Guala passed away in his cell 2 weeks ago. He was the 2nd prisoner to die here in 10 days.

I’m up late on Christmas night writing this update. I can’t help but think of my friend Guala as I sit here in this disgusting cell… Guala (real name Ivan Crantes-Pieros, we called him Guala because he was Guatemalan) passed away in his cell 2 weeks ago. He just turned 31 on Halloween.  He was the 2nd prisoner to die here in 10 days…

For those of you that are familiar with my background, I’ve had a lot of experience with death. As an Army Ranger combat veteran, I’ve lost my share of friends, seen my share of the reaper and even had to deal some death myself.  But it never gets any easier–one minute someone’s there, the next they’re gone. Prison is similar to the Army in that we suffer together, and in that suffering we build bonds. Guala and I had such a bond.

We’ve known each other for years and regardless of what he was in prison for (someone tried to rob him when he was 15 yrs. old and in the course of defending himself, he killed the other person), we became friends.  He wasn’t perfect, no one is. But in here, you take what you can get. We’ve been in the same isolation cell block just a few cells away from each other. Finding a way to maintain one’s sanity despite the filth, misery and overwhelming oppressiveness of this environment isn’t easy and it breaks most people.  I’ve become adept at flagging the stages as the months of isolation take their toll. People who are normal on the yard come to the hole and can become raving lunatics, cutting and biting themselves, eating their own feces, screaming and kicking their door every moment that they’re awake (I’m not exaggerating) To say it’s difficult to weather the storm would be a massive understatement, as I often find maintaining my cool in a cesspool like this to be the most significant challenge of my life. 

But it’s easier with someone like Guala near you. He was easy to like—his laugh! So unique that no one had heard anything like it. He especially poured it on for the female staff who found him adorable in a little brother sort of way, much to his chagrin. His friends here loved his laugh because it made us laugh! The daily humiliations and tortures of this place became easier to laugh off because of Guala. One night Capt. Denny woke me up at 12:37 AM and “shook my cell down”, looking for “contra band.” (How in the hell would I have anything in a tiny empty cell??) I commented that he wasn’t allowed to shake me down after 10PM “by policy”. This threw him into a rage and he threatened to kill me. This is the supervisor who was in charge of moving Marcus Penman while he was fully restrained and screaming that he couldn’t breathe… (think George Floyd before George Floyd.  Read more about this murder that I witnessed, which led to a suit filed and won for Marcus’ family– ).  After threatening me, the Captain took the pictures I had of my little girls, crumpled them up and threw them away. Pictures of the people you love in prison are sacred, and in Isolation they count as them being there with you—imagine Tom Hanks in “Castaway” with Wilson. When this horrible person-in-charge threw my pictures away it was like he had just assaulted my children, and even worse—he knew it as he sneered at me. He said I was a “failed Ranger” and a “big, bad tough guy”, just egging me on to get angry enough to try to hurt him so I would suffer the consequences, probably life-ending blunt force trauma.  

I don’t yell and scream when I’m beyond mad like that; I just start thinking about waiting for my chance…. Guala could see what I was thinking and I was beyond murderous when I heard his crazy laugh cut the tension like a knife.  Of course, they were shaking him down too, all 9 officers. I was handcuffed behind my back and in leg shackles, the same state Marcus Penman was in when the CPT and his buddies down here piled on him 6 deep and ended his life (ruled a homicide from asphyxiation due to neck compression with blunt force trauma to the head) I was seeing RED but Guala was thinking clearly. While they humiliated us both, Guala began making jokes about the Capt.—He started calling him Capt. Underpants (the cartoon!). I noticed the similarity right away, began to chuckle, and the flashing red moment passed—I remember the smile Guala gave me.  He was trying to take the heat away from me.  

As an aside Guala had just a bag of rice smuggled to himself from the yard (don’t ask how that happens…) He had lost 70 pounds since coming to the Hole, trying to beat my loss of 40 pads I guess. Instead of getting a bag of coffee, or deodorant or toothpaste—coveted items NONE of which they allow us in here–he smuggled himself in a bag of instant white rice.  He would always say “I love rice!” Well, you know what happened—the guards discovered his rice and I’m betting it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a smuggled bag of rice in the Hole.  Capt. Denny found them strapped to his privates and in a “shocked” voice said “Pierce, what the hell is this?” Guala looked at him and said “I love rice!” I couldn’t take it—Freaking Guala!

Many of you know that I have done as much as I can to bring awareness to the HORRIBLE conditions we are forced to endure while being isolated in this building.(read more here: ) Dealing with tragic deaths is just one of them.  My friend Guala passed on December 8th, on a Friday. To my knowledge, Guala’s autopsy report was not released but what was made public—much like the other prisoner who died 10 days prior—was the designation of death by “natural causes”. On Thursday, we were given COVID boosters, I don’t know which brand. I woke up that Friday feeling like I’d been hit by a truck.  Guala stayed up late Thursday night writing me a 3 ½ page letter about some write-ups that he’d just gotten (I’m everyone’s legal guy in here) that he wanted my help with. The letter was upbeat and humorous. At lunch time on Thursday, we were joking that we were NEVER going to get the COVID booster again. We can yell through the vent (we call it the “phone”) to communicate with each other.  Another friend, Justin, is within yelling distance. Guala said he was going to lie back down until dinner, which was normal since most people’s schedules are reversed in here, i.e. stay up all night–sleep all day.  At dinner the C.O. went to wake him up to give him his dinner tray through his food flag but he was non-responsive. 

From what I could hear—I couldn’t see anything initially—Guala was growing bluer by the minute (lack of oxygen). It took them 30 mins to enter his cell once he was discovered. The cowards had to go put their helmets and football pads on and shake up their bear mace before 6 of them get in a line behind a 6ft shock-shield…30 minutes!! They left my friend in there dying!

They handcuffed and shackled him despite the fact that at this point he had no pulse, then DRAGGED him out of the cell (not carried) and onto the “walk”—the concrete area in front of the cells, and from the cell door to the wall—where they stared at him for several minutes.  There are four tiers of cells in 3 Cell House where I am “living”, not including the old death row, a total of 165 Segregation cells. Finally a lieutenant began chest compressions (btw, I can see everything on the “walk” through the 3-inch window on my cell door). Several minutes later, “medical” arrived—these are LPNs contracted by WellPath, a for-profit medical company responsible for dozens of negligent deaths a year and responsible for our “care”. They seemed as lost as the C.O.s. They continued chest compressions while one administered an Epipen and a shot of Narcan. I specifically recall Caseworker Adams casually walking to the main door where people were trying to gain access to the walk, as if he had not a care in the world. This was unsurprising to me, his nonchalant attitude about such a life-and-death situation, as I’ve known him to enjoy watching the suffering of others. He is a very unhappy little man, often bullied by other staff, probably bullied throughout his entire life–which makes a job where he can torture others his best choice.

I watched them do CPR for over 10 mins. while the callous C.O.s  stood off to the side cracking jokes…And I knew my friend was dead, having seen so many dead faces in my life. When the paramedics finally arrived on scene with their defibrillator in hand, nearly an hour after Guala was discovered unresponsive, they took one look at him and said, “Well I don’t know how y’all do things around here, but it’s time to call the coroner”.  One of the Wellpath nurses, Mrs. Horne, had the decency to shed a few tears. She was the ONLY one who shared any humanity or compassion at all. We are nothing but animals to them. Even in death, once our time is up and our debts been paid, we’re still nothing more than chattel.  

They brought a gurney to take Guala’s body out, and the administrator responsible for overseeing this Cell House, the one cracking jokes while they were working on Guala, sat down at a desk at the end of the walk cackling loudly and flirting with the paramedics, completely oblivious to the effect Guala’s death had on the rest of us here. Her laughter, like a hyena’s loud chuckle, was worse than nails on a chalkboard–because the rest of us know the sting of any of our deaths would be as hilariously insignificant.

As they wheeled my friend’s body by, I took my last look at him—a dark blue tint to his almond skin, his mouth slightly ajar, barefoot, hand-cuffed and shackled even in death. No respect, no reverence for the departed. As a final token of their distain, they left Guala’s body sitting alone strapped to the gurney just as he was, on an abandoned walkway with dirty laundry for 3-4 hours until the Coroner showed up to officially pronounce his death. And the C.O.s just went about their business as if nothing had happened.

My questions are these: How did a 31-year old healthy man die suddenly? Was it a reaction to the Covid booster that he’d had several times before? He did not kill himself, of that there is a consensus. I am certain if this corrupt place could sweep these deaths under the rug and call them suicides, they would. For those of you who are familiar with my struggle to bring awareness to the inhumane conditions of this building (built 2 years after the Civil War ended and is unfit to house animals, let alone humans) could it be the documentation of layers upon layers of black mold, the massive vermin and insect infestation, and the closed ventilation (there is no HVAC pumping in fresh air like is MANDATORY at every other prison in the state) that combined to cause his death? Could the forced lack of hygiene (we get less than 3 showers a week and have gone weeks without getting any at all), the lack of sanitation (we are not given soap even during the height of COVID–no soap in a place where there is feces, blood, mace covering every surface which we are rarely allowed to clean) and abysmal for-profit medical care who does the bare minimum to maximize profits (I have turned in over 30 sick calls for various skin afflictions due to the filth of this place over the last year, and for my prosthetic shoulder which was due for another surgery 8 years ago which keeps me in constant pain.)–could one or all of these things I have begged and pleaded to the Governor, the KDOC Commissioner, the KY Legislature and the public at large for help with have caused my friends death?

In August of 2022, I wrote an Open Letter ( ) and paid for it to be published as a one-page Ad in the Sunday Edition of the Louisville Courier Journal. It was addressed to Governor Beshear, his Corrections Commissioner and the Warden of this prison to recognize the massive danger helpless citizens of his state were being subjected to by being forced to be housed in this building. (It is because of my whistleblowing in this documentation that I am really in the Hole for, read previous update:   ) Inmates may not be the most desirable of the Governor’s citizenry but unfortunately we have been committed to the states care and he is responsible for us.  I personally have a long and documented list of maladies that come from being housed here.  I am sure that C.O.s that are forced to work in this building have similar complaints, and now people are dying!

I realize we’re not the voting public anymore so our interests don’t really matter, but there was a time when I wore a uniform and the people who work in this place got in line to be protected by me and my comrades-in-arms. There was a time when to recognize my achievements, I sat down and had a meal with the President of the United States. He asked me questions about myself, asked me about my wounds in the line of duty—my life mattered.  And it still does.  Guala’s life mattered.  Unfortunately, the government has empowered administration from the Warden on down to the Unit Administrator of Cell House 3, the Grievance Coordinator and the Internal Affairs Capt. to conceal information of abuse, neglect, and corruption that could disrupt their status quo…

All the things I have said, written and filed about this place were validated by a “surprise” inspection by the KY Protection and Advocacy Center. We have been reaching out to every agency and media sources in the state over the past few years to bring attention to what’s going on and KY P & A responded by showing up–without giving advanced warning– to the prison. This is the ONLY way to do a valid inspection or audit, and the Director Kevin Sharkey said before leaving that it was a “medieval torture chamber unfit to house human beings and needed to be shut down immediately!” 

I believe a combination of stress and environmental factors killed my friend Guala. I think this 154 year old “medieval torture chamber” and the people that forced him to be housed here without a care for its unfitness for human habitation caused his death. How many of us are next?  I’ve been here for more than a year in this Hole and it’s taking its toll.  “They” want me to be quiet and compliant—don’t make any noise or they’ll bury you here forever. 

My friend Guala was a good guy. He had his problems, he was convicted and sentenced, but he didn’t deserve to die like a dog,.and with even less concern. I hope me speaking as his witness will allow his soul some peace. And help me process this deep loss. 

I recently read a book about KSP called “Hauntings of the KY State Penitentiary” by Steven Asher. If you want to get an idea about the place I’ve spend these miserable years of my life I recommend the read. Another book called “The Castle” explores the years when this was the most violent prison in America. I will be posting more updates in the coming weeks and I would love to read your comments!  I’ve now spent another Christmas that was FREEZING in this building and missed another birthday—15!—of my daughter Kinley. She continues to betray me by growing up. My little baby….

Ranger Buckley from the Front Lines—Out!

RLTW!  (Rangers Lead the Way!) 

By |2024-02-29T20:27:42-06:00February 29th, 2024|Categories: Letters from John|0 Comments

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