Letters From the Inside

There's a city in Texas more foreign to us than any in New Guinea or Malaysia. In the last ten years, the size of this city has tripled to 150,000 people. The rest of us pay $2.4 billion a year to support it.

The city is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state's largest and perhaps least scrutinized bureaucracy. The prison system does its work, by nature, behind closed doors, and deals with a group of people for which there is little public sympathy. The public is allowed to view the menace in chains and the suspect on trial and the convict being led away. Then the gates safely close behind him. What happens then, we rarely discover.

Last fall staff writer Randall Patterson began a correspondence with inmate number 320711, a convicted murderer named Ricardo Castillo Lara. In ten letters, Lara gave his perspective on 19 years in prison. His account seems valuable both as a record of a time within the prison system and of the effect of that time on a prisoner. When Lara was done, he agreed to let the Press publish the following condensed version. He was released from prison on April 17.

Sir, I have received your most welcomed letter, and was glad to know your interest about me.

First of all, I would like to let you know that I'm 39 years old. I was born and raised at El Paso, Texas. At this time the only family that I have are two sisters and three brothers. However, only one sister and a brother have kept in touch with me through these 19 years. I have never been married and have no children.

I wish that you would come and visit us here in Pack Unit Protective Custody Ad. Seg., so you could see firsthand how we are locked up in this windowless building. There is nothing in here but walls and bars. After the officers take me out to watch TV for an hour and a ten minute shower, I don't get to see another human being until the next day. The inmates that are here with me, I hear them when we conversate, but it's like talking to the wall. We pass reading material to each other on a long string that we throw under the doors, cell by cell.

I only have three months, 17 days left. I occupy myself as much as I can with the little I have. I read my Koran and do my five daily prayers. I'm trying to refresh my mathematics skills and also my welding skills. My plans are to work for the Union Tank Car Company there in Houston. I once spoke with Mr. Chuck Keller, who is the welding engineer at that company. He stated that he does hire ex-convicts who are willing to succeed.

However, the parole system really confuses me in many ways. I have requested that the parole board release me to Houston or Corpus Christi. I did mention that I did not want to go back to El Paso, Texas, because I have many enemies there (gangs) and I wanted to start a new life. But the parole board will not let me know which plan was approved. I am hoping it will be Houston.

As to what I crave, I crave having my own freedom. Eat when I want, shower when I want, in short do what I want when I want to. I'm curious about the new cars. By the way, why so many small cars? When I came into prison, the model cars were 1979 Cadillacs. Technology -- it's unbelievable! This Internet thing is so popular. Have I really missed that much?

Most of all, I crave to be with my family and feel loved by them. When I was young, I used to be a boxer, and I crave for that good feeling when people used to love me for the person I used to be. It was a beautiful feeling to be on top!

But everything went downhill and down the drain. I know why and how, and I have no good excuse. I also don't blame nobody but myself.

As for my early life, my parents taught us good discipline. They tried hard on giving me their best support when I decided to enter boxing. I was 11 or 12 years old. I won my first boxing fight. Anyway, while this sporting event of mine went on, I lived with my parents in a small neighborhood. Our neighbors and my brother and I played football out on the street in our neighborhood. We would usually drink some beers after a game.

There was a man in his mid-thirties who we used to call "Eddie the Glue." He used to sniff spray paint and would usually leave socks full of spray paint on the ground. Those days ('74) I only used to drink beer. Then one day after a game of football, while having a few beers, a friend saw one of Eddie's socks. A bet started. Everyone would take a big sniff of Eddie's sock that had spray point. The one who didn't would buy more beer. Well, I didn't have any money so I took a sniff.

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.

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.

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.

From then on, all TDC Ad. Seg. recreation ended by 10 p.m. No more late recreation in Ad. Seg.

A riot went on at Ramsey II Unit for at least four to six months. Rattling the cell doors and banging on the steel bunk day and night! I don't know how I got to sleep during those days, but I think it was because I would get so tired during the riot that I would sleep through the noise. People were burning the mattresses and whatever they could. Flooding by flushing the toilet. Broke all the windows, and then broke all the toilets and sinks. When the officers would come into the cell blocks, everyone would throw body waste on them, steel soup bowls and food trays. There was smoke everywhere because of the burnings.

After this riot, when things started to calm down, all inmates who were living by themselves were put to live with a cellmate. This was a big mistake! Next thing you know, gang members were killing other gang members or anyone they suspected was a snitch. Some inmates were stabbed coming back from recreation or showers. Once inside the cell, when the door closed, the officer would tell the inmate to back up to the cell door so he could take off the handcuffs. When the inmate backed up, his cellmate would jump up and attack him.

I myself was put in a cell with a Texas Syndicate member. Nothing bad happened, we got along well. We smoked marijuana, listened to the radio and did our time. I only lived with him for about a month. Then I was moved to live by myself.

Before I was transferred out, the leader of the Texas Syndicate asked me to become one of their gang members. I said yes. He asked for a picture of myself. Those days in order to become a gang member your photo was circulated throughout the TDC system by gang members. This was to see if anyone knew anything bad about you or what kind of reputation you had. It would usually take a whole year to become a gang member after this, but it only took me five months.

I was transferred to Retrieve Unit Ad. Seg. around August 1985. That Ad. Seg. was brand-new. It was fresh painted, wire mesh was welded on the doors and bars, too. It didn't last long -- more burnings and more floodings. But most of the burning was because we wanted to keep warm. It was very cold during winter, and there was no heating system. By then we had learned our lesson not to break the windows, but the officers would sometimes leave the windows open intentionally. We would set fire to the plastic food trays and lean them against the walls inside our cells to get warm. The hard plastic burned for a long time.

TDC decided to close that Ad. Seg., and I was transferred to Wynne Unit Ad. Seg. around the end of January 1986. By then I was already involved in the gang, and used to vote on gang hits through mail. There were other gang activities, business matters, etc. I was taught how to make invisible ink with vitamin C tablets and a yellow marker.

There used to be a team of officers called the Goon Squad. They were dressed like a SWAT team with helmets, shields, vests and all. They would get us naked and handcuff us with our hands behind our backs and put us all in the dayroom or hallway facing the wall. Then they would look for contraband inside our cells. They wouldn't find anything most of the time, but they sure would make a mess inside our cells! Sometimes they would break our headphones or radios or the fans, intentionally. If an inmate would complain or turn around to look, that inmate would get beat up bad. And I mean bad, with the batons the officers carried. I seen these officers break arms and legs.

My mother passed away in 1987, while I was at Wynne Unit Ad. Seg. I spoke to her on the telephone before she died. She told me that she had a feeling she was not going to live long. Well, she got sick and passed away two days later, on Mother's Day.

I had already settled down a bit. I was thinking more about what I was going to do with my future. I didn't have a GED and no type of job skills whatsoever. How was I going to take care of my family when I got married? This seed was planted in my mind by a lovely female officer who cared and gave me advice. We got along well with each other and liked each other, but another gang member wanted me to use her to bring in drugs, etc. I refused because she was good people. So he started a rumor with the other gang members that I was giving her information about our gang activities. I was put on probation and not given gang information until the matter was further investigated by higher gang leaders.

By then I was tired of this gang stuff. Everything was going downhill. Even business was going downhill. The new recruits were too young and stupid. They were not properly investigated throughout the system. Everybody was at each other's throat, and all they thought about was killing each other. I began thinking more about getting my GED and some job skills. I wrote a letter to the gang leader and quit the Texas Syndicate. So a hit was put on me.

I wanted to blend in with the TDC system and get away from Wynne Unit Ad. Seg. and the gangs. TDC didn't and doesn't have any GED programs or job skills in Ad. Seg., so I had to get released to the regular inmate population. There was only one way that I could do that. I had to go to a psychiatric unit.

In order to get to the psychiatric unit, I set fire to my cell. It did not work, but it got me to see a psychiatrist. Then I hanged myself without getting hurt. It didn't work either. Finally I cut my arm. My intentions were to cut only skin, but the razor blade was too sharp and hit a vein. I woke up at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. This time it did work, but I was not released to regular population. The psychiatric treatment program was moved to Amarillo, Texas, at Clemens Unit. I can't remember what month we were all transferred. I had planned not to take medication, but the medication was not in pills. It was by injections. Everything went by so fast and blurry.

At Clemens, another inmate told the warden I and 15 other inmates were gang members using the psychiatric unit to get released to the regular inmate population. We were locked back up in Ad. Seg., and I was transferred to Ad. Seg. Protected Custody at Ramsey I Unit. It wasn't that bad, but there were no type of educational programs, so I had to file some grievance complaints in order for them to let me take the GED exam. I passed the GED exam and received my certificate on April 23, 1992.

I needed some job skills, but in order to participate in a vocational program I still had to be released to the regular inmate population. I asked the administration in February 1995, and after being in Ad. Seg. for approximately ten years I was finally released to the regular population. It was such a great feeling! Finally being able to go to the gym, mess hall and showers. I was very happy!

Well, I signed up for cabinet-making vocational, but I didn't get to complete that vocational. There was a female officer I was having problems with, and the administration decided to transfer me to Retrieve Unit because of "inmate and officer conflict."

At Retrieve Unit, I did get to complete the microcomputer application vocational. I also became a Muslim. And I tried, I really did try, not to get into any fights. But in prison, there always has to be some idiot who is going to disrupt your peace. The first fight, I got beat, finally beat, after all these years! The second fight, I broke the guy's jaw and nose. He was transferred to John Sealy Hospital to get his jaw restructured and wired.

I was determined to do what I set out to do, and that was to learn as many job skills as I could. I was transferred to Wynne Unit for the welding vocational. I completed the vocational, and after a while I decided to sign up for the sheet-metal vocational at Michael Unit. I wanted to take my chances staying at Michael Unit, but unfortunately I was recognized by some Texas Syndicate gang members. I was approached and told to write a letter of explanation to higher gang leaders about why I had renounced the gang. I knew they just wanted to fool me into thinking everything was okay, while they planned their attack. So I went to speak to the gang intelligence officer and explained my situation. As you know by now, Mr. Patterson, I usually like to stand up and fight, but not this time, no sir! I only had one more year to go, and I wanted to get to see the free world again!

After I explained my situation to the gang intelligence officer, I was locked up in a transit cell to await transfer back to Eastham Unit. I explained there what had happened at Michael Unit and that I was told by the Michael Unit administrator that everything would be explained on my record. The Eastham Unit committee said my record only reflected that I had refused to complete the vocational. So the Eastham committee decided to put me back in the Eastham regular inmate population.

Five days later, on Sunday, February 7, 1999, a friend and I were walking around the recreation yard, when all of a sudden I felt someone hit me on the back of my head. Then I felt someone stab me twice in the back. I turned to look and saw two inmates, one with an ice pick and another with a metal lock tied to a rope. I fought back. I was not going to go down without taking one of them with me if I died. I started punching the one with the knife. He stabbed me on my arm three times. I punched him again and he stabbed me on my side and punctured my lung, which collapsed. Then the other inmate came behind me and hit me with the lock on the back of my head. But then my friend started to fight with the inmate that had the lock. My friend was bleeding badly from his head. I don't know when he had got hit. Anyway, I kicked the inmate that had the knife. He swung at me and I tried to grab the knife, but it went through my hand. He had tied the knife to his hand. I noticed that he looked so young and scared, but I was determined to take him with me to the grave. However, he started to back off every time I walked toward him. Then he finally ran away. I knew that my friend could handle the other inmate, so I turned around and walked toward the tower to wave at the officer to get his attention.

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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