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Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed


By: Caitlin Adams

Rodney let me know a couple visits ago that I'd forgot something in my last blog entry. As soon as he said what I'd forgotten all I could think was, "How'd I forget that?" When I wrote about all the invasions of privacy that Rodney is forced to deal with each day, I forgot to mention shakedowns. Shakedowns are when a team of TDCJ staff goes through your cell and belongings with a fine tooth comb. They can go through in an organized, respectful manner or they can go through like a tornado. They can at this time confiscate anything they choose to confiscate. If they choose tornado style, Rodney is left to clean up the mess and if they damage or destroy something in the process - oh well, too bad. I get the sense when I listen to Rodney speak about shakedowns that they are the "worst" of the indignities he is faced with.

At the following visit, Rodney shared the details of a recent encounter he had with a corrections officer (C.O.) I was really physically shaken by what happened.  Rodney and I discussed my writing a blog concerning what happened. He wasn't comfortable with all of the details of the incident being written about.  It was, from my perspective, a terrifying experience and it made so clear for me how critically important it is for Rodney to "play it close to the vest".  Rodney had been left, locked in the shower for an exceedingly long time, when a senior C.O. and junior C.O. in training finally came to bring Rodney back to his cell, Rodney just asked what had taken so long as he had heard them right outside the shower a good while ago.  The senior C.O. hissed at Rodney, "I do what the [expletive] I want."  The senior C.O. then looking Rodney straight in the eye says, "What if you were the victim?" Long pause. "You should've been the victim."  The junior C.O., according to Rodney, appeared very shaken and taken aback. Rodney asked for his help to have the sergeant on duty come to speak with Rodney. The junior C.O. did get the sergeant. Rodney has taken steps to address what happened. Both Rodney and I only wish we had confidence that the steps taken would accomplish something.

When Julie and I visit, our usual closing exhortation is "Don't let them take your cool".  Rodney, always responds with a big grin, "I won't let 'em take my cool". What hit me when I learned about this most recent incident is that "your cool" is exactly what some want to take. The entire system on death row is designed to take your dignity, your self-respect, your identity, your sanity, and then your life. Veiled threats to take your life happen with terrifying regularity. Rodney said to me at my most recent visit this past Thursday, "You have to be a little crazy in here just to stay sane." The solitary confinement, the complete lack of privacy, everything that belongs to you can be taken in a heartbeat, the degrading and inhumane treatment suffered at the hands of some staff, the constant noise 24/7, the suicides of fellow prisoners, the self-mutilation by fellow prisoners, lockdowns and shakedowns. How could anyone, why would anyone in those circumstances let anyone who has that amount of power and control know your vulnerable spots, what is really important to you? The only thing they can't take is what you don't let them know is there.

I know how incredibly hard it was for me when I first needed help with showering and those helping were people I loved and loved me. Nothing even remotely like being strip searched 5, 6, 7 times a day by people who often times have only one aim in mind--to humiliate, degrade, frighten you.  I've been worried for Rodney since this most recent incident.  I'm really not much of a worrier, so for me to be worried is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and an incredibly powerless feeling.  So for me now, if Rodney came out to the visit booth and had nothing to say besides mundane pleasantries that'd be just fine.  I know that isn't going to happen and I know what an amazing gift that is.

Rodney sends his wishes to all for a very Happy, Blessed, New Year.  Me too! Namaste ☮❤

"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace."  Zen Proverb