Prompt: Survival Skills

A meditation on strength by a Texas death row prisoner

Among the twenty-two people I visited during my time on the road, one of the most impactful was in Texas: a prisoner on death row named Quintin “Quin” Phillippe Jones, who also goes by the nickname Lil’ GQ. Several years earlier, after reading a column I’d written about what I described as my “incanceration,” he’d sent me a letter. He said he had felt a resonance in our shared experience of facing mortality and of isolation—mine in the bubble of a hospital room, his in solitary confinement in a prison cell. When I arrived a few days before Christmas, I admit I was nervous, but I soon learned he was too. He hadn’t had a visitor in nearly a decade. 

Over the course of two days, I learned about his background, which was difficult beyond measure, including poverty, abuse, mental illness, drug addiction, and living on the streets starting at age 13. In most ways, our lives couldn’t have been more different—yet we were both eager to find connection. When he asked me what I did during my long hospital stays, I told him that I got really good at Scrabble, and he said, “Me too!” He went on to tell me about how, even though he spends most of his time in solitary confinement, he and his neighboring prisoners figured out a way to play the game. They made boards out of paper, and they’d call out their moves through their meal slots. I was struck by the tenacity of it—how we learn to adapt, how survival becomes a creative act.

I recently learned that Quin has a tentative execution date, set for this summer. He wrote me a letter earlier this week on lined notebook paper in his usual flowery cursive that said: 

I’m holding up pretty good considering the circumstances at hand. By no means is it over until it’s over, ya dig?! Because just yesterday we had a cat that was six days from being executed get his second stay of execution, Suleika. So again it isn’t over until it’s over! (Big smile.)

At my request, Quin also sent a prompt for our community—a meditation on acceptance and survival and strength. May it bolster yours.

With love,


Survival Skills by Quintin Phillippe Jones

As I sit here in this execution watch cell on Texas death row, with a camera surveilling my every move, I’m thinking about acceptance, and I’m thinking about survival. Years ago, I came to understand and exercise this power: “Change what you can. Accept the rest.” Now that last part doesn’t mean that you give up. But by accepting things as they are, you in turn are able to gain a certain amount of control over said situation. You feel me?

I’m also thinking about how I ended up in this position, as well as where I came from and all that I endured and survived in my short forty-one years of living here on earth, over half of it incarcerated. Growing up feeling unwelcome, unwanted, and unloved by my own parents. Dealing with mental and physical abuse at the hands of others, as well as at my own. Despite what I grew up feeling and believing about my own strength, I tend to shake my head and pat myself on the back for surviving so much for so long.

Your prompt for this week:
When was the last time you really noticed your inner strength? What were you doing or going through? Was there ever a time you realized you had taken your survival skills for granted?


Help Save Quin

 If you’d like to join me in helping to save Quin, there are a few things you can do:

Regardless of what the State of Texas decides, I want to fill Quin’s remaining 24 days on death row with his favorite thing: receiving and writing letters.

We have Quin’s permission to share his contact information. If you’d like to hear back from him, please send one self-addressed and stamped envelope with your letter. 

Quintin Jones #999379

Polunsky Unit D.R.

3872 FM 350 South

Livingston, Texas 77351


More about Quintin Phillippe Jones

Quintin Jones has been on death row for more than half his life. He enjoys reading books, writing letters to pen pals, and working out. He does 1,000 push-ups each day. He doesn’t believe any human should face the death penalty but believes he deserves to remain behind bars for the rest of his life.