Capital Punishment &
Social Rights Research Initiative
Taking a Closer Look: Texas
Allan B. Polunsky Unit
There is no work program in place.
Men on death row can purchase some art supplies like colored pencils.
Men on death row have to pay $100 a year for medical treatment. This discourages inmates to seek needed medical help.
Men on death row are generally served three meals a day. Portions are too small and lack nutritional value.
So called johnny sacks, a boiled egg and a peanut butter sandwich, are a common meal.
Men on death row are in their cells for 23 hours a day.
Time in Cell
Cells are 12ft x 7ft.in size. They have a sealed window the size of one's palm, a toilet/sink, a table, shelf, and locker to store personal belongings. Many men can touch both walls of their cell with their outstretched arms.
Visitations are non-contact and are conducted using phones through a pane of glass. Men on death row are entitled to a 2 hour visit per week on Tuesday, Thursday or Satuday.
Death row has a faith-based program with educational courses.
Two books can be ordered from the library once a week. Unfortunately, the library is closed for most of the year.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy states that recreation is 7 hours/week, either inside or outside. However, in reality recreation time is much less.
Inside consists of a "dayroom," or a cage in front of the cells in each section. Outside, inmates are in cages with a hole in the ceiling.
Men on Death Row are unable to watch television. They can have a radio in their cell. They have tablets and can email via a messaging system. They are allowed one 5 minute phone call per week.
Attorney visits take place in the same room as, and sometimes directly next to, personal visits via phone and through glass. This results in little to no privacy. Attorneys are not allowed to buy food or drink for the men during the visit.
Through Their Eyes
The following are first-hand accounts of the living conditions on Texas Death Row directly from those inside this system.
On Death Row since 1996
"We now spend almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week in our cells where there is absolutely nothing to do. Our art program, group recreation, ability to watch TV and work-program were all stripped away from us in 2000. Our recreation and visiting hours have been chopped in half, and guys' one hope, that we'd be given access to movie and podcast apps on the tablets that we recently got was quashed."
"We were sentenced to death, not to decades of extra punishments."
Executed on April 21, 2022
"In the 31 years I have been on Death Row I can count with one hand the times a meal arrived warm to my cell."
On Death Row since 2017
"After 25 years of confinement, I do not care about the taste of the food. I know it's almost always going to suck and not be nutritious. All I want is enough . If you are not stationary all day everyday you starve eating this food."
"Most of us have to be in major trouble before we go to medical. People like me who don't get a lot of financial help dread getting ill or hurt enough to have to go to medical. I haven't been to the dentist since January 2009. Medical of any sort here is not good."
Tony Egbuna Ford
On Death Row since 1993
"Death row, like prison is not ideal. But, we hold to this ideal that at least it should be humane."
"We now have the faith based sections which allow for behavior correction courses. There are talks about very emotional issues that we may be going through. And there is positive support."
"Right now, it is cold in my cell, as it is on my side of the pod. On the other side there is heat. The food still comes cold. We are left in the shower way too long. This despite the guards not having anything to do. They will stretch out time for something simple. Mostly to discourage us, like wanting to go to rec or shower."
"We only rec three times a week - Mon, Wed, Fri. Our visitation has been reduced from Mon-Sat to Tues, Thurs, and Sat. So while we have made progress, the things that remain still cause a tremendous mental and spiritual strain."