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 .”
Article shared from Workers.org, with permission.
By Nanon Williams and Donshá Crump
The authors are incarcerated on the Ramsey Prison farm in Texas, formerly the home of five slave plantations.
For the last several years we have protested the Confederate flag and demanded that statues be taken down, or we have just taken them down ourselves. Those symbols of power represent racism, oppression and the degrading of a people. They represent profit from slavery, the death of Black men, women and children dying in cotton fields, being lynched and people of color being treated more like animals than human beings.
When some see these symbols, they feel pride and heroism. We see victims, pain and suffering. We are reminded that justice, fairness and equality are a false promise.
Confederate soldiers wore dark blue, called Confederate Blue, and gray uniforms. In the Texas prison system, the guards’ uniforms are these exact colors. Yet Blacks, Latinos, Africans, along with poor whites and others unconsciously wear this symbol of racism to earn their minimum-wage paychecks. They wear it to incarcerate poor people from their own neighborhoods.
These guards wear hats that say, “We Protect Our Own.” Who is “we”? Is it Native Americans who were slaughtered and had their land stolen? Is it women and girls of color raped by their master? Does history really include us? Does this “we” include me? We wonder if Texas prison guards are even aware that their entire bodies are wrapped in a uniform of confederacy that makes them moving signs of power but also ignorance!
Prisons are indeed modern forms of slavery, and Texas has one of the largest prison populations in the world and has executed (or legally lynched) more prisoners than the next eight U.S. states combined.
We need to take down and smash all forms of racism, from statues to flags to prison slave plantations. Solidarity with the Durham anti-racist heroes!
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.
The Cave Dweller is a Texas prisoner who will be visiting regularly with short and humorous reflections. Feel free to comment with your reactions!
RIP Antonio “TonyTone” Williams
“An eighties baby raised in the era of dopeboys, crack fiends, and kickdoor burglaries.
A young lion of Acres Homes, nurtured on street corners by uncles and old heads who’d yet to succumb to violence or the 3 strikes laws.
Little Antonio: all ears & energy. While his schoolmates were busy being teenagers he was trapping out of motel rooms, paying rent to his own mother, surviving shoot outs, and watching out for his younger brothers.
A black boy with an immeasurable will to live, he was. He & I met on Death Row– the last stop in the Pre-School to Prison Pipeline. I laughed when he introduced himself as TonyTone. He was trying to be serious, but a chipped front tooth diminished his attempt severely. I laughed louder; he began to laugh too. Later he would joke that my gap tooth was far funnier than his chipped one, and that he could not help but laugh.
Our friendship was solidified a few years later while playing chess. Tony was one of the best chess players I’ve played. We both gambled on the game, but rarely did we gamble against each other. I asked him one day, as we were preparing to play, did he want to bet per game. He was quiet for a few moments, then looking directly at me he said, “Friends don’t hustle each other, bro”.
TonyTone was a friend.
I remember when he left for his court hearing. Weeks earlier we talked for the first time of his daughter, and his desire to be there with her. He left Death Row filled with hope. He had survived the streets, and had become a writer, poet, and a legal mind in prison. He was a beautiful, unbreakable man who deserved far more than the short life he received.
Long Live TonyTone!
—Kichwa, Texas Death Row Inmate
Potrait of TonyTone, picture from MECA Dia De Los Muertos altar in Houston, October 2016.
Howard Guidry #999226
3872 FM 350 S.
Livingston, TX 77352
Antonio “TonyTone” Williams, passed away under disputed circumstances in Harris County Jail in February 2015. TonyTone was formerly on Death Row and had been transferred to county jail for a hearing about new evidence in his case. Two witnesses had recanted their testimonies, citing police intimidation as their reason for falsely testifying against him at trial.
The Chronicle reported “The two women who saw the shooting from a second floor patio said they were told to identify Williams despite their claims that the killer was a man named Keith who had dreadlocks with blond tips, according to court documents…” While awaiting a ruling which could have overturned his sentence, he was allegedly found hanging in his cell by his shoelaces. TonyTone’s friends immediately felt that he may have been targeted by another inmate or staff due to his strong spirit of resistance. The only reason they can imagine he would have become suicidal is due to medical neglect, as he has previously been taking anti-depressants which he was denied in county jail, and mixed with the effects of solitary confinement this may have triggered a man who was known as “someone who would never give up” to become hopeless in Harris County Jail. His death was never given a fair investigation, but whether it was murder, or a reaction to negligence and torture, the Sherriff’s office is responsible for the conditions which led to this young man’s death. We must fight to make sure there is a future where there are no more senseless deaths in our jails and prisons. Prisoners rights are human rights, and their lives should matter to us too.
— the editor
By Sean Adams, Briscoe Unit,Texas
Throughout my life, friendships have been how I’ve measured success. Not as to how many friends I could collect, as is the trend in the age of social media, but rather in the mind frame that if I’m going to cut for you, to call you a friend, we have now formed a bond that would never be broken. These types of relationships were not forged right away, rather they were earned through sharing not just the good times, but the bad. Enduring experiences together that not only shaped our friendship but also ourselves. It was these experiences that made me open my heart and pledge my loyalty to this person. From that point on nothing but the ultimate betrayal could shake, sway, or shatter that love. These were principles on which I based my life. But as I’ve been gone almost half a decade now, with a few years left til I have a chance at coming home, a new form of doubt grew from quiet whispers in the back of my head to resounding echos in the forefront of my mind. How are you able to maintain these relationships when you are no longer physically present, and expect them to maintain that strength of love? How long can you ride on the memories of days gone by before people get tired of living in the past and move on?
When I posed this question to a friend of mine I offered him a parable: Imagine that as a child you had two best friends with whom you were inseparable. You grew up on the same street, went to the same school, and did the same activities. However, several years pass and one of the friends moves away and starts going to a different school,(different friends, different setting.) Despite all those critical years spent together, in due time, who do you find yourself closer to? The one who continued to go through the journey of life with you, or the one who moved away? The answer is obvious; it was not out of loss of love that your other friend was relegated from a crucial part of your life to just a flicker of a memory of times past.
The change is never meant as an act of maliciousness or spite, but rather that of the wise old saying “Out of sight, out of mind.” Since being locked up no phrase has ever rang truer or had a more personal meaning to me. It seems that everything that could have happened did. People grew old. Some died, too often before their times. Flings turned into romances and grew into marriages and families. People who were barely eking out a living, and shacking up in warehouses with half a dozen other people, now have careers and have been approved for loans to buy their first house. All these things I was resigned to hear about through letters and two hour visits. They are always accompanied by the bittersweet feeling of happiness for their accomplishments, and sadness for not being there to share my joy with them. The more I heard, the more I felt disconnected, impotent even. Where was I in all of this? What role did I play? I suddenly felt like a grown up returning to their hometown and listening to a parent fill them in on all of the happenings of the friends you left behind. “Oh, Jimmy got married” or “Sally got a job out of state”, and “Becky passed away a couple years ago”–overwhelmed as you try to digest it all. These are my fears of returning to a world that has changed so much that it is as if you were never there in the first place.
My experience is not a common one, in that after all these years I still get at least a few letters a month, and maybe a visit every two or three. Surely it pales in comparison to the flood of mail and visits I got when I first got locked up. Over time, three or four letters a day became three to four a week, to three to four a month, and visits crowded with friends every week became solitary occasions sporadically spaced out. But still, I’m incredibly lucky that I have people like that out there for me. I’d like to think it’s due in part to the bonds I’ve built all my life. With every passing year, I can’t help but wonder how long these bonds will be able to endure the strain. It’s easy when you are in here to forget life still goes on out there, even to the point of lying to ourselves. We wonder why people can’t find the time to visit, or write, send money, or pick up the phone; our minds run rampant with outrageous scenarios as to why, but the plain and simple truth is that people have lives out there, with full time jobs, bills to pay, people to take care of, and their own personal needs, which a lot of times they find themselves putting dead last. It’s not that they are purposefully not thinking of us, but rather they’re trying to take care of the things in front of them on a daily basis. Like I said, “Out of sight, out of mind”.
With a logical explanation you would think you could easily dismiss such fears of being forgotten, but the world is not a logical place. I wonder, “If the world has moved on so much, what will it be like returning to it?”, or if that is even as desirable a prospect as it once was. I’m more scared of losing what I love out there than anything I’ve experienced, or will face, in here. But rather than wallow in lament and self-pity, I try to be proactive in my situation. Every week I go through my lists of addresses and think to myself about whom I haven’t written in a while. Even if I haven’t heard from them, I still make it a point to write, because the best way to fight “Out of sight, out of mind” is to keep yourself in their lives the best way you can. Letters of love, support, and keeping them abreast of what I’m up to is almost the same as being there. I’d be ignorant to think that all of the sudden these people wouldn’t want to hear from me. An unexpected letter in the mailbox has the same effect as dropping by for a surprise visit, except the conversation is one-sided. I’ve invested too much time, love, and memories with my friends to let them go without a fight. While I live in a state of caution as to what the next day might bring, or what news the next letter or visit might bare, as long as I have breath in my lungs I won’t disappear– for my friends’, as well as my own, sake.
Sean Adams, #1850164, March 2016
Inside us all
There’s a place we call home.
Somewhere all our own
No one can take away.
And through it all
When we can’t face the day
We turn to ourselves and say
Why must we be alone?
It’s just energy
A place that we call our hearts
still beating in time.
It’s just a symphony
with no choreography.
Time isn’t wasted there
when love was yours and mine.
Inside us all
there’s a time we remember best.
Sort of a history test
to answer a call.
And through it all
I thought I heard and saw
My dreams walking strong and tall
Yes, these were the best.
It’s just energy
It’s just a symphony
A play, a song, a rhyme…
Written by John Green #671771 from CT Terrell Unit in Rosharon, TX.