March 26, 1988 – January 21, 2023
May his memory be a blessing – and an argument against the death penalty.
Terence Andrus was born in the “Jefferson Davis Hospital” in Third Ward, one of Houston’s historic African-American communities formed not long after Emancipation. He grew up in the Third Ward, Fifth Ward, and Mission Bend neighborhoods.
Terence was tried and convicted in 2012 for causing the deaths of two individuals in a Kroger parking lot. The shootings took place in 2008 during an attempted carjacking when he was twenty years-old. He was high on marijuana laced with PCP at the time and panicked when the owner of the car he had approached pulled out his own gun. The mayhem that followed left two innocent people dead and multiple families devastated, including Terence’s own.
His appointed lawyer did not investigate at all, a fact recognized years later by the Supreme Court of the United States.
After Terence was sentenced, he was then sent to Texas’s death row, maintained by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.
For more than 10 years, Terence spent 23-24 hours a day locked up in a 6 x 9 concrete cell the size of a small bathroom:
The way to communicate with his neighbors was through cracks in the sides of the metal doors that kept them sealed inside:
Terence, however, was and remains much more than those data points.
He was the second oldest of five kids born to a single mother who was still herself a kid when he was born. He always strove to be a caretaker for his siblings in chaotic times. But one terrible night, when his young life had spun out of control from drug addiction and despair, he caused unspeakable harm. While growing up, he had never had any belief that he had any kind of future to look to. He lived hand-to-mouth in a community crippled by economic blight, under-resourced schools, zero positive role models, and a juvenile “justice” system that was punitive in the extreme. From middle school through the time when he was arrested for the offense that sent him to death row, he had spent most of his teenage years trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline. His first offense involved being caught with at school with Xanax that his mother, whole sold drugs out of the home, had left lying around.
They Went to Prison as Kids. Now They’re on Death Row.
The Marshall Project, February 2022
But while Terence was incarcerated on death row, he committed himself to becoming more consciousness—about his personal history, his larger community’s story, and the criminal legal system that had served him so poorly. He spent his days on death row trying to keep occupied with reading, writing poetry, corresponding with friends around the world, learning how to make art, and coming up with inventive ways to make life slightly more tolerable for his comrades. For instance, he was famous on the row for the “birthday cheesecakes” he would make for other inmates and enlist guards to deliver for him. He perfected the art of these “cheesecakes” by acquiring ingredients through the prison commissary and using a hotpot to “cook” them. He also loved to organize events to keep others’ spirits up—like fantasy football leagues and other friendly competitions that would net the winners a cache of postage stamps, the primary currency on death row.
But the joyous, playful spirit that so many admired—and his way of letting lose with a full-bodied laugh that everyone found infectious—could not fortify him when his long-standing mental health struggles got the better of him.
We lost Terence too soon—before his 35th birthday. He was too full of life, love, and compassion to endure the harsh conditions on Texas’s death row. Over ten years spent watching his comrades being dehumanized, mistreated, and marched off to their executions broke him. But while he was with us, he was always striving to learn and improve himself. He found real joy in artistic expression—finding ways to make his mark on the world and wake people up through images and poetry, often sent as gifts to those out in “the free world” who had befriended him.