An interview with an inmate

The whole experience has been surreal.It really began to hit me as I headed east, 45 minutes out of town. My mind was a flurry of confusion, the interview being only minutes away. I drove in complete silence. Talking with a death row inmate is not an experience many would label an “opportunity.” But, for me, that’s exactly what it was.In the Houstonian newsroom during finals week, a few fellow reporters, and I had tossed around the idea of doing a story on a death row inmate. Sickened by the recent lack of interest in death row cases, I decided to pursue a story on this topic. After all, living side-by-side with hardened criminals made me curious.For the record, curiosity can be a curse. My experiences thus far have been anything but routine.I do not claim to be an expert on the criminal justice system. In fact, I’m far from it. I have never known anyone in prison. I’d never even set foot in a prison prior to Dec. 12. Yet, on a cool Wednesday afternoon following my last final exam of the semester, I found myself driving to where 456 of Texas’ most “unfit” citizens dwell. My destination, nestled slightly beyond groves of pine trees and banks of lakefront property, was the Polunsky Unit in Livingston.I had given myself my own story assignment. I wanted to discover for myself what goes on so close to my sheltered sphere of university life. I have lived in Huntsville ignoring the prison system so long I felt obligated to make it a salient part of my life and share what I learned with other students.One man would help me do that. His name is Thomas Miller-El, a man convicted of the 1985 robbery and murder of a hotel clerk in Irving, and sentenced to die for the crime on Feb. 21, 2002. But this 50-year-old San Augustine native claims innocence, saying he was never at the scene of the crime.His wife, originally given a life sentence for being an accomplice in the crime, was released in 1992. As part of her freedom, she visits him every week while he waits to die. Being so far from my own way of life, I wanted to taste, if even for my media allotted 45 minutes, what life was like for this man.I have had contact with Miller-El for about a month. He allowed me into his life, and now I am allowing you into mine. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my experiences with you. I will write a different story with a different focus each week until his execution. As a reader, you will get to share in my experiences as they happen.I never thought this assignment would drive me to do such research or ask the questions I already have. I have learned a great deal, not only about Miller-El and the life he now lives, but also about myself and what I am capable of handling.I hope you, too, can learn a little something from my series; if not about the Texas criminal justice system, then maybe about human nature.

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