Marybeth Rivas, whom we met in-person for the first time at the recent 7th Annual March to Stop Executions, sent us this article written by George Rivas about his life on death row.
Sleep is a luxury here and is not often found in more than a couple of hour blocks at a time. I am used to this though. When I first entered the”system” through General Population, or GP as it’s termed, I learned quickly to condition myself to less sleep and guarded sleep. The doors were open most of the time, like you see in the movies, therefore, at any time you could be killed in your sleep…it happens.
It’s safer, in that respect, here on death row. The doors are always closed, believe me, and they are solid steel. There are slots in them for meals to be passd through, our handcuffs to be put on and taken off, and for guards to look in and check on us whenever they want to. They are also a blessing at times because it allows us to yell through them to other inmates in the area. Solitude can be overwhelming, especially when living in a place the size of a closet.. It can get to some, sometimes enough to push them over the edge. But it’s those same steel doors that make sleep, here on death row, next to impossible. They, and all doors seperating sections, are on an electrical track. The slamming open and closed of these steel doors literally cause the walls to shake and the noise it creates can only be compared to as what you would hear in a dungeon.
I awake everyday about 2:30 am. Actually, I’m awoken by the slamming of the steel doors that the guards walk through on their rounds. I’m used to it. Can’t fall back to sleep, and besides, chow will be served in about half an hour, so no use trying.
I am thinking of my wife and our great visit last night. She looked beautiful (as always), and I smile as I think of her in those jeans. More, I pray and thank the Lord for her…
Soon chow rolls around. It’s a big cart that can feed a large number of us before it returns to the kitchen to refill. Chances are, food will not be warm coming off of it. Most of us have “hot pots” that we reheat our food in. Today it’s stale pancakes again, so I only get the milk. I’ll save it for later in the day though, to put in my coffee. Maybe I can fall back to sleep, I think and lay back down. No, it’s useless now. I’d fallen asleep around 11:30 pm, so I really need the zzz’s. Oh, well…
I doze off around 6 am, but showers are run about that time on Sundays, since there is no recreation being run today. When they come to your door, you go then or you do not go. I wring out my towel–which I’d left soaking in detergent for the night– and get ready for my shower. Like I said, you get one chance and only one chance to go. The guards open the small slot in my door and I turn around, then bend down to have the’cuffs put on. The door is opened and I am taken to the shower. The process is repeated to take the ‘cuffs off (slot in the steel shower door too) and I take a 10 minute shower. We do not choose our shower temperature, it’s been scolding hot and it’s been freezing cold before, but today it feels good. Going through the handcuffing routine again, I am brought back to my cell.
I listen to the radio, which I’m thankful to have. It keeps me connected to the world outside through news, music, and I love to listen to daily sermons. Alot of people think we have t.v.’s in here and computers, that just isn’t so. There are many here who cannot afford a radio and like I said before, solitude can be overwhelming. After I listen for a bit, I then begin my morning prayers, but I’m tired, so I don’t read any Scriptures this morning. My wife is spending the night in town, so we’ll see each other again tomorrow (Monday) before she drives the 4-plus hours drive back to her family’s home. It’s pretty tough on her, but she never complains. My heart goes out to her, more than I can ever express in words…
I wonder if she can feel the love-thoughts I’m sending her way this morning? I’m looking at her picture as I begin to nod off.
Lunch shows up about an hour later, and I’m pretty groggy as I get my tray– bean burritos with beans, rice, and corn. I pray over it and begin to eat. The corn tastes sour? A neighbor upstairs begins to holler at the guards that the food is spoiled. Great. I’m just about done eating (not the corn though), and I just shake my head. Several other people yell out the same thing, so a sargent eventually shows up to see what the problem is. Typically, he just smells the food then says he’ll go talk to the kitchen boss, and get back to us. No holding my breath! I’m brushing my teeth when he returns to say that the boss said there was nothing wrong with the food. Bull. As groggy as I was when I ate, even I could tell that there was something wrong. But, none of them care. If it means more work, i.e.; having to refeed the whole pod (84 inmates), they’ll just ignore us and whatever our problems are. I expected it, especially with this particular sargent, so after cleaning up, I just lay down.
This time I do fall asleep, though the constant slamming of the steel doors keeps waking me, even though I ‘ve got ear plugs pressed deeply into my ears. But I am used to this too. There’s almost always someone yelling from one cell to another too. We are all living under the same shadow of death here. I never know if it will be the last time talking to a person because he may get a date before I’m moved near him again. I, and a handful of us, are moved every week to another cell. Often by the time I’m moved back in a certain area again, some will have been moved to the pod for people with dates for execution, but sometimes their already–Gone. On an execution day, we all share this heavyness that’s within us and in the air. We get to know a different side of each other that people out there do not get to see. We all have hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, the desire to live and the desire to die. Yes, you read that correctly. We all yearn to live, but sometimes the daily living conditions wears us out until there’s no fight left
I’m awoken again at last chow ( you call it “supper” or “dinner”), but I’m not feeling too well, so I refuse my tray. Just feeling bloated and my head feels hot. I pray that I’m not ill, and lay down for a bit more. I get up after a while and heat up some water for a cup of coffee. Then sit down to write a letter to my wife. I smile just thinking about her, and give thanks to the Lord again for her.
She’ll be here in the morning, so I’ve got to get some real rest, I don’t want her to see the circles under my eyes and end up worring for nothing. I don’t really want to tell her of the food poisoning, but she’ll find out anyways. I can’t keep secrets from her, as insignificant as they may be. She’s my soul-mate, so I won’t lie to her. I finish writing to her in the middle of the night, brush my teeth, then lay it down for the night. It’s after 1 am, so I’m going to try and get a couple of hours in before chow shows up at 3 am (more or less). I’ll probably doze off praying when they show up with breakfast. I hope it’s not pancakes again, cuz I’m kinda hungry now.
I guess it’s been a good day… no fires were started (they cause smoke) and no one near me was gassed. Both the smoke and the gas can fill your cell even though it’s not your fire or your not the one being gassed. How? Those little slots in the steel doors that I said was sometimes a blessing, well this would be an instance when they aren’t. When the gas or smoke fills your cell you have two repreives. One, soak a towel with water and wring it out, then put it over your face, or two, if it’s real bad, place the wet towel over your head with your head down in the toilet (yep, you always want to keep your toilet clean; it doubles as your clothes washer too). When there are no gassings or smoke filling the pods, there’s a smell that difficult to explain. When I was captured and brought back into the “system” he first thing that ‘hit’ me was the smell. It’s a smell that I think could be described as a mixture of a hospital (cleaning supplies), basement (damp and musty), and some other smell that I can’t place. It’s just always there. One more thing that I hear that people think we have while in here is A/C. Nope.
And let me tell ya, it can reach 120* in the cell, on a hot day in summer, especially if your cell’s window, which are long, narrow slats of thick, unopenable glass, faces the sun. I use my fan. I use it alot.
I think I’ll be able to fall asleep now. And I smile as I drift off, because I know that my wife is nearby and I’ll see her sweet face in the morning. With that in mind, I drift off…
…I wake up at 2:30 am. The slamming of the steel doors has brought me out of a pleasent dream of my wife. We were kissing… sighs.
Oh, yeah. Pancakes again. Oh, well.