“Struggle!” To struggle is to live and the fiercer the struggle the intenser the life. Then you will have lived; and a few hours of such a life are worth years spent vegetating. Struggle so that all may live this rich, overflowing life. And be sure that in this struggle you will find a joy greater than anything else can give!”
Peter Kropotkin, 1897
Interview With Hunger Striker Steven Woods
by Rob Will
You are on the seventh day of a hunger strike, why have you decided to engage in such an extreme act of protest?
I began this hunger strike on Friday May 13th the day after the Supreme Court denied my last appeal. I’m protesting my own execution, although I haven’t received an official execution date, I should receive one very soon. I don’t agree with the state executing me, especially since my co-defendant confessed to the crime in a separate trial and received a life sentence. This shows the arbitrary nature of the system of capital punishment and this is something I want to bring attention to as well.
So, you are essentially protesting your own unjust execution as well as calling the death penalty system into question?
I would rather die by hunger strike than by state sanctioned murder. I would rather die in the dignity of protest than die by willingly walking to my own execution. And if they keep me alive by feeding tubes as they’ve said they will do this will vividly show how barbaric this system is. It’s like with the Mike Johnson situation. Mike committed suicide in his cell right before his execution date. Mike taped his co-defendant’s confession statement he gave to police on the wall and next to it he wrote: “I didn’t do it!” in his own blood. TDCJ officials made it a point to apologize for not being able to keep Mike alive long enough to execute him.
This place is like the manifestation of some twisted collaboration between Huxley, Orwell and Kafka or something—I know you like all three of those writers but what are some of your other favorite writers/books?
First, yeah the comparison is pretty good. This place can suck the life out of people but in all these years I’ve refused to let this happen to me. I’m going to die on my own terms not the state’s. As far as favorite books I’d have to say We the Living by Ayn Rand, Demian and Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse, The Master and Margarita by Mikhael Bulgakov, Naked Lunch by William S, Burroughs and On the Road and Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.
Pretty good selection, especially the Herman Hesse.
What about music?
Skinny Puppy, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Misfits, Black Flag, Man the Conveyers, I Object, Agnostic front and I can name many other Punk Rock bands.
That’s a good segueway into my next question. When you arrived here you already had a somewhat political or perhaps I should say anti-authoritarian outlook. What were your influences?
My biggest influence was the Anarcho-Punk band Crass. I got involved in the Punk Rock scene around age 13 and I have lived that lifestyle since then. Just listening to that type of music raises your consciousness.
What does being Punk mean to you?
Living how I want to live, doing what I want to do and refusing to let the state step all over me.
Back in 2006 we were both engaged in an intense direct-action protest campaign. You and my close friend and comrade Reg Blanton both went 30 days on a hunger strike back then while myself and others were engaged in other acts of direct-action protest. Here we are again in the ‘dungeon’ of Texas Death Row on the ‘disciplinary pod’, and I’m still sore from being assaulted with 9 rounds from the CS chemical weapon riot control semi-automatic assault rifle during a recent non-violent Satyagraha protest demonstration and you are 7 days into a hunger strike. Talk a bit about the difference between ’06 and now.
Last time a group of us got together and engaged in a strong protest campaign mainly focusing on the conditions here and the injustice of the system of punishment. We’ve done the same thing at other times. [Below is a protest update written in ’06 concerning some direct-action Steven and Rob engaged in]. I support the current campaign all the way but with my hunger strike I want the main focus to be my case and how it highlights the absurdity of the system. Why was I sentenced to death when my co-defendant who confessed to the murder was given a life sentence? One thing that has remained the same since I’ve been here is that maybe 2% of the Texas Death Row population will stand up when necessary. Sometimes the administration will come up with oppressive new policies and we have to push back and say that it’s not O.K. Most people are just going to be complacent and say, “Yes sir bossman!” And what’s even worse is that the majority of the people participates in their own execution and walk to the Death House willingly.
Burning rubble, SWAT teams storming around, crowd dispersal weapons being utilized, CS chemical weapon riot control grenades being deployed, hunger strikes, people screaming out in the pain of insanity—we are in an absolute war zone right now and there’s much work to be done. Go ahead and leave us with a few closing thoughts.
We have to fight for ourselves; we can’t let these people push us around like we are cattle. U.S. Constitutional law demands that there be fundamental fairness in the legal system, but especially in the last 5 years it has been proven time and time again that the system is unfair. Just think about all of the exonerations. Isn’t it time for the small minority of states in the U.S. that still execute people to join the modern world? Also we are fighting every day in the extremely oppressive environment, striving to live in this Hell. Will you dare to take a stand and fight with us? For more info on Steve go to: www.stevenmichaelwoods.info and www.facebook.com/stevenmichealwoods
Note from Rob: I was a first-hand witness to the last hunger strike Punk Rock Third (aka Steven) and Reg engaged in. Near the end of the campaign they looked like walking skeletons, like victims of a Nazi concentration camp. Even the Joseph Mengele-esque nurse who said, “I hope you all die!” at the beginning of the previous hunger strike changed her tune to, “Y’all just need to stop this!” by the end because she was so very disturbed by the sight of such extreme human suffering. True struggle means suffering. I know this, I’ve lived this, but I was so extremely distressed near the end of the last hunger strike that I was damned near begging them to stop. Steven came within a few days of dying. He has Hepatitis C that has remained untreated for over a decade and he doesn’t have much weight to lose. I want everyone to please highly publicize what Steve is doing as well as the other protest actions we’re engaged in. Anarch-Punk is Steve’s thing so I want every Anarchist and Punk Rock person, group or organization on the planet Earth to be aware of this campaign. I want them all to send Steve messages of Solidarity. He can receive letter, pictures and cards via snail-mail at:
3872 FM 3505
Livingston, TX 97351
He can receive direct e-mails by going to:
Snail-mail and jpay are good because he’ll get messages direct, but you can always send messages via his website and facebook. By the time you read this Punk Rock Third may be on the brink of death. In fact, he probably will be. The situation is gravely serious. I sure hope all of the Anarcho-Punk type folks out there send him messages of solidarity right away. Time for me to step back into Satyagraha Ashram and solidify plans for the next round of direct-actions.
With a Dionysian-Spartacus Embrace of Love, Strength and Solidarity:
September 12, 2006
Yesterday was insane. Early in the morning, on the 1st round of recreation, my neighbor Rick Rhodes went to the outside rec. yard. Sgt. Brown, accompanied by several officers, shook Rick’s cell down. During the cell search they took some things that Rick didn’t want them to take so he refused to leave the yard. Rick was then assaulted with a tear-gas grenade, fired on with the crowd control tear gas assault weapon and physically removed by the ER Team. I attempted to write down a “play-by-play” account of the events but I had to stop midway because of the tear gas – it forced my eyes to close and I began choking and coughing. The ER didn’t beat Rick too bad; he’s alright, but the chemical gas affected his respiratory and nervous system. Rick was back in his cell by 8:36 am and that was only the beginning of the day.
About an hour later the officer’s started putting people out to recreation but they skipped our section. We were told that “because of Rick Rhodes no one in F-section is going to go to rec. or showers.” So, we all got mad at Rick, cursed him out and now no one will talk to him… Yeah right! Their little “divide-and-conquer” tactics do not work with some of us. Sadly, those type of tactics do work with most inmates though. That’s why Sgt. Brown had the audacity to look me right in the eyes and say “Blame Rick Rhodes, it’s his fault ya’ll aren’t going to shower or rec.” Ah, yes, and I suppose I should blame the poor for being poor, blame all Muslims for “terrorism” and blame the “illegal immigrants” for…whatever they’re being blamed for this week! No, I don’t think so.
To show solidarity with Rick and to support his courageous act of protest, a bonfire was lit on 2-row and then guys on 1-row started flooding. I’ve been around probably hundreds of fires since I’ve been here and I’ve never seen such an outright sadistic act happen like what happened after the fire was lit: the officers shut off the power, turned off all the ventilation and let the fire burn. Keep in mind that this is a completely enclosed space. There are no windows to open. Inside our cells there are 2 vents – one that blows air out near the ceiling and one that sucks air in near the floor. When they’re turned off there is absolutely no airflow. When a fire is started, usually after a minute or two, the fire alarm goes off and a huge exhaust fan kicks on that sucks all of the smoke out of the pod. However, the officers can override the system and shut everything off. Actually, I think that the system on this pod is broken because I don’t think that they’re supposed to be able to do that.
Anyway, smoke began consuming the entire section. I tied a sheet to my door to try to keep the smoke out but it didn’t work. Thick dark grey smoke began filling our cells. Everyone was hollering at the officers to turn the fans on but they wouldn’t. I wrapped a wet towel around my face, then I began getting dizzy. I crashed out on my bunk because I couldn’t stand up any more. I heard my neighbor screaming, “We need help! Get medical! 84 cell passed out!” The officers didn’t do anything.
I don’t know if I passed out also, but I remember trying to get up and I couldn’t. Then, I remember an officer beating on my door and I got up and some of the smoke was cleared out. I took the wet towel from around my face and it was black on the area where my mouth was. The towel turned black from the smoke I was breathing in. Eventually the smoke cleared out. No one died but many of us were pretty bad off – feeling extremely sick with severe headaches. Either Sgt. Ludwig, Ms. Jager, CO Fisher or CO Smith was responsible for this blatant act of sadism, or, perhaps all of them. They were the only staff members on the pod at the time. If a decent officer wouldn’t have come on the pod and turned the exhaust fans on we probably would have all died. Seriously, it was that bad.
Later on yesterday, Steven Woods, who is downstairs in 73 cell, “occupied” the food slot in protest of an excessive shakedown. He eventually gave the slot up without a major incident. If we want change to happen then we have to fight for change. Remaining idle while injustice occurs only encourages that injustice. One of the main reasons I do what I do is because I want to show solidarity with activists on the outside. You’re fighting for us so I feel that it’s only right that we fight for ourselves. Through solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid we can strengthen the Abolitionist movement and make more progressive change happen. On that note, I want to send everyone in the Movement warm vibes of strength and peace along with a strong embrace of solidarity!
One Love, One Struggle.
P.S. I asked Rick if he wanted to add anything and he said, “I just want to be left alone.”