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Friday, September 17, 2010

Letter to a Future Death Row Inmate, Part 9

by David Renteria #999460

Part 8 can be seen here

Dear X,

How are you doing señor? My name is David S. Renteria, you can just call me David. Understand you just got here to Death Row or as it is euphemistically referred to as “The Row”. I will have been here seven years come this November (2010) and in that time I’ve experienced, and witnessed events that never in my life I ever thought I would. There are those here who have upwards of three times that time and many who have just about the same or less. As you are new here and perhaps your first time in prison (as I was), I wish to share with you a part of my encounter here in the hopes that maybe it will serve you as you navigate through this chapter in your life. Please, I do not presume to dictate to you what you should do nor do I deem myself a sage, guru or “know-it-all” in all matters Death Row or what have you. Just a simple man who desires to help a brother in need – that is all. So, with all due respect…

Now, as you go through your time here, you will see that there exists a somewhat diversity of mindsets, points of view, backgrounds/walks of like and yes – moralities in this environment. This includes now only the inmates here (or “offenders” as the nomenclature set forth by the Texas penal system) but also the staff with whom we interact with on a daily basis. But my focus will be on this side of the locked doors for they will be the ones you will “reside” with 24/7. I am sure that many will offer you their advice, as I am, and out of all that, you will find bits and pieces of information that may be of use to you. I caution you to always look to the source of the information received because unfortunately there are quite a bit of individuals whose maturity is found wanting and as such, their input or example may only add to the burden(s) already upon you. Believe me señor, you’ll have enough on your plate already than to be adding more to your grief. And so, with humility I impart upon you the one piece of counsel that I feel will be of utmost necessity in this environment.

I opened my letter to you with “how are you doing?” In a world of civility, respect of being and where an individual is seen as a human being, this question may be rhetorical at times. “Fine, how are you?” or “Good, thank you for asking”, are perhaps the standard fare to this question. But in here, these replies cannot be given in such a cursory manner. Death Row is a world of degradation, oppression and subjugation. Forgive me if I sound a bit morose. My intention is to make you aware of what we are up against here not to dishearten you to a point of despondency but so that you can readily face the elements head on and not be easily ambushed by them. How is that done?

My friend, there exists certain fundamentals that will help you weather the storm. Things such as faith, hope, courage, integrity and above all – PEACE. As I have made mention to those I have had the privilege to speak with, you must envision yourself on an island, all alone save the natural surroundings that accompany a deserted island. Will you be able to stand? And, you know what? In essence, in physicality, you are on an island here. We are devoid of any human contact and with very limited interaction with others. We are in a climate of extreme sensory deprivation and at other times, sensory overload (although this may be as a result of the extreme deprivation). On an island, you only have with you what have you brought. There is potential to cultivate and further develop in a positive manner those attributes/skills that will help you see this experience thought the end (whatever that may be) with a degree of dignity and worth. You will meet with a number who have the attitude, “Why? If I’m gonna doe anyhow, why bother?” I’ll tell you why my friend, because it is the base and natural instinct of ALL living organisms to survive, to keep on even when faced with dire circumstances! As hackneyed and as trite as it may sound – Dum Spiro, Spero – While I breathe, I hope! There is no equivocation to that statement; it is self-explanatory, simple and one by which I live by. It’s not over until it’s over señor and until then, what’s going to determine your quality of life and your state of being is how you meet each and every day. Every time you are able to wake from sleep, open your eyes and get up from your bunk (bed) is another opportunity. An opportunity to make this day a little better then the previous; an opportunity to further develop – an idea, a drawing, vocabulary – anything – that you started before; an opportunity to make emphatic changes in your life :-) I’m a big movie buff and a movie I liked very much was Groundhog Day with Bill Murray (you may note references peppered throughout this letter of movies). Well, anyway, along the plot lines, Murray’s character gets stuck in some sort of anomaly where everyday he keeps waking up to the same calendar day – Groundhog Day. Well, yes in the beginning, he gives in to his impish impulses and goes about creating all sorts of havoc knowing full well there would be no “apparent” consequences of his behavior. But, as the repetitive days wear on, he quickly grows tired of the calamities he brings about for they soon bring a sense a vacuum; a feeling of unfulfillment arises. So what does he do? He starts to go through his days initiating acts of kindness and benevolence slowly but surely noting that days like these fill the emptiness he feels until finally he wakes up to the next calendar day thus making a progression in his life in more ways than one. And so it is, or can be rather, with your days here. While external factors can or may influence your being, you ultimately hold the key to how it will affect you. How is that done?

At the risk of proselytizing – so be it - a key component is going to be in how and/or what kind of relationship you maintain with God, yourself, your family and loved ones. I will venture however, that the most significant of all these, and essential, will be your friendship with God and eventually, yourself. Family and friends unfortunately may dissipate with time (and this many times is a case of “reaping what is sown” – but that is another discourse) but never the less, even in the best of circumstances it is the day-to-day events that will call upon your spiritual reserve and constitution as a Son of God. When you have that peace that comes as a result of daily obeisance to our Heavenly Father you will be fortified to withstand the winds of uncertainty; the drowning waters of self-doubt. I come here before you my friend, to give witness to the fact that His presence makes a notable and unmistaken difference in your life. Does this mean that because you maintain a path toward God that you will no longer experience the ills of this place? That all will be peachy-keen, rose gardens and every day filled with rainbows? No, that I cannot day nor will I promise/. Ironically enough, it may feel as though all evil comes descended upon you at times. The difference is going to be in this: you will now have the tools, armor, skills and most certainly, protection to face these tribulations in your day-to-day life; to come out as virtually unscathed as possible. You will “not be given more than you can handle”. That is a promise by Him that makes all things possible and nothing is impossible for Him. You will not be alone. Once you establish this open channel with God and walk with him, it is then that you can confidently dig your heels in to confront with courage all that comes your way; it is in this you will definitely avow – DUM SPIRO, SPERO!!

I share all this with you señor because of what I seen people go through here. There are those whose reliance on a game of chess, dominoes and especially Dungeons & Dragons is what defines their existence. I saw a person so distressed by the fact that no one played D & D in our section that you could literally see the torment on his face. There are others whose happiness is directly seasonal, e.g football; (as is the case right now September 2010), basketball, etc. How can anyone put so much stock on something so fleeting, so trivial, so finite? No sir, you were meant for something greater, something in a class all on its own. Peace of mind has no price, and its only counter balance is utter chaos which you will have if you do not get to setting things right in your life.

Every man dies, not every man truly lives. And it is how we meet that end that makes a difference. Always remember that what we do in life, echoes in Eternity. We never know what is going to happen tomorrow; yesterday is past and out of our influence. So, what do we do now, here, today? That is a decision you must determinate as I do every day. I hope that you do so as a son of God, a man of virtue so that when you are asked, “How are you doing?” in this place, you can assuredly reply, “I’m doing good!!” Despite where we are at, despite the routine abasements – despite it all, you can rely on the fact:

DUM SPIRO, SPERO

David Renteria #999460


© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

1 comment:

rachelovely said...

I have been exchanging letter with David since Dec. of 2013. He is my friend and has a way to transport met with his words to his current life and his past.