Each morning, colorful boxes of panel-buildings greet me when I look out my window. My row of boxes greets them back, though not so cheerfully since the tenants can’t seem to agree to renovate them, and our row has remained a washed out green.
Lights are being turned off as the sun rises, cutting diagonally across the row of apartments, like a toy Jedi sword cutting up cardboard doll houses. So many life stories behind each of those windows.
At 7 am, the courtyard in the center is empty, save for a dog who walks his owner regularly at that time (in crisp morning air I always hear the owner ordering his dog to slow down, to wait for him, and the dog invariably does the exact opposite).
An hour later, I can hear heels clicking, people going to work, and the smell of toast, bacon, eggs wafts up from nearby apartments.
By 10 am the little kindergarten monsters are let loose into the courtyard, making enough noise to wake up the sleepy heads.
By 8 pm in the summer, the sun settles down to the left of my window, creating stunning sunsets. The courtyard is more quiet, people are relaxed, clinking of cutlery can be heard through open windows. On game nights (hockey, football) I know who’s winning simply by listening to the shouts of fans at the local sports pub, and on weekends, when the fireworks go off in the distance, by the municipal hall, someone’s gotten married, graduated, or just decided to have a blast. By midnight or so, the lights gradually go out, and the little box-town of a hundred life stories goes to sleep.Dana
As I look out my window….the building looks just like death row. I can’t help but to stare at it. The building is the same. The windows are the same. Even the area surrounding it is almost identical. I can’t seem to take my eyes off the building. I watch it as if it was going to jump out the way. But it doesn’t. It’s the same concrete and steel that I’ve known for 11 years now. And as I look at this building- that looks exactly like death row- I ask myself: How are you?
The conversations between Me, My/Self and I continue, because I learned long ago that if one can’t fraternize with its own soul then they are doomed to a far worse torment than the prison system. Prisons and hells are internal as well as external. I find that I am repeatedly asking my Self- How are you? Are you ok? Are you healing? I look at myself in the mirror and I ask my Self- How traumatized are you? I’ve been tough, I’ve been strong, I’ve endured, I’ve smiled when I wanted to cry and cried when I didn’t have the slightest damn idea why. I know there are scars! I know there are issues! I can’t deny that nor suppress it. We do that enough on death row. But I’m not on death row anymore, although the “god(s)” don’t seem to want to let me forget that.
What exactly am I talking about, you might be asking? I’m talking about the building that sits RIGHT outside my window. I’m currently on McConnell Unit in Beeville, TX, but you could have fooled me. In the mid-90’s when Texas was having its prison boom it used the same blueprints to build several prisons. Therefore, the same exact blueprint that was used to make Polunsky Unit was used to build McConnell Unit. When my family walks into McConnell it’s just like walking into Polunsky. The visiting rooms are identical. The Unit’s structure is the same. So are the names of the buildings. What kind of sick game is this? I left death row and turned around and came right back to…..what looks like death row.
BUT…..I’m not on 12 building. I’m on 8 building. However, right outside my window is…..12 building. Except when I look at this building I don’t see 12 building at McConnell Unit, I see 12 building death row. I know those windows like the palms of my hands. Those windows which you can’t open. They are narrow and you can only see out. I peered through those windows for 7 years and now….they peer at me. 12 building here is for Ad Seg inmates. But, I don’t see that. When I look at this building I see Tony and Gabriel. I think of F-Pod and familiar officers. I think I smell pepper spray. My mind is playing tricks on me. I blink my eyes, but I keep looking at the building. It’s like I’m in a gotdamn trance. I’m getting upset, so I pull away.
What trauma have I endured? What’s going on with my mind? Outside I am free of death row, but inside it’s still gnawing at me. It’s like nails running across the chalk board. What good does physical liberation do if my soul is chained in an abyss?
Since I left there’s been 3 executions and 2 suicides. I wake up in a cell that looks just like my cell on Polunsky except it has 2 bunks and I have a cell mate. Nevertheless, I still expect someone I know to be going out the door with a date. When I walk to the visiting room I still can see families lined up giving their last goodbyes. It’s vivid! The rage steams through my body.
I’m not ok! I need to verbalize that. I’M NOT OK! I need to hear it coming out my mouth! In a short time I’ve been faced with some challenges here. Locations change, but oppression under TDC and the struggle doesn’t. When I got engaged in my rebellion here I thought to myself….I know they’ll retaliate. I’m sure I’ll end up in Ad Seg! Shit! Then I’ll be right back where I started. The single man recreation. The cuffs everywhere you go. The isolation. 12 building! What a sick joke that is! Could I do it again? 4 years? 6? 7? My soul grunts at the thought of it.
Down south the fog comes a lot in the morning. I rise, as always, around 7ish. I open my window and look out. 12 building is almost covered, but I can catch a light or two on shining from the building looking like the yellow eyes of the demon dog from hell. I can’t help but to think about what I left behind, what I endured and what others are still enduring today. They question if the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Albert Camus said
“Capital Punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared! For there to be equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”
As a child I was scared of the dark (like most children) – too many scary movies. You always thought a monster lurked down the hall, so you’d run to turn on the light. And run back! I should have been a track star. But, to who does the death row inmate run? To God? Maybe! “Christian” politicians who cry for blood don’t give God a good name. Why is brutality made to look so good in amerika?
It seems I’m still running from the monster. These thoughts spark as I read Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz.” People wonder why we would compare death row to a concentration camp- because it’s all the same. It’s death! It’s oppression! For the many that entered- not as many would leave. And for those that survived, it was a miracle. Like those in the camps, they struggled to live one more day. They held on that….maybe today will be the day I get out. Like them, we have the same thoughts. Just one more appeal, just one more exoneration. Death rows are the Auschwitz’s of the West! Ye gods! What games do you play to torment us mortals?
Self spoke to me today. Self said that I had to toughen up, that I could not come this far and falter. Self feels my knees wobble and heart race. Self knows that I’ve been looking out the window too much. I turn to Self and remind it (in the words of Nietzsche): “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
I’ve been regurgitated out the whale, you see! And it seems…. That I too (like Captain Ahab) have become obsessed with the whale. Yes, I’m obsessed with its capture! I’m obsessed with its demise! I cannot sleep. My mind is unable to rest. I’ve been through a war. I suffer from everything that Vietnam and Iraq veterans do. We’ve had something stolen from us. The government doesn’t care- no thief does.
There’s no therapy for me, though. No couch! No group talks! My teachers remain buried in the history of tragic struggles. But, revolution is born of tragedy, is it not?! I have a bitter-sweet fruit to consume. I have meditations to continue: new mantras and chants to conjure up that will give me new answers filled with new strengths.
But for now, the Tango continues. What was once a very intimate dance- body to body, face to face, we now dance apart, but still our arms and eyes remain locked upon each other. Our eyes do not part. The tango is very intimate.
And so, as I search to heal, search to understand…I take another glance out the window, There’s not a smile and there’s not a tear, but there is a knowing. You can crush a rose, but its fragrance will remain. And death row- my fragrance continues. As we keep the fight going, death row, know that I’ll never accept less… I’ll give no less than everything…even if everything is less than what I was expecting… I’ll settle for nothing less.
Yes, the struggle does continue, and yes, I do remain (though crushed) the rose that won’t stop emanating from the concrete!