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What's In The Brown Paper Bag? A Story From Death Row

To get in the spirit of Christmas, here is a letter by Luis Ramirez in which he writes about his first day on Death Row. Luis was executed in Texas in October, 2005, and always professed his innocence.

What's In the Brown Paper Bag ?
By Luis Ramirez #999309

I'm about the share with you a story who's telling is long past due. It's a familiar story to most of you reading this from death row. And now it's one that all of you in "free world" may benefit from. This is the story of my first day on the row.

I came here in May of 1999. The exact date is something that I can't recall.

I do remember arriving in the afternoon . I was placed in a cell on H-20 wing over at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Tx. A Tsunami of emotions and thoughts were going through my mind at the time. I remember the only things in the cell were a mattress, pillow, a couple of sheets, a pillow case, a roll of toilet paper, and a blanket ... I remember sitting there, utterly lost.

The first person I met there was Napolean Beasley. Back then, death row prisoners still worked . His job at the time was to clean up the wing and help serve during meal times. He was walking around sweeping the pod in these ridiculous looking rubber boots. He came up to the bars on my cell and asked me if I was new.. I told him that I had just arrived on d/r. He asked what my name is. I told him, not seeing any harm in it. He then stepped back where he could see all three tiers. He hollered at everyone, "There's a new man here. He just drove up. His name is Luis Ramirez."

When he did that, I didn't know what to make of it at first. I thought I had made some kind of mistake. You see ? Like most of you, I was of the impression that everyone on d/r was evil. I thought I would find hundreds of "Hannibal Lecter's in here. And now , they all knew my name. I thought "Oh well," that's strike one. I was sure that they would soon begin harassing me. This is what happens in the movies after all.

Well, that's not what happened . After supper was served. Napolean was once again sweeping the floors. As he passed my cell, He swept a brown paper bag into it. I asked him "What's this"? He said for me to look inside and continued on his way . Man, I didn't know what to expect. I was certain it was something bad. Curiosity did get the best of me though. I carefully opened the bag. What I found was the last thing I ever expected to find on death row, and everything I needed. The bag contained some stamps, envelopes notepad, pen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brush, a pastry, a soda, and a couple of Ramen noodles. I remember asking Napolean where this came from ?

He told me that everyone had pitched in . That they knew that I didn't have anything and that it may be a while before I could get them. I asked him to find out who had contributed . I wanted to pay them back. He said, "It's not like that . Just remember the next time you see someone come here like you.You pitch in something ?"

I sat there on my bunk with my brown paper bag of goodies, and thought about what had just happened to me. The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. I thought of how many times I had seen "good people" of the world, pass by some man, woman, or child holding a sign that read, "Hungry, or will work for food." I'm guilty of the same. I just passed them by. By the end of the block, or upon reaching my destination . That poor, hungry, tattered, and perhaps dirty , soul had been forgotten. Lost among my daily challenges and struggles with life. Yet, here on death row Among the worst of the worst . I didn't have to hold up a sign.

They knew what I needed and they took it upon themselves to meet those needs.

They did this without any expectation of reimbursement or compensation. They did this for a stranger, not a known friend. I don't know what they felt when they committed this act of incredible kindness. I only know that like them,, twelve "good people" had deemed me beyond redemption. The only remedy that these "good people" could offer us, is death. Somehow what these "good people" saw and what I was seeing didn't add up. How could these men, who just showed me so much, humanity, be considered the "worst of the worst."

It chills me to my core when I think about it. Those twelve "good people" were given this enormous God like responsibility . They had to decide who lives, and who dies. The state of Texas gave them this responsibility. But they didn't give them any God like training. I'm sure that they all meant well. They probably thought, as the DA and judge told them, that they were doing their civic duty. I personally have never considered murder a civic duty. That aside, how many times have we gotten this wrong ? I'm on the inside looking out now. I have that advantage over you. So I can tell you this. I have yet to meet a man here who I feel is beyond redemption. If you took a good look, and I invite you to do that, You may just come to realize how often you have been wrong.

Ever since Napolean was executed, for a crime he committed as a teen. I've wanted to share this story with his family. I've never been able to find anyone with their address. If anyone out there can share this with them, I would appreciate it very much. I would like for them to know that their son was a good man. One who I will never forget. I want for them to know how sorry I am that we as a society failed them and him. I still find it ridiculous that we as a people feel that we cannot teach or love our young properly. I'm appalled at the idea that a teen is beyond redemption, that the only solution that we can offer is death. It's tragic that this is being pointed out to the "good people" by one of the "worst of the worst." God help us all.

What's in the brown paper bag? I found caring, kindness, love, humanity, and compassion of a scale that I've never seen the "good people" in the free world show towards one another.

Luis Ramirez
# 999309
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351
USA

In Memory - Napoleon Baezley

As for Luis' case:

Luis Ramirez was convicted of a capital murder (remuneration) in San Angelo, Texas in 1998. In this case, the state offered no tangible evidence to support the conviction. They have no DNA evidence, no physical evidence, no scientific evidence, no eyewitnesses no murder weapon and they could not place him at the crime scene. They relied primarily on the hearsay testimony of a paid informant. The informant s a self described daily drug user. He is not someone that Mr. Ramirez knows, nor does he know Mr. Ramirez.

In the courtroom this informant was not able to identify Mr. Ramirez when he was sitting in front of him. Basically the informant's testimony was about something he had heard. He offered no first hand knowledge of the offense and even less regarding the remuneration. then informant never said that he heard Mr. Ramirez offer anything, or saw him pay anything. And the state has absolutely no evidence to support this claim. Luis had neither motive nor opportunity to commit this crime. The victim was a complete stranger to him. Luis has adamantly maintained his innocence from the onset, and continues to do so today.

Associated Press, 10/20/05

Professing his innocence, Luis Ramirez was executed Thursday night for organizing and carrying out what authorities said was a murder-for-hire scheme that culminated in the shotgun slaying of a San Angelo firefighter who was dating his ex-wife.

"I did not kill your loved one, but I hope that one day you find out who did," Ramirez told four siblings of Nemecio Nandin. "I wish I could tell you the reason why or give some kind of solace. You lost someone you love very much, the same as my family and friends are going to lose in a few minutes."

Ramirez was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m.

Ramirez, 42, denied any involvement in the 1998 murder of Nandin, 29, whose body was found in a shallow grave in a rural area about 25 miles northeast of San Angelo.

R.I.P., Luis and Napolean, and may the state-sponsored killing stop soon.

[hat tip to David Seth Michaels for sending this by email.]

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  • Re: What's In The Brown Paper Bag? A Story From De (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 06:11:55 PM EST
    No evidence but hearsay. And now he's dead. I'm sure we're all that much safer. Disgusting.

    Re: What's In The Brown Paper Bag? A Story From De (none / 0) (#2)
    by scarshapedstar on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 07:09:14 PM EST
    I really wish more of America's executioners-by-proxy would read or watch "A Lesson Before Dying". Their favorite fairy tale is that every single person on death row is a serial killer or Snidely Whiplash style out-and-out villain; reality, as usual, is less comforting. Most executions are quite senseless, be they of repentant prisoners or of those who, like this poor fellow, are executed with no logical explanation. I can't imagine being placed in such a Kafkaesque situation.

    Re: What's In The Brown Paper Bag? A Story From De (none / 0) (#3)
    by wishful on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 08:02:03 PM EST
    Luis Ramirez's letter, "What's in the Brown Paper Bag?", warms my heart. gives me hope for humanity, and chills me to the bone. I am incredibly grateful to have the chance to read this and to know that others do too. My little brother is in prison. He had a 50+ year sentence (defacto life sentence) remanded and now has about 9 more months to serve. AI learned more than I ever wanted to know about our "corrections" system. A few years ago, he told a very similar tale. Long story short, he said he privately shed tears to find that, when he had nothing--like Luis, not a toothbrush, not a warm shirt in the cold cell, nothing to eat for over 24 hours due to circumstances--other inmates, unasked, actually gave him HALF of everything that they had in the world. If I had only two bags of Ramen Noodles, and gave one away with no expectation of repayment, what am I? If I have two sweatshirts, and give one to a fellow traveler without any request or any possible repayment, what am I? If I am Dick Cheney, and I cast the tie-breaking vote that denies some food stamp help, some medical assistance, and some educational loans to struggling fellow Americans, even though I have been asked and stand to lose nothing in casting an affirmative vote, what am I?

    In a locked away, isolated, controlled society it is not God-forsaken. Wonderful people exist in terrible places, we just cannot see them. Good story, thank you for the opportunity to gather emotions from it.

    Re: What's In The Brown Paper Bag? A Story From De (none / 0) (#5)
    by soccerdad on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 06:10:27 AM EST
    If only we as a society treated everyone as the inmates treated Mr Ramierz on his first day the "need" to incarcerate such a high percentage of our population would diminish.
    The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. I thought of how many times I had seen "good people" of the world, pass by some man, woman, or child holding a sign that read, "Hungry, or will work for food." I'm guilty of the same. I just passed them by. By the end of the block, or upon reaching my destination . That poor, hungry, tattered, and perhaps dirty , soul had been forgotten. Lost among my daily challenges and struggles with life. Yet, here on death row Among the worst of the worst . I didn't have to hold up a sign.
    We need more kindness less retribution, more fairness less discrimination, more understanding less idealogues, more inclusion less exclusion. We need more people who truly believe in the golden rule and the idea that America and its rich resources are for everyone, not just the elite.

    The more publicity like this the better the chances of more repealling sentences. Actual innocence is evident in many other cases, I think of three probable innocent defendants executed. Its always denied by the executioner, however since we are the executioner change comes from campaigning these sorts of stories.

    I think Texas has executed several innocent and I don't think they care.

    This makes me so angry. Think how much better our country would be without Texas (will all due apologies to my friends who live there).

    Re: What's In The Brown Paper Bag? A Story From De (none / 0) (#9)
    by Lww on Sun Dec 25, 2005 at 01:24:14 PM EST
    I don't claim to endorse the link but it gives you a different perspective on the evidence against Mr Ramirez. I'm against the death penalty. I still find it hard to stomach this love affair with some of the offenders who are in many cases career criminals who have not earned this "respect" which they get in here. The headline titled "RIP Tookie Williams" clearly takes the cake. He was a bad guy who saw a way to stay alive by manipulating bleeding hearts such as yourselves. Cry for his victims before you cry for Tookie.