Legal Blog

2021 Prison Poetry Contest Winners Announced!

Published on August 31, 2021

To Whom It May Concern,

I am happy to announce the winners of the 2021 Spolin Law Prison Poetry Contest.

We had over 700 submissions, so it was very difficult for our panel to determine the poems to honor. Of course, poetry is subjective, so a different group of judges could have selected a totally different set of poems.

Five judges (including lawyers, poetry professors, and a former inmate) voted for the poems they thought were the best. The single poem with the most votes in each prison was selected for the “Winner – Best in Prison” award, and the one poem with the most votes nationwide was selected for the “Winner – Best in Nation” award. I have attached a list of the “Best in Prison” and “Best in Nation” award recipients.

We are now accepting submissions for the 2022 Spolin Law Prison Poetry Contest (deadline of June 1, 2022)! Further information about the contest is viewable at spolinlaw.com/poetry.

Sincerely,

Aaron Spolin
Criminal Appeals and Writs Attorney

National Winner

($500 Prize and “Winner – Best in Nation” Certificate)

Gregory Truitt (#01701265)
Darrington Unit (State Prison)
Rosharon, Texas

Criminal Appeal

Caught up in a crime, that I didn’t commit;

Don’t count the days, just let them tick.

Reassigned to a unit, where there are drugs galore;

I don’t want drugs, not anymore.

In my thoughts, I’m very sad;

Grant my appeal, I’ll be glad.

My check-up began, the nurse read my file;

It was so long, it took him a while.

I looked up when he said, “you are lucky to be alive;”

I said, “really, I see parole in twenty-five.”

Now in church, talking about my sentence;

And how Christians built prisons for people’s penance.

Apprehended a Bible, taking more than a look;

The law-library has solutions, in a combination of books.

Love reading case-law, even though it is grueling;

The Judge said what, what was her ruling?

Another opined, “it’s better to let one thousand guilty go;

Than to incarcerate one innocent, and hand him a hoe.”

Persona non grata, tilling the ground by hand;

Slave to the State, no longer a man.

Pious opinion, by that Judge on a mission;

Justice is served, nope, nobody listened.

Every exoneration, takes many years;

Furious are those prosecutors, who shed no tears.

And yet they argue, “someone is guilty of the crime;

Therefore somebody, anybody, needs to do this time.”

Lastly, while cases are continuously overturned;

This story is finished, the lesson adjourned.

Contest Judges

  • Rodney Hollie (Former inmate)
  • Aaron Spolin (Attorney)
  • Dionne A. Parker (Attorney)
  • Brittany Means (Professor)
  • Adam Wright (Poet/Professor)

Rodney Hollie – Judge 1

Former inmate and former Spolin Law P.C. client

Rodney Hollie was wrongfully convicted of murder and served several years in prison before successfully overturning his conviction in 2020. He obtained his freedom in Superior Court on January 29, 2020, represented on that day by Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin and Caitlin Dukes. Mr. Hollie now gives lectures on wrongful convictions, life in prison, and the value of never giving up.

He had the following to say about the winning poem by Gregory Truitt:

“This poem reminds me of my time when I was serving my sentence. I found myself in the law library and the opinions that were from other inmates regarding my case. This [poem] was very relatable, and it gives you an insight into what an inmate goes through. No matter if you’re guilty or innocent, the prosecutors want someone to be found guilty for their own personal status.”

Aaron Spolin – Judge 2

Criminal appeals attorney and former prosecutor

Aaron Spolin handles criminal appeals, writs of habeas corpus, and other post-conviction matters throughout the country. He worked as an Assistant District Attorney before becoming an appeals lawyer. He has a Juris Doctorate degree from U.C. Berkeley School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University. He is also the author of Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials, which discusses the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

Dionne Parker – Judge 3

Maryland attorney admitted to United States Supreme Court Bar

Dionne A. Parker is a Maryland attorney who is admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar. She is also an employee of Spolin Law P.C. who has graciously donated her time to assist the other judges in narrowing down the list of 700 poems. Ms. Parker has a Juris Doctorate degree from George Washington University Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) from Washington Adventist University, where she majored in English.

Ms. Parker had the following to say regarding the winning poem:

“This poem resonated with me because it depicts a deliberate and prolific problem in this country – the prison industrial complex and the way that so many people, particularly those that are black and brown, are treated whether or not they are actually guilty of the crime charged. I felt the author’s quiet outrage at being trapped in a system that says one thing (about justice) but does another in the interest of having “someone” pay for the crime. The observation that slavery never really ended, it just morphed into a different type of servitude and bondage was also very astute, and is a view shared by many in communities of color. Last, I experienced a deep sense of sadness seeing the writer’s lack of hope cloaked in veiled optimism with the line “every exoneration, takes many years.” There are so few exonerations that take so many decades longer to occur than they should, that they are a very rare occurrence indeed.”

Brittany Means – Judge 4

Professor of English and Literary Critic

Brittany Means is a former professor and literary critic. She taught English at the University of Iowa and served as a judge for the Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction, a contest run by the University of Iowa Press. She has won over a dozen literary awards and accolades in the field of creative writing and has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Ball State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa.

Adam Wright – Judge 5

Professional Poet and Humanities Professor

Adam Wright is a professor of humanities subjects, including creative writing, literature, English, rhetoric, and comparative religions. He is also a professional poet. He is currently serving as a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas. Mr. Wright has two Master of Fine Arts degrees, one from the University of North Texas and another from the University of Central Oklahoma, the latter of which is in creative writing and literature. He also has three Bachelor of Arts degrees, all from Oklahoma State University, in the subjects of English, history, and broadcast journalism.

All the judges were impressed with the level of literary skill demonstrated in the competition.

Top-Voted Poems at Each Prison1

($100 Prize and “Winner – Best in Prison” Certificate)

California

Avenal State Prison (ASP)
Kirk Donche (T37441)

California City Correctional Facility (CAC)
Anthony Herod (T98057)

California Correctional Institution (CCI)
Rollin Denem (V44249)

California Institution for Women (CIW)
Ahmana Jones (X36713)

California Men’s Colony (CMC)
Berry Denton (P96760)

California State Prison, Corcoran (COR)
Marquise Byrd (AG0882)

California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC)
Raymond Anglin (BE8886) (tie)
Eric Hawkins (AX3820) (tie)

California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC)
Domanic Brown (K87924) (tie)
Nathaniel Sapp (F14459) (tie)

California State Prison, Solano (SOL)
Shaylor Watson (E79573)

Calipatria State Prison (CAL)
Patrick Hernandez (V76823) (tie)
Michael Mauricio (AD9717) (tie)

California State Prison, Centinela (CEN)
Joel D. Robinson (T92090)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)
Vershonda Sneed (WF5363)

Correctional Training Facility (CTF)
Miguel Angel Vargas (F94177)

Folsom State Prison (FSP)
Danny Lewis (C39915)

High Desert State Prison (HDSP)
Robert A. Clark (BL2173)

Ironwood State Prison (ISP)
Donte Revels (BJ7076) (tie)
Sean E. Walker (AA0936) (tie)

Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP)
Tony Douglas Baga II (AA3798) (tie)
Davione Wiley (BF7896) (tie)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Men’s Central Jail
Rafael Martirosyan (E54812)

Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP)
David Brinson (J09563)

Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP)
Rodney Ross (P62462) (tie)
Daniel Saavedera (BL4928) (tie)

Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD)
Robert Snyder (AC9136)

Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP)
Edward Iturralde (BK0922) (tie)
Henderson Johnson (V02639) (tie)

San Joaquin County Jail
Juan Zazueta (000386389)

San Quentin State Prison (SQ)
Anthony Marzett (E68792)

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (SATF-CSP, Corcoran)
Anthony McDaniel, Jr. (AE5936)

Wasco State Prison (WSP)
Jamie Avila (T25040)

New York

Downstate Correctional Facility
Sheldon Arnold (13A0519)

Eastern NY Correctional Facility
Peter Anakwe (99A2717)

Elmira Correctional Facility
Antonio Jones (96B1330)

Mid-State Correctional Facility
Vincent Carmona (14A0979)

Shawangunk Correctional Facility
Rogelio Ferrer (14A3515)

Southport Correctional Facility
Stanny Vargas (17A5213)

Texas

A.M. “Mac” Stringfellow Unit
William Venable (02058841)

Alfred D. Hughes Unit
Jose Ramos (02176043)

Allan B. Polunsky Unit
James Wibi Jackson (01841911)

Barry B. Telford Unit
Aguilar Gilberto Gonzalez (01998446)

Beauford H. Jester III Unit
George R. Lopez (01465634)

Beauford H. Jester IV Unit
Eliseo Ruiz Mendez (01929729)

C.T. Terrell Unit
Derrick B. Johnson (01622794)

Christina Melton Crain Unit
Shanetha Coleman (01798193)

Clarence N. Stevenson Unit
Shannon D. Marshall (01007893)

Clemens Unit
Edward Lawrence (02171629)

Dalhart Unit
Cleveland McDonald (02140873)

Daniel Webster Wallace Unit
Jamie Ash (02003564)

Darrington Unit
Aaron Ellis Osby (01957505)

Diboll Correctional Center
Curtis Collins (02159140)

Dolph Briscoe Unit
Gerry D. Williams (02062167)

Dr. Lane Murray Unit
Rebecca L. Dugas (02120794)

Eastham Unit
Hymon A. Walker (01014857)

Fort Stockton Unit
Alvino Ramos (02073005)

French Robertson Unit
Samuel Gonzalez Almazan (02121251)

George Beto Unit
Conrado Calderas III (01792384)

Gib Lewis Unit
Gonzalo Garcia (02057314)

H. H. Coffield Unit
Sammie Caston (02058587)

Huntsville Unit
Nicholas Keys (02155630)

James “Jay” H. Byrd Unit
James B. Jones (02075024)

James Lynaugh Unit
Alfredo Coleman (02123604)

James V. Allred Unit
Greg Fonseca (01878692)

Jerry H. Hodge Unit
John Porter (02061132)

Jim Ferguson Unit
Larry Holloway (01899560)

Joe Ney Unit
Moses Cervantes (01982996)

John B. Connally Unit
Marcus Leslie (02001223)

John M. Wynne Unit
Angelo Baker (01731727)

John Montford Unit
Donald Haynes (01857411)

L.V. Hightower Unit
Jeremiah A. Griffin (02150534)

Louis C. Powledge Unit
Steven Kurt Baughman (02180609)

Mark W. Michael Unit
Santos Antonio (01883380)

Mark W. Stiles Unit
Kendrick Hill (02019313)

Mountain View Unit
Frances R. Ford (01916749)

O.B. Ellis Unit
Cenca A. King (01064695)

O.L. Luther Unit
Jon Miranda (01943242)

Oliver J. Bell Unit
Jose Luis Martinez (02133456)

Pam Lychner State Jail
Alejandro Zarate (02055033)

Preston E. Smith Unit
Daniel Ray (02067338)

Price Daniel Unit
Larry Bennett (01988215)

Richard P. LeBlanc Unit
Kurt Ray Kaspar, Jr. (01888794)

Ruben M. Torres Unit
Matthew Shipp (02162052)

Rufe Jordan Unit
Cameron Brown (02165650)

T.L. Roach Unit
Dillon Bevel (01893403)

Thomas Goree Unit
Bradley Jason Jordan (01505327)

W. F. Ramsey Unit
Patrick Denton (02176324) (tie)
Pablo Zuniga (00856129) (tie)

W. J. “Jim” Estelle Unit
Ryan Drake (01917718)

Wallace Pack Unit
David Taylor (01972889)

Wayne Scott Unit
Grady C. Nelson II (01463325)

Willacy County State Jail
Arthur Hill (01917765)

William G. McConnell Unit
Marcus A. Francis (01661135)

William P. Clements Unit
James E. Schad (01865444)

William P. Hobby Unit
Wendy Howeris (02285689)

William R. Boyd Unit
Syrjuan Benson (01922473)

Federal

United States Penitentiary, Lee
Manuel Hernandez (44584-112)

1 Note: Winners are listed under the prison facility that they identified on their submission form if identified; therefore, some individuals may no longer be at the listed facility.

Categories: Uncategorized

Death Sentence of Texas’ Longest-Serving Death Row Inmate Overturned

Published on August 15, 2021
Lady Justice Holding Scales | Spolin Law

Lady Justice holding scales.

In Austin, TX on April 14th, 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death sentence of the state’s longest-serving death row inmate. Raymond Riles, now 70, was sent to death row 45 years ago following a conviction for murder and attempted robbery that took place in 1974. The court recently ruled that Riles’ death sentence “can no longer stand,” because the jurors in his trial were not instructed to properly consider his mental illness as a possible mitigating factor.

Raymond Riles has spent more than 45 years wrapped up in Texas’ criminal justice system, starting with his initial death sentence in 1976. Riles spent the next few decades on death row after numerous execution dates would be set and then canceled as he was repeatedly deemed too mentally incompetent to be executed. Thea Posel, one of Riles’ attorneys, noted, “the first time they found him incompetent was in 1987 and 1988 and he has never been restored.”

Riles’ 1976 conviction was overturned shortly after he was sentenced. Riles claimed an insanity defense at his retrial in 1978 and had a number of experts testify that he had schizophrenia with paranoid delusions and psychosis. Relatives also cited a family history of severe mental illness and testified about his own history of “odd and often violent behavior” that persisted throughout most of his life. Despite these well-supported claims, doctors for the prosecution argued that Riles was faking a mental illness. As a result, the jury rejected Riles’ insanity defense. When jurors were later deliberating the sentence, they were only to decide if the murder was deliberate and if Riles is likely to be a danger to society in the future, in accordance with Texas law at that time. Once again, the jury voted to convict Riles of capital murder in 1978.

Things changed in Texas in 1989 when it was ruled that death penalty juries are required to consider mitigating evidence, including a mental illness, that may influence juries to decide for a lesser punishment. In their ruling, the judges for Riles’ case explain that the evidence of mental illness that Riles presented at trial “is the type of evidence that both [the Court of Criminal Appeals] and the Supreme Court have come to regard as the kind of ‘two-edged’ mitigating evidence calling for a separate, mitigation focused jury instruction.” Since the jury in Riles’ trial did not receive this instruction, the Court said his death sentence can no longer stand.

Herbert Washington, Riles’ co-defendant, was also sentenced to death on related charges, but his death sentence was commuted in 1978 to 50 – 25 years after he pleaded guilty.

Riles’ case has now been sent back to Harris County, where it was originally tried, to again determine his punishment now with an informed and properly instructed jury. While the Harris County DA’s office supported tossing the death sentence, they have not yet shared whether or not the office would seek the death penalty again. Riles’ capital murder conviction remains unchanged.

Categories: Uncategorized

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