The Beginning Of The End

By Mike Powers

It was a little past 10:30 at night on Thursday, July 26, 2018. I’d been incarcerated now four thousand five hundred sixty-one days. On October 6th, it’ll be an even 13 years - Over 85% of my fifteen-year sentence, for which I was eligible and qualified for parole on five and a half years ago. Even so, I surely wasn’t prepared for the words that woke me up out of my sleep. “Powers, pack your shit.”

It’s amazing the magical ability some words have to change a life forever. I remember when Judge Sharon Wilson had said, “Fifteen years, TDCJ.” Poof! Nearly 20% of an average lifespan gone in an instant, and it seemed she didn’t give it any more thought than of ordering a refill of her tea at the local diner. But these words that had forced me from my rest, from the only peace a prisoner finds outside of visitation, were a double-edged sword. IF I had made parole or come to the end of my sentence, they were the miracle of release. But since I wasn’t up for my next parole review until April, 2019, the words held more than their fair share of foreboding. After all, besides the normal fear of leaving the familiar and the routine, I’d been busy writing these little posts you are (hopefully) enjoying, and a sudden and unexpected transfer could possibly mean big trouble for me. If you think the TDCJ is- above a little trick or two to shut up the troublemakers, then I’ve got some ocean-side property to sell you in my hometown of Odessa. The move could mean I was being “disappeared”. It made me glad to know I’d already made arrangements with a couple of my friends to inform my lawyer and my family if I suddenly went to seg for no reason or mysteriously caught chain in the middle of the night. I knew Francisco would find me, no matter what they tried to do, and as dirty as these bastards are, they’re not stupid enough to do their dirty work in broad daylight. I was glad there’s a lot of sunshine on my work.

I got up and went to the door. “You sure you got the right one, officer?” “Yep, and it ain’t no medical chain, either. You’re being transferred to a pre-release.” A pre- release? Hell, yeah! I didn’t know what wheels were turning or why, but I’d finally started down the road home after almost 13 wretched years in the Texas pen. I started packing my stuff, trying to determine what to go on and take with me and what to leave behind. A prisoner catching chain for home or even a program in pre-release is like Santa Clause to the other inmates. Whether you’re hitting the door at the Walls in Huntsville, or going to a program unit, post prisoners leave a lot of stuff behind. No reason to take the fan if you’re going to be out in a couple of days, for instance. Somebody in these furnace-cells will need it before you do for sure. Not only did I have to set aside stuff for the great giveaway, I needed to determine what stuff would go in my red chain bag, which accompanies an inmate on the bus, and what stuff to turn over to the property officer to follow me later on via truck mail. I wouldn’t see those items for some time. The wheels of truck mail move awfully slowly.

After a couple of hours, I had it all sorted out, And, strangely, there wasn’t that much stuff that I gave away. I had a four-plug multi-outlet which is highly prized these days since they are no longer available. TDCJ had some budget problems over the years, and one of the “cutbacks” they made was taking away our decently-sized outlets. Now, instead of being able to plug the hotpot in whenever needed, the clock or the lamp would have to come out. But, I knew I was on the way out the door, so someone who had years to go instead of months would want it more than I. Who knew how many years that old multi-plug would make the rounds? Well, at least until some overly-zealous officer decided to take it away and throw it in the trash. Nobody I knew needed my other appliances, so I decided to go ahead and take them with me in case I could keep them on my new unit.

After the officer completed the inventory of all my belongings, it was already two o’clock in the morning. Only an hour and a half remained before the breakfast run began, and it didn’t look like I was going to get any sleep anyway. I used the remaining time to write a few letters to anyone I thought might care if I was moving around. I hadn’t set aside enough stamps out of my property, though, so I felt blessed when I ran out of supplies before I ran out of friends. Before I knew it, they were calling, “Get ready for chow,” and my first sleepless night of several to come was behind me.

After the last pancake I’ll ever eat on the Stevenson Unit, God willing, I turned out to my laundry job. I was an exchanger, taking people’s dirty clothes and giving out clean ones five times a week. I wanted to say goodbye to some good friends I had where I worked and tell my supervisor, Ms. Mixon, how thankful I was for getting to work for her. She’d been a stand-up boss the whole seven years I worked under her. I sure wouldn’t miss her supervisor, though. Laundry Captain Gutierrez had been an ass since day one treating inmates and officers with equal contempt. How he ever got a supervisory position is beyond me, but I knew outside of the TDCJ, he wouldn’t have been able to find employment. Well, maybe find it, but certainly not keep it.

Count time came at six o’clock. Back in my cell for one last hour, I thought about the last eleven years of my life spent on the Stevenson. The Bible says we can redeem the time, actually says we ought to do it. It seems to me that a man can’t help but waste some moments of his time in prison. After all, the whole TDCJ system is built on the concept of flesh warehousing. Far too few resources are spent on rehab, education, or life skills. In fact, if not for the volunteer programs, this whole facet of prison life in Texas would be practically non-existent. Still, I’d tried to make the most of what was available. I’d learned a lot in my electrical trades class with Mr. Ley. Billy and Billye, a husband and wife team from Faith Family Fellowship in Victoria, had spent hours too many to count driving back and forth to Cuero to bring all sorts of programs including Celebrate Recovery and At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry. Both have been huge factors in my success. Old Marvin and Bruce from my Kairos Community would be sorely missed, but I have a pretty good idea I’ll be seeing them again. I plan on being a Kairos Outside volunteer as soon as I get paroled. And for six years, Dr. Hall had been coming into the old gym every Saturday night whether it was 36 degrees or 106 to preach the Word, and he did it magnificently. Without even looking at his Bible, he’d quote verse after verse, mingling it so much with his sermon that you really had to know your scripture to realize where his text ended and the Bible picked up. I’d really learned a lot and had been privileged to work under him as his choir director for five of those six years. I wondered what church would be like on my new unit.

Soon enough, count had come and gone. “Chain, TURN OUT!” And with those words over the loudspeakers, my time on the Stevenson was through. I made my way to the line building, saying farewell to those on the sidewalk that knew me and knew I was leaving. You’d be amazed how fast word can travel on a prison unit. If the morsel is really tempting, it can race from one end to the other like a gas-fed fire. We inmates are worse than teenagers in high school in that regard. (In fact, we are worse than teenagers in a lot of ways that come to mind!) I checked in with the officer who had the roster for chain. “Where am I going?” “You’re headed to the Walls.” That was music to my ears. The Walls is the final destination for most of the people leaving the TDCJ. While I didn’t know what to expect, it was nice to think maybe I’d be waltzing right out the door.

We waited in the outdoor cage for about fifteen minutes, and then the bus pulled up at the back gate. A sergeant came and rounded us up, walking us out to the bus. We passed two security checkpoints and waited in the sally port for the bus driver to call our names. Eventually, all 18 of us were loaded on the bus, each one chained to his neighbor, and we started off for the Darrington. Believe or not, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized just exactly what day it was - not date, but DAY, as in FRIDAY. That meant that I’d be at the Dirty Darrington all weekend. Suck! But, if getting out of the TDCJ meant a weekend at the Darrington, then I’d stay there with a smile on my face.

Two and half hours later, we were at the back gate of the Darrington, and for once, there were no other busses backed up in front of us. I could hardly believe our good fortune. In fact, when we rolled up at the gate, the trustee started pushing it open almost immediately. We spent about fifteen minutes in the sally port, and then we headed to the staging area. We were taken off the bus and our restraints were unlocked. As is always the case with transit, we made our way through a series of cages, spending between half an hour to three hours in each one. As amazed as I was when we didn’t have to wait behind any busses, I couldn’t believe my eyes when the Nigerian officer handed me a Johnny sack. The last three times I’d come through Darrington on medical transport, we’d had no lunch at all.

The rest of the weekend lived up to the Dirty Darrington hype. I’ll remember for a long time waking up from a fitful sleep that first Friday night to find my face about six inches away from a trio of roaches that were scurrying about on the wall of my cell. Unable to reach a shoe fast enough, I had to crush them with my bare hands. As I washed the filth off my hands in the middle of the night, I thought, “Well, at least I’m not trying to catch them and eat them from starvation.” No matter where you are, there are places worse, right? I tried to keep that attitude all weekend since I had such high hopes that this would be my last visit ever to the Darrington. It was even harder Saturday night when an inmate frustrated at the fact that he hadn’t been taken to get his medicine all day decided to get to the infirmary by setting fire to his mattress. After the third time one of the Nigerians came and threw a bucket of water on him and his mat, he finally succeeded in generating enough smoke to warrant an ICS on the radio. He got his trip to the infirmary. The rest of us were left coughing and hacking in our cells for the next two hours until the smoke finally cleared.

I slept most of the day on Sunday, having not rested well the previous three nights. Between getting ready for chain and the thoughts of what was to come, my mind wouldn’t let my body sleep, but it had finally caught up to me. I was wiped out. Before I knew it, the day had passed. A Nigerian came in the middle of the night and told my cellie he was on chain. I wasn’t on his list, and the thought of spending another day at the Darrington was weighing heavy. My cellie got ready to go and left about five in the morning. Not an hour after he’d left, the Nigerian came back and told me I was on another chain bus. I packed up with glee.

The trip through Houston was enjoyable, but hitting I-45 North was even better. It seemed like we were coming into Huntsville in the blink of an eye. As we pulled up to the back gate of one of the oldest units in Texas, the Walls, I thought, “Well, here it is, the beginning of the end.”

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