Departure, Part II
Area maps and photos in both sections
by Gene Hathorn
Author of Self Land: A Death Odyssey
back to part I
Saturday Morning, 7:00 a.m.:
We were awakened by the guards, and told to vacate our cells. Then the cells were searched. No showers or TV were allowed the rest of the day, and Saturday visits were cancelled. I had been scheduled to see someone from overseas.
The cellblock was mostly quiet although a few conversations ensued about Gurule and his chances of making a clean getaway. It was a boring day, and we did a lot of reading and listening to the radio. My ears grew tired from wearing the headphones so long.
Sunday Morning, 7:00 a.m.:
We were allowed to shower, and the guards, perhaps fearing unrest if we convicts missed our weekly football games, turned on the TVs. The guards alernated between maintaining skeleton crew shifts in the building and manning a perimeter around the wooded area in which Gurule was suspected of hiding. So there were few guards working, and those few were worn and testy.
The embarrassment of the prison administrators over losing a death row inmate had trickled down to rank-and-file guards. They were not happy. It was bad enough to lose a death row inmate, but adding insult to injury was the media scrutiny being focused on their erstwhile citadel of secrecy.
Last year, some convicts attempted to leave from the same area from which Gurule escaped, and it is rumored that the prison kept this secret.
Further, they did nothing to correct the security problem!
By this time the convicts, many of whom are young and have never been through an extended lockdown, were getting antsy and testy themselves.
Convict protocol forbids us from showing weakness by complaining. Therefore, gripes and bitches were rendered obliquely via sarcasm and humorous asides, and hopeful questions asked of the old hands like myself. "How long ya think we'll be locked down?" some asked.
I am not bothered by the lockdown because I have been through it before. In 1985, the prison gangs were at war and many lives were lost to violence. We were locked down for six weeks.
But an escape from death row is different. If the convicts are killing one another, the guards, after perfunctory investigations and looking up the combatants, take it in stride.
But, if by escaping, an inmate makes them look bad, it's a whole 'nother matter. Vengeance will be exacted, and, true to form, exacted from everyone, regardless of whether they have violated the rules. So when I'm asked how long we will be locked down I say I don't know, but it could be bad.
Every day, we hear what we can on the radio and solicit information from reticent guards.
The initial indication is that the work program area, from where the escape took place, will be under attack by the prison administrators.
Perhaps with an eye toward relocating all on death row even those convicts who have for years maintained clean disciplinary records to the state-of-the-art super segregation unit a few miles down the road.
This approach seems to us at odds with the fact that when a murderer escapes from general population there is no push to lock his farm down forever and do away with his work.
Indeed, were this approach adopted system-wide, the TDCJ would eventually find itself without anyone to man its many (profitable) industries.
Day Six: Gurule is still at large.
Troubling to me: While the convicts outwardly express their wishes that he get away, the undertone of some of their voices indicates their desire that he be captured, so things can return to normal.
It's just another indication of the divide and conquer strategy utilized by the keepers to breed resentment and selfishness among us. Their strategy is effective, and has been for years.
The TVs (useful pacifiers) are turned on every day now. We are allowed our daily shower, and all meals are served hot, but there are no commissary privileges or visits. We are allowed to send and receive mail but, with no commissary privileges, stamp stores will diminish soon. Then we will have no means of mailing our letters.
As for me, I hope Gurule makes it, if for no other reason than to accentuate how terrible is our existence here, and the pall of death and despair under which we live. This pall, due to the grotesque demands by members of the public for our extinction and by our keepers' truckling fulfillment of their perceived obligation, grows steadily worse, eloquent of sorrow and inhumanity.
Day Seven: We continue to be neglected and abused.
The only time we see an officer is at count time and meal times, when they whisk into the wing, pass out our drink and trays, pick up the trays when we are finished, then leave without heeding our requests for basic necessities like toilet paper.
Once a week, we are allotted a roll and it was passed out last week (but not this week). But, during the shakedown Saturday, most extra rolls were confiscated and now many people are low, or out. But, when we ask the officers for toilet paper, the buck gets passed. They'll say, "The next shift will pass it out." Just to get us out of their faces and stop the inquiries, they say what they think we wish to hear.
On the evening shift, the guards bring general population porters in to help them feed supper, a testament to the guards' laziness. But the GP porters, because they would rather be elsewhere doing other things, are just as lazy.
Consequently when food is spilled on the floor it does not get cleaned up. A puddle of applesauce lay on the floor for hours today, hardening and attracting gnats, but the porters and guards were not around to see or smell the mess.
When the guards came in to count, they walked through the applesauce, smearing it, pretending not to notice. If they noticed it, they'd be required to clean it up, or draft one of the GP porters to do it, and this would be too much trouble.
Given their recent long hours and time away from their families, their laziness and apathy are understandable. But, bear in mind that the people on whom they were heaping degradation were guilty of nary a rule infraction. The de facto punishment was arbitrary and intentional.
At 6:30 p.m. someone shouted over the run that from the radio he heard a body fitting the description of Gurule was found by two off-duty guards on a fishing excursion.
I am saddened by this news for Gurule and his family, but angered by the reaction of some of the convicts. There was a palpable shift in mood, from morose to festive.
Rather than consider that one of our own was dead, the talk was about how we'd soon get off lockdown, and resume commissary and visitation privileges. Making the banter more repugnant was that another of our number was scheduled for execution that night, yet not a word of concern was expressed for him. It was business as usual.
I sat quietly and pondered how Gurule must have felt, dying alone and hunted. Did he die from a wound inflicted during his escape? Exposure? Did he live for hours or days? Were his last dogged moments filled with thoughts of his family? Whether or not he would make it through the picket line and dogs to eventually touch his loved ones again?
Right or wrong, Gurule went out like a man. I was compelled to lift a cup of hot chocolate to toast him.
When news came that Gurule's body had been positively identified, a guard, no longer testy and bedraggled, sauntered through the wing to gloat and glare at us with smug superiority, as if he himself had captured Gurule.
At 9:00 p.m. we heard something we had not heard for a week: The unit siren blared twice, announcing that, once again, count was clear.
Martin Gurule accomplished something that the rest of us never will: He died a free man.
Copyright . Gene Hathorn
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