As we leave behind 2017 and head into 2018, here are some thoughts of gratitude to carry in to the New Year -
from Steve Champion, San Quentin death row
by Craig A. Ross - © 2003
San Quentin death row
A Toast : “Curse of the Gang God”
I am the Gang God.
Pledge your allegiance to me, I will give thee
a gang you can call your own,
a hood you can claim as home
and wars you can desert-storm.
I’ll give you an identity and rep for the streets;
but first, forsake everything you know, including your beliefs,
but heed this warning my price is steep.
I am the Gang God.
Suckle my poison let it corrupt your soul,
become my obedient servant bound to my code.
Come, let me engulf you in my darkness
and blind you from the truth ;
turn you loose in a city of madness where you’re despised for what you do.
Go forth, do my bidding, let my destruction reign supreme,
and when anyone asks why you do what you do,
tell ‘em ‘cause you don’t give a fuck about a thing.
I am the Gang God
I’ll satisfy your psychopathic thirst,
to do dirt, to do hurt, and what’s worst, here’s my curse ;
I demand blood, chaos and crime, and everything I give you I’ll
take back because I always change my mind.
I am the Gang God
I’m gonna make sure you get betrayed by someone close,
To demolish all your trust, faith, and hope.
I will have you believing in nothing but the seven deadly sins,
and while you’re thinking you are the architect of your life,
I’m the demonic force within.
I am the Gang God
Let’s get something straight,
The only thing I want from you is your violence and hate.
You’re nothing but a pawn to me.
While you talking about keeping it real, I’m plotting with your enemies.
Fool, you think loyalty is the answer but it’s the riddle to this game.
Do or die is not a paradise but a hell that follows your fame.
You wanted in, now you having doubts, so-call love ones took the
stand against and struck your ass out.
I am the Gang God
Only one of us can rise. The other must fall.
You’re my sacrificial lamb so I’ll let you rot behind the walls.
Yeah, I’m gonna be the first to greet you when you get paroled;
here’s a blunt, here’s a gat, you know how it goes.
You won’t dare reject me because we’re of one mind,
and after all you been through you’ll still throw up my sign.
But I’ll turn my back on you faster than you did Christ.
You seen me do it once, you’ll know I’ll do it twice.
I love watching you suffer, seeing your family brought to tears.
Your meaning of staying down means you got to always live in fear.
I am the Gang God
The antithesis to life because I crave death.
The only future I promise is no peace - no rest.
I don’t give a fuck about prayers, save them for a priest;
you want out, you got to answer to the beast.
Redemption is not sold, redemption is earned, and it’s not about
the mistakes you made but the lessons you’ve learned.
But I shouldn’t be telling you this because it’s too much like right,
so if you thinking about changing the path you’re on,
you know you got to fight.
I am the Gang God
I’ll do anything to keep you in my vicious tomb;
kill your love ones, turn homeboy against homeboy
causing unforgivable wounds.
I’ll take your youth, and spit on your story;
an OG banger still searching for glory.
And when all is said and done, and judgement comes,
put the barrel to your temple and let regret be the gun.
Craig A. Ross ©
San Quentin death row
The dream hovers
Where even the senses can't touch it;
Separating itself from the mind,
It dances upon the moonlit surface,
Like art unfathomable in its reach.
Rising like the morning mist,
Only to disappear somewhere in the vastness.
Dancing to the mystic mind
Reaching beyond the walls.
A poem written whilst in solitary confinement, San Quentin Adjustment Centre.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
"We (Adisa Kamara & Ajani Kamara) remember our brother Stanley Tookie Williams (Ajamu Kamara), executed December 13th 2005. We will never forget our brother.
Ajamu, your spirit continues to inspire us, to drive us, and continues to push us forward. We love you.
Your brothers, Adisa and Ajani Kamara"
"We are our brother's keeper"
"If redemption wasn't made for people with our experiences, then for whom?" Stanley Tookie Williams, former Cripps gang member 1953 - 2005
My Brother is Gone - by Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
I want the world to know
I walked, lived and blossomed
during the time of his presence.
My emotions are too raw,
my senses too frayed
to tell them,
for 20 brass-knuckled years
we struggled together,
forging a bond
cemented by our
faith, love, and brotherhood.
Our way was not always as smooth
as a well-manicured lawn;
We blazed the path as warriors,
knowing in the end
the highest form of bravery
is laying down the sword. . . .
My brother is gone.
No longer will I
gaze upon his glistening,
mahogany colored skin,
look into his gentle eyes, or
grip his Hulk-shaped hands.
No longer will we greet
with a brotherly hug, or
No longer will I
hear his soft-spoken voice,
see his warm smile,
or bask in his charisma. . . .
My brother was murdered
At San Quentin Prison,
December 13, 2005, 12:36 a.m.
My brother is gone.
I curse those who rejoiced
upon hearing the news of his death,
now that they are spared from
the muscle of his mind.
Though my heart aches,
and my rage festers,
no revenge of bullets, blades or bloodshed
will bring my brother back.
My brother is gone.
I watched him shed the shackles
of his wild image,
in a new spirit.
I named him Ajamu,
“He who fights for what he wants.”
He fought against all odds,
against all naysayers who
sought to pigeon-hole and fossilize
him in his lowest state.
He rose above it to build
a peaceful legacy
that will be talked about
for years to come. . .
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
"The Words would not come" : in honour of my brother, Stanley Tookie Williams III
by Anthony Ross (Ajani Kamara)
A hundred times I tried to write this. But the words would not come. Poems froze in my head long before they reached the paper, and prose solidified in my throat like burning lava at the ocean’s edge. My soul was torn, and it took me a moment to catch my wind.
I write this from the very place comrade George saw blood in his eyes. The very hell where Tookie and I spent years, side by side, fighting, struggling and educating ourselves. The place where we found our philosopher’s stone and went from blue rage to black redemption—and never looked back.
I sat here, in this place—San Quentin’s Adjustment Center—on December 13th, 2005. I sat in the dark imagining war-birds filling the sky and me chanting an African battle hymn and speaking in Swahili to my brother.
But the words would not come.
I heard the helicopters flying over the prison, as the churning of their blades cut through the night air. I saw the look of apprehension on the guard’s face as he peered into my cell to gauge my emotions. But, my eyes were empty. I concentrated intensely on pushing my mind forward…forward…forward, over the walls and amongst the sea of people who stood vigil outside of the gates. Their hope, their resolve, their love, made visible and given texture by the sheer force of their gathering. With all my might I summoned whatever telepathy, E.S.P., and psychic power I possessed. I wanted to tell each and every one of them—thank you…thank you.
But the words would not come.
At 12:36am I felt something seep out of me. Something that existed above the conscious level where Tookie and I could communicate on. I felt the weight of my brother’s huge arm around my shoulder the way I always felt it whenever we walked countless miles around the yard. I saw his handsome face and remembered when his beard was jet black—remembered how he never cursed—not once. Remembered the moment we became writers, him saying, “This changes everything”. And it did: Author. Poet. Artist. Historian. Wordsmith. Mathematician. Philosopher. Mentor. Nobel nominee. He was right. Everything changed.
Together, Tookie, Adisa, and I learned the real meaning of being warriors—of being men. We were always under siege, always targets. Resistance became our dream-catcher amid this waking nightmare, and the distance we have traveled cannot be calculated in years because some epics exist outside of time, thus timeless they become. And we have always understood that struggle does not cease with breath or shatters with loss, but gains strength as the message is transformed into the living fire within each heart that struggles for change.
I did not grieve for my brother, nor did I say goodbye. For I am he and he is me, and our brotherhood was never temporal, so, the words would not come.
by Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara), incarcerated since 1982 on San Quentin's death row
There are certain comforts we include in our life to make it enjoyable. I do not criticise anyone for that. Material things might bring some comforts, but when those material things disappear, or are not present - what you truly value must come from within. I recognised this early on in my prison experience, that no matter where I was housed or what I didn't have, my value stems from what I build inside of me. And no amount of incarceration or oppression is going to take that away from me.
If you draw water from a well and do nothing to replenish what you withdraw, the well eventually will become empty. It is the same with inner strength. If you don't build up reserves and perform rituals to expel the toxins that latch onto the subconscious and reinforce the essence of who you are on a daily basis, you will easily fall prey to the litany of vices that destroy the soul. I refuse to let that happen. I exercise regularly and meditate every day. I try to eat healthily, I read literature that illuminates, enlightens and transforms my mind. I check in on myself and take inventory of myself to make sure I'm okay.
We are social beings and need social interaction and stimuli to reinforce our communal spirit. Prison has a way of isolating you and decapitating human connections to the social world. The reality is, any person who serves a long period of time incarcerated will lose social bonds and relationships he once knew. People change and sometimes changes they make exclude you from their life. People will grow older and some will pass away. Sometimes people retreat into their own world and as time goes on you become a fading memory. Recognising this, I fight to renew my connection to the outside world. My writing has facilitated this prospect.
Writing is like breathing for me. It allows me to explore the inner region of my soul and discover new things about myself. Writing, like reading, allows me to travel without moving. Im able to escape the circumscribe mantle of my confinement and connect to the social world Ive been separated from. Every day I wake up with a central purpose that motivates me to keep moving forward.
Anytime you create or produce something like a poem or writing, naturally, you want it to do well. the fact is, I can't control or determine the outcome of my work. My job as a writer is to create the best writing I can and let the rest take care of itself. I hope for the best, but I can't be attached to the outcome.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
Talk by Steve Champion at exhibition of art & poetry from San Quentin death row - King's College London
20th - 23rd November 2017 - King's College, London
Between 20th and 23rd November 2017, An exhibition of art & poetry from San Quentin's death row, curated by ArtReach , was displayed at King's College London by the King's College Health + Humanities Society who celebrate the diverse communal interests between health and the humanities. On Thursday 23rd November, there was an evening of talks at King's College, as well as an opportunity to view the artwork & poetry. Steve Champion (aka Adisa Kamara) gave an introductory talk via prison phone from San Quentin - telling a little bit about himself & his creative process as a writer - and also about his fellow inmates, the artists incarcerated on death row. You can listen to his talk here:-
At the end of his talk, Steve recited a poem "Beyond the Walls" which he wrote whilst in Solitary Confinement. The poem in full is below:-
Beyond the Walls
The dream hovers
where even the senses can’t touch it.
Separating itself from the mind,
it dances upon the moonlit surface.
Like art, unfathomable in its reach,
rising like the morning mist,
only to disappear somewhere in the vastness.
Dancing to the mystic mind.
Reaching, beyond the walls.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
by Steve Champion - incarcerated on death row San Quentin since 1982
Below is an excerpt from a chapter of the memoir “Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir” written by Steven Champion, a former member of the Crips street gang who is on death row. Tom Kerr, associate professor of writing at Ithaca College, edited and published the book.
The public, with its hunger for revenge, does not want to hear about personal acts of atonement by people who have been sentenced for a crime. Acts of atonement by the condemned are usually viewed as a ploy to save his or her own life — not as a genuine act of redemption.
People on death row are deemed the lowest of the low. Many people believe death-row prisoners cannot be “reformed” because they are “unformed” as human beings. Executing the condemned is not viewed the same as killing a human — it is chalked up to society’s attempt to rid itself of its toxic waste.
Proponents of capital punishment freeze condemned-to-die criminals at the worst moments of their lives; to justify their execution, they must be barred from redemption. But history is full of individuals who have made major mistakes but manage to turn their lives around and make significant contributions to humanity.
Many religious people have mixed emotions about whether a murderer can be redeemed. But when it comes to biblical figures like Moses, King David and Saint Paul, they are quick to make exemptions. In fact, these figures are highly revered around the world precisely because society has determined that their contributions to humanity outweigh their crimes.
Why are some people worthy of redemption while others are denied it? Why are death-row prisoners damned as unrepentant criminals incapable of transforming their lives? Redemption is not reserved for some. Redemption is a road map for reconnecting to one’s humanity. If redemption is not meant for people who have lost their way and hit rock bottom, then the word ought to be stricken from every dictionary. Redemption means regaining something you have lost through improving your life. Many people, in and out of prison, never atone for anything; they go to their graves defiant and unrepentant. A person who has the courage to look within himself and decide to transform his life ought to be encouraged, if not applauded.
Some recent recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize were not always seen as champions of peace. In 2001, both Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk became Nobel Peace Prize laureates. De Klerk was the head of an apartheid government that openly oppressed, discriminated against and murdered blacks, and considered Mandela a terrorist. Mandela once headed the guerrilla wing of the African National Congress, which believed in armed violence. In 1994, both Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East. Prior to receiving the Nobel Prize, Arafat was labeled a terrorist. Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister of Israel and sanctioned violence against the Palestinians. All of these people were viewed unfavorably in their lifetimes, but were able to transcend their mistakes — because society accepted the fact that they were not the sum total of their mistakes.
No one is.
The transformative power of redemption can change anyone who is sincere about changing. It makes no difference if a person lives in a temple in Tibet, an ashram in India or a prison cell on death row. Your location should not diminish the value of your redemption.
Steven Champion has been on California’s death row for 36 years, since he was 18 years old.
Originally published by the Ithacan in 2010
By Gerard G. Schultz Jr. #R55165, Pontiac C.C., PO Box 99, Pontiac, Illinois 61764
For over a decade now, Gerard has been in Illinois DOC solitary confinement & supermax prison - locked down for 22-24 hours per day.
Unable to be perceived by the outside world and sometimes unable to be perceived by our own selves. We are an estimated 2 million, but the sound of a pin falling to the ground makes a much louder sound than 4 million teardrops, incessantly falling every second of every hour of every day for the “phantom souls” that are entombed in their purgatory state of existence inside correctional facilities across the United States.
We are “phantom souls”: the men, women and children incarcerated from all realms of life. Yes, it can be said that we’ve made mistakes and wrong choices in our lives’ quest. It can be said that in more cases than one, we deserve to be imprisoned, some of us for the rest of our lives. It can also be said that many of us have disappointed and let down the people of our own communities, but has it been said that we are human beings too? Has everyone forgotten that we, too, are your parents, spouses, children, relatives and friends? Has it been said that we, too, still bleed and even breathe the very same air as the rest of the world does? We still bleed! We still breathe! Unfortunately, the world has immediately forgotten our presence and existence as soon as the iron gates slam and cell doors close.
That is why we are “phantom souls,” because no one can even see us or hear us, and if it were possible to do so, it would be like a bee’s wing falling onto your shoulder or an eyelash falling on your nose: hardly detectable. We have no outside effect at all. What we do have in here is something mentally, emotionally and physically corrosively debilitating, which none of us convicted felons would ever wish upon anyone else to ever experience.
As “phantom souls,” we are trapped in a purgatory state of existence with Hell’s fire already burning our feet. I’ve been locked in this purgatory state for over a decade, and I still have not gotten used to this burning sensation that never ceases, not even in my sleep! Animals in animal shelters, in a horrid way, are blessed. Because after seven days, if no one wants them, then they are morbidly euthanized. An inhumane, bittersweet luxury of a quick escape from this protracted nightmare we unfortunately cannot receive. For we “phantom souls” must endure the pain of life without parole sentences, with no rehabilitation or educational reform available, just left to rot inside supermax prisons.
Everyone eventually leaves your side—friends, siblings, parents, relatives, your spouse and, lastly, your own children leave you to stand utterly alone. Everyone scatters away from our lives like cockroaches scatter when the lights turn on. No more visits, no more collect calls accepted, no more photos, no more letters and no more outside financial assistance to purchase the bare necessities that are hard to come by in here. No more—nothing! That’s it! You are officially cut off from the very essential things that were giving your “phantom soul” the slightest hope by having to endure Hell itself, just to try to get back to its body, back to life and back to love.
This is when mental illness, violence, murder and the suicide rate in correctional facilities and their draconian supermax prisons drastically increases. Because a “phantom soul” with no help, no education, no vocational training and no proper rehabilitation, for the vast majority, with nothing to lose and no hope for the future, is better off dead. Actually, that is what a “phantom soul” truly is. For we are dead men walking. It’s a bone-chilling feeling to realize that.
Now, as a “phantom soul” loses itself completely, it then attaches itself to the prison atmosphere: its lifestyle, culture and methods of mere survival, like a leech to your inviting flesh, thirsty for your blood. It is nothing nice or positive at all! For we do not live in here, we must strive daily to survive in a cold isolated world full of pain, loneliness, anger, confusion and hate. It’s a menagerie where big dog eats little dog. Kill or be killed. Human snakes of all shapes and sizes roam this place with two faces, menacing glares and evil agendas, having to resort to convict criminal ingenuity to get by and survive. “Phantom souls” must condition themselves to be alert and ready at any moment for the instant danger reveals itself and chaos erupts.
For many, pride is sealed by tattoos. For others they are shields, for they shield many from exposing their true selves. Respect, acceptance, loyalty, acknowledgement, reputation, honor and authority are earned by the degree of corrupt mercilessness and violent deeds of ruthlessness against any other prisoner who violates convict code of ethics and by-laws: violence against rival gangs, racial enemies and against the guards. We cannot forget the guards. For they are the most ruthless, deceitful, dangerous, conniving, lying and cheating gang in the prison. For seven times out of ten, if a prisoner is assaulted, marked for death, unjustly persecuted, punished or even killed, a guard one way or another had his hand in the treachery. Sad but true.
Hate is the only way that emotion is expressed inside of this concrete bed of barbed wire, thorny roses that we reside in. Unfortunately, in prison life, jealousy, envy, deceit, gossiping and plotting against others without anything else to do, look forward to or lose is what many fall into. All other positive extracurricular activities are cut, only available to select few or are non-existent. The vast majority display acts of treachery and hate against one another, burning with boredom and lack of mental, emotional and physical stimulations that are positive and productive, all wanting what the next person is or has. As I’ve said, we are “phantom souls,” so we are never satisfied with who we are or what we have. Yet people out in society wonder why prisons become so rampant with gangs, violence, drug abuse, racism, hate and the mass deterioration of once good-natured souls.
Men die in here both physically and mentally, and it’s worse than any war or natural disaster because this is all planned. Oh, you think that it is the prisoners who do the planning? They are a problem, but it is the government and its reckless prison administrations and faulty judicial systems that do the planning to provide laws, sentences, stipulations, restrictions and budget cuts of prison rehabilitation, education, therapy, job training and recidivism prevention programs. It is hard for us not to fall prone to its negative backlash; in that way, we become prisoners cast off into this environment. I didn’t make these laws, and I didn’t create these fetid institutions and their mind-altering supermax prisons with no other purpose but to punish physically, torture us and break us mentally, emotionally and physically, creating the animals many of us unfortunately become. The government did this and planned this horrendous thing that is the greatest unknown atrocity in America, for all men are neither created nor treated equally. Like I said, we are “phantom souls,” and we are unknown. For a “phantom soul” is nothing but an institutionalized, lost sense of hope.
Every day when the guard comes by the cells to pass out mail, there are so many “phantom souls” literally trying to maintain their composure from the overwhelming anxiety and desperate hope of possibly receiving a letter. From whom? It doesn’t really matter, just a letter from someone telling you “that you are thought of and exist to the outside world.” In most cases, the letters do not come and the sadness creeps in, but it’s quickly deterred by anger and aloofness. A couple of curse words, reassuring comments and thoughts to tell yourself, “I don’t care if I get mail or not”. Well, it is a lie and if any “phantom soul” claims such, then he is a damned liar! But hey, everyone lies to someone, so why not lie to yourself, right?
If you do receive a letter, an answered collect call, or even a visit, for a brief moment of time one is not a “phantom soul.” He is once again a parent, sibling, someone’s child, spouse or a friend. He is a person, he is a human being; plain and simple, he is alive again. Oh, and it’s a Beautiful thing. You can literally feel the next man exhale a breath of relief and then inhale in a breath of hope to try to last until the next letter, visit or answered collect call comes again.
Do we “phantom souls” ever cry? Well…this is actually a touchy and controversial subject because, in essence, we are not supposed to, but my personal opinion as a hardened “phantom soul” is that, yes, everyone does, somehow, some way. Especially for us “phantom souls” in here who experience hurt, anger, confusion, loneliness and stress daily, we tend to hide it best. Sort of like an M&M candy: a hard shell on the outside but soft on the inside. Through one’s artwork, poetry or creative writing, tears are shed symbolically or secretly crying and muffling your sobs and hiding your tears into your pillow so that no one else is able to see or hear. I guess some of us even cry in our sleep. I can honestly say that I did once that I am aware of. One night, I awoke to find hot tears running down my face. I felt a deep, aching sense of sorrow and hurt. What was I crying about? I don’t even know, which astounds me.
There are those of us trying to do something for ourselves and rehabilitate back into our enriched flesh and bones. Well, just imagine the civil rights movement between blacks and whites, the United Farmworkers union striking against the greedy grape grower industry and immigrants trying to get a fair shake on the new biased and even bigoted immigration reform policies and laws. Intensify that a trillion times over and over: The government and its reckless prison administrations feel justified in how they treat and deprive our “phantom souls” from a transition back to life through any rehabilitation reform with light at the other end of the dark tunnel. For it is no secret that the government and its reckless prison administrations have literally cut back or cut off the means for prisoner reform through rehabilitation, education and vocational and job training. This is true especially for prisoners with lengthy sentences or who are sentenced to life without parole and have great influence over many younger prisoners and those with shorter sentences. Yet America gives away billions of dollars to supposedly help and aid Pakistan for whatever reason and has the audacity to question and look down its nose at countries like China over human rights violations. Meanwhile, America cannot or chooses not to fix its own.
It is a struggle in every way, so we continue to remain “phantom souls”: lost, wandering, ghost-like souls between Hell and a hard place, in a purgatory state and soulless cells. Think about it, have you ever seen someone’s eyes that reflect nothing? It is heart-wrenching, and people say, “Oh, they deserve it for what they’ve done.” I feel sorry for those people because their souls are more lost than ours. Compassion and understanding are gifts that are attained, and the sad thing is that few people ever attain those gifts. As “phantom souls,” we have no voice to the outside world, but there are minds of great intelligence in here that could put an end to all issues that are deteriorating our Beautiful world. Many discussions in here of art, politics, religion, history, war, philosophy, economics, literature, hobbies and music are so baffling, people wouldn’t be able to fathom what we know, are truly capable of and are trying to express. Just imagine what we could accomplish with the proper rehabilitative and educational reform provided to all of us while incarcerated at all levels.
This is why people out in the free society are so astounded and even sickened by the fact that the prison system continues to corrupt and not help many young and first-time offenders who become repeat offenders and progress further into crime. Prisoners with long-term sentences and life without parole who are not being rehabilitated and positively stimulated become part of the virus that helps spread the disease to other prisoners entering and leaving prison. For as “phantom souls,” we become institutionalized through this deterioration and negative unreformed recidivism disease eating us alive!
We “phantom souls” experience a real travesty of loss, despair, anger, sadness, confusion and loneliness. What we feel is so intense, it can be described as that feeling in the movie Titanic when Leonardo Di Caprio drifts off into his icy tomb of death from making sure his true love Kate Winslet would be safe, or that first initial thought and feeling after the attacks on 9/11, and that feeling of anger and despair over the flooding of Hurricane Katrina and the errors made in the aftermath in New Orleans. Think about the first few seconds of each of those feelings. That is what we feel in our hearts, and our hearts pump blood, which means we still bleed and we still breathe.
This is not a “poor me” story, for I deserve to be punished for my crimes that I take full responsibility for, but I also need help to be better for myself, the prison I survive in and for society who pays taxes to the government to help and fix our society and those things to make it better and more productive and prosperous. This is something felt by everyone. Most, if not all, convicts will not admit it, but there is no fault in that. Because, in a crazy way, if we do admit it to ourselves that we are alive, then it all rushes in and the emotions are too much to bear. Prison is not always the answer for everything. Punishment with no reform and no proper educational rehabilitation is not the answer. Life without parole with hopelessness and nothing to lose or gain is not the answer. Long-term solitary confinement in draconian supermax prisons is not the answer.
Rehabilitation, love, education, understanding, hope and change are the answer. But how can it be properly applied so that it is not taken advantage of? I don’t know, but I sure hope that someone can find a way or a solid solution to this problem before this “phantom soul” completely fades away.
By Gerard G. Schultz Jr. #R55165
PO Box 99
Note Gerard: “I am an interstate corrections compact transfer from the Arizona Department of Corrections being warehoused in Illinois DOC for non-violence where I have been tortured, mistreated and had my constitutional and civil rights violated for over a decade in IDOC’s solitary confinement and supermax prison, locked down 22-24 hours a day which continues to this day.”
by Troy J. Clarke - Texas Death Row
My mind is a crime, it’s been beaten, robbed
and murdered of emotions, cast into the chaos
of Texas Death Row for a crime I’ve not done.
Waiting for the executioner to come;
feeding the death house with scarred souls,
I’ve seen over 300 men go, strapped to
the gurney, needle in their arm, saying
"Sorry for all the hurt and harm".
I’m on my last appeal and will soon get
an execution date.
For me it’s too late
But when it’s my turn to meet death,
I’ll claim Innocence with my dying breath.
I was blamed, framed, caught up in
a deadly game…slowly going insane..
Can you feel my pain?
Yet, I Remain….
Troy J. Clark, Texas Death Row
The Supreme Court has denied Troy's last appeal recently, and so it is likely that he will receive an
execution date in the near future
by Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
It doesn't matter if on the day of an execution, the morning forecast is sunny and warm. A turbulent storm is brewing on the inside, and humidity on death row is always high. The feeling is both eerie and sickening, as if some mysterious, awful sore is about to discharge itself.
Execution day is the quietest day on death row. The usual early morning banter, pots and pans being hustled about by guards preparing to serve breakfast, the morning ritual of "roll call" as someone shouts good morning to friends, sounds of TVs and radios being switched on—all are stilled: the impending doom sucks sound right from the air.
The silence on death row can be deafening. And on any other day, silence is a welcome break from the monotony of the screeching noise. One would assume the silence is a result of people becoming more introspective, more contemplative about the reality of their situation. In some cases this is true, but the opposite is more likely. Most people are in bed asleep trying to escape. Anytime there is a scheduled execution the entire prison, including all programming, comes to a complete halt. Everything ceases while San Quentin moves into high security, standing patient and poised to snuff out another life. Prison officials stroll the tiers, peering into the cells at us, as if they're seeing some rare and disgusting animals on the verge of extinction. Many of them support the death penalty and gleefully rejoice when we are pronounced dead. Nothing is exchanged during these observations but hostile glances.
Most people on death row will be glued to their TVs or radios listening intensely as news reporters interrupt daily programming to give updates on the pending execution. The gathering of anti- and pro-death penalty groups will assemble in front of the prison gate with picket signs and a conviction that their cause will prevail. A phalanx of prison guards standing in full combat gear will be stationed in front of the prison gate forming a prophylactic shield, like serfs protecting the fortress of their feudal lord from invasion.
The attorneys for the condemned man will be scurrying around throughout the day, both in front of cameras and behind the scenes, making last ditch efforts to save the life of their client. They'll work overtime trying to convince us that there is always hope, that we should not give up. But we who have been on death row know this to be a lie, because a last minute appeal to an apathetic court or a politically driven Governor (who rode in office as a pro-death penalty candidate) is like asking a hungry, angry bear not to bite you.
Death penalty opponents will give fiery and spirited speeches throughout the night, trying to create a hopeful and optimistic atmosphere in the face of something diabolical. The tug-of-war between the death penalty supporters and opponents will rage on, but in the end no one wins. A reporter will announce the menu of the condemned man's last meal, and the small separate gatherings of true believers and preachers of hate will stand juxtaposed. The silent prayers and candles of the night vigil are as loud as thunder and as bright as lightening.
Death row prisoners are attuned to everything going on. We understand that whatever the outcome, our situation is amplified. None of us are exempt from the execution, none of us walks away unaffected, and many of us stay up to the last minute, hoping the attorney unearths some new evidence that will alter the court's ruling, or in a temporary fit of idealism, hoping a judge who acted too hastily in an earlier decision will change his ruling. We are always disappointed. But hope, as fleeting or false as it is, is all we have at this level.
And when that is gone . . . .
Men who normally don't pray will find themselves asking God to exert his powers and intervene to save a life. We usually get our answer just after 12:01 a.m., when the person has been pronounced dead, we're let off lockdown, and the prison program returns to "business as usual."
**the last execution in California was January 2006
Poetry, writing & Lessons in Life from San Quentin death row