ANIMAL INSTINCTS BY PAUL COLELLA
Yesterday is a day I'll remember for the rest of my life; it was the day I was reduced to an animal. But let me take you back a little ways.
On the Ellis Unit where Death Row was housed for more than 20 years, I met Richard Cartwright. Through our passion for tattoos, we became friends. I being the artist and he being the collector. On Polunsky1 they had a work program which if housed on a work capable wing, you had a cell partner. Rich and I became cell partners. We shared our lives with one another. He wrote to my mother, I wrote to his. We became close friends and eventually formed a bond, some would say is closer than blood. We consider each others brothers. Not only did Polunsky have a work program, they also let us use our hands and minds in a creative manner. Through arts and crafts some guys made jewelry, some wood crafts, painting, drawing, model cars, even things as tame as knitting scarfs and hats from yarn.
We had group recreation where we could go to the yard, (a big cage like at the zoo) pick teams and play basketball, handball or volleyball. Or we could sit and watch T.V., play dominos, chess or scrabble. Social interaction is a human need. In all 20 years Death Row had less percentage of disciplinary problems than the whole system.
In 1998 it all changed due to the lazy guards, 7 men attempted escape. The guards weren't doing their security checks as they were required to. So, all the fault lies with them, yet we were punished. We were shipped to the terrible Terrell Unit which after first opening, an inmate was brutally beaten to death by several guards and their supervisors.
Now called the Polunsky Unit, (the change after Charles T. Terrell didn't want his name associated with Death Row) the brutality continues today yet, because of international attention the guards do not take it to the same extremes as in the past. They're now content with a few punches or kicks here and there. Though the use of chemical tear gas is so prevalent that the walls and bars are coated so bad that if you brush up against them, it burns your skin. Whenever gas is used they're supposed to decontaminate the area. In the 2 years of watching and being part of the gassings, I've yet to see them decontaminate a cell or area that the gas was used in. The walls have human outlines where they were sprayed.
We are in isolation solitary confinement 23 hours a day with no means of creative expression. We are not allowed to partake in schooling or G.E.D. classes. We are not allowed to attend religious services. There is no T.V. and no access to newspapers, books or magazines for those who have no one on the outside, who will order these things for them.
The clothes they give us are often damp and smell of the last persons use. We are provided no winter clothes. Food is of a quality and quantity barely sufficient to stop hunger. Men are looking like victims of concentration camps.
Guards are not trained to deal with Death Row inmates. They laugh and joke about executions, and a condemned mans last words. They talk about parties held to celebrate an execution. What little property that we are allowed is often stepped on or drug through the water. Basically violated and vandalized. Our grievance procedure is a running joke with the guards who know that unless a Captain or higher witness misconduct, they can get away with whatever they want.
On 1-11-02 my friend and brother fell victim to the brutality and misconduct. A guard continued to push and push till Rich spit in his face. When told to submit to hand restraints, Rich refused thinking the guards would handcuff and beat him. Chemical gas was shot at him 2 times and 5 riotgear dressed guards ran into his cell and proceeded to punch him in the face. This was the final straw for me. I have been protesting conditions and treatment here for 2 years. I've filed grievances, I've written to the wardens, my letters being passed down to the lieutenant, who just mentioned that the warden sent it on to him. I've written to the Texas Abolition Movement and several articles pleading for help.
After no reply, I lit fires, I flooded, I refused to come in from recreation. I refused to walk from the shower to my cell. I've done everything possible to get something done with no results.
On 1-12-02, I was reduced to an animal. I took the actions of an animal. I put feces inside a shampoo bottle and waited. When the guards came to get my tray, I refused to put my arm back in from the food slot so it could be closed. I told the officers (who, by the way were a couple of the fair ones) that I wanted to see a supervisor. A sargent was called. This sargent happened to be one of the more fair ones. I told him I had no problem with him but that my brother was beaten the night before and I'd like to talk to the lieutenant.
A few minutes later I saw a lieutenant and an assistant warden headed my way. My heart pounded in my chest because I had the rare opportunity of making a point by getting a warden to listen.
When the two got in range, I squirted them both with feces. The hoots and heckles from my fellow inmates told me that others were just as frustrated and angry as I am. And as the warden and lieutenant ducked and dodged feces, I steeled my human heart and feelings of shame and for those few minutes I became exactly what they have been treating me as, an animal!
When it was over and done, they came with 7 guards, 5 in riot gear, one lieutenant with a gas canister and one guard with a camera. I yelled at the top of my lungs that I was not resisting and would submit to restraints because if I had not yelled, the sergeant would not have acknowledged my submission and would have shot the gas into my cell two times and then the riot gear dressed officers would have run in and hurt me so I submitted. They pulled me out of my cell and took all of my property and intentionally dragged it through the feces. They turned all of my water off and left me in my cell with only a matress and a pair of underwear. It's January and cold.
About 30 minutes later the warden comes to my cell to at first curse me which is understandable. I yell and scream my reasons while he tells me that it is my own fault. This would be true if I were in fact guilty of the crime that I was put here for. I am not! Even if I were guilty, I shouldn't be subjected to the conditions and treatment that's shown here.
After it is all over, I lay on my mat shivering in the cold and fall asleep. In the morning when I woke up, I was given bread or food loaf which is basically dough with raisins in it. A few hours later the warden again came to my cell, this time he wanted to reassure me that he would not risk his career by "beating my ass" but that when and if the day came , he would be there to witness justice being served as I was executed. This is the type of person they have to oversee us. I'm not mad at him for his ignorance of my case is at fault. Here we have a man in a position of authority who has no idea what I'm here for nor the circumstances of the crime I am here for, yet he, like so many others, believe that if a person is here then he must be guilty. I am not and I refuse to silently accept the brutality and mental torture which is so prevalent here at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston Texas. Texecution, US.A.
Now that my humanity has returned I feel ashamed by my actions. Here is another human being and even though he is a part of a system that has taken all I have in my impulsive animalistic behavior I subjected him to a very degrading act. .....But does that make me an animal? No it does not. It shows me to be a very frustrated and angry innocent man. ...When you take any man let alone an innocent man like me put me in a solitary world take me away from my family and friends, take all my incentive for good behavior totally degrade me, gas me and leave me with no means of creative expression or social interaction and then tell me I must accept whatever happens to me in silence because it is all my fault, what is left for me to do? Who can I complain to? Who will help me? I have filed the complaints, I have written letters to beg and plead. I have protested non violently and now I have been reduced to acting out like an animal. What is left? Should I just slip over the edge into insanity to cope with my situation in ignorance and unaware bliss? .....what is left?.....Help me please......Paul Colella