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Thursday, February 22, 2018

You were only waiting for this moment to arise


February 23, 2018 UPDATE:  Many thanks to all of you for supporting Thomas and his family (and me) through this very stressful time.  Last night was a good night and I love that so many of you were celebrating with us.  I am so grateful for you guys!  So many have asked about writing to Thomas and about where he will be - here's what I know:  Before he was granted clemency, he speculated that if it happened, he would be sent to a medical unit for evaluation and then possibly moved a few times before being assigned a new permanent unit.  999522 has been retired and he has a new TDCJ # now - 2179411.  He said he wouldn't be able to write until he has his property (for stamps and envelopes) and he wasn't sure how long that might take, so he said it might be a while before we hear from him.  I promise to post his new contact info as soon as I have it.  Thomas has also promised to write about this experience for MB6 and to make MB6 writing a priority again as soon as he is able.  He is aware of all your support and is he very grateful to all of you and wants to thank you himself as soon as he can.  Thank you again so very much for being a part of this miracle and for your love and support.  You all helped make this happen and it wouldn't have happened without you xx Dina


Taking Flight
Artist: Thomas Bartlett Whitaker
Be like the bird, pausing in his flight
On the limb too slight
Feels it give way, yet sings
Knowing he has wings
- Victor Hugo
Thomas Bartlett Whitaker was granted clemency tonight instead of being executed.  There are so many people deserving of thanks who worked tirelessly to make this happen and Thomas plans to do this directly once he is settled into his new unit.  Please know we are so very grateful to all of you who wrote letters supporting clemency and faxed and called the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles.  To the many amazing people who reached out with kind words of support during this stressful time, your gestures have meant the world to Thomas and to all of us who care for him.  We thank you from the bottoms of our hearts tonight.  Because of you, Thomas will continue to write.  And breathe. Our love and gratitude goes out to all of you.  Please check back soon for more updates XO

Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

Thomas shared this poem with me when we began exchanging letters a decade ago 
and now it reminds me of him

Birches
By Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right 
Across the lines of straighter darker trees, 
I like to think some boy's been swinging them. 
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay 
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them 
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning 
After a rain. They click upon themselves 
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored 
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel. 
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells 
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust— 
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away 
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen. 
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load, 
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed 
So low for long, they never right themselves: 
You may see their trunks arching in the woods 
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground 
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair 
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun. 
But I was going to say when Truth broke in 
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm 
I should prefer to have some boy bend them 
As he went out and in to fetch the cows— 
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, 
Whose only play was what he found himself, 
Summer or winter, and could play alone. 
One by one he subdued his father's trees 
By riding them down over and over again 
Until he took the stiffness out of them, 
And not one but hung limp, not one was left 
For him to conquer. He learned all there was 
To learn about not launching out too soon 
And so not carrying the tree away 
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise 
To the top branches, climbing carefully 
With the same pains you use to fill a cup 
Up to the brim, and even above the brim. 
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish, 
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground. 
So was I once myself a swinger of birches. 
And so I dream of going back to be. 
It's when I'm weary of considerations, 
And life is too much like a pathless wood 
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs 
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping 
From a twig's having lashed across it open. 
I'd like to get away from earth awhile 
And then come back to it and begin over. 
May no fate willfully misunderstand me 
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away 
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love: 
I don't know where it's likely to go better. 
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree, 
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk 
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, 
But dipped its top and set me down again. 
That would be good both going and coming back. 
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. 


35 comments:

DebittNJ said...

I am so happy that the governor did the right thing here and that the Thomas & Kent can continúe to heal. Thomas you inspire us all. It is possible to walk into the light after so much darkness. I look forward to reading more of your work. Wishing you the best as you transition to your new home and life.

Amy said...

So many emotions right now. I’m SO happy for Thomas and Kent. What a victory! ❤️

Joseph Muldoon said...

Minutes After Six.

At this moment I don't think I've ever been prouder of anything I've done in my life than writing my letter to the parole board. A miniscule contribution to the efforts made to achieve this but it feels so good nevertheless to think that even a small act like that could have helped bring about in some small measure something as miraculous as this.

This is the first time in my life I've seen something that seemed impossible happen simply because enough people cared and DID something.

This has restored my faith in humanity.

What a glorious night.

gord said...

Well done Kent, and thank you to all who helped.

Hello Story Sums said...

This was the first time I have ever penned a letter for clemency. His decision restores some faith in humanity. I send my sincerest warm wishes to Kent. Community group hug! Regards, Karina Klaas - Perth, Western Australia

Kelly Schmeits said...

I am so happy Thomas gets to continue to fill us with his knowledge.

Dawn said...

As we rejoice for Thomas and Kent let us keep in mind the transition Thomas has ahead. He has been in solitary confinement for ten years. New surroundings I'm sure will be overwhelming. Lets all pray he adjusts well so he can keep his fabulous writings coming on this great site! I'm overjoyed for Thomas. I feel he is an old dear friend and I can't wait until I can start writing him regularly. This has given me hope for the many prisoners who still linger on death row. If only they all had someone championing as Thomas did.

Dawn said...

Was this drawn by Thomas? Would he be interested in selling artwork? Or take donations? If love to have this. So beautiful.

nicky said...

Does Bart move to a new unit outside of death row now? (From NZ so dont know how your system works)? Does this mean he will be able to have physical contact and interact with other prisoners? I hope so

urban ranger said...

Phew!

Wonderful outcome.

A whole new life ahead of you now, Thomas.
I know you will make the most of every opportunity
that comes your way.
All the best to you, always.

kaori said...

This week I found things looked like impossible can happen,with many effort and will power.
Congratulations for Kent and Thomas,and family and friends,I'm looking forward Thomas will pour inspiration for us all,once he settle.(no pressure though!)
Sending lots of hugs from Japan.

TC27 said...

So pleased Kent has being spared having to watch his son die...he really is an extraordinary man.

Thomas now has some minutes after six and I look forward to reading more of his work.

edyonce said...

Congratulations Thomas. I am truly happy for u

Ken said...

I'm so overjoyed at the news last night. Like many others who supported Thomas, I was waiting on pins and needles for the majority of the day while awaiting word from the Governor. At 5pm, I started to get worried. I knew the time was about an hour away and I couldn't fathom why the Governor had not yet made his decision. Thankfully, in the end, the Governor finally acted and Thomas' life was spared. While he'll be in prison for the rest of his life, his new unit should afford him much more opportunity to lead a productive prison life and one that will foster his creative spirits. He'll no longer be confined 23 hours a day, and will be allowed to interact with other inmates and will also allow him more external connections as he'll actually be able to use the phone and submerge himself into his new routine. I can't wait until he's settled as his new unit so I can, again, write to Thomas. Looking forward to many more letters, happier letters and the Thomas I got to know before the "date" was set and he withdreew. With that behind him, he can now focus on tomorrow, for the first time in over a decade. With the greatest of enthusiasm, I wish you well Thomas!!! Be Well, Ken

2013LPN said...

His father is a good man! His father is a praying man. That was a lot of prayer and faith. We can all learn something from Mr. Kent Whitaker about forgivness, love, Christianity, and moving forward. I believe justice was done. Taking Barts life would have done nothing to make the crime right. Another dead body would have been a travesty. The prosecutor should never have sought the death penalty in this case.

Kitty said...

I am so pleased at this result. Felt as if I couldn't breathe last night waiting.

Sarah said...

Happy for all who fought to save Thomas's life. Thanks to God for this forgiveness! May The Almighty reinforce love between Kent and his son.
Hope life will be easier for u Thomas! Take care

Andreas said...

LWOP, however, offends and assaults everything I believe in. It irrevocably denies any possibility of rehabilitation; it eviscerates hope entirely. It is for this reason that I would never sign for it, even if that were the only way to evade a return to death row.

----- Thomas Bartlett Whitaker (published 17 February 2012)

So could someone explain me that?

A Friend said...

Andreas, people grow and change. Surely, your opinions have evolved on certain subjects over the past 6 years. So why is it such a surprise that Thomas's might? We have witnessed his growth through his writing on MB6 over the years since that statement was shared.. Honestly I'm puzzled that anyone could be confused by this.

piscator said...

I'm thrilled!

I discovered MB6 and Thomas' writing less than a week ago. My breathing also faltered throughout the week; as I shared Thomas' situation and literary work with friends and family. Our letters to Governor Abbott were likely a bit late to have had much impact, but we were with you all in spirit.

My first full breath, in this interim, came early this morning; when a friend called with the news of Thomas' clemency. We are all over-joyed!

For these last few days, I've been glued to MB6, appreciating the very fine work of all your authors. The clarity and unadorned veracity of so many of the essays remind me of George Orwell's work (and for beautiful writing, I don't have a higher compliment).

My sincerest thanks to everyone who contributes to and works to make MB6 a reality!

To Thomas and his father -- God's speed!

piscator

Bridgeofsighs said...

LWOP is another form of death penalty. It's hard to live in the knowledge that no matter how much you have changed you will die in prison. It's hard to live without hope of freedom, not even if you were 70 by the time they release you. Why is that hard to understand?

He had to choose it though. LWOP or the DP? Both cruel choices.

Joseph Muldoon said...

He won't be kept on death row now that he's received clemency. As Dina said in her update, and as some news sites have reported, he will initially be transferred to a "diagnostic facility"/"medical unit" where they 2I'll evaluate him and ultimately determine what prison he will be transferred to. It will almost certainly be a maximum security prison, but even that will be a major improvement over his previous circumstances.

Once he is in the general prison system, there will be far more opportunities available to him than there were at Polunsky. He will ultimately have far more time outside of his cell, opportunity to work inside the prison, to socialize with other inmates, have rec time in a large open air yard, easier access to educational opportunities, etc.

He will also have the opportunity now to, through good behavior, rise up the prison system ladder to increasingly less oppressive levels of confinement over time (medium security, hopefully one day minimum security, etc).

He has the time now to hopefully ultimately achieve his dream of earning a PhD.

Of course there will be new challenges as well. As horrific as Polunsky's solitary confinement is, and although acts of violence between inmates do occur there, it is so secure that so far as the threat of violence from other inmates is concerned, death row is quite safe.

One of the chief anxieties that others who have been released from death row and ultimately sent to general population have expressed is precisely this; concerns about the threat of violence from other inmates.

But Thomas has experienced this before during his time in various county jails prior to being sent to Polunsky, and written about it here.

As a former death row inmate however he will likely be regarded with a higher degree of respect than most inmates, and his work on prison reform will be known by and appreciated by the inmates at whatever institution he finds himself at.

I have every confidence and expectation that Thomas will adjust well to his new environment and continue to grow and help others around him to do the same.

It may be a while before we hear from him again, but when we do I imagine his account of these past 4 months will be some of his most compelling writing ever.

He is a bright light in a dark place and fortunately now that light will continue to shine for many years to come.

I'm so grateful that we all have the opportunity to continue to follow him on his extraordinary journey with all of its peaks and valleys.

I am confident there will be many more peaks than valleys.

feministe said...

Thomas wrote the February 2012 post in response to a comment I had left on this blog, specifically:

"Life vs. LWOP vs. death: you say that you wouldn't ever choose LWOP, but then go on to lay out a number of ways in which you believe that you could live a gainful life in prison. So why not LWOP, especially since you acknowledge that you have no serious possibility of parole even if sentenced to life? Are you saying that, if you received penalty-phase habeas relief ... and your case was sent back for a new trial, you would roll the dice again - go for another trial in which a Texas jury could pick death, just to see if you could get life rather than LWOP?"

I did not then believe that he was serious about preferring death. I thought he would try to avoid that pain to his father. But even more, he is one who has figured out how to live a meaningful life behind bars. While his life will never be as rich as he could have made it had he not chosen to commit multiple murders, it will still be much richer than death. And I suspected he would find it preferable to death, as has now been shown to be the case. That's understandable. His prior statement was the mix of naivete and posturing that is pretty commonly heard on death rows nationwide on this topic. Many, many condemned inmates insist when an execution date is still years away that death is better than a life behind bars without hope of release, but almost all change their mind when they get sufficiently close to the execution chamber.

I also don't think Thomas has truly given up hope of release. The Governor included this flowery language in his commutation: "This commutation shall have no legal force or effect, and shall be void ab initio, if Thomas Bartlett Whitaker ever withdraws his waiver of parole or if his sentence as commuted is ever challenged." I'm not convinced that would hold up in court, and I'm not aware of any on-point caselaw in any state. More importantly, it is likely that in Thomas's lifetime, the death penalty will be abolished nationwide, and it is possible that life without parole will be abolished nationwide. This has two ramifications for Thomas's case. First, even if the Governor's flowery language is enforceable now, it will not be relevant once the death penalty is no longer an available remedy. And second, whether because life without parole is no longer available or because Thomas and/or a defense lawyer concoct an argument that it is not a legally valid sentence in his case based on the statutory scheme at the time when he was sentenced, I think - in some number of decades - we will see Thomas make a bid for release. His odds of succeeding if he can demonstrate additional decades of rehabilitation are vanishingly small - but not non-existent. And so I don't believe for a second that Thomas has abandoned all hope of release. And especially since Thomas has just survived the most impossible scenario of all, I think he will continue to hope - particularly given his 2012 self-description as "afflicted with optimism," believing "in a vision of man overcoming his bonds," and unable to accept a situation that "eviscerates hope entirely."

My hope is that Thomas will indeed perceive this sliver of hope - enough to pursue the maximum good he can do beyond bars, have the maximum positive impact on the greatest number of people, spend his life fully seeking to atone for a crime that cannot be fully atoned. He wrote in 2012 that "[e]ven an impossible goal will consume me for a lifetime." If he in fact is so consumed here, then (at minimum) society will be better off than it otherwise would be and (at maximum) he might, for a second time, secure what seems to be literally impossible relief from the criminal justice system. There is just the slightest, infinitesimally small chance of the latter. I'm curious whether it will inspire Thomas to do great things.

Leigh Ann Riney said...

There are so many things to be thankful for; God answers prayers. I have been a silent reader for a long time, but I want to send you encouragement regarding your new journey. I truly hope you continue to write and share 😊.

Carole said...

OMG. I can breathe and read the news again. For the past weeks, I have studiously avoided all news except the weather by watching YouTube videos of Air Disaster crashes and playing Scrivalry online in order to avoid any mentions or countdowns of the minutes before 6. With no faith in our government and politicians, especially since Nov. 2016, it was my ostrich-like way of not participating in an act of legally sanctioned blood-thirsty revenge.

So it wasn't until 11:00 PM on the 23rd that I found out about the clemency being granted. Well done to everyone who participated in supporting Thomas and his family and friends. And thank you to the team that runs MB6 - you've done an outstanding job.

Now I'm crying. Sigh.

A Friend said...

Thomas's new TDCJ # is 2179411

Dawn said...

I don't know if I can explain but hopefully a better understanding. I think Thomas did this for his father. Maybe one of the only ways he could redeem himself to Kent. That was written 4 years ago. I'm sure faced with death the LWOP looked brighter. I truly feel its our human nature to fight for our survival no matter how bleak out future is ahead.

Dawn said...

I'm sorry not 4 years but almost 6 years ago.

Clowe said...

I had written Thomas years ago and he said he only ever received 1 out of maybe 4 letters I sent him, so I gave up writing him. However, I have kept up with his story and was so glad to hear this news. I'm hoping when the new address is release I can try and re-write him and maybe he'll get the letters.

Unknown said...

It is great news that Thomas was spared the Death Penalty, as it is an obscene punishment. I wish Thomas well going forward. I have no problems with the LWOP sentence.

Joseph Muldoon said...

Most Texas death row inmates manage to convince themselves that they have a good chance of somehow getting a reprieve, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The denial is understandable but heartbreaking. A good example of this can be found in the death watch journal entries of Thomas's friend Kevin Varga, which can be seen on this site (Varga was executed in May of 2010).

Thomas however, at least so far as one can glean from his MB6 entries, was never under any such delusions. Having a remarkable capacity to weigh objective evidence above wishful thinking, he seemed to have always taking it as a given that he would eventually be executed (as did I).

This is one of the things that makes his sentence commutation all the more remarkable.

When Thomas is eventually able to share his reflections with us regarding his receiving a date, being moved to death watch and spending 4 months there, hearing that the board of pardons and paroles unanimously recrecommended clemency, having his last visits, being brought to the Walls unit, having his last meal, final calls, and coming within 30 minutes or so of being executed before having his death sentence commuted, will undoubtedly be the most extraordinary and compelling writing he has ever wrote.

I can't begin to imagine what the experience must have been like.

I'm sure it must have left an impact in its own way every bit as profound and life changing as his previous 11 years on the row.

I'm so glad he's still around to share what parts of that experience he chooses to with us.

chris said...

Out of darkness of night
came morning's bright light
Heartache was diminished
as suspense was now finished

One's psyche, so frail
long interred in mind's jail
Gets its chance to break free-
gone, cacaphony-
Thus begins a new life-
cleansed of turmoil and strife

gord said...

He will be able to touch grass, so happy for you my friend. Dam Oiler's

Eric Belgum said...

Well said

DebittNJ said...

Any idea when or if Thomas will be able to write about the commutation of his sentence? I’m hoping that After so many years of solitary confinement he is able to adjust to This new life. Please let him know that here on the outside we’re rooting for him.