Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Letters To A Future Death Row Inmate, Part 19

By: Willie Johnson

Admin note: This was the last letter sent and was originally written in November 2010 however for various reasons, there was a delay in posting this entry.

When I first came to prison, I was nineteen yeas old, convicted of manslaughter and sentence to eight years. I knew people who served time. But I had no idea of what to expect while serving time. So I basically had to play it by ear. I can still remember the bus ride to the reception center. All I could think about was making my mark. The first person that rubbed me the wrong way was going to be an example. That’s how I handled things on the street, and that’s how I was planning on handling things in the pen. When the bus pulled into the processing area I was removed and taken to the holding cage, where I was stripped of all my personal belongings and issued a fish kit, consisting of state clothes, sheets, blankets and a few toiletries. It was at that moment I realized that my life would be different. For most of my life I had taken care of myself. Whenever I needed something I would just go get it. By hook or crook I would get whatever I needed. But now things were different. Now I had to depend on complete strangers who I held responsible for imprisoning me in the first place. So my first reaction was not to ask or accept any favors from anyone. I can still remember my first trip to the chow hall and how I reacted when I had to stand in line to eat dinner. That was one of my first humiliating moments. There I was standing in a warehouse with several hundred individuals, waiting to eat. It was a scene right out of the great depression. Where people had to stand in soup lines in order to get a meal. Or even worse, a scene out of the German Nazi camps, where everyone was dressed alike, waiting to get some food. To make matters worse the food was terrible. I had to pick through it just to get a morsel to eat. The only time I remember eating something close to a meal was on Sundays when we were allowed to eat fried chicken and potatoes. What I ended up doing was getting a job in the kitchen. That way I had access to where they kept the good food. In order to stay healthy I would steal food from the kitchen warehouse where they kept all the ingredients for what would eventually become stew. I would steal everything from roast beef to homemade cookies, some of which I sold to other inmates, but most of which I kept for myself.

Then there was the problem of having to share a cell with another person. This was one of my main problems for years. Not only because of the size of the cell, but also because of the people I was forced to cell up with. I stabbed my first cellmate. Because he thought I was scared of him, he would trip on every little thing I did. Like for example: I had the top bunk bed. In order for me to get to my bed, I had to step on the toilet. So one day he bitched about me stepping on the toilet. Although I wasn’t feeling that I decided to use his bunk to get on my bed. Still tripping, he told me not to do that. So one day I booby-trapped the room while he was gone. I got a knife from my friend and placed cups of liquid bleach around the cell. When Dude came back, I made it a point to step on the toilet. When he started to complain I confronted him. Before he could get up from the bed I threw the bleach in his face and begin to stab him. I’m not going to lie, I was scared as hell. Not only because the guy outweighed me by fifty pounds, but also because I didn’t plan how it would end. And it was a big relief for me when the guy began to plead for his life. That was the only reason I stopped stabbing him. The good thing about it all was that I didn’t know what I was doing, so none of his injuries was life threatening. But he did eventually tell the cops and they locked me up in the hole, where my negative behavior got worse. When I first got to the hole, the cops put me next to a guy who had mental issues. I mean, the guy would stay up all night long screaming at the top of his lungs. And whenever someone asked him to hold it down, he would curse them out. All of that was fine and dandy with the police. They loved the fact that Dude kept everyone restless. But when he turned on them they set him up to be killed. What happened was, one day at breakfast Dude got upset because there were no eggs on his tray. And when the police wouldn’t give him any, he threw a concoction of piss and shit in an officer’s face. Instead of the officer getting the guy himself, he paid some inmates to do his dirty work. That’s when I realized that everything in prison is not as it seems.

In my mind the police were our common enemy. But here it was, inmates doing the dirty work for some prison cop. I mean, I didn’t like the fact that Dude kept me up during the night. But I would be damned if I let the police manipulate me into doing something to another prisoner. What makes matters even worse is that most of the guys being used by the police are supposed to be stand up guys. So you can only imagine the impression that cast in my mind. But the good thing about it is that I lived through the experience. And I eventually got out of prison.

I was only out for five days before I got framed, convicted and sentenced to death. I know a lot of people reading this would like to know how that transpired. But because I’m going to through an appeal process I don’t think it’s in my best interest to elaborate on my case. What I can say is that the second actual innocent hearing I’ve been given since I’ve been on death row is coming up. And the justice system is not kind to those who try to win their appeals through public opinion. So I’m going to stick with my observations of what’s going on behind the walls. Which I know I could never give a complete description of. But I hope that by writing this letter I can help someone who finds themselves in this position so they can cope with the trials and tribulations that lay ahead. In a lot of respects, Death Row isn’t no different than any other place you have been in life. The only exception being you are mostly dealing with people of the same sex. Whereas if we were on the street, we would have access to our feminine counterparts, who I think present a whole nother perspective on life. So I think a person in this situation should make an effort to build a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, if not for the physical contact, then for the mental stimulation. Because, in my mind, there’s nothing more unnatural than to be around men twenty four seven.

Then there’s the psychological warfare that the prison staff and inmates play with you on a regular basis. Which I think can be counter-balanced by studying books that deal with human nature. For example, history, psychology, anatomy and physiology, etc… subjects like these will help you get a better grasp of what you are dealing with. I can still remember cats would ask me why I read books. After all, I was sentenced to be executed. All I could tell them at the time was, “it makes me feel good.” But as I reflect back on those times, I realize it was much more than just a feeling. My real reason for reading so many books was a need to know. Although I graduated from high school I never got a full understanding of what was taking place in the real world. I had a real superficial understanding of the intricate forces governing my life. So by studying books I got a clearer picture about what’s going on. Doing so helped me to deal with living on Death Row. You will be surprised by how much positive energy you will get from knowledge. It’s something like a sense of freedom. But more like learning to deal with incarceration. I’m always amazed by how energetic I feel on a daily basis. I can’t wait to learn something new. So I hope those who find themselves on Death Row consider what I am saying. And learn to love learning. Otherwise you may find yourself dwelling on being in prison. Don’t get me wrong. Being on Death Row is something that should get your attention. But it’s not something that should occupy your every thought. At least that’s the way I see it. I have seen cats lose their minds because they couldn’t deal with the thought of being locked up. Some have even killed themselves, thinking that they are better off dead. That’s all a part of how prison is designed. Prison is designed to break individual’s spirit and make them feel like something less than human. It’s the same with all institutions of oppression, designed to dominate and control your very existence. And keep you from realizing your true potential. This is one of the things you will learn on your journey through the belly of the beast. So keep your head up and stay strong!

Willie Johnson
#C-35635 1EY51
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Appeal

Admin Note: The following was recently posted on Thomas' Facebook page and not here at his request, however I have taken it upon myself to also post this here. I am sure there are many friends of Thomas' who do not utilise Facebook and would want to be able to help him in his appeal - Tracey

Well, it has come to this, formally: in June, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals shot down my final state appeal. They did so without comment, without bothering to address a single claim that I made in my writ of habeas corpus. When judges get consistently re-elected running on a "pro-prosecution" platform, this is what happens. Se la vie.

I had prepared for this eventuality, however, by convincing David Dow of the Texas Defender Service to agree to take on my case for the federal courts. Mr. Dow litigates very forcefully, and I was excited that I would finally have an attorney on my side who seemed interested in seeing me survive this ordeal. Those hopes were eviscerated when my federal judge denied Mr. Dow's appointment motion. I have heard several theories on why he did this, but I will leave such decisions for another time and place.

Mr. Dow did agree, however, to continue working on my case for one specific issue, that of "insufficiency of future dangerousness". He feels this issue is very strong for me. There are multiple facets to this argument, but I do not feel it is wise to telegraph my intentions in a broad forum such as this. It is the Office of the Attorney General with whom I contend, and I know for a fact that they have at least one watcher on my "friend" list.

That said, I can tell you that I am in dire need of some help. Between the date of my crime (Dec 2003) and the date of my arrest (Sep 05), I was a free man. I spent most of that time in Mexico, either in Monterrey, or a small town just north of there. According to the state, I am a "remorseless, asexual psychopath", who is so evil that I had to be sentenced to death to keep the other inmates in the Texas prison system safe. I am not joking: this was their argument for sending me to Death Row. One of the several ways of countering this drivel is to get affidavits from the people I had contact with in Mexico. These will show that I did not commit a single illegal act during my time down there, and this may help prove that what happened on December 10th, 2003 was an isolated act.

This seems a simple thing, and I have been telling my attorneys since my arrest to contact those people. Despite this, not a single attorney of mine chose to spend a portion of their fees following up on this. I thought about trying to raise some funds in the past for this purpose, but I always convinced myself that things would work out, one way or another. To be honest, I may have been a little too proud to go about with my hat in my hand. Maybe I was a little too shy. Whatever the reason, I was wrong: that "something" never arrived to save me, and I realized that if I want this thing done, I am going to have to do it myself.

The work that the TDS is going to do for me totals 25 thousand dollars. They have agreed to eat 15 thousand of this with inhouse grants, a very generous offer, considering they are under no obligation to even answer my letters. The remainder – ten thousand dollars - is going to have to be scrounged up by yours truly. These are to be the fees for the investigator. I balked a little, thinking that was excessively pricey, and was told that the problem was really the insurance: Mexico is, for all intents and purposes, being considered a war zone at present, due to the escalating cartel violence. Believe me. I am working on ways to minimize the risk for the investigator, by setting a meeting site in a secure environment. But none of what I may be able to accomplish on this front changes the fact that I do not have anywhere close to the funds I need.

This is a little interesting: most of us would be at a loss, were we forced to place a dollar value on our continued existence. I now know that my life has a concrete value: ten thousand dollars. (The weird thing is, I cannot decide if that is a rip-off or a bargain ... ) I should state that getting this money will not guarantee my survival; it will only give me my best shot, a shot that no one has bothered to take until now. This is my last appeal. I am being told by people who are experienced in these things that I could easily have a date in 2012. I get the picture that this means little to most of my mb6 readers which is why I am not going to post anything about this on that site. But you are supposed to be my "friends" here (whatever that means, in the digital context), so for those of you who would like to see my sentence changed to that of life in prison, I need your help now. This is the last hurrah, and I do not have a lot of time to get this together. I do appreciate all of the nice comments that you guys have left me over the years. They have uplifted me in a way I doubt I could ever put into words. That said, I cannot pay my attorneys with good vibrations. I am now in need of far more tangible forms of support. To that end, if you have a jar of pocket change laying about looking for a home, please consider sending some of it my way. I have no right or expectation to ask this of any of you, but I am pretty sure that if you were in my place, you would be doing exactly the same thing.

If I have reached anyone out there over the years, now is the time to return the favor. I have set up a Paypal account for this end, which you can find by touching on THIS link. If you prefer more old school methods, you can also reach me by mailing to my Dad's PO Box at:

Kent Whitaker
PO Box 2046
Sugar Land, TX 77487-2046

I would greatly appreciate any help in any amount. Really, from the bottom of my cold missing heart: thank you. I will keep you guys updates on this as the weeks go by.

Until then, I’m out

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Better Angels

In Dr Viktor Frankl's exceptional book "Man's Search for Meaning" the author and father of the school of psychanalysis known as "logotherapy" describes the prevalence of a condition known as "delusion of reprieve" amongst his fellow Jewish captives at Auschwitz. A psychiatrist before the war, Frankl was reduced to the status of a simple laborer for much of his internment, but he put his trained and perceptive mind to the study of incarceration in a way that I can only hope to mimic on my best of days. While I in no way can even attempt to equate either my intellect or my situation with that of Dr Frankl, many of the psychological stages that he went through and documented are eerily similar to the ones that I have experienced here at Polunsky. The delusion mentioned above describes the tendency that most men engage in to form some imaginary hopes of immediate succor, shortly before they are executed. This illusion was all too common in Frankl's world, and it is all too common in my own, taking many different forms.

One of the most common seems to be the nearly continuous chatter about the various LEGAL CHALLENGES currently working their ways through the appellate courts that might cause the DP to be ruled a violation of the 8th Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. Another is the idea that a massive and instantaneous public shift will occur when modern science proves innocent men to have been executed. Frankl, too, noticed this capacity in his fellow prisoners, with many greedily snatching up even the most trivial of rumors, and then parading them about as if they were divinely revealed wisdom.

I always feel like central casting has thrust me into the role of playing Scrooge, when conversations turn to these matters. A drowning man does not generally like to be told to "check the source" of the life preserver tossed to him, and I have found that lately fewer and fewer of the men here engage with me in casual conversation. This is, simultaneously, both something of a relief and a source of some sadness. I am too young to feel this old.

But it is hard to avoid the obvious: social progress occurs when a plurality of voters decide that it is morally acceptable to permit this change. The DP will only end when the percentage of people who feel it is immoral for their government to have the right to end the lives of its citizens is greater than those who do not. While I think that the trends are all certainly pointing in the right direction, I feel it must be said that it does not appear that this shift is due to some overriding moral argument. Indeed, I do not feel that one should even bother attempting to use morality when appealing to the American public on an issue of social progress. Maybe in the past, one would have had some ground to stand on when appealing to the better angels of our collective nature, but those days are long, long gone.

Take the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." This policy should have died a violent death years ago, thanks to the supposedly American concept of "citizen equality." It should never have been conceived of at all, seeing as how the power plant of the entire policy ran on the fuel of requiring honorable men and women to live a lie. I cheered the end of this silly doctrine, but my joy was somewhat short-circuited by the results of several surveys on the matter. These showed that the main reason for the public's shift on this subject dealt not with the issue of equality (most are still opposed to gay marriage), but rather with the issue of necessity: when fighting two wars in Islamistan, we should not be turning away any capable volunteers. It was our collective desire for victory (and fear of a potential military draft) that caused the shift, plain and simple. Had these wars not stalled out for so many years, we never would have been forced to open our eyes to a very obvious injustice. It is sort of like the Civil War never happened and Americans still cannot face change without attempting to drop a whole slew of bombs first. If you are having a difficult time drawing a parallel between the Civil War and the modern fight for gay rights, you are very exactly proving my point. We have become blind to the obvious.

Sitting in front of me now are two surveys (Astin, Osegura, Sax, Korn; The American Freshman: Thirty Five Year Trends. Los Angeles: UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, 2002 and Pryor; The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2007. Los Angeles: UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, 2007), which show some rather interesting trends. In these surveys, researchers have questioned first year college students every year since 1969 about their attitudes on various issues. I think the results very clearly illustrate my point here:

- In 1969, 88.1% of women and 82% of men felt that it was "essential" or "very important" to "develop a meaningful philosophy of life." By 2007, the percentages had plummeted to 48.5% of women and 50% of men.

- In 1969, 30.4% of women and 52.3% of men felt that it was "essential" or "very important" to be "very well off financially." By 2007, the percentages had skyrocketed to 73.3% of women and 75.7% of men.

It would appear from the data that the idea of trying to figure out the meaning of our lives (a part of which, one would presume, would deal with the formulation of a code of morality) has taken a back seat to our quest for material wealth. When we do actually go looking for "the point", we tend to quench our existential thirsts on banal posts of 140 characters or less. The American Dream has discovered steroids and Twitter, and is now too busy preening in front of its reflection to care that the world is falling apart at the seams. Or, to mix mythical metaphors, that the entire consume-earn-consume cycle is most perfectly described as Sysyphean; like the unfortunate son of Aeolus, we, too, are stuck into a routine that is nearly inescapable. The difference is we are actively choosing this fate on a daily basis.

So, too, goes the system of capital punishment. The argument has already been made, and made on many fronts, that the root of the support for this sentence stems from a sense of vengeance, not justice. Conservative Christians are the strong and only vocal backbone for this system, despite the fact that the entirety of Jesus of Nazareth's message required the concepts of forgiveness and change to be central features of our value system. (Read John 8). And nevermind, of course, that Christ himself was tried arbitrarily and then executed by the state. I suppose that it is simply asking too much for the followers of Christ to actually read Christ's words, but, then again, they have never been very proficient at this, have they? (“’We regard every man in our midst an enemy to the institutions of the South,' said the Atlanta Confederacy, 'who does not boldly declare that he believes African slavery to be a social, moral, and political blessing, supported fully by God's strictures.’”) Point any of this out to a Christian, and I have found that most tend to scurry back to hide behind the books of the Pentateuch, which pretty much proves that they have never bothered to read the book they claim to be Holy, let alone understand the meanings of the words "new" and "old." Why not say it clearly? Most people profess faith in Christ for the purpose of feeling better about their own mistakes in life. They get the benefit of forgiveness, plus the fellowship and socialization that we all need to be happy. Nevermind actually having to undertake the difficult business of living a moral life, because, after all, forgiveness is easy: it's only a prayer away.

The argument showing that the innocent have been executed has already been proven, and proven on several occasions. The recent case of CLAUDE JONES should have caused an uproar, but it spawned only a number of torpid editorials in the mainstream press, before falling into a roadside ditch to make way for the news that, apparently, Bristol Palin is not a very talented dancer. Need I even say more?

No, these arguments mean nothing, and are not a part of the evolving attitudes against capital punishment. What it boils down to is money, honey: it is just too damned expensive to execute our criminals. (That assumes that we can even make the CHEMICALS REQUIRED.)

Sigh, if only these damned elitist, “activist" judges didn't require any sort of judicial review, we could jus t march these criminals off into a forest and shoot them all In the head. Macht nichts!

As indicated in the survey data above, few people have the time to contemplate issues like this, what with the rat race and the Joneses, and all. The cartoon included at the top of this entry pretty much sums the situation up: people know what is going on here, but they do not care. It doesn't have anything to do with them. They are not connected. Even worse: the subject is worthy only of a small, 4 by 5 inch cartoon, rather than the front-page news that it is, at heart.

I am the last person who should be commenting on any of this. Over the course of my life, I have been a selfish jerk. I have hated extensively, put enough chemicals into my veins and nose and lungs to put an enraged hippopotamus into a coma. I have failed at every moral test put before me, and my failures have accumulated a cost so high that I can never even cover the interest earned on a monthly basis, let alone the principle.

But I have one advantage now, one of position. I am now in a place where I can see things that some of you cannot. True, check the source, but also recognize that even the lowest of us can warn you of a trip line. In fact, the lowest of us may be best able to warn you of this.

It used to piss me off when celebrities would begin to champion a cause only after they became afflicted with it personally: Christopher Reeves taking up the banner of the disabled, starlets talking about breast cancer after a double mastectomy, etc. If the cause were so important, I thought, why didn't they stand up for it before fate put the two of them in hostile apposition? I was too arrogant to see the truth, and, like all the rest of my errors, I am paying for this now. I never knew that the courts worked this way before, or that the prisons should be charged as accomplices whenever a parolee commits another crime. I wasn’t involved; it didn’t touch my life directly. Had I ever come across a site like this, I think I would have failed to "get it."

I am hoping that some of you are better human beings than I was. When was the last time you stood up for something? Really drew a line in the sand and stood by it? There are so many issues facing us as a global people right now, many of them far more pressing than that of capital punishment. Are you feeling a sense of directionlessness? Like life should be worth more than this?

Can I make a suggestion that a lack of a cause is the root of this? I know it was for me. I wish someone had been able to explain to me the necessity of civic participation to a healthy mind; there is no telling what I might have done.

What would it take for you to be one of the few who stands up and makes the statement that the world does not have to be this way? Because it can be better.

This past October, around 500 people marched on the Capital building in Austin to protest the use of executions in Texas. This was the largest crowd ever for this annual event. For the first time, I actually had a representative attend the march, but - and this is the telling point - she had to come all the way from Australia to attend. We used to be a moral lighthouse for the rest of the world. Do you realize how far we have fallen behind? Do you care? When was the last time you stood up for something? Maybe that has been too long. I do not often enjoy being wrong, but I am hoping beyond hope that one of these days, my statement about being unable to make a moral argument to the people of this country will be retracted. I am not holding my breath, though.

The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,

Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the dark

Who have never been happy or good

A Few Final Notes:
- If you purchase one book this holiday season, please consider the one mentioned in this piece, by Dr Viktor Frankl. "Man's Search for Meaning" has two parts, the first being some of his memories of his years surviving in the concentration camps during WWII. The second part is deals with the science of logotherapy, which is a sort of existential analysis. This book will have an impact on all who read it, but especially on those who are interested in learning what exactly goes on inside the mind of an incarcerated person. This is officially the first selection of Thomas's Book Club, and you should be able to find a copy for only a few dollars on Amazon. It is short, and not tilled with complicated terms, and is well worth your time and money.

- I am in the midst of final exams these next few weeks, so please forgive me if this and the next few entries are not up to snuff. I think that some of you forget that I am a full-time student working on a double major, and, unlike in my previous life, I take my studies very seriously now. As soon as my grievance about expanding the day to 28 hours is accepted, I will be able to put a little more effort into this site. Plus, they seem to be really working hard to kill these entries the last few weeks, with several gone missing. Bear with me, please. Thanks.

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Poetry by Kenneth Reams

By Kenneth Reams

This poem won second place prize in the 2016 Lifeline Poetry Competition.

If this was your “eleventh hour" 
If this was that moment of exactness 
Where you could feel 
The presence of the Shadow of Death 
I mean -- that true instant where 
You soulfully felt and acknowledged 
That you was close to your last breath 
Like the moment of revelation 
That Jesus met in the Book of Mark 
When He reached the Garden of Gethsemane 
That end of the line millisecond of truth 
Your last mile
If this was that minute
That moment
That instance
That hour
Tell me
What would you do?

Strange Fruit 
By Kenneth Reams

Strange Fruit
Is what a southern slave once considered 
it to be...
The description of a negro
hanging and dangling
from the limb of a sycamore tree.

is what  many labeled it to be.
A spirited tradition
That thousands came out to witness
and see.
The barbaric killing of a brother man
for the deed he committed against another man.

Lynching is what history would later
Acknowledge it to be.
Τhe Death Penalty
is the (code name)
that is mostly used to  now describe the atrocity
while capital punishment
is what Black's Law Dictionary define it to be—
in this generation of new chemicals
and high technology.

To some,
to the naive,
just because they cannot see
strange fruit literally dangling from the tree
many have written off lynchings
as if they no longer exist in our society.
But I am the new era of strange fruit 
“minus the sycamore tree"
and if you open your eyes
This reality you will see.


Kenny Reams 000927
Varner Supermax
P.O. Box 400
Grady, AR 71644

Kenneth Reams is a death row inmate in the State of Arkansas and founder of the non-profit organization Who Decides, Inc. If you wish to learn more about the organization's mission and goal, visit

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let There Be Turkey! Er, Chicken. Turchicken? Ham, Maybe? Nevermind.

(Admin note: This should have been posted before the first entry to 149's Corner but the mail monsters had struck again and I received the entries out of sequence)

November 25th, 2010

I am often asked by friends for some sort of description of my daily schedule. Nearly as often, I force myself to swallow down sarcastic references to important meetings with the President and early tee times. Frankly, I have always felt that posting any description of my daily routine would be to merely add to the teeming abundance of useless crap already drowning out intelligent discourse on the web. But then I thought, hey, maybe if I went ahead and wrote something down, future pen-pals would be so traumatized by the sheer mind-numbingness of the account that they would never ask me again. So, my motivations now clearly swinging the balance into a new (and perhaps regretable) position, I give you Thanksgiving Day in the life of a Texas Admin-
Seg inmate.

3:13AM - Breakfast served. I usually VR (verbally refuse) my breakfast trays, as six times out of seven they serve us Polunsky Pancakes. These taste roughly like cardboard soaked in machine grease, with what I imagine to be a similar texture. It takes a culinary alchemist of the most diabolical sort to fuck up a pancake like this, and I often wonder exactly what the process entails. I am not unique in refusing this tray (and the economics behind these refusals is surely the reason for the continued omnipresence of these trays), and I often drift back to sleep to a chorus of "VR's". But not today: no sir, for today is Thanksgiving, and one of only two days of the entire calendar year when we are fed fresh fruit. I have been waiting for this day since last X-Mas. It is also one of the few times of the year when we are given boiled eggs, one of my favorites. I accept my tray with gratitude. It consists of: two boiled eggs, a small apple and orange, and some yellow grits. The grits can rot in whatever dank, sulfur-infested pit in Hades they spawned from, but the eggs are great. I tuck the fruit away for later.

3:41AM - Breakfast trays are picked up. I have long perfected the art of somnambulizing my way through the act of returning the tray to the officers, and I am once again asleep moments after my head hits the pillow. (Read: by "pillow", I mean "jacket rolled up into a pile", as inmates in Texas prisons are not given pillows. Relax, all you people afraid that politicians are "Hugging a Thug" with their policies. No Tempurpedics for us.

4:30AM - I rollout of bed. I am one of those ... uh, "lucky"(?) people who seem to have no natural circadian rhythm. For a few months, I will stay up at night and then sleep in the afternoons. Then, abruptly, I will become a morning person. Which does not imply that I am all lightness, grace, and ebullience at 4:30 in the sodding ante meridien, because the face staring back at me in the mirror would make a Great White shark think seriously about the wisdom of a U-turn. A well-cleaned mirror is a unique sort of curse, I tell you, and I have no idea why I wipe this bloody thing down daily. Self-mutilation for a recovering narcissist? Just one of those things that matters until it doesn't anymore, I guess.

4:32AM - Fill HOT-POT with water. Plug into my home made multi outlet. That's right: my new invention gives me four outlets, instead of the two the state offers. The entire thing is constructed out of: one orange juice can, glue, thick magazine paper, and art boards. I rule. And I only knocked out the power in my section three times figuring out how to construct it. I just barely avoided using the pun about this being a shocking experience. Give me a break: it's early.

4:35AM - Brush teeth, make up bed, wash face, pour coffee into my mug (read: empty peanut butter jar). Drink in the silence and the aroma of hot joe. Here is an interesting piece of Thomas Trivia that I have never told anyone: I actually like one packet of sugar in my coffee, though I have not had it like that in about a decade. Ask anyone from my life, and they will swear up and down that I like my coffee black. Somewhere along the course of my life, I was told that real men liked their coffee without any sweetener, and that is how I vowed to drink it, and still do. Oh, the stupid molds that we pour ourselves into in an attempt to be anything but what we are! Letting the silence of this early hour run through me is maybe the best part of my day.

4:50AM to 6:10AM - Morning workout consisting of:

- ten minutes of stretches (gods, I feel old these days)
- twenty minutes of "short-form" tai-chi
- pyramids of 1~ push-ups, for a total of 480
- a few sets ot squats, crunches, and "pistols"

My arm still feels a little messed up from the over-the-top workout routine I participated in over the summer. I think that so long as I stick to this light workout, I will keep from re-injuring it again. Or so I tell myself. (See THIS link (and THIS link) for more details.)

5:32AM - Lights on; AM shift arrives on D-Pod. I can barely see the picket from 46 cell, so unable to tell the group bestowed on us today.

5:46AM - First count.

6:00AM - Flip from 94.5 "The Buzz" to the morning news.

6:11AM - Peel orange. There is an orgy in my mouth for a few minutes. Must. Save. Apple. For. Later. Temptation. Nearly. Too. Much.

6:15AM to 7:00AM - Read newspaper from the evening before. Humanity still seems like it is dedicated to the goal of killing itself in the most ridiculous ways imaginable. Une mort imbecile, as Camus might have said. This is the hardest part about being sentenced to death: never again will I be able to contribute to the betterment of the world. I tell myself that this desire is what separates myself from the pack, but that may just be self motivating nonsense. I am 30 years old, still young enough to think that I know what I am talking about, just getting old enough to suspect that I am mostly full of it. Anyways, Buddhists have a name for the state of endless change from which nothing and no one ever escapes: samsara. I am feeling very samsaric this morning.

6:30AM - I flip over to 90.1, the Pacifica station in Houston. As usual, progressive radio lifts my spirits a bit.

7:05AM to 7:26AM - Clean my house. First, I wipe down the stainless steel wall with a Bippy/shampoo solution, then buff it dry with a pair of the gray state-issued socks (which is all these socks are good for). Same treatment of the sink and toilet. Mop down the floor with a wet towel, then the desk and shelves. Finally, I wipe down the walls and repour a thin line of Bippy along my floor directly under the door (read: anti-spider defense). Turn on fan to speed up the drying process on the floor.

7:08AM - First round of recs placed in day rooms. As you can see from THIS schedule, on Thursdays my section (D) has no recreation, Now that dayrooms are filled, the noise level increases dramatically. There are no soft surfaces in prison, so the racket just bounces allover the place, seemingly for an eternity. It is about this time that I turn up my homemade SPEAKER significantly.

7:27AM - Temptation proves to be too much: I eat the apple, and give some measure of serious contemplation to eating the core. Sigh. I am not a swine. I do not eat core.

7:29AM - I change my mind about being a member of tamily Suidae, and eat the core. Not bad. Oink, oink.

7:35AM - When floor is dry, I wash my jumpsuit in the sink. Once good and soapy, I lay it out on the floor and rub it down with Bippy and Shampoo, using a hair brush. Pour hot water on the lot of it occasionally from my hot-pot. I then wash it off and wring it out, then hang it on my clothesline. While in the mood, I also wash two pairs of socks, thermal shirt, and boxers. My kingdom for some liquid bleach.

8:20AM to 9:17AM - Enough with the procrastination: open sociology text and work my way through Chapter 4. Ethnomethodology and dramaturgical analysis are fun. Seriously. I love them. You buying that? Me either.

9:02AM – “Necessities" arrives on pod. Normally Thursdays mean new sheets are passed out but seeing as this is a holiday, they only have socks. Who knows, maybe they had sheets for the other pods, but ran out. With all the budget cuts going around, I guess we are lucky to get anything.

9:17AM - The big moment arrives, officers begin passing out the "cold tray" and the Johhny sacks for dinner. These "cold trays" are given out only twice a year, on Thanksgiving and X-Mas. (I should point out that these are designed to be room temperature, whereas the everyday trays are cold because none of the carriers has working heaters. Big difference.) Cold trays this Thanksgiving consisted of: one piece of apple cobbler, one piece of chocolate and vanilla cake, and some black olives. Another fit of oinkiness feels like it is on the way, so I hide the tray in my legal box.

9:40AM - First round of recs are returned to their cages.

10:00AM - Switch to one of my english assignments for change of pace.

10:45AM - Officers pass out Thanksgiving tray, consisting of one piece of "turkey" (actually chicken breast) or ham, depending on how early in the process one's tray was served up; one pork chop; green beans; black-eyed peas; dressing; and coleslaw. (The slaw and the dressing are unique items; like the fresh fruit, you only see them twice a year.) I wished the officer passing out the trays a Happy Thanksgiving, because, after all, they are also in prison instead of with their families. The officer looks surprised and it became clear that I was the first to express my gratitude. This officer and I have had our disagreements over the years (she once called me "uppity"; I retorted by labeling her as a "fascist pig"), so her surprise made me smile inside. (For the record, I am not the only inmate to have had issue with this woman. She even ran over her soon-to-ex husband with her truck. Twice. On accident, of course. Totally an accident. Ah, the uncountable ways of breaking the human heart!)

10:45AM to 11:05AM - As I gorge myself, I am thankful for the friends and family that have not drifted away from me over the years. I honestly have no idea why any of you put up with me but if I am mostly alive today, it is completely due to you all. I am also appreciative of some of the guys in my section. I have lived in sections with nothing but pederasts and degenerates, and it makes a huge difference having civilized, interesting people to chat with. Prieto, Adrian, "Big Joe": here is to another good year. May we make it until next Thanksgiving. I do wish that I was not the only white guy out of the fourteen in this section, though. It is starting to feel like little Tijuana over here. I am constantly having to remind these mojados about the battles of San Jacinto, Puebla and Mexico City. Haha (quickly ducks flaming spears).

11:06AM - While flipping through the dial, I am inundated with countless X-Mas songs. Several channels will play nothing but carols until Christmas. Bah bloody humbug.

11:08AM - I resolve to celebrate the pagan festival of Saturnalia in protest. There was a Roman tradition on one of these festival days for the slaves and their masters to switch places. I seriously doubt any of these guards are going to give me their uniforms.

11:11AM - Find my Word of the Day: rebarbative: unattractive and objectionable. That ought to be easy to use in conversation five times, given the reality of my life here.

11:20AM - Begin studying for my Finite Mathematics final, which I should take next week when my proctor makes it up to the unit.

11:36AM - Officers pick up the trays. I eat the chocolate cake on the cold tray, trying not the think about the amount of laps I am going to have to run in order to work this off.

11:55AM - Second round of recs placed in dayroom. In go the earplugs.

1:15PM - Take a break from studying for a nap. If I had eaten turkey, I would blame this on the trytophan. I guess I will just have to claim sloth on this one, then. Wait, there is tryptophan in chicken, right? Just nod and say yes, ok?

2:00PM - Wake up, eat vanilla cake and drink second cup of coffee. Start writing a few letters.

2:34PM - Second round of rec returned to their cells. There will not be a third, today. Seems the tryptophan got to others, as well.

2:38PM - Nurse comes around, handing out medication to those who take it. My neighbor on the right is Jonathan Green, one of several inmates they are forcing to take psych drugs. The courts have ruled that he cannot be executed until the medication makes him sane enough to understand what is happening to him. If that sounds unbelievably fucked up, then I am glad. Try Googling the name of Panetti, or Steven Staley. This is YOUR government that YOU elected. Think about that as you eat your leftovers.

3:15PM to 5:26PM - Play Scrabble with Prieto. Test out the Battle of San Jacinto joke on him, which causes him to stomp on me the first game. I get my revenge in the second, using his " c" to make "lambency" on two triple word scores. Ownage!

5:30PM - PM shift arrives on the pod.

5:55PM - First PM count. PM shift pissed off that AM shift only managed to shower 12 people during the entire day. Amusing.

6:00PM to 7:15PM - Write letters.

7:17PM to 7:30PM - Take down jumper, now dry, from my clothesline. I lift up my mattress and lay the jumpsuit out on the metal bunk. Once it is all lined up and straight, I place the mattress back on top of it. By the time I sleep on it for a night, it will look as if it had been pressed.

7:37PM - Taken to the shower. Water semi-warm.

8:15PM - Returned to cell. Listen to last half of the "Simpsons" movie on local Fox affiliate.

9:00PM to 9:30PM - Meditate. On normal nights, this is about when mail gets passed out, but today is a holiday, so no mail.

9:30PM to 10:08PM - Read about 30 pages of Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Blue and Brown Books". Understood maybe three words, though thanks to this book, I am not even sure that I understand the concept of words having meanings. Bah.

10:10 to sometime just before Letterman starts - Listen to evening news, crash into dreamland rather abruptly.

Wow, that was even more boring than I had envisioned. I guess when looked at from a distance, we accomplish far less in a day than it seems while in the midst of it. Gold star if you managed to make it through this without having your own tryptophan moment.

I promise to attempt to write something more stimulating this week. In the mean time, seriously, go Google "Scott Panetti "

If what you read does not enrage you, then I have no idea what will.

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

149's Corner - A Journal from Death Row - Entry #1

by Arnold Prieto, Jr #999149

As the morning sun began peeking into my room, I began getting ready for what I have come to call my "morning ritual.” I love looking out at the morning sun as it finds its way through my tiny window. Its natural light is much easier on my old eyes than the fluorescent lights in the cells, and I seem to see much better with the sun bathing my room.

Well, this morning was much clearer than I could have imagined! I found myself in a very tranquil state as I sat on my concrete floor enjoying the sun. Then the feeling of "Death Row" came upon me. I know where I am at and I hold no illusions about it, but every once in awhile you are hit with a moment of "realizing it” as if it was the first time I’ve had it or as if I had stayed on the Row all of these years only to realize it for the first time. This feeling brings with it the knowledge that things are coming to and end for me. I truly tried to hold onto that feeling for as long as I could.

After a few hours of meditating I saw an image in my head that comes from daydreaming, I guess. It was of a grandfather clock sitting in the corner of a room where death sat in all its regalness. Death stirred every time the minute hand moved. I believe that what I felt this morning as I sat on my floor enjoying the sun was the actual tick of the minute hand on that clock.

I shared this experience with a loved one this afternoon in a letter. Feeling that it was such a personal experience that I couldn’t share it with anyone but her. Well, it is still stuck in my mind so I thought that maybe the only way to dispel it would be to share my craziness with others. :)

I’m not a man who looks for signs or whatever in life, in order to proceed in a certain way, etc ... but I couldn’t help but to think that my friends invitation to write for his website might be a good way to rid myself of a lot of things I have been feeling. I speak, of course, of Thomas Whitaker. So, I am going to take him up on his offer. You’ll just have to forgive me though because I’m nowhere close to being a writer of any sort!

I guess I should say a little about myself, so you can have a mental picture of who this Mexican-American is: I’m not perfect, I’m not always right, I’m not tall nor handsome (but then, I wouldn’t want to be ... handsome that is, in a warehouse full of men, ha!). I’m not covered in tattoos, even after spending almost half of my life on the Row. For two reasons: number one, Hepatitis C and other blood diseases are rampant back here due to the practice of sharing needles, tattoo or otherwise. Second, I hate needles! I’d rather set myself on fire than to punish myself with hours of grueling needlework on my skin! Ironic, isn’t it? Fear of needles, and I end up on the busiest Death Row in the Western World. I just don’t know what’s worse: Hep C or needles. I’ve known many men who died from Hep C, and it is a slow, agonizing death. There are lots of people around me who have it now. I try to always stay conscious about who around me has it, NOT to be nosey but to be aware. You have to understand, I live in a warehouse full of people who are capable of just about anything. It wouldn’t be much of a chore for someone infected to give it to another through food or drink. Nope, not being paranoid, I’ve just seen this happen too many times, both on purpose and through accident. Especially on purpose ... and all for the dumbest of reasons ... just because someone didn’t like the case someone was convicted for. Both of those men have been executed already.

I guess that brings up the topic of friends. In prison you don’t have friends. But there will come a day when a man shows his true colors, as we say, and shows you he can be trusted. Later, he may become a person you can call a "real friend." I’ve used the word friend only 4 times in my years on the Row. Andrew Flores, who was known to us as "Showtime", was my first friend. He was executed in 2005. John Joe "Ash" Amador was my second friend, and at the end, my brother-in-law. He was executed in 2008. Adrian Estrada and Thomas Whitaker are the only living friends I have left on the Row. In a way, I am glad my time has come to an end, because I don’t think I could see 2 more friends get murdered by the state.

(I keep saying that "my time is up," so I guess I had better explain this a bit: I’m awaiting an execution date because my appeals have run their course through the system. I intend to keep writing this journal once they give me a date, though you will have to excuse me because I’ve never written any sort of journal before.)

My friend Showtime was a good friend, indeed. Before we were moved to this unit, Death Row resided at the Ellis-One Unit. Ellis was a much older farm than Polunsky, built when they didn’t look at prisoners as some sort of animal to be warehoused. We had far more freedom in those days. For example, we had group recreation, which consisted of 20 men. For three hours we could play basketball, handball (my favorite game), dominoes, chess, Scrabble, watch TV, and, most importantly, we were able to hang out and socialize with one another. We had TV's on the wall facing our cells or in the front side of the block. One thing for sure, though, when it was 105° outside, it was 110° inside in our cells! We had no ventilation systems like we do here, with the "climate control system", as they call it. In 1996, it was one hell of a cold winter! I personally loved it! I prefer to be cold than to try to survive in this Texas heat. You can get warmer much easier than you can get cooler; anyways, that’s my philosophy, and I’m sticking to it! J Anyway, Showtime and I always made a good team, be it in a game of dominoes, basketball, or handball.

The day that I called him my friend was the day he stepped up with me when I had a "misunderstanding" with a couple of convicts. He could have easily stayed out of the fray but he didn’t. So I guess you can say that was our first time we ever paired up as a team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Mr Badass, and I have had my behind handed to me on a platter many times throughout my life, but sometimes in prison the tension makes things happen, and Showtime had my back. Since that day, we were the best of friends. Once, in 1998, we were talking about all the food we ate in the free world and only ended up making ourselves hungry. This is pretty common back here, and I have no idea why we do this to ourselves. They had already fed us chow and neither of us went to commissary, so between us we had only one can of beans, haha. You know what, though? We split that can. You don’t see that sort of thing very often, inside or outside.

When Showtime was executed, I had a hard time accepting it. I wont lie to you, I shed tears for my brother, my friend. Never in my life have I felt so damned helpless. He taught me that a friend doesn’t let another friend down, but that is exactly how I felt. That day and for the following week, I couldn’t talk to a guard. Showtime left me with something outside of a friendship, also: a minister! The last 2 weeks of his life Showtime accepted Jesus into his life, thanks to Rev Whiteside, a volunteer chaplain. The day after his execution, I got a visit from this man, and I was pretty angry until he told me that he was there at Showtime’s request. To this day, Rev Whiteside pulls me out for a minister visit, keeping his promise to Showtime.

Friendship, you don’t know what it means until you lose it.

I will continue to talk of some of these men as I continue writing. I will say this, though: I’ve been blessed to be able to know such good people in a place that knows only decay

Well, its 11:02 PM, and its about time for me to go to sleep. Thought for the day: Tell your best friend what he/she means to you ...

Hasta Luego,
Arnold Prieto, Jr

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker & Arnold Prieto, Jr. All rights reserved.