2007 28th MARCH - OUR CORE ARGUMENTS
OUR CORE ARGUMENTS
I was pacing my assigned cage, meditating, trying to still my mind only to better concentrate- with one-pointedness—on calling forth into the light of my consciousness a conversation half-submerged in the shadows of my mind, Pacing to and fro, I could see the moon, that same New Year’s moon, smiling her love upon me once again; only this time through my slit of a cage window. Then the focus of my meditation inundated me.
It was 8-21-07. Comrade Amun (Greer) and I went outside to recreate—a recreation-turned-protest. A re-creation indeed! We had all of our protective gear, and we were not coming off the outside rec yard; at least not without taking a stand for our dignity; a stand for humanity; a stand against this Machinery of Death.
Pod officers asked us if we were coming off the rec yard when our rec time was up, but we refused. Then they called Sgt, Horton to address the situation.
When Sgt. Horton stepped onto the outside rec yard, Amun, in a matter of fact manner, told him we were protesting and not coming off the yard. Instead of attempting to dissuade comrade Amun, Sgt. Horton turned to me, looking for the slightest defect in our impeccable solidarity. After staring at each other for a moment – him gauging me, while I decided whether I should say anything after years of talking, I finally chose to engage him in a discussion on the root causes of our movement.
“Do you know what ‘sensory deprivation’ is?” I asked, sitting on the concrete floor, legs stretched out, facing the Sgt.
Staring beyond the concrete floor, into the recesses of his mind, Sgt. Horton emerged from silent contemplation with, “it’s when you have no access to the world.”
“…sensory stimulation fundamental to psychological health.” I added. “The psychological effects are known. The TDC board knows; it’s why the ‘work program’ is ‘temporarily suspended’ as opposed to being suspended indefinitely.”
The work program provided prisoners an opportunity out of their sensory depriving cages—they could inter-mingle. Prisoners were also responsible for most of the upkeep of their own living conditions. In addition to the latter, prisoners could also sell items they made in the arts and crafts program; thereby allowing prisoners a measure of self-reliance.
“ The problem with that,” Sgt. Horton posited, “is there’s no place for the work program in this building.”
“That’s not true!” Comrade Amun and I rejected simultaneously. I exemplified by saying, “Instead of SSI’s (General population’s “special service inmates”) cleaning the pods, ‘work capable’ DR prisoners (see Death Row Plan in the TDC Policy section) can do it; instead of SSI’s passing out necessities like they used to, death row prisoners can do it; instead of SSI’s working in the kitchen preparing trays, death row prisoners can so it; death row prisoners can work the necessity room. We’ve shared these things with the warden and major.”
Amun added, “If it is indeed true that you and your constituents, quote-unquote, the ‘upper brass’, don’t have a problem with us having a work program, arts/crafts, TV’s, etc. then why is it that none of you choose to go to the warden about this? You know, I find it interesting how rank in this building and CO’s (non ranking officers) can band together whenever they feel it suits their own purpose and agenda, but because these issues we are raising have to do with prisoners, they’re of no concern! If your colleagues would stop concerning themselves with punishing us as opposed to doing what they profess to be here doing, which is ‘security’ they would see that if they stood together and said ‘look Warden Hirch, we really need for you to strongly consider authorizing these things. It would allow operations to run itself a whole lot smoother, and it would free up a lot of officers to be able to perform other duties they’re unable to perform on a normal basis! They might have considerable influence with the warden.”
“Maj. Nelson went to the board for yall.” Sgt. Horton said almost opportunistically.
I was shocked by this revelation—was it revelation or just a clever counter argument? I found it convenient that he revealed this to us after Maj. Nelson transferred to another unit with her deserved promotion. I considered the possibility of Major Nelson going to the board while telling her colleagues to not reveal it to us as to not give credence to the effectiveness of our movement.
“ I find that very interesting Horton.” I said in disbelief. Standing up pacing toward then away from Sgt. Horton, I asked, “First of all, how does her not telling us that make her look? Egotistical? Don’t you realize if she had told us that, it would have changed the focus of our protest?—Is this something you were told or do you have first hand knowledge of it?”
“I know because I’ve sat in some of the meetings with her.” Horton retorted.
“So what did the board say?” I asked.
“They turned her down. You know what the problem is? It’s not just the warden’s call; it’s the TDJC board. They’re the ones blocking you guys from getting these things!”
I got the impression Sgt. Horton was merely debating with me to undermine anything I could use as justification for our protest.
“Sgt. Horton I know this is not true because the Supreme Court and Federal Court gives, quote-unquote ‘wide-discretion’ to unit wardens in how they manage the ‘safety and security’ of their establishment. Wide discretion Horton.” I said pounding my fist for emphasis. “They can do this,” I expounded, “because no unit is the same, and only the warden knows what’s happening on his unit. Also, and Horton you know this, the TDC board, for decades, has acted merely as a rubber stamper. Unit wardens tell them what they need for their unit and for the most part the board approves it. Besides, the board doesn’t know what’s going on on respective units. They have to depend on reports from unit wardens or representatives.”
“The warden, assistant warden and major could all go to the board and say, ‘Look, its been 8 years since TX DR work capable program has been shut down due to suspension; since then, we’ve relocated them to another facility, upgraded our security and housing assignments for all of them; now we are ready to open it back up and we’re asking for authorization to do so!” Amun proposed.
Looking Amun square in the face, Sgt. Horton said, “Do you know what the board would tell them? Okay yall 3 can leave your ID’s on the desk on your way out!”
“That’s not true and you know it Horton.” I said.
“No one is willing to go as far as to put themselves at risk of losing their jobs for that. And I’ll be very honest with you, I’m not about to stick my neck out there for yall just to get it chopped off!” Sgt added.
It wasn’t until I transcribed this conversation that I realized Sgt. Horton's above statement contradicted what he said about sitting in the meeting with Major Nelson.
“Tell me this Horton, why did Michelle Lyons-”
Interrupting me, Horton asked, “Who?”
“Yalls spokeswoman… in an interview says that yall haven’t approved for TV’s because yall don’t have the money?” I knew a non-profit organization offered to provide all death row prisoners here in Texas free, clear TV’s.
“That’s a lie.” Sgt Horton said about Ms. Lyons words. “Some group offered free television sets for yall, didn’t they?”
Both Amun and I agreed.
After a brief silence, Sgt. Horton back up his sword, desperately swinging, “Society will have a fit if yall were walking around with no handcuffs on!”
“That’s the problem—society doesn’t know who we really are, and the nature of our sensory depriving environment. Besides, society is not given a say-so anyway. When Congress passes a bill, the people aren’t involved.” In my mind I was thinking about the 9-11 and how bills were passed afterwards that weren’t even read by some of the senators that passed the bills. “Their ‘representative’ goes in there and does what he wants to.”
Sgt. Horton stood on the outside rec-yard with us in silence, yet nodding his head in agreement.
“But it’s beyond these things Horton. The whole basis for our being on Death Row is fundamentally flawed. First you have prisoners being convicted by juries devoid of their peers. How can a juror that’s not from the ‘hood’ understand the thinking processes of those from the hood? How can they understand what’s commonly perceived as threatening through subculturalist eyes? How can you be justly convicted when the juror is already prejudiced against you? Then take for example, yourself who can serve on a capital murder trial—naw, you won’t be able to serve since you work on death row; but if you didn’t you could be called to serve as a juror in a capital murder trial. You are surrounded by people with subtle prejudices then you are asked the future dangerousness question: ‘Is there a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society?’ This question violates his presumption of innocence…Do you believe that change is human nature?”
“Okay,” I interrupted, anticipating what he was going to say. “Wouldn’t you agree that if a person can’t change, then they are suffering from some malformation in the brain since change is inherently a part of human nature?”
“Yeah.” Sgt Horton agreed, nodding his head.
“Then these people need medication, they need to be in a state hospital, but not here.” I was attacking the future dangerousness argument by elucidating how the “future dangerousness” argument is nothing more than a deviously twisted question of culpability. It borders on the eugenics argument. Keep the so-called good and extinguish the so-called bad. Wasn’t this the favor Adolf Hitler thought he was rendering with his hellish Holocaust? I was leading up to a point. “Society in the future dangerousness question is dichotomized; not only does it mean free-world society, but prison society as well. So take a person who brutally dismembers a person with a chainsaw every day for a month. Unless they (prosecutors) can relate the second murder to the first, the serial killer can only receive multiple life sentences; and yet the future dangerousness question says that a person that, let’s say shoots a person one time, killing him, then takes his wallet is too violent to even be imprisoned around the chainsaw murderer.” I throw my hand up and start pacing again.
“You know…the laws are messed up Blanton, you’re right. But you know…” Sgt Horton faded back into silence.
“Tell us this Horton, do we have legitimate concerns? If we don’t, then we’ll go inside right now. Tell me.” I demanded.
Sgt. Horton didn’t want to admit our concerns were legitimate since it would give us reason to break the very rules he’s employed to enforce. It’s important that I emphasize Sgt Horton’s conflict. In my article, “Frankenstein: The Anatomy of My Affliction” I wrote “…socio-political and economical class-conflict, hence, conflicting societal norms are the antecedents to America’s social psychosis, which exists in its most toxic form as the Death Penalty system.” How could Sgt. Horton sympathize with our arguments, justifying a protest he’s being paid to curtail or suppress, even repress? In order for him to carry out his job, i.e. quell our protest, he has to do something with that part of his psyche that sympathizes with our position, but conflicts with that part of his mind that has to adhere to the norms of his job description because adhering to his job description put food on his family’s table. His mind will use defense mechanisms* to address the conflict (*Defense mechanisms are automatic psychological process that protects the individual against anxiety and from awareness of internal or external stressors or dangers. Defense mechanisms mediate the individual’s reaction to emotional conflicts and to external stressors.) Defense mechanisms such as repression of all thoughts and emotions that sympathize with our position or our human qualities to permit him to carry out his job obligations or he may rationalize out (which amounts to inducing self-delusion) our humanity and thus his sympathy superseding it with his need of money to feed his family. Those processes are referred to as moral disengagement.
This is only a glimpse into what I meant when I said in ‘Frankenstein” that the “death penalty is its own entity that deleteriously converts everything (laws, rules, living conditions) and everyone associated with it into its equivalent: Death.” Moral disengagement is the same process killers use to kill.
Sgt. Horton couldn’t say that I was wrong, nor could he say that he was wrong, nor could he say that our protests are just, so he just chose the middle ground by answering my question as follows, “They are your concerns, so they are legitimate.”
“No, no, no Horton. You’re good! But you can’t get away that easily. Do we legitimate reasons or not for our protest? To create such a disturbance that you have to suit up a team and utilize chemical agents?!”
“Ye-yes, you do.” Sgt. Horton stuttered. “I mean they’re not like that-that, they’re just, you know, protest. Yall are non-violent. And if I were in your position, I would probably do the same.”
Amun asked Sgt Horton, “So what would you do Horton, if, lets say, you were called back to testify (at a prisoner’s trial) as to the use of forces you’ve been involved in.”
Sgt Horton looked concerned, looking back and forth between Amun and I. “For what? I mean I don’t have anything to say. I wouldn’t go.” Sgt Horton said nervously.
“If you are subpoenaed, you have to go Horton” I added, “Would you be willing to testify to what you said about our protest.”
“10, 11, 12—look at all of these use of forces Sgt Horton. I mean yall had to use a response team, suited in riot gear and employed CHEMICAL agents! And you mean to tell me they’re ‘just’ protests?!! I said, demonstrating how prosecutors will attack him.
Caught off guard, standing mouth agape, Sgt Horton concluded, “Yall bet not call me back then.”
After a moment of silence, Sgt Horton gave, “I…don’t… know...what else to say.”
They called Sgt Horton on his walkie-talkie. He was needed someplace. Before he left he asked Amun if he wanted him to come back or if he should go on and get the team. Amun asked him to come back.
Sgt Horton came back but his exchange with Amun was short-lived. I don’t recall what was said. By then I was easing into my zone. I was pacing. My senses were heightened. I could hear movement in the hallway through the concrete wall encasing the outside rec-yard. I could hear talking door clicks. I could hear talking inside the pod. I paced where I could see through the window and into the pod so I would know when they were coming. Too many times I have seen them speak to one of us to distract us; then all of a sudden…they have the gas!
They’re giving direct orders!
The gate pops!
The Sgt. sprays the gas!
The team hits you with the shield!
…And it’s over.
I guess I’m a little traumatized.
Sgt. Horton left the yard to get the gas and the team. Amun and I waited in silence, meditation. Sgt Brown came into the pod and moved our property from Level 2 to Level 3. I could hear Comrade Jasiri exchanging words with him, or more accurately exchanging verbal jabs. Sgt Horton arrived with the gas grenades; following behind him was Lt. Hines with the 37mm rifle and a camerawoman. They all had their gas masks on. The team was suited up in their riot gear inside the pod. Sgt Horton gave Amun 2 direct orders to submit to a strip search. Amun refused. Sgt Horton pulled the pin from the gas grenade and threw it on Amun’s side of the rec yard. There was a loud blast, fire, and then thick, thick gas began to fill both sides of the rec yard. When the gas became to strong and penetrated through Amun’s defective, make shift gas mask, Comrade Amun submitted to the strip search. As they went through the dehumanizing strip search, I was fighting back the gas as it penetrated my mask. Gas got under my plastic eye covering, and I couldn’t see. I snatched everything off my head in a panic, holding my mask to my nose, trying to control my breathing and calm down. I was also thinking about coming off the rec yard.
They escorted Amun off the outside rec yard and closed the door behind them. They wanted to break me, but the gas soon dissipated. I readjusted my mask. This time I was ready. I paced the outside rec yard and could see Capt. Bailey, Lt Hines and Sgt Brown looking at me through the plexi-glass window, whispering to each other. I pointed through the window at the 37 mm Lt Hines was holding, nodding my head as if to say “that’s some good stuff.” Lt Hines, one of the more intelligent and rational minded ranking officers, gave me a thumbs up.
After some time, Sgt Horton came back outside with another grenade, followed by the Lt. With his 37 mm rifle and the camerawoman. Sgt Horton gave me 2 direct orders. I found my position in the farthest corner (which wasn’t that far) of my side of the rec yard. Horton pulled the pin and with a flip of the wrist, spun the grenade towards the middle of the yard, but put too much spin on it. It rolled counter clockwise away from me and up against the bars closer to them. There was no wind and the gas began to fill the rec yard. I moved to the other end of the rec yard to get away from the smoke, to no avail. Smoke was everywhere. I closed my eyes and meditated on my breathing. My mantra was So’ ham “I AM that”, the natural sound of your breath coming in and going out. I peeped at the ground and could see the shadows the gas clouds cast.
I opened my eyes and the smoke dissipated.
I posted up with my hands on my knees, head down so they couldn’t get a clear shot to my face if they decide to use the handheld LE-10 or 37mm. Sgt Horton asked me to submit to a strip search. I didn’t respond. The gate popped and the team came in. I ran towards the shield man, faked, then shuffle stepped to my left, grabbing the vest of one guard, bracing myself. I had no intentions of hurting anyone. Likewise I didn’t want to get hurt. Black, gas masks, and helmets surrounded me. They were forcing me to the ground, but I resisted just enough to avoid being forced into the concrete. Somebody was jumping on the back of my shoulders. I eased myself into the prone position. I was down. The wrestled my arms to my back to handcuff me. They shackled my legs, then began cutting off my clothes. Somebody was standing on my member (penis). Spoken word possessed me. Sgt Horton asked me to walk to my cage. I refused to walk. I refused to cooperate. The team grumbled at having to carry my slippery (because I was greased up) naked body. They grunted, hauling a loud, principled, oppressed, spiritual, African American man into 75 cage. 75 cage! The same cage the team carried me to New Year’s Night (Jan 07); still loud; still principled; and as naked as my emotions and my thoughts.
This piece is not only a representation of the enlightening conversations my comrades have with this administration, using truth as a weapon to annihilate ignorance in the spirit of Satyagraha (“truth-force: “love-force”) not only does Sgt. Horton’s attitude represent the attitude of this administration and their level of consciousness, but this piece encompasses our core arguments for our protest; arguments both pragmatic and ideological in that they are based on scientific facts. They stem from our vision of a judicial system whose goal is to uplift the people, all people, and not just do away with the “undesirables”; and above all, our vision of a world devoid of all oppressive elements as all oppression is interrelated. If we destroy one of its tentacles, oppression’s grasp is weakened bringing us a breath closer to liberation.
My questions to you are:
1. If you were in Sgt Horton’s position, what would you say to our position?
2. As you are, from where you stand, what do you have to say about our arguments and political stance?
Sgt Horton concluded our conversation by saying he didn’t know what else to say. But I say to you, for the progression of civilization and the realization of Humanity’s dignity, don’t be ruled by silence. SPEAK OUT! Because each moment you’re silent, a life is being needlessly taken in a vicious cycle of death. Tell your representative how you feel and see that he or she represents that. Tell a friend about the DRIVE website. Request our literature to pass around. Take action. DRIVE!
Strength and Vision
Comrade and brother,
“Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts…Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that.”
--Martin Luther King