December 17th, 2001

Column 32

Over the years people have asked a lot of questions about Death Row and the death penalty. I wanted to take some of the most common questions and reply to them, even if I've already talked about these things previously. I randomly selected some of them and these are only a few of the questions. Maybe I'll be able to reply to more in the future.

One question that is often asked is what are my days like. There have been a few changes over the years since I originally wrote about it. Many times I stay up all night writing, so I often hear the day starting. At about 5AM it is very quiet in here, unless there is someone yelling or pounding on the access door cover on his bars. I talked before about how they also have prisoners (without the death penalty) here on death row as well. It is usually these prisoners (mostly with mental problems) who are doing this yelling and pounding. Sometimes it lasts all through the night. Between 5AM and 5:30AM you can start to hear activity at the front of the cellblock. This is when the prisoners from the mainline (the main part of the prison) bring in the morning food. So you hear pots and pans being banged together. Between 5:30AM and 6AM the first group of guards show up and they begin getting the food carts together and you hear more pots and pans being banged together. Once they get their carts ready to serve the food, the Guard will come by and unlock all the access covers (they are called tray slot doors) on everyone's cell. The Guard then comes by with the food cart and serves the morning food. About 6AM the second group of Guards come in and will serve the beverage. Then the garbage is collected.

Around 7AM they'll start what is called ‘Yard Release’. This is when those Prisoners who want are taken out to the yard. Before they are allowed to go to the yard, they have to strip naked and all their clothing is searched, then they wear their underwear and carry their clothes to go to the Yard. They allow prisoners to use the yard (there are 6 yards-5 are for condemned prisoners and 1 is for those who are in the ‘Hole’) until about 11:30AM at which time they are then returned to their cells. Each prisoner is escorted by a Guard when they walk to the yard, or return from the yard.

For those who don't go to the yard, they spend this time doing other things. Many work on their appeals, or various legal matters. Others do artwork such as painting or drawing. Others watch TV, or read. It depends on what the prisoner wants to do with their time.

We are allowed 3 showers per week. Each tier has two showers which are converted cells that have the bed, sink and toilet removed and has been tiled and a showerhead installed. Every time we leave our cell (for any reason) they put handcuffs on us and a guard escorts us, even to take a shower.

Around 10AM one of the Guards (each tier has two Guards assigned to it) will pass out paper bags. In the bag is some bread and usually some mystery meat. This is the lunch. By 1PM almost everyone is locked in their cell for the rest of the day, except for those who will take a shower, if they had been to the yard that day. There are also some who are still at a visit at this time.

Monday through Friday, you are allowed to receive legal visits. These are visits from your lawyer, or anyone else who might be working on your legal defense. From Thursday until Sunday, we are allowed to receive what are called ‘regular visits’. These are from family and relatives, etc. Up until May of 2000, we were allowed to visit in a large room from 8AM to 1:3OPM, but because of a fight in the visiting room the prison changed the procedures. They installed these cages (it looks like a dog kennel) and you are allowed to visit in these for two hours, but it is usually less then that because the guards won't come to get you for your visit until your visitor is sitting in the cage. So a 2-hour visit is about 1½ hours in reality.

Between 2:30PM and 3:30PM the tier ward (a new shift of Guards start at 2PM) will pass out any mail that comes in (it usually takes between 2 to 4 weeks for the prison to give us our mail). At about 5PM the Tier Guard (there is one tier Guard after 2PM) will pass out the night food. For those of you who ask what kind of food they give us, it is usually food that can be made for a large (6,000) number of people. So there are a lot of beans and rice and noodles. Things like that. After the nighttime food is passed out and the garbage collected, you are finished with your day until they pass out the food the next morning. So as you can see, there isn't much to a day in here. Every day is basically the same unless the guards are conducting a search of all the cells, or if they have a lockdown for some reason. They seem to have lockdowns every week. When I first got here, there would be a lockdown maybe every year or two. Now it seems to be a weekly thing. One of the guys counted the number of days we were on lockdown in 2000 and it was almost 140 days.

Another question I'm asked a lot is what are the Guards like. It's been my experience that most guards just want to come in and do their job with as little problems as possible and go back home. There are some Guards who like to give people a hard time, but most aren't like that. There are also some guards that are pretty decent considering the circumstances. Most of the problems seem to come from those who aren't the regular Guards. The ‘Supervisors’ if you will. Sometimes it seems like they go out of their way to make things more complicated and difficult. Maybe it is so they will be able to justify their jobs. Creating problems so they can resolve them. Typical bureaucracy kinds of things.

I'm also asked whether we are allowed to work. No, we don't work. Death Row is basically an Administrative Segregation area, or Ad Seg as it's called in here. That is just a fancy name for the ‘Hole’. Ad Seg is always a lockdown area, or high security area, so movement by prisoners is restricted and for security reasons we are not allowed to work.

Another question is whether we have computers and e-mail. No, we are not allowed to have computers. We don't have the Internet, or access to the Internet. We are allowed to buy a typewriter, if the individual has the money to purchase it. But no computers or Internet for us, nor for those in the regular part of the prison either. There may be a few exceptions for the regular prisoners, but I don't know what they would be. Perhaps if they have a prison job that requires it, but that would be the only reason, I think.

I didn't get to answer many of the questions, so I'll try to write again soon and answer some more of the questions. Maybe it's redundant, but these are questions I'm asked often. So until the next time, take care.