A Letter from Steven Woods on Texas Death Row

Steven Woods is scheduled for execution today, September 13, 2011.
Please call the office of Governor Rick Perry at (001)(512) 463-2000 to ask for clemency
Here is more about Steven Woods.

A Letter from Steven Woods on Texas Death Row
This was posted in 2004 on Prisontalk and it is still as much needed today:

My name is Steven Woods, and I am currently an inmate awaiting lethal injection in the Alan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.

I am writing this as a plea for help, for myself and the 400 plus inmates living on death row. I am writing this to ask that you get involved, to help make our conditions more liveable and humane. To help us gain a little comfort as we sit out what little remains of our lives.

I am aware that there are numerous people and organizations world-wide that expend an immense amount of energy trying to abolish the death penalty. While I admire and respect their efforts, I am also aware that there are few who stop and look at how we are forced to live. So much effort is put on saving our lives, that this is often overlooked.

This is no fault of the people, it is the fault of myself and all the 400 plus inmates who share my fate. We just lie down and accept the way we are treated. If were not willing to stand up for ourselves, why should anyone else?

It is time for this to change.

Death row, in Texas, is housed in a maximum security super segregation facility. A facility designed to hold prisoners indefinitely in a solitary confinement environment. We are locked down for 23 hours a day, in a single man 6×9 foot steel and concrete cell. We are afforded extremely limited privileges, and only one hour a day to get out of our cells for recreation. Every time we leave our cells we are strip searched, placed in hand restraints and walked by 2 guards holding each arm.
being walked.

If you were to ask the TDCJ administration why it is set up like this, they would tell you that we are security risks. This is absurd. Granted, it is true that we were convicted of some very heinous crimes, I would like to point out that there are TWO penalties for capital murder; death, or li fe in prison. Those who are convicted and are afforded a life sentence (my co-defendant, for example) are in most cases convicted of the exact crimes we were. They live out their lives in general population as a reward for their testimony against us, the fact that they plead guilty, or because the jury decided to show compassion (as in the case of the
terrorist sniper Lee Malvo).

Let me ask you this. Who is more likely to be a danger to others; an inmate condemned to die, who has a chance to save his life if he can prove that he is not a danger to society, or the prisoner who will serve out a life sentence, and has nothing to lose?

The majority of people who are sent to a TDCJ prison, those who did not receive the death penalty and behave themselves, are placed into the general population unit. They have a lot more freedom than we do. They receive hot meals at a steam table, not in a cell. They get to go to church, and parti cipate in educational programs. They are allowed to interact with other prisoners, and can walk around freely, to the dayrooms and recreation yards, and around the section they live on. They are
allowed to receive contact visits, to touch and hold their family and
loved ones. These convicts consist of thieves, violent offenders, rapists,
capital murderers and child molesters. These inmates often act violently
toward each other and the guards, and sometimes try (and succeed) to escape. But, of course, they are not security risks. Not according to TDCJ.

We, on death row, are deprived of so many of the things that make a human being stable, and sane. The TDCJ officers dont care about us, dont like us, and act against us whenever and however they can. They are constantly degrading us calling us names, trying to take what little dignity that remains. They often deny us our sleep, food, shower, and recreation. They even get violent and strike at us when they think they can get away with it. They write us disciplinary cases for petty things, or sometimes for something they made up. They even ignore us when we need medical attention. Then they laugh and joke about it. After all, we are less than
human, and it is their god given right to oppress us.

When it comes to the meals on death row, policy dictates 3 warm meals a day, served in our cells, of the same quality and quantity that the guards receive. We are allotted 2400 calories a day, at least in theory. In reality, the food is served cold, more often than not, and on broken and dirty food trays. The guards who serve the meals dont wear gloves or even wash their hands. Usually, the food is not even fully cooked, and we are never given as much as we are supposed to have. This may seem trivial, but to us it is very important to remain healthy.

The one hour a day that we are allowed to leave our cells for recreation is sp ent in the dayroom, or outside. The dayroom is a cage 18×24 feet. We mostly spend this time just walking around in circles, because we are not allowed to take anything out of our cell. If we do, we get written up for trafficking and trading. Outside, the only differences are that it is a concrete room with iron bars for a roof.

We are not allowed any contact with the other inmates, except the conversations we can have with those in cells close to us by shouting through the walls. We do not get any arts & craft programs, no television, and no work programs. The only things we have to break the monotony of solitary confinement are a radio, books we receive from the outside world, colored pencils, and cheap water colors. We are denied the basic human contact that is essential to keeping a healthy state of mind. But, legally, this is not cruel and unusual punishment.

Visitation is one of our bigger problems. We get 2 hours a week, or certain extended special vis its which are two 4hour visits, if the person visits from over 300 miles, out of state or overseas. Only those on our visitation list may visit, and they have to be approved by TDCJ. We are only allowed 10 people on that list, and we can only change it every 6 months. This means, in average, we will be able to change it or add people 10 times, as the average life expectancy on death row is 5 years. These visits are the most cruel, inhumane punishment. Through a solid, thick sheet of glass, we can see our loved ones. To talk to them, we have to use telephones that distort their voices. Most of us will die without ever being able to
touch, hug, hold our families and friends. Without ever being able to hear the true sound of their voices.

Under the Death Row Plan, as outlined in the Supreme Court case Ruiz vs. Estelle, we were supposed to be allowed more privileges- namely a work program, group/ extended recreation, televisions, and in-cell arts and cra ft programs. Unfortunately, these privileges have been suspended indefinitely, due to an escape attempt (which failed- and when investigated was determined to be the fault of the officers due to negligence) over 5 years ago. 5 years ago, we did have these privileges (except contact visits). So what happened, and why cant we have them back?

TDCJ is punishing all of us for the mistake made by 7 inmates and the officers that neglected their duty. It is not our fault they don’t train their guards properly.

We cannot change anything from the inside, by ourselves. We can only stand up for ourselves and not accept the way we are treated. I am taking this first step in writing to you, and by protesting our conditions by not cooperating with TDCJ officers and officials. We are asking for your support, to put forth as much or as little effort as you can. We need you to fight with us, by calling and writing the government and the administration and telling them that you will not accept the way death row is being run. To protest, if you can, or just spread the word of how we
are treated and encouraging others to get involved.

It is going to be a long hard road we walk down. It will require an extreme amount of energy. It is our hope that you are willing to walk it with us.

To protest our conditions, please phone or write to the following people and tell them you will not stand for the current situation. We would appreciate your help.

1) Rep. Terri Hodge, P. O. Box 13084 Austin, Texas 78711.

2) A letter to Chairman and Members of the Texas Board of Criminal
Justice, P. O. Box 13084, Austin, Texas 78711.

3) A letter to Warden Chuck Biscoe, Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 S.,
Livingston, TX 77351.

If you’d like to get involved and like more, in-depth information, have comments, questions, advice or encouraging words, feel free to write to:

Steven Woods # 999427
TDCJ Polunsky Unit
12002 SFM 350
Livingston, Texas 77351