Written by John:
ROPER VS. SIMMONS :
"As many of you who will read this know a historical event occurred in the state of Texas on March 1st, 2005. The United States Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Roper vs. Simmons, it was unconstitutional to execute anyone under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense. In the state of Texas, 29 people on death row fell under this ruling. I was one of them! I wanted to write a small account of my journey.
On March 1st, 2005, I was in my cell on death row, I remember hearing a few people start hollering section to section talking about a Supreme Court ruling
that we had been waiting on. Roper v Simmons! I switched my radio over to Kstar country news and what I heard gave me one of the best feelings I have had, it said the U.S.S.C. had, in a 5-4 NARROW
ruling, banned the executions of juveniles. SO many lives saved by just one, ONE, vote! When I heard it myself I was filled with joy but still not sure of how I should react. I thought to myself did
I hear what I think I heard? When I heard the confirmation applause and hooping and hollering from throughout the pod I knew it was the real thing! All I could do is smile! SMILE! I had the greatest
feeling inside but I knew that I had to be very discreet in showing my joy from where I was. There was only 29 of us that fell under that ruling compared to the 450 plus death row prisoners! Even
though I was overjoyed and wanted to yell out in joy, I restrained myself to spare the feelings of those around me. Shortly after the ruling , while I waited to hear word on what would happen next, I
went about my daily living on the row. Having one hour a day rec and spending the other 23 hours in the cell. One thing I noticed was several people living around there had started acting different.
A few people that I had never even spoken a word to before started talking smack, trying to start up some trouble. I just contributed it to jealousy, I know I would be if I was on the other side of
the ruling. I just ignored the negativity and went about my business waiting on word of WHEN I would leave death row. I was arrested January 3rd, 1995 and sent to death row in November of
1996, almost a decade spent on death row. In 1999 the prison system locked all of death row in Texas down to Ad Seg level because of an escape that happened. Ad Seg means locked in a single cell by
yourself, no human contact at all, only one hour out of the cell a day and that hour is spent alone, every time you left that cell it was in chains and restraints, like an animal! No TV, the cell is
like a tomb, only a small slither of a window at the very top of the back wall. On the front of the cell is a solid steel door. The conditions were very bad to say the least, the very least! Very
inhuman, an incubator for insanity, which many did go crazy and more than a few killed themselves, or dropped their appeals and let the state do it for them. All these years of being on death row,
seeing friends all around me murdered by the state. When I first heard about the ruling I could only think of the ones already gone who could have benefitted from it. All the good solid woods and
standard prisoners that I had come to know and one day they are told to pack up, they are moving to A pod (death watch), then 30 days later you read in the paper the state murdered them. That is one
thing everyone dreaded, to be told to ‘pack up, you’re moving’ you didn’t want to hear you were going to A pod! All these thoughts going through my mind and many, many more, too many to write here or
I’d never finish this, it would turn into a book! SMILE!
MAY 2005 :
After several weeks of celebrating the ruling, I began to wonder what was going on! It had already fallen into the first of May and nothing had happened, I was still sitting in the same cell on death row. Finally on May 11th, an escort team came to my cell and told me I had to go to the Major’s office to sign some papers. I went down there and there were several people in there, the main two people that spoke said they were representatives from the Board of Pardons and Parole of TDCJ, They handed me a piece of paper and told me to sign it, and said they were there to notify me that the Board had reviewed my case and they had all voted in favor of commuting my sentence and would send their recommendations to the Governor of Texas. What? Voted in favor? They did not have a choice in the matter, they had to commute my sentence due to the U.S.S.C. ruling! I refused to sign the form, I do not trust this system, they are crooked and corrupt! It seemed suspicious to me. I was thinking to myself, is this a trick? Could this be somehow a way of forfeiting my appeal if I sign? Would this be saying I agree to a life sentence? NO WAY, no way will I sign an agreement for a life sentence when I am an innocent man! I should not even be in prison in the first place! They quickly put the handcuffs back on me and wrote on the form I refused to sign it, gave me a copy and sent me back to my cell. I heard that several others also refused to sign as well! Smart men! That same night, they came over the speaker and told me to pack up I was moving. I slowly asked where I was going. They said F pod! I hear them tell the others over there they are moving to F pod as well. F pod is a disciplinary pod where they put trouble makers and assaultive prisoners. The cells have big plastic shields over the front of the steel doors and big steel boxes over the bean slot where they give you your tray through. They moved all 29 of us down there in E and F section of F pod. They moved out death row level 2 and 3 to put us over there. We could only come to the conclusion that it was their last little FU by placing us in disciplinary housing and telling us that is where we will live until we leave. Well, at least we knew things were moving along, it shouldn’t be long now.
JUNE 2005 :
May rolled into June and nothing! I was getting restless by this time! I was ready to leave that hell hole! Then on June 20th, they came on the speaker and tell me and my neighbor to pack up, we were moving, they were moving all of 2 row. When I asked where we were going, I got the dreaded response, ‘You’re going to A pod’ WHAT? My next words, ‘I want to see some rank now!’ The rank got down there and told us we were going to 53 and 54 cell, side by side, because they needed these cells for population Ad Seg. A pod, F section is ‘Death Watch’, that is where they house everyone with execution dates. We moved to A pod, D section. Only a couple of sections over from the ones with dates! I can tell you that was a reality check for real, especially with the fact I had two friends that I have known for many years about to be executed! Only good thing about the move is I could pay my last respects before their dates. After a few days over there I was listening to the radio and I heard Governor Perry had signed off on the Board of Pardons and Parole’s recommendations to commute all of our sentences. Another round of celebrations followed! Me and my neighbor made a feast that night! We knew it would not be long now! The next night, June 23rd, they called me out to the office, my neighbor as well. They took us down there and it was the same people again from the parole board, same woman with the papers they wanted me to sign. I told her I would have to read the forms first before signing, she turned the forms towards me and said it was a copy of my commutation papers the Governor had signed, and notification my sentence had been commuted. I read the forms and the way it was worded made me uncomfortable, so no way I was going to sign it for the same reason as before. The form said ‘Sentence commuted FOR life imprisonment in TDCJ’, not sentence commuted TO life. They like playing word games in the Texas legal system, you’d have to know the system to understand just how seriously ONE WORD can affect you and your appeals or even being allowed to any appeal. So I refused to sign and they sent me back to my cell.
NEXT CHAPTER OF MY LIFE:
The following day, the 24th, it was outside rec day. On death row they have two small triangle shaped rec yards divided by bars and wire mesh, so that two
people can be out at the same time. Me and my neighbor went outside about 10am, we had not been out there 10 minutes when the rank came out and told us both we had 10 minutes to pack up our property
that we were on the chain to the Byrd Unit, which is a transfer unit that processes prisoners for new numbers and sentences. We were both excited as we waited for the laws to come get us. But as soon
as I came in through the outside rec door, you walk right into F section, reality hit again. Especially when I look over and I see a long time friend with his execution date only 6 days away standing
at his door looking at me leaving that place, leaving that hell on earth. I looked at him, searching my mind for the right words to say...nothing but blank stares filled the space until I said ‘stay
strong friend and keep your chin up!’ With that, I was gone, went back to my cell and packed up my belongings. Within 10 minutes the rank came back to collect the property bags, they said the vans
will be there to transport us in less than an hour and be ready! Finally, the time had come, leaving that hell on earth, moving onto the next chapter of my struggle, the next chapter of my life.
Within 45 minutes they were at my door saying ‘let’s go’! They took me, stripped me naked, only gave me a jumpsuit to put on. They tried to make me give up my tennis shoes as well, I refused! No way,
I am not going to a new prison barefoot, got to be crazy! After several minutes of debate, and me not coming out of the legal booth they had stripped me in, they finally agreed to let me wear my
shoes, ‘but not socks’. Here I go, butt naked, only a jumpsuit and shoes, no socks on, chained down from head to toe. Wobbling down the hall towards the front of the door of the death row building,
thinking the whole time this will be the last time I ever have to walk down this hall again! THANK GOD! I got outside and there were 3 vans waiting. They took me to the last van and I wobbled over to
it I heard some tapping on the small cell windows, I look up, my friend looking back, damn..I feel bad. Me, a step closer to my freedom and him, about to be murdered by the state. Damn!
They loaded us up in the van, they took only 14 of us that Friday, 7 in one van, 7 in another and then they loaded up all our property in the third van. Once everyone was loaded up, we left! When we first got in the van, everyone was talking a lot, all excited and happy, but once we left the unit and started driving down the road, going through towns and cities, everyone fell silent as we all craned our necks to see this and that and just the freedom and people! Things so simple that people don’t realize can mean so much or miss until it’s taken away! Everyone was in awe! They took us to the Byrd Unit, we got there they brought us all to a secluded wing with 15 cells only. It was 24 hour lock down! The cells were smaller than on death row, only 5 by 9. We were just glad to be off death row so noone complained too much. They were actually good to us over there, once we left the Polunsky Unit, everything changed. They actually started treating us...human! The wardens of that unit would come over everyday and ask if everything was alright and such. We still had to wear handcuffs when going to the shower or to get fingerprinted, etc. but things were getting a little bit better. The warden told us we would not be there long because they wanted to get rid of us quick! Out of the wardens own mouth he said that this death row move had turned into a big political thing and there was a lot of bigwigs around and they did not want anything to do with all the stuff, so they were going to get all of us out there as fast as possible, and he was right. Within a week they shipped out 5 dudes! They brought the rest of the juveniles that next Monday and put them on different wings somewhere else, we never saw them. Over the next couple of weeks people started leaving, a few here and a few there. I knew my turn would come soon!
FROM DEATH ROW TO GENERAL POPULATION :
Finally on July 14th they told me to pack up that I was leaving the next morning! That was a relief too, staying in that small cell 24 hours a day, I was starting to get cabin fever!! The following morning, July 15th, about 5am they were at my door saying ‘lets go’. For the first time they gave me regular pants and shirts. No more jumpsuit. They still handcuffed me though. I was the only ex death row leaving that morning on the chain. I figured I would be able to blend in with the regular population prisoners and these laws would stop treating me so different, with so much extra security. When I got down there to the going out area at Byrd, there were 4 big cages, as I walked up I could see the two cages on the left had like 30 in one and like 20 in the other, then the two on my left had one dude in the front and the other one was empty. We stopped and the guy standing there with the clipboard asked the law ‘is that the death row?’ the other one replied ‘yes’. The guy turned and opened the empty cage and put me in by myself..Damn, they singled me out again! I asked what the purpose of this was and why was I being singled out when I am not in Seg. The law told me that he did not know, that they had only told him to put me in the cage by myself for Seg transport. Basically saying because of where I had come from, the row! This means I’m going to be chained down again from head to toe, an hour passes and the van comes, me and another guy are chained, loaded up and away we go! It was starting to get light out so I could see all the people and cars and such going down the road. This was a big event for someone that has been looking at nothing but cement and steel in a seg cell on death row since 1999 when they moved us from Ellis to Polunsky. First we went to the Wynne unit and dropped off someone, from there we went to the Walls unit, where they conduct executions! Drove me in the back way, went through in all kinds of gates and fences, way deep into the compound. We pulled up to the door and they went inside while one law watched me in the van. When they emerged from the building they had 9 more prisoners in tow! This van was not that big, but they packed us all in like sardines. From there we drove to the Ferguson unit and dropped off 7 of the ones we had picked up, and picked up another one who was getting released that day! They were driving him back to the Walls unit. Finally we got to the Eastham Unit, got here about noon. Unloaded me and two others and then the van left. They took us straight to Seg and singled me out again, this time there was no mention of death row, the guy did not have nothing but a little sheet of paper on me. He said that since I was not Seg they were going to put me in transit housing until they could run classification on me to see what status I would be. They took all the chains off me and put only handcuffs behind my back, brought me to a transit lockdown single cell wing, basically like a solitary wing. All lockdown. Then they said that since it was Friday that I would probably not hit classification until Monday! I was kind of upset about this because I felt like they were singling me out again and treating me different because of where I came from, even though I had been officially commuted. Well, luckily there was a law I came in contact with (have to be discrete here as I don’t know who might read this) the day I arrived, during the course of us talking and me explaining my situation and how much I just wanted some freedom and to be treated fairly like everyone else, he took a liking to me. We talked for about an hour and he said he would go and make a call and would be right back. He came back to the cell and said to get ready they would come and get me for classification right now! Within 15 minutes they pulled me out to go to classification! SMILE! That is an example of the good ole’ boy system in Texas, it’s a good thing when or if you can tap into it. Lucky I was! They took me to classification and put me in this like fence holding area, waiting for my turn. Then this old man came out from the classification room and told the laws to take the cuffs off me, they did and that was the last time I had cuffs on! He told me to come into the office, and I have to say, that old timer was the first one I came into contact with that actually treated me with normal human respect. Him and the other man I talked to that made the call for me. The old man was the fist one that just acted totally normal around me since the beginning of the journey, everywhere else I went the laws had acted scared of me just because I had come from death row. Even after he had them take my cuffs off and the laws left, it was only me and him in that office area, he told me to come on to follow him, and he walked in front. I felt...human again. We went inside the office and there was a warden and several other people, I sat down and they basically asked me bunches and bunches of questions. We talked for 30 to 45 minutes. I told the warden flat out, I wanted some freedom and to give me a chance. They told me to step outside for a moment, I was outside the door, standing there by myself, no one around, all these offices, and NO handcuffs. I have not been like that since before I was arrested, Jan 3rd, 1995. It felt weird to say the least, this is when I first realized how much my life was about to change. Then they called me back into the office, the warden said they were going to start me off as a G3, line one, and it would be up to me whether I go up or down in status. I had to ask what does G3, line one mean?? I am used to being level one, two or three on death row. He told me that is basically where every regular prisoner coming into the system starts out brand new. While he’s talking I am thinking to myself, finally I’ll have a chance to blend in with others and not be singled out by these laws! After fielding about 30 more minutes of questions they told me to get my stuff from the cell I was in and then go to the desk and get a housing slip of where I would live. No more handcuffs!! SMILE! I walked down the hallway like normal, but lost, I did not know where none of the doors went to! There were steel doors all along the sides of the main hallway. I just walked until I saw the door that I had come out, then asked the law in the hallway how to get in there, she laughed and asked me if I was new on the unit, I replied ‘yes’! Finally I can blend in. So she says just knock on the door and they will open it. So I go in there and get my property, come out and go to a main desk in the middle of the unit hallway, they give me a slip with a wing and cell number. I ask directions. The desk rank tells me and I go that way. I walk all the way across the unit, down the hall, this in itself is an experience after being locked down for so long! I get to the wing and showed the officer the slip and she let me in. I came into the cell and saw another person in it, it has two bunks in it and it is only a 5x9 cell with a toilet and sink in it. This is when I realize I am about to live in this cell with a cellie! A small cell like this with two of us in here, it is mighty crowded! Actually I lucked out, My cellie is a small old man from Laos. At least I did not get some 500 pounder that takes up the whole cell, thank GOD! I unpack and ask my cellie what time do they run rec, it’s almost 4pm by this time. He told me they run chow at 4:30 and rec from 7-9pm! I get dressed and ready to fall out on the next in and out. Finally, it’s 4:30, I waited on the run with everyone else until they opened the wing door, then I followed all the traffic to where everyone else was going. It was really weird being around all these people, actually I felt very paranoid. When I got the chow hall it as a big open area with lots of tables. There were so many people, WOW, what a change! I kind of felt shell shocked!! After being in the chow hall with about 200 people, I followed the flow of people back out, really I was lost! Did not know where I was going. I spotted a couple of bald heads that came from the same wing as me, so I just followed them back to the wing. They racked everyone up for count, so everyone was in their cells for about an hour until count cleared and during that time I was just letting all this sink in, doing a lot of thinking. Trying to adjust. Finally they called outside rec, everyone to come out on the run that is going outside. I came out on the run and lined up with everyone else and just followed the crowd down the hallway to the far other end of the prison, then we got to two big double doors, they took us all through there and stripped us naked, searched the clothes then let us get dressed, opened up the door to the outside yard. When I walked out there I could not believe how big this area was, it was like 2 football fields and has a basketball court, handball court, a track and several sets of weight machines, and LOTS of grass and dirt! I had to just stand in one spot and take it all in first. I caught the fence and just scooped out the whole area, and all the people out there, there were probably close to 300 people on the yard. People everywhere! I was just stunned by it all, I couldn’t believe how everything looked, I guess most of you reading this cannot understand where I am coming from when I talk about this, but after spending all this time on death row, since 1996, then being locked down in 1999 to basically solitary confinement with no human contact or access to even direct sunlight for all those years, it really affects you. I did not truly realize how much it did and how it affected me until that Friday night on the rec yard. To be totally honest, it has damaged me mentally a little bit. Anyone that has ever been locked up under the conditions I was, will understand. Anyway, I was on the outside rec yard, it was still daylight when I got there, I just stood there checking everything out. After about 30 minutes I started to just walk around the track, which circles the whole rec area. I slowly walked around the track just looking at everything, the grass, the dirt, breathing the air, smelling the smells in the air, looking at different birds, watching the people run around, thinking about my life, getting lost in thought. That was the first time I have walked on dirt or grass in 10 years! First time I’ve been able to walk with out being fulled chained up in years! I don’t know what I must have looked like out there, I was shell shocked for real! I think people noticed that too because no one came within 10 feet of me the whole two hours! HA! I truly did not realize how deprived and inhuman the living conditions were on death row until that night! I guess I just got so used to living like that over there that I did not notice it. Like a survival instinct to adapt to your environment. I guess that is what took over at Polunsky that allowed me to maintain the inhuman and evil conditions! I feel bad for all the ones I left behind and have to still live in those conditions. Especially the friends I left behind. I basically grew up on death row, got locked up at 17 years old, hit death row when I was 19 years old, and now got off death row at 28 years old. I grew up there, so it will always be a part of my me, my life. But now I move into the next chapter of this journey called life. I am just thankful and grateful and thank GOD every night that I have the support and love of some wonderful people out there, without that love and support I don’t think I would have made it this far in the struggle! I don’t think people realize how truly important and special that love and support is to someone in the situation I came from and going into right now! It is essential to survival! That first night, going outside, I just cannot explain in words all the feelings, and emotions I had. Watching as the sun went down and then seeing the moon come up. It was absolutely amazing! No chains, no laws standing on both sides of me, no harassment, no being locked in a cell, it was like I had come into a totally different world. I’ll never forget my first night out there, the way I felt, inside. It is something I have been trying to put into words but the more I type this, the more I realize that it was just so amazing that there is NO way I will ever find the right words to put down on paper. It was a spiritual experience. For the first time I think it truly hit me, I’m off death row, it’s not some trick of the system that has oppressed me all these years, it is really real, not a dream. When I was walking around out there I had to pinch myself a couple of times just to make sure that this was not a dream. When I got to the back corner of the rec yard I took my shirt off and laid down flat in the grass, just to feel the grass on my body, laid there for a few minutes. Grabbed a handful of dirt and let it fall between my fingers back to the ground, then pinch myself again! Thank you Lord! I said a prayer right there on the yard. I made it!
THE STRUGGLE IS NOT OVER :
But, my struggle is not over. Now that I have been commuted, they gave me capital life sentence, which means they will make me pull 40 calender years before even coming up for parole! That is a life time! Also, they took my court appointed attorney, in the state of Texas you are only appointed an attorney for death sentence appeals, not regular prison time. That is why there are more prisoners in the state of Texas than any other state!! The don’t give poor people lawyers! Now I have to raise enough money to pay an attorney to handle my appeal.
Any donation will be greatly appreciated, no matter how big or small. In the name of justice, please help me! I have come too far in this struggle to stop here. They took my lawyer, but we can’t let it stop, and I need your help to keep this struggle going. Please consider making a donation. Contact me directly or email@example.com.
I’d like to send a heartfelt and sincere **THANK YOU** to all who have been with me in my struggle. Thank you for all your help, love and support! We have won a victory and we should all celebrate! We are half way there, but the struggle is not over yet. It will not be until the scales of justice are set straight, and my full freedom is returned! Which will happen in time!
Sending peace, love, harmony and respect to all who read this!
In my struggle fighting for justice,