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Monday, December 31, 2007

A Few Of My Heroes

December 31st, 2007 2:45 AM

Like most people, I tend to get very introspective at this time of the year. It's very easy for me to focus on the negatives of the past year, the abundant disappointments. I know that the neural pathways for pessimism are well-established in my head, and sometimes it's very difficult to be positive. This past year, I have been trying to focus on what my brain is telling me to feel, and why, while maintaining a slight distance from it. In theory, this should allow me a better vantage point to examine the true reasons behind emotions like anger, bitterness, and the nearly ever-present sadness. Sometimes, I am able to see that I have absolutely no business feeling any of these mind-states. It doesn't always work, but I think I am better at self-evaluation now than I ever have been.

I rarely plan out these entries in advance, simply choosing to write about whatever topic comes to mind. I think I had some nebulous ideas for an "end of the year" summary, but when I began to draw out the battle map, I realized that placing artillery positions and envisioning lines of infantry advance were not really an apt analogy for the current state of my life. Yes, I am in a battle to save my life, but this is something deep in the background. Rather than pointing the klieg lights at some dark cesspools, I decided to turn them off, and take a look at a few people that produce their own illumination. This is long, long overdue. I have wanted to discuss a few of these individuals for many months, but trying to paint a picture of something truly beautiful can be a daunting task. Years ago, I remember reading a biography of one of the great Robber Barons of the American industrial revolution. In the prelude, the author, who was a relative nobody, discussed at great length the trepidation he felt in attempting to write an account of such a remarkable man. I didn't get what his problem was at the time. I do now.

This list is by no means comprehensive. There are many, many people who have brought some positive energy my way the past few years. I had to pick a few people out of a very worthy field of candidates - no easy task. In the end, I simply chose a few who were accustomed to a certain amount of public attention, so as to not make anyone feel uncomfortable.

These four selections are very different people. That said, they do bear some resemblances. I consider them to all be true disciples of Christ. I don't use the word "Christians" because I'm currently in the process of evaluating my feelings on that word. I have come to no conclusions yet, but it seems to me that this designator has lost a large portion of its meaning. I know what it is supposed to mean, what it once meant to be called a christian. I just don't think it means the same thing as it used to. I remember seeing a cartoon not too long ago. In the background stood an immense church, all shiny and manicured. Sitting on a bench in front of the church was a man, waiting on a bus. His clothes were slightly rumpled and his face bore a look of dejection and sadness. Next to him sat Jesus Christ, the same look upon his face. Over the man's head hovered one of those little text bubbles, which read, "They wouldn't let me in." Jesus responded with, "Don't feel bad, they wouldn't let me in either." Sometimes I think that the modern church has lost itself. When I think of "christians," I think of Jerry Falwell, telling CNN that the World Trade Center was destroyed because there were homosexuals inside. I think of minister after minister, "in hoc signo vinces" plastered to their chests, claiming from the pulpit that war is justified because it is waged on evil men who believe in something different than you do, and that the scarred and smoking bodies on FoxNews are somehow God's will. I think of the countless letters I receive from "believers" explaining to me that they know so much about the Bible that they can say with zero prevarication that there is no forgiveness for murderers, and I think about the fact that the single largest supporter or the Death Penalty in this country is the Southern Baptist Church (pro-life, huh?). I think of a rich, fat nation that seems to want nothing more than to wall itself off from everyone else, the lesser people. I haven't been able to wrap my mind around why this term, which is supposed to be synonymous with love and compassion, is so laced with poison to me. Certainly there are good, noble christians in the world. Generalizing is a good way to look like a jerk, so why can't I move past the idea that the modern church has become the Pharisees of the modern age? I don't know the answer to that yet, but I realized that I was being hypocritical by judging the church. So, I guess I've been trying to simply focus on the few feet around me, and what I can do inside that range. When I did this, I was able to see things more clearly. I realized that these ministers who carry the GOP battle standards of war were just like Joan of Arc storming the boulevards around Orleans, and we all know what happened to her. I realized that the enemy is pretty gifted at making normal people feel very afraid, and when people are afraid, they don't have to feel empathy for anyone. I realized that some people simply have to push others down, because if they aren't standing over the corpses of other men, they don't have any other barometer of their worth, and therefore no voice telling them that they are ok. So, I shrug it off (or try to) when I see another 1500-dollar-suit-wearing preacher trying to convince his flock that it's important to the Kingdom of God for him to fly to work in a helicopter. I write back some of these seemingly irate people, with the focus on trying to help them see the real reasons for their anger. The woman who explained to me that I was hell-bound because I was a murderer is now a friend. She admitted to me that she didn't really know why she wrote me, that she was going through a tough time, and that I was a convenient target. Besides, she said, some of her favorite Bible characters were murderers, such as Moses, King David, and Paul. By allowing me to place some form of buffer between me and my thoughts on the church, I was better able to truly appreciate the people in my life. So, I give you a few of my heroes. A votre sante.

Here on the row, faith is basically left up to you. In more than nine months, I've yet to see a TDC chaplain. There is no church. Freeworld ministers typically will not touch letters from you with a ten-foot pole. Trust me, I know. I've seen many men wither and die inside, from lack of fellowship. Fighting this tide, wielding figurative great swords, are two very unlikely warriors. Both are women, and both are over the age of eighty. I have mentioned in past entries that Level 1 inmates are allowed one 2-hour visit per week. In addition to this, TDC permits visits by accredited ministers, though, for some reason I cannot fathom, they put severe limits on how many total minister visits there can be per week. This means that spiritual advisors must call on the first day of the month early in the morning to try to snatch up these few time slots. Irene Wilcox, wife of the former Death Row chaplain when the Row was housed at the Ellis Unit, comes every single weekday, to be a friend to the men around me. Many of these men get no personal visits, so she is often the only light for them in a very dark world. She brings her own money, enough to buy a sandwich and a coke for the men she sees. Irene has a lot of history battling from within the belly of the beast. Her husband was fired by TDC when he objected to the conditions here at the Polunsky Unit. It seems that having sympathetic chaplains in prison is a no-no. So, she wages an internal battle, trying to moderate her dislike for the system, so that she can still come every day. Her flock, after all, needs her. I'm sure she could come up with some things she would rather be doing every day than walking through metal doors and sitting on hard plastic chairs. And yet, she is still here. Even after having major surgery, she showed up. She does it because she knows the system, and that most of us are not only at death's door, but well inside death's hallway, scrounging through death's frigerator for one of death's cold ones. She does it because she cares.

Major Kathryn Cox, of the Salvation Army, drives down from Dallas every week to visit men on Thursdays and Fridays. She has been a vehement critic of the system, traveling across the state to attend retrials, to console and support men in their last hours. She runs a Bible study program, which is equivalent to the first two years of Seminary, all of which costs nothing to thousands of incarcerated men all over the nation. She has the energy of a 20 year old, and freely admits to being "blessed" with bipolar disorder, as it allows her to better understand the men on the other side of the glass. She possesses perhaps the largest collection of art made by DR inmates, and it is my hope that one day I will be able to display some of this in the art section of this site. I don't know how many executions she has witnessed, but I do know that it has not bowed her down. I think it would take a 20-megaton cluster of MIRVs to bow her down. She seems almost immortal to me.

Tina Hutchison, founder of Holding Out Hope ministries, first wrote me several months ago. Her letter reached me at a very dark time in my life, and she has been a constant friend to me. Holding Out Hope consists of over 60 individuals who go into woman's prisons (primarily in Tennessee, but also in many other states as well) to minister and lead the choir every week. They have a pen-pal program, as well as mentorship programs. They collect pens and paper for the women to use. Tina considers it an honor to go to prisons all over the country, fighting the good fight. I remember she told me once that she likes to go into the "hole" and scream at the top of her lungs, "YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN!" You can learn more about Tina and HOH at www.holdingouthope.org

The last person I want to talk about is my father. Most of you know the story in general terms, though of course that really doesn't tell the story. Honestly, I don't even feel worthy to talk about the level of love and forgiveness he has displayed the last few years. He's in the final editing phase of his own account of the events centered on December 10th, 2003, to be released in 2008. I'll put the exact details on this site when they become available to me.

He makes the drive up to Livingston nearly every week, and I don't think I could ever explain how these visits are a lifeline, keeping my head above a stormy sea. I always feel better after I talk with him. Though his involvement in this site has ended, his support in other areas of my life is constant. He has been instrumental in my quest to go back to school. I'm not sure that a perfect exemplar of what God wants us to be exists on this planet, be he's as close to it as I have found. He has helped me to move past the image of God that is natural to a lot of novice believers, mainly, a set of religious beliefs that is very formulaic. A view that pins "god" to a series of charts and diagrams. I call this view the "Santa Claus" god. Basically, the idea that God is some guy who sits up north and simply rewards good behavior and punishes bad acts. I now see my connection with God as a relationship, something that would have been impossible if I had not already had the task of reforming my relationship with my earthly father. Seem like a convenient analogy? It does to me, too. What can I say? I needed God to make it obvious to a dummy like me, or I would have missed it. If you don't understand what I meant by that last bit, think about it for a bit. It will come to you.

As I mentioned earlier, I could probably go on for many pages. I write a large number of people, all over the planet. I learn something unique from each of them, whether it is maranasati techniques from R&D in England, or great discussions on the Byzantine ruins from S in Istanbul. For someone who claimed for years that I was, in fact, an island unto myself, I must admit that opening myself up to others has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I thank you all.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Ne Cede Malis

December 3rd, 2007

I guess one of the positive lessons I've learned in my time here is that the human mind, properly ordered, can weather truly horrible circumstances. True, some don't make it here. And, yes, it does change us, one and all. But those of us who do survive have learned to bend, not break. We have all learned to make lemonade, even if the sadistic bastard heaving the lemons at us has an arm like Nolan Ryan. Well, we don't actually get lemons (which would rock), but, trust me, if you tried one TDC meal try, you would learn to become a commissary chef real quick.

Meals here are served at the following times:

Breakfast - 2:30 - 3:00 AM
Lunch - 9:30 - 10:00 AM
Dinner - 3:30 - 4:00 PM

You can expect to get one entree during the day that has some form of protein on it, usually in the form of ham or bologna, though it's really best not to ask. You need to eat this, as protein is precious and rare. The other trays will consist almost entirely of starches, which keep you alive, and malnourished. Usually this means pasta of some rather dubious pedigree, and pancakes for breakfast. You can expect vegetables once or twice a day, and I'm still waiting to see fruit for the first time. I tend to smuggle back an apple from visitation most weeks, which is like DR gold.

I suggest, if you should ever find yourself on the other side of the looking glass, to take advantage of the vegetables at every opportunity. In fact, we are going to stray a bit from my mental blueprint for this entry, and play a little game.

I'm including the commissary list, which you can see HERE, HERE, and HERE, as well as some recipes I've come up with (as well as some from my neighbors). When planning out your meals, remember the following rules: you can spend a maximum of 75 dollars every "spend" (a spend equals two trips, once per week for two weeks, to commissary). I personally live on a budget of around 20.00 dollars, which I am very proud of, as I was quite wasteful in the world. Faithful with very little, etc, etc. Most items on the commissary list do not have limits, except for stamps, which you can only buy at a limit of 20 per week. You should probably consider some multi-vitamins, and some orange juice, though the OJ is sort of pricey. I try to make one really good meal per week, which I make on Sundays. In prison, such meals are known as "spreads," and cooking them is referred to as "spreading." For the rest of the week, consider Ramen noodles, because for 25 cents, the value can't be beat. If you have some high blood pressure issues, like I do, the soups can be problematic. Oftentimes I cook up some rice, and put some tuna or mackerel fillets on top. This costs about a buck per meal, which isn't too bad, by any standards. Besides, you would have a better chance fishing a trout out of your toilet than for TDC to serve you seafood, so it's good to round out your diet with tuna. Remember, it's your responsibility to have a healthy diet, not TDC's. TDC supplies you with the following:

3 meals per day
3 bars of lye soap per week
1 towel, changed twice per week
2 pairs boxers, changed sporadically
2 pairs of socks, changed sporadically
1 razor per week
1 roll toilet paper per week
1 jacket during the winter
1 white jumpsuit, for use when we leave the pod
1 pair slip on shoes, black (called Bruce Lee's)
2 sheets per week

The rest is up to you to pay for, however you can manage it. Now, if there is anyone out there reading this, and you have some culinary skills, see if you can come up with something for me. I shall immortalize you in words! (cue trumpet music) No, but seriously. I'm most proud of my cheesecake recipe, which I pieced together while I was still in county jail. Sara Lee, I'm coming for you, woman. Bon appetit!

Tamales

Ingredients:
10 Ramen soup wrappers cut in half (20 total)
1 chili with beans
1 chili no beans
1 beef pot roast
1 chili ramen soup
3 empty chip bags
1 bag tortilla chips (crushed)
jalapenos (optional)

In a bowl, place the bag of crushed tortilla ships, and add 1 mug of hot water. When they soften up, mash the chips up with a spoon. Add some salt, pepper, and the ramen chili flavoring packet.
In a second bowl, add the chili with beans, the chili no beans, beef pot roast, and the ramen noodles. There really isn't any need to heat this, I've discovered.

With the dough being soft, roll up 20 golf ball sized dough balls. Lay them, one at a time, on each ramen wrapper. Press them out on the wrapper, until the dough is about 3/4 covering the wrapper. Add a spoonful of filler on top of this dough. Fold each end of the dough together, and pinch the ends to seal in the filling. Repeat this process 20 times, and then place the tamales inside the chip bags. Heat them for about a half hour.

You can make any amount of these, but I like to make about 20 of them, and share with my friends. This place can be very rough without an occasional hand from your neighbors. Y saben muy rico. Estan con madre!

Pizza

Ingredients:
1 bag cheese puffs
4 ramen noodles (beef flavor)
1 bag zapps chips
1 chili no beans
1 bottle squeeze cheese
2 empty chip bags
jalapeno slices (optional)

Step 1 - Break up 2 ramen noodles, and add the seasoning and 1/4 of the bag of crushed cheese puffs. Add 1 mug (probably about a cup...but I could be off...this isn't Le Cordon Bleu) hot water to the mixture, using an empty chip bag. Knead this dough, and then roll the top of the bag to keep the heat. Repeat this with the second bag, and then set them under a towel, wrapped tightly.

Step 2 - Heat the chili no beans in your hot pot until it has a texture capable of being spread.

Step 3 - After the crust sets (5 to 10 minutes) slit the center of the bags. Pour equal amounts of the chili and spread this across the crust.

Step 4 - Spread the heated cheese on top, adding crushed zapps for texture (about 1/4 of the bag). On top of this, sprinkle extra crushed cheese puffs and jalapeno slices.

Cheese Cake

Ingredients:
2 packages of powdered milk
3 packets "lemon cool-down"
1 can sprite
1 box oatmeal cream pies
1 bottle strawberry preserves

In a bowl, crush all 12 oatmeal cakes and line the bowl with this paste. Let sit 5 minutes
In a second bowl, add both packets of powdered milk, the three packets of lemon cool-down, and mix these with 1/2 can of sprite. Stir slowly until it reaches the consistency of cake batter. It might be necessary to add a bit more sprite.

Pour atop the oatmeal crust and let set for 15 minutes.

Spread the strawberry preserves on top of the cake. I've also crunched up a mint stick to put on top, which about half of my neighbors liked but half didn't. Half my neighbors don't like anything, so maybe that's not the best of evaluations.

Homemade Convict Bar-B-Que Sauce
Courtesy of Tommy Lynn Sells

Ingredients:
1 20 oz ketch-up (catsup, whatever)
1 beef Ramen noodle seasoning packet
1 chili Ramen noodle seasoning packet
1/4 bottle of hot sauce
1/4 prison spoon worth of coffee
1/4 prison spoon of black pepper

Empty half of the catsup out of the bottle. Mix all of the ingredients, and cook on the hot pot for "I reckon about an hour or so" (Tommy's exact words). Add water to fill the rest of the bottle.
I was skeptic about this one, but it really floored me how good it was. I guess I will have some sauce with my crow, please.

Enchiladas
Courtesy of "Mike"

Ingredients:
1 bottle squeeze cheese
1 chili no beans
1 beef pot roast
2 chili with beans
1 bag porkskins (crushed)
1 packet flour tortillas
2 beef or chili seasoning packets from Ramen noodles
2 empty chip bags

Step 1 - Heat the chili with beans and beef pot roast and place in a bowl, mixed with the crushed pork skins

Step 2 - Fill tortillas with this filling, and place them in the two empty chip bags (4 to 5 per bag, wrapped)

Step 3 - In a bowl, place half a bottle of squeeze cheese and add chili no beans, plus two soup seasonings. When properly mixed, pour this atop the tortillas in the bags. Mix this around a bit, and then roll the mixture around to coat the tortillas.

Step 4 - Place in pot for 20 minutes until hot.

Salsa
(This comes from "Da Bonehead" at Estelle Unit. Thanks, Homey!)

Ingredients:
1 bottle spicy V8
2 bags hot fries - finely crushed
3 packs jalapenos - finely chopped
1 hot pickle - finely chopped
1/4 bottle (or more) habanero sauce
add salt for taste

Mix all the ingredients in a spread bowl. Grab the tortilla chips. Complicated, isn't it? If you can get one of the trustees to smuggle you back a handful of dried onions, that would make it taste much better. Not that I would know anything about that.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On the Nature of Compromise...

November 21, 2007

Obviously the site has been down for a number of weeks. I needed this time to put a number of issues into perspective. Sometimes words can be scalpels, and other times clubs. Apparently I have been wielding them as a club. There were some errors in judgment I made, most of those have been edited out of the entries. For that I am sorry. I suppose this may take some of the "bite" out of them, but that was never the point behind this project. Neither was the point for this site to take "political/advocacy" undertones, as my dad called them, though I am not going to apologize for this. The 400 of us living in building 12 are political creatures. We bear the brunt of every politician's ill-conceived "tough-on-crime" reelection rhetoric. We are at the bottom of 180,000 inmates in the Texas Penal system, and we all know that excrement flows downhill. Simple decisions which are normally made on the Unit for General Population inmates become matters for the legislature when you live on Death Row. Nonetheless, despite the fact that I live in cesspool of bureaucratic ineptitude, I rarely talk of it. I decline to mention many, many things. Some of it does sneak out, mainly for the reason that to omit it entirely would be doing a disservice to one of my major goals, which was to give you an accurate picture of what it is like to live here. So, I guess you will have to take such information as you will. There isn't anything I say that can't be verified a thousand times over by review of other prisoner's websites/books.

As my father mentioned in his entry, he no longer has any input in this site. I would implore those of you who, for some reason, have chosen to try to take shots at me by aiming them at my Dad, to please stop. He is in my corner but not in the ring. If you could have seen the anguish on his face when he realized that you had somehow put him in the crossfire, you would be ashamed. If you feel so strongly that you need to vent, my address is listed on the contact page. As most of you know, my placement on Death Row was largely due to a certain law, which transfers the heaviest portion of the responsibility for a crime away from the person who actually committed it. As a result, I have spent a great deal of time ruminating upon the issue of personal accountability. One comment which I seem to see a great deal of is certain people are "drawn" or "sucked in" to this site, despite the fact that they claim to want to avoid it. First off, my writing isn't that good, and we all know it. Secondly, I did not force you to turn on your computer, initialize your web browser, type in my address, and hold your head in front of the screen while you read my words. You did this. You chose this. I will not accept responsibility for your total lack of a modicum of self-control. When I was in the world, I was aware the KKK had a website. I never went there, I never read it. That was a choice I made. In America, we have the choice of not surrounding ourselves with most of the things we do not care for. Many, many men and women died to give you that option. Use it.

I have also had to change my stated policy of answering every letter sent to me, for two reasons. The first is simple economics, which I am sure you can figure out without an explanation. The second is this: I recognize that from a Christian perspective perhaps the most important and worthwhile letters I can write are those responding to the angry confused people who seem to hate me. I know this, but simply can't do it anymore. The cost is too high. I have plenty of other "stuff" to deal with on a daily basis without fretting over and analyzing some very nasty pieces of literature. So, I guess the new policy should more correctly be labeled: "I-will-write-all-of-you-back, provided-I-don't-flush-it-down-the-toilet". (Little known prison fact: our toilets could probably suck down a cow...you really have to apply your noggin to the problem of stopping them up. I would say they were idiot-proof, but I have come to a newer and more enlightened view of the limits of human idiocy during my time here, so I won't.)

On to positive news: after many months of searching, failing, probing, stumbling, hunting, and basically charging at windmills, I have finally found a University willing to admit me for completion of my college degree. This was not an easy sell, even with my exceptionally good SAT score, but it's now a done deal, as they say. I have had to change my major from computer science, as I haven't been able to figure out how to build a computer from a typewriter and a rubber band yet. I have a love of history, so I will be working on my BA in history, even though I will lose a few credits, demoting me from a Junior to a Sophomore. Not finishing my degree (and all of the subsequent lies) has been a great deal of shame for me. There is no way for me to repair all of the damage I have wrought. I recognize this. As a man, though, I think it is important to try and fix what I can. And yeah, I'm sure that some of you probably see this as a waste of time and energy, and from a certain perspective, you are probably correct. If that is all you can see, then I am not going to waste my time and energy explaining it to you. ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute.

I want to thank all of you who encouraged me during this time.

I will try to honor your good will. God bless.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Word from Kent Whitaker

November 20, 2007
"Changes to Minutes Before Six"

This is Thomas' dad writing this entry.

When Thomas asked me to help him put up a web site for his journaling, I thought it would be good for him and for everyone. When we first talked about it, I had envisioned it as a platform for him to do two things: One, to glorify Jesus Christ by speaking of the tremendous changes that He brought about in my son's life as a result of his encounter with the living God many months after running to Mexico. And Secondly, it would be a way for him to openly discuss the horrible things which had happened - and which he had kept hidden, until now - within his mind as he grew up. I thought the site would be therapeutic for him, and enlightening for those who knew him. I thought it would help others find closure by helping them understand what had happened within him, and to rejoice in the hope that the person who committed these horrible crimes is no longer as he was. Thinking that it would be a "win-win" situation for everyone, I never envisioned that it would hurt some of those who knew him and who read it.

But that is what has happened. On November 15, I was made aware for the first time that some people I care about very much were being hurt by its contents, and for that, I am truly sorry. My first move that night was to ask Thomas' cousin, who hosts the website, to close it to traffic, and she did that within an hour. Over the next two weeks I spoke with many of you, and I think I understand you better, and I think you know that it was never my intent to hurt anyone. I was trying to help my son, by allowing him to publicly open up for the first time in his life, and in doing so, to praise our God of second chances.

In my over zealous attempt to let him have a free-reign over what he wrote (since from personal experience I knew that if it was to be effective, journaling had to be - by its very nature - without structure), I foolishly allowed some things to be printed that I shouldn't have, and I am so very sorry. And there were other areas that I thought he would have discussed by now, but which he has not, because he has found it so difficult to write of them. Also, the site has taken on some political/advocacy overtones that (while perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise) were not its original intent. I have asked him to make some changes in some earlier entries, and suggested that he avoid writing about certain topics. I asked him not to name anyone from our families or friends, or to tell stories from the past that might hurt his friends and family. He can write about them privately all he wants as he digs for personal healing, just don't post them.

I considered asking him to close down the site completely, but have not asked him to do that for two reasons: First, I still believe that it is helpful to him to write these journals publicly; I just want him to be more careful about what he chooses to post. He has already disclosed a great many things - horrible things - that the old Bart would have never admitted. In my opinion, this is very positive and helpful for him. But it can be very painful for those who just want this horrible episode to fade away. To those of you who feel this way, I understand; I also want to find my new life. But in the final analysis, he is still my son, and I will stand by him because I love him; since he is not allowed to receive psychological help, these journals may be the closest he gets. I can only hope that those who want to forget will simply ignore this site.

Secondly, he and his cousin convinced me to let them keep it up. They have shown me many letters from strangers who have mailed him encouragement, and testimonials of how the site has helped them in understanding themselves and loved ones. For example, an English teacher of troubled youth in North Dakota is even using it in her curriculum because she sees some parallels with her students, and is using it to open dialogs with them about things that they have hidden within their hearts, much as Bart did. This out pouring of support surprised me, but there were too many to ignore. It is a positive thing to many, and who knows how God will use it to reach people that would otherwise not be reached.

This entry will be the last thing that I will do with the website. I am no longer associated with it in any way: financial, providing typing, or anything. What little connection I once had with the website is now over. Please contact him or the webmaster directly if you have any input or comments. I believe they will both be courteous and attentive to your concerns.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back - Part 2

6:00 PM Wed October 24, 2007

This is probably not going to be a lengthy entry. I am both confused and angry, and I feel like there is a cloud inside my head that is going to prevent any eloquence. I have spent the last two days in prayer and fasting, but I have found no discernment to the issues in front of me. I have no doubt that this is due to my own flaws. Sometimes I am so dense that I feel the green algae growing in the dayroom has more insightful opinions than I do (not to bad-mouth old greenie. Just because he has no vascular system doesn't mean he doesn't play a mean chess game. And besides, he's been here longer than I have).

Last night, around 10:15, they brought me a mattress, so I could at least avoid the uncomfortable choice of having to sleep on either the concrete floor or the steel bed. None of the rest of my items had been returned to me. I didn't have any sheets, but unfortunately it wasn't cold out (we have no climate control here in the winter time) so it wasn't a big deal. None of the guards had any idea when I would get my things back. At 4:45 PM today, the property officer wheeled my belongings back to me on a cart, and after the obligatory hand cuffing, my cell door was opened and the bags brought in. I was enormously pleased to find out that nothing had been planted, like drugs or a weapon. In fact, they didn't find anything that they could level me for, because I didn't have anything. They did confiscate some items, and I have included the paperwork I was given (see picture). It does not include many items that were taken, but it at least does show that I am not making this up. It shows that they took my magazines (a few National Geographic and Popular Sciences, though I am not sure why, as they approve of both), my three books (David Dow's Executed on a Technicality, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, and George Martin's A Game of Thrones, all of which were let in to the unit by mail room, only to somehow violate the book policy once they were in the unit), my "altered" headphones (these are made of very cheap plastic, and they had cracked, so I repaired them with a pencil, some rubber bands, and a dab of glue), an altered knit bag (no idea on this one, I bought it exactly like that from commissary), my bottle of "unknown" pills (this one was my mistake, I am pretty OCD and I had put my calcium pills and my multi-vitamins in the same bottle to save space...lesson learned. If they had been drugs, though, I would have been leveled real quick), 153 envelopes and 24 first class stamps. You have to have your name on these items, and I did. They claim I did not, but if you will look on THIS FORM, the handwriting for the phrase "with no name or number" is different from the rest. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. I do not believe it to be a coincidence that my typewriter mysteriously developed problems, though the broken piece of plastic that holds one of the supports for the rubber paper holder could have been broken accidentally during the transport. Either way, it was easy to fix.

The signals are easy to read. TDC is not subtle. This will continue. The only choice I have to make is, do I feel that the good that is done through this site (though most of this is invisible to those of you that do not correspond with me) overrides the unpleasantness of having the system's ire directed at me? Will they find a shank the next time I'm searched? Sigh. I have another entry that I have already typed up which has nothing to do with any of this. I will probably send it out in a few days, but it might be awhile before I write anything new. I am really going to be concentrating on whether this is something that God wants me to continue.

To those of you who write me, and with whom I have developed a positive, God-based relationship centered on mutual personal evolution, thank you for the support the last few months. I'll still be here, even if this site is not. To those of you who write me your angry diatribes (though there have been far less this week than last, one to be exact), you may have won this one. That's ok. I don't feel any anger towards you. I know that one day we will look back on this from a much higher place, and chalk it up to Satan and his ruinous presence. Until that day.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back - Part 1

9:00 AM, Tuesday, October 23 2007

I write this on borrowed paper. I am using a borrowed pencil. My cell is completely empty. At 6:45 this morning, my cell was searched. I was placed, handcuffed as always, in the shower where I was able to watch as gray-clad TDC employees packed all of my meager belongings into red onion bags, and then carried them down the stairs to a plastic pushcart. No one else on my row received this treatment. I was offered no explanation.

The date is October 23rd, the first day of new guard rotation (called "cards" in the vernacular) after the story on the evening news about the website. I must say, I do not understand TDC's response to the story. I have not been overly critical of the conditions here, though it would be very easy for me to comment on the myriad humans rights violations that I see on a daily basis. I have not done this for two reasons: one, prison is supposed to be bad. I do not consider myself intelligent enough to attempt the argument that you, the average viewer should care about prisoner's rights. I know what I used to feel when I heard about the brutal American prison system: well, fine, then don't go to prison. I didn't care. You don't care. I don't know how to explain the massive graying that exists in this country between right and wrong. How to explain that, yes, indeed the devaluation of a prisoners life DOES affect you, if only on a massive societal sub-audible frequency. I'm simply not smart enough, I don't know how to put into words that once you start to say that one life has more intrinsic value than another, it's all a slippery slope to perdition. And so we have Guantanamo Bay, and we have prisons that are so bad that when Federal Judge William Wayne Justice saw the Death Row conditions here, he said they were beyond what a human could stand. So, I try to stay out of the waters that are, quite frankly, too deep for me.

The second reason that I do not bash the TDC is because I do not want anyone to think I am playing for sympathy. I am not. But right now...reduced to nothing again, totally unaware if I am going to be leveled for something they "find" in my belongings. I am so angry. You are already killing me. Must we take my attempts at healing, as well? My meager attempt at ministry? And for what? For a website? Because I attempt disclosure? I had no expectation of ever reaching an audience, I simply wanted to let a few key people from my former life know a little something about me without forcing them to actually come near my plague. Must you take my voice, as well? I will be silent before long; can I not have a few whispers before the end? Clearly, some of you think not. Never mind ignoring the things we don't like, a little exercise in something called personal responsibility. You may win this, you may silence me. But I want you to think about this: if your precious silence requires that a human being lose the only real connection he has to being alive, what does that make you?

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Attempts at "Why?"

October 17, 2007 Wednesday

It's not exactly a rare occurrence for me to get hate mail.

Most weeks I get a few "lakes of brimstone" type letters damning me and my sorry writing ability. OK. I never claimed to be good at this. I'm doing my best, and if it's not good enough for some of you, you are welcome to go ahead and click that little "x" in the top right hand corner of your browser.

I had this idea, poorly formulated and somewhat nebulous, that I might be able to somehow learn about myself through this process, and by making it public I might help someone learn something about themselves at the same time. I had hoped that it might connect me with some people of the Christian faith, that I might also have some fellowship with them, as they have no church here on the Row, and I miss it. I guess I was not prepared for the sheer amount of hatred that was going to come my way at mail call. I almost have to steel myself for the ordeal like a boxer preparing to get his face punched in. I know I deserve a lot of that negativity from some people. I don't dispute that. But it's the letters from people I have never even met that have me reeling. I can only imagine how much worse it is going to be next week after they air the 48 Hours Mystery! special on CBS. Does it really enrich your lives to send me multiple pages of reasons why the world will be better off without me? Honestly? Perhaps your time might be better spent trying to figure out what you are really angry about. Just a suggestion.

Most days I'm hanging by a thread, and maybe some of you picked up on that. Maybe that's why you wrote. I'll pray that you are able to figure out what that says about you.

Anyways, if I have somehow offended you by the presence of this site, I am sorry. It was never my intention to do so. I had a few goals when I started this, and while I am not sure how much longer I am going to be able to continue writing these entries, I want to make sure that I try to complete at least one of my aims. The most common question I am asked on a nearly daily basis is: Why?

What makes a person want his entire family killed off? The ADA told my attorney six months before the trial that he knew that money was not the objective for me. And yet, this was the main angle they played up during the trial. Why did they do this? The first reason is very simple: they never bothered to ask me, not in 18 months of confinement before the trial. The second reason is a little more complicated, but not by much. It is in the nature of such trials to trend towards sensationalism. After all, money WAS the motivation for the actual shooter, and it was an easy connection to assume it might be the reason behind my motives as well. Besides, money is easy. People do horrible things for money everyday; it's not a hard sell. Any action that makes the defendant less of a person and more of a cold and calloused monster is great for Death Penalty prosecutions. Actions that show him to be a very messed up person psychologically are bad for Death Penalty prosecutions.

Like I said, very simple. The story about a mythical "million dollar insurance payout" was supplied by my co-defendant, who was the State's star witness. (In truth, I knew my folks didn't have much insurance. Turns out my Dad carried a $50,000 policy on himself, and none on Mom or Kevin or me.) If you can't imagine a situation where a person would lie to avoid the Death Penalty (in exchange for a 15 year prison sentence) then you should start doing some Sudoku puzzles or something to get your brain back in shape.

I've had a lot of time to think about this. I've spent many hours trying to put my mind into a semblance of order so that I could try to answer the question of "why" in a manner that someone other than me might understand. It is times like this that I feel most keenly my lack of writing ability. My words fail me, and I feel totally deficient to the task. Part of my problem is that I am trying to explain something that can't really be rationalized. Especially when I am trying to make sure it doesn't sound like I am making excuses. It can never be excused.

(Something to keep in mind: while the world may in fact be an objective reality, whatever exists out there must first pass through the filter of your perception, so in a very real yet totally weird manner, everything is also subjective.)

Part of the story of "why" is rooted in me reading some very true signals, and then misinterpreting and computing them very poorly, which skewed my entire perception of my world. That's not really all that strange since there are probably many, many "truths" you know that are, in fact, not entirely accurate. Anyway, I'm sorry that I am doing such a poor job. This is hard. I would have liked to have waited until I was better able to manage this, but...that thread gets thinner every day. I need to try to get it down, so it will be somewhere physical for others to see.

Sometimes "sorry" isn't good enough, no matter how much we mean it. I never meant to turn so cold inside, so hollow. It was always about survival, the slow deadening of all of the protrusions that stuck off of me and made me feel so out of place. I've never felt like I was one of anybody, even while I was very young.

I was named after both of my grandfathers and yet, I always felt like anytime I was around the Bartletts that I was somehow unworthy of their proud names. I was always aware of it. Later in life, I began to emulate some of the qualities They (especially my Mom's family) possessed: strength, toughness, and calmness under fire, a touch of disdain for the rules that everyone else had to follow but which didn't apply to them, and lastly, pride. I think I wanted to be my uncle. He had lots of power in the family, and if someone didn't like him, well, nuts to them. For someone who lived every day of his life searching for microscopically subtle clues in other people as to whether or not he was acting acceptably, the desire to be so...free!...from concern about what others thought of you was all encompassing.

So, I tried to pattern myself after him, though the attempt was only skin-deep. I faked that confidence. It did help, though, for a while. The DA called these emulations "masks", which sounds so sinister. The truth is, I had been wearing them since elementary school, and if not for them, as I tried unsuccessfully to fit in, I would have opened up my veins in despair before I reached High School. I just wanted to be a normal person that my family would be proud of.

Growing up, I was totally different from my friends. While they were confident, rebellious, I was the kid who got stuck in left field and missed all the fly balls because I was more interested in the airplane in the sky than the game, which I hated. Sports pretty much determine your rank on the social ladder at that age, and I was the base. I began to strike-out on purpose, hoping that every year would be the year I would finally be able to convince my parents that there wasn't any point. But I couldn't tell them I didn't want to play because I was afraid that not liking sports meant that I wasn't living up to what they expected of me. But playing ball was hell for me. I had to make it look like I was trying, but failing. Instead, it was more batting lessons and a better bat. Every time I missed the ball, or the basket, or whatever, it was my secret little middle finger to everyone.

It wasn't long until I retreated into books. Kids don't come with instruction manuals. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to raise two children in this day and age. My parents saw my voracious appetite for reading, and encouraged it. What else could they do? It allowed them to spend the time on my brother, who, to be honest, needed it at that age. Kevin was having a difficult time in school and required just a bit of extra attention. What I perceived, though, was that Kevin was somehow more worthy of affection, and my own self-doubt increased. And some jealousy. I didn't know that I was setting a dangerous foundation. I only knew that the only time I didn't have to be constantly watching for errors in myself was when I was alone with my books. I didn't have to be perfect for them. They accepted me as I was. And though I hated my independence, this isolation, it became me.

I wanted to be a part of the family, but by the time I went to Middle School, I was a loner. I didn't want to be, but I didn't know what it took to have a real friend. So, I tried different things. Different "masks", if that is the word you want to use for them. We all do this, to a certain extent, and sometimes we don't even know it. But I knew it. We act different when we are at work vs. when we are at a club, or at church. Eventually, I found certain attributes that produced positive feedback. Humor, for one. Making people laugh staved off the loneliness. I felt I could fit in, even if only for short periods of time. But the desire to be accepted only increased with that small taste.

The poison took form in those days: perfection brought happiness. All I had to do was look at the magazines and TV to see that perfect people had friends, had love. So, if you are stupid and ugly, what do you do? Well, you cheat. Any way you can. You do anything to keep the world and those you care about from seeing just how sad and pathetic you are. It's not my parents fault they didn't see the signs, because I was an expert at covering them up. It was critical that I kept the secret from them. I thought I would certainly lose their love if they had even the slightest idea who I really was. So I never let them, or anyone, see.

(I realize now that this wasn't true, but I believed it then. I tried to explain this to the prosecutor at my trial. I said that growing up I never felt loved, because deep inside I knew that the kid my parents loved wasn't the real me, but he rejected it completely, ignoring what I was trying to say and pointing out that my parents had never abused me or denied me love, did things with me, took me on trips, so why didn't I feel loved? No, he said, I was incapable of love and that I had betrayed the people who had tried to love me. I think that misperception is the worst part of this tragedy of multiple misperceptions. No one understands, and I am unable to explain it so they can understand. Perhaps by the time these journals are finished I will be able to get it out.)

Growing up I continued to pay very, very close attention to people's reactions to me, until I was so good at subtle detection of peoples' moods that it was second nature to me. I became a 13 year old con artist - not in the sense that I stole things or took advantage of people, but that I sold myself to people as something I wasn't. But something else happened, down beneath the masks and the sub-basement of self-loathing. I began to hate. I saw everyone as happy (even if they really weren't), and I hated them for it. I couldn't figure out why something so basic was missing from me.

I lost God in those days. I hated Him, for making me the way He did, for being such a sadist. I hated Him for cursing us with free will. I hated Him for giving me life. It's a tricky thing to hate something as big as God, though. He's too ethereal. You aim for Him, but you hit everyone else. So, even though I wasn't conscious of this, my hate for the world was really being directed at the people I loved. And the loneliness bore deep. And the masks had become all I was. There were no real benchmarks for "I" anymore, and everything became very fluid, very mutable. The better I got at impersonating a human being, the better I fit in. But the hate never went away, and though you mainly hate yourself, there are limits to how much you can hate yourself, and it spills over onto other people.

Add to this the extreme pressure I still felt to be perfect on a minute-by-minute basis, and something truly evil was born. It may have started as a maelstrom of emotions, all jumbled up into a messy vortex, but at some point during my sophomore year of High School, I overloaded. Like a breaker switching off from electricity overflow, something clicked off inside me. It started with something small. Something you can afford to lose. You think, "I will get that back some day, but for now, I have to make it through the day." It makes it easier the next time you get overloaded. It got to the point that, years later, when I heard that my best friend in High School, Lane, had died on the same day as had Matt, my best friend growing up, I was able to find my center of detachment very quickly. When I heard the news, my girlfriend was asking me if I was OK, and I wasn't. Everything was wrong, but...I found a place within me where it was all-right. I went there, and I stayed.

She had been my cornerstone since my senior year of High School. She was wonderful, perfect. She saved me from suicide 1000 times. I think I had loved her from the first time I saw her, but she was so far out of my league. When the opportunity to actually talk to her came about...I did what I always did, I re-invented myself to what I thought she wanted. And it worked. She actually cared about me, the way I had dreamed about for so long. Except it was founded on lies. I had wanted to stop being invisible for years, and here, finally was my chance, but I had blown it. I tried desperately to become the man she thought I was. I even got good at it, fooling myself for a time. Most of the time I knew, though, that there was a schism between who she wanted me to be, and who I really was. God, I needed her so much, though, I was willing to do just about anything. She made me so happy...but identity must be resolved. I know that now, though I didn't then. So, to my shame, while I was in college, I cheated on her. It was never about finding a better her, it was always about searching for me in the only mirrors that ever mattered: the eyes of another human being. I never found him. The list of who Thomas Bartlett Whitaker was became even longer. There were now at least 15 somewhat different versions of me, and it took an extreme amount of energy to keep these worlds from ever coming into contact. And the emptiness inside of me just kept getting bigger and bigger. I tried to fill it with drugs and philosophy (sometimes both...Nietzsche on Crystal Meth could make anyone hate the world). I began to work out a bit. I got into the martial arts, and that helped for a bit, though most of my senseis knew there was something wrong with me. Most people freeze up in a fight. I smiled.

Somewhere in there, around the year 2000, the hate overcame the love. It had grown strong over the years, and I knew that there were definitely people responsible for me having to be alive. A single night of passion, I reasoned, and I have to go through THIS? I'll never be what they want, anyways. I decided that it wouldn't really trouble me if most anyone in my life were to drop off the face of the planet. Sometimes I wanted them to. And then I realized that what I really wanted, more than anything else, was revenge for being alive. As soon as the thought was born, it had a life of its own.

It was never about money. It was never about getting away with it. I wanted revenge for being invisible. I wanted revenge for being me. In a very real way, though, it was all just a sick fantasy, a desperate attempt to bleed off the pressure a bit. If I thought how easy it would be, I relaxed a bit. They became the scapegoat for all the troubles in my life. I could play the "If only you knew game".

I knew I lacked the courage to do it myself. Being evil isn't a game that I could play by myself. So you find others to play. And you make plans, never really thinking it was going to happen. But then the gunshots roar, and 15 years of your personal evolution is stripped away, and it's real, oh God, it's real! What the hell was I thinking? And you try to back away from the horror of it, the image you see of yourself in the mirror, but you can't. And you lie, and you lie, trying to back away from it. Only, two of the only people that ever really cared about you are dead, and those that are left might die when they realize the truth.

So I ran, ran from the nightmare of what I had done and become. I was afraid of what was going to happen to me, and was running from the horror of me. I saw it all: the trial, the conviction, the needle. For weeks, I tried to erase the image of seeing my loved ones look at me through the glass as the tubes were inserted into my arms. The disappointment, the hate. So I ran. The only power I had now, I reasoned, was to ensure that when the day of the needle came, my family would cheer it, rather than cry over it. So like a coward I left them without a word. I didn't want anyone on the other side of that glass. I still don't.

There are those that think that my 18 month hiatus in the mountains of Mexico was a selfish action. Good. My personal fear was a major part of it, admittedly, but the majority wanted everyone to think it was selfish-it was designed to look that way so those who had cared for me wouldn't any longer. What I didn't expect was that I would find God again in those mountains. Or that my father would forgive me for what I had done. (That's another story, and a huge one, and I will write about that in another journal entry.) You might consider, though, that for those of you who have written me to say that you have a hard time fitting me into your mental image of a Death Row prisoner, it might be entirely because of that forgiveness. Think about the power of that, and how it might be applied into your own lives. All I can say in conclusion is this: Mom, Kevin, I would trade places with you in death 1000 times a day. I wish I had killed myself, instead. I'm so sorry. So sorry.

So, send me your hate mail if it makes you feel better. If it somehow bleeds the pressure in your own life. Just don't ask me to hate myself more than I already do. It can't be done. It can't be done.

I look back on this writing and it's all wrong. How can you reduce your entire life to a few pages of text? I did my best, and it is as I feared: totally inadequate. I'm sorry.

Why was none of this brought up during the trial, you ask? Good question. My attorney didn't think psychological issues were relevant in this case. Or the drug abuse. And besides, trials are designed to filter out this kind of stuff. They want cold, hard facts, not feelings.

I can't write much more of this right now, so I'm going to end this with someone else's words, as somebody else has generally already said everything better than I could ever say it. In Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan says that hell is wherever he is, for he cannot escape his own mind. Amen, Lucifer. Amen.


© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cocktail from Hell

October 1, 2007 - 3:36 p.m.

You may have read in the newspapers this past week that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments as to whether the current method of lethal injection is unconstitutional. It is likely that they agreed to hear the issue due to the increased number of botched executions in the past year. I never understood this issue when I was in the free world. I never liked capital punishment, but I thought that if we had to have it, putting someone to sleep with drugs was a pretty humane way to do it. I have since come to understand the truth of the three-drug cocktail, and I present that information here. The following information comes directly from case law. None of it is new, or unknown to State officials. The faint of heart should probably stop reading here.

The current drug cocktail causes death by poisoning the person with a lethal combination of three chemical substances: Sodium Thiopental, or Sodium Penththal (an ultra short-acting barbiturate); Pancuronium Bromide, or Pavulon (a curare-derived agent which paralyzes all skeletal or voluntary muscles, but which has no effect on awareness, cognition, or sensation); and Potassium Chloride (an extraordinarily painful chemical which activates the nerve fibers lining the person's veins and which can interfere with the rhythmic contractions of the heart and cause cardiac arrest). While each of these chemicals individually creates concerns about their use in the execution process, in combination they cannot pass constitutional muster. Far from producing a rapid and sustained loss of consciousness and humane death, this particular combination of chemicals often causes the inmate to consciously suffer an excruciatingly painful and protracted death.

Over the last two decades, however, numerous states, and most recently the State of Texas, have enacted statutes regulating the euthanasia of animals which preclude using the same combination of drugs currently administered to human beings during executions. If evolving standards of decency, as reflected by legislative action and the professional association of veterinarians preclude the use of these particular drugs when killing a dog or a cat, then certainly those same standards of decency would require a more humane, readily available version of the lethal injection for human beings as well. Anyway. Here is what the drugs actually do to the human body.

Sodium Thiopental: This drug, also called sodium pentothal, is a short-acting barbiturate which is ordinarily used to render a surgical patient unconscious for mere minutes, only in the induction phase of anesthesia, specifically so that the patient may reawaken and breathe on their own power if any complications arise in inserting a breathing tube pre-surgery. Because of its brief duration, sodium thiopental may not provide a sedative effect throughout the latter two stages of the execution process. Given the fact that several minutes pass between the administration of the first and second drugs, this is virtually guaranteed. Dr. Dennis Geiser, the chairman of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, recently explained:


"Sodium Thiopental is not a proper anesthetic for use in lethal injection. Indeed, the American Veterinary Medical Association standards for euthanasia indicate that the ideal barbituric acid derivative for animal euthanasia would be potent, long-acting, stable in solution, and inexpensive. Sodium pentobarbital (not sodium thiopental) best fits these criteria. Sodium thiopental is a potent barbituric acid derivative but very short acting with one therapeutic dose."

(See his affidavit HERE)

Due to the chemical combination used in the Texas execution process, there is also a probability that the sedative effect of the sodium thiopental is neutralized by the second chemical, pancuronium bromide. As Dr. Mark Heath, Assistant Professor of Clinical Anesthesia at Columbia University states:


"Sodium thiopental is an ultra short-acting barbiturate. It would not be used to maintain a patient in a surgical plane of anesthesia for purposes of performing surgical procedures. It is unnecessary, and risky, to use a short-acting anesthesia in the execution procedure. If the solution of sodium thiopental comes into contact with another chemical, such as pancuronium bromide, the mixture of the two will cause the sodium thiopental immediately to precipitate or crystallize. These factors are significant in the risk of the inmate not being properly anesthetized, especially since no one checks that the inmate is unconscious before the second drug is administered."

(See his affidavit HERE).

Concerns about using sodium thiopental are heightened by the lack of medical personnel, the lack of proper monitoring of the inmate during the process and the lack of inmate-specific dosing of the barbiturate.

According to Dr. Geiser:


"The dosage of thiopental sodium must be measured with some degree of precision, and the administration of the proper amount of dosage will depend on the concentration of the drug and the size and condition of the subject. Additionally, the drug must be administered properly so that the full amount of the dosage will directly enter the subject's blood stream at the proper rate. If the dosage is not correct, or if the drug is not properly administered, then it will not adequately anaesthetize the subject, and the subject may experience the untoward effects of the neuromuscular blocking agent..."

In other words, the patient feels what is going on.

Pancuronium Bromide: The second chemical used in the execution process, called pancuronium bromide, or Pavulon, is a derivative of curare that acts as a neuromuscular blocking agent. If, as is probable in the Texas execution process, the sedative effect of the sodium thiopental is ineffective or neutralized, the pancuronium bromide would serve only to mask the excruciating pain of the condemned inmate. Pancuronium bromide makes the patient look serene because of its paralytic effect on the muscles. The face muscles cannot move or contract to show pain. It therefore provides a "chemical veil" over the proceedings. By completely paralyzing the inmate, pancuronium bromide masks the normal physical parameters that an anesthesiologist or surgeon would rely upon to determine if a patient is completely unconscious and within a proper surgical plane of anesthesia. Because pancuronium bromide is an invisible chemical veil and not a physical veil like a blanket or hood that is easily identifiable, the use of pancuronium bromide in lethal injections creates a double veil. It disguises the fact that there is a disguise over the process. (See affidavit HERE).

In the case of Abdur' Rahman v. Bell, Dr. Geiser asserted that while Pavulon paralyzes skeletal muscles, including the diaphragm, it has no effect on consciousness or the perception of pain or suffering. Administration of Pavulon is like "being tied to a tree, having darts thrown at you, and feeling the pain without the ability to respond." (Affadavit of Dr. Dennis Geiser, in the case of Abu-Ali Abdur' Rahman v. Bell, 226F.3d 696 - 6th Cir. 2000. Cert granted on grounds, 122S.Ct 1463 - USA April 8, 2002, No. 01-9094).

This assertion is corroborated by the experience of eye surgery patient, Carol Weihrer. During Ms. Weihrer's surgery the sedative she received was ineffectual and Ms. Weihrer was conscious the entire surgery. Due to the administration of a neuromuscular blocking agent like pancuronium bromide, however, she was unable to indicate her consciousness to others.


"I experienced what has become to be known as Anesthesia Awareness, in which I was able to think lucidly, hear, perceive, and feel everything that was going on during the surgery, but was unable to move. It burnt like the fires of hell. It was the most terrifying, tortuous experience you can imagine. The experience was worse than death."

(See her affidavit HERE).

In short, the second chemical, pancuronium bromide, or Pavulon, in the lethal injection protocol serves no purpose other than to guarantee that the condemned inmate will be forced into a total chemical straight jacket and gag while he consciously experiences the potassium chloride ravaging his internal organs. Persons viewing the lethal injection procedure and the public will never realize that a cruel fraud is being perpetrated upon them: instead of witnessing an inmate quietly and motionless while being "put to sleep", they are witnessing the cover-up of a deliberate act of torture only the inmate is aware of.

Potassium Chloride: Finally, the use of potassium chloride itself raises important Eighth Amendment concerns. James J. Ramsey, a certified perfusionist and currently the Program Director in the Program in Cardiovascular Perfusion at Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, gave a lengthy statement in Abdur Rahman's case regarding the use of potassium chloride in lethal injections. Perfusion is the study of medicine related to the artificial circulation technologies, including but not limited to the operation of the heart-lung machine, a medical device commonly used during open-heart surgeries of all kinds. The area involving the chemical arrest of the heart lies uniquely within the practice of the clinical perfusionist. Regarding the administration and efficacy of potassium chloride in the lethal injection context, Ramsey stated that:

"It is my understanding that during the performance of lethal injection as carried out during the death penalty, potassium (and other agents) are administered intravenously to the defendant. Such administration is, in my professional opinion based upon my knowledge, training, and experience, and within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, entirely inadequate in order to achieve reasonable cardiac standstill. Since the agents are introduced intravenously, there will occur an immediate dilution of the solution, weakening any potential effect it might have. By illustration an 80 kilogram person would have a blood volume of approximately 5.5 to 6 liters. An administration of 100 milli-equivalents of potassium intravenously to the 80 kilogram person would result in a blood concentration of only16.6 meq/L. Such a dose is according to scientific literature...and evidenced in my practice, inadequate to achieve cardiac standstill. Furthermore, it must be remembered that in contrast to the administration of the potassium chloride in the surgical context, such administration is: 1.) Not directed into the coronary arteries; 2.) directed only in an antegrade fashion; 3.) is at mormothermia (37 degrees Celsius, NOT at 5 degrees Celsius). Without reasonable data regarding any one person's anatomic and pathologic state as to their myocardial function prior to administration of the potassium, there can be no reasonable certainty that the potassium solution intended to arrest the heart would be distributed in a fashion that would arrest the heart. Thus, the very orchestrated and methodical methods used in surgery should not be thought of as optimizing the arrest of the heart, but should be considered to be necessary as the only reasonable mans of ensuring that the heart is arrested. If the heart could be arrested by intravenous objections, cardiac surgery today would be a very different animal-science and research tells us that mere intravenous injection of potassium is not sufficient. Additionally, in my professional opinion and within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, barring an effective cardiac arrest, it is entirely possible that a lethal injection as I understand it will serve ONLY to arrest the function of the pulmonary system, thereby causing a state in ischemia to the entire body (no oxygen delivery), which, in turn, will ultimately arrest the heart as well (with no oxygen delivery to it.) As a result, the defendant is simply suffocated due to lack of oxygen."

So, basically, you get paralyzed, and then get to feel the potassium shut down your internal organs. That's pretty much the long and short of it. If some of the language here seemed like lawyerese, and unlike my normal writing style, that is because I simply stole a lot of that from legal briefs. Personally, I wish they had brought the firing squad back. At least then you could die on your feet, like a man. Give me my last cigarette (I don't smoke, but, hey, why not?) and my casually indifferent sneer. (Insert French accent here) "Well, get on with it, I haven't got all day." At least that is better than being strapped to a gurney, wearing a diaper. Whatever the High Court decides, Texas is going to keep on killing people in the meantime (as evidenced by the execution of Louisiana Red on Tuesday). I'm sure Texas still has "Old Sparky" around somewhere, ready to go, just in case.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Convictin'

September 12, 2007 - 5:30 a.m.

How does the old saying go? "Idle hands are the devil's playthings"? I can definitely testify to the accuracy of this statement. Here, we call it "convicting" (pronounced 'KON-victing'). Used in a sentence: "What's Whitaker want with all of those empty pen cartridges?" "Dunno, freakin McGuyver over there is 'convicting' something up." There's another old saying that goes something like "Give a man an inch, and he will try to take a mile." While I would simply cherish taking TDC for a mile, I will be content with taking an extra foot every blue moon. This entry is an ode to that extra foot. Three cheers for the foot!

Convict Tool #1 - The fishing line. The "fishing line", or simply "line" is perhaps the most important convict tool in my arsenal. Allow me to explain why the line is so important. Back here in seg, we do not have actual bars over our doors, despite what Hollywood would have you believe. Our doors are solid metal plates, with two small metal mesh "windows" running vertically from about waist level up to near the top of the door. These doors slide on two sets of metal runners, one about six inches off the ground, the other at the top of the door. Thus, to open the door, guards must have the picket unlock the door, which then slides parallel to the wall. A lot like your patio door, if it were to be made by the Inquisition. At the bottom of the door, underneath the bottom runner there is a small hole, roughly 4 inches by 4 inches. This hole is large enough to slip your arm out, though small enough to where it is not viewed as a security risk. Since we are not allowed any contact with anyone, this hole facilitates all of the commerce on the Row. (Note: The currency of prisons everywhere is the "flag", the stamp. Common prices for various items: One contraband needle for stitching clothes = 10 flags. A spool of angel hair wire for the radio network = 30 flags. I will probably one day write an in-depth overview of the prison micro-economy, but for now it is very similar to the one you are familiar with, save that debt collection is a little more medieval.)

These fishing lines are typically around 100 feet in length. On one end you attach something heavy, in my case a 5 oz salsa bottle filled with water. You can then lean your arm out of the hole and wing the bottle down the run, trailing the line. The recipient simply has to send his line out, armed with a hook to snag your line and drag it under his door. Whala, commerce. You get to be an artist with the fishing line real quick. I can bounce my bottle down the stairs, pulling it tight at the correct spot, sending the bottle careening off a metal pole to bounce back to the cell directly underneath my own.

The lines are generally made from our sheets, the destruction of which can get you a few months of Level 2 detention. Making one is horribly time consuming, as you have to pull apart your sheets one thread at a time. Which, of course, I would never do because to make one would be wrong and I never would...OK, it took me about a week to braid mine, which is pretty strong, consisting of over 20 threads in thickness. (When you look at the picture of the line, note all the individual threads that go into larger strands - each thread was pulled one at a time from the edge of a sheet. 100' of line takes a lot of effort.) None of the guards really care about the line, so long as you aren't tossing it out on the run as they walk by.

Most (roughly 75 percent) of the guards here on the Row are what we call "convict bosses". They have that label because they realize where they are, and with whom they deal on a daily basis. As long as you aren't hurting anyone, a convict boss will not "see" the infraction, unless a sergeant is also around. "Inmate bosses", on the other hand, stick their noses into everything, and eventually they get beat up or promoted - which is why you don't do anything around a sergeant or lieutenant. Sometimes, in less secure facilities, they get killed, though this is pretty rare.

Convict Jewelry - I made these crosses while I was still in the County Jail. They are made entirely out of trash bags. I would still be making them now except I can't seem to get any of the trustees to smuggle me back the bags. I could get a half-kilo of cocaine in about twenty minutes, but when it comes to trash bags they are like the Gestapo.

Here is how they are made: I would take one large, white trash bag (the 20 gallon variety) and lay it flat on the table. I leave the bag in the form it was when you first take it off the roll. I then cut strips, generally measuring about 2 inches in width, using a dismantled razor blade. You can get a whole bunch of these strips out of one bag, which are also useful for making clotheslines. Take one of these strips, and attach one end to something stable (the post of a bed, in my case). The other end I wound around a dictionary, which I then proceeded to spin in a clock-wise direction, allowing the whole line to spin. The 2 inch strips quickly spin into a string measuring about one mm in width. I then begin to pull the line, stretching it out, making sure that no unstretched areas are left. A single foot long strip can be stretched out to about 15 feet, and what is left is immensely strong. It looks like the type of line you would use to reel in a marlin or something. I repeated this process with all of the strips. I then got one of the trustees to smuggle me in some black Glad bags from the kitchen, which I also spun in the same manner. These would be used for the letters.

I would then make a form, also out of trash bags, but unspun, in the shape of the cross, and simply braided the spun lines around the form. The last step to be completed was the bottom angle of the cross, into which I threaded the black lines, making letters. This was accomplished by laying the black lines above the white in areas I wanted the letter to show, and under the white to create the negative space. I made about 20 of these crosses, for family members, friends, my attorneys and a few inmates. The most letters I was able to fit on the bottom apex of the cross was seven.

Some of you will no doubt have noticed that a large portion of this entry is now missing. I'm generally cool with the heat I take from doing this site, from the extra shakedowns to the hate mail. That said, sometimes the battle just isn't worth it to me, and I choose to tap out gracefully. So, apologies for the missing content, but I live in Hell and sometimes I simply have to play by Hell's rules.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Apologies, Explanations, the Trial, Prieto's Move, and Rick Perry, Pride of Texas

August 30, 2007 - 11:50 p.m.

I am going to preface this entry with an apology. I stated from the very beginning that my intention was not to attempt to sway any one's opinion about the Death Penalty. I did not set out to betray this intention, but thinking back over my last few entries, I think I did betray it, nonetheless. In all fairness, I did warn that this was likely to happen, but that doesn't really excuse it. I have noted before that I make only one edit of these installments, and that once they are sent out, they are gone, baby, gone. I do not keep any sort of copy for myself. This makes it a little difficult to remember exactly what I have written, a flaw which is usually exacerbated by the fact that I am wired on coffee, and usually don't begin to write these until well after midnight (there is a fine line between Starbucks and a crack house). So while I may not remember the manner in which I phrased anything previously written, I want to make it clear that I am not fishing for sympathy in any way. I am simply writing the way I feel. It isn't perfect. It may not even be 100% accurate, though I have taken pains to verify everything. I may be a complete idiot, and have everything all mixed up to the point of nonsense. So, I guess you need to take it how you will.

Part of the problem is that when I originally set these thoughts down on paper, I was writing to an audience of one. I know how I feel about things, and you tend to not need a lot of backstory when you are talking to yourself. At some later date, I then take these notes and translate them into something I am comfortable releasing. I guess that somewhere in the translation my frustration became more visible. I apologize for that. Also, unless you are aware of the details of my case, you will not know that I did come clean and accept responsibility for my actions. I didn't do it very eloquently, as the trial was, well...trying. It was an experience that I was totally unprepared for.

I have always relied on others to gauge my self-worth. It was the only barometer I ever knew how to access to determine whether I was behaving properly. Suddenly, everyone hated me. I wanted to hide, but there were cameras everywhere. Newsmen shouting. Angry, violent letters proclaiming that I was going to burn in hell. I've always been a little afraid of crowds, and suddenly I was center stage. All that, plus the months of little or no sleep, the shock of people I had been dieing (literally) to see since my arrest packing the courtroom, and the sheer weight of my guilt crushed me. I was barely conscious. I kept looking back at the people from my past life, hoping to see some glimpse of the light in their eyes I remembered. I found none. So, while I may not have done a very good job of it, I did take my come-uppance, in front of everyone. I hoped the few that knew me recognized how little like the old me that action was.

The trial did not turn out how any of our families wanted. The only people in the room who wanted my death were those that worked for the County. Usually the victims are for the death penalty, but this was most assuredly not the case in my trial. It didn't matter. Apparently, blood is the best way to wipe the slate clean. Oh well.

My mental bon voyage to all the spectators at the trial:

If I leave
no trace behind
in this fleeting world
what then could you
Reproach?

- Death Poem of Ukifune from the Genji Monogatari

Another point I should clear up: The name of this site, "Minutes Before Six" refers to the standard execution time in the State of Texas, which is 6 p.m. A list of the men executed by the State, complete with their last statements (the ones released by TDC, anyway) can also be found HERE Once at the site, click on the third item down "Executed Offenders".

What a week. My only friend here on the Row, Arnold Prieto, was moved off the pod this weekend. They tend to move you around a lot here, to keep you off balance. Staying in the same cell for longer than six months has been deemed a "security risk". (Side bar: Here is another example of one of TDC's brilliant logical conclusions involving security threats: Colored paper becomes contraband soon. I have included the official System Notice for your review. Maybe you can figure it out. I broke out my bowl and several different types of colored stationary and was unable to produce any colored dye from them. Colored pencils, however, make fabulous dye. Whoops.)

Anyway, I was hoping that I would be able to stay close to Prieto for the next few months. He will likely have an execution date set soon and I would have liked to have been there for him. Prieto has been a lifelong atheist, and only recently opened up to having a conversation about God. There are some characters here on Death Row who live the Christian lifestyle at full volume. Zealots. Vocal prayers in the day rooms, fasting, etc, etc. This is not me. I know how deep the stain of my sin goes. I know my weaknesses. Like Paul, God's power is made perfect in my weakness. I think the fact that I wear the scarlet "s" on my shoulder is what allowed Arnold to be comfortable talking with me. I definitely don't know all the answers, and I don't set myself up as some sort of teacher. I simply told him we would find the answers together.

We read through Daniel and Luke together over the microphone network (see my next entry for more details). It was kind of funny, I had just told Prieto the night before he got moved that Satan didn't mess with you when you were embracing sin. He only really takes notice when you begin to walk the straight path. Well, he took notice, and then he took action and got him moved. Pray for Arnold, that he will find some fellowship wherever he ends up. Me, too.

There were three executions scheduled for this week. The first two were carried off without a hitch. My condolences to the family and friends of John Amador, known around here as Ash. Ash, I never knew you, but any friend of Arnold's is a friend of mine. Que descansas en paz, carnal. Te vere pronto.

Some good news though: today's execution did not go through. Get this: Governor Rick Perry, the man who has authorized more executions than any other Governor in U.S. history, COMMUTED someone to Life! This never happens. I mean never. The only other time Perry has commuted anyone is at the behest of the Court, which he is obligated to do. I applaud Governor Perry, though I still think that if God gave him another brain, it would die from loneliness.

More details: After Perry took over office from good old GW, he instituted a Clemency Board. This Board's purpose was to evaluate each Death Row inmate's clemency appeal. It was a way for him to be able to say, "Hey, its out of my hands, ya'll." Since the creation of the Board (which is made up of his far-right wing buddies) Perry has never, not once, listened to the Board's recommendations when they call for a commutation to a life sentence. This includes all of the mentally retarded men killed before the Atkins issue was approved by the Courts. Also, back in early 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that individuals who had committed Capital Murder while they were minors could not be executed. Everyone knew this ruling was coming. Most states (read: all the rest of them but Texas) stopped executing minors in anticipation of this ruling. The Board recommended this same action. Perry rejected this advice, and killed the juvenile offenders up until the week before the ruling came down. Anyway.

Well, enough of that. The next entry will be a fun one, I've been preparing. Night!

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.