This is how Mark described the situation in the Polunsky Death Unit. I labeled his last three blogs under the same title. We usually do not publish three blogs at the same time but we felt the growing urgency to attract attention to the deteriorating situation in the unit. One does not need to be an expert sociologist to understand the destructive potential of the fires currently being fanned inside Polunsky.
“It is serious!” wrote Mark’s friend, who was banned from visiting him. (It is very easy for the Warden to ban relatives and friends of prisoners from entering the facility. No one will dispute the Warden’s reasoning. Although there is technically a possibility of appeal, it rarely helps.
“…Matters are getting very tense,” Mark’s friend wrote. “I’m extremely worried about him. Another friend of mine was banned from visiting Polunsky. They have banned so many people lately and it’s fueling the fire!
Since working on the project, I have read many books on the death penalty, watched films on the subject and visited countless web sites. But until I started to read Mark’s blogs I had not realized that while we debate the pros and cons of the Death Penalty, we rarely discuss the many years one spends awaiting his/her execution. It is this void that Mark ‘s blogs so powerfully fill; the senseless petty harassments by the guards, the food and all the other deprivations. All these details put together paint a very damning picture of the conditions inside Polanski Death unit. After the “drama” of the multiple week lockdown with its diet of “Johnny sacks” now I read Mark’s recent blogs with growing apprehension. It seems that a storm is indeed brewing. The result will undoubtedly be more violence and repression.
But what to do? Reading Mark’s blog from the comfort of my studio only re-enforces my sense of frustration and impotence. I know that violence is never the answer and will lead to even more violence but what can I suggest to Mark, who has no money to launch a legal challenge to the system. No pro bono lawyers will take on the Texas Department of Justice when they are trying to save the lives of other prisoners currently incarcerated in the system. As I learned, the impact of public pressure is small. Many in Texas send us quite violent emails. They think death row inmates deserve this kind of treatment. And beyond Texas, the issue is being perceived as a local one.
So what to do? Mark, himself, asked for “feedback and ideas” and I feel frustrated that I cannot give him any. But I do know that without challenging the Criminal Justice System in Texas we will have a storm on our hands, a storm that will reap only pain and suffering and probably sow further violence. It is a very depressing scenario for those on death row, most of who will probably be executed in the coming years.
In our news section, we published the address of the Texas Criminal Justice System Ombudsmen. It is the first address for letters questioning what is going in Polanski. Yet I have little hope of the State of Texas correcting its wrong-doing. The pressure has to be applied on the federal level and even with international Human rights organizations that must establish an independent commission to look into this specific prison and its death ward, as well as other prisons in Texas. We will publish any ideas for action that visitors to the site will propose.
A storm is brewing and I fear for the worst.