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An inmate tells about the conditions on Texas Death Row

By Nanon M. Williams, Polunsky Unit


March 16, 2002

Dear Supporters, Abolitionists, Family & Friends:


After being incarcerated for more than a decade, I've seen many things come and go. As there is a need to convey many things, I am not sure where to start. Sometimes it seems as though the beginnings are always there, and the endings never too far behind. That is what is happening to me. My beginning is slowly transforming into a never ending abyss. I feel like I am a moment away from breaking down.

To date, I've seen well over 200 men and a few women executed, constant acts of violence that have become as routine as breathing, suicides, depression, gassings (to the point of suffocation), beatings by guards (where shouts and cries become piercing screams and physical damage is permanent and sometimes fatal) and unbearable pain on levels one can not begin to imagine. I dare not think about what goes on here in attempts to maintain my sanity and above all hope. Hope is all we have to get us through the day. Hope acts as an assurance that a better tomorrow lies ahead. Once hope is gone, in a sense, all life is gone.

When I think back on the years at Ellis Unit (formerly used to house Texas Death Row Inmates), the same problems occurred there as they do here at Polunsky Unit. However, at Ellis Unit, the men were able to work, recreate and interact with one another, watch television, walk without shackles and dream; all in a controlled environment. All these things showed signs of life.

Since being transferred to Polunsky Unit, the prisoners are isolated 23 hours per day (allowed to recreate 1 hour in a small cage), no physical contact (not even for visits), random and unnecessary strip searches
(where guards mock and ridicule), no television to keep up with current world events, no personal property (except for a few books), no education system (as most prisoners here have little or no formal education), no
work or religious programs, small food rations (often spoiled and undercooked), cell temperatures that are freezing in the winter and scorching in the summer, lack of medical attention (resulting in deaths of those who desperately need it) and countless inhumane and sub-human conditions.

Polunsky unit is not just another prison to house death row inmates, but a place of permanent solitary. Not solitary-like, but total and complete isolation.

As a result of being in permanent solitary, most men here are beginning to suffer from sensory deprivation. What is sensory deprivation? Sensory deprivation is the break down and loss of ones senses (touch, taste,
hearing, sight and smell). When the body receives no stimulation (not even something as simple as a handshake), the need of mental and physical balance is non-existent. When the mind becomes overwhelmed, a deep depression sets in, resulting in the inability to control moods. I am not a psychiatrist and cannot list all the effects this is having on the men here, but I can tell you from experience that it is altering the minds of men; literally killing them.

I can not describe what is going on here, except to say that the souls of these men are gone. They are alive, but they are not living. Some men sink into deep depressions and never recover. Others slowly become more aggressive like a tortured, beaten and starved lion. What will happen when that lion is released from its cage? Is it fair to say it would act rational? No! It will act irrational, finding refuge in the anger it feels. The anger will be the stimulation that it gains and thrives on from an altered state.

Though some feel a destructive rage, others have enough internal fortitude to recognize that showing any act of violence will not help or improve our conditions. Consequently, any attempt of physical and mental preservation, triggers the use of unnecessary "Necessary and Excessive Force" by prison guards. It is excessive force to the point of crippling and killing prisoners. Just the other day another man was gassed and beaten beyond recognition; all while handcuffed and shackled. The administering guards laughed as they bragged about who did the most damage. All of this "excessive force" inflicted on a man who was helpless and otherwise harmless. THIS IS BARBARIC! This must be investigated and stopped.

The prisoners here release bouts of displeasure through shouts, screams, snarling, gnashing of teeth, and sounds that are so foreign one wonders if it's a show of masculinity or insanity? People fail to see that this is a sign of fear-a fear that we (prisoners) can no longer hide.

Since being transferred here things have changed dramatically. We are "dead men walking"--not living, just existing. We realize that many people have been fighting on our behalf and making sacrifices to change the conditions we are living in. However, there is power in the masses. Media attention is crucial. In an attempt to combat the living conditions, the Death Row prisoners are organizing a 60-day non-violence protest. Collectively we (prisoners) greed that from May 1st to July we will adhere to the following:

- Hunger strikes

- No recreation

- No showering (except daily wash-ups in our cells)

- No commissary (except to purchase postage and hygiene products)

- No communication with prison staff (except to show identification for mail, count time and/or visits)

By coming together collectively we, the prisoners, will be subjected to beatings, gassings, visitation denials, even less food rations, property seizures and other cruel and inhumane acts. What goes on here is like a sick experiment to see if the will and spirits of men can be broken.

As a civilized society, we pride ourselves on the ability to act rational when the world around us is irrational. What is taking place here is not only irrational, but inhumane and horrifying. Animals in a zoo are required more space than what we are allowed, more food and better treatment. There are laws in effect that protect animals from cruelty. There are laws to protect us, but they are not enforced.

Where is the rehabilitation? Where is the justice? Prison is supposed to take away your freedom, not your dignity or man/womanhood. Granted, some prisoners here have committed heinous crimes, yet, not everyone on death row is guilty of the crime(s) for which they were accused and convicted. Must we all suffer for the acts of a few? Blind faith in a failing system that is racist and renders injustice to poor people and more so people of color has lead to what is now known as Institutionalized Slavery. You
will never see a rich man on death row!

Through our (death row prisoners) continued suffering and struggle, we will hold steadfast to our protests in hopes that it will prove beneficial to our cause.

In the spirit of struggle,


Nanon M. Williams
Polunsky Unit - ID# 999163
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351

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