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dying to get some sleep

we're movi.... we've moved! !

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For those unaware, the escape of six other inmates in November 1998, caused an investigation by the Texas Rangers and Governor Bush's office. It resulted in the Death Row Work Capable Program at the Ellis Unit to be discontinued and a great debate began as to whether the older Polunsky building was secure enough to house Death Row prisoners.

A portion of the inmates were moved in June and another group in November 1999. These were supposed to be the "high risk" inmates. After months of speculation over when, or even if, the remaining inmates would be moved from the Ellis Unit to the Terrell Unit, we were all moved on March 2 and 3, 2000.

The evening prior to the move began with the officer coming by with sacks, giving each of us two and telling us we had two hours in which to pack what we could of our property. Unable to fit 13 years of possesions into two sacks, many things such as books, catalogs, and less sentimental items had to be left behind.

The following morning, we were handcuffed and escorted from our cells. We were taken to the back lot where three buses awaited us, but not before we went through an assembly line of officers who stripped us naked for a search. We were then fitted with sleeveless jumpsuits (no boxers) and cloth slippers. I missed my pair of slippers so I had to walk barefoot.

I was led to another group of officers that first placed front handcuffs on me. I was then seated on the ground and shackled, giving me only enough slack so that I had to walk stooped over. After being helped up by the officers, that's exactly what I had to do. I had to waddle to the bus, only being able to see what was a few feet in front of me because I could not stand erect.

As I came to the steps of the bus, I realized that I had to hop to make the first step of the stair, the officer only aiding those who were very old and not as dexterous as the rest of us. I made my way to the rear of the bus where others before me sat waiting with mixed emotions of fear, anger, anxiety, nearly hysterical ranting, and nervous laughter. Some just sat with quiet resolve to endure what they could do nothing to prevent. I was one of those.

After all three buses were filled, we were on our way, escorted by the Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, various TDCJ officials, and, of course, the press. We had a helicopter escort as well. As we began our trek from Huntsville, roads were closed in our wake. The trip took about forty minutes. Most everything was a blur because I was hunched over, ladened with chains. The most notable thing I do remember was the size of Lake Livingston and silently praying the driver wouldn't go kamikaze into the water.

As we arrived at the new unit-our new home-I heard shouts, "Man, it's BIG!", or "It looks like one of those new schools", or "Whatda?". Personally, I saw no signs of life. No inmates wiping their brows in the hot sun as they tended the landscape, like at Ellis. No sweaty inmates stopping basketball mid-game to curiously watch the new arrivals. As the motorcade of buses maneuvered through the compound we soon saw where everyone was guards - at least. A check-in station had been erected for us under a tin canopy. As we disembarked from the buses, our chains were removed so we could finally stand. Handcuffs in place, we were taken through another procession, again stripped of our jumpsuits (apparently these belonged to the Ellis Unit and had to be returned), given ill-fitting boxers and socks. As our names were verified on a roster, we were quickly escorted to our new cells.

As the door slammed behind me, it only took me a couple of seconds to take in the 6'x10' cell. It contained: a bunk with shelf space underneath; a desk with one other shelf above it; and a combination sink and toilet. A small slit of a window (3''x36'') gave me the only ray of sunshine I would see for some time.

I was jarred from my stupor as the officer told me to turn around, squat and thrust my handcuffed hands through the beanslot (a slot in the door used to slide our trays through in the old days, usually beans and bread-hence, beanslot, so he could uncuff me. I stood there in my baggy boxers and socks waiting for someone to give me a set of clothes or a jumpsuit, but no one came. I watched as others were brought into their respective cells, trying to see where they were putting my friends. It was quiet. I suppose everyone was coming to terms with the new situation.

Not much has changed since that day. We are confined to our cells 23 hours a day. We have the opportunity to come out for recreation for one hour but most don't even bother because you can only go to the dayroom or what they call outside rec by yourself. There is no physical contact with another prisoner. Outside rec is basically a dayroom with the roof off. You can only look up and see the sky.

The picture here shows the layout on one of the pods. The officer in the foreground can be seen standing between two of the cell doors. If you look towards the bottom of the doors, barely visible is the beanslot. Each time we leave our cells, we have to turn around, squat, and stick our wrists through the beanslot to be handcuffed.

The plexiglass covering the front of the cells (to prevent urine and feces from being thrown on the officers) prevents any meaningful conversations. I'm on a less restrictive pod where the doors are not covered so I can carry on conversations to a certain degree. But that's as little as the restrictions get.

I am still confined 23 hours a day. There is: no television; No group recreation; and no work program. The Arts & Crafts program is still suspended and to top it off my word processor was damaged during the move (which they refuse to take responsibility for) so writing for publication is out for now.

Most of you who know me pretty well know that I'm not a complainer. I have tried to answer most of your questions because this is all new to me and to you and many of you wanted to know how I was coping and what it is like here. I do stick to my original statement that humans weren't meant to live like this.

Sadly, there have been two attempted suicides. Men are becoming recluses and introverts. Some sleep the majority of the time, being listless and cranky. Not everyone has the ability or means to find things in their cell to occupy their time as I do. And I do thank those who have sent books, got me the bookclub membership and sent puzzles. And I am really grateful to the two who sent money to the Trust Fund because the food here sucks! Really.

But, you know me, I deal with what I have and make the best of it. I'm still the eternal optimist and, "An optimist is one who makes the best of it when he gets the worst of it".

I have the unique opportunity to get more done now than I had before because of all the distraction. Without TV's I read more. I've probably read more books in these three months than I have in three years.

I hope to have an e-mail account available soon, so in cases where those of you overseas need to contact me quickly, you'll be able to. I also hope to have a website set up as well. Anyone want to be my Web Master contact me. And, of course, the new card line.

Others are taking advantage of this time as well. I've had the privilege to help some of the younger guys (and they are young-some are only 19 or 20), promote their art, writings, and set up defense funds.

Of course, the main thing is I've been able to spend more time with those of you to whom I write on a regular basis. You probably get tired of my long, handwritten letters, but your friendship and love is invaluable. You're my therapists (please, don't bill me!) and I am grateful to all of you. Thanks.

Also, some of your letters may have been returned and not forwarded from Ellis and some I haven't written since the move. For clarification, please write to :

  James V. Allridge III # 870
  Polunsky Unit
  3872 F.M. 350 South
  Livingston, TX 77351-9630