Thursday, February 28, 2019

Judgment and Humiliation

By Wayne Doty

No matter who we are or where we’re at, as humans we have all been victims of judgment and humiliation. We all have our own perspectives and beliefs about issues surrounding our own lives. So hopefully through reading this you’ll learn a valuable lesson relevant to your own life or that of someone else who you know. May this help you come to realize who I am as a human, as well as others in my situation.

Since arriving here on Florida’s Death Row on June 5, 2013, I’ve met a lot of good men. We may not always agree on things. It can be difficult to understand others who suffer from mental health issues or possess the IQ of a child. At the end of the day we are all facing our own personal problems and feel uncertain of our fate. But there is never a dull moment around here, and there’s a lot of talent hidden within these walls. There’s a lot to be learned here, for both you and me. 

Prior to coming to Death Row I had already spent about 16 years in open population, with the exception of three trips to close management (which is basically solitary confinement under much worse conditions than Death Row). At one point here in Florida, inmates on close management were only allowed a Bible, writing materials, and personal hygiene if they could afford it. Of course, the Department of Corrections would issue toothbrushes, toothpaste, and toilet paper, along with a bar of Pride soap. Items manufactured by a corporation that employed inmates fortunate to have these jobs, paying them between 15 and 45 cents per hour. But guys on close management weren’t among those fortunate individuals. If you were sent to close management it was because you had been caught breaking the rules in open population. However, as is the case with corruption that takes place in law enforcement, so it is in the Department of Corrections as well. And where there is corruption there is false judgment and humiliation imposed upon the individual. For example, while at Holmes Correctional Institution in 2004 – 2005 I was wrongfully charged with spoken threats towards an officer. As a result, my record was scarred, and from this point forward – going off an “inmate’s statement” surrounding threats I’d never made – I was wrongfully labeled as a threat. I learned later that the officer who had accused me of that charge was stabbed in a totally different incident. Make no mistake, not all correctional officers are corrupt. All in all I had already served approximately six or seven years in solitary confinement on close management in different segments prior to coming to Death Row in 2013. So I had already suffered conditions attached to solitary confinement before my admission to Death Row. 

In all Florida capital cases, the law mandates that each case be subject to an automatic review by the Florida Supreme Court. This process is called a direct appeal. Seven justices of the court hear oral arguments from the counsel for the person sentenced to death as well as the State before issuing a final ruling. Very rarely will the Florida Supreme Court rule against the trial courts in these types of cases. Once the Florida Supreme Court issues their decision, a mandate will follow announcing that the lower court’s decision has been upheld. It’s then up to the individual sentenced to death whether to proceed with further “post-conviction” appeals. Unlike the direct appeal before the Florida Supreme Court, these appeals are not mandatory. Meaning that the person sentenced to death has the “right” to either pursue further appeals, or waive all further appeals. 

Those who opt to waive their appeals – accepting their guilt, responsibility, and the sentence imposed by the lower court and upheld by the Florida Supreme Court – become subjected to humiliation by their fellow Death Row inmates, as well as others who work as attorneys or advocates against the death penalty. These individuals are often referred to as “volunteers” simply because they own up to their mistakes and are ready to face the consequences. Unless an individual is under severe, life threatening conditions, no one wishes to die. But for someone who knows their case better than anyone else, and the reality of never getting off Death Row – much less “out” of prison all together – closure will only come through execution. Whatever their reason for making such a grave decision, these men and women are still human beings and don’t deserve to be humiliated. 

On July 9, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court issued its mandate in my case, upholding the lower court’s decision to impose a death sentence upon me. I, on my own – due to the fear of needles – issued a notice to the warden requesting to be executed by the electric chair. Roughly in 2000 or right before, many lawyers challenged the use of execution by electricity due to a botched execution. As a result, the Florida legislature adopted a new means of execution: “lethal injection”. Once this new execution method was adopted, the State preserved the electric chair for use as either a backup method or in case an individual elected their execution be by electric chair over lethal injection. My decision has only brought me further humiliation from other Death Row inmates and those opposed to capital punishment. A storm of media reporters also questioned my intentions. This is evidenced in an article written by The Tampa Bay Times on October 22, 2015. Though I caution you that this reporter often publicized only what he wanted you to know and left out relevant facts or issues. Further unwanted attention can be read in an article from the Daily Mail, which ran the headline: “Double murderer becomes first inmate to demand death by Florida’s infamous “Ol’ Sparky” electric chair rather than by lethal injection.” 

Shortly after the news sparked attention all across the world I was contacted by a group of producers from England. They wanted to interview me for what would become part of a documentary series involving several Death Row inmates. The title of the show is called “I Am a Killer” and can be located on Netflix. Don’t judge a book by its cover before you check the documentary out. My story was the last to be shown and, according to many who have watched it, is interesting. As with every other story in the media there was a lot left out that is essential for people to recognize who I am and why I’ve become who I am. For more, please be sure to visit my blog. It’s now up to Chapter 4 and will continue to be updated at least once or twice a month. I encourage you the reader to check out all these references. You may not have experienced anything near what I’ve been through, but you may have unintentionally overlooked someone else who has or is currently dealing with similar issues. Often people view those in prison or on Death Row as being horrible without knowing them or understanding how they became who they are. Remember this: Humans are not natural born murderers. 

On August 7, 2017, my death sentence was overturned due to a change in Florida’s death sentencing scheme following the United States Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v Florida (recognized by the Florida Supreme Court in Hurst v State). Since the jury in the penalty phase of my trial voted (10-2) for a death sentence, under Florida’s new law, in light of Hurst, that sentence was “illegal”. A new penalty phase hearing was ordered and after a new jury voted (12-0) for death, the trial court again sentenced me to death on May 15, 2018. So now the case will be sent back before the Florida Supreme Court for its automatic review process and again they will uphold the lower court’s decision. 

Day after day, until minutes before six when I am removed from one cell and placed in another in preparation to meet my fate and maker, I’ll be faced with judgment and humiliation from others for my decisions. For the most part I have learned not to be judgmental towards anyone else because it’s not my place to do so. On top of that, we all have our own humiliations to endure each day, so why add to it? At the end of the day, each man or woman will forever be held accountable, facing their own fate. Whether they are innocent or guilty is up to the court to decide, not me. I sincerely hope this story has opened your eyes to a perspective never thought of, and that you have taken the time to review the other resources provided to you. I’m always open for suggestions and comments, and won’t hesitate to respond. 

As Ellen always says, “Be kind to one another.” And thank you for your time. 

Wayne Doty 375690
Florida State Prison
P.O. Box 800
Raiford, FL 32083

Thursday, February 21, 2019

No Mercy For Dogs Chapter 25

By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

To read Chapter 24, click here

I returned to a city at war with itself.

After leaving Juan the Chivero’s ranch in the mountains of Chihuahua, I drove through the night.  I had nowhere to be, but this complete lack of purpose of direction drove me in the oddest way back to Monterrey.  There were other places I could have gone, but Monterrey had numerous advantages.  First, the percentage of Mexicans with a relatively high dose of French and Spanish blood was greater in Monterrey than in many other parts of la Republica, meaning my pale skin and “ojos de color” were not as abnormal there as they would have been in el DF or Guadalajara.  Second, due to all of the factories in the city, Americans were fairly common.  Third, Monterrey was the most modern of the large Mexican metropolises, and if I was going to find some kind of life in this nation, I wanted to do something other than build cabinets for men like Hector.  Lastly, Monterrey was the wild west, and I needed a highly corrupt environment if I was going to survive.

I wanted corrupt, and that’s what I got.  Overnight, several teams of sicarios had assaulted a number of police stations and one armory.  The government’s response was nastic, confused, and poorly planned.  More checkpoints were thrown up, the talking heads were all over the airwaves, and I heard that at least one section of the massive downtown mercado was raided for weapons.  I was still several kilometres outside of the city when the traffic slowed down to a crawl.  Roughly fifteen minutes later, I saw the reason why: stretched across an overpass was an immense banner that read: We don’t pay in noodles.  It was signed by someone called “el 18”, and proudly displayed the logo of the Zetas.  I didn’t totally understand the message until it was later explained in a news broadcast that night: apparently the Zetas had discovered that several SEDENA brigades had not received money from the federal government in months, and had been paying their soldiers in Maruchin noodles.  Other narco-banners promised a $500 starting bonus for any troops that defected.  Others listed the home addresses of commanding officers of these brigades.  “El 18,” as it turned out, was not one from the original GAFES soldiers that had started the Zetas, who all went by their original alphanumeric call signs; instead, he had acquired this nickname because he’d had two of his fingers cut off during an interrogation by a rival cartel.  He’d used the blood as lubrication, slipped out of his bonds, and then killed his captors with the leg of the stool he was tied to.  He was very popular in the narco-comics found in the mercados as a result.

I’d been up all night, and needed to sleep. The emotional high that had carried me west to Juan’s had worn off around midnight, and only sheer stubbornness powered me now.  I headed for the Macroplaza again, and parked the Rover in a lot near the Liverpool department store.  I debated the merits of leaving my money in the well versus taking it with me, and decided that I wanted it on me.  The car was a better target than I was, I figured.  I checked into a dive hotel a few blocks away and disappeared for eight hours.  By the time I awoke, the sun was setting.

I wandered about for awhile, looking for something to eat.  I noticed a nearby restaurant teeming with customers called “las Monjas”.  Thinking that popularity night equate to quality, I stopped near the door to read the menu.  Midway through this perusal I figured out the allure: the waitresses were all dressed up as skanky Catholic nuns.  I scanned the crowd again, noticing the heavy prevalence of young men, and then left.  The last thing I needed was a bunch of drunken frat boys, hooting and hollering as I tried to eat.  I mean, I’d already thrown away my guns, and I didn’t want to start regretting it.

I found myself drifting into the Asian enclave that I’d discovered before my trip to the mountains.  I couldn’t locate the Vietnamese restaurant I’d eaten in the last time, but I soon found another.  This place had few options, but that was okay, as everything they served was good.  A surly matron first plopped a bowl of crab-noodle soup down on the table.  This was followed by vermicelli, green mung beans, then sticky-rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves.  The meal was so satisfying – so incredibly not tacos or goat – that I jokingly resolved never to leave the district again.  I decided I might as well try to find the cyber café I used when I bought my phone, and see if I could figure out what my next move should be.  After an hour of wandering about narrow alleys and crowded markets, I gave up and returned to my room.  I watched an awful late night movie and fell asleep around 3am.

Seven hours later I hit the concrete again.  I found an Asian bakery selling doughnuts, sausage buns, and a sort of egg custard tart called something that sounded like dahn taht.  I ordered several of these and ate them on the go.  I found the cyber café within fifteen minutes, more out of luck than any legitimate ratiocination on my part.  The staircase hadn’t been cleaned since my last visit, the ammonia stench of urine even stronger, if that was possible.  A young Asian kid wearing a shirt that read “There are 10 kinds of people: those that understand binary, and those that don’t” was sitting behind a counter.  He waved me through the door after noting my arrival time on a card; I couldn’t tell if he was the same young man that had been working here during my last trip, but he seemed equally distracted and bored.  I paused upon entering the long hall, trying to remember which workstation was the one I’d spent hours sanitizing.  I knew the general region, but I didn’t find the machine with the partitioned drive until my third attempt.  I grinned as Knoppix booted up, then again as I checked the system and found that it was still remarkably clean.  After satisfying myself that one of my old proxies was still functional, I started screening the Texas newspapers, checking for any references to my crime.  I didn’t find anything new, and sat back in my chair, rubbing my nose and trying to figure out what to do next.  The place had filled up some over the past hour, with perhaps twenty-five of the workstations in use, mostly by young adults and children.  A kid of perhaps fifteen was clearly studying for some kind of exam, books open on either side of the keyboard.  It was summer break, but this didn’t really surprise me.  The power of Asian tiger mothers is trans-national.

I felt a headache coming on; I remember that.  I also remember feeling as if I was deflating, somehow.  The fear was leaving me, drip by drip.  I recall thinking this was a good thing, stupidly.  I had no idea what I was doing, and I welcomed the loss of feeling.

I was still leaning back when I noticed movement out of the corner of my left eye.  When I turned my head in that direction, the kid at the counter was talking on a cellular phone and looking straight at me.  His gaze shifted immediately to wander about the room, and then he stepped back, out of view.  I frowned, trying to decide if he had been looking at me specifically, or was just doing his duty by checking on the room while talking to his girlfriend.  The latter seemed more likely, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.  I felt this, but couldn’t connect this to any sense of self-preservation, the way I had for most of my time south of the border.  I chided myself for being paranoid, but decided I was done there anyway, and I might as well go find somewhere else to brood.  I shut down the machine and began walking towards the door, fishing several twenty peso notes from my pocket.

I was paying the bill when the man walked in the door.  I turned, gave him a hard scan.  He was smoking, something that I would come very quickly to realize was a universal constant with Tiejiang.  He looked at the kid behind the counter, then back at me.

“You guy that clean computer 39?” he asked.  Well, not really.  What he actually said is hard to describe.  If you were to toss a hefty dose of slang-infused Cantonese into a blender, then add a large dollop of the worst introductory Spanish imaginable, topping everything off with a few epenthesis-mutated English words learned from badly translated American movies and then mashed down on the button for a few minutes, you might approximate the verbal slurry that he sprayed into the air between us.  His words did have an edge to them, one that might have been intimidating to me a year before, but I was now made of sterner stuff.  For the briefest of moments I longed for one of Chespy’s 10 mms, but I banished this immediately and let my eyes go dead, sizing the man up.  A small smile curled up around the cigarette as he saw me shift into a more martial mental stance.  He immediately said something rapid and incomprehensible to the kid.

“He want to know if you is gwai lo who clean desktop 39 last year.”  The kid’s Spanish wasn’t much better, but at least it was largely comprehensible.

I turned back to the older man, but spoke to his obvious employee.  “Yeah, that was me.  You don’t like what I did, maybe you should learn to keep your house clean.”  I moved to push past him, and he stepped out of the way as his subordinate translated my words.  I was palming the door open when I hear the young man call out to me.

“Wait, please you wait.”

I turned back, observed the pair trade comments.  The kid finally turned back to me and pushed his glasses back on his nose.  “He want you clean others same way.  He want to know how much.”

I very nearly told him I wasn’t looking for work, then stopped, admitting to myself that this was more or less exactly what I was needing at the moment.  I still couldn’t feel anything, no warnings, no risk.  This must be what it’s like to be dead, I thought.  I looked around the place, buying time.  From the very first second of my very first visit, hadn’t I labelled the place as bisecting the underworld in some way?  That was the whole appeal for me originally, the way it was so obviously, unapologetically dirty.  I returned my stare back to the older man.  Yeah, he had scoundrel written all over him.  He would understand the requirement to pay in cash.  He would also know that his network was a mess, and that it would take time to fix.  Hell, it was better than construction work, and safer than dealing with the cartels.  Maybe.  I decided to leap.

“Depends on whether you want to actually pay for the software you will need to get rid of all of that malware.  If you do everything legally, it’s going to cost you thousands, and I’ll want twenty dollars American per hour.”

The boy translated this.  The response came quickly.

“If he no want pay legal?”

“Twenty per hour, and I don’t want to hear a word about it if a bunch of Silicon Valley lawyers show up at your doorstep.”

This got a yellow-toothed smile from the older man.  I managed to kill this almost immediately when I asked for an advance on my first ten hours of labor.  I didn’t actually expect him to pay this.  I really just wanted to see how the man would react.  After a long pause he said something, and his employee said someone would bring it down to me.

“One hour,” I responded, returning to the hall.  They brought me ten twenty-dollar bills fifty-two minutes later.

Of all of the odd jobs I worked in Mexico, my work for Tiejiang was easily the oddest.  I honestly have no idea who I actually worked for.  Wong, the young man whose job it was to collect the usage and print fees, clearly worked for Tiejiang.  So too did Jiang.  I’m pretty sure they were all from either Guangzhou or Hong Kong.  Tiejiang seemed to own part of the building that housed the cyber café in its basement.  Wu Zhenlin also appeared to own parts of this tower and the one next door, and I’m pretty sure he was also Chinese.  His boss was Luo Xiannian.  I’m certain of that.  I think he worked for Chen Biao, who I only met on a handful of occasions.  It was kind of infuriating, attempting to keep track of the hierarchy, so I mostly kept to myself and went about my work.  The only reason I even knew all of these people in the first place was that the community was incredibly insular.  Many of the people I knew never left the roughly dozen blocks of the Asian quarter.  There were other foreigners there, I noticed, though we never really interacted.  Tiejiang seemed to appreciate that I seldom spoke.  I appreciated that he never even asked me my name, not once in almost sixty days.  Everyone simply called me gwai lo, which I initially thought was an attempt to pronounce guedo.  Wong cracked up when I tried to correct his accent.

“No, no; no wedo.  Gwai lo.  You say.”

“Gwai lo.”

“Yes.  Mean ‘ghost person’ for you skin.”


“Also mean ‘foreign devil’.”

“How…how could the same word mean two totally diff…you know what?  Never mind.”

The building above my lair was as convoluted as Tiejiang’s organizational structure.  The street level was taken up by two clothing markets that seemed to be rented by the same family and sold, to my untrained eye, the exact same items.  Near the corner was a fruit and vegetable market, and next to this were a series of small stores that sold a variety of trinkets, statues, DVDs, and general kitsch: pretty much the same stuff as the mercado near the elevated train.  I have no idea what was on the second floor.  I was told it was “storage space”, and I suppose this might have been true.  I never wanted to know what exactly they were storing, which everyone seemed to take for granted.  It took me a little over a week to mostly sanitize the network.  I spent a large number of (mostly paid) hours showing Wong how to be at least semi-competent as a sys-admin, though I suspect I would have had to redo a lot of the same malware sniping I’d completed that week, if I’d remained employed there longer.

Tiejiang wasn’t really one for compliments, but I suppose he must have been pleased with my work because he invited me up to the third floor the afternoon I finished schooling Wong.  I don’t know what the building had originally been built for back in the early 70s, but by this point the floors had been divided and subdivided so many times that I think even King Minos would have been impressed by the anarchic spider web of low doors, small rooms, and clutter that constituted this labyrinth.  The west hallway on the 3rd floor was set up for residential space, though I hardly ever saw anyone coming or going from those seven or eight doors save for an elderly lady that carried an immense blue, red, and white bag that was nearly half her size.  There were some small rooms near the elevator that remained opaque to me.  Most of the rest of the floor was taken up by an open warehouse, the space only broken up by the dozens of concrete of columns that rose from the floor and speared into the ceiling, and crate upon crate of burnable CDs and DVDs.

I gaped stupidly as I took in the size of the operation.  Near the center of the room, two rows of sturdy tables stretched for nearly thirty meters.  Siting on top of these were computers of the same sort, though I’d never seen their like before.  When Tiejiang walked us closer, I took in the long, narrow stacks of disc trays, and figured out that these were CD and DVD burners.  I’d never really thought about exactly where the tens of millions of discs on sale in he mercados came from before.  I did some quick calculations and decided that it would take dozens of facilities like this one to supply even one of the big markets.  I wondered how many of them were in this building alone, considering there were ten floors above this one that I’d never entered.

I was introduced to a man of perhaps forty years of age who went by Jiang.  His name sounded so similar to that of his boss that I had to ask him to repeat the introduction.  Jiang’s English was okay – certainly better than Wong’s bastardized Spanish.  It only took him a few minutes to show me how to work the burners; the software was simple and everything was pretty much point and click.  It took me a lot longer to decipher the paperwork detailing the orders to be filled.  I guess it seemed natural to Jiang, but it may as well have been the solution to the Hodge conjecture for all I knew. Jiang ended up circling a number on some of the forms until I learned to identify that one number amidst the undulating ocean of Chinese glyphs.  After that we worked in peace.  I continued to coast, disconnected.

We were paid based on the number of work orders we completed.  It never quite matched the twenty bucks an hour I’d gotten for my initial job, but on many days it was pretty close.  In Mexico, this was a fortune.  I ended up renting an apartment several blocks from the tower.  It was furnished with cheap appliances, a hideous orange couch, and it had a glorious view of a brick wall, but it was anonymous and quiet.  It was enough.

Tiejiang ran three eight-hour shifts in the production center on the third floor.  Jiang and I were the 3 to 11pm crew.  He tried to teach me some of his language, but it didn’t really take.  Everyday, either on the stairs or in the office, he would greet me with “Nei ho ma?”, to which I always responded “ho”.  I was told this meant “okay”, but wouldn’t be incredibly surprised to learn that someone in Shenzhen just spit coffee all over their keyboard, laughing hysterically at the joke Jiang pulled on me.  Sometimes he would say (something like) “sik tzo fanmei,” which is some kind of general greeting that also has to do with food.  Much of Jiang’s life revolved around what he inserted into his mouth.  He had a nuclear reactor-grade metabolism, because he ate constantly and somehow managed to remain no more than 130 pounds.  I gave up trying to learn all of the Cantonese terms for food after his attempted lesson on rice: mai was plain rice, I was told, cooked rice was faan, rice porridge was juk, and unhusked rice called guk.  There were a few other varieties, but memory fails me.

Despite the fact that our communications always required a hefty dose of hand signals and repetitions of simple phrases, Jiang seemed to like me.  I think he recognized a fellow castaway.  I had no idea who all of these people were, but I know a fugitive when I see one, and I was surrounded by them.  This should have made me feel… something, but I was just too far gone.  In any case, Jiang was forever inviting me out to eat with him after work.  I resisted for a while, but he eventually wore me down.  I’m glad he did.  I never would have found the hole-in-the-wall places he took me to, restaurants saturated with the smells of steamed vegetables and fish, dozens of sauces, and stir-fry oil.  I never got down with eating fish eyes, but the prawns and crabs in black bean sauce was a discovery I am thankful to have made.  Shark fin soup was new, too.  Boc choi and choi sum were common, as was a double-boiled soup made with duck, mushrooms, and tangerine peels.  For all that, the most common meal on Jiang’s outings was dim sum.  There’s a sort of ceremony or etiquette to one of these meals, apparently.  Tea is served first.  On top of one’s plate is a set of faai jee (chopsticks) and a white card.  Each time one of the trolleys laden with wicker baskets filled with dumplings passed by, the waiter would write something on the card.  Jiang was far more adventurous than I was; I mostly played it safe with siu mai, ha gow, and cha siu bau, followed by a fried pastry with sesame seeds called jian dui.

I began to learn the neighborhood.  Tiejiang wanted me to get a phone, so I ended up buying another cheap unit at an electronics shop in Luo Xiannian’s building.  It wasn’t anything special, just a simple tool.  I purchased 1500 pesos’ worth of minutes, stuck it in my jacket pocket, and almost never used it.

Mistake number one.

It was on one of these nights that Jiang took me to the Palace of Yama.  That wasn’t its real name.  As far as I ever knew, the bar didn’t have an official name, or a permit, or even ontological existence, according to the vast number of the citizens of Monterrey.  I bet Julian knew of it by that name, though, as I’m pretty sure it was a smugglers’ haven.  It was located on the top floor of a building a block and a half from Tiejiang’s base of operations.  I don’t know why, but the elevators listed floors 1 through 13, skipped 14, and then finished with the bar on 15.

I should have been fascinated by the Palace.  It was a remarkably democratic and egalitarian safe haven, a quiet place of shadows populated by men who almost certainly were all using names different from those they were born with.  It looked like a temple, and I suppose in many ways it was.  The main doorway had a spirit wall inside of the frame, and red lanterns hung on either side of the aperture to offer additional protection.  Chinh, the owner, seemed to favour lots of chardin-blue phoenixes, fake Sung paintings, and statues of fish, for some reason, though none of these was as large or dominating as the stone figure that towered over an altar in the northeast corner.  When I asked about this, Jiang referred to this as Quonti, the exact pronunciation evading me for many years.  I’ve studied Buddhism since 2008, but hadn’t ever come across reference to this character until a friend here shared a book on Taoism.  Kuan Ti is an alternative name for Mo, the god of war.  I suppose that fits.

I’d never really been to a bar that quiet before.  There were seldom more than twenty customers on any given night, and very few women. There was music, but I’ve never studied classical Asian songs before, so I couldn’t identify the artists.  Neither had I ever been to a bar where table games were the major diversion.  I didn’t have much better luck on the chess board at the Palace than I had with Julian.  I tried to figure out a game an older man labelled as “Chinese Chess”, but I sucked even worse at this version than at the Western variety.  The one game I expected to see wasn’t present.  When I asked Chinh why there weren’t any Go boards in the building, he gave me a long stare before responding with “We are a long way from Tokyo, gwai lo.”  I let it go.

Unlike with the Hammer’s coyuntura, the classes mixed at the Palace.  I saw Tiejiang there often, along with other building owners.  I met Mr Wu and Mr Luo, who both spoke better English than Jiang, the latter of which took a strange interest in me.  Luo was always accompanied by his Jack Russell terrier, who we were all required to refer to as “little Pan Fusheng”.  Luo would become enraged if someone called the annoying little devil anything else.  There wasn’t a man in the room that hadn’t seriously considered punting Pan Fusheng out the window at least once.  The tattoos on Luo’s arms were a sufficient deterrent for me, though.  Houston has an immense Asian community, and I wasn’t so ignorant that I didn’t know what the “14k” glyphs meant.

Chinh was the owner of the Palace, or at least he acted as such.  Mostly he could be seen seated at tables, having quiet conversations with quiet men.  Sometimes he would step behind the bar, sometimes he would take a turn dealing cards.  The first time he sat down across from me in my booth, I was reading the newspaper.  Out of reflex, I nodded and said, “zou tau.”

“I look Chinese to you?”

I set the paper down, gave him a deeper inspection.  “Honestly?”

He grinned.  “Let me guess, we all look alike to you.

It became a sort of game between us, attempting to guess where the other hailed from.  He had some advantages over me in this contest, considering he knew before he sat down that English was my primary language.  Still, he didn’t press this.  Chinh was accustomed to playing slow games.

“Hey. Memphis,” he’d say upon seeing me.

“Swing and a miss, Cambodia.”

“Fuck Cambodia.”


The sole bartender usually left around 2am, and random people would simply step behind the bar when they wanted something.  Chinh had plenty of bottles, but it was a really weird collection.  I was surveying the chaos one evening and decided to play a sort of trick.  I found some dry gin, orange curacao, two kinds of bitters, and a bottle of lime juice.  A few minutes later, I set a cocktail glass down in front of Chinh, who looked up at me with heavily lidded eyes.

“It’s called a Pegu.”

“I see,” he responded, not willing yet to reach out to taste my concoction.

“You know, Pegu.  It’s a mountain range in – “

“Myanmar, I know.  I’m not Burman.  My first name has more than one letter.”

“You never told me your first name.”

“It’s Denver,” he responded, taking his shot.

“Not even close.”

Two nights later I spent ten minutes making a complicated drink, after I discovered a bottle of Nuoc Mau in the back of a cupboard.

“It’s supposed to have a dash of red wine vinegar, which we are having to do without.  It’s called a ‘Mekong’,” I informed him, setting the glass down on a napkin.

“I’ve never even been to Vietnam, Tex.”

I raised a brow.  “I hope you don’t mind, but I left my herd of cows in your lobby.  I had to make room on the ranch for my new oil derricks.”  That got a laugh, and I’m pretty sure he bought the deception.

As so it went.  I didn’t bother with Tokyo Tea, given his stance on Go.  He nearly waved me away when I offered a Java Pirate Mary.  I was running out of Asian themed drinks when I scored a direct hit with a Singapore Sling.  He actually removed a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and waved it around.  “I give.  Now you.”

I paused, thinking things over.  I knew I had essentially given up, and had regressed to the same point of mental exhaustion I had experienced when I’d told Julian I could no longer act in my best interest; all that had shifted was my geographic location.  I was simply too numb to play anything safe anymore.

“Back pocket or jacket?” I asked, looking him in the eyes.

“Jacket,” he responded at once.  I wasn’t surprised he knew exactly what I had meant.  I reached into my jacket and removed one of my wallets, and laid it down on the bar, open so he could see my Canadian driver’s license.  Chinh looked this over and then removed it from the wallet, holding it up to the light. 

“Mmm, good.  Complete package?” 

“Passport, birth certificate, healthcare card, student ID from a university in Vancouver.”

“And the other?”  I removed the billfold from my pants pocket, handed it over.  He flipped the various Mexican IDs, pausing to look at the digital fingerprint on the backside of the IFE card.  “This real?”

“I was told so,” I responded, pouring a finger of scotch into a glass and then taking a sip.

“You were told so.”

“I have no reason to doubt the people that acquired them.”

“Any reason to trust them, Canada?”

“Ah,” I sighed, downing the rest of the glass.  “If you put it like that, I suppose not.”

“Then you should get a new one.  I know a guy.  Colonel in the Army.  Can get anything.”

I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to tell him that this was almost exactly the same description Chespy had given me about the man behind the IDs I already had.  Had to be the same guy, I decided.  It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to swap identities every once in a while, I decided.  And this guy had already proven himself to be qualified and trustworthy.

“You can put me in touch with this guy?” I asked, returning everything to my person.

“Yes.  You will need to get photographs made first.  I have a guy for this as well.”

I decided to take him up on the matter.  I was making money, and while 3 grand was a lot of cash, it seemed a cheap price to pay to put a firewall between me and Chespy’s people.

Mistake number two.

I had the photos made the next week.  Chinh’s “guy” was actually a lady, and she spent an evening making subtle digital alterations to the images.  I assumed this was designed to defeat facial recognition software, something Chespy’s people hadn’t bothered with.  Chinh had a courier deliver these to the Colonel, along with my new cellular number.  I was told everything would be ready in ten days.  Chinh asked if I wanted one of his men to pick everything up when it was ready, but I decided it might be a good idea to establish a relationship with the man, in case I had to use him again in the future and Chinh wasn’t available to oversee the connection.  I was given an address on the highway to Apodaca, and went on about my life.

Mistake number three.

If you read the AFI reports detailing my arrest, they make a great hullabaloo about their abilities and brilliance, talking up the sophistication of my tradecraft and how complicated my capture had proven to be.  Poppycock: I walked right into them.  What none of us had known – not Chinh’s people, not Chespy’s, and certainly not me – was that the dear Colonel had managed to get himself pinched in April.  Part of his plea deal was to continue to run his massive identity creation operation for one calendar year.  When he received my photos, the police initially had no idea who I was.  I was just another narco, looking to become someone more anonymous.  They made the call, set up the meet, and then liaised with the army.

They showed the video during a pretrial hearing.  I arrived at the restaurant wearing a grey suit, white shirt, and sunglasses.  I took a table in the rear, facing the street.  This caused the army to change their tactics.  They couldn’t have known that I was unarmed, that I had ceased to even wear the Halo on my wrist weeks before; they were expecting a gunman, and got me instead.  They came in through the kitchen.  In the surveillance footage, everything happens very quickly.  In a matter of about two seconds, the space between me and the swinging door to the kitchen is filled with men in black tactical gear wielding automatic weapons.  The first I knew of this is when an arm begins to press across my throat, and when I heard a voice in my ear whisper “tranquilo”.  I don’t know what my first thought was.  They asked me this later.  You don’t think in moments like this; they happen too fast for that.  I suppose my brain was running on a theory of a kidnapping; this was Mexico, after all.  My right hand had been about to grip my glass of water when I was attacked, so instinctively I used this to smash against the face of the man behind me.  He screamed and fell backwards.  I started to stand, spinning around, which is when three men tackled me to the ground.

Much was made of this.  My reaction was said to illustrate my utter viciousness, that I would be willing to attack, unarmed, an entire military assault element.  The simple truth: if I had known how many weapons were in the room and pointed in my general direction, I wouldn’t have moved.  Probably.  There have been moments during these later years when I have sometimes felt that perhaps being gunned down in 2005 by Mexican special forces might have been preferable to everything that followed.

I was cuffed, shackled, blindfolded, and tossed – literally – into the backseat of some sort of SUV.  The ride back to the detention facility took roughly twenty minutes.  Several officers pretended to place bets on how many of my ribs they would need to break before I told them who I was.  I tried to feel something – fear, relief, anything – but I was floating, not even touching the cloth of the seats I was laying on.  I closed my eyes behind the blindfold and willed my heart to stop.

The initial beatings were appetizers of what was to come.  I was dragged into a concrete room with what felt to be a drain under my feet.  My cuffs were attached to a chain above my head, and I heard a wench activate a second before my arms were pulled upward.  I was lifted up until I could barely stand on my toes.  My blindfold stayed on.  They took turns punching me, while several men kept up a running line of insults and threats of future torture.  At one point, one of them bet another that I was going to start begging for mercy in less than ten minutes, and I started laughing, slowly at first, then it all just spilled out of me, each guffaw feeling like dynamite going off in my chest where they’d been wailing on me.  “Es possible que no sabes, hermanos?” I gasped, hearing them fall silent. “Es este mundo, no hay ninguna misericordia para los perros.”  The men started grumbling about me being crazy.  They left, promising to return shortly.  They did.  I never knew their names, but I will never forget their voices.

In those first few moments, I thought I knew what was coming.  I thought I’d learned enough about toughness and resistance to handle anything.  I thought I was ready.  I was wrong.  Despite everything, I would actually be surprised when Fort Bend deputies refused to take photos of the bruises on my body, the way they laughed about needing “some justice like that” in the United States.  I would actually be shocked when Fort Bend prosecutors claimed that they had never signed an agreement with Mexico to take the death penalty off the table as a condition of my extradition, even though several treaties required this very thing.  I would stumble from surprise to rude awakening to a state of numb exhaustion for years over the nearly infinite gulf separating the actual evils found in the prison system versus the ways that most Americans perceive that same system.  It bewilders me still – in the ancient sense of that word, meaning to be taken into the wild far from civilization and left to die.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare writes of the “infinite varieties of the quality of mercy.”  Of this, I cannot say.  As I write these words, I am roughly sixty days from my potential death.  For almost a decade, I have been preparing a sort of experiment that may, from a certain angle, look something like mercy or even grace.  I suspect very strongly that many people will desire to view the choice I am about to lay at the feet of Governor Greg Abbott as an opportunity for mercy, people’s beliefs on the subject being what they are.  I once saw the topic of clemency through this lens, certainly.  As the years have gone by and my proficiency with the subject improved, as I monitored closely the ways that our state government denied petition after petition, I’m afraid I have lost this pleasing yet naïve perspective.  It has become apparent to me that everything really reduces down to a calculation of the political capital Abbott will accrue from either my execution or my survival.  If enough of his base expresses their desire for my continued existence – and there’s no doubt that amongst this crowd, the idiom of mercy will dominate – he can grant me my life and pretend that his decision had everything to do with him having a conscience.  If that base remains quiet or is drowned out by voices of other humans the Governor detests, he will bank instead on the goodwill obtained from his supporters for being a staunch advocate for their version of justice.  This is a question about power and perception, not mercy.  I’ll know in just under sixty days if I have judged the currents of this strange river correctly, you, whenever you eventually read these words.  It would have been nice to have lived in a society where a genuine attempt at self-correction and evolution meant something when it comes to questions of clemency, but we have a long way to go before we get to that point in Texas.  

So, I’m not sure I really know much about the infinite varieties of the quality of mercy, at least not in all the ways I would like to.  I do know about the quality of hurt, the quality of pain, the quality of fear.  They have tried to instruct me on the infinite varieties of the quality of hate, but I grew weary of the lessons and dropped out of class.  I have learned, and continue to learn, some of the qualities of love, and solidarity, and maybe – again, from a certain angle – the quality of redemption.  It is a strange and terrible thing to be eternally defined by one’s worst act, to be told that one is incapable of changing for the better because the path one has chosen out of the Shadow doesn’t happen to synch up enough with a series of incoherent Levantine folktales.  I wonder if I would have been able to look at myself in the mirror if I had clothed myself in the vestments of religion and began spouting a bunch of Kum-bah-yah-my-lord stuff instead of heading off into the lands of humanism and rationality.  I suspect my chances of survival would be much higher at the moment, but the cost – the cost!  I am convinced in this moment that I did as I had to do, and that it is better to die genuinely healed (if unbelieved by the faithful) than to survive as a hypocrite.  I say this, I believe it, and I guess we will see if I could feel this way on the morning of 22 February. 

There is a thing I have done for years, something I have never spoken about with anyone, and certainly never written about.  It’s a sort of meditation, different from my regular attempts at shamatha or vipassana, something I engage in when I’m weighed down by the guilt I’ve carried around on my shoulders for the past fifteen years.  I picture a balance.  On the one side, I place 10 December 2003, the beliefs that led up to that night, the blood, the lies.  On the other, I lay a thousand acts of generosity that I have willed into existence since my fall from citizenhood.  Generally these aren’t worth mentioning to people: small acts of kindness that we convicts engage in within this concrete hell as a form of resistance.  While certainly not equivalent to the swirling, pulsing black hole piled up on the other side of the scales when compared as individual moments, collectively, they start to add up to something. In this model, the balance never zeroes out, and it never will; I’m nowhere near optimistically arrogant enough to think such a thing is possible.  The point is to keep piling up the weight, to never stop.  It helps to have a sort of gallery of positive memories available to be taken out and cradled when the night is long and the stone-throwers are active.

For it’s all too easy to find yourself laying there, staring at the ceiling or looking out the window at a sky made starless by the security lights, and fall into the habit of perceiving within all of that emptiness the idea that concepts like mercy and redemption are insignificant when compared to pain and ignorance and hate.  You need to be able to reach out to the other side of the scales and pick out a memory, to be able to look further than the bars and catch a glimpse of Juan sitting on his porch, Blackie laying next to him, his huge anchor of a head resting on his master’s leg, and to know that you did that.  That’s not much, I know.  It makes me smile every single time, nonetheless.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of this, it is the value of learning to smile in the face of annihilation.  It’s the only real power we humans ever have.

Thomas Whitaker 02179411
Michael Unit
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Down Ocqueoc Road

By Darrell Jarvis

When visiting America, Charles Dickens was heard to say: “There’s only two things that I wish to see, the Niagara Falls and Eastern State Penitentiary.”  Like many others, this celebrated author was spellbound by that fortress of silence.

What follows is a maze of misery, malice, and things maybe best left unsaid.  So I ask, “Can you handle the ‘real deal’, or will you shrink from the silver bullet of truth?”

This story centers around two people.  One was a meek outsider in an unstable world.  He was not a member of the “cool crowd,” not one of the popular kids in school.  He had very few friends, minimal family support, and bright hopes and dreams not unlike any teenager his age.  The other figure was an astute old judge, owl wise, dignified and honest, -- at least that’s the translation he would tell.  As Adolf Hitler once confessed, “Tell a lie enough times and somebody will believe it.” 

My most frightening thought is the probability of dying in here.  This cesspool has nothing good in its veins.  It has no measure of rehabilitation, and no concern for those souls lost in it.

As the police car turned into the parking lot, I had no concept of risk or penalty, no rhyme or reason to the evil in this tomb of which I now entered.  Shuffling down the corridor of the world’s largest walled prison, I read a sign hanging over the first set of electric doors. It read: “Through these gates walk the finest officers in the system.”

These administrators ignored the facts of prison life, failing to mention that the bulk of illegal drugs being sold on the Big Yard was smuggled inside by rogue employees.  Plus the flow of street knives, bottled liquor, and green money creeping through the front gates. Still deeper, women employees moonlight as “working girls”.  These “soiled doves” sell their sensual pleasures.  I once asked a friend who was a notorious drug-dealer how much these favors cost.  He smiled and replied, “The ladies-of-the-night were fifty dollars, and I paid a hundred dollars for each load of drugs an officer delivered to me.”

Money owns the town.  Oh yeah, I was amused at how cheaply these “wanderers” were corrupted.  Then there was that rape case where predator guards preyed upon female prisoners for several years. After a barrage of court dynamics the State of Michigan agreed to some multi-million dollar settlements. This case harkened back to the those words spoken by a Detroit news reporter: “If you want to see the scum of the earth stand in front of the state prison at shift change.”

It should be noted that these seamy officials are a minority of the civilian work force inside that compound.  Most of the employees are ordinary and respectable people who happen to work inside a prison rather than a factory, or some other blue-collar job.  In America, we must have a network of police and prisons to assure the safety of its God-fearing citizens.  Without such a system, we would be living in a Wild West world where the fastest gun rules the town.

I was a humble and naïve teenager when I first entered the quagmire of state prison.  I had never been in trouble as a juvenile, and had never been inside a jail.  I was the youngest of five people involved in a “counterfeit check” ring.  The police retrieved most of the stolen money.  Somewhere along the way that bundle of cash disappeared.  The money was in the possession of the county sheriff and, to my knowledge, there was no investigation ever held in this boggled riff-raff. Someone in that police department knows what happened to that evidence.  “Not me, not me, “ said the cockroach to the flea, “Not me..!”  This case is a measuring rod of motive, mockery and scorn.  “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” declared William Shakespeare.

Since those days, I have endured, in grief as the chapters of my life exploded forward.  Straddling the razor-wire of this diverse culture, living in these prisons made me old and philosophical.  I envision the things that I missed during these agonizing years in a cell.  Haunted by old memories, I cannot retract or change any of it.  While once being interviewed by Geraldo Rivera, the gruff and plain-spoken journalist, Jimmy Breslin, adamantly proclaimed, “I know where crime starts.  It all starts in the family.”  Most criminals come from bad families and broken homes, and quite frankly, so did I.  In my formative years there was no father, a pathetic mother, no money, and no goodness in our lives.  I have now slammed 40 calendars in these cold-blooded snake pits.  Since my senior year in high school, I have been free for only a brief vacation, and that was while still a youngster.  I have no future, no achievements, and no meaningful substance to my credit.  Prison life is ruthless, a rugged, raw-dog survival each day.

The imagery of “gangster” has been distorted to such an extreme that it has become a colossal joke.  Accepting their station in life, and courting the permanence of a prison cell or shallow grave, most of these pupils are not the genuine article.  What they lack in courage is compensated by group bravado, role playing fantasies of a virulent character of constitution, for a pack of wolves is a pack of cowards --- anywhere in the world. Many prisoners prove to be extensions of Judas who resign their souls to an existence of complacency, concealing themselves in grandiosity as they swagger through their cartoon trilogy of plastic-people, wannabe gangsters, and legends in their institutionalized minds.

The United States holds the largest incarcerated population per capita in the industrialized world.  Once these repositories are built they will most certainly remain full, no matter the cost to humanity. This modern system, with its cookie-cutter prisons, has become a “business empire” which is not always operating in the best interest of the public, and is lacking in its contribution to mankind.  I’ve studied prison much as a scientist would examine a humanoid race found on another planet.  The subject is inherently dysfunctional, and one’s blind faith in justice seems sadly misplaced.  What the experts garner is fringe learning ripped from perfumed books and other academic systems.  However, what I’ve perceived in this school-of-hard-knocks came courtesy of a tyrannical prison facility.

In here there are no goldfish, and every bandit in this tank is a shark.  Some are prone to be more destitute than others, and some are definitely more dangerous, but they all spawn from depravity, spoil and deceit.  Stumbling through these turbulent years, I morphed into decay knowing no bounds to my feral and disquieting madness.

Earnestly digesting documentaries, books and files, I became a self-styled “crime connoisseur.” I absorbed the writings of literary lions such as Tolstoy and Dumas, Mailer and Capote, along with a library of masters who reached the pinnacle of their craft in recording history, moulding great novels, and recounting fabulous tales of true life!

In any event, one should only speak on matters for which one knows best.  Being judged a reject and branded a killer, I would find firm ground were I to attack the myths of crime and justice, prison and punishment, freedom and death, even mayhem and murderous rage. In some twisted manner prison seems not unlike a school, a gutter university, an animal shelter that breeds game and gangsters, mice and men, junkies and junkyard dogs.  This community grapples with the grim measure of life.  One must face the depth of treachery and become adept at controlling the villainous nature of man.   The essence of prisons was once well defined by the infamous outlaw, George “Machine-Gun” Kelly.  “Prison,” said Kelly, “takes away all that makes life real.”  This vile and desolate colony knows no mercy, no remorse, no compromise, and little hope to anyone trapped within its smothering grip.  Prison is Satan’s castle here on Earth.

In moments of brutal confrontations I have had tear gas sprayed in my face, and both food and water withheld for days as I lay in a sweltering slammer cell in detention. A notice attached to the outside door instructing all officers to not open this door for any reason, per orders of the deputy warden.  Unruffled, I pledged retaliation as I squirted urine from a lotion bottle and hurled bowls of feces on any official foolish enough to step within my throwing reach.  In combat zone and combat ready, this battle raged for about six months until the Director of the State Department of Corrections issued a “Special Handling Order” against me.

Soon I was transferred to the Michigan Intensive Program Center, which operated as an innovative “behavior modification program.”  It was further ordered that I not be allowed to participate in the program since I’d gone through this procedure two times in recent years. To the dreaded segregation unit I went for another dismal stay.

Among a few similar facilities in the nation, this special program -- know as MIPC, and located in Marquette, Michigan -- on the picturesque shore of Lake Superior, had been designed by, BF Skinner, a highly regarded behavioralist from Minnesota.  It is said that during World War II, he developed a weapon using pigeons housed in the nose-cone of a bomb to guide it into enemy warships.  At any rate, the climate inside this facility was not degrading in any way.  A domain which was influenced by a process of privileges, demonstrating both comfort and compensation to the prisoners enrolled.

Aggressively spearheading this program was the chief psychologist, Dr Richard Walter, whose motto was “firm but fair”.  Years later, he would be one of three founding fathers of the Vidocq Society, a professional crime-solving club based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A group of unsung warriors, brilliant forensic experts and bloodhound detectives whose crime-busting prowess draws from the ranks of FBI profilers, psychologists, scientists, hardened homicide cops, pathologists and well-seasoned prosecutors.  These streetwise sleuths specialize in unsolved murders.  Members are selected by invitation only through a committee vote.  This Society is named for Eugene Francois Vidocq who ironically had once been a criminal himself, but later became a renowned French detective.  According to a story aired on Court TV, Dr Walter has solved more cold case homicides than any other member.

While doing time at the MIPC facility, Dr Walter and I had several discussions about crime and prison, and I absorbed what I could of his wisdom, knowledge, and intellectual wealth.  On two occasions, Dr Walter urged me to talk with the FBI Behavioral Science Unit from Quantico, Virginia.  I signed the consent form but was transferred out of the prison before the interview could take place.  Then the second time they were not able to make the slated trip to Michigan.  Soon thereafter I was sent to a downstate facility and never heard from them again.  In the movie, Silence of the Lambs, this unit of the FBI is fictionalized interviewing Hannibal the Cannibal to help identify the deranged psycho-killer, Buffalo Bill.  A tenacious team of agents, today better known as profilers, was established after the 1972 death of J Edgar Hoover, who had refused to allow its inception into the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The two pioneers of this elite squad, John Douglas and Robert Ressler, have in recent years both retired from the Bureau, but Ressler, who originally coined the term serial killer, went on to become a member of the Vidocq Society.

I recall from my conversations with Dr Walter a tale I related to him, and how he enjoyed every word.  This fiasco happened in 1976, the bicentennial year.  I was living in an apartment building owned by a reputed mobster named Louie Linteau.  The address was next to the Airport Limousine Service on Paddock and University Drive in Pontiac, Michigan, a business also owned by this nefarious character. Louie “The Pope” Linteau who secured his claim to fame when the white-hot finger of the FBI pointed in his direction and dubbed Linteau the missing link in the Hoffa case.  James Riddle Hoffa, whose nickname was “Little Hammer,” vanished from outside a restaurant in Oakland County, slightly north of Detroit, in 1975.  Never to be seen again, this case, including a private telephone call between Jimmy Hoffa and Louie Linteau, which had not been monitored by law enforcement, set the tone for one of history’s most baffling crime mysteries.

Bolstering this myth, a few years later Linteau was found dead in the living quarters of the Airport Limo Service.  Louie’s wife had recently left him for a new man. Still pending were charges levied against Linteau for hiring a thug to assault his wife’s new lover.  This intimidating “bully”, it was soon discovered, turned out to be a police officer.  In September of 1976, our fervid band of outlaws crossed paths with Linteau in such a manner that he stepped very close to being shot dead.

The last time I saw Dr Walter was several years ago in yet a different prison.  He recognized my name on the ride-in list and stopped at my cell to say hello.  He’d recently enjoyed a tour-of-splendour around the entire world, and recounted to me the many countries through which he’d traveled.  Before leaving, he inquired whether I still did my running routine which began during my sojourn at the Intensive Program Center in Marquette,  “Yes,” I replied!  Through the years I’ve conditioned myself into an accomplished runner who, in my most prolific season, has powered eighteen mile runs every day, some one hundred and twenty-five miles per week which, I must stress, requires a strict level of discipline, especially in prison conditions where a high-nutrition food supply is not available to me.

But those hurdles seem minor when compared to later challenges such as when I endured thirty-five days with no food.  I have been chained to a bed with five-point restraints and have worn both belly chains and leg irons for twenty-five days and nights in a cold seclusion room inside a psychiatric unit. I have hanged myself in artful manipulations on six occasions.  Only five of these incidents are documented, since one time while I was swinging from the door on the night-shift, the officer was negligent and just kept walking down the hallway. This stuff is dwarfed by the most devastating period in my survey of pressure, time and self-indulgence. This became a contest of wit and grit between an unyielding psychiatrist and me when I hanged myself from an air vent and was placed in a suicide garment know as a “Bam-Bam” suit. I rejected all food rations for the next nineteen days and further refused to drink water for the last nine days of this famishing debacle.  My physical welfare was on the brink of irreversible dehydration with my mouth and throat badly parched and swollen. I have sustained the rigors and plunders of prison life, and know its great sufferings quite well.

In a flurry of activities, another prisoner had his throat slashed, the prison’s hearing officer was assaulted, and a prison counselor was twice stabbed with a knife that I clutched in my hand.  Then the judge’s gavel rang, affirming my tenth life sentence.  Still showing my contempt for authority, I was further levied one additional year after trying to overpower two armed transportation officers with a gun carved from a bar of soap. In a later episode I received a fifty to seventy five year sentence for hijacking a big rig and ramming the 18-wheeler through some heavy perimeter fences in an escape attempt.

Feeling tremors of a derailed mind, I tumbled down the tunnel of darkness devoid of human interaction or dreams.  Then, in a miracle of resistance, I found the way to return my soul to sanity.

I have logged an aggregate of fifteen years in various segregation units.  We call this extreme custody The Hole, since one remains locked in a cell at all times with no mobility whatsoever.  Its realm seems a fog, a void of disturbing privacy, perhaps only a mirage where I desperately seek refuge from a life whose effects feel both sombre and severe.

Prisoners locked in these conditions long term can easily flirt with disaster, since suicide and psychosis are always in the fog lights of this conflict with claustrophobia and other demented things.  This is gruelling for those whose spirits are now broken, chained to a concrete slab with steel restraints controlling their every move. Still others drink their own urine and eat their own feces in this vegetated metaphor of unsurpassed surrender. 

Two prisoners known to me actually severed their own penises and threw them away like pieces of unwanted meat.  One of these guys used a razor blade, while the other employed the heavy lid of a steel footlocker as he smashed its rough cutting edge down on himself. “Severe sensory deprivation” someone once said, “is the tranquilizing venom which will reduce one to a grinding ritual of non-existence.”  There’s a 1973 murder case of a prison guard at that old dungeon in Marquette, and the killer is still in the hole to this day.

These prisons are functioning as soot-blackened “hate factories” that will hemorrhage one’s mind and bleed one’s heart of all merciful acts.  Prison is Hell on Earth and the worst thing this side of a tombstone. It radiates a truth raw yet realistic, full of life’s trials, tribulation and lies.

Be that as it may, prison does deserve one high mark.  It captures the sense of time.  It affords one the opportunity to study the past, and to glean insight. I grew up in prison and in early adulthood never scrutinized its law, let alone reflecting if such fundamental basics might apply to my own shadowy life.  In leaps and bounds, I evolved from forgery to robberies, kidnappings and murders.  One dog day afternoon, a partner and myself went so far as to play a game of tic-tac-toe in a pool of dead man’s blood. On another day we made a man dig a grave with his bare hands before shooting him and burying his body in a remote gravel pit.  Like bloodthirsty hounds from Hades, we were roving marauders, death’s ugly eye giving us direction.

Michigan’s northern territory, with its abundance of wildlife, is residence to the Tahquamenon Falls, the second largest waterfalls on the eastern side of the United States.  In 1889, the last stagecoach to be robbed east of the Mississippi River was in the Upper Peninsula of this state.  Some people were killed in the heist, including the driver.  The highwayman, a German immigrant, was hunted down by a posse and narrowly avoided being lynched.  He did, however, serve the next 24 years in prison.  Further, there are the “Soo Locks” which connect the two Great Lakes of Superior and Huron, and in whose neighboring reaches off Whitefish Point is the site of the shipwrecked “Edmund Fitzgerald”, which sank in a storm in November of 1975, and was later immortalized by the gifted Canadian singer and songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot.  Lastly, this state’s western upper region is “Copper Country,” and experts believe it is where the bulk of copper was mined and then shipped back to Europe.  After being smelted and mixed with “tin,” these alloys became the new metal, which fueled the “Bronze Age.” 

As a youngster, I lived in rural northern Michigan in a quaint farming community called “Ocqueoc,” some fifty miles from the scenic Straits of Mackinaw.  I was raised by my grandparents while my mother also lived in the house.  I attended one of the last country schools still used in the state.  It was named the Vilburn School, after a family who lived nearby.  It had one teacher and one classroom for all the students which, I believe, went to the eighth grade.  It had a wood and coal furnace and a belfry on the roof, and the older kids took turns ringing its bell.  

One day the teacher came to our house for some reason.  As she stepped from the car she was bitten on the leg by our dog.  She threatened to seek a lawsuit, but Grandma said we were safe because there was a handmade sign nailed to the big tree in front of the house which warned all strangers to ‘beware of the dog.”  There was a traditional Christmas play held at night while the adults and young children crowded in the darkness of the classroom and enjoyed the amenities of this warm and old-fashioned landscape. We treasured those days of adventure in this place of beauty and bountiful things.  I cherished this time, the first couple years of my schooling, and still retain precious memories from those sentimental seasons of an innocence lost long ago.

Grandpa was a hard-scrabble man who married Grandma in the days of the Great Depression. He served in Europe during World War II, and survived the tragedy of the Cedarville, a huge ore freighter that collided with another freighter and sank near the Mackinaw Bridge in the summer fog of 1965.  It was one of the largest ships to sink in the Great Lakes, and it claimed the lives of ten sailors, three of whom were never found.  There’s a 2000 documentary titled “Tragedy in the Straits – SS Cedarville remembered.”  I was told by a close relative that Grandpa’s  name is mentioned in the dialogue of the film.

So here we lived in this filth with bed bugs.  No one cleaned the rooms or prepared a good meal.  In the worst times there were twelve people living in that deplorable mad house, including my two aunts and their children. No one got married, so none of the “illegitimates” had a father.  There was no maturity, no responsibility, no communication, and no one held accountable.  Their lack of ambitions eclipsed any logic or parental obligations.  Not one of these jaded sisters worked a job, and they all contrived excuses which they tried to disguise.  With a whistle of posture, every weekend these rowdy alley cats scurried to the local bar to chase some fluff and fancy.

We kids, feeling inferior to the world, were cast to the wounding winds and no adult in our circle seemed to notice.  Adrift and with barnyard manners, it was determined we youngsters didn’t need a father, or income, or clean house, or good food.  Oh no, we didn’t need a “real” mother, or family structure, or security, or the inconvenience of concern.  The cruelties of abandonment ran wild. Throwaway children feeling the sting of their murky and disgraceful surroundings.  

 “Everyone knows we’re doing all we can for our kid…” Or so the big lie went.  All while alienated youngsters were made to struggle in this cauldron of torment, defect and delirium.

Peace and harmony never allowed. My imposing mother would storm through the house spitting at people and starting fist-fights, slamming doors so hard that it knocked plaster out of the walls, throwing food across the table and slinging chairs across the room. In her reign of terror, she would then claim to be badly injured in that last rumble, and therefore unable to clean the house, cook a meal, or go get a paying job.  So it went year after year as my grandparents allowed this to continue in that pigsty.

I once asked my mother for help with my school work.  Spiralling out of control, she hovered over me and roared, “Ask the _____ school teacher, that’s what they pay that ______ for!”

At around eleven years old I tore two gashes in the inner arch of one foot as I stepped on something sharp while splashing in a down stream stretch of the Ocqueoc River, not far from the twin falls.  The cuts were serious and required medical care. My mother, in front of family, friends and strangers, went into a frenzy of vulgar names as she shook her fist and screamed a melody of vengeance. She refused to take me to the hospital, even though she had Grandpa’s car sitting there in the parking lot.  One of my aunts carried me to the picnic table of a lady whom we did not know, and she was kind enough to drive me to the hospital. When I got home my mother announced that I would not be getting any crutches.  “You can hobble around on that foot until it gets better,” she shrieked.  My aunt later rented me a pair of crutches from the same hospital.

When I asked to go to Boy Scouts the request was denied. The reason given by both Grandma and my mother was that they could not afford to drive me to town once a week.  Yet this was the same town where my mother faithfully went to the bar to pursue her jollies.

No, I would not join the Boy Scouts, but in that same year I was guided to a bedroom where my toothless mother ordered me to caress her bare buttocks as she lay on the bed moaning in pleasures of approval, with the door locked and the light out so as to mask these violations in secrecy.  Then to make things fair, at least in her crude mind, she rewarded me with a piece of chewing gum each time.  I, being so young, was not able to stave off the obsessions of this carnivore. She called these episodes “back rubs,” and as I grew older she stopped doing it probably for fear of me telling the wrong person and her facing public exposure and reproach.

At thirteen I went to work on my cousin’s nearly dairy farm.  The work was rigorous and the hours were long as I tried to improve my life.  I was paid forty cents per hour which earned me five dollars a day.  This money equated to about one-fourth of the legal minimum wage in those days.  I was a resilient, honest and highly-principled young guy who went to school and held a job.  Stretching my meager resources, I bought my own clothes, paid for my own food at school, got everybody in the house a Christmas present, and even had some cash in the bank.  

When my rigid schedule permitted, I went in the kitchen and baked cakes and brownies from the pre-mixed box.  Always on the prowl for creature comforts, the adults eagerly helped themselves to those sweet and tasty treats.  All this while my mother and other parasitic, slouches sat around watching TV and concocting fictions so as to not work a job, or contribute anything significant at all.  One of my mother’s most common lines was, “You’re gonna have to learn how to go without.”  Practicing what she preached, she even refused to earn enough money to buy a set of false teeth.

On another occasion my mother and her youngest brother had a scuffle which ended with the front windshield being broken in Grandpa’s car. Instead of getting a job and ordering a new windshield, my mother elected to lie to the insurance company, fabricating a story which fingered some unknown suspect, and in turn allowed my conniving mother to receive a free windshield for the car.

In 1969, I was allowed to buy a rifle and go deer hunting.  Trying to be frugal, I didn’t buy a hunting suit until the following year.  That second season a deer came sprinting down a fence line towards me, and I opened fire.  It was a button-buck, which because of the short antlers must be tagged with a doe permit, and I did not have one.  My uncle and I gutted the little buck and hid it in some bushes.  The next morning a trusted friend helped retrieve the deer in the back of his old Studebaker pickup.  Later that evening he returned to our house with some of the venison and a story to go with it as Grandma ridiculed us younger hunters for failing to get a deer.  Nevertheless, the only reason I did not claim this trophy was because my mother would have called the game warden, and gotten a thrill out of it. This would prove to be the only deer that I bagged in all my life.

At sixteen, I received my driver’s license and purchased a car with my own money.  When I brought it home, Grandpa rushed to the front of the vehicle, leaping in the air as he waved clenched fists and cursed in my face.  He then threatened to get a hammer and smash the windows. Grandpa expected me to attend college and demanded that I pay for this education with my scant savings from working on a small farm; while he never put a penny in the package, and being hobbled by his own weakness, couldn’t collect the strength of mind to tell his grown children, including my mother, to find a job and earn some money for the family’s practical purpose and benefit.

To compose my mother’s biography, one would require two taunting words: “lie and deny!” Never trying to mend her stifling disorders, she cast over this family a pallor of pain and dejection with a scowl on her face and a vapor of detestation.  Unwilling to conform to society, she became a disaster who cheated herself out of life.  Then the county paid for a pauper’s funeral and her days of derision were no more.

Understandably, as a youth, living in this war zone was very discouraging.  Pushed towards violence, I ingested struggle, strife and sacrifice which diminished my desire to be good. From that declining household all three daughters birthed “black sheep” children. One aunt of mine birthed FOUR children out of wedlock,  one of them dying under suspicious circumstances. Three of the boys went to prison and three of the boys spent time in a state mental hospital.  Also, one girl and one boy were involved in wanton and grisly crimes, including murder.  At least six people from this house have bummed off welfare for extended periods of time.  One night I caught an uncle trying to molest one of my little cousins.  He later twice burglarized the parsonage of the nearby Baptist Church, and each time stole only the panties of the pastor’s wife. This pervert now nicknamed “Pants Thief,” was then committed to the state nuthouse for a couple years.

Another uncle broke into a local tavern and stole some beer.  The owner identified Grandpa’s jeep fleeing the scene.  Grandpa interceded and reimbursed the damages to keep his son out of jail. When it happened again at a different tavern he was sent to prison.  Another time Grandpa’s brother burned down a public school in Ocqueoc because he did not get the job of bus driver.  By any measure, we were the redneck neighbors from Hell.  

Our courts have adopted the supremacy of ancient rulers in their thirst to be hard on crime.  The United Sates boasts the “greatest judicial system in the world.”  Wasn’t it the Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, who said, “No money, no justice.”

What a prophetic testament of truth those words do tell.  My first conviction stemmed from cashing bad checks.  I had no juvenile record, but still was banished to the world of state prison.  They had the option, and could have sentenced me under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which was a program conceived for troubled adolescents.  Or they could have offered a pivotal judgment and sent me to the Army for a few years.  Most likely this would have directed me down a different road in life, especially since I was a germinating 17-year old and could still be salvaged from the elements of crime.  Now here I rest, both a hated and hateful person.

During those years our closest neighbor was the Baptist Church, which I attended but never felt warmly greeted or welcome.  So where were those noble citizens when a downtrodden child, and my vulnerable young cousins were growing up with nothing?  We strove to survive in this dehumanizing family which had no role models, no mentors, no camaraderie, and not one person intervening on behalf of the children living in those squalid and unruly conditions.  Moreover, not one church member, nor any county official, ever gave a hoot!

Since high school I have tasted freedom a total of seven months.  Savoring nostalgia, I often wonder what happened to that wholesome farm boy who worked so honorably for everything he had in those days.  I’d like to talk with that youngster and tell him not to come in here, tell him how a life in prison will turn him weary and desperate and vile.  Yes, I’d like to talk with that teenager and tell him so many things, but I can’t talk with him because he’s gone.  What’s left is a tortured soul trudging down this forbidden road carrying a pine-box of doom.

While still a teen I began a perilous journey and made choices which, as I now reflect, seemed hell bent on destruction. It is now my autumn of life. Most criminologists agree there is a solid correlation between poverty, crime, and a garden variety of other unbalanced fodder.

I often ask, “Am I a casualty of my environment?” I was never a drug addict and never an alcoholic.  I did not go to the bard.  I have no uncanny, amoral or insatiable habits, and have never committed any sex crimes which, according to national statistics, is rare in the wretched world of criminals.  For we are the dregs of society, the underdogs most people don’t want to know.

There’s a timeless saying in the Amish community: “You need not summon the Devil, for he will come without calling.”  If Webster’s dictionary placed a picture next to the phrase Jekyll and Hyde, it would be the mug shot of my former crime partner, Jerry.  This scavenger had a persona which was always smiling and debonair, but his gracious façade was only a well-polished scam.  While in prison he conned every woman with whom he had contact, and married, then later divorced, two of them.  Laboring with his wish to be free, Jerry piloted the most riveting escape plan that I have ever encountered.  Recently returned to prison with a lengthy sentence for robbery, Jerry, with a loathing air of fresh confidence, recruited the services of a friend about to be paroled.  Jerry, the defunct sociopath, had shown his elusive profile.

The plot required that the parolee go to the home of Jerry’s mother and kill her, which he dutifully did.  Following this homicide, Jerry would apply for a “funeral visit” which must be approved by a warden.  Once on site, the parolee would pull a gun to out-muscle both escorting officers and liberate Jerry.  As this debacle unravelled, the parolee was stopped by the police in a traffic violation which somehow led back to the dead mother and a murder conviction for him.

Though never suspected in this bizarre and selfish scheme, Jerry’s request to attend the funeral was denied, and the murder of Jerry’s mother was for nothing.  This game of roulette proved to be hazardous for all concerned, and to my best knowledge is the only such case in United States history.  Jerry, the epitome of a jailhouse mouse, went on to serve almost three more decades in prison.  Floundering from hepatitis with a tumor on his stomach the size of a watermelon, in the spring of 2002, Jerry was granted medical parole and died two days later.

Trying to articulate this reality, my mind reaches back to an incident where myself and a co-defendant were separately sentenced to life in prison on a murder case.  Upon returning from the courthouse, as my crime partner passed my cell he said, “The judge told me that if I had some money, I could get out of this.”  And the under sheriff who was escorting my partner remarked, “The judge shouldn’t have said that.” This was the same ambassador of arrogance who sent me to prison five years earlier for cashing bad checks.  The under sheriff, while guarding after sentencing that same day, patted me on the shoulder as he laughed and said “That’s what they call ‘all day’, isn’t it?” Less than two years later, as the elected county sheriff, he was mortally wounded by a crazed gunman who had recently been released from a mental hospital.  Then, in response, a deputy shot and killed the attacker.  Years earlier my mother dated this damaged individual.  The fallen lawman, Duane Badder, was the second sheriff to die in the line of duty in the State of Michigan.

Unprincipled, uncaged and on the hunt at 21-years old, I graduated from cashing bad checks to randomly butchering human beings. I feel eternal flames scorching my bones.  At times it seems I’ve earned a doctorate degree in the dark side of humanity. I transformed into a wrecking machine firing on only three cylinders spewing hatred, fury and failure.  A master of malfunction with bad people and the bad seeds they sow.

Prison taught me how to be a criminal, how to hate, and how to kill. Our jurisprudence has no rationale in its overwhelming hunger to punish.  There’s a staggering divide between a forlorn teenager committing a frivolous theft and hard core crime.  Still, with no compunction, a judge will send youths to prison, while other avenues were readily available but ignored.  Our system refuses to incorporate a safety net to prevent this from happening.  

Prison is the back streets of Purgatory, its desperadoes running wild.  Our gestures overtly racist and fierce, we adhere tooth and claw to the primitive code of the jungle.  Living among these lepers, one must maintain total awareness of one’s surroundings, for lifeblood in these jails runs penny cheap, and destiny will call only once.

Prison, it has been said, does three things.  It makes you bitter, very bitter.  It brings you to the crossroads of life where big decisions must be made.  Then it kills you.  Prison is both over-rated and underestimated, thriving with ignorance and exaggeration.  Yes, this chaos is real, and it’s too late for me to benefit from change, for the true campaign must begin with properly raising the children.

My nightmare started when as an impressionable and gullible youngster I embraced an older clan of devout rebels.  This crowd of ruffians included an uncle who was 15 years my senior. Three of us cashed bogus checks, while a woman friend went along for the ride. My uncle would only drink beer and drive the car, pocketing some of the money as a fee from each check we cashed.  Following our arrest, we were placed in a tiny lock-up beneath a county courthouse which resembled the Mayberry Jail on the Andy Griffith show.  After six weeks I pleaded guilty and soon felt the wrath of a sneering and callous judge.  His hand did not hesitate with a fiery decision.  Even though most of the money was recovered by the police, and later went missing from the evidence vault, this old judge showed indifference to the plight of a corroding teenager as he unleashed his “justice” upon me.

Exhausted by this expedition called “life,” I gaze down on my avalanche of destruction. I have come to terms with my fate, renounced crime and bloodshed, and tried to make sense of this existence.  I have great remorse and a conscience which gnaws at me like a cancer.

“If you don’t want to taste the fruits of sin, stay out of Lucifer’s orchard,” so the saying goes. Perhaps I am that bruised apple. Or maybe I am the son of a serpent gone astray.

Trying to decide which route to follow, good or bad, and whether to pursue the decency or the narrative sins knowing quite well that my mind was enslaved to depravity while my heart was that of a dead man walking.

With my manifesto, I am consumed with this genesis of my infliction. I gained confidence to analyse the speculative subject of myself. I urge you to not embark on a career of crime, for the only thing waiting at the end of this road is a cold and lonely grave.

I cannot stroke a brush like Picasso, or romance the common word like Hemingway, Homer and Poe.  Emitting no hocus pocus, I here pen a thesis reflecting my dim and ill-fated voyage.  A gritty lesson is that “one must be careful what one does in life, for none of it can be undone.”  My deepest regret is that I did not become an “achiever.”  I was not there to help my cousins when they needed a real friend in their fragile and formative years. I launched crimes against non-criminal and innocent human beings.  The word “Penitentiary” is a term from the Roman Catholic Church that relates to penance, and with all these decades now behind me, the gravity of my actions comes to me, full and frightful.

Let this be a cautionary tale to those who wager with extinction, for no matter how low we sink in life, there’s still a right and wrong. I feel akin to the Devil’s shadow as I scribe my ominous deeds. I’m swept towards oblivion, my blood cold.


Darrell Jarvis 134944
Lakeland Correctional Facility
141 First Street
Coldwater, MI 49036