THE CARE PACKAGE
The Care Package
When I came to Murder Row in 2001, I generally looked at it no differently than other places populated with subculturalist- - I would be "tested" and would have to fight hard, physically, to prove I deserved to be left alone; not "alone" in what district prosecutors would love to interpret in an "anti-social" manner. No! I'm too much of a peoples-person for that. I mean "alone" in the sense of not having to be placed in a position where I would have to physically prove myself to ignorant people. That's what I mean.
Now I can't say these thoughts were not heightened by the fact that these were DEATH ROW prisoners; or should I say, what I thought would be a more aggressive environment since these were "Death Row" prisoners. The "worst of the worst" right?
So when I arrived to the section of the pod where they planned to entomb me - - because they weren't just placing me in a cell unless we mean "cell" as in the myriad cells that make up lifethat make up this Living-Death Penalty- -, I immediately noticed the sudden silence which affected the whole atmosphere. It was a cold and wet silence; a gray, drizzling-cold I could feel inside my being. It was so dense, so thick, so real, I was almost certain I left mud-prints with each slushing-step I took deeper into this unknown.
I was then entombed, cage-door slammed shut with a metallic shriek reverberating through the floors, walls, and air; or maybe it was the scream of souls condemned to the belly of this beast, rattled by the reminder
"Ti-titi-titi-ti-titi-ti," ("ti" as in tick) is what I heard nearby. It sounded like somebody shadow-boxing in their cagethey were getting ready for me; getting ready to fight me! My heart was a climaxing afrikan drum.
They were practicing what combinations they were going to use on me. I tried to control my breathing. I rolled up the pants-legs to my jumpsuit and stuffed them inside my socks, standard procedure. I paced my tomb-of-a-cage. I stretched. I even started to shadow-box. If it was going down, it was going down! I told myself, "You can't do anything but accept an 'ass-whuppin'." If that's what I had coming.
I wondered how it was "going down." Were we allowed group recreation? Were one of them cool with the guard and the guard was going to "roll" my cage door so they could try me? What?
Suddenly somebody hollered at me wanting to know my name. He told me his name was "South Park," and asked if I needed anything. I told him I needed something to drink out of, but that was it. Too many times have I seen things "given" with all sorts of tangled-strings attached. Not me! I was new, but not that new. I wasn't going to get caught-up in that web. South Park told me he and several other brothers were going to put together a "care-package" for me.
I refused South Park's offer again. And though I was hollering from one-row to two-row where South Park was entombed, he understood why I was refusing anything else, and explained that the giving of this care-package to "drive-ups," new prisoners, was part of this death row culture. We exchanged "right-on's" and I awaited the package they prepared for me.
Yeah, and somebody else was also preparing for me.
Big Tank, one of the brothers from two-row, hollered down to my neighbor, P-Nut, to help him get the care-package to me. I was amazed by what I observed. Big Tank threw something from the bottom of his cage, over two-row's run, and onto one-row with a home-made line connected to it. P-Nut slid out on the run a makeshift pole with small hooks on the end fashioned out of paperclips, hooked Big Tank's line, then pulled it all in by the line connected to his pole. This is called "fishing." It's one of the few means brothers have to communicate with each other during the 23-hours spent each day in solitary confinement; if we can call this communication.
P-Nut connected his line to Big Tank's line, and as they ran line packages of food tied to the line descended from two-row. Though these brothers were using this fishing system to show me love, if caught, they could have been written up, sent to lockup, with the care-package confiscated or eaten by the confiscating officers.
As P-Nut passed the care-package to me on his line, item after item (soups, pastries, and chips), I thought about how long-winded this shadow-boxer was, and how out of shape I was.
By the end of the day, I had to laugh at myself; though, after thinking about it, it's not funny at all. After observing, with my ears, my surroundings, I realized the only boxing that was going on was finger-boxing. My so-called opponent wasn't blowing-out air with each of his punches as I imagined him. He was finger-boxing the keys to his old typewriter. What would have ordinarily been the sharp "icking sound in the tick-tick-ticking from the hammer striking the print-wheel was dullen away by the wear-and-tear of so many years of typing.
My reality had been distorted by the stigma of past experiences with the system; a system that has equally stigmatized the perceptions of Americans by distorting the Death Penalty question. I wasn't surrounded by a "special" pack of vicious, cold-blooded murderers deserving of the "highest" security measures (which amount to sensory-deprivation) until their time of sterilization ("execution"). While the overwhelming majority of Death Row prisoners await Death for crimes others in General Population (prison) will never die for, the brothers I had met were no different than most people I've ever known; some of whom don't have a criminal record. The only thing "special" about them are the labels thrusted upon them, which in return, is used by death penalty supporters to disengage their sense of morality which would otherwise hinder them from supporting such a barbaric fate of human beings.
This "System" not only pits human beings against their higher-selves, but it pits them against each other. It promotes imperialism, classism, sexism, racism, and ultimately ignorance, either actively, through instituting systems based on these machinations, or passively, through allowing these systems to flourish. The System thus encompasses: 1.) the injustices inflicted upon us by the State and its tentacles; 2.) those that we inflict upon each other; 3.) and those we passively allow to persist. However, a distinction must be drawn between those that perpetuate these systems as a result of the institutionalization of these systems, and those host institutions.
Reginald "P-Nut" Reeves was murdered by the state of the Killing Machine. Ronald "South Park" Howard was murdered by the state of the Killing Machine (10-6-05). Shannon "Big Tank" Thomas was murdered by the state of the Killing Machine (11-11-05). And though I want to say "May these brothers rest in the sweetest peace", I know they are living through meand many othersright now, and won't be able to rest until there is rest for us all. However, these brothers, along with several others who were also systematically murdered by this Frankensteinian creation, had much more in mind when it came to this "care-package.
These brothers had pulled me into their war-room, darkened except for the square-light on the wall from their small projector. Slide-by-slide they pounded into my mind the necessity to expand my circumference of consciousness, connect with people in the free-world through the "pen-pal" program, and most of all, to stay on top of my court-appointed lawyers and appeals. It was—and remains—warfare. But these brothers were war-worn. They had lost many soldiers. They had lost many battles. They were fighting a technologically advanced "adversary"-- as the Judicial System proudly refers to itself—with merely their intellect, bodies, and spirits, when they needed aggressive, professional legal representation and media exposure. They knew their next battle(s) could very well be their last; yet they had to keep their struggle alive. They saw a glimmer of hope in me, somebody new; somebody they could live through in retrospect of past battles lost. It was as if I was the second chance they were never given.
Those that had the courage and necessary intellectual capacity took a stand for their dignity by writing their court-appointed attorneys concerning claims they felt needed to be included in their appellate writ being filed in their names by their lawyers. However, their voices were drowned out by the Machinery's noise as the majority of these brothers were ignored by their lawyers, their lawyers! And many were executed, though they could have prevailed on their appeals if only their so-called attorneys didn't think they knew it all and that their own clients were nothing more than a docket number. As a matter of fact, the high systematic murder (“executions”) rate here in Texas clearly demonstrates that these attorneys would rather botch their client's appeals than to perceive their clients concerns from a two-heads-are-better-than-one perspective. All the while, the appellant courts are merely giving cursory reviews of this attorney's shoddy work, blaming the flaws in it on the prisoner instead of their inept "representation."
Why were the majority of these brothers being ignored by their state habeas attorneys. Why? Because there is a critical void in Death Row prisoners' constitutional protection at the state habeas level on down. Mind you, the state habeas corpus is our most important appeal, yet receives the least protection. The state habeas corpus is often referred to as the "Great Writ" in part because of its great importance; it is where everything the lawyer finds during a post-conviction investigation that may help their client, along with all other relevant claims, must be filed or suffer a "procedural bar" where, regardless of merit, the claims are lost forever.
These brothers were being ignored because they are only guaranteed "representation" at this vital stage of their appeal, i.e. state habeas corpus, as opposed to the "effective assistance" guaranteed during trial and the automatic, but less consequential, Direct Appellate stages. As a result, we can't file "ineffective assistance of counsel" claims against our state habeas representation like we can our trial and direct appellant attorneys. Here lies the crux of our dilemma. If the state habeas attorney refuses to represent us, i.e. they ignore our legal concerns, merely filing what they want, we can't write to the court complaining our representation has run amuck because we can only communicate with the courts through our shadow of a representation. Therefore, how can we communicate with the court through "representation" that ignores us? The courts have effectively undermined our most important appellatet stage, substituting it with some superficial "representation" of what it should be.
When I embarked upon researching case-law, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Those "self-help" manuals in the unit's law library wasn't much help at all. Little wonder why so many of these brothers, many of whom don't have a formal education, give up taking any part in fighting their case, merely leaving it all in the hands of their so-called representation. With time limitations on our appeals as well as restricted access to the unit's law library, we have a suffocating space of time for the necessary extensive research most of our lawyers fail or refuse to conduct. However, I couldn't see myself placing my life, utterly, in the hands of a lawyer appointed to me by the "adversarial process"; especially after hearing all the horror stories of lawyers filing one page briefs; filing writs with claims that didn't apply to their clients; and ultimately, as stated above, lawyers ignoring the very people they're suppose to be representing. This was enough motivation for me to persevere through the thicket of contradictory judicial jurisprudence, hoping to find something, anything, that could help my and everyone else's appeals.
The more case law I read, the sicker I became; not only of the type of crimes I read about, but because people, Death Row prisoners, were losing their lives to technicalities—lawyers failing to file claims a certain way, or failing to "preserve" a critical claim for later appeals. In my mind, if a person was convicted unjustly, their conviction was null and void, period. However, the courts act as gatekeepers that grant certain lawyers entrance into justice only if they know—what might as well be—code words in the form of combinations of case law citing, or have backing by powerful organizations or people. Obviously this "justice" is not based on systematic moral principles, but politics. Isn't this what most wars are about? What else would explain why the courts, the Justice System, turns a blind eye and deaf ear toward clear injustices merely because of technicalities in how or when the claims of injustice were filed? I felt spat on. These truths grabbed my conscience by the throat, jape-slapping it until I broke free…falling upon the path that would eventually lead unto my activism.
All the case law I read helped me remember painful portions of my trial drama and gave me ideas how to address certain issues. I poured these ideas and issues of concern into the carbon copied letters I flooded my direct appellant attorney's office with only to find I was addressing issues that were to be raised at the following state habeas stage of my appeal. My direct appellant attorney then forwarded these letters to my state habeas attorney, Scott Sullivan. Over the course of the year Mr. Sullivan "represented" me, I sent him letter after letter reiterating claims, virtually begging him to represent my legitimate concerns, only to become another ignored victim. I felt like puking when he sent me a copy of my writ he filed in my name to the court, devoid of my voice; especially after asking him to let me peruse my state habeas corpus before he filed it.
When the 399th district court in San Antonio, TX, called me back on bench warrant for my state habeas corpus' evidentiary hearing, I had to bribe Mr. Sullivan to address a few key innocence claims I had been fighting –to no avail—to get him to raise. I was feeling desperate and helpless. I was somewhat relieved when he said he would finally address my forced-compromised concerns to the court during the evidentiary hearing. However when the evidentiary hearing was over with, he hadn't addressed these issues he had agreed to earlier. He only told me he would to keep me from jumping up during the evidentiary hearing to express my disdain with his representation of me. I was speechless, dumbfounded. My thoughts and words were taken hostage by the adversary. I could feel, taste my execution date.
Though one part of me felt like my life was over with, the other part of me felt I had to find a way. I thought about all the people before me that had been murdered by the state as a result of this predicament. I thought of all the people that may find themselves in this same predicament if I didn't manage to help bring attention to it. This war was bigger than me. Brothers kept asking me about the status of my case; and though they didn't express it, I could feel their feeble hope. My success would be theirs. I didn't want to become another statistic; another nuclear mushroom cloud blotting out the light of their hope. I feared the fallout. It wasn't just my life I was fighting for. I became their care-package.
I immediately wrote the 399th District Court, certified mail/return receipt, about my representation's failure to represent me, enclosing with it the carbon copies of all my previously written letters to Mr. Sullivan. I asked the court to "freeze all findings of fact and conclusion [a ruling] on the habeas corpus [evidentiary] hearing… and find good cause to have a hearing on this filing to avoid placing my 5th and 14th Amendment rights [due process right] in jeopardy. If not, I wish to respectfully appeal your decision if possible your honor…."
However, Judge Juanita Vasquez Gardner from the 399th District Court, whom presided over my trial, appointed me Mr. Sullivan, and presided over my state habeas corpus appeal, ignored everything I filed to her court. I mean, not even a word. I then went to the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), but they ignored me also. Finally, I went to the State Bar of Texas but they felt Mr. Sullivan was effectively representing me, then pointed me back to the 399th District Ccourt.
Bombs were falling everywhere.
Because of Mr. Sullivan's professional representation, all my innocence-claims have been procedurally barred by Federal Judge Orlando Garcia from ever being heard. My quadriplegic appeal was just wheel-chaired into the notorious 5th Circuit Court, and my hope is mist in my eyes. I'm a gurney-table away from death and I remain with nothing but my heart. In fact, I'm all heart and no-body; a heart pulsating beams of love; a heart aflame for something beyond some false representation of Justice. This heart blazes heavenly warmth for those whose hearts are frozen in shock, in terror, in inaction. Powerful bombs will do that to you. Nevertheless, if the Judicial Persecution System gets to utilize their chemical warfare ("lethal injection") to burst this heart, let this explosion be for change. O' Machinery of Death, your own machinations shall birth your annihilation. And the care-package has been born.