Singing through the storm

Texas Death Row News – March 10, 2018.

“Singing through the storm has helped us sustain our sense of self, our sense of family, and our sense of community” – Dr Cornel West

In 1998, I began this experience that has seen me arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime that I am innocent of. As I cast my mind back to the beginning of this nightmare, I try to make sense of what has happened to me and how I have been able to survive such a traumatic experience. This takes me back to my childhood, my family, and I now know that I was blessed to have a mother and father who did the best they could with me – a child who was full of energy, curiosity and desire to always be active and on the go. My family was not perfect to say the least, but they loved each other and did the best they could to express this love in actions and words.

My father was a great provider, a man who was always working operating his small construction business and I fondly recall the times when I’d spend time with my Dad riding along with him in his pick-up truck as he did things like check on the workers at the job site, met with home owners, or went to the lumber yard to buy materials. During these times, my father shared many things with me, including his love for music and little did I know that school was in session as he was teaching me to be a man.

I smile and think of my father all the time because I use the skills he taught me on a daily basis as I work to win my freedom and most importantly I carry a sense of hope and belief that a better tomorrow is on its way that Dad instilled in me. He taught me to dream and not be afraid of hard work, to set goals and work towards reaching them while believing that God is always with you and will see you through.

In this manner, my father gave me the tools to endure this situation and he taught me to have faith in myself, in God and to believe that if I put forth my best effort God would do the rest.

My mother was a huge influence on me as well, she was always there when I needed her and she showed me she loved me her youngest child with plenty of hugs and kisses too. Mom worked with my dad in the office as part-time secretary, errand runner, and a full-time mom all rolled into one. I know now all things considered I was blessed to come from this kind of family that instilled morals and values in me that I live my life by today.

I often share with those I’m close to that I work at being a good person today because it’s the right thing to do. Not because Texas death row has broken me and “I’m going to mind” and follow the rules and regulations. No. I’m still in many ways the same stubborn person I was when I first began this journey but I now realize that right conduct is the only way to live my life if I expect to have a good quality of life. And I also want my family and friends to be proud of who I am and what I’ve become.

This is the foundation that I have within me – I come from a background where both my mother and father were honest, good, hard-working people. They were optimists and believers in the Christian faith and did the best they could to sow these beliefs in me and my siblings and in short taught me how to sing through the storm knowing that things will get greater later.

In many ways, the two decades that I’ve been confined on Texas death row does not feel like 20 years. The day to day routine here makes the weeks, months, even years blur together. And in some ways, that’s not a bad thing. What I mean by that is if every day that I have served in this new age death camp was etched upon my mind, heart and soul, I would have given up a long time ago, leaving a few sad sad songs and a hump in the ground. To be clear, this place is awful – Texas death row is a neo concentration camp where my friends are murdered in the name of [in]justice all the time. As the weeks, months and years pass and I’m locked in a cage for a crime I did not do, I have lost my father who passed away in 2016, and my beloved mother will be 80 years old on March 19th. I believe if I could not find ways of putting myself to work for my freedom, for working for the good and being obsessed with proving my innocence instead of being focused on the fact that each day that passes only brings me closer to my legal murder, I would have given up long ago and just laid down and died.

If I had not had the foundation that was implanted within me by my parents, which has allowed me to sustain my sense of self, I would have been lost long ago. For this I’m forever grateful.

I find it amazing how so much of what I needed to do to maintain my sanity these past 20 years has come to me instinctively. It was natural for me to live my life to the fullest each and every day. Natural for me to give my best effort in all that I do. Natural to be impeccable with my word and it was only when I began to read self-help and spiritual themed texts that I realized these keys to success that the masters had given us were things that I was already doing.

And it is amazing to me to think that one of the most important, critical lessons I had to learn and live life by was taught to me by my parents. The lesson – truth that there is a Higher Power in the Universe and the belief and faith in this Higher Power.

When I’ve found myself in situations where nothing could help me but God, I was comforted by this faith and belief that things would get greater later. I didn’t know how or when, but I believed and stood on my faith and I’m still standing as a result.

So 20 years later I find myself in an amazing situation, at a crossroads in my life. We have had the miracle of winning a stay of execution which also gave us the evidentiary hearing. We have since seen the hearing come to pass and it’s incredible how well it went for us and how confident we are that we’ll have a favorable ruling in the appeal courts that will see me free very soon. Now more than ever I believe with everything that I am that we’ll see the second part of the miracle, that is me winning my freedom manifest into reality.

And it’s not a coincidence that by knowing how to sing and dance through the storm, living in gratitude and in absolute faith and belief in God has brought me to this point in my journey. For the storm clouds are beginning to part and behind them I see the sun and with it the reminder that a new beginning comes my way – the beginning of Part II of my life where I’m free and far, far away from Texas death row!

March 10, 2018.

Charles D. Flores No. 999299

Polunsky Unit Texas Death Row

Juan Castillo

Texas Death Row News – Feb. 25, 2018.

“HELPING A FRIEND – JUAN CASTILLO WHO HAS A NEW EXECUTION DATE FOR MAY 16, 2018”

I’ve known Juan Castillo since he was sent to Texas death row in 2005. We’ve always got along well and I consider him a good friend. When I returned from Dallas County after having my evidentiary hearing,  I was sick with the flu and was put in a cell next to Castillo on B-pod. Castillo had been moved to that cell from death watch after he won a stay of execution in December 2017. When I got back to Polunsky unit, I was not feeling well and when I mentioned this to Castillo, he asked me if I had any medicine. I did not, I had not gotten my property and would not get it until the next afternoon at 4pm. Right away, my friend offered me some medication – over the counter cold pills, cough syrup and Ibuprofen to break the fever/chills I was suffering from. As most people know, this year’s flu strain is a very bad one and I felt terrible when I got back from Dallas County, and to have my friend give me what I needed the most – medication – meant a great deal to me. With this medication, I was able to get control of the awful fever/chills I had and start to feel better. Castillo gave me what I needed without a moment’s hesitation, he offered it to me and gave me all the medicine he had to help me get better. He did not have to do that. In fact, most people here would not give you the medication they had set aside for when they got sick and needed it. We must buy medication from the prison commissary and can do this just two times a month. This is why you buy it and save it for when you need it. I point this out because this is the kind of person he is, a friend who cares about the well-being of others.

It has been years since I have been in the same section with Castillo and being in the cell next to him gave us a chance to discuss different issues including his legal situation. I’ve known about his situation since I first got to know him and from what Castillo has shared with me I know he is a victim of injustice. It was my understanding that he was given a stay of execution late last year by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who sent his case back to the original trial court to be reviewed. It sounded good and we thought that at last he would get a fair opportunity to present his rights violations to the court. If he ever gets this chance I am confident he will win relief.

Meanwhile I was recovering from that wicked flu. It took me another two weeks to get back to more or less full health. But I must say the time I spent away from Texas death row brought into focus how awful this place is. It took me a while to get myself together and adapt to the routine I follow on Polunskyu unit. It takes a lot of energy and motivation to keep positive here and do what needs to be done and I was not there yet.

I realize that I am in a wonderful situation appeal-wise and when all goes according to plan, I will leave this place soon. But that does not change the fact that I’ve been incarcerated for 20 years for a crime I did not commit and I’ve grown weary of this situation, this place. And in fact the only thing that will change how I feel is winning my freedom.

So, I had that going on with myself and while feeling better, I was not yet back to my 100% self.

On Friday February 8, 2018, I was listening to the Prison Show on KPFT radio station and heard them announce Castillo’s Chapter 64 Request to test DNA had been denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Upon hearing that I thought to myself that was not good news but did not think it was the end of the world for my friend. The next day I asked him did he hear them announce that he’d been denied on the Prison Show? He told me that he had. This led to a long discussion in which he explained the DNA issue and from the information he gave me I know this is a very strong issue and it’s my belief he will win relief on it in a higher court.

We continued to think that he was still “okay”, because he had another strong issue on being convicted under false evidence before the appeal court. So the sense of urgency, of “Ooh no! I’ve got an execution date”, was not yet upon my friend.

Monday morning February 12, 2018, Castillo received some legal mail and this letter informed him that both his DNA issue and his False Evidence Claim had been denied and that the judge had also signed a new death warrant which would give him an execution date. When he told me this, the full weight of his situation settled upon me.

As everyone knows, I won a stay of execution on May 27, 2016 and from that point my situation has only gotten better and better. So much so that I no longer think about execution dates. I’m thinking of the day I will be freed! By having this happen to my friend Castillo I was instantly taken back to the first 5 months of 2016, when I was on death watch and every friend there with me was also facing an execution date. We all discussed our respective legal situations and helped each other in trying to find new ways of fighting for our lives. Some men I was able to help, while some of my brothers I helplessly watched as they were taken off to be slaughtered on the name of [in]justice.

Castillo’s suddenly urgent situation woke me up in ways I did not realize I’d fallen asleep on. It also served to add some much needed fuel to the fire that burns inside of me. It made me say, “Hell No!” to these devils who are actively trying to murder me and every other human being on Texas death row. And start to fight tooth and nail once again not just for myself but for all my brothers as well.

With this in mind I asked Castillo to explain it all to me again. The case, the issues, the manner in which the different attorneys had raised his issues in his appeal and I started thinking of his situation as if it were mine. What would I say, how would I explain the complex issues to the different legal professionals I would write asking for help? Because that is critical – you must be able to explain the situation in a concise manner and convey the fact that there is hope in your case if you can only get competent legal representation! Then I shared it with him. I told him what I would say and what I’d do if it was me. Whenever I would get a new thought or idea, I would continue to share them with him. I knew that my friend would not be next to me long – the judge had set a new execution date for Castillo and within a matter of days they’d take him back to death watch. Every hour counted, because from 8am to 5pm, these devils could suddenly show up in front of his cell door and like that he’d be gone to death watch.

The next day Tuesday February 13, 2018, Castillo had a legal visit and he was told that yes, he had been given an execution date for May 16, 2018. When he came back from that legal visit, I had some more ideas and thoughts to share with him and contact information of individuals he ought to write requesting legal assistance. I also told Castillo that I would write some legal professionals I was in contact with who might be able to help him and if they couldn’t help, maybe they could put him in contact with someone who could.

I think about when I was on death watch, I wrote countless legal letters and sent out many legal packets urging attorneys and law firms to help me. And found nothing until I wrote Greg Gardner and he helped me. From there my next super hero attorney Gretchen Sween became my lead attorney and things have only gotten better for me. But it all started with one letter. After the hundred that I wrote went unanswered, I suddenly got a response and Greg Gardner proceeded to save my life. I know personally how important it is to never give up writing and asking for help and I told Castillo this. I reminded him that in a lot of ways having an execution date can be a good thing because he will have the attention of the attorneys in the anti-death penalty community and his chances of obtaining top notch legal representation go up.

Wednesday February 14, 2018 rolled around and while I was in the dayroom for my recreation period, they came for Castillo. We knew this was going to happen and in a matter of a few minutes, the guards were escorting him out of the pod and taking him to death watch. As he left our section I put my hand through the bars and shook my friend’s hand. I looked him in the eyes and told him I would do all I could to help him.

I’ve been true to my word. I’ve written letters on Castillo’s behalf because I’m incapable of seeing a friend in a life and death situation and not help him – that’s the kind of friend I am. I have a good feeling about Castillo’s situation I know he’s under intense pressure coping with that death watch situation but I know he’ll do the best he can with it. I continue to go over his situation in my head and whenever I think of a new way to help him I put it into play hoping to make a difference in the fight for Juan Castillo’s life, that’s the least I can do.

Charles D. Flores N° 999299

Texas Death Row

February 25, 2018.