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John Writes To You

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John Writes To You From Death Row (January 2000)

For fifteen years now, I’ve been fighting to prove my innocence. It’s hard to do so when you are fighting a corrupted system, and attorneys that should be fighting for you, but everything that they’ve done seems to go against you. Being poor, black, and accused of killing a rich man’s son didn’t help, either. Matter of fact, it only made everything and everybody involved, including my own lawyers, that much more willing to do whatever it took to convict me.

This act of the police department, judge and district attorney totally destroyed my life. My dreams, my vision of the future. My kids, who were at a very young age when I had to explain to them why daddy can’t come home. The most important thing to me was being a good father to my kids. I wanted a lot of kids, at least five.

I can remember talking to my younger son, John Jr., who was getting ready to turn four the very next month after my arrest. He had a birthday party, and he collected money from the guests. I called late after his party to wish him well. What he said, tore my heart to pieces. "Daddy, I got money now, and Mommy is coming to get you out of jail."

And our parish jail doesn’t allow kids. So my first two years were spent without seeing the two people in this world I love the most.

After the first month of my arrest, the state realized I wouldn’t collaborate with them. They placed five counts of robbery on me, to make sure I wouldn’t go anywhere any time soon. Finally, they decided to try to take me to trial on one of the robbery charges, because their murder case was weak if I wasn’t going to testify for them.

Somewhere down this line after I was convicted, I realized exactly how serious my situation was. At first, I knew I wasn’t involved in any murder, so I wasn’t really worrying about anything. I was just trying to go to trial on the murder. Now, it was a new ball game, and I was in real deep after the conviction.

I was afraid. I didn’t understand how I could be found guilty when five people testified that I was at work (at the time of the murder). This also destroyed my mom and girlfriend at the time. We had just moved into a new apartment. Denise, my youngest son’s mom, and I were both young when John Jr. was born, but we still moved out on our own. I dropped out of school to take care of now my two sons. Denise stayed in school and worked part-time. After my arrest, she became afraid to live by herself, and decided to move back in with her mother.

I was moved off the receiving tier, to a tier where everyone had big time, 99 years and more. Then came my rude awakening of what prison life consists of. The first night there, I watched a young man get raped. The very next day, the store came around and guys were paying draft to keep guys off them.

I had been down now three or four months, and my world was falling apart. I was getting ready for a murder trial, and at the same time I had to worry about this crazy new environment I had entered, which was very real. Guys were raping young men; I was young, so I had to be careful. What I thought was an isolated thing, turned out to be the norm. There were 55 inmates housed on that tier, and 20 of them were being used as sex toys. This was my first time doing time, and although I had heard the stories and seen the movies, nothing compared to reality.

Five months had passed since I was found guilty of the murder. Denise was letting everyone get in her head, telling her to leave me. So, I guess the pressure was too much, and she started seeing a guy. After I’d been in only six months, she came to visit me and told me she was pregnant. This was too much for me to handle at one time.

During my murder trial, when I came back to the tier, I had things missing like stamps and food I had bought from the store. These are the games that guys play to feel you out, to see if you’re weak. The strong survive in prison, and I wasn’t going to be anyone’s sex toy. When I was told the woman I loved was carrying another man’s baby, I just went off. I decided it was time to make my stand. Little did I know, there were knives on the tier bigger than the ones I had at home. I was very stupid, but I was lucky as well. Most of the guys knew from the news that I had just received the death penalty. So, they just backed off and left me alone.

A year later, I arrived at Angola. My cell had belonged to a guy who had just been executed a few days before. Some of his belongings were still in the cell. I was hit with another reality.

Most of the these guys here on death row, you wouldn’t believe they committed the crimes the State says they did. Because a lot of other things were involved in their life, which brought about their circumstances. But to get to know one of them, and be around them every day. To share stories about life experiences, share food, money, clothes, etc. -- and then, out of the blue, the State takes them off and kills them. This was hard, and I was ready to have a nervous breakdown. Then someone told me, "Man, don’t get close to anyone here."

I wanted to do something, anything -- but there was nothing to be done. As they executed inmates one by one, my hate set in, and my thoughts were only that I could be next. These moments would descend upon me at peculiar times, as though my heart’s blood were fouled. Suddenly, my mind would light with images of me being strapped to the chair, the sound of electricity ringing in my head. I wasn’t ready to deal with going over to Camp D.

So, I called the lawyers at the coalition, and told them I wanted lawyers from another state. They told the people who look for lawyers about my wishes, and they said they would try. I wrote to over 200 law firms -- all turned me down.

Then, I witnessed what happened to another man who I had become close with. He was scheduled to die, but ten minutes before his time was up, he received a stay. The emotions I saw his family go through, is something I wouldn’t wish on someone I hate.

I started thinking about my family. I am the only child of my mother, so I know this situation affects her. Imagine, the state is trying to kill your only child. My two sons, dealing with a father who is on death row. So, the years went on and they’ve grown older. My youngest son, bearing my name, was under a lot of pressure. After reading about me in the newspaper, his teacher once asked him in front of the class if his father was scheduled to die!

Out of everything, what I felt most sorry about, was that the State took me away from my two sons. Destroyed my dreams of helping my son learn to ride a bike. Teaching him how to swim, catch a baseball, play football. Things a father dreams of doing with his sons.

February 2000

When guys go out there and commit another crime, our society wants to label them and say "throw away the key." This place can turn a man mad just to survive. Just to keep his manhood, he may need to commit a violent act. Picture a young, good-looking man who has just been sentenced to death or a long period of time. These guys are targets for a few reasons. First, they're young, which stands for the long run. A young, pretty punk goes for anywhere from $500 to $1000 in Angola. The longer his sentence, the more he is worth.

I should also say, these guys are first time offenders. So, they hear all these stories about the rapes and killings. Then, a guy tells them he could save them from being either raped or killed. If they refuse the protection, they show them how it is here by beating 'em up or maybe tap them a few times with a knife to scare them. It usually works.

Another thing is, their lawyers tell them to "stay out of trouble while I work on your appeals." It's crazy, because they will rape someone with two or three years just as fast. Because they know they (the new prisoners) won't hurt anything because they have only two or three years.

Now picture someone who came to Angola with five years -- now he has four life sentences for killing four guys behind his own ass. He came here 35 years ago, and is never going home.

So after being placed in the zoo with no protection, then let go -- what do you think, or better yet, how do you believe this person is to adjust? It is one of the reasons they return.

To Be Continued ...