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)




		
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Must See Film: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

Occasionally I see a film or book about or by prisoners that I absolutely have to share with the readers of this blog, and the film I saw Friday night definitely qualified! I, your editor, do shamelessly admit that I cried through a good portion of this film, along with everyone around me, for several different reasons. The documentary, Southwest of Salem, follows the case of 4 latina lesbians from San Antonio, TX who were falsely accused of gang raping two young girls during the Satanic Panic era. The film highlights the tragic consequences of trials that allowed homophobic accusations, faulty physical evidence, and outlandish testimonies from two young girls that were being manipulated, one of whom later officially recanted and testified in the women’s defense. They also show the struggles of the wrongfully convicted in dealing with their incarceration, readjusting to freedom, and receiving justice and exoneration. These women are touring with the film with the hope of bringing light to the past and current biases of the “justice” system, and the issue of wrongful convictions, which has shown to be much more widespread than many would have imagined. The film does a great job illuminating these issues and showing the human toll of wrongful convictions, both focusing on the women and their families.

This film was especially important to me because we continue to see bias against LGB, Trans and Gender Non-conforming people, and race and class are exacerbating factors in the targeting of and wrongful convictions of numerous people. We also continue to see cases based on faulty evidence and biased prosecution today. This biased prosecution was true in the more recent case of  a black trans woman named CeCe McDonald, who was targeted due to her race and gender identity and incarcerated for defending herself and her friends during a hate crime. Issues of race and also economic class(which generally implies lack of access to quality legal representation) are a factor in most of the exonerations we are witnessing. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and race often play a role in false accusations such as those involved in the San Antonio Four case. LGBTQI people are maliciously stereotyped as “perverts” and “pedophiles”, which we still see with the “bathroom panic” that has emerged recently, in spite of evidence proving there is no truth to these stereotypes and fears. The same has been true for black, hispanic, and asian men who have been stereotyped as rapists throughout history and we have seen them be convicted and exonerated of sexual assault cases at much higher rates than white men. False accusations are the leading cause of wrongful convictions for child sexual abuse/assault such as in this case.

I hope others will view this film and apply the concepts it discusses to other cases we are seeing, and join people who are working to help exonerate people and to help wrongfully convicted people readjust to society. One such Texas case is Nanon Williams, who was wrongfully convicted of capital murder at 17, and sentenced to Death. His sentence has been overturned three times, and we now know that his conviction was based on false ballistics testimony and the testimony of another man involved in the shooting who escaped punishment. Nanon is one of likely hundreds of wrongly convicted people in Texas who rely on exonerees like the San Antonio Four to show Texans that they do exist and to give them hope that they too will one day come home and receive a semblance of justice for what they have endured. There is a real human cost to these cases which is rarely discussed, but is displayed quite clearly when we give the wrongfully convicted a platform to tell their stories. Hope you will check this film out on one of the online viewing platforms where it is available!

 

Film Website:

http://www.southwestofsalem.com/about-2/

 

“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!

 

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!