Barbara Sloan will be at the Museum Saturday, December 6 from 10:00am-5:00pm to sign her book Last Statement.
One Day ln The Life Of A Texas Convict
It was the summer of 1970. I was operating the pocket press in the Garment Factory on the Eastham Unit of the Texas Dept. of Corrections.
It was hot as the hinges of hell as I worked that press--one pocket at a time. There were beads of sweat on my forehead and my shirt was drenched. The sounds of a hundred machines being operated by a like number of convicts busy at work permeated the atmosphere, which was filled with fear and dysfunctional, criminally minded people.
The reason I had the job was because I had written Warden Harrleson several letters pleading for a job where I could learn a vocation. He had finally given in, accepting my rationale that I was not going to chop cotton when I got out. I had told him I really wanted to turn my life around and improve myself. He finally bought it, being convinced I was "shooting straight" with him. It's hard being a convict--everyone thinks you are a con!
Time moved at a snail's pace, and the sweat continued to drip. The hands on the clock finally reached 3:30 and the buzzer went off. A hundred convicts began lining up for the strip search, which was an inevitable routine. (Regardless of the strip searches. scissors and other objects considered contraband in general population were stolen frequently. If a convict wants something, he will figure a way to get it past the "screws," usually right under their noses.) We went through the mass shower. donned clean prison whites and went to the Chow Hall.
When I arrived back at Dorm #4, the Building Tenders, inmate policemen--sorely hated by the general population because of their sadistic, egotistical and abusive behavior, called me to their bed area. The one lying down looked up at me and told me in a scornful, belittling manner that if I ever spilled any more coffee he would mop the floor with me. I had not spilled any coffee, and recognized they were setting me up. Instead of protesting, which would have provoked trouble (Proverbs l5:l), I swallowed my pride, and with a prayer forming in my mind, I turned to walk away. But that was not to be.
As I turned to leave, I turned my back on two of them. As I walked past the third one, a guy who out weighted me by a good hundred pounds, and a weight lifter to boot, sucker punched me and knocked me on the bed.
The blow "stung like a bee”, as Mohammed Ali would say. It had a shocking pain associated with it and that's what produces those stars one sees when the recipient of such a blow. It took me a minute to get orientated, and while I was he was continually hitting me.
I knew I had to get on my feet or he would put the "Brogans" to me and I would really be hurt. I rolled off the bed and jumped over another one into the center isle. He came between the bunks and at me in a quick kaleidoscope of motion.
That was the first fight I had had since I fought those six wetbacks in the Dallas County Jail--see “Dysfunctional Behavior l." I was a Christian man and everyone in the joint knew it. They also knew that "meek" does not "weak," and that I was not weak and had self-respect. And they were right. (If he had been doing that because Christianity, I might have let him do it. I think I proved that in my letter titled "Bowing Your Head.") This guy, however, was a bully and trying to solidify his reputation as a Building Tender. He was trying to impress his friends at my expense. There were over two hundred convicts watching in my dorm and the dorm across the hall. They were chanting and shouting encouragement to me. They hated those Building Tenders with a capital H.
He came at me in full force, but by that time I had regained my equilibrium somewhat and was on my feet good. I blocked his rush as best I could, while backing up because of his weight. When he backed up I did not give him a chance to get set, not wanting to give him any more advantage. I rushed him and with a "roundhouse" from the right, planted one on his jaw that produced some stars of his own.
You could hear the lick all over the building, in spite of the shouting and jocularity going on, and 200 convicts cheered and chanted: "Ellsworth, Ellsworth, Ellsworth." ...
(For the rest of this chapter and other good reading, please consider purchasing THE ELLSWORTH LETTERS. The book, by Roy Ellsworth, is for sale in our Bookstore on this website.)