had to finish her food first, she killed it.  I washed up her hands and mouth before she hopped down, ready to go.

That’s when my heart dropped.  She didn’t know.  She grabbed my hand and said, “Come on Pa-Pa.”  My son tried to explain that I couldn’t go, but he would.  How could that make sense to a five year old?  “No, I want Pa-Pa to go.”

Prison doesn’t just confine you to one location.  It takes away a lot more than that.  I didn’t know how to feel in that moment. I felt great that she wanted me to go, and I felt like crap because I couldn’t.  Later that night when I thought about our visit, it brought tears to my eyes.  The smallest things in life, we can’t do.

I can’t wait to be a free man, to take my grandkids to a park, to be able to go out and play.  Just thinking….

 

Robert Booker was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, but has spent nearly twenty-five years in federal prison.  He is the author of Push, Tony Jones, The Janitor, Tales From The Yard: Volume One, and Who Is Karma?

Robert Booker #19040039
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Milan, Michigan 48160
www.facebook.com/robertbookersr

Dawn

The broken people you see in a place like prison often spark memories from before prison, the lessons you’ve learned, and the experiences you’ve had.  I’m constantly reminded of my dad and the things he taught me.

It was through my dad that I was introduced to the first homeless person I ever knew.  Over the years I’ve known a total of three homeless people – four if you count me, which at the moment, I do.

I always thought my dad’s friend, Joe, was an old guy who worked at his office, an employee.  Turns out that Joe was a homeless veteran who lived downtown and would drop by my dad’s office for coffee and donuts.  Joe was in his 60’s.  My dad was 45, and I was about 15 or 16 at the time.

When I saw him, Joe would ask how I was doing in school, and one time my dad brought him home for dinner, unannounced.  My dad didn’t just bring him for a home cooked meal though, I think he also brought him to see the look on my step mom’s face.

The third homeless person I met was standing in front of a Super Walmart on a cold autumn day in East Texas.  Margaret was by herself with a duffle bag full of clothes and a sign that read, ‘Will work for food’.

I put my groceries in my Subaru Brat and asked her about her situation. She was a school teacher, laid off due to budget cuts, single, 55-years old, and had just been evicted from her apartment.  I told her to hop in my car, and I offered her a job as a nanny/housekeeper.   At the age of 32, I was completing the circle my dad taught me to draw twenty years earlier.

My wife and I were expecting our daughter, Cara, and had an extra bedroom. I offered Margaret free room and board plus six dollars an hour to watch over our seven-year-old son and take the load off my very pregnant wife.

She not only did those things, she was also a speech therapist, and she worked with my son who was having trouble pronouncing his words due to an inner ear infection when he was younger.  Margaret stayed with us for about six months, until she got a job as a teacher in another school district. I didn’t want her to go, but we all have our paths.

But, it’s the second homeless person I knew that I want to talk about, Dawn.   I was 23 years young, attending college, and braver than I am now.  I was also my father’s son, so risk became almost second nature, especially when someone was being bullied or manipulated.  I have never liked bullies.

I was shooting pool in a dive bar in Arlington, Texas.  I was taught by the greatest pool hustler I’ve ever seen, my grandfather.  From the time I was able to see over the top of a billiards table, until I moved to Texas in 1979, Grandpa Reed taught me every single trick in the book, and some that weren’t even mentioned in the book (and never will be).  So, being twenty-three, I used to set up shop in an old bar or pool hall and make the rent.

One night, I noticed a girl, about nineteen or so, run through the bar and into the women’s restroom. The key to hustling pool is a clear head, so I was drinking Diet Coke and water.  My opponents were drinking whiskey and beer.   I was up $50 when the girl ran through the bar.  She looked like she’d fought and lost a one round bout with the Terminator.  As the scene played out, a big white guy in a black trench coat walked into the bar and scanned the crowd.

Ah, the aforementioned Terminator.

I walked over to the bar to order another Diet Coke, and he asked me if I’d seen a short white blonde come into the bar.

Ah, the damsel in distress.

I told him I saw someone fitting that description down at the other bar across the way.  He laid a $5 bill on the counter and said, “Thanks, pal.”  After he left the bar, I went to the restroom, opened the door and yelled in, “If you want to escape, I can get you safely away.”

The girl looked at me like she’d just won the lottery and came out of the restroom.  I grabbed her hand and led her to my car.  Once inside, I saw The Terminator coming out of the bar I led him to, and I started my car before creeping out of the lot, unnoticed.

I found out the girl was nineteen, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and on her way to Houston when she was detained by said Terminator at the bus station.  He’d been abusing her for about a week and was planning on pimping her out.

I took her to my apartment and cleaned her up.  She had no clothes, no anything, just a lot of bruises and apprehension. My roommate, Eddie, came home and knew I was in rehab mode, so he just went to bed.

The next day I took the $50 and some more cash I had laying around and bought her some clothes and make up. After a few days had passed, I took her to my store manager, Mr. Wright, and got her a job in the floral department.  She was a natural.  Two months later, she had her own place.  Six months later she was the department head.  We never saw the Terminator again.

I’ve always wondered why or what makes a bully.  After I told my dad what I’d done, he told me all that a bully requires to exist is a willing victim.

I don’t know about the willing part.  I’ll always be on the victim’s side of things.

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

 

The Smell Of Rain On Death Row

My earliest memories are from when I was five or six, maybe younger.  We had a side porch and when it was raining outside, my brother, cousins, and I would sing out at the rain, “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day.”  There is a smell that rain gives off, and I can’t name it, but it is the same scent I can smell when it rains where I am now.

I carry a scar with me from back then, too.  When I was little, I fell asleep on the couch, which had a shelf over it, holding a mini stereo.  The cord was hanging down, and I was such a wild sleeper that I got tangled in the cord and pulled the stereo down on my head, splitting my ear open.   I don’t remember that part, but I remember how they had to hold me down at the hospital to stitch my ear up because I was terrified of needles.

My heart feels sorrow when I think back to those memories now, knowing that most of the people from that life are gone.  I wish I could go back there, to the side porch.

Sitting on death row, you think about a lot of things.  Having a death sentence is just that – having it – until the time comes when there is a very real possibility an execution date could be given.  That’s when the term ‘the shit hits the fan’ becomes part of the equation.  That’s when the wondering starts working on you, the thinking and trying to figure out what’s what in this life you have lived so far.

Sometimes I want to know what’s to come, but other times I don’t.  There are times when I think about death so much that it becomes like a physical being, filling the space around me and pressing down on my soul.  It’s then that the nervousness threatens to consume me.  When I lay down at night I close my eyes and slow my breathing and try to feel it, the nothingness, a sleep from which I will never wake up.

But, I still have to shake it off.  Consciousness is all I’ve ever known.  Smelling the rain is what I know.

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

Travis Runnels #999505
3872 FM 350
Livingston, TX 77351