Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who Is You? - Part 1

December 31st, 2008

Michelle, of the insanely loopy calligraphy, writes:

"Dear Thomas, I found this survey online, and I think you should do it. I sent it to all of my friends, and was surprised by how much I did not know about my best friends. Maybe you can put it on your blog?"

Um...ok. Apparently, mb6 has now become a call-in program, complete with requests. If the line is busy, please hold. Your call is valuable to us, and will be answered in the order in which it was received. (I just heard the collective roar from the keyboards of the "Fire and Brimstone Brigade" launch into a frenzy. Sorry, you wanks. Michelle, I sort of like, and so I will oblige. You...well, I just plain don't like you.) As I scan over the questionnaire under discussion, I am reminded of the first words anyone said to me after I arrived in Livingston. An obscenely large black man was in the dayroom adjacent to my section doing push-ups. He stopped long enough to ask me, point-blank, "Hey! Who is you?" It became a running joke between us that I corrected his grammar. Whenever I would see him, I would say, "Hey! Who is you?" in my most ghetto-fied voice. Sometimes I would even imitate his pimp-esque gait. In response, he would attempt to look sort of bored, and quip (in a really bad cockney accent, I might add): "Excuse me, but I think you mean to say, 'Who are you?'" I cannot tell you how many guards have seen this exchange, and ended up walking away with a very confused look on their faces. He is dead now, like most everyone else I have mentioned on this site. I almost hesitate to name anyone else, for fear that doing so has become a harbinger of being Texecuted. Anyways. (I have been told that I use this word to mean: "I don't want to talk about this anymore, because I don't know how to explain what I am feeling and you will not understand." My response: ANYWAYS.) Without further ado, I present to you:

A Fun Survey to Give to Your Friends!
Instructions: Answer as quickly as you can!
No over-thinking!!
Be honest!!!
(I have a question of my own, before we begin: Is anyone who actually uses three exclamation marks ever at risk of over-thinking something?)

1) Date of Birth: December 31, 1979, (Happy Birthday, me.)

2) Eye Colour: Green

3) Height: 5'10"

4) Weight: 175lbs. 93% of which is pure muscle, only most of this sits in the 10th dimension.

5) What are your favorite sports teams?
a) Football: Steelers or the Ravens, currently. Anybody but the bloody cowboys. Dallas sucks.
b) Soccer: Chelsea or Real Madrid.
c) Basketball: couldn't give a rats a$. Not the Lakers, or any team with Shaq. Or Dallas. Dallas sucks.
d) Hockey: Detroit Red Wings. Did I mention Dallas sucks?
e) Baseball: The Yankees, unquestionably. Been a fan of the Bronx Bombers since forever. Yeah, yeah, I know. Evil Empire, blah, blah, blah. Envy is such an ugly emotion.

6) Who was your first celebrity crush?
My first (and only, I feel it is important to mention) was Jennifer Connelly in The Labyrinth I think I was about ten or so when I first saw this film. I fell head over freaking heals for this girl. Something about a damsel in distress, maybe. For most of my young life, I wanted to pummel David Bowie with those retarded crystal spheres of his for being such an a-hole in that movie. He only earned his way back into my good graces in the late 90s with the Trent Reznor assisted "I'm Afraid of Americans" album. Man...she was it, for years and years. My template for what I thought a woman was supposed to be.

7) What is your favorite:
a) Beer: Hmm...most any oatmeal stout, maybe. Russian River Perdition is some pretty tasty stuff. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. Lost Abbey Angels Share. Smuttynose Pale Ale. Black Butter Porter by Deschutes (like Guinness, only richer...drool). I sound like an alcoholic. I don't have a problem. Seriously. Don't send me any AA books, or I swear I will burn them. I went to AA when I was in the county jail, and if that isn't a cult, I don't know what is. I know that addiction really is a disease for some people...but the majority of the men at these meetings in jail were just there to complain and shuffle the blame off of themselves. You don't need meetings or a "higher Power" to quit just need to put the bloody bottle down. Period.
b) Wine: The best I have ever personally tasted was Sine Qua Non's '97 Syrah blend, curiously named "Imposter McCoy." (This is Manfred Krankl's outfit, and all of his wines bear very odd names, such as "Against the Wall" and "The 17th Nail in My Cranium." Such titles have not hurt his business any, as there is a multi-year waiting list just to get on the waiting list for a bottle.)
c) Spirit: Glenmorangie. Very Rare 18-Years Old Northern Highlands Single Malt.

8) What is your favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
I suppose I must have had a favorite flavor at one time. It doesn't matter much to me now, honestly. I treat myself to a pint once a month, and whatever flavor they bring me is quite fine by me. It is an extremely odd feeling to have something cold and delicious and so full of sweetness caress your tongue after weeks of lukewarm tap water. Strange in a familiar way, familiar in a strange way. She used to love this strawberry shortcake flavor from HEB, and I loved to see her enjoy it. When you ask someone how something tastes, "good" is a nice response, but rather dull. "Practically orgasmic" is something else entirely. She had a way with words that I never fully appreciated at the time. I knew that she did not buy it often, because American women are far too obsessed with their weight. I always thought she looked great, so I wasn't too worried about it, and would sometimes show up with a gallon, pretending to be lost and in the neighborhood. (never mind that at the time I was living in another city 100 miles away. I get lost very easily, apparently.) That is what life is all about, I think: tiny, seemingly inconsequential details, that nonetheless somehow manage to constitute the only moments worth living on this rock. Please: eat the damned ice-cream, the cookie, the steak. Run tomorrow. At some point, there won't be a tomorrow, and then it will be too late. The Tao of Thomas.

9) If you were a fruit, what would you be?
Uh...ok. Kind of gay...who comes up with this stuff? A fruit...I'm embarrassed to say that I have actually wasted like 15 minutes of my life pondering this. I am going to go with grape. Planted in straight, orderly lines, which appeals to the OCD nut job in me. A controlled, scientific growing season. A most unremarkable fruit, really. But...if you stomp on it, and bottle it up, and give it some time in a cool, dark place, it becomes something complex and refined. Didn't think that you could get metaphysical with fruit? Ah, step into my parlor, grasshopper. There is much of the ways of Dorkdome that I can teach you.

10) What is your biggest regret?

11) Do you have any nicknames?
Everybody here does. Most have several. I generally go simply by Thomas to the guys, though some have taken to calling me Frankenstein, on account of all my scars. I was not terribly thrilled when first knighted thus, but I have since come to like it. I sometimes feel as if I was built out of spare parts by an indifferent Creator. The pissed-off villagers with pitchforks and torches are certainly about. I doubt that anyone else has taken their names to that point, though. Some of the Latinos call me simply "Guedo" (pronounced "weh-doh," which is basically someone with a pale complexion), or "El Mexicano Contrahecho" (Counterfeit Mexican). To the state, I will only ever be Offender 999522, and only then because a fingerprint or a DNA profile do not have an auditory component. It does get in your head, though. I have recurring dreams where I am participating in perfectly ordinary social situations, and introduce myself as Triple 9-522. Yevgeny Zamyatin would be proud.

12) What is your favorite book?
This question is absolutely impossible for me to attempt without breaking the question down into speech genres, which by the way, I spent some time doing, before I decided that there was no way I was going to keep this entry under 50 million pages unless I stopped being so obsessive and just answered in the simplest possible manner. So...I will alter the question slightly, and say that the book which had the single greatest immediate impact on me was Albert Camus "L'Etranger" (The Stranger). Never before had I found a protagonist with whom I could so easily identify on an emotional level. Meursault was not at all like the people around him which is exactly how I have always felt, and many of his differences were very similar to my own. Yet, unlike me, he didn't care. Also unlike me, he was consistently honest and direct, despite being judged by many of his contemporaries as being somewhat strange or amoral. He never once displayed an emotion he did not truly feel. I do find it a little creepy that at the age of 12 I latched on to a book who's major themes included the arbitrariness of Justice, the relative and absurd nature of the universe, and which ends with the execution by guillotine of the protagonist. The last paragraphs of the book struck me at the time as being some of the truest words I had ever read, and they still resonate with me to a certain extent, a decade and a half later. Whatever his flaws, he goes out with dignity, which is something I consistently strive for.

13) What is your favorite Bible verse?
In a book as large as the bible, there are quite a few good ones to pick from. Depends on my mood, I guess. Ecclesiastes 7:13 ("Consider Gods handiwork who can straighten what He hath made crooked?") Amos 3:3 ("Can two walk together, except that they be agreed?") Those are both a touch esoteric. Less so: Proverbs 31:10 ("Who can find a good woman? She is precious beyond all things.") The entire first chapter of James is spot on, especially the last portions, because it tells believers to put up or shut up. When it comes to Christ, I guess my favorite portion of the gospel is the 21st chapter of John, where Christ reinstates Peter after he had denied Jesus three times. He tells Peter repeatedly, "Feed my sheep." I know my faith is pretty anemic on creeds and dogma, that I am mostly about actions, deeds. I have a desert faith: dry and sparse, heavy on substance with no need for fluff. I know my doubts on "miracles" and the like is a source of derision for some of the faithful, but I very much doubt religious legalism will ever mean anything to me. Feed my sheep. I can understand. Its meaning is apparent. My least favorite is unquestionably the 11th chapter of Genesis (though this has a lot to do with the fact that I am Dad, for example, reads this chapter totally different than I do, and that is cool). Where he sees God taking a stand to strike down hubris, I see the building of the Tower as a sort of Utopia. All of mankind working together, unified in purpose. Along comes God, and sees something He is apparently afraid of. His actions, to me, seem petty and envious...a tiny, whiny God angry at his little ant farm. Now I refuse to believe the Creator of neutron stars and quantum tunneling could be so petty, so I view, the entire chapter as suspect, much as I do for a lot of the Old Testament. Like I said, point of view. I do not claim to be correct, only moving along the only path I can see in this twilight world.

14) What is your favorite piece of art?
Bah, I am an uncultured boob. What do I know of art? I know to say that a fat chick is Rubenesque if I am trying to be polite. Let's see...I always laugh when I think of Bartalome Bermejos "Saint Michael Triumphant Over the Devil" because the squealing little Satan reminds me of some people I know. Maybe my favorite would be something like Do-Ho Suh's "Karma" or Anthony Gormley's "Feeling Material XXVII," for its perfect metaphor of modern life. I've always loved MC Escher, especially after he developed his theories on the "regular division of the plane," though my enjoyment of these pieces has its roots more in the realms of mathematics than aesthetics. Meh. I'm straight, male, and American to boot. "Dogs Playing Poker," anyone? The really sad thing is I've been to most of the really great museums in the states and Europe, and can't come up with a better answer. I should have paid more attention to what was hanging on the walls, rather, "examining" the local fauna in situ, If you catch my meaning. Maturity + the ability to look back over your life and recognize what a dumbass you were.

15) Favorite song?
Kansas' "Dust in the Wind," maybe. Again, depends on my mood. The last song I played on my guitar before my arrest was Dave Matthews "The Stone," which pretty much sums it up. (It's well worth the 99 cents on i-Tunes, by the way.)

16) What is your favorite song name?
What an odd question. I take this to mean simply the name, not the actual music, though I guess I could be reading this wrong. I guess I am going to have to go with Minus The Bears "I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien," with "Hey! Is That A Ninja Up There?" as a close second. Don't try to figure either of them out. It's not that kind of band.

17) Who is your favorite musician/band?
Tom McRae Dave Matthews (live > studio). Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Coltrane. Portishead, Massive Attack. I am ashamed at how much I like the The Kings of Leon, because I usually do not like bands who try so hard to be uber-cool. Chopin. I wish I could play like Joaquin Rodrigo. Dude had to have like nine fingers on each hand. (Same with Tim Reynolds, for that matter.) Enrique Bunbury is pretty good, too. Anybody who can take me away from this place for a few minutes deserves a place on this list.

18) What is your favorite 80's band?
Depeche Mode. A pox on the entire decade!

19) What is your favorite TV show?
HBO has done some decent shows in the last decade, with my favorites being Carnivale and Deadwood. I liked FX's The Shield, too. I don't think any television program made more of an impression on me than the old PBS Masterpiece Theater series with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (though I think this series was originally from the BBC). For you Sir Arthur Conan Doyle purists out there, Basil Rathbone = scrub. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Watson. In retrospect, maybe I should not have picked an emotionally distant social outcast as my childhood hero. Whoops.

20) What is your favorite TV comedy?
I have mentioned before on this site that I have modified my AM/FM clock radio to pick up TV audio out of Houston, so my answer here is only based on network television. I haven't figured out how to get cable yet or keep the signal once television converts to digital in February. Of the current crap, my clear favorite is "The Big Bang Theory." Sheldon is the funniest TV personality I've seen (heard rather) in years. Emmy, anyone? Two and a Half Men can be pretty humorous, though I am continually amazed the SEC lets them get away with some of the double entendres they toss about. I miss Monty Pythons Flying Circus, my second favorite show as a kid. Great: Holmes plus a bunch of sarcastic jerks. No wonder I'm such a mess. It's all PBS fault.

I'm going to end this here as I don't want to dump any more work on my typists. I will finish it next year. Hopefully, 2009 > 2008. Happy New Year!

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shameless Plug Alert!

December 18, 2008

I think it is fair to say that a certain sizable portion of the people who come to this site start with the view that I am to be believed about as far as I can be thrown. I acknowledge this, and accept it. I recognize that the reasons for this are entirely my own fault. That said, just because someone was once dishonest doesn't mean that they will always be so; such a conclusion is neither logical nor healthy. I spoke a little about this subject in a past entry, and I called the process "uncrying wolf", an obvious reference to the story we tell our children about what happens to liars. I lamented that there was very little succor for the boy (or man) once he gets painted with the "liar's brush". Turns out, the best way for the boy to once again earn his way back into the realms of the believable is to have someone of irrefutable character standing with him in the fields, guarding the sheep. Call it "honesty by association", if you will. Most inmates never find individuals of such high moral quality, as they are pretty rare these days. I guess DNA is about the truest friend (or greatest enemy) an inmate can have. I am fortunate in that I have something even better: my father.

His book (Murder by Family) recently came out, and you can find it at the following sites and bookstores:
Barnes & Nobles

...and just about any other place that books are sold.

I have gotten my copy now (He asked me to read early manuscripts as he was writing it), and the final work is really very good, very accurate. Not to mention the fact that I lived the book. This is not a "Pro-Me" work. My father pulls no punches, and none of it is glossed over. His task was to honestly retell the true story of my case, from the night of December 10th, 2003, until my conviction. You have never heard the true story in its completeness, because the news media does not report events, it reports a perception of those events. Usually, said perception is the one best designed to grab your attention, and nevermind the truth. I really hope you will read his narrative if you feel you have some questions about my situation, particularly those which pertain to God and His role in all of this. As weird as it sounds, it turns out to be very uplifting.

I can see it coming now: "Aha! They are just trying to make some money off of this! I knew they were up to something." A few thoughts on this, if you do not mind: First off, my Dad is donating all of the proceeds of this work to charity. So, kindly put that in your pipe and smoke it. I have recently received a lot of nasty letters from people regarding me getting money sent to my commissary fund from my father. This confused me, until I had a friend track down a certain thread on an internet forum, where someone "in the know" proclaimed my Dad sends me 100 dollars a month. It is true that when I was in seg at the county jail, my Dad did send me some money. I am not sure of the exact figure, but I think it was actually considerably less than that, but no matter. What is important is that this was something I stopped, at my own request, when I came to DR. I simply felt it would be better for our relationship. I didn't want to be a taker any more. I want to state this as clearly as I can, so there is no confusion: I will not receive one penny from the sale of this book, nor will Dad, any friends, or any family. My Dad and I discussed the possible beneficiaries of any money taken in form its sale, which are all reputable and recognized charities, and I am very pleased with the list of recipients. So, sorry, guys, you will have to take that off of your list of criticisms to lob my way. Don't fret, the list is still nice and juicy. (Read that last line with as much sarcasm as you like.)

You can read more about my Dad, or the book, at his website: (And by the way: Murder by Family hit the New York Times Best Seller List in October, and in addition to the CBS 48 Hours Mystery program and the hour on Oprah Winfrey Show this fall, ABC's Primetime-20/20 will feature our story in February.)

© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five Years

December 10th, 2008

Five years. How can such a slice of time seem simultaneously eternal and instantaneous? When I dissect it all, when I pick it apart and reduce it down to individual memories, it seems to expand, to swell; pushing against the barriers of conscious thought until it breaks the walls of the mind and washes over me and I, too, am reduced and broken down. Tiny, minuscule events/memories/experiences are pushed through filters and distilled into something far purer than ever they were in real life. I take the essence of these seemingly inconsequential slivers of past life-not more than a few neurons in length-and make idols out of them; massive, monstrous things littering the plains of Dura in my mind, all with feet of clay. Her smile becomes something Holy. The breeze on my face as I sat in the desert in Mexico watching the stars becomes God's touch. The moment I was told I would never see my 35th birthday, when everyone was thirsting, straining to see me break down, to see the drama their hearts were crying for, becomes the first of my Rubicon's to cross, my first crossing of the Potomac. I infuse these things with meaning they never possessed, until I can hardly contain the procession of my life as it is projected on to the backs of my retinas. And yet, when I step back, it all becomes a flash, five years gone in a snap, so quantum-brief that I only really know it was there at all by what it spawned in its passing.

Five years. Five years I have whipped myself over and over again, converting the past into a scourge wreathed in acid and fire. Never forgiveness-never for me. All of the religious and philosophical thoughts on the matter be damned - no forgiveness; never for myself, that which I can extend so easily to others. I wouldn't permit it. You have to pay. Everybody pays. It's not enough. Cut off from the world - it's not enough. Take my life-it's not enough. Hit and kick me and push me into the sewers of public humiliation - it's not enough. It will never be enough, because no matter what they do to me, I hold the contract, and I control the vig. I will never let myself close to the principle. I chose to pay like this

Five years. The universe still spins, indifferent to such a tiny, insignificant speck of time. But I am not the universe; five years is not insignificant to me. So much is different now. So much gone, and so much evolved. Just a few revolutions of a tiny blue rock around the relatively tiny yellow sun. I feel as if it should be possible to reach back through the veil of time and alter a few things. Surely no one would mind if I changed a few events, with a few twists to the story, and then watched as the ripples float towards the present. Washing it all away, replacing me with some alternate universe version that never got so messed up in the first place. Stupid, silly thoughts. There is no reality but this one, the one we have chosen. The one I chose. I didn't always believe in free will. Part of me still rejects the idea. We are but biological machines, I would shout to the sky. Neural pathways set at twelve. Nurture always trumps nature. And I am right about these things. I can blame my bipolar nature, a fallen world which glorifies violence and which enthrones nihilism; I can say I hated God and wanted revenge for being born. I can say that I am irreparably broken, shattered, alone. And I would still be right about all of this. Yet, underneath all of that, I cannot deny that there exists a solid rock, unmoving and stolid amidst the stream of toxic garbage. We call this rock choice.

Choice. How quickly I lost sight that such a thing even existed. Locked in. Running on autopilot. Being what I was programmed to be, not what I might have chosen to be. Such a tiny thing, the realization that I controlled my life, that choice is mine. This is insanity, to me - to lose sight that choice exists, that we are more than the sum of our past moments. I am surrounded by men who have forgotten this. A man here pulled out his eyes this week and ate it in front of the sergeant, because he was reading Matthew 5:29, and heard Jesus tell him to take it literally. This was his second eye, mind. He plucked out at first when he was living in the county jail, because George W. Bush told him he had to do this if he "wanted to be the ultimate cell warrior." Squirrel - the blind, sane (according to the state) Squirrel - he has no choices, only desire and fears, which thrust him to and fro, mercilessly, eternally. I, too, lived like this once. I fear that a great many of you will never understand why this realization alters everything. And about how this makes me a man apart from who I was. All of the foundation of my life was quicksand threaded with drowning pools of noxious poisons. A few clean steps, that's all we have as a species. I lost sight of that. Now, I see.

Five years. Five years it took me to choose right action five years it took me to realize that morality and purpose, even, all of that was already inside me. I've been scouring heaven and earth for these things, and they have been here all along. They are here in my heart and my mind and they cannot be taken from me because my beliefs in anything outside of myself waver. For the first time in my life, I believe in Thomas, and so these things I value - morality and kindness and self-control - these things are me. I never would have found them outside of myself, this see that God planted in my soul. It is only ever grasped inside. Inside me. Inside you, too.

Five years I've been choosing to daily break myself over the wheel of my burdens. Tonight, I have said my apologies. I will not cheapen them by repeating them here. Those are mine, and they belonged to my mother and my brother. Tonight, I am letting it all go. I've got work to do before the end, and I cannot lift both weights. It is enough, I think. Enough.

It is snowing outside. It does not snow in South Texas very often. I never look out my window anymore. In fact, I keep it covered with rolled up newspaper, because it is easier to live in a concrete world when you forget that blues and greens exist. My neighbor began yelling that it was snowing, however, so I took the newspapers down to see for myself. What was once dirt and metal and gray is now white. Hundreds, thousands, millions of crystalline motes dance and scatter when I look their way. A man downstairs is crying that this is a sign from God for the new year. Call me skeptical, as always. I am not sure I have ever seen special divine providence before. I guess it happens, my view on the issue is that when God wants something to happen in the world, he acts on the hearts and consciences of men and women, rather than waving a magic wand and dismissing all of the myriad physical laws he went to such trouble to create. I know I am in the minority on this amongst Christians, but that is okay. I guess I am just not that egotistical to think that God sent us a storm to tell us 2009 would be a better year. Metaphor, on the other hand, I get. Seems like a good night to let myself become covered in white, too. Each time that a snowflake - individual, unique - passes by my window, I whisper out and connect a piece of my regrets, my guilt, my fears to it, and watch them borne away to melt on the ground. Two hours, I sat there, on the tips of my toes, just...letting go. Such an enormously complicated, and yet simple, thing to do. Just. Let. It. Fucking. Go.

They painted our pod recently. Black and white. What when they painted the chicken wire covering the small slit windows in my door, I reached through the gap and dipped my pointer finger into the wet paint. I traced the words "No Tomorrow" above my door.

Tonight, I stare at these words.

I am not my past. The past is dead.

Tomorrow is a ghost. It may never happen.

I only have the here and now, and the choice.

I chose to fill my life and my veins with poison.

I chose to surround myself with hollow men.

I chose to surrender my free will to hate.

No more.

I choose honor.

I choose dignity.

I choose to be better than I have ever been.

I choose to keep my eyes on the fact that I have this choice, as every second slips into a new one.

Five years. Five to go, more or less. Five years to do as much damage to this place as I can. Five years to continue the process started tonight. It is funny, one moment, all you can identify as fear, and then you realize that all fear is chosen, and poof! Gone. No more fear. Moses, Elijah, Paul come even Christ and the Buddha, they all had the wilderness as a place of suffering and refuge, a crucible for the soul. I have Polunsky. Because of this place, I have never been this free. You can only wake up once from a dream. I am awake, and my heart is smiling for the first time in years.

"An empty pageant; a stage play; flocks of sheep; herds of cattle; a brawl of Spearman; a bone flung among a pack of dogs; a crumb tossed into a pond of fish; ants, loaded and laboring; mice, scared and scampering; puppets, jerking on their strings - that is life. In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good temperedly and without disdain."

Marcus Aurelius, meditations

© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.