Thursday, April 28, 2011

DeathWatch Journal for Lee Taylor – 50 days to live

Unrealized Potential
by Robert Pruett #999411

Over the past few years I’ve come to truly appreciate the simple things in life like the sunset. It astonishes me that I’m made up of the same substance as that magnificent ball of fire which has been powering our planet for billions of years.

The only place on death row the sunset can be seen is on F-pod, the disciplinary wing. I was on F-pod last month when word came that Lee “Tiny” Taylor, who was just three cells down from me at the time, had been given an execution day. He was to be moved to “death watch”, on A-pod, that afternoon. Tiny respectfully asked to be left on F-pod so he could watch one last sunset with me, He knew that his only view on death watch would be another cell block and that it would only be a couple of hours before the sun would set. Tiny’s request was denied so he refused to move of his own volition.

When I first met Tiny back in 2003 I was struck by the many parallels between our lives. We’re both the same age (he’s nine months older), we come from the same neighborhood on the east side of Houston (Channelview), our dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families closely resemble one another and even though we never met in the free world we ran with the same caliber of people: thieves, drug dealers and street hustlers. We’ve been with the same girl, Amy Perry, and made enemies with the same guy, Charlie Morgan. Sadly, the greatest parallel connecting us is that we were both certified as adults in 1995. At the ripe old age of sixteen we were both thrown into the TDCJ for the rest of our lives. It follows that Tiny quickly became one of my closest friends in life.

A couple of months ago a friend from out old neighborhood visited me. As she told me about her life now, how the dope dealers still own the streets, and that violence and crime are still rampant, I kept thinking: Tiny and I never stood a chance. Almost everyone I asked about from the past is either in prison, out on parole or dead.

Later, I thought a lot about human behavior and what shapes and forms our personalities. Regardless which side of the fence you stand on in the nature versus nurture debate, or even if you are like me and think we’re subject to a combination of both, you’d probably agree that many factors influence our development. Tiny and I were raised in the tough streets of Houston by ill-equipped parents. Food was scarce so we stole to eat. Drugs were aplenty so we used them to alleviate the stress of home life. Our role models were the best thieves and biggest dope dealers. In essence, we were conditioned to be criminals.

In my opinion, it takes a strong-willed and determined individual to overcome the obstacles Tiny and I faced growing up. Obviously, we both failed. Still the question begs to be asked: could we have learned to overcome those obstacles one day? The story of little Alex in A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. As a youth he was a violent criminal who was put through an unethical government program to “correct” his behavior. The government program did not work. Alex later grew out of his juvenile delinquent behavior on his own. How many times have you heard someone refer to their “wild youth”? For most people there seems to be a natural progression that lets them put their wildness behind them as they get older. Tiny and I never had that opportunity.

Think about it this way. In most states you have to be at least sixteen years old to drive a car, eighteen to smoke a cigarette and twenty-one to drink a beer. There’s a curfew for those who are seventeen and under in most cities. Car insurance companies decrease their rates as their client’s age. What’s the reason for all of this? Obviously with age comes maturity and, hopefully, responsibility. Somehow our politicians have lost sight of this in their rush to curb juvenile crime. In Texas you can get a life sentence at age fourteen and be thrown into the penitentiary with the most violent of criminals.

Tiny and I were cheated of our youth. Politicians who don't give a fuck tossed us into prison at age sixteen and baptized us by fire inside the dangerous, and often deadly, walls of the Texas prison system. Unless something happens to one of their kids, these politicians just don't give a fuck. Problem is, their kids live sheltered lives in gates communities. Their kids don't face the hurdles kids like Tiny and I did, and when they do find themselves in trouble, no matter how serious the crime, daddy is there to grease the judge’s hand.

A five-man extraction team was suited up to move tiny to death watch, where he’s await his June 16th execution date. Watching my friend and brother being carried off of F-pod and denied one last sunset shook me to my core. Tiny wasn’t aggressive or violent. He simply refused to walk. He made the guards carry him.

The truth is, we’ve grown up a lot together. Five years ago officers would have been hurt as a result of how they treated Tiny. Sadly, very few people care about our maturation. What matters to most if that we be put to death for the actions of our youth, regardless of the mitigating and extenuating circumstances surrounding our past. Hopefully one day our society will wake up and find better alternatives to combating juvenile crime than simply throwing us away.

Robert Pruett #999411
Death Row, Texas.

© Copyright 2011 by Robert Pruett and Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Wilderness of Mirrors

"You ever feel like un ratoncito on one of those little wheels, doing this everyday?"

"Trust me, cabron, this is not the only time I ever feel like a mouse during an average day," I replied, trying to conserve my breath. My friend Prieto, currently running laps in the adjoining rec cage, was panting heavily. The humid air was having its way with both of us, so thick it felt like we were trying to choke down glue. He certainly wasn’t wrong about the mouse bit, though: running in tiny circles has often reminded me of bug-eyed rodentia and brightly colored plastic wheels. Save, whenever I would pass the pet store in the mall and pause to watch the little critters at play, they always seemed to be abandoning themselves to a singular pleasure. Pounding the cement in the stultifying humidity of a Texas Spring seemed far more akin to self-castigation. I wanted to ask him if it was supposed to be 90 freaking degrees this early in the year, but the effort seemed too great for rhetorical questions, so I choked down my words and tried to simply lose track of myself for sixty minutes.

THE COURT: Sheriff, I understand that we've received word from I the jury that they've reached a verdict.

BAILIFF: Yes, sir, they have announced a verdict.

THE COURT: Okay. Bring them in.

(Jury in)

THE COURT: Be seated, please. Ladies and gentlemen, have you reached a verdict?

PRESIDING JUROR: Yes, Your Honor, we have.

BAILIFF: Defendant, please rise.

The sound of the rec yard doors popping open caused me to crack my eyes. Two gray-clad officers quickly stepped outside, smirking at me where I lay prostrate on the concrete in the shade, visibly spent.

"Hey, Whitaker, you gots an attorney visit."

Perfect. I was stripped down to my boxer shorts, soaking in sweat, and thanks to the ridiculous new razor policy I had not been allowed to shave in four days. In short, I looked like I had just crawled out from underneath a bridge, and now I was going to have to sit across from the man who's job it was to save my life. Anyone who tells you that personal appearances don't matter in this game is living in a fantasy world.

"Alright, alright, I’m coming," I grumbled as I stripped naked for the customary and mandatory search when exiting the yards.

"I have to go to my cell first, though, for my legal stuff."

And a quick bird bath, I thought, though I kept this part to myself, lest they change their minds about allowing me the detour.

Some inmates here seem to enjoy taking forever to prepare for a visit. They think it empowers them somehow, to make two officers wait on them while they comb their hair excessively or brush their teeth. They have to know that other inmates are waiting on this same pair of lawmen to take them to or from visitation or medical, but this does not seem to matter much. I keep hoping to see some form of unit cohesion amongst the men here, but this hope is forever being sold 80 dollar bags of oregano in dark alleys. As quickly as I could manage, I wiped myself clean with my towel, put on a fresh t-shirt, rubbed on some deodorant, and brushed my teeth. I gathered my "jump-kit" of legal supplies that I keep ready for surprise visits, and on the way to the door rubbed one of those cologne samples that come attached to advertisements in magazines. Your guest can’t smell you through the glass, of course, but I have always felt it vital to maintain certain levels of personal hygiene, even if no one can notice. It's silly, I know. But you become an animal back here much quicker than you realize.

THE COURT: Let the record reflect that we're here in Cause No. 42,969, the State of Texas versus Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. The jury is present. The State is present. The Defendant is present in person and with counsel. I've received the Court's charge on punishments from the jury. I will read the jury's answers.

Issue No.1, "Do you find from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a probability that the Defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society?"

Answer: "Yes."

BAM! BAM! The back entrance into the visitation wing of 1-Building is like all the rest of the doors here in the Chateau D'If, err, Polunsky Unit - solid steel. In order to get the attention of the officer working within, one must formally announce oneself by banging on the door politely or forcefully, depending upon the attitudes and mood of the day. Today was obviously one of the latter sort for this escort team. Eventually, one will be granted access, though it can take awhile on busy days. The solid wall of frigid air that assaults you upon entering 1-Building is one of the best moments of my month; it almost feels like someone is running their fingers lightly over your cheek. A Penal Categorical Imperative: Wheresoever one finds the offices of thy warden, so too ye shall find one kickass AC system.

Issue No.2: "Do you find from the evidence beyond a reasonable I doubt that the Defendant actually caused the death of the deceased, or did not actually cause the death of the deceased, but intended to kill the deceased or another, or, anticipated that a human life would be taken? You are instructed that in answering this issue, only the conduct of the Defendant can be considered, and that the instructions pertaining to the law of parties heretofore given you cannot now be considered in answering this issue."

Answer: "Yes."

Attorney visits are conducted in a separate series of cages from regular visits, (supposedly) designed with phones which cannot be monitored by the Authorities. I was happy to finally be able to have a chit-chat with my attorney, as the filing deadline for my final appeal was fast approaching and we had yet to have a substantial conversation about anything. As the penultimate doorway parted before me, I steeled myself for the experience.

Instead, I found two young adults staring at me through the glass. I turned quickly to the officers. "Uh, I'm Whitaker. Are you sure you are putting me in the right, place?"

The gendarme quickly checked the paperwork and confirmed that I was meeting the right· people, so I simply shrugged and entered the cubicle. As the door was sealed behind me and my cuffs removed, I studied the pair sitting across from me.

The two were in their mid-20's, with the male appearing to be slightly younger than the female. He looked crisp and clean and polite, wearing a nice button-down shirt and jeans; she was pretty and blonde, a combination which would have probably caused her no small amount of hassle had I met her in a bar before all of this. A feeling of vertigo assailed me as I pondered the gap that separated us now, but I was able to quickly brush this aside, regaining control. I smiled as I picked up the phone and wiped it clean with my hand towel.

Issue No.3: Do you find from the evidence, taking into consideration all of the evidence, including the circumstances of the offense, the Defendant's character and background, and the personal moral culpability of the Defendant, that there is a sufficient mitigating circumstance or circumstances to warrant that a life ... that is, that a sentence of life imprisonment, rather than a death sentence be imposed? You are instructed that in answering this issue, you shall answer the issue yes or no. You may not answer the issue no unless the jury unanimously agrees, and you may not answer yes unless ten or more jurors agree. The jury need not agree on what particular evidence supports an affirmative finding on this issue. The jury shall consider mitigating evidence to be evidence that a juror might regard as reducing the Defendant's moral blameworthiness."

Answer: "No."

He spoke first.

"Mr. Whitaker, my name is Michael and this is Christine, and we are law students with the TDS." (Names altered to protect real identities.)

Ah. I had heard that on occasion, students in Dr Dow's classes at the University of Houston would come up here to Livingston to get their first Death Row Experience. Hearing this made me feel suddenly very old. These two were law students? They didn’t look old enough to be allowed to see an R-rated movie without parental consent. Just looking at them felt like taking a swan dive into a pure mountain spring, like they had never in all their lives wanted to punch someone in the face or have sex in the cramped back seat of someone's SUV. I felt ... parental. Protective. Gods help me, but I felt like a tour guide.

"We, the jury, having answered the foregoing issues, return the same into the court as our verdict," and it's signed Presiding Juror.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is this a unanimous verdict?


THE COURT: If so, I would like to see each of you raise your right hands to indicate that this is your verdict.

(all hands raised)

THE COURT: Let the record reflect that all hands have been raised.

It became pretty obvious that Dr Dow suffered no fools in his program. These two were bright, intuitive. They had never been to Death Row before, and this was likely to be their only trip. They were to see me and one other inmate, a man I knew to be a bit of a troublemaker. It occurred to me that the mental snapshots they took of me today would likely stand in as a template for all future thought of Death Row prisoners, and this made me sit up straighter, correcting my posture. I tried very hard to put them at ease, and in the process, I found an ease that usually eludes me. They were contagious; they smiled, and I smiled. How quickly one forgets what real human interaction feels like!

THE COURT: Thomas Bartlett Whitaker, before I formally pronounce any sentence as required by law in this case, let me inform you that under Texas law, specifically under the provisions of Article 37.07(1) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the judgment of conviction and the sentence of death that is mandated by the verdict of the jury shall be subject to automatic review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Under the provisions of law, that automatic review and appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals shall be in accordance with their mandate as far as the transcript, the statement of facts being prepared, assembled and certified by the Court and to them for their attention, the brief submitted by counsel, and any argument that they may wish to entertain in connection with their determination as to the propriety of the proceedings that have transpired here during this trial. Such review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is mandated by Texas law, and that appeal has priority over other cases that are heard in accordance with the local rules prescribed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. You need to be informed of that right to appeal, that mandatory right of appeal.

Christine made the mistake of referring to some pattern of thinking as "Tolstoyan," and the conversation took a very large detour. It is not an average day for me, when I can talk about Doestoevsky or Bonhoeffer or Jorge Luis Borges and have the other person actually participate in the conversation, rather than looking at me as if I had just crawled up out of a hole in the ground. When Michael bridged a logical gap and referred to the Oresteia, I nearly cried. I don’t guess one really needs intellectual sustenance in order to survive, but the gap between survival and really living spans a distance beyond my ability with words to describe.

THE COURT: Let me also tell you that you are entitled to court appointed counsel to represent you during the mandatory appeal process. You may hire your own attorney - in other words, you may retain a lawyer to represent you, if you wish to do so. If, however, you wish for a court-appointed counsel, or if you do not retain a lawyer to represent you, then I will appoint an attorney to represent you for this appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on the judgment and sentence of this court. You do not have to make that decision right now. I'll explain to you later on the manner, and method for giving me notice of request for court-appointed counsel, if you wish to do that.

Do you understand the rights that I've explained to you as far as your mandatory appeal?


We talked about my blog, of course, and I admitted that I was mostly embarrassed by the things that I have written. I always felt I had good intentions for the thing, but somehow it never seemed to produce the effects that I had hoped for. Christine correctly surmised that it helped me to meet a need to try to change the world for the better. She was more right that she knew: so much of what I do these days can be described as me attempting not to go quietly into that good night.

I am not normally a big talker. I prefer to sit back and listen to people, to see how they think. But somehow the desire to help them relax melded with my intention to be the best example I could be of a positive-thinking Death Row offender. Topping that confused jumble of emotions was some sort of sophomoric high I got from intellectual overstimulation, and suddenly I had a very nearly chronic case of verbal diarrhea. I talked about my schooling, and how I had found a university willing to allow me to work on my Masters degree there next year, and maybe even my PhD, if my grades were exemplary. I talked about ethics and crime and life in hell. I talked and talked and talked, and then I shifted in my seat and caught sight of my reflection in the window, and instantly the rug was pulled out from beneath my feet.

THE COURT: Understanding that there's a mandatory appeal and understanding that any formal pronouncing of sentence by this Court today will not include a date set for execution, the Court will, however, inquire so that I can enter a judgment and sentence that will be subject to appeal and be the subject of their review and should be a part of the record in this case, if, on behalf of the State of Texas, is there anything you wish to say before this Court proceeds with the pronouncement of sentence?

MR FELCMAN: No, sir.

What was this? I was acting like a puppy, eager to please, dying to engage, reaching, reaching, grasping for their light. Their approval. Their acceptance. It only took a second to reach this conclusion, but once I got there I settled back into my chair, and let them guide the conversation. I think they noticed this, but I can’t be certain. If it is true what the novelists write about, then I imagine that a certain light had left my eyes. I was present, cordial, but I couldn’t really take my eyes off of my reflection in the glass, superimposed on top of the two of them, so alike, so eternally divided.

Is it true? Is that what all of this is about? The six to eight hours a day I spend on my classes? The articles I slave over, the letters, the §1983's; is it all just a misguided attempt to climb my way back into the world that these two inhabit? I once looked like them, and now I do not. They speak kindly to me, but surely they are not under any illusions about the distance between us. Surely, I must be a joke to them, a simulacra wanting to be real, the dream of every puppet. That glass is less than an inch thick, but it represents a divide I can never cross.

THE COURT: Mr. Whitaker, before I pronounce any sentence, is there anything that you wish to say to this Court before I pronounce sentence?


How many times have I said it? In letters, in articles: I do not believe in the redemption of prisoners in the eyes of American society. It doesn't happen. We are not a people who believe in forgiveness, no matter what the tired priests say. Me: "There is no reviction in the skies, only in the human heart." More Me: “… if you attempt to express in a public forum your regret and shame and sorrow over the choices that put you back here, make sure that you understand up front that you are going to convince and please precisely no one." I say these things all the time. "Hope is the product of a weak mind." "There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn." Ooh, look at me, look at how post-modern I am, how smug, how comfortable in my blanket of ennui, my grimness. How fucking existentialist of me! I can quote Camus as he was talking about Sisyphus; aren’t I marvelous? Now give me a gold star, please.

Look how I got tired of saying "guard” and "officer” and so tossed “'gendarme" in to the mix for the hell of it; see how I used "categorical imperative” there to prove that I've read Kant? Now, please, pat me on the head, notice me, tell me things are going to be ok, that the twistedacidpollutedwreck of my world is not truly fatal, that I am not really just a ghost floating over my mangled body being looked at by EMT's. Please. Anybody. Redeem me. Please.

THE COURT: All right. Then, understanding that there will be a mandatory appeal, and understanding that, although the Court formally pronounces sentence today, that I will not set a specific date for execution until such time as the appeal is determined and reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the appropriate directive has been returned back to this court with any directive that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals may have, do you have any legal reason you wish to offer as to why the Court should not formally pronounce sentence?


Michael was talking about IAC claims and I was nodding, but what I wanted to do - what I needed to do - was stop him midsentence and retract every single self-glorifying thing I ever said about myself, yank it all back onto my side of the divide and dump it all in a pit and pour acid on it and then bury it, both in physicality and in memory. I wanted to tell them that I had been looking at Death Row in the same way I had once been advised about bear attacks: you don’t have to be faster than the bear, my guide told me, you just have to be faster than the guy running next to you. I'm faster than most here, but I suddenly, truly realized that there were twenty bears for each of us, a hundred, a million. In that minute, I realized for the first time in my life that there really is no redemption anywhere, and there never has been any.

THE COURT: All right. Then, in Cause No. 42,969, the State of Texas versus Thomas Bartlett Whitaker, upon the verdicts received by the Court from the jury, rendered unanimously by the jury in this cause, that is the verdict of the jury unanimously finding that you are guilty of the offense of capital murder, as charged by the State in the indictment in this case, and their verdicts answering Special Issue no. 1 unanimously yes, answering Special issue No. 2 unanimously yes, and answering Special Issue No. 3 unanimously no, in accordance with the provisions of law as promulgated by the Texas legislature and signed into law by the Governor of the State of Texas, the Court does at this time, upon these verdicts, determine, as a matter of law, the judgment of this Court-to be that you are and the judgment is that you are guilty of the offense of capital murder; as charged by the State of Texas in the indictment in this cause, and that you be punished in accordance with the rules of Texas law; that is, that you be sentenced to death.

I wanted to tell them about the worst parts of me, the parts I do not show to anyone. I wanted to describe the walls that I put up between myself and other people, because in my heart I am terrified of ·anyone seeing who I· am, how stupid, how ignoble, how utterly petty I can be. About how when family and friends write "I love you" at the end of their letters, the thought that comes quickest to my mind is not “ I love you, too," but rather, "why?" I wanted to confess that the entire edifice of erudition I had so proudly constructed before them was really just cardboard, and the rain clouds were gathering. It's all just a defense mechanism, and it defends me from having to see myself in a wilderness of mirrors that wont leave me be. About how when I wake up at 4:30AM every morning to meditate, sometimes I don’t concentrate on my breathing, but rather on my heartbeat. How I follow it around my body, pulsing, throbbing, sustaining me. Beat. Beat. Beat. How sometimes I focus every ounce of my energy on just one thought: stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. You. Son. Of. A. Bitch. Damn. You. Stop. Wasting. My. Fucking. Time. And. Just. Quit. Already. STOP. But it never does, and I am left feeling very, very alone and unsure about where I am supposed to go from here.

THE COURT: Under the provisions of Texas law, the sentence of death in Texas at this time is execution by means of lethal injection. You will at this time be remanded to the custody of the Sheriff of Fort Bend County to be transported to the appropriate Texas Department of Criminal Justice division, to be held in accordance with the law until the appeal is determined by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and sent back to this Court, and, if the mandate and judgment and sentence is affirmed, for the Court to set a date for execution to execute the sentence of death as pronounced by this Court. Sentence is in this matter formally pronounced. I am supposed to state that it is this Courts wish that God might have mercy on your soul, but it is my personal wish that I sincerely hope that He does not.

Sheriff, you may take him away.

(Defendant taken out of courtroom in chains)

I am good at picking up the pieces. I can admit that without immodesty. Michael and Christine were saying their goodbyes, off to meet their next client. I was thanking them for coming, for believing in us, for dedicating their lives to trying to push this backwards-ass nation towards a more balanced concept of justice, but what I was really thinking was that they needed to get as far from here as possible, before the poison of this place could find a way inside their good natures and turn them into the same jaded assholes I see every day in the attorney booths.

They will probably never think of me again, but I would have died for them in that instant, if it meant they did not have to become infected with the Death Penalty Blues. As they walked out of the cubicle, I wondered if there would be anything left of me worth saving by the time they got around to putting a needle in my arm.

THE COURT: You all may be seated. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, at this time, your duty as jurors is complete. At the beginning of this trial, I placed you under a number of instructions; that is, that you were not to discuss this case with anyone, even amongst yourselves, unless all 12 of you were in the jury room and deliberating on this case. I'm now going to release you from those instructions and obligations. You are now free to discuss this case with anyone that you wish. I’m now going to release you; however, I’m going to ask you to step back into the jury room for just a few minutes while I come back there and thank each of you individually. There will also be pastries and punch for all comers. This court is adjourned.

So, what now? Is an epiphany really a revelation if it changes nothing? The universe is the same today as it was yesterday. The same logic applies, the same conclusions hold true. The same lies continue being lies. Only a very minor Thomas-centric escape clause is missing, and in the grand scheme of things that is a pretty microscopic thing: the concept of a personal redemption through hard work and dedication. I cant kick myself too hard for taking this long to put this idea to rest; the idea of needing a redeemer (kinsman or otherwise) is a very old one, and was quite nailed into my head since my early days of Sunday school. It shouldn’t be such a tough thing to lose, but I think on some level most people want to be saved from how they suspect the universe really works.

I will still do the same things I did yesterday, still look at the world through the same relentless lenses. Only a little less ego will be involved, a little less deus ex whatever. When you truly give up on yourself, other people seem far more important, and that is a good thing. I have said for years that life really was all about helping each other get through this thing, and I guess I believed it, but there was always a little clause in there that went unstated: sure, but take of yourself first. I am sure my neighbors wont mind it if I paid a little more attention to them. I doubt any of you will mind me being a little less arrogant, even if that arrogance was mostly a sham. I will always wish that I could undo or fix the wrongs I have caused. Or even better, to explain what happened without hurting too many other people. I guess I am just finally coming to terms with the fact that this is a feat I will never be able to manage.

Some light reading: Sometimes I wish I were a LIZARD.

© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

Friday, April 15, 2011

DeathWatch Journal for Lee Taylor – 63 days to live

Entry #3


Greetings and Special Regards,

I was sitting here contemplating what to write about for this installment of my aimless babble, when I realized, as my days continue to dwindle, the most important thing is friends! Indeed friends who have drifted away over the years bear mention, too...

But first, thank you for your words of support! The first article I wrote generated a lot of well wishing. Again, thank you for your letters! Sadly, my blog was removed for a little while. I apologize for the delay; I didn’t think to consult with my attorney and he feared that I might compromise my existing appeal with my words. He contacted my wife who in turn requested that the blog be removed until we conferred. I've made the concession to not write about my case, or appeal for the time being. However: as I find writing this blog to be extremely therapeutic and refreshing, I want to continue writing! Normally I find music my escape from this place. But because I am on Level 2, with next to no property or radio, I guess I will find my joy in writing. And thank you the reader for reading.

Now, back to my article. Truly it does feel good to write. *smiles* My best friend, the person that knows me like no other human ever has; the woman that shares my dreams - indeed, who shares my very soul - is my beautiful wife! How we make each other laugh! She knows me, knows my very core. What started as a friendship became so much more. For people out there who don’t believe in "prison romance" I would say that, yes, these things usually end in disaster. However, love is a very strange force. A force that no matter how "we” humans .try to control it, it still remains the essence of our existence. We've been married four years now. Looking into the blue eyes of my best friend the day I asked her to be my life partner was the greatest single moment of this life. That spiritual, emotional and mental enlightenment all began with a "hello" and the introduction of a willingness to understand another person. So I would caution people to never let your half-formed ideologies prevent you from saying “hello" to someone you may find beneath you, as you never truly know who that person is or what experiences they have had. We never know who could impact our lives, for good or worse, but to shun the possibility of good is to fear life itself.

Over the years I look back to see many people who reached out to become my friend. Sadly I missed out on a lot of "what could have been" exchanges. Depression was one main reason. As I was afraid to care about someone. If you write someone in prison or in a difficult situation, don’t give up on them. When it seems that they are giving up on you, know that, really they are giving up on themselves. So many people over the years have written to me, but once I became aware I "felt" for that person, I would withdraw. Many friendships, budding as though they were beautiful flowers, died because I was scared to water them. If someone who has written me in the past reads this - I am sorry!

Last week I met a woman I've known for six years. She wrote to me all that time ago, just a simple Christmas card. I wrote her and thanked her. As her English is not great, her husband became my friend too, because over the years he would be the person reading my letters. Even so, his English was only slightly better. However, this man became my brother. He has helped me greatly in dealing with depression. Why? Well he is paralyzed from the waist down. Oh, but he LIVES life! He is always smiling, always laughing, and you can see light in his eyes! He is so active, he does not let his situation prevent him from enjoying life. He even has modified motorcycles; the man lives life to the fullest. He's my friend, and he gives me inspiration. I've never met this man, but even through broken language barriers, we’ve found friendship.

I have so many other friends, too. With each friendship we share ourselves. I've come to realize that friendship is about sharing. When we meet someone, we tap one another for "like" experiences. Because similar experiences help to create a link or bond. But ultimately I believe we have a natural mechanism wired into subconsciousness to explore new experiences. Indeed, is not the whole human life comprised of life’s experiences? Because of our social lot in life: our geographical restraints, it is impossible to experience everything in life. Does a child in New York City experience childhood on par with that of an African boy? Does a poor newlywed woman experience her wedding in the same way as a "well-to-do" lady? No. However, through friendship, we share ourselves - our experiences. Be it "good" or "bad", by sharing we learn. Indeed, not only do we learn, but we also teach, through wisdom: knowledge, etc.

And through all of these shared experiences among friends, we are enlightened and molded into the people we are. However, knowing this vast store of knowledge is out there, you still have to choose to seize it. If you choose to shun people because of ideologies that dictate you to disassociate, you could be selling yourself short. Yet by being open-minded, the worlds knowledge is infinite to you, So reach out and learn something new, and in turn share a little of yourselves. The things you have gone through in life are important to someone.

Thank you for reading! And to all my friends who've taught me so much: Thank you, I love you for helping me become the man I am! *smiles*


© Copyright 2011 by Lee Taylor and Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

(Slightly More) Power to the People

(Authors note: As has been the case with several other recent articles, the first version of the present offering was stolen by the career bureaucrats in the Polunsky Unit Mailroom, namely Lord Inquisitor Ofelia S Olvany (in charge of mailroom operations) and Patricia M Smith (one of the policy enforcers). They actually admit to the THEFT this time around the Merry-go-round, which I suppose is an actual improvement over the normal policy of simply tossing my material in the trashcan and claiming that the United States Postal Service is at fault. Onward with my nefarious "criminal schemes!" At some point, you ladies are going to realize that you can't beat me at this game, right? Right? Sigh. -TBW)

I have a treat today for all of you do-it-yourself types. Before I inflict another set of poorly-drawn, even more poorly conceived technical schemata on you, a brief disclaimer and explanation is perhaps in order.

Everybody has a "hustle" in prison, something that helps put Ramen noodle packets on the table. Knowing this, I have always been very careful about restraining myself from mentioning how certain items discussed on this site are made. My SPEAKERS are a perfect example: though I think I make a pretty good noise box, I am not the only such manufacture of this item here. I have no wish to increase the misery of anyone behind bars by popularizing the secrets worked out by some of us, and thus possibly removing a man's trade and livelihood. That said, when I personally invent something, such as my RIBBON FLIPPING TECHNIQUE or my YOGURT, I feel that this is my secret to share if I choose to. This applies to today's entry, where I will explain how to make a 3-hole multi-outlet out of common, in-cell items. This is my design, and I share it in the hopes that those of you who write inmates within the TDCJ will find this information useful enough to pass along. This item is not going to drastically alter anyone’s standard of living, but being able to keep ones fan plugged in during the sweltering Texas summers while typing and listening to the radio is a bit of a boon.

Now, for the disclaimer: this item is contraband, and will be taken if detected. In addition, the fabrication of this unit will require items which are also contraband, so if you get busted with this, you are on your own. It is a small item, though, and if you cant figure out how to hide something of these dimensions, you probably ought to go ahead and turn in your convict card. At any rate, enjoy!

Comrade Thomas' Ad-Seg Multi-Outlet

First, some photos of the finished product:

To build your own, you will need the following items:

  • 1 packet of Crescent art boards ($4.00 for two at current prices)
  • 1 aluminum soda can
  • 1 piece aesthetically pleasing magazine paper, for cover
  • glue
  • tape ( I prefer packing tape, but use whatever you can get)
  • razor blade
  • 1 regulation red "onion-style" property bag
To begin, you are going to need to cut out the following forms from a piece of art board:


Then, you will need to cut out the following pieces from an aluminum soda can:


Note: Soda cans are actually very easy to work with. You don't even really need a blade to cut them, if you don’t have one handy. Simply press the nub of a pen down into the can and lay a track. Then flex the can along the indention to snap the can. I usually remove the tops and bottoms of the can first, which leaves you with a nice, rectangular sheet of metal to work with. If you are careful and precise with your measurements, you will be able to get both side plates and both prongs out of a single can. Straight edges can be easily produced by merely folding the aluminum back and forth a few times, which causes it to split perfectly. Don’t cut yourself, though I think it would actually be pretty difficult to manage that even if you wanted to.

Once you have the aluminum pieces cut to size, you will need to prepare them for use. All soda cans have a sort of waxy coating bound to the metal, which prevents conductivity. To remove this, simply use a razor blade to scrape the surface of both sides of each piece. Make sure you take your time and do this well, because if you leave even the thinnest patina of coating in place, the entire project is going to be a waste of time, and you will probably sit there for an hour like a dumbass trying to figure out why metal suddenly decided it did not want to obey the laws of physics. Not that I did that. It was more like two hours.

When you have finished with this, take the two aluminum side plates and fold each along the long axis, as indicated in the previous drawing. Set these aside. Building the prongs is the most difficult portion of the outlet, and you may have to attempt them a few times before you get the hang of it. Basically, all you are doing is folding the metal end over end, until it is converted from a sheet into a solid, thin strip. I usually fold mine 7 or 8 times, but it doesn’t really matter so long as the total width of each prong is not greater than 5mm. Wall sockets tend to vary a little in dimensions, so making the perfect fit is going to require you to customize the exact procedure here, so that the outlet fits snugly into the wall. The following diagram should make the prong folding process a bit clearer:


All the pieces are now ready for assembly! To begin, select seven (of the original nine) main board pieces, and sandwich them together, like this:


Now, take the two aluminum plate pieces, and press them against the boards. To continue the sandwich analogy, the Crescent art boards are slices of smoked turkey (mmm...), and the aluminum plates are slices of artisinal multi-grain bread. (Damnit, now I have gone and made myself hungry.) It should look something like this:


To hold the core and the aluminum plates together, we next apply the wraps. I always begin with the bottom wrap, and build up from there. I recommend this tactic, as it will help you make sure that the holes for the prongs are large enough to accommodate all sorts of appliances. To attach the bottom wrap to the core, first touch a dab of glue to the center of the wrap, and then lay it across the core. Once this is in place, you will need to use some twine to secure it. I use strands cut out of the TDCJ property bags, shown here:

Once the bottom wrap is fixed in place, it should look something like this:


After the bottom wrap is in place; the rest is simple: in sequence, apply one "square" piece directly above the wrap with glue. Above this, attach a regular wrap in the same fashion as the bottom one. Then another square, etc, until you have the following configuration:


Note that the gap between the two top wraps is left open; this is where we will attach the prongs. I use four or five pieces of twine attached end to end for this. Once attached, the outlet should look something like the following photos:

The green pieces .are the back sides of the art boards. The red is the twine. The silver is the aluminum plates showing through. In some of these photos you can see where an appliance is inserted.

For the next step, take the last two main boards and affix them to the core, using tape, as seen here:

The final step involves making a cover, so that you wont accidentally shock yourself every time you plug something in. Unless you are into that, I guess. I use magazine paper for this, coating it in a few strips of packing tape for durability and moisture protection. The cover measures somewhere in the neighborhood of 120mm by 125mm. It is a snap to then measure out the holes for the prongs and the plugs. I use a template for this, such as you can see here:


That’s it! As you can see, it works exactly as it should when assembled correctly:

By way of getting in a cheap shot, let me close with a quick point: the current budget woes are going to mean the elimination of a virtually all "programs" within the TDCJ. Texas has never been known as a progressive place, so there were not exactly a lot of these before confronting Perry's mess. Pretty much all of the ones that did exist are now on the chopping block: Project RIO (designed to re-integrate prisoners into the job market so that they don’t go back to old ways), the chaplaincy (which was worthless anyways - good riddance), breakfast on weekends, and most notably, the Windham School District, which handles all GED and vocational training courses in the entire system. There is no money, you claim, for anything. Yet, you keep me in a cell all day, twiddling my thumbs. I built a fully-functional electrical appliance out of practically nothing. Why on earth don’t you put me to some use? I could pay for the costs of my imprisonment easily if you put me in a machine shop or set me to installing solar panels on the roofs of these buildings. It is difficult to believe all of the end-times talk coming out of Austin when these prisons are run so inefficiently. Why don’t you run them like socially-oriented business? That’s what you love so much, isn't it, Governor-for-life Perry? Don’t you believe that Big Business is the answer to every question? Let me actually work to repay the society I harmed. I am willing. Obviously, I am capable. Beyond all of that, I am waiting.

© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In Response to 'An East Texas Redneck '

Dear Mr. Darrell Rose, resident of Huntsville, TX,

Good day to you, sir. I recently read with some interest your OP-ED piece in the Huntsville Item newspaper (date unknown). I am not a subscriber to this fine paper, but the article elicited such a pronounced and vitriolic response from my neighbors that it was eventually passed on to me for evaluation. I am, I suppose, sadly, the closest thing to what passes for an intellectual around this cesspool, so it fell to me to organize a response to your position. This I intend to do, and I will attempt to remain as respectful as possible, as I am of the sort that believes civil society functions only through civil discourse. Call me old fashioned. I will readily admit that I have the tendency to stray into the realms of the sarcastic when I debate, though I will try mightily to rein in this impulse.

Before touching on the specific proposals you mention in your piece, let us establish a few facts which are pertinent to your political position. I do this solely because you mention said position explicitly in your first paragraph, and I am not one to allow certain terminology to escape a semantic evaluation; indeed, the older I get, the more I realize the importance of how we define the words and concepts we use and believe in. Given that you are a self-professed " redneck" and Tea Party supporter, I know you will be tempted to brand me as some species of "European style-secular-socialist" simply because I do not agree with your positions. It would be very easy for me to conversely slap you with the label of a "Jesus-flavored neofascist" (or some thing of the type), but I will refrain from such infantile tactics.

Please extend to me the same courtesy. When it comes to politics, I evaluate every issue on its own, and base my positions only upon quantifiable, empirically sound evidence. This policy leads me to progressive, liberal, centrist and even conservative opinions, depending on the issue at hand. I will concede to you that on economic matters I tend to find myself in the centrist camp, while on social issues I am somewhat left of center. Do not make the mistake of assuming that I am totally in opposition to the conservative agenda; I merely defy labels because I believe the world is far too complex to side with one camp all of the time.

First, let us address the root problem which your "plan" proposes to resolve, namely the immense budget gap currently facing the policy makers of the 82nd Legislature. How large is this shortfall, exactly? The precise dollar figure remains elusive, varying somewhat when you use different models of accountability. Variance to one side, all parties agree that the number is huge, probably more than 25 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a "b", sir. Texas was supposed to be thriving, even as-the rest of the nation (i.e., the liberal parts) wallowed ever deeper into crisis mode. Our wonderful governor-for-life (your guy, Mr. Rose) blatantly lied during his reelection bid when he claimed that Texas had a "budget surplus." He was able to broadcast this obvious untruth due to the fact that Texas enacts budgets once every two years, and he was intentionally using the numbers from before the downturn had a chance to stretch its legs. As a fiscal conservative, such shenanigans ought to piss you off to no end, but I have yet to hear any anger from your quarter. I know your memory cannot be that poor - the election just happened in November. Beyond that, our state government - again, populated mostly by Republicans - has for years used smoke and mirror tricks to conceal a "structural budget deficit" - i.e., a deficit which persists even in times of plenty. What we are now left with is a budget gap worse (by any method of calculation) than New York’s, and about as bad as the state of California (and worse than CA's under some methods of calculation). Wasn't this sort of thing supposed to be made impossible by modern conservative economic theory? Sir, it is becoming quite obvious that the theory of budget balancing by solely redlining spending (as opposed to raising taxes) is beyond broken down. On top of that, it is going to be awfully hard to use the standard GOP tactic of blaming the liberals for all the evils confronting us, since there don t happen to be any of them left around to point the finger at. This is your mess, and yours alone.

You proudly mention in your article that you are a "Reagan conservative." I will admit that I am not a huge fan of the man. I don’t dislike him, and I am certainly not a "Reagan-hater." Even the simplest of human beings is an immensely complex creature, and forcing people into partisan/hyper-generalized categories is beyond foolish. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that doing this misses the entire point of living. But please allow me to supply you with a few historically unimpeachable facts about Reagan, which you and the rest of your ilk seem to be intentionally ignoring.

First off, you believe that he was a tax-cutter, despite the fact that he raised taxes in seven of his eight years in power. You also believe that he was a budget-cutter - this despite the fact that he tripled the federal budget. These are hard numbers, sir, that do not bend to fit a liberal or conservative agenda. You believe that he was a boon to the middle class, yet his " Reaganomics" gut-punched that very constituency to a nearly fatal degree. Forgive me for seeming a little didactic with my next comment, but since you are labeling yourself as "an east - Texas redneck," I am going to make the assumption that you have never attended a college-level course on economics. In the 80's, a certain mathematical representation known as "the Laffer Curve" became very popular with conservatives, even becoming the cornerstone of national economic policy. It still does, to a certain extent. Very simply, this curve, developed by economist Arthur Laffer, states that when you reduce taxation, you increase revenues. It is worth noting that this concept has been abandoned by all economists in this day. Even Paul Volcker, who served as chairman of the Federal Reserve during the Reagan years, has repeatedly stated publicly that this concept is mathematically unsound, even going so far to be somewhat amused that anyone ever took it seriously. It is, in no uncertain terms, a gigantic ball of bullshit. And we are now seeing the effects of this policy in Texas, aren’t we? We have the same debt levels as everyone else, only none of the social safety nets in place in states like California and New York (or Europe). I will state it plainly: every time a report comes out showing the dismal state of school funding in Texas, or the fact that Texas ranks dead last in insurance for children, or that the poverty level for said children is many times worse than in some east-coast states, conservatives reply to themselves that this is the cost of not building a welfare state. Only now we must acknowledge that we embraced terribly harmful and unethical positions for no conceivable fiscal benefit at all. Well done sir, well done. The accumulated misery brought about by ignoring the poor and least among us is something that you and yours are going to have to answer for on Judgment Day, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Now, on to your specific proposals, which you weirdly think are made conservative simply because they are aimed at convicts. Governor Perry has proposed a 12.7% cut to state corrections spending. Since you live in Huntsville, home to the headquarters of the TDCJ and location of about a gazillion prisons, presumably you are already aware of this uncomfortable fact. By the way, before I go on, reputable newspapers always report the position held by the authors of op-ed pieces, so that it is apparent if the responsible party "has a dog in that fight," to use a term you are probably familiar with. The reading public might have found it useful to know whether or not you are in fact an employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Such data is vital in determining the level of your disinterest on this issue. Please consider rectifying this the next time you decide to make your opinions known to the world.

At any rate, back to the numbers: the Texas Senate wants to cut 786.4 million dollars from TDCJ's total budget. That is obviously a freaking immense number. Do you honestly believe that taxing prisoner commissary purchases is going to make even the slightest dent in this massive figure? You do not state whether you think this is a panacea or merely a band-aid to what ails the state, but I can assure after processing the numbers it is decidedly neither. To give you some perspective, the prison commissary grossed more than 100 million dollars in the last fiscal year, much of that profit. Even if you were to place a 500% tax on all purchases and levied all the fines you mentioned in your article, it wouldn’t come close to closing the gap. In any case, Mr. Rose, we inmates are already TAXED on all purchases, a fact that you would have discovered had you bothered to do any research before penning your piece. If I can manage this feat from lockdown, sir, then you should be able to do so from there. (For extremely in-depth reporting on the budget cuts unfolding in the 82nd Legislature in Austin, see GRITS FOR BREAKFAST, operated by Scott Henson. This is first-rate journalism at its finest, and I think even the briefest of evaluations of this site will increase vastly your understanding of the problem at hand.)

I will grant you that investigating the exact workings of the TDCJ can be a daunting task. You conservatives are supposed to hate bloated, bureaucratic monstrosities, and I have always found it simultaneously amusing and perplexing that you so willingly endorse this prison system. Don’t you understand that these places are festering pockets of totalitarianism, tucked quietly away into the fabric of your republic? Read a TDCJ press release (any of them will do), and you will find a collection of outright lies and Orwellian half-truths that would have made any Politburo member nod and wink out of respect. Since I am enmeshed into this place by poor choices that I made, I will offer you a few modest proposals for increasing some things that we both desire in this system: accountability and efficiency.

We can start off with the prison commissary, since this seems to be an issue that you have somewhat fixated upon. First, something like 60% of all TDCJ inmates are indigent, meaning that they have less than $5.00 on their accounts at any time. All of your fees and taxes will not affect these men in any appreciable way, since all of their purchases occur on the black market. For those of us who do have a little cash in the bank, all of your taxes and fees wouldn't amount to all that much due to one very significant fact: you can’t tax what you don’t sell. Namely, there exists a near total breakdown in the supply chain which is supposed to send goods to each unit. Take a look at this recent PURCHASE LIST I submitted to the Polunsky Unit's commissary department. All of the black writing is mine, and the red belongs to that of the commissary officials. See all of those red lines? Those mean that these items were not currently in stock. Note that intended purchases totaled up to $61.30, yet I only received $13.50 in actual items. Of 70 items requested, I received 11. This always reminds me somewhat of the lines which used to build up outside of the GUM department stores in Soviet Russia: miles of peasants clamoring for six or seven cans of corn or beans, everyone gray and forlorn. The reason for this short-fall, Mr. Rose, is simply good, old-fashioned laziness. You see, prison commissary employees are paid the exact same salaries whether they order 20 trucks worth of merchandise or one. Since they are forced to endure precisely zero oppositional oversight, it is easy to see how this scenario came about. Government sloth is something we would both like to see excised from the equation, yes? I can tell you this: if they actually stocked the inventory like they were supposed to, commissary would suddenly be a vastly larger source of profits than at current levels. It is difficult to quantify exactly how much, but just look at my list. They missed out on nearly 50 dollars from just one inmate during just one spend period. There are more than 160,000 inmates currently in the system. That quickly adds up, sir, to numbers vastly larger than all of your fees combined.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. In an effort to punish convicts, the TDCJ has implemented something called a "spend limit." For most inmates, this limit is $75.00 every two weeks. It is ten dollars higher for Death Row inmates, based on a coldly utilitarian acknowledgment that DR offenders generally have more freeworld support than general population ones. Why do this? Why limit any source of capital? Items on the commissary are already given very large tariffs in the form of a mark-up of 35 to 91% over wholesale prices, so each item represents money in the bank. There are several thousand inmates in this system who would spend significantly more than the minimum were they permitted to do so.

More: in the past, Death Row was allowed to go to the commissary once every week. After the Richard Tabler-induced mayhem of late 2008, the system punished all of us by reducing this to one trip every two weeks. Sure, that stinks for the inmates but it also represents a disaster from a budgetary standing. If a business in the freeworld operated in similar ways, it wouldn’t be a business for very long.

It should be mentioned at this point that increasing the supply of goods would not greatly increase operational costs because unlike in real business all of the labor involved in the commissary process is supplied by inmates, for free. Having slave labor exist at all is a pretty reprehensible thing, sir, but having slave labor that just sits around all day twiddling its thumbs due to managerial incompetence offends the OCD gremlins in me in a way I find difficult to put into words.

You see my point, Mr. Rose? Why aren’t these places operated like businesses? No one is suggesting that Texas should go about coddling its criminals. Let's get that straight. I deserve to be right where I am. But many other states have learned that using the carrot occasionally instead of the stick can produce a penal environment which is safer for officers and offenders, and which produces markedly lower rates of recidivism.

Let's take a look at a number of potential examples. The medical care here is atrocious. This fact is acknowledged by nearly everyone. I lived with a broken arm for nearly two years before they finally deigned to operate on me - and I only got the operation because I learned how to use §1983. Had I been treated with even a tiny modicum of compassion and professionalism, I wouldn’t have needed to sue the crap out of UTMB. Ineptitude and raw nastiness ended up multiplying the costs of my surgery tenfold. Now, complex medical issues are simply going to be expensive, no matter what we do, but there are many minor medical issues that could be addressed without even bothering the immense bureaucracy that is the UTMB system.

Let's say that you come down with a seasonal bug. Normal procedure indicates that you must first submit a " sick-call request form." Then you must wait to be called down to see a nurse, a process which may take up to a week. If your situation warrants seeing a physician, you will then be put on yet another waiting list, unless they happen to lose your request, an event which occurs with such an alarming frequency that it has become obvious that this is a tactic meant to reduce costs. Either way, you are going to end up waiting at least another week to see a doctor. (That is assuming that the unit in question even has a doctor, unlike Polunsky at present. That's right, no doctor at all. Right this minute, three thousand men cannot get their prescriptions filled because there is no one present to sign the forms.) At the end of the process, you might get some medication, the bill for which is picked up by you and all the other tax-paying citizens in this state. Now, wouldn’t it simply be more efficient to stock the commissary with a variety of over the counter medications? I am not talking about simply Ibuprofen, but rather drugs like Zantac, Claritin, Prilosec, etc. This way, the costs of many illnesses are borne by the afflicted and not by the state. This suggestion also has the benefit of being far more humane in that those of us behind bars can actually receive medication when we need it - instead of weeks after the illness has already run its course. I can promise you immense profit margins just for the introduction of one item on the commissary: Rogaine Shampoo. The stress levels produced by these prisons are so high that the prevalence of male pattern baldness is far above the national norm. Tack on 50%, and let human nature do what it always does. After all, vanitas peccata mundi, right, Mr. Rose?

Did you know that all clothing items worn by offenders in the TDCJ are produced within the system by other inmates? Given this, why would there ever be supply-side issues? Notice that in the previously linked purchase sheet, the item listed as "1X thermal shirt" was x-ed out. Workers in this system are not paid one cent for their labor, so why should any item made by prisoners be unavailable? Several other states have reached deals with local providers to offer a short list of pre-approved items direct to prisoners. Can you imagine the boon to local businesses this would represent? 160,000+ product hungry consumers is not a number to be sneered at by any small business which produces clothing items. Since the state would presumably tack on an additional 35 to 91% to these sales, this represents an additional source of revenue. We are currently not allowed to own things like stocking caps or sweaters, and are only given threadbare jackets during the cold months. These jackets possess precisely zero thermal qualities, so being allowed to purchase a freeworld model would guarantee large sales. After all, who wants to freeze their organs of generation off? The only argument to be made against such an idea is the one stating that the cold is simply a part of the punishment process. If that is your position, I don’t suppose that I have anything further to say to you.

You could easily extend this to a select list of electrical appliances, too, like many other states have done. Allowing such perks is an excellent behavior modification tool, a fact which has been documented beyond question.

But let's dig deeper. These prisons are not paragons of self-sufficiency. Again, why is this, given that labor costs are exactly zero? At Polunsky Unit, there are entire fields of land inside the fences that could be used to plant gardens. We all know that growing fruit and vegetables is far cheaper than buying them from a supplier, and yet that is precisely what we are doing. This would also save money in the long-term, because the health benefits of eating fresh produce vs. canned are well documented and will thus decrease the costs of inmate healthcare far into the future. The savings of this could be massive when multiplied by 120 something prisons, for very little start-up capital - the cost of seeds. Also, don’t forget the therapeutic and restorative value that such work may produce in a man. This is a win-win-win, and yet not a single prison official has mentioned such tactics in the midst of these crippling shortages.

Living in Huntsville, I know that you have seen what these complexes look like: long, squat buildings which cover immense swaths of land. Most of the rooftops are flat, and cover a large surface area - perfect for solar panels, in other words. I have read many stories in the newspaper about power companies entering into deals with big box stores like Wal-Mart to lease their rooftops for the production of solar energy via large solar arrays. Everyone wins in these deals: the owner of the building complex by having access to free or vastly discounted electricity, and the owner of the array by selling power back to the grid. In addition, this policy would also create an opportunity for convicts to get green-collar job skills that would greatly reduce their chances of returning to prison. Everyone comes out ahead in this scenario, but no politicians have had the testicular fortitude to suggest such a partnership. Unlike, I add, in the state of New York, where inmates actually manufacture solar panels for government buildings. Damned east coast elitist libs… they beat you to the punch, cowboy

Now, none of what I have suggested here is going to solve the main issues facing this system, but it could represent the presence of an additional several hundred million dollars in the state's coffers. Additional suggestions include totally removing all officer " perks", such as free meals, free haircuts, free laundry services, free use of official vehicles, and subsidized housing units for officers. These items have no place in a prison system running at maximum efficiency.

The main problem, though, with this system is an obvious one: there are simply too many prisons in this state. We built a behemoth during the Bush years, and it has become glaringly obvious that we are going to have to dismantle some of it. There are now 2, 383 felony crimes in the Texas penal code (that is my count, and I may be off by a few, though it wouldn’t really matter if I were off by 1,000 for the point I am making.) Felonizing everything has not made us any safer as a people. All it has done is lock up hundreds of thousands of people who might hive been castigated for their crimes in ways which actually benefit society at large, rather than merely incurring fiscal debt. I speak with particular concern for men and women currently in prison for non-violent drug felonies. I have seen various figures on this, but on average, if everyone in the TDCJ serving time for possession of marijuana were released to the drug treatment centers they should have been sent to in the first place, there would be 30,000 fewer inmates. That right there would - in and of itself - close the budget gap in its entirety. Keeping these people locked up for long sentences is just another aspect of the way this system lures common sense into dark corners and cudgels it.

We must learn to think in deep-time about how we cut programs which have a proven track record of helping to reduce recidivism. Cutting prison reintegration programs is incredibly short-sighted, a perfect example of the "penny-wise, pound-foolish" thinking so prevalent in today’s conservatives. The goal is to keep people acting in socially beneficial ways, not returning them unnecessarily to prison. We should be doubling down on these sorts of programs, not slashing them as the current brainiacs in Austin are discussing.

One program that I do tend to agree with banishing is the prison chaplaincy. These people do very little in the way of real work, by my experience. Even a casual reading of Hume or Spinoza or Thomas Paine or John Locke (who I will assume you have read, as he is the philosophical father of conservatism) will present an inmate with more ethical instruction than all of the chaplains in the system put together. I know this for a fact, from personal experience. Although I will admit that ceding all moral instruction to some of the fringe groups that typically bombard prisoners does trouble me a great deal. For examples of what I am talking about, I received THIS, THIS, and THIS in the last week alone. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see the standards we are taught to reach for, doesn’t it?

At this exact moment, something like 65% of all inmates within the TDCJ are eligible for parole. Read that again, Mr. Rose: 65 bloody percent of these men and women could be out there right now working, paying their taxes, and raising their kids. Aren’t you supposed to want freedom for all men? The parole board is, unfortunately, made up of members appointed by your chum Perry, and they are all terrified of releasing someone that might go out and reoffend. This fear is somewhat rational, but comes with a staggering cost, both in moral and in economic terms. For a really egregious example of this policy run amok, see THIS article.

Need I go on, Mr. Rose? The entire point of this response is that an ostensibly conservative government created, and is now running cover for, an entity you should be horrified by: a huge tumor of uninspected, big-government-style waste. Treat the TDC.J like any other agency in Texas. Demand accountability. Pierce the veils of tradition that have covered these prisons for decades. Stop believing their claims, because surely, as a conservative, you are skeptical of all other government claims, right? Stop letting career politicians and bureaucrats use unspecified fears to fleece you out of billions. It is not easy to believe in the rehabilitation of a man, but to deny that very concept is to lose something integral to being a human being.

In Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, the White Queen famously told Alice that because of her youth, she was capable of believing no fewer than six impossible things before breakfast. Ignorance may be somewhat charming in a child, Mr. Rose. It is markedly less so in adults.

On a personal level, I must admit to feeling some sense of revulsion in your apparent happiness about forcing new taxes on the downtrodden. Your glee is apparent in your comments about your kind having the power to enforce new punishments on a group of people who will have zero legislative ability to respond. Such comments make it difficult for me to believe that you have even the slightest idea of what libertarianism is all about, but I have little desire to roast you over the coals for the general level of ignorance I have detected in the Tea Party crowd. That you seem to promote the idea of taxing the families of convicts for actions outside of their power should be alarming to you and is indicative of a real lack of moral perspective. Where is your decency, sir? I will go out on a limb and assume, based on your title and geographical location, that you are an evangelical Christian. Trampling on the downtrodden just because you are able to do so is anathema to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and I am going to ask that you refer to your holy documents to see if what they contain at all syncs up with your rhetoric. I wont quote the Bible to you, Mr Rose, as I do not wish to be that much of a hypocrite. But I am remembering quite a number of verses which should leave you cowering in shame.

Does it surprise you that a Death Row convict would want to see this system run as efficiently as possible? It shouldn’t; spending a mere few minutes behind bars is enough to convince anyone that these places are badly in need of some good old-fashioned common sense. I will never be released from confinement, but the same thing cannot be said for 94% of the men currently behind bars.

Making prisons work as they are supposed to will directly (and vastly) decrease the recidivism rates when these men do hit the streets. That is something that we both want. I would show you some real numbers on this, but most of them come from liberal states and Europe, and I am betting that you wouldn’t want to see them. I kid, I kid, relax. Hopefully you received this in the spirit in which it was transmitted. Check my numbers and facts, and if they hold up to inspection, then this indicates that you have some evolving (err, changing) to do on this issue. Hopefully this will lead you to a more economically sound place - not to mention a more ethical one.

Best Regards.
Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved