An Essay By Perry Allen Austin, Texas
Music soothes the savage beasts they say. It also keeps me from going insane in here! When the noise level back here on death row gets to be too much, I put my headphones on and crank up the volume as high as I can stand it to drown everything out. All the hollering and screaming, all the slamming and banging, just disappears and I lose myself in the music.
I won't be losing myself in the music for a while now though. When I went to sleep last night my radio was jamming pretty good with the Christmas music I love so much. When I woke up this morning for breakfast it was dead. Gone to wherever radios go when they die. I don't have to tell you I was pretty distraught! My radio!!! Aghh!!! I check everything I could frantically; the cord, the plug, the wires, and then took it apart and tried to see if I could do something then. No luck. Looks like I'm going to have to turn it in and buy me a new one. That could take anywhere from one to two months or more. Two months without my music. I don't know if I can stand it.
I've always loved music, all kinds. Growing up as a kid my Mom always listened to classical so I came to like a lot of it. Then too, growing up in the 60s and 70s I listened to a lot of rock and disco. Whenever I saved up enough money I would buy a record, something like Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd. I reckon most folks don't know what a record is anymore ... or an 8-track tape. Anyway, while I was buying my hard rock albums and tapes, my Mom would always get me albums like Donna Summers, The Commodores, etc. She even got me an album with a bunch of sappy love songs on it by some white guy with a long nose. Played the piano. Don't remember his name. Funny thing about it though was I loved it all! Rock, R&B, Soul, Disco and even sappy love songs. I didn't start liking country music a lot until I came to prison.
When I first came to prison back in the late 70s I landed on the Ferguson Unit. Back then they didn't allow us to possess radios if we lived in cells. Not on that unit anyway. At the back wall of the cell there was a metal plate with a bunch of holes drilled through it and a selector switch under it. That was where the speaker was located and by turning the switch you could get Rock, Country, R&B and Spanish. A lot of the times though most of the stations were all Country so that was what you listened to. When I was transferred to a unit that allowed us to possess radios in the cells I got my very first radio. An old Vision that cost $11.00. It was cheap, with that fake stained wood look, and mono, but I loved it just the same.
I've owned a lot of radios since then, listened to a lot of different and changing music styles. Regardless of the many different styles and changes though, music still has the power to take me to a different place. A place away from the noise and oppressive atmosphere of prison life, from life back here on death row. A place where memories come back to life, where you can be happy or sad and none of it matters
I don't know how I'm going to cope without my radio and music. It's going to be hard I reckon, but then life's always been hard and I don't imagine that will change any time soon.
Perry Allen Austin, Texas
Human Writes Patrons
"The very essence of the death penalty is to tell people that they are somehow sub-human, not fit to live. Yet even those people I have represented who did what they were accused of - a surprisingly limited number - have always been much better people than their worst fifteen minutes, as are we all. Those who recognise this by reaching out to the men and women on death row are true heroes, though I suspect they gain as much as they give to the relationship."
Clive Stafford Smith OBE, Founder of Reprieve and Patron, Human Writes
"As a journalist who has lived and worked in the United States, the horror of death row is one of the issues that never leaves you. The thread of humanity that Human Writes manages to sustain with men and women on death row is a profound contribution to keep alive the hope of life. Capital punishment is now on the retreat in America, but the numbers awaiting their fate are still very considerable. I am very honoured to have become a Patron of Human Writes and will hope to do my best to put my shoulder to the wheel".
Jon Snow Broadcaster and journalist, Patron, Human Writes
"In such an inhuman system small moments of human contact make a big difference. That's why I support Human Writes and why I would encourage you to do the same."
Gary Younge, Author and US-based feature writer for the Guardian, Patron, Human Writes
"I know what it is like to live in a cell for decades and feel that the whole world hates you. I never expected to be able to live again as a contributing member of a community. Prison life was precarious and unpredictable but I met people who worked there who wanted to help me and people like me - and I'm lucky that I live in a society graceful enough to offer me a second chance. At least I had hope. Hope for many of the people supported by Human Writes has all but been extinguished. Letters to people on Death Row let them know that however low they may have fallen, they are still human beings. They still have value and are worth caring about and letters might just help to keep hope alive. That is why I am honoured to have been invited to be a patron."
Erwin James, author and Guardian columnist, Patron, Human Writes