July 4, 1995

Column 4

East Block is an old building, built during the 1930's. A cavernous, dark, loud and smelly building that is freezing in cold in the winters and stifling hot in the summers. The cells are built in the middle of the cellblock. About 30 feet across from the cells are banks of windows which allow light in, but it is subdued light filtered by the dirt and grime on the windows. On the same wall as the windows is an upper and lower gun rail. The upper gun rail watches the top tiers and the lower one watches the bottom tiers. A Guard with paces the length of the unit, armed with a machine gun. All the Guards that are not on the gun rails are required to wear bulletproof vests in case there is an incident where shots are fired they will have protection.

The cells are very tiny. A little over 4 feet wide by slightly longer than 10 feet long. Each cell has a steel plate bed (not a very long bed either, my feet hang over the end) a stainless steel sink and toilet, a shelf and a light that has electrical plugs on it.

I've mentioned before, that if you have the money you are able to buy a TV and a Radio/Cassette player. You can also order a typewriter, tapes, books and ribbons for the typewriter. Up until about a year ago, the prison would allow you to order these items directly from the vender . . . Sears or Penny's. But they have changed it so that you have to now order anything through the prison and they charge you a 10%fee or San Quentin Tax, for anything you order. This is on top of any state and local tax's that you must pay. Plus, the prison now says which vender you can order from. I don't know how they came up with the list of the approved vendors, maybe there is a bidding process, but these vendors have a pretty lucrative enterprise as we are pretty much forced to purchase anything through them. It makes it difficult for someone like myself, I used to ask my friends if they could order ribbons or books from a store and have it sent to me, but now that I have to order everything through the prison, I haven't been able to order anything. I'm not sure what the difference is, but I didn't mind asking friends to order things for me, but asking them to send me money so that I can order things makes me feel uncomfortable.

There are a number of stories about Death Row that are just not true. These stories seem to be told mostly by the groups that front for the District Attorney groups and the various Law enforcement groups. The one that seems to be a favorite mouthpiece for these groups is the Victims Rights organization. The Victims Rights Organization seems to be a favorite mouthpiece of these law groups because the News Media loves to do stories on them. So the Law groups can promote their agenda in a way that gets a lot of support from the public . . . and the News Media can never pass up a chance to do a story that will get a reaction from the public. Even though the News Media knows that the Victims groups are basically a front for the Law groups.

One of the stories about the Row is that we all have cable TV. This is not true. San Quentin has an outlet in each cell that you can put cable into your set, but it is hooked to a central antenna that allows you to get broadcast TV channels and some piped in programs that the prison shows.

Another story that I have seen on the news that isn't true is that we have air-conditioned cells. If there is air-conditioning on Death Row, it is one of the best-kept secrets here. In the winter, it gets so cold in the cells that you can see your breath sometimes. At times I have to go to bed wearing 3 or 4 pair of wool socks, long-johns and if I have them, a pair of sweats . . . all of these that I have had to purchase myself. I don't know what those that do not have the money to buy these things do when it gets that cold. In the summer, it gets so hot that all you can do is strip off all of your clothes and lay on your bunk in your shorts or naked and try not to move. Perhaps the biggest lie promoted by the News Media and told by these Special Interest groups is that we here on Death Row spend years manipulating the courts and laughing up our sleeves. These groups know damned well that it isn't true. The reason that we spend so long on Death Row is because of what these groups have done. They have lobbied politicians and the courts, passing law after law that makes it more and more difficult for a inmate on the Row to go through the appeals process. They have made it so difficult that many of the Attorneys that would normally handle the appeals for condemned inmates have stopped taking our cases because it just isn't worth the headaches that they have to deal with.

I have been locked up for well over 10 years. Almost half of that time was spent waiting for a lawyer to take my case. I was going on 5 years of waiting before I was able to get a Lawyer to handle my appeals. My situation is not an unusual one either. A guy I know has spent well over spent well over 4 years waiting for an Attorney to take his case and there is no sign that it will change any time soon. I do not know this for sure, but I have heard of one guy that has waited close to 7 years for a lawyer to do his appeal. But the Special Interest groups say that it is us that spend all of this time manipulating the courts and delaying our appeals process. Now that these groups have made it almost impossible to find lawyers to do our appeals, they are now trying to pass laws that will limit the amount of time that we have to file on issues that may effect our case. Saying that we have had all that time of sitting on Death Row to take care of these issues, but we didn't, so we shouldn't be able to have the oportunity to do so after such a long delay. I know that there are some people laughing up their sleeves over these delays, but it sure isn't anyone sitting here on Death Row. JUST-US in America!

Well, I was going to talk a bit more about life in East Block, but I seemed to have gotten side-tracked on these other things. It will hold until another time, but for now I'm outta here.