July 12, 1995
I got off on a bit of a tangent in the last column, so I will continue talking about East Block (Condemned Row II) in this one. Before I do, I'd like to reply to a comment that was made regarding what I said in a previous column. I had stated that polls show over 80% of Americans support the death penalty, so I expected that most of the people reading what I would write would probably reflect that. The comment was, since most of Alex's listeners are liberal, the 80% didn't apply. I agree most of Alex's listeners are liberal, so the 80% figure wouldn't be accurate. But, this page reaches beyond the range of Alex's listeners, so I would still argue that most would tend to be hostile, but I agree with you on your point. Thanks for your input.
It is after three in the morning as I sit here writing this. I stay up at nights a lot because it is usually the best time to write. The noise level has dropped, so it is easier to think and write without a lot of distractions. Occasionally, there will be someone that will start screaming in the middle of the night, but if I turn up my radio and adjust my headphones, it isn't too distracting. In about three or four hours the noise will jump back up to it's usual level.
The guards begin passing out the morning meal at 6:30 AM. This takes about 45 minutes. Each tier feeds at the same time, so the start and finish is about the same for everyone. At 7:30 AM, they will begin the yard movement. Anyone that wants to go out to the yard will wait by their cell door f or the guards to come let you out. Before you are allowed out, they will strip search you, go through your clothes, look in your mouth, under your balls and up your butt. Once this is done, you can put on your underwear and shoes and are handcuffed then you are let out of your cell. You carry your jeans and your shirt under your arm. Before you are allowed onto your assigned yard, you must have a metal detector passed over your body, making sure you are not smuggling weapons out with you.
There are four yards in East Block, for the condemned inmates. You are assigned to a yard based on whether you have problems with anyone. Each yard is approximately 40 feet by 60 feet. There is a basketball hoop, some weights, a chin-up bar, plus two card tables. In a corner, there is also a showerhead, sink and toilet. Around 60 to 70 guys are assigned to each yard, slightly more on some yards, less on others.
I participated in yard at one time, but I've stopped doing so. It got to be too crazy and I figured I could put my time to better use in my cell. There are quite a few guys here that feel the same as I and don't go out to the yard either. Going to the yard is just not worth all of the bullshit that is involved. For one thing, you never know when a fight will break out and the guards will start shooting. They may not be shooting at you, but when you are in a confined space that is mostly concrete, there is always the risk that you will be hit by a ricocheting bullet.
The first time I went to the yard, a few days after I arrived in East Block, I was walking around the yard to get my bearings and to check out my environment a bit. As I made a few circuits around the compound, I noticed the concrete had a lot of holes in it. Later, I was leaning against the wall talking with one of the guys and I commented on the poor workmanship of the concrete. The guy looked at me as if I was drooling on myself. He snickered and said, "That's not poor workmanship, it's because of poor marksmanship". It turns out that all the chips I had noticed were from the bullets fired into the yard during altercations. It was at that point that I began to wonder if I really wanted to hang out in a place where part of the exercise program was dodging bullets.
I think that what finally made up my mind for me is the "Chimney". Everyday that I went to the yard, I would end up leaning against the wall. As I leaned there, I could watch what was going on around me. At the end of the row of yard compounds is where the Gas Chamber is located. Sticking out of the roof of the Chamber is a huge green pipe, used to vent the poison gas after an execution is carried out. I would catch myself staring at this pipe everyday and wondering if that pipe would someday be venting the poison gas used to execute me. It was soon after this that I decided that I didn't really want to hang out in the yard any longer.