Welcome to America

"Prisons are becoming breeding grounds for hate"

Exonerated Illinois death row inmate Ronald Jones speaks out at a Death Row Ten demonstration

When I first arrived on Menard's death row, I was told by an African American inmate that the only thing missing was white sheets and burning crosses. It wasn't a week later when my eyes were opened to that very fact.

I was feeling good despite being on death row, so that day I decided to do a little singing. I did not get far with "La Bamba" before an officer stopped in front of my cell and told me to, "Stop singing that shit! You're in America." I bit my tongue and swallowed my pride; I felt that maybe the officer might be having a bad day. A few days later, I'm in the shower, again singing "La Bamba," when the same officer tells me to "Stop singing that! You're in America."

I brought what I saw as attacks on my Latin heritage to the attention of the deputy director of the southern district, Mr. Neil. All he wanted to know was if the officer had written me a ticket. When I told him, "No," he said, "So what's the problem?"

That was more than one year ago. The faces have changed here somewhat, but the racism is stronger, bolder and more open than ever.

A short time ago, a fellow inmate, Anthony Porter, was released from death row, when it was discovered that another person had actually committed the murder for which Porter was incarcerated and sentenced to death. At the time, some of the officers were going to be appearing in court to testify against Porter. They were planning to testify that Porter played chess daily and had an extremely well -versed vocabulary.

In fact, this man couldn't even read any of his mail properly with any comprehension -- he had to have letters read to him. He didn't know how to play chess, and his vocabulary skills were that of a sixth grader.

But did any of this bother to any of the officers? No! Their opinion was still that Porter should be executed; that he had likely committed numerous murders that went undetected; and that he, like all blacks, should be removed from America.

There have been times when officers have been overheard saying things like, "All blacks should be put on barges and shipped back to Africa so they can destroy themselves." A sad, sad commentary when we have not only to endure being persecuted, but also being prosecuted and then being persecuted again by racist officers.

There have even been numerous times, I've been told, that officers have bet on whether inmates close to execution would actually meet that fate.

Shame! Shame! When barbarism, immorality, incompetence, cowardice and racism can run rampant in the penal system.

This is a sure guarantee of the destruction of society's wish for a country of people living as one, in harmony. What became of helping your fellow man? What became of forgiveness?

The only thing living and growing in America is hate -- racism. It has been a part of what made up America, and it is still what makes up America today. Only now is a more open form of "racism" -- with blacks being dragged behind trucks and children out shooting or beating other children to death because of the color of their skin. And there is no amount of executions, nor lengthy terms of incarceration, which can change this sad fact.

Because of the inhumane manner in which inmates are treated -- as if we are less than human -- prisons are becoming breeding grounds for hate. Hate of all other races but our own. Hate of authority. Hate of life. Have even of ourselves.

Welcome to America!

Robert Casillas, N-33565
Menard Correctional Center
Condemned Unit
P.O. Box 711
Menard, IL 62259-0711