George Ivan Lopez
My Story, My Art
The Voice of Silence from Inside Death Row
My name is George Ivan Lopez, State ID# CZ-3198. I am currently on Pennsylvania’s Death Row at SCI-Phoenix for a crime I did not commit. I have been on Death Row since June 19, 1995. A quarter century later, I’m still struggling to make it through each and every day.
I will let my words carry you into a world of mental and daily struggles. Still, words alone will not describe the true nature of this man made hell where the sun never shines, it is always gray, there are cries during the night, kind words are barely heard, sanity is constantly challenged and the question whether or not you wish to go on brings forth thoughts of suicide.
This has been my life for over a quarter century I have lived under solitary confinement with restrictions every moment. I was with shackles and handcuffs every time I left my cell, escorted by two or three officers. I lived in a cell that’s 7’ x 11’. The cell was illuminated 24 hours a day during that quarter century causing disorder and blindness. The air in the cells was so cold you have to wear a sweater because the DOC believes that a cold cell will keep the inmates from complaining – or stay in bed all day and/or deter us from attending any activities – causing such mental distress from capital inmates that we give up on our appeals just to get off death row.
Death row inmates at Greene SCI, where I was housed for most of my time on death row, were allowed three showers per week for ten minutes in a 3’ by 4’ cuffing like showers. The exercise yard is in another cage the size of a normal parking lot – or smaller. If you are fighting your case, they would place you in a fence in the 3rd mini law library every 10 – 12 days. We were denied all human contact. They had a no-talking policy. We also faced dehumanizing strip searches and potential cavity searches. We were denied all opportunity to participate in educational activities and programs that were available for the General prison population. We had limited legal materials allowed in our cells. We were denied contact visit, prohibited from meaningful interaction with prison staff and with fellow inmates. All of this has caused me and all others similarly situated capital case prisoners undue risk of psychological harm. I have been exposed to unlawful mental torture, acute and increased heightened anxiety attacks causing both physical and psychological injuries. I now have heart disease and lung cancer.
Since the settlement of the class action law suit, Reid v. Wetzel, 18-CV-0176, M.D. PA, prisoners on death row have been released from 100% solitary confinement. Suddenly, Capital Case Inmates are no longer dangerous capital case inmates despite still having the sentence of the death penalty. The court, which established that the PA DOC were wrong in the ways they treated inmates on death row, has not yet addressed the consequences experienced by myself and others.
I now bring to your attention the reason why I have not lost my mind and still have my sanity – my Art. Art can take me away from all the fore-mentioned dehumanization I have experienced for over a quarter century. My Art has brought me more than peace of mind. I was lucky enough to have found a true friend with the biggest heart and the goal to bring attention to the Injustice and Wrongful Convictions of so many. Those friends are the Art for Justice members like Ms. Ann Marie Kirk and Elaine Selan. All the members of Art for Justice have shown me unconditional friendship that inspires me to continue to fight against the injustices taking place in Pennsylvania which the Judicial system refuses to address and end.
Art has been the bridge to freedom and unconditional friendship. When I am drawing or painting I don’t think of the prison and the Mental Torture I have lived in for over a quarter century. .. A paint brush for me is like a magical Dream because no matter the issues in my life: losing my Mother, two Sisters, Daughter, Niece and so many friends while experience inhumane treatment for decades. I humbly and sincerely declare that without my Painting, I would have taken my own life. So many times I thought strongly about ending my life. Thanks to my friends, like Ann Marie, whose positive attitude has helped me straight throughout the decades, I am still here fighting for justice in my case.
I hope that my words can provide you with a small glimmer into my world on death row and how Art has saved my sanity. I can now look at a piece of paper and draw a mental picture before I paint it. By no means am I a great painter, but art sets me free.
Lastly, it is funny to me that people in the outside world with their health and freedom, are stressed because they cannot go to a bar or the beach with wearing a mask that can save their lives. I just don’t get it.
Excerpts from George Lopez’s poem about solitary confinement.
Never in my life have I fought
So hard, so deep for my sanity.
I’m in the hole for 180 days
I have 28 days to go.
I’m in a cell between
The Cells of two broken, crazy men
Who bang their shower shoes
Against the stainless steel sinks.
Night & day – day & night –
They bang and bang and bang.
Through the banging I hear crying.
The banging, the crying, are driving me crazy.
My will fights to survive
This pain, this sorrow.
I plead with the tears
That flood my ruptured heart.
Not drown my dreams.
I need to believe in something.
I need to be ready when
Someday, someone else
Locked in darkness,
Locked in pain and sorrow,
Inserts a precious key deep
Into the crevice of my broken heart
And Sets Us Free.
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