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Life Inside

The Best Guard at My Prison Was Murdered

“Timothy. His first name was Timothy. I hadn’t known that. They punish us for using guards’ first names.”

This article was published in collaboration with Vice.

Full disclosure: I’ve lived in a cage since 1996, facing multiple life sentences for crimes for which I remain accountable. I’m responsible for that.

I’ve been in solitary confinement since 2010 for killing another prisoner who stabbed me during my morning prayer. (Under Texas law, a prisoner can be prosecuted for capital murder when he kills another prisoner, even if it's in self-defense.) I will likely die in a solitary cage someday, and I’m responsible for that, too.

What I’m not responsible for is the death of one of the best guards in my prison.

On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, Officer Davison escorted me from the dayroom back to my cell. He had just visited his daughters in Chicago, and he was really happy — he kept talking about what a great visit it had been. They couldn’t go to the annual Ribfest festival, though, because he’d needed to head back to work.

He was murdered the next day.

Because the Texas prison system is so chronically understaffed, Davison and his colleagues work “mandatory overtime.” And because guards with seniority are allowed to transfer to less stressful posts, ill-equipped new guards (often with inadequate training) are sometimes thrust immediately into administrative segregation assignments — where they meet prisoners described as the “worst of the worst.”

Like many rookie guards, Davison had been placed in the administrative segregation unit.

He told me he was just working for a paycheck, which is true of a lot of prison employees I’ve met over the past two decades. Most guards are simply trying to work a stressful, thankless job in an ugly place so that they can put food on the table for their families. (And most prisoners are simply trying to survive that place, to make it back to their own loved ones.)

But Davison was even friendlier than most people I’ve known — on either side of the prison walls. I’d watched him resolve dietary, plumbing, and property issues for various prisoners. He calmed us with his perpetual smile despite whatever was going on in his personal life, which he kept to himself: a divorce, the death of his mother.

I learned of Davison’s murder after finishing an outdoor run, which I do twice a week. (Four hundred laps = eight kilometers. I know this because I carefully measured one lap with a sheet of typing paper.)

After a shower, I went back to my cell and began answering my mail. Soon after that, there was a special “count” and “suspended activity.” I put my headphones on and listened to various stations on my commissary-purchased AM/FM radio, in case something big had happened in the news.

Then a headline, like a jab to my chin: “Guard killed at Northeast Texas Prison.” The name “Timothy Davison” was uttered. It must be another Davison, I thought.

Timothy. His first name was Timothy. I hadn’t known that. They punish us for using guards’ first names, supposedly for security reasons. But I think the lack of first names just fuels the us-versus-them tension.

Surely it wasn’t him — everybody liked the Davison I knew. But then: “Timothy Davison, divorced father of two.” It felt like I had stopped breathing.

Apparently, Davison had been escorting another prisoner from a dayroom to a cell. The prisoner had somehow manipulated his handcuffs behind his back, wrestled Davison to the ground, grabbed the iron bar used to open food slots in cell doors, and used it to beat Davison to death.

Davison’s daughters will likely never know how happy he was about their time together during his last visit to Chicago.

They will almost certainly never know he told us he’d “drive to Siberia” to have his youngest one hug his neck and say, “I love you,” again.

And they will definitely never know that when he told us that story, a light shined through this dark, desperate place.

Christopher Dye is a 53-year-old inmate at Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas, where he is serving life without parole for a murder he committed while in prison. His original conviction in 1996 was for multiple aggravated sexual assaults.