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DEATH ROW words by Tony Medina

“… when all one has is one`s own thoughts, it won`t take very long for them to turn inwards on themselves, and on the one who thinks them… Where lies the path to insanity.”

What they say about history repeating itself is true. A couple years ago I sat in this very same cage, at this very same steel bunk, typing on this very same typewriter and wrote about this world I`ve been in since 1996… DEATH ROW. For as sure as I am sitting here writing these words, Death Row is undoubtedly a world unto itself.

But that was for a different website, one lost to the World-Wide-Web when someone I trusted a little flipped and erased it all. So my friend who runs this site for me and is struggling with me to help save my life suggested I write about, or describe, Death Row. So here I am again, and in a way it`s poetic… You see, it`s a little after 11:30 p.m. on December 31, 2007. NEW YEARS EVE. Since it was on this night 12 years ago that my whole world was forever changed, it feels right that I spend this time now trying to give you a glimpse of the world I now struggle through.

I`ve been trying to put these words together for over a month but just could not seem to focus my thoughts properly, then earlier tonight, as I was sitting in this cage reading a book a friend sent me, it was like my mind was a Las Vegas slot machine with all the 7`s lined up… Thoughts just started pouring out.

In the more then eleven long years I`ve been on death row (4, 126 days to be exact) I have had a lot of people from the outside world ask me what it is like here. What do we do during the days? How do they treat us? How is the food? Can we make friends? How do you buy stamps and food? What can you have? What do we think about? How do we deal with being trapped in this cage?... A hundered different questions with a thousand different answers. After all, each man back here in these concrete and steel cages has their own way of dealing with being here. So this time around, I decided to do something a little different, this time as I give you a tour through Death Row, I`m going to let you see it through my eyes…

Walking into Polunsky unit is something of a confusing experience for most people first time around. They already have their own ideas of what it will be like. Then they arrive and see these huge concrete buildings, coil after coil of flesh tearing razor wire and fences within fences within more fences – then there is the flowers right outside the front door looking so pretty… How do you process the contradictions?

That`s Death Row folks… A world full of contradictions. Not only is the place itself a contradiction, but many of us within it`s walls are also.



This little space you see, this is where we are forced to spend the rest of our lives. Five days a week we are allowed out into bigger cages, either inside or outside where we can see slivers of sky through steel bars, for 2 hours of recreation. The rest of out time we are in this cage. Measuring about 7 feet by 11 feet it is smaller then most bathrooms in homes. Could YOU spend years of your life locked in your bathroom? Ofcourse, what this picture doesn`t show you are the ceilings that leak when it rains, so you wake up with a floor of water, and your property damaged. It doesn`t show you the showers that are mildewed and always smell of urine. It doesn`t show you how filthy the walkway is after the inmates who are suppose to clean only only pass over it with a mop soaked in dirty brown water.

Death Row is about the mind. Doing 10-15 years in population is more about dealing with being physically caged, trapped. You know you`re going home one day. But Death Row… Death Row is a whole different story. Death Row is a mental battle. We are either pacing the floor or laying back on our bunk staring at the wall while our minds tumble like a lone shoe in a washing machine. We wonder why we have not heard from our once close family and the many people who used to call us their friend.


We go crazy with worry about lawyers appointed to us by the state who we have not heard from and who we hear horror stories about from other inmates back here. When it gets really bad, when noone has written us, when we don`t even have a book to distract us because TDC says they do not have enough officers to pass out library and we have noone to order us a book from outside, when commissary returns your I.D. card with your whole list scratched out in red ink, saying “no $” and you see everyone else eating ice cream but you, when Texas just legally murdered your best friend, or the man you came to see as a brother over countless years and you can`t even escape into sleep because officers will not stop slamming gates and doors that vibrate your cell… that is when the voices start. That first time you hear “that” voice, you`re scared. “It this it?” “Am I going crazy?” Then you understand that all you are hearing is your own voice asking questions…

This isn`t something someone else told me about, I`ve been there. I`ve woken up in the middle of the night with cold sweats, searching for the voices belonging to the screams. I`ve sat in my cage wondering where everyone I once knew was. I`ve laid in the dark hearing my own voice and questioning my sanity. That is what this type of segregation lock-down is meant to do. Break you mentally. You stand in your cage with the lights off at 2 a.m. staring out the screens of your door to a dark walkway and dayroom and imagine a thousand eyes looking back at you.


It`s hard people. It`s hard to cope and deal with everything without losing it. If you`re not strong as steel, if you can not find something within yourself to hold you up, you WILL lose it. Some guys back here find their peace in the Creator. They feel their strength in the religion that calls to their soul. Some guys are blessed and lucky enough to find their soulmate. Trapped within this hell, they discover something many of them had never truly known, Love. While some find new friends through the internet. They make new friends with people across the world and build friendships that help take away the sting they felt at being left to fend for themselves by people they once thought cared. A lot of pro-death penalty supporters talk down on and harass these people on internet forums. But the truth is, just one sincere, true friendship, can save a life. Men on the verdge of giving up on life can be saved through the words of one caring person.


How can I put into words how we`re treated? How we`re fed? We`re called “animals” by the prosecutor as he is asking the jurors to murder us. Then we come to death row where we are treated like animals to reinforce this image in our minds. This is done as we are handcuffed or chained whenever we leave our cages. To go anywhere.

Another way they force this animal image on us is by feeding us like dogs. Hell, I have heard officers a hundered times as they were feeding me comment on the food, saying they would`t feed it to their dogs! But they have no problem feeding it to us, they have no problem shoving trays with spoiled food, smelling sour and with it`s juices spilling all over us and our floors through the “bean slot”. If a zookeeper was caught on video treating a tiger this way, PETA and other animal-rights groups would be up in arms in a second, screaming for better treatment. Though I`ve learned the hard way, people find it easy to stand up for “worthy” animal-rights. But ask them to speak up for a innocent man on death row with proof he did not commit the crime they are trying to kill him for, and what do you get??? Silence. At the same time, TDC is good with it`s tricks. There are some people fighting for us. When TDC is being audited or a tour of V.I.P.`s are walking around or they want to put a new picture on their website about how humane death row is, they will fix special food. The trays are nice and neat, the food is cooked right and looks good, and let`s not forget that they will never stray past their “showplace” pod. The one pod that is always clean, smells good, where the floors are mopped with clean water and soap, where the showers are cleaned and painted… But who are they really fooling?

Now PLEASE, do not misunderstand me. YES, I am complaining about how we are treated, because no human should be made to suffer this way. Our Punishment is suppose to be the loss of our life, our execution, but TDC seems to want to punish us a thousand times before we`re executed. But I`m not crying about this shit. I`m just trying to get you to see the hidden realities of death row. After all, people who know me can tell you I do not usually speak so much about all of this. I have a very simple reason. I try not to focus my mind on all the negative and depressing stuff here. I try, in my own way, to remain positive. While there is nothing GOOD about being on death row, trapped in a cage with your life swinging on a thread over your head, there are sometimes rays of sunshine that get through the clouds.

I don`t have many “friends” here, most guys will tell you I`m too serious and unsocial. But, the men here I do call friends, they know it. It doesn`t have to be said, many of us have had similar experiences and lives, both here and in the streets, so we can hold conversations with 6 words and the expression on our faces! These are the guys I will sit down and just talk to for hours. They bring me back to reality when my head is about to explode. There`s also my Brothers Of the Struggle. Men who have literally become Brothers to me inside these walls. Like any true brothers, we do not always agree, but we are there for each other when we`re needed. I would have been executed years ago if it was not for one of my Brothers who stood up and helped me fight for my life. Many outside will never be able to understand how we can form such strong bonds. I guess I have to relate it to men who have been thru combat together. Facing traumatic experiences with your life on the line seems to bring men together. Shunned by many people on the outside, we form our own worlds within death row. We talk to each other while at recreation, we throw together commissary food to fix “spreads” we can eat with each other.

Just that simple act of eating with friends focuses us. The rest of the day may be crazy, but for 30 minutes we can just sit back, eat some food WE cooked, drink a soda and know we are on the same page with someone else in this crazy, chaotic world. 



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For me personally, much of my focus is on my appeal. My friends and brothers know this, so when I go to their dayroom or them to my dayroom, we will talk about our fights. We will exchange ideas for our campaigns, and try to help each other how ever we can. There are still times when I can feel the darkness closing in on me and hear the voices getting louder, these are the times when we form up as one and really come to rely on each other`s different stengts. We all have one goal we are working towards. To again our freedom. To LIVE.

Almost a hour away from where we sit in our cages, in Huntsville Texas, is the WALLS UNIT. Within these walls the State of Texas has taken the lives of over 400 men and women, more then any other 3or 4 states put together. Just as each man deals with all the mental trials of Death Row in his own way, each of us must face the possibility of our death in our own way.


Some decide to let their lawyers handle everything, and they just sit back and wait for news. I choose to fight. I choose to put my story out for everyone to see in the hopes that somewhere out there is somebody who will care and decide to help me.

Even with my art, which I have developed over the last few years, I choose to fight. For years now Death Row has been limited to the most basic art supplies, colored pencils, children`s water-colors sets, art board and pens. 


Yet many guys have become very talented artists, using these materials in unique and creative ways. We struggle to let our voices be heard through our art. Many guys simple want to get their voices heard. This is a big part of our battle. I`ve talked to men who have gone to the walls WALLS, and spent hours only a few feet from the death chamber, only to get a stay and come back to death row. Each and everyone of these men were changed by their experience. Some had the fight drained from them, while others came back fighting even harder.


Hidden in his own personal tortue chamber the State`s facless murderer hides behind mirrored glass as he mixes his poisons and prepares to take the life of another human being… Sometimes, as I pace the floor of this cage, I wonder how this faceless murderer deals with his actions. Does he regret having killed men who years later were proven to have been innocent of the crimes that sent them to death row. Or does he justify his actions by saying that it was the “system`s” job to make those decisions.

For some men, their last step on death row ends here when they are carried to “boot hill”.


This is TDC`s inmate cementary. Death Row prisoners who have no family or friends, or whose loved ones can not afford to bury them, will forever be known by their TDC Number, carved on a wooden cross….



©2012 by I.Leverenz & Tony Medina. All text, pictures and graphics are copyrighted. Text, Picture, and graphics, unless otherwise agreed upon, cannot be copied, transferred, produced or saved without prior written permission of the publisher. Changes to the contet of this website are prohibited.



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