Letters From the Inside

Ricardo Lara spent 19 years in Texas prisons. He got out the other day.

That was it! That's all it took. Next thing I knew, I was hanging around in the next neighborhood with the big guys, selling dope and doing all kinds of dope and sniffing spray paint. I even had my own gang I named "Los Stones." My boxing career ceased, and I started stealing cars and went shoplifting. My parents tried to stop me, but I wouldn't listen. I didn't care about anything anymore. I dropped out of high school at the end of ninth grade. When my father passed away in 1978, it hurt me so bad! I felt I let my father down. He wanted for me to become a boxing champion.

Well, I finally got caught stealing a car. I was sentenced to eight years probation. Within a year, I violated probation nine times. The judge finally sentenced me to two years in TDC (now TDCJ, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice). I was sent to Ferguson Unit in June 1979. Prison was very different those days.

The building tenders took care of the cell blocks. They were inmates who did all the counting, cleaning and keeping the noise down. They would beat up inmates who would not listen to them. The guards would not come into the cell blocks, unless a building tender miscounted. Other inmates who had money would pay the building tenders so that they could tattoo, get high or have a punk in their cells. As for the turnkeys, I didn't know too much about them, but I do know that you had to watch out for them because they had the habit of wrapping the big keys in a towel, sneaking up on you and hitting you on the head. They were hardly seen, unless you would go out in the hallways. Going out in the hallway was hard to do. Usually when someone would go out of the cell block he would be suspected as a snitch. So everyone avoided the hallways.

Those days there were no recreational yards or gyms. We were all crowded in a small dayroom. One side of the dayroom, all the blacks were together. On the other side, all Hispanic, and on the other corner were the whites. Hispanics would live with other Hispanics, blacks with blacks and whites with whites. Sometimes or actually most of the time three men would live in one cell. One man would sleep on the top bunk, one on the bottom bunk and one on the floor.

As for education those days, there were only a few that went to school. The field officers believed inmates only wanted to go to school because they didn't want to work in the fields. Early in the morning we would go out to the fields. The sun would barely be coming up. I hated the fields, especially the officers on horses behind us all day, cussing us out all day long! It was real hard work, especially during summer. Some inmates would pass out or lag behind. When we would come back for lunch (so-called chicken and dumplings; it was watered-down gravy with chunks of half-cooked dough, no chicken), the inmates who had passed out or lagged behind would get a beating from their homeboys. By the time everyone got back in the cell block and drank a cup of coffee, work was called out for the second half. We would work until five o'clock or 5:30 p.m. After work we took a three-minute shower and went to eat supper, which most likely would be hot links with sauerkraut. The inmates that passed out earlier or lagged behind were taken to do 15 days' solitary confinement.

I did quite a few days in solitary for fights. In solitary we were not given any clothes or mattresses, only an old blanket with a bunch of holes. Only twice a day you were given a meal. One in the morning around 5 a.m. and the other meal about six in the evening. Each meal had one teaspoon of sauerkraut, and one of spinach and carrots. Every other day you were given a vitamin and a little sponge on a stick to brush your teeth. Each time someone would enter the cell block (you could hear the door), for example, the warden, you had to stand up in front with your hands behind your back. If you were caught sitting down or asleep, you got 15 more days. Believe me, after the fifth day, when you stood up, you would see stars flying everywhere and feel like you were going to pass out.

I'll never forget when I did time in solitary for fighting. It was very cold, and the hard steel on the bunk was cold, but it wasn't the cold that got to me. It was Christmas Day. The chapel was right next to the solitary cells. I was staring at the ceiling while I lay on my steel bunk listening to everyone next door in the chapel singing Christmas carols! I felt so lonely being in solitary, naked and only with a small blanket full of holes.

Most of the time I spent in solitary was for fighting. At one time, for about three months, I worked at the dairy unit milking cows, and we inmates used to get together and bet on fights with each other behind the barn. I won quite a bit of money then.

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