By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker
Several months ago, I had to write a short paper on the 17th century English poet Andrew Marvell for my ENG 319 class. In order to get a more well-rounded perspective on the man's politics, I had a friend send me some of his works not included in the anthology I possess. An Horatian Ode: Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland was amongst them. I certainly enjoyed this selection to a greater degree than his "carpe diem" love poems, which so reek of desperation that I have come to believe that he was actually publishing satirical parodies of the entire genre. At any rate, the last quatrain of the ode has stuck with me, as random and generally useless information is wont to do:
Besides the force it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night,
The same arts that did gain
A power must it maintain.
The last two lines are, I think, an allusion to a maxim written by Machiavelli, which mean that a kingdom won by force must for some time be maintained by force. It is pretty much the same in modern politics: people who lie and cheat their way into office must continue to do so in order to stay in power.
I received a few letters recently from individuals responding to my post explaining my current LAWSUIT AGAINST THE STATE. One common thread running through several of these letters was the opinion that I ought to treat the TDCJ with a bit more decency in general, and in particular I should refrain from labeling officers as "rednecks." Fair enough. A few points in response: firstly, although I do obviously use the term in the pejorative sense, most true rednecks take pride in the term and use it freely amongst themselves. I could call virtually every single one of them here by that term, and they would take it as a compliment. In other words, this is not a term I use in order to deliver a fatal wound; quite the opposite, actually. I certainly have other instruments in my toolbox, should that ever become my intention Still, I will tone it down a bit out of respect for those of you who took the time to reach out to me with advice; you deserve at least that much, it seems to me. In the more general sense, I actually think you would be hard-pressed to find a more respectful inmate than myself, at least when I am dealing with the rank-and-file COS. I have said repeatedly that I respect many of them, and a few of them I actually admire. That said, I feel no moral obligation to be kind to the aggregate organization which intends to one day strap me down to a table and pump lethal chemicals into my veins, a group of people that lies and cheats and steals from you, the tax-paying public, on a daily basis. I have no pity for bureaucratic structures, and I never shall.
I took it as axiomatic that the activist community would understand me on this point. That you did not makes it apparent that I have not been doing my job when it comes to describing the true nature of this place. Despite the fact that virtually no one in this nation presently thinks that government can do much of anything correctly, I find it curious that so many of you are willing to grant the TDCJ (both in the senses of being a government agency and also in the specific cases of actual human officers) the benefit of the doubt. You are deluded in taking this view, but I cannot fault you completely, for they have striven to their upmost to keep you from seeing past the barbed wire. In addition, the embedded media seems to have a very low limit on how many criminal justice reform stories they decide to talk about on a weekly basis, so perhaps many of you are too busy to pay attention. Or maybe you just don't care. Since I can do nothing in response to that last option, and because I am trying very hard to be a bit less cynical these days, I will focus on the first two possibilities and seek to bring your attention to a few recent events, which may have evaded you. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest benefits of the blogosphere; that it can take facts and opinions from virtually unknown sources and disseminate them to new audiences of incredibly diversity. Every day, important things happen all over this planet that none of us would be aware of otherwise. Consider the following a short list of a few of these, as examples of the true character of the TDCJ and as reasons why I will never for one second consider "decency" as an appropriate response to their activities and behavior.
First, and perhaps most importantly, a 400-page article released by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review has pretty much conclusively proven that Carlos DeLuna was innocent of the crime for which he was executed in 1989. You can read the report HERE It seems like every week there is yet another exoneration in this country, and yet the public still seems to have faith that our system of criminal justice is fundamentally sound. It isn't. These exonerations are not the system self-correcting; on the contrary, they are the results of incredibly rare and costly investigations done by external groups of reporters, lawyers, and students who are impeded and harassed by the authorities at every pass. Only the most serious and competent of convicts can manage to push their cases in front of innocence organizations, and only a tiny percentage of these get the funds necessary to fight the battle to free them. These exonerations reveal systemic flaws, but only a tiny percentage of those that exist. At some point, every American citizen of conscience is going to have to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves why they maintained their silence for so long in the face of one of the greatest human rights violations in modern history. There are innocent men here now. I live in the same section as one of them who is about to blow a certain DA from Houston out of the water with his federal court filing.
If you look at some of the news stories regarding the DeLuna report, you will notice that Governor Perry never insists on DeLuna's guilt, the way he did in regards to Willingham. Instead, he simply reasserts that the death penalty is legal. The legality of a thing doesn't make it moral or even right (or sane), and the careful word-play involved in the Governor's response ought to trouble at least a few of you. The man knows. Everyone knows. They just can't admit that they know.
In this same vein, and since I already mentioned Cameron Todd Willingham, it recently came out that the Texas judge who reviewed his 2004 execution wrote up an official exoneration, but it was never filed because the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and Governor Goodhair blocked the Forensic Science Commission from ruling on the case. Think about that: the judge initially tasked with reviewing the case considered Willingham's innocence "overwhelming," and blasted the judicial system and Perry for ignoring reality and basic science. And then this same system deep-sixed the inquest. If this happened in, say, Russia, you wouldn't be advising continued trust in the system, or for me to treat it decently; you'd be wondering out loud why voters didn't toss the bums out on their bloated backsides. It should be noted as a final point that the guy Perry appointed as chairman of the Willingham Commission is the DA for Williamson County; his name is John Bradley. He happens to have found himself smack dab in the middle of a wrongful conviction case involving his former boss, now a judge. The exoneree's name is Michael Morton, and his case is just starting to make trouble for the state. You can read an article about it HERE . Maybe there is some justice to be found in this state, after all.
As I prepared to send this article out, I heard on the radio that Billy Frederick Allen - yet another exoneree- is going to be receiving a very overdue 2 million dollar check from the state for the 26 years he spent behind bars. This is important because there was no DNA involved in the case, the lack of which had caused the state to attempt to get out of paying him anything. Many of you think that the content on this site does not apply to your life in any way. Who, pray tell, do you think paid for that check? (Or, for that matter, the millions of dollars in tax revenue required by the TDCJ to incarcerate Allen for nearly three decades?) "The same arts that did gain..." etc, etc.
Last month, Texas attempted to execute Steven Staley, by first forcefully administering psychtropic drugs in order to bring him back into the real world long enough for the Nembutol to take effect. Emily Bazelon wrote an excellent article on slate.com (which you can read HERE) on the matter, so I will leave it to her to lay out the facts. It should bother you that A) the state has admitted for more than a decade that Staley is a paranoid schizophrenic totally out of touch with reality and B) thus cannot be legally executed, yet they are still attempting to do exactly that. Again, if this were happening in some foreign land, you'd be denigrating officials in that nation and thanking your lucky stars that you were born in America. Turn your hypocrisy off, people: this is real, and it is happening in the here and now, just up the road. We have to be better than this. I know that we are. I am not ashamed to admit that I did not sleep the night before Staley's date, not having heard that he had been given a stay of execution the day before. I've lived around him twice briefly, and he is completely gone. Men like him should be in a state hospital for the criminally insane, not wasting away in a cell, spending his day talking to himself and banging his head against the wall. Bazelon's story will break your heart, if you have one.
Better living killing through chemistry is a topic much in the news of late. In March, Lundbeck Pharmaceutical signed the Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath," which states:
"We dedicate our work to developing and distributing pharmaceuticals to the service of humanity; we will practice our profession with conscience and dignity; the right to health of the patient will be our first consideration; we condemn the use of any of our pharmaceuticals in the execution of human beings."
Lundbeck currently makes the murder cocktail du jour preferred by most states (but not Missouri, notably, which has decided to use Propofol to murder its murders; if that drug sounds familiar it is the chemical that killed Michael Jackson), so this is a significant development. Because similar companies are taking drastic steps to prevent their products from being used in executions, many jurisdictions have been unable to get their fix. I've written about this BEFORE (and BEFORE THAT). Also in March, federal judge Richard Leon condemned the virtually unregulated importation of such chemicals, blasting the FDA for its current protocols which allowed fly-by-the-night companies to export expired drugs to states (the decision, Beaty v FDA, can be read HERE). While most states are having problems finding vendors, Texas has apparently not been so constrained, having spent $50,000 on Nembutol late last year. When the abolitionist group Reprieve filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine the number of doses acquired and the name of the vendor, the TDCJ sent a letter to Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott (potentially our next Governor, come 2014), making the absurd claim that Reprieve's request was in some way equivalent to violent prison gangs. Their words: Reprieve's methods "present classic, hallmark practices comparable to practices by gangs incarcerated in the TDCJ who intimidate and coerce rival gang members and which have erupted into prison riots." They say that Reprieve "crosses the line from social activists dedicated to their cause to authoritarian ideologues who menace and harass private citizens who decline to submit to Reprieve's opinion on the morality of capital punishment by lethal injection." They conclude this attack by ominously claiming that "it is not a question of if but when Reprieve's unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence against a supplier."
Let me see if I have this straight. For insisting that governments are required to disclose information on how it spends public funds, for backing businesses whose products are being bought under false pretense and then used in ways that violate medical ethics, and finally for having the temerity to oppose the state in press releases, Reprieve is acting in the manner of a violent prison gang? Man, I wish the gangs I know acted like this; and here I thought they simply stabbed people. Shows what I know! I find the mental image of a tattooed thug laboriously filing FOIA requests and swearing to uphold the UN's charter on human rights to be rather amusing. In any case, Lundbeck Pharma pretty much destroys the TDCJ's point of view, saying, "We acted because we are a company that wants to help save people's lives, and we are against the misuse of our drugs in prisons. We took our stance long before we were contacted by Reprieve."
Do you ever watch the History Channel? I used to, all of the time. I recall statements made by the governments of Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin that made ridiculous claims similar to this one. I can, in a certain sense, respect a very meticulous and crafty liar, a wordsmith of consummate skill and confidence. But lies like the one lobbed at Reprieve were never meant to be believed by anyone. They were a stalling tactic, plain and simple, to deny a legally approved process of government oversight. Who amongst the left, right or center would possibly have a problem with more clarity in the public realm? You ought to pay attention when government does things like this, for this is a huge milestone on the path to totalitarianism. I'm just saying…
The culture of corruption within the TDCJ has gotten so endemic that the COS are nearly as angry with it as the convicts. I am in no way speaking in hyperbole. Most of the officers here are in total and complete agreement with the stated goals of my lawsuit. That, too, ought to say something. A contact recently sent me an article from a site called THE BACKGATE . This is apparently a news site designed for employees of the TDCJ. I'd like to direct your attention to a story from May 10th, regarding the resignation of the long-time chief propaganda officer for the system, Ms. Michelle Lyons. I am tempted to feel very little sympathy for this woman, as she has freely chosen to act as the chief flak for this place for years, and she pretty much admits herself that she said anything required of her "...9 times out of 10, I'm saying what they tell me to say, so if anything, I'm only a mouthpiece for the real lightning rods .... " Read the ARTICLE (it's short). Ms. Lyons states that the retaliation against her "began as soon as (she) questioned the way TDCJ required employees to track their time and how they appear to be circumventing federal labor laws .... " If they can act this dishonorably with an employee of such a high grade of pay, you think they won't lie or mistreat the rank-and-file? I think what is even more interesting than the article itself is the accumulated response in the comments section. Keep in mind, this is a site for employees. If they are saying things like "TDCJ is the most corrupt agency I have ever dealt with," you can imagine what they are doing to those of us in white. (While there, you might also want to stroll over to the article wherein the policy of requiring employees to freely give up their Facebook passwords is discussed. A state government agency requiring its employees to hand over their federally-protected privacy interests? Maybe some of you will now finally give me a pass for having called them fascists for years, eh?)
I could easily go on. These stories abound, with fresh examples springing up anew every few days. I think that it is fair that you ask me to continue to treat individual officers in the system humanely. But why on earth would I expand that upward to the collective? Does their behavior seem worthy of respect? Of kindness? They lie. They cheat. They steal billions of dollars, and cover this up by filling you with exaggerated fears of the boogieman. And they murder people, and have the gall to claim that their enemies are dangerously close to provoking violence. I am all for dialogue and debate and moderation. But at some point, you have to recognize when an entity has grown so rancid with corruption that repair has ceased to be an option, and that all that is left is to dismantle the entire substructure and start over. We crossed that line a very long time ago. I am confident that you do not have to take my word on any of this. Any honest investigation you undertake will inevitably lead you to the same conclusion. The only choice you have to decide is how many lives are going to be ground into dust before you finally decide to pay attention.
The first two lines of the quatrain I quoted at the start of this article deal with the traditional belief that the spirits of the dead could be frightened away by the raising of metal arms. Well, I am the dead, and your blades do not scare me, System.
You keep acting the way you have been, and the public is eventually going to take them away from you.
To see how the Lone Star state scored on the State Integrity Investigation's Corruption Risk Report card, click HERE
And to see an excellent report on the state of the death penalty by McKinney and Associates, click HERE.
© Copyright 2012 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved