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Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for visiting Minutes Before Six.

All of us at MB6--the writers, artists, and admin team--work tirelessly on this project with the intent to humanize the incarcerated by providing you rare insight into both their inner and outer lives. a great deal of time and energy is spent posting a new essay each week and adding new pieces to our art and poetry sections on a regular basis. We do this not simply because the work presented has artistic merit; we also believe in its societal impact. We hope you do too.

Lately we have been discussing whether we have been achieving our goals; namely, to provide a forum where you may engage with some of the finest literary voices in the American prison system as they explore a wide range of topics that are of interest to you. But we've found that, without your input, there's no way of knowing whether we are meeting your expectations, or in which areas we might improve. To that end, we would ask that you demonstrate your support in two ways:

1) We hope to grow Minutes Before Six, but we lack the necessary funding to make this happen. In the spirit of faith that our readership values the unique service we provide,  a gofundme account has been set up to handle donations for the project. Please understand that MB6 is operated entirely by volunteers who currently cover all expenses out of pocket. One hundred percent of donations will go toward existing operating costs and future expansion.

2) If you are moved by a particular piece of writing or artwork on MB6, please post a comment. It will be forwarded to the contributor. As you may learn firsthand by reading the essays below, feedback is hugely important to our writers and artists. Your comments also allow the admin team to better inform our writers as to which topics you would like to know more about. Please feel free to post any questions or suggestions you have, as well. Responses from writers may take a few weeks. Your input is not only welcome, but essential to maintaining the integrity of MB6 as the premier place to find the writing of the imprisoned.

We would like to heartily thank those of you who have already made donations and left comments over the course of the past year. Your positive feedback and support are the fuel that keeps us going.

Best wishes to all and thank you again for stopping by—



The Minutes Before Six Admin Team

Jeff C. And Maggie Macauley

Dina Milito and Steve Bartholomew
Dorothy Ruelas and Thomas Whitaker
Now, on to the essays...


No Comment?
By Steve Bartholomew

Lately I find myself asking questions regarding my future as a writer that are more existential than I prefer. For instance, why do I toil at length to reveal these sometimes unflattering parts of my inner—and outer—life and send them out into the free world? Why do I continue to put myself through untold hours or ruthless self-inquisition—the monotony broken only by bouts of uncertainty—all in the hopes that I can summon the sequence of words I dislike the least? What, really, do I hope to achieve? What, if anything, do I—or more importantly, should I—hope for in return? Maybe you ask these same questions of Minutes Before Six writers, myself included, when you sit down with one of our pieces. 

Obviously I do not write for money. I do not hold my breath for accolades, nor do I necessarily seek your approval (although I would be lying if I said it didn’t matter). It’s not as if I delude myself into believing that if I fail to write something witty, pithy, or funny, the interweb will crash. Actually, I doubt any but a very small group of people would even notice if I hung up my typewriter, so to speak. But then I begin to wonder if anyone notices when I do write. Because I honestly cannot tell. 

My friend Tim Pauley had a story of his selected to be printed on a book called Prison Noir, which was edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Tim has been collecting (and living) interesting prison stories for over 35 years. I know him well, and let me tell you that every word he says is true. Another friend of mine, Art Longworth, has won the PEN America Prison Writing contest at least three times (I lose count). Art has an uncanny knack for bringing you into the bleakest of spaces with him, letting you endure it with him. Thomas Whitaker won first place in PEN last year, not just in one category, but two. At once. Fiction and Non-fiction. No easy task, but not surprising either, given the quality of writing Thomas consistently, and prolifically, turns out. Christi Buchanan won PEN for a story she wrote, called The Ring. I still remember it clearly because it gave me a vibrant snapshot of life in a women’s prison, and how strikingly different that is from the ones in which I have lived. (Here, the guy who stole the ring might be the only one to help me look for it.) Another friend of mine, Jeff C., also won PEN for a piece of fiction he wrote a few years ago. I remember that one well also because it dealt with intergenerational incarceration. A story I’d written about my youth, titled Son of the District, won first prize in the memoir category of PEN last year. I know I’m forgetting other MB6 writers who’ve been recognized for excellence, and I apologize.

The point is that the best writers in the US prison system happen to write for Minutes Before Six. PEN said it first. 

And yet, when these pieces originally ran on MB6, they garnered no comment, or maybe one. (I received one very important comment on SOTD, out of only two, ever.)

We know how many people check out MB6, because it counts you. Computers are nosey that way. So I ask you, dear readers, all five thousand of you per week: why the crashing silence?

Do you wonder if we care whether what we say elicits a response?

We do. Very much. In fact, for some of us, that is the sole reason we write. Some Minutes Before Six writers deal almost exclusively with issues surrounding the plague of mass incarceration. Despite the rumors we hear of the growing conversation out there, these writers begin to wonder if anyone truly cares, or if the conversation would permit the subject a voice. I will use our most prolific writer as an example. Thomas Whitaker spends an incredible amount of time and brain sweat tapping out each of his 139—and counting—essays. If he wants to change the wording of a particular sentence, he has to retype an entire page, which I know he does more often than anyone, save his neighbor, could truly appreciate. He has to pay for all the paper, the carbon paper and ribbons, let alone the typewriter, himself. As do all of us. He is oftentimes sharing insights you could read nowhere else on the planet. Is it too much to ask for a minute or two spent typing your thoughts in return?

When you read one of my stories or essays on MB6, you are usually reading what emerges after many dozen drafts. I, too, have a crappy old typewriter, so this limits how much finished work I can generate. So if you are holding out for my writing to improve much in order to be comment-worthy, I’m afraid that may never happen. Sorry.

When I set out to write a piece, I usually have one or two goals in mind. At times I want to explore my thoughts on a subject, and bring you along for the ride—or I intend to tell you stories. In either case, I aim to let you experience vicariously what you might not otherwise—to make you feel what it means to be institutionalized, or a homeless teenager who does what it takes, or a hunted fugitive hopelessly in love, or an addict battling his way through recovery. If I have failed to make you feel anything in writing these pieces, then the rest of these questions may be pointless.

Do you not comment because you believe we won’t receive it anyway, given we have no access to the interwebs? Or that we won’t reply?

We do. On the rare occasion that someone does post a comment, Dina forwards them immediately via Jpay, or for luddites like me, snail mail. And when a comment involves a question, challenge or prompt, we reply. We value you as a reader, and if you take the time to engage with what one of us has written, we take that seriously, and will respond accordingly.

Do you worry about one of us finding out your name, or contacting you directly without your permission? Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve seen Catfish. Everyone has an online alter ego, except for us.

Is there a specific aspect of prison life that you wish we’d write about but haven’t yet?

How would we know? Not only would your comments make us feel appreciated, or at least heard, but nothing gets my typewriter in a clatter like the thought that I may actually have an audience.

Do you disagree with an MB6 writer’s viewpoint, but don’t want to leave a dissenting or critical comment?

We welcome the added perspective, the questioning of our stance, or meaningful critique. None of us expect everyone to agree with every word we say. How boring that would be? All we expect, or hope for, is to find out that our best sequence of words had an impact be it positive or (sigh) otherwise. We have feelings like anyone else, thin skin is not a luxury one can afford in prison. We can take criticism and we rise to the challenge. A helpful tip might be to not post “That story sux. You writ crap grammar!” but rather spend a moment gathering your own thoughts and interrogate the substance, more than the form (some of us never made it through high school), or us as individuals. We can appreciate a valid counterpoint, and you may be surprised by what you learn from the ensuing exchange. We take that to mean you are thinking about what we said. And that, dear reader, is why we write.
Steve Bartholomew 978300
Monroe Correctional Complex
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777


Comments
by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

For all but the most determined and dedicated of sleepers, the day on Texas' death row begins around 3am. This is when they pass out breakfast, for some unfathomable reason that is immune to all critical investigation. About an hour later, the now-empty blue plastic "anti shank" trays will be picked up, "slopped" in the vernacular. About an hour after that, at roughly 5:20am, the day shift arrives and wakes up any stragglers by setting up the recreation and shower schedules for the day; if you are sacked out, you just lost out. At exactly 6:30am, the cell lights come on for the first roster count and this will be repeated every two hours, all day, every day. At roughly the same time, the "necessities" officer and his band of surly trustees rumble through the pods with their carts of socks, towels, and underwear on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and sheets on Tuesday. If you aren't awake to swap out dirty for clean items, you are going to have to wash them in your sink by hand, along with your t-shirts and shorts. (Then again, once you see the remarkable variety of stains on said items, you will probably prefer to wash your own property anyways.) 

For those who attempt to preserve their sanity by staying awake during the (relatively) quiet hours of the night, the departure of the necessities crew signals your best chance at getting some (relatively) uninterrupted sleep. From this point forward, you only have to worry about lunch-call (roughly 9:30am), dinner-call (4pm-ish), and the local natives slamming dominoes on the metal tables in the dayrooms. Beyond that and the occasional visit, you pretty much won't see or hear another living soul for the rest of your life. 

I know why they do it, why they try to sever you off from meaningful human contact. Why they bury you under a neutron star's weight of concrete, steel, and razor-wire, why they "lose" so much of your mail. It's brilliant really. Structural even.

We the condemned weren't sentenced to death for our actions, despite what the moralists will tell you in angry, self-righteous homilies. We in Texas were sentenced to death for our potential "future dangerousness," for the acts that we might do. We were condemned over prophecy, and since the only valid form of prophecy is the self-fulfilling variety, they have created conditions here on the Row that herd us all continually towards the worst devils of our natures. Like I said, it's smart: they create the "super-predators" they always claimed we were. They generate the monsters they need to justify their praxis.

The literature on this is beyond "settled." I've written about much of it before, how Dr. Stuart Grassian detected hallucinations, profound depression, confusion, perceptual distortion, memory loss, and paranoia in prisoners who had spent between eleven days and ten months in solitary.  How when Dr. Craig Haney studied inmates at Pelican Bay in California, he found roughly 90% of them experiencing "irrational anger" and a combination of "chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair." Hundreds of studies over the years have mirrored these results, and the overwhelming conclusion from all of this is that isolation makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish between reality and fiction. I've spent roughly 28% of my life in prison, all but a year of that in solitary confinement. Trust me, I know of that which I speak.

In the mid-1950s, social psychologist Stanley Schachter recruited five young men to participate in an experiment on prolonged social isolation. Each of the five was confined to a cell, and was given certain amenities like a lamp, toilet, bed, and a chair. Food was delivered to their door, though no social contact was allowed during each delivery. Schachter told the men that he would pay them for their time, and that each was allowed to leave whenever they wanted. Then he sat back and watched. Within twenty minutes one of the men was banging on the door, demanding to be released. Three of the others made it to the third-day mark. One of these claimed that these had been the hardest 72 hours of his life. Another reported that he felt increasingly uneasy and disoriented. The longest made it for eight days before demanding to be released.

No one processes isolation in exactly the same way, but most of us experienced this very disorientation during our first days alone, a confusingly unsettled sensation. During the 1960s, NASA was interested in studying this phenomenon, and French adventurer Michael Siffre volunteered to spend two months deep underground, in an attempt to mimic what astronauts in space might experience. Apart from losing track of time and a brief spell of madness where Siffre danced the twist and sang, he came out of the experience more or less intact. He had less success ten years later when he crawled into a cave near Del Rio, Texas for a six-month attempt. On day 79 he succumbed to a crippling depression and seriously pondered suicide. He postponed his death after befriending a mouse, only to crack again after he accidentally killed it while attempting to trap it in a casserole dish. "Desolation overwhelms me," he wrote in his journal, shortly before abandoning the cave.

As I said, all of this is known and I understand why the state would wish to treat me in this manner. The roughly 3300 days I've spent locked in isolation cells are commensurate with our judiciary's disdain for me. They want me to lose track of the Real, to feel the desolation that Michael Siffre felt. In some way, this is supposed to add up to "justice," whatever that actually means. What I don't understand is why I've begun to feel some sort of weird association between the intentional disregard I regularly receive from my jailers and the intentional silence I receive from you, dear Reader. That's not exactly fair, I know. I'm not saying you are equal, not laying out facts. I'm merely telling you the way I feel—always an uncertain, nebulous realm. I know you are out there; I can read the little ticker as well as anyone. And yet, week after week, entry after entry, I am left attempting to explain to myself and the other writers why not even a handful of you can find the time or the interest needed to share a comment or leave a bit of feedback. Listen, I'm not saying I'm great at this writing thing. No one is including me in any conversations about James Joyce or David Foster Wallace, or nominating me for the Pulitzer. But within the natural limits of my abilities and intelligence, I generally put a lot of time, thought, and effort into every article that bears my byline. Each is a tiny piece of myself that I cut out and send off into the great digital wasteland. I'm not looking for plaudits. But writing for me isn't pure performance. It's a conversation. And when I put something out there and get zero response it feels like what a comedian must when he or she tells a joke to a packed house only to be rewarded with a few coughs and the sound of lonely grasshoppers. Instead of wondering if what you wrote had even a tiny shred of merit, now all you are left with is to try to figure out what went wrong. You've got this corpse on your hands and you can't even begin to guess what killed it. When this goes on for years, you start to think there is something really, truly broken with you.

Like everyone else, I can answer some questions without resorting to the Other. I know when I am hot or hungry. I know when I am in pain. But there are many questions we face each day that are impossible to determine in the absence of human contact. I've been eating a vegetarian diet of late. Is this "good"? Does it make sense to slaughter chickens? Fish? What about dogs? If I decided to cut my jumpsuit up and make a three piece suit, would this be "stylish"? Am I being good to the environment by using only 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year? The answers to these questions require that I conform or verify my version of the world to that of the Other. Without any form of contact with other people, my world is derelict, and many important questions of meaning and value are left dangling. I've spent the last ten years attempting to rehabilitate myself. When I write, I am showing you pieces of this journey, not because I want to be patted on the head, but because I have no idea whether I am doing this right, i.e., approaching the norms of the Other, when that Other keeps leaving the room before I can even begin my comparative analysis. Everyone contributes to this journal for different reasons, but I would be very surprised if a single writer didn't have this in mind each time they put pencil to paper.

I know life out there is busy. I'm not so far gone from the world that I've forgotten what it is to have to work, pay the bills, mow the lawn, whatever. But if you have the leisure time to add reading a prison-themed literary journal to your schedule, you have the time to opine on that journal from time to time if a particular piece resonates with you. If nothing ever seems to float your boat, well, we as content providers need to know this. Unlike a consumer magazine, there is no "buy-in" for MB6. As editors, we would know we had some changes to make if a bunch of readers cancelled their subscriptions. But we give this to you; aside from comments, we have no way of gauging the level of your interest or satisfaction.

So, please consider taking a moment to add a thought or two. What do you like? What do you dislike? What would make the site better? Try to understand that I am not presently talking to some generalized "you." I'm talking to you-you, the person reading this on your screen right now. We've all heard about some stabbing or mugging on the street, where dozens of witnesses just sat there and did nothing to stop the attack. Bystander nonintervention is not a sign of moral depravity, but rather sociological fact: many observers cause responsibility to diffuse outward to the group. People are social creatures, and everyone is waiting for someone to exhibit the authority to step forward. So please, don't assume that someone else is going to do this. It's pretty obvious from recent history that unless you do it, no one else is going to. And don't assume that because someone contributes to this site, they have oodles of support. There's probably not a single writer here who has even five true supporters. What we are asking for here is a bit of participation on your part. We feel that we bring you value each week, a take or a view that you won't see anywhere else. If you do not begin to confirm this at least a little bit, I do not honestly know how much longer we can keep this project going.

Thomas Bartlett Whitaker 999522
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351


Paid in Full: Comments as a Commodity
by Santonio D. Murff

For most, prison is a dark and dreary place of negativity and pessimism. It’s a home of the self-righteous, self-centered, and the just selfish. A graveyard of dashed dreams and squandered or stolen potential, prisons are a barren wasteland where fantasies abound, but seldom if ever take root and blossom into much more than midnight musing….

Yet, for most, there remains, even if unacknowledged, a fine pin-point of hope. No matter how heinous the crime; no matter how harsh the sentence, hope and humanity are two things that can't be taken away from a prisoner. Those he must willingly surrender. Some do. Most don't. I never will!

Sentenced to a capital life sentence over twenty years ago for a crime ALL KNOW I didn't commit, I accepted the flaws and injustices of this system long ago and realized the only way to survive and maintain my sanity in this horrid world where the most horrendous of deeds are cheered; where the gate-keepers are oft times worse than the convicted; where the purported rehabilitators seem to go all out to demean, degrade, and rob one of hope and humanity—was to escape.

So escape I did! I broke out, but not with smuggled tools nor pistol play. Not with slick words nor swift legs did I escape the concrete jungle’s senseless violence and madness. I scaled nary a wall and bound over no barbed wire. I did it, escaped, with books, paper, and pen.

I was powerless to change this system, to change my physical conditions, so I utilized books, the knowledge (power) within them, the experiences of others there-in to change myself; mentally and spiritually. I shed my own self-centeredness of complaint to cloak myself in community activism. Writ writing. That thin pin-prick of illumination slowly grew into a flashlight of guidance as I dived headfirst into law books and legal journals and witnessed how other impoverished, wrongly convicted, minorities and poor whites had fought against the beast known as "The System" and won!

Armed not with torches and guns, but with legal precedents and intelligent argument they had turned tragedy to triumph, and went from victims to victors. They gave me the way and God gave me the faith to educate, elevate, and eventually liberate myself. And now, here today, some 12 years after I was dropped in the hell-hole of solitary confinement "indefinately"—I can honestly say that I have done exactly that: educated, elevated, and liberated myself! 

I manifested my dreams and strove to reach my full potential one word at a time. Became the first African American to complete the Gang Renouncement and Disassociation Program in Texas. Founded The Righteous Movement and coined the catchphrase "We don't make excuses. We make a difference!" Live by it. Inspired and led others too!

I upgraded from paper and pen to my trusty Swintec typewriter. Filed my own writ of habeas corpus and was granted relief. Won the nationwide PEN Prison Writing Contest four times. Through PEN wins, I found my Vanilla Angel and dear friend, Dina Milito, who reached out to me to write for Minutes Before Six. And, through MB6 I've found so much more....

Truly rehabilitated, I stand with pride before the mirror, looking into the eyes of the prosperous, spiritual, intellectual man of morals and integrity who stands before me. And, I must say, that I am in awe of God's greatness, mercy, and grace, because society, this system, had counted me out, but I've escaped the negativity and pessimism to sprinkle the world with positivity and optimism through my Righteous Movement and the voice that MB6 provides.

I've had my humanity commended and my hope compounded again and again by MB6 readers. Through MB6 readers and our family of writers, I've realized my power to instigate change, to stimulate much needed dialogues, and to make those outside the system think, feel, and take action. This truly personal piece is for each and every one of you M86 readers who have not only come into our home and stayed long enough to listen and learn, but cared enough to leave a comment that has invigorated, inspired, and encouraged us writers to continue contributing. Comments that I can promise you keep my Vanilla Angel, Maggie, Dorothy and other MB6 volunteers flying high with a sense of accomplishment and the pride that comes from a job well done.

The 19,000 to 20,000 hits a month that MB6 gets proves that ya'll are enjoying the efforts. Realize, PLEASE, that we enjoy the input as much as ya'll enjoy the output! When Barbara Grant applauds another great piece by The San-Man I can't help but to smile and want to deliver another and another….

When Bonnie and Joe G. question the plausibility of solutions outlined in Banging for a Solution, I smile with a sense of fulfillment, because I've started an overdue dialogue outside those impoverished communities I know so well. I feel powerless no longer!

When Jason McCullough and Mike Boylan write to tell me how much they really enjoyed a story, when readers like them really get it, I really get it. That warm feeling of accomplishment that comes to a writer when a message has been well-delivered and well-received. I want to make sure that I don't disappoint them with that next piece that they've stated that they'll be waiting on.

When Tarryn sends his appreciations from clear across the world, his homeland of South Africa, for my Thank You, Madiba piece I'm totally humbled that even in death Mandela could bring brothers together. I am in awe that my writing, from captivity, can reach, can touch one so far away. And then I smile, because I feel I’ve done the great Madiba proud. 

When Margaret from Chicago writes about how much she love, love, loves my writing, I am overjoyed and anxious to write her back and let her know how very much I love, love, LOVE her for taking a moment out of her life to let me know that someone is there "feeling" what I'm writing. She is—you all are—my greatest motivation and compensation to continue to share pieces of myself and my truths with the world.

None of us writers, none of the volunteers, for MB6 gets paid one red cent for our time, labor, and literature. But, all us are rewarded with much more than money through ya’ll’s COMMENTS. Your compassion and even criticisms. I personally appreciate each and everyone of ya'll who have left comments, affirming that someone is out there caring enough to read our works and considerate enough to compensate us with comments.

So this is a mere moment out of my life to say THANK YOU! To remind the 20,000 and growing readers who enjoy MB6 that we can't do this alone. We need ya’ll to support MB6. COMMENTS are the commodity we crave!!! So please keep them coming.

Survive and Succeed,
Santonio

Santonio Murff 00773394
French M. Robertson Unit
12071 FM 3522
Abilene, TX 79601


27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thomas, et al, thanks for pointing this out. I do enjoy this site, and in fact have it bookmarked for daily reading. But as with other things I read in my daily Internet wanderings, I never comment; I simply digest and move on. It seems obvious that feedback is craved, and I do apologize.

Know that you all have had an impact. Because of this site (and others) I no longer support the death penalty in practice. (Maybe in theory...I'm still working on that part.)

Anyway, thanks for the update today. I am at least going to comment. I may even develop some pen pals.

Anonymous said...

You're right, all of you, Thomas, Steve and Santonio. As a reader I don't always agree with you, there are times I think "stop whining, you put yourself there asshole", other times I think, "wow, I get that", or "hmmm, I never thought about that". I've been laugh out loud amused, sad, angry, but always appreciative of your willingness to put your thoughts, feelings and observations out there. You've changed the way I think about prison certainly but more importantly the people in prison, the circumstances that can bring a person to prison and how as a society we treat each other, I don't mean to imply that I see you as only "prison writers", I see you as writers period. Since this is supposed to be only a comment and not a book, I'll end it here and just say Thank you, I appreciate you and I apologize for not taking the time to let you know how much I enjoy and admire your work.

Jenneke said...

I visit this site quite often and I have to admit that I have not left many comments. My aim is to write something that goes a little bit further than"that was really interesting"and leave it at that. I highly enjoy reading Thomas's essays but I'm non-native English and (and I'm ashamed to admit this) I something need to read his entries with a dictionairy beside me beause there are so many words I don't know. I owe Thomas a huge "thank you"for improving my English by the way :) Sometimes I want to write a comment I just feel lost for words, if that makes any sense.

I think a lot of people here stumble onto this website, read it an move on, get a glimpse of prison life, think"well they put themselves there" and get on with daily life.

Thanks to all of the authors on MB6 for writing your stories; they are truly appreciated :)

Anonymous said...

I never thought to comment before. I found this site when researching what prison life was like. My brother had been convicted of a crime he didn't commit and given such a harsh sentence that I imagine guilty, repeat offenders never get. It was so surreal and by the time reality set in I realized I knew nothing of this new life my brother was thrown in. Reading articles published on this site has given me a glimpse of what his life must be like. My brother would never tell me as I am his little sister and he is the protective older brother. The articles are good and so well written that you can't help but feel like you know the writers on such a personal level. So for me commenting "great article" feels so very inadequate when the author has poured himself out like that. But do keep writing and hopefully more readers will get over their shyness and post comments.

Lou said...

Hello! I had been checking for days for the latest November 'issue'...meantime reading and looking at the artwork posted here - apologies from this stranger for not having left any comments til now. For now I'll say that in general posts on this blog have been the most interesting pieces of writing I have come across in recent months. I have laughed, cried, felt empathy, compassion, asked myself questions about my life as a result of reading and seeing the artwork posted here....Will add a comment on individual pieces that I engaged in, thank you sincerely, Luisa

urban ranger said...

I have been reading MB6 for some time now, and have commented a few times.
I find most of the content of interest but the quality of writing does vary.
Personally the art work doesn't interest me at all (you did ask!)

Thomas' writing is what keeps me coming back. Partly because Thomas'
personal story is so moving and also because the guy can write.
( I also really enjoyed Jeff C.'s
pieces on his release and would like to hear more from him.)

One practical issue - I find the white text on black a bit of a challenge,
but perhaps I am alone in this.

Thanks to all the contributors and the folks who make MB6 possible.

SuzieQ said...

I, too, read fairly regularly but have never commented. I have no interest in the art, other than the art of writing. Having a sibling who spent over a decade incarcerated, I read mostly to learn about what it is/was like on the inside.

I do not support the death penalty, nor any politician who does. Though, I admit, when I see writers complain, I do many times feel that their victims would have loved the opportunity to just still be breathing, let alone have the ability to complain in life. It's hard - for me - not to think of the victims and their families and what they'd think with every post I read. Even in a situation where the victims are family, and the living members have forgiven the writer. It's still difficult to wrap my head around how it comes to that point.

I understand fully growing up in a broken, dysfunctional, unsafe place. But I still can't comprehend how one finds themselves in a position like that of the writers rather than making a choice to be better and do better - before landing themselves in prison.

When reading, it's pleasing to see that many have found a way to express themselves in a healthy manner. It's also heart-breaking to know that many of their families have cut them out of their lives. But, at the same time I'm not sure commenting is truly best. There are times when I'm frustrated with the writers for not seeming more humble and sorrowful, when they paint themselves as the victims - seemingly blind to the fact that they are victims of their own life choices. That's how it often reads, anyway.

At the same time, it's frustrating to know that we treat humans in such an inhumane manner. And no matter the crime, I don't feel that the government should be in the business of taking lives.

So that's why I don't comment. I don't want to diminish the spirits of these men (and women) further. Sometimes it's best to keep those thoughts to ourselves, but you did ask so hopefully this maybe answers the question a bit. I'll try to be better at comments, and refrain from negativity. I wish all the writers well.

Anonymous said...


I've been reading long enough for the reality to sink in--you'd think "death sentence" would have been enough, but I didn't really get it until writers begun to disappear forever. What can I say to support you that isn't trite? "Keep your head up, everyone dies!" To me, a death sentence is almost as incomprehensible as death. I'm scared of it, so I want to know about it, how people feel, what it's like to watch people be taken from their cells for execution; if inmates dream of gurneys and poison. What right do I have to ask that of you people? "Hi, you don't know me, could you please share your deepest emotions about your impending execution?" So, I read, I digest, and I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that you have pen pals to fulfill the role of commenter.

Constructive criticism: while I don't believe there is anything magical about a 12-person jury, particularly in a racist community, and I absolutely believe in prosecutorial corruption, I tend to tune out the "I'm innocent" posts (with some exceptions) because they can tend to come across as if every police officer judge, juror, attorney, media rep, witness, family member, ex-girlfriend, everyone you've met in prison and had a negative experience with (CO or inmate) are ALL involved in a massive conspiracy against you. This is the royal "you" I'm speaking of, no one specifically. In those cases I don't have something nice to say, and so don't say anything at all. The Bambi rule. Along the same lines, I don't say this with malice, but when people who are guilty of, say, a violent armed robbery, complain about not getting paid enough at their prison jobs...even a hippie like me can't help but see the irony in that.

I personally gravitate towards posts from Thomas, Steve Barthomlew, and and Christi--posts that are more introspective and comment on their personal experiences, transformations, and feelings on the prison-industrial complex as a whole as opposed to why such-and-such guard was unfair. I've read and reread the Death Watch journals, and I felt a real loss when Arnold Prieto was executed. Again, I often feel I don't have a right to comment in such horrific things...but if it's actually wanted, I will leave comments in the future.

Anonymous said...

This is a long comment; I'll try to hit some of the issues.

The simplest - I suspect some people don't post or use traceable names because sites like this can be subject to trolls who are apt to send nasty stuff to personal email addresses. I've experienced this in other places. No commenting is a bit cowardly, but anonymity is probably not driven by fear of the writers getting an email address, as Steve may think. At least for me, when I go anonymous I am hiding from trolls.

I've been reading this site for about 3 years, since I retired and began chiding out things that had been a concern for some time. I am a volunteer for an organization that tries to get books to individual prisoners in my state and to get books into prison libraries, which have had NO money to buy books since 2000. I am reading for a lot of reasons, but I especially look for writing that makes what goes on in prisons and how people cope with the loss of autonomy. I've sent a few posts to other people in my volunteer organization. Lately it has been a post by Tom Odle. If I ever have a reason to tell someone about life in a half-way house Jeff C has written some great stuff. Christi Buchanan's work always gets read by me. The guy who wrote Traveling with Blackbeard expressed a lot about men living in groups and efforts to maintain some personal autonomy in a prison setting.

I downloaded Versus Inertia. It is on my iPod and a song comes up every now and then when I shuffle songs for my walks. They generally speed up my walking pace. I have bookmarked Steve's post about the recording process to send to musicians who need to think about the difficulties of playing in prisons. I've glad Steve and the rest of the band can play together and even do a bit of recording. No one should ever discount the satisfaction and emotional release of playing in groups. I am not a musician, but I know several and have seen this at first hand.

I have been remiss in making comments, probably for the reason others have noted; I don't want to just say "Good story; I enjoyed it" although that would certainly be better than nothing. I have some involvement in the fan fiction world and the same issue comes up. People read, but don't comment because they can't come up with a detailed expression of what they liked, so they don't say anything. I suspect that's a problem for readers here also. Writers want to know they have been read; they like detailed comments, but even the simplest is at least an acknowledgment of appreciation of the work. I will try to be a little more forthcoming.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading MBS for over 4 years and first came to it through a link on “Death Row Diaries” by William Van Poyck. Death Row Diaries is now dormant due to William's execution 2 ½ years ago resulting in the greatest loss in my lifetime of a dear friend and kindred spirit. After reading the many contributions from the writers on MBS I have come to feel a connection to them all. I was delighted to read that Jeff Conner was finally released about a year ago and I know he will do well as I continue to send prayers his way. I was also very relieved to read that Mitchell Mwandishi probably got his typewriter fixed or was able to purchase another one as proof of his continuing fabulous contributions. I also celebrated William Van Poyck and Timothy Pauley when I read that their entries were accepted for “Prison Noir”. The tributes to William Van Poyck written by both Thomas Whitaker and Michael Lambrix moved me greatly and to a place of acceptance of my loss at the same time the shared acknowledgment of William's amazing contributions to this world and his tremendous beauty helped me heal as I know I was not alone with my love and admiration for this man. As for Thomas Whitaker I felt great pride for him when I read about he his continuing studies and his obvious spiritual growth with such a raw and deep level of honesty and introspection. Reading his contributions is like opening a door into my own soul for a peek what I have always feared, my own humanity.

Why do I read MBS????????? I know I am not a perfect person, far from it.............I have commented crimes that if caught I would have probably been punished with a prison sentence...... but for the grace of god..........I was lucky. I am also part of a group of beings called human....with all of our weakness, frailty, flaws, strengths, beauty, wonder and magnificence....we are still spiritual beings and are god's amazing children and we are all connected to each other through our shared spirits. If the powers at be truly knew this great truth there would be no death penalty. When we harm or kill another we harm and kill a part of ourselves, this is also true with forgiveness, when we forgive another it opens the door to forgiveness of our own sins and shortcomings. It all comes back to connection, reading MBS keeps me connected to humanity with its insights into a world of imperfections and brilliance.

The reason I never previously offered a comment is because I am computer ignorant and have had trouble opening an account with google and I was too lazy to work on it until now. I also plan on sending a contribution on gofundme because I would feel great loss if this website closed.

Thank you “Minutes Before Six” for your amazing contribution and connection to humanity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bart,

I'm not entirely sure why I read your blog. Over the years I have visited I have come up with many reasons: i) I'm less than a year older than you ii) I admire your resilience and spirit as much as I'm appalled by your crime iii) I'm fascinated by crime and punishment, redemption and forgiveness iv) I think you're remarkably erudite.

I have an ambivalent attitude towards capital punishment, though I'd say I'm mostly opposed to it. The American system seems particularly cruel due to the length of time the condemned spend incarcerated before execution. I think it would literally drive me insane, which is why I admire your ability to endure it.

I've never left a comment before, because what can one possibly say to somebody in your position? Good Luck?

I read your father's book, and admire his courage, faith and compassion. It would be nice to read your thoughts about him, but understand your reticence.

Best Wishes,

GM, Glasgow, Scotland

Erika said...

Thomas, Santonio, Steve, all of you, please know that your work is appreciated and does make a difference. I have been following this site for about a year, and what most impresses me is the time and research that obviously goes into each post, especially when you describe the living conditions and obstacles that must make this incredibly difficult. You all have a gift for letting me into your world and telling a story from a perspective I would never know. I've felt every kind of emotion while reading these stories and essays. I have read quite a bit of Thomas's work, though the sheer volume makes this a big project.

Thomas, you have a powerful voice, and some of my favorite moments are when you manage to throw in some tongue in cheek humor amongst the difficult realities. You have obviously worked very hard to grow as a person. In fact, I've met few people who have dedicated so much time to the task, through study of every world religion and philosophy and extensive reading and introspection. I've been frustrated with you occasionally, but I can see that you are trying to use your gifts for the good of the world, starting with your fellow incarcerated human beings. I too am a progressive, and a recovering evangelical Christian, and your spiritual journey resonates with my own struggle.

To all of you, know this is helping me grow as a person as well. What I most feel is a sense of our shared humanity, and an understanding that we are all complicated and imperfect, but can always move forward and find purpose in the most dire of places. My life is richer because of your work. Please keep up the conversation.

Also, know that you've inspired me to take some action where I have been able in the fight against the death penalty (letter writing campaigns, calls to our governor). I am committed to the cause of criminal justice reform and open to ideas on how we on the outside can help.

Anonymous said...

This is only my second comment on this site. I check into the site every week or so. I read and absorb and sometimes I shiver. I am horrified by the death penalty, and I believe it demeans all people living here in the USA. I do not know what to say to someone who has been sentenced to death. It seems as if any words that I might write are simply inadequate. I do not want to be perceived as a 'ghoul', and I consciously refrain from commenting.

Re. The layout of the site. I do not like the black background, as it makes reading difficult, in that my eyes get tired. I pass occasionally on some writers, but I read all that Thomas offers us on the site.

I will try commenting in the future even though I will probably find it quite difficult.

Anonymous said...

Like another commentor who posted, I found this site through Van Poyck's 'Death Row Diaries' blog. I've been reading here every so often since then, but I have never commented before. Maybe because I felt I never had anything worth saying beyond "great article" or "interesting thoughts". That's not much feedback, but in reconsidering I suppose that is better than no feedback at all.

Reading through the other comments, I find myself agreeing very much with Suzie Q, though she said it much more eloquently than I ever could.

Kitty said...

I am a long term reader of MB6. I come mainly to read Thomas' writings, so for this comment, it's mainly for Thomas to see/be passed on to.

I've never commented before now as I've felt I've had little to add, I am against the death penalty and against the treatment that death row offers. I anger at the quality of life, regardless of crime, because I don't believe that solves anything. I don't believe more suffering can ever salve the emotional wounds left by crime.

In Thomas' situation, I anger that his father will lose his last child, despite appealing to the court. That the end victim in this is a father who has lost everything, and the perpetrator at the end is the justice system, murdering his son, to serve justice to a man who will only suffer more due to this justice.

My comments I fear would be in this vein, and I worry too faceless, too about the system and less about the people, and I come here to learn about the people. I've wanted to write as well, but selfishly, I don't want to lose someone I may call a friend. Because the system is like cancer, and I hate being so helpless for those I may care about, and who I know will soon be gone.

For what I enjoy reading? The mundane, the reality. I'm a writer, and the details are something I enjoy, though enjoy seems the wrong word. The routine, the people, the individuals, the anecdotes, the loves, the fears - the humanity I guess, in a place less humane than a kill shelter. Essays on how you survive, what your thoughts are, how you anger, how you deal with that. How you live. Raw accounts, brutal and honest.

One day, your writings will be looked at in horror when we advance beyond the death penalty. Your writings will make you immortal, and your journey in this system, your ability to describe it, matters, you matter. What you produce in writings will stand as historical documents, it will be for the people of the future to judge us all for this, but outside of MB6 there are few other places with the reality of life behind bars, from the 'horses mouth' untouched by biased editors or film crews.

We may not comment often, though I will try to do so now, but we are reading, we remain faithful to hearing what you have to say, and returning often to see updates. That is validation for what you do, please don't forget that.

KR, Stirlingshire

Anonymous said...

I don`t have much in the way of commentary or literary criticism to contribute but want the writers to know that there are many readers out here who look forward to each essay on MB6. I particularly enjoy the description of the daily lives in prison. Thomas`s series “No Mercy for Dogs” is especially moving and I eagerly await the next chapter. Regards to all.

Colleen said...

This is about the second or third time I have come to this site I do believe. I think it is great for prisoners to have a voice and to be heard. Everyone no matter who you are needs to be heard and it is so sad that prisons silence people this way. Sure people there have perhaps committed crimes and if they have, (I say if because I do believe some are innocent), they are still people. This does not excuse their crimes but I believe in redemption and being made a new person in the Lord. I believe there needs to be more focus on rehabilitation.

I appreciate this site and look forward to coming back. Also I wanted everyone to know that my husband and I often pray for prisoners. I also pray for prison reform as well and an end to the death penalty. All of you matter to so many and if everyone who prayed about this let you know, everyone who cared let you know, maybe it'd help even if only for a moment. I cannot even imagine what you all must endure for I could not myself bare it. But you do and you are strong and we appreciate this site and what you have to say. Your words do matter.

Anonymous said...

To all the MB6 writers and contributors:

First, and foremost, your stories are appreciated and your work does not go unnoticed. I have recently started trying to be mindful of leaving more comments on the stories I read, as I now understand those comments do actually make it back to you. I truly apologize for my ignorance in that regard, everyone who takes the time to write on MB6 weather that's from the row or otherwise, deserves to hear feedback on thier stories. I have thoroughly enjoyed the vast selection I've read, and there are many that tell a very good, compelling story (I'm looking at you Thomas, let's finish our journey in mexico, shall we? Please?). I have learned quite a lot about you guys thru your writings. Its way to easy for society to dismiss you once you're "locked away" and essentially waiting to die. I can only imagine how important this outlet is to you. I will make a very conscience effort to comment on every story I read moving forward - so that you know, people are reading, people do care, and you haven't been forgotten. Keep the stories, insights, and anticdotes coming, I think they are amazing. - Ken (Dallas Texas)

Anonymous said...

I'm from the UK but visiting Texas for a conference this week. I also get woken up 3am, but it's due due to the jet lag (fortunately I get to go home at the end of the week though). I read the blog occasionally and am slightly embarrassed to say I've never left a comment. In my defence it wasn't completely clear that the comments actually get sent back to the writers but it's often hard to come up with a response which seems adequate. Several times I've started to form a response in my head but nothing has come of it. I realise though that an inadequate response is still better than no response so will try to comment occasionally in the future. Anyway, I would like to say that reading the blog has given me a real insight of the realities of life behind bars and made me think a lot more about how we deal with those who break the law.

Rob

Anonymous said...

Thomas,

I am a long time reader and first time commenter. Although our paths eventually diverged, they were up to a point frighteningly similar(Including pretending to have completed my junior and senior year of college). It is hard for me to imagine how but I think that had a few of life's variables been different I could have found myself in a situation similar to yours. I am fascinated by your ongoing quest to remove your masks and become more then a caricature. I sometimes question the sincerity of your words, but only because they describe a change I don't think I myself am capable of.

Lori said...

Thomas,
I accidentally found a blog you were writing several years ago. Confessions Of A Texas Death Row Inmate, I believe was the name of it. I began reading your story and I couldn't stop. Page after page, I was enthralled. I was emotionally captivated by your story and your heartbreak. I felt it! I found myself crying at your plight when I realized that I didn't even know your name or what on earth you could have possibly done to be where you were, so I decided to do a little research. When I found the story of The Sugarland Murders I read in disbelief. Surely this couldn't be you? I was embarrassed with myself for letting you get to me. I stopped reading, feeling that I had been duped, suckered into feeling so sad for you.
Although I stopped reading the blog, I thought of you often and then one day I let my curiosity get the best of me. I couldn't remember your name. I could only remember the name of your blog so that is what I searched for. I never found the original blog, but I did find MB6. I knew your name as soon as I saw it in the list of contributors and immediately went as far back as I could and began reading (some more thoroughly than others) everything you had published on the site. I come back very often for updates and eagerly await your next installment. I have never left a comment because I fear that it will be grammatically incorrect. In fact, I am mortified right now just thinking about you actually reading this and being so sidetracked at all of the mistakes that you actually find it painful to follow. Until now I really didn't think that you cared much for correspondence. Stupidity is something I feel that you find unbearable. I could be wrong, but honestly I don't think that I am...
Anyway, there it is. My plea to you. Please don't stop writing. I really love reading everything you write!

Thank You

Kaity said...

Reading has always been an escape for me. Escape from what you might ask? Escape from feeling like my life is meaningless, that while I am not on Death Row, or in a padded room in a straight jacket is beyond me, but what have I truly done with my life? I am a nurse, so saving lives and taking care of people's loved ones is what I do for 95+ hours a week. I need an escape from reality, before I go over the edge. I don't care what I read as long as I read. I stumbled upon your page, kinda by accident. I was watching Forensic Files on Netflix, and came across Bart Whitaker's story. Part of me feels like when I watch these crime shows, I only get the one sided views of the investigators and not the side that my soul yearns for, the side of the "criminal", the side of the person, who had to reach an extreme to do such things. I believe there are true monsters out there, who do heinous things for no reason or rhyme at all, but i also believe there are people out there who are pushed to extremes by outside forces, that feel like their only escape is to make the choices they make. Afterwards, they may feel even worse than before, they may regret or they may not, either way, they are still human who made mistakes and bad choices and are ultimately paying the price for them. My heart aches for such people. Your website calms a storm in my soul and brings to light a side its been longing to understand and learn and read about. I ache for more to read, I hurt for the day the story ends, because they all end, some just sooner than others.
While I may never truly 100% understand, I still see each and everyone of you as human, as people with a story, and I long to hear that story.
I read that faced with the life of your day to day routine, the comments and feedback are what push you forward, what keeps you writing, but there are times, you don't get any. I can't begin to understand how that makes you feel. Its not seeking praise, its seeking feedback, its asking if what you are writing is making an impact. It is. Its having a conversation. You are forever waiting for a reply.
Here is your reply.
Keep writing, keep talking.
Talk about the food, talk about your hobbies, talk about the loneliness, talk about life before, your life now, talk about anything, just keep talking. the day you stop talking is the day the people who feel you should be treated less than human, wins. Don't let them win. As long as you can, keep talking, until the end. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad this moment had come! I have been an avid reader of this site for years now and have never left a comment (one, but I deleted it). I have always felt uneasy about not leaving a comment, like I've been disrespecting you or anxious that I haven't shown my appreciation for what I've been given. I've always meant to write to you personally, Thomas, to say thank you... But I also haven't done this. I support another inmate on Texas Death Row and due to politics on the row, I've always kept my support exclusively for him.
Where do I start? I come for Thomas' writing which I find to be some of the most spectacular writing I've ever read. Your mind is incredible. Your wit, your sarcasm, your talent of depicting life on the row and your ability to put human nature into a sentence. I know A LOT about the details of life on the row and I'm amazed that you can express it so succinctly, Thomas. It's a great gift to the world, because there would only be a handful of people who really know what life is like for you guys... It is a service to the world, our society. I come for stories from guys on the row as well... I've found most things to be very moving...
I also never realized that I could comment "Anonymously". I feel ashamed that I've literally devoured the writings on this blog and have never let you all know how much they have meant to me.
I visit frequently and feel bummed if there's nothing new. Thomas, don't ever stop writing. Yours is a talent that is so unique. I LOVE your mind. Please know that I have turned so many people onto your writings, all of whom have sat down and read everything in a sitting and written back to me completely mind blown.
I come for Thomas and find the posts about life on the row to be the most enthralling and powerful. I've never quite gotten into "Mercy For Dogs" but I read EVERY essay you did for your college degree and found them to be brilliant! My gut instinct was that I was being selfish and voyeuristic and cowardly and I'm glad you called us out. I feel better and I hope Thomas, the MB6 writers and the admin all feel acknowledged and know that your work means a lot to many people.

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Isabel Duvenage:

I see that your writers are feeling isolated by the lack of comments. I have given this some thought. My first reaction to reading anything, is to comment. But then an overpowering feeling of shyness comes over me, because, loud and opinionated as I am, I try never to have an opinion about anything about which I know nothing. Despite my wide knowledge of famous crimes gleaned through the medium of television, I do not know what it feels like to be the culprit in a crime. And above all, I do not know what prison, and especially death row feels like. There is always that little frisson of horror, mixed with ghoulish curiosity, which I regret and despise in myself, when the subject comes up. I also somehow felt that those under a sentence of death, must know more about death, and dying, than I do. That somehow they have figured out the enigma. But as far as that goes, I see that, like me, the condemned are also groping towards the light, blind as I am, and even more helpless. I do believe in God I dare not demand an answer to the question why? Whenever I see or hear something with which I cannot cope, like a refugee Muslim boy, carrying his useless, entirely crippled and demented brother on his back to an uneasy freedom in Europe. He does not ask why but carries this burden of helpless flesh with him. That is when I believe, flowers out of manure. I once had to go to the SPCA and decided to look at the dogs. I got as far as cage three, and had to leave. I could not take all these dogs home, I already had about twenty, which was already over the legal limit. I get this feeling about people in prison or death row. I remember those dogs, and I am overcome. I have often thought that our destinies are wired into our personalities. Our brains are wired a certain way. We can be no other. And a certain section of society will always be punished for being what they are, as they do things that do not fit. What has always puzzled me in the Bible is God’s cavalier attitude to the murder of Abel, by his brother Cain. He did not castigate him, but gave him a sign on his forehead, so that he would not be killed himself. Strange. For the order of society, we have to do something else, though. But what interests me most, is the state of mind when the killing was either planned or carried out. I really want to know if the thought of death row did not occur, even once. Why was that? Did they think no one would suspect them? Were they thinking of other things? I would just ask, if it would be possible for Mr Whittaker to answer this. I would just like to know if the possibility of punishment occurred to him at all? If any of your writers could also answer this question? I would really appreciate it. (continued)

A Friend said...

Comment from Isabel Duvenage continued...

You know, those few seconds when his life and future were still perfect, and could remain so, were it not for the actions which followed. I really want to know about that moment, the before. I enjoy the descriptions of daily prison life the most. I do have a pen pal in prison in Texas, but he does not seem to consider that interesting. I am still on the trail of the mystery of the 3am breakfasts, but perhaps that question can only be answered at a much higher level, like Senator Quagmire, who took away the special meals. Oh yes another reason why your devotees don’t write is an unwillingness to heap coals on the heads of people who are already suffering, by asking intrusive questions, and poking them for answers. Also, cowards that we are, we do not want to get too close, as we know, as night follows day, that our writers will die. I remember my outrage and disbelief when I saw William van Poyck on the execution list. I hate to admit this, but my thoughts, after dwelling on his death, turned immediately to me,me, me. What about my prison readings? I truly dread the day that Mr Whittaker’s day comes, and I try to work out if Texas is a little less fond of it’s executions than last year this time. Will they ever stop? Just so that we can carry on reading. Oh, I did try to write back on my cell phone whereit says comments, but I don’t think it worked. It is also a touch screen, so I think the spelling is abominable, even if it does see the light of day. Warmest regards to all.

Anonymous said...

Dear thomas and all.

I am posting a comment and I have also made a donation to the mb6 go fund me account.
When I read all your various posts regarding the lack of feedback from us readers I felt very guilty.
It's not that it didn't occur to me to respond it's more that one never feels that the onus is on you ..
that you can make a difference, that my pathetic couple of paragraphs might actually be what's needed.
So here they are !
I enjoy the blog so so much. Sometimes it's just funny and informative, it gives my curious mind answers to questions I would never have
dreamt of.. (reading that you eat breakfast at 3am for example..) the casual cruelties that shock me but perhaps for you are just the realities of every day life.
The life stories are affecting, I think of them (and of some of the characters that I feel I have started to know) often and wonder off into my world carrying parts of your world. That's always my gauge for good writing, good film and good art - weeks later it's taken up some space in my mind.
Things I've read here have been terribly sad but it's definitely not the overriding feeling. Not at all.

Posting a comment to thomas and all the writers here.., I felt like I had to at least try and say something worthwhile !
The only thing I can come up with is what I just mentioned: what I read here stays with me, it affects me, makes me think.
I suppose I just really want you to know that you aren't forgotten.
I have sent your blog on to a few friends. I'm sure they have done the same.
It won't change anything .. but you all matter and you're voices are so important.
Please keep writing and I will keep responding if I can get over my chronic modesty..

Thanks again !
Michele, london, U.K.

Kelly Schmeits said...

I came across MB6 while, guiltily, stumbling upon Thomas’s story on 20/20. There I was, enjoying my leisure time after work, while forgetting about the confinements of others. It shed a lot on the prison and justice system that I was ignorant to.

I really enjoyed reading everything that was wrote. I can tell you all are smart and intelligent men. Even though you may all have commmited crimes, us as an audience forgets you are all human and need validation that what you are doing is meaningful. I see myself as a loner, but could never imagine the solitary confinement you all are put through. There is definitely a piece of my heart aching for you there; no human contact and love is not right. Please know I am praying for you writers.

I think this offers a topic for discussion. Has religion been important, prior to prison life, and do you find it to still be spiritual in solitary confinement?