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Friday, May 25, 2012

My Neighbor, Bernie Mac


By Reginald Sinclair Lewis

Among the numerous draconian policies implemented by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, one requires Security Level 5 Inmates - (Or the RHU and Capital Case inmates) - to move to a new cell every 90 days. This is annoying rule inmates dread, particularly the peaceful Old Heads on death row forced to move next door to some loud mouth, or some disrespectful young fool always trying to act tough, cursing, and blasting his television and radio all day and throughout the night.

So when they moved fellow death row inmate Bernard McGill next door to me, the tightness in my chest loosened. Bernard is one of our more mentally unstable brothers who suffers from a Multiple Personality Disorder, or Schizophrenia. But he is unfailingly polite and respectful.

We call him "Bernie Mac" because he's turned pan handling into a fine art. He puts his food hustle down. Bernie Mac hits me up almost everyday -- but I don't care. He's grateful for anything I give and thanks me profusely

“How you doin' today, Brother Salahud-din?”

“I'm good, B. How you doing today?" He knows I like it when he calls me by my Muslim name. Bernie Mac likes it when I call him, simply, “B.”

“You got any coffee?” He asks politely.

I pass him coffee through the bars. I already know what’s coming next.

“You got any cookies?” I pass him his favorite vanilla cream cookies through the bars.

Bernie Mac says, "Thank you, Salahud-din."

“You're welcome, B.”

He personally memorizes the names of every death row inmate on the block and locks them in the card catalogue of his mind for future reference. He used to flush his toilet relentlessly until he flooded his cell and the entire block. The putrid odor of rotting feces was unbearable. The administration finally took his television and radio to prevent him from electrocuting himself. But Bernie Mac has his own internal entertainment center. From his cell I hear a vicissitude of sounds that rises and falls, depending upon his mood.

He possesses the tough, gritty voices of Gangster Rappers Jah Rule and DMX. It's a hypnotic euphony anchored on a swirling vortex of driving rhythms. The defiant lyrics of Tupac Shakur spitting tragic, Shakespearean tales of love and pain and social injustice.

Some days I hear the rapturous, staccato-tongued sermon of a Preacher rousing his congregation. The stentorian baritone pontificating on worldly affairs with a professorial eloquence.

A Dashiki-wearing character chants: "Say it Loud! I'm black an' I'm proud!" And he often explodes into rage and rants about child molesters and pedophiles. The sound of gunshots rumbles up from his throat as he exacts street justice and comeuppance. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Fellow prisoners often tease him: "Don't hurt nothin', Bernie Mac!"

One day, a shocking, eerie, ear-piercing sound of an infant wailing shook the entire cellblock. It was Bernie Mac. Perhaps the infant was alone, abandoned, hungry, or someone was abusing the poor child. I hear him dancing on his toes like a boxer. Vicious left hooks and right hands whistle on the wind as he destroys an imaginary opponent.

He pounds his chest and roars like a barbaric post-war survivalist in Mad Max, the movie.

But the most dominant voice that often emerges is the one that takes on the persona of a Mob Boss: “Mother____" he snaps, “You don‘t want war! I‘m Frank Nitti...I'm Nino Brown...I'm Big Al Capone!"

There are countless prisoners trapped in total isolation in dark, cruel gulags all across this country. Prisons designed to enforce sensory deprivation that gradually chips away at the human spirit, soul, and mind. The mental suffering causes some men and women to crack. They become totally divorced from any semblance of reality and their minds form alternative realities as a coping mechanism. Locked in a cell 24 hours a day is torture.

For well over 200 years, the U.S. Congress has enacted statutes that provide treatment for federal prisoners "Who are or shall become insane during the term of imprisonment."

Yet in Pennsylvania, such treatment for those who have passed over into the dark side is non-existent. Year after year the mentally ill are left to languish in their own filth, feces, and squalor. Due to significant budget cuts, the largest mental hospitals for the criminally insane were forced to shut down. The prison nurses dispense a few psychotropic pills but that's all the treatment the mentally ill inmates get. I've never even seen a prison psychiatrist stop by Bernie Mac's cell to check in on him. Perhaps they've resigned themselves to the harsh reality that he is just too far gone to be helped. So what purpose does it serve the State of Pennsylvania to continue to house the mentally ill in ill-equipped, understaffed prisons, year after year, at an estimated annual cost of $36,000 to $40,000?



Reginald S. Lewis #AY2902
SCI – Graterford
Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426
USA



Copyright 2012 R. S. Lewis

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lucky

By Michael Wayne Hunter

Just outside my housing unit, walking to dinner, I heard a meaty body blow just inches away. Obliquely fading, my eyes found the source of the sound. Yogi had pulled a prisoner's blue denim jacket up and over his head, blindfolding him. Jacket held tight in one hand, Yogi rained hard blows with his other while growling, "Tol' yah to shut up and start acting right." Sliding farther away, I was puzzled that Yogi was embracing violence. Nicknamed for Yogi Bear, resemblance both physical and in his easy nature.

Alarm. After one last swing, Yogi stepped aside and sat on the ground.

Like a turtle's head coming out of a shell, Lucky's head popped from blue denim. Yogi had just thrashed his cellie.

A guard showed, pointed at Yogi, and charged, "Battery."

Although Yogi and Lucky were handcuffed and marched to cages, after medical clinic Yogi would be gaffled to the hole, but Lucky, victim, would return to his cell.

"Slipping, Mike," Speedy, an Eighteenth Street Original Gangster, mocked me. As the alarm cleared, we gained out feet.

"Didn't suspect a thing," I confessed my lack of awareness.

"My homeboys," Speed said with a sigh. "My mom knows their moms, so can't cut them loose."

"What was that about?"

"Yogi's cool, hut Lucky is way out. Celled with him for a moment, but had to bounce that knucklehead out."

"What's wrong with him?"

"So many things." Speedy shook his head. "Runs an appliance repair shop out of the house, he spreads parts for fans, TV's, radios, hot pots, whatever, all over the house. When he's not fixing stuff, he does a gang of legal work, papers are everywhere. So he's jus' spinnin' 'round all damn day, pinning you on the bunk. If you get up, he runs his mouth about invading his space and wants to fight. Staff assaults, fights, his word is sketchy, he's jus' bad news."

Nodding, Speedy and I went into dinner and kicked it about Monster, the Nicaraguan Nightmare, another one of his homeboys I'd jailed with on Death Row.

Next afternoon, I met up with Speedy in the Dayroom to turn over my Sociology notes and outline from the previous term. Not really into school, he had just enrolled to make his mom happy.

"Speedy, need a cellie," said Lucky, his angular, goofy face swollen with angry bruises.

"You're my homie and got mad love for you, but can't help you."

"How 'bout you?" Lucky asked me.

"I‘m cool."

"I'm a really good cellie."

"Like the cellie I got."

"Can you point me to someone?"

"Got staff assaults, Lucky, no one wants that heat."

"Bogus beef. Guards tossed me up and called it assault." Running off, Lucky came back with legal paperwork.

Flipping pages, the case summary indicated Lucky had been doing a six month violation for failing to report for parole after a two year jolt for auto theft when he jumped on his cellie and landed in the hole. After flooding his toilet, kicking his door, threatening staff, letting them know he was unhappy, the guards pulled him out of the cell for mental health evaluation, and he slipped his handcuffs and attacked the badges. Case closed.

"Staff assault," I said. "It's in black and white."

"Read this," Lucky handed me the sergeant’s report.

The sergeant had been summoned by Mental Health because Lucky told them he'd been beaten up by the guards and wanted to report staff misconduct. The sergeant conducted an immediate investigation, injuries to Lucky's face were documented, and the guards were interviewed and asserted Lucky had come out of his handcuffs and attacked them.

Shuffling papers, I asked, "When was the alarm activated? I don't see it?"

"There was no alarm," Lucky clued.

"So they're sayin'," Speedy said skeptically, "you busted out of your cuffs, attacked two guards and there was no alarm. After they took you down and handcuffed you again, there were visible injuries on your face but they failed to follow procedure and take you to the cages for medical evaluation and reports. They just took you on to Mental Health for your evaluation. Only after the sergeant was called by Mental Health were your injuries documented and reports written."

"Yep. Truth is I never came out of the handcuffs, cowards beat me up while I was in chains for flooding the tier, kicking the door, and talking smack."

"Need to learn how to jail," Speedy schooled. "Keep your mouth shut and do your time."

"This's America. Can do what I want!"

"How's 'zat working for yah?" Speedy clowned him.

Pulling a District Attorney referral from the papers, "Did they prosecute?" I asked.

"Took me to court." Lucky nodded. "One thing for the guards to lie to their sergeant..."

"Sarge had to know they were lyin'," Speedy interjected, "when no one activated an alarm during use of force."

"'Zactly," Lucky agreed. "Now they had to go into court and perjure. District Attorney offered me two years, I woulda been kicked out time served. But I wanted to put those bastards feet to the fire. Wanted to win and sue their asses! Dump truck attorney wanted me to take the deal, so I got rid of him and represented myself."

"How did it go?" I murmured, fairly sure of the answer already.

"Badges lied and lied, and then lied some more. Jury found me guilty. Judge maxed me out with eight years and then gave me a second strike."

"Mouth got you the time," Speedy laid out the truth.

"Not gonna jus' roll over. Tell 'im, Mike."

"Don't think you want my opinion."

"I do!"

"Tell 'im," Speedy said lazily.

"When you go to the hole," I said hesitantly. "Well, even if you don't act like an ass, guards snatch you up and do a temperature check. Just want to let you know it's their house. If you keep your mouth shut, you lightly kiss the wall. Talk smack and act the fool, you eat some wall, maybe a few walls, sometimes it's every damn wall. If you don't understand that, you're too damn stupid to be walking around in prison without training fucking wheels."

"Not only did you act up," Speedy jumped in, "you ratted."

"Ain't no rat!" Lucky clenched his fists.

"You had Mental Health call the sergeant, so you could tell on the guards."

"That's not tellin'."

"Tellin' is tellin'," Speedy said. "The guards touched you up and were going to call it a day. That's why there was no alarm."

"When you got at the sergeant," I added, "you took it to a whole different level. You put the guards' jobs in jeopardy. You got to remember these are high school graduates that are making seventy to eighty thousand dollars a year in base salary and low six figures when you add in overtime. They'll never get that kind of money anywhere else. They got families to support, mortgage and credit card bills to pay. They had to protect themselves."

"They lied!"

"Sure, they did. No doubt the prosecutor saw the problems with the case as easily as we did, he tried to give you a get out of jail free card, but you tore it up and went to trial. Represented yourself, ran your mouth and went wild in the courtroom. You pushed hard, they pushed back harder, and ended up gifted with eight years and a second strike. If you don't stop jumping on cellies, probably catch your third strike this term and you'll be doing all damn day."

"Filing an appeal," Lucky said sullenly.

"Good luck with that." Speedy yawned. Collecting the study material I loaned him, he got up and said, "Some people live and learn, others...like you...never mind. Got a phone call. Later."

Getting up as well, I started to go away but Lucky short stopped me, and said, "Cleaned and lubed your cellie's fan and he still owes two dollars. Tell him to clear his debt."

"You tell him. I wasn't there and didn't co-sign."

"Cellies usually on the same page."

"Like you and Yogi?" I said sharply.

Face reddening, Lucky said, "Can't you jus' tell your cellie..."

"No." Turning, I walked away.

Speedy got at me. "Lucky said he has respect issues with you."

"How's 'zat exactly?" I said quietly.

"Mike, we know each other," Speedy held up his hands, palms toward me.

"I know who's disrespectful."

"Everything good?"

"Yeah. I let Lucky know he's real good at getting mad and jumping on people, but he don't have it in him to coldly walk up on the blindside with a bone crusher and drive it through a skull. Lucky needs to learn to walk softly."

"Okay, Speedy."

"Just to lower the temps and help Speedy out, I got at my cellie and found out the money wasn't owed Lucky 'til next month, but he cleared the debt early anyway.

Lucky filed an administrative appeal requesting single cell status, asserting staff had been planting sleepers in his cell ever since his staff assault conviction. Didn't really explain Lucky's cell fights before the staff assault, and Captain Winter denied the appeal. Lucky sent it on to the Department of Corrections in Sacramento for review.

“So you’re the new sleeper, “ I said when Speedy introduced me to George, a rawboned, cut up youngster and Lucky’s new cellie.

“What’s wrong with Lucky?” George asked with frustration.

“There’s so much,” Speedy shook his head, “going to have to narrow it down. Pins me on my bunk, but sometimes I got to get off to use the toilet.  When I do, he turns off his TV or radio, whatever he’s using, pulls off his headphones and just sits there with is hands folded, hugging his chest.  When I’m done, he gets right up and spends the next half hour washing down the whole area with disinfectant. It’s insulting and kind of crazy.”

“Need to move out,” I advised.

Steel came up missing from the kitchen, we were slammed for weeks while the guards searched.

A few days into the lockdown, a line slid into my cell.  Reeling in, I read a kite from George asking for paper and a pen to write his mom.  Tying on a legal pad and a papermate, I sent them over.

When my house was hit, the guard took my TV and CD-player.

“That property is mine, “ I got at the guard, “I got receipts for everything.”

“Appliances must be in clear plastic cases so we can see inside them.”

“I’ve been down for awhile,” I explained.  “Got that stuff before the clear case rule.  MY appliances are grandfathered.  I can have them in non-clear cases.”

“Not clear, can’t see inside to search them for steel stock.  Going to send them to Receiving to be opened, searched and resealed.  You’ll get them back.”

Eventually, I thought, as my property went away. The TV I could live without but I needed the CD-player to listen to my college lectures.

Reluctantly, I shot a kite to the appliance man, Lucky. I needed to buy a floater CD-player.

"Got a Sony for thirty five dollars," Lucky wrote. "Need the money upfront."

"Can't get to the store 'til after the lockdown," I wrote back. "Need the CD-player now for my college classes. Send you twenty now and you give me the Sony now, and I'll give you twenty more when the store opens for a total of forty."

Lucky jumped on the deal. I swapped twenty in coffee and hygiene items for the Sony and was able to stay on track with school.

The lockdown ended, I phoned Rene and told her about the confiscated appliances and said I was going to file an administrative appeal.

"Don't you dare! Your TV is more than ten years old," she said scornfully. "You need to join the rest of us in the digital age. Stop being so cheap and order new things." Flipping through vendor catalogs, I placed an order for a RCA flat screen.

A few days passed and George hadn't said anything about the pen and paper, so I wondered if it had fallen off the line and asked about it.

Looking surprised, George said, "I didn't ask you for anything, Mike. But you know," he added slowly, "I did see Lucky pull in a pad of paper and put it on his shelf."

"Really,"

I still had the kite in my cell, so I went and got it and showed it to George. Carefully reading, he said, "Not me."

Stopping to pick up Speedy, we got at Lucky.

Confronted by the kite with George's name, Lucky said casually, “My administrative appeal for single cell status was denied by Sacramento. Needed a pen and paper to file in court."

"Why didn't you just ask me straight up?"

“Didn't think you'd send it, Mike. Uh, still going to pay me the twenty you owe?"

"Sure." I shrugged. "I owe it. Give me a canteen list minus two dollars for the pen and paper."

Lucky left to make a list, and Speedy and George talked urgently but softly. As I walked away, I heard George say, "Not right to use my mom to run a game."

Just outside my housing unit, walking to dinner, I was wary, saw a flash of steel and Lucky's blood rained down.

-The End-




© Copyright 2012 by Michael Wayne Hunter.. All rights reserved

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Maybe I Really Am a Masochist… (Whitaker vs. Bell)



In a few months, mb6 will celebrate its fifth birthday.  We are still a few years from being consigned to the blogoverse’s retirement home, I think, though we have, by this point at least, earned a few gray hairs.  Over this time, there have been many format changes, from the initial migraine-inducing white-text-on-black-background html set-up, to the more aesthetically pleasing present blog form. Guest writers have come and gone, and lately some new ones have come again as full members of the mb6 team.  My writings, too, have changed.  I would like to think that I have gotten a little better at this thing, a little more cultured and precise, and maybe, on a good day, interesting.  If there has been one constant, however, it has been the hecklers. So, here’s to you guys, my rock, my omnipresent squad of ego-obliterating message board trolls.  We who are about to die salute you.

I must admit that whenever I receive a particularly nasty piece of hate mail, my will sags a bit.  For a few seconds, I begin to question why exactly I continue toiling away at what has always been a mostly thankless task.  I never expected mb6 to change my fate, or that I might personally benefit much from its creation.  My opinions on this matter have certainly not changed over the years. Once upon a time, I had the hopes that my humble and decidedly awkward prose might help to change the minds of a few people, but in our new hyper-polarized America nearly everyone seems to be content with having already made up their minds about practically everything.  I have always suspected that this site was an exercise in creating relevance, and attempt to find acceptance and meaning in a world mostly deprived of both.  All of that may be true, but as I get older and more self-aware, I have cautiously started to like at least a few tiny aspects of this thing called Thomas, and my need to receive validation from random people that I will never meet has diminished.  Despite my repeated claims to the contrary, then, maybe I really am a glutton for punishment.  Maybe, just maybe, this site represents just another turning of the screws, an additional form of self-imposed punishment.  It certainly feels like it sometimes.

Beyond that, though, I write because I believe that I am doing the right thing.  You may disagree with my stances, but surely you will grant me that much?  I am absolutely convinced that government should not be in the business of murdering its own citizens, especially governments as ridiculously imbalanced as our own.  Neither do I believe in the current trend in criminal justice thinking that seeks to eliminate terms like “personal growth” and “rehabilitation” from the cultural lexicon.  People change.  They grow.  Attempting to deny this is not merely myopic, it is evil, because it allows the government carte blanche to treat prisoners – human beings – as irredeemably broken.  After all, with all of the problems in the world, who really cares what is done behind high walls to creatures that only resemble the rest of us?

The manner in which modern prisons operate today has been a consistent theme running through my writings.  I have tried to be responsible when I make these reports, to illustrate why you should care, in moral and practical terms.  Evading the issue entirely, advocates for draconian penal practices typically say things like “prison ain’t supposed to be a hotel” or my favorite, “stop whining and be a man.”  I do not believe that I have ever whined about anything in my entire life, and in any case I think that we are all well aware of the wide gulf between petulance and a well-reasoned critique of a policy. On top of that, I have never once claimed that prison ought to be the Ritz-Carlton.  Not once.  On the contrary, I am a proponent of tough penal practices, so long as they are for a purpose and not merely in existence because officials are too lazy or stupid to do things otherwise.  My argument has always been that our environment plays a large role in who we are as social actors, and if we as a society want inmates who are increasingly well-behaved in prison and less prone to recidivism upon release, then it might be worth having a conversation about how to treat convicts like people.  That is my entire argument in a nutshell.  Attacks on my character or writing ability do not address this core dialogue I am proposing in the least, and I have always been aware that when people evade me like this it is symbolic of the fact that they are aware that they have already lost the argument.  If you have no rational arguments to bring to the table, some people are content with shouting.

I wish that each one of you could live in my cell for one day.  I would sleep on the floor; you could have the mattress and I would cook for you some Polunsky tacos.  You would be exposed to realities that you presently have no conception of; cannot have conception of.  You would understand that “hostile indifference” is not an oxymoron.  You would witness firsthand an institutional evil that is so prevalent that it causes a modern Stoic to feel compelled to “whine” on his blog.  For someone that mostly takes solace in mercilessly punishing himself, I am not writing for my sake.  I can take this place; absorb the worst of it as my due.  If you were in my cell, you would understand that it is about many people too weak to defend themselves.  Watch as an officer taunts a mentally ill man with his breakfast tray, holding it just out of his reach, only to slam his bean-hole chute closed without feeding him.  Tell me you wouldn’t feel a slow burn start in your stomach.  See officials illegally take away wheelchairs from handicapped inmates because a wheel-chair bound inmate on another unit managed to have an officer smuggle him in a pistol which he used to escape, and your heart will shatter into a thousand pieces every time you see one of them struggling to reach the dayroom with his walker.  See him fall on the floor, and weep because he cannot rise under his own power, and no officer wants to help him.  Listen to some half-literate redneck tell you that you will never have a full night’s sleep again in his life, because they arbitrarily decided to label earplugs as a weapon, and tell me that your well of self-control patience will not begin to run dry.  No.  I am not looking for the Ritz, merely a world that has the slightest modicum of sense and fairness and consistency.  At some point in your 24 hours with me, you will inevitably shift from the position of an observer to that of an eyewitness.  In short, you will become involved.

And that is as it should be.  Though the state will claim that you are unable to empathize with others, you will know that this is a political statement.  And you will start searching for ways to help these people around you.  Maybe you start with writing letters to officials and human rights organizations.  Maybe you file grievances.  Maybe you start a website, or engage in non-violent protests in the dayroom.  These things make you feel as if you are helping, even if it is in a very tiny way that produces few results.  It’s something.  It matters.  Even if no one notices, you made your stand and did what the system said you couldn’t:  take an ethical stand on the side of the light.

After awhile, though, this feeling of impotence is going to burrow deep inside of you and begin to fester, especially as your time begins to run short.  You won’t be able to sleep at night, and you will always fight feelings of unspecified anxiety.  Your hair will start to fall out, and you will get ulcers.  You will flail about, searching for some remedy, some purpose to live for, until your living is done.  Over the past few years, I have helped a few inmates file lawsuits in federal court, in attempts to get proper medical treatment.  We have not been very successful, because I am not an attorney and we have no funds and the system is designed for us to fail.  It feels right attempting this, though, even if you know from the outset that your efforts are an exercise in futility.  It’s the good fight, and you are in the midst of it.  You can look at yourself in the mirror.  No matter how many suits you file, though, it is never enough.  For every one issue adjudicated, fifty more are ignored.  Sometime in the Fall of 2010 I realized that piecemeal attacks were not going to change the system, because any damage we did healed before the blade could get deep enough to really leave a mark.  Something new would have to be tried.

The only solution available appeared to be a large class action lawsuit similar to Ruiz vs. Estelle, which produced massive change in the TDCJ several decades ago.  This was the suit that ultimately did away with the obviously wretched idea of having building “tenders” (i.e. inmates with guns) running the entire system.  Class action suits are exceedingly rare in prisoner-litigated matters for many reasons.  For starters, they are legally complex, and as I stated earlier, my understanding of the law is very basic.  We on Death Row have no direct access to the law library.  Instead, we must request materials to be sent to us from the library, and they have placed arbitrary restrictions on what and how this is accomplished.  For instance, if you are, say, asking for a book on the difference between substantive and procedural due process violations, the first thing they will tell you (after a week of waiting) is that you cannot have a book, that you have to ask for a specific section of the book, which they will then provide to you in copy form.  Having never seen the book, you are entirely unaware of what section you need to read.  If you try to read all of it (because, as we know, context matters in complex materials), it will take months:  they will bring you copies of a few pages each week, and you are only allowed to keep each set for one night.  To read the whole book, in other words, you basically have to rewrite it.  Of course, this is ignoring the fact that at least half the time they bring you materials you didn’t ask for.  A class action suit deals with many points of law, so you can imagine how problematic even the basic research turns out to be.  And it is a ton of research, mountains of it, which keeps piling up to the point that some shakedown crew official decides you have too much and tosses it out the next time they are rummaging through your house.  To do a suit like this, you will need hundreds or thousands of grievances, affidavits, and the ability to track down and interview experts in the free-world.  Obviously, the logistics of this are impossible, as I live in a concrete box.  I have no direct contact with other human beings, and will never be allowed any until someone puts a needle in my arm.  It is true that we convicts have devised means of passing materials to one another, but these are limited and complicated, and I am never completely comfortable engaging in them, even for legitimate legal reasons.  

Obviously, given all that would have to be done, an attorney would be needed.  Once I had resolved myself to attempting to climb this Everest, I began mailing letters off to big law firms, searching for someone to fight this battle with me.  Other inmates in other states sometimes file suits like this, and when you get a copy of them they are supported by long lists of attorneys.  18 months later, I have still found no one in the Yee-Haw Republic willing to take Governor Perry’s machine on.  I find this outrageous.  On many occasions, groups told me that they knew my issues were good, but that they didn’t feel a conditions suit could prevail in a Texas courtroom.  I understand the ACLU's argument that they have a limited budget, and want to spend their funds to fight in states where winning is actually a possibility.  Fair enough.  At the same time, though, I think it is a sad reflection on the moral state of our nation that a major civil rights suit with real teeth couldn’t find one lousy ambulance chaser willing to have a go at the state.  Some fight should be had, even if you know you can’t win.

So I then turned to the abolition community, thinking that they might be interested.  Despite the relative popularity of this site, I have never really engaged with the activist community in any major way.  I don’t know why.  Something about me turns them off.  Maybe they think that I do not require assistance, or that I am not willing to listen to alternate viewpoints.  Maybe they do not care for some of my criticisms in the past.  Whatever the reason, I tried to bridge the gap, and ended up discovering some alarming realities.  There is really no polite way to say any of this, I’m afraid.  Apparently, the “moratorium” crowd will not have anything to do with the “abolition” advocates.  At rare joint meetings, the two groups face away from each other, like children arguing over a toy.  I say this with as much kindness as I can muster: grow the hell up.  People are dying here, while you bicker over minutiae.  It also appears that some of these groups are really cheerleading organizations for one specific inmate, and if that prisoner is not the guiding force behind an action, they will not participate in it.  I have sent out roughly 200 letters and emails to the abolition crowd, and have managed to get precisely one letter from a supporter – from New Zealand.  The 25 dollars she sent me is the sum total I have received to date. (I am almost 1500 dollars in the hole already.)  I even reached out to the Prison Show on KPFT, and asked the DR announcer to read a statement asking inmates to send copies of grievances to a PO Box I had set up for just this purpose.  Despite this being the sort of thing one would imagine they would be interested in, I was brushed off.  Perhaps you people do not understand the system as well as you think you do.  Of course, there is a reason to educate the general public on criminal justice matters.  But societal changes of this nature take decades.  If you want change now, monthly meetings with the same 12 people are not going to produce anything.  Neither will printing out newsletters that no one reads.  Lawsuits and public advertisements are the key.  The only language that the TDCJ comprehends is force.  That is a distasteful statement, but it happens to have the virtue of being a true one.  There is no sense complaining about it amongst yourselves.  The only option is to take them to court, and keep hammering away until we find the right permutations.  For whatever reason, you ignored me.  I needed your advice and your support.  I still do, if any of you are actually wanting to see this place change.

It has taken me a year and a half, but I and my other co-plaintiffs filed Whitaker vs. Bell this week.  The principle defendants are all the members of the Board of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, including the chairman, Oliver J. Bell; Brad Livingston, Executive Director of the TDCJ; Governor Rick “Better Luck in 2016” Perry; State Senator John Whitmire; and Dr. David Callender, President of the University of Texas Medical Branch.  A copy of several motions and the complaint can be found below.

I am under no illusions about my chances here.  Nor do I pretend some sort of legal brilliance.  My original complaint was over 300 pages long, and, if I say so, rather entertaining.  I soon realized, however, that no judge would take such a monster seriously.  In the end, I reduced it down to minor points.  All of the details and juicy stuff will come out in hearings and at a jury trial, if I can manage to push things that far.  The hurdles are daunting.  I must admit.  I am not the best person to have spearheaded this.  There are better legal minds here, and certainly more gifted orators.  The thought of sitting by myself at a table opposed by fifty high-priced attorneys is a little terrifying, actually.  I can only hope that if Justice really is blind, she will at least have good hearing.  Because if I get a chance to pull the curtain back on this place, heads will roll (in the purely figurative sense, of course).  I may not be the right guy for this, but I do seem to be the only one dumb enough to be the lightening rod, so…yay, me.  

Already there have been some negative consequences to my involvement.  The system found out about the whole business last Fall, when a snitch sent the Gang Intelligence Officer a kite detailing my call for additional grievances on the matter of mental health.  My mail started to disappear, and I have been shaken down with a frequency that is a little startling.  During these searches, all sorts of legal materials have come up missing.  On March 20th the Region 1 Shakedown Team from Huntsville paid me a visit, and took my grievance file.  Interestingly, they did this a few weeks after I sent a certified letter to Brad Livingston informing him of the suit.  Livingston, naturally, works in Huntsville, and one cannot file a §1983 suit without these grievances, a fact he would have known well.  Nice, huh?  Oh, if only I had possessed the prescience to have had these copied and sent to the free-world months ago!  Oh wait, I did.  Sorry, guys.  You are probably going to lie, cheat and scam your way to victory on this thing anyways, but you are going to have to work a wee bit harder than that to get there.

Now that the suit is in the courts, I expect for this to get worse.  At some point, I will probably be linked to al-Qaeda, or an AK-47 will be “found” in my house.  My mail is going to suffer, so if you have to send me something, send it certified.  Beyond that, have patience with me.  I am in my final semester of my BA with my MA starting next Fall, and when you add in the work this suit is going to entail, I am going to be a little busy for the foreseeable future.  This is going to be a rough time, so if you happen to find yourself on my side of this issue, I could use your encouragement and support.  Now that you see that I am exceedingly serious about all of this, if you would like to offer me advice or financial backing, you can get in touch with me here at the unit or by contacting my web-admins. 

Somehow, against all logic, Ruiz beat the system.  Crushed it, really.  If somehow I can do the same, maybe then I can face my death with something approaching a clean conscience.  In any case, it feels good to be fighting for the side of the angels for a change.  It feels, almost, redemptive, if that word still exists in your vocabulary.

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
-WH Auden

If you would like to read my motions for certification of a class, for filing fees to be set, and appointment of legal representative, plus the actual complaint, you see all of them HERE.

In the meantime, HERE is a copy of the press release.

HERE is a copy of the pleading.



© Copyright 2012 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved