Hand to Hand, All Life Is Precious
Issues NewsMailing ListGuestbook JoinJoinWritingsCraftsPenpalsDeath Row Journal ContactsHome
News & Views
Gene Hathorn Encapsulated, Part II
Monday, 12-21-98
by Gene Hathorn
Author of Self Land: A Death Odyssey

Return to Part I

Today, as promised, the snitch packets were collected. Hours later, we remain locked down. We have not violated any rules and have done what was requested. We are angry because no one will tell us anything, such as whether we may recreate, shower, or receive visits.

Comments to officers are increasingly ribald:

"Say officer?"
"When you get time, bring those up here and I'll heat 'em up."
"What are you talking about?" Bring what up there?"
"Dem ass cheeks!"

The whole cellblock laughs.

"Say officer?"
"Could you come up here for a second, please?"
"What do you need?"
"I need you to come up here and grab deez nuts!"

There's another round of laughter, accompanied by door rattling.

For the beginning of the Gurule incident, see Gene's other article:

"Gurule had made it. He had, at least for now, bested the walls, fences, and the machinery of state-sanctioned death. "
Martin Gurule

window Most of us missed our visits on Saturday night. Indeed, I missed seeing my son for only the second time since he was 4. He's now 18. And we went two days without a shower or recreation, and we ate cold, tasteless sack lunches.

The rabble-rousers are not in a benevolent mood. I live on the second of three tiers and several times a day I see confetti — paper torn to shreds — drift down from 3-row. Since the lockdown keeps the inmate porters from working, the officers must clean up any mess that is made. After the confetti, containers of water are thrown. It is nearly impossible to sweep up wet confetti.

The officers' subsequent grumbling invites a barrage of obscenities, catcalls, and wolf whistles. The officers glare at those they assume made the mess, but obediently push the brooms.

Last night, an officer who is not well liked was on duty. Someone started a fire in protest. When confetti is dry, it burns easily. The resulting smoke burned my eyes and made me sneeze.

The officer left the wing, letting the fire burn.

More time passes. We hear nothing. Then we learn that the guys in seg are getting visits, recreation, and showers.

We looked through the window at the seg recreation yards, and we see some of the people who had attempted to escape with Gurule.

They tried to escape, but are allowed their privileges.

We violated no rules and are allowed nothing. This is too much to tolerate.

It started like a front of dark, lightning-laced clouds, ominous in their threat, coming over the horizon.

The wing grew quiet for a few minutes. But anger and hostility fermented to a fevered crescendo. Gone are the playful asides and sexual innuendo.

Now there is a pall of malignity borne out of anger over being punished too long for no reason. They say pressure will burst a pipe. The pipe of obedience we had labored to keep maintain is on the verge of rupture.

"Goddamn!" someone said. "The more we behave and sit back and take this shit, the more they break it off our ass!"

There were murmurs of agreement. More statements of the same truth. The tide couldn't be stemmed.

I listened. I knew the tone. I suggested to my cellie that we get our property off the floor, which was accomplished by placing cans of chili under the corners of our metal lockers to form stilts. And we tossed our other property — shoes, clothing, writing materials — up on the bunks.

Around us the din grew louder, and the tones more challenging, as if each man was attempting to pump up the courage of the other, and by extension his own. The officer working the wing is given an ultimatum: "Get somebody down here to tell us something or things are gonna get a lot worse!"

He skittishly replied that he would pass along to his superiors the message, but could promise nothing.

"That's alright!" one guy said. "WE can promise something! Get that Captain down here or we're gonna rock-n-roll!" ("Yeah, motherfucker! And while yer at it, stop by and suck deez nuts!")

Fifteen minutes passed as the tension built. Thirty minutes.

Then came the rains.

The guys on 3-row stopped up their toilets, causing them to overflow, and my cellie and I, looking at each and shaking our heads, watched as sheets of shit-smelling water poured over the run and drizzled to 1-row.

Then some guys on our row flooded, and the water ran down in front of, then into, our cell. There were triumphant whoops and hollers. The frazzled officer, who couldn't stand it any longer, left the wing.

The water flowed, and confetti and potato chip bags accumulated in front of our cell. Our cell was the last on the row. For some reason, it sits lower than the rest.

It reminded me of boyhood walks along ditches swollen with spring rains. I'd marvel at the detritus collected by the foaming water, sometimes becoming entranced by the hollow thump of rain drops falling on a Frito bag or a soda can, knowing that subsequent cycles of rain and sunshine would fade their vibrant, colorful markings. An apt metaphor for life.

The flood continued until the lieutenant came on the wing. He told us we would be allowed to recreate in 15 minutes, that we could shower afterward, that we could go to the commissary that night, and that visits would resume the next day.

But, we were suspicious and didn't know how long this largesse would last. The temperamental attitudes aside, ever since the escape, the wardens have sought to disrupt our lives whenever and however they can.

Who could know what the next reason for a total lockdown would be?

The burden of this emotional earthquake is crushing. It makes one question what — in the face of diabolical machinations on the part of our keepers, the courts, the media, and the victims' rights groups — is the use of going on.

Even in years past, when hope was something that had a chance of bearing fruit, a person on death row thought now and then of dropping his appeal just to end the madness. Several did.

Execution RoomHow much more prevalent are such considerations now that hope is considered na´ve, a pipe dream for the weak-minded and faint of heart?

I recall a movie, Soylent Green, that I watched when I was small. The premise of this movie was that in a post-apocalyptic world, where food was scarce, people's dead bodies were taken to a factory and processed into food cakes that were provided to the starving masses.

An interesting part of this movie was that the government established a program that allowed those tired of the struggle to volunteer to die. Such a person would go to the "death" center, fill out the appropriate papers relinquishing all claims to life, and would be escorted by beneficent-looking attendants to a room.

There, the person would lie on a comfortable bed and begin drinking a glass of his favorite wine. The walls, actually movie screens, would show beautiful nature scenes and hidden speakers would pipe in his favorite music. His wine having been laced with a drug, the person would lie there enjoying the view until he went to sleep, never to awake.

If the TDCJ implemented such a program, dropping appeals would be inviting. But, the Texas gulag mentality forbids the executioners from participating in a process that would be too easy on the condemned. If one did volunteer to die, he would be exterminated in the same manner as another who went kicking and screaming. He'd be strapped down by grim-faced reapers who pride themselves on their killing efficiency and brag to the media about the "professionalism."

Christmas Day.

Every radio station played holiday music this week. It was tortuous, maddening in its message of good will toward men, and its images of familial embraces around a roaring fire. Despite the circumstances, every year I manage to conjure up a skosh of holiday spirit. But, this year the lockdown and other punishments related to the escape have wrung all the festive juices from me.

I'm a husk, a vessel empty of warmth, hope, or gaiety. I am in a barren expanse of nothingness surrounded by a barrier that prevents the ingress of anything good. I ponder the ability of man to inflict pain on those less fortunate than himself. The answers that come to me are redolent with shame, and I choke back the tears that constrict my throat. To allow the feelings to be released would be perceived by my cellie as weak.

Most people are inherently good. I believe this. The mystery I must solve is what I have done in this or other lives to cause me to suffer. A casual observer may say I suffer because I committed a crime. But this is uninformed hyperbole, for no one has walked in my shoes, neither before the crime nor since. For critics, it would be easy — from their glass houses and brittle pedestals — to asperse me. This approach is more convenient than trying to understand. To understand would crumble long-held beliefs.

But that destruction would result in a more expanded thought process, translating into the type of action, if undertaken collectively, that would heal the world, and cleanse and dress its putrescent wounds.

I am no longer bitter about my plight, but feel compelled to seek the answer to the conundrum. The inexplicability that, within the beauty of life and its wholeness, burdens me with black frustration.

Visits resumed on Tuesday, and I was blessed to see a dear friend and my son. One thing he took pride in sharing is that he has become a hunter of deer and other forest animals.

I sensed in him the need for superiority that too often gets planted in the hearts of our young ones, a need to prove oneself a conqueror, a slayer — whether the victims are animals, or the hopes and dreams of others.

The only silver lining in this cloud is that I am not the one who taught him. I spoke briefly about my dislike of killing animals even though I grew up in the country and it was expected of me as a bloody rite of passage, That I dislike killing animals because they are pretty and never caused me a second's harm.

I also averred that I am particularly annoyed by people who kill animals in order to mount their heads on a wall. My son looked sheepish (for he has done this, or at least wishes to) but holding his ground, said that hanging the head on the wall shows respect for the animal.

I did not spar with him, but could not help thinking that the best way to show respect for the animal would be to let it live.

          . . . Return to Part I

spacer writings
Gene Hathorn # 800
Ellis Unit D/R
Huntsville, TX 77343
Gene and Son Brian
For the beginning of the Gurule incident, see Gene's other article:

"Gurule had made it. He had, at least for now, bested the walls, fences, and the machinery of state-sanctioned death. "
Martin Gurule
d.e.p.a.r.t.u.r.e .


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Home | News | Issues | Mailing List | Guestbook
Prisoners: Writings | Crafts | Pen Pals
Death Row Journal | Contacts | Links