Pages

Monday, September 24, 2007

Poetry and Writing by Wesley Purkey

Change is Inevitable

The present moment hovers between the past and the future,
Just as our lives hover between existence and non-existence.
We are reluctant to change and 
What we perceive it might be, 
Dreading the anguish that we cannot see.
Anguish emerges from craving, 
for life to be other than what it is. 
And here lies the most fundamental problem of human 
existence- we are never satisfied!
If we don't have something, we want some;
If we have some, we want more;
And if we have lots, we're afraid of losing it. 
Life ebbs from moment to moment, 
Hooked together like a chain.
Change is inevitable, yet we are blind to it.
Impermanence, inhibitions and reality 
Never, ever remain the same!
Do not run from it, nor try to deny it exists,
Because you will suffer for it.
Instead, trade insight in exchange for the debilitating pain!


Humility

Humility, I believe, should give a person greater patience and tolerance in fighting life's difficult struggles, as well as to keep in mind that all individuals, with rare exception, deserve not only love and respect but forgiveness for their transgressions in this world. Some people have taken issue with my contention that 'rare exceptions' exist to such love, respect and forgiveness being shown to all individuals, but whether such qualms are justified or not truly is not germane to this brief material and will be saved for another day. Generally the insightful lessons taught through humility are not taught on pristine moutain tops, but instead are taught in some of the darkest and deepest valleys of despair. In such valleys of despair, loneliness and desolation is where genuine and sincere remorse is cultivated, in combination with forging the true essence of humility. These synonymous virtues of humility and remorse teach a person that it is far better to extend empathy, kindness and love for others in their life's sufferings, downfalls and plights rather that to levy scorn, ridicule and hasty harsh judgements upon them. These hard taught lessons indubitably bring to bear witness that no individual who dwells on the face of this earth is infallible and that 'to be human is to err'.

Generally the weakness that we perceive to be in others and are so ready to criticise them for can readily be found in ourselves through minimal scrutiny. Humility is the true measuring stick for any human being, no matter their status or statue in this world. It cannot be bought but must be earned via life's darkest trial and tribulations. Such humility of depth is seen through a person's empathy and compassion shown to others and self. We all live in glass houses and as Christ told the gathering crowd, who eagerly waited to stone to death the sinner prostitute who cringed and cowed before them in fear, 'let them without sin toss the first stone'. You could have heard a pin drop as the stones were being reluctantly released by the crowd and hitting the ground. The 'sinner', the prostitute, lived to see another day and found that by helping others who shared similar plights in their lives as she did- she actually helped herself as well.

Genuine remorse to me is when a person finds the courage and fortitude to face up to the suffering and harm that  their selfishness has caused others. Mere lip service to a person claiming remorse for their dire selfish actions that has caused heart-breaking suffering in other people's lives demonstrates not only their utter lack of character, but is the ultimate disrespect for those individuals that they have so egregiously harmed. Truly remorse is not only found in a person's courage to accept responsibility for their selfish and devastating actions, but I believe comes to bear when they actually start to experience and feel the dire pain and suffering that they caused. Humility and remorse are mutually cultivated through a person's life on a continuing basis, aiding a person to mature in the face of their egregious selfish actions and making amends for such through acts of empathy and significant considerations for others.

Of course remorse is not dependent on forgiveness, as forgiveness is not dependent on a person's failure to demonstrate genuine and sincere remorse. Dale Carnegie gave a somewhat alternative to these given circumstances and said that “a person may not be saintly enough to forgive their enemy their sins, but for the sake of their health and happiness, at least forgive them, and then forget them'.
Of course remorse could never be of substance if extended for the purpose of seeking forgiveness, whereas the sincerity of such deep-rooted emotions must germinate from the depth of a person's heart and soul. The symbiosis teaching of remorse and humility has taught me what Plato so poignantly said and that is 'be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting struggles that you know nothing about!'

Without a doubt, love is the best antidote for hatred and goodwill for anger; the presence of one implies the absence of the other. In saying as much, when unconditional love is mustered in a person's heart in lieu of hatred, then all individuals on the face of the earth will receive the love, respect and forgiveness that is so deserving based on a person's dignity in this world.


Hell's Front Gate!

The house that I was born into was not a home, because a house that is a home is a harbor, a refuge and a very safe place for a child to be, a place that a child doesn't have to live in constant fear and agony. 

What deterred this house from being a home was a miserable drunk who would fly into blind violent rages, spawn from his child's most innocuous mistakesl you kknow the kind of mistakes I am talking about, the kind that every kid makes!

Punishment and discipline were swiftly melted out for these innocuous mistakes- with strong slaps across the kid's face, his head slammed against walls at a quick pace, and ultimately the kid was thrown in front of hell's gate! This shameful indignation, belittling and out-right hate did not stop there, hours and hours were mandated to be spent for this child's innocent mistakes, in quiet contemplation in the dark and lonely recesses of a secluded closet, bitterly known to this child, as hell's front gate!

This shameful palpable cruelty was administered in this house, not as a secret- and yet absolutely no one ever so much as attempted to intercede to stop or rescue this poor desperate child placed in desolation for a child's meager mistakes!

No child should have to face and bear such punishment and solitude- why did this miserable drunk hate his child so much and continued to hurt him so badly I asked myself!

No answer has ever been tentatively found and these questions will hound me to my grave, such punishment and treatment spawn and cultivate enormous deep rooted seeds of hate, and no matter the vast amount of years that have past they cannot begin, to erase, eradicate, nor abate these soul wrenching childhood memories that are permeated in hate, that were experienced at the hands of that miserable drunk at hell's front gate!


The Flower That Blooms in Adversity is The Rarest and Most Beautiful of All

The most beautiful flower that I know of is the Lotus that grows out of the deep recesses of the mud, and when eaten has a luxurious languor effect. This beautiful flower growing out of the mud, to me, has strong partial similarities to individuals who dwell deep within the recesses of society's mud, behind penitentiary walls; and find the ability, character and courage to bloom, making positive and constructive changes in their lives under such a prodigious antisocial structure. To me one of the first steps on that very narrow road of change under our contra productive penitentiary setting is the hardest of all: remorse. Of course subjects of this nature are taboo within the penitentiary tough-guy mentality and are considered weakness. Believe me, I am more than qualified to attest to this bizarre claim after dwelling in the deep recesses of society's mud for almost a half of a century now. Remorse, in my humble opinion, is the catalyst for change (although rarer than sightings of Big Foot) but when taken pays huge dividends for all concerned. 

Writing about remorse in general, as will as demonstrating my personal remorse for the selfish devastating pains I have caused others, has been extremely difficult and painful, but extremely difficult and painful, but extremely therapeutic. The essence of genuine remorse is not simply to castigate oneself, althought I agree that remorse does cause punishment which actually leads a person to change. But even more important, such pain (i.e., remorse) acknowledges the gravity of harm caused is essential to true remorse in-lieu of showing mere lip service to such. The deep pain that accompanies genuine remorse brings to bear the solemn dignity of the person harmed and the victims left in that harm's wake. Without accepting responsibility for the egregious harm caused others, no sincere recognition of the gravity of harm caused can take place. Contrary to the consensus behind penitentiary walls that remorse is showing weakness, nothing could be further from the truth.

I have said it before and I believe that it is worth saying again that “When a person starts to face up to what he or she has done, there is both remorse and also a need to feel, in some way, what it was like to be the one harmed”. Learning to feel empathy for those harmed, and the victims who lay in the wake of such harm, is what the process of remorse is about. This process teaches a person to grow up; stop the actions and self-mentality that is at the root of hurting others and to accept responsibility for such. It is not merely self-puishment we inflict upon ourselves lavilshly; it is really a benevolent process in which the personal pain teaches lessons otherwise unavailable, and helps a person to become wiser and far more compassionate to others. Ultimately a person comes to bloom under the adversity of penitentiary walls, and, in my opinion, is the most beautiful flower of all.

Victims Voice A Victim of Terrorism

Susan Hirsch's husband Jamal was killed in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. Susan herself was injured during the bomb blast and described her experiences in her recent book: In the Moment of Greatest Calamity: Terrorism, Grief, and a Victim's Quest for Justice.

Susan said her relationship with Jamal was an unlikely but successful love, partnership, and understanding across continents, “race,” religions, cultures, languages, and ways of life.  Just two weeks before his death she and Jamal stopped in the U.S. Emabassy in Dar es Salaam to pick up his immigrant visa for his first trip to the United States. The bombing destroyed their plans.

Susan works at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and has also spoken about her opposition to the death penalty on National Public Radio and at the Library of Congress.

Although prosecutors urged her to testify during the trial of those accused of the bombing Susan felt it was disingenuous of them to try to convince her to tell her story on the theory that it would give her a sense of closue or that it would honor Jamal's memory. One of the things she found most frustrating about the specter of the death penalty is that it would not allow for the possibility of the individuals coming to a full understanding of what they'd done. She said, “In that sense, the death penalty is the opposite of accountability.”

For more information visit www.mvfhr.org


Karma: The Poison Has To Run It's Course

Home early from 8th-grade basketball practice, I was taken aback by the foul smell of alcohol as I entered my Aunt Ga-Ga's house: my aunt never drank a day in her life. Also, my German shepherd, King, wasn't customarily lying at the foot of the front door waiting on me to come home from school. 

Sitting on top of the dining-room table was an empty bottle of cheap wine with the lid off--part of the alchohol stench. Over the course of my childhood I came to know the brand name of this rot-gut well, because I found hundreds of them scattered around my parents home, when they had one, as well as in the trunk of my dad's car, and in their garage; but I had no clue what his empty bottle of wine was doing at my aunt's home. She adopted and saved me from those two drunks (who, if they were not trying to kill one another, were beating the hell out of me), and I'd never seen alcohol in her home.
 Pushing aside the hanging drapes substiuting as my bedroom door, the room was pitch-black with the blinds and curtains closed, unlike how I'd left them when I went to school that morning. Now the alcohol smelled to high heaven. Turning on the bedroom lights, I was shocked to see someone sprawled sideways across my bed, particularly because the top of their head was obliterated; their brains scattered on the ceiling and back walls. Recognizing the person didn't take long.

Lying on the person's lap was the gun used to kill themselves, and nearby laid another empty bottle of cheap wine in which they found the courage to blow their head off. 

“You son-of-a-bitch,” I told him. “You had to come to my home to kill yourself,” I raged. “Why didn't you do this fourteen years ago and save everyone the misery you put them through?” I repeated to myself time and time again.

The only emotions I have ever felt about witnessing that guy, my dad, sprawled across my bed with his brains blown out, are disgust, hate, bitterness and perhaps pity; but nothing which could remotely be considered as sympathy. Not even close! All poisons have to run thier course or they will destroy the person clinging to them. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done because, here, even after half a century, that poison is toxic to my life. 



Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalms 30:5)

It is impossible to explain the excruciating pain, despair and life shatterning devastation that left me laying face down and sould wrenching on the cold concrete Kansas City jail cell floor. The crushing weight of my selfish drug addiction and ruinde life that left so many other lives utterly destroyed in its wake was unbearable and paralyzing.

My agonizing prayer, “Please, Lord, please just let me die, please just let me die!” was silently woiced between the soul-wrenching convulsions wher my tears continued to flow on that cold concrete floor. The pain, sorrow and dread was incomprehensive, unimaginable and ineffable, yet a small inner voice repeatedly told me, “I love you. I will not abandon you.”

“Though weeping may endure for a night, it is a transient house guest, but joy  comes in the morning.” (Psalms 30:5)

The Lord heard my tears, did not leave in spite of my sins, nor did He forsake me. Seven years later, sitting on Federal Death Row, I know that out of the most heartbreaking sorrow and tribulations can arise new understanding and strength. The unbearable transgressions that left me paralyzed and pleading to die on that cold and lonely concrete floor has been forgiven God's marvelous grace is greater than 'any and all sins,' contrary to what I felt in my heart.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourself, it is a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Thank You for that precious gift, for without it I would certainly already be dead from my transgressions.

There is no path for deliverance from our sinful selves, from our terrible addictions or from life's hard struggles. My prayer every morning is short but strong. It is: “Through Your strength, not of my own, do I face this day.”

When I fall down, He helps me back up, as I would never have risen from that cold and lonely concrete floor without His love and mercy. Knowing Jesus has changed my life, taking away the old and bringing in the new. I know He will also do the same for anyone who calls upon His name, no matter the circumstances.

My Doggy Loved His Beer

The German Shepherd Pup, later to be named King, 
we meet at the Sedgwich County Prison Farm-
Where I was serving time for unpaid traffic fines, 
designated to work taking care of the K-9's-
What a fantastic job-especially for serving time!
After my fourty-five days were up, one of the officer's asked me, 
“Do you want to take home that loving little pup?”
No words were needed, the smile on my face -
let him know that King and I would be leaving that God forsaken place!
King grew and grew and grew, until he was huge, 
he loved to ride in the passenger side of my 60 Chevy,
as everyone knew!
He loved to frolic and play each and everyday, 
until eventually he knocked over my beer sitting in harms way.
He stopped and looked at me with a startle expression,
and then proceeded to exuberantly lap-up those bubbly suds!
He thoroughly enjoyed that beer that beautiful May day!
Some people thought that I was wrong -
letting King drink a beer or two, perhaps three, 
but I didn't care, and neither did he!
Our comaraderie grew and grew and grew over the years,
especially when we set at the Ball Park once a week-
sharing Kentucky Fried Chicken and having -
a beer, two or perhaps even three!

Magnanimous Love - Steadfast and True
Dedicated to my beautiful daughter and wonderful grandkids

Magnanimous love is a limitless love,
patient, generous and giving. 
It is not conditioned, nor dependent,
on what someone else may or may not do!
It is a love cultivated through the essence of time, 
predicated on respect, kindness, gentleness and forgiveness
It puts others before self, and is base on
unwavering fortitude!
Magnanimous love does not hold onto petty grievances, 
it is not quick tempered, nor judgemental.
It seeks resolution, not reverge, and it is always
steadfast and true!
It is built with bricks of unquestionable loyalty, and
it provides a safe haven and refuge for loved one's, 
when life's crushing trials and tribulations
come raining down upon them and you!
Magnanimous love is deeply rooted, and 
remains in the hearts of loved one's left behind,
who must live on despite their enormous grief of lost, 
for loved one's now gone!
And this darling is, 
exactly how daddy loves you, 
today, yesterday and tomorrow,
Always steadfast and true!!

Character Assessment and Inventory List
Humans are abound in contradictions
Life's Greatest Strengths: Optimism; forgiving others of mistakes and self as well; buoyance and tenacity of spirit
Life's Greatest Powers: Love, empathy, compassion, helping others and continuing education
Life's Greatest Weaknesses: Ignorance, selfishness, greed, anger and an unforgiving heart--holding grudges
Life's Greatest Certainties: Impermanence, aging, suffering and death
Life's Greatest Teachers: Adversity, challenges, failures and injustices--achieving goals despite set backs
Life's Greatest Dangers: Always wanting more, “me-me syndrome”', apathy and chronic ingratitude
Life's Greatest Enemies: Pessimism, ego, self, pride and the lack of compassion and empathy for others and self
Life's Greatest Forces: Impermanence; lack of control over uncontrollable events; aging
Life's Greatest Challenges: Accepting others as they are; Recognizing conditioned behaviors underlying anger, prejudices and perceptions
Life's Greatest Goals: Finding meaningful ways to alleviate suffering in self and others; recognizing plights of ignorance in both self and others to diminish its toxic effects; and maintaining a loving relationship with my daughter and family under adverse circumstances.

Words to Live By:
Sheer Determination
Symbiosis--making mutual advantageous associations
Temerit -- boldness in face of adversity
Gracious -- give more than is require
Be opulent in spirit
Tenacity -- courage to stay the course
Compromise with intelligence
Energetic
Acuity in actions, words and deeds
Sedulous -- painstaking efforts
Assiduous -- persistent/unrelenting efforts
Character To Avoid:
Dither-- vacillation
Voracity -- greed
Tinsel -- looks good, but no substance
Avarice --insatiable greed for riches
Prodigal -- recklessly wasteful
schadenfreude -- delighting in other misfortunes
Officious-- acting uunduly important
Pusillanimous -- lacking courage and resolve
Hypercritical -- fault finding
Egotistical --me --me -- first and always


Wesley Purkey 14679-045
United States Penitentiary
P.O. Box 33
Terre haute, IN 47808

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Convictin'

September 12, 2007 - 5:30 a.m.

How does the old saying go? "Idle hands are the devil's playthings"? I can definitely testify to the accuracy of this statement. Here, we call it "convicting" (pronounced 'KON-victing'). Used in a sentence: "What's Whitaker want with all of those empty pen cartridges?" "Dunno, freakin McGuyver over there is 'convicting' something up." There's another old saying that goes something like "Give a man an inch, and he will try to take a mile." While I would simply cherish taking TDC for a mile, I will be content with taking an extra foot every blue moon. This entry is an ode to that extra foot. Three cheers for the foot!

Convict Tool #1 - The fishing line. The "fishing line", or simply "line" is perhaps the most important convict tool in my arsenal. Allow me to explain why the line is so important. Back here in seg, we do not have actual bars over our doors, despite what Hollywood would have you believe. Our doors are solid metal plates, with two small metal mesh "windows" running vertically from about waist level up to near the top of the door. These doors slide on two sets of metal runners, one about six inches off the ground, the other at the top of the door. Thus, to open the door, guards must have the picket unlock the door, which then slides parallel to the wall. A lot like your patio door, if it were to be made by the Inquisition. At the bottom of the door, underneath the bottom runner there is a small hole, roughly 4 inches by 4 inches. This hole is large enough to slip your arm out, though small enough to where it is not viewed as a security risk. Since we are not allowed any contact with anyone, this hole facilitates all of the commerce on the Row. (Note: The currency of prisons everywhere is the "flag", the stamp. Common prices for various items: One contraband needle for stitching clothes = 10 flags. A spool of angel hair wire for the radio network = 30 flags. I will probably one day write an in-depth overview of the prison micro-economy, but for now it is very similar to the one you are familiar with, save that debt collection is a little more medieval.)

These fishing lines are typically around 100 feet in length. On one end you attach something heavy, in my case a 5 oz salsa bottle filled with water. You can then lean your arm out of the hole and wing the bottle down the run, trailing the line. The recipient simply has to send his line out, armed with a hook to snag your line and drag it under his door. Whala, commerce. You get to be an artist with the fishing line real quick. I can bounce my bottle down the stairs, pulling it tight at the correct spot, sending the bottle careening off a metal pole to bounce back to the cell directly underneath my own.

The lines are generally made from our sheets, the destruction of which can get you a few months of Level 2 detention. Making one is horribly time consuming, as you have to pull apart your sheets one thread at a time. Which, of course, I would never do because to make one would be wrong and I never would...OK, it took me about a week to braid mine, which is pretty strong, consisting of over 20 threads in thickness. (When you look at the picture of the line, note all the individual threads that go into larger strands - each thread was pulled one at a time from the edge of a sheet. 100' of line takes a lot of effort.) None of the guards really care about the line, so long as you aren't tossing it out on the run as they walk by.

Most (roughly 75 percent) of the guards here on the Row are what we call "convict bosses". They have that label because they realize where they are, and with whom they deal on a daily basis. As long as you aren't hurting anyone, a convict boss will not "see" the infraction, unless a sergeant is also around. "Inmate bosses", on the other hand, stick their noses into everything, and eventually they get beat up or promoted - which is why you don't do anything around a sergeant or lieutenant. Sometimes, in less secure facilities, they get killed, though this is pretty rare.

Convict Jewelry - I made these crosses while I was still in the County Jail. They are made entirely out of trash bags. I would still be making them now except I can't seem to get any of the trustees to smuggle me back the bags. I could get a half-kilo of cocaine in about twenty minutes, but when it comes to trash bags they are like the Gestapo.

Here is how they are made: I would take one large, white trash bag (the 20 gallon variety) and lay it flat on the table. I leave the bag in the form it was when you first take it off the roll. I then cut strips, generally measuring about 2 inches in width, using a dismantled razor blade. You can get a whole bunch of these strips out of one bag, which are also useful for making clotheslines. Take one of these strips, and attach one end to something stable (the post of a bed, in my case). The other end I wound around a dictionary, which I then proceeded to spin in a clock-wise direction, allowing the whole line to spin. The 2 inch strips quickly spin into a string measuring about one mm in width. I then begin to pull the line, stretching it out, making sure that no unstretched areas are left. A single foot long strip can be stretched out to about 15 feet, and what is left is immensely strong. It looks like the type of line you would use to reel in a marlin or something. I repeated this process with all of the strips. I then got one of the trustees to smuggle me in some black Glad bags from the kitchen, which I also spun in the same manner. These would be used for the letters.

I would then make a form, also out of trash bags, but unspun, in the shape of the cross, and simply braided the spun lines around the form. The last step to be completed was the bottom angle of the cross, into which I threaded the black lines, making letters. This was accomplished by laying the black lines above the white in areas I wanted the letter to show, and under the white to create the negative space. I made about 20 of these crosses, for family members, friends, my attorneys and a few inmates. The most letters I was able to fit on the bottom apex of the cross was seven.

Some of you will no doubt have noticed that a large portion of this entry is now missing. I'm generally cool with the heat I take from doing this site, from the extra shakedowns to the hate mail. That said, sometimes the battle just isn't worth it to me, and I choose to tap out gracefully. So, apologies for the missing content, but I live in Hell and sometimes I simply have to play by Hell's rules.

© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.