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Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER DELIVERY

Friday, August 31, 2001

Connally escapee Rivas moves into new home on Texas' death row

The details, including limited human contact and frequent strip searches, make the difference

By Michael Graczyk
Associated Press

   LIVINGSTON - From the outside, George Rivas' new state-provided home looks remarkably like the one he fled in December.
   Three stories high, gray concrete, slits for windows, surrounded by multiple rows of fences topped with razor wire, towers at each corner occupied by rifle-carrying guards.
   The details inside make the difference.
   "Everyone in here is for killing," observes Angel Maturino Resendiz, the so-called "railroad killer" who is among the 447 men Rivas is joining on Texas death row.
   Before Rivas helped six fellow convicts escape from prison, he was whiling away his 18 life sentences at the Connally Unit in South Texas.
   With no history of disciplinary problems behind bars, Rivas had earned his way into a good job at the maintenance shop. Within the structure of prison, he had achieved a level of freedom, interacting with civilian employees, allowed group recreation, contact visits, television in a prison day room, some ability to move about.For meals, he would join other inmates in the prison mess hall.
   'A sense of change'
   That's all gone.
   Rivas' new address will be the Polunsky Unit just outside Livingston in East Texas, 220 miles northeast of Kenedy, home of Texas death row.
   "Officers are in the same uniforms," prison spokesman Larry Todd said. "But . . . when a person walks on to death row, there is a sense of change. It's just a different atmosphere."
   What they also share is a common fate, awaiting lethal injection, the sentence imposed on Rivas Wednesday at the end of his 2 ½-week capital murder trial in Dallas.
   "The biggest difference is going to be the heightened security," Todd said. "Now he's going to stare at three walls and a cell door."
   Much more cautious'
   The men on death row do not work. Meals are served on a tray shoved through a gate in their steel cell door known as a bean slot. Any time he's taken from his cell, even for a shower, he's strip searched, shackled with chains from his ankles, around his belly and to his handcuffs. If he's out of his cell, he's in custody of two guards.
   There is no television. Recreation - one hour a day - is alone and in a cage.
   Prison officials describe it as "limited contact with other human beings."
   The prisoners themselves, however, call it mind-numbing and barbaric.
   "We're locked in a box 23 hours a day, 365 days a year," says John William King, awaiting execution for dragging a black East Texas man to death behind a truck.
   "You sit alone with your miserable problems," added Jeffery Doughtie, who was executed two weeks ago for killing an elderly Corpus Christi couple.
   Rivas had a cellmate at Connally. Not so on death row, where he alone will inhabit his 60-square-foot, concrete-walled cell equipped with a steel bunk, a small steel shelf that serves as a writing surface and a stainless steel toilet and sink combination.
   No longer No. 702267, Rivas on Thursday was assigned No. 999394 - the three-digit 999 prefix reserved for death row prisoners. His white prison shirt will carry a large black "DR" on its back.
   "He will be treated as humanely as possible, but when an officer knows he's dealing with an escapee, certainly he's more wary and more cautious," Todd said. "But all of our officers are much more cautious due to the Connally escape."

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