Compassion

By Jay Goodman

I have written about several things throughout my book that mean a lot to me. I have felt many different emotions that have made me wonder about life and the true meaning of family and friends. Some chapters I’ve written have made me very angry towards the individuals controlling the Texas prison system. Some chapters have made me question myself and contemplate how in the world I have allowed myself to let my life lead to prison. Several of the subjects have hurt me terribly like the execution of innocent people, the horrible treatment of the inmates in super seg., and the overall injustices inflicted upon the general population of inmates in this prison system. It amazes me how a prison system like this in the United States could be allowed to exist, like the one I’m sitting in now. I have made several references to the Paul Newman movie, “Cool Hand Luke”, because the Texas prison system is really not much different to those times. Sometimes I’ve poked a little fun at both the staff and inmates that have given me and my friends a few laughs, and I also hope a few laughs for the readers.

It’s amazing how God can allow you to put yourself in a position like I am in now. Where you see people suffering, being abused on many different levels, and where you will also reach a point that nothing seems to matter anymore. I looked at myself and at God, and asked, “Why?”. There are times I put a towel over my cell door screen, so I could have a few minutes alone and talk with God. Many of those times I have been very angry with God. There were times it felt like my heart, soul, and very being could not take another minute of this madhouse called The Texas Department Of Criminal Justice. I have learned that when you are at your weakest moment, God is going to bring something or someone in your life that teaches you there are still alot of good souls in this world. Throughout my life, I have been blessed in many ways that has allowed for some very sincere friends to be in my company. After fourteen years in prison, I have felt very alone many times. From my experience it is that thought of being alone that seems to hurt the men and women that are incarcerated the most. It has surprised me how I’ve been able to deal with all of those experiences, because everyone deals with prison life very differently.

Some inmates join gangs, some get on medication and try to sleep their time away, some live in front of a television, while others try to suppress their reality with hooch or drugs. There is a never-ending list of how these men and women will do their time. After I accepted my reality of having to serve more than a decade behind bars, I decided how I was going to do my time. I also had to deal with the loss of my only sibling, a son, my dad, and not long ago my mother. For all of the people reading this who have never been to prison and lost these loved ones, understand that it is very painful to be incarcerated and losing, all these people I have just named. Imagine losing them and having no one to talk to, then going to a room about the size of your bathroom to deal with your grief, alone. It has been overwhelming at times needless to say. To save any backlash against the fact that yes, I did break the law and deserve to be in prison. Please know that this book I am writing is not to be a poor me or poor us hook.

My hope has always been that someone will see that this prison system needs to be reformed. I want to also bring into light that it is being run by criminals, who are undoubtedly abusing their positions in every way possible. I have written about many of these abuses, but I want to take a minute to write a little about what happens when someone comes into your life and shows you compassion, instead of hate. When I came to this unit almost nine and a half years ago, I would go to a classroom on Saturday morning to Catholic services. Most of the time there were only a few rows of chairs, maybe ten inmates, no Priest, just a very sweet Nun that came in to sing a few songs, and read the weekly scripture. Every now and then a Priest would show up and perform Mass, but the feeling I always felt from him was that he really didn’t want to be here. I thought it was odd back then that there wasn’t a bigger Catholic service here. I mean this is South Texas. Anyway, not long after I was here I noticed a sign-up sheet for a program called the Catholic Retreat. It was the first time this program had been to this unit. I had never heard of it before, but inmates that were at other prisons and had attended the retreat said really good things about it.

So, I sign my name on the list. The retreat starts on Thursday evening around 5:00 p.m., and lasts until 8:30. Friday and Saturday from 7:00 a.m. till 8:00 p.m., and half a day on Sunday. I remember my first night walking into the gym, around forty men were lined up in two different lines. All of them clapping as we came in, and were smiling and giving us hugs as we passed them. I must admit at that time I had been incarcerated close to six years, and to be in a gym with all of these people smiling and hugging me felt odd. People in the free-world will never truly understand how people in prison lose touch with being treated like a human being. Even going to the visiting room to see our family, we are only allowed to hug them as we come out, and a hug at the end of our visit. Of course, this is part of the Puppetmaster's de-socialization. To make us unsocial and uncaring, where the human touch of others becomes unimportant. So, to all of the prisoners who have been locked up awhile, to walk inside of the gym and receive a hug from all of these men, at first seems unnatural. But, for most of us inmates it doesn’t take long for us to come out of our shell.

We are seated at a table that has a placemat with our name on it. There were around six prisoners and two volunteers at each table. The first thing we all noticed was at each table there was a big tray of cookies in the center. Coffee, tea and ice water were being passed out. The volunteers are steadily encouraging us to eat the cookies, which by the way are homemade. At first, each man is reluctant, but the volunteers kept saying we have more cookies than you can eat, guys. The coffee kept coming and the cookies started being eaten a little faster. The two volunteers at my table were Blaine and Johnny, two very good-hearted men, who I didn’t realize that night, would become my friends for life. I know for myself, that night, after 3½ hrs, with these volunteers, listening to them and being treated with such kindness felt good. As for most of the inmates that night, they stayed pretty quiet. Even if they were experiencing the same emotions as I was, a lot of them have spent decades in the Puppet Masters world. Maybe even five, ten, or even twenty years in a super seg isolation cell, so accepting the volunteers' kindness would take a little more encouraging.

Day two, Friday. All of the inmates showed up to the gym at 7:00 a.m., once again all of the volunteers are in two lines as we came in, shaking our hands and giving more hugs. Once again the cookies are on the tables and we are given coffee. They also gave us all bananas (my first banana in six years, also my favorite fruit). I remember sitting there thinking how good this banana was, and realizing this was my first one in all these years, truthfully brought tears to my eyes. As the day went on they put all of the tables up, lined all of the chairs in rows, and a Priest came in to do Mass. This is the first time I had ever seen this Priest, he had recently been ordained and was just sent to St. Michael in Cuero, TX. His name is Father David Berger. As mass began I was very happy for several reasons. One, it was obvious he was happy to be here, and it showed in all of his actions. Two, the service was great, and I saw there was something different about Father David, there is a light that shines from him and it draws people to him. After service I met him for the first time, even though we didn’t have the chance to speak very long, I did really enjoy our conversation. So as Friday rolled on there was some powerful testimonies from some of the volunteers. Some of them had been in trouble also, some had actually gone to prison, and given their lives to God. They have been out of prison for several years and now have businesses, beautiful families and wonderful lives. After the inmates listened to their stories hour after hour, you could see the change in their faces.

Day three, Saturday. As this day went by and we heard more testimonies, the atmosphere has changed so much it is hard to describe it. After years or decades of being treated so terribly, the prisoners have been shown compassion, they also see hope for their futures. There is a big meal for all of the men Saturday night. As we are eating the volunteers pass a mic around from table to table giving the inmates a chance to talk if they wish. By now the men are crying, you can feel the presence of God in the gym, it’s amazing to see the transfiguration. I saw men I would never have believed would change, break down and cry. They opened up like you could never imagine. I heard a guard tell a volunteer, “Hell, people are going to keep coming back, look at all this food.” The volunteer said it doesn’t matter why they come, as long as we can get them in here. And he was right, because I can not begin to tell everyone how many people attend a Catholic Retreat, and has changed them forever. I know better than anyone, because I’m one of them. There is hope for the people in prison. If Texas could get past this old way of thinking and focus on rehabilitation, so many inmates could be saved from a lifetime of incarceration. Programs like this retreat are a starting point. To the men that continue to come here every six months and keep these retreats alive, I thank you.

A special thanks to Paul and his son Mike, Les and Blaine. To Frank, who I enjoy making laugh each week, you are truly my brother, and I love you. Last to Father David and Johnny. What an impact you both have made on my life, from the very first retreat until now. I can never thank you both enough for the kindness, compassion and love you guys have given me. Many people throughout my life have told me they are Christians, but you both have shown me. Johnny, you said once that your hope in coming here, you would help at least one man to change. Well, you have succeeded. I know God has to look down on you and Father David, smiling and with joy, say these are my sons.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez