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Interviewing ex-convict turned probation officer, writer and lecturer Albert Race Sample

BROADCAST: Dec. 4, 1984 | DURATION: 00:58:18

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Discussing the book "Race hoss: big Emma's boy" with the author Albert Race Sample. Includes Sample reading a section of the book.


Studs Terkel One of the most remarkable stories I've come across, perhaps the most remarkable, is the story of Albert Race Sample known as Racehoss. And he's just written his, a memoir, the first of I know it'll be several. Simply called "Racehoss." "Big Emma's Boy" is the subtitle, published by a Texas press, Eakin Press, E-A-K-I-N. It's a story about a Texas prison system and a story about a childhood, the like of which none of us not only haven't experienced but perhaps can't even imagine. I've heard this told many times, that many of the leading white citizens of a certain town in the South would have two families.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel That is in two sets of children. And on a certain day they visit their Black family, and the white wife who was active in the society of that town, the wives I should say, that there were a number, knew a certain day they'd have their flower arrange gatherings or book reviews.

Albert Race Sample Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel But they knew where the husbands were. Did you--

Albert Race Sample This was not the case with Emma and Mr. Albert. It was a sneak thing. Nobody in town knew who my dad was except me and Emma, and she would take me and let me meet him on the quiet side, you know. He never visited my house I always met him somewhere else.

Studs Terkel Now Emma was very beautiful.

Albert Race Sample She was a gorgeous woman. She and Tina Turner could pass for [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel Oh really?

Albert Race Sample Could pass for twins.

Studs Terkel Let's imagine that someone looks like Tina Turner.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel That was Emma.

Albert Race Sample That was Emma.

Studs Terkel Now she's, you say she was a prostitute but she became--

Albert Race Sample A professional gambler.

Studs Terkel An expert--

Albert Race Sample Expert.

Studs Terkel At dice, at cards--

Albert Race Sample She was one of the best.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] [fifty?] games. Georgia Skin, Monte--

Albert Race Sample Cosh, [Monte?] [Tie Tie?], you name it. And everybody in East Texas knew Big Emma because she had one of the hottest spots in town. She was also doing some dealings with the sheriff there in that, in Gregg County, and he allowed her, cut a little slack more than [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel This is somewhere, what part of Texas was this?

Albert Race Sample East Texas, Longview.

Studs Terkel Longview.

Albert Race Sample Longview.

Studs Terkel That's when, after her mother was killed she took off with her baby's younger sister.

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel Elzado.

Albert Race Sample And they stayed in Longview, Elzado.

Studs Terkel And they had this house,--

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel This shack or whatever it was.

Albert Race Sample Shotgun house in Longview.

Studs Terkel Called the shotgun. And here were guys working in the oil fields and--

Albert Race Sample That's right, they were the customers.

Studs Terkel The customers were white and Black?

Albert Race Sample White and black and then but she had, Emma had several of what you might call big shots on the side. The sheriff.

Studs Terkel Yeah

Albert Race Sample A lawyer, a district attorney, these kinds of things to keep out of trouble herself so that she could go ahead and operate her place without too much hindrance from the police.

Studs Terkel Well now, I got to ask a question about Emma and you, your mother. You were raised then, when you were small, you were you raised in this in world?

Albert Race Sample Environment. That's right.

Studs Terkel In that environment. So you were sophisticated in this way at a very early age.

Albert Race Sample Very much so. I was helping run the house when I was 4 years old. I was watching for the police and hustling tricks and watching the dives to keep people from sneaking in crooked ones and things like that. But the thing about Emma most that bothered me when I was, it took me, I was 35 years old before I could ever really accept the brutality that she gave to me when she'd drink. All of her childhoods, all of her her husband walking out on her when I was born, she could always look over a corner and see this half-white kid sitting over there and blame him for every bad thing that ever happened in her life. And many times she would just beat me until I mean some of the neighbors would have to come and stop her.

Studs Terkel Do you feel she loved you?

Albert Race Sample In her own way. Yes, I do. But like I said the things that happened to her had almost shut her heart down. I never saw Emma treat anybody any different than she treated me. She treated me just like she treated any guy that came in that house and gambled, and that was the part that hurt the most because I was the one that loved her more than any body else in the world.

Studs Terkel But the fact that you were half-white; you could pass for white too?

Albert Race Sample Yes. I remember that reminded me of a story Studs, I remember when I first went into prison system one of the sociologists was interviewing me to classify me into one of the prison units and as I was about to leave he asked me he says, By the way, he says, Shat nationality or you?

Studs Terkel Ah hah.

Albert Race Sample And I turned around and smart alecked and I said, Just whatever you all showed up [laughter]. Well they always show the niggers for picking cotton you know what I'm saying? So I got sent to an all-Black unit. The Retrieve unit

Studs Terkel Finally we've got to come to the prison system.

Albert Race Sample Okay.

Studs Terkel We're talking about in Texas, we're talking about a certain time now. Before you went to prison, how that came to be--

Albert Race Sample Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel It seems reading this book the most natural thing in the world.

Albert Race Sample It was. I was groomed for it.

Studs Terkel There was no other way you knew of life.

Albert Race Sample That's right. Yeah. Just a matter of time.

Studs Terkel Even if the law was winked at all sides. And so Emma, did Emma make a buck or two

Albert Race Sample Oh yes she made good money. She made good money. She was one of the top prostitutes in that town.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Albert Race Sample She could make money tricking when most women couldn't because of her looks and she was so dadgum witty and sharp in her head. She knew what she knew. She didn't know much but she was an expert at the few things she could do well and they were about three things.

Studs Terkel So some of the big shots in town.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel White and black.

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel Certainly white.

Albert Race Sample Sure.

Studs Terkel Would see Emma.

Albert Race Sample Oh yes.

Studs Terkel And they take care of her financially.

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel But she also, this is still, this is before prohibition was lifted. Then it was lifted. There was bootlegging too.

Albert Race Sample That's right. She made lots of money bootlegging. She used to have whiskey brought in from Louisiana in pickup trucks and it was always an ordeal trying to meet that payroll every weekend when the whiskey man came.

Studs Terkel It's funny thing is we know of the Ku Klux Klan and Black people and matters of terrifying and killing and driving out of town. Those of a certain, I call it comic moral code. When they heard that there was a white hardware owner whose wife complained--

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel That he was doing, he was having something to do with Emma and they were.

Albert Race Sample And they were, he was.

Studs Terkel Yeah. You knew him.

Albert Race Sample Oh yes I knew him.

Studs Terkel The Klan drove her out of a certain town.

Albert Race Sample That's right. They ran Emma and her sister Elazdo. She was fooling with another white businessman in town and so they ran both of them out of town. And that was the last time. I was six years old when that happened. And I didn't see Emma anymore until I was ten. So there I was stuck in that town with not too many places to go because nobody wanted me hanging around their kids. I used to hear kids' parents say that a lot when I was kid: "You kids come on and off the yard. I don't want you out there playing with that half-white boy," and these kinds of things. And when she came back she found me in a room I had lived in sleeping on a pallet in a corner with an old drunk name Alonzo Johnson who was a retired railroad worker. And my hair was as long as any hippie's now and I hadn't bathed since God knows when. I didn't bathe I guess because Lonzo didn't. And I'll never forget that, that moment when Emma came in and found me laying on that pallet coiled up there like a animal, and I woke up and I saw her, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. She had all of these diamonds and things on and this black sequined dress and had this big Hispanic gentleman with her and they took me out of the pits so to speak and I was heartbroken when they took me to the hotel room that they had already gotten because nothing in Emma had brought me fitted. All the clothes were too small, the britches were too short, the shirts--She had forgotten that I had grown up so much since the last time she'd seen me and she just picked up right where she left off Studs, and kicking my ass every chance she got, you know

Studs Terkel Hmm. So this was your beginnings. What about schooling and you?

Albert Race Sample Oh that? School, I never--I went to school just on a part time basis, maybe three days out of a quarter I would go to school. Because while Emma was gone, I remember my coveralls had gotten too little, my sneakers, the toes were out, and my stomach sounded like a Philco radio between stations sitting up in the classroom I was hungry most of the time, and seemed like most of the kids could always find some ugly things to say about me and Emma and our lifestyle and I was, I had to fight to get there and I had to fight to get away so I just said one day after I stuck a teacher in the leg with a knife after he beat me almost unmerciful, and I said that was my last day. I was in the fifth grade and I quit school at that time and the next time I went back to school was I was in prison.

Studs Terkel Was this an all-Black school

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel It was an all-Black school.

Albert Race Sample [Northside?] Ward School.

Studs Terkel What do you call it?

Albert Race Sample [Northside?] Ward School

Studs Terkel [Offside?].

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel A ward school.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And so Emma also, she did one other thing, she was good with, she wanted to be in good with the police all the time, with the authorities. So now and then she would snitch.

Albert Race Sample She sure did.

Studs Terkel Including you.

Albert Race Sample That's right. She had me beaten [nearly?] o death by the police because she had run out of things to tell. And then she fabricated this story about I had stolen some, bought some shoe polish from some guy who had broken a drug store and the police officers picked me up at school, after school one afternoon, right in front of all the kids and then took me out of the Sabine River bottoms and beat the living hell out of me trying to make me tell who bought I polished from, which I didn't, and I finally convinced them to take me back to the drugstore and prove it by the gentleman that sold it to me and he did say--

Studs Terkel And you asked your mother why she betrayed you

Albert Race Sample Why'd she do that. And her answer was, That ain't the first time you ever had a ass-woopin' and it won't be your last.

Studs Terkel That's it. But she had to survive no matter what. Even at your expense.

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel And yet you feel in her own way she may have had a feeling toward you.

Albert Race Sample Sure. I feel that way, and I tell you appreciate everything she taught me. Everything.

Studs Terkel Well--

Albert Race Sample Because the road I traveled after that, had I not had Emma as a drill sergeant I don't think I could have made--

Studs Terkel I want to ask about that road you traveled.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Let's take the slight pause and hear this message then resume it. We're talking to Albert Race Sample who is known through a good portion of Texas in many communities as Racehoss. And that's the name of your memoir. E-A-K-I-N Press the publishers and we resume after this message. So resuming with Albert Race Sample and his story that I call a story of not simply survival a story of transcendence because you transcended something that is to me still the mystery how you're able to do it as you sit here talking now. So now you hit the road. You left Emma.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel And now you hit the road. You were a hobo and this was the depression.

Albert Race Sample I was 12 years old.

Albert Race Sample And, well--

Albert Race Sample I traveled all over the United States on freight trains, box cars. I've been from coast to coast when I was 12, stealing, doing whatever, gambling, whatever I could do, working in a [betrothal?] house in Baltimore, and--

Studs Terkel You worked the carnival.

Albert Race Sample Yes, the carnival.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] guys.

Albert Race Sample Pickpockets and all this kind of stuff.

Studs Terkel So you learned how to pickpocket and you learned card playing.

Albert Race Sample Oh yes

Studs Terkel And dice.

Albert Race Sample And I was better crapshooter, I ended up being a better crapshooter than Emma.

Studs Terkel Really?

Albert Race Sample Yes. She taught me how but I could beat her.

Studs Terkel So that was--

Albert Race Sample I could control the dice.

Studs Terkel Have control of the dice.

Albert Race Sample Yes I could control.

Studs Terkel So that helped to get along on your--

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Road of survival.

Albert Race Sample Sure.

Studs Terkel And so now, what did you run into on the road

Albert Race Sample Well I was, fortunately I never got arrested during that period of time because had I, I'm sure I would have ended up in a juvenile detention home of some [like?] place. But at the tender age of 14 a much older woman took me under her ever loving wings and helped reraise me so to speak. I was, I don't think I ever was, there ever was a period in my life when I was a little boy. I always was a little man. I never shot marbles and spin tops and did those kind of kid game things that other kids were doing, so, and having grew up around prostitutes et cetera, I knew women like the back of my hand already by the time that I was 7 or 8 years old. I had seen more things than most people see in a whole lifetime. And this lady in San Francisco, I stayed with her a couple of years and she kept money in my pocket and these kinds of things and I woke up one morning and I said, Hey I've got to go see Emma. And headed from San Francisco back to Longview and I didn't make it. I got as far as Tyler, Texas, which is only 32 miles from from Longview, and got in trouble there. Assault with a deadly weapon and a judge gave me an option. Either you go to jail or you can go in the Army because by this time all of the bitterness, every lick that I ever received, every harsh word, all of the cold and callous dealings that I'd had with Emma and the kind of life that I had become accustomed to was a part of my own character. At the drop of a hat I was on it like a duck on a June bug. Very violent, easily intimidated. I took no chances because I lived in the hobo jungles with these hobos, and I learned early that when you ride the freight trains there's only one man on it and that's you.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample And you have to do what you have to do to stay on it.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample And patience is a thing--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Out of question for me. I didn't know nothing do but fight. That's all.

Studs Terkel Did you ever meet friendliness on the road

Albert Race Sample Not a one.

Studs Terkel Not a one

Albert Race Sample Not a one.

Studs Terkel You were taught, were not--

Albert Race Sample There are no friends.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Emma taught me that--

Studs Terkel Emma, that was Emma's was teaching.

Albert Race Sample Emma's teaching.

Studs Terkel That's why your story and what you are today I find so incredible. So you were in the Army.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel And what happened in the Army

Albert Race Sample Well I I started applying all of the skills that Emma had taught me; the gambling, the bootlegging. I had the number one hut in the battery area--

Studs Terkel At Fort Riley?

Albert Race Sample At Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Bliss, Texas. And I made, God, thousands of dollars I would win gambling, and but I never, I had no roots. I couldn't stay no where long, and I was constantly going AWOL. My First Sergeant used to give me a 20 day pass just to keep in my pocket and I'll be damned if I wouldn't wait till the 21st day and run off.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample And I went to Mexico and stayed a long time. And--

Studs Terkel You were now 15, 16?

Albert Race Sample I went in when I was 17.

Studs Terkel You're now 17, 18, in the Army.

Albert Race Sample I went in the military when I was 17.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Albert Race Sample And I was AWOL for so long and my old First Sergeant, was trying to help me and he came to Mexico to try to get me to come back. And I told him I'd be back the next day and I didn't make it back the next day; I got put in jail in in a no-top jail in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and I escaped from that jail that I made it back to the base three days later and got sent to stockade.

Studs Terkel Now, and finally before I ask about your time in the Texas prisons, notably one place called Retrieve.

Albert Race Sample You betcha.

Studs Terkel Ask about that. Emma. I, we talk about Emma--

Albert Race Sample She was a fascinating person.

Studs Terkel And her brutality. At the same time when her old friend Blue came back.

Albert Race Sample That's her husband.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Blue came back and Blue had died. There's a funeral.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel And she spend a lot of money.

Albert Race Sample She spent every [unintelligible] nickel that he had

Studs Terkel But I think you [ought to?]. This particular sequence when she's looking into his coffin, Emma--

Albert Race Sample Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel And dropping a buck there [or something?]. Here's Emma at a certain moment that the mask is off.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Why don't you read that. Set the scene for that.

Albert Race Sample Emma is standing at Blue's casket and Blue's real name was Alan Sample whose last name I carry to this very day. But he wasn't my father. And he had died on Emma's front porch of all places, after having been apart for twenty years and he had decided to come back. He was going to leave the woman that he'd been living with for 11 years and he was going to come back and live with Emma and he died on the porch. And this is the scene with him standing at his casket. [Reading] "'Looks lak this is the last time I'm gon git ta see you.' You could hear a pin drop. 'Emma's dun come as far as she kin go. I loved you Blue as hard as I could. You know that.' Leaning over in the casket and putting a kiss on his lips. 'I'm sho gon miss you, but Emma'll ketch up wit you again someday...somewhere down the line.' She kissed him again, wiped her tears off his face and came back and took her place on the church bench."

Studs Terkel Well there's Emma, that's the other side of Emma. That one moment there.

Albert Race Sample The one moment. Well I think that that was the one man in her whole life that she came close to loving as much as she could.

Studs Terkel You know we're going to do now and take one more break here and then we've got to come to now your prison. You were arrested I assume for burglary, different things.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel And I'll asked you about this, after this message. We're resuming with Albert Race Sample, Racehoss and his memoir, his book called Big Emma's--The book is called "Racehoss," H-O double S, "Big Emma's Boy." And if I play this song, here's a very song, a song familiar to you. This is sung by prisoners in a Texas camp. It may have been the one you were in or one close to it. And suppose we hear this and this'll set you off.

Albert Race Sample Okay.

Studs Terkel In thinking and remembering.


Albert Race Sample [Singing] Great God almighty, hammer ring. I gotta four-tooth diamond, hammer ring. I sung that same song, the same cadence, the same beat, in the '50s '60s and '70s in the Texas prison system at Clemens Unit which is known as the [Brazoria?] Corner. If you leaving Houston going south on Highway 288 and headed toward the swamp lands of the Gulf, you'll eventually end up on Clemens Unit because the highway dead-ends right there at the Clemens Unit where they were singing that same song.

Studs Terkel These, this was where this was recorded.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel This was recorded in that very prison you're talking about.

Albert Race Sample That's right. I went there in 1952.

Studs Terkel So now the major portion of your book begins and this is incredible. We're talking about '52.

Albert Race Sample Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel We're talking about a prison system here, perhaps you may, you go ahead and recount it, as I remember it from the book, that is hard to believe existing in the 20th century.

Albert Race Sample Well it certainly still exists to this very day in the same like manner that it did in the '40s in the '50s. It hasn't changed much at all since that time

Studs Terkel Yeah, these--

Albert Race Sample Yes, when I went Studs, there was 12 units. Clemens at that time was known as the first offender farm for Blacks. And when I went the second time they sent me to the Retrieve, which is a much tougher camp and it's known as the "Burnin' Hell." Still to this very day. And it's about 30 miles east of the Clemens Unit, out from Angleton, Texas.

Studs Terkel So what were one of the first things--You came into this prison, Retrieve. And what happens?

Albert Race Sample Well this is a whole new ball game now as opposed to the time, the two years that I spent on the Clemens Unit. Retrieve was a incorrigible camp. The rules, there were none.

Studs Terkel Were the inmates all Black?

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel All Black.

Albert Race Sample It was an all-Black unit.

Studs Terkel And the guards?

Albert Race Sample There was 415 of us.

Studs Terkel How many?

Albert Race Sample Four hundred and fifteen.

Studs Terkel And the guards were?

Albert Race Sample All white.

Studs Terkel All white.

Albert Race Sample And the amazing thing about that, they had squads. A squad consist of about 25 men and their numbered from 1 through 8 at the Retrieve Unit because that's all the men that we had to spare for the fields. And each boss sitting on a horse behind these squads, held the power of life and death over every man in his squad. And they put me in the number one whole squad because I, the first day I got there, the captain that was assigning us to our work squad, I looked stood out like a fly in buttermilk and he told me--

Studs Terkel Because of your whiteness, your light skin?

Albert Race Sample Because of my light complexion, and he told me he says, Well I'm'a put you somewhere where you can start doing that 30 year sentence you got. And he put me in number one whole squad, which was the hardest, the toughest, there wasn't a man in my squad that was doing under 50 years. Everybody had big time. So you know what kind of attitude that existing in just between the workers. And the boss that I worked under for eight years, his name everybody in the prison system called him Killer Band.

Studs Terkel Boss Band

Albert Race Sample Boss Band because he had killed 16 men in his career as a prison guard and they imported him from the Eastham Unit which was way north and to specifically to work the number one whole squad which was a worker in. And I worked in there for about four years just as any other worker. Before Boss Band came we worked under a boss named Deadeye, and it was not unusual to see a boss kill a man; just call him back and say, Get that grass off of this other convict's row over here that he left, and when he goes over there to perform that they blow him half in two and you better not even look around. And that was no big deal. Those guys didn't even get laid off. They wouldn't miss a day's work for killing convicts at that time

Studs Terkel You're quoting Boss Band. And this is the boss, when he raised his head he's on the horse.

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel And you guys are picking cotton now

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel And you're the number one, which is--

Albert Race Sample They made me the lead role man which is the pace setter--

Studs Terkel You're the pace setter.

Albert Race Sample For the entire work force.

Studs Terkel That's how you got the name Racehoss

Albert Race Sample Racehoss. We were chopping cotton when I got that name and Boss Band called me back and me and a guy had been racing on our rolls. He was trying to burn me out so that he could get the job, and Boss Band called me back and I'd been working under him then about four, five years, and he told me, he says, You know what, he say, I ain't never seen a nigger racehossing up and down a row like that and clean it that way. He said, I think that's what I'm'onna call you from this day on. When I call you that nigger you better answer me. You hear me? And he said, Ole Racehoss do you hear me? And I hollered, Oh Lord. Which was customary. If you didn't say "Oh Lord" when he spoke to you, he would kill you.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I noticed you have it in this chapter. He's, you got to say "Oh Lord."

Albert Race Sample That's right, Oh Lord.

Studs Terkel And you'd always preface it.

Studs Terkel That's right.

Studs Terkel Before you said anything, you said, Oh Lord.

Albert Race Sample Even before you speak to him you say, Oh Lord. Speaking to you, Boss.

Studs Terkel "He seldom blinked, roving his eyes over," as I'm reading from Albert Race Sample's book "Racehoss," and now you're quoting, "'I'm gonna tell y'all, one time and one time alone I'm gonna deal. First off, if ary one uv you tries to run off, I'm gon kill ya. If ary one of you 'sputes my word, I'm gon kill ya. If ary one uv you don't do lak I tell you, I'm gonna kill you. If you lay the hammer down under me, I'm gon kill ya. And if I jes take a notion to, I'm gon kill ya."

Albert Race Sample "I'm gon kill ya."

Studs Terkel That's the way he spoke.

Albert Race Sample He was a traveling executioner, Boss Band.

Studs Terkel So that's the guy, one of the guys you worked under.

Albert Race Sample For a long time; seven years I worked under him.

Studs Terkel Seven years.

Albert Race Sample Seven years.

Studs Terkel Now when did the day begin? How much work in the field?

Albert Race Sample By five-thirty we were in the fields.

Studs Terkel In the morning.

Albert Race Sample And it was running from the building to maybe five or six miles to where we would begin to work. That, that was the killer, during those days, was the turn row, getting to work. So many guys would fall out. Couldn't keep that pace. They could work but they couldn't, they couldn't run that distance and then catch in and go to work, running 90 miles a minute down a row. And we would come and we would run back to the building at eleven-thirty.

Studs Terkel You would run, you wouldn't walk

Albert Race Sample At twelve-fifteen--

Studs Terkel You'd run

Albert Race Sample No, at twelve-fifteen, we were going back to the fields and we would come in as the sun was going down. It would be twilight when we'd get back to the building.

Studs Terkel So there was work in the sun wasn't there?

Albert Race Sample Oh you betcha.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Because as far as you could see there wasn't a tree. We had cleared all the trees so that we could put all the land in cultivation. And it would be so hot some days that I knew that just every moment, any minute I was going to fall just dead on my nose. I don't know how it didn't happen to me because during that time even the water drinking was regulated. We got two drinks of water a day. We got a drink of water at ten-something that morning and we got another drink at two-something that afternoon. And that was all the water you got until you got back to the building. And I remember some days that that sun felt like it was sapping every ounce of marrow out of my bones and I wanted to scream out and throw up both my hands and just hope that this guy would kill me just to get it over with. The humiliation, the degradation, the abuse, the 'buking you, dogging you, every step you take, and shooting in the squad. He would shoot in the squad every day. That was his way of saying we weren't going fast enough. And some of the guys would remain walking in the air when he'd shoot behind them. And we joked about it in the tanks at night when we'd come back in, at how long guys was walking in the air because Boss Band shot behind them. And when you got cut out at the back gate for not being able to keep up, or not working fast enough, you better not open your mouth. You better not dare tell that warden that, Warden, I didn't do it. Because if you did, you better not catch that squad to come out the next morning. You was dead meat. He would kill you. So that's what he meant. Don't you 'spute my word. If I say you didn't do it you didn't do it. And he was so cold, even his horse was the same way, Old Satan. He had trained that sucker that when some of us would get behind that that our horse would walk up and bite us in the butt or nudge with his head. And if you tried to get too close to Boss Band, that old horse would attack you. But great God almighty, one day something happened and I got a chance, after all of those years of seeing the brutality that he administered I got a chance to watch him draw his last breath.

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Albert Race Sample Boss Band. I got the chance to, and ironically this sucker died in a graveyard. Fell off his horse dead in a graveyard.

Studs Terkel He had a heart attack.

Albert Race Sample He had a heart attack, yes.

Studs Terkel And you saw that.

Albert Race Sample I was looking right at him when he drawed his last breath.

Studs Terkel And that feeling you had.

Albert Race Sample I was glad it was over.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah

Studs Terkel That's the truth.

Studs Terkel So you outlasted Boss Band.

Albert Race Sample I outlasted him.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample And they're still doing the very same thing this very day. The same songs are being sung on those plantations. The same attitude is displayed by the bosses that carry those, work those squads in the fields. The administration changes in the Texas prison system. Every time that we get a new director for our Texas prison system, first move is to come in, kick a few asses, run a few people away, and then go right back to doing business as. And anybody that, you could ask any one of a thousand people in Texas right today, Where's the Texas prison system? And they will all say Huntsville, The Walls. That's the only place they know anything about, because usually when visitors or organizations et cetera go to the prison to visit, they take them to Huntsville, to The Walls, to show off its modernization et cetera, but nothing has changed

Studs Terkel Huntsville is the one I knew about, see. But you're talking about Retrieve and Clemens and the variety of other places.

Albert Race Sample That's almost 200 miles from Huntsville.

Studs Terkel Yeah, And they're as they were, when you were there, still that way.

Albert Race Sample Just as bad, just as bad. We've had, in our state in Texas, we've had 465 stabbings already this year and 24 killings in our prison system just this year already.

Studs Terkel Course now the prisoners turn on one another.

Albert Race Sample On one another there's nobody else to fight. Well they are stabbing a few guards too. But by and large it's the inmates against inmates. You know when so much brutality and hatred is given to the convicts, is shown to them, and they are punished and 'buked and dogged, there's nowhere else to vent that anger except with one another. And one of the worst moves I think, in my own opinion, that the prison system has made over the years, and since they are now under federal court order to make some drastic changes in that prison system and they have been on a court order for the last three or four years. But enforcing it has been like pulling teeth without giving an anesthesia. And so they're having to whoop them up the hill to make them do what Chief Justice William Wayne Justice ruled that they must do: Stop the brutality. And then they ordered integration. And to comply with the integration, let me just tell you what what kind of system, what kind of jeopardy that they put the convicts in so that it can stay in the limelight and they can ask for more money, is that to integrate the Southern units especially like Retrieve Clemens which have been Black worked plantation for ever since that prison's been in existence, and then you send five or 10 white guys to an all Black unit, man that's like throwing a bone into--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample A bunch of hungry wolves you know?

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Albert Race Sample And there's just no way that they can survive. The same thing happens if they send five Blacks to an all white camp--

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm, mmmhmm.

Albert Race Sample Just by numbers.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Albert Race Sample It's dangerous. I mean it's, and it's happening every day. There's not a day that we get our paper that there hasn't been a stabbing or a killing or something in our prison system.

Studs Terkel You were talking about some of the guys turning on one another, and you have all these--

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Cases. There was Bull, of course there's the young prisoner. You yourself had to beat up a guy--

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel So you could not be his, his--

Albert Race Sample His punk.

Studs Terkel His punk.

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel Course that's continuous, isn't it

Albert Race Sample That's absolutely.

Studs Terkel That's more or less accepted. And the punk--

Albert Race Sample If you don't fight you in big trouble.

Studs Terkel The punk is under the protection--

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel Of the one who sexually--

Albert Race Sample Sure.

Studs Terkel Uses him.

Albert Race Sample Sure.

Studs Terkel And he's called the building tender. Is that

Albert Race Sample Right. But they use convicts to oversee other convicts.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample In place of the guards.

Studs Terkel So as soon as you came and somebody was whistling at you. You knew what was going to happen. You had to beat him up.

Albert Race Sample Absolutely. You've got to establish yourself. The moment you walk in, and it's incredible, it's almost insane that a prison has to be that way. That it's not a place where you can go and get your heart right so to speak, but learn some things that you can use once you get out. Nobody ain't hiring no cotton pickers no more. There aint' nobody hiring no cotton choppers and cane strippers and things like that. We live in a high tech society and 75 percent of the convicts that are in that Texas prison system work on those plantations and only three or four thousand convicts are at The Walls unit, which is in Huntsville.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample They do know farm work.

Studs Terkel How do you, for the moment, I want to just digress. How did you pick up on language and use of language and manner of speech too, because you were in the most degraded setup from childhood on, [I see?]. How did you manage that

Albert Race Sample Well I lived in the same tank with the with those guys for 13 years, and looking different was okay but I couldn't talk different. I couldn't act too much different because it would have--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Drawed too much heat to myself from the convicts. So it wasn't hard to talk like them, fight like them, do whatever I had to do to survive in that hell. And later on--

Studs Terkel [Pardon me?] I'm talking about the use of language now. Did you read on occasion did you--

Albert Race Sample No.

Studs Terkel No, you didn't read.

Albert Race Sample No. No I did not.

Studs Terkel You just picked it up

Albert Race Sample Just picked it up.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample I was in the prison, just in the last seven years that I was there that I went to school. I went to school; I started in about the fifth grade, and in 11 months--

Studs Terkel Mmm.

Albert Race Sample I was taking the GED test--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample And I scored twelve point oh. I didn't miss a question until I got my--

Studs Terkel I got to ask [unintelligible], so you had that something extra, whatever it was.

Albert Race Sample Got my high school equivalency diploma and was later able to go to college.

Studs Terkel We were discussing your eyes a moment, you know the difficulty in reading that you have.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel A physical one with your eyes. You mentioned solitary, having--What was--You were in, what was that called again? They had a name for that, didn't they?

Albert Race Sample The pisser.

Studs Terkel The pisser. Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Because they stunk so bad.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So you were in that a number of times.

Albert Race Sample Many times. Many times.

Studs Terkel What's that like, it's just--

Albert Race Sample Well solitary confinement in the Texas prison system is a four by eight cell that I could touch both walls; if I spread my hands out I could touch each wall.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample I could touch the ceiling. There's no commode, no face basin, and a hole about the size of a 50 cent piece that's in the center of the floor where you do all of your things in. And you got a cup of water and a half a biscuit a day. And on the fifth day you got a square meal. And I serve many many many many many many days in there. You couldn't see your hand before your face and the bad thing about solitary confinement as it was at that time, is that a couple of your faculties or your senses are not, you can't utilize them. You can't see nothing and you can't hear nothing. All you can do is feel and think. And it's so quiet in there until you can hear your own heart pounding and you don't know when they're ever going to come back and let you out because you're not put in there with time limits like we're going to keep you in your five days or eight days or ten. I went one time 64 days that I survived in solitary confinement before they came and turned me out.

Studs Terkel How did your day--Well what did you, when you were in that box, it amounts to a box, really

Albert Race Sample It's like a tomb.

Studs Terkel How did you, the day was forever of course. What did you do

Albert Race Sample Well you didn't know whether it was day or night.

Studs Terkel What did you do? Did you have fantasies? Did you think?

Albert Race Sample Oh sure. I sing all this--I'd go over my mind and sing all the songs that I knew. I'd do push ups and sit ups and just pace. I'm a pacer to this very day. I, when I work in my office I can't sit in a seat long. I got to get up and walk.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample Backwards and forwards. You're like a lion in a cage.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample And there's nothing to do. Nothing.

Studs Terkel And on Sundays there was a preacher'd come there?

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Yes he would.

Albert Race Sample And what would he--He'd tell you you had it coming

Albert Race Sample Oh for sure. He would tell us we were really, you know if we [wouldn't?], we were better off because we were there. He only gave warden sermons. That's what we all called them. He only preached about how great the warden was, how great thy warden art.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample And he was the biggest snitch on the camp--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Himself, that if you, he was supposed to be our counselor also, but if you told him anything specifically or ask him to mail a letter out to you your wife or whatever--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Instead of him just saying, No I can't do that, or, I won't do that, he'd take it straight to the warden and then the warden would get the building tenders, the other convicts, to strum that guy's head for asking--

Studs Terkel Asking something.

Albert Race Sample The chaplain as they called him there.

Studs Terkel And you also, you also were handcuffed to the bars too.

Albert Race Sample Oh many times, many times. Countless number of hours I hung on the handcuffs the way everything hurts even the strands of your hair hurts. And if, every time you wet your pants that's another hour that you have to--

Studs Terkel Oh, that's how you were punished.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Now and then also they'd have fun with you, wouldn't they?

Albert Race Sample Oh sure. The warden--

Studs Terkel The authorities would have fun with you.

Albert Race Sample A couple of guys were caught participating in homosexual activities, well the warden would bring them in the mess hall after he dismissed 15 or 16 white guys that were hired out to stay on our unit because they were ex-cops, ex-undercover agents and things like that. If they'd have been classified to a white unit they wouldn't have lived 15 seconds. But they all had jobs and positions on our unit. And after they would eat they would leave the mess hall and then the warden would have a wedding in our mess hall and stand the guys up on the dining table--

Studs Terkel Pork Chops and Flea Brain, the two of them

Albert Race Sample Pork Chops and Flea Brain in particular, and strip them buck naked and then get the shop guy to go make some rings and stuff out of some nuts and bolts and stuff and he'd have the inmate preacher perform a ceremony. And in this particular case after he [unintelligible] he caught old Pork Chops and Flea Brain doing that, he sent one, he had one put in number four tank and had the other one put in number one as a Christmas present--

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample So that they could never be close to one another again doing that

Studs Terkel The nick-- Or they all have names, all units.

Albert Race Sample Oh you betcha.

Studs Terkel Toward the very end you list the names of the inmates you remember.

Albert Race Sample All 415 of us.

Studs Terkel You were in how long?

Albert Race Sample Seventeen years.

Studs Terkel Seventeen years.

Albert Race Sample Seventeen years

Studs Terkel Went in when you were?

Albert Race Sample Twenty-two

Studs Terkel Twenty-two. And you've been out now?

Albert Race Sample Twelve years.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking 17 years, and before that the years with Emma.

Albert Race Sample You betcha.

Studs Terkel That's, so I've got to ask the question. Before we have that last part when you run into the warden, how was the warden, whom called a big devil.

Albert Race Sample Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel Captain Smooth.

Albert Race Sample Yeah, Captain Smooth. Well Captain Smooth was a field captain.

Studs Terkel [Who?] was the field captain?

Albert Race Sample Big Devil was the warden.

Studs Terkel Big Devil

Albert Race Sample Yes. After he had been in reign over the Retrieve Unit for a number, a number of years they transferred him, they had a warden rotation system and they transferred him up to the Eastham Unit and I never saw him no more in about four years. And then later on I was transferred because I got put in heavy equipment. They took me out of the fields and they put me in the heavy equipment squad and he requested some heavy equipment work on the Eastham unit and they sent me over there and I had a chance to see him again. And his hair had turned white as a bar of P&G soap, that fire was gone out of his eyes. He was getting old. I would say at that time he was 65, 67 years old and I never saw him no more until I got out of prison. And then I got a job. I was appointed by the governor to head up the, what they call in Texas the marijuana program, which was namely th Controlled Substance Act was passed where four ounces or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor, this resulted in 476 convicts being released from prison and by a stroke of luck, I was appointed to direct that program and I had the opportunity to go back to that prison and get those 476 individuals out, get them jobs, get them back with their families when I could, and just kind of see them through the rough times on that first getting out. And during the last day that I was at this prison, seeing my last client as the program was winding down, I got on the wrong highway for some reason. I was going back to Austin and I got on the wrong highway and I realized that I was going the wrong way when I saw a sign that said Lovelady, Texas. And I knew that the warden lived in Lovelady. And I said, Well what the hell. I'm this close to him, I'll just drop by and see the warden. And I went to his house and we sat out on the porch in his swing talking like two old convicts, talking about old times and things like that and he wanted to take all the credit for my rehabilitation. And I think that's the last line in the book--

Albert Race Sample Yeah.

Albert Race Sample Is he's telling me that, Old Racehoss, you know, he says, I'm glad I had something to do with helping you get your heart right.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample And I said, That's where you're wrong, Warden. You didn't have sh*t to do with it.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Albert Race Sample And sip my lemonade.

Studs Terkel And that's your, that dialogue at the end is incredible. Let's take one more break because we've got to ask the big question: How you were able to transcend all that, and course you've since then won the Speaker of the Year Award and Service to Mankind Award in Texas, the Liberty Bell Award and the Outstanding Crime Prevention Citizen! Crime Prevention Texas in 1981, and your Travis City, that's in Austin.

Albert Race Sample Travis County.

Studs Terkel Coordinator, Travis for that. And you're working on your second book. You've since then received full pardon.

Albert Race Sample Yes.

Studs Terkel Restoration. So let's take this one break. Got to asked how in the world you're able to do that after this message. Resuming Albert Race Sample. As you can gathers, this is not just another interview. This is something entirely different. This deals with something I guess theologians would call transcendence. I call it survival of the most remarkable way. "Racehoss" is his book. R-A-C-E-H-O double S. "Big Emma's Boy" published E-A-K-I-N, Eakin Press. That's in Texas. You were released. You got ten dollars in your pocket, right?

Albert Race Sample That's right.

Studs Terkel This is when, this is?

Albert Race Sample Nineteen seventy-two

Studs Terkel Seventy-two. What happens

Albert Race Sample I was 42 years old at the time and I had no where to go. My mother was dead. My sister couldn't be my parole plan so I--

Studs Terkel This was a younger sister? Pat?

Albert Race Sample Yes, Pat. She was, I was six years older than she. And I went to a halfway house in Houston, and New Directions Club, Inc., a halfway house operations that was operated by ex-convicts for ex-convicts, founded by an ex-offender named Sonny Wells. And I went to that halfway house and the very next day I went and enrolled at the University of Houston in night classes and the next day I went to work at a newspaper, the Forward Times Publishing Company in Houston, which is the largest Black publications in the south, and in 11 months I was the general manager of that newspaper and I had never been inside of a newspaper plant before in my life. And from that I went to I was appointed to head up the marijuana program as I so stated, and then from there to the State Bar of Texas. I was the only ex-convict on their staff and the only Black on the staff at that time and I was a program director for the State Bar of Texas and all their community based corrections. Matter of fact, I wrote the halfway house manual that they operate halfway houses in Texas. I wrote the manual: the rules and regulations and expectations and what the dos and don'ts. And then from there I was a probation officer, and I think about my probation career and it's really funny. Since I was the first ex-convict that they'd ever had, they just wanted to test me and they picked the very worst cases from all the rest of the probation officers' case loads and that's what they made my case load up of. And I had 130. And I kept that caseload for a year and I didn't have a single man or woman to go back to court for any violations of any kind. And then I was appointed as the superintendent for the water and wastewater construction division for the city of Austin and I had about 180 people working under me in that position. And then I decided that it was time to write a book. I had wanted to write it. I had written it once before when I was in prison and when I was leaving they took all my notes and threw them in a trash can. And then I remember that old guard telling me, he said, You ought not have no trouble remembering it if you've been here that long.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Albert Race Sample And so ten years passed from the time that I was released to the time that I sat down to write it all over again. But I don't think that this would have ever been possible, I don't think that I'd even be sitting here talking with you Studs today if something had not happened so traumatic in solitary confinement one time that lives on inside of me and will continue to for the rest of my life. That was the one thing that changed my life. And I called it My Miracle in Solitary, and it was I had a revelation one of the last times that I was in solitary confinement. [voice becomes tearful] It's so vivid I can't help but cry when I think about it and I don't cry of sadness I cry because it just is such a beautiful feeling to know that something cared about me because I was in the abysses of hell. I was in the darkest part of it. And something came in there with me and it told me, Don't you worry about a thing. But you must tell them about me. And I remember when the they let me out I was so shame because I didn't go back to the tank and tell all the, my convict buddies what had happened to me in solitary. And I didn't come out of that glowing like Moses and my hair wasn't shining or nothing. But I knew that I was different. That something had happened that was so beautiful. I don't think I could ever find the words to put it at the beauty that I found in a four by eight cell in hell, and it has been with me ever since. And I found a way to be happy because it erased all th, bitterness and in that moment I didn't hate Emma no more, I didn't blame her for nothing that had happened in my life. It was like it was okay that somebody something loves you and you are a person, that you are a human being. And I had stopped seeing myself as such. I was acting, and living, and being treated, and in an environment of animals. And all of that changed in a matter of a few seconds. And it has never left me and I ain't nobody that sleeps on the steps of no church, but it ain't a day that I wake up and open my eyes that I don't say thank you. Thank you

Studs Terkel Albert Race Sample. I gather he's been to, so you've been to hell. And back. You survived and you've transcended and this is--I have nothing further to say. The book is "Racehoss." "Racehoss": R-A-C-E-H-O double S. Subtitle "Big Emma's Boy" by my guest Albert Race Sample. It's available. Eakin Press. And I thank John Henry Faulk and Alan Lomax and all the others for for letting me know that you, someone like you is around. If ever there's a story of the human species and survival, it's in you.

Albert Race Sample Thank you.

Studs Terkel Racehoss, thank you very much--

Albert Race Sample Thank you, Studs.

Studs Terkel For--

Albert Race Sample Thank you very much.

Studs Terkel For being.