Letters From the Inside

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

I ended up at John Sealy Hospital with eight stab wounds. The most serious stab wound was to my lung. I stayed there four days with a suction tube in my lung, and then I was transferred back to Eastham Unit and to here at Pack Unit in March 1999.

You asked me how I feel about coming back to isolation. I do understand that I'm being protected from getting stabbed again, but the way I'm being treated is wrong. I'm locked up in a cell 23 hours a day in a small building with no windows at all. I only get to watch TV one hour a day or go out to a small yard. Always by myself. Sometimes I really feel bad, like I'm going crazy. But I grab my Holy Koran, do my five daily prayers and try to maintain sanity. One thing for sure, I will not fall into the trap that TDC wants me to fall into, going mad and crazy. TDC likes to create monsters out of people and then releases them.

What I don't understand is that millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on building these prisons, but these prisons are no good. So where does the taxpayer money go? A man can take a whole brick off the wall in two hours. Even the doors can be opened very easily. Also, there are no education programs in any Ad. Seg. A lot of inmates are denied parole because they have not participated in an education or vocational program. But how can an inmate participate if they are denied the opportunity to participate?

So to answer your question, what role did TDC play in my change, I'm sorry to say, but none. I risked my life in obtaining an education and job skills. Those things did not come to me, and TDC did not give them to me on a silver platter. Yes, I am a changed man, but no one has changed me. I have only changed for my own good and only for myself. Why should I change for others?

I'm in the final countdown. I have a week to go. What conjures up conflicting emotions is not knowing which parole plan has been approved, whether it will be my hometown of El Paso, or Houston, or Corpus Christi. I've inquired with the unit parole counselor and have conveyed letters of inquiry to the parole board director, but no one has acknowledged my correspondence thus far. Typical of prison administrators.

But I can imagine my first day of release, coming into the so-called bull pen at Huntsville Unit, with its brass bars. The bars that look like they are made of gold. I interpret it as the golden opportunity of freedom, and the given chance of staying out of prison. To never come back to this ignorant hellhole!

I anticipate looking up to the sky and not seeing barbed wire block the beautiful view of peace. The cool wind at night that carries the scent of lilac, with its pleasurable feeling.

I believe my first thought will be to call my sister. I want my beloved sister, who has been in contact with me throughout these years, to be the first to receive the good news of my release. Then I will go to a clothes store. I'm going to purchase a pair of jeans and a cotton long-sleeved shirt. Also I will purchase a pair of steel-toed boots. These will be my work clothes, because I'm determined to work as a welder. However, I will not be picky. If there are not any welding jobs available, I plan to take any kind of job. All I want is a job, as long as it pays the minimum wage.

After the phone calls and buying the clothes, if time permits I will look for a good Mexican food restaurant. I've heard there is one in Huntsville by the name El Chico. Afterward I will go to the bus station and wait for the bus. I will keep to myself during all this time and will also keep away from drinking any kind of alcohol.

Sir, your question about me having any doubts of staying away from prison is a very difficult question to answer. After thinking about it, any sane man will say he does not want to come back to prison. But then again, what awaits me outside these walls? Oh, yes! I do want to succeed and become a good abiding citizen to society. But what opportunities do I have to succeed? I've been incarcerated for the past 19 years, and ten and a half of those I have spent in Ad. Seg. I haven't had much contact with the outside world.

So about your question, do I have any doubts that I'll make it out there, I'll answer truthfully. I'll just take one day at a time, just like I did in here, and survived.

Ricardo Lara learned on the morning of his release that he would be returning to El Paso. He emerged from prison with 150 other men, a long, glowering procession that made its way directly to the bus station and was dispersed to the larger world.

(Part one of an occasional series)

E-mail Randall Patterson at randall.patterson@houstonpress.com.

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