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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Looking for a pen-friend this Valentine’s Day? We know a few people!

Many of the incarcerated artists and writers we work with are looking for friends, and especially friends from the United States. We hope you will check out the pen pal profiles on our page and make 2017 a better year for someone! Check out a few of the pictures below and then find more information and explore more pages under “Pen Pal Connection”!

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You may also look for pen pals on these websites:

http://www.writeaprisoner.com

http://www.blackandpink.org/pen-pals/

Just in time for the holidays–pen pals, prisoner support, and books!!

In order to encourage spreading love and friendship this holiday season, we have re-posted our pen pal connection page for our friends on the inside. Many of the people listed are in solitary confinement and/or have no family support. Here are three people who have recently been added or updated:

Kenneth-Conrad Vodochodsky

Gerald Marshall

Ronald Hamilton

We also recommend checking out the links to other pen pal sites on the right hand side of our page!!

Since this is our holiday season post, here are a few more things:

We have two holiday wishes this year; the first is that you join abolitionists in Houston for a yearly holiday card signing and get-together. We will have pen pal info here as well.

See the event here: Holiday cards to Death Row

The second wish is that our contributor Nanon Williams will come home soon. Ballistic experts have stated that Nanon was not the shooter in this Houston case from 1992, and his conviction has been overturned several times, but the appeals court has blocked his release. We are asking you to help show that his life matters and encourage Texas politicians and the new Houston DA Kim Ogg to bring him home. Nanon should not die in prison, or spend another year, month or day wrongfully incarcerated!! See petition below:

Bring Nanon Williams Home

Two great books worth buying this month:

.Brian Stolarz, who helped innocent man Alfred Brown get off of TX death row, has written an incredibly interesting book about the case, trial, and struggle to bring him home. It is frankly hard to put down: Grace and Justice on Death Row

. Gerald Marshall and several other Texas death row inmates recently contributed to a book of poetry and art that is now available: Creativity in the Midst of Chaos: Poetry and Art from Texas Death Row

Look out for some more posts coming soon!

 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: A Convict’s Analysis on the Maintenance of Relationships While Incarcerated

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