“Get Busy Livin’, Or Get Busy Dyin’”

August 2016

Life happens. This past week I experienced such a wide range of emotions as the days ticked off towards August 23rd. On Monday and Tuesday I had visits with Ines, during which we alternated from serious talks to moments of bliss and laughter, but overall had a great time together. Ines is great in that she absorbs everything you say and offers honest (even if challenging!) insights that really strike to the heart of things. And, of course, she has amazing empathy and makes you know you’re truly cared for. So the visits with her were awesome as usual…

Tuesday’s visit was preceded by a trip to see the warden, though. It was August 9th, 21 years to the day that my neighbor Ray was killed, and also time to fill out my 14 day paperwork for the upcoming execution on the 23rd. There were so many dilemmas and serious decisions to make. I tossed and turned the night before as I struggled to decide who to add and remove from my visitation list, who to give certain items of my personal property to, who should sign to handle my remains, witness the execution etc. … None of these are easy choices, and I ended up making last minute adjustments before the warden called me down to the office around 8:30am…

The moment I was escorted into the office Warden Harris told the officers with me, “Remove those handcuffs”. And asked me to have a seat. He sat behind a large wooden desk with all the forms before him, while I sat on a wooden bench in front of him with a captain to one side of me, the major to the other, and two other wardens along with the chaplain in the room as well. I sat amongst these men without hand restraints and it was very awkward at first as that was the first time I had been in a room without cuffs with other humans in nearly 17 years. But in no time I relaxed as Warden Harris began speaking, explaining things pertaining to the forms, asking questions, and engaging in conversation with me. I even cracked a few jokes and had the entire room laughing a few times. ;-) Warden Harris spoke to me very professionally, yet I sensed concern and even kindness in his voice, a sense of humanity that I rarely felt amongst officers and especially higher administration. In fact, I felt much of the same from most of the men in that room. As if they had a job to do that was difficult and wanted to treat me as humanly as possible whilst doing it. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, how it brought me to tears several times since just thinking about how nice it felt to sit amongst humans without restraints, and how much I appreciate such a simple act from the Warden. Every soul’s essence is love, kindness and compassion, yet so many of us block ourselves throughout our lives. So it was nice to feel that from those in charge of securing us here and doing such difficult work as preparing for an execution.

The Warden said he would approve inter-unit visits between my father, brother and I over a month ago, and during the meeting this past Tuesday he affirmed that he’d do what he could to bring them over here. Head wardens tend to have a lot of sway with the administration in Huntsville and since I trust his word I felt it would likely happen. He said it would likely happen sometime before the 23rd, the weekend before most probably. And so many days have been spent contemplating visiting my father and brother, what we’d talk about, how the dynamics would be after all of these years, etc….. I haven’t had a face-to-face encounter with either of them since before we came to TDCJ. We are allowed to correspond, but there’s only so much than can be conveyed in letters, you know? Mostly I felt exhilarated at the thought of being able to look them in the eye and tell them I love them and hold no hard feelings about anything from our past. We all make mistakes that we wish we could take back, and I don’t want them to holding regret and guilt in their hearts for anything and so that talk was also in my mind.

Tuesday the 11th rolled around and I was sitting in my cell listening to the radio, writing letters, and going about my day when Ramiro Gonzales returned from visit with the news that I had received a stay that day!! He said his lawyer told him that his friend had e-mailed him that she saw on some website that I got a stay just before the lawyer came into the unit. Now I trust Ramiro and have no reason to doubt him when he says his friend would never pass such news along without being 100% sure, but there was still a part of me that had to wait to get something more official, you know? Anyone is capable of being misinformed. And the administration had not said anything so … I was excited, yet it was a bit restrained for the time.

The following morning I woke up when the laundry came through and the officer said she was surprised I was still on death watch as she saw online the night before that I got a stay. That was a little more “official”, but still not concrete. Throughout the day I expected the warden to call me out and tell me the news, but nothing ever happened. Could everyone be mistaken? I didn’t think so, but was still coasting along without really being able to celebrate just yet. It then became Friday night and I was still on death watch, so I just presumed that the paperwork hadn’t caught up with the unit yet. It’ll probably happen early this coming week.

I did hear from quite a few people through jpay.com that I definitely got a stay! My attorneys have been in touch with my closest friends and they told as much, so that’s as official as I’m gonna get for now! My attorney should be here to see me early this week to fill me in on the details, but there’s no need to wait for that to celebrate with some tacos and dancing and singing ;-)

I have been in a death watch cell since early January, over 7 months, so it’ll be nice to move out of here this week sometime. It’d be really cool if they move me into a cell with a view of either the sunset or sunrise. But whatever happens, I’m good with it. See, I try to stay open to life and all that comes with it, even death. All of our experiences count and have meaning in my belief. It has been intense at times with 5 execution dates in 4 years; all the uncertainty and possibility of being murdered by the state (apparently some people don’t agree with my use of the word “murder” for what the state does to us in Huntsville. First of all, what else would you call intentionally killing another human being? Secondly, when the state of Texas fills out the death certificate after an execution they write next to Cause of Death: Homicide. So even they recognize it for what it is). But, it has been true exercise for practicing awareness and living in the moment as nothing is guaranteed in life. Except life. And that reminds me of what Andy Dupress said to his friend Red in The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy livin, or get busy dying’”. That’s really sound advice no matter where you are, but especially in prison and on death row. I think so many waste the years of their lives away stressing out over what might happen, all the while what IS happening is passing them right by. I know I have lost a lot of years that way myself, but I’ve been working on being present and trying to make the most of and enjoy what life brings me. When it’s time to release form and pass from this realm, cool. I’ll stay open to that as well. But in the meantime, I got a stay!!! ;-) And I’m gonna continue to stay busy livin’.

Love and Light

Robert