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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Local Media Reports on Disciplinary Quotas at Ramsey Unit.

Since December of 2017, the Uncaptive Voices editor has been hearing about many of the prisoners at Ramsey Unit, especially those who are Muslim and involved in the higher education programs at the unit, being targeted with disciplinary cases by the staff, including the warden, at Ramsey 1 unit in Rosharon, Texas. According to prisoners there and activists who spoke with him, Warden McMullen has made no secret of his racial and religious biases, and his dislike of the race mixing that was occurring there due to the educational programs. He has suggested to some people that some of these Muslim men in the Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, with no recent history of disciplinary problems, are involved in trafficking of drugs and cell phones. During this period of six months or so, all kinds of false and frivolous cases began being given to many of the men there, causing some of them to lose job and educational opportunities. One man lost craft privileges for having approved, legally bought paint syringes in the craft shop, despite having his receipts. He was later allegedly given another case for having religious books on his bunk.

Roughly a month ago, some of the prisoners uncovered an email directing officers to hand out cases in order to meet a quota, allegedly under the direction of a Lt. Gilbert, although one may question whether he was given this order from the warden. Senator John Whitmire was made aware of this issue and the effects on prisoners there and took action, speaking out and going to the media on this issue. The article below reports on this issue, without acknowledging the effects on educational opportunities, or the alleged religious and racial discrimination that was occurring with the cases. We intend to follow up on this issue and see that these bogus and discriminatory cases do not succeed in taking away opportunities for many of the people of color/ Muslims at the unit. If your loved one was targeted, we suggest you follow up with the Ombudsman and/or Regional Director about these cases. If they fail to act, contact your local Representatives and State Senators like John Whitmire.

“Texas prison officials reviewing disciplinary cases after quota requirement revealed” by Keri Blakinger, Chron.com
https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Texas-prison-officials-reviewing-disciplinary-12904891.php

Operation PUSH: Florida Prisoners on Strike!

Yesterday, on the national day to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Florida prisoners began what could become a long-term strike against prison slavery and human and civil rights violations.  You can read their full statement here. Their main demands and the call for solidarity are shown below:

“Sending out an S.O.S. to all parties concerned!

We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.

We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:

1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates

Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:

• Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
• Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
• Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
• Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.

Operation PUSH: Every Institution must prepare to lay down for at least one month or at longer: No prisoners will go to their job assignments.”

Outside support for the strike is growing, with over 100 organizations signing on in solidarity. The Fight Toxic Prisons blog lists 5 ways to support Operation PUSH here, including: attending solidarity events, writing prisoners, sharing articles, and donating to outside groups that are coordinating solidarity efforts.

Here in Texas these issues feel all too familiar. In fact, we have seen lawsuits and small scale strikes around some of these issues here. However, Operation PUSH appears to be remarkably well organized and it has gained more widespread support than any US prisoner strike in the last several years. This seems to show a new level of organization and solidarity on the issue of ending prison slavery and in the struggle for human and civil rights for incarcerated Americans. We wish them luck as they light a path forward in this struggle!

–Uncaptive Voices

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Notes:

Voting: Felony disenfranchisement in Florida is out of control and very racialized, as this graphic taken from sentencingproject.org shows. Here I compared Texas to Florida.

flavoting

The death penalty has become a hot topic in Florida just as it is in Texas. Here is a recent article on the issue:

Is The Cost of Florida’s Death Penalty Too High?

 

 

 

Confederate Blue

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!

Art from Eastham, by Jorge Garcia

This recent art card from Jorge reads:

“Solitary hearts, silent voices, searching for understanding and compassion..”

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Write to Jorge Garcia

Jorge’s art continually expresses the isolation of long term solitary confinement experienced in Texas prisons and the loss of family contact he has faced due to his incarceration far away from his home. Texas Department of “Criminal Justice” recently announced they were no longer using solitary as “punishment”, but “gang affiliation” is still one of the top reasons that people remain in solitary(ad-seg) in Texas, despite the fact that the vast majority of Texas prisoners are affiliated with a racialized gang; this is because racial separation and tension are encouraged by prison officials, and joining gangs is a matter of survival for many in a system where violence is rampant and often subtly or overtly allowed (and perpetrated) by officers. So the use of solitary on certain gang members is honestly arbitrary, and the long term use of it essentially amounts to torture, and has shown no real positive effects. This isn’t hard to understand; we don’t rehabilitate people by locking them in cages and denying them education and human contact. Instead “ad-seg” increases mental health issues, makes people more violent and suicidal, gives little incentive for positive change, and is a barrier to healthy socializing and maintaining family bonds/ outside relationships. This practice needs to be completely eradicated!

Another issue being discussed at Eastham Unit is the toxic water, and we were made aware that one prisoner there has filed a lawsuit on this issue. Prisoners at Wallace Pack Unit in Texas successfully sued over toxic (arsenic laden) water and extreme heat last year. We hope to see another success here as the heat and water issues at Eastham have been a main complaint in letters to us for the past several years. These problems have deadly consequences for inmates and it is an unacceptable violation of human rights to have people getting ill or dying due to unsafe water and extreme heat. Stay tuned for any updates and please support these prisoners in their struggle for survival. The link under the artwork will take you to Jorge’s address!

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/