For months now, I have been deflecting questions about my unfortunate trip down to the dungeon that is Level 3. I guess I have been playing tug-of-war with myself, about whether I really wanted to go poking at the developmentally challenged sleeping giant that is the TDC again. I made my “upgrade” to Level 1 status in mid June, and I must admit, it felt nice being welcomed back into the good graces of the machine. I enjoy having a radio, hot-pot, books and food in my house again (though not my typewriter, which is now broken; due to a lack of contract with a vendor, I may not even be able to purchase one for months, lamentably). In short, I enjoyed being comfortable again. It was my conscious viewing of this subconscious desire for ease, which ultimately swayed the balance towards full disclosure: I simply refuse to allow the things I own to own me. You have to learn how to use things without requiring them. If nothing else, my time on Level 3 showed me that I need far, far less than my brain tells me, and one simply cannot toss out an excellent lesson like that once the going gets smooth again.
Still, when I sat down to write this out, I debated as to what details to include. In the end, I thought about what some unknown visitor might think, were he/she to come across Minutes ten years from now, long after I am gone. This perspective puts any temporal risk/reward calculus in an entirely new light, and makes one focus on the principle of the thing; so, honesty and full details it is then, and stop being such a bloody coward, Whitaker. If there are repercussions for this, well, I’ve been punished for worse than being honest. For someone who hasn’t always been a representative for the forces of truthfulness (to the world or to himself), there might even be a touch of pleasure to be found in such a punishment. Whatever: it is what it is. Believe all or part or none of the following; my main hope is not to prove my innocence (such would be impossible, doe to how events went down), but rather to show the errors in the system. In that respect, this narrative is a microcosm of this entire site, and one could easily pick a worse legacy than lighting a lantern in an exceedingly dark room.
Anyways, allons, allons: la vie est la farce á mener par tous. This story begins on the morning of Sunday, March 14th. I was then living on A-Pod; 12-AD-53 cell, to be exact. On Sundays, there is no recreation on DR, so the guards have only one real duty, which is to take the men to the showers. They usually do this at some point after 7:00am. As it happened, tensions between two inmates boiled over that morning, which resulted in a very nasty stabbing. All of the action took place about eight feet from my door. The details of this event are not important, and in any case it would not be appropriate for me to discuss them in this forum, save to say that one individual had a piece of steel stuck so far into his side that it punctured and subsequently collapsed his lung. He was immediately taken to the hospital (read: an hour later he was finally taken to the hospital), and the guilty party was taken down to Level 3. The pint of blood that this person shed, however, stayed in a congealed puddle on the floor for two days. I mention all of this only because it frames what happened next, of course.
The timing of this act was unfortunate, for two main reasons: first and foremost, Kevin had been given a date the month before, and there was much traffic between is. Deathwatch is also located on A-Pod, so it was a relatively simple procedure for us to send messages to each other, and I was pleased that I could at least be somewhat present for my friend during that horrible time. I was worried that this stabbing would give TDC a valid reason to move me away from Kevin, as his first 29 journals had just appeared on Minutes. I was correct in my thinking, only I misjudged the ire with which I am held by certain people here in the system. (I must admit, this fact pleases me, in an odd way.)
The second reason behind my statement of poor timing deals with the fact that the Shakedown Crew had just hit our section and row the week before, on March 11th. This squad was formed in the fallout from the Tabler Incident, and is a completely volunteer unit. Its purpose can be rather obviously deduced from its name, I should think: they search cells, and try to hit a certain number of them per day, according to some unknown logic. As you can imagine, they are universally disliked – hated even. It takes a certain “special” type of psychology to enjoy being hated by everyone, you know. They have custom “Death Row – Shakedown Team” hats and belt buckles made, and actually brag about how many times they have been stabbed or hit or had feces / urine tossed on them. In short, people like the SD crew ran the concentration camps in Germany, and they truly believe that it is acceptable to ignore even basic components of a moral code by claiming that they were “just following orders.” Fatwas' and edicts and pogroms, oh my. (Kids, the word of the day is: “antinomian”; go on, look it up. It’s a great word.)
So, when this team (which only works Monday – Friday) arrived at work on Monday morning, they were met with the news that a man had nearly been killed with a weapon on a section that they had just hit. An officer I am comfortable with confirmed to me a few weeks later that the team had been verbally berated about this fact, an experience which they no doubt found unpleasant. That said, I actually feel that with people of this character, it was the assault on their pride which made them the angriest: they had been beaten by convict scum, and no way were they going to let that shit pass without getting some vengeance.
Now, as you can imagine, such an event was much talked about on our section that Sunday afternoon. It didn’t take long for a consensus to form that were going to get some unwanted attention come Monday morning. I am not the smartest of men, but surely you must grant me sufficient intellect to connect “tomorrow, all of my property will be searched” with “I have contraband in said property”, and then realize that some action must be taken. Like nearly everyone else on my section, I got rid of my contraband on Sunday afternoon.
And come they did. The team spent all day in the 14 cells of D-Section, a veritable saturnalia of prying, invading destruction: a plague out of Egypt with customized hats and poor dental habits. They hit my cell at around 2:00pm. The other four convicts on 2-Row were also removed from their cells at this time, which is a little unusual, though not unprecedented. I was placed in the shower, where I remained for the 75 minutes that they spent in my house. Eventually, they came to fetch me, and I was returned to my cell. As always, all of my property was stacked into a massive pile on the floor. No mention was made to me at the time about any illicit materials having been found in my house, nor was there any discussion of cases being presented.
This is important; I have had many items confiscated by the SD team over the past 18 months: broken headphones that I have taped together, radios I have modified to pick up TV audio, speakers I have manufactured for something to eat, the paints I make from liquefied colored pencils, etc, etc. They always present me with paperwork immediately, which I have to sign. There is never any deviation from this procedure, ever. In the case of contraband deemed serious enough to warrant disciplinary action (like my paints), the inmate is informed if this action immediately, and a heating is set, which will determine the facts and them mete out punishment. There is a set of forms for this, which also must be signed immediately. On this day, no one word was said me about any of this. I went to cleaning my cell, considering the unpleasantness over.
Not quite finished, as it turned out. Later that evening, three convicts on 2-Row were told to pack up. I was one of them. I fired off a kite to Kevin explaining everything, and then proceeded to bag my property. I was a bit vexed, for they had no reason to move me. The other guys were each friends of the two men involved in the assault, so I understood the reasoning behind separating them. But I had no real connection to either of them: the victim was African American, the attacker Mexican; lumping the whites into this volatile racial stew was unneeded and uncalled for, Frankly, they are usually a little more aware of this sort of thing. (As a result of my move, rumors would spring up from bored and suspicious minds that I had somehow been involved in the argument which precipitated the stabbing. You have never seen such a rumor-mill like that of a prison rumor-mill, trust me.) Already, a suspicion was being formed in my mind that something off was taking place.
I was moved to B-Pod 12-BF-75 cell. I unpacked, and went about my life. Two days later, on Wednesday, March 17th, at 4:30pm (one hour before shift change), Sgt Farris presented me with a major case, for “stockpiling psych drugs.” (Which, I should state, I do not take. She also refused to explain to me why the case had not been presented to me on Monday.) She showed me a photograph of some pills, which were hidden inside two boxes of Ibuprofen and Alamag, an antacid sold at the commissary. I was somewhat stunned, but I did not stay that was for long. I quickly asked if she had possession of these boxes, and she confirmed that she did. I then produced my box of Ibuprofen, and as they only allow you to own one, this produced some confusion in Sgt Farris. I also noted, and then showed, that I have a prescription for a pharmaceutical grade acid-reflux drug, so I would have no need to purchase a box of cheap, knock-off Alamag.
It immediately got better: from two cells down, a convict named “V” had been listening. He immediately called the Sgt. Down to his cell and explained that he was insulin-dependant, and had been in the nurse’s office that afternoon getting his shot, when two members of the SD squad had arrived. They were there to identify a set of pills, which the nurse attempted to do. While she compared them to known samples, “V” heard them arguing about the paperwork: it seems that no one had bothered to fill out chain-of-custody forms on this “evidence”, and they no longer knew which cell the pills had come out of. Keep in mind, this conversation between “V” and Sgt Farris happened during the presentation of the case paperwork. This was the first time I became aware of the existence of a case or allegation made against me, so it is not possible for “V” and I to have concocted this story beforehand. In any case, it is not common practice for Mexicans to go about fabricating stories for whites in prison, Hollywood nonsense to the side. Sgt. Farris left the pod thoroughly convinced that an error had taken place.
And why not? All the cells look exactly the same in 12-Buiulding. When you have all the cons removed, and the property piled up all over the place, with personnel moving from cell to cell every few minutes, it is very easy to get confused. And when you don’t bother to do paperwork until two days after the fact, accidents aren’t just possible they are guaranteed. Yes, in my naïveté, I still viewed the whole incident as en error, at this point.
When I didn’t hear anything the next day (Thursday), I began to assume that the case had been dropped. I tried to get Sgt Farris to come see me again, but she sent word that she was busy, and that I “shouldn’t worry about anything.” I took this to mean that the whole mess had been cleaned up.
I went to a visit that Friday afternoon, felling pretty good about things. I had not been back from visitation for ninety seconds before Lt. Tolly and nine officers entered the pod and quickly moved to my cell. I was ordered to strip, or I would be “subjected to the use of chemical agents.” A few seconds later, this was repeated as I removed the jalapeno cheeseburger from my pants that I had smuggled back from the visitation room. I mean, if you are going to the hole, you might as well go with a full belly, right? I eventually came out, after eating my sandwich, and began the long walk towards F-Pod.
Stop for a moment and think about the sequence here. Even if you feel I am a lying piece of sludge, and that I had an entire pharmacy and meth kitchen in my cell, what does it say about the system that it sends you to prison (Level 2 & 3) before you even go to court (the disciplinary hearing)? Here in TDC, you are presumed guilty, and this tends to conjure images of Lubyenka, does it not? Hold that thought: if you pay attention, you will find additional evidence of our old friends, wink and nod.
The true state of affairs began to take shape rather quickly. While the C.O.’s (regular officers) began packing my property for storage, Lt. Tolly escorted me himself towards F-Pod. This is generally not accepted practice, and we deviated from the norm even more by stopping at his office on the way. The only witness to this stop was Sgt McGee (Tolly’s lap-dog), who posted up in the hallway while Tolly took his seat behind his desk. (It should also be noted that Sgt McGee is Farris' counterpart; it is not a coincidence that they waited until Sgt Farris was off-duty to spring this on me.
“So, pills, eh, Whitaker? Never saw you as a pill-head, but I guess life is full of surprises, huh?” He was smiling in the most condescending manner imaginable, so it didn’t even cross my mind to try to object to anything at this point in the process; you really have to choose your battlegrounds carefully when dealing with people like Tolly, who will most likely be a major some day. I think it was at this point that I simply asked when my hearing was, but that might have been a little later on. What I mostly remember from our conversation is two items: the first was the smugness he exuded during our little chat. Tolly has been circling around me for three years now, since he was a Sgt. Back in 07, a person I knew in the freeworld called the Fort Bend District Attorney’s office, and asked one of the prosecutors who sentenced me to death if people on DR could make phone calls. Somehow this query got “mixed up” (yeah right), and when my prosecutor called up here, it was reported that I have been making calls. Even after I cleared the whole matter up with some affidavits, Tolly remained convinced that I had a cell phone. His suspicions were further fueled by a tactic the American Taliban used against me in 08/09, where they called up here to the Unit and gave anonymous “Secret Indictments” about me having called them. To Lt. Tolly this amounted to his moment of revenge, for the roughly 40 cell searches that had turned up precisely zero cell phones.
When he speaks, he likes to use a lot of very strong adjectives, like dangerous criminal behavior, vicious disregard for the rules. Have you ever noticed how people who are half-evil are soothed by this type of thing? It’s like their subconscious is saying: ok, I’m a sorry, cruel bastard, but at least I’m not as bad as this guy. It’s a moral salve. Of course, reveling in other peoples sins – imagined or real – doesn’t make you a saint; though, for heavens sake, don’t ever tell an evangelical that: you will just confuse them.
The second thing I remember was that he very quickly asked about why “he was getting all these calls about (my) fucking blog.” The only thing that surprised me about his comment was that he came out with it so clearly: this was, without a doubt, the reason for everything. He went on for a while, letting me know that “they” (still not sure who all was included under the umbrella of that particular pronoun) knew everything: about my writings, the nearly constant contact between Kevin and I (which is, technically, a activity worthy of a major case), and the efforts to save Kevin’s life. It all felt very Kafkaesque. At one point I screwed up and interjected that it really wasn’t any of his business what I wrote online, and he yelled that “anything that went on in (his) house was (his) business.” I shut up from that point forward, because…. well, there really isn’t any arguing with people like Tolly, especially when he is in a mood. He tired soon afterwards, and he wasn’t the only one feeling that way: all in all, the experience left me feeling soiled, as if I had undergone the conversational equivalent of a water-boarding.
Tolly led me personally to my new home, 12-FE-70, the last cell in Level 2. This is also important: at this point, they still had no idea what exactly I was guilty of, and whether or not to stick me on Level 2 or 3. Another piece of bad timing made up their minds: within three days, four more of Kevin’s journals went live, and that night I was moved to Level 3. When I protested that “misuse of prescription drugs” was only a Level 1 offense (changed to Level 2 on May 21st, 2010), I was told that I “didn’t know what the fuck (I) was talking about.” Oh, guess I wasn’t supposed to get my hands on THIS eh? Whoops.
Of all my property, I was allowed only my legal work, five bars of soap, and my TDCJ necessities (towel, jumpsuit, socks, boxers). I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be down there, but I knew that this was definitely going to be a learning experience.
To be continued…
“Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”
© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.