Thursday, May 18, 2017

Song For An Old Gal

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

By Frank Ross

Jim Buck parked his car a block from the Silver Banjo Tavern. The sun had slipped behind those westward hills, and a warm autumn breeze came across the valley with long, dusty shadows.

Jim stopped outside the Banjo and dug in his pocket for the note. He read the message to himself: Jim, meet me around six o'clock at the Banjo. Bring the money. Red.

Inside, Jim froze; he couldn’t see a thing. They’d changed the lighting. New things had a way of disturbing him. He took the first vacant stool.

“What’ll you have, mister?” asked the barmaid.

“Oh,” said Jim, surprised.

“First time being here?”

“No, but it’s been a while.” He was having a problem keeping his eyes off the woman’s large breasts. “Carl - uh, he don’t work here no more?”

“Why, he certainly do. I’m expecting him - any minute now,” she said, smiling. “You ain’t his son, are you, mister?"

“No.” He looked about. “They sure changed things up a bit.”

“Been about two years now,” she said, coming a little closer. “Where you been, mister?”

“Nowhere, really. I live right down the road about sixty miles.”

“If you won’t mind my asking.. .” The barmaid leaned forward, bringing herself very close. “When was your last time here in Silverville?”

“Well, I could tell you right down to the moment,” said Jim, amused. “If I had myself a large T.J. Bourbon.”

“I can’t believe myself,” she apologized. “How’d you want that?"

Jim was staring at her breasts again.

“How’d you want - ” She was liking his distraction.

“Uh...branch water will be fine,” he said, catching himself

“My pleasure.” She went off, swaying her hips.

Jim thought the young woman appeared a bit overripe, though cute as all hell. Nursing babies crossed his mind.

The barmaid returned and poured twice the normal amount and was about to make herself comfortable when a customer called; her face showed annoyance. “Now don’t you go and get lost, mister.”

The redheaded man stood back, watching Jim. He shook his head and walked over.

“Ain’t been waitin’ long, have you, Jim?”

“Hi, Red,” he said. “Come and join me.”

“I really hate. . ." Red took a stool. “Jim, hate puttin’ you through this.”

“Wish you wouldn’t put it that way,” said Jim. “Why hell, we’ve been friends since we were boys.”

“Yeah, I know.” Red took a cigarette from his pack and lit it. “Man kinda wants to stand on his own.”

“I ain’t never met a fella that stood any taller than you, Red.” Jim took a big swallow of bourbon. “Hell, guess I’ve told a thousand folks that.”

“Jim, I don’t wanta vex you none.”

“Seems to me, you’re trying your best.”

“Goddamn you.”

“That’s better, partner.” He glanced around. “Where’s that nice little lady?”

“Up to your old tricks. Ain’t been in town a hot hour - and startin’ all over again.”

“Red, she stuck ’em right up in my face.” He took another swallow. “I could see the imprint of her nipples.”

“Few years back," Red laughed, “you would’ve jumped up howling.”

“Yeah, but those days are gone,” said Jim. “Man gotta put away the toys.”

“You sound pretty sure of yourself”

“I’ve been toein’ the line.”

“How long has it been now?”

“Today is our second anniversary.”

“I’ll be damned.” Red flung his arm around Jim’s shoulder. “I’m right proud of you, Jim.”

"Me too,” he said. “Never stuck to nothing this long.”

“How’s the family?"

“Fine. Sally’s folks are here. My sister, Annie, and her fat husband came in from Denver last night.”

“Sounds like you’re doin’ a little celebratin’.”

“You know how Sally is,” said Jim. “She makes a lot of fuss over things like that. Goes plannin’ way in advance for ’em.” He took an envelope out of his pocket. “There’s ten thousand dollars here.”

“Jim, that’s twice the amount...” Red’s eyes got watery. “I don’t know when I’ll see myself clear.”

“You sure know how to bring on bad weather.”

“What in hell do you want a man - ”

“It wouldn’t hurt none to fetch that nice lady.” Jim tapped his empty glass. “I’ve gotten damn thirsty.”

“Jim, you’re on.” He looked hard at him. “Maybe you’d rather have her breast-feed you?”

“Swell idea. My health should come first."

Red laughed. “Didn’t we used to give ’em hell?"

“Sure did,” said Jim, starting to get up.

“All jokin’ aside - don’t seem right not buyin’ you a drink.”
“I can’t be late for Sally’s dinner.”

“Aw hell,” said Red, pointing. “Would you just look what’s comin’.”

Carl was a tall, robust old bartender. He hurried down the walkway behind the bar, grinning all over himself.

“Goddamn - what dragged you into town, Jim‘?” He clapped his big hands. “Think this calls for a drink.”

“Why in hell ain’t you gone?" Red grinned.

“He’s too goddamn old," added Jim.

“Nicely said - smart alecks. When I get back, I’ll make you sing that tune outta your ass.” Carl started to turn. “Jim, that reminds me. On my way in - I saw a friend of yours sittin' down at the end of the bar.”

“Hell,” said Jim, looking toward the rear. “It’s so dark in here, I can’t see that far.”

“Yeah, still there,” said Carl, squinting his eyes.

“Well, give him a bottle on me.”

“Jim, ain’t a him.”

“Ain’t a him?”

“No sir. It’s - Lucy.”

“Christ,” cried Red. “Christ”

“I’d better get those drinks,” mumbled Carl, rushing off.

“Damnedest thing - Lucy and me here at the same time.” Jim looked at Red. “Coincidence - or what?”

“Jim, I don’t know how to put this.”

“Do it some kinda way, won’t you?”

“It’s all my fault.”

“How’d you mean that?”

“I all but - invited her here.”
“Shouldn’t joke that way.”

“I ain’t."

Carl carried everything on a rectangular tray. He placed a bottle in front of each man when a customer called. The old bartender toweled the area about the men before he went off.

“Gettin’ back to what you was sayin’, Red.”

“Took my Sara to the depot this morning.” He choked, then gulped down the rest of his drink. “I was surprised to see Lucy there. Been in town for a week, on account of her sister Betty was sick.” He poured another drink. “Had her bags - she even hugged and kissed Sara good-bye. I saw her get on the train with my own eyes.”

“You told her - I’d be here tonight?”

“I didn’t have any idea - she’d double back.”

“You must've forgot how Lucy was.”

“Jim, I forgot how both of you were.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Christ, you should’ve seen your face when Carl told you."

They spotted the old bartender coming toward them.

“Kinda hoggish - couldn’t have our first drink together,” he said, pouring and downing his bourbon. “Jim, you want me to take Lucy something’?”

“No, don’t bother. I’ll mosey down that way pretty soon.” He caught the old bartender’s eye, shifted his eyes toward Red.

“You did know - Lucy was back in town?” asked Carl, playing along with Jim’s joke.

“Can’t say I did, Carl,” said Jim, stealing a look at Red.

“Must’ve come as a shock?”

“You might say - a damned earthquake.”

Red glanced at them suspiciously.
“Lucy plannin’ on stayin’ a while?” Carl asked, holding back a smile.

“Don’t ask me - ask Cupid over there.”

“Jim, goddamn you and Carl.”

Carl had himself a big laugh.

“l’m gonna go back and speak to Lucy,” said Jim. “Red, if you wait I’ll give you a lift.”

“I got my old pickup outside.”

“Well, take care of yourself.”

“I’m gonna hang ’round for a while - keep Carl some company.”

“Good, then I’ll see you before I leave.”

The men watched Jim walk away. His black outfit merged with the darkness of the tavern and was lost in the shadows.

“I never knew a fella that walked so forceful - and yet so damn easy.”

“Yeah,” said Red. “Jim can saunter some.”

“Red, you know Jim better than anybody.” Carl filled his glass almost to the brim. “What say his chances? I mean, what you think gonna come outta all of this‘?”

“I don’t know - and I’m worried,” said Red. “Had to happen sooner or later.”

“Sally’s a good woman,” said Carl. “You couldn’t find a better wife.”

“You’re right, can’t get ’round that,” he agreed. “On the other hand - Lucy ain’t a bad gal either.”

“Yeah. Folks was kinda lookin’ for Jim to marry her.”

“I never got the handle from Jim - but it seemed to brew ’round a lot of petty things. Lucy wanted a small spread and Jim wanted half the damned state.” Red rubbed his knees. “That was ’round the time he was thinkin’ politics - Lucy didn’t want none of that. She wanted a bunch of kids. Jim wanted a couple.” He finished his drink. “Carl, that goes to show - him and Sally ain't had none yet. Mind you, I never did get it from him.”

“Yeah, but - Lucy was still wild as hell.”

“I know most folks thought that - but Carl, I’ll tell you right now, she wasn’t. Lucy only carried on that way to be with Jim.”


Jim paused when he saw Lucy. He was disturbed. He hated to admit it but he was. His breath came in short spurts as he tried to resist that old familiar warmth creeping over him. The large brim of her hat was drawn deep to her left, and her back still beautifully straight under the lace shawl; Jim’s hands flinched, remembering when her lovely back was bare. He headed toward Lucy with sudden quick steps.

Lucy had caught Jim’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar and lowered her head.

“Evenin’, Lucy.”

She whirled around as if surprised. “Oh, Jim. You sure know how to catch a lady off guard.”

He dragged a stool closer to her. “How you been, Lucy?”

“Can’t complain none, Jim,” she said, reaching out and touching his hand.


Red and Carl fell into an anticipation of a vigil that might last half the night. Carl brought out a tray of glasses and began polishing them. Red had resorted to examining each puff he took from his cigarette, then he started wondering whether a new glass would improve his drink.

“Carl, give me another glass, will you?”

“Don’t mind workin’ a man none, your kind.”

“Keep thinkin’ - know I shouldn’t be.” He looked toward the rear. “But - l keep thinkin’ Jim’s gonna mess ’round and give up the whole shebang.”

“Red, you’re jumpin’ the gun. Why hell, he ain’t been back there more than half an hour.”

“But if Jim had any intention on makin’ Sally’s dinner - he’d be fixin’ to leave ’bout right now.”

“I’ll say this for Lucy.” Carl held a polished glass up to the light. “She’s the best-lookin’ woman ever seen in these parts. When I went back there to serve ’em - I couldn’t take my eyes off her.”

“How were they carryin’ on?”

“Same old way.”

Red groaned. “Christ."

“She was up on his lap - and Jim was smilin’ like all hell.” '

“I wouldn’t be none at all shocked if Jim up and left here tomorrow with Lucy.”

The old bartender’s mouth dropped open. Red turned to see what Carl was staring at and saw Jim coming toward them.

“Figure up my debt, will you?" Jim reached in his pocket. “I gotta be movin’ down the road.”

“Hell, it’s on the house, Jim,” said Carl.

“I’m pullin’ up too,” said Red.

“Adios.” Carl watched them walk out the front door.

The autumn night was clear and the stars sharp-pointed, while light breezes rustled through the street-lined treetops, tossing golden-brown leaves along the sidewalk. Jim and Red stopped under the street arc-light.

“Had me worried there for a little while, Jim.”

“For a while it was touch-and-go.”

“That was the last thing I’d have aimed to happen.”

“Don’t trouble none about it,” said Jim, looking at his watch. “Damn, it ain’t near late as I’d thought.”

“Yeah, you got good time.” He glanced toward the Silver Banjo. “If you don’t mind me askin’ - how’d Lucy take it?"

“She handled it well enough,” said Jim, and wondered. “Well, I guess as good as I did.”

“Feel a little guilty myself. All that time back there - I was only thinkin’ on your behalf;” he said. “Damn shame, didn’t give Lucy no concern at all.”

“Red, don’t worry yourself none.” Jim slapped him on the back. “She’s a tough old gal?

“That’s what’s botherin’ me,” he said, pushing some leaves with his foot. “Lucy - she ain’t tough."

“What?” Jim drew back. “You got too many T.J.’s in you.”

“Jim, you know damn well I ain’t drunk.”

“Well, you`re still talkin’ outta your head.”

“Lucy’s a timid soul - shy, that’s right - all her life,” he pointed out. “The way I see it -  she did everythin’ to please you. Yeah, and what did her hero do - up and abandoned her.”

Jim stared at him.

“That’s right. Yeah. All that taggin’ all over hell with you - I’ll tell you right now, Lucy always hated it.”

“You’re crazy,” snapped Jim and backed away.

“I wish you were right,” called Red, watching Jim hurry up the street.

Jim couldn’t shake off his best friend’s outburst. He knew that Red wasn’t just sayin’ those things. He wasn’t built that way. He would’ve never spoken those words. Why’d he believe all those things if they weren’t true? He took out his keys as he approached his car.

“Mister Jim.”

“Yeah,” he said, glancing around.

“Reckon you saw Miss Lucy?” asked a young black boy.


“Good night, Mister Jim,” said the boy, turning away.

“Hey, boy - is that all?”

“Miss Lucy said to make sure - uh, you didn’t get outta town without her seein’ you.”

“Night, boy,” said Jim, wondering how much Lucy had paid him. Then came the beeping of a horn and Red yelling out of his truck. Jim waved and watched the old pickup’s taillights fade into the night. He put his keys into his pocket and started back down the street toward the Silver Banjo.

Carl held back a smile when he saw Jim walk from the shadows to the bar. Jim whispered something in the old bartender’s ear.

“Sure, Jim,” he said, nodding his head. “I’ll fix you right up." Yeah, I sure will, he thought, watching Jim heading toward the rear. “You son of a bitch.”

Lucy’s head was bent and Jim’s arrival went unobserved.


Lucy looked up slowly, her hazel eyes blinking to focus. She reached out and touched Jim timidly, as though to reassure herself. “Why - why, Jim.”

Jim sat down, taking her hands. “Lucy, your hands - as cold as ice.”

She smiled weakly.


Jim led Lucy to the little hall by the arm; they climbed the narrow stairs slowly, then headed along the corridor, checking the numbers on each door.

Inside the large room there were matching golden drapes at the windows. Jim sat sipping his drink on the loveseat while admiring the big, shiny brass bed across the room.

The sound of running water came from behind the bathroom door where Lucy tidied herself. The turning of the doorknob brought his impatient eyes toward the hall where Lucy appeared.

“Lucy - ”

“Just a minute, Jim”

He watched Lucy crossing the room, carrying her hat and shawl at her side. She paused to look at her reflection in the mirror on the wall.

“Lucy - ”

She smiled at him.

“Lucy - ” He patted the loveseat cushion.

She laid her things aside and came over and sat beside him.

Jim handed Lucy her drink; they touched glasses.


“Jim, let me get you another drink.” Lucy stood up and took his empty glass.

“You barely touched your drink.”

“I’ve always been a slow starter,” said Lucy, smiling.

Jim watched her preparing his drink at the buffet, standing so straight, so attentive, and he felt a deep-rooted regret while he removed his boots.

"Jim, don’t.” She rushed back with his drink.

He took his glass and wondered what she was up to.

“I want us to do it like we used to.” Lucy picked up his boots, set them out on the carpet in the middle of the room, then she removed her shoes, laying them beside the boots.

“Jim,” she said, looking at the big brass bed. “One time or other, we must’ve used every single room here.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I sorta fancy that little old utility room best.”

“Why, that was just awful,” she replied. “Had my legs all dangling, me squirming on those old shelves, and you laughing your silly head off.”

“Come here.” Jim stroked the loveseat. He always liked the way Lucy walked, and watching her, he felt an old urge.

“Jim,” she said, snuggling against him. “Think the hospital will be able to help Sara’s eyes?”

“Supposed to be the best in the country.”

“I certainly hope so - for Red’s sake.”

“He said she’d go blind without the operation.”
“Jesus, I sure wish them well,” she said. “Red’s worried to death.”

“Yeah,” he said and looked down at Lucy thoughtfully. “He’s worrying about you too.”

“Why, I can’t imagine what could give him a reason.”

“Guess he thought about all those menfolks chasing you all ’round Chicago.”

“There’s no - ” She checked herself; then flashed a bewitching smile. “A lady has a right to fun sometimes.”

“So, you do have a bunch of fellas?”

“Jim, you know - I’m kinda wild.”

“What’s their handles‘?”

Lucy paled. “Well - ”

“They do have names, don’t they?”

“Why - yes, of course,” she said and stood up. “I’m going to freshen up my drink.”

“That’s the same one you started with.” He studied her.

“I need some ice, Jim.” She went to the buffet, slipped some ice cubes in her glass. She knew he was watching her. “Jim, you know I was never good at names.” She went to the bed, sat her drink on the night table, and started fluffing up the pillows.

“Lucy, you know what I was thinkin’ ’bout?” He was studying her very closely.
“The time we three went out hoboin’.”

“Jim, we sure had some fun.” She sat on the bed. “I cut my hair to pass for a boy.”

“You did enjoy those times, didn’t you?”

“Why, sure.”

“Red said something different.”

“I can’t imagine him thinking a thing like that.”

“He said you always hated those things.”
Lucy stiffened.

“Why didn’t you say something, Lucy'?”

“You wanted me to go - don’t you remember?”

“You mean - Red was right‘?”

“I didn’t want to cut my hair,” said Lucy. “Run all over the countryside in those old men’s clothes.”

“What ’bout all those fellas up in Chicago?”

“Jim, starting over takes a little time.”

He stood up.

“I know I’m a tough gal - you always said that, but - ”

“Lucy, it’s been over two years now.”

“It’s hard getting used to new folks,” she said. “I guess - I know I will in time.”

Jim went to the bed and lifted her up by the hand. “Let’s go to bed.” He put his arm over her shoulders.

“No, Jim.” She resisted. “Let’s do it like we used to.”

“It’s been a long time, Lucy.”

She led him by the hand out where the boots and shoes lay. Then, without a word being passed, they started undressing each other. Their eyes began an old conversation, their hands moved politely, sometimes one aided the other; and afterward, they stood in silence.

“Now, Jim,” she sighed, closing her eyes. “Like you used to.”

He picked her up in his arms and carried her toward the bed. Lucy peeped over Jim’s shoulder and smiled at the single pile of clothes. He sat down on the bed, still holding Lucy in his arms, squirmed back until he was about in the middle of the bed, and then he began to rock her in his arms.

“Jim, go ahead,” whispered Lucy.

He kept rocking her.

“Like your momma used to do you.”

He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. Then he felt her tears drop and run down his chest. Jim tightened his grip about her. He held Lucy in a way he had never held anyone.

“Sing for me, Jim.”

Jim cleared his throat. “Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you - way across the wide
Missouri - ”


Frank Ross AM7185
SCI Graterford
P.O. Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426-0244

Kathryn Fanning, an editor/lecturer and a native of Oklahoma, had the most influence on developing Frank Ross's craft, though he always adds with a chuckle, “She was a severe taskmaster”. Ms. Fanning has denied it. A reporter, after interviewing both Fanning and Ross, stated she believed his side of the story. But whether he writes about a good ol' boy trying to pursue a hooker to go away with him; a monster-hunting Vietnam Vet; an ill-fated first love of a little boy; a prisoner working in a vacant house who falls in love with a ghost; or the collection's title character, Nora, a black woman who can pass for while but insists on being colored in 1890 America – the folks who are in these tales go a long way to bare their souls to him.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Face Of Justice?

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

By Robert Pruett
In life we sometimes meet people who leave indelible impressions on us, whose faces we'd recognize in a crowd regardless of how long it had been. I‘m usually not one to forget a face, so I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to discover I knew the person I was speaking with...

It was first round of rec, about 6am-ish, and I was in the dayroom exercising, trying to whip myself back into shape. I was down on F-pod, the disciplinary pod, where they house administrative segregation with death row, although they have us separated by sections. They put an Ad Seg inmate in the dayroom across from me, a middle-aged white guy covered in tattoos. I didn't recognize him as anyone I‘d seen over there before, so between sets of push-ups I introduced myself. "What's up, dude? What do they call you?"

"Crow," He replied, staring at me curiously. "Robert? Robert Pruett? Don't you remember me, man? We were neighbors on Connelly unit... We exchanged letters for a bit after you were sentenced and it was still allowed,"

At first I thought he had to be confused or delusional, but then I snapped, Crow... "Crowder? James Crowder?! He smiled and nodded. "Man, I didn't recognize you with all those tattoos!! Wow, you look so different!!" Once I got a good look at him I DID recognize him, and all the memories came flooding back!! When I met him we were in Ad Seg and he had very few tattoos, and none were on his head or face. It was 2001 and we both were going through crises at the time. In the few months that we were neighbors we shared countless stories through the crack between our cells. His were very poignant and heart wrenching, and the details of them have stuck with me all of these years. I told him, "Dude, I have often wondered what happened with you! I have told countless friends all about you over the years, the crazy stories of your life in here and the evocative and sad ones from your childhood... I never forgot you, man. In many ways, I always felt you had it even worse than me...”

James Crowder (before)

James "Crow" Crowder could be the poster child for all that's wrong with this system. His childhood is eerily similar to that of many others inside these walls, even of those here on the row. As a small child he lived in a constant state of fear of his mother, who regularly abused him and his brother. In every story he shared about her from his youth there was a trace of the terror she beat into them, and he made it abundantly clear that disobedience wasn't an option for them. She had her boys out robbing and stealing with her when they were still in elementary, teaching them the ways of the streets. By the time she decided they needed to stop James was about 14 and already addicted to the easy money and fast life. When she gave him an ultimatum to cut it out or leave her place, he moved out to live on his own...

It goes to follow that James would end up in prison before long, and that‘s just how it turned out for him when he was barely 19 years old and got a 40 year sentence for robbery. It was 1988 and his world had just collapsed after his wife signed a statement against him to clear herself of charges against her. He signed for the time because he was dejected about her betrayal and afraid of getting even more after angering his attorney who believed his previous story. Better to sign for the 40, he thought, than risk taking it to trial. Little did he know things would get progressively worse for him inside the TDCJ.

What happens to a youngster when he's thrust into this environment? From experience I can tell you it quickly changes you and often destroys any trace of innocence you might still have. James came in in 1988 when the TDCJ was a war zone, when there were frequent riots, gang wars, rapes, murders and many unspeakable things happening daily. Things weren‘t as bad when I came in in 1996, but I recall the fear and pressure, how every move I made was scrutinized by the older cons and predators for signs of weakness that they could exploit, and how dangerous each day was. You can either "Fight, Fuck, or bust a $60!" ($60 was the spend limit back then for commissary). The options most youngsters have been given as soon as they step off the chain bus for decades here in the TDCJ. Telling the guards to protect you isn‘t an option for most. Most guards will just laugh at you and tell you to man up, get out there and fight. And should they try to protect you by placing you in protective custody everyone will know you "broke weak" or "caught out," and the consequences for that type of snitching are infinitely more worse than the bruises from fighting...

Prison life conditions many youngsters to become violent and aggressive in the face of threats and disrespect, and as many have noted over the years it doesn‘t provide rehabilitation so much as it teaches many to become better criminals. Many youngsters like James come in here and exist in such a constant state of fear that they cannot focus on educating themselves.  When they get disciplined for fighting to protect themselves they also receive a six month ban from all educational classes... Whose bright idea was it to ever kick a prisoner out of classes when they misbehave? Why not work even more at helping them correct their behavior and grow out of negative patterns?? Why not help disobedient prisoners learn to survive in this environment? Or better yet, why not create an environment in which the youngsters aren't living in constant fear? And try to modify their behavior without removing them from educational classes? All that does is increase their time spent on the cellblocks living in fear, fighting more and "learning to be better criminals" from the older cons...

When James first arrived within the TDCJ he had hopes of being released someday but things quickly spiraled out of control. He fought to earn his respect and protect himself. Before long he felt threatened by a prisoner to the point of him deciding to carry a weapon, just in case... He ended up stabbing the guy in self defense. "I was way more afraid of him than he was of me," He told me. He got 5 years added to his sentence for it...

James, like so many of us, didn't have much connection to the free world after his arrival, so he struggled to make store and didn't get visits. (He recently told me that he has had 2 visits over the past 20 years!!) I know how it feels to be in here with lots of time and not feel any love coming from the outside, not knowing who's your friend in here, and dealing with the perpetual stress of daily life inside these dangerous walls. When we were neighbors, James confided in me that he’d succumbed at times and did drugs back then, which is why not long after, he got more years added to his sentence when he was caught with a few joints of weed and sentenced to an additional four years...

It would get worse for James. He received another 60 year term for a stabbing here on Polunsky when it was still the "Terrible Terrell" unit in 1995, back when this was widely considered the worst unit in the state. It was a case of self defense, but the way things unfolded he felt he'd be better off signing than taking a chance at going to trial with his past record. But little did he know, Texas had just passed a law that September stating that any sentences added for crimes committed within the TDJC must be STACKED to previous sentences; He'd signed for the 60 thinking his other sentences would "eat it up," meaning it'd be ran concurrent. But the new law made his plea deal for the 60 run consecutive.

Fast forward to 2001 when I met James. He was out in the general population on Connally unit. A youngster living on the pod with him was slapped over an incident involving wine being found by the guards. He didn‘t fight back. The result? They forced him into sex slavery. James saw what was going on and felt bad for the guy, so he made a deal with the person who owned him and bought him out of slavery. They developed a close bond but when the youngster wanted to be moved to a unit closer to home he concocted a lie about James. The youngster later recanted his statement, signing another one saying he lied, but during the investigation James was caught with another weapon and charged with it. At that point he decided he had nothing to lose by taking the case to trial. On the stand he testified for himself: "I didn't invent knives in prison. They were here when I got here. I don‘t like it (meaning the violent culture of this place), but it ain't my prison. It's yours. I'm just trying to survive in it.”

On his birthday, November 20th, 2003, he was sentenced to 20 years, giving him a grand total of 129 years TDCJ time.

In the four or five months that we were neighbors on Connally unit I grew to love and care about James like a brother. I sensed his deep despair and related to him because I'd felt the same hopelessness myself for so long. Despite how he might look on paper, James is a good person with a kind heart, and I could feel while that talking to him briefly down on F-pod recently. When we were first moved next to each other on Connally the first thing he did was give me some coffee and asked if I needed anything else. I never felt his generosity came with a price; it's just who he is. He didn’t have to intervene and save that youngster from slavery months before we first met. In fact, doing so put him in harm's way, but it was the right thing to do and exemplifies his character. The conversations we had back then are still so vivid in my memory, and I thoroughly enjoyed his sharp wit, sense of humor, and how easy it was to get engrossed in the imagery of his stories.

But I was shocked to see him covered in tattoos now!! I asked him why he did it. He said, "I decided to make a caricature of myself: a prisoner with no hope or expectations of freedom so they would stop piling sentences on me. 'Ya got me already!‘ I have criminal codes (Texas Law) as sideburns: B.01 is 'career criminal;‘ 12.02 is the federal code for 'criminally insane!' A subliminal ‘fuck you!‘ to the administration."

James Crowder (today) #504867
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

I smiled and assured him he looked the part now. He added, "Yeah, but I still want people to know that, despite appearances, I'm not crazy. And I still want to get out. That I love music and books, and given a choice, I am peaceful. I was thrown in a shark tank at a young age and had to pretend to be a shark to keep from becoming a minnow...I'm a perfect example of everything wrong with the system. Yet there‘s still a real, thinking and caring person in here."

Sadly, countless other souls inside these walls have similar stories as my friend James'. You'd think that more effort would be focused on education, rehabilitation, and the administration would work on eliminating the fear and other conditions that enforce negative patterns of behavior... that they'd focus on helping youngsters learn and grow into productive members of society in order to return them to the free world someday... Perhaps someday such changes will come and future generations of young prisoners will have a better chance of surviving this place.

Robert Pruett 999411
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Thursday, May 4, 2017

This Friendship Has Been Terminated

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

By Timothy Pauley

Commotion is the nature of the visiting room, but I could tell this was different.  A particularly abusive prison guard had just approached people seated nearby.  A young man from down the tier was visiting his aging parents.  No reason for the guard to speak to them.  No way were they trying to disrupt anything.

It became apparent that these facts did not matter.  Without trying to pay attention, I soon learned the guard’s undue attention was over the dreaded hand rule.  In the visiting room has tables with chairs situated around them.  The hand rule says that your hands have to remain on top of the table at all times.  Seems simple enough, until you realize the tables are just high enough that this simple act results in constant pain if anyone over thirty complies.  The aching in the shoulders sets in within two minutes.  After that, it´s an effort of will to keep your hands held that high for such an extended period of time. 

Most of the guards know this.  Many of them are sympathetic.  They understand the spirit of the rule. If your hands are under the table, sliding up your girlfriend’s leg, well, you can´t do that.  If you´re simply relaxing your aching shoulders for a few minutes, no harm, no foul.

The more abusive guards, however, live for those moments when they can impart some kind of correction on someone.  In this case, my neighbor´s mother had to be made to comply.  If he let that go, who knows where it might lead.  Next thing you know, someone might want to hug their child or something.

The brief encounter at the table concluded rather quickly.  I overheard the abusive guard tell my neighbor that he´d already been warned.  The guard placed his hands on his hips and declared, “This visit is terminated.”

My neighbor had to turn and leave or risk being thrown in the hole and having all future visits taken as well.  The look on his parents´ faces was tragic.  This can´t be happening.  But it was.  The only one who got any satisfaction was the abusive guard who quickly went back to the desk to brag about what he had just done.

Visits aren´t the only things routinely terminated in prison.  The whole system is set up to terminate various parts of your existence until one day you wake up and discover you are only a shell of the person you once were.  You might have come to prison with friends, family, dreams and a number of other things that helped define who you were. Within a few years, these components of your life have been systematically eliminated.  You are now just you, whatever that means.  And anything you value is subject to termination at a moment´s notice.

The last time I saw him, the old bastard was just sitting there taking it all in.  We´d walked many miles around the prison track over the years, but on the eve of his release we were parked on the bleachers and he was surveying the giant cage that had contained him for these past two decades.

Conversation was not as easy as it had been all over those years.  One of us was on the way down a path back to freedom and the other was stuck in groundhog day, only with one less friend to ease the suffering of it.  There really was nothing to say. We both knew.  And we were both happy at least one of us was moving on, finally.

“Clear the yard,” the tower guard announced.  As we walked out the gate to return to our respective cages, I turned and held out my hand.  “I´m sure gonna miss you Johnny,” I said with tears in my eyes.  “Likewise,” was all he could get out.  Neither of us dared say any more.  Two grown men standing there crying at the yard gate would only add insult to injury.

I walked back to my cage, contemplating how diminished my life would be without my friend.  Just like my neighbor´s visit, this friendship was being terminated.  A friendship that had grown close over the years was now being torn out by the roots, leaving a gaping hole in my life with only tears to fill.

This wasn´t the first time I´d suffered such a loss.  If I didn´t die very soon, it certainly would not be the last.  The only way to avoid such things was to isolate and never let anyone get close.  But what kind of life is that? No life at all, really.  So I know that this will happen again.  I know how it will feel.  I know that the pain will linger for a long time.

At some point it gets better.  The friendships that were terminated when I was transferred to another prison were much easier.  The new environment required much attention, easing the sense of loss.  Often it also brought with it ghosts of friendships past when I would encounter friendships that had been terminated years before.

The loss of a friendship terminated by release is the most devastating.  How can you not be happy for your friend?  He is getting out of prison.  Of course you want this for all of your friends.  Only a self-centered asshole would not be happy at a moment like this.

Yet there is a giant hole in your life.  One that, try as you might, cannot be ignored.  Regardless of your intentions, thoughts of this keep resurfacing.  It´s inevitable.

The Department of Corrections, in their infinite wisdom, know all about this phenomenon.  They have made rules to increase the impact.  When a prisoner is transferred to another prison, they are prohibited from maintaining contact with their friends left behind.  When a prisoner is released, they are discouraged by their parole officer from having any contact with another convict.  This friendship is over when we say it is, seems to be the message.

The days that follow are the worst.  Perhaps it´s something you ran across on television the night before.  Perhaps it´s a bizarre incident you witnessed.  Whatever the case, the first thought is how your friend will get a kick out of this.  Then the realization sets in that there is no one to tell.  Just shut up and keep doing this time.  That friendship has been terminated.

Timothy Pauley 273053
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777