Nick had just arrived when Captain Ben Varner walked up to him and stared him right in the eyes while he quietly said:
“You are a dead man, everyone you love is dead, and in my prison, dead men do not speak. Without a warning, he smacked me right in the mouth. It was his way of welcoming me to Huntingdon Prison,” Nick recalls.
The assault was the first of many to come. If it wasn’t the guards beating the inmates, the officers would make sure the prisoners were fighting each other. The enthusiasm among the guards was especially great when white inmates were beating on black prisoners.
According to Nick, almost all guards were white men trying to suppress black inmates. The guards hated black people and they would do anything to punish them. One way was to force prisoners to fight, hoping that the white inmates would win. Meanwhile, the guards made bets as if they were at the horse races, Nick says, before turning silent once again.
The experiences in Huntingdon made him realize how evil people can be when they are forced into such circumstances, and the violence he witnessed in prison deeply affected Nick. The experiences made him an even colder and more cynical person than he was before entering the prison system.
“The guards would put me in an empty cell, and I would wait for the officers to force another prisoner in there with me. When both of us were in the cell, we reacted instinctively and jumped at each other. It could be your worst enemy or your best friend that they let in. If you did not beat him, he would beat you while the guards were cheering and calling the scene ‘the gladiator ring’,” Nick says, explaining that the fights would always end with an inmate lying lifeless on the floor.
The fights took a toll on Nick who was both stabbed and strangled by other prisoners. Other times, he would witness inmates being stabbed or even murdered in front of him when death row inmates were left alone in the shower room. Suddenly, an inmate would pull out a shank from underneath his tongue and start stabbing his enemy to death.
“And when the guards had cleaned up the blood, they told us to go have lunch. Right after someone had just died. That is how brutal and cold the environment was. And in prison, you learn to fight, so you are going to be a risk to everyone who crosses your path. Your fists are a means of survival and the people we let out of prisons are far worse than the ones we lock up,” Nick says.
The daily brutality destroyed all human care among the prisoners. Many chose to commit suicide in front of others, and afterward, guards or inmates had to remove the bodies. One time, Nick witnessed prison guards opening the door to a cell next to his, and like a rocket, an inmate came running out of the cell. The inmate threw himself over the handrail and landed several floors down. According to Nick, the inmate just could not take it anymore and he can still remember the sound of the inmate’s bones crushing when he hit the floor.
“I saw 11 inmates commit suicide before my eyes. Some swallowed razor blades or cut their own throats,” Nick recalls, before his mind wanders off to a place very dark and extremely lonely as he describes it.
At times, Nick thought he was becoming insane himself. And, eventually, he attempted to commit suicide as well.
“Normally, I would just hurt myself. I would knock my head into the wall until I tasted the blood. Because when I felt the pain, I would start to feel alive and be reminded that I was still human. But when that was not enough, I tried to commit suicide,” Nick says, telling that one of the reasons why he probably never succeeded in killing himself was because he could not disappoint his parents. He felt that he owed it to them to prove his innocence because they had already lost so much in life.