the execution | frontline online
clifford being visited by alan austin
a letter to alan austin (FRONTLINE correspondent)
May 16, 1995

Dear Alan,

Thank you very much for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you. ...

What is the "Death Row Series" of paintings & drawings? Quite simply, my Legacy to the world, my one big "art project" until I'm executed. I want to paint the literal inside of Death Row from the perspective of a Death Row inmate. I don't think it's ever been done before. I think these paintings will be unique in the history of art and the history of the Death Penalty. (By the way, Ms Felicia Godwin has the first 2 paintings of this series.) Think about it. In the past, no Condemned Man lived long enough to worry about painting ANYthing. And in this century, those that have lived long enough, were not usually allowed such things as art supplies. I hope my past decision to admit my guilt and be honest about the crimes increases my credibility with free world persons so that they will be more inclined to listen to what I have to say.In many states today it's still not allowed. So I am one of the few who's even had the opportunity to do this. And although I've seen lots of prisoner art and some of it symbolic of the cells and struggles they're going through, I've not seen a single Death Row artist painting the literal inside of Death Row. And that is what I now want to paint. I want to show the brutal honest truth of it all. I want to show free world people things about this place they either don't know about or don't think about. And that includes the presence of female guards when a male inmate is being strip-searched, or when he's sitting on his toilet, or showering, or masturbating late at night. (If you had been deprived of sex for 8 or 10 years, would you masturbate? Are you human? In Texas the average Death Row inmate is here at Ellis One for 8 years before he's executed.) I want to show the importance of mail and visits, (which I tried to do with the first two paintings in the series). I want to show the types of cuffs and restraints we're put in for travel, or when we're on lockdown, going to rec or shower, etc. I want to show the goon squad of 5 large men rushing in against a lone unarmed inmate wearing only his underwear. I want to show the Brutal Honesty and Harsh Reality of where and how I live. I don't want to sugar-coat any of it. People in the free world already have too much of their life sugar-coated.

cliff over alan's shoulder

I like to envision a time when there is no more death penalty in America, (although the cynic in me says that day will never come), and people go to an art museum or a historical museum or a college class and study "What Death Row was like, through the eyes of a Death Row Inmate" by studying my paintings & drawings from these last years of my life. It may be hard to imagine now, but can you imagine how people today would look upon drawings & paintings done by one of the Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz? Given enough time, art by a Texas Death Row inmate may elicit just as such interest. And if nothing else, these paintings are my Legacy to live on after me and speak for me when I'm gone. I have no children to leave behind. My paintings ARE my children. And if no one else cares for them, I know they will at least have great meaning and significance for those people who knew me both while I was in the free world and while I was here. My Death Row Series is a gift to them, and a gift to the world. I only hope it will be appreciated and understood.

How about an example of part of my daily life and some things that would appear in letters to my pen-pals? "Personal" stuff that might make your story more interesting, or at least help others see my humanity? Here goes:

I got a letter back from a preacher I'm getting to know, Brother Bobby Plunkett in Lubbock TX! He WILL purchase a Thompson's Chain Reference Study Bible I want! Hurray!!! (These little blessings like this sure do make me feel better and go a long way toward chasing away all my frustrations and make the rest of my life easier to deal with.) In fact, he said I could send either the one paintings for their display case or two, it didn't matter. They'd wanted a small painting for their display case at church and I was going to send a second small one to have them sell it for the price of the study bible, & then go to the bookstore for me. [The only way I can receive books is to order them from here via my Inmate Trust Fund account, or have someone in the free world go to a bookstore and purchase books and have the bookstore mail them in to me.] They aren't going to "sell" a painting to buy the bible for me, but rather will just display 2 of my pictures and buy the bible for me with their own money. Praise the Lord! I'll still send them both pictures, even though I won't get any money from sales. (I had thought that if the picture sold for much more than the cost of the bible, they could put the extra money in my account.) The important thing is that I will be receiving this new and updated version of the NIV Thompson's Chain-Reference Study Bible, with the Thumb-Index, Red-Letter, Harcover, in this Handy Size Edition so it has all the helps of the larger-print version but takes up less space! (And space is a problem due to prison property storage regulations, having to make everything fit in the boxes. [See enclosed drawing.]) And the great thing about it is that this bible has so many great references and indexes and cross-references back & forth & sideways that I can find and study any subject from any perspective and find ALL the answers the bible has about it and everything the bible has to say about itself! It really is like a mini-library of bible-study tools & books all in just one volume!

Here's an idea I've been thinking about lately. Something I'd really like to do some day, if I ever had the money or someone I know had the time and inclination. (And that "someone" would probably be my friend Conny.) Imagine this: A small book about one half the size of this sheet of paper, containing all of the Death Row Series Ink Drawings, and on the page opposite each drawing, a short piece of prose or poetry to go with the drawing. Once I get them all done, it might be 10 or 15 or 20 drawings. There could be an introduction page or short biography or something. Once the design and format was figured out, the entire book could be "produced" on a copier machine, especially if it was loaded with a slightly thicker stiff paper. Then I could mass-produce them and Conny could keep most of the "books" in her home, sending them where they needed to go as sales were made. (I could have people send her a certain amount of money AND a self-addressed postage-paid envelope, so she wouldn't have to address anything or pay postage either.) Conny could send me a few un-stapled copies of the book in here too. Even better, when the time came to do all this, she could wait until she was here on a visit to send me my copies, so it would not cost so much to send several copies. She could leave copies with Felicia, my attorney friend in OK City, for trying to sell in the US. Conny could handle the Eurpoean sales. I would try to get ads places in various anti death penalty newsletters. I could come up with a good catchy title for it and call it the drawings and prose of a Texas' Death Row Inmate. I don't know how much we'd sell them for or IF we'd make a profit or how many of the books we'd have to print up, but it might be worth a try and I'd sure like to do it after I've done more of the DR-Series Ink Drawings.

It's Sunday now, Mother's Day. I'm not going to church today because it's Mother's Day. I never go to church on Mother's Day because I don't have a mother and all the talk of mothe's and how wonderful they are really depresses me. And some guys who didn't have mothers will get up and talk about how they had a Grandma who raised them and "spoiled" them by treating them so nice and good, and I didn't have that either, (not the "spoiling" part anyway), so it's really not a good day for me to be in church. And with my Dad & Grandpa dead now also, I don't go on Father's Day either. I just don't really have much use for holidays. I'd rather do nice things and tell people I love them during some "other" time of the year, as a surprise or because I "feel" it, and not just because of some tradition or holiday. When you do it because of the holiday it just seems so "artificial". But of course, I have a "jaded" viewpoint because holidays are "family" times and my family times at home in Saint Jo, TX were never very enjoyable, (I always dreaded the big family get-togethers), so Thanksgiving & Christmas weren't really that great, and I don't have a Mother or Father & most other relatives are either dead or won't associate with me because of where I am. I have almost no family left and I do not have ANY relatives who TRULY treat me the way a Loving Family should. My real family now is the family of God, and there's not a specific holiday for Brothers & Sisters in Christ. Christmas has become so commercialized and secularized that I don't think it counts anymore. It's too much about material goods and Santa. Besides, I thank God for my praying loving friends & brothers and sisters in Christ many times throughout the year. So who needs special holidays anyway? Most people just participate in a holiday because of tradition (rather than feeling) or an excuse to get off work. But perhaps I have a biased view.

For a few years I spent $12/month out of my own commissary money to send it to Children International to support a hungry child in the Philippines. This money usually came from painting sales and it was my way of "giving something back" and it's only because of financial hardship that I had to stop. I could no longer be assured of making the payments on time due to a decrease in painting sales and my payments were getting later and later. Because of that, I felt it was wrong for the organization to keep depending on me, and I had to face the truth that I just couldn't afford to do it anymore. I still have a photo of the little girl in my cell. I pray for her well-being from time to time, feeling certain that they've found her another sponsor to take my place.

There are other things I'd like to talk to you about if you'd care to hear them; Christian experiences mostly; how I arrived at my decision to admit my guilt, what it was like to be in the Death Watch Cell and come back within 6 1/2 hours of execution, etc. Do you have any idea when you'll be back this way?

One thing that might help your future interviews in Texas: you are allowed to purchase cold Cokes for the inmate you're visiting, from the vending machines in the visiting room, but most of the men here won't be presumptuous enough to ask you for a coke. You'll have to make the offer. (You can also buy them snacks from the machines if you wish, but a single coke will be more than adequate.) You'll need to bring plenty of change next time if you wish to do this. It's sort of like offering a cigarette in some county jails. A little generosity can go a long way. It may help some of them men open up to you more. Just an idea.

I hope my past decision to admit my guilt and be honest about the crimes increases my credibility with free world persons so that they will be more inclined to listen to what I have to say. I'm not sure where you're going with this yet, whether your main focus is the politics of the death penalty or the humanity of the men on Death Row or something else. I only hope that you can find something relevant in my story and that I have something useful to say that will perhaps touch the lives of others.

May you be well and blessed in all that you do. I look forward to hearing from you again soon. Please feel free to write at any time.

With Sincerity & Respect,
By God's Grace,
Clifford Boggess[signed]



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