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By Santonio D. Murff
I sprang out of bed in mid-November with a joyous spirit! I threw a combination of punches and did a bobbing and weaving, socked-feet shuffle that would've done one of my idols, Muhammad Ali, proud. I danced around my cubicle, casting a challenging scowl upon the room of hardened criminals brave enough to meet my eyes, as I let them know in no uncertain terms: "I am the greatest! Ali ain't gone! He lives on! In the heart and hands of Mr. San-Man!"
A few chuckled at my Ali-ish poetry and posturing. Then they all laughed as my socked-feet shot out from beneath me and I hit the floor--Hard!
"Down goes the champ!" A heckler cried to everyone's merriment.
"Who mopped this damn floor and didn't put up a wet floor sign?" I moaned. More ribbing laughter. "I'ma sue!" More raunchy laughter.
"Come on, Champ!" My brother in the struggle, Donnie Young, rushed over to help me up. It took me a minute. My whole left side was hurting. The continued laughter didn't help.
"You alright, Big Bro?" Lil Cleve, another Houston native, strolled up, unable to mask his own broad smile. "You was looking good, until your feet went high and your body went low!" Young's gold grill flashed as they fell into each other with laughter.
Mr. Williams, my elderly, constantly complaining neighbor in the adjoining cubicle tore away from his western to add his smile and two cents. "You're getting up there in age. Better be careful with all of that joy--bust a hip!"
I bounced back up off my bunk, did a quick jig and threw my hands heavenward with a fresh scowl that said it all: I'm still the greatest!
"The Champ will survive!" Lil Cleve announced to scattered applause and more laughter.
…....And, so began another day in the Belly of the Beast!
Prison can be a dark and depressing place. Prison can be a bright and beautiful place of growth and development. Prison can be whatever you choose to make out of it. I chose long ago to utilize this time wisely to educate and better myself. I chose long ago to make a difference and not excuses. I chose to refuse to allow this place to define me, my character, or my future.
That being said, I realized early on that T.D.C.J. is more about warehousing than rehabilitating. I learned how imperative outside assistance, love and support are to a prisoner attempting to accomplish outside objectives. I also quickly learned just how few people could be depended upon to actually invest their time and resources in helping me to do so.
Many have let me down. They lied, broke oaths and promises, and disappeared without so much as a goodbye. A few stayed true. They got me through. They proved that, with real love and loyalty, it is never “out of sight, out of mind.” They helped me not only survive, but to succeed...against all odds and expectations.
So to give an escape from the constantly complaining, the dark and morbid, this holiday season I choose to pay tribute to those compassionate souls, those tried and true family and friends who've brightened my darkest days, lifted my spirits when I was sunk low, and helped me to manifest my dreams and do the impossible behind these closed doors: love, laugh, and continue to progress. All I am, all I become, is due to the love and light that you blessed me with and I thank you!
Skin like a Milky Way, soft and sensuous curves, and a sassy walk that demands attention, Toni is beyond beautiful inside and out. A true superwoman, she has overcome incredible challenges to become one of the world's greatest mothers and testifies to how far faith and hard work can take you. I never believed in Cupid's arrow until I poured into her black pearls and saw those luscious lips curve upward, knowingly. He'd gotten her too!
Truly an old soul with a heart of gold, Toni was everything I ever wanted and dreamed of in a woman and a wife. Her laughter is as rich as molasses and sweet as honey to my spirit. In the 21 years I'd been incarcerated, I've never come close to loving another woman with such wild abandon and passion. No one has ever loved, spoiled, and catered to me the way that Toni did. No matter what I faced, Toni always had a prayer and a Bible verse that nurtured my spirit and kept me on track.
A dream come true, a prayer answered, I used to break out her pictures in the middle of the night to just bask in her beauty, and marvel at how lucky I was. After accepting my proposal in November of 2012, Toni wrote to me almost every single day for months. I wrote her more. We couldn't get enough of each other. The intimacy and honesty we shared far surpassed anything I'd ever known.
If not for the sadistic games played by this criminal injustice system when I returned to the county in 2013 on appeal -- delaying my departure from its claws -- Toni and I would be happily married, building our dream home, and providing opportunities for foster children who may otherwise go without. But, I must pay tribute to her, one of God's greatest blessings to me in my lifetime. For over two years, she reached down into the pits of hell to dispel the darkness with a love and light that led the way to paradise. And, it was a great pleasure to travel that road with her. Thank you, Chocolate Star! Wherever you go, whatever you do, just keep shining, Boo...
Donnie Young, Montego Jordan, Anthony Johnson, Travis Spivey, Cleveland Palmer, Nelson Chavers, and Patrick Lewis! Only seven. Seven, from a cast of thousands of so-called, thought to be family and friends. The only seven in two decades of this struggle for survival and success who proved that the love and loyalty extended beyond the walls of this concrete jungle after their release. The only seven who reached back to aid and assist their brother still in captivity.
Whether for a season or a few, an encouraging word, a good deed or two-- each of you contributed in a major way to my progression and for that I thank you all. I sincerely pray that you all will continue to push The Righteous Movement as hard on the outside as I surely will on the inside. "Don't make excuses. Make a difference! Survive and Succeed!"
I call her the Marvelous One! An absolutely gorgeous blend of Irish and Native American mystique, Marlene lit up my life like a super nova. She reached out to me with a love and light that affirmed my earnest belief that there is nothing as precious and priceless as a good woman. Throughout 2016, it was Marlene's love and light that sprung me out of bed with a flurry of punches and that unbridled joy that could bust a hip.
Her long, passionate, and enlightened letters revealed a kindred spirit who'd not only survived, but thrived, after a tumultuous childhood to make this world a better place. I remain in awe of someone hurt so much who chose to heal so many. Who chose to give so much of herself to serve our veterans, be a Big Sister to challenged young ladies, and a beatific blessing to prisoners. Marlene's love is like her insight--ethereal!
I could never thank her enough for how she moved me along in my understanding of human nature and self...and women! I can't count the times, she reached across hundreds of miles to make me laugh out loud. She bathed me in praise and showered me with support and encouragement that I desperately needed after a disappointing ending of 2015. But, more than simply making prison bearable, she took me far, far away ....
As steeped in experience as wisdom, Marlene could easily be a successful romance writer, the way she creates scenes and moods with her poignant writing. Through her wise words and dozens of post cards, she took me from the snow-capped mountains of Montana, to the five-star resorts of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho! We travelled down the Oregon Coast to the beautiful plains of The Dulles together! She introduced me to the hidden beauties of America that most of my peers will never see.
We explored the ancient caves of the sea lions together! The power of her pen is so strong I can still hear the unbelievably loud volume of their barking. She introduced me to the beauty of Hicks's "Penny a Bunch," and Hal’s "The Bohemian Girl". She enriched my soul with a fresh culture, new cuisine, distant travels, and intimate laughter that broadened my horizon and healed my weary heart.
Magazine subscriptions, ecomms, post cards, passionate letters, priceless photos, and megadoses of compliments and compassion--Marlene more than lived up to her title as The Marvelous One and earned her spot in my heart as a tried and true friend. And, for that, I'm eternally grateful. Thanks M&M!
WILKALAND is my hood (community), my heart! To my life-long homegirl, Kimberly Jack and all of those Wilk-A-Land soldiers who've proved that true love and loyalty does not fade or die--recently rallying together to support my debut novel The San-Man: Love, Loyalty, & Vengeance (scheduled for release by Dog Ear Publishings in early 2017!)--what's understood need not be said, but thank you! We are family for life and I love you!
I must send two tons of love and gratitude to my cousin Dorothy who's always been more like a mother to me, rallying the family when I needed them most, and encouraging me to never give up on my dreams when I needed it most. Your love, faith, and support truly got me through and to the manifestation of my dream of being a successfully published author. Thanks cousin.
I call him soldier boy when I'm irritated with him, but my little brother Sgt. Kenneth Martin is 100% man. The most peaceful and progressive periods I've had in this place is due to his faith and investment in me. He believed in my skills enough to cover half of the cost for the publication of The San-Man. That faith in my gift was affirmed by The San-Man out the gate winning The DEP Literary Excellence Award which only I% of their titles receive! But his love goes far beyond the material.
My little brother used to drive through several states to pick up my sons and our mother to make my year with a visit after every deployment. Two tours to Iraq, one to Afghanistan, North Korea, and Africa--I lived for his letters. I'd lie back on my bunk, my eyes tightly closed, writer's mind working overtime, imagining Saddam's humongous gold-encrusted mansions sitting right in the middle of all of his people's poverty.
More so than anyone else, I must accredit my little brother for helping me to do exactly what we scream within The Righteous Movement: "Survive and Succeed!" So to the best of lil bros, I say thanks, FAM!
I call her "Drew the Truth" because l've never known a woman as real! Drew couldn't be more family if we came from the same womb. No matter what, I know Drew has my back. No matter what, I know that I can turn to Drew and she will come through. She knows the same. There are no adequate words for some bonds--that's the kind we have. Prison has a way of destroying relationships so to protect your heart you learn not to put too much faith in them, but I'll bet my heart and sanity that our love and loyalty lasts till my dying day. It's just how we're built. The real stay real! Thanks for being a true friend to the very end. I love you, FAM!
The V-3s (Vivacious Vanilla Vixens) of Team Righteous are voluptuous beatific blessings from above. As beautiful on the inside as the out; Dina, Danielle, and Kerri, whose compassionate spirits and loving support has kept me smiling and reaching for the stars. From Kerri setting up a Facebook page, to Danielle opening a twitter account, to both contributing to The Righteous Ice Cream Fund (to benefit indigent offenders)--My Queens "D" and "K" are always there to put action with their words and contribute to the success.
Dina, The Vanilla Angel, has outlasted family and fiancés! She's contributed to the best and nurtured me through the worst. She says that she's my biggest fan, not having a clue that I am hers too. It was from her that the blessings of Kerri and Dani sprouted, and I am eternally grateful. You three lovely ladies are my trinity to triumph, energizing me, encouraging me, and empowering me to be all I can be, as a writer and a human being.
In you all and those adorable children, I see the best that this world has to offer. You all have given me a multitude of reasons to be thankful and merry this holiday season. Please know that I am immensely thankful for your friendship and couldn't love you more if I were their husbands We are forever family!
Yes! Yes! Yes! I've saved the best for last. Nothing and no one can compare to the Supreme Queen! I truly do have the very best mother in the entire world. The proof is in the fact that most mothers must carry their children for nine months. My mother has carried me without complaint for over 40 years!!! ;)
Two years I spent in the county before being taken to trial, two weeks I spent in trial, nearly a decade I spent in solitary confinement, two decades of incarceration—Mama was there through it all. Through the peaks and darkest of times, through the highs and lows, Mama was there keeping that sometimes small light of hope aglow. My mother once told me, "When ain't no one else there, Mama going to be there!" She's proved true to her words in so many ways that go beyond the call of duty.
There is no love like a mother's love. And, I'm so so thankful, because you not only gave me life, but your love sustained my life when it seemed that everyone had given up or given out on me. (Singing like 'Pac) "And, there's no way that I can pay you back/but my plan is to show you that I understand/and you are appreciated." No words would do you justice so just know that you are my greatest gift from God and I love you; eternally and unconditionally .... just as you've loved me.
It was a few minutes past midnight. The televisions had been turned off. The lights were dimmed low. Everyone had retired to their cubicles as policy dictates, but no one could seem to sleep. My voice cut through the silence, "It was the week before Christmas/ and all through the dorm/everyone had that feeling/...fuzzy and warm!"
Mr. Williams groaned over the bubbling laughter at my doctored fable. "Dude, you're killing me," he added in case I missed it.
I chuckled at the neighboring Scrooge and went back to writing this ending. Kerri, my Queen "K", recently wrote about how hard it is for her to enjoy the holidays, knowing that I'll be in here. Her feelings of helplessness had reduced her to tears. I had to enlighten her, as I now enlighten you, that she is far from helpless. You readers are far from helpless. You have the power to give a prisoner reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving. You have the power to put the Merry in Christmas for a prisoner. And, you have the power to put the Happy into The New Year for a prisoner.
You have no obligations or responsibility to do so, but you have the power to do the impossible, to make a Mr. Williams smile. The reality is, if you allow this system to confine your mind as firmly as they've confined you body, then you will be miserable. You are physically sequestered 24 hours a day, everyday, with some of the worst human beings society has to offer. Many individuals who have absolutely nothing going for themselves. They live to be negative, dream killers, because they've given up on their dreams. And, we haven't even gotten to the prisoners yet!
Prisoners need outside stimuli to keep from succumbing to the madness, the depression, the depravity that pass as the norm within these walls. We need good people to remind us that someone cares. That love and light still exists for us. A mere $10 ecomm can bounce a man who has nothing, who expects nothing, from the pits of despair. A mere perfumed letter or card from a compassionate soul can lift up a lonely spirit for months as he revisits it again and again.
I know, because I've been there. I'm no superman who's immune to the ignorance and idiocies that run rampant within these walls. I've merely been immunized, blessed with the love and light of supermen and women, compassionate souls who reaffirm my own humanity even as they restore my faith in humanity. Truly good people who've laid the foundation and provided the motivation for my rehabilitation. Angels, vixens, stars, Queens and kings-- who've led me from the darkness by example, giving too much of themselves for me not to give my very best. For me to not want to keep them smiling with my positive progression.
As we start the new year, I encourage you all to activate your own power and adopt a prisoner. Be the love and light, the foundation and motivation for his or her rehabilitation. It doesn't take much to show a lot of love. You may find yourself receiving more than you ever expected. I am a firm believer in P.E.A.C.E.! Positive energy always creates elevation! Let's flood this place with it and watch us all rise as a nation; as a race--The Human Race!!!
I believe in us! Do you? If so...Thank you!
|Santonio D. Murff 773394|
French M. Robertson Unit
12071 FM 3522
Abilene, TX 79601