Merry Christmas – Field Notes from Deep in the Heart of Texas

My postings on this website are starting to wane. My wee voice that has been “crying in the wilderness” is growing weary. I am have grown weary of complaining about all the nasty alleys, overgrown weeds on vacant lots, bulk trash and used tires piling up in alleys all over Amarillo. One of my last post suggested the only solution I could find — just leave Amarillo. Well a week or so ago I did just that—for how long I will stay gone is yet to be seen.

I am posting this column from deep in East Texas. The above picture is the view through the dining room table where I am happily visiting. The view is across Cedar Creek Lake formed from the construction of Cedar Creek Reservoir back in the 1961. I can look across the lake at million dollar homes with fancy boats on fancy piers. I stopped at a local tackle shop the other day and bought bait to go fishing off one of these piers. The neighbors are wonderful. One neighbor who was going away for the weekend told me to use his pier. He left his shop open for me to grab some fishing gear. I took two reels and plopped down in a fancy easy chair on the pier and it wasn’t long before my mind and my soul began to absorb the beauty of nature—the vast expanse of lake waters, the crimson colors of deep east Texas trees. I let my mind “roll on” trying to catch “anything” biting– blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, white bass, hybrid striped bass, or crappie. The view across the lake was spectacular—folks zipping by on fancy boats, assorted birds landing on the water—blue sky, as they say God’s country. There is no trash strewed around down here. Everything is clean and pristine. I fished for hours—didn’t catch a thing—not even a cold; still I hated to leave as the sun began to set.

After I loaded up my car to leave I spotted a huge pecan tree on the side of the road. I stopped and filled by pockets with free pecans, the same ones that cost $7.99 a pound in Amarillo. I fed the neighbor’s cat then headed back to the home of the guest who had so warmly welcomed me to their lovely home on the lake. We received news of the unfortunate passing of a neighbor’s daughter, age 47, dead of a heart attack. The family immediately headed to the University of Oklahoma so they could surround the daughter when they broke the news of her mother’s sudden death. The funeral was planned for the coming Saturday in Mansfield, Texas. I had a choice to attend the funeral or visit an incarcerated family member in Tennessee Colony, Texas. I sent my warm sympathies to the family and drove the 40 miles to the prison.

I had planned my day to visit the prison first then visit other friends and relatives nearby. I arrived at the Coffield Unit prison gate at 10 a.m. only to be greeted by a long line of cars queued up to enter. Every car was being search—occupants out, hood raised, trunk opened, all four doors opened—the inside searched. One car at a time went through a gate—inch by inch the cars passed through. Through my rearview mirror a line of cars a mile long queued up. My turn came, same routine, get out, raise the hood, open the trunk, open all the doors—produce driver’s license. I managed to find parking amid all the visitor cars then headed toward another gate. Who are you here to see? Driver’s license please. The only items allowed in– a clear quart-sized plastic bag, driver’s license and up to $25 dollars in quarters. The metal guard doors allowed visitors in one at a time—produce ID, check in, move on through another gate. Inside the last gate I saw a long line waiting to enter the unit. Only three at a time could enter. It was cold and starting to rain. I watched birds playing on the coils of barbed wire atop the 10 foot high fence around the unit. Free birds—locked up humans. As I stood in line, getting madder than a wet hen to my left was a “birth of Jesus” painted scene with a little blond haired blue eyed baby. I wanted to set it on fire—what a damned lie—the rank hypocrisy in white America. The same folks who gave up that fool in the White House. Someone in line started to talk about Trump. I let loose too, “he should be under two prisons—the damned low life thug.” All around me in line—mostly black women and their children, going inside to see their locked up black men. I wished I had gone to the funeral because this scene was truly depressing.
Once inside the “three at a time door” take off all jewelry, take off shoes, full body pat down—some woman feeling all over me—under my breath I said, “get your dammed hands off me.” Next, lift both feet in the air, then came the wand scanner– all around my head and neck. What an invasion of privacy. My question –why the full search of my car if you are also going to make me strip naked inside? Huh? Move on to the next table, give me your driver’s license—“Who you here to see?” They keep the license until you come out. Check in at an assigned table and wait until we fetch the person you came to see. Personal contact allowed—lots of hugging of loved ones. I saw my family member and started to cry. Out he came wearing prison whites. He was more upbeat than me. He told me not to cry. Still I cried. I cried for the living dead inside Coffield—a unit that houses 4100 inmates—the largest unit in Texas. There are four more units in Tennessee Colony, Beto, Gurney, Michael, and Powledge—all situated on 28,000 acres—45 percent black men—who are only 12 percent of Texas general population. The top crime for black men, “burglary of a habitation.” I’ve written about this God awful law that can mete out 99 year sentences for just entering a building—even a vacant one. Shameful. White folks are underrepresented in Texas prisons—black folks are over represented.

While I sat across the table from my loved one I looked around me at all the lovely black women visiting their men in prison—many with their children—coming to see daddy. More tears rolled down my eyes. I soon found out why I could bring in up to $25 in quarters—to feed the vending machines. Families could buy snacks for their loved ones—one small bottle of juice cost $1.75, a small bag of chips $1.25. What a damned rip-off. A damned shame!!

Visitation is limited to 2 hours—7 to 5 Saturday and Sunday. I left, went to my car and cried some more. God help us! God deliver us! On my way down from Amarillo I had spent the night in Ft. Worth and was re-reading the book, “Exterminate all the Brutes” by Sven Lindquist. America’s wholesale incarceration of black men is straight out of the books’ formula to rid this planet of peoples of color. Trump and Steve Banning are in lock step with “the formula.” Make America “Great (White) Again,” is a serious agenda to purge America of minorities. Go read how Hitler tricked the Germans into killing Jews and other groups. Hitler’s program was about increasing the land mass for Germans. To him “inferior” races had to go—the Germans needed land to feed only “pure” Germans. Trump is matching Hitler’s formula to “a Tee.” Trump is Hitler reborn. We are headed for a disaster worse than what eventually befell Germany under Hitler—but not before millions were slaughtered. God help us was the only words I could utter before leaving the parking lot.

My next stop was to visit a teacher I had known in Shamrock, Texas back in1962. I arrived at her house late only to learn that she was in a nursing home. I spent the night in the town so I could visit her the next day. It rained all night and by morning the fog was so thick you could barely see. I got up early and found my way to the nursing home. I spotted her across the dining room sitting alone in a wheel chair. She is now 90. She has Alzheimers. I spoke to her and gave her a hug. She started singing, “O When the Saints Go Marching In.” She sang the whole song. Then she cried like a baby. I tried to connect with her through her teaching days. She taught school 42 years. Now she does not know her own name. Again I fought back the tears. God help us! An aide came to take her to her room so they could clean up the dining room. She cried and cried as they rolled her down the hall way. Inside her room a wall was full of pictures of her family. Her husband died 30 years ago. One daughter lives in Los Angeles the other in Laredo. I babysat her youngest daughter. I pointed to one of the daughters and she said, “My daddy is coming to get me.” A small television was playing on top a chest of drawers. She was focused on the colors of the cartoon characters. She pointed to something for me to get off the dresser—I didn’t know what she wanted so I grabbed an adult diaper and she said, “Thank you.” She kept saying “thank you.” Her kind, warm spirit was still there somewhere in the fog of her memory. She pressed the diaper laying on her lap—over and over she kept rubbing the diaper. Small tidbits of conversation fell on deaf ears, so I just sat quietly with her in her room. I left after about an hour—went to my car and cried. God help us! God deliver us!

More field notes later.

Copyright 2017 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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