LEVEL REVIEW

For those that have remained posted to my situation you will know about how I had been kept on Close Custody for a year- an environment that was only slightly different from the one I just left. It was a test of all tests. Mentally and spiritually. What these people attempted to place on me as only a year was in fact something way beyond that- it was a 12-year wait. It was a 12-year wait that should have never had to be.

The weekend had passed and the 2nd had approached. Usually when you have an appointment somewhere (Medical, Attorney visit- amongst a few things) you receive a notice the day before. I didn’t receive a notice that I would be attending Classification on this day, so I was caught off guard when an officer came to my cell and said I was wanted for Classification review. I had thought that maybe they would purposely make me wait until the last date for the review- the 5th. But the day had come.

I put on my best whites and took the stroll to the Classification office. There I was faced with the same Major (Ambriz) that I had when I was denied at my 6-month mark. This time he was flanked by 2 new women. I was told to take a seat and my file was gone through. At our last meeting 6 months ago my review ended with a denial and a verbal protest from me. I didn’t know how this one would end. While I knew I had a chance to get my full level I didn’t expect it. I expected a partial upgrade and in the back of my mind I expected some excuse for another denial.

The Major went through my file and stated- “The computer suggests G2.” I didn’t give the slightest response. I knew that there had to be 2 out of the 3 agreeing, but I also know that they make these decisions ahead of time. The woman to Abriz’s left asked if there was any disciplinary. Ambriz responded only one, but it was minor and had no bearing. So, with that no more inquiry was given and Ambriz marked on the paper- “G, line 1.” When he did that the lady looked up at me and I couldn’t help but to at that point let off a slight smile. “You can take the cuffs off of him now.” And that’s what it was. My files were wrapped up and the Major excused me on my way. Without as much as a peep I slid on out the door with some pep in my step and I hit the pavement for the first time without the steel rings around my wrist. In the short time that I’ve been on the Unit I’ve come to know a few people- many guys having read about my case in Texas papers and when they saw me on the sidewalk they couldn’t help but to extend a fisted salute and a smile. Without a doubt I reciprocated it.

I returned to my cell, packed all my property and left Close Custody. I gave my greetings to those I associated with and walked out the door with a lot of support from those that knew what I had been through. As one brother would tell me in a heartfelt way- “You have to remember, you’re an inspiration to a lot of us.”

I was immediately sent to 4 building- A.side of the prison. A.side being what’s considered the “good” side of town- whereas 8 building (close custody and majority medium custody) is known as the not-so-good side. The ghetto of the city! It’s a whole different way of life on this side- clean walls, jobs, but sadly all coated with a mentality that you better not mess up otherwise all of this can be taken from you at the blink of an eye. I was already prepped by brothers who had been over here about the officers that abuse their authority and also like to be playful. Neither of these things are things that I’m used to, but I realize that if I am to put myself in a position where I can enjoy the fruits of my and my people’s struggles then I must be smarter than my adversaries. As Ralph W. Trine said: “When apparent adversity comes, be not cast down by it, but make the best of it, and always look forward for better things, for conditions more prosperous.” I realize everyday will be a struggle, so like a babe once again I take baby steps.

I spent my first few days walking around to chow, just soaking up the days. By this time I had hugged and been hugged at least 100 times by brothers I knew or had heard about me. Men I didn’t even know came up to me and shook my hand because they had read about my struggle. One guy had read about my daughter in the Bay Review! It was all a beautiful thing. But at the same time I was as lost as a kid in an amusement park. I had to ask some of the brothers where to go, what such and such means and how to do this or that. It’s often followed by a little laugh from them, but always by a pat on the back, because they realize for the last 8 years I have been boxed within a box. In all actuality out of my 12 years of incarceration I had only spent maybe a little over 3 years around other inmates (before the isolation at Polunsky in 2000- and those 3 years include the 11 months I spent in the county jail). So, this is an accomplishment beyond words- no more cuffs everywhere I go. No more isolation. Of course, anything could happen from day to day to drop my levels again. I know that. All I can do is walk my walk and deal with what comes my way. I definitely am not entertaining any thoughts that my struggles are over forever.

I was immediately given a job working in the kitchen (not that I need to be around any food judging by some of the teases I’ve gotten from the few pounds I’ve put on. I guess some people forgot that my greyhound look back then was compliments of Polunsky oppression that we had to protest and go and entertain hunger strikes and no commissary for months at a time. That’s caustic humor for those that didn’t know. I don’t regret any of it.) The kitchen would prove to open a few other doors to me (not just the refrigerator ones). I came across 2 guys that I knew on death row- Johnny Bernal and Raymond Cobb. Both were freed from death row in 2005 when the juveniles were freed. These weren’t close friends of mine, but were guys I had met. Nevertheless we hugged each other like we were long lost brothers. We spoke a bit about our personal situations back then and currently and then parted to finish work (though we’ll definitely be seeing more of each other from day to day). But again, the best was yet to come.

Victory Day

It had been awaited for longer than I could remember. Now as a G2, line 1 I could qualify for contact visits and my day had come. September 6th I was called from work for my first visit as a G2. I went back to my cell, showered and pulled on my freshly starched whites. I adorned my boots- checked the mirror one last time and walked with a mean swagger to my visit. Once there I would be told to go to table 15; and there was the greatest thing in the world waiting for me- my amazing grandfather who had raised me and been my rock for the majority of my life. I walked up behind him and gave him a hug. He rose with a great smile and hugged me back. We embraced even tighter and I gave him a kiss on his cheek. The smiles between us could have lit a black hole in the universe. We clasped hands and rejoiced at the day. We sat down, ate together, had a bunch of laughs and had a great visit. I remember there were days that I never thought I’d be able to touch my grandfather again. All of this has come with many losses too- my grandmother being riddled with Alzheimer’s disease so bad to where she can’t leave home for such visits. It’s a pain (almost like my mother’s death) that I will have to carry with me for the rest of my life. My victory hasn’t come without scars as well.

It was hard to let go, but we said our goodbyes for the day. I hugged my grandfather- the man I love the most- tightly and gave him a kiss on the cheek as we parted. It was a beautiful day and all the brothers asked me how I felt. Again- it’s something beyond words. I am thankful beyond words.

Now I only await the final pieces to this puzzle and that’s to be able to hold my daughter and wife. But of course there are so many others that I too would like to be able to spend time with. God willing it will all happen. But for now I just take things one day at a time. Little by little I will adjust to my surroundings and I hope to be able to take full advantage of what is available to me.

As I close out Resurrection Week I bow my head and say a silent prayer for those that couldn’t be here and amongst all the ups and downs, struggles and glories I do realize- as I’ve said thus far- the best is till yet to come.

Stay Tuned…the struggle continues

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