Letters From the Inside

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

I only got into one fight at Eastham. Mostly everyone there was a convict. The difference between an inmate and a convict is that a convict is quieter and minds his own business and just does his time. But you'd better not mess with him or disrespect him, because he sure will kill you! I wish that kind were still around, because you can do time with a good convict. The place was quieter and more respectful. As the saying went, "You could hear a pin drop." But now, there is no respect. Everybody yells when they talk. They like to get into other people's business, start rumors and snitch on you.

The building tenders were still there at Eastham, and the bookkeepers, too. The bookkeepers were a big problem. Many of the strong inmates would pay the bookkeepers to move certain weak inmates into their cells. I'll let you imagine the rest. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Where was the building major or captain? Well, sitting around drinking coffee, I guess.

On December 4, 1984, while I was at the mess hall at Eastham Unit, eating a damn hot link with sauerkraut (lunch) an officer approached and told me to get up and leave. I told him that I had just started eating. He picked up my tray and slammed it on my chest, with food and all. He then told me to pick it up and get out of the mess hall.

Well, I picked up the tray, and when I walked away, I turned and told him, "I'll be back." He responded, "That's what they all say, but I'll make sure you don't. I'm going to get my friends, drag you to solitary and make sure you don't see the sun rise again." I knew what that meant. I've never seen it before, but I've heard of inmates who got beaten to death. And as much as I saw those days, I believed it. So I went to my cell, packed all my belongings, got a bag of Maxwell House coffee and went to the dayroom. I then put the bag of coffee on the domino table and stated, "Here is a bag of coffee, I want a shank (homemade knife). Put it under my pillow." I sat down and watched TV with my back toward the table. Ten minutes later someone whispered in my ear, "It's done." I went straight to my cell and looked under my pillow and there was the shank.

I went out in the hallway. I saw the officer standing in front of the mess hall talking to another officer. I went up to him and stabbed him in the back. I was thinking that if I was going down, he was going to go down with me. That's why I did it. The knife was too thick and it didn't penetrate deep enough.

He fell to the floor. The other officers grabbed me and cuffed me. The officer that was on the floor got up and pulled out his knife, a buck knife he had in his pocket, and tried to stab me. Another officer stopped him. There is a law against officers having weapons inside the institution. I'm glad he made that mistake. I'm not glad that I stabbed him. I regret it now. I could have been home a few years ago. Also, I believe I was wrong, I should just have let it go.

I was put in Ad. Seg., and in the morning I was transferred to Ramsey II Unit. By then, in 1985, the building tenders were disappearing, but now the gangs were taking over. The gang war between the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate had broken out pretty bad. I myself had not gotten involved in prison gangs yet, but for some reason I was put in a recreation group with five Texas Syndicate gang members. These gang members looked at me very strange, like trying to figure me out. They were really suspicious of me. One day, after about two weeks, the leader approached and asked me why was I in Ad. Seg.? After I told him, he smiled and stated that was the reason I was put in the recreation group with them. Probably the administration wanted for them to think I was some kind of informer, so they would end up stabbing me. Those gang members told me that it was not going to work and to just keep out of hearing distance when they were having their meetings.

Those days, in Ad. Seg. at Ramsey II Unit, we had two hours, five days a week to recreate in the yard or to watch TV in the dayroom. They used to show X-rated movies on TV around eleven at night. Sometimes we used to go watch TV at around 2 a.m.! But all that stopped when an inmate was found stabbed to death, under a mat in the dayroom. He had been dead for at least three hours. Another inmate was also stabbed. He was still alive when the officers asked him who had stabbed him. The inmate stated that he stabbed himself -- 22 times. These were his last words, and he died.

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