Letters From the Inside

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

I discharged from solitary on November 10, 1980. I had been in TDC for 17 months, 23 days out of a two-year sentence. Those days there was no such thing as Mandatory Supervision. You were just taken to Huntsville, given some weird-looking clothes and a $200 check. Then set free. No strings attached. The first thing I did was meet some guy who was released the same day and go buy some liquor and get drunk.

I didn't learn much in TDC but fight, be a racist and work in the fields. Back in El Paso, I decided to take up boxing again. I fought my first pro-debut fight at the El Paso Civic Center. That same night Mike Weaver lost a fight. I did too.

Within time, I started hanging around my old friends again. One night we went barhopping and got drunk. My friends were beating up on their girlfriends, and that's one thing I hate, a woman-beater! I won't go into detail, but after a while I told my friends to drive me back home. Once there, one of my friends started to beat his girl, and I stopped him. The girl ran and got in the car with the other two and drove away. The other guy stayed with me. We were both behind my home in the alley arguing. Then he pulled out a buck knife and stated that he had something to do with my brother's death (my brother was drowned). He punched me and started to swing the knife at me. I started to fight back and ended up taking the knife away from him. I stabbed him four times on the neck, two on the chest and one on his knee, when he tried to kick me. It happened so fast!

When he was on the ground, I thought he was still alive. I went inside my home (I lived by myself then), and I kept thinking that he was going to live and hurt someone in my family. He was the type of guy who would take revenge. So I got a screwdriver, went back and stabbed him in the forehead twice, to make sure he was dead.

Well, Mr. Patterson, I ended up with a 40-year sentence for murder. You asked me what thoughts I have now regarding the person who is dead? To be honest with you, I really don't think much about him. He pulled the knife out on me, stated he had something to do with my brother's death. And knowing him, he could have ended up killing me instead. I believe and will always believe that it was a fair fight. In a war you live or you die. I prefer to live. Don't get me wrong, I'm no killer. I don't go killing people for the hell of it.

Anyway, this time when I came back to TDC, things were slowly changing. There were no more inmate doctors and dentists. The turnkeys were gone. The building tenders still got paid for certain favors but kept a very low profile. There were more correctional officers, but they still had a bad attitude. They liked to harass the inmates. They now had the keys, but they still did not come into the cell blocks. They still had the building tenders count for them.

I stayed at Coffield from June 1981 to around August 1983. There wasn't much happening in Coffield. We still went to the gym to watch movies on the weekends. During commissary time, most of the stronger inmates would hide around the hallway. When a weaker inmate came by with a sack full of goodies, he was attacked. One of the stronger inmates would push him or punch him while the other grabbed the sack of goodies and ran. The officer in the hallway would get to see the whole incident but would turn his face the other way.

Yes, I did have a few more fights, but that was natural for me. There were other incidents too. The last disciplinary report at Coffield was in 1983, for tattooing and tattooing paraphernalia. That's when I found out how much solitary confinement had changed. I couldn't believe it. I was given all my clothes, a mattress, a blanket, one small pencil and writing paper. What surprised me most was that I was given three full meals a day! I thought it was some kind of mistake and that someone would come back and take everything away. But they never came. I had heard some inmates complain how bad solitary was and that it wasn't fair. If they only knew, if they only knew! I myself just kicked back on my bunk with a big smile on my face smoking a cigarette a friend sneaked in for me. Oh, well!

After those 15 days of solitary, I was taken to Administrative Segregation. Back then Ad. Seg. was really small. Only about 20 inmates were in there, most of them for refusing to work. Everything was about the same as the regular inmate population. We had a cellmate, had all our personal property, went to eat at the mess hall and to the regular showers. The only difference is that we were locked up in our cells 22 hours a day. I spent about 60 or 90 days there and then got transferred to the Eastham Unit, because I had too many disciplinary reports.

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