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 .”
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!
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!
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:
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:
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!