Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Crashing and Burning

June 11, 2008.

I'm crashing. I guess it's time I admitted that. The last few months, I have been trying to convince myself I am alright, but I'm not. Things that have been on a slow boil in my head are starting to come to the surface, and I would ignore them if I could. But I can't. I've been waging a war against my traitorous brain all my life, and I've yet to win a battle. Besides, I promised myself that there would be no more masks, no more delusions. It's crystal clear how I first came to think they were necessary, though. The desire to keep my parents or teachers from worrying about me when I was eight is the same desire that wants me to keep from writing this now. Funny how that works. Ha. Ha. Really freaking hysterical.

I'm sure all of the impending execution dates are not helping the situation any. I recently wrote a really retarded entry trying to dispel some of my feelings on the matter, but it did not help. Mainly because I cannot convince myself that anyone really gives a flip about these men. Writing does not come easily to me. Usually it is forced. It's especially tough to sell myself on the idea of trying to pound out something relatively poetic when I know the seeds are going to fall on dead ground. More than that though. I took a very...preachy(?) tone in that entry, which was an absolutely ridiculous thing for me to have done. I have no right to preach to anyone about anything. I know nothing. I am nothing. In retrospect, it all feels dishonest to me, somehow. By lying to myself, I carried the lie to you. Maybe. I still don't really know what I was trying to do.

Anyways, it's not like this is my first experience with death. My two best friends growing up died in automobile accidents. My best male friend from high school, a man who climbed mountains for fun, slipped and fell on a doorstep and cracked his head open when I was a sophomore in college. I still haven't worked my way through the absurdity of that death. Everyone else is gone, which isn't the same thing, but it may as well be for practical purposes. My family is destroyed, and it's my own fault, and I've never really figured out how to move past the mourning phase for all of that. Don't know how. Some things just don't fade for me like they seem to do for some people. I guess I've said before that living here is a little like being in a war zone. All of your friends are biting it, and there isn't anything you can do about it. You get a manual when you arrive here which is brimming with useless information on how to follow the rules, but they leave the part out about how you are supposed to deal with the death of everyone you know. Think back. How did you cope with the loss of a friend? Of a family member? Ever lose more than one in a short period of time? What would you feel? I don't guess it's much of a mystery as to what happens. Your heart hardens up; you become desensitized, or you start to lose it. I wonder if that is what is happening to me. I've seen more than a few real nutters here...there is one (at least) in every section. They are the finished product though: I've never seen the process start to finish. In my more objective moments, I think I should be journaling more, as I doubt there are too many true, first-person accounts of the descent into La-La Land. The cynic in me even thinks it might be an interesting read, but most of the time I don't really have the energy to care anymore. And as far as the calloused heart thing goes, that would be a blessing, because at least the scabs would hold together all of the broken pieces floating around in there.

Why the hell am I writing this? I guess I'm doing it because my cousin came to see me today. Together, we watched an inmate's last visit with his wife. She kept touching the glass, almost reflexively, as if maybe it had somehow vanished in the last few seconds. I don't even think she realized she was doing it, just frustrated, crushed emotions making her hands dance about as if they were marionettes. My cousin was aghast that they are not allowed some form of contact, on this, his last day on earth. I keep telling people that all of us on DR have already touched our last human beings, but it doesn't seem to sink in. When noon rolled around, a whole team of guards walked his wife out, and she turned one last time to look at him, and all the pain and broken hearts of a lifetime were laid out like an open wound. I don't know if a soul can crack, but I do know that I am done with this. Done fighting a battle that nobody cares about. Done making excuses for people and ideologies that have no trace of humanity left in them. Done. Done. Done. A thousand fucking times done.

I know most of you think that I took a stand on this issue because I was trying to save my own skin. Even my few fans...admit it, you've thought this more than once, probably. You don't understand me at all. You think I care about living. Or want to. Even in my best of moments, I don't pretend that to myself. I'm tired. Tired of being me. I've never been enamored with this circus freak-show of a world. I spoke against this place not for myself, but because it is a travesty, a diseased pustule on the face of your supposed morality. Hypocrites! How can you sentence a man to death for not valuing human life? And to claim the right for this in the name of Justice, in the name of Closure! Just words, cold-comfort words which mean absolutely nothing compared to the pain coming off that wife's face like waves crashing onto a shoreline. Just words. Sometimes I think they are all meaningless, every last one of them. Even these words. Especially these words.

So, yeah, I'm tired. That seems to be the theme of this stillborn monstrosity of an entry. As I type this, I am giving serious thought to cutting off my arm. Been avoiding the topic lately, here and in my letters, because so many people have told me that they are praying for me and "expecting supernatural healing." I didn't want to disappoint anyone (God, how I hate the cancer of not wanting to let anyone down), so I've been making excuses. For the doctors. For this state. For God. How am I supposed to tell people that Dr. Zond recently told me that the surgery was a "catastrophic failure" and that he "didn't know what they (the doctors in Galveston) were thinking?" So, after nine months, my arm is still worse than useless, only now half the nerve endings in my arm or severed or destroyed, and I have this wonderful scar that is so presentable that I don't think I will ever be able to take my shirt off on the yard again. And the best part is, nobody really thinks they are going to pay for me to have another surgery...frankly, one was abnormal. Two would be unheard of. I think I've been mature about this. I've tried to divine the reasons behind this whole mess, to figure out what life-lessons I am supposed to have gleaned from it. I took the high road, believing that if I asked, God would give me a hand on this one (Matthew 7:7-8). And I guess I am left wondering why it is that every single prayer I have ever asked of Him has come back with a negative response. All my life, I've begged for Him to be the God of Luke 15, to come and find me in the wilderness and pick me up and put me on His shoulders and take me back with Him. I prayed for this when I was fifteen and a ghost in High School. Even after I claimed to myself that I had stopped believing in Him, I still begged for acceptance and calm and balance and to feel loved and normal. And finally, to keep me from exploding. I've been told that things happened the way they did for a purpose. Maybe so that our family could be reunited in heaven. That December 10th was the only way for this to happen. I guess I swallowed that, bitter pill though it was. But sometimes I feel lost, and confused, and I have to wonder about the kind of God that requires two good people to get mowed away like grass for the soul of someone like me. Frankly, there were other ways that this could have gone down. Many other ways that didn't require such a priceless sacrifice on the alter of hate and violence. Yeah, yeah, I get it. I only see what is right in front of my face, and He sees all of eternity. Fine. I accept the logic of that. But it doesn't change the fact that what is right in front of my face sure smells bloody rotten. And yeah, maybe it's all Satan's fault. But if I build a model rocket, and launch it off, and it comes down on somebody's roof, then I am responsible for the damages. I'm hardly perfect. It was a simple error on my part that I damaged that person's property. Now, if I mapped it all out, did the math, and purposely damaged the roof...that is something else. A perfect, omniscient Creator fashioned the universe, and he did so with the full knowledge that he was going to make Satan at some point. He, the inventor of it all, had to have known all about things like envy and pride, and that eventually, number two would try to become number one. And in the midst of all of this, he decided to give to us the winner of the "All-Time Worst Gift" award: free will. He plopped this all down on us, and gave us really flawed processors and really buggy programming, and then...well, you get the point. As to how he can feel at all surprised that we are such disappointments is beyond me. So, yeah, maybe Satan gets the blame, and God's responsibility in all this is somehow forgotten. I'm an idiot, but I do know this: none of this was a mystery for Him; he saw it all coming.

Tired. Tired of seeing judges go to any length to dance around doing the right thing because they know they won't get re-elected unless they tow the conservative line (And while I may be some-what left of center politically, it also bothers me equally that there are liberal judges behaving the same way in other states).

Tired of losing pen-pals to the same magical disappearing act that claimed all of my free-world friends. Maybe the stamps aren't much to you, but I refrain from eating sometimes to be able to afford to write you...and then poof! You are gone, for good.

Tired of the sorry, lying mail-room workers who like to throw away whole piles of mail for fun. I put pieces of my soul down on paper, and you treat it as if it were yesterday's trash.

Tired of watching my hair fall out in clumps and tired of spitting up blood from my stomach ulcers because I don't know how to rid myself of the tension of being such a deficient and flawed living machine.

I'm tired of not being able to remember the last time I laughed for real, or smile when it wasn't forced.

Tired of not being able to say what I mean. Even now.

Tired of feeling like a sailor in the doldrums, waiting on the wind to blow. Tired of knowing it won't.

Tired of the chemicals in my brain sending me on an emotional roller-coaster ride, and tired of taking the blame for this when I don't know how to deal with it.

Tired of saying I'm sorry, when no one wants to listen.

Tired of not being able to look myself in the mirror.

Tired of thinking about Her, and wondering if she ever thinks about me. Tired of thinking that I doubt she does.

Tired of thinking I don't have any more tears to cry, and then being proven wrong.

Tired of having to look at life as a test, and thinking that I'd simply rather not have played at all.

Tired of feeling like some vital part of me got left out of the box.

Tired of not understanding love.

And most of all, I'm tired of waiting for God to act like he cares about me.

I guess it is obvious from the tone of all of this that I have a lot of housekeeping work to do in my head. I've gotten comfortable over the last few years. Institutionalized. Lately, that comfort has been breaking down. I was told recently by someone I care for deeply that I need to live without crutches. I've been thinking about this a lot, trying to figure out what crutches I employ on a daily basis. I'm worried that me without crutches simply won't have much need for this site. Or a great many other things. I guess I will figure it out. Or I won't. I'm sorry if I haven't lived up to the hopes of some of you. I'm not really sure many of you would do much better, if our positions were reversed, though. Cold-comfort words again, but it's the best I've got right now.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi retrovae per una selva oscura
Che la deritta via era smarrita

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
For the straight way was lost.

-Dante Alighieri

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

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Three Simple Questions

June 1, 2008.

During my trial, the ADA claimed that I was a "narcissistic sociopath" that "didn't feel anything". That was his sales pitch for giving me the death penalty. Obviously, the jury bought it. Sometimes, I wish it were true.

I have felt numb to things before; I think most of us have. It's how we get through the soul-wrenching pictures on the evening news of bloated bodies floating down rivers in Burma, or the faces of weeping parents staring at the collapsed remains of an elementary school in China. I wish I could feel some of that nothing now, because my heart feels as if it has been laid on a bed of broken glass and then stomped on. In two days, they begin executions again. I had forgotten how fucking horrible this feels. This great, ever-present gloom which settled on me as I watched twelve men pack up their bags and head to Deathwatch (the actual number is higher, but I only saw twelve of them). When I first arrived here, I didn't know many of the men being executed. I couldn't believe it was one person a week. This time around, I know them all. Every last one. I've prayed with some of them, made victims of some of them at chess. One, Lester Bower, may be my best friend here. I know their wives names, their children's dreams. Oh yes, I know them all.

The morning that the Supreme Court made it's ruling, and lifted the de facto moratorium, I was at visit. I had not heard. On the way back to my pod (which consists of a long, white hallway with a solid blue line running down at waist level, punctuated by a little zig-zag every 50 feet that looks exactly like a heartbeat on an EKG machine...until the line goes completely flat halfway down the hall...I told you, TDC is not subtle), I saw a certain high-ranking official (name and title omitted so I do not get beat up by the guards) whistling as he walked down the hall towards the Major's office. I have never seen this man smile, or laugh (or anything which could be construed as a human characteristic, for that matter), so it gave me pause. Upon entering the pod, it was dead silent. None of the usual shouting, or laughing, or calling out of chess moves from one cell to the next. When I climbed the steps to my row, I heard someone downstairs crying, quiet, soft little gasps of air bubbling out from a sea of desperation. It made all the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, something I had read about, but never really experienced. When I passed my neighbor's cell, he muttered two words, and I knew. "They ruled." I suddenly understood the whistling officials happiness. And it made me sick, more than anything else that had happened that day.

I expected the ruling, to be honest. First off, the nature of the Court has drifted far to the right since Bush took office, so there wasn't any way we were going to get relief from them. More importantly, Kentucky was the absolute WORST state in the nation from which to bring an 8th Amendment case, as they have killed virtually no one in recent memory. But you still have hope. The death of hope is a powerful thing to see. It dies in stages. The last few weeks, I've watched that light die in the eyes of the men around me. And so, I wish I could find that numbness of old, and wrap it around my shoulders like a warm blanket. But it won't come.

I don't deny that past evil that exists around me. My soul weeps for it. Nor do I suggest that all of the men on the Row have tried to make amends for their actions. I think I have expressed my remorse before, albeit clumsily. I'm not the only one here who has done so. Apart from the truly innocent (estimated, conservatively, to be between 5 and 10 percent of inmates nationwide on Death Rows), there is much to be atoned for. Much to be avenged. Revenged. Same difference to some of you. I have received thirteen letters since April 16th (when the ruling came down) from Pro-Death groups, the contents of which basically amounted to giant smiley faces. Thirteen. Yes, you people are clearly the morally superior one, aren't you? You know all the right answers, don't you? Even in your sickness, I've forgiven you, tried to reach out to you, attempted to understand why you hate me so much. Someone you have never met. I will admit, I have been angry. I've thought about scanning your letters, and posting them up for everyone to see how "good" you are. I even started to do this. I wrote six pages of an entry, and it was good. Maybe some of my best writing. I've never, not once, liked anything I've ever written, but this came close. It's easy to write when you are angry. The words just flow out of you, the proverbial dam breaking. It didn't help me, though. There was no catharsis, no bleeding of the pressure. It was this realization, more than anything, which caused me to put the pencil down. I realized after reading what I had placed on paper, just how low I had sunk. I actually dropped to your level. I felt like I had been swimming laps in a sewer. So I flushed the pages down the toilet, sending them to you. Enjoy.

I've yet to find the situation where anger solved anything. I guess it's natural to feel rage sometimes. But it doesn't really help. So, keep sending me your ignorant trash, if it makes you feel better. I doubt it does, though. You are just as pitifully angry today as you were nine months ago, Debbie. And just as blind. Ignorance. That's sort of the problem, isn't it? We think we know so much, don't we? Hell, it's the 21st century. Look at what we have done! Just last week, we landed a new explorer on Mars. We are clearly more advanced than we were a few hundred years ago. Right? That is what you believe, isn't it? That has to be your contention, or you wouldn't be sending me reams of paper on how you know best, and how I know nothing. I've pulled my punches with you. And I will continue to do so, because, no matter how much you hate me to say it, I am not your enemy, and I do not hate you. But I am throwing the gauntlet down. I'm going to ask you to ante up that vaunted surety of yours. You claim to be in the know, so lets find out exactly what knowledge you possess. I've got a little test for you. Before I give it, lets first take a look at something. In order for you to be reading this, a number of things had to have happened first. For one, you had to turn on your PC, which caused the power source to begin drawing power from the grid. Can you tell me how that works? As you sat there waiting on the little Windows icon to show up, do you know how your operating system initialized? Maybe you know a little something about CMOS and partitions on your hard drive, but do you know it all? I don't. I'm not mocking you, I'm just asking. And lets not even get into how the internet and TCP/IP works. My point is this: in order for you to even read this, several million things had to have happened correctly, and with the exception of a few really intelligent nerds in Silicon Valley, no one can explain it. Ignorance abounds, in other words. How easy is it to forget this, apparently. "Ok", you say. "Maybe I don't understand how my TV or my telephone works, but I've got a pretty good handle on gay marriage or stem-cell research, or the Death Penalty". The fact that so many of you believe these social issues to be simpler than technical ones should tell you just how mule-headed you are, but it doesn't. You have your blinders up, because it's a simpler life when we are convinced the only part of the world (or the truth) that exists is the portion right in front of us. George Orwell once wrote, "To see what is in front of our nose requires constant struggle", but we've forgotten that.

Anyways, I'm going to ask you these three simple questions. They are not complicated. There will be no required explanations of the waveform in Schrodinger's equation, or anything similar. They are not "trick" questions, but they do emphasize the difference between the "right" answer and the correct answer. What do I mean by that? "Right" answers are the oversimplified responses that we have all been taught since grade school. They are the mark of a society that has settled on convenience, rather than having to face a more complicated present. Correct answers, on the other hand, are the undistilled truth. I want you to answer these questions, and then admit something for me. If you know only the "right" answers to these simple questions, admit to yourself that maybe, just maybe, you only know the "right" answers to some more complicated issues.

1) Who was the first American President?
2) How many senses does a human being have?
3) Who said, "Let them eat cake?"

Ok, easy. If you have young children, chances are they could make a pretty good guess at all three of these. You probably answered something along the lines of:

1) George Washington
2) Five
3) Marie Antoinette

These are the "right" answers. The problem is, they aren't correct. (The following correct answers come from John Lloyd, by the way). The first American President was Payton Randolph. He was the first of fourteen pre-Washington presidents of the Continental Congress (look it up if you don't believe me). I bet most of you have never even heard of Mr. Randolph, which is ok. We often gloss over history, in order to make things simpler. There is a ton of data out there, and we simply don't need all of it. The trick, of course, is never to forget that things have been smoothed over for easy traveling.

There are at least nine senses which are commonly agreed upon, though most neurologists have their own opinions on whether there are more than nine (some say as many as 21). A few you probably missed include: thermoception, equilibrioception, nociception, and proprioception (this last is the unconscious knowledge of where our body parts are without being able to see or feel them...close your eyes and wiggle your foot in the air. You still know where it is in relation to the rest of you, right?)

The last question about the cake is a little different from the first two. Rather than show how sometimes the truth is changed for convenience, this last represents how an outright lie can indoctrinate itself into popular belief. So, who said, "Let them eat cake?" Well, it wasn't her. John Lloyd writes: "You probably remember the history lesson as is it were yesterday. It's 1789 and the French Revolution is under way. The poor of Paris are rioting because they have no bread and the Queen, Marie Antoinette - callously indifferent, trying to be funny or just plain stupid - comes up with the fatuous suggestion that they eat cake instead. The first problem is that it wasn't cake, it was brioche (the original French is "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"). According to Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food, "Eighteenth-century brioche was only lightly enriched by modest amounts of butter and eggs, and not very far removed from a good white loaf of bread". So, the remark might have been an attempt at kindness: If they want bread, give them some of the good stuff. Except, Marie Antoinette didn't say it. The line had been in use in print as an illustration of aristocratic decadence since at least 1760. Jean-Jaques Rousseau claimed he'd first heard it as early as 1740, and it was probably made up for propaganda purposes." Mr. Lloyd goes on for quite a bit, but the point is, it's all bunk. All lies. And my further point is this: so, too, is a lot of what you believe to be true. How does one know what is true, then? Henry Suso once wrote, "By ignorance the truth is known". First, you have to recognize there is an infinite amount of knowledge out there, and that it's only a matter of searching to find the truth. You will not get the truth, the whole of it, by watching the evening news. You will not get it from your elected officials. You will not get it at the water cooler.

In conclusion, look at this link. This is the list of the names of men about to be killed by the citizens of Texas. Read each and every name. If you can truthfully say that you are assured of their guilt, or of their utter worthlessness as human beings, then go ahead and close this entry and go on about your business. If you have some doubt, or are uncomfortable with the idea of participating in this, then perhaps it is time for you to give the issue some real attention. Because you are a participant. If you live in a state where they execute people, then your elected leaders believe that this is what you want. All I want is for you to look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Is it?"

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