*This blog was written by one of Rob's good friend's who visited with him at the beginning of the month.
From the time I pulled up to the Polunsky Unit on this warm and sunny Texas day it was buzzing with excitement. The guard at the front commented to me as a car with some men in fancy suites drove by, “There’s the big guys from Huntsville.” This is my eighth time visiting Rob since 2016 and I’ve never been there for a day like this, so it took some time for things to click into place.
After going through security and getting my visitor pass (Death Row visitor #9 today), I made my way to the visitation area in the next building. There are exactly four steel locked doors between me and my destination.
Passing through each door, you leave a little more of your freedom behind, but having the freedom to see my best friend for a few hours is much more important right now.
I always gaze over at the Death Row pods as I walk across the outdoor courtyard of the prison to get to the next building where the visitation area is. Even after all of these times, it still flabbergasts me that humans are being locked into 60 square foot cages, which you can clearly see the tiny size of from the outside of the building. However, on this day another thing caught my eye – a white transport van next to the pods. This could only mean one thing...
There’s an execution scheduled in Texas tonight.
Source: Minutes Before Six Blog
The visitation room was very busy as lots of visitors were waiting for their loved one to be brought out. I overheard the guard tell someone, “It’s going to take a while. They’re getting ready to take him over for the execution tonight.” This was said in the most passive manner, just a regular day at work for them. Waiting over an hour for Rob to be brought out, the anxiety definitely built up as I know how these days bother him so much. As uncomfortable a situation as it was for me, I was happy to be there for him to get his mind off of the day’s events.
It’s been 17 years since Rob has been wrongfully convicted on Death Row. While it is obvious that the environment has had an impact on him, he is still thriving in a place that is designed to defecate individuality and humanity. He creates the most intricate, vibrant artwork with the little supplies he is allowed to have. He also recently finished his Paralegal degree at the end of last year. He is always looking to do more things to better himself and those around him who are in need of help and guidance.
When Rob was finally brought out, he was quickly locked into the visitation cage. He gave me a big smile before his handcuffs were even taken off, as if anything less would be expected of him! He has explained visitation as the best thing in life and is always grateful to have a visitor. Since most of his close friends aren’t local to Texas, he only sees them a few times a year. Visitation is the only time he’s able to speak face to face with another person since everyone on Texas Death Row is living in mandatory solitary confinement.
This is also the time to chow down on some good, fresh food. Visitors are allowed $25 in coins to feed their loved one and Rob is always spoiled with food during visits. On this day, the food machines were close to empty, so healthy things that he loves to eat, like salads, were all sold out. Nevertheless, he still got a decent selection of food, including fruit, which he is only able to have during visitation and special holidays, so it’s always a treat. The next day the food selection was much better, so he got all his healthy requests; including two salads, a good selection of protein (being a Philly girl, I usually always get him a cheesesteak!), spicy chips, more fruit, and one of the new hot commodities – turtle pie. A new exciting addition was added to the machines this time also - a bowl of fresh, crunchy vegetables with ranch dip. He was amazed at this and so excited to hear and feel the crunching of the carrots and broccoli.
He bit into a carrot and said to me “did you hear that crunch?!”
It is so easy for us on the “outside” to take little things for granted, but every time I visit him I leave with a new appreciation for the little things in life, that us free people tend to forget about.
During our conversations on that first day, the pending execution that night was brought up by him a few times. This was clearly a bothersome subject for him, rightfully so. He told me in a letter once that no matter how long he’s been there, he never gets use to the death that surrounds him. Fighting injustice is something Rob has been very passionate about since this battle started for him several years ago. While people, mostly who are uneducated about the effects of the death penalty, will argue that some people “deserve the death penalty”, there are many injustices that happen within the system such as mental illness, that need a second look. There is a lot of mental illness in the U.S. prison system, especially on Death Row. One of Rob’s recent pieces of art from 2017, “Psychosexual Dimensions: A Labyrinthine Excursion” is a statement of this.
Speaking of art, Rob also released two remarkable new pieces while I was visiting. His art work continues to get better every time he releases more. These two new ones are especially vivacious with a lot of bright colors. Since Rob lives in a world that is pretty much full of white and dullness in his cage, it is to no surprise that he is consistently producing colorful and lively pieces of art.
As always, the time we have together flies by in what feels like minutes. Out of town visitors are given the privilege of having “special visits”, which are 4-hour visits in two consecutive days. I’ve been asked before by friends and family, “What do you talk about for four hours straight?!”. In today’s day and age, it is rare that we sit in front of someone and just talk for hours on end without any distractions from technology and whatever else is going on in the outside world. Being the conversationalist that Rob is, talking for four hours is an easy task and flies by in the blink of an eye. Rob is very cultured and sophisticated in a large variety of subjects, so our conversations are usually all over the place. However, we do spend a good amount of time talking about yoga since it is both of our favorite past times. He has a daily yoga and meditation practice that is a large factor in keeping him sharp and sane in the conditions he endures on a daily basis. We are constantly learning from each other since our practices are so different, and it is one thing that I can actually teach him something new about. That doesn’t happen very often!
As our time came to a close, the guard gave us our usual 5-minute warning. The looming feeling of leaving him there knowing what we know, that he is innocent and should not be there, never goes away. During these last five minutes, it seems we can never talk fast enough or finish what we needed to say. Appreciation of time is another thing learned very well when you have a loved one in prison. As I hang up the phone, gather my things, and walk through the visitation room to the first locked door that gives me a fourth of my freedom back, I always see Rob watching me leave and waving as I pass through that first door.
The closer I get to the front of the prison I can feel my freedom coming back to me like gusts of fresh air when you’ve been cooped up inside during a cold day. Handing my Death Row visitor pass back to receive my identity back in return really gives me all of my freedom back; the freedom to walk out of those doors and drive off into the free world, where Rob should be too.
The best kinds of friendships are fierce friendships where you aggressively believe in each other, defend each other and think the other deserves the world. This is the kind of friendship Rob and I have manifested in this prison. The kind that no matter how tall the walls, how thick theFree Rob Will. glass, or how many miles come between us after I go home, nothing can break that bond. I always leave knowing it won’t be too long until we see each other again, but until then there is a lot of work to be done to help