Out of Death Springeth Life

By Robert Pruett, Polunsky Unit, execution date on May 21st

For a couple of months I’d known the day was coming when I’d stand before a judge and be told the date the state of Texas plans to kill me. I tried to get some sleep the day and night before February 11th so I’d be wide awake for the ride down to Beeville, but I was mostly restless in anticipation. It’d been a couple of years since I’d left the unit and could hardly contain my excitement.

It started to look as if they weren’t going to take me out. They hadn’t told me to pack or anything by midnight so I figured the hearing was postponed or the judge decided my presence wasn’t necessary. But then they suddenly came for me after 1am and we were on the road down south by 3am.

When the TDCJ transports inmates they place them in handcuffs and shackles with a chain connecting the two and a black, steel box connected and padlocked to the handcuffs so the inmate can’t get to the locking mechanism. Rumor is an inmate in Florida invented that handy little box. So that was how I was handled before they placed me in the back compartment of the TDCJ van on a narrow, metal bench. Thankfully, the windows were clean and I had no problem seeing the world. Of course it was pitch black dark between Livingston and Houston and I didn’t see much of anything, but as we neared the biggest city in Texas familiar sites began popping up. A lot has changed in the 20+ years since I lived on the north side of H-Town, yet I was swimming in nostalgia passing through it. Then we rode through downtown and I was riveted by the glittering, bright lights of the skyscrapers, hotels, and car dealerships. I usually think of Houston as being anything but aesthetically pleasing, but at night the skyline is spectacular.

After we left H-Town it was dark again and I tried to lay down and relax because I knew we were several hours away from Beeville. There wasn’t any sense in trying to strike up conversation with any of the three guards in the van because they knew all about the case I’m here for and what the hearing was about. From the bars on their uniforms a couple were old veterans, having worked within the system for 25+ years. Good ol boy redneck motherfuckers, with a deep-seated hatred for inmates. Besides, I enjoy silence and used that time to still my mind.

We arrived at Beeville at the break of dawn, about 7am. The parking lot to the courthouse was empty, but a constable soon showed up and entertained the hillbillies until the hearing at 9am. I was escorted in front of the judge and nodded to him. To my surprise he said, “Good morning, Robert.”

The courtroom was packed with TDCJ personnel. In other words, people that hate me and want to see me die. My court-appointed puppet was also present but he was of no help as I asked the judge to please consider setting the date a month or two after the May 21st date the state was asking for. The judge was kind as he explained that there was a lot of coordination and planning involved between the AGs office and TDCJ in selecting a date and that he didn’t want to change it for those reasons alone, but he did say he would consider postponing it if further relevant litigation comes up. He then proceeded to read from his notes that I am to be given a lethal dose of chemicals on May 21, 2013 until which time that I’m dead. I was then escorted out of the courtroom and back to the van, where I might’ve stuck my tongue out at a camera wielding reporter, whom, incidentally, doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground

The sun was bright and shining on the return trip. This is a journey I made many times growing up when we’d go to Corpus Christi or even Beeville to visit family, so I recognized many of the landmarks. The land in south Texas isn’t very fertile; it’s dry, arid and cracking. The trees don’t grow higher than 50 feet either, and most were leafless and gnarly. We passed a lot of dead animals, flying buzzards, old cemeteries with broken tombstones, dilapidated buildings and houses, vehicles on cinder blocks

in front of discolored trailer houses with clothes drying in the yards. I saw rows of barren fields, emaciated livestock, dried up creeks, stagnant rivers and worn out bridges, plus one burnt down house that I could’ve sworn was in the same condition 20 years ago…

The scenery began to change about 50 miles outside of Houston. It started raining some as well. I noticed how the trees grew strong and tall, some over 150 feet. There was an exponential increase in human activity, as vehicles darted into and out of traffic, pedestrians ran for cover at shopping centers and gas stations, until finally we got caught up in a traffic jam, to my utter delight. I caught myself gazing out the windows at people, most of whom were incessantly chatting on their phones. I allowed myself to fantasize about where they were headed, what important appointments they had, who were they talking to, and if they had even the slightest clue that a freshly death sentenced person was watching them. It struck me that probably the vast majority of them were too busy and distracted to appreciate the freedom they have to be able to hop into a car and go wherever they desire, not to mention the beautiful world around them. Most people live their lives constantly on the move, trying to arrive at an unattainable destination somewhere in the future, all the while they’re missing the magical mystery of the present, and that thought preoccupied me in traffic. Of course, I must confess that I, too, got momentarily entangled in wondering what it must be like to be unchained, in my own car, talking on my own phone, headed to work or maybe to the airport to catch a plane to Hawaii or someplace exotic like that…

As we left Houston the human activity decreased, but the further we rode north the greener the landscape became. I stared wide-eyed, with my mouth slightly open, at flocks of birds, strong, flowing rivers, picturesque creeks covered by canopies of trees, and even an algae-covered swamp. There were lots of healthy livestock, flourishing fields of wheat and cotton, and pastures with lots of horses. It truly is gorgeous in most parts of east Texas and I totally soaked up the scenery.

Actually, I was glued to the window the entire trip, and every aspect of it impressed me greatly. By the time we returned to Polunsky unit the theme of the trip was apparent: Out of death springeth life in abundance. The south represented death and decay; from all the hate in the courtroom, being sentenced to an execution date and the whole desolate scenery, the south represented extreme negative energy. Yet as I rode north there came the rain and with it all the transformative properties of the life cycle. I thought about the dead buried in the cemeteries, the lives they lived and the energy they exuded and effected the world with. I thought about the animals deep within the forests, what life must look like through their eyes as they hunt and perpetuate the food chain.

As I contemplated the significance of the trip I remembered the Hindu god Siva, who creates, destroys and recreates the world of forms and space we exist in with his cosmic dance. Throughout the entire trip, even in the courtroom, I kept my composure and felt a deep sense of peace and inner joy from being able to participate in this awesome and mysterious play of energy we call existence. I felt connected to everything and everyone I saw, recognizing the eternal light we all share within.

In spite of its purpose, it was a good trip. Rather than be gripped by fear of what might happen to me in this form, somehow I managed to stay in the moment and receive the universe’s message: everything is energy and energy never dies, it transforms. There’s true freedom in that knowledge. Instead of clinging and holding onto what ephemerally and inevitably fades away, or fearing the end of the forms we currently inhabit, I find true peace and happiness enjoying the moment at hand, without attachment to it. With such an attitude I find that I can truly live and love and allow the energy of the cosmos to flow freely through me. This is what the universe was telling me with that trip. Not to be afraid of dying. We all die, but not all of us alive know how to truly live. My hope is that by recording these experiences and insights others will see the light reflecting within themselves and find true freedom, contentment and peace.