Beauty, Blood and a Little Bit of Heaven in Hell (Kairos on Texas Death Row)
When people ask me how things are at any given time in this place my general response tends to be something like, “beauty and horrors, beauty and horrors, same as always". The past week and a half illustrates quite well why I say this. There will be beauty but first, the horror. On Monday October 25th this building went on lockdown and the shakedown began on F-pod. For some reason the special regional hit squad shakedown team were here doing the shakedown. Usually, they will only come to a unit when there is some type of gang-drug conspiracy that has just been busted. If they come during a random lockdown they will specifically shakedown particularly and recently problematic inmates, or guys with a history of serious violence, escapes and such things. They have done random shakedowns but never before had they hit everyone and that's exactly what they were doing on this building.
This unit— and particularly this building— has been notably calm for quite a while now and no one really knows why they did this. To be fair, there are some no nonsense officers on the regional shakedown team who conduct themselves with professionalism and do not go out of their way to terrorize people. They are very thorough though and if someone has some contraband then they're probably going to lose it. They aren't going to do anything different than an on-unit hit squad shakedown team will do, but the regional team tends to do targeted hits— from intelligence gathering— so they go right where they know contraband already exists (or likely does).
There have been plenty of times when there was some contraband operation going on somewhere and suddenly the regional team pops up and everything is instantly shut down. Guys who are into that type of activity, fear and hate them for this reason. If a person doesn't have any contraband then really they have nothing to worry about— from the professional members of the team that is. As everyone is well aware of though, they have been— and apparently still are— some officers on the regional team, who will randomly absolutely terrorized people during shakedowns, simply to do so without any justifiable reason and without provocation. Word quickly spread that some of this was occurring.
A few days in, as they were going from section to section and pod to pod, a correctional officer on this pod ran off because an Emergency Code Red alert was issued. This means that all available staff must rush to the scene of the call. Just hours after the shakedown team hit an Ad-Seg guys cell, he attempted to commit suicide by slicing open a large vein by his elbow. Blood was spurting all over as they dragged him off to the hospital. Right before he did this he was telling staff and other prisoners that they “fucked him over for no reason” and “that they tore up his cell for no reason”. No one knows yet if he lived or if he died.
Two days later, on Friday October 29th, they went to B-Pod (which houses only Death Row prisoners) and for some strange reason they were hitting guys really hard. They had some guys on the rec yards over here (on A-Pod) while they were shaking their cells down. They left them out there for four and a half hours, which is just absolutely outrageous. Brandon Daniels was on B-Pod. Just hours after they shook him down he was found in his cell. He was only 33 years old.
Staff have been very tight lipped about exactly how he died. It is generally believed that he committed suicide by overdosing on something. Daniel had recently went back and forth on waiving his appeals so he can be executed as quick as possible and not have to continue to live in this wretched environment any longer than he had to. They tore up his cell and he just couldn't stand it any longer and he decided to end his own life right away. No one has heard about any official report being issued or anything, but that is what everyone generally believes happened.
One half dead bloody body dragged off the building and two days later another body dragged off the building, lifeless and dead. This has happened so very many times over the years, so there is a certain collective numbness, but for days (or even weeks) after such an occurrence, a fog of gloom permeates the air and casts a murky grey tint over all interactions. The shakedown/lockdown ended on Monday, November 1st, and this lingering fog of depression and despair was radically shattered 48 hours later when Kairos came to Texas Death Row. On November 3rd and 4th, history was made and this unit will never be the same (in some very good ways).
Kairos is a type of Faith Based (Christian) retreat program that has operated in Texas prisons for many years. There is surely much online info about Kairos for anyone interested. I've heard plenty of stories about how Kairos experiences have dramatically improved inmate behavior in quite astonishing ways. Guys who are completely immersed in street mentality, prison-gang-drug culture have gone to Kairos, had an awesome revelatory life changing experience, become peer educators and gotten out and become powerful agents of change in their communities. I know of guys who have gotten college degrees while still in prison, gotten out and immediately started being of service to society, working as counselors, educators and employees and even directors of criminal justice reform and social justice organizations. A Kairos experience is what put many guys on this path.
This Kairos event is part of what can only be called a Faith Based (mostly Christian) revolution that has been occurring on this unit for the past year. It started with the introduction of the prison radio station (a first in Texas) that broadcast many Faith Based shows. Another integral part of this was the arrival— about seven months ago— of inmate Field Ministers on the unit. There are six now. They all spent four or five years at the Darrington unit in seminary, obtaining a college degree (and learning to be peer educators). They participate in the radio shows which are all produced and hosted by prisoners on this unit. It is really quite extraordinary! Some Death Row guys participate in the shows as well, including myself and Perry Williams (from our cages, via writing and interacting with the field ministers).
They only did Kairos on one section, A-Pod, C section (14 cells) and Perry was there. I'm on A-Pod, B section so I got to hear some of what went on. I want to share a letter (below) that Perry wrote to the Kairos director and that was read on several radio shows. Perry is very involved with the Christian programming on this unit. And he's essentially a mentor and peer educator. I've heard general population guys who are going to be paroled out into society talk about how much Perry (and some other Death Row guys) have deeply inspired them and motivated them to live better lives.
I've known Perry for 20 years and he is very sincere. He's here for the type of crime that they haven't sent anyone to death row for at least a decade. I'm not some delusional bleeding heart progressive, or a “wacky liberal” that that right wing conservative pundits rant about, who supposedly only want to “coddle criminals” and “only blame society and government for crime and criminal acts”. Any type of murder is a terrible, terrible thing, but Perry has never been “the worst of the worst”. When I first met him (when he first got here) two decades ago, as he most certainly will admit, Perry was a hard headed young dude with a real ignorant street mentality.
Now, he is a mentor and peer educator who's actually giving back to society. I spent many years around Perry, and we’ve spent a lot of time doing study sessions, conducting teach-ins and engaging in Mind-Body Health activities. I've really witnessed his transformation and dedication to a process of constant learning and growth and his commitment to living a righteous life. I think understanding all of this gives more context to his letter. Also, keep in mind that he's most expressing his personal thanks. The 13 other Kairos participants signed his letter as well.
There have been expressions of appreciation for personal growth which is good. What I've been most impressed by, however, is the conversations the guys have been having about being of service to others. Towards the end of the Kairos event, a Kairos leader shouted out, “Who is the church?”. This side of the building rocked as 14 men in cages on Texas Death Row shouted back in response, “WE ARE THE CHURCH!”. There were a large group of Faith Based Coordinator general population inmates shouting right along with them.
People of faith should definitely be inspired by this but so should everyone involved in the criminal justice reform community.
In theology Kairos is a propitious moment for a decision or action. The literal meaning of the Greek word is “opportunity”. The Kairos event seems like a decisive action that has occurred just the right time to solidify the power and potentiality of the other new programming on the unit— a little bit of heaven in hell that can lead to many more opportunities and righteous beauty. And a whole lot less blood. This is good for inmates and staff and it is a positive thing for society as a whole.
“Strength doesn’t come
from what you can do.
It comes from overcoming
the things you
once thought you couldn’t"
November 6th, 2021
Peace! It is my sincere hope, prayer and wish that this reaches you wrapped within the strength and blessings of our Almighty Father.
Ms E, I am writing you to say that I finished the most awesome two days of my life. #Kairos 44! Those two days were so enlightening and showed me all things are possible as long as we put our Faith in God.
I cannot express what I gained from this, but, as my brother in Christ, an ex-gang member here, C said: “I thought I was coming here to die, yet who knew I was coming here to live.” I’ve been here 20 years and I never thought we’d have a chance to participate in anything like Kairos. Not only was I proven wrong, but also so was the world on the 3rd and 4th of November during Kairos 44.
A lot of things are changing and will continue to change as long as we put God first.
Being a believer, it reaffirmed my love for God, because he didn’t forsake me. Through His touching those who have never given any thought to Him, my eyes were open to the fact that all things were possible.
The overwhelming love and support shown to us through the letters and the prayer chain touched me so much, and strengthened my heart with the fact that I am not alone. It put to rest the thought that we are forgotten, after so many years of feeling this way. This and the way the volunteers were so transparent broke down the wall of despair, anger, depression and hate that had built in my heart and had me crying like I’ve never cried before. If I wasn’t already a believer in Christ at that point, I would have given my life over to Him right then and there.
I began those two days not aware of what I was walking into. But, I can say it was far from what I expected. I heard men, who I know personally have put up the same type of walls I did, break down into tears, laughing, dancing and interacting in the discussions we had.
I know God was in our midst those two days.
A lot can be said about the food (which was the best I’ve tasted in years), however, the bonds and life altering events will stay with me the rest of my life.
I can go on and on about this life altering event that many need to experience, yet I hope the joy shown on my face in the pictures taken express what my words fail to.
Before I close, I would like to give thanks first and foremost to God, because, without Him nothing would be possible. I thank you for being instrumental in Kairos 44 happening. Warden, for not only being a believer but for seeing us as human beings in the same loving light as God does and no less. Thank you for allowing Kairos to happen. Captain, all the inside volunteers, thank you for all your love and strength and transparency. Chaplain G, the outside volunteers, for your prayers and love and belief. Thanks to Field Minister S for believing in not only us, but in me. And for being a great brother, believer and being an important part in organizing this. Field Minister T, for helping me stop running and come to Christ. Thank you for giving me your love, fellowship and for being my brother. Field Minister L for embracing me. Field Minister G for your wonderful musical playing and pictures. Field Minister R. Field Minister T. Officer Y. Song Minister C, I love you bro. The men of Kairos 44. The Tank family (the Polunsky unit radio station): Reverend Do-good, Lil Eddie, Chino. And Rami, thank you for baring your heart in love for us and in showing us that we are not alone with your laughter and playful antics. And to all those who made this a success: Thank you!
Perry E Williams, Jr
“We are what we repeatedly
therefore, is not
an act, but a habit.”