The Man Behind the Mask – Richard Cobb

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

How much do we really know about a person? The word personality itself is derived from the Latin “persona”, meaning a mask worn by an actor on stage. All of us put on a different face depending on the audience. You don’t talk to your parents the same way you would your child, nor your spouse the same way you do your coworker. All we can ever know about someone is what they allow us to, the various masks they present.

I didn’t meet Richard Aaron Cobb, whom most here on the Row knew as Psycho but his closest friends called Richard or Richie, until the Fall of 2004. He was relatively fresh off the streets and no doubt battling the demons that come with the lifestyle and actions that lead him to this hellhole. Then there was the stigma of being white in a racially charged environment with a co-defendant that was black who’d raped one of the female victims in the crime. So I only got to see a limited side to Richard early on, a guarded and untrusting one.

Over the years I got to know Richard on a level that very few in this place ever did. We experienced so many things on this building together that brought us as close as brothers. Some of the things that drew me to him were his sharp intellect, his highly creative mind, the deep and poetic way he expressed himself, and his wicked sense of humor. Most here would agree that Richard Cobb was one funny motherfucker. I remember being sent to F-pod (the disciplinary pod where you have almost nothing in your cell) in December of 2010 and living next door to him. We talked all day and night through the crack in the wall about everything under the sun. All of his jokes and myriad of impressions had me rolling off my bunk! I’m a bit of an impressionist myself, so the dialogue was hilarious, or at least we thought so. Despite the circumstances, that was one of my favorite Christmases and New Years in prison.

Richie grew leaps in bounds in the years that I knew him. I recall how embarrassingly naïve he was when we first met, when some asshole guard tried to jack him for his food. He screamed at the picket, “Get me some rank down here or I’ll kick this door!” Um, we had to explain to him that him kicking the door was the least of their concerns. Dudes have kicked doors for hours and all they got were sore legs! He was an avid reader and very deep thinker. For awhile there he followed the Christian path with great diligence, mastering his fears and desires in ways that astound me still. Seriously, who goes 9 months without masturbating!? He once challenged me to see who could go the longest and I was a goner after just 6 days, still a record for me! The boy had discipline. He was a workout warrior, could go days without eating even though his locker was stocked with food, and his word was impeccable back here. If he told you he’d do something it was done, period. Most importantly, though, he continued to strengthen his mind during his time here. We often spent hours at a time discussing politics, religion, philosophy, psychology and any subject that would make you pause to ruminate. His insights were quite often refreshing, lucid and poignant.

I was lucky enough to have Richard as my neighbor the last couple of months here on Death Watch. The day I walked into the section he told me he envisioned me showing up and living beside him. He joked that he needed to stop manifesting shit because he also imagined his execution and he was NOT ready to die! We became closer here, in these cells with cameras observing us 24/7. Watching others before us die, we discussed our own cases, recounted anecdotes from our lives, joked constantly, and delved even deeper into the mysteries of existence. He told most people here that he was a Satanist, that he worshipped the devil. I understood it was a shock value, just as he’d tell a female who tried to preach Jesus to him that he couldn’t believe a woman would worship a man with a dick! We had that in common, saying shit to shock people. But the truth is Richard Cobb was a very spiritual person. He was a seeker of truth, and I believe he found the light inside him that connects us all together. I believe he found some peace and centeredness, as evidenced by the things he said at the end; beautiful sarcasm to the warden aside! :-)

The point is, Richard Cobb wasn’t evil. Evil is ignorance, something Richard’s 29 year old self was far from. He knew he’d made horrible choices in his life, that he hurt innocent people, and he tried to figure out why he’d become the person who’d done such things. I won’t smear anyone from his youth, but he had one fucked childhood. When we were alone he sometimes told me things he never told anyone. I can not only still hear the pain but feel it in my bones. He knew there was no excuse for his actions as a teenager, but he also realized that torturing him for 10 years on death row and, after he matured mentally, killing him wasn’t exactly justice either. Sure, his 18 year old self might’ve put him here, but it makes me sad to think of the world of potential, positivity and light his 29 year old self had to offer, yet the state of Texas erased it all with the push of a needle.

I’m so grateful that I got to know and love Richard Cobb, that I got to spend his last night alive with him. He’d gone into “the forest” the Monday before his murder, after his visit that day. He was deep into meditation and yoga so I presume he was doing some of that, getting centered and preparing. He came out the next morning and seemed a bit more reserved than I ever knew him to be, but we still had a great time together those last few days. I’m not sure how he spoke to those in the free world, those he was closest to, but in here he rarely told anyone he loved them. He felt that many used the “L” word for manipulative purposes se he refrained from it… most of the time. But I had to tell him in the wee hours of the 25th that I’ve truly enjoyed every moment we shared and that I love him, that he’ll be greatly missed. He sorta surprised me by saying, “You are my eternal brother! I love you on a level beyond this physical plane! We shall meet again in Valhalla, in Odin’s Hall, where we’ll fight together, sing, dance, and drink lots of mead!” I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

As he was leaving out of the section for his last family visits I touched his fingers through the screen of my door and told him we’d meet again. He wore that signature Psycho smile we all know and love! I started singing one of his favorite Mudvayne songs, “Not Falling” but hushed up after the first line so others could say goodbye. But he did look back at me before he left the section and smiled, “I’ll see you in HELL!”

Gotta love that boy.

He kept his sense of humor until the end and that warms my heart. The last joke he ever made to me went something like, “One way or another, however this turns out, I WILL get the best sleep of my life tonight!”

There were many layers to Richard, sides to him I never met, and he certainly wore many masks throughout the course of his life, as we all do. I can’t say I knew him in the ways that some of you did, but the parts of him that shone the brightest to me were his willingness to grow and learn, his kindness and compassion, sharp wit and sense of humor. I’d like to believe that I saw him at times without all the masks, unguarded and his true essence fully revealed: pure light. More importantly, I believe he understood it at the end of his life and he truly hoped for healing for his victims, family and the rest of us.

You can rest in peace now, Richie. You are a resplendent source of light in the minds and hearts of all who got the chance to love you. See you in Valhalla, Brotherman.