An Amazing Story From Mario Veleta

There is a saying that I have heard throughout my life, “Everybody has a story,” which is very true. I have traveled much in my life and have had the opportunity to meet many people, so I do know first hand that this statement is a fact. Of course, it might not always be a story that captivates your imagination, but every now and then someone will come along that will not only catch your attention but will mesmerize you with their story.

I am serving my sentence at the Stevenson Unit, and not long ago I met a young man named Mario Veleta, but to all of us here we call him Tree. Why? Because he stands 7” ft. tall. I actually met him about eight months ago. Each day he and I would go to the respite area together during the summer to sit in the A/C during the hottest part of the day. Eventually, he ended up moving into the same cell block I live in and we started talking. He told me that he suffers from Marfan Syndrome, a disorder of connective tissue that will affect a person in one of three ways:

  1. It will affect the heart, weakening the valves and cause the heart to weaken and skip beats, eventually killing the patient through heart failure if not treated.
  2. Attacking arteries and connective tissues of the body like all organs, ligaments and tendons.
  3. It will affect the patient in both ways listed above, which is the case with my friend.

I sat down with Tree one day drinking a cup of coffee and he began telling me his story.

In April of 2012 he was told he would have to have surgery to save his life. At that time the Doctor was aware of two aneurysms, one 1 mm aneurysm and a second 2cm aneurysm, located on his aortic arch. Dr. Ralph Paone, of the University Medical Center, performed the surgery. He also had to repair his aortic valve due to weakening. The flap was not closing causing major fatigue and enlarging one side of his heart. Dr. Paone ended up repairing both the aortic valve and the aortic arch. After surgery the Dr. told Mario that he was lucky to be alive, and that he would need another major surgery soon or he would die. Not very encouraging words for someone just coming out of surgery. As my friend laid there trying to recuperate from what had just transpired, little did he know that his fight for life had just begun.

The Texas prison system is without a doubt the most corrupt prison system in our country. No other state can come close to the madness of this criminal empire. I have written about so many things that are shocking and demoralizing. When I myself believe these bastards couldn’t sink any lower, always they show me much differently. Here, is a twenty-five year old young man laying in ICU stable, but critical in condition. Stitches everywhere, a tube in his neck, two tubes in the lower chest draining fluids out of his lungs, legs stitched from vein grafts, unable to eat, and struggling to breathe.

As he came around on his fifth day in ICU, he noticed that they were removing the tube from his neck and chest. They said he was being discharged back to prison. About this time Dr. Paone came in and said that he didn’t believe he was ready to be discharged, but the Warden felt confident that the prison could take care of him. He wanted Tree to be moved back immediately. Tree told the doctor he was struggling to eat, and was having trouble breathing, but the doctor said for him to try and talk to the prison officials. At this point the doctor now said, “Look I am going to double your last shot of morphine, because you are about to go through hell.” Mario thought to himself, “Gee, thanks Doc., I really appreciate the last words of encouragement before I leave.” A few minutes later a guard came in to give him a jumpsuit to put on. The guard took one look at Mario and said, “My God, you don’t look like you should be going anywhere.”

He slowly gets dressed and is taken outside to a van and driven to the Montford Unit in Lubbock, Texas. Once there he struggles to even get out of the van. The guard said, “Please be careful because I am not allowed to help you.” Now picture this, Tree just had major heart surgery, had three tubes sticking out of him, can barely breath and is shackled down with a belt, cuffs and leg irons, now trying to get out of this van by himself. He has to walk, again unaided mind you, clear across this prison to the medical wing. Do they show up with a wheelchair? Are we living on Mars yet? No. Tree can only take a few steps at a time, he has to constantly stop to try and catch his breath. The guard keeps assuring him he will be alright, just a little further. I would like for any CO’s, ranking officers, medical staff and wardens to just take a second and think, how would you feel if this was your son or daughter? What about your mother or father? How would you feel knowing they were being treated like an animal? What if it were you? I keep thinking if the people who work for the Texas prison system ever take into consideration how they would feel if this was really their own family members or even themselves. The sad reality to that is, no they probably don’t.

Tree finally makes it to the medical department and is checked in. He is put into a cell with another prisoner who is being treated for cancer. Mario’s incision was supposed to be cleaned four times a day, but he said if it was cleaned once a day he was lucky. His cellie was so sick from the cancer he would defecate on himself. The nurses would leave them to lay in their own feces all day or until their cellies would complain and start to raise hell. Then when they did come in to check on these inmates, these nurses would get mad and treat them horribly. A lot of the staff would neglect the men who were the worst off and the elderly, because if they were really ill, they would be so sick that they were not even able to complain, and the elderly usually never had any family left who could help them.

Over and over I ask myself how this treatment of the inmates could be allowed to happen in the 21st century, in the greatest country in the world. America is always the very first to respond to any catastrophes around the world. Whether it’s a natural disaster like an earthquake, or an ebola outbreak in Africa. Here comes the United States to help. But, right here in our own country, in the state of Texas, prisoners are being beaten, murdered, starved and manipulated. They are cooked to death in their cells and left to suffer and die by the wonderful medical staff provided by T.D.C.J. The United States and the United Nations are fast to step in to dictate the treatment of prisoners in any other country. What is needed though is to come right down here to the state of Texas and it’s prisons and start thinking about us, your American citizens.

By now Tree has been without morphine for about 24 hrs, and all he could get for his intense pain was Tylenol-3. He said the pain was so bad it almost drove him insane. After hours of long painful suffering he would start hyperventilating until he passed out. He had to walk down a long hallway to take a shower. The shower room was filthy, from being improperly cleaned. People are so sick everywhere. There is blood and excrement all over the floor and walls. Gnats are flying all over the place also. He noticed that after his first shower, blood and some yellow looking substance was leaking from his incision. He showed one nurse but was told not to worry about it. Each day it becomes redder, he can smell it and by the 4th day the smell is so horrible he can hardly stand it. A new nurse from another shift comes in to see him, and as soon as she looks at his incision she said, “Oh my God, I believe you have MRSA (Medically Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), which hospitals fear the most after surgery. The nurse took a swab for analysis, and a few hours later Tree was moved to an isolation cell. The doctor said that he had contracted an infection in his surgical incision, and it was the type of staph called MRSA. Mario was placed on an I.V. antibiotic drip in both arms called Vancomycin, which is the strongest antibiotic known to man.

He was informed that this antibiotic is so strong that it will not only kill this type of staph, but will kill you too. The doctor remarked that this type of infection is so severe, that death was most likely to occur. The doctor sent someone in to collect his family’s information so that they would know who to contact. He was told he would be on the antibiotic drip for ten days, if he didn’t show any signs of improvement by then, he would probably die shortly after. When the doctor left his cell, Tree thought to himself, “Well, this is it, looks like I’m going to die in here.” He felt many different emotions, thoughts of family and friends, he thought of his father way down in Mexico, his mother, and most of all about his three small children. He thought about how he wished he had been a better father, son and brother.

The next day he was informed that they had spoken to his brother. His family was told it would not be wise of them to come and see him, because the infection your brother has is very contagious and very deadly. Now, he felt the entire weight of the circumstances he has endured over the past week. The fear, the worry, the pain, and now the acceptance of death. Not death surrounded by the ones you love, but death in a prison cell...alone. He didn’t even have the privilege to at least die surrounded by medical staff who cared. The staff did ignore the fact that his incision had to he cleaned several times a day, luckily even if once. Even now that his life was hanging on by a thread, they still looked away from their duty. This blatant disregard and ignorance is what caused this infection to begin with. I wonder why these nurses or doctors even went to medical school? I have never in all of my life witnessed medical “professionals” like the ones here in the Texas prison system. I will also note that I have met some of these medical staff who are very nice and caring individuals and have made a point to work against those who are hateful and vile creatures. So, here is Mario laying in his medical wing cell fighting for his life. Every day the doctor would need to go into his cell and shoot saline into his I.V. If it burned he would have to remove it and put it into another vein so the Vancomycin would not destroy or collapse the vein.

Finally, the tenth day arrived, but it’s still infected. Look if I take you off the antibiotic drip you are going to die, and if I keep giving it to you it’s going to kill you.” So he continued giving my friend this antibiotic treatment. What was supposed to be ten days has now turned into thirty days. At this point Mario has lost fifty pounds and is no longer able to stay awake, he is sleeping almost 24 hrs. a day. On the thirtieth day the doctor checks him and says, “I have some good news, the antibiotic finally killed the infection.

All of this could have been prevented. How? By leaving Mario in the ICU. There was no viable reason to move him back to prison in the first place. This type of treatment happens every day in the Texas prison system. It has been written about with the incidents at the Estelle Unit in my earlier chapters. Inmates treated without any compassion whatsoever. Dogs and cats are shown more sympathy at the end of their lives. As Mario silently laid there thanking God, the realization that this was only the beginning set in. The worst was yet to come. Within a year he would be back under the knife, facing even more challenges than he cared to think about. Mario knew his fight for life had only begun.

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