Four years ago I was arrested in Tulia and sentenced to prison for a crime I didn't commit. They finally let me out this fall, but I'm still afraid to leave my house.
IT WAS THE YEAR BEFORE AN ELECTION, in 1999, and everybody wanted to look good. The county hired Tom Coleman to lead a drug task force. I had a record, and I had gone to prison in 1990 for possession of cocaine. I did three months, though I had been framed for that too. The sheriff and the DA knew about my record, and since they had this task force, they told Coleman to get Joe Moore. He had come by my house a few times, and I had chased him away and cussed him out. When somebody starts coming to your house because you’re poor and he’s asking about dope, you just know he’s a cop. I thought if I stayed away from him he wouldn’t mess with me.
Then came July 23, 1999. It was a regular day, and I was lying in bed about seven in the morning. My friend Cookie called me and said the task force had picked her daughter up. So I got up and stopped by the courthouse, where there were maybe fifteen task-force people. I couldn’t find Cookie’s daughter and was driving past the jailhouse when the sirens went off behind me. Three policemen aimed their guns at me, so I put my hands up. They said, “We got you on two counts of cocaine.” Even though they had no evidence—it was my word against Tom Coleman’s—I knew I was going back to prison, since I was already on parole. You do anything and they roll you back in. They do what they want.
One of them read me my rights and put handcuffs on me. When we got back to the jailhouse, the police walked me right past the Amarillo news camera. There were about 24 of us in the same cell, and guys were swapping stories about how they each got dragged out of bed that morning, some of them around five o’clock, and carried to jail with their underclothes on, no shirt. I’m glad I had on my overalls.
The trial was in December of 1999. Coleman hadn’t even worn a wire, and they didn’t find any drugs in my possession, but my lawyer told me, “There’s nothing I can do for you. All I can do is get you a twenty-five-year plea bargain or you face ninety-nine years in the penitentiary.” I said, “I’m not guilty. I’m not going to plea bargain.” And he said, “Well, they’re going to crank it up on you,” and I said, “Well, crank it up then.” I was so angry. I couldn’t do nothin’—nothin’! When the jury came out and said I was going to jail for ninety years, I was paralyzed. They didn’t find guns, but they said we were killers. None of us had any money—I’m the only one who even had a car! An ’85 Oldsmobile! But they said I was the kingpin, and everybody believed it.
I walked into my cell that night. I fell on my knees and asked the Lord to take over for me. I just felt my life was done.
Prison was rough; it really was. I’ve got no family. I had four brothers, but all of them are dead. My mom’s dead. Everybody’s dead but me. As time went on, people finally started paying attention. When the NAACP came in, I started feeling good because I knew they had the money and the power to help us.
When we got out, I ain’t never seen so many satellites. That whole courthouse was filled with people with microphones. People I’d never met were asking me what I was going to do with my life. It felt so good. The first thing I did when I got out was take a bath and eat some barbecue.
People in Tulia say things are going to change, but there ain’t no justice. There’s more than one bad apple, and all but Tom Coleman got away. This took a lot out of me. I used to be able to go out all the time. I don’t go nowhere now. People tell me, “You get out of that house.” But I’m afraid to go out. I don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeves.