Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Letters To A Future Death Row Inmate, Part 19

By: Willie Johnson

Admin note: This was the last letter sent and was originally written in November 2010 however for various reasons, there was a delay in posting this entry.

When I first came to prison, I was nineteen yeas old, convicted of manslaughter and sentence to eight years. I knew people who served time. But I had no idea of what to expect while serving time. So I basically had to play it by ear. I can still remember the bus ride to the reception center. All I could think about was making my mark. The first person that rubbed me the wrong way was going to be an example. That’s how I handled things on the street, and that’s how I was planning on handling things in the pen. When the bus pulled into the processing area I was removed and taken to the holding cage, where I was stripped of all my personal belongings and issued a fish kit, consisting of state clothes, sheets, blankets and a few toiletries. It was at that moment I realized that my life would be different. For most of my life I had taken care of myself. Whenever I needed something I would just go get it. By hook or crook I would get whatever I needed. But now things were different. Now I had to depend on complete strangers who I held responsible for imprisoning me in the first place. So my first reaction was not to ask or accept any favors from anyone. I can still remember my first trip to the chow hall and how I reacted when I had to stand in line to eat dinner. That was one of my first humiliating moments. There I was standing in a warehouse with several hundred individuals, waiting to eat. It was a scene right out of the great depression. Where people had to stand in soup lines in order to get a meal. Or even worse, a scene out of the German Nazi camps, where everyone was dressed alike, waiting to get some food. To make matters worse the food was terrible. I had to pick through it just to get a morsel to eat. The only time I remember eating something close to a meal was on Sundays when we were allowed to eat fried chicken and potatoes. What I ended up doing was getting a job in the kitchen. That way I had access to where they kept the good food. In order to stay healthy I would steal food from the kitchen warehouse where they kept all the ingredients for what would eventually become stew. I would steal everything from roast beef to homemade cookies, some of which I sold to other inmates, but most of which I kept for myself.

Then there was the problem of having to share a cell with another person. This was one of my main problems for years. Not only because of the size of the cell, but also because of the people I was forced to cell up with. I stabbed my first cellmate. Because he thought I was scared of him, he would trip on every little thing I did. Like for example: I had the top bunk bed. In order for me to get to my bed, I had to step on the toilet. So one day he bitched about me stepping on the toilet. Although I wasn’t feeling that I decided to use his bunk to get on my bed. Still tripping, he told me not to do that. So one day I booby-trapped the room while he was gone. I got a knife from my friend and placed cups of liquid bleach around the cell. When Dude came back, I made it a point to step on the toilet. When he started to complain I confronted him. Before he could get up from the bed I threw the bleach in his face and begin to stab him. I’m not going to lie, I was scared as hell. Not only because the guy outweighed me by fifty pounds, but also because I didn’t plan how it would end. And it was a big relief for me when the guy began to plead for his life. That was the only reason I stopped stabbing him. The good thing about it all was that I didn’t know what I was doing, so none of his injuries was life threatening. But he did eventually tell the cops and they locked me up in the hole, where my negative behavior got worse. When I first got to the hole, the cops put me next to a guy who had mental issues. I mean, the guy would stay up all night long screaming at the top of his lungs. And whenever someone asked him to hold it down, he would curse them out. All of that was fine and dandy with the police. They loved the fact that Dude kept everyone restless. But when he turned on them they set him up to be killed. What happened was, one day at breakfast Dude got upset because there were no eggs on his tray. And when the police wouldn’t give him any, he threw a concoction of piss and shit in an officer’s face. Instead of the officer getting the guy himself, he paid some inmates to do his dirty work. That’s when I realized that everything in prison is not as it seems.

In my mind the police were our common enemy. But here it was, inmates doing the dirty work for some prison cop. I mean, I didn’t like the fact that Dude kept me up during the night. But I would be damned if I let the police manipulate me into doing something to another prisoner. What makes matters even worse is that most of the guys being used by the police are supposed to be stand up guys. So you can only imagine the impression that cast in my mind. But the good thing about it is that I lived through the experience. And I eventually got out of prison.

I was only out for five days before I got framed, convicted and sentenced to death. I know a lot of people reading this would like to know how that transpired. But because I’m going to through an appeal process I don’t think it’s in my best interest to elaborate on my case. What I can say is that the second actual innocent hearing I’ve been given since I’ve been on death row is coming up. And the justice system is not kind to those who try to win their appeals through public opinion. So I’m going to stick with my observations of what’s going on behind the walls. Which I know I could never give a complete description of. But I hope that by writing this letter I can help someone who finds themselves in this position so they can cope with the trials and tribulations that lay ahead. In a lot of respects, Death Row isn’t no different than any other place you have been in life. The only exception being you are mostly dealing with people of the same sex. Whereas if we were on the street, we would have access to our feminine counterparts, who I think present a whole nother perspective on life. So I think a person in this situation should make an effort to build a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, if not for the physical contact, then for the mental stimulation. Because, in my mind, there’s nothing more unnatural than to be around men twenty four seven.

Then there’s the psychological warfare that the prison staff and inmates play with you on a regular basis. Which I think can be counter-balanced by studying books that deal with human nature. For example, history, psychology, anatomy and physiology, etc… subjects like these will help you get a better grasp of what you are dealing with. I can still remember cats would ask me why I read books. After all, I was sentenced to be executed. All I could tell them at the time was, “it makes me feel good.” But as I reflect back on those times, I realize it was much more than just a feeling. My real reason for reading so many books was a need to know. Although I graduated from high school I never got a full understanding of what was taking place in the real world. I had a real superficial understanding of the intricate forces governing my life. So by studying books I got a clearer picture about what’s going on. Doing so helped me to deal with living on Death Row. You will be surprised by how much positive energy you will get from knowledge. It’s something like a sense of freedom. But more like learning to deal with incarceration. I’m always amazed by how energetic I feel on a daily basis. I can’t wait to learn something new. So I hope those who find themselves on Death Row consider what I am saying. And learn to love learning. Otherwise you may find yourself dwelling on being in prison. Don’t get me wrong. Being on Death Row is something that should get your attention. But it’s not something that should occupy your every thought. At least that’s the way I see it. I have seen cats lose their minds because they couldn’t deal with the thought of being locked up. Some have even killed themselves, thinking that they are better off dead. That’s all a part of how prison is designed. Prison is designed to break individual’s spirit and make them feel like something less than human. It’s the same with all institutions of oppression, designed to dominate and control your very existence. And keep you from realizing your true potential. This is one of the things you will learn on your journey through the belly of the beast. So keep your head up and stay strong!

Willie Johnson
#C-35635 1EY51
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Appeal

Admin Note: The following was recently posted on Thomas' Facebook page (Inmates are no longer permitted to have a Facebook page, even though it is not run by the prisoner themselves) and not here at his request, however I have taken it upon myself to also post this here. I am sure there are many friends of Thomas' who do not utilise Facebook and would want to be able to help him in his appeal - Tracey

Well, it has come to this, formally: in June, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals shot down my final state appeal. They did so without comment, without bothering to address a single claim that I made in my writ of habeas corpus. When judges get consistently re-elected running on a "pro-prosecution" platform, this is what happens. Se la vie.

I had prepared for this eventuality, however, by convincing David Dow of the Texas Defender Service to agree to take on my case for the federal courts. Mr. Dow litigates very forcefully, and I was excited that I would finally have an attorney on my side who seemed interested in seeing me survive this ordeal. Those hopes were eviscerated when my federal judge denied Mr. Dow's appointment motion. I have heard several theories on why he did this, but I will leave such decisions for another time and place.

Mr. Dow did agree, however, to continue working on my case for one specific issue, that of "insufficiency of future dangerousness". He feels this issue is very strong for me. There are multiple facets to this argument, but I do not feel it is wise to telegraph my intentions in a broad forum such as this. It is the Office of the Attorney General with whom I contend, and I know for a fact that they have at least one watcher on my "friend" list.

That said, I can tell you that I am in dire need of some help. Between the date of my crime (Dec 2003) and the date of my arrest (Sep 05), I was a free man. I spent most of that time in Mexico, either in Monterrey, or a small town just north of there. According to the state, I am a "remorseless, asexual psychopath", who is so evil that I had to be sentenced to death to keep the other inmates in the Texas prison system safe. I am not joking: this was their argument for sending me to Death Row. One of the several ways of countering this drivel is to get affidavits from the people I had contact with in Mexico. These will show that I did not commit a single illegal act during my time down there, and this may help prove that what happened on December 10th, 2003 was an isolated act.

This seems a simple thing, and I have been telling my attorneys since my arrest to contact those people. Despite this, not a single attorney of mine chose to spend a portion of their fees following up on this. I thought about trying to raise some funds in the past for this purpose, but I always convinced myself that things would work out, one way or another. To be honest, I may have been a little too proud to go about with my hat in my hand. Maybe I was a little too shy. Whatever the reason, I was wrong: that "something" never arrived to save me, and I realized that if I want this thing done, I am going to have to do it myself.

The work that the TDS is going to do for me totals 25 thousand dollars. They have agreed to eat 15 thousand of this with inhouse grants, a very generous offer, considering they are under no obligation to even answer my letters. The remainder – ten thousand dollars - is going to have to be scrounged up by yours truly. These are to be the fees for the investigator. I balked a little, thinking that was excessively pricey, and was told that the problem was really the insurance: Mexico is, for all intents and purposes, being considered a war zone at present, due to the escalating cartel violence. Believe me. I am working on ways to minimize the risk for the investigator, by setting a meeting site in a secure environment. But none of what I may be able to accomplish on this front changes the fact that I do not have anywhere close to the funds I need.

This is a little interesting: most of us would be at a loss, were we forced to place a dollar value on our continued existence. I now know that my life has a concrete value: ten thousand dollars. (The weird thing is, I cannot decide if that is a rip-off or a bargain ... ) I should state that getting this money will not guarantee my survival; it will only give me my best shot, a shot that no one has bothered to take until now. This is my last appeal. I am being told by people who are experienced in these things that I could easily have a date in 2012. I get the picture that this means little to most of my mb6 readers which is why I am not going to post anything about this on that site. But you are supposed to be my "friends" here (whatever that means, in the digital context), so for those of you who would like to see my sentence changed to that of life in prison, I need your help now. This is the last hurrah, and I do not have a lot of time to get this together. I do appreciate all of the nice comments that you guys have left me over the years. They have uplifted me in a way I doubt I could ever put into words. That said, I cannot pay my attorneys with good vibrations. I am now in need of far more tangible forms of support. To that end, if you have a jar of pocket change laying about looking for a home, please consider sending some of it my way. I have no right or expectation to ask this of any of you, but I am pretty sure that if you were in my place, you would be doing exactly the same thing.

If I have reached anyone out there over the years, now is the time to return the favor. I have set up a Paypal account for this end, which you can find by touching on THIS link. If you prefer more old school methods, you can also reach me by mailing to my Dad's PO Box at:

Kent Whitaker
PO Box 2046
Sugar Land, TX 77487-2046

I would greatly appreciate any help in any amount. Really, from the bottom of my cold missing heart: thank you. I will keep you guys updates on this as the weeks go by.

Until then, I’m out

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Better Angels

In Dr Viktor Frankl's exceptional book "Man's Search for Meaning" the author and father of the school of psychanalysis known as "logotherapy" describes the prevalence of a condition known as "delusion of reprieve" amongst his fellow Jewish captives at Auschwitz. A psychiatrist before the war, Frankl was reduced to the status of a simple laborer for much of his internment, but he put his trained and perceptive mind to the study of incarceration in a way that I can only hope to mimic on my best of days. While I in no way can even attempt to equate either my intellect or my situation with that of Dr Frankl, many of the psychological stages that he went through and documented are eerily similar to the ones that I have experienced here at Polunsky. The delusion mentioned above describes the tendency that most men engage in to form some imaginary hopes of immediate succor, shortly before they are executed. This illusion was all too common in Frankl's world, and it is all too common in my own, taking many different forms.

One of the most common seems to be the nearly continuous chatter about the various LEGAL CHALLENGES currently working their ways through the appellate courts that might cause the DP to be ruled a violation of the 8th Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. Another is the idea that a massive and instantaneous public shift will occur when modern science proves innocent men to have been executed. Frankl, too, noticed this capacity in his fellow prisoners, with many greedily snatching up even the most trivial of rumors, and then parading them about as if they were divinely revealed wisdom.

I always feel like central casting has thrust me into the role of playing Scrooge, when conversations turn to these matters. A drowning man does not generally like to be told to "check the source" of the life preserver tossed to him, and I have found that lately fewer and fewer of the men here engage with me in casual conversation. This is, simultaneously, both something of a relief and a source of some sadness. I am too young to feel this old.

But it is hard to avoid the obvious: social progress occurs when a plurality of voters decide that it is morally acceptable to permit this change. The DP will only end when the percentage of people who feel it is immoral for their government to have the right to end the lives of its citizens is greater than those who do not. While I think that the trends are all certainly pointing in the right direction, I feel it must be said that it does not appear that this shift is due to some overriding moral argument. Indeed, I do not feel that one should even bother attempting to use morality when appealing to the American public on an issue of social progress. Maybe in the past, one would have had some ground to stand on when appealing to the better angels of our collective nature, but those days are long, long gone.

Take the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." This policy should have died a violent death years ago, thanks to the supposedly American concept of "citizen equality." It should never have been conceived of at all, seeing as how the power plant of the entire policy ran on the fuel of requiring honorable men and women to live a lie. I cheered the end of this silly doctrine, but my joy was somewhat short-circuited by the results of several surveys on the matter. These showed that the main reason for the public's shift on this subject dealt not with the issue of equality (most are still opposed to gay marriage), but rather with the issue of necessity: when fighting two wars in Islamistan, we should not be turning away any capable volunteers. It was our collective desire for victory (and fear of a potential military draft) that caused the shift, plain and simple. Had these wars not stalled out for so many years, we never would have been forced to open our eyes to a very obvious injustice. It is sort of like the Civil War never happened and Americans still cannot face change without attempting to drop a whole slew of bombs first. If you are having a difficult time drawing a parallel between the Civil War and the modern fight for gay rights, you are very exactly proving my point. We have become blind to the obvious.

Sitting in front of me now are two surveys (Astin, Osegura, Sax, Korn; The American Freshman: Thirty Five Year Trends. Los Angeles: UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, 2002 and Pryor; The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2007. Los Angeles: UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, 2007), which show some rather interesting trends. In these surveys, researchers have questioned first year college students every year since 1969 about their attitudes on various issues. I think the results very clearly illustrate my point here:

- In 1969, 88.1% of women and 82% of men felt that it was "essential" or "very important" to "develop a meaningful philosophy of life." By 2007, the percentages had plummeted to 48.5% of women and 50% of men.

- In 1969, 30.4% of women and 52.3% of men felt that it was "essential" or "very important" to be "very well off financially." By 2007, the percentages had skyrocketed to 73.3% of women and 75.7% of men.

It would appear from the data that the idea of trying to figure out the meaning of our lives (a part of which, one would presume, would deal with the formulation of a code of morality) has taken a back seat to our quest for material wealth. When we do actually go looking for "the point", we tend to quench our existential thirsts on banal posts of 140 characters or less. The American Dream has discovered steroids and Twitter, and is now too busy preening in front of its reflection to care that the world is falling apart at the seams. Or, to mix mythical metaphors, that the entire consume-earn-consume cycle is most perfectly described as Sysyphean; like the unfortunate son of Aeolus, we, too, are stuck into a routine that is nearly inescapable. The difference is we are actively choosing this fate on a daily basis.

So, too, goes the system of capital punishment. The argument has already been made, and made on many fronts, that the root of the support for this sentence stems from a sense of vengeance, not justice. Conservative Christians are the strong and only vocal backbone for this system, despite the fact that the entirety of Jesus of Nazareth's message required the concepts of forgiveness and change to be central features of our value system. (Read John 8). And nevermind, of course, that Christ himself was tried arbitrarily and then executed by the state. I suppose that it is simply asking too much for the followers of Christ to actually read Christ's words, but, then again, they have never been very proficient at this, have they? (“’We regard every man in our midst an enemy to the institutions of the South,' said the Atlanta Confederacy, 'who does not boldly declare that he believes African slavery to be a social, moral, and political blessing, supported fully by God's strictures.’”) Point any of this out to a Christian, and I have found that most tend to scurry back to hide behind the books of the Pentateuch, which pretty much proves that they have never bothered to read the book they claim to be Holy, let alone understand the meanings of the words "new" and "old." Why not say it clearly? Most people profess faith in Christ for the purpose of feeling better about their own mistakes in life. They get the benefit of forgiveness, plus the fellowship and socialization that we all need to be happy. Nevermind actually having to undertake the difficult business of living a moral life, because, after all, forgiveness is easy: it's only a prayer away.

The argument showing that the innocent have been executed has already been proven, and proven on several occasions. The recent case of CLAUDE JONES should have caused an uproar, but it spawned only a number of torpid editorials in the mainstream press, before falling into a roadside ditch to make way for the news that, apparently, Bristol Palin is not a very talented dancer. Need I even say more?

No, these arguments mean nothing, and are not a part of the evolving attitudes against capital punishment. What it boils down to is money, honey: it is just too damned expensive to execute our criminals. (That assumes that we can even make the CHEMICALS REQUIRED.)

Sigh, if only these damned elitist, “activist" judges didn't require any sort of judicial review, we could jus t march these criminals off into a forest and shoot them all In the head. Macht nichts!

As indicated in the survey data above, few people have the time to contemplate issues like this, what with the rat race and the Joneses, and all. The cartoon included at the top of this entry pretty much sums the situation up: people know what is going on here, but they do not care. It doesn't have anything to do with them. They are not connected. Even worse: the subject is worthy only of a small, 4 by 5 inch cartoon, rather than the front-page news that it is, at heart.

I am the last person who should be commenting on any of this. Over the course of my life, I have been a selfish jerk. I have hated extensively, put enough chemicals into my veins and nose and lungs to put an enraged hippopotamus into a coma. I have failed at every moral test put before me, and my failures have accumulated a cost so high that I can never even cover the interest earned on a monthly basis, let alone the principle.

But I have one advantage now, one of position. I am now in a place where I can see things that some of you cannot. True, check the source, but also recognize that even the lowest of us can warn you of a trip line. In fact, the lowest of us may be best able to warn you of this.

It used to piss me off when celebrities would begin to champion a cause only after they became afflicted with it personally: Christopher Reeves taking up the banner of the disabled, starlets talking about breast cancer after a double mastectomy, etc. If the cause were so important, I thought, why didn't they stand up for it before fate put the two of them in hostile apposition? I was too arrogant to see the truth, and, like all the rest of my errors, I am paying for this now. I never knew that the courts worked this way before, or that the prisons should be charged as accomplices whenever a parolee commits another crime. I wasn’t involved; it didn’t touch my life directly. Had I ever come across a site like this, I think I would have failed to "get it."

I am hoping that some of you are better human beings than I was. When was the last time you stood up for something? Really drew a line in the sand and stood by it? There are so many issues facing us as a global people right now, many of them far more pressing than that of capital punishment. Are you feeling a sense of directionlessness? Like life should be worth more than this?

Can I make a suggestion that a lack of a cause is the root of this? I know it was for me. I wish someone had been able to explain to me the necessity of civic participation to a healthy mind; there is no telling what I might have done.

What would it take for you to be one of the few who stands up and makes the statement that the world does not have to be this way? Because it can be better.

This past October, around 500 people marched on the Capital building in Austin to protest the use of executions in Texas. This was the largest crowd ever for this annual event. For the first time, I actually had a representative attend the march, but - and this is the telling point - she had to come all the way from Australia to attend. We used to be a moral lighthouse for the rest of the world. Do you realize how far we have fallen behind? Do you care? When was the last time you stood up for something? Maybe that has been too long. I do not often enjoy being wrong, but I am hoping beyond hope that one of these days, my statement about being unable to make a moral argument to the people of this country will be retracted. I am not holding my breath, though.

The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,

Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the dark

Who have never been happy or good

A Few Final Notes:
- If you purchase one book this holiday season, please consider the one mentioned in this piece, by Dr Viktor Frankl. "Man's Search for Meaning" has two parts, the first being some of his memories of his years surviving in the concentration camps during WWII. The second part is deals with the science of logotherapy, which is a sort of existential analysis. This book will have an impact on all who read it, but especially on those who are interested in learning what exactly goes on inside the mind of an incarcerated person. This is officially the first selection of Thomas's Book Club, and you should be able to find a copy for only a few dollars on Amazon. It is short, and not tilled with complicated terms, and is well worth your time and money.

- I am in the midst of final exams these next few weeks, so please forgive me if this and the next few entries are not up to snuff. I think that some of you forget that I am a full-time student working on a double major, and, unlike in my previous life, I take my studies very seriously now. As soon as my grievance about expanding the day to 28 hours is accepted, I will be able to put a little more effort into this site. Plus, they seem to be really working hard to kill these entries the last few weeks, with several gone missing. Bear with me, please. Thanks.

© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Poetry and Art by Sean A. Reynolds III

The Storm
By Sean “S3” Reynolds

The storm started to form
The leaves began to fall
Clouds of memories blow through my mind.
I know this time
The wind of change is here
The end is near
The love we had slowly disappears
Day turns into an angry night
The stars seem to hold up the lonely sky
Moon began to cry
As it falls through your eye
Remembering wiping the tears from your cheek;
Then silence remains;
Your heart began to rain
Your cry was loud as thunder
The goodbye and pain filled the air
The roses died and went away
The darkness of the night seem to stay
Brokenness, emptiness seems to fill the air
The storm rolled away
The love has ended in an early grave
Can my heart survive another day?


Sean A. Reynolds 797677
JLCC; Housing 3-I-22-U
407971 Hwy 625
Boley, OK 74829

My name is Sean A. Reynolds, III, aka S3 Reynolds or Reynolds. I’m a creative artist. I love to be in a creative state of mind, whether I’m drawing, writing, painting. It does give me great joy.

I was wrongfully convicted and sent to a prison in Oklahoma away from my kids, family, friends. I was dating a beautiful girl I would have liked to marry. But haven’t heard from in some time now. I’m still fighting to prove my innocence in a broken system. I wake up in this nightmare every day. Everyday, I wish I was back at home. This happened all because I was trying to help, but it went wrong - all wrong.

Anyways, I was free all of my life until I was 40. I still love to help people and animals. Will continue to do so!

In the meantime, I’m writing several books. My first book is called “Adam and Eve”. Available soon! And more titles will come soon.

I’m going to school to get my Bachelor’s degree in Theology. Trying to turn a bad thing into a good thing and make the most of the time God gave me. Also working on a webpage for me, but for my latest and updates, please leave a message or write to me, directly at the above address. I’m humble, grateful for all your prayers, support, love and friendship, while I go through this dark stage of my life.

I have been drawing, writing or doing something creative ever since I can remember. Art, music are some of my passions, as is my love for animals. In fact for all living things.

To leave you with a final thought, I once said “A guilty man will find comfort behind the walls, and an innocent man finds torture behind the walls.”

Please continue to pray for me, my family and thank you all for your love, friendship and support.
May God (Our Heavenly Father) bless you with grace, peace, love, joy and mercy through our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

God Bless.
Thank you! Sincerely
Sean A. Reynolds III