Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Welcome to Polunsky

Day 1 - Tuesday - July 24th 2007 - 3:34 AM

I should have started writing months ago. Everyday I thought about it. It's not as if I am strapped for time. Time is the only thing I have in abundance, besides regret, maybe. Most days I spend at least a few hours staring at the clock, watching the second hand get a firmer grip around my neck. I tell myself that I simply haven't been able to put the last six months into focus yet, and that when I do, the floodgates deep inside me will crash open and the words will come rushing out. Sometimes I even believe that.

Today I don't.

I know what the truth is; those few moments of every week where I dare to view myself in the mirror of introspection are enough. I haven't begun this because I am terrified of what I am going to find. I have discovered so much about myself in the last two years I am almost ready to give up. Now that I have at least some small amount of perspective, I am afraid that there isn't anyone left to listen or to care. Which is my own fault, of course. My father seems to think that someone might actually be interested in my perspective about this whole mess that is my life, and I don't know what to say to him. I have never known what to say to anyone. I had my extensive banks of pre-recorded answers, but when it came to truly saying what I thought about anything, I didn't have a clue. Now I do. If it doesn't make much sense, or is nearly unintelligible, I guess those are pretty acute descriptions of Thomas Whitaker. So, this is for you Dad. The masks are off. Thanks for not leaving me behind. Those of you who knew me as Bart, sorry. Bart is dead. Good riddance.

I never much liked the son-of-a-bitch anyways.

I don't remember much of the first afternoon after my arrival at the Polunsky Unit. There were strip searches, questions, more questions. The long walk down the central hallway which divides the six pods housing nearly 400 condemned men. The long slow walk through c-pod, all eyes on the new guy. I don't know what I expected. Maybe lots of bars, and big burly tattoo-covered forearms connected to scarred, meaty palms. Shanks, cigarettes, etc. What I found was silence. Silence, broken at last by the sound of my door to 12CC-42 slowly sliding shut behind me. I had been hearing metal doors slam shut behind me for over 18 months in the county jail, but this door sounded different, almost silky-smooth. I had never been able to escape the thought that the echos of those doors had become an allegory for my life. My cell door, though, that noise resonated deeper within me. If a person could still hear the sound of their own coffin being closed over them, that's what it would sound like. I remember clearly standing at the door, taking in for the first time my new 6 by 10 foot home, the cage that would become my retirement home where I would spend my golden years, to continue the metaphor.

I am twenty-seven years old.

I remember hesitating to take a step into my cell, as if moving inside would be acknowledging the horrible truth, and therefore somehow make it all real. The haze that had been hovering inside my head since before the trial was omnipresent. The headaches, oh the headaches, they felt like some massive screws at the center of the world were constantly grinding down, twisting, twisting, twisting down into the bedrock. I finally moved to my bed, and sat down. Four steps, I remember thinking. It took four steps. I felt myself go flat, that's the only way I can describe it. To my shame, I let myself fall into that place I hate more than any other - that deep, safe place, where I am untouchable. My constant and only friend since my youth, my constant enemy that strips me down to nothing and leaves me there. You probably know the place; we all have one. If you don't I hope and pray you never need to find it. It's that basement where I dumped all my emotional garbage for years, that repository for all the excessively jagged edges that I could never compute my way through. I used to tell myself that the hole would never fill up; the well would never run dry. I think maybe I always knew the truth: emotional gravity works the opposite of it's Newtonian cousin. Shit falls UPWARD. It never stays down. I knew all that my first day here, which was March 23rd as the world counts time. I knew all that, and yet I still chose to fall into myself. I remember thinking that for someone who had spent the majority of his life living inside the confines of his own head, 6 x 10 maybe wasn't too much of a spatial contraction. It was the last time I journeyed to the zero. Lately, I have been feeling the weight again, and I guess that is one of the reasons I picked up this pen tonight. My father believes that rehashing the past can be a catharsis. Maybe he is right, though at the outset I have to admit I am pretty sure this is only going to make me hate myself more. I have gotten pretty good at chess since I've been locked up. I play about ten moves ahead of the game. My traitor brain is telling me that ten moves ahead from now, I am going to regret this. To quote one of the great thinkers of our time, Homer Simpson, "shut up, brain, or I am going to stick you with a q tip." The thing about memory is, when all the good stuff is laced with poison, it's all a minefield. We'll see.

The idea of putting something so personal in so public a forum is pretty terrifying. I was always an extremely private person. I hope, to the few of you that are taking notes, how much I would have to have changed to even think about doing this. I also decided to do this unedited. One version, no rewrites, no last minute changes. It gets written, then it gets mailed. The perfectionist in me rebels at the thought. It knows how crappy I write, how poorly I am able to express myself. It seems like somewhere between my brain and my mouth and hands everything gets all jumbled up, twisted. Like J. Alfred Prufrock, I am reduced to saying, "that's not it. That's not it at all."

Even now, that's not it. At all.

That first afternoon, after the guards had all departed with their air of smug satisfaction, and after I had taken a full few minutes to insure that no little "presents" had been left for me catch a case behind, I lay down on my bunk. As mattresses went, this one isn't too bad. I've slept on worse. Like when I was camping, and slept on river pebbles, say. I turned my back to the door. I watched the light trickle in through my three inch window, watched it creep and trickle along my walls. It made pictures there, faces and names I couldn't bring myself to say aloud. All I could mouth was: I'm so sorry. So sorry. Even numb from the effects of my safety hole, I felt a tear, then another, run down my right cheek. I, the supposed bad-ass sociopath that had no redeeming qualities, was crying. I guess I should be pleased that my emotional maturity has continued to evolve even in this darkest of places. I should be pleased, but what I remember thinking was: Too late, ass hole. Too late.

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


Tonya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elisabeth said...

So raw. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

It appears your time may soon be coming to an end. Thank you for sharing your experience of a place that is so far removed from civilization it may as well be on the moon. It's hard to believe both the horrors that your family endured and the horror you endured being on Death Row. Tragedy upon tragedy.