The Night Before, as told by Tony Egbuna Ford

Note: the following details several events that occurred on Texas Death Row the night before the state-sponsored murder of Christopher Young took place (on 7-17-2018).

Back here on death row, the way that we are isolated makes conversation hard. Especially when you are not in the same section. On the side of the pod that I am housed we have three sections, A-C. On the other side of the pod, the other three sections are D-F. Each section is separated by a wall which separates each section’s 14 cells (7 cells on 1-row and 7 cells on 2-row) along with their day rooms, which are in front of the cells in that section. The only way into each section is through the crossover doors on 1 and  2-row and through the gate which leads into the section from the main floor. Inmates can talk with each other from day room to day room when we are allowed out at recreation, or we can attempt to yell at each other over the run, which is hard to do when there are other people attempting to talk in your section, or if someone has music playing particularly loud. Every now and then you will have inmates show some courtesy and allow someone to speak freely without interruptions or interference with other noises. The last few weeks, death row has been on lockdown, which means that we are locked inside our cells 24 hours a day. The only time that we are allowed out during this time is if we get a visit or are taken to Medical. For 3 days out of the week we are given a shower. Otherwise, we are locked in these cages (cells). So, because of this lockdown, a lot of the conversations that we have had to conduct with Chris was over the run. The main people that he talks with are Damon Matthews, who is over in B Section 1-row, Perry Williams who is in the same section that I am in, but he is on 1-row while I am upstairs on 2-row, and Ricky Cummings who is next door to Perry on 1-row in C section. The other people that Chris would like to talk to, but is not able to, are over on the other side. Anthony Medina and Rob Will who are over in D section, and Tomas Gallo and Jeff Prible who are in E section. And then there is Obie Weathers who is over in F section. Now because of the lockdown we have to pass messages over to the other side usually when the door to the crossover is being opened, or if someone from another section is placed in the shower in our section.

The night before Chris’ scheduled execution date courtesy was in full swing, allowing for conversation through the night. There was some crying and there was some laughing as we each took turns telling stories from our past together–reliving good times and bad times back here. Some time through the night, a female guard, who is new, came through with the Cleanup Squad– population inmates tasks with cleaning the floors and showers on death row. When she entered death watch (which is A section, where Chris is housed) a situation occurred where she had words with another inmate, and because she wasn’t sure of who it was, she just selected someone. And that ‘someone’ that she selected was Chris. Those of us who were talking with Chris didn’t understand what was going on. All we were told from Chris when he resumed conversation was that he believed that he was about to get gassed and that he loved us! That was all, so we were literally stunned as to this turn of events! I mean, one minute we were talking about how wonderful it would be for Chris to be able to have his daughter, along with Laurence and his Aunt Valerie, up at the radio station KPFT in Houston, on Bobby Phats’ show called “The Groove”, where a painting of Prince would be presented to Bobby Phats from Chris cause he knew that Prince is Bobby’s favorite artist. Now this?! Now Chris is about to be possibly gassed and ran in on by a five-man team of guards in riot gear–who would no doubt beat and hurt him?! When were we talking about his hope that he would get to meet the victim’s son, Mitesh Patel, and NOW THIS?!

In the intervening moments that went by, every time that we seen a guard who works the pod, we would inquire about what was going on, only to be told that, “Chris threatened a guard”. We kept saying, “No, he didn’t” and “We was just talkin’ with him”. Then, Chris calls out to us that he has asked for rank to come down. We asked him to tell us what is happening and he said, “Hold tight! I’ll get back with you all!”, and then he was gone again. It was eerily quiet. As if everyone was holding their breath. But I could tell that the tension was building for all of us who love Chris. Without anything needing to be said, I knew that everyone who normally talks with Chris was getting ready to possibly be gassed along with him! This is something that he would not have wanted, but it is something that would have happened, cause the love and solidarity that we have with/for Chris would have dictated nothing less! In the meantime, while trying to find out what was going on, we were watching the doors to the pod to see if a team was coming or if the rank was going to come down. At the same time, we were trying to get messages to the other side to let the guys over there know what’s going on.

Once the rank came down, first it was Sergeant Steele from what we learned later, the conversation went something like this:

Sgt. Steele: “Chris, why did you threaten my officer?”

Chris replied: “Look, I give you my word, cause my word is my bond, that I didn’t say anything to that guard!”

Sgt. Steele answered: “You are JUST an inmate. I’ll side with my officer ALWAYS.”

Chris then said: “Then why are we even talking? I gave you my word that I didn’t say anything to her. There’s nothing more to say. Do what you do. No matter of fact. Why don’t you call Lieutenant Couch, cause talking with you is useless!”

Sgt. Steele then left. Around this time, other people in their various sections started to become aware of what was going on and so the tension on the pod rose even more, with some of the guys getting belligerent and making declarations of their own of what they would do if something happened to Chris. This didn’t and wouldn’t make things easier, so where we could– namely myself on this side and Tomas on the other side– we started telling guys to leave it alone and to chill until we could find out what is happening. Cause things could go from bad to worse real quick if the guards get scared. When they get scared, they react. If they had guns instead of canisters of gas, there would be a lot of dead inmates, specifically black and Mexican ones! And despite how things was looking, I know that those of us in Chris’ inner circle wanted a peaceful resolution to the situation that was happening over in death watch–no matter who that situation was happening with. But as is the case with death watch now, and as is the case with death row, many of the guards walk through death row as if many of us have personally done something to them. It is hard to talk with them. And many of the senior guards, who are supposed to keep the younger, newer guards in line, just don’t. So what you have are guards who will purposely walk through death watch with an antagonistic attitude, trying to provoke the men over there. This was the case on this night.

When Lt. Couch came down he spoke with Chris. Because of their history, which at first was not very good, but as Chris changed into a more positive person the belief was that their past personal feuds was settled and left where they belong– in the past. However, that was the first thing that Lt. Couch brought up, the past, and so Chris said to him,  “I thought we was past all of that? Yet you throw that in my face again, while I am trying to resolve this situation?” And even as Chris is saying this, we learned later that the person who did get into it with the guard kept saying, “WHY ARE YOU MESSING WITH CHRIS?! I AM THE ONE SHE HAD WORDS WITH!”. Showing that some guards, whether they be new, old, ranking officer, or whatever just wanted to start shit with Chris, and possibly have a use of force against him one more time! I guess for “good ol’ time’s sake”! Fortunately, Lt. Couch continued to talk with Chris. And as he did, Chris asked him to just look into the situation and he would see that he never said anything to the guard who was accusing him of threatening her. What ended up transpiring, when the situation was finally looked into, is that it was revealed that if the guards working the pod, or Sgt. Steele, had just asked the guard who accused Chris of threatening her, they would have found out that it wasn’t him. She clarified who it was. Because she is new, she couldn’t identify who it was by name and so she ‘guessed’ that it was his cell! The situation was resolved without Chris having to get gassed and ran in on by the five-man team. Still, we was pissed cause it is something that never should have happened! After they (guards) were finished in death watch, we was able to talk with Chris and find out what happened. But, he didn’t want to focus on that. He wanted us to get back to the things that was important to him. And that wasn’t one of them. So, despite the things that had occurred and the things that was threatened against him, Chris had us laughing again. Taking our minds away from that situation and helping each of us to try and come to terms, as best we could, with what might happen the next day.

The day of Chris’ scheduled execution date and the events of the night before couldn’t have been more different than day and night! I had a wonderful visit with Chris’ Aunt Valerie. Chris was able to meet Mr. Patel face to face, in a visit that TDCJ tried too hard to prevent. Yet, it happened as both of them had long been wishing. A few of the brothers in Chris’ inner circle was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the radio program “The Groove” hosted by Bobby Phats over on KPFT. So, we were able to hear his daughter Crishelle speak over the radio, along with his Aunt Valerie and good friend Laurence, who presented Bobby with the painting of Prince that Chris did. And in between music breaks, we would talk over the run saying how wonderful everything was going. A whole bunch of “ALREADY JASIRI!!!”, calling him by his adopted African name. The night, into the early morning, turned into one of celebration. Celebrating Chris. Showing him the love and respect that he so richly deserved. And shouting out our love to him as he was escorted from the pod to his final visits with his family. The final day of Chris’ life would have been vastly different had the events of the night before been allowed to happen. But, because of Chris, it was resolved. Things was resolved in a manner that shows who he is. Something that the parole board rejected. But something that those of us who know him fully understand: Chris is a truly GOOD MAN that the state of Texas took away from us and his family. Still, his goodness and positivity will always be remembered. We all love and miss you, lil’ brother!

Always,

In Strength and In Spirit!

Tony Egbuna Ford

July 18, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

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Statement to Abolitionists from Christopher Young, set to be executed by Texas in July

I Love the People

#SaveChrisYoung

I want to thank you for the solidarity and love. Good day to you and good day to the struggle across the world. I want to thank you again for all of the support for not only me but for every prisoner captured in bondage. Without you, there would be no us. I want to give you your flowers while I’m here and give you your flowers for the others that have no voice.

I’ve been fighting this struggle with you for the last thirteen and a half years. Fighting with the likes of the D.R.I.V.E. Movement, the PURE movement, the International Socialist Organization, and the Workers of the World Movement. I also have to mention the LGBTQ Movement, the #MeToo Movement, the TDPAM, and the TCADP Movement. We all fight the same struggle.

I want to thank you all for being here. Today is not only a day for struggle but also a day for love and solidarity. If you don’t feel the love and solidarity from your comrades, then you’re here for the wrong reasons. The love should be flowing throughout the crowd. Throughout the people. Love flows no matter where you are.
I’ve been on death row for thirteen and a half years. With that time I’ve been fighting the struggle against the death penalty. Fighting the struggle against poor housing, fighting the struggle against the inhumane treatment that has been dealt out for all these years.

When I joined D.R.I.V.E. (Death Row Inner-Communalist Vanguard Engagement Movement) I did it because I went through the same system every lower-class individual would go through in my situation. The trial process I went through was a sham. The living conditions I’m subjected to are inhumane. Having to eat inedible food, suffering contaminated ventilation, having no human contact, living in sensory-deprived housing. It is an unjust classification system that has been outlawed in numerous other states such as Arizona, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Those states have all been a part of the fight. I’ve been continuously gassed, ran in and beat up by this system’s riot team, and beat up for the struggle. I accepted and loved it all. Fighting for the people is something I was taught was necessary for the ones coming after me.

I compare this struggle I’m in to the struggle my people were subjected to starting well over 400 years ago. I was one of the rebellious individuals who jumped off the ship on the crossing of the Atlantic in another lifetime. I was Denmark Vessy, Nat Turner, and John Brown when it comes to this housing and treatment.

Again I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re fighting alongside of me. The struggle hasn’t changed. The struggle hasn’t stopped. The struggle continues. The death penalty is still around. Classism is still prevalent. The struggle continues.

I’m still here but now I’m facing an execution for July 17th. I’m not only to be murdered but I’m to be assassinated. Yes I said that. I’m Troy Davis. I’m Trayvon Martin. I’m Michael Brown and Sandra Bland. I’m Stephen Clark and Sheed Vassell. I’m no different from those getting gunned down in the streets by a police officer that’s overstepping their authority for no reason besides that they can.

What I ask the people is to continue to fight. Fight against the death penalty. Fight against the systemic violence and corruption.

We still have rights in this country and we need to speak up for them.

I’m Stanley “Tookie” Williams, I’m Kenneth Foster, and I’m Mumia Abu Jamal.

I’m Chris Young. Let’s continue to fight for another life discarded with no thought. Let’s #SaveChrisYoung.

I love you like I love the struggle. Shout out to the struggle and remember what Huey always said, “POWER TO THE PEOPLE!”

#SaveChrisYoung

 

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About his case:

Christopher was convicted and sentenced to death as a young man for a murder which occurred during a convenience store robbery in San Antonio. Over a decade later, he is now facing his execution as a very different man. His case shows not only the arbitrariness of executions, and the fact that many on Death Row are capable of change, but the case also exhibits many of the legal problems we often see in death penalty cases. The jury selection in his case was very biased, and his lawyers are now arguing for a new trial due to religious discrimination against a prospective juror, which is often a cover for excluding people of color from juries.

Statement from various faith leaders:

chris young faith leaders

If you are a faith leader who would like to sign on: http://goo.gl/forms/H55ubzL7nj

If you think Christopher deserves a chance for a new, fair trial, which can only happen with a stay of execution, or want to show support for his sentence to be commuted (to a life sentence), please ask the Board of Pardons and Paroles for a stay of execution and to recommend clemency for Christopher. You can also contact Governor Greg Abbott directly and ask that he grant Christopher Young clemency.  In your letter, please include this information: full name: Christopher Anthony Young; birth date: September 24, 1983; TDCJ#999508

Catholic Mobilizing Network offers a sample letter, an email form, and some information on clemency here: https://catholicsmobilizing.org/event/christopher-young-1

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd, Austin, TX 78757
Fax: 512/467- 0945
Email: bpp-clemency@tdcj.state.tx.us or bpp-pio@tdcj.state.tx.us.

Governor Abbott: https://gov.texas.gov/contact

Sign this petition to the governor here: Mercy For Chris Young

received_10156551064111979

 

Reflection by Kenneth Conrad Vodochodsky

Bang! Bang! Bang! “Mail call! What’s your number?” yells the obese, miserable guard who just finished beating on my rickety cell door with his pale, meaty fist, as though he’s trying to wake the dead. Startled out of my blank stare at the off-white, filthy, concrete cell wall with peeling chunks of paint, I drone a response in a voice devoid of any feeling, “Nine, nine, nine, three, seven, seven .”


I’m lying on my hard, lumpy mattress which consists of a hard, plastic sleeve, stuffed with what feels like a bunch of golf balls. Lying on a bed of dirt would be more comfortable. The dingy, white death row uniform I’m wearing is basically a jumpsuit of sorts, made of denim-type material. The letters “DR” are painted on the back and on one of the legs. The thin grey socks attempt to keep my feet warm. My head is propped up with the old threadbare blanket I was issued. It looks like something even a homeless person would balk at.

“Here”, barks the police academy reject, in a voice that lets me know he’s disgusted with me, and he slides two letters under my cell door, just past the doorway.

It takes my depressed mind a second to register the mail on my floor. Once the realization hits, I leap off my bed as if it were on fire, take 3 steps to the doorway, and snatch up my mail from the cold concrete floor. Using the evening light struggling to squeeze through the tiny window in the back of my cell, I read the front of each envelope. One from my mom and dad, and one from Sara, the mother of my son.

My heart is beating so hard and fast, it feels like it’s going to explode right out of my chest. My hands are trembling and my breath is struggling as if I just sprinted a mile. The sheer desperation emanating from my being blurs out everything but those two letters. Someone could have opened my cell door and hit me over the head and I would have been oblivious. I am starving beyond words for communication outside the steel and concrete walls –especially from my family.

I read the letter from Sara first. Even though our relationship was on the rocks, I miss her terribly. Just holding her letter brings me comfort– the softness of the paper she handled, and the scent she left on it. I soak in her words like a dry sponge touching water for the very first time. Her loving words make me ache for her even more. I did not realize she was experiencing as much pain and suffering from being apart as I was. I read her letter so fast I have to read it again, a bit slower, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I read it a third time, slower still, because I need this reprieve from the darkness that has plagued me since my arrival on death row nearly a month ago. I cling to her words like a drowning man clings to a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

Reluctantly, I place her letter on my bare desk, which is nothing more than a thick sheet of metal welded to the wall, right next to my metal bunk. The desk and bunk are dingy, and rusted in several spots. I take a deep breath and open Mom and Dad’s letter. I say “Mom and Dad” but Dad isn’t much of a writer, so Mom writes for both of them. Their letters are always so full of love, comfort, and encouragement… Things I desperately need to hear to keep from being swallowed by the darkness and going insane. It would be too easy to just let go. Like I did with Sara’s letter, I read my parents letter a second and third time, basking In the comfort with each pass. God, I miss them so much. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. Children are not supposed to die before their parents! (Sigh) I place this letter next to Sara’s, and sit on my bed.

It’s cold in my cell, which tells me it’s still cold outside. The heaters don’t work here; no surprise there. Nothing seems to work right around here. To operate my steel-encased wall light (which resides above the sink/toilet combo) you have to beat the front of it– one or two hard hits turns it on, and four or five hard hits turns it off. I’m surprised the light bulbs haven’t shattered yet. These are your tax dollars hard at work. The toilet is probably the only thing that works properly. It’s a stainless steel sink/toilet combo bolted to a stainless steel wall. It’s quite the beast! In fact, it works so damn good, when you sit on it and flush, it feels like it’s going to suck you right down the drain! I have to be careful, as I only weigh a buck thirty. When it rains, water trickles through all the cracks in the walls. Which is probably why my cell smells like a moldy, wet dog.

As I sit on my bed, the pain and horror of my situation begin to creep back in, like watching a horror movie in slow motion. I am soon filled with despair. The Jury Foreman’s words haunt me: “We, the jury, find the defendant, Kenneth Vodochodsky, Guilty of Capital Murder of a Peace Officer…” and then there’s the voice of the judge:  “…I hear by sentence you to Death…” What a nightmare! When will I wake up? Murder…Guilty…Death…all for a crime I did not commit! “How the hell did this happen?!” I ponder aloud for the thousandth time.

I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as I can, trying to block out the memories. Tears begin to stream down my face, hot and accusing, puddling on my lap. My eyes are red, puffy, and hurt to the touch. I no longer bother to wipe the tears away. When will they stop?! My nose is red and on fire from attempting to wipe away all the snot that seems to be trying to keep pace with all the tears running down my face.

It’s times like these I’m grateful to at least be in a cell by myself. The sight of a grown man breaking down and crying is a disturbing one. And in prison, it’s a sign of weakness. If you’re perceived as weak, the predators will come after you. And, being surrounded by a pack of convicted killers is another reason to be grateful for a cell to myself. I contemplate if any of them are planning to come after me. What about the guards? Their looks of disgust and hatred are overwhelming. I shiver from the fear, the unknown. I pull my knees up to my chest, tightly wrap my arms around them, and rest my chin on top. I take a deep, shuttering breath. The tears are now down to a trickle. I think to myself, again for the umpteenth time, what am I going to do now? Am I going to die here?


(To be continued)




					

Talking Walls #2 (Freestyle Friday), by The Cave Dweller (NSFW)

When I’m ninety-nine, I will let my toe-knuckle hairs grow long, and dread them into tough gray rope. At the end of each dread I’ll have different animals attached to spiked collars: a monkey, a Chihuahua, a toy poodle (I’m vain), a koala bear, a marsupial, a sewer rat, a lynx, a Tasmanian devil, an ant-eater, and a ram. Fuck with me at your own risk.

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The Cave Dweller is a Texas prisoner who will be visiting regularly with short and humorous reflections. Feel free to comment with your reactions!

Previous entry: https://uncaptivevoices.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/talking-walls-1-by-the-cave-dweller-nsfw/

“Talking Walls” #1, by The Cave Dweller (NSFW)

Nearly a year gone. What’s the holdup? The state court has yet to rule on my innocence claims. The evidence is clear; the prosecutor withheld DNA, prints, ballistics, and confessions of other suspects in order to convict an innocent man. Me. The rulings are coming, I know. Sigh. I’m middle-aged now. Still, I have all of my hair, and my erections are rather healthy. Prison preserves. BBQ ribs, smoked brisket and ice water is my fantasy first homecoming meal. I know it’s rather ambitious for a condemned man to hope for freedom. Hope is a placebo against insanity. It is the thing we do while waiting out God’s will or the will of black-robed strangers, depending on one’s own perspective. In truth, the hopeful, the prayerful, and the innocent have all been executed. Yet here I am, like the rest of you fools, hoping and praying my ass off.

 

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The Cave Dweller is a Texas prisoner who will be visiting regularly with short and humorous reflections. Feel free to comment with your reactions!

 

A Greeting From Death Row

Receiving the Death Penalty, by the state responsible for handing it out and using it more than any other(Texas),has changed many former things about me and my life. Many of those were things none of us truly control, like the death or abandonment of close friends and family, or the mistakes we make as humans, and the pain of regrets unchangeable, no matter the passing of time.

Time in prison anywhere is hard in every facet of life. The lack of support from friends and family strains the heart and the mind, while lacking financial support leaves me without the essentials we all need in life to survive. Spending time in solitary for 22 hours a day will make the strongest of men struggle to maintain their sanity. You are in a constant battle with yourself to survive, while being powerless to do for yourself psychologically or physically, in a box, alone… with time.

As a man in the world I would do whatever I could to make the money I needed to survive. On Death Row we have no jobs and no hope to do for ourselves, and it’s a hard pill to swallow to rely on others for help, yet without it you’re the definition of helpless and the example of life without.

Without support you have no materials to write, or postage to mail, and without those alone you lose your voice, the most essential and powerful part of us all, taking with it my hope for healing, and redemption from those I leave behind. With it though, a man can write those he loves and the lawyers he needs, or buy art supplies to express himself when words alone would fail. We can buy hygiene products to maintain what remains of our self-worth and our dignity, and have the ability to buy food that will sustain my body while providing some comfort, neither of which the food we’re served ever can or will do.

I am in the final stages of my appeal for life and my time is running out for me to see my son who I love and miss. So… Today, I am asking for your help, for support, and for friends who will STAY when my days get short, my nights get cold, and what’s left of my life here wanders away, letting me know that I was loved when I needed it most. I wish to feel in the end I was worthy of help, while society says I’m worthless and takes from me my final breath, from a man that life misunderstood yet hoping in the end…
I was.

Erick Davila 999545
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
USA