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—-
#01362329 – Diboll Unit
1604 South First Street
Diboll, Texas 75941