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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who Is You? - Part 1

December 31st, 2008

Michelle, of the insanely loopy calligraphy, writes:

"Dear Thomas, I found this survey online, and I think you should do it. I sent it to all of my friends, and was surprised by how much I did not know about my best friends. Maybe you can put it on your blog?"

Um...ok. Apparently, mb6 has now become a call-in program, complete with requests. If the line is busy, please hold. Your call is valuable to us, and will be answered in the order in which it was received. (I just heard the collective roar from the keyboards of the "Fire and Brimstone Brigade" launch into a frenzy. Sorry, you wanks. Michelle, I sort of like, and so I will oblige. You...well, I just plain don't like you.) As I scan over the questionnaire under discussion, I am reminded of the first words anyone said to me after I arrived in Livingston. An obscenely large black man was in the dayroom adjacent to my section doing push-ups. He stopped long enough to ask me, point-blank, "Hey! Who is you?" It became a running joke between us that I corrected his grammar. Whenever I would see him, I would say, "Hey! Who is you?" in my most ghetto-fied voice. Sometimes I would even imitate his pimp-esque gait. In response, he would attempt to look sort of bored, and quip (in a really bad cockney accent, I might add): "Excuse me, but I think you mean to say, 'Who are you?'" I cannot tell you how many guards have seen this exchange, and ended up walking away with a very confused look on their faces. He is dead now, like most everyone else I have mentioned on this site. I almost hesitate to name anyone else, for fear that doing so has become a harbinger of being Texecuted. Anyways. (I have been told that I use this word to mean: "I don't want to talk about this anymore, because I don't know how to explain what I am feeling and you will not understand." My response: ANYWAYS.) Without further ado, I present to you:

A Fun Survey to Give to Your Friends!
Instructions: Answer as quickly as you can!
No over-thinking!!
Be honest!!!
(I have a question of my own, before we begin: Is anyone who actually uses three exclamation marks ever at risk of over-thinking something?)

1) Date of Birth: December 31, 1979, (Happy Birthday, me.)

2) Eye Colour: Green

3) Height: 5'10"

4) Weight: 175lbs. 93% of which is pure muscle, only most of this sits in the 10th dimension.

5) What are your favorite sports teams?
a) Football: Steelers or the Ravens, currently. Anybody but the bloody cowboys. Dallas sucks.
b) Soccer: Chelsea or Real Madrid.
c) Basketball: couldn't give a rats a$. Not the Lakers, or any team with Shaq. Or Dallas. Dallas sucks.
d) Hockey: Detroit Red Wings. Did I mention Dallas sucks?
e) Baseball: The Yankees, unquestionably. Been a fan of the Bronx Bombers since forever. Yeah, yeah, I know. Evil Empire, blah, blah, blah. Envy is such an ugly emotion.

6) Who was your first celebrity crush?
My first (and only, I feel it is important to mention) was Jennifer Connelly in “The Labyrinth.� I think I was about ten or so when I first saw this film. I fell head over freaking heals for this girl. Something about a damsel in distress, maybe. For most of my young life, I wanted to pummel David Bowie with those retarded crystal spheres of his for being such an a-hole in that movie. He only earned his way back into my good graces in the late 90’s with the Trent Reznor assisted "I'm Afraid of Americans" album. Man...she was it, for years and years. My template for what I thought a woman was supposed to be.

7) What is your favorite:
a) beer: Hmm...most any oatmeal stout, maybe. Russian River Perdition is some pretty tasty stuff. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. Lost Abbey Angels Share. Smuttynose Pale Ale. Black Butter Porter by Deschutes (like Guinness, only richer...drool). I sound like an alcoholic. I don't have a problem. Seriously. Don't send me any AA books, or I swear I will burn them. I went to AA when I was in the county jail, and if that isn't a cult, I don't know what is. I know that addiction really is a disease for some people...but the majority of the men at these meetings in jail were just there to complain and shuffle the blame off of themselves. You don't need meetings or a "higher Power" to quit drinking...you just need to put the bloody bottle down. Period.
b) wine: The best I have ever personally tasted was Sine Qua Non's '97 Syrah blend, curiously named "Imposter McCoy." (This is Manfred Krankl's outfit, and all of his wines bear very odd names, such as "Against the Wall" and "The 17th Nail in My Cranium." Such titles have not hurt his business any, as there is a multi-year waiting list just to get on the waiting list for a bottle.)
c) spirit: Glenmorangie. Very Rare 18-Years Old Northern Highlands Single Malt.

8) What is your favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
I suppose I must have had a favorite flavor at one time. It doesn't matter much to me now, honestly. I treat myself to a pint once a month, and whatever flavor they bring me is quite fine by me. It is an extremely odd feeling to have something cold and delicious and so full of sweetness caress your tongue after weeks of lukewarm tap water. Strange in a familiar way, familiar in a strange way. She used to love this strawberry shortcake flavor from HEB, and I loved to see her enjoy it. When you ask someone how something tastes, "good" is a nice response, but rather dull. "Practically orgasmic" is something else entirely. She had a way with words that I never fully appreciated at the time. I knew that she did not buy it often, because American women are far too obsessed with their weight. I always thought she looked great, so I wasn't too worried about it, and would sometimes show up with a gallon, pretending to be lost and in the neighborhood. (never mind that at the time I was living in another city 100 miles away. I get lost very easily, apparently.) That is what life is all about, I think: tiny, seemingly inconsequential details, that nonetheless somehow manage to constitute the only moments worth living on this rock. Please: eat the damned ice-cream, the cookie, the steak. Run tomorrow. At some point, there won't be a tomorrow, and then it will be too late. The Tao of Thomas.

9) If you were a fruit, what would you be?
Uh...ok. Kind of gay...who comes up with this stuff? A fruit...I'm embarrassed to say that I have actually wasted like 15 minutes of my life pondering this. I am going to go with grape. Planted in straight, orderly lines, which appeals to the OCD nut job in me. A controlled, scientific growing season. A most unremarkable fruit, really. But...if you stomp on it, and bottle it up, and give it some time in a cool, dark place, it becomes something complex and refined. Didn't think that you could get metaphysical with fruit? Ah, step into my parlor, grasshopper. There is much of the ways of Dorkdome that I can teach you.

10) What is your biggest regret?
Pass.

11) Do you have any nicknames?
Everybody here does. Most have several. I generally go simply by thomas to the guys, though some have taken to calling me Frankenstein, on account of all my scars. I was not terribly thrilled when first knighted thus, but I have since come to like it. I sometimes feel as if I was built out of spare parts by an indifferent Creator. The pissed-off villagers with pitchforks and torches are certainly about. I doubt that anyone else has taken their names to that point, though. Some of the Latinos call me simply "Guedo" (pronounced "weh-doh," which is basically someone with a pale complexion), or "El Mexicano Contrahecho" (Counterfeit Mexican). To the state, I will only ever be Offender 999522, and only then because a fingerprint or a DNA profile do not have an auditory component. It does get in your head, though. I have recurring dreams where I am participating in perfectly ordinary social situations, and introduce myself as Triple 9-522. Yevgeny Zamyatin would be proud.

12) What is your favorite book?
This question is absolutely impossible for me to attempt without breaking the question down into speech genres, which by the way, I spent some time doing, before I decided that there was no way I was going to keep this entry under 50 million pages unless I stopped being so obsessive and just answered in the simplest possible manner. So...I will alter the question slightly, and say that the book which had the single greatest immediate impact on me was Albert Camus "L'Etranger" (The Stranger). Never before had I found a protagonist with whom I could so easily identify on an emotional level. Meursault was not at all like the people around him which is exactly how I have always felt, and many of his differences were very similar to my own. Yet, unlike me, he didn't care. Also unlike me, he was consistently honest and direct, despite being judged by many of his contemporaries as being somewhat strange or amoral. He never once displayed an emotion he did not truly feel. I do find it a little creepy that at the age of 12 I latched on to a book who's major themes included the arbitrariness of Justice, the relative and absurd nature of the universe, and which ends with the execution by guillotine of the protagonist. The last paragraphs of the book struck me at the time as being some of the truest words I had ever read, and they still resonate with me to a certain extent, a decade and a half later. Whatever his flaws, he goes out with dignity, which is something I consistently strive for.

13) What is your favorite Bible verse?
In a book as large as the bible, there are quite a few good ones to pick from. Depends on my mood, I guess. Ecclesiastes 7:13 ("Consider Gods handiwork who can straighten what He hath made crooked?") Amos 3:3 ("Can two walk together, except that they be agreed?") Those are both a touch esoteric. Less so: Proverbs 31:10 ("Who can find a good woman? She is precious beyond all things.") The entire first chapter of James is spot on, especially the last portions, because it tells believers to put up or shut up. When it comes to Christ, I guess my favorite portion of the gospel is the 21st chapter of John, where Christ reinstates Peter after he had denied Jesus three times. He tells Peter repeatedly, "Feed my sheep." I know my faith is pretty anemic on creeds and dogma, that I am mostly about actions, deeds. I have a desert faith: dry and sparse, heavy on substance with no need for fluff. I know my doubts on "miracles" and the like is a source of derision for some of the faithful, but I very much doubt religious legalism will ever mean anything to me. Feed my sheep. I can understand. Its meaning is apparent. My least favorite is unquestionably the 11th chapter of Genesis (though this has a lot to do with the fact that I am progressivist...my Dad, for example, reads this chapter totally different than I do, and that is cool). Where he sees God taking a stand to strike down hubris, I see the building of the Tower as a sort of Utopia. All of mankind working together, unified in purpose. Along comes God, and sees something He is apparently afraid of. His actions, to me, seem petty and envious...a tiny, whiny God angry at his little ant farm. Now I refuse to believe the Creator of neutron stars and quantum tunneling could be so petty, so I view, the entire chapter as suspect, much as I do for a lot of the Old Testament. Like I said, point of view. I do not claim to be correct, only moving along the only path I can see in this twilight world.

14) What is your favorite piece of art?
Bah, I am an uncultured boob. What do I know of art? I know to say that a fat chick is Rubenesque if I am trying to be polite. Let's see...I always laugh when I think of Bartalome Bermejos "Saint Michael Triumphant Over the Devil" because the squealing little Satan reminds me of some people I know. Maybe my favorite would be something like Do-Ho Suh's "Karma" or Anthony Gormley's "Feeling Material XXVII," for its perfect metaphor of modern life. I've always loved MC Escher, especially after he developed his theories on the "regular division of the plane," though my enjoyment of these pieces has its roots more in the realms of mathematics than aesthetics. Meh. I'm straight, male, and American to boot. "Dogs Playing Poker," anyone? The really sad thing is I've been to most of the really great museums in the states and Europe, and can't come up with a better answer. I should have paid more attention to what was hanging on the walls, rather than...um, "examining" the local fauna in situ, If you catch my meaning. Maturity + the ability to look back over your life and recognize what a dumbass you were.

15) Favorite song?
Kansas' "Dust in the Wind," maybe. Again, depends on my mood. The last song I played on my guitar before my arrest was Dave Matthews "The Stone," which pretty much sums it up. (It's well worth the 99 cents on i-Tunes, by the way.)

16) What is your favorite song name?
What an odd question. I take this to mean simply the name, not the actual music, though I guess I could be reading this wrong. I guess I am going to have to go with Minus The Bears "I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien," with "Hey! Is That A Ninja Up There?" as a close second. Don't try to figure either of them out. It's not that kind of band.

17) Who is your favorite musician/band?
Tom McRae Dave Matthews (live > studio). Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Coltrane. Portishead, Massive Attack. I am ashamed at how much I like the The Kings of Leon, because I usually do not like bands who try so hard to be uber-cool. Chopin. I wish I could play like Joaquin Rodrigo. Dude had to have like nine fingers on each hand. (Same with Tim Reynolds, for that matter.) Enrique Bunbury is pretty good, too. Anybody who can take me away from this place for a few minutes deserves a place on this list.

18) What is your favorite 80's band?
Depeche Mode. A pox on the entire decade!

19) What is your favorite TV show?
HBO has done some decent shows in the last decade, with my favorites being Carnivale and Deadwood. I liked FX's The Shield, too. I don't think any television program made more of an impression on me than the old PBS Masterpiece Theater series with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (though I think this series was originally from the BBC). For you Sir Arthur Conan Doyle purists out there, Basil Rathbone = scrub. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Watson. In retrospect, maybe I should not have picked an emotionally distant social outcast as my childhood hero. Whoops.

20) What is your favorite TV comedy?
I have mentioned before on this site that I have modified my AM/FM clock radio to pick up TV audio out of Houston, so my answer here is only based on network television. I haven't figured out how to get cable yet or keep the signal once television converts to digital in February. Of the current crap, my clear favorite is "The Big Bang Theory." Sheldon is the funniest TV personality I've seen (heard rather) in years. Emmy, anyone? Two and a Half Men can be pretty humorous, though I am continually amazed the SEC lets them get away with some of the double entendres they toss about. I miss Monty Pythons Flying Circus, my second favorite show as a kid. Great: Holmes plus a bunch of sarcastic jerks. No wonder I'm such a mess. It's all PBS fault.

I'm going to end this here as I don't want to dump any more work on my typists. I will finish it next year. Hopefully, 2009 > 2008. Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shameless Plug Alert!

December 18, 2008

I think it is fair to say that a certain sizable portion of the people who come to this site start with the view that I am to be believed about as far as I can be thrown. I acknowledge this, and accept it. I recognize that the reasons for this are entirely my own fault. That said, just because someone was once dishonest doesn't mean that they will always be so; such a conclusion is neither logical nor healthy. I spoke a little about this subject in a past entry, and I called the process "uncrying wolf", an obvious reference to the story we tell our children about what happens to liars. I lamented that there was very little succor for the boy (or man) once he gets painted with the "liar's brush". Turns out, the best way for the boy to once again earn his way back into the realms of the believable is to have someone of irrefutable character standing with him in the fields, guarding the sheep. Call it "honesty by association", if you will. Most inmates never find individuals of such high moral quality, as they are pretty rare these days. I guess DNA is about the truest friend (or greatest enemy) an inmate can have. I am fortunate in that I have something even better: my father.

His book (Murder by Family) recently came out, and you can find it at the following sites and bookstores:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Nobles
Borders Books
...and just about any other place that books are sold.

I have gotten my copy now (He asked me to read early manuscripts as he was writing it), and the final work is really very good, very accurate. Not to mention the fact that I lived the book. This is not a "Pro-Me" work. My father pulls no punches, and none of it is glossed over. His task was to honestly retell the true story of my case, from the night of December 10th, 2003, until my conviction. You have never heard the true story in its completeness, because the news media does not report events, it reports a perception of those events. Usually, said perception is the one best designed to grab your attention, and nevermind the truth. I really hope you will read his narrative if you feel you have some questions about my situation, particularly those which pertain to God and His role in all of this. As weird as it sounds, it turns out to be very uplifting.

I can see it coming now: "Aha! They are just trying to make some money off of this! I knew they were up to something." A few thoughts on this, if you do not mind: First off, my Dad is donating all of the proceeds of this work to charity. So, kindly put that in your pipe and smoke it. I have recently received a lot of nasty letters from people regarding me getting money sent to my commissary fund from my father. This confused me, until I had a friend track down a certain thread on an internet forum, where someone "in the know" proclaimed my Dad sends me 100 dollars a month. It is true that when I was in seg at the county jail, my Dad did send me some money. I am not sure of the exact figure, but I think it was actually considerably less than that, but no matter. What is important is that this was something I stopped, at my own request, when I came to DR. I simply felt it would be better for our relationship. I didn't want to be a taker any more. I want to state this as clearly as I can, so there is no confusion: I will not receive one penny from the sale of this book, nor will Dad, any friends, or any family. My Dad and I discussed the possible beneficiaries of any money taken in form its sale, which are all reputable and recognized charities, and I am very pleased with the list of recipients. So, sorry, guys, you will have to take that off of your list of criticisms to lob my way. Don't fret, the list is still nice and juicy. (Read that last line with as much sarcasm as you like.)

You can read more about my Dad, or the book, at his website: www.kent-whitaker.com (And by the way: Murder by Family hit the New York Times Best Seller List in October, and in addition to the CBS 48 Hours Mystery program and the hour on Oprah Winfrey Show this fall, ABC's Primetime-20/20 will feature our story in February.)

© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five Years

December 10th, 2008

Five years. How can such a slice of time seem simultaneously eternal and instantaneous? When I dissect it all, when I pick it apart and reduce it down to individual memories, it seems to expand, to swell; pushing against the barriers of conscious thought until it breaks the walls of the mind and washes over me and I, too, am reduced and broken down. Tiny, minuscule events/memories/experiences are pushed through filters and distilled into something far purer than ever they were in real life. I take the essence of these seemingly inconsequential slivers of past life-not more than a few neurons in length-and make idols out of them; massive, monstrous things littering the plains of Dura in my mind, all with feet of clay. Her smile becomes something Holy. The breeze on my face as I sat in the desert in Mexico watching the stars becomes God's touch. The moment I was told I would never see my 35th birthday, when everyone was thirsting, straining to see me break down, to see the drama their hearts were crying for, becomes the first of my Rubicon's to cross, my first crossing of the Potomac. I infuse these things with meaning they never possessed, until I can hardly contain the procession of my life as it is projected on to the backs of my retinas. And yet, when I step back, it all becomes a flash, five years gone in a snap, so quantum-brief that I only really know it was there at all by what it spawned in its passing.

Five years. Five years I have whipped myself over and over again, converting the past into a scourge wreathed in acid and fire. Never forgiveness-never for me. All of the religious and philosophical thoughts on the matter be damned - no forgiveness; never for myself, that which I can extend so easily to others. I wouldn't permit it. You have to pay. Everybody pays. It's not enough. Cut off from the world - it's not enough. Take my life-it's not enough. Hit and kick me and push me into the sewers of public humiliation - it's not enough. It will never be enough, because no matter what they do to me, I hold the contract, and I control the vig. I will never let myself close to the principle. I chose to pay like this

Five years. The universe still spins, indifferent to such a tiny, insignificant speck of time. But I am not the universe; five years is not insignificant to me. So much is different now. So much gone, and so much evolved. Just a few revolutions of a tiny blue rock around the relatively tiny yellow sun. I feel as if it should be possible to reach back through the veil of time and alter a few things. Surely no one would mind if I changed a few events, with a few twists to the story, and then watched as the ripples float towards the present. Washing it all away, replacing me with some alternate universe version that never got so messed up in the first place. Stupid, silly thoughts. There is no reality but this one, the one we have chosen. The one I chose. I didn't always believe in free will. Part of me still rejects the idea. We are but biological machines, I would shout to the sky. Neural pathways set at twelve. Nurture always trumps nature. And I am right about these things. I can blame my bipolar nature, a fallen world which glorifies violence and which enthrones nihilism; I can say I hated God and wanted revenge for being born. I can say that I am irreparably broken, shattered, alone. And I would still be right about all of this. Yet, underneath all of that, I cannot deny that there exists a solid rock, unmoving and stolid amidst the stream of toxic garbage. We call this rock choice.

Choice. How quickly I lost sight that such a thing even existed. Locked in. Running on autopilot. Being what I was programmed to be, not what I might have chosen to be. Such a tiny thing, the realization that I controlled my life, that choice is mine. This is insanity, to me - to lose sight that choice exists, that we are more than the sum of our past moments. I am surrounded by men who have forgotten this. A man here pulled out his eyes this week and ate it in front of the sergeant, because he was reading Matthew 5:29, and heard Jesus tell him to take it literally. This was his second eye, mind. He plucked out at first when he was living in the county jail, because George W. Bush told him he had to do this if he "wanted to be the ultimate cell warrior." Squirrel - the blind, sane (according to the state) Squirrel - he has no choices, only desire and fears, which thrust him to and fro, mercilessly, eternally. I, too, lived like this once. I fear that a great many of you will never understand why this realization alters everything. And about how this makes me a man apart from who I was. All of the foundation of my life was quicksand threaded with drowning pools of noxious poisons. A few clean steps, that's all we have as a species. I lost sight of that. Now, I see.

Five years. Five years it took me to choose right action five years it took me to realize that morality and purpose and...beauty, even, all of that was already inside me. I've been scouring heaven and earth for these things, and they have been here all along. They are here in my heart and my mind and they cannot be taken from me because my beliefs in anything outside of myself waver. For the first time in my life, I believe in Thomas, and so these things I value - morality and kindness and self-control - these things are me. I never would have found them outside of myself, this see that God planted in my soul. It is only ever grasped inside. Inside me. Inside you, too.

Five years I've been choosing to daily break myself over the wheel of my burdens. Tonight, I have said my apologies. I will not cheapen them by repeating them here. Those are mine, and they belonged to my mother and my brother. Tonight, I am letting it all go. I've got work to do before the end, and I cannot lift both weights. It is enough, I think. Enough.

It is snowing outside. It does not snow in South Texas very often. I never look out my window anymore. In fact, I keep it covered with rolled up newspaper, because it is easier to live in a concrete world when you forget that blues and greens exist. My neighbor began yelling that it was snowing, however, so I took the newspapers down to see for myself. What was once dirt and metal and gray is now white. Hundreds, thousands, millions of crystalline motes dance and scatter when I look their way. A man downstairs is crying that this is a sign from God for the new year. Call me skeptical, as always. I am not sure I have ever seen special divine providence before. I guess it happens, my view on the issue is that when God wants something to happen in the world, he acts on the hearts and consciences of men and women, rather than waving a magic wand and dismissing all of the myriad physical laws he went to such trouble to create. I know I am in the minority on this amongst Christians, but that is okay. I guess I am just not that egotistical to think that God sent us a storm to tell us 2009 would be a better year. Metaphor, on the other hand, I get. Seems like a good night to let myself become covered in white, too. Each time that a snowflake - individual, unique - passes by my window, I whisper out and connect a piece of my regrets, my guilt, my fears to it, and watch them borne away to melt on the ground. Two hours, I sat there, on the tips of my toes, just...letting go. Such an enormously complicated, and yet simple, thing to do. Just. Let. It. Fucking. Go.

They painted our pod recently. Black and white. What when they painted the chicken wire covering the small slit windows in my door, I reached through the gap and dipped my pointer finger into the wet paint. I traced the words "No Tomorrow" above my door.

Tonight, I stare at these words.

I am not my past. The past is dead.

Tomorrow is a ghost. It may never happen.

I only have the here and now, and the choice.

I chose to fill my life and my veins with poison.

I chose to surround myself with hollow men.

I chose to surrender my free will to hate.

No more.

I choose honor.

I choose dignity.

I choose to be better than I have ever been.

I choose to keep my eyes on the fact that I have this choice, as every second slips into a new one.

Five years. Five to go, more or less. Five years to do as much damage to this place as I can. Five years to continue the process started tonight. It is funny, one moment, all you can identify as fear, and then you realize that all fear is chosen, and poof! Gone. No more fear. Moses, Elijah, Paul come even Christ and the Buddha, they all had the wilderness as a place of suffering and refuge, a crucible for the soul. I have Polunsky. Because of this place, I have never been this free. You can only wake up once from a dream. I am awake, and my heart is smiling for the first time in years.


"An empty pageant; a stage play; flocks of sheep; herds of cattle; a brawl of Spearman; a bone flung among a pack of dogs; a crumb tossed into a pond of fish; ants, loaded and laboring; mice, scared and scampering; puppets, jerking on their strings - that is life. In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good temperedly and without disdain."

Marcus Aurelius, meditations


© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Camp of One

November 24th, 2008

Have you ever seen one of those Rube Goldberg devices before? You know-- an incredibly overcomplicated series of wheels, ramps, widgets, tubes, and other whimsical devices that are combined with the goal of delivering a marble (or whatever) through this dizzying obstacle path in order to open a bottle of soda (or some other simple activity). They are marvelous feats of engineering, but they are, by definition and design, so inefficient that the entire apparatus can only be looked at as a joke. (If you have no idea what I am talking about. Google "Honda's Superbowl ad" from a few years back; it's great fun.) I was trying to describe Texas prisons to a friend of mine from overseas, and I thought instantly of these devices. It is a very apt analogy, in all seriousness. Scores of little gray men spinning about in circles, making lots of noise, spending ungodly amount of money, accomplishing nothing. At no point is this more obvious than during Lockdown. We have come up twice, only to go back under Lockdown status after a few hours. The old Lockdown is dead! Long live the Lockdown! The guy who started all of this mess, one Richard Tabler, is again causing drama. He was the inmate who decided it would be a grand idea to use a smuggled cell phone to call and threaten a state Senator's daughter, thus provoking the late unpleasantness. He has since also sent threatening letters to the same Senator, which makes no sense, until you realize that he had begun the process to forfeit his appeals BEFORE he made the initial calls. I suppose this all was his way of expressing his hatred for the other men on the Row, which is not surprising, as he was easily one of the most reviled inmates in 12-Building. He has forged a reputation for stealing from other inmates, and for being a rat. It is true that some men here have no desire to change, and for all of my progressivism this thought, I do not honestly know what we as a society are to do about them. I only know that I feel in my heart that sinking to his level and killing him is wrong. I think that it is safe to say, however, that such a man should never again see the light of day. He seems to revel in causing chaos and pain, which I find extremely difficult to understand. I can empathize with the men who snap and do something, which they regret, but men who choose not to learn what they can from their falls are beyond me. They have no grounding, it would seem. No desire to ever be better than they were yesterday, a subject that is constantly on my mind. They have him in a section by himself, with only a towel, a mattress, and some sheets. A more pitiful existence I cannot imagine.

They do seem to be learning some new tactics, however, all our kings men. They still won't ever to be able to put Humpty-Dumpty together again, but they are honing their brutality to a razor's edge sharpness. Last week, they stripped us down to our boxers, and started to place all of our belongings down in the dayroom, on top of our mattresses. They then handcuffed us, and lead us into the hallway that connects C-Pod to the rest of 12-Building. There, about 40 TDC guards made us strip, and step forward one by one to be scanned for metal. The first man in line is a very large gentleman... ah, who am I kidding, he is a blimp. I shall call him El Panzon for now. Some of the female officers started mocking him, and I could tell that he was embarrassed, as his face turned bright red. They continued with the taunting, the crowd starting to get involved. I suppose it was meant to look spur-of-the- moment, but I believe it was planned, as there was no need for so many women officers to have been present in that hall (by the way, women officers aren't even supposed to be strip searching male inmates, but nobody really cares about the rules around here). Things were getting out of hand, and it seemed as if they were taunting him into doing something foolish. El Panzon started to get really agitated when a female officer made a comment about pitying his wife. I started doing my imitation of "Fat Bastard" from the Austin Powers movies (I do accents pretty well). "Coome on, lad! Shake eet fur me, now...yoo ken yer ded sexah!" The other inmates started cracking up, and the spell was broken. El Panzon started smiling, even doing some form of imitation pole dance, which was really quite revolting, but at least he wasn't going off. Being made fun of by the guys (which happens all of the time) trumped the guards, basically. Bomb defused. I caught the eye of the only ranking officer in the hall, and winked at him. Check. Your move, jerk.

We kept up the banter, each man first getting insulted by the guards, and then we would reply. They kept telling us to shut-up, but it turns out that being naked and deprived of all dignity is the point that men finally realize that there is nothing left to be taken from them, and so authority loses its power. The subject matter of their attacks was easily anticipated, and therefore dispersible. The intellectual capacity of most of these people falls somewhere in the range between pond scum and small rodentia, so they stuck to the easy stuff: obscenely small genitalia, pale skin, love handles, man boobs, etc., etc. I was actually pretty amused by some of the stuff my team came up with. We have a guy on one-row who's... um... "facial symmetry" is a few degrees out of whack, let's say. When it was his turn, someone called out, "Sloth loves Chunk", a delightful reference to the 80's movie "The Goonies," which almost had me crying. Wish I had come up with that. For my part, I missed the memo that modern man was supposed to be completely hairless, so there were some remarks about my being a wolf-man (I'm not THAT hairy, but I began to howl, anyways), as well as a comment or two about my scars, which were so apathetic I do not think I even responded. I think that they had mostly lost interest by the time they made it down the line to me. After the scanning, they let us out to one of the outside dayrooms where we sat as they finished transporting our stuff to the day room.


It took them a while, but eventually they completed the task. We were led back to our cells, and given our boxers. It is fortunate for us that the temperature outside was only in the upper 50's, as concrete walls transmit the cold to an extremely efficient degree. Basically, the inside temperature is the same as the external temperature, minus the wind-chill factor. One at a time, the guards would wheel large carts in and take an inmate's stuff down to be X-rayed. When they have completed this task, they would return the items to the day room. This went on all day. They finished scanning my section by 4:30 PM, but refused to return our items; orders from the Warden. Most of us spent the time running in place, doing squats, anything to stay warm. By midnight, the temperature in our cells was in the upper 30s. Now, this building IS equipped with heat, but they will not turn it on. They claim all manner of things: no money for natural gas, it's not cold enough, the heater is broken. None of that is true. This is revenge for Tabler, and for the media hopping all over the story of what idiots they are. (Shock, Horror!)

About the time the sun went down, I had come to the conclusion that running in place was not going to help me much anymore, so I settled down on the concrete floor and attempted to meditate. I've only been seriously practicing Vipassana for maybe eight months, so I was not as successful at finding some level of sati as I would like to claim, but it did settle me down a lot. I will admit that my usual calmness had started to fray. The men around me weren't helping, either. They were screaming and cursing, and many of their complaints mirrored my own, albeit worded differently. On one hand, I recognize how otiose complaints are in this situation, but sometimes it feels just splendid vent. I kept thinking about President-Elect Obama talking to an interviewer about shutting down Guantanamo and about how "we don't torture in America." Right, like it was an accident that they stacked up all of our stuff in the part of the day room that is visible from our cells, with our jackets resting on top of everything.

Eventually, I found a sort of rhythm, and was able to phase the cacophony out, to a certain degree. About 3:00 AM, this greasily unctuous officer came around, entering from D-Section. By this point, most of the men had recognize that the concrete floor was slightly warmer than the steel of our beds, and were huddled down into balls, trying to maintain some measure of body warmth. He asked me if I was cold. I didn't see any reason to answer such an obvious question, and just wished he would do what he came for and leave me alone

"If you want your stuff back, all you have to do is tell me who's got a cell phone in this section." Good cop. I let him go on, about how he could at least get me my jacket out of my stuff. All he wanted was a little bit of information. My dignity finally snapped. I am somewhat ashamed by this, but all I can say is: we all have our limits, and I am doing the best I can. "You want a cell phone? Okay, you can have mine." I pretended to look around, patting my non-existent pockets. "Hmm... I must have left it at your house, when your wife invited me over." Bad inmate. He was less amused than I was, and everybody on two-row laughed, some mimicking my wolf howl. He huffed and puffed, but he was the piggy, not me. He proceeded down the row, and the responses got somewhat viler as he went through. I wish, now, that I had maintained my composure, but even metal becomes brittle at low temperatures, and any time you can see both your breath steaming up the air as you exhale and your boxer shorts, it's bloody COLD. Plus, my tongue is a real smartass, and I haven't yet figured out how to reign him in completely yet. I think he got the message, though: I am not a dog. I do not beg for treats. I am the same man, with or without a radio. I am the same man, with or without clothes. I am the same man, with or without a mat to sleep on. If I am strong enough to transcend your petty attempts to break me, you have no one to blame but yourself, TDC. You have helped me become this. You will not minimize all of the work I have had to do to get myself to this point, but I cannot ignore your contribution to the effort. You have tried to ruin me. You failed. I will never again hand you my dignity, or my anger. You are worthy of only my scorn, my disgust. I am not an animal, no matter the cage you place me in. In fact, you bear far more of the qualities of a wild beast than I do. Fas est et ab hoste doceri.

Rant off.

I know that there exists a threshold where anger becomes justified, but where does it lie, exactly? Jesus went off when he saw all of the vendors hawking their wares inside the temple (Mark 11:15-17). Obviously, there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to convicts. Acts which are acceptable or understandable in your world cause most people to say, "Well, this just proves how unredeemable he is" when I even think about the same action. I've really been trying to get a handle on myself the last few years. It is not easy, being mindful every second of the day. A quick example for you to try their home: relax in your seat. Close your eyes. What are you really feeling? What are you really thinking? Perhaps you are sensing the texture of your hands as they stretch across your knees. Maybe you feel a little discomfort in your back. Can you even identify one single thought, before your mind takes off with it, connecting it with something else? Thoughts have a way of connecting together with a frightening rapidity. Try to focus on just one single thing. Maybe a single word, maybe you're breathing (I highly recommend the breathing). Can you even concentrate on just the breaths for 30 seconds? Or does your mind take off on a tangent? If we are not able to concentrate on something as simple as breathing for a lousy half-minute, what does that say about us? Completely insane isn't too far off the mark. All of us: barely controlled chaos, masquerading as rational beings.

Most of my Christian friends are confused because I also study Buddhism. They think it is weird, unnatural. They think this, and yet they have never read a single word of Buddhist literature, or know anything about the practice other than what they have seen in movies. That's cool. I usually just respond that I do not turn away from wisdom because the source has a name that is hard to pronounce. The ironic thing is, if you put a true Christian and a true practitioner of the Dhamma through a series of morality tests, how they respond would be somewhat different, but the answers would be the same. Hell... I am a weird Christian, no "if's", "and's", or "but's" about it. I didn't set out to be this way. I do not know why I question everything, why I cannot engage in a smidgen of the "suspension of disbelief" my friend Diyon talks about. I can't just read the Bible, or something by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi or Bhante Henepola Gunaratana without dissecting the text, propelling my essence further and further out into the deep waters where the harbor lights do not reach. Once you get out there, you realize there are no benchmarks to guide you; even the stars are invisible behind the clouds. The shoreline is a gray blur, and you know in your heart that you are way past the point of no return, where the only option left for you is to keep paddling forward and hope for land. Some turn back, but I have this fragile, yet certain, logic that the shore behind me is not my home, but rather the place where the ghosts of all the mistakes I thought would save me dwell. (The human condition summed up in one sentence.) And so I find myself pretty much alone in my faith, which actually doesn't bother me at all. I get asked all the time what my denomination is, which club I belong to. I don't really know what I am. I have no church home. Nearly every letter that I have ever sent to a church has gone unanswered. If you live in Houston and watch Sunday services on the television, you have seen some of the organizations that decided that they wanted nothing to do with me. A while back, I started listing the basic tenets of my faith, and comparing them to the stated doctrines of the various camps. I know what I am not, certainly. I am not a fundamentalist, and I never will be. Socrates believed that the overriding cause of evil was ignorance, and to that I shout, "Hallelujah!" Such people have ever been an anchor on human progress, always clinging to the memory of "better days", totally ignoring the fact that those days never existed. I went to Catholic Church when I lived in Mexico, so I can safely say that I am not of the Pope's flock. I don't seem to fit in very well with the Baptists, though that may have a lot more to do with their desire to have me killed more than anything else. I feel little closer to the Methodists, and closer still to the Unitarians and the Episcopalians, though I am by no means a perfect fit. I am an unabashed progressive Democrat. I believe in Theistic Evolution (which is not at all the equivalent of the pseudo-scientific "Creation Science" nonsense that was crammed down my throat at my private high school). I am very secular, and I do not see science as the enemy of God, but rather as a lens through which we see him with greater clarity. I like Buddhists, Humanists, and Homosexuals, and I think Christ loves these people, too (Matt 5:44), and wouldn't be advocating the war in Iraq as a "Mission sent from God", or holding "Pray Away the Gay" conferences. (A gold star if you can guess which former vice-presidential candidate is adamant about both. Hint: the only 3 AM phone call she ever received dealt with a moose getting stuck in a trash-can.) Anyways. So, I don't really know what I am. I only know that I cannot find God in any other way than on this path I am taking.

When I try to read most mainstream Christian literature, I never make it past the first few chapters, disgusted. It is just too formulaic, too contrived plastic. The only Christian writer I have ever read that didn't leave me feeling like my soul was something the cat dragged in is Donald Miller ("Blue Like Jazz" is excellent, by the way). If we do not question, do we really care? I think not, and we as a religion have an absolutely dreadful record of admitting when we are wrong, and about being tolerant of other beliefs. The list of atrocities done by "Christians" who were convinced of the rightness of their beliefs is too long to mention here... it is the history of the last 1800 years, or so. Think about the Crusades. The virtual elimination of the Aztecs at the hands of Cortez (and others) comes to mind, as does the Spanish Inquisition. Not to mention the entire time period after the Byzantine empire fell apart and before the Enlightenment, when Europe seem to attempt to institute St. Augustine's whole "City of God" thing. Kings being subject to the rule of the Church... great idea, guys. They were called the Dark Ages for good reason. It was not dogma, which moved the progress of society out of the ceaseless cruelty and violence of those days. It was reason, logic, and science. Theocracies are clearly the most dangerous and unstable political structures. Go read the story of a Hypatia (370 about or 415, I think), who was the daughter of a mathematician and astronomer at the Alexandrian Museum (the Harvard, Oxford, and MIT of the ancient world... Christians burned it down, it is estimated that human progress was set back by more than half a millennium). She was a Neo-Platonist, but not religious. Since she was a pagan, a philosopher, a scientist, and a mathematician, St. Cyril (patriarch of Alexandria) ordered her dragged from her chariot, stripped naked, cut up alive with sharpened shells, and finally burned. This is what was meant by brotherly love. Talk to the Lombards about this; or the Saxons. Or, I might add, to African Americans living in the South during the civil right movement (Hell, talk to them today), or prison inmates in Texas. I hope that you have the wisdom to understand that when I say that certain aspects of the First Republican Church of Americanized Jesus scares the hell out of me, I am not talking trash about God. I am speaking only of the application of what people are convinced is right.

Ajahn Chah, a Buddhists of the Thai Forest tradition, gave a pretty good description of practicing the Dhamma, and I am going to rip them off and modify the analogy to include all religion. He described it as a bottle of medicine. The bottle has detailed descriptions on how to take the pills: what time of the day to take them, what types of food to take them with, etc. If the patient only reads the directions, without taking the medication, it won't do him any good. He could even die. Before he dies, he complains bitterly about the medications ineffectiveness. But he never took it inside him! Only when the patient reads the instructions and take the medicine will it help him. I figure the sicker he is, the more he will need to take. I add my own two cents to the teachings of the Bhikku by saying that certain types of pills can make the symptoms worse, if used incorrectly. You would not take a blood thinner to cure athlete's foot, would you? So, be careful how you apply religious teachings to matters which are modern... you may be overextending what God intended to the point that you are totally losing your way.

I guess that what I would like for each of us to do it this: take a deep breath when someone says something that you do not like. Especially if it is a subject you know nothing about. Try to see things from their point of view. Stop thinking you, or me, or anyone, has absolute monopoly on truth. Find the truth for yourself, and recognize that while absolute truth may be real, don't be convinced you are in possession of it. Life becomes a lot more beautiful when we can accept each other's oddness.

"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content with doubts, he shall end in certainties."

Francis Bacon


Click to read "Lawyers Late Filings Can Be Deadly For Inmates"

© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nuts and Bolts and 4-Letter Words

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Have you ever been in an office cubicle where one entire wall is covered in post-it notes? That's what this entry is-a celebration of pragmatism. I have needed to address some topics for a while, but never seemed to be able to get around to actually doing so. This is an MB6 tune-up, in other words. Usually I do not bother to write something for the site unless the subject matter reaches some threshold of "importance", which may lead the casual reader to believe that I am way too bloody serious for my own good. Whether or not that is true, I assure you that my level of maturity is actually far, far lower than has been presented here. This would be the opportune space to insert a joke or two, but the only ones which come to mind are rather obscene, which would, admittedly, prove my point, but I have tried to keep this site relatively clean so I won't go there.

So, this really isn't an entry. It is just a collection of some random snippets of thought that I wanted to put up here in the hope that I will no longer have to address some of this stuff 1000 times in future letters. Without further ado:

THE MECHANICS OF MB6.COM

I had previously surmised that it would be an intuitive and inescapable conclusion that a prison system was backwards enough to deny basic medical care or fruit, and would most certainly NOT allow inmate's access to the Internet. I was, apparently, mistaken. I have never seen this website, and I most likely never will. I suppose it would be profitable to elucidate a little on the inner workings of how this site works.

This is basically a volunteer organization. I pay the costs of maintaining this site on a yearly basis, but all the actual work is done by an elite cadre of individuals with immense hearts and more accumulated morality than they know what to do with.

The process basically starts with my team of trained monkeys, who spend 18 hours a day pounding away on typewriters, reproducing the great works of man, and occasionally something original. Meanwhile, I spend the time relaxing in the sauna, being fed grapes by scantily clad vixens who are all under the illusion that I am the best thing since sliced bread. When the monkeys finish an entry, I imperviously give it the "thumbs up", and it is then sent out to one of my several typists, who kindly re-type it again in digital media. Upon completion, it is then emailed to my cousin Victoria, who codes it and posts it online. Victoria is the webmaster and designer of MB6, so to all of you who have complimented me on the aesthetic qualities of the site, your praise should really be directed to her. (Praise only, mind you. Any negative commentary should be directed at me, and NOT emailed to her. She is way smarter then I am, so if your desire is to engage in some form of insult contest, you want to do it with me. That is unless you have some strange desire to get eviscerated over the Internet. Trust me on this.)

It is for this reason that it often takes several weeks for posts to make it to the site. In addition, the mailroom runs a very active campaign to "lose" my posts, which has necessitated the creation of some rather clever strategies for bypassing them altogether, which allows my words to reach the free world. (Wait...did I just pay myself a compliment? Holy Crap! There is that "narcissism" that everyone is always complaining about! Well, you know what they say: If one compliment in over 100,000 words doesn't make you a selfishly egocentric snob of epic proportions, I don't know what does. (Cough, Cough, Choke.) Seriously...I just previously equated my mental thought processes to a team of monkeys. I simply love it when individuals lacking even one second of formal psychological training toss about loaded words, as if they had any intellectual claim to them. God bless the 1st amendment! Sigh. It's okay, though. I joke about being injured, but in reality I forgave you all the moment you uttered your comments. One day you will get it, and if you don't, that is okay too. (The world needs Delta's!) Anyways, MB6 is a team, and I would like to thank the following people for helping me to keep this rusting behemoth afloat: Donna, Sarah, Sharly, EEH, Martin, Doris, and Carlos. I would also like to extend my appreciation to all of you. The fact that thousands of people are reading this on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis absolutely floors me. It is so very humbling because I had zero expectations of ever reaching more than a handful of people. Funny how life works out sometimes. This knowledge also fills me with a great deal of trepidation when I actually sit down to write, as it feels like there is an army looking over my shoulders.

I am aware that my entries are sometimes very random and lacking in cohesiveness. No doubt I would profit from some sort of editing process, but I rather enjoy the raw feel of a first draft. Seems like I might have mentioned this before, but sending this stuff out with nary a second glance is a bit like a giant middle finger directed at all of the years I tried to be perfect. That I am not completely freaked out that a few hundred thousand people are going, "Well, he misspelled four words in that paragraph alone", is something of a miraculous evolution for me, though some of you will never understand this at all. Considering that I have never paid one cent for advertising, I think that this whole thing is pretty amazing. And no, that was a compliment aimed at YOU, not me...once per year is enough for my ego, I think.

A few more random thank-you's:

To whoever sent me two books from Amazon.com on the week of October 20th, I want to say: Thank You! The clawing, tenuous hold on my sanity was preserved, thanks to you. They do not allow us to have the shipping receipts, so I have been unable to determine who sent them, but I did not want you to think that I was unappreciative. The same goes for the mystery provider of the years subscription to "Discover" magazine. The article on the Large Hadron Collider was totally badass, in a very "Yeah, I engraved my name on my pocket protector, what of it?" sort of way. I suppose this is my official public acceptance of the unending vastness of my nerd-dom; a coming out of the laboratory closet, so to speak. Three cheers for people who actually know what a Hadron is!

WHAT THE DEVIL IS A HOT-POT?

My friend Tracey from way down under asked me some questions about my prison recipe entry, and I thought them worth answering in public forum. No we do not have a stove in our cells. All of the "meat" is pre-cooked, and it comes in sealed packages. All the "cooking" I mentioned is really just reheating, using the hot-pot. Which I sort of dropped the ball on and never bothered to describe, so: A hot-pot is basically a hot plate with an attached coffee urn. You pour water into the receptacle, and it heats up. They sell them to us with a maximum heating capacity I estimate to be around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, though a clever mod-man could, I don't know, conceivably alter the internal mechanics so that it boils water, instead. He could again, hypothetically, incorrectly rewire the switch so when he plugged it in again for the first time it blew out the breaker, sending pearlescent blue sparks arching all over his chest and cell. He might have screamed and cursed a lot. Hypothetically.

Thomas' Hot Pot in which the guards cut the cord off

The ice cream we are allowed to buy must be eaten immediately, as we have no means to store it. The 35-cent cookie cones are about the best value on the entire commissary list, and I usually buy about 10 of them to send out to the guys. It is amazing how appreciative one gets for the little things after living in the hole. Lessons learned in Hell get burned in deep.

TEMPORALLY CHALLENGED

If you have written me lately, you have no doubt detected a longer than normal delay in response time. I used to be so quick about getting back to you all, but I fear those days are done. I simply cannot write any more than I already do, which is about 50 letters a week. I enjoy my correspondence, else I would not spend so much of my time working on it. But after a certain level, it becomes less of a joy, and more of a chore, and I have found my responses becoming more formulaic and drab by attempting to press myself harder than I already do. On a more practical note, all of this is costing me a bloody fortune, and while I do appreciate the feeling that many people have about sending money to a prisoner, I am no longer going to be bankrolling this on my own. They do not allow us to receive stamps in letters, which would help to alleviate the problem. TDC must control all such things, so the only stamps which we are allowed are the ones are the ones we purchase off the commissary. Any which are sent to me will be confiscated. Also, to be perfectly honest, I have other things which require my time, such as the casework which I do for the for the men around me. So: I will respond to you all when I have the time, and I hope that you will forgive me if it takes a little longer than it used to. This is in NO WAY a reflection upon the quality of your writing abilities or the thoughts contained therein. It is simply a function of me not being able to conceive of a fairer means of ordering my responses other than "first come, first served." There is, in addition, one other reason that I have become somewhat soured on the issue of pen-pals, which I will address later in this entry.

OPRAH

The Oprah show wasn't as bad as it could have been, I guess. I was peeved that they cut out most of my explanations about the comments they did show, but I suppose that is the business. The reviews have been varied, and I will not attempt to dissuade you of your position. Surprisingly, most of the angry letters that I received in the aftermath centered on a single question: Why did I lie about my prosecutor participating on the show?

I love how I am the liar when one of my comments turns out to be incorrect. Can't one simply be wrong without being dishonest? The vox populi would appear to think that this is not true, so long as I am concerned. As I understand the story, this individual did fly to Chicago, and then left before the show was filmed. I know most of the details, but I do not feel it is necessary to delve into them in great detail. However, if you should find yourself ever invited to participate in a national television program, you should go with the anticipation of having to sign a release form. You should most definitely NOT become obstinate about the issue. Most especially, you should refrain from getting so angry that they boot you from the building. Solid advice, that is. Because then you will not have to miss out on the tepid glow of your fifteen minutes of fame. Also, as the opportunity was presented to me on a silver platter, I am going to take the opportunity to hammer home a point that I have tried to make in the past. Miss Winfrey seemed rather overjoyed at parading the fact that I had lied about my schooling, commenting several times about how I was only a freshman, etc, etc. She obtained this data from my prosecutor, who also made a point of rubbing this in my face. Problem: I am, in fact, a junior. When you add up my AP credits, the credits that I earned the summer before I went to the university, at Community College; plus my two years at Baylor, they fall well into the range of my Junior Year. But don't take my word for it: HERE is a summary of the hours I was credited at Baylor alone (the only transcript I have on me the present moment). Whoopsie! Ask yourself this: if you are going to automatically believe me because I once led a deceptive life, why don't you extend the same disbelief to our public officials? Just another example of "justice" being as deceptive and manipulative as I am supposed to be, and the media reporting "facts" without even bothering to do a little thing called verification. If they lied about this what else have they lied about?

I should admit that while this trend in American courts bothers me deeply, I am not angry with any of this. I bear no ill will. This is simply life as it is today, and I choose to spend my energy attempting to change it, not being angry. Sometimes, every once in awhile, I get a taste of what life unchained feels like. I feel this way now. I do not mean physically. If you get what I mean...good. If you don't, this site really isn't for you. I think.

IDJITS, AND NINCOMPOOPS, AND MORONS, OH MY!

I suppose I must comment on the current scandal du jour, much as I don't want to. The option of having pontification on this sordid subject in all of my letters for the next 6 months appeals to me even less, however. So here we go...

As most of you have seen on the news, the Texas State Prison System is currently in week 4 of a system-wide lockdown, due to the "sudden" realization that cellular phones were being smuggled back to inmates. Governor Perry freaked out, the populace freaked out, and so teams of guards are tearing all Texas prisons apart. I've never seen anything quite like it. Never mind that they have been catching inmates with cell phones for 18-months now, and that they are really only peeved that the news media has made them all look like the idiots that they are. Never mind that Texas created this problem by being the only state prison system in the nation without a phone network for inmates to use. Never mind the process for adding visitors to our very limited visitation list is an overly complicated procedure that sometimes prohibits even close family members from being able to visit their condemned siblings, parents, and sons. Don't even pay an iota of attention to any of that, or the obvious truth that some men are going to want to say goodbye to their families. Only pay attention to the "vile scum" getting their wicked hands on contraband. Which, by the way, does not just magically coalesce into existence via the means of will power in the most secure facility in the entire state. Don't talk about the corrupt wardens and high-ranking officials making millions off this shit...only blame the bottom-of-the-barrel shift workers for the problem. Honestly, it is really very delicious what I am witnessing: the slow, catastrophic breakdown of the ideology that has run the prison system in this redneck bastion for years. Some history to give the proper perspective: When "W" was made governor in Texas, he ushered into place a new ere in prison spending-though not in programs, only in new construction. He and his far right-wing cronies decided that the only response to crime was to build more prisons and to lock people up for eternal sentences. And they did, in record numbers. Parole virtually disappeared. Programs vanished. Mental problems? Drug Addictions? Tough sh-t. Life sentence. They proceeded to build these new prisons in rural areas, hoping to spur economic development. Unfortunately, I have done some hiring at previous jobs, and even I could have explained to them about the problems associated with building facilities requiring thousands of workers to operate in zones where available workforce is both microscopic and genetically interbred to the point that nearly everyone in town is a brother or a cousin to everyone else. As a result of these airheaded policies, TDC is now short more than 4000 workers statewide. This is true, even after they A.) upped the base pay by 20% and B.) decreased the minimal hiring requirements to the simple possession of a pulse. And they still can't keep people. There are, as we speak, prisons running at less than 60% in terms of recommended staff. There has always been a backbone for the prison industry, a certain type of human being who gravitates towards these positions. You can imagine this person very easily: they are the bullies, the sadists. These types makes up about 50% of the staff in most state prison systems. The amazing thing is, even these men are being driven away, because the people now working here will not back them up on their little beating sprees...the new guys are too weak. Their superior officers no longer have their backs, and this incompetence drips down from the heights of the chain of command like leachate, the toxic garbage juice which runs off municipal dumping grounds. It's all falling apart. Sure, we inmates pay for it, but it is still amusing to watch. And still nobody wants to start talking about why we have men serving 25-year sentences for a bag of weed, or why nobody who wants to get into programs can. Still the righties clamor about new prisons...Oh Wait! There is no more money. Sorry, lads. The funny thing is, if the fed ever comes in and takes it over from the state in an oversight of capacity, you are going to see a massive increase in spending, and people are going to wail about it. The fed will simply say: "This is money that should have been spent all along. Tell it to Governor Perry, and ask him why he approved of a prison system that has been condemned by the United Nations for YEARS." Idiot inspired chaos.

They have torn my cell up twice. The first time was pretty standard. They took all of my things down to the dayroom and spent an hour or so picking it all apart, while I waited naked in the shower. (This is not an approved holding cell and is in direct violation of the handbook they give us...never mind all of that, too. TDC's Motto: Do as we say, not as we do.) The second time through, they brought in workers from other units, and they were far more sinister about the process. They tossed out most of my writings, under the excuse that they were "seditious." Hell, I was surprised that anyone working for the state of Texas even knew what this word meant...and that realization caused me to pay far more attention to the Lieutenant who made the comment. I noticed that no one else in my section had a ranking officer of that level overseeing the search of their cells. It is no secret that TDC targets those of us with websites.

I began to think that perhaps this was an extension of this policy, and my suspicions were confirmed when an officer pushed my typewriter off the dayroom table onto the floor, where it broke into many pieces. I made sure everyone knew that I had seen this, and that I knew their names. "Seen what? I didn't see anything. Anybody see anything?" the Lieutenant smirked as he asked his compatriots, who all imitated his attempts at smugness. His smile faded a little when he saw that I was not going to enter into some form of infantile tirade. "Why don't you write about it on your blog?" he quipped, attempting to regain the high ground. Okay, Lieutenant Smith. Okay. I just stared at him, which made him nervous. I'm a good starrer. A trained killer in Mexico once told me that anger was something for children and people with something to lose. I've never forgotten it. The truth is, the more time that I spend separating myself from my ego and the world, the less I feel a slave to my instincts. My initial thought-chain included some images of punching this jackass in his throat. One hundred dollars (the cost of a typewriter) is probably not too much to you, but it is a huge sum to me, and the realization that my finances were going to be shot for a while made me very angry. The desire for violence faded quickly though, as I thought about what the inner workings of this man's mind must be like, if he gets his jollies breaking the property of men with almost nothing. He had to know that poking a caged bear with a stick did not make him a man...it only proved his cowardice. So I kept staring at him, smiling. He became very antsy, and wouldn't look at me anymore, and when they came back to get me out of the shower, he made sure that there were 4 brutes between us. He kept his eyes on the ground. My cell looked like 1945 Nagasaki, but my mind felt light. They wanted me to fly off the handle. Instead, I defeated them all, naked, without a word; and he knew it. In the patios of my world: I made him my bitch. Funny thing, I'm still not angry with him. A tiny step on the path to enlightenment? Who would have thought it!



Too Many Prisoners, Not Enough Guards Cause Crisis in Texas

In the category of small annoyances, they tossed out my 2008/2009 calendar. Which is where I had everyone's birthdays written out. Those of you who write me, please send me those dates again, so I will have that ready to go for next year. Thanks!

In case you are new to the site, I should mention that Lockdown basically means there is no recreation, visits, commissary, limited showers, no hot meals (Johnny Sacks 3-times a day), ect, ect...You get a little stir crazy, which is perfectly normal.

I build stuff, much to the annoyance of everyone in my vicinity, most especially my neighbor. He is a die-hard McCainiac, while I am a huge supporter of Barack Obama. I built this little device that sticks to the wall. It is basically a huge extending arm, made out of pen cartridges, tape (they were going to jack this from me anyways, as it is contraband) and popsicle sticks. Upon the end of my device, I hung a portrait of our next president, and extended the whole contraption so that it bridged the gap of 10 feet and hung directly in front of my neighbor's door. He howled when he saw number 44 looking into his cell, and spent the next 30 minutes throwing trash at it until the whole thing came crashing to the ground. I am easily amused, I know. Since I brought up the whole subject, I will look into my magical crystal ball and run the risk of looking like a doofus by making the following prognostication:

-Obama gets 350 to 370 Electoral College votes.
-Democrats pick up 7 seats in the Senate.
-Democrats pick up 22 to 25 seats in the House.

I may be the only white Obama supporter here, which is rather amusing. I always tell people that I am far more committed to being an elitist a-hole than I am to my whiteness. Of this I am absolutely certain: If I hear another bloody political ad I am going to rip my radio out of my wall and stomp it into itsy-bitsy pieces. I regret that I will not be able to see my boy give his victory speech, but I will enjoy listening to it. If you have not seen the portrait of Obama I commissioned for the site, go check out the Artist section under the artist named "Kosoul".

UTMB

No news on the medical front. My arm is still messed up. They seem to have entered into the phase where they ignore all of my sick calls now, instead of merely lying to me. They have even stopped giving me my Advil. I contacted the ACLU a few months back and finally met with a staff attorney in October. Unfortunately, they claim that they do not have the money to help me, so...I've made plans of my own. More on this in the future, I promise you.


Click to read how prisons flush drugs and contaminate the water supply

TOUGH LOVE

I don't even have the slightest idea of how to address this final issue, so I am going to speak as plainly as I can, and hope that you will forgive me if the conversation touches on some subjects which are a bit crude. I DO NOT want to talk about this stuff, but it has become patently obvious that something must be done, so here goes. Shortly after my arrival here, I was warned about a certain type of woman who might try to contact me during my time on Death Row. I shall use the term "groupie", for lack of a better descriptor. I mainly shrugged off the suggestion, as it was totally inconceivable to me that A.) anyone could ever find me attractive in any way after all of the news stories about me, and B.) anyone would want to have a relationship with a caged man, someone whom they could never touch. I mean, who would want to enter into a relationship that has such a definite finality to it? And why would I enter into such feelings knowing that I would inevitably be hurting my beloved? I have been vaguely aware that some of the men around me have married women whom they have met during their time here. My old neighbor, Robert Hudson, did this. I don't have a problem with the idea, as they are both adults, and seem to be very happy together. I guess that I have taken the view that if two people could cultivate a blossom of something beautiful in the middle of this toxic wasteland, the more power to them. I never considered such things for myself, however. And so I have entered into all of my pen-pal relationships stating very clearly that I wasn't interested in romantic love, only in deep friendship. I thought I was on the same page with everyone on this. I will admit that there is something intrinsically romantic in the concept of writing actual letters...something to do with waiting, perhaps? Also, I do not believe in superficial relationships, so I admit that I have got quite "deep" with some of my friends; which may have sent the wrong message. I desire that all of my friends feel special, and perhaps that this too was a signal that received in a different context than it had been transmitted with. Whatever the reasoning, I have recently discovered that a few of my pen pals have not been honest with me about their feelings towards me, and this has created all manner of drama. In case you were wondering, drama is precisely what is lacking in my life at this time. In fact, after I have my morning coffee and complete my crossword, I sit around for at least an hour plotting ways to vastly increase the petty online squabbling done in my name.

Now, I have addressed this in great detail with my friends, so I do not want anyone to think that I am speaking specifically about them. I have also dealt with the individuals who kept their "stalkerish" ways secret from me. I did not enjoy this, as I do relish the idea of hurting anyone. But I simply do not require any more insanity in my life. Period. To my true friends, I also need to say that while I appreciate all of you sticking up for me in the online forums, I would ask you to cease this activity. These people you "debate" with...they do not want logical arguments. They only want your light, your heat, your life. They are moths drawn to it. It gives them the chance to voice their ignorance, and your well-worded and intentioned responses only serve to give their idiocy validation. Leave them to their soul rot. In particular, I love the posts from "ex-writers of Thomas" who use my own words from the website against me. How clever some of you. (Yawn.) I've said so many damaging things about myself that the only surprise about any of this is that it took some of you this long to figure this tactic out. When I first put up this website, I received quite a few letters from the Abolitionist crowd basically telling me "Whoa! Hold on. Don't you realize that you are nailing your own coffin shut?" You think I don't know this? Do you honestly understand so little about me? If you can extrapolate why I did this, and even more importantly, why I don't care about the results, then you are getting closer to understanding the real me.

All of this stuff has soured me on some of my writing. I am constantly asking myself "what does this person truly want? Is this another nut-job?" Mail call used to feel like Christmas morning. Now, it is just 9:00 P.M....So, in order to eliminate any possibility for even the slightest modicum of confusion: I am not looking for a girlfriend. I have been in love before. It was maybe the only good thing that I have done in this life. The circumstances are simply impossible for me here. It would drive me insane. Plus, I am an idiot. When it comes to love, I ride the short bus. It is the truest aphorism known to mankind that we never really truly know what we have until it is gone. There. I hope that clears up any residual confusion. If you are interested in friendship, come on with it. If you are looking for some sort of relationship, go to a bar, If you want some sort of cheap vicarious sexual thrill writing to a caged monster, get a life. Bleh.

All right, that's it for today. I will be back in a few weeks with something far more interesting.

Thanks for showing up so faithfully =)

© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Give and Take

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion, or I shall suspect you don't understand."
- C. S. Lewis, "A Grief Observed"

Your first steps into a new classroom are always a little tentative. You are trying to simultaneously make yourself invisible and be noticed by the "right people." Coming to prison is no different. You don't really know what to expect. Will I have to fight? What will it feel like to get stabbed? After 18 months in the county jail (as well as three other detention facilities), all the fear of physical conflict was pretty much burned out of me. In one of the many short stories that always end up getting flushed down my toilet, I referred to the souls of most prisoners as resembling used up light bulbs - burnt and gray and tossed into the rubbish bin. That's how I feel about fights now. You learn after a while that winning or losing matters a whole lot less than showing up. I was more concerned about the guards, honestly. Prison screws are not known to be the most scrupulous of people. These units are not part of America. Oh, they are on the map. You can Google Earth them and check this. While they geographically may be within the territorial boundaries of your country, they are a world apart. Your police hold no sway here...they can't even get in the gates. Not even your Army has permission to enter, unless the governor grants them this permission. The Warden is the Man, the god, the genius loci, the guy sitting on the throne. What he says is Law. And, unless some extraordinary set of circumstances come into alignment, you will never know about any of the happenings in his domain. (incidentally, this is the reason the officials HATE these sites. The veil is torn, and the wizard is revealed, and they cannot stand it. I am hit for "random" searches with a frequency rivaling that of major gang leaders.) If a guard decides he feels like playing a little whack-a-mole with the heads of some inmates, all he has to do is get a few buddies (read: at least 6 or 7), and a stick. He knows it won't make the news. So, maybe fear and extreme caution are two distinct entities. Sort of like a cliff. You may not be afraid of it, but you are going to be damned careful when you look over the edge. Prison is like that for me. When you roll up to your unit, you are shaved, numbered, tagged, and hog-tied. (Actually, I'm not even sure what being "hog-tied" entails, but it sounds appropriate...seems like I should have such knowledge encoded in my Texas DNA, or something.) The guards are out in force, shotguns and batons. Some even have on their plastic body armor for good effect. I'm not terribly impressed by such infantile tactics, but I imagine some might be. They are certainly trying to put on their "fearsome" faces; that I do remember. All you can really do in the face of such displays of dominance is to swallow your core, all the things you care about, and wall them up somewhere deep down inside you, where they cannot be taken. Because everything else will be. The whole time I was in Mexico, I wore a piece of leather cord around my neck, upon which hung a ring someone very special had given to me when I was 18. When I needed to feel grounded, I would touch it, and feel the weight of it against the skin above my heart. Maybe I was going a little nuts at the time, but I imbued into that piece of metal all of the love I had felt for my Angel, and it became a symbol of the only good thing I had ever done in my life. I had worn the ring on my right hand for almost seven years before I disappeared into the mountains of Mexico. That first day, I took it off, and put it on the cord, no longer feeling worthy of it. I could not bear to part with it, though. It was her laughter and her smiles and that look which was just for me and the sound of her voice and the way it lit up when she heard it was me calling on the phone...how do you cast that away? Even when you know it is a weight dragging you into the earth? I protected that ring the whole time I was in Mexico. The guards stole it from me when I came to prison. I can forgive them for all the wanton cruelness they inflict upon me, but I will never forgive them for that. Ever. That is what they do here. They take and take and take, raping deep down into your soul, until they are sure you aren't hiding anything from them. And then they keep going, because they can. Every facet of your life is dissected during diagnostics. "Whats that tattoo mean? Why you done what you done? What you gon be thinking about when they stick you, uh? I thinks I'll be volunteerin' for that one myself. What you think of that?" That's how you arrive on Death Row. The cell door closes, and that is that.

Almost. My sleep was, shall we say, troubled that first night. I was not disappointed to be woken up, however, as even prison reality was a better thing to face than my dreams. I was not sure what had woken me, until I heard someone calling "Hey, new guy!" from down in the dayroom. I moved to the door, and an older white man smiled at me and tossed a brown paper bag in front of my cell. "Be blessed!" he called, before climbing back down the bars. The sack contained toothpaste and toothbrush, soap, a razor blade, and some food; important necessities, as it usually takes 5 or 6 weeks for your ID card to reach you...which is necessary to buy from commissary. As you can imagine, going six weeks without brushing your teeth is unacceptable, especially in an environment where the only dental care we receive is, "Rip that sonabitch out and move on to the next!" The man who slid me the bag was Alvin Kelly. He was executed this past Tuesday, the 14th of October (to be followed by six more in November). Major Kathryn Cox of the Salvation Army told me they spent the last two hours of Alvin's life singing praise songs, and he was still singing when they pumped him full of poison.

I have become what they call a "writ-writer" since my arrival on DR, meaning I offer case reviews to the men with execution dates. I do not charge for this. It has nothing to do with me having some special knowledge of the courts and their processes, because I have no such expertise. It has everything to do with the fact that quite a few inmates move the entire way through the appellate process without having a single attorney give a rats ass about their cases enough to actually look at the record. So, I do. I think every man should have at least one friend before they die. I did this for Alvin. He was my 5th failure. I couldn't save him, or the others. Some of his damned issues weren't preserved properly, and so he died. Listen to me, and listen to me good, for this I swear on my life: I will not fail one day. Someone will leave this place alive before you have your way with me. I'm sorry I failed you Alvin. So sorry.

It started something for me, though. A small legacy, to be sure, but we inmates deal primarily in small quantities, save perhaps regret and misery. Because of him, I have not missed sending a care package to the new guys when they pull up. Black, white, Mexican, it doesn't matter to me, and so I honor him for his lesson. I doubt I was the only pupil of his. He would have been a boon to whatever unit he ended up on had his sentence been commuted. But you wouldn't listen, Mr. Perry, and so the cycle of pain loops back around for another pass. I also learned something from Sayid, whom I mentioned in an entry well over a year ago. I don't know where Sayid is (I hope Jester IV), but there are no shortage of men like him here on the Row. From him I learned that, cliche as it might be, giving really can be better than receiving. I always pick one man like him (with mental problems) to take care of each week. It's not much, I know: a few soups, candy bars, soap, etc. I find this all so deliciously ironic that me - "cold, narcissistic, sociopathic" me - does the job that all of the "anti-DP" groups will not. I do what the lawyers cannot. I do what the church does not. When it comes right down to it, most of these "activists" are mere mouthpieces. They make a lot of noise, but don't do much of anything. The late Jack Henry Abbott said it all pretty clearly: "No one else does a thing. The liberals, the humanitarians and clergy are worse than anyone else. They are 'too busy'; there is nothing they can do, etc. They stand around talking to one another about their experiences with prisoners; they seek to be "recognized" as authorities and "spokespersons" for prisoners. And never once have they ever as a group or as individuals effectuated a single reform or helped a single prisoner tortured in prison." I don't agree with him on all of that, as I have met a few people who have the power to change worlds inside them, but he is sadly correct when it comes to organizations. I'm not scolding. Simply relating truth. And it pleases me to act in the face of such apathetic inertia. So, I do not give selflessly. I give to help the men around me, because I do care (ie: empathy). I also give out of a sense of responsibility to my philosophical and religious ideas of morality (ie: what I ought to do). But I also give because it satisfies me to do so, and there are very few avenues for finding such pleasure in this world of concrete and sweat and fear. This troubled me for awhile, as I thought it meant my giving was tainted. The philosopher Kant postulated that an action performed from self-interest could not be virtuous. I'm not smart enough to say whether he is right or wrong. I wonder what he would say about an action that is performed from self-interest AND obeys the rational law of morality (otherwise known as a duty, I think)? Does the pleasure I get out of giving nullify the duty? or can an action be both? Does God care? I've the feeling Kant was worlds more rigid than God on such things. The Bible says that the poor and persecuted are blessed, but then advocates that we are to help such people, which may sound sort of contradictory on it's face, but is far from it in actuality. I am blessed by the harshness of my environment in that I would never have matured and evolved the way I have under normal "free-world" living conditions. Correction has been hard, but I am a better man for it. So, I guess pain isn't all bad...though that is a huge issue for another day. Knowing all of that doesn't really help, sometimes. To quote the late Bill Hicks, my second favorite comedian behind the also passed Mitch Hedberg: "I don't mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that's how it comes out."

I want to be free of such bitterness, but I am weekly faced with death and injustice and poverty and ignorance and I try to keep such things from infecting my mind, but I am not sure such a thing is possible if you are a creature with eyes and the ability to empathize. I hope you will forgive me my brief (and not so brief) bouts with anger and the like. Some of it is actually justifiable; some of it is not. I have found it is much easier to forgive a person that it is to forgive a bureaucracy...an institution has no face. Might as well try to forgive a rock for being in existence and stubbing your toe. It doesn't have much effect, because it has not humanity in it. I still have a long, long way to go to be like Alvin, because I have no doubt he forgave the executioner as he was singing. Sound like the actions and thoughts of a monster to you? Me either.

"Quit your worship charades.
I can't stand your trivial religious games:
monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings-
meetings, meetings, meetings - I can't stand one more!
Meetings for this meetings for that. I hate them!
You've worn me out!
I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on singing.
When you put on your next prayer - performance,
I'll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I'll not be listening.
And do you know why? because you've been tearing
people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of evil doings
so I don't have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for Justice.
Help the down and out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

-God, Isaiah 1:13-17
("The Message" translation)




Perfecting the Death Penalty by David Dow


© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.