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Thursday, December 1, 2016

All Our Times Have Come

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Dear Readers,

On behalf of all of us at Minutes Before Six, I would like to express our gratitude for your support and contributions. Those of you who comment on a regular basis ought to know that feedback means the world to us – the writers and the admin team.  To know we are being heard and to receive regular feedback is priceless.   The only way we know whether we are being heard is by you sharing your opinions, questions and thoughtful remarks, and for that we thank you. Please keep the dialogue flowing.

And to our faithful supporters who believe in Minutes Before Six enough to donate funds to support our project, you are our you are a ray of sunshine in a long winter.  You provide the element vital to our growth. You confirm that the work we do is valued.  You make what we continue to do possible and we are incredibly grateful to you.

Please know your continued support is necessary to the ongoing success of Minutes Before Six.  If you appreciate what you experience when you visit us, please leave a comment and/or make a donation.  And share MB6 with likeminded others.  And if you’d like to become further involved, we welcome new volunteers and fresh ideas.  And if you know an imprisoned writer or artist whose voice needs a platform, encourage them to submit their work to Minutes Before Six.    

If you’ve an interesting insight from one of our contributors in the past year, or were moved by a piece of art or writing, please consider reaching out to the writer or artist directly to let him know.  The holiday season is especially lonely for prisoners and being acknowledged by someone for something positive means a great deal.  Many of the Minutes Before Six contributors have very little family or financial support and a kind gesture would include them in a celebration that they typically observe from the outside.  Most prisoners can receive books from Amazon.com and funds via Jpay.com.  If you have questions about how to do this, please feel free to contact me at dina@minutesbeforesix.com

Again, a big thank you to those of you who have contributed to the growth and success of Minutes Before Six in 2016.  We couldn’t have done it without you.

Happy Holidays from all of us  -  

Dina Milito

A Word from Thomas Whitaker, founder of Minutes Before Six:

Learning something that you didn't know before is pretty neat, isn't it? Knowledge opens our eyes to the wonders of just how special all of this is. It can make us kinder to our planet and each other, more hesitant to jump to judgements or on to bandwagons, more accepting of nuance and differences. It is the single differentiating factor between the wise and the foolish, the rational and the ignorant. It's the antidote to a political season like we've just experienced, a piece of terra firma capable of supporting a weary soul that has spent the last year tossed about on a sea of absurdity. They may like to pretend that everything is just spin, but real knowledge eviscerates such con-jobs. I like to think that we here at Minutes Before Six are participants in that battle. Every contributor has different goals, different circumstances, but one thing we have in common is a shared desire to part the veils that law and tradition have erected to keep the people who pay for prison from actually knowing what their money buys. We're trying to show you a reality that isn't supposed to be seen, and to teach you something that our errors have taught us. For my part, before I ever came to this place, I never once wondered about why exactly it was necessary for prisons to be so hermetically sealed away from public scrutiny. It's a curious thing, don't you think, that a system built around the ideology of punishment-as-deterrent should be so secretive and censorious by nature? If punishment is meant to be didactic - We're going to hang Johnny here so as to teach Steve what not to do - doesn't that imply that it must be witnessed by someone? If the "obstacle-sign" must be clearly expressed and understood, who benefits from burying the punishment away from view? Who was "corrected" when they kicked my door in last Wednesday and sacked my cell over my recent essay on Donald Trump? Why would prisons across the country hate bloggers with a passion usually reserved for major gang figures?

This is a deeper question than you know. To illustrate why, let's take a brief walk back in time a bit. During the 18th Century, prisons in England were basically temporary waypoints for criminal defendants, a place to hold people until they were tried, executed, or exiled to America or Australia. The only individuals that stayed for long were debtors. The environments of these prisons were basically gothic nightmares: dungeons where prisoners of all types intermingled, oftentimes with their families at their sides. Every vice imaginable was sold there, usually by the administrators themselves. These were sites of filth, decay, and disease. So-called "gaol-fever" (typhus) was everywhere, a pestilence that often spilled out via the officers into the community at large. One outbreak in 1750 at the Old Bailey eventually killed a huge number of people outside the prison, including the Lord Mayor of London, two judges, an alderman, a lawyer, an undersheriff, and more than 40 jury members. Some prisons, like Clerkenwell, actually make Polunsky seem sort of pleasant by comparison.

Around the time the century ended and the Enlightenment was in full swing, ideas about incarceration underwent a huge shift. Principle among them was the concept of using punishment as a "technology of representation," to use the terminology of Michel Foucault. Under this view, punishment is a sort of theater of Signs. Punishment was to be natural and unarbitrary, and it should strike at the desire to commit crime, not attain vengeance. It is meant to be restorative for the prisoner, but more so for the audience, who begin to see the idea of crime redefined. A "crime-punishment" sign is reinforced via the use of public lessons; indeed, punishment was ideally handed out all through the city, so that the spectacle is disseminated outward to the maximum possible audience. The principle aims were to reintroduce the criminal to society via the transformative act of justice, and to view all involved as semiotic subjects whose "souls" were being written upon. These were very powerful ideas, held by cultural elites all over Europe and America. And yet, in less than 20 years, this ideology had been completely subverted by the concept of the prison, which is its polar opposite because it occludes punishment from public view. How did this happen?

I have a theory about this, which I will share with you in 2017. Suffice it to say that I don't think Foucault or any of his hundreds of acolytes have come anywhere close to actually answering this question; in fact, I think they very artfully dodged it because they can't find the answer they need in the discourse of penology. However it came to be, from the very earliest days of the modern prison in America, the rule has been to sever the life of the convict from that of the greater society - even when the stated object of prison is to ultimately return that convict back to society in an improved form. That which is done to us is not meant to be a lesson, merely a secret, and not just in physical terms. There are still many people in our country that don't want to know anything about what goes on behind these walls. They have been culturally programmed to accept the vaguest promises of administrators that what is done to us is exactly what we deserve, and not to fret about it. Clearly, most of you avoided this programming, but you must at least acknowledge that it exists. You may have once fought against it, slowly waking up to the realization that just maybe you ought not to drink the Kool-Aid and accept that these mini-tyrants had the best of intentions in mind. All of this is to show that when I argue that we contributors are fighting against a couple of centuries' worth of cultural norms, I am not talking nonsense. This is combat, and your brains are the field of battle.

We don't ask for much in response. This, I think, is a service to you, one that we don't charge a subscription fee for like a magazine. We don't hit you with annoying pop-up ads, or use algorithms to track your online habits. Last year, several of us (petitioned) you to consider leaving a comment every once in a while, if a submission impressed you. I am very appreciative that many of you continue to do this. It's always nice to get feedback, particularly when said feedback challenges my prior way of thinking about something. I'm going to go a step further and ask you to start sharing a link to MB6 on your social media accounts if you ever happen to feel a particular essay has special merit. I've read some really good pieces this year, and I hate the idea that they just sort of fall away into irrelevance as the months progress. My main goal for this site since it opened up to other writers was to build a platform that was reliable and stable. I think we've accomplished this. Going forward, I really want to try to improve the material existences of as many contributors as possible. Too many of us go to bed hungry at night, or have to scrape and hustle just to get the supplies we need in order to have our words read here. (These were written using a technically contraband ribbon, for instance.) Don't misread my intentions here: nobody is trying to get rich, live it up, whatever. The older I get, the less idealistic I seem to be. More and more I yearn simply to solve the smaller, more elemental problems of the world around me, and it has become increasingly difficult for me to believe in huge goals when my neighbor or friend is living the worst possible life imaginable. It's also harder to process kind words when I'm struggling with the base of Maslow's pyramid. We're all human. We need to eat, to stay clean. Words mean very little when these foundational matters are not secure. Please consider selecting one of the writers on this site and help them out a little. If you'd like to know how to do this, you can contact the curator of this site at: dina@minutesbeforesix.com. Barring that, please contribute to the site itself here to help with operational expenses.

If money is tight and you'd rather donate some time, we are currently looking for a few more volunteers to assist in the digitization of submissions. We are about at the point where we have enough incoming content to move to bi-weekly posts, but we simply don't have the staff. Your commitment would not take up a large chunk of time, maybe as little as an hour or so a month. But you'd be helping to give a voice to those that have been muzzled, a connection to those living in a world of alienation. You'd also effectively be helping us double the published material on this site, which I think most of you would consider to be a net positive. This position entails no direct contact with any inmates, only with administrators of the site itself. If this piques your interest, you can find out more by emailing: dina@minutesbeforesix.com.

Beyond that, momentum has been building for several years now in the movement for substantial criminal justice reform. It has gotten to the point where it is not just coastal intellectuals who are discussing this topic. I know that many of you do care about these matters, but have been unable to bring yourself to broach it with the people in your inner circle. Maybe it's time to do that, don't you think? You have the benefit of arguing for the side with all of the facts, and all of the inertia. Within all of the doom and gloom of this political season, it may appear at first glance impossible to defend the idea of redemption. I get that. I've found, however, that it's a lot easier than it seems, that truly redeemed people glow in a certain way that is easy to detect, and that we all on some level recognize the need for redemption. I feel like after being scoured by the last year of news, we are a people that have begun to protectively cradle our values, as if such things could be stolen from us. No one can take your goodness from you - it can only be given away. A value or a principle that is locked away in a safe is a value or principle that suffocates to death. That doesn't mean you have to believe everything anyone tells you. Fake redemption is just as real as the genuine article. I humbly suggest to you, however, that an inability to separate the two for fear of the former is worse than not believing in redemption at all - it's a sort of hypocrisy that professes an allegiance to grace but which never extends it. How do you tell the difference? The same way you separate fact from fiction in any other sphere: you test us. I think I speak for most of us on this site when I say that we're begging for that test, pleading to be able to show the distances we've traveled. I often wonder if the people that send me angry letters and emails truly believe that I'm the same person that I was at 23, or if they're simply terrified that their ideas of guilt and blame might be flawed. When someone tells you that prisoners can't change, that is not a statement of fact, it's the declaration of an ideology I think most of you reject. Test us. Test us again. Test us until you are satisfied. No one is ever exactly who we need them to be. At the same time, many of us are far more than what you'd expect, and I think it's as great a tragedy as can be imagined in this life if you get into the habit of allowing the former to poison your understanding of the latter.

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

Steve Bartholomew 978300
WSRU
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777


Dorothy Ruelas

Maggie Macauley

Dina Milito


9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why did they care about your views on Donald Trump, Thomas? Didn't stop him getting elected, did it?

As for supporting this site I give $8 a month and always leave a comment if I read the article. Just wondering why their isn't a MB6 twitter account to help spread the word? A retweet from a celebrity could make all the difference.

A Friend said...

Anonymous, Thanks for your comment and your support. In answer to your questions, we did have a Twitter account for a short time but we currently don’t have the manpower to manage one. If you would like to volunteer to help, please contact me at dina@minutesbeforesix.com. And we would welcome celebrity support. If you can help us make connections, again, please contact me.

Thomas’s essay for this post was written before the election. At this time MB6 does not receive any $8 monthly donations. Your contribution is going to Thomas’s education/legal account. This is separate from the MB6 account. Contributions of any kind are appreciated by all of us but please know there is a difference in how the money is allocated.

Again, thank you for your support and happy holidays from all of us at MB6!

Dorothy Ruelas said...

My dearest friend, Thomas: I love reading your postings. It is a little difficult for my brain to capture all of its meaning, being that my first language is Spanish and there are many words I do not understand...but I get the general meaning of your articles, and I love them. I can tell anyone that reads this comment that I can attest that there ARE redemptive qualities on Death Row. I have been writing you now for...9 years? (time sure does fly!) and visiting you for some 7. I have seen these redemptive qualities in you and in many others there. I feel greatly blessed with what I see in your life and am blessed to be called your friend. Keep on writing, my friend. Even though many may not comment you DO touch the lives of many that read your writings.

Anja said...

Thank you for all the good work do get the hidden voices out to the public!
Happy Holidays and All The Best For The Next Year!

Frank said...

I've always enjoyed reading the essays,and thoughts posted on this MB6.While I may not 'agree' with everything,I acknowledge that the prison system is broken.

A Friend said...

Anja - thank YOU for all you do to give voices to those who would not otherwise be heard (or seen). You are a hero to us all!

A Friend said...

Frank - thank you for your support. It means so much to all of us!

Jjul86 said...

Happy Holidays, Thomas. I hope they still give you fresh fruit on special occasions, and that you no longer hesitate to eat the apple core. Thank you for your thoughts. I do not comment but I am one of the many quiet, weekly spectators and I do read every entry. There's great content on this site and you've done a wonderful thing giving a platform to so many talented, isolated people with something to say. I have no idea who you are, save a couple documentaries and perhaps a truer account in your earlier blog posts. But the fact that you have evolved intellectually, emotionally - fundamentally - is indisputable in your entries over the many years. Your archive, amongst your political ambitions with it, serves as a testimony of growth for your friends and family, even the writers who don't like you very much and may challenge the idea that you've transformed at all. It's a beautiful memorandum. I'm sure it makes all who love you very proud - it should. Happy upcoming birthday as well.

-Jaimie

Anonymous said...

I believe you are still responsible for your crimes whether you have changed or not. I also believe there is a certain way all people should be treated,incarcerated or not. I pray for your father's broken heart that your execution will cause him and he and the family of all of those on death row are unfortunately victims of a judicial system caused by the crimes of their loved ones. Punishment should come to those who are guilty without death that causes more victims.