November 2015: A Solitary Challenge

We all knew it was coming. Every time there’s a changing of the guard new policies are implemented. New wardens, majors and captains like to show their underlings and we inmates that there’s a new sheriff in town. They rarely make changes that benefit us or alleviate the strain of this place. Instead, they seemingly try to one-up their predecessors by making things even worse for us. Such tactics helped those before them get upgraded in rank and so why wouldn’t they follow suit? You’d think that prison administrators would be a little more cautious with us in solitary confinement considering all of the backlash from the media, some politicians and even the psychiatric community regarding the debilitating effects of long-term isolation, but not so with the TDCJ. Even Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently said, “Research still confirms what this court suggested over a century ago; Years on end of near-total isolation exact a terrible price.” (See: USA TODAY’s November 5, 2015 edition.)

Some of you might’ve already heard about how we’re now ordered to step out of our cells backwards with the handcuffs on and step into our shoes before being escorted anywhere. At first the officers were told to help us into our shoes and tie them up, but I guess they figured that potentially threatened the staff (say if some inmate decided to assault one of them while they were bent over) so now we’ve got to walk up and down the stairs with our shoes untied. How is that not a safety issue for US? Another new policy that just came out today reduces our hours for recreation. We were getting 2 hours a day for 5 days a week. Now it’s 2 hours a day every other day. So one week you’ll get the 4 days of rec and the next week just 3 days. I don’t go to rec every chance anyways, but many dudes here are freaking out because being in these small cells wears on their minds and they like to get out as much as possible. Of course there are other negative changes concerning our cells being in compliance and when we’re allowed to throw out trash, but these are minor in comparison. Nevertheless, it all adds up to the TDCJ finding new and creative ways to keep their foot on our collective neck.

It’s astonishing to think that next month will mark 16 straight years for me in solitary confinement. Seems like just yesterday I had my first ad seg door slammed on me and I was ordered rather viciously to back up to the door to have the hand restraints removed. I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun, huh?! ;-) Ok, so maybe this place isn’t as fun and exciting as I sometimes make it sound. The truth is this is an extremely oppressive environment that has broken many strong men. I haven’t always handled it well. I remember the anger and hate that used to build up within me, how I’d act out against the staff and demand I be treated with respect. Or how socially awkward I felt talking to a visitor for the first time. More than once I would wish it all away. Not just life in solitary, but life period.

Somehow, I managed to break out of those negative patterns of thought and behavior. And over the years I have tried to help others in here and be a source of positivity. But we each interpret reality differently and tend to deal with things in our own ways. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. To me the harder the experience the greater the opportunity  for growth, but that doesn’t mean I agree with what they are doing to us here or that it’s right in any way.

I hope I haven’t missed the bus on all of this? I mean, I have been wanting to write more regularly about the conditions here, the death penalty in general, and share my thoughts and insights on things. Back when the BBC first aired the Life and Death Row series so many people were drawn to my story and seemed to pay attention to what I said. I hope I haven’t lost all of you? There is a lot on my mind that I want to express and I plan to make more of an effort. I recently read that scientists thinks they’ve discovered evidence of parallel universes. Imagine that; universes in which countless realities from our own. One scientist thinks that light from one or more of these universes has been “leaking” into this one. How cool would it be to peak into one of these universes and see a reality where there’s no death penalty, no solitary confinement and oppressing one another? I wouldn’t mind living in a universe like that. Or at least one in which I’m free and a rock star playing arenas all over the world! ;-) Hey, if I’m goona dream I might as well dream big, right?! ;-)
Life is a dream. Dreamlike anyways. But we’re waking up, slowly but surely.

Love and Light
Robert