Ask Tod Anything: Part VII

[Part I II III IV V VI]

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.

 

 

If I Were in Charge

Welcome to the Roost! Time once more for my ramblings and ravings. It has been a busy and frustrating week here. Had a major search just a few days ago. (Don’t worry, this post won’t be about that– I have already regaled you with a full-length post about searches!) But it was a good one! Law enforcement from everywhere! Local fuzz, county fuzz, state troopers, FBI, ATF, drug-sniffing dogs… the water was turned off for about nine hours so we couldn’t drink or flush our toilets…. as I said, a good one!

No, this post won’t be about that… I have been sent (never forget to thank Anna, please) a couple of suggestions for blog posts, so I will try one of those. This is a “consolidated” question from several different askers, so the question itself is all-encompassing.

I recall you once saying that you believe in the death penalty on principle but disagree with how the system works in practice. If you were asked to re-design the whole system, what would you change? What would be the criteria for receiving a death sentence– what crimes would a person have to be convicted of, and with what standard of proof? What person or group of people would have the authority to hand down a sentence of death? How would the system work, both before and after sentencing? How would the appeals process work? How would executions be carried out? Would laws regarding the death penalty (including those about whether or not to have it in the first place) be all federal or state by state? What would you keep about the current system?

Wow! Gotta love my readers!

This series of questions would quite literally take a book to even come close to addressing. Although they may sound simple and straightforward, the public at large would need to be educated as to how corrupt and arbitrary and capricious the judicial system truly is, to understand why it should never be allowed to hold authority over the life, and especially death, of any human being.

Of course there is a need for order and administration of law, and the judicial system cannot simply be done away with wholesale. But until and unless it is made to function with no caprice, it simply cannot be allowed to murder its own citizens.

For a nation of people to allow its government to do such a thing in its name is the very embodiment of fear-based, propaganda-induced insanity! Why don’t you just build a coliseum and start throwing people to lions for entertainment, or start gladiator “games” in which the condemned slaughter each other to the cheers of the masses? Truly it would be more honorable than to strap a human being down to a table and pump caustic chemicals into their bodies in secret ritualistic ceremonies reminiscent of satanic sacrifices. (If you are going to empower your own government to murder in your name, you should at least demand to see it…perhaps “pay-per-view” or something? I personally think every voting citizen of the US should be required by law to watch a minimum number of executions– live, of course– say, at least five?

Remember this, readers: nothing done in secret is likely ethical or moral. 

But I have gotten off the topic of answering the question here for you, haven’t I? The question here was directed at me… how would I re-design the whole system? How would I do it? If I think the state or federal government does not have the right to do such a thing, how could I possibly take the task upon myself to design such a fair and enlightened procedure that could factor in all the variables needed to account for the individuality of each case? In short, I have no more right to do so than they.

Do I have a better understanding of the overall situation than some gas-bag politician sitting in his or her political headquarters trying to figure out how to get re-elected? I believe so, through personal involvement if for no other reason. But that is just my humble opinion, and you know what they say about the numerical abundance of those. (Just like a certain orifice, everyone has one.) But still, I could not fairly design a whole system.

This is what I know. Statistically, the death penalty has been deemed to be not a deterrent. (In the realm of deterring others beyond the one murdered from indulging in like behavior. As for the person actually killed? Well, life without parole would have them incarcerated until death, so therefore no threat to the public.) So that puts a pretty fine line on what is justice and what is revenge. (Although you more commonly hear it called “closure” nowadays because society does not like to attribute to themselves such ugly motives as “revenge”.)

And since that is what it is… Well, someone else can’t take revenge for another. (It’s got the wrong “taste” to it) I know I wouldn’t want someone else to kill in my stead. It’s my job, my “sin” if you will, and shouldn’t be “pawned off” on another. So if I have not go the stomach for my own revenge, then it doesn’t get to happen.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “My God, he is an animal and they should kill him!” (You’re entitled to your opinion.) But the way I see it, if you make something that is dirty and nasty, like murder, clean by removing the horror of it, it then becomes too easy to do. (Like waging war by shooting missiles thousand of miles… the enemy becomes statistical numbers, you don’t see the life leave their eyes. You don’t experience the horror of real war. Pushing a button is too easy.)

So if someone whom I have personally wronged wants to kill me? I have no problem with that… duct-tape my candy ass to a chair and draw a line five feet in front of it. Give the person I have wronged a 12-gauge shotgun with one shell in it and tell them: “There he is. Look him in the eyes and get your revenge…” Then after they wash some of me off of them in the shower… well, then they will have their “closure”, won’t they?

So, how would I change it? The judicial system is corrupt and it is not going to change… so make the execution process a lot more personal. There would be far less people on death row that way. And the ones that were? Well, the process would be a lot less barbaric than it is. This is just my opinion, as I sit in a cage waiting to pay the butcher’s bill.

Remember to say a big “thank you” to Anna for her part in making this blog a reality– without her, none of this would be possible.

Until next time, friends.

 

Rules of the Row

Greetings and welcome once again to the Roost. I deeply apologize for my absence but it is due to the environment that must survive within. I will see if I can explain at least some of what has been happening over the last few weeks.

Things happen in a place like this that are near impossible for anyone outside of it to understand. Unfortunately, I must leave some information out so I do not implicate myself or others as I relate what I can to you. So please bear with me as I give you the information I am able to give you.

The reason I have not posted on the Roost recently is because I am trying to protect this forum as best as I can from detection by the powers that be. I, however, on the other hand, feel an obligation to those of you who wish to read my ramblings to give you access to do so. I have therefore decided to throw caution to the wind and give you a carefully worded post.

My mail of late has been under elevated scrutiny, or so I believe, anyway. As has everyone else’s mail that resides in the block that I do. I will try to leave out any intrigue or latent paranoia as I am able and stick with what I know to be facts as I relate the reason for my hiatus.

My immediate neighbor, someone I have known a couple of years and enjoy interacting with (I find it… difficult… to call people here “friends”) is no longer in his cage… or indeed this block. He is now over in another area of the prison where they (the prison) have the Violence Control Unit. (Although some years ago they started using the euphemism “Enhanced Security” for who-knows-what reason.)

The reason for his relocation is that he (my neighbor) was involved in an assault.

This was not an assault where someone is beaten up. This was an assault where someone was stabbed over twenty times and had to be put on a helicopter and med-evaced to a hospital outside the prison to save their life– this assault occurred on the basketball court. (Oh yes, this means no more basketball for anyone. Security, administration, all freaking out… a few may even be concerned for the future of their careers.)

No small contingent of inmates are also concerned, as this “prison thing” just got very real for them. Behavior that they have been indulging in that is not tolerated in this environment, but was gotten away with because everyone was kept separated in cages…. well, the “cost” must be coming due on the horizon in this close custody experiment that is pending, and paranoia is almost palpable. (I can’t help but find that part a bit amusing myself… many have been writing checks with their mouths that their asses had no intention of ever cashing, and now payday is coming.)

But I digress… the point of this is to give those of you who are interested in such things a little “peek behind the curtain” of a maximum security prison environment.

My neighbor (the one who was moved to V.C.U.– I will leave out names as I believe that to be best) is really a nice fellow. Intelligent, well-read, generous to a fault, gregarious, and in general, personable. I like him a lot. He is by no means the uncontrollable animal I am sure the prison system would like you all out in the world to believe at all. I have personally been out to the basketball courts with him over ten times, and there are others as well, about a dozen people I think. (Although not many have been out as much as he and I.)

So why did the assault occur?

(I am sure the details– also something I will not go into on this forum, would cause most to call it “horrific”.)

Well, the simple answer (and the only one I can give you here) is the prison– administration, security, command staff, etc.– messed up, big time!

Some of “the badges” harbor the false belief that they are in control of the chaotic sub-society that they created the environment for formation of, but never really did have control over. (To be honest, that is why “special management” or “supermax” prison units were created and built: to house convicts the system cannot “modify” into submission. Death row should never have been housed in one as a whole population.)

It generally serves a purpose to let “the badges” have the illusion of control. But some, due to an inflated ego, or perhaps an infinitude of stupidity, begin to believe they truly do have control and do whatever they please instead of showing even a modicum of common sense and realize there are some things that just should most definitely not happen. (Like my neighbor being put into a basketball enclosure with the person he was.)

The close-custody experiment pending is another example. I understand there are many here on death row who do not under any circumstances want to participate in close custody. I can only imagine that’s because they realize “the bill is coming due” for past transgressive behavior… and they understand the prison personnel are not in control and do stupid things myriad because it is generally not themselves who end up paying the price. Personally? I just sit back and wait to go to close custody– I wouldn’t miss it!

At this time, I should probably tell you that my neighbor came away from the assault relatively unscathed. (Do you remember the device I mentioned in a previous post concerning the basketball program… the one that launches little hard rubber balls filled with pepper spray powder? My neighbor was hit about twenty times.) But otherwise, it was the other person that was on the helicopter to save his life. Trauma surgery has come a long way. (The wars that have been happening in recent times have forced the advances to happen in technology.) He lived… but the blood trail from the basketball enclosure can still easily be seen and followed.

It is my understanding that the artery in his neck was clamped off so he did not bleed out. But to be honest, all the information I have about that part of it is second or third hand at best… details are sketchy at best… don’t want us to have too much information — that “illusion of control” thing, you know?

I do apologize that I just cannot go into much detail… there are pending investigations, my former neighbor will likely be charged with some sort of crime, no doubt. The cops are likely reading this before even Anna does, let alone all of you… and besides, I know nothing about any of this other than what I can find out in bits and pieces. (A standard story that I will stick to no matter what, as I ever have and always will.) So what I can relate to you here is thin at best.

I know it is difficult for you all out in the world to understand the statement, “It is all the prison administration and command staff’s fault!” (I am sure your “knee-jerk” thought is: “Why can’t you just follow the rules?”) To which my answer would be… that is exactly what we are doing, following the rules. Our rules. The rules that enable the aforementioned “sub-society,” the foundation of which was laid down long ago in the creation of an environment that control could never be had over.

And “our rules” are actually a modification of “their rules”, which are as follows:

  • If you don’t do as you are told we will take away the small comforts you have and treat you as a dog that has been errant, taking away all your “toys” and confining you.
  • If you exhibit any aggressive behavior at all, you will be gassed (pepper sprayed), tasered, forcibly taken to the ground. And beaten, then to be removed to a “special area” where everything can be taken away from you for up to a year or more, and you are literally treated as a highly dangerous wild animal where you are chained hand and foot before you can come out of your cage to be strapped to a gurney because you are not even allowed to walk anywhere because you are “so dangerous”.
  • You do as you are told, without exception, or any or all of the above can and will happen to you.
  • You may not put a piece of paper over your light (which is turned on 24/7) to reduce the amount of light in your cell. No, they do not care if you have a headache or not.
  • You may not hang up your clothes to dry after you have washed them in your tiny sink. All laundry must go in once a week for washing. No, they do not care that you only own two pairs of boxer shorts, two pair of socks, and two shirts. You can’t wash them and hang them up! No, they don’t care that your clothes smell bad and are more dirty when they come back from the laundry than when they went in; washing your clothing that you must wear dirty for days is not allowed!

I could go on and on… I could write a book about the “the rules”… but it is the punishments I mentioned at first that are relevant here.

If we are treated with violent behavior, then how might we respond to our violent environment? Well, we too have a code of conduct, things that are expected of everyone without exception. People that are “new here” are given a period to learn this code, but if they refuse to, then more aggressive means must be employed to “get the point across” when one lives in a testosterone-fueled, violence-filled, aggressive environment, that person either responds accordingly, or they likely become a victim of that environment one way or another.

Arizona is not what you might call a “rehabilitation state.” When people are incarcerated in the Arizona prison system, it is for punishment, make no mistake about that. Oh, they give some people “jobs”. (Little more than slave labor, really, making five or ten cents an hour…and death row are not allowed to have jobs!) and claim that as “rehabilitative job training”. But in truth they could not actually run the prison system without the consent and help of the dumbasses that take those “jobs”. (Inmates prepare the food, work most of the maintenance, do all the cleaning) — perhaps “dumbass” is a strong word… working likely helps their time go faster for one… but still, they help the system imprison them! But again, I digress. (Or rant, whichever you prefer.)

If you do not at least try to rehabilitate someone, how should you expect them to act? Like someone who understands they made mistakes and wants to better themselves and join what society calls “normal”? Or might they act as the dangerous animal like which they are treated? There are few who can separate the worlds and act accordingly, depending on which one they are interacting with. Am I one who can? Sometimes I wonder and it troubles me. I am pretty sure my former neighbor is. But when it comes down to it, we are all products of the horrendous environment that was created for us.

We live in a place of swift and sometimes vicious retribution and lessons learned by violence. I ask that you try not to judge us harshly. If a human is treated like an animal long enough, it becomes difficult to remember what it is to be human. Especially if one only interacts with this environment.

The assault that occurred, of which this post is about, would be deemed as barbaric and vicious by society outside of prison. Here, however, it is simply another day in this fucked-up place. (Please excuse the profanity. I try to refrain when I can, but it fits here.) I survive in a place of extremely high violence and that tends to make one jaded to it at best. To understand this world– truly, really understand it– one must become a part of it. And I deeply hope, with whatever is left of my humanity, that none of you ever get that chance.

So again I ask: judge us not too harshly, as you have not walked in our valley of death, and cannot understand it unless you do.

‘Tis time for this old raven to sleep now. Take care. I will see about getting back to a schedule of posting more often. Please remember to thank Anna, without whom none of this would be possible. She is a kind soul and a dear friend who is deeply appreciated and loved.

A Quick Hello and a Poem

Greetings and welcome once again to the Roost. I apologize for the short hiatus but things have been a bit busy with the close custody adventure set to start, and I have been trying (emphasis on trying) to do some drawing again. I must be in the mood to draw or little comes out as I want, and said mood has been elusive. But I will continue to persevere.

S0, just to prove to you all that I have not entirely flaked off… a recent poem I have composed. Just something fun, perhaps for those of you who have an affinity for vampires… I hope you enjoy.

Dreamscapes of Slyph

I’ve dreamed of her — throughout the years
Watched her shed — those blood red tears

Pale eyes — and hair of flame
She comes to me — to make her claim

Skin like ivory == and cold as stone
Her beauty the greatest — I’ve ever known

Her charm dazzles — her lust is sweet
Enslaved I am — as our lips meet

She touches my neck — and her tongue tickles
I feel warm — as blood starts to trickle

It runs from her mouth — and down her chin
Hungry she is — and must feed again

Her kiss is sweet — as she drains me dry
Pleasure is mine — as I slowly die

I will return as soon as I can get a bit more calm in my world. Things are all up in the air right now over what the future will bring. I could be moving to another unit (or not, I really cannot say at this point.) I will of course keep you up to date the best I can.

 

Rumors and a Murder

Hello again and welcome once more to the Roost. In this place, there can be periods of tedium that last for varying lengths of time… periods in which not much happens. This seems to be one of those periods, filled with the minutiae of prison life. So this post may just be mostly a rambling on of not much. A couple of things I relate may seem like major incidents to some…but in this environment one tends to get used to what may seem like horrific occurrences to the minds of others.

About a week and a half ago (as of this writing) someone was killed at another unit in this state. Prison personnel like to keep us as much in the dark about such things as they can, but information has its way of slithering around. This happened at the older “super max” unit, SMU I. When “jumping units”, information can be slow in making the rounds, so you may actually know more about it than I do. (Although news is oftentimes suppressed out in the world about such things, too. Anything having to do with Trump is far more important than a death in a prison.) Someone told me it did have a very short mention on one of the local Phoenix channels– although, not a story, mind you, just a quick mention before getting back to the important stuff, like how Ivanka Trump’s clothing line is faring. (I have not a television myself….but I hear those around me talking about the “top stories”. I disagree with the term “fake news” myself… but I have been amazed for years what people allow the “news” media to report on and just quietly consume it rather than demanding that news be important issues and not just what the Kardashians are up to. They have special shows to keep those who are interested apprised of just such nonsensical drivel.

But I digress– perhaps that is a rant for another post! Back to the issue at hand…

I have actually heard a couple of of possibilities as to what occurred.. by far the most likely being that one person killed the other person with whom he shared a cell. (That happens far more than the state will readily admit to.) The other, less likely, possibility I heard is that someone got an opportunity to go after a maintenance trustee. (A maintenance crew consists of a crew boss, which is a prison guard, and a group of sex offenders that do the actual maintenance work– at least in maximum custody–they bus the sex offenders in from a sex offender unit.) Sex offenders are universally despised by general population. So, while that second possibility is indeed a possibility, it is less likely, as the guards are pretty careful about putting sex offenders someplace safe before general population is allowed to pass through.

Something else occurred later that same week. The whole unit was on “lockdown” (that means no movement…which means no one leaves their cage) for a twenty-four-hour period. This was annoying on a personal level because it happened to be one of my shower days. (I only get twelve a month!) So no shower, and I washed up in my sink as I do most days anyway. The guards were even more “tight lipped” about this lockdown, because apparently it was local. All we managed to glean was that there was a “non-specific threat to staff by inmates that was deemed to be credible.” So that scared the crap out of them, and nobody got nothin’.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course. (All bets are off when you factor in the violently insane, for instance.) But in my time here– and I have had prison staff agree with me when I take the time to discuss it with someone– I have found that, by far, most incidents of inmates “going off” are caused by prison staff. We are locked in cages; we can’t go anywhere. Staff, however, have the ability to “de-escalate” a situation. They don’t have to stand there and argue with someone who is not getting what they have coming by law (food, toilet paper, etc.) but they will anyway. They are not supposed to call people names but they do, they have the ability to walk away from a heated situation, but they will stand there and get a person madder and madder. Then, because we react to that, we are the uncontrollable animals. They (the system) creates an environment in which people are killed in their cages (often times as they sleep!)

So our testosterone levels are maxed out, and our survival instincts are off the charts. So perhaps, just perhaps, our aggression level might be a tad high as well? Don’t get me wrong, therea re docile milksops who do whatever they are told, but with the exception of death row (that has a large share of nice controllable milksops) those are found out in units walking around. Not in supermax lockdown prison units used for containing the “uncontrollable”.

This place can be frustrating beyond words sometimes. I have learned to deal with it better than I used to… but I still have my days. Prison is not the “vacation” some in society believe it to be.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to deal with the situation of medical equipment (knee braces– a formerly active lifestyle wore my knees out prematurely and ADOC will not even entertain the idea of surgical repair) that was authorized by a member of the medical staff that actyally physically saw me and determined the need was genuine… has been taken away by a new medical staff member that I have never seen before and apparently wants to “piss on the fire hydrant” to mark their territory. And as it could take months to correct… I should get on that.

Until next time…fly straight and true.

Basketball (Sort Of)

Hello and welcome once again to the Roost. It has been a little bit since last I wrote a post for you, and for that I am truly sorry. I have mostly recovered from the search I wrote about last time… mostly… I have been busy remaking some of the things taken. (Like the paper tube extension I use to hold this three inch ling “golf pencil” I write with, a laundry line I must make out of raw material and spin into cord like you can buy at the store to hang up wet clothes, sheets, etc. on) and I have been sharpening pencils, of course… something that sounds simple to most of you, but when you live in a cage and aren’t allowed to have anything sharp, it can be a challenge at best. (In theory, we are supposed to be able to request that pencils be sharpened…but the pencil sharpener in this wing has been broken for about a year or so…. good luck making that request.) But as I said, I am now mostly recovered. Could use a few more amenities… but I am far enough along to continue my postings for you.

There is much rumor flying all over the place about the proposed close-custody experiment I already wrote about… there is little point in relating rumor so I will wait until something more concrete manifests to fill you in. If what is being said comes to pass…well, it is interesting.

For now, however, I believe I told you I would let you know about the basketball program that is currently going on. So let me relate that as best as I can.

Unlike the close-custody experiment– where an unsolicited form is brought around to sign or not, and once signed, the person “agrees” to be housed around all manner of riff-raff including but not limited to child molesters and killers, rapists, and the like. (This faction of a prison population is in general not tolerated well… the rest of us have children, families, etc. on the outside, and these types of individuals are looked upon as a “bane to society among the bane to society” so to speak.)

For clarity, prison populations (in Arizona, at least) are separated to cut down on violent behavior. You have GP, which is general population, and SO, which is sex offenders. SO are given their own “units” to keep them alive.)

But to get back on point here….for the basketball program we put in requests on who we wish to go out into the enclosure with. Make no mistake, there is an “approval process”, during which the request goes through security checks and several levels of administrative red tape in order to try and make sure a person is not just trying to “get to” someone… but after all that, provided all the checking passes muster, two people are allowed to go out into a 30×20 chain link enclosure with one naked (no net) basketball hoop in it.

We are not jut thrown into these enclosures and left to our own devices… oh no. We are chained in our cell (after a “strip search”) and escorted under guard to these cages, then unchained throuhg a hole in the gate.

Then, I am in an enclosure…for the first time in almost two decades, unrestrained with another human being. Now, this is someone I know and if all the security checks have worked, someone I get along with, so we shake hands and try to act “normal” (that is, like a person who has not been denied human contact for decades.) This is pulled off with varying degrees of success. but I assure you, it is on many levels odd at best.

We are not alone. There are two more enclosures that may contain general population, or they may contain sex offenders or any manner of protective custody population. Also, there is a guard present. This guard has a high-powered version of a paintball gun, essentially. This device holds rubber projectiles that that contain a dry powdered form of the active ingredient found in pepper spray. That, however, is not really the deterrent. That comes from being hit, close range, repeatedly, by a solid projectile that is akin to a rock fired from a sling shot. I believe the number is seven– the number of times they are supposed to shoot you in the body before they start taking head shots, the pepperballs leave large welts in the center of a good-sized bruise…but it is not unknown for them to break the skin either.

But compared to what we originally have, there is an upside. The enclosures are outside the prison buildings (but still within the perimeter fences of course) and one can see some greenery (whatever passes for it anyway) off in the distance beyond the fences. But one needs to be careful about looking too long. When your world has been about ten feet at a time for decades, eye strain and the headache that comes along with it is not pleasant. But there are birds to see as well. They come right up to the enclosure, sometimes perching within the chain link. They look at you, almost like people would look at animals in a zoo. I know I am being anthropomorphic, but I wonder if they get the irony of the situation. But in truth they are only looking for a handout… still, some seem to have a sense of knowing in their gaze.

But after two and a half hours of “basketball” we are chained, brought back to our block, allowed to take a shower, and then deposited back into our cells to work on processing all that just occurred. The overload of mental stimulation can actually be exhausting. Not being in contact with another person in decades, green things, sky overhead with clouds in it (planes flying over, too!) the “knowing” little birds… in actuality not that many people choose to go out. People put in for it, and then after once out, that was enough for them. Can’t say why; I only associate with GP and we do go out as often as they let us. There are some of “the others” but not all that many. There are rumors about the ones that won’t go out… but a place like this is rife with rumor, so unless one indulges in “drama” it is best to ignore the majority of it.

But over time, one gets used to all the informational input…. re-learns to focus one’s eyes on points of interest and relegate the other things into the background. (When one first goes out there they are kind of like a dog excited to go on a walk, wanting to smell everything… only, in our case, it’s wanting to look at everything.) It is kind of difficult to relate, I suppose. When you haven’t seen a tree in a long time, you want to look at one as thoroughly as you can when the chance arises. Even a scraggly, mostly sticks, desert tree. And that goes for everything! I have found myself just looking at the small rocks laying in the dirt just out of reach through the fence…for a fair piece of time, too. I have even seen a raven! And looked for as long as it let me. (Until she flew off.) A rare and coveted treat indeed. (To be honest, that alone would keep me going out… just the chance of seeing her–or perhaps him?–again.)

Not a lot of actual basketball going on…not for me, anyway. Living live ten feet at a time has messed up my depth perception so much I rarely throw the ball hard enough to hit the rim (unless I am ten feet or less away from it) but I am content, more or less, with just looking at things I have not seen in many, many years. I plan on not ever taking it for granted again. Just watching and listening to birds chirp, seeing a cloud slowly float by… it is all very precious to me now, and I want it to stay that way. I won’t let myself become ignorant of what is important again… I know you have heard it before, but you don’t know what is important, or what you will miss, until it is lost to you…take my word for it.

So, that is what basketball is like. I hope i painted an accurate picture for you with my words.

(Before I go I would like to say that, just last night, I received my very first correspondence from someone who reads Muninn’s Roost and wrote to me because of it. Thank you, K.R., your card means a lot to me, and you have a letter coming back to you soon!)

Well, that is all I have for this time. Not sure exactly what my next post will be like, but I do have an idea. Hopefully, I will get that our soon. But in this place, making plans beyond a day or two is not advisable…so we will see…

In the mean time, please remember to thank my dear friend Anna, without whom none of this would be possible.

 

 

Targeted?

[Anna’s note: Tod wrote this post on the 25th of January 2017.] 

Hello again and welcome to the Roost.

I was planning on making my next post about the new program where they are putting two people out in “basketball courts” (just a concrete slab, fenced in, with a bare basketball hoop at one end) together. I still plan to tell you all about that soon.

But something just happened yesterday that I think may be of interest to at least some of you. It illustrates the chaos that is prevalent in this world. So I hope no one minds if I relate this occurrence today.

I have to begin by telling you that just about three weeks ago, a major unit-wide “quarterly search” was conducted. As the title indicates, these searches are done approximately four times a year, during which they look for weapons and “contraband” and in general do their level best to disrupt people’s routine as much as possible. So, that means that about three weeks ago all our property was gone through thoroughly and searched.

Now that you have that background…

I was recently asked by one of you whether I am worried about people who work for the AZ Department of Corrections finding out about this blog. (The answer was and still is “no.” If I needed something to worry about, I could find better.) And I am not sure, but I may have been asked what would happen if they did find out. (I know I have run down some possible things that could happen, anyway.)

Well, to perhaps remove the mystery… I may just have found out what would happen if these asswipe bastards found out about this blog.

To be fair, I must tell you at this point that I am not sure that is what has happened. But I have thought through the possibilities and the one that keeps rising to the top of the file, given what was done and “targeted” is that the blog must be the cause. But, this is all conjecture on my part at this juncture. And I want to make that abundantly clear.

Now, with this said, I will relate what happened for you.

Yesterday was a day I was supposed to get recreation time and a shower. (I was in fact supposed to go out to the basketball court with someone!) But everything was “shut down”. Those who asked for a shower were given some vague excuse about a “personnel shortage” and perhaps later. Others asked different guards about recreation, and each was given as different response…something was clearly up!

When a “normal” search is conducted, the search team starts in block or “pod” one, and they continue around the cluster (which holds six pods of ten cells each) until they complete the circle and are done. This is not what happened yesterday. At a bit after 9:00 (9 AM is when administration gets here and fills up their offices in a building adjacent to the prison unit proper.)

The door to this block (I am in pod two) bangs open and in rushes enough cops to “post up” on every cell. (Have not had this type of search since I got off the violence control unit pod years ago!) We were all strip searched (I have described this process before so I won’t go into detail again) and told to “dress warm” and were allowed to take bottles of water with us. We were taken out of the cluster where we encountered at least two, perhaps three, squads of SSU (special security unit… which I also have not been searched by since I was last in VCU). Generally there is only one squad here, so the extra were brought in from other units. Of course at this point, “the jig was up” and we knew we were not just getting hit, but hit hard.

We were taken to outside holding cages where we were put on constant watch by a guard who mostly just sat and looked at us. Asking anyone that showed up as we might about what was going on, we were told that they did not know and were only told that death row was to be “locked down” with no movement until further notice. This in and of itself was odd, as there have been no assaults or communique intercepted by anyone to warrant such a response. So this type of search, while not unknown (if you are in VCU and assaulting people) is unusual, and reserved for “special occasions” as it takes the type of preparation and personnel that it does, and is therefore expensive to pull off, both resource-wise and monetarily.

As I have said before, a “normal” search means we are pulled out and stuck in a shower or something for fifteen minutes or so while a team of two or three guards (not SSU) go through our stuff, and then we are put back in our cages right away.

After an hour and forty five minutes (!!!) we were removed from the outdoor holding cells and brought back inside.

Based on previous behavior of this type, I was expecting us to be moved to different locations all over the cluster (due to time involved and SSU being the perpetrators of the search). This is done when a group of people become too “one-minded” in that one person’s problem with staff becomes everyone’s problem, or there seems to be just too much organization in a block…

But, no, that was not the case. We were brought back to our cages to find the whole hour and forty-five minutes was spent going through our stuff!

I did not ask everyone, but the two I did ask were– like myself– targeted for information. (Paperwork gone through, pads of paper rifled through, that sort of thing.) In general, these types of searches on death row are pretty rare. They are usually reserved for members of prison gangs (which I am not) to try and find out about gang activity information. The last search I got of this type, with SSU being involved and everything, was literally years ago. (Again, when I was on VCU.) and then it was generally after a major and serious issue that had happened somewhere (like an assault that the cops believed had been ordered by another inmate) and nothing like that has even occurred here recently that I am aware of.

But let me tell you what was personally done in my cage on this search. Some (but not all…almost like it was a diversion of some sort) of caches of paperwork (legal work) in envelopes and files were apparently gone through. Letters that have been sent to me were also gone through. But a composition book I keep (and jot down mostly unimportant things in that I want to remember or keep track of) was barely touched! (Which would be the exact sort of thing they would be interested in on an information search…the asswipes do not know it’s nothing until they take it, copy it, and look for non-existent “codes” in it!)

I also have a small file on people of “personal interest” on the row, and although again, this is something that should interest them… well, I am not even sure it was looked at. But none of that… nope…

What they did take was a pad of paper that I had future blog ideas written down in– even a partial post written up on the basketball program was in there! And that was what they took.

They also took every pen I have! (I found this one that I am writing with now rolling around in the bottom of a box.) They took the rolled up paper holders I make for pens because I only get pen fillers to write with, not the plastic part that the filler goes inside of. As far as pencils, I am only allowed to have three-inch-long “golf pencils” so I made a holder for those to fit in and they took that, too! I have had that pencil holder for literally over ten years…gone through I have no idea how many searches! The leads on most of my pencils were broken.

I am pretty sure I am being sent a clear message!

I am very aware that, after extended periods of time in punitive lockdown, some degree of paranoia is bound to set in. (As well as any number of mental issues.) But I have tried to see what was done from other angles, and nothing else makes a lot of sense. I suppose there is some degree of chance that things just happened, out of the blue, to go the way they did. But can you imagine the odds of that? Because I can’t.

To me (a self-admitted asshole) the message that is being sent is simple: under no circumstances will I stop writing entries for this blog!

I must assume someone found Muninn’s Roost and clearly does not like it. Their problem, though, is that there is nothing they can do, legally or otherwise, to stop it! I am within my rights and no laws (or even prison rules!) are being broken, either by Anna or by me.

They can screw with me and make my life miserable. Some of my posts and letters may even “get lost” on the way to Anna. But they are otherwise powerless against their mortal enemy… the truth!!!

As I stated at the beginning of this post, this is all supposition on my part. I may never know one way or another whether my suspicions are correct. (Other than by my treatment here.) There may be clues that can be read (such as if the letters I send to Anna have large gaps between the date on the letter and the stamped postmark date, or if the envelopes are cut open on one end and taped back shut… that means the asswipes are opening them.) But as neither Anna nor I have or are doing anything wrong legally or otherwise, that may be all the evidence we will ever have.

I will have some trouble replacing what was taken. (Perhaps this was their plan? They know my financial situation– they have that on file in their computer system.) The pens I cannot afford to buy. The paper? There were only fifteen or twenty sheets left so I got to use over half anyway. (But it does sting a bit to have it stolen like that.) I can make my pencil holder up again and see if perhaps there is a market for cards….one or two, perhaps? Card drawing is pretty seasonal, except for birthdays, and there are a few people “gettin’ their hustle on” that way. Valentine’s Day is approaching… not a lot of time to get any business together for that, however. Just have to see.

I do know that I will keep posting about this place for as long as I can. I think it is important that I do that– especially now!

Yes, there were other things that were taken, non-blog-related things. Stuff not usually messed with (like my pencil holder) things that I use to make my existence a little bit less annoying. I may not make replacements, actually– my thoughts turn toward “pushing back” at this point.

Well, that is about all I have for this post. I will be back as soon as I can, and I will keep you updated if I ever do find out the reason for what happened. Oh, and I will tell you about the basketball program in the next post, barring any major upheavals here anyway.

Please do not forget to thank Anna….you would know nothing of me were it not for her.

 

Ask Tod Anything: Part VI

Well, this should be the last installment for this go-round of questions, so I will just jump right in and get on with it…

23.) Is there a social “pecking order” on death row? What determines someone’s status and where do you personally fall within that hierarchy?

Just as there is in any social structure, there is a ranking system here. (Humans seem inclined to, one way or another, set their societies in order that way– be it your local bank, school, Lord of the Flies situation, or death row. And now that I think about it, Death Row can be kind of Lord of the Flies-ish at times…) In truth, there is no central “hierarchy” (your word, not mine) at this time here. This unit is broken up into ten cell blocks. And these blocks have someone who considers himself “the pod father” (the person who organizes and what have you). And that works or does not, mostly depending on the social makeup of the block.

What I mean by that is: death row has a great deal of administrative segregation, or protective custody cases. (These are child molesters and child killers, rapists, snitches, and those who deal with them.) How their hierarchy works, I have not a clue, and to be honest I don’t care. (But there is indeed one! There is a protective custody within protective custody!) Their world will likely change, however, with the close custody experiment pending, which I have mentioned previously.

The rest of us are in “general population” or GP. The social structure for that is a bit different.

To begin with, the Arizona Prison System divides itself by race. And this does not mean the races are at odds with each other. (Quite the contrary, actually.) It is simply that needs, desires, and wants can vary by culture and/or societal upbringing, and it makes sense for each race to centralize and make sure its personal needs are met. So within that structure you have people, or a person, that sees to it that the needs of the group are known and addressed (there is usually no “formal dictatorship” that accomplishes this, but rather, discussions that give people a voice of some sort.) I could go on describing this but you get the idea.

As to where I fall in all of this? I have always been somewhat anti-social and don’t care about all the drama that comes with interacting too deeply in the social morass. So I give respect to others and demand the same in return. The theater of the absurd that I must endure as part of my existence is something I would rather observe than become entangled in.

I hope that answers your question.

24.) Do you ever worry about prison employees reading your blog and being offended by it? Would you be in trouble if they did? What about the family of your victims, your lawyer, or your own family? Is there anyone you’re hoping won’t ever read this blog?

I don’t “worry” per se about prison employees reading this blog, nor do I worry about offending them. (There was a time when I used to make it my business to offend as many as I could on a daily basis. Over the years, I have mellowed… some.) If someone is offended by the truth, then, in my mind, work needs to be done to change the situation by which they find themselves being offended. If there is fear that the truth will be disseminated beyond the confines of a “closed” system, then I believe every effort should be made to do just that.

If your government does something in your name (such as imprisoning and systematically murdering people) then you should know all about the thing being done. In fact, some might say you have an obligation to know.

Today’s society keeps people very busy and very distracted. At the risk of sounding paranoid…I wonder if this might, on some level, be on purpose. If people are so hurried and so worried, then they may have neither the time nor the inclination to “pull back the curtain” and see why things are the way they are… why the economy is the way it is, why their government hands out foreign aid like Halloween candy while there are homeless and hungry children in this country…why kids graduate high school (if they graduate at all) with third grade reading levels… I have a unique situation in that I don’t have all the stresses there are out in society and an abundance of time to consider such things.

The truth should never be “worried” about (and it is only feared by those who lie and wish to deceive in the first place) so if I get in “trouble” in some way, I am willing to resist that. I do nothing wrong or against the law here. Yes, these people can (and have) make my existence even more difficult than it already is, but I already live in a cage under sentence of death. How much worse can it get? If someone comes across these postings and doesn’t like what they read, then they have the choice of not reading them.

I have told my family about it. My lawyer knows and does not much care for it. (Not sure why, but hey, that’s her right.) Everyone will have their own opinion and are entitled to it. I don’t worry about who may or may not read this blog.

25.) How well-traveled are you? What are some of your favorite places? What are some places you wish you could have visited?

As I have already mentioned in one of these questions, I used to “saddle tramp” a bit so I have been a lot of places (here in the US, anyway.) Just on my own? I like places that are green and kind of wild. The Colorado Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest…the Smoky Mountains…all majestic places.

But people can make a place special too… there was a pretty Cajun girl in Louisiana… another with skin white as fresh snow with auburn hair and green eyes in Massachusetts… a lot of things can make a place special.

I would have loved to go to Europe and Asia (lots of green places!) and just rode a motorcycle around and stopped where I liked.

26.) Have you ever thought about writing a book, or are you mostly just focusing on your blog right now?

It was mentioned some time ago that I should write a book, but I don’t know where I would start or what to write about, or how to bring it all together. As far as “focusing on…” I focus on anything that can give me a mental break from this black pit of misery.

27.) Do you know any gay people on death row, and if so, how does it affect how others treat them? Is the prison population more homophobic than the outside world, or is that a myth?

There is one sort of openly known gay person on the row that I know of. I personally do not associate with him, but it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. It is because he snitches on people to the guards. I do not care for snitches of any color, race, creed, or orientation– I’m an equal opportunity kind of guy in that way.

I think homophobia can be found most anyplace you go. Perhaps more so in the conservative “bible belt” and less so in the more open-minded progressive cities. But there is crossover both ways. There seems to be a fair amount of homophobia here for whatever reason.

So I will speak for myself only. I am heterosexual and confident and comfortable in that knowledge. As far as my feelings go… a person’s sexual orientation is their own business and does not affect me in the least or dictate how I interact with or feel about them one way or another. If everyone were the same, this world would be a mind-numbingly boring place, now wouldn’t it?

I only recently found out the story behind why Anna and I were assigned as pen pals for one another. Evidently, after she submitted her application to become a pen pal, she contacted the person in charge at DRSP and requested that every effort be made to assign her a pen pal who would not reject contact with her based on the fact that she is gay. She was matched with me because the person in charge (correctly) believed I wasn’t the sort who would mind. And I don’t mind, not in the least.

28.) Are you religious?

I would refer to myself as “spiritual” rather than religious per se.

A lot of horrific things have been perpetuated on millions if not billions of people in the name of religion down through the history of humankind.

I am a firm believer in the idea that people should walk whatever path they choose, and how they see fit.

29. Did you personally know the guy whose botched execution in Arizona made national news a few years ago?

I think you mean Joe Woods? In a word, no. I did not. Never even met him.

30.) When was the last time you hugged anyone? Will you get another hug in your lifetime?

The last person I hugged was my son before all this happened and I ended up here. (He was a world-class hugger at age four, too!)

Recently they started up a program in which two people go out into a large recreation pen together under heavy guard. (I will explain this program in greater detail in a future post.) I have gone out there with someone I have known for a long time, and we did shake hands (first time since my trial that I’ve gotten to do that.) I don’t see hugs becoming a part of that program. It has been so long for any physical contact that even shaking hands felt odd.

31.) Why do you hate lawyers so much?

Okay, “hate” is a strong word. But I have been dealing with lawyers in packs for so long. Half want to kill me and the other half want to “win” their side, which just happens to be keeping me alive to die of old age with shitty medical care in prison.

And it is all just a big game to them. They take the human factor out of it and you’re just a case number on a page.

We have very bad living conditions on this unit and that is not the lawyers’ concern… their job is to keep you alive to experience it for as long as possible… who cares what you go through? I have actually had lawyers tell me that they don’t believe in the death penalty but when I point out that if they (and all the lawyers who supposedly feel the same way) would go into court and say “we are not going to work on death penalty cases because it goes against our… ethical beliefs? moral turpitude? something!… and that would eliminate it” they say, “Oh, no, we can’t possibly do that!” People’s lives just seem to be a game to them. Nope, don’t care all that much for lawyers…. do you know any who can fake actual human compassion? Because I only know ones that try and fail miserably.

I know an ex-lawyer who is actually pretty cool– she was educated at Harvard. (She worked my case for a little while.) A brilliant woman, and she came to see me one day (she would come down just to talk about anything every so often) and told me: “I can’t take it anymore! I come up with good stuff that should make a difference, and the judges ignore it!” (Judges who, in my humble opinion, are far less intelligent than she.) “I am quitting,” she said. “I don’t know whether I will ever practice law again!”

And as far as I know (we are still in contact on occasion) she has not. I can’t blame her. She seems happier now.

32.) What are some common misconceptions about people on death row that you think are unfair or untrue?

One thing I hear across the board on death penalty cases is “these people are the worst of the worst… we have to sentence them to die.” And that is just not true.

As I said in at least one previous post, I believe in the death penalty. But for the most part, a lot of these people could go to a regular prison unit and die of old age without ever having caused any trouble. (There are people here who have never broken a prison rule in over 20 years!)

And it would be a lot cheaper for you taxpayers if that were the case. Death penalty cases cost millions and millions and millions of dollars to see through to the end. On mine alone you could house probably twenty people in prison with natural life sentences, and have money left over!

The idea that we are all uncontrollable animals and are a danger to the public is also a lie. You have read my posts. I had a life, a home, child, did the same things pretty much everyone else does. Took joy in the same things everyone else does. Sure, there are junkies here and street-gang members with no regard for others… but that is not everyone, not by a long shot. Many of us are just people that the system ground out and spit into a cage for any number of reasons. (There are lots of reasons.) People don’t realize how corrupt the system is until either they or someone close to them gets caught up in it… and then… well, it’s too late at that point. I like a definition that Ambrose Bierce put into his Devil’s Dictionary. It reads “litigation: something one goes into as a pig and comes out of as a sausage.” I think people have an obligation to know and understand what is done in their name– learn the truth of the judicial system.

Well, that is all of the questions that I have in this time around. I really enjoy answering them for you. Looking forward to more in the future.

Take care and please remember that Anna is the keystone in this bridge between you and me. Without her, you wouldn’t even know I existed. So thank her, please.

Ask Tod Anything: Part V

Hello again from the Roost. This will be the second installment for answering this batch of questions. So I suppose I will jump right in:

12.) When the judge read your sentence in court, were you expecting it or were you surprised? How did you feel?

To be honest I knew I was going to get the death penalty. My lawyer (who in some ways “sold me down the river”– he is part of the system after all) kept requesting a change of judge until I was in the court of the only judge in the county who gave out death sentences (unofficially known as the “hanging judge” of Maricopa County) who would be up for re-election the year following my trial– and a good, well-publicized case in which he handed down the death penalty would go a long way toward getting him re-elected.

(Most people do not understand how political the death penalty really is– and the ways, which are myriad, in which is it used for a political vehicle.)

So, yeah, it was pretty much in the bag that I was getting the death sentence.

Here is a good indicator for you: After– that is after all the trial stuff, mitigation/aggravation stuff, everything to do with the trial– is over, the judge is supposed to sit down and write out his feelings in a “sentencing report” during which he considers all the aspects of the trial, especially the mitigation hearing (which is the very last part of whole process) and and explains for the court record why he/she is handing down the sentence that they are. Well, my mitigation hearing ended at about 11:00 AM and the judge said, “We will break for lunch. Then I will read the sentence to the defendant.” (In one of the most complicated trials in that county in a long time, mind you. Break for an hour and a half and come back and sentence me!)

I leaned over, knowing that as soon as I was sentenced I would be stuffed in a van and sent to prison, and asked my lawyer to tell the judge that I had been in county jail for over a year and needed at least one day to get my affairs in order and write a couple of letters telling people I would be moved to prison shortly. The judge (with a rather sour look on his face) agreed to this, and the sentence would be read the following morning.

The next morning the judge read out a 32-page sentencing document… 32 pages!!! Which means he had it pre-written the day previous and prior to the end of my official trial!

Oh, yeah, I knew I was getting the death penalty. Everybody did! (two female guards, which I had known since I got locked up, came the lat night I spent in the county jail to my cell and gave me a tearful goodbye– separately, not at the same time– one had to rush off as it was a bit more than just tearful… she started to break down.) Everybody knew.

As to how I felt…a death penalty trial is pretty stressful…I had literally been prodded and poked for almost a year, my family harassed by prosecution and defense investigators and, well… I guess i was just kind of relieved it was over for everyone’s sake. My family had been put through more their share of “enough”.

13.) Is there anything Anna has to do (or avoid doing) in order to make sure her letters get through to you? How strict are the mailroom rules? Does someone read her letters all the way or just skim them? Are your letters to her read too? What is considered grounds for confiscating a letter? Are there rules against swearing?

All good questions if you are considering writing to someone.

First part, make sure that whole address is on the envelope. (Especially name, inmate number, and the correct name of the facility.) Outside that, they just have general rules for “contraband” that vary from state to state and facility to facility. (Like I can’t have hardcover books but down the road at another facility they can.)

Reading letters… it would not really be possible to “read” everyone’s mail. (Although there are times when specific people’s mail is “red flagged” and it does get read in its entirety. There are several reasons this can happen but they are supposed to revolve around “threats to security”. Whatever that means.) So as a general rule, mail is skimmed.

As far as my letters to Anna being read… it is possible, but you would have to ask her. (The letters would be cut open and taped back shut, Anna.)

Letter confiscation? It can happen if there is some sort of “active criminal investigation” going on…but if someone does not like something, a letter can “get lost” at any point between the mailroom and my cage. It happens that way more than anything else official happening.

And no, there is no rule about swearing– which Anna, who uses a surprising amount of of four-letter words, is happy about. Isn’t swearing protected to some degree by the freedom of speech? I seem to remember that being litigated to some degree.

14.) Are you from Arizona? If so, whereabouts in Arizona? If not, where are you from?

When I was out in the world, I lived the lion’s share of my life in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. (Mostly in the woods.) But I spent part of my life as a “saddle tramp” as well, moving from place to place on the back of a Harley. I have been to about (or passed through at 70 miles per hour) about every state in the contiguous US and up into Canada and Alaska. So I like to think I am from everywhere.

15.) Have you The Green Mile, and if so, how accurate would you say the portrayal is of life on death row is?

My television broke some time ago and they are expensive and I just cannot replace it. So, no, I have not seen The Green Mile. But I have read the book by Steven King. I cannot speak to how accurate it might have been in the 30’s, which is when it was set I think… but now? Not at all. For one thing, it had, what? Five, six people on death row? (Which, by the way, is how it should be: the death penalty not being handed out like a carnival prize.) Here there are over 120, I believe. Constant noise, no peace… I can’t really describe it. It is no way for a human to exist. (It is not “living” so I do not call it that.)

16.) How old were your kids when you went to prison? What’s it like being a parent while on death row? Are you still in contact with any of your kids and/or their mom(s)? You also mentioned grandkids– have you met them?

I had to take a break before I could even write this one down. I know I have told you all a little bit about my child and that I have grandkids, but I have not actually gotten anyone’s approval for including them in this blog post. For that reason I am going to be pretty general in answering this and any future questions like it in such a public forum. I am actually pretty protective of the people I care about.

My son, who is the same age as Anna, was four when I came to prison. Because of a strained relationship with his mother (which existed prior to my ending up here) I did not get much of a chance to “parent” when he was young.

But multiply that by at least the power of ten and that is how frustrating, scary, and overall difficult it is to parent or be a parent from a cage. This environment is not one I would want my grandkids exposed to, so no, I have not met them in person– and you cannot imagine how much that hurts me. But this unit dictates that I would only see them through glass and not  be able to hold or even touch them anyway. Maintaining any sort of semblance of a family life/contact is very difficult in my situation.

17.) Who are some of your heroes and why? Fictional characters, historical figures, famous people, people you know/knew, etc. or any combination of the above are all fair game.

Hmm, interesting question, have not really thought about it before. I suppose first and foremost would be my father: an outstanding and heroic man indeed. He served this country in World War II with bravery and valor, and was recognized for it. He started and raised a family, doing the very best he could by us, and sacrificing himself on a daily basis and never seeking recognition for it. He was a good, loyal, and honorable man. I think he is about the only person I would call a “hero” to me. There are historical figures that I admire some of the things that they did or were involved in, but I have only known the picture history paints of them. A man that may have done something noteworthy to history could have in reality neglected his family to do so, or done dishonorable things that no one knows about, so I don’t feel comfortable putting someone I only know by a “snapshot” of their life on a pedestal.

18.) When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I recall most of the “normal” things a child wants to be: a fireman, a pirate ship captain, an astronaut (back to the “Captain Kirk saving whole planets” thing.) Pretty much whatever I was fixated on at any given time. I don’t recall any “serious” aspirations.

I always enjoyed creating things out of wood, metal, paint, pencil/pen, and paper…I just mostly wanted to be free to do that.

19.) What were some of the hardest things to get used to about being in prison?

Where do I begin? Everything. I still do not “do as I am told” so perhaps that would be one. The noise, the smell(s), all the people packed in around me, bad food (and I use the term “food” loosely here)… I eat, sleep, everything, less than six feet away from an open toilet. The whole situation is an exercise in “getting used to things” humans are not equipped to ever get used to. This place breaks people’s minds, steals their sanity… I really cannot recommend it at all. I can’t even say it “builds character”… since I have been around so many who have none at all (or honor or integrity for that matter). In short, I suppose, I am still getting used to things.

20.) Are you actually considering something like “slap this horse in the ass; I’ve got things to do” as your last words? Or were you kidding about that?

Not in the least was I kidding! What do you say when you are strapped down to a gurney for a nice little murder by proxy show for a room full of people devoid of any ethical compass to watch?? I would like to say something profound and deep to be remembered by, but that would detract from the barbaric theater of the absurd at hand, now wouldn’t it? Perhaps I should start a lottery: what might you all suggest, given the total ridiculousness of the situation? All suggestions will be considered.

21.) Are there rules about what you can say as your last words? Time limits, restrictions on profanity, does it have to be in English, things like that?

(This should help those of you who wish to participate in the “last words lottery”.)

What you say is into a microphone, and the warden has his finger on a button, ready to cut you off if he so wishes. So, better off with no name callin’ or deeply political statements. Profanity is likely out as well. But as far as I know any language is okay. (Surely they wouldn’t deny someone who speaks no English the right to a last statement? I would hope not.)

Time limits? If you attempt a “filibuster” of your impending fate, then at some point they will push the cut-off button and just go ahead with the murder, so brevity would be advised. So… short, sweet, and to the point.

22.) What is your favorite meal? What foods do you miss most?

Here? I don’t have a favorite meal. It is all crap– crap I would feel bad if forced to feed to a dog. I miss fresh food, uncanned vegetables that still have some nutrition in them… fruit! Oh, how I miss fruit! (I don’t know how these asswipes got away with never, ever giving us fruit! An apple or pear or an orange… I have to stop, I am starting to salivate…and I am certain that will turn to weeping soon.

Okay, I think I am down to where  I can finish off three questions with one more installment, so I will give Anna’s fingers a rest once more. Thank you for the input. I really enjoy interacting.

Expect another Q&A posting soon. And please don’t forget to show appreciation for Anna’s dedication to this project, without which you would not be reading any of this.

Ask Tod Anything: Part IV

Welcome to the Roost once again, where my rantings find a place to rest. I am very pleased to say that I just last night received several pages of questions from you all, sent to me by Anna, that you– the readers of my humble blog– have done me the honor of asking. So that is what this post (and perhaps the next post or two, depending on how much I go on with my answers… don’t want to send Anna a novelette to type out) will be about.

And in the interest of keeping this as short as I can, I will jump right in. I have no name or any idea who these questions came from, just the questions in numerical order.

1.) What is the significance of the name of your blog? Who came up with it, you or Anna?

The name was solely my idea and only I can be blamed for it. I have an interest in mythology. I like mythology of all kinds, but am probably best versed in Scandinavian/Germanic mythology and folklore. And that is where Muninn comes from. (It can be spelled Munin as well.)

In Scandinavian teachings, there is a god named Odinn (otherwise known as Woden, Wodan, Wotan, or Woten) and this god, who is the primary godhead, is the original god of consciousness from whom all other gods (and all other conscious beings) is derived, directly or indirectly. In short, he is the god who rules over all others. In folklore, Odinn has two ravens on whom he relies to fly over this world and report back to him to keep him informed of what is going on here. These ravens are Huginn and Muninn. (They are really metaphorical aspects of Odinn’s consciousness.) Scandinavian and Germanic words have more than one meaning depending on how, where, and when they are used, and these two words are no different. In this context, Huginn means thought or he who thinks, and Muninn means memory or he who remembers.

There is a book in Scandinavian folklore called the Elder Edda, or Poetic Edda. (Some consider this to be a holy book.) In this book there is a story: Grimnismál (the lay of Grimnir) in which Odinn is captured by an evil and greedy king. (Germanic gods are often portrayed with human aspects and vulnerabilities… they can age, they can be captured, sometimes on purpose as with this story, and they can even die). Odinn is shown a kindness by the king’s ten-year-old son, whom he rewards (in part) with knowledge, some of which is knowledge of the gods. (Neither the king nor the boy know it is Odinn whom they have captured.) And during that exchange, Odinn tells the boy the following:

Huginn and Muninn fly every day
over the expansive earth;
I am anxious about Huginn, that he will not come back,
Though I fear even more for Muninn.

In this strophe, I believe the importance of memory to the Germanic peoples is being exemplified.

Now, all that said, Muninn’s Roost is where I can put my memories– and yes, thoughts too, but I think memory to be very important, as that is really all I have left in this cage. And although (or, perhaps, because) my consciousness is stifled by the horrific environment that surrounds me, I cling desperately to these thoughts from my past.

I actually put a lot of thought into the name for the blog– and– I was hopeful that someone might ask after the name’s origin so I could show off my Germanic folklore chops…just kidding… maybe…

2.) Beer or wine? Coke or Pepsi? McDonald’s or Burger King?

In my youth I put away my fair share of beer (Budweiser for the most part) but as I got into my mid-twenties I developed a fondness for a Guinness Stout (not technically a beer) but I also kept a couple of bottles of decent wine around as well.

It has been some amount of time (a very long time) but I liked Pepsi as a kid.

I lived in a pretty rural area of Colorado (drove over fifty miles to buy groceries) and in that town there was no Burger King or McDonald’s that I recall…but there was a place called Don’s Drive-In that had a teriyaki mushroom burger on a homemade bun that was like six inches across, and that was unbelievably good! So I guess my answer to that last part is, Don’s Drive-In!

3.) How would you describe your political leanings?

Wow! I could write a novelette on what I think about what is going on in the U.S. government. But in the interest of keeping this as simple and short as I can… both of the parties have some, and I emphasize some good ideas. (I am all for freedom… of all types. I don’t much care for repression of any kind.) However, both parties also have some of what I see as horrifically bad ideas. I was not there of course, but from what I can gather about what is going on in Washington D.C. right now, I don’t think (in my opinion of course) that it is what the founders of this democratic experiment called the United States of America really had in mind. So I guess I could say my “political leanings” are at best disappointment, at worst, disgust. (And these feelings are Pre-Trump if you are interested… but now? I just sit here open-mouthed in total bewilderment.)

4.) Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars?

I grew up on Star Trek (the original series– yes, I am old) and the swashbuckling Captain Kirk. Cavorting with green slave girls and saving whole planets was every kid’s dream! (I was too young to pick up on the political messages being sneaked in by the studio heads and censors at the time; that came later.) But Star Wars is a much more involved story full of deeply fleshed-out characters people can invest in… so both are good in their own ways. However, that silly Star Trek always had a place in me as part of my childhood– a simple and safe place I can always visit in my mind.

5.) Are you a cat person or a dog person? Do you have a favorite breed?

Do I have to choose? I am a great lover of animals of all sorts. I’ve had both– at the same time, even– and loved them equally. As far as breeds go… I don’t even know what breed she was, but I had a huge white cat I was very fond of. Anna has three cats, and she often sends me pictures and updates, which I enjoy.

Dogs? I had a boxer that was my very best friend as a child. As an adult, I had a black lab/Malamute mix (she looked like a large Labrador) that was one of the smartest dogs I have ever seen, and was a good friend.

I have also had snakes as pets, and a grey tree/house squirrel that seemed to think he was a dog (an exercise in patience I do not recommend… squirrels make horrible pets!) and… are you ready for this? A raven! Who was… truly beyond friendship… more like a sibling, really. And, yes, the other reason for the name of the blog… his name was Muninn. A relationship (he was not a “pet”– when he was grown, he could come and go as he pleased but almost always slept in my room, often standing on the part of my pillow I wasn’t using) that I would also not recommend for most. It’s like having a very precocious two-year-old child that never grows up! A really good alarm clock, though…when Muninn got up, I got up.

6.) If you’ve ever read Harry Potter, what house do you think you’d be in?

If memory serves (and sometimes it doesn’t) the Sorting Hat chooses, does it not? But rather like Harry, I would be hopeful for Gryffindor. They seemed to have the most fun. (Granted, the books mostly centered around characters that belonged to that house.)

7.) How often do you see a doctor, a dentist, a psychiatrist/psychologist, etc.? How does that work? Do you have to be handcuffed while being examined? Do you leave the prison grounds to get medical checkups or do they come to you? What about if there is an emergency? Would you be chained up in the ambulance?

Good questions! You see someone at medical (rarely if ever “a doctor”– usually someone claiming to be a nurse) after you put in a special form to do so (it’s called a Health Needs Request or H.N.R.) after you submit such a form– it has in the past taken months to see someone, and there have been numerous lawsuits– you now go to medical within a couple of weeks to see someone who asks you what is wrong, takes notes, then puts you on a list to see someone, who puts you on a list to see someone… you get the picture… and this can take months. (But, hey, they can claim they saw you within a certain number of weeks, which satisfies the court ruling.)

Yes, we are always handcuffed, chained, something. The medical unit is on prison grounds so unless it is something really major we do not leave the prison. In case of emergency they can (IE, they deem it needful… I have been sewn up and given an antibiotic course right here.) They will take you to an actual hospital (about an hour away) during which you are chained up in the ambulance and chained up in in the ambulance and chained to a hospital in the ambulance and chained to a hospital gurney when you get there. (Or so I understand anyway– I have never left the prison grounds.)

In short, medical issues often go untreated here. If they do receive some sort of treatment, it is usually inadequate. Mental issues are even worse. They just throw pills at someone who has often been misdiagnosed so usually poorly medicated (thorazine used to be big here… I don’t know if that has changed or not.)

The “medical staff” we get here usually are at the “end of the line” for a medical career and are considered unemployable anywhere else, so we get what the state pays for.

8.) To what extent are issues such as vegetarianism and veganism, gluten sensitivity, kosher/halal religious diets, and allergies accommodated on death row?

I do not know anyone on it because it is…well… I hear it’s just about inedible. But the prison has one diet that covers pretty much all of what you mentioned. It has beans, a lot of rice, and some carrot sticks and celery that cannot be sold in a store so the prison gets it for next to nothing. “Special” diets are discouraged here.

9.) What commissary items are most highly sought after, besides stamps and envelopes?

I don’t really know. It has been a long time (five months? maybe six?) since I have personally purchased anything other than stamps, envelopes, paper, soap, or shampoo. (And I am likely going to shave my head so I can eliminate shampoo.) I suppose it’s an individual thing– a matter of personal likes and dislikes. There are a great deal of unhealthy people that gravitate toward the candy bars and potato chips. If I were able I suppose I would likely supplement the poor nutrition of the high carbohydrate and fat diet they give us with things like the fish and other protein items that are available on the commissary list. I would also suppose coffee would be high on the popular lost. But like I said it is pretty individual for likes and dislikes, I suppose.

10. I saw in a documentary once that, when an inmate is taken away to be executed in Oklahoma, all the other inmates on death row refuse their meal on the night of his death as a show of respect and solidarity for their friend. Do the men in Arizona have any rituals or traditions on the day of an execution, or afterwards, to honor someone who has passed or is about to?

This s a question that will take some “creative” answering. On some death rows in the country, a mindset of “all for one and one for all” is prevalent.

This is so because the death row population is separate from the “normal” (a term I use loosely here!) prison population– which is where things like rapists and child molesters and child killers are not tolerated. Out “on a yard” (another term for a prison unit) these individuals would end up in “ad-seg” (administrative segregation– otherwise known as protective custody.)

In Arizona, our death row functions more like a regular prison unit, in which you have a GP (general population) section and a PC (protective custody) section. As GP, we do not associate with protective custody in any way. This of course results in a schism in the Arizona death row population.

(My mindset is simple: I have children, grandchildren, and female friends on the outside and it would be dishonorable– and, to my mind, insulting to them– if I were to associate with the type of low-life that obviously has no respect for them, or even a semblance of an ethical compass of any kind.) So I personally have issues with rapists and people who commit crimes against children, sexual or otherwise.

But to get back to the question: this separation means that there are no organized tributes of any sort. If we know the person we each observe our own way of showing respect for them, and we do so individually.

For me? I have one that I think of every year on his birthday. (I think of him often of course, but his birthday is spent with him in mind all day.) As long as his memory survives, he survives.

(It should be noted that the “close custody experiment” I mentioned in a previous blog post throws this whole separation thing to the wind. No matter how I mentally address it, I can only imagine bad results coming from it.)

11.) What are the guidelines for what you can theoretically order for your last meal? Is there anything specific you are not allowed to request? Would they give you a beer, a cigarette, or a doobie if you asked for it? And if you had, say, a life-threatening peanut allergy, would you be forbidden from ordering a PB&J? Along similar lines, do you know (or know of) anyone who has made a bizarre or interesting last meal request or plans to do so?

The rules have changed for last meals since I got here. It used to be you could request anything as long as it could be obtained locally and could be cooked at the prison. Then it was, you could request anything as long as it could be obtained locally but you had to pay for it yourself. Now my understanding is that it has to be something the prison already makes….but that could be wrong. (It may still be that you have to buy it if you don’t choose something the prison already makes.)

No, no beer, cigarettes, or doobies. (A joint and a glass of single malt scotch would be my request if either of those things were allowed.) And if the prison is aware of any allergies, then nope, they won’t let you have it.

As far as bizarre requests go… Anna has gone online and cannot seem to find a record of this… but there was a guy who told me he was going to ask for five pounds of fried okra, and a guard said that was what he got.

As I have 32 questions here, I will let Anna take a break and give her typing fingers a rest. If your question has not been answered, worry not; I will get to it. But for now I will stop. I will get to answering the rest of this batch of questions very soon, though, so stay tuned, and please don’t forget to thank Anna, without whom you would not be reading this.