Gabriele was an upbeat cat for a prisoner with a life sentence. I remember the day that I met him. I was having a difficult day trying to navigate all of the negativity that prison has to offer when suddenly this towering figure approached me and told me that I looked like someone he knew from his hometown. He was from Austin and I was from Dallas, but the ear-to-ear smile that he displayed for some unknown reason had brightened my day. Gab—as I would start calling him—just had this likable personality that is both rare, and refreshing inside of prison. We spoke for over two hours the day that we met and our spirits connected as if we were old high school buddies.
Gab had come to the prison to take a small engine repair class. As a car enthusiast, Gab loved to learn and talk about cars. We would become extremely close over the next year while he continued learning about cars, I enjoyed our daily conversation about the various systems that exist inside of an automobile.
Soon our discussions would turn to more important topics, like family and pearls of the Texas criminal justice system. You see, Gab came from a very close-knit family that consisted of his two younger brothers and his mother. All of whom were extremely disappointed that Gab had gotten himself involved in the trouble that resulted in his life sentence. He shared stories with me how the girl that he was dating was moving drugs from the Mexican drug cartel and as a result of his loyalty and association to her, he found himself on the wrong side of the law. With complete sadness Gab would tell me how his current legal situation was taking his mother to an early death, and there was nothing more important to him than redeeming himself and assuring his mother that she had not gone astray with his upbringing.
Poverty had restricted their communication. Austin was nearly three-hundred miles away and the prison telephone system was far too expensive to be an option. So they relied upon letters and whatever means of communication that he could mustered up. I remember vividly the day that he came to my cell overly excited.
“Jeremy! Jeremy! I just spoke with my mom and my brothers!” he said with a pitch of joy that I had yet to experience. “My cellie got a cellphone and he let me use it.” Naturally I was equally as excited for him. Over the course of the next few weeks he would share with me all of the update that he had received over the phone and even invited me to come to his cell so I could meet his mom; it was his opinion that the communication had slowed down the death of his mother. It also brought new life to Gab. His glow became brighter and radiant smile was displayed more frequently. I could not help but to think to myself This could not be happening to a better guy.
Our discussions became more inundated with the elements of his family and the life that the cellphone had provided them all from this dark hole. For the first time during his incarceration he was able to see his newborn niece and nephew thanks to an app called Facetime. He even connected with an old girlfriend from high school that wanted to move closer to the prison so that she could visit him often.
I left the cellblock that I shared with Gab after a frivolous argument with a prison official landed me in solitary confinement. While it was disturbing to depart from my friend that I’d grown so close to, I was happy that Gab’s life had improved and the strains that came from worrying about his family had be removed.
After being in solitary for six days I heard a familiar voice calling my name, “Jeremy! Jeremy what cell are you in?” I knew the voice was not foreign but I could not exactly make out who would be calling back here in solitary confinement. Then the voice rang again, “Jeremy, Jeremy!” Instantly I knew then that it was Gab’s voice. I thought that he had perhaps came to check on me with the permission of a prison official, but he was in the cell right below me.
“What the hell you doing back man,” I quiz him.
“Bro, I am out of there,” Gab quickly responded!
“Out of there?” I said still unsure what he was referring to.
“Yeah man, they caught me using the cellphone.”
My heart sunk? The joy in his voice that I remember the last time we had spoken had turned in the terror that you could hear from a squealing pig awaiting his turn with the butcher. I didn’t even inquire about the ways and means that the prison officials had discovered him using the contraband cellphone, my concern turned quickly to his mental state because I could tell that it was not good. Gab was concerned that the prison official were obtaining all of the information from the cellphone and that they would send a group of goons to his mother’s house to harass his family. The sudden interruption of his newly-founded lease on life also played a huge part in his deteriorated mental state. For the first time since I met Gab, I could tell that he was genuinely sad and the least I could do was spend what little words of encouragement that I had trying to cheer him up. After all, Gab had been my primary source of inspiration over the past year.
“Everything is going to be alright bro,” I attempted to assure him. For the next five hours I would stand in my door providing whatever comfort I could to Gab. I could tell that I was fighting a losing battle because at no time did I get a sense that he was recovering. The loss, exacerbated by the isolation of solitary confinement was a formidable opponent.
Gab informed me that he was going to lie down on his bunk and try to get some sleep; we would chat again after breakfast. From my previous experiences with solitary confinement, sleep is a cure to most of the strains that plagues you during those times. So I felt good! Well, I felt good enough to lie back myself and attempt to digest my own frustrations regarding Gab’s plights.
Shortly after lying down I hear a voice below me saying, “Hey inmate! Get that noose off your neck!” It was the officer that was working the solitary confinement cellblock.
I jumped to my feet and screamed “GAB” to ensure that the officer was not directing those commands at him. I didn’t receive an answer.
The officer yelled again, “Inmate get that noose off your neck!”
I again yelled, “GAB,” this time with more forcefulness.
It was Gab. He decided to take his own life rather than deal with the possibilities of having to be separated from his family again and producing more disappointment for them. He hung himself from the light fixture and a part of me is dead there also. How could I not come through for him like he
had come through from me? What more could I have said that I didn’t say?
Why does the criminal justice system separates families to such levels that one would prefer death of living through the separation? How could they not know that by taking that cellphone away from him would push him to a point of no return? If these walls could talk how many people have gone the way that Gab went? Why is solitary still practiced in the world?
Gab deserved better, even as a prisoner. I don’t believe the old proverb, “when it’s your time, it’s your time!” This solitary suicide was 100 percent preventable.
Jeremy is serving 75 years in Texas for murder.
Jeremy Busby #881193
3060 FM 3514
Beaumont, TX 77705