The stories in Witness are first-person observations of events, occurrences and situations that took place in and around prisons. Prison Journalism Project has not verified the reporting with prison officials because we believe that doing so would put our writer at risk. This story was carefully evaluated for plausibility, and we worked with the writer to be as clear as possible about what they saw firsthand and where they got each piece of information.
On Father’s Day 2021, Adrian “Whisper” Dixon was killed by his cellmate at the John M. Wynne Unit in Texas. At about 2:30 p.m., the cellblock boss walked by Whisper’s cage, a little way down the run from mine, and called in an unresponsive prisoner. More bosses rushed in and escorted Whisper’s cellmate out in restraints. A nurse arrived with a stretcher about five minutes later, but only after a guard radioed that the prisoner had “bled out.”
No one had witnessed or heard the incident taking place because of the usual noise in the cell blocks.
When they carried Whisper’s body by my cage, I saw he suffered extreme trauma to the side of his head.
The cellblock was subsequently locked down. A boss was stationed in front of the crime scene where I noticed a large puddle of blood.
Within an hour, every man living on the row was interrogated by high-ranking prison administrators and forced to write a statement in a private office.
During my own interrogation, I reluctantly admitted to knowing the victim — reluctantly because admitting knowledge of anything invites more harassment than usual.
When asked, I told them that I had no personal knowledge of what happened. Nor did I speculate about the specifics of the conflict, though everyone knew the two cellmates were having problems. The warden asked me and the others if prisoner Dickson used K2, a synthetic marijuana wildly popular in prison because of its potency, cheap price and inability to be detected by drug testing (unlike real cannabis).
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) now considers K2 to be the most dangerous contraband because of the continuing fatalities and epidemic of prisoners requiring emergency hospitalization. It was common knowledge that Whisper smoked K2 constantly, but it wasn’t my business to say so.
After the interrogations, every man on the cellblock was drug tested, which was unusual and expensive. Why would they test approximately 170 prisoners after an isolated fight between a pair of cellmates even if K2 was involved? Since their urinalysis is incapable of detecting K2, no one tested positive, despite the numerous K2 smokers tested.
The next day, we were taken to the gym and forced to sit on the concrete floor in rows, back-to-back with no social distancing for several hours while they tore up our cages. They didn’t search our personal property, they just ransacked it — we view it as a common TDCJ retaliatory practice that happens when a boss is assaulted or a prisoner is seriously injured.
After speaking with prisoners familiar with the situation, I found out that Whisper’s K2 addiction was the main reason for the altercation because he sometimes lost control when he was high. Whisper’s previous cellmate had just gotten himself moved out of their cage a few weeks earlier, but his last cellmate’s request to move had been denied.
Though Whisper’s cellmate had avoided any serious conflict by staying out of the cage when Whisper smoked K2, he was forced to go in on Father’s Day. We do not know whether it was a fight or outright murder, but the motive seems clear.
Adrian Dixon was more than just a K2 smoker. He was a Black man known as “Whisper” because he had damaged vocal cords and couldn’t raise his voice above a whisper.
He had been born into extreme poverty and raised in a hopeless neighborhood, but he had an amazing smile and impetuous spurts of generosity. He was a kitchen worker at the time of his death, a job that he used to redistribute state prison hamburgers to pay for K2.
Like all people, he had good and bad traits. He smoked K2 for the same reason that every prisoner who smokes it does: He just wanted to ease the pain of a dehumanizing and painful reality.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.