Fighting Words

Greetings and welcome once again to the Roost.

I would like to begin with a very sincere thank you to Anna for guest-writing a beautiful post about writing to people in prison for you, our readers. (She sent me a hard copy to read.) It was very kind of her indeed.

Also I would like to apologize for my extended hiatus from writing. (Which is only partially due to the incident that will be the main subject of this post.)

Before the following event I was (and still am to a degree) in… shall we say… a dark mood. Several things contributed to this.

One of the big unsettling issues for me is that it seems several posts for the Roost which I have sent to Anna have not made it to her. One is the second half of the last batch of questions I was sent by you all to answer. I didn’t much care for that situation at all, as I do not want any of you to think I just decided to neglect your curiosity. Each and every one of your questions are important to me and I will answer them all (even if it is only to tell you I am not comfortable answering a particular question, which rarely happens but is not outside the realm of possibilities) and as soon as I get a letter from Anna telling me which answers were… lost… I will finish answering them for you.

Now it is always possible that a letter can get lost in the mail, but the second post that did not make it… well that is a different issue. It would seem Anna got the letter I sent with it, along with some artwork, but the post I wrote was missing from the envelope. This upset me deeply and I had several prison personnel involved in this issue. I was of course told it was not them (that they have removed nothing) and if there was “an issue”, they would have kept the letter, post, and envelope in its entirety. (Which, I must admit, is what they do.) But “the jury is still out” on me being convinced. There simply must be an explanation for the occurrence.

But knowledge of these things happened recently and I am still in the decision process concerning what is to be done about them.

My “dark mood” has other, older contributing factors, mostly personal, this place can simply “wear on” a person in many ways. I just let it get to me. It can happen when the things one has to do are so limited, it can be difficult to get beyond this place when there is nothing to focus on beyond “the cage”. My access to the outside world is very limited. But these are issues that are mine and I will keep them. I seem destined to deal with them on my own.

Now on to recent events that my participating in, and actions concerning, were beyond my control and choice due to the environment that has been created for me to survive in…

“The great epochs of our life are at the points when we gain the courage to re-baptize our badness as the best of us.” –F. W. Nietzsche

Boy, does this place give me opportunity far and wide to indulge in that!

I must be honest and state that Nietzsche did not have a situation like mine in mind when he wrote that…but it does fit. I live in an environment chock-full of bad people full of “evil intent” — and no, I do not separate myself from that description. I would not be subject to such an environment if I were not deemed bad and/or “evil” by society’s standards.

(You may notice that I put “evil” in quotation marks there– I do the same with “good” when I ascribe them to behavioral issues. I find it troublesome defining them in those situations. They are… situationally arbitrary.)

But delving into the behavioral concepts of “good” and “evil” are not the subject matter of this post. And I will leave it up to you, good reader, to put whatever label you see fit on the following occurrence. My aim is simply to give you a glimpse into the world that is death row. Your judgement– on it, on me, and on my actions– are yours.

At least some of you may remember my mentioning a “close-custody experiment” the prison was being forced into due to litigation. Well, last month, in their infinite stupidity, prison personnel told me to “roll up!” (that is “pack your shit” in prison lingo) as I was to be moved to central unit to participate in the experiment. (I was one of three people in general population to be included– the others were to be left behind.)

I suppose for this to make sense, I need to explain what “general population” is in prison terms. General population is a population of prisoners that have no crimes involving sexual violence, no crimes involving children in any way, and no history of snitching (informing) on anyone involved in criminal activity, and no history of dealing cordially with any of the above three types of people. In short, a member of the general population could be released into any prison yard (not containing those three types of people or their sympathizers) and be expected to get along without incident.

On the other hand, the aforementioned three groups of people (and those who choose to be involved with them), if they were to be released into an open prison yard, would suffer severe consequences.

At this point, I need to take care in what I relate to you, and even how I relate it, as it is easy to enter into the realm of snitching. (Which I do not do, even on prison personnel.) But it is rather difficult to believe that prison personnel, at some level, did not realize what was being done in putting three general population inmates into a situation in which they were literally surrounded by (and far outnumbered by!) sex offenders, child molesters, child killers, snitches, and their close personal friends.

Yup– they did not separate the populations as is done in every other environment in this system! If they had moved all of general population, at least we could have made an environment for ourselves in which we were insular from the issue at hand if we so chose, but we were not afforded that opportunity… three among sixty or seventy… that is what we were given…

I attempt here not to justify anything== in the world made for me to survive in, “justification” is a sketchy concept on the best of days. And certain behavior is not only expected of an individual, but demanded without any excuse accepted. Certain behaviors must be adhered to or one can find oneself neck-deep in a pile of doo-doo with no way out…and the rules apply to everyone! (See above regarding what happens when one is branded a sympathizer with certain elements.)

Just about twenty-four hours after my arrival at central unit (CBS) I was charged with a “2B Felony Violation– Assault on Multiple Inmates.” (And subsequently found guilty of it– don’t you just hate cameras?!) This assault insisted of me beating the holy crap out of an individual who is here because he sexually tortured and then killed a woman…and then beating the crap out of another inmate who thought it was a good idea to jump in and defend this first piece of crap! (For the record, the first “target”– the rapist– is about twenty years my junior and should be perfectly well capable of defending himself. His “protector” was about my age or perhaps a little younger.)

For the record, no, I do not feel bad about what happened. I find the existence of an individual who did what was done by the first person to be loathsome in the extreme (when I used the words “sexually torture” I meant it literally. I will spare you all, and Anna, the details, but what he did was… I have trouble coming up with a word horrendous enough to fit. But to give you an idea, when arrested he was found to still have… nope, I won’t go into it. It upsets me even to consider it.) I feel no remorse at all for the person assaulted, or the one who decided to jump in and defend him. If that makes me a monster in the eyes of some, then so be it.

I am now on the “F-You Tour” of prison life. I spent about a week (or was it a bit longer?) at CB-6. (the maximum security unit at Central) so it could be decided what to do with me—and in the meantime, no shower, no property, no mail, no nothin’ over there! — and apparently they decided that they did not want me, and I was moved not only back to Browning/SMU II, but right back to the very same cell I was taken out of in the first place: G-14! So now I await for them to finish breaking, taking, “losing” my property and bring that back to me. I have been able to get a little bit… but not actually what I need.

I asked for a bag that contained nothing but my clothes, my sheets (I sleep on only a blanket since that is all I have right now), and shoes in it…also, I asked for a cup out of another box to drink from. (I drank out of half-pint milk cartons I get in the morning and wash out and save…also, I have only the set of clothes I have been wearing for a week or more at Central Unit… well, one of the floor cops sees and understands the situation, goes to Property Storage… and comes back with a plastic bag and says “This is all they will give me!”

In this bag were three pairs of boxer shorts, a pair of sweatpants (it’s August in Arizona!) and a bar of soap…all of use to me… but still I cannot leave my cage if I am washing my shirt, and I only have the one pair of socks as well.

And the milk cartons… I’ve been drinking out of those for weeks now.  (They only last so long before they spring a leak and I have to replace them.)

People around me have given me things to read, but with nothing else to distract myself they don’t last long. I can read a four-hundred page novel by lunchtime if I don’t put t down and do something else. I am meditating a lot…reflecting…spending time inside my own mind (not a place for the faint of heart, I can tell you!) doing some tune-up work on me.

In case anyone is interested, no, I did not sustain any real injury in the incident. (I jammed or perhaps otherwise injured my right wrist but I am pretty sure that occurred from me beating on others.) I did get pepper sprayed, then tazed when the the pepper spray did not really affect me. (It did after the adrenaline wore off! That new stuff is potent!) The taser probes were pulled out at the scene and I was stuck in a very hot shower. (Hot water and pepper spray don’t really like each other all that much) to wash off the pepper spray residue (I was, of course, still chained) but otherwise refused any treatment and was eventually taken back to my cell to await transport (to CB-6 to begin the F-You Tour.) Yes, I did get an opportunity to wash up better and put on clean dry clothes before they came and got me and my stuff (which means my wet clothes went in a plastic bag and I can’t imagine what shape it will be in when I get it back…maybe the pepper spray will keep the bugs out and slow down mold growth? Hey, I can hope!)

So that is where I have been… for a time anyway. I hope to be able to start posting on a more regular schedule again now. (Rest assured, you will have another post coming on the state of my property when you get it back… I expect to be pissed!) But until then, I am writing on borrowed paper, with a borrowed pen, and sending this to Anna with borrowed stamps I am not sure how I can pay back… (sigh, such is my life!)

For now, dear readers, you all take care… and please remember thank Anna, without whom you could not be reading this right now. She is a dear friend and a very kind person.

 

 

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Guest Post: Pen Pal Advice from Anna

Hello, everyone! My name is Anna. I suppose you could consider me to be the creator, editor, and administrator of Muninn’s Roost. I am not the author of any of the posts—except this one, of course— and my role on the blog is simply to serve as the bridge between Tod and all of you. He is the author and I work behind the scenes to make what he writes accessible to the public.

More importantly, I am Tod’s pen pal, and I am very grateful for that.

Not too long ago, Tod wrote a post giving some advice to would-be pen pals of death row inmates, speaking from his own experience as someone who has been on death row for about twenty years. You can find that post here.

This will be a post about the other half of the pen pal equation—that is, the perspective of someone in the free world.

Before I start, I would like to give you a few disclaimers.

First of all, my opinions, experience, and thoughts that I will be sharing here are my own. Please feel free to take any and all of what I say with a grain of salt. I do not claim to be an expert on this.

Also, please note that some of what little expertise I can claim may not be applicable outside the state of Arizona. Every state, every prison, and every unit is different.

Not to mention, the things your pen pal experiences on a day-to-day basis will be different in many ways from what Tod describes, especially if they are not located in Arizona. So, listen to your pen pal, and ask questions—don’t assume that everything you know from reading about Tod’s experience necessarily also applies to the person you are writing to.

The pen pal service that connected Tod and me is the Death Row Support Project. I highly recommend DRSP, but if you choose to use another service, know that some things about my experience with the matching process might not apply to you, because every organization does things a bit differently.

Let me be blunt: I am not here to blow smoke up your back end. I am not going to sugar-coat anything, because that won’t do either of us—or your potential future pen pal—any good. I am here to tell you the truth, some of which is not pleasant or nice.

In no way am I trying to discourage you from becoming a death row pen pal—just the opposite; I want to equip you with the information and give you the advice I wish someone had given me before I began this journey. I hope you do become a pen pal, and I hope this helps you get some idea of what to expect.

With all of that being said, I would like to share with you some thoughts about what it is like to be a pen pal to someone on death row, and offer some advice that might be useful to a new or prospective pen pal.

I. Know Yourself

So, you want to be a pen pal?

Why?

No, I’m serious: why?

What about this appeals to you? What are you hoping to get out of it? Why do you want to be a pen pal?

This isn’t a right-or-wrong-answer kind of question; it’s just something you should probably spend some time thinking about.

You don’t even have to know the answer. I can’t say that I did—or at least that I would have been able to articulate it—when I put in my application.

Just remember one thing: the person you are writing to is a human being. I will probably say that a hundred times in this post. It probably needs to be said a hundred times. We are talking about a person here, just like you or me, and they are every bit as complex and unique and worthy of dignity and respect as you or I are.

They are not an evangelism opportunity or a service project. They are not something cool to put on your college application, or an interesting cocktail party tidbit about your life.

What you are doing is beginning a relationship with another human being.

Pity, morbid fascination, wanting to make yourself sound more interesting, or a desire to reform or change a person are all very poor foundations for a relationship.

II. Denial: It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

The person you will be meeting soon is on death row. (Yes, I know you know that already, but hear me out.) This carries three major implications that you must consider.

  1. First, they committed (or at least were convicted of committing) at least one first-degree homicide.
  2. Second, the situation in which they presently find themselves, and the world they inhabit, is extremely different from anything you have ever experienced.
  3. And third, they will—in all likelihood—eventually be put to death.

I’m not saying you have to totally process and be at peace with all of that today, or tomorrow, or this year. Lord knows I’m certainly not there yet, and I don’t expect you to be, either.

You will likely be processing and re-processing those things for a very long time, even years into your friendship. Sometimes I think I’ve gotten my head around the whole execution thing, at least as well as can be expected, and other times just the thought of losing him is enough to make me want to curl up in bed, eat a bucket of ice cream, drink wine, and cry my eyes out to four straight hours of “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa on repeat.

I’m not saying it’s not okay to feel like you’re out of your depth as you ponder all of this—in fact, that’s probably healthy—or that it’s not okay if it makes you a bit nervous or uncomfortable. Again, it probably should.

I’m just saying that it will not do you (or your pen pal) any good for you to be in denial about any of those three facts.

Yes, there’s a chance your pen pal may be innocent, or at least not guilty of every single charge they were convicted of. However, if you have to believe they are innocent in order to feel comfortable interacting with them, that’s a problem.

And there is a chance your pen pal may someday have their sentence commuted to life without parole, thus evading execution. (That might happen either as a result of their own appeals process or because the death penalty was abolished in the state in which they are imprisoned.) However, if you find yourself needing to bank on that possibility in order to have a relationship with this person, that’s a problem, too.

III. Thou Shalt Not Google

You may disagree with me on this next point. That is certainly your prerogative. But hear me out.

Once you receive the name of your new pen pal, I would urge you very strongly to resist the urge to Google them. There are several reasons for this:

Spoiler alert: the answer to your burning question is not going to be jaywalking; it’s murder.

In fact, it’s almost definitely either more than one murder and/or an especially horrible murder.

There may have been kidnapping, arson, a sex crime, or torture involved.

The victim may have been a minor or an elderly or disabled person.

In any case, we’re definitely talking about first-degree murder here, not unpaid parking tickets. You presumably knew that when you signed up to write to someone on death row.

Knowing exactly what your pen pal did (or was convicted of doing) is not going to make you feel any better. I promise.

If anything, you will freak yourself out even more. That is the last thing you need as you are trying to get to know someone.

There is a small chance that this person is innocent and was wrongfully convicted.

There is a very large chance that at least part of the state’s version of the facts is incorrect or incomplete.

What they did (or were convicted of doing) is really none of your business.

If they want to tell you about it, let them tell you how and when they are comfortable doing so.

Your pen pal has very little agency (ability to make choices) in their life. Giving them agency over how and when to tell you that piece of their story is a sign of respect and a gesture of empowerment in a world in which they have very little power.

Saying something like, “It’s your story and I want you to have control over how you tell it,” seems simple to you but will likely be very meaningful to your pen pal.

People often stay on death row for very long periods of time. The crime in question may have been committed five, ten, or even twenty or more years ago.

Are you the same person you were five years ago?

Are you proud of everything you did ten years ago?

Do you want to be judged based on things that happened twenty years ago?

Most importantly, knowing about their crime will not tell you much about who they are as a person, and that is (hopefully) your goal in all of this: to get to know them as a person. Not as “the defendant” or “the perpetrator”, not as a case study, but as a multi-dimensional human being.

Not knowing exactly what they did will make it much easier for you not to define them in terms of what they did.

For the sake of full disclosure: I made (and stuck to) the conscious decision not to Google (or otherwise look up) anything about Tod’s crime until I had his permission to do so. I cannot begin to express to you how much easier that made things as he and I were first getting to know each other.

Was I curious? Sure. Did I think about it sometimes? Of course. But ultimately my choice was based on the points I made above, plus the fact that I wanted to give him agency—something he has very little of in his life—about how and when (and if) he wanted to tell me about it. With his permission, I read up on his case, but even now I don’t know much more than what’s publicly available online because he hasn’t (thus far) seemed to want to talk about it. Which is completely fine.

Whether or not you Google your pen pal—and if you do, at what point in your relationship, and whether you want to ask for permission first—is ultimately your call to make. I have a pretty strong opinion on the matter, and I’ve made my case. It’s up to you what you decide you want to do. Every person and every relationship is different, so I can’t make the decision for you or tell you what’s best in your situation. In general, though, I heavily advise against it.

IV. We All Know What Assuming Makes Out of You and Me

As you are starting your first letter to your new pen pal, my biggest piece of advice about that can be summed up in three words: don’t assume anything. You’ve probably heard people say “assuming makes a you-know-what out of you and me,” and in this case, that’s definitely true. Preconceived notions are not your friend as you begin this journey, so I would advise you to have as few of them as possible. (Easier said than done; I know.)

Here are some examples of assumptions you will want to dispense with—and this list is by no means exhaustive—prior to writing your first letter:

Don’t assume your pen pal is a sociopath. Sociopathy, otherwise known as antisocial personality disorder, is a very complex psychiatric disorder which requires a trained professional—often multiple trained professionals—to diagnose. Psychopathy is not an official medical diagnosis. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with sociopathy, sometimes used to describe a particular subset of sociopaths, and sometimes used to mean something similar to but not quite the same as sociopathy.

Semantics aside, neither “psychopath” nor “sociopath” is a synonym for “murderer,” “bad person,” or “person who makes morally questionable choices seemingly without regard for others.”

Additionally, only a small percentage of murderers (albeit a little bit larger than the percentage of the general population) are sociopaths, and only a small percentage of sociopaths are murderers.

The chances are quite good that you already know at least one sociopath—statistically about half of the probability that you know at least one left-handed person. However, the chances that your pen pal on death row will be a sociopath are only slightly higher than they would be for any given person you’d meet in the free world.

In fact, don’t assume that your pen pal suffers from mental illness at all.

Don’t assume your pen pal is going to be difficult to get along with. Like the free world population, the death row population has a wide spectrum of personalities. Some people are kinder, gentler, or more easygoing than others. Some are more affectionate and willing to express emotion than others, while some are more reserved or shy.

Like anyone else you meet in your life, you have no idea what this person will be like until you get to know him or her.

Don’t assume your pen pal will be uneducated or unintelligent. Not only is Tod a lot smarter than I am, he is also more educated—he has a college degree, and I have a twelfth-grade education.

Even if your pen pal happens to have trouble with reading or writing, a neurological or learning disorder, a significantly lower level of education than you, or you do not happen to speak their native language very well, don’t talk down to your pen pal or treat them like a child. No one appreciates that.

Don’t assume you won’t have anything in common. The fact that you don’t happen to be a murderer (or someone who has been convicted of murder) does not mean that you don’t have anything in common with your pen pal—it means you two don’t have that one particular thing in common.

There is a lot more to this person than what he or she did (or was convicted of doing) to end up on death row. As with any relationship, you have to get to know each other in order to find common ground—but I can almost promise that you will find something to bond over.

Note how I keep saying “like any relationship” or “like anyone else you meet” regarding your future pen pal.

This brings me to my next point: In most respects, this relationship likely isn’t going to be fundamentally all that different from the other relationships in your life.

There will be a period of getting to know each other and building trust. You’re not going to be best buddies from day one, so don’t go in with that expectation any more than you would when meeting anyone else for the first time.

Even in the ideal scenario—one in which you “click” almost instantly, like Tod and I did—your friendship will grow over time, have ups and downs, and require time and effort from both of you in order to work.

V. Manners Matter

Just like in any other relationship, mind your manners. The fact that the person with whom you are speaking happens to be incarcerated does not suspend your obligation to exercise basic respect, courtesy, and social skills. Don’t behave differently than you would in your first interaction, or first couple of interactions, with any other person you’re meeting for the first time. This means not cussing up a storm in your first letter, not telling every sordid detail of your own life story, not discussing things generally deemed unfit to bring up at the dinner table, and in general not acting like you were raised in a barn and don’t know how to interact with human beings. That is what you are doing here—interacting with a human being. Don’t lose sight of that. Treat them like you would like to be treated.

This applies not only to what you say, but also to what you ask. Would you ask someone you just met—on a first date, on the bus, or at work or school—about the worst thing they ever did? I should hope not. Extend that same courtesy to the person with whom you are corresponding. Just because you happen to know, or at least have some idea of, what that thing is in the case of your pen pal does not give you the right to be nosy. Don’t ask questions that are none of your business, especially when those questions have to do with why they did (or were convicted of doing) to find themselves in the situation they are currently in. You may find that your pen pal is perfectly okay with talking about what they did, whether they are guilty or innocent, why they did it, and how they feel about it. That’s fine, but let them volunteer that information if that’s the case. For others, it is a deeply sensitive and personal topic, and understandably so. (And, for many, the fact that they have appeals pending is at least part of the reason they are reticent to talk about it.)

Think about the kinds of questions you would ask on a first date, or when meeting a new friend for the first time. Do you have children? What kinds of books, movies, and music do you like? Where did you grow up? Do you like animals? Did you go to college? Have you traveled a lot? Start with stuff like that. Let them take the lead when it comes to discussing the more private aspects of their life, including their crime and their impending fate.

In the meantime, focus on establishing common ground and getting to know each other. It’s not that different from getting to know a new acquaintance that you would meet in any other setting.

Now, eventually, as you get comfortable with each other, things will be more relaxed, and it will be up to the two of you to define where the boundaries are in your relationship. I curse quite a bit in my letters to Tod, and have told him some jokes that wouldn’t be fit to repeat at a truck stop. We have both shared painful, intimate parts of our respective life stories, and confided secrets to each other that few others know. But these things came with time, and trust, just like they would in any relationship. We didn’t start out that way– our first few letters were very polite, and over time, we each started to let our hair down more and more. Tod is one of my best friends, and vice versa, which means that pretty much anything goes at this point.

VI. Mail Call

That being said, navigating the practical issues that come to writing to someone who is in prison is definitely a learning process.

If you were born after 1990, like I was, then it’s entirely possible that you have never written a letter before, or that you have written very few. That’s okay!

Take some time to get online and familiarize yourself with the layout of a snail-mail letter—you’ll want to look for an example of personal letter, not a business letter, since they’re formatted a bit differently. (If you’ve written a cover letter for a job or a college application, this will be a little different—that’s not a personal letter.) Microsoft Word also has some free templates you can use to help you get started. I wrote a personal letter for the first time in my life a little over a year ago, and now it’s almost as natural to me as writing an email. It’s okay if you’ve never written a letter before—it’s not too hard, I promise.

Even if you are already a pro at writing letters, writing to someone in prison requires a few extra considerations. First, and most importantly, it is vital that you write the address on the envelope properly. When you receive the name of the person you’re going to be writing to, their address will also be provided. Write it on the envelope exactly the way it is written there. Make sure everything is spelled properly, double-check the inmate number and zip code, and be sure you didn’t leave anything out.

Also, be sure to write out the return address correctly, including your full legal first and last name. If you are not used to writing letters, don’t worry. Just write your name and address the way you would put it into Amazon if you were ordering something online for delivery.

Number each page of the letter. That way, if pages get rearranged or out of order while the letter is being inspected, your pen pal can easily put them back in the right order without any guesswork. I number my pages in the top left-hand corner.

You may also want to write, at the bottom of each page, the last name and inmate number of the person to whom you are writing. (For example: SMITH – 130941) This will make it harder for pages to get separated.

Don’t use staples or paper clips. No glitter, no glue or tape, and until you find out otherwise, no crayon or marker on either the letter or the envelope. Do not spray perfume, cologne, air freshener, or any other scented product onto or into the letter or envelope.

This should go without saying, but if you are a marijuana user, do not light anything or blow smoke anywhere near the letter or envelope. A letter that reeks of weed not only will probably not be delivered, but also might earn you a knock on your door from your friendly local police officer. Also, be careful with pipe tobacco, incense, or anything that would give the letter a strong scent, particularly anything that smells like tobacco or marijuana. Seriously—you do not want your letter to be the reason an entire day’s worth of mail gets flagged for increased scrutiny because you hot-boxed an envelope.

For your first letter, I would recommend hand-writing it on plain white printer paper or notebook paper. Write with a regular #2 pencil or blue or black ink, at least at first—and avoid pens that have glitter in the ink. If you choose to write longhand, you can print or write in cursive, whichever is more comfortable for you.

Or you can type your letter—using a legible, boring black font and plain white printer paper. Typing might help your letter go through a bit faster, especially if your penmanship borders on illegible.

Whether you choose to type or handwrite, you don’t want your letter to call attention to itself, and you also want it to be easy to read. This will help get it through the mailroom without incident and also ensure that your pen pal will be able to read it without any problem.

Your letter will not likely be read in its entirety, unless your pen pal is on a short-list of “security threats” (which is almost always a euphemism for affiliation with a prison gang) or there has recently been some sort of incident either involving your pen pal specifically (they got written up for something) or threatening the security of the whole prison (there was a violent incident or escape attempt). More likely, someone will shake out the envelope, sniff it, and then eyeball it quickly for certain key words that might merit closer inspection.

Familiarize yourself with the rules of the specific prison and unit where your pen pal is housed. Can you send greeting cards? Can you send stamps? How many photographs are allowed per letter? This really depends on where your pen pal is located.

Over thirty states, plus the federal government, currently have the death penalty. Many things vary from state to state and from prison to prison, and even from unit to unit. This includes rules that may affect you as a pen pal—like regulations about visitation and phone calls, what you can and can’t send through the mail, and so forth—so it might be worth doing some poking around online to try and find that information.

What you are looking for is either a list of mailroom rules for that state’s Department of Corrections website, or a PDF document of the inmate handbook. (In either case, make sure the information you are reading applies to that particular prison and unit.)

There is also the option of calling or emailing the director of your pen pal service to see if he or she knows, or asking around in the correct sub-forum on prisontalk.com, where someone will almost definitely know. If you can’t find the answer online, ask your pen pal.

Calling the prison to ask a question should be your last resort, because that is generally not a pleasant experience.

If you absolutely have to call the prison to find something out, have a script prepared ahead of time. It should be something simple like, “I am calling to ask whether condemned inmates on the Browning Unit are allowed to receive stamps via the mail.” Be prepared to repeat that multiple times to multiple prison personnel. Chances are, the first person who answers the phone will not be able to answer your very simple yes-or-no question, but would be happy to put you on hold while they transfer you to eleven other people who are also incapable of answering your very simple yes-or-no question. By the time you get the information you need, you and your pen pal will be able to bond over your newfound understanding of why people commit murder.

Oh… one more thing… If you are having a hard time memorizing your pen pal’s DOC ID number, here’s a trick I learned for that: make it your cell phone’s unlock code, and you will learn it within a week or two.

If letters begin taking over your house, I suggest setting aside a shoebox or similar box (which you can decorate, if that’s your style) as a designated space for incoming letters from your pen pal.

VII. A Thousand Words

If you’re sending photos—which I totally recommend, because it will make your pen pal’s day—please use common sense about the content of those photos. No nudity or partial nudity (ladies, I would steer clear of bathing suits, booty shorts, or really low-cut tops, and guys, no shirtless pics). No visible tattoos that are gang-related, drug-related, graphically violent, or contain profanity.

Be aware of the messages and images on any clothing you might be wearing; I can pretty much promise you that prison employees are not going to find your “F#@% the Police” t-shirt or your baseball cap with a pot leaf on it endearing.

No alcohol should be visible in the photo, even if you’re of age. Move the bong out of the way before you take the picture, even if you live in a state where marijuana is legal. Go easy on the PDA if you’re sending a picture of yourself with a significant other. Don’t send photos in which you are clearly drunk or stoned. Don’t be actively doing anything illegal in the picture. Don’t make gang signs/gestures—even jokingly—or flip the bird, or anything else that you wouldn’t be allowed to do in your high school yearbook photo.

Never, ever send a polaroid or any other photo where anything can be peeled apart or removed. That is pretty much universally contraband. I would suggest printing all photos on plain white (non-glossy, non-cardstock) printer paper unless your pen pal tells you otherwise.

Like letters, there are specific rules about photos (especially how many you can send and what can and can’t be in them) that vary by institution. When in doubt, ask.

VIII. Mind the (Cultural) Gap

People tend to be on death row for extremely long periods of time. It is very possible that your pen pal has been in prison for many years—fifteen, twenty, or even more.

If you are relatively young, your pen pal may have been incarcerated for most or all of your lifetime—maybe even longer than you’ve been alive. (Tod was arrested in August of 1995, about two months before my fourth birthday.) If this is the case, then you are in the unique position of never having lived in any world other than one in which they have never lived. You have never lived without (or at least don’t remember a time before) technology they may have never even seen. They may not be familiar with cultural phenomena or trends that have occurred in your lifetime. Unless they have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or other loved one who is around your age with whom they regularly communicate, they may not understand certain slang, speech patterns, and references that are second nature to you.

The amount of exposure your pen pal has to what’s going on in the world can vary somewhat. If they have a TV, a radio, or both in their cell, they may be keeping up with current events and culture that way. However, these items are very costly for inmates to purchase from the prison commissary, and inmates may not be able to afford to buy them, or to replace them if they have broken or worn out, so many inmates do not have either of those items—or if they do, they may be in poor condition and not work very well. Also, most prisons (particularly high security prisons) are located in the middle of nowhere, so the selection of channels and stations available will likely be very limited.

Similarly, if your pen pal has a lot of contact with family, friends, other pen pals, etc., on the outside, it is also more likely that they know something about current events, since this information may be relayed to them by loved ones on the outside. Of course, in this case, your pen pal is limited to the amount of news their loved ones choose to share and with what degree of political/cultural bias.

Regardless, though, it is safe to say—and in fact a massive understatement to say—your pen pal does not have access to the amount of information and knowledge that you do, nor do they have the same level of exposure to the culture in which you live.

Because of this, you will sometimes—likely often—find yourself needing to explain things you have probably never had to explain to anyone before. This takes a little creativity, but it’s something you get the hang of, I promise.

In my case, this sometimes means being mindful of what I make references to. If taking three paragraphs to explain what Pinterest or Instagram is wouldn’t help him understand the story I’m telling any better, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “So I saw this picture online…” for the sake of simplicity if the specific website isn’t an important detail.

Sometimes it means finding creative ways to explain something that is second nature to me. For example, I have explained Google, email, what a scanner is and what it does, text messages, and instant messaging to Tod, who had only a very vague understanding of what the internet is and, to my knowledge, has never seen a flip phone, let alone a smartphone.

Another example would be when I told him about a weighted, spinning toy that is very popular right now, both with children and people my age, and that one of those toys was the reason I had a black eye– I was lying down and stupidly tried to balance the thing on the tip of my nose and spin it, and it hit me in the eye. I’m sure all of you knew immediately that the object I’m describing is a fidget spinner, but of course, Tod would have had no idea if I had simply called it by its name with no explanation.

In fact, I even explained blogging to him! He had never heard of a blog before I told him about it, and that’s where we got the idea to start this one.

IX. Expect the Inquisition

If you choose to share the fact that you are writing to someone on death row, you are going to be asked a whole lot of questions. Some will be intelligent and thoughtful questions, and some will be… less intelligent. They will range from very sensitive and genuine to outrageously disrespectful.

The first question will almost always be, “What did he do?” followed by, “How much time does he have left?” They will also likely want to know whether you think he’s innocent (unless the answer is a resounding “yes,” I would advise declining to comment on his innocence or guilt for the sake of pending appeals) and why on earth you would choose to write to a murderer.

They might want to know hairy details of his crime, your opinion on why he did what he did, and how the execution will be carried out. You will likely also be asked your own views on the death penalty, both in general and as it applies to your pen pal’s specific situation.

How you answer these and any other questions you might encounter is entirely up to you. If you can do so and feel comfortable with it, I encourage you to take questions from others in the free world as an opportunity to educate them. Humans are naturally wired to like stories, and it is often hearing people’s stories that forces us to re-examine the thoughts and ideas we may have previously held.

Honest questions and honest answers are also the natural antidote to assumptions, and will help disabuse people of any assumptions they may be holding onto about your pen pal based on the only thing they know about this person—that they have done something so awful that they are under sentence of death. Being willing to answer questions and to talk about your pen pal the way you see them—as a human being—will help others to understand them that way as well.

How many times have you heard someone say that same-sex marriage was just an abstract issue to them until their family member came out, or that they didn’t really have strong feelings about healthcare policy until a loved one got cancer? The death penalty is the same way—it’s easy to have an opinion when it’s just a hypothetical concept. It’s a lot more complicated when someone you love is on death row. Hearing you talk about your pen pal as a friend will force others in your life to see the human side of the death penalty.

On the other hand, when answering questions, it is also important to be sensitive to both your pen pal’s privacy and their pending appeals.

What questions you choose to answer and the degree of detail with which you choose to answer them is also up to you, and you have the right to not answer any question that makes you uncomfortable or is too private.

You should also brace yourself for everyone’s comments and opinions on the matter, which, like the questions, will be offered with varying degrees of respect and sensitivity (or lack thereof).

Often, these comments (the less-than-kind ones) are said in ignorance. Most everyone you meet in the free world knows very little, if anything at all, about death row and the men and women who live there. What they do think they know might be totally incorrect, based on commonly-believed myths, the lies of politicians and other influential people, inaccurate (or at least grossly generalized) portrayal of death row inmates in media, and a number of other sources of misinformation. Think about some of the assumptions you may have had before you began writing to your pen pal, or before you read Muninn’s Roost—the things you may have believed were true until your misperceptions were corrected.

I am not going to beat around the bush here—when someone says that a person you consider a friend deserves to be killed, or have some other unspeakable thing done to them, that hurts. Every time.

People have said things to me about Tod that I will not even repeat here, and every time, it has been all I can do not to break down in tears in front of them. Even people I respect and care about have said some pretty terrible things. I am not talking about asking questions or engaging in honest discussions—I welcome those—I am talking about cruel, ignorant remarks that attack the character of someone I care very much about, and ultimately bring into question the value of his life. It is very, very likely that, eventually, someone will say similar things to you about your pen pal, and it will hurt. Prepare yourself for that. Know in advance what you might say in response.

Getting comfortable talking about your pen pal and their situation—including being able to answer questions that others might have—takes practice.

What I do—and what I would advise you to do—is to talk about them like you would any other friend, and not bring up the fact that they are incarcerated unless it becomes relevant to the conversation. As you and your pen pal get to know each other, you will discover all sorts of fascinating things about them, their life, their likes and dislikes, and their personality, all of which you will find more interesting than their crime, sentence, or eventual fate—and when you describe this person to others, you will naturally gravitate toward talking about who they are as a person rather than this one aspect of their situation.

X. Get Attached

Something I hear all the time is, “Aren’t you worried you’ll get too attached?”

This question is almost always well-meant and comes from a place of concern, and I appreciate that concern. But, so help me God, I hate this question so much…

Yes, of course I’m going to “get attached”. I’m already attached. I love Tod like a second dad. He is one of my closest friends.

I completely, utterly disagree with the premise that I shouldn’t get attached or get close to Tod because our lives will probably overlap for a relatively short amount of time. I don’t agree with that. I am very attached to him—and I think I frankly owe it to him to be attached. I think that he deserves to have someone who is that invested in him—someone who cares profoundly about him, and is going to be devastated when he’s gone.

Yes, one day I will lose Tod, and in all likelihood, it will be at the hands of the State of Arizona. And there will be a space in my heart that will be empty until the day I am able to see him again on the other side. I will grieve. I will be heartbroken. That’s what happens when you love someone and lose them, no matter how or why they die.

Nobody is guaranteed a certain number of days on this earth, or a set amount of time to spend in any given relationship we have. I think any intersection of two lives, be it romantic or platonic, that’s caring and life-giving and meaningful to the people involved is a miracle, and it should be celebrated and enjoyed to the fullest, regardless of how long or short it might end up being. We’re supposed to love each other—human beings were created to love each other—and I think we miss out on a lot of love and joy and life when we are so afraid to lose the ones we love that we don’t invest ourselves fully in the business of loving them.

As my priest often says, “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love, make haste to be kind, and go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Whether or not you are religious, the fragility and finitude of our mortal existence is a fact of life.

I urge you: Get attached to your pen pal. Don’t shy away from allowing your friendship to grow just because they happen to be on death row. Don’t be afraid to express the fondness and affection you feel toward your friend. Don’t let the fear of a broken heart stop you from being the best friend you can possibly be to them, or from letting them be the best friend they can be to you.

Yes, your heart will break when your pen pal dies, whether they are executed or die of natural causes. And it is important that you have support in place (clergy, therapist or counselor, friends, family, partner—whatever support looks like for you) to help you get through that when the time comes. The death of a friend is a traumatic event, and it will affect you profoundly.

But, in the meantime, be thankful that you get to have a friendship that is so meaningful and special to you that it would break your heart to lose that person. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, don’t cry because it will be over someday; smile because it’s happening.

XI: Parting Thoughts

Some of what I’ve said today may have been hard to hear. My intention was not to deter you but to make available to you the experience and knowledge I have gained through being Tod’s pen pal. I hope it has been helpful to you.

I want you to know that my friendship with Tod is one of the things I cherish most in this world. I could have never anticipated how much my life would change when I signed up to be matched with someone on death row. I had no idea what to expect, honestly. But what I got was a friend, a confidante, a listening ear, a father-figure, a mentor, and a teacher. Yes, I have learned an awful lot about the prison system—much of which Tod and I have been able to share with you through the blog—but I have also learned a lot about life, and about myself, and what it means to be a friend. I have found myself shaped as a person in ways I never would have been otherwise. I am at once both tougher and softer, both stronger and more compassionate, than I was before we met. Tod has helped me learn to be more secure in myself, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks of me, and has encouraged me to find my own voice and use it, even when others try to speak over me. He has loved me fiercely and supported me unconditionally as I have begun trying to find my place in the world and figuring out who I am. And who I am has been forever altered, for the better, by the gift of knowing him.

Obviously, I do not know what your experience will be like. The best I can do is tell you about mine, and give you some general advice that applies in most situations. That is what I have done in this post.

So, you still want to be a pen pal? That’s great! I hope you take the next step, whether it’s through DRSP or another organization.

And please, by all means, feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

Tod usually ends his posts by reminding you all to thank me for the work that I do to help bring his words to you. Today, I will end by thanking him, not only for being the best blog collaborator I could ever hope to work with, but for being one of the best friends I could ever hope to have.

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.