“If you want your dick sucked real good contact Todd in #22 cell," read one graffiti message that is carved into the concrete wall of the cell I now occupy.
I have no idea who this Todd fellow is or was. What I do know is whoever wrote it didn’t like the guy. Then again; maybe he did. There’s other messages too, e.g., “Jesus Saves,” along with a few bible scriptures. Another message read, “Big Jack was here.” I knew him. A good person.
Every six months death row inmates are moved from cell-to-cell, or pod-to-pod: for what the administration calls ‘security reasons’. I suppose if you leave a guy in the same cell too long one could take apart the contraption that holds him bit-by-bit. I mean it works in the movies, right?
I hate death row with a passion. I hate being here. I hate even more being moved to another cell. The administration, by policy, is suppose to have the cells inspected and cleaned thoroughly before placing another death row inmate inside. They do not do this at all. They just shuttle us from cell to cell, and depend on us to clean the cells with our own commissary bought cleaning supplies. I’ve filed grievances, spoke to the higher rank-to no avail. I get it. I’m literally the only one complaining about this issue, out of 200 other DR inmates. If others were to complain perhaps they would address the issue. Since no one else is, why bother? And you damn right its frustrating as it is disgusting to enter a sty. The average DR inmate do not clean their cells nor the ‘insides’ of their toilets, and many don’t clean their toilets period. So every fucking time I am moved to a different cell I come face-to-face with a toilet that has caked-up shit rings around the inside. Since I suffer from OCD I can not rest seeing the toilet like that, so I put state socks on my hands (they wont even give us gloves) take a toothbrush and use my commissary brought cleaning supplies:i.e., FReshscent shampoo, Heritage detergent, and Dial soap-to clean the germ infested stainless steels toilet. It takes about three days for me to feel comfortable about sleeping four-feet away from the toilet.
The cells have a banal scent to it that’s a farrago of mold, musk from previous occupants’ tenure, and despair; yes even despair has its own hopeless and filty scent. I flood the cell with hot water. Throw soapy water unto the walls and ceiling, and then clean every part of the cell. It can take hours or days, depending on who was in the cell previously and how clean or decent the soigne person is or isn’t. It’s a task I don’t want to do, though it’s one I dread doing.
Solitary confinement is a metaphor of expressive neglectful riches. For example; all held within solitary are Jonahs and death row is that ‘big fish’. And since time in here has no backbone and isn’t a certainty, three days could mean three years or three decades, or all points in-between. You spend evey aching moment alone. You wrestle with your thoughts and mentally assault yourself with your failures: what could have been, and those lustful desires of a future being free that is more fleeing than promising.
The Quakers was the first to implement solitary confinement to the American penal discipleship, but even they understood that isolation should not succeed ten-years of ones life, because the ‘long term’ prognosis shows that it do deteriorate ones mind and body. You start to break down-knowingly or unknowingly. I’ve known men who severed their dicks off out of frustration or demented illusions that their manhood was unfit to ever use again, or it now represents a lost art of happiness. I knew a man who sat still while he lit himself on fire. I know a few who committed suicide. I know many who cut on themselves or many more who loose all sense of reality and begin hearing voices and seeing ‘ghosts’. I was talking to a guy the other day and he was normal. The very next day he just snapped-started hearing people talk about him and fearing that people was trying to come in his cell and kill him. And it was not an act.
People that befriend me often celebrate the fact that in their minds I am [mentally] strong. I know they are being kind and mean well. Or perhaps in their minds I really do appear strong which would only mean I am a good “actor”. But the truth is, I’ve had suicidal thoughts as well. I struggle with daily depression: Endogenous depression. I’ve been abused by solitary confinement’s psychological fustigation for so long that the irony is I actually feel comfortable when I am...Alone.
I am not prepared for death (to be fairly honest) and yet in the corners of my mind-death is my ‘Salvation’, if being freed from this concrete hell is not in my future’s cards of Liberation.
I’m existing through every tick of the clock. I’ve seen 5:55p.m. some 8,212 times and counting. Knowing this I realize existing is not the same as living.
Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
22 years in solitary / ad seg
June 17, 2021
Words by CHARLES MAMOU
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS