Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dawn is a fellow advocate to end the death penalty in the U.S.
This is her first person report from death row.

My First Visit With Robert Will

By Dawn Bremer

Yesterday, Thursday June 16th, I called Governor Rick Perry’s office. I had two reasons for placing that call. Firstly, to protest the scheduled execution of Lee Taylor, and secondly due to Gov. Perry’s very public testaments about his strong Christian faith I wanted to speak with a member of his press office or anyone on his staff who could enlighten me as to where in the New Testament Jesus says it’s okay to kill people. The woman who took my call hung up on me without explanation. I followed that with a call to the warden’s office to verify that Rob was eligible for a visit on that date, recognizing that they may try to mess with visitations because of the scheduled execution. I was advised at 8:09 a.m. that I could visit Rob.

Around 11:00 a.m. I arrived at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas where Robert is incarcerated on death row. My car was searched before I parked. I entered the first building for searching and security clearance before I could enter the prison visiting area. After removing my shoes and jewelry I was asked whom I was there to see and then pulled aside. There was little information provided, but my understanding was that I couldn’t visit Rob. The officer in the glass booth had a short, handwritten list of names with Rob’s on it. The guard at the metal detector informed me that a major or the warden would personally explain what was happening. I offered that the warden’s office had already advised me at 8:09 a.m. that Rob was eligible for a visit today. He told me where to sit and I waited. A few minutes later, Major Joe Smith met me. He stated that: “…due to unforeseen circumstances, you cannot visit until after 1:00. You are welcome to return after 1:00 for your visit.”

If you drive a bright orange Jeep with a purple Coexist bumper sticker on the back, Livingston is not exactly the friendliest place to be, so around 12:30 I made my way back to the prison. The guard at the shack, who knew I was waiting until 1:00, approached my car. “It’s only 12:30,” he told me. “They haven’t transferred him yet.” Why was Rob being transferred and to where, I asked. He kindly explained that they had not yet transferred Lee Taylor to Huntsville and this was the reason I wasn’t allowed to visit until after 1:00. He did allow me to park and wait in my car until it was time for my visit.

After being thoroughly groped by a female guard, I was given my visitor tag and sent to the visitors’ center. Once there, I made one of my biggest rookie mistakes. Not realizing that any food purchased for Rob had to be consumed within those two hours, I reasoned that I’d stock up for him so he’d have semi-decent sources of protein, etc. in his cell. I bought $25 worth of trail mix, nuts, peanut butter crackers, sandwiches, yogurts, and the last apple and orange in the machines. Did you notice a beverage wasn’t listed? So did the guard. She chuckled over it—nicely, not in a negative manner—and helped me.

They brought Rob to the little booth. By “booth,” it’s really more a long counter of partitioned phones with a dividing Plexiglas where there is an even more confining “booth” for the inmate to be locked into while talking to visitors on phones with loose wires which cause static connections. Rob held paperwork on his property which had been confiscated during his time on Level-III that he was showing to a Lieutenant. Sgt. Ferris had re-inventoried the property list. The list was no longer categorized as confiscated so that it could be returned to him and/or released to me. He said it would be up to the Property Officer, whose name I can’t remember.

This visit was the first time Rob and I have seen each other since he was arrested, and we had a lot of personal catching up to do. We also discussed actionable items. Rob asked me to liaise more directly with Mr. Williams regarding his case and also to contact the ABA regarding a referral to a corporate/large law firm to assist in his case. I sent an email to the ABA’s Death Penalty Representation info email address this morning regarding this. Because Rob’s mother works at a large law firm, as was the case in his original trial his original trial, the firm will not represent him. This is most unfortunate because of the resources at their disposal.

Rob said that the drains had finally been cleaned out, but that they were now sealing off the bottoms of the cell doors, effectively preventing Rob and other inmates from sharing books, etc. Despite the TDCJ form which Rob sent which showed his write up on May 13, 2011—putting him on Level III—that stated he was not being given what is known as foodloaf, Rob said he had been put on foodloaf during that time. Rob said he is also in great need of office supplies to continue his work. The visit ended with Rob in dispute with the property officer about what the true status of his formerly confiscated property was. In the end I left our visit with none of his property released to me. Rob had asked to see which items she intended to release, so she decided not to release any. She also did not acknowledge that what had been itemized as confiscated had now been re-inventoried so it was no longer considered confiscated.

Unfortunately I am not able to visit Rob on Tuesday, June 21, as he requested. Milton Mathis has been scheduled for execution that day. I will, however, be visiting him on Friday, June 24. That will surely be a more productive and fruitful visit for organizing purposes now that the visitation kinks have been worked out.

I regret that I have not better conveyed how special it was to see my friend after all these years—to look into his eyes, to see, again, that incredibly infectious smile—to hear his thoughts and perspectives on a myriad of subjects. For some reason I haven’t slept well at all the past few nights. And then the high adrenaline that resulted from my first visit yesterday coupled with the subsequent crash today has caught up with me.

Words cannot adequately describe the beautiful soul who is Rob Will.

Pax e bene,

Dawn Bremer

Please go to Rob's websites to learn more about his case and read his updates from death row.