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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Antibodies to Spiritual Paresis

July 30th, 2009 4:00am

And on and on it goes. I’ve been awake now for 51 hours, and counting. I cannot fathom my brain's deranged executive logic behind this behavior, for the life of me. I am obscenely tired, but every time I lay down, I end up staring at the ceiling for an hour before my OCD has me up and pacing about for something to do. I’ve always had a touch of the gremlin-like presence of insomnia, but since I arrived here the bastard has grown teeth. I feel as if there is some unspecified menace looming around the corner, a very Harold Pinter-esque sentiment. It’s hard to fight something you can’t identify.

I think it quite silly that any one of us should ever really be surprised by anything which happens in life. That said, I have been pleasantly comforted by the letters regarding the posting of my psych evaluation last month. I was expecting a more vitriolic response. As stated, I have a policy of not discussing in great detail matters of active litigation, but I can say that the report was about 90% accurate. Which is really quite impressive, considering I am a man of some subtlety, and the docs only had me for one day. I can really only identify one major area of error, and I have come to understand how two round comments were somehow wedged into square holes, but that is ok. Actually, I very much want to discuss this topic, as it affects my perceived sexuality and therefore my manly ego, but it will have to wait. I feel this uncomfortable need to clean up that particular misunderstanding, but...hell, I’ve taken a progressive stance on this issue for years, saying that I believed the question of homosexuality to be a very complex subject involving genetics and environment, and wishing certain types of people would ignore their dusty, retrograde, worm-eaten opinions on the matter and just let people live in peace. I would be hurting my gay friends if I tried to distance myself from them by acting repulsed by the thought that the report said I had certain latent tendencies, as if I thought there was something wrong with them. I know what I am, and so does everyone who has ever known me, That is enough for now, and I will just have to clean all of this up later, after my habeus is ruled on.

While the opinions on the report have been mostly positive, another group of close friends have cautioned me that I have gotten a little more caustic in my writings of late. One even informed me that she vastly preferred my earlier works, which is a little depressing because you would like to think that if you work at something for so long, you are going to get better at it. Maybe I am more abrasive now than I was two years ago, but lets trace the trajectory here, ok? Start with a lonely and messed up kid who was probably a little too smart and worldly for his own good, and watch him as he descends into a pattern of behavior that is ultimately self-destructive and homicidal. As should have happened, this boy-man is arrested and spends the next four years either battling insanity in solitary or defending himself from hyenas who walk like men in GP. In the midst of the soul-crippling depths of the hole, he discovers that God has left him, and he has no choice but to try to find his own way in the twilight gloom. The lighthouses he eventually stumbles across to guide him to safety have names which are familiar to some of you: Hume, Dostoyevsky, Spinoza, Russell, Schopenhauer, Camus, Hitchens. His ideals – once nebulous and cloudlike idols unattached to reason – solidify into concrete form. After a while, he is even able to look himself in the mirror, and soon after that the old feigned self-defensive confidence is replaced by the real thing. The pride which begins to creep into his writings – and which so many deign to condescend upon – is really the inevitable audacity of the self-made intellectual. What I’m saying is: there are not a lot of pathways though this hell which end up in a better place than where you began. I like what I am becoming. I’ve never been happy with the man in the mirror, so pardon me if I pay little attention to people who offer me no advice or an alternative way, only criticism or the false comforts of naïve, populist religion. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! It could go no other way.

It probably wouldn’t go any other way for you, either. During WWII, an interesting social experiment took place in the stadium of the University of Minnesota, under the auspices of the U of Minn’s Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene, and supervised by Dr. Ancel Keys. The purpose of this experiment was to study the result of starvation on a social group. Volunteers were selected, and most of these were individuals who were deeply religious/spiritual. They “almost universally believed” that enforced starvation would “bring them closer to God” (once again proving that the “universal” has always been constructed through and out of the particular). What occurred was the exact opposite of what they expected. A “modern feral community” resulted and after the experiment ended, all of the participants admitted to being shocked at how thin were the veneers of their morality. Experience, it turns out, is the great equalizer, and it has been my experience that those people who are least apt to throw stones are those who have lived through the most turmoil. No wonder the suburbs of our nation have become a moral wasteland, despite there being a church on every other corner.

I think that most would expect to find such an ethical null-state here on the Row. They would be right in some cases, but would find themselves astonished at the moral grounding in some of my neighbors. It sort of feels like finding an oasis in the desert, to be honest with you. That water is so much more refreshing for the effort required to find it. Most incredible to me are the survivors of truly atrocious lives – lives best represented by either a doormat or by the image of a ghost wandering across a city, unable to touch or be touched by the thousands of people he meets. – who nonetheless still manage to find the ability to weep for a dying friend or take the risk of trying to climb back on the cantankerous horse of love who has kicked them off countless times. Such men amaze and motivate me. I’d like to introduce you to one of them, my good friend Kevin Varga. When I first met Kevin, I couldn’t speak to him. His name – my brother's – made me nauseous just thinking about it. When I was in Monterrey, I was once in a bar and struck up a conversation with another American, who eventually introduced himself as a Kevin. I had to leave the bar, I got the shakes so bad. After a year or so, Kevin made it though my defenses, and he has become one of the few men here who can make me laugh my real laugh, the one that touches all the way to my eyes. He has a voice all his own, and I will let him tell you about himself.

Is man inherently good? Many would try to answer this with an unequivocal and resounding Yes, but that is only because we each wish to believe ourselves and being “good”. But are we good or just the products of our environment? Please allow me a few moments to tell you of my story and then you may decide for yourself whether or not I am in fact a good person, a bad person, or a victim of my environment.

This story starts with me, when at the age of ten I got into a minor scrape with the authorities. I had vandalized a local store (I spray painted my name on the side of the building; this was 1978). When the police brought me to my mother’s house she told the officer that she no longer wanted the responsibility of my well-being. Not to paint too grim a picture of my mother, she was dealing with my youngest brother's cancer and she spent most of her time in and out of the hospital. When she heard anything from me it was that I was running wild. I guess looking back, I wanted attention and since I was not receiving any I did what I had to, to gain my mother's attention. Imagine how I felt at ten years old to hear my mother telling the police officer to take me, that she didn’t want me! I was placed in a home as a temporary measure until my mother decided to take me. But I was hurt and angered that I felt this abandonment. Of course, at the time I could not have so clinically seen my actions, I just knew that no one wanted me and that no one cared what I did, so I ran away from the home. Every time I was brought back I told them I would just run away again and again. That was when it was decided that I would be placed into the juvenile detention center. I had not committed any crime like the rest of these boys but I was treated the same as everyone else.

This JDC was a new and frightening world for a ten year old. These boys ruled by fear and brutality. I had two choices: I could either become a victim of any of a number of the bullies there or I could learn to fight so that when it came to it I wouldn’t be such an easy conquest. At first I was beaten several times, but each time I learned to fight a little better then before long no one thought it was worth the trouble to single me out. The JDC is intended as a holding facility only. But since I had not committed any crime my “time” was never determined. I was in there for over a year until my mother decided that she would attempt to deal with me.

For the first time in over a year I was to deal with normal people, which on the surface may sound easy but consider this; soldiers who return to the world from war often have problems reintegrating back into society. I was walking home from school when I came upon two high school girls physically taunting my little brother who had gone through radiation treatments so that all of his hair had fallen out. Well I protected him from these two girls who were both older and bigger than myself. They ran home and told the story of how I beat them with trashcans even though they had not a single mark upon them. I was sent back to the JDC, this time for assault. I was declared a ward of the state of Michigan and I was sent off to a juvenile institution where I was for two and a half years. Upon turning fourteen I was released back into the care of a mother I no longer knew to a world that had turned its back upon me.

I was placed into high school where I was expected to put the institution behind me. I went from a place that once more was the strong preying on the weak to a normal Norman Rockwell painting. How was I to deal with what a normal teen would if I was taught only to lash out at anyone I perceived as a threat? It wasn’t long before this attitude led me to striking the vice principal in a fit of rage. They deemed me to be a violent and uncontrollable youth and sent me to yet another institution. This one was worse than the first two that I had found myself in. I was in a group of young boys aged from 14-19 that had like myself been brought up in the various placed around Michigan. The Adrien Training School is what is called PPC or Positive Peer Culture. They intend for the boys to police one another, but what it was in reality was just another form of the strong preying on the weak as the different factions would prey on those who couldn’t stand up for one's self. So in a sense the structure of this place forced you into a faction since it was suicide to be alone there. I was never one to conform to any structural dynamic so I of course rebelled. I was in the ATS for almost two years when the administration said that I was not fit to complete their program. Namely I refused to participate in that gang mentality that was forced upon me. I was then sent to the worst place in Michigan that you could possibly be sent to. The Green Oak Center was infamous at the time for the brutality that goes on behind its chain linked fences and razor wire. This was actually a juvenile prison, known as the last stop. If you are sent here you are there until you turn 18.

When I walked into the cell hall I was greeted by the cacophony of noise. The staff member was a large black man that looked as if he could snap my neck in his bare hands. I was taken into the office and they began to “Orientate” me. I was asked what crimes that I had committed and so forth, what gangs I was affiliated with. My answers displeased them (remember until that time I had been accused and convicted for a minor assault only where everyone else in that place were there for crimes ranging from a multitude of thefts to murder). I was in a cell hall with the worst of these “inmates” due to a report from ATS. I was given my housing assignment; thankfully we were to live in single cells! I was able to interact with the others. I was confronted in the bathroom by several black youths from Detroit. They demanded that I pay protection or they would make my stay a very long and painful one. Given the situation I did what I had been taught though my lengthy stay in other places, I swung my first at the nearest youth. I smashed his nose against the side of his face, and his two or three homies beat me unconscious. I missed the mandatory count and was placed into the isolation cell for 5 days. That was the standard disciplinary action for almost every rule infraction. 5 days in the iso cell is not a pleasant way to spend your time. The cell has only a toilet/sink combo that stinks due to its infrequent washings. The cell itself smells of stale sweat and urine. You are provided with two meals a day, both consisting of two bologna sandwiches and a carton of milk (to this day I do not eat bologna).

When my first 5 day stint was over I was never so happy to be able to take a shower, one of those luxuries that are denied those who would be crass enough to flout the rules and regulations of GOC. I will not go into a long and lengthy depiction of my stay in that hellish place; I was there until I was almost 18. I had an opportunity to run from there and I of course took that opportunity.

I am now on Death Row in Texas. I will never claim that I am an innocent man nor can I honestly say that I do not deserve to be in prison for my part of the incident that brought me to Death Row. I will forever claim that I took no active role in the death of the two men that I was convicted to die for. That being said, I will again ask the question: Is man inherently good? Am I? Or am I just a victim that was placed into a position to do what I had to, to survive in an environment? Could anyone claim that given that choice they would react any differently from me? Now before anyone will label me a heartless person I would share a more recent story with you.

I had been on Death Row for going on seven years when I received a letter from a most engaging woman from England. We traded letters for several months before I realized that I was falling in love with this woman. I never thought I had the capacity to love with such abandonment and unconditionally but she showed me that love was pure and giving. We married on November 2 2008. Then shortly thereafter her mother died and her letters fell off from twice weekly to nothing. I tried to understand that she was going through the loss of her mother, but I wanted to comfort her and help her through her tragic loss. I wrote a letter in anger and she thought I wanted to be free of her. Did she not realize that she changed how I felt about everyone? A mere few years ago I would have just shrugged my shoulders and moved on to the next conquest; I am unable to get past the hurt in my heart. I am heartbroken over this woman. I tell this to show that even a person such as myself that has seen the ugliest that man has to offer has the capacity to love someone so much that her happiness is beyond my own. So, am I a good man or a bad man? Neither. I am just a man. Each man is capable of the greatest good or the vilest of evils. Don’t believe me? Put on my skin and walk around for a week and that will show you that we are.

I thank you for indulging me and allowing me to share this time and space with you. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Thomas for giving me this venue to vent. I dedicated this to Samantha Jane Varga who showed me that love is real and not just an abstract idea.


Knowing Kevin has led me to one of my core beliefs: good and evil are not who we are, but what we do. Good and evil are verbs, not adjectives. Kevin recently got shot down by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, typically considered the last real court of hope, as the Supreme Court actually only looks at a microscopically small percentage of death row appeals. His last resort is to petition Gov Rick Perry for Clemency. For those of you in the Abolition movement, I am going to ask you to fire up your printers and send some letters to the addresses listed below. To those of you who were touched by what he wrote, please also consider letting the Governor know your thoughts on this man. He is worthy of a commutation to a life sentence. He is worth it. If you ever believe anything I ever write, believe that.

To see what is right, and not do it, is for want of courage, or of principle

Confucius


Robin Norris
Attorney at Law
2408 Fir Street
El Paso, TX, 79925

Fax: (915) 590-9992


Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Fax: (512) 463-1849


Chair: Rissie Owens
Jose Aliseda, Jr.
Charles Aycock
Conrith Davis
Jackie DeNoyelles
Linda Garcia
Juanita M. Gonzalez

Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Section
General Counsel’s Office
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd
Austin, TX 78757

Fax: (512) 467-0945



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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Tale of Five Jails - Polk County IAH (Part I)

July 22nd, 2009 - 3:45 AM

The following takes place in the Summer of 2006...

The sign was unmarred; the wide steel door gleaming proudly with a virgin layer of bright royal blue paint. It read: "No Hostages Will Be Permitted Through These Doors". This rather ominous message was then repeated in Spanish; just to cover their bases. Like the door, and the fences, the building itself looked fresh and brand spanking new, a real oddity in the penal world. I gave it 6-months before this place would be singing a song of a very different key.

"Well, that's good to know" quipped someone behind me, sotto voce. Another voice, this time heavily laden with the accent of Mexico, chimed in: "Hey Vato, how does it make you feel to know that if I take you hostage, they will just shoot us both? How's that for company loyalty?" His laughing was interrupted by a clicking, whinging noise, and then men were shouting. Underneath the din, I could hear someone wheezing, and when I managed to pull a 180 (not the easiest feat when you are chained hand to waist to foot) I saw a small man with a dark complexion laid out on the ground, doubled over. The other 11 men in the transport group were all attempting to get as far away as possible; which was not easy in such a small enclosure. One of the black-clad civigenic officers was standing over the fallen man, his collapsible asp baton now fully extended.

"How's that for shutting the fuck up!?!" he roared, his eyes quickly daring anyone else to smart off. He had the same barely controlled fury in his eyes that I had seen some of the guards at Limestone and Fort Bend. Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Whatever. I was just glad that they had been forced to lock the pistols and shotguns in a heavy steel deposit cage before entering the razor wire perimeter jungle. Very glad.

Above the "No hostages" door hung a tiny glass globe, which had a golden hue to it. Obviously a camera, and a fairly new one, at that. One of the transport officers spoke into his walkie-talkie, and the door swung open, revealing at least 6 more guards. Four of these carried the "trouble-maker" to a waiting wheelchair, while the remaining two ushered us forward in stentorian tones. It made me a little uneasy that the four who carried our fallen member so bodily looked very practiced at this manoeuvre, as if they had done this before. "Not their first Rodeo," as the expression goes in Texas. I did not see this man for several weeks, until he was released from seg into rec with the rest of us. I didn't recall him missing both of his front teeth; nor did I remember the huge black rings which now circled his eyes, but, hey, my memory is spotty at times.

He wouldn't speak with any of us in the yard. He just sat there, plumped down with his back to the concrete wall by the toilets, bouncing a blue racket ball against the partition. Every once in a while, it would get away from him, but he never went to retrieve it. He would just continue staring at the wall. Occasionally, someone would bring it back to him, and he would go back to lobbing it, as if he had never stopped. I used to believe that there would be a reckoning for this type of thing. Someone would ride in on their white horse and avenge the "bouncing ball" man, who no longer had his mind. I sometimes see this avenger in my own reflection, and it scares me, the things that my mind comes up with. I feel I am doomed to play Iscariot with my right hand or my left. If I had gone after the guard, really broke the spokes on his sadistic ass, I would be betraying this new system of ethics which had taken me so much pain and blood to construct. If I just sat there and watched them transform a man into a noman in the space of a few weeks, I would be betraying my own humanity.

Sometimes the idea of winning is an illusion.

It was the same day that I first saw the bouncing ball man that I started reading books on law; which is as close as I have been able to come to charting a safe passage between the Scylia of violent, reactionary style, disobedience, and the Charybdis of giving up completely; opening my own veins all over this concrete soil.

Even the holding cells to which we were lead were clean; which has to be some kind of penal first. The cinder-block walls were a clear, crisp off-white; all the metal was the same royal blue as the door. I didn't see any insects or mold, and the whole scene was vaguely creepy. It made me feel as if I had stepped into an alternate universe, or, you know, maybe one of "them thar fancy norther Yankee states, what where they don't snicker when someone says prisoners rights"

The van had mostly consisted of Fort Bend inmates, with a few men from several counties south of Dallas scattered in for diversity. I knew several of the men, including a very tall, very muscular black man called "Big C," an older, balding, pot-bellied gentleman named Roberto, and a quiet Philipino boy, who's name escapes me. We sat there for several hours, doing what everyone incarcerated does with the lions share of their time; waiting for something to happen. Big C informed me that he had been caught twice with weed in the past, and this was his third strike. In Texas, this can mean that they may try to label you as a habitual offender (pronounced "Ha-bitch-ual;" often simply called getting "bitched out.) The result of a habitual tag is a life sentence; which seemed an awful harsh punishment for an ounce of weed, but it didn't surprise me to learn that such things are commonplace in the state that gave you GW and Alberto Gonzalez. Most everyone in the holding tank knew who I was, and avoided the conversation of "time," for the most part. When someone didn't know, and asked "what I was looking at having to do," I simply told them that I had some unpaid parking tickets to take care of. People who knew otherwise usually smiled at that.

There was another van load of prisoners in addition to our own; and it ended up taking six or seven hours to process everyone. Our Limestone "Oranges" were traded in for Polk County IAH Navy Blues. Our property bags were searched; questions were asked. Eventually we were all assigned a tank number. Six of us from FB had the same tank, A-24. The long walk from the holding area offered me a pretty good view of the building, and it was obvious that this complex exemplified a newer concept in penal architecture; something more akin to Betham’s Panopticon than the typical concrete monstrosities to which I had become accustomed.


Panopticon blueprint by Jeremy Bentham, 1791

I saw very few guards. In place of them, cameras were in great abundance, and every hallway ended in a man trap, or a set of double doors wherein a person entered a small square area, and was then sealed in. When it was determined by the central control room the direction that person was to head, the appropriate doorway was opened for him. Thus, a few employees could run an entire prison, which is important if your goal is profit, as is certainly the case with privately run facilities. Everything was wide open, also. In place of many solid walls they opted for thick tempered glass. Again, I think this was a function of cost, as with glass walls one needs fewer cameras.

Upon entering the man trap for A-wing, the escort guard simply looked up at the camera and said his name, and the exit door slid open. Pretty nifty, I thought. A-24 was at the end of the hallway; which was maybe 200 yards long. As we walked down the run, we got our first glimpse of the tanks, which were laid out on either side of us; very small, with a long window which stretched the entire length of the enclosure. They were all laid out in a line, and it reminded me of a zoo. (Actually, that is precisely what it was, in a way.) Everyone inside the tanks showed up at the window to see the "new boots," and it quickly became a game of "look down, or look hard." After almost a year of incarceration, I knew quite well that there really was only one option.

All in all, we had a good group of men in A-24. The tanks were designed for 8 men, and there was less than 150 square feet of floor space, so you can imagine the potential tension such conditions might produce. You bond living like that (or go completely batshit loco), and it was fortunate that there were no real "psych" patients or chronic masturbators in the group.

We quickly divided up cleaning duties and created a TV sharing plan. The latter is absolutely essential for harmonious co-existence. I have seen more fights over the television then any other issue., by far (over 30, at least). Like everything in prison, the root of this is racial tension; the blacks want BET, the Mexicans TELEVISA, and the whites ESPN or the Discovery channel. To my surprise, we all came together and made a fair schedule which satisfied everyone. That is not to say that certain unnamed people (ahem!) didn't joke about certain selections which were made. Big C couldn't, for the life of him, figure out why A) anyone would climb into a boat to go catch Alaskan King Crab in the middle of the winter, and B) Why we cared if they did. His verdict: "you see bruthahs on that boat? Hell Naw! You Europeans is crazy. I keep my black ass on the solid."

As I am all for cultural and racial equality, I made sure to get in a few jabs when he was watching his rap videos and singing the lyrics.

Me: "There a setting on there lower than mute?"
Big C: "Nope, the volume buttons busted 'til 6 o'clock."
Me: "I was referring to you, Charles." (he hated it when I called him by his real name)

This back and forth eventually spawned all manner of ridiculous low comedy, wherein he pretended to be a white snob from the suburbs named Preston. ("Hey, brahs! you dudes know where I can find the nearest Starbuck's?"), and I became Tyrone Rone. It was a good thing that Big C had a well developed sense of humor, or else I would have gotten my face rearranged several times for re-translating my white commentary into "street". (When I whipped him at chess, for instance, "Man, I am good," became "I'm so fly, I put 20's on a cab, go pick up mo' hoes than the WNBA draft." He liked that one particularly, and would sometimes make me repeat myself in the yard.)

Very few people truly appreciate dry wit, and those who do seem to like it less when it comes from me. I have a gift!

Things quickly settled into a routine: wake up (whenever), shower (the tank had one shower and one toilet), eat lunch, go to rec for a few hours, shower, eat dinner, watch TV, read, die slowly inside, pray, sleep. Repeat often regardless of your desires.

Life incarcerated is really like a bad song stuck on endless repeat. Several days into our stay however, a new portion of the song began to play, and one that I had never heard before. I was asked if I wanted to work. I quickly responded with a rather excited affirmative, and was informed that I would be on kitchen duty at 11 PM the following evening. I couldn't wait to see what life looked like from the prospective of a trustee. The rest of that day passed slowly indeed.

*** PART II : COMING SOON ***

Poetry, by William Wantling (1933-1974)

I've got to be honest, I can
make good word music and rhyme

at the right times and fit words
together to give people pleasure

and even sometimes take their
breath away-- but it always

somehow turns out kind of phony.
Consonance and assonance and inner

rhyme won't make up for the fact
that I can't figure out how to get

down on paper the real or the true
which we call life. Like the other

day. The other day I was walking
in the lower exercise yard here

at San Quentin and this cat called
Turk came up to a friend of mine

and said Ernie, I hear you're
shooting my kid. And Ernie

told him "So what, Punk?" and Turk
pulled out his stuff and shanked

Ernie in the gut only Ernie had a
metal tray in his shirt. Turk's

shank bounced off Ernie and
Ernie pulled his stuff out and of

course Turk didn't have a tray and
he caught it dead in the chest, a bad

one, and the blood that came to his
lips was bright pink, lung blood,

and he just laid down in the grass
and said "Shit. Fuck it, Shhee-it.

Fuck it. And then he laughed a soft long
laugh, 5 minutes, then died. Now

what could consonance or assonance or
even rhyme do with something like that?



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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gresham’s Law, with a side of grilled onions

July 15, 2009

Another day, another lockdown. This time around, I’m actually embracing the experience. There has been so much going on lately that a few weeks of quiet-time seems to be exactly what I needed. I’ve been feeling rushed and crazy and like all of my decisions of late have been bad ones, and I seem to be always ending my days with one of two thoughts: “I didn’t finish half of what I wanted to,” or “Why did I think doing things this way would work?” How do I always run out of time? I mean, I have nothing but time, and yet this is precisely the one thing I need more of. (Well, ok, maybe that is not the ONE thing I need more of, but you get my point.) I suppose that this must mean that some species of re-prioritizing of my responsibilities and goals must be in order, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what to jettison in order to save the ship. Sound familiar to anyone?

So, lockdown. I have to admit, TDCJ did a fairly nice thing for us recently. This does happen. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I always mean to write about such events, but for some reason other things take priority, and I forget about them. I suppose this says a lot about how my head works – or doesn’t work, to say it more correctly – but I think we all got enough of that nonsense with my last entry, so I will leave it alone. On the Fourth of July they made us a pretty good tray for lunch, consisting of a hamburger patty (maybe soy, maybe beef, we haven’t confirmed that yet), with grilled onions (a TDCJ first) and a slice of peach cobbler. Not bad, especially if you had some squeeze cheese and ketchup laying about from commissary. My old cell on C-Pod had a view towards Livingston, and you could watch the fireworks display they put on way in the distance. My new cell looks out on a wall. They often store trash out there, and you sometimes can watch the stray cats waging war on each other for grazing rights. Not quite as entertaining as fireworks, but I suppose that it is better than anything that goes on inside the cell, so cheers to the cats. My favorite is the little gray one with white paws that stays off to the side until the bigger cats have gorged themselves. He just sits there watching the blackbirds waiting patiently for their turn to eat, and tenses up whenever one swoops down to pick off some errant morsel. Keep hope alive, little guy. One of them is going to get greedy at some point, and screw up.

Anyways. Now that I have actually said something decent about this place, I can more comfortable go back to being the whiny little curmudgeon that we all love or hate. I have often lamented about a certain propensity for pen-pals to up and vanish on me at the oddest of times. Some times I even slip in a little subtle dig against these people, which is always in poor taste and an affront to my dignity, but I am a triple-degree black-belt at destroying my own dignity, so whatever. I have a long-standing policy in place which states that I will write two additional letters after the Vanishing, as an attempt to keep the relationship alive, and as a safeguard against the USPS having hi-jacked the correspondence. I figure, after those two letters, if I don’t receive a response, then the person in question is truly done with me and it is time to move on.

What can one say? I get it. I really do. Most people would never understand why anyone of sane mind would bother writing to someone in my position. Most of those who do, don’t really have the slightest idea what to expect. It can be a painful evolution to finally call someone a friend, and then realize in the next second that this friend is about to die. Most people simply don’t know what to say, and leave in order to minimize their own pain. It’s cool; like I said: I get it. On top of that some people are just sorry, uncultured human mammals, looking for a taste of the surreal or the scandalous or even just something mildly entertaining, and when they finally figure out that I do not sip puppies blood out of a human skull for fun or have any desire to exchange sordid pornographic fantasies, they vamoose.

I have been vaguely aware that there exist certain rules about correspondence that, when violated, can prevent someone from writing to you. I never really expected anyone to be confronted by these regulations, as most of the people I write to are pretty normal, and the rules are obvious. I truly never considered that, just perhaps, some of the disappearing pen-pals might have fallen victim to the dreaded /rule Monster. Why? Because even if they did, I am to be informed by the mailroom personnel that I am being denied a letter, and I have never-not once-been told this. I should have known that they don’t follow their own rules.

I was being escorted to the visitation room last week when one of the officers told me that he used to work as a reader in the mail room. He informed me that someone could be “negative-mail” listed for purely subjective reasons, without notice to the inmate. In fact, he said they generally just throw this mail out. He seemed totally unaware that this policy was, in fact, a federal crime. Going to be doing something about this in the near future, too. I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but I have another policy in place which states that I will not discuss matters of active or potential litigation in an open forum. Patience is a virtue, grasshopper, so they say. (Whoever “they” may be.)

Basically, I think I own an apology to some people. I have had some pretty ugly thoughts about quite a few ex-pen-pals over the years for ditching me without so much as an adios. Perhaps this is the reason why, and I’m sorry for flaying some of you alive in my head. I wonder how many people have had the same thoughts about ME abandoning THEM, and this makes my blood boil. (But don’t tell anyone, as I would hate to contradict all of the worthy journalists who claim that my blood is actually cold.) I don’t know what I can do about this problem in the short term, save publicly rebooting all crashed and frozen friendships. I’m caught up with my mail from my trip to Galveston, so if you sent me a letter in late May or June, and haven’t received a response from me yet, it probably got boosted. Try again, if you would. All I can do for now.

From bad news to worse. Most of you will already be aware by now that the CCA shot down my direct appeal. This is what that psycho-nut job was referencing in her little love letter that I posted in my last entry. Not much of a surprise, and I in fact predicted this not too long ago. There is a certain rhythm and flow to the courts, and I have soaked myself in the cancerous waters of the law long enough now to be able to predict when things are going to happen. The Direct brief constitutes only issues available from the trial transcript, so if your trial was a media circus noted by many for its shoddiness and by how sorry your attorney was, then you will not be able to address these issues until the next phase of your appeal, called the Writ of Habeas Corpus. I submitted this several months ago, and will be posting it up here soon so you can read for yourself what I am talking about. My writ is certainly better formulated than my direct grief: and I have some modest hopes for the thing, though I would counsel the few of you who like me, not to hold your breath. The CCA has proven they really couldn’t care less about most issues, so long as they tow the Republican line and maintain DP sentences. (Yep, judges in Texas are elected politicians.) To see the types of people that make up the Texas CCA, here are some interesting sites to peruse:

www.sharonkiller.com
The Judgement of Sharon Keller
Justice Center Chair Facing Removal in Texas CCA
Killer Keller and the Twinkie Defense

I would like to clarify a point made by the afore-mentioned lunatic carbon mass. I do sometimes “bitch” about some things, as she so eloquently worded it. I think most of you are intelligent enough to understand why I do this, but since the word hasn’t reached the back of the bus yet, I will explain myself more clearly. Perhaps I am just a little bit tougher than I let on. When I talk about conditions, my style is usually to mock the current state of things, which sometimes paints me as conceited, but I will take conceited over whiny. I do not do this to show up my “wounded-ness” or to run some sort of game built around you feeling pity for me. (If I weren’t trying to stop cursing I would tell you exactly what you can do with your pity.) I do this because I am trying to make you mad at the things done in your name, and they have designed this system specifically so that you cannot know. I know I have succeeded in enraging some of you, and I am proud of this. Information can be a good thing or a bad thing, and I leave that decision mainly up to you. This is pretty much the only reason that I still write this site, because I surely don’t do it for fun or personal enjoyment. I am more than willing to admit that my wording is often clumsy and my thought progressions totally illogical, but when you take “me” out of this site, there is still good, useful, truthful data contained here, some of which you will simply not find anywhere else. I am also willing to admit that any grandiose ideas about changing the prison system from within that I possess are mainly a defense mechanism to insanity. Any notions I was entertaining about making a real difference were pretty much annihilated when I found out that out of more than 100,000 views to this site, I had only managed to convince around 140 of you to sign the petition to save my life. Those odds are, shall we say, f-ing terrible, and firmly inform me of my effectiveness. But it is what it is. Perhaps if I had more training in journalism, I would make a better go of it, but this is the best I’ve got.

Believe me, I often question whether this site passes my own tests for worthiness of existence. I can’t count the times I stumbled over something online and thought to myself, “Well, that was totally unnecessary.” I am going to be attempting to move towards a broader set of social goals, and away from just blabbing about me in the coming months. I have some good stuff planned, but it always takes me a really long time to get things organized from back here. This is part of the reason that I opened the site up to comments. I will freely admit that I did have a more personal ulterior motive for this, also. One of the mechanisms that we humans have to measure how badly we are making a mess of life is other people. If you let slip an f-bomb at the family Christmas gathering, you are going to find out pretty quick that such things are unacceptable when somebody smacks you over the back of the head. This social feedback loop works for both positive and negative behaviors, and without it you quickly come to feel…lost. Lost is pretty much the best description for how most of us in solitary feel, when we are honest. So, I thought that allowing comments might provide me with a few broken pieces of mirror by which I might learn something about myself. Maybe that is giving total strangers a little too much credit or power, but for the most part it has been a successful proof of concept. (I should note, however, that I do not see all of the comments, and that even when I do see one, many weeks have passed since it was posted. There is simply no way for me to be interactive from back here, so I hope you will forgive me if I only make general reference to some of them from time to time.) I will be going into some of these comments in depth over the next few months, but I want to start with a general thought, which sort of ties in with my question about whether this site should be relegated to the digital graveyard. This thought is really just a reiteration of an old one: the blogosphere is a really, really stupid place. I had hoped that there were more bright people out there, but apparently the vast majority of the blog landmass is little more than a cretinous bowing down to the throne of the 1st amendment. I mean, free speech is great, and all of that. Yay, free speech. The idea that everyone’s opinion is so great (or even valid) and so incredibly important that they need to describe every moment of their lives or their love for begonias in excruciating detail – not so much. That’s not fair. I’m sure there are some very nice people who enjoy reading about begonias. I guess I am simply a little worried that this exaltation of the ego is going o swamp out and overcome those bloggers who are dealing with real issues, and trying to move along our species to a better understanding of who we are and what our place is in the world. For every scientist trying to simplify some complicated idea so that you or I can understand the stars or our genes, there are 50 sites about the Jonas Brothers or about some freakishly tall drooling proletariat hack who happens to have the amazing gift of being able to bounce a ball really fast. The result of this? We have a million times more data at our fingertips than humans did even 50 years ago, and yet we are no smarter, and we may actually be far, far stupider. Proof? I bet you can name a long list of celebrity jackasses who have cheated on their spouse this year or a sports icon who has been caught doping, but can’t tell me who Stephen Jay Gould is or knew that he actually already answered with great finality the age old question of “Why do humans exist?” (The answer, my friends, is highly elucidating and I encourage you to go look it up. See his “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, page 323.)

In economics, there is a principle known as Greshams Law. It states that there is a tendency for money of lower intrinsic value to circulate more freely than money of higher intrinsic and equal nominal value. Simply: bad money drives out the good. Greshams Law is alive and well in the blogosphere. Say I write an article on why Houston is a better city than Dallas. (I know, I know, such knowledge is commonplace and it would be totally unnecessary to have to spend any time listing the reasons why. Immediately, you are going to see a backlash of voyeuristic delight and middle class outrage. David Runciman put it fairly well when writing about Julie Myerson (the novelist who wrote about her drug-addicted son) in the May 28th edition of the LRB: “What was striking was not just the anger of all those who wanted to see the Myersons suffer horribly for their crimes, but the equivalent anger of all those who were disgusted by such vindictiveness, and the anger of the people who were appalled by the prissiness of that response, and the anger of the people who couldn’t believe anyone would waste their time caring about this rubbish, and on, and on. Everyone was furious with everyone else, and determined not to be shouted down. No one with a reasonable point of view would bother wasting it on a site like this.” When tempers are frayed, and time horizons short, the bad drives out the good.

You can see this right here on this site: great cycles of opinion spinning around and around, propelled mostly by insults, as far as I can tell. Someone makes a point, someone else calls them a …wait, let me look this up…”a nOOb”, and off we go. (I suppose it is a testament to the appalling state of discourse in this nation that someone would actually think calling someone else a “nOOb” a successful verbal assault. I won’t even bother wasting any time on the fact that this persons response totally missed the point of the original commenter, and seemed to rest on the idea that morality is defined by the concept of vox populi, vox dei, which is infamous and imbecilic, and infamous and imbecilic simultaneously.) And wouldn’t you know it: the “victor” in this conversation was enabled by his “triumph”, and will no doubt feel even less hesitation to give his two (thousand) cents the next time he reads something he doesn’t like. The humanist in me wants to believe that there is enough innate nobility in all of us to be able to have an issues-based discussion of social matters without resulting to name calling, even while anonymous. But the realist in me knows that this will never happen, because even I can’t help myself when it comes to responding to some of these people.

My neighbor never attended school after the 4th grade. His weltanschauung is a little too close to that of Calvin for comfort, but he did say something interesting when I was discussing this with him. His conclusion was that you simply can’t please all the people all of the time. Then he said something really interesting: “There is no such a thing as truth, only opinion man. You say ‘yes’, I say ‘no’, and we fight and the winner gets to say what is truth.” Not bad, for a guy who said he would have voted for Palin, and not too far off of what Hegel talked about in his process of dialectical reasoning almost 200 years ago.

I don’t know if my neighbor is right. There is a side of me that recognizes that truth is almost certainly relative. Maybe good and evil really are defined by the victors, but if you have ever seen true evil, its hard to argue the fact that such things are only based on perspective. I know. I’ve been there, and back. All I can say to my own questioning of whether this site deserves to live is that I still think the idea of state sanctioned murder is incredibly unethical, regardless of what I may have done in the past. As long as I see evil, I am going to do what I can to fight it, and this is the best way that I have come up with to do so. After a life without a rudder, I finally have a cause worthy of my attention. I guess its either victory, or maybe I will just start to write about begonias.

Well I looked my demons in the eyes
laid bare my chest
said do your best
to destroy me.

I’ve been to hell and back
so many times
I must admit
you kinda bore me

There’s a lot of things that can kill a man
There’s a lot of ways to die
yes, and some already did and
walk beside me.


Ray LaMontagne “Empty”


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