Like thieves in the night they swooped me up. It was the eve of my own State sanctioned murder, approximately 8:20 PM and I was listening to shout-outs pour in to me on 96.1 KDOL. Unexpectedly, there was a knock at my cell door. There stood a death row Lieutenant and 2 Wardens (Simmons and Hirch.) “Strip out!” was the Lieutenant’s order. “For what reason?” I responded. “Because we told you to” was all that I got back. Having no idea what the situation could be I complied with the order. Though I was being provoked I didn’t want to act before knowing what the situation was. I stripped out and exited the cell. I could feel in my bones that something wasn’t right. And as we exited the pod my feelings were true – there waiting for me was a 5 man extraction team and all of the shift supervisors (several Sergeants) and to top it off several plain clothed people (at first I thought these were Sheriffs, but later found out that it was the TDC Regional Director Mr. Treon and the Warden from the Walls Unit.) As soon as I set my eyes on this circus like spectacle I immediately dropped to the ground and announced that I wasn’t going anywhere until somebody told me where I was going and why. In his typical tyranical rage Warden Hirch said “I told you we’d tell you when you got up the hallway.” I told him that if he wanted me to cooperate with him that he needed to give me some understanding to what was going on and that’s when he told me that I was being taken to the Walls Unit right then. I needed a minute to think, so I stood up. By this time I had ankle chains on, so I began shuffling down the hallway. I was placed in an isolated cage and was again told to strip down. I saw this as nothing but a degrading process and I began to voice that. I looked at the Lieutenant and told him that all he was doing he just did 5 minutes ago and that all this was being done just to provoke me and degrade me. I put on the clothes they gave me and was cuffed again and as soon as I stepped out that cage I laid down in protest. I emphatically stated that I was not going to participate in what they were trying to do to me. I told them that I would not dignify this lynch show. I told them the only thing that I could and that is that they were terrorists and they were only terrorizing. It wasn’t bad enough that I was set to die the next day, but I was basically being terrorized in the middle of the night. I was chained all the way up and placed on a stretcher and i was carried to a dark tinted van where I was loaded in the back. I saw other death row prisoners watching me through their windows. I could only hope that word would get to my DRIVE comrades. There is no doubt that DRIVE planned to be in motion with civil disobedience against the wrongful murder that was sitting over my head and alongside of that vibe of resistance was a lot of rumors about something violent to take place. I did the best I could talking to the Staff assuring them that DRIVE does not condone violence in regards to this Struggle, but nevertheless extreme precautions were taken. And it wasn’t just the vibe of DRIVE that was felt, there was a whole other vibe that was being felt and that was the disapproval of the people. There was social discontent being exuded and the system felt it. And that led to this expedition.
I was loaded into the van and ran smack into a 4 car SWAT team escort to the Walls Unit. We had a caravan on our way there and there were a lot of officers armed to the teeth with handguns, shotguns, assault rifles in every car. There was enough arsenal to wage a small war. Though I was sickened by the whole process I can’t lie and say that I didn’t feel that every execution should have this type of security concern. There is no way that people should be able to be friendly while being escorted down the road and murdered. What this proved to me is that when the people rise up their strength will be acknowledged.
It was about a 45 minute drive to Huntsville. I silently watched the street signs as I went. We arrived at the Walls, a Unit that resembled more of a College than a prison. It seemed that I was taken into the heart of the Unit somewhere deep behind a maze of streets and buildings. I could only think in my mind that they was taking me to the death chamber, the place that had taken so many men that I knew. As the van backed up and they opened the door to take me out, I would not walk, so they gladly packed me into the death house. I was dropped on the floor, my wrists were in excruciating pain. I was being told to stand up, but I would not. I only grabbed my wrists which were now bruised and hurting. I looked around the room and I was surrounded by approximately 10 officers and while I wanted to continue to resist, I took great notice that no use of force camera was rolling. I felt the set up, thus I didn’t give them what they wanted. I allowed myself to be fingerprinted and then I was placed in the death watch cell.
After I gained my composure I surveyed the room. It was one of the most intensely cold and numb places I had ever seen. It was a narrow room with about 4 other cells. I was in the very first – just a few steps away from the death chamber. In front of my cell was a long table with drink containers and several Bibles. Straight up – it was like a funeral home. I couldn’t help but to again look towards the death chamber. It was a big steel door with a square window at the top. It was a one way mirror, so one could not see in. I just stared at it. I couldn’t help but to think about my good friend John Amador that was just executed hours before. I felt his presence with me. I thought of his last words which were so profound. I was in the Texas catacomb and yet while i was there i didn’t feel death calling me.
I began pacing my cell for a moment. The Unit Wardens spoke to me and were very respectful. They offered me food and drink, but I refused. For years I had been living off of polluted TDC faucet water, so polluted TDC faucet water would do me just fine then. Slowly but surely my property was gone through and give to me piece by piece. I then began to sort through my property and divide it up for my family (just in case.) Once I got things pretty situation I remembered that I had something to do for my wife I had a letter to read that she had specifically wrote for me if I got to the point that I didn’t feel I’d get a stay. Though that feeling had never hit me 100% I felt that this time was as good as any. I reached into her folder and grabbed the letter that she had written: “You cannot read this unless you are not granted a stay. Open/read this no earlier than the morning of August 30th” on the front. While I wasn’t unsure of the stay it was approximately 2:30 in the morning of August 30th and I was across from the death chamber, so I felt now was the time to read that letter. What I opened to was one of the best love letters of my life. In no way did it feel like a goodbye letter and in fact was an – I will see you later letter. My wife and I are resolute on the fact that we are soul mates and no matter in this life or the next we will continually swirl around each other. Her letter did nothing short of hold me up during this time. It was a beautiful speech made to the man whose heart only she understands. And I was at peace with it. Something in me told me that those would not be our last love letters.
I finished getting situated around 3:30 AM and fell into a hard sleep. But, I could not sleep long. I was up by 6:30 AM. I woke feeling nothing but love in my bones. It was such an amazing feeling, because even though I stood hours away from my scheduled execution I didn’t feel any fear. I just felt love surrounding my body and stood head up as I had been doing. I washed up, but was allowed a shower around 7:30. By the time I finished and got dressed I was ready to go see my family at visit. I was ready to face the day head on.
I started off my visits with my most beloved revolutionary sister and brother Walidah Imarisha and Ray Ramirez. I only had 4 hours to visit with everyone, so we knew that our exchange would be short and sweet. I was already in the mindset that I wouldn’t be doing any goodbyes, but right off the bat the latest media news was what was at hand. Reports of the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times plus more – was the topics. Movement, movement and more movement was all we had to talk about. There was no time for goodbyes. We wrapped up our visit in about 40 minutes and we ended with fist in the air and revolutionary salutes. My next visit would be with my childhood cousin Beverly Fisher and close friend from France Emilie Artaud. I hadn’t seen my cousin in over 11 years, so that was such a warming thing. Again – no time for goodbyes – news of activism in France and mobilization for the day. Things were positive and as my friend Emilie was ready to leave we exchanged smiles. Up next was the man himself, my super star point guard of the team Adam Axel. Here is a young man that was able to move mountains and I have no doubts that if it wasn’t for him, I might not be where I am today. His efforts alongside of the CEDP proved to be life savers. Our visit was so very upbeat and nothing but victory was tapping at our minds. My father found his way in inbetween everyone else and I have never seen my father so alive and positive. His mind was already convinced that victory was ours and no one or nothing could convince him to otherwise. We all had good talks and as those visits winded down my wife and my grandparents came in. Everything was joyous. It had been years since I had seen my grandmother and though ailing with Alzheimer’s she was as beautiful as ever to me. In fact everything was beautiful. Not once did we feel a need for a goodbye, so after I spoke with my grandfather he departed the visiting room with my grandmother just leaving me and my wife. There we sat hand in hand, eye to eye talking about this future that we had together. We talked and talked. I told her about her letter that I read and we just gave a knowing smile to each other. We had decided to spend the last hour with each other and as the time got closer to 12noon I noticed my father walking up to our booth. Neither of us was expecting that, so we looked over to him as he approached and when he got near us he just threw his fist in the air and screamed – “^, 1!!!” He yelled to me that the Board had voted 6-1 in my favor. Next to my wifes screams for joy all I could do was let off a grin from ear to ear. As my wife and father embraced I could only tell my father to give her a kiss for me. And while my father was saying that it was all up to the Governor at that point I knew that there was no more guessing to it. When the Board didn’t deliver their decision on the 28th as planned I knew that something greater was in the works. I knew that they were feeling the pressure and would want to consult with the higher ups. As I told my supporters – if the decision comes back negative it’s over. That would be a sign that nothing else would go for me. But… if it comes back in my favor I knew that it had been decided that I would live. So, when that 6-1 came down I knew that victory was mine. My father left the visitation room leaving me and my wife to rejoice amongst each other. We gave each other kisses and I pointed something out to her. I told her that I was always looking for the signs from God. Once upon a time as a youth I didn’t know how to pay attention, though I was always getting signs. Now I’m very much more alert. And while I had been getting mixed signals from all the bad dreams my closest friends were having one sign came right before I left the death chamber to go to visit. The night before when all my property was taken and searched they took all the shoe strings from my shoes. I had not known this, because they kept my shoes and said that they would give them to me when I went to visit. So, that morning before visit I told them that I had some tennis shoes and some boots and that I would like my boots. As I got dressed and my boots were handed to me and I saw the missing laces I could only crack a very wide smile, because my mind drifted to my poem “The Final Call” where I start saying:
straight off death row in
boots with no laces.”
I pointed this out to them and before I closed my visit with my wife I reminded her I’m coming straight off death row. She replied emphasizing “OFF!” I smiled and concurred. “Yes, OFF!” We ended our visit with a kiss from behind the glass and I was escorted back to the death chamber. As I was placed in the cell I spoke to some of the rank that was around me. I let one of them know why my family was so excited. I know that they were monitoring all attitudes, actions and behaviors, so I wanted them to know why my family got so excited. The guard looked back at me and said “well, today just might be your day.” No sooner than he said that the Warden walked through the door on his cell phone. He looked at me and said, “They’re commuting your sentence.” I guess I was kind of surprised that he told me just like that, so I was like, “That’s it? It’s done?” He said, “Yeah, your sentence was just commuted. We’ll have you out of here in just a few.” My head was tingling and I wasted no time to drop to my knees and say a little prayer of thanks to the Most High, because I knew that He had had His hands around this situation. A few minutes later I was headed back to Polunsky.
On the drive back everything seemed brand new. Even officers were telling me that I had a new chance at life and I knew that. The sky was brighter and my heart was lighter. I got back to Polunsky Unit and was just hoping to be able to get around some comrades. While I was in a holding cell I had the fortune to see my best friend and mentor Tony Ford pass by and he had a smile so big on his face that I would have swore he had 2 mouths. That was a perfect passing, because that was my best friend and I’m glad he got to see my face before I left. I was placed on a pod where I only stayed about 30 minutes. As I walked through the door there was an elder comrade of mine in the dayroom – Harvey Earvin – and I went up to the bars and let him hug me. I went into the cell and had only enough time for about 3 persons to send me short kites of congratulations. And in no time a team came to pick me up. They wanted me OFF death row and I was ready to go. In just that fast of time I was being moved off death row and sent to the Byrd Unit to be reprocessed as a general population prisoner. Having had an international campaign, an armed SWAT team escort and a political commutation there wasn’t too many people that didn’t know who I was. Most had good things to say to me and one guard even came up to me and asked how I was being treated. I told him that I was being treated ok thus far. Not knowing if this was a man of importance I asked him who he was. He simply replied “Just an officer.” But then he added in “I listen to KPFT everyday. And Democracy Now!” I could only smile and say – “Right on, brotha!”
And Right On it has been. After a 10 year battle of fighting the daeth penalty I can finally sit back and breathe a bit. I can finally let off a small sigh. I’ve said if from the beginning that as long as the battle was on that I couldn’t do that. And though the war isn’t over a huge battle has been won and I can finally sit back and exhale and even let go a few tears of joy joyous tears that say that I’m going to continue to have the fuel to do positive and great things. I have so many to live for so manny that didn’t get the chance to carry on that greatness they attained while on death row. I can’t speak for the men that have gotten off death row before me, but I know that I’m ready to do something phenomenal. This will not be a wasted opportunity. So many people stood by my side, supported me and believed in me and I owe them something. I owe them 100% effort and dedication to the struggle we merged in on.
I can’t help but to think about those I left behind – the others that now sit on death watch. This has been such a traumatic journey and there are so many pains and scars. I hope that my fight has given some new hope to the struggle showing that the impossible can be done. And if it ever happens once it can happen again – and it must! History was made on August 30, 2007 and it’s this day that I pray HOPE was resurrected amongst our fighters in an otherwise grim minded people where over 400 murders have brutalized us. Today is a new day and we’re taking Texas by the horns and we’re not letting go. We can’t let go until we break the beast and I can’t help but to end in the same way that I ended my almost prophetic poem “The Final Call”:
“These words are a prose of focus on death row… of letting go of the fear and hate of Selves… let’s take it off the shelves and activate the way… the way today is leaving the gates… and the point I was trying to make it – I’M COMING STRAIGHT OFF DEATH ROW!”