Ask Tod Anything: Part VII


Greetings, and welcome once again again to the Roost, where my memories and thoughts take flight over the earth via internet.

First, I would like to apologize for the “tone” of my last post. Thinking about that particular subject (the system through which a supposedly forward-thinking nation of people ritualistically murders a select few individuals using its local governments) tends to piss me off as I am intimately aware of the corruption and unpredictable nature of the system that is in charge of it. So I can get as ridiculous as it is when I consider it– but this post is all about answering readers’ questions. So let me see about doing that. I will just jump right in.

33.) What is it like to be pepper sprayed or tear gassed?

First, I am not aware of any place in the U.S. that uses tear gas anymore. Tear gas is a chemical agent that can cause lasting respiratory issues.

That being said, I have been tear gassed and it is unpleasant. It causes a burning sensation in the lungs, eyes, and sinuses. This, in turn, ramps up production of mucous in the lungs and sinus cavities that can cause a sensation of almost drowning. There is no remedy (that has ever been used on me anyway) to alleviate the effect and it simply has to wear off.

Pepper spray is likewise unpleasant. It too causes a burning sensation in the lungs, eyes, and sinuses. This, however, can be at least partially mitigated by placing a very wet washcloth over the mouth and nose, and breathing only through the nose. (If the capsacin hits the soft palate, there is no controlling the reaction.) The pepper spray causes mucous production in the sinuses to go out, which results in… well, snot, and a lot of it. But the mucous production in the lungs does not increase, hence the lack of drowning/smothering sensation, unlike tear gas.

Both are effective for controlling behavior but a tolerance can be built up over time to pepper spray. Although there is a new generation now that if might be difficult to do that with.

34.) What do handcuffs feel like? Why, in the movies (and maybe also in real life?) do people always rub their wrists when they’re un-handcuffed– is that an automatic reaction or is it because your wrists get sweaty, or because they hurt, or some other reason?

Handcuffs feel very restraining, like you’re being treated like a dangerous animal. They can hurt if they are put on too tight. (I have had marks on my wrists that lasted for hours due to smart-ass cops with control issues… or who are simply afraid.) They can cause your wrists to sweat as well if you are in them for a while. (Which in turn causes your wrists to itch.) The act of having your hands and arms restrained like that is unnatural. I suppose some people feel the urge to rub their wrists after they are removed. I personally wash my hands and wrists at the first opportunity upon having handcuffs removed. The guards wear surgical gloves because packing people into an enclosed environment causes all types of disease and viruses to run rampant. (A plethora of skin conditions among them.) Yet they go from inmate to inmate with those handcuffs. (Luckily I myself have had nothing more than a mild rash of some type that went away after a day or two on my wrists from handcuffs.) So I do not rub my wrists; I wash them as soon as I can. I do not know why they do that in the movies.

35.) Which is more unpleasant: traditional handcuffs or those plastic zip-tie flexi-cuff things, and why?

Well, you can’t pivot your wrists in the flexi-cuffs at all, so they are more uncomfortable…  but the flexi-cuffs are one-use and must be cut off (with wire cutters) so I would say, at least personally, those are more pleasant because at least I don’t have to worry about catching anything.

36.) Wouldn’t your lives be easier as prisoners if your code of ethics/rules was more closely aligned with that of the prison, so that your rules wouldn’t require you to do things that get you into trouble?

Wow, um… I am not sure whatever answer I could give you would make sense to you, seeing as how you actually asked this question!

Simply put, of course it would. But that is not an option unfortunately. In short, this environment is designed to break the spirit of a human being (remember, most are not here because they follow rules) into a nice controllable submissive who will ask “how high?” when the establishment says “jump!”

So we establish our own society, our own culture here, because we require that to live, to be who we are and must be.


37.) Is there such a thing as solitary confinement for death row inmates, or is being on death row considered to be solitary confinement by default?

Well, I have lived alone in a cage without human contact other than to be chained since 1997. Seems pretty “solitary” to me. But you can decide for yourself.

38.) Are there incentives/rewards for good behavior put in place by the prison, or do they only punish bad behavior? Could you tell us more about that?

The “rewards” for good behavior are you get to watch your TV, you can go to the “inmate store” and buy food and hygiene items, and you can get visits. For me personally, none of those “incentives” work, as my television set stopped working some time ago, I have no one that sends me money so I cannot buy anything from the inmate store, and Anna– the only person who has any desire to visit me– lives too far away to do so. So I cannot lose those things.

When these things are lost it is called “L.O.P.” (loss of privileges).

There is also a little thing called V.C.U. and since someone asked about that a few questions down the list, I will address that then. Keep reading.

39.) How are the unwritten inmate rules (as opposed to the ones put in place by the prison) enforced, and by whom?

That varies from state to state, of course. Prison in general is a pretty “racially oriented” place and each race “polices” their own. How that is done depends on the severity of the issue at hand. It can be anything from a fine to a “tune up” (getting your ass beat) to extreme violence (see also: what happened on the basketball court) or worse!

By whom, you ask? Well, as with most societies, there is a hierarchy through which this happens. No, I will not expound on that any further. In short, I will “take the fifth”.

40.) Do you know whether the guy your friend stabbed is going to be okay?

Well, he seems to have survived this particular incident. Whether or not there will be future incidents for that individual, I am not in a position to say, nor would I if I knew.

41.) I assume VCU is somehow worse than regular death row, but what actually makes it worse?

Well, you are chained and leg ironed before you get to go anywhere (as opposed to just handcuffed), you are then put on a gurney that has been who knows where and used for who knows what, and strapped down, and pulled wherever you need to go. It takes two guards and one sergeant to take you out of the cell as well, so if you take a shower, it could take an hour or more to get out of it because that is how they have to move you. Also, there are the daily searches, the overzealous enforcement of the rules, the reduced amount of property, and the incessant noise that is of a volume that is almost intolerable, caused by the insane who are housed nearby. It is uncomfortable both physically and mentally, much more so even than my current situation.

42.) Will you tell us a story from your childhood?

Hmmm… I have actually thought about that one thing in particular in fact.

It is very personal and I am not sure I want to share something like that. I will write it down some point and see how it likes being on paper, then I will ask Anna her opinion of it for a post. For now I will simply say that I had a regular, upper-middle-class upbringing and life, and I was raised in a far different time than now exists… nothing unusual, though… but I will think about your request. This one story, I don’t know. I may decide that it is letting people I don’t know a little too close.

43.) What are your biggest regrets in life?

I would have to say not living up to the example of my father and ending up here rather than helping my son become a man. I will not go into his upbringing as that is a private matter of his… but I will say that for my part, I let him down in a way that cannot be made up for. (And I will always be sorry for that, P.)

44.) You once mentioned that Anna is about twenty years old, and you also said that you have been in prison for about twenty years. How does that affect how you related to one another? Do things often get “lost in translation” between the two of you from a cultural standpoint? How often is that an issue and how do the two of you resolve that?

Anna is twenty-five years old and will be twenty-six in the fall. I have been in prison since she was about six years old I guess, and I was in jail (awaiting trial) for a fair piece before that– since she was probably four. So it is hardly an exaggeration to say we have never lived in the same world– I was in this world before she was old enough to understand the world she lives in, which I used to occupy.

That said, from my standpoint, I think Anna and I communicate pretty well. Because of my extended incarceration there are some things that I am not “up to speed” on (like Anna having to explain to me what a blog is after she suggested this foray into the public domain) but we (again, in my opinion) get along pretty well without too much lost in differences. It is pretty much like any other friend someone may have.

45.) Do you think that most anyone would be capable of committing murder given the right circumstances? (I am talking about first-degree homicide, not killing in self-defense or to mitigate immediate danger to someone else, killing someone by accident, a soldier following orders, or anything like that– I mean an act that would be prosecuted as a capital murder under the law.) I’d be interested to hear what you think about that.

A technical as well as a philosophical question, with a hint of attitude there at the end. And coming from someone who has no clue how the judicial system works.

First, I would like to say that people are prosecuted for capital murder all the time that had reasons to kill (both good reasons and bad reasons, but reasons all the same.) There are people who are here for protecting themselves! One for a drug deal in which the person tried to kill him, but because it was during the commission of a dangerous crime– dealing drugs– bam! Capital murder!

Rare is an individual who kills for the sake of killing. And those individuals are what society calls insane. (Like, for instance, a true sociopath such as the character in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lector).

But that is not the question you are asking here. Are most people capable of committing murder given the right circumstances? Philosophically, if one learns anything from human history, both ancient and modern, it is that given the proper “circumstances” humans are capable of any and every horrific behavior imaginable. (I cite the Middle East currently, Germany in the mid-twentieth century, and… well…the list is far too long and storied.)

Now, were these people born capable of these horrendous actions? Or did circumstance dictate behavior? I don’t think that “the why” is as telling as the fact that cruel and horrific behavior was somehow able to be tapped into.

And to remove soldiers from the question? Well were the soldiers not “doing their duty” at Abu Ghraib? Did Marines not “do their duty” at My Lai? Were the Nazis at the Nürnberg Trials not “following orders”? Some of the most horrendous atrocities in human history were committed during times of war when humans thought they had license to do as they pleased under the guise of “following orders” and “national duty”!

It is simply a fact that it is within the psychological makeup of humans to kill. Our ancestors were born to do it and did it as a furtherance of survival or tribal strength. Society has changed so that killing is not as much of a needed tool as it once was.

So, have humans “evolved” to fit the dictates of a modern society? Or has society “evolved” to fit the changing needs of humanity?

I know this: when I was growing up, kids didn’t take guns to school and kill their classmates because they felt “picked on”. (We barbarians would “duke it out” on the playground one-on-one, for which kids get arrested now.) People were not “gearing up” like SWAT members and killing people they never met in movie theaters. Nobody was running down innocent bystanders with their cars because they had a bad day.

So is this due to society not allowing for the release of normal and natural aggressive tendencies of a species that was born and bred with the killer instinct? Or are these the product of a society’s “evolution”? Or genetic anomalous mutations of a natural evolution?

I haven’t got the answers for you, but I do think humans are capable of pretty much anything given the proper circumstances and motivations, and that includes killing. We are born of violence with the taste of blood in our mouths. Although most seem to wish it otherwise, nature is a strong force in our existence. Its drives are raw and primal. Nature will find a way to assert itself.

And on that rant, I will close this post and give Anna’s fingers a rest. (Please remember that without Anna’s tireless assistance, you would not be reading this now… so thank her… and I thank you too, my dear friend.) More questions will be answered soon. Until next time, take care.




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