Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Call To Arms

May 10, 2008 - 1:30 a.m.

The writing bug usually waits until around midnight before he stumbles drunkenly into my life, and sinks his teeth into me. He usually does this, conveniently, right as I seem to be getting comfortable in bed. I've learned over the past year that when the urge hits, I really need to to take advantage of it, because it only happens a few times a month. Trying to force myself to write is like trying to make a mule do geometry- not going to happen. Not that anything I write is ever really good, per se, but without the creative switch being tripped in my head, what comes out is truly odious. Since my arm surgery, I've noticed that my energy level seems to be permanently set on "sloth", and I don't really know what to do to get myself fired up. I ended up engaging myself in a few projects, most of which I concluded in a satisfactory manner, though spending twelve hours a day buried in legal briefs is not quite as exciting as it sounds. When it all was said and done, however, I still had two projects on the back-burner, and I wasn't having much luck with either of them. I'm a pretty stubborn guy, it should be noted. Actually, that's something of an understatement. In the Annuls of Great Hard-Headed Males, I probably deserve at least a few pages. It's actually a positive trait in the penal world, because the only way you are ever going to get anything done is by repeatedly throwing yourself at windmills, until at last you connect. That said...I find myself completely stumped on these two issues, so I am going to do something I swore to myself I was never going to do, and ask for your help.

I'm a little (read: very) uncomfortable about this, because I haven't wanted to use this site for personal gain. It would have been very easy to place ads up here, as was suggested by many of you, but I just didn't feel right about it. I mean, there are a million prisoner websites out there, and nearly all of them are basically calls for assistance. I always wanted MB6 to be about something different, maybe the start of a conversation on forgiveness or personal evolution, or the like. To my continual amazement, thousands of people have read my clumsy prose, and I am extremely humbled by this, as well as filled with a sense of trepidation. The old chorus in my head which tells me to try to please all of the people all of the time has returned, though it doesn't seem to have the volume or the teeth that it used to. Having said all of that, I've been feeling like it is very irresponsible of me not to try to use this site for a purpose, if I felt such a purpose to be truly righteous. I know it goes against conventional wisdom that a Death Row inmate would want to try to do something that would make the world a better place, but what can I say? God is great, and I've always enjoyed being an iconoclast. Before I get into it, I want to say up front that I want you to pray about the following subjects and if you feel that they are not something you feel comfortable assisting with, well, there are certainly no hard feelings. Like most people, I get sort of introspective around Christmas time. I thought a lot about the past year, and about all of the changes in my life. I found myself thinking about my Aunt Nada, who passed away this past summer. I know it's not really polite to have favorites in a family, but I think most people do, even if we never admit it. Aunt Nada was one of mine. She was so colorful. I always felt so comfortable around her, which was most definitely not the norm for me, in those days. She seemed to accept me, and there was no judgment in her. I really miss her. The thing is, I would never have even known her, had it not been for the miracles of modern medicine. Nada had a kidney transplant before I was even born, and this kidney gave her an extra 30 years of life. I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and by the end of the night I had decided that I was going to donate a kidney, too. As I was already entrenched in the tepid quagmire of the UTMB Medical System wasteland, I was pretty sure they were not going to be amenable to this desire of mine (see the entries labeled "Is There a Doctor in the House" Parts 1 and 2 for more details on the caliber of medical treatment Texas prison inmates receive). I was right, as it turns out. I determined over a few weeks that none of the 170,000+ inmates in the TDCJ are allowed to donate organs, under any circumstances...even when a loved one is dying, and the inmate is a known match. I can't say I was surprised, but it still saddened me to learn this. Through my research, I had determined that there are (at the time of writing this) 5,745 patients in Texas alone who are in need of a kidney transplant, or a heplerectomy, as it is known in medical circles. TDC quoted me the following two reasons as to why they do not allow inmates to donate organs: 1) There is no secure facility in which to perform the surgery, and 2) cost. The first reason is an outright lie, as the hospital unit in Galveston (John Sealy) is a fully secure prison unit, as well as a full public hospital, capable of performing even the most complicated of operations. The second reason seemed more realistic, though I have since learned that Medicare will pay for the entire procedure, and that there are private foundations in existence which also help defray the costs. But, seriously, can we put the economics aside for a moment? These are real people, almost 6,000 of them, that are in need of help. You might know one of them, have them for a neighbor. They might have to wait years before they find a suitable kidney, but there are people who are willing to donate RIGHT NOW, and are not allowed. Do I think many of the men behind bars will donate? Probably not, but what if the number is low, like say, only 200 out of 170,000. That's still 200 LIVES we are talking about here. It seems to me to be extremely wasteful not to look to all sources when lives are on the line. My Dad happens to be friends with State Rep Charlie Howard, so I wrote him, doing a sort of end-run around the TDC bureaucracy. He seemed to be sympathetic to the problem, but, lets face it, I'm just an inmate. He would be far more apt to do something about this if there was a modicum of public support. So, here is my request: I'm providing his address, and I'm asking you to write him, or your local representative, and inform him that you think this is an issue that needs some looking at.

Representative: Charles Howard
District: 26
Party: Republican

Capitol Address:
Room E2.302, Capitol Building
Austin, Texas 78701
(512) 463-0710

Email Address:

District Address:
Sugar Land, Texas 77478

Counties Represented:
Fort Bend (part)

There is some precedent: the South Carolina legislature is considering a bill (S.481) that would allow prisoners to donate organs and bone marrow. I ask that you look beyond the source of this request, and think about the people out there in need. I thought about forming some sort of petition, but I'm still a little confused on the legality of an online petition, so I think a more efficient manner of going about this is for each of you to write your congressman directly. I know how it is to be immersed in a sort of post-modern ennui, where we feel like we are too small to make a difference in the real world. Believe me, I know what that tastes like. But this is a real chance for us to do something simple that would save a lot of lives. Anyways, pray about it, and if you feel like this is something you can support, email this to a friend. Obviously, this is mostly for Texas residents, but for those of you in other states or counties, the additional letters couldn't hurt, and you might consider finding out if your state allows inmate donations.

This second project is far less important than the first, and far less noble. This is the one I sort of feel bad asking for help on. I really hate holding my hat in my hands, and all that, but...I've been trying to finish my degree via correspondence courses for over a year now. I've had the carpet pulled out from under my feet more times than I can count, and I am starting to feel defeated. I thought I had everything all ironed out last November, only to fall flat on my face again. You see, there are basically four areas of difficulty in trying to attend school from Death Row. The first is money, but I think I have this all taken care of. The second is getting accepted into the University, which is the least of the problems for me, as my SAT score was pretty high. The final two are a bit more problematic: convincing TDC to allow the educational material past the mail room, and finding a University that has a correspondence program that does not require the use of a computer. It is this last area that I could use a hand. I am fairly limited in my ability to get data here...I basically have to mail a letter to each one of the schools, one at a time. What I really need is for a few people to hop on the internet and look around to see what schools actually have degree programs via the old school snail-mail format. You would be surprised how many do not offer this anymore. I'm really interested in History, so that would be my major. If you can actually find one, please let me know. I've tried quite a few, with no success.

Anyways, I appreciate the attention, and I want to reiterate that the first project is far more important than the latter, so if you are limited in energy, focus on that one. Thanks, and God Bless.

"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito."
-African Proverb

© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.