By Dawn Bremer
Another Texas scorcher and it wasn’t even 9:30 A.M.
I arrived at the Polunsky Unit on Wednesday morning, checked in with the guard as usual, and waited for my car inspection before being allowed to park. I entered the first building. This is where security happens: the metal detectors, machines that X-ray for possessions, and that other unavoidable, the pat down.
Before being admitted I was directed to a booth and handed a scratched up yellow plastic “DR Visitor” [re: number] tag in exchange for my driver’s license. Just then a woman entered through the courtyard to the visitor’s center. I saw clearly that she was upset as she returned her visitor tag and collected her license. Immediately she sought comfort in the arms of a man who had been waiting in the room and began to sob. I didn’t have to ask. I knew she’d been visiting Mark Stroman. The gentleman left her, took his tag and proceeded through the courtyard to the visitor’s center. We stood less than a foot apart, coupled in the space between the electronically controlled steel doors. His hurt and sadness were palpable.
His distress was so evident, so overwhelming, that I reached out and touched his arm. I quietly offered my apologies for what I knew he must have been feeling. He thanked me and then asked my name. Who was I there to see? I told him and we embraced and passed through the open steel door to our respective areas.
Rob was escorted into the little visitation cage on the other side of the bulletproof glass. Immediately I noticed the deep indentations on his wrists I knew to be from the handcuffs. This is the fourth visit I have had with Rob and the first time I have ever seen his wrists so deeply marked
He told me they were still in lockdown when I asked what was going on. There was no end in sight to a relentless diet of peanut butter sandwiches. They’d had a shakedown at 7 A.M. that day. As well as the usual Polunsky Unit correctional officers, there were also those who are referred to as field bosses from the Huntsville Units. These officers escort inmates to the fields, to endlessly hoe and till the soil. This used to be part of the process that led to planting, cultivating, and harvesting. This is no longer the case at Huntsville. There is no other purpose to the mindless tilling than to create a Sisyphean experience that wears down the prisoners and destroys any sense of purpose. Rob described the field bosses in their cowboy hats and spurs as being far more intense than even the Polunsky Unit staff.
For a man who’s been held in an impossible environment—surrounded by oppression, hate, and hopelessness—Rob was, as always, focused, bright, and full of fire. We discussed our continued efforts toward finding a large law firm and the need to search out of state and get his case off the assembly line legal process, which is unavoidable in Texas. There are tasks, in his case, which need to be addressed, and options to be considered in achieving those goals and we explored that in our discussion. There are many out there who love and support Rob and who are doing wonderful things to meet these goals. There is much work to do in coordinating those efforts.
As always, our visit ended far too soon. On Wednesdays everyone has to clear the visitation area by noon to allow for the press. On this particular Wednesday, the noon cut-off was also because Mark Stroman was being transferred to Huntsville. We lined up at the steel door leading to the hallway. A handful of correction officers, maybe five or six, were milling in the hallway. I caught a glimpse of one of the field bosses from Huntsville before the visitor’s area was shut to allow those officers to coordinate and disperse. Rob’s description left me no less shocked to actually see one of these guys wearing a cowboy hat and spurs. Spurs! Really? What purpose on earth do spurs serve an officer inside a prison? In the absence of a horse, I shuddered to think of the possibilities.
We filed out and started across the courtyard. Another couple, a man and a woman, had also been to visit Mark Stroman. She was a tiny little thing. Her companion kept his arm around her as she fought back tears. I approached them in the parking lot. The hurt had become harder for her to hide. At a loss again, I could only offer apologies for their evident sorrow. What was my name, she asked. Did I know Mark? I didn’t know him personally, but I told her I knew of him through Rob. This petite woman then clasped me to her with a strength that belied her stature. Crying, she said softly, “He’s a good man.” I replied, “I know.”
We parted and drove from the Polunsky Unit in our respective vehicles. What I witnessed from those who love Mark Stroman—the painful enormity of grief—is something that will stay with me always. But it also inspires and deepens my conviction to bring awareness to those who think anyone deserves to die. I found this quote recently from the singer Cyndi Lauper and I think it fitting for the occasion:
“You always have to remember – no matter what you’re told – that God loves all the flowers, even the wild ones that grow on the side of the highway.”
No one deserves pain.
Let’s move forward with greater strength, a firmer resolve, and the unbending will to free our friend, Rob Will, an innocent man on death row.
Pax e bene,