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.


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:

“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.



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


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!


Remember the Dead, and Fight Like Hell For the Living

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

Polunsky Unit

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

The Three H’s by John Green

Names and faces

I don’t remember until

I see them return

Over and over again.


Twenty-three years of being

Without family and friends

Leaves desperation

In place of hope.


I don’t know what

Tomorrow leaves for me

But if it’s anything like

Yesterday, I’m lost.


But somehow I find a way

To maintain my humanity,

My humility, and my

Sense of humor.


They can’t take these three things

Regardless of their attempts

Or their viciousness—


Remember the three H’s



And Humor.


Keep them safe and close,

Like your lives depend

Upon them,

Because they do…


John Green, 7/5/16.

Write to John:

John Green #671771

C.T. Terrell Unit

1300 FM 655

Rosharon, TX 77583


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