Monday, November 12, 2007

Texas Day 2

Gatesville was an interesting place. Bigger and more prosperous-looking than Marlin, but definitely another Texas prison town. There are something like 6 major Units here. One is a men's Prison (Hughes) but the rest are women's prisons. Maximum security Mountain View is here, that is where Cassie is, and also where the female death row inmates are housed. Woodman Unit is a State Jail for women serving shorter sentences, and when I drove by at night it was completely lit up with pastel-yellow sodium lamps. Kind of a strange sight on the outskirts of a sleepy little town. The lady at the hotel desk told me there are 16,000 people living in Gatesville and over half are in prison. I tried to take pictures but the batteries died in the camera and the replacements I bought were also dead, right in the package. Then I bought a UHB stick to put all my photos on and promptly lost it.

I would tell you that I woke up early Sunday morning, but the fact is that I didn't sleep much at all. I was sick as can be. One side of my throat was and still is badly swollen, and I am feverish. I tossed and turned and poured sweat all night. I was worried I wouldn't be able to talk but thanks to modern medicine I was able to solve the problem pharmaceutically. I drove through Marlin again and took some pictures of the town. I got some funny looks but nobody shot at me. Then back to Hobby Unit to visit Liz. There is a field where horses graze in front of the institution. They also keep a kennel of tracking hounds to be used in case of escapes. The horses are used by the guards who sit on them while they oversee the "hoe squad" working the fields. Just like in the movies inmates refer to the mounted guards as "Boss" and the mounted guards all carry shotguns across their lap.

The gate guards recognized me this time, but they absolutely tore the vehicle in front of me apart. The had the seats and carpets pulled out and were doing a thorough search. The visit went much better this time but it took almost 45 minutes for them to bring Liz down from her dorm to the visiting room. The inmates are strip searched on the way in and out of the visiting area. It is all clothes off, and sometimes they do a cavity search as well. On the way back in the inmates have to sit in a special metal detecting chair. Apparently they have had recent problems with the women slipping contraband into the Unit - namely jewelery. The other restriction that has been made in Texas prisons of late is that colored stationary has now become contraband. Do you know why? The inmates dress all in white, all the time. Those damned women were taking their colored writing paper and soaking it in the sink to remove the ink, and then dyed their underwear in the water.

Liz was much more relaxed the second day and the only incident that occurred was me getting ripped of by a vending machine. You are allowed to bring up to 20 dollars in coins into the visiting area but not cash. Then you go to the vending machines and make your purchase and you have a guard pass it off to the inmate. We had a second 4 hour "special" visit because I came from such a long distance. Normally people coming from within the State are only allowed a two hour visit for one day on a weekend. The four hours went by quickly and Liz talked more about how she had changed since she first came to prison, and had to learn how to survive. There are 1350 inmates in the Hobby Unit and she is the smallest one, so it makes it tougher. Believe it or not some of those women are genuinely bad. The "close custody" inmates are handcuffed and shackled and led to and from their units by a corrections officer. Liz says those are the really bad ones. Her current classification is G3 but she can't move higher to Trusty status because she was convicted of an aggravated offence.

When our visit was over we waved goodbye and I made my way out and headed back to San Antonio. I started nodding off just north of Austin and had to pull over for an hour of sleep. From Austin to SA it was bumper to bumper and 75 miles an hour, but I made it back alive. I had another night of sweating and tossing and turning. But I didn't have to be anywhere too early this morning. My next task is to gather together documentation for the case.


Julie said...

Take care of yourself, Darrell. Be careful with what you eat and drink; you're being exposed to many different germs and environment. How are you going about collecting documentation on this, an event that occurred so many years ago?


The families collected copies of the trial transcripts and other relevant documents while the trials were going on. Some stuff is missing, primarily because they have to pay for documentation from the court reporter, and these are not wealthy people, so they tended to "highgrade" what they thought they might need in the future. Unfortunately a few items they passed over now turn out to be very important so we will have to track them down. Most of the files still exist. It is just a matter of tracking it down who has it, and having them release a photocopy.