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“Deplorable” and “disgusting.”

Both terms have been used to describe President Trump’s adoring supporters,

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign undeniably referred to Trump supporters as a “basketful of deplorables.”

President Trump earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic escalated reportedly (as revealed recently by a former White House aide) said the Covid virus might be a good thing because he would not have to “shake hands with all those disgusting people.”

Trump supporters in 2016 really got their “drawers in a knot” over the Clinton “deplorable” analogy. They have not expressed as much indignation over Trump’s reported “disgusting” analogy. Perhaps they have chosen not to believe the alleged “disgusting” comments just as they refuse to believe the president is less than perfect.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that both terms were used in the context in which they were described in the public record.

I think Hillary was probably describing those Trump supporters who attended his campaign rallies with signs that read, “lock the bitch up” or “Obama is a Muslim terrorist.”

And I’m sure Trump was not referring to “deep money pockets” supporters like Becky DeVoss or Luis DeJoy as being “disgusting” but rather those people standing behind the barriers at campaign rallies trying to clasp the “hand of Christ.”

That said, it must also be understood that each of us—every single person on this earth currently breathing in life-sustaining oxygen—have either acted in a “deplorable” way or said some “disgusting” thing.

For example, I’m sure everyone has farted in a public setting of some sort, even in church no less. Such actions can reasonably be described as deplorable, particularly by those standing close to you.

And I’m sure that everyone is a moment of road rage has described a fun-loving, good father and husband as a “stupid motherf..ker” for cutting them off in an Interstate traffic jam.

In effect, if being deplorable and disgusting were crimes, we would all be cellmates—and I must say it is funny thinking about the public gas releaser and the angry motorist sharing the same cell in “super max.”

But here is what I really mean by saying something “disgusting.” This recent comment was posted on my Facebook page a south-bound, Neo-Nazi lunatic right after Justice Ginsburg’s

death:

“It’s called TDS and u definitely have it bad frenchie.

[please don’t ask me to decipher that.]

“Today is one of the greatest  days, Trumps third Supreme Court justices. One that actually has a brain that doesn’t support the murder of the most innocent life in the womb after conception. Good riddance Ruth the feminazi she WAS!” [this looney-tune was obviously not home-schooled in grammar.]

In any event, he is obviously a Trump supporter – and is one truly “disgusting” motherf..ker.

In my “reply” to this ding-bat, I called him a “sick fuck.” Now that is “deplorable” conduct. Now anyone who has ever tried it knows that “f..king” is not “sick.” Please forgive me – I don’t know what came over me except to lamely say that “the Devil made me do it.” My placing f..king on the “sick” level is as deplorable as this warped Boogaloo disgustingly calling me “frenchue.”

All I’m saying is this: we are all in moments of absolute and utter weakness both deplorable and disgusting.

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Societal mental health

Mental health experts say that one in five Americans—roughly 66 million people—suffer from a “diagnosable” mental illness.

From the ranks of these unfortunate individuals are a dangerous group of people who see sinister conspiracies lurking in the dark or on the ceiling as Michael Caputo recently suggested.

Mental illness has given this legion of generally heavily armed folks a license to threaten racial civil war, advocate insurrection against duly elected public officials, and to level the most outlandish accusations against mentally normal people, such as Covid-fighting mask wearers or anyone who is a Democrat or who has ever spoken to a Democrat.

Among the worst of these mentally deranged people are millions of members and followers who support the thousands of Qanon groups that have implanted themselves on Facebook and other far right-wing media outlets.

The socio-political ideology of these “Q” groups prompted one follower to murder an “alleged” mafia boss while another threatened to kill Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

One Qanon follower named Marjorie Taylor Greene recently captured a Republican congressional primary seat and will most assuredly defeat her Democratic opponent in a heavily Republican district in Georgia in November. Step aside Congressional Corruption, Congressional Insanity has joined the Club.

The core belief system of Qanon followers is that there is a cabal of Satin-worshipping pedophiles who control a global child sex-trafficking network. The American members of this cabal are all Democrats or supporters of Democrats, including:

  • Bill & Hillary Clinton
  • George Soros
  • Barak Obama
  • Joe Biden
  • Tom Hanks
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Ellen DeGeneres
  • Pope Francis
  • Dalai Lama

The list goes on and on and on.

Qanon followers believe this cabal of Democrats regularly meet in underground tunnels or pizza parlors where they rape and murder children then drank the dead child’s blood to extract what the followers believe is a “life-extending” chemical.

“Q” followers—many of whom boast of their membership with “Q” t-shirts, underwear, panties, crudely drawn signs, and fingers-turned “Q” signals that would make the Crips blush—wrap their insane ideology under the umbrella of God and His only heir, Jesus, not realizing that the Almighty above denounces them as mistakes of Creation.

But here is the real flaw in the “Q” conspiracy:

They fail to realize that such a child sex/cannibalistic cabal could not exist in the U.S. without both the explicit and implicit support of thousands of Republican law enforcement officials, state and federal prosecutors, judges, members of Congress and members of state legislatures.

If a “Q” follower sitting at home with one finger up his nose and the other on a computer keyboard sending out cryptic Facebook posts knows not only about the existence of the cabal but the names of all its Democratic members, then even one lone Republican police officer patrolling the vast wastelands of North Dakota would know the same thing and would most assuredly stake out the nearest pizza parlor in an effort to bust the Pope and Ellen DeGeneres in the act.

Now I don’t know of any prominent Democratic who has been arrested, much less convicted, of raping, killing and eating children. You would think that least one such Democrat would make the mistake of leaving blood-evidence on his lips.

But I do know that Republican operative George Nader is in a federal prison on child porn charges, that the late Republican hob-knobbing financier Jeffery Epstein was a convicted pedophile, and that Jerry Falwell, Jr. was recently force to resign from Liberty University after a sexually suggestive photo of him and an underage girl surfaced on social media while the minister’s wife was off sleeping with the “pool boy.”

Now all of these fine fellows are or were rumored by the Xanon Conspiracy group to be part of a Russian cabal of child molesting, child fondling, and child abusing mostly Republicans (with a few Green Party adherents) that socially network in the legendary alien warehouse known as Hangar 18 or in the nearest burger joint where Devil-delicious burgers are sold without fattening fries.

Wacky-quacky do has become a rooted fixture in the American mindset.

The problem—or I should say the danger—is that “Q” followers are real people who really believe the insane Deep State cabal theories.

Talk about “bat-shit crazy.”

How in the hell did we ever land a “man on the moon.”

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Anatomy of a Prison Suicide

To Major Norwood and the goon squad, all you pigs everywhere, and the high & mighty dogs everywhere who judge men and allow such institutional madhouses such as Angola to exist. Suck my goddamn nuts and pray to the gods you use as a crutch that I don’t see you bastards in hell. In the unlikely event that such a place exist, you can bet the fat asses that you sat on, I’ll deflate them with the hottest, sharpest pitchfork I find. Incidentally, notice the smile on my face and the pride with which I gladly take my life. It’s something you dogs have never taken from me despite your 14 years of effort. To hell with you all, you cringing cowards.

The time had arrived; a moment I had dreaded so long. My pulse quickened, heating up an already sweating body. The June afternoon was hot. The sun bore through the cellblock windows with a vengeance, adding misery to a pained existence. The four-tiered cellblock, two 15-cell tiers stacked atop each other, was a concrete oven, stifling and baking the inmates caged in their two-man cells. I caught the tail end of a shouted conversation:

“ … next to a fly, the most useless creature on God’s green earth is a dumb whore.”

I folded Billy Ray White’s suicide note, staring at the hand holding it between the fore and middle fingers. I did not want to look at him through the small mirror in my other hand. I just reached my hand out between the bars of my cell and passed the note back to him through the bars of his adjacent cell.

“I wrote it last night,” he said casually. “What do you think about it?”

I lifted my gaze, forced to look deeply into his blue eyes through a broken piece of mirror at a friend I loved like a brother.

Billy Ray White was a deceptively slender man, a Bruce Lee-like physical attribute that always gave him a leg up in a prison fight—especially one involving knives.  A lock of hair dropped across his forehead, accentuating a handsome unlined face that made him look younger than is 31 years. Intelligence sparkled in those eyes and the beginnings of a constant smile expressed a comfortable face. A casual, easy-going man, Billy Ray loved to laugh, and what’s more, he loved to make others laugh. It was a facet of the charisma that made it so easy to like him. Possessed with an uncanny ability to charm, he could have been anything he wanted in life.

Instead he chose to become one of the most dangerous and feared man to ever serve time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as “Angola.” He did it by developing an ability to turn his normal affable manner in an instant into an intense coldness or fury when faced with potential danger or an aggressive challenge. He had an extraordinary fearlessness that made him a legend in various prisons across the nation. He escaped from the St. Louis police in a hail of gunfire, escaped from the federal reformatory in Texarkana in a daring daylight break as bullets sliced the air about him, and he escaped from a county jail in Kentucky under a fusillade of hot lead.

Before his arrival at Angola, Billy Ray had been a hit-man, carrying out contract killings in Louisiana and New Mexico. An armed robber by trade, he had been involved in a number of wild shootouts, always emerging unharmed. At one point in his criminal career, he had graced the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for a double-murder he committed in New Mexico and for which he was acquitted by a jury.

As an inmate, Billy Ray had been involved in a litany of assaults, knife-fights and killings while serving time in state and federal prisons, always arriving at the top of the prison food chain. He was a man who could easily laugh at danger and death, much like one would laugh at a standup comedian. Some men had tried to kill him during his brief lifetime. They not only failed but paid a heavy price for the attempt.

Now, on this 8th day of June 1974, the most feared and powerful man in Angola stood before in the next cell wanting to die, wanting to take his own life.

“It says pretty much what you want to say,” I said dryly, pointing to the Norwood suicide note.

I lit a cigarette, not really wanting one but needing a distraction from the moment. I inhaled deeply, as the harsh crescendo of cellblock noises echoed in my brain chased by maddening desire to muffle them all. Prison is a world of constant loud, senseless noises. You learn to either tune them out or let them drive you mad. Inmates fill their uneventful lives with forced laughter, unimportant arguments, or obscene expressions about the most mundane life issues.

The noises of Cellblock C were ritualistic—a chow cart bringing tasteless, unseasoned food; harsh, gagging morning nicotine coughing, and farts that sent noxious gases out of the cells down the hallway, at times invading the other cells. Each day brought angry exclamations:

“Man, get the fuck away from my cell – I don’t want anything to eat!”

Or,

“Goddamn, please hurry something!”

Or,

“Free man, you better bring my medicine on back here, you asshole!”

An overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness would often tear at the very fabric of my existence as I ploughed through those mindless noises and meaningless rituals.

I watched Billy Ray, with cat-like grace, squat on his heels, back against the concrete wall across the cell from me. A somber silence fell between us. Cigarette smoke rising above his forehead, he stared at the peeled concrete bars as those spellbound by their hardness. He turned away from the bars, and with a soft, steady gaze, he looked directly into my reflection in the mirror, leaving no doubt that the hours we had spent talking about his suicide had come to an end.

“It’s time, Billy,” he said. “I’m ready to take myself out. I’ve finally come to terms with it. I must face the inevitable. Like Martin Luther King said, ‘God Almighty, free at last.’ That’s the only thing he ever said I liked. Death is freedom.”

“Let’s talk about it some more,” I replied, knowing our journey had come to an end. “There must be another way.”

Even before the words fell from my lips, overwhelmed by all the other noises, I knew they were pointless, nothing more than expected demands from friendship. Billy Ray had come to the end of the line; the will to take another step lay exhausted at his feet.

“You promised,” he reminded me, his eyes fixed hard on me. “You gave me your word that you would accept it when the time came. The time is here, it’s now, and I’m holding you to your word. You know what this means to me.”

I could no longer meet his gaze. I turned my eyes away, resigned that there were no more life options to discuss. I stared across the hallway that ran down the lower tier where we were housed out into a empty prison yard. I had served nearly nine years on a life sentence. I had either witnessed or experienced virtually everything the corrupt world of prison had to offer: violence, rape, drugs, hate, lies, and despair, enough despair to sink the Titanic.

Prison is a precarious world in which the ruling clique hates the challenging clique; white inmates hate black inmates and the Hispanic inmates hate them both; and the keeper and the kept roil in an even worse hatred. Hope is not always a readily available commodity—not in this dog-eat-dog jungle where the strong and most violent rule while the weak suffer or perish. The only thing that matters is power; even it is no more than an illusion—and the keeper and kept on a daily basis abuse their power to stifle free will and choice among the most vulnerable.

I squatted down, back to wall, shifting my weight to my right leg, as I faced Billy Ray through the broken mirror inmates call “jiggers.” A roach scurried down the hallway directly in front of our cells. My thoughts stabbed at each other as I tried to find the right words that might extricate Billy Ray from his life-ending decision. None prevailed. They simply cut each other to pieces without a solution.

“I know what this means to you,” I said, “just as I know what it means for me. Fuck man, I need to know beyond any doubt that this is what you really want.”

Relief spread across his face. He knew I had accepted the inevitable.

“You have my word this is what I want,” he said. “Believe me, it is something I must do. My entire life comes down to this final test. I’ve waited years for this moment. Life is but an existence. As Sartre said, it’s all about nothingness. That is the long and short of it. I know deep in my soul that my final breath ends it all. There is nothing more. It’s time to die, and I ready to embrace death. And if there is a Lucifer, I want to meet the bastard, stare him down and walk through his hell unafraid. “

His eyes sparkled at the challenge.

“But I know he is not there anymore than God is here on earth.”

“Billy Ray, you only have five more months before you discharge out this joint,” I replied. “You will be a free man. You will see things differently once you are out there in the free world, even if it’s godless. There’s love, beauty, perhaps even happiness and some meaning to all the chaos that afflicts humanity. You can find something to live for out there – even if it’s another crime or another escape. The challenge of life is better than the defeat of death.”

He vehemently shook his head.

“I don’t believe that,” he whispered. “Life is nothing more than an accident, and all it will ever produce is illusions of what we think we want or have. It’s all bullshit – love, beauty, meaning, purpose. Bullshit—all of it at the end of the day. It comes down to that mangled body with a steering wheel smashed into its chest in a violent car wreck. At any moment it can all be over without any choice. I am making my choice how to end it all, not a car wreck or a bullet in the head or a motherfucking knife in the back.”

Running my thumb through a small sweat puddle formed between my feet, I was still shredded by doubt and uncertainty as I was drawn into my best friend’s death wish. The ordeal forced me to examine my own caged existence. I was 29 years old with a life sentence that did not have a parole date. Two years before I had escaped the death sentence only to face a long term death sentence in the worst of all possible worlds. Perhaps Billy Ray was right, I thought. I was nothing more than bone and flesh wasting away in a caged world with no hope of ever walking away from it. There was no meaning in the life behind me and nothing meaningful stood out in my horizon.

There I was squatting in a hot cell. The used sock in the corner, stiff from last night’s fantasy, represented the closest I would come to love. A brooding sense of despair was etched in every scar and crack in the cell—and no one would ever know the human misery that cell had housed. I could not reasonably refute a single thing Billy Ray had said to me. I was disgusted with the relentless cruelty in the world about me; tired of dealing with it and worn to bone with trying to make sense of it all. Still, I had to believe that the challenge of life was more important than the defeat of death. I could not, would not succumb to the whispers of Billy Ray’s torn logic.

Billy Ray sensed my troubled waters.

“Don’t you realize, Billy, that Nietzsche’s little madman was right. God is really dead.”

“What does that mean to me, Billy Ray?” I asked. “I’ve still got to be part of your death to prove my friendship, my loyalty to you. You’re asking a helluva of a lot when you ask me to understand your death wish, but you expect even more. You insist that I be a part of it. I know I told you I would do it when the time came, but I can’t. Call it cowardice or whatever, I just can’t do it.”

Tears trickled down my cheeks. It marked the second time I had cried in prison. The first time came after I learned my younger brother had died in Vietnam. I simply could not go along with Billy Ray’s last wish to die in my presence, holding my hand in a bond of friendship.

That would have been possible because four cinder blocks had been removed between his cell and mine. It had become a practice in Cellblock C for inmates to remove cinder blocks from the walls of adjoining cells. This allowed inmates to join a friend in a fight in the hallway during one hour shower periods. Prison security knew about the practice but did little, or nothing, to curb it. They just let the fights go until a victor stood alone.

“I understand,” he said solemnly. “I can accept that. It doesn’t change anything between us. You’re still the ace in my life. It’s not cowardice. You simply cannot see this thing as clearly as I do. But if you cannot let me die in your presence, at least let me know you understand why I must do this.”

Anger flashed through me. My stare bore into his.

“You ask me to understand,” I said. “Understand what? You’re my friend – you’re closer to me than a brother. How in the hell do you expect me to understand that you are going to kill yourself. Why do this to me? Why do you have to make me a part of this madness?”

He waited, absorbing the moment before replying.

“It’s something I need to do. There are obligations attached to friendship. I’m just collecting on ours. I’ve given you loyalty and I ask the same in return. It’s important to me that you understand why I must take myself out. Fuck what others think! All I want is for you to understand is that this is something I must do; that I really have no choice but to do it.”

The sound of two studs fighting over a galboy invaded our conversation. We ignored it.

“Billy Ray, I understand a man wanting to take himself out of this hell,” I said. “I’ve had the same thoughts in darker moments. But suicide is not the answer, and the thing that bothers me is that I have no way of knowing if this really what you want.”

“I give you my word it is,” he replied. “You have my solemn word on everything I hold sacred that this is what I want—to die and do so by my own hand. This is an absolute promise I give you.”

I knew I was trapped in Billy Ray’s death wish. There was no way out of it.

“Let me say this to you,” he added. “I’ve told you that I would never leave you in a lurch, and I wouldn’t. I will hang in there and fade this bullshit until you are a free man. But I give you my word that the very moment you are free from prison I will blow my brains out. If you force me to live and remain a part of your struggle, the obligation of our friendship ends the moment you walk out those prison gates. But I’m asking you as a friend, as one man to another, to free me of our friendship obligation, to let me do this thing without any doubts or reservations. The only obligation I have in life at this moment is our friendship, and I’m begging you to let me be free from it. Will you?”

I said nothing. I just stared past him at the wall his back lay against. He got up and walked over to his galboy who had been sitting quietly on the lower bunk. He affectionately called the galboy by the moniker “Monkey.” He sat next to him and wrapped an arm around Monkey’s neck.

“Don’t worry little man,” he said. “You will be taken care of.”

An hour or more passed. I was just about ready to escape the heat with a nap when Billy Ray passed a note to me.

“My beloved brother,” it began. “It’s not wrong for you to deny me the privilege of dying in your company as I stand on the threshold of freedom from this madhouse into the illusion of freedom anywhere on this mad planet because your will is mine. In the name of our cherished friendship, I will be a coward. My loyalty to you is such I would be dishonorable to you and myself if I took my life without your consent. However due to my selfishness I am asking you to reconsider and give me your consent. It would be the greatest favor you could ever possibly give me. It has occurred to me that maybe I am wrong to ask this favor of you. Billy try to place everything in as proper perspective as you can and let me know. My Brother I would proudly die for you and if it is really what you want I will even live for you. Is it wrong for me to ask you to let me go now? Is it greedy? Help me understand. You’re not heavy, you’re my Brother, my only Brother and I love you, and my death will not separate us.”

I was tired, too emotionally exhausted to care anymore. My decision was swift and certain. I stood in the corner of my cell by the bars. Night had fallen. The senseless cell arguments had given way to the loud mixture of different television programs blaring from the three television set placed along the tiers in the hallway. I called Billy Ray to the bars.

“Do whatever you feel is right, Billy Ray,” I whispered. “I will understand.”

A brief silence passed between. I couldn’t see his face at the moment, so I wondered what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

“Thank you, my friend,” he said, finally. “I’m free now. There’s nothing to hold me to this madness any longer. But there is one last thing.”

I was almost afraid to ask what the final request would be.

“What is it?”

“I want you to give me your word that once I’m dying,” he paused, “you won’t call for the Man or let anyone else call for him. I don’t want any last minute second thoughts stopping this thing. I’m in it all the way, and you must give me your word that you will cover for me.”

“You have my word.”

I lay back down on my bunk. The early evening heat was settling in all the nooks and crannies of the cellblock. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t even know how Billy Ray planned to kill himself. We had not discussed a method. It never seemed important, or perhaps real. I didn’t think it would ever reach a point of no return. It was 9:30 p.m., close to the ten o’clock count. I realized Billy Ray would ever see 9:30 again, that he would be dead by morning. I no longer held out any hope. He had dealt himself a hand he could not fold, even if he wanted to. He was that kind of man.

Time dragged, like a tired mule pulling a plough. Occasionally the voices of Billy Ray and Monkey filtered into my cell, although I could not make out what they were saying. I wondered how Monkey would react. He would have to watch the actual suicide play out.

Billy Ray called me to the bars.

“Me and the Monkey been talking this thing out,” he said, “and I’ve decided to take him with me. The boy wants to go – he wants to die with me.”

It was borderline insane. I smelled the marijuana before I heard them taking deep drags off the cigarettes.

“Don’t do this, Billy Ray,” I said angrily. “That kid has the mind of a twelve-year-old. He’s not responsible. He worships you and will say anything he thinks will please you.”

“But it’s for his own good,” he replied, his voice sternly serious. “The Monkey is not ever getting out of this place – not with two life sentences. If I leave him behind, who’s gonna take care of him? Some asshole like Blackjack or Monster will get him and mess over him. They will make him a slave, making his life miserable. I can’t leave this helpless little man behind to face all that.”

Billy Ray was right. Monkey could not survive in Angola on his own. He could survive only by serving the predatory needs of some asshole with his ass. And, like Billy Ray said, he had no hope of ever getting out of prison. He had raped a sixteen year old girl and robbed and killed her boyfriend. He had similar charges pending in other states. He was a pathetic little wretched destined for the rest of his life to be someone else’s property.

“That may be true,” Billy Ray,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “But you don’t have the right to decide whether he should live or die. He will agree to anything you ask of him, only because you asked him to do it. That’s not a free decision by him; it’s your decision. If dying is so important to you, if you truly feel this death wish must be carried to an end, then do it alone. Don’t kill that kid before you go. Give him a break – if nothing else, give him the right to chooe, on his own, whether he wants to live or die.”

There was an extended pause. I could hear them talking.

“Okay – Monkey says it doesn’t make any difference to him. If I want him to go, he will; and if I want him to stay behind, he will do that too. I’m not going to kill him. It wouldn’t be right. But you have to promise me one thing.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Take care of Monkey for me,” Billy requested. “I know you are not going to be shackled down with some galboy, but you can take him under your wing until you find him an ole man who will treat him right, take care of him. Promise me you will find someone who will be good to him.”

“I will do that,” I said. “I’ll find the right dude to take care of him.”

“Good. Now I’m gonna fuck him one last time.”

I sat down on the floor, back to the wall, staring across the hallway into the night through a barred window. It seemed so peaceful. Time slipped through my hands like sand in an hour glass. I was so removed from the rest of the world. I was sick of death; sick of seeing it, hearing it, and talking about it. Limits must be placed on everything, including love and friendship. Every fiber of my rational being screamed, “I’m finished with this friendship” and urged me to step away from it. But I didn’t, perhaps I couldn’t. I was trapped in Billy Ray’s death pact.

Billy Ray did not speak again until after midnight.

“I want to get Monkey out of this cell,” he whispered through the bars. “I can’t be sure he won’t panic and call out for the Man. He’s been crying and I think he’s too screwed up to handle this. I want him out of here.”

“Send him through the hole,” I said.

I removed the cinder blocks from the wall separating our cells. Four cells on the tier housing white inmates had cinder blocks loosened so they could be quickly removed. One cell had two bars cut out. It allowed the white inmates to all get out of their cells and on the tier in the event of a racial brawl—a constant threat. Monkey crawled through the hole into my cell. Billy Ray reached through the hole and grasped my hand.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you too, Billy Ray.”

“I’ll let you know when the final moments get close.”

“How are you going to do it?”

“Razor blades.”

“The jugular?”

Billy Ray shook his head.

“No, that’s too quick. I’m going with the wrists. I want to have time to fully experience this thing.”

I put the cinder blocks back in place and pushed a cardboard box against the wall to conceal the obvious gaps. I gave Monkey six Valiums and told him to go to sleep. I did not want him awake when Billy Ray started cutting. I felt a twinge of pity for him. He was caught up in something he couldn’t possibly understand. He did not even realize how close he came to having his throat slit. I patted his head gently as he lay in the top bunk.

At 1:00 a.m. Billy Ray called me.

“It’s time,” he said. “Get your mirror and watch this.”

With my left hand, I stuck the mirror through the bars and held where I could see most everything in Billy Ray’s cell. He had packed Monkey’s personal belongings and stacked them neatly on the top bunk. He walked to the back of the cell and sat on the edge of the lower bunk facing the toilet. He rested his left arm across his left leg and, with a stainless steel razor blade, he slashed open his wrist with two deep gashes. Blood gushed out, flowing down his hand onto the floor. He then slashed his right arm in the same manner, although he had difficulty with that arm because the razor blade kept slipping in his bloody left hand. Then, putting his bleeding right arm to his mouth, he chewed the veins out of the arm, spitting a mass of bloody tissue into the toilet. He did it without flinching. He turned his head, looking back toward the front of his cell to make sure I was watching. Blood covered his mouth and chin. It was a fiendish, repulsive sight.

I pulled the mirror back into my cell and slid down the wall. The cellblock was quiet – not even a whispered conversation could be heard as was often the case late at night.

Billy Ray whispered my name.

“I’m here,” I said, not moving.

“It’s done.”

“How long will it take?”

“I don’t know. I’ll keep pumping my fist to keep the blood from clotting. I’ve got a bucket of warm water to stick my wrist in now and then.”

Silence as moments passed between us.

“I hope you find something on the other side that is better than what you found on this one,” I said, voice trembling.

“I won’t,” he replied, “but if there is anything and if there’s any way to get word back to you, you can believe I will do it. So if you don’t hear from me, don’t invest too much in the life-after-death stock. I know there is nothing over there.”

It was virtually impossible for me to think of Billy Ray dead. He was too strong, too vibrant to be thought of as dead. I felt that, somehow, he would defy even death.

“Read this,” he said, passing two bloody notes through the bars. “It’s something I wrote several years ago.

He had a towel wrapped around his arm to keep the blood from dripping on the hallway floor.

The note read:

“The most important pressing goal is to make the most of my capabilities. I’ve laid around too long. I must employ strict self-discipline, gather new and stronger determination and concentrate more on strengthening my motivations. I believe self-discipline is the most important key, the master key that fits the door to any goal.”

The second note, titled “Excuses for my Greed,” read:

“The main reason, I think, for my anxiousness to gain material security is that I feel I must be financially independent if I’m ever going to be able to devote the depth and amount of time I feel would be necessary for me to satisfactorily explore the whys, wheres, and whos, and hows of my existence. Then once I’ve compromised with the limits of my understanding and found out how I want to live in relation to the big what. I can whistle along until unconsciousness, maybe? In the meantime I must keep struggling to put better substance in the throw-away container that I am; without blowing my mind over ways and means, at the same time becoming as financially independent as I want to be as fast as possible so as to hasten the day I can really explore which at present is the highest rung of my pursuit of happiness ladder. I firmly believe I can accomplish this goal. It all depends on how the ‘bludgeoning of chance’ affect me. In the meantime I gotta tighten up and figure out better and faster ways to go under, over, around, or through the obstacles that are blocking or may block the path to my goal.”

I read the bloody notes several times, trying to find in them some understanding of the contradictions that roiled my friend. It seemed tragic that the sum of a man’s life could be reduced to nothing more than a few rambling words on pieces of blood paper. “Pursuit of happiness” was the key phrase. Billy Ray often laughed but I can’t remember a time when he was truly happy. He never once said his life was happy. Death seemed his only happiness.

He whispered my name again; this time considerably weakened.

“I don’t have much time left, but I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?” I asked.

He paused, gasping for more life.

“I want you to think about me – my life of crime and the failure it has made of my life. I want you to reject the ‘convict-code,’ the criminal values it promotes. This is really not your world. You have too much potential for it. If you remain loyal to the code, it will do to you what it has done to me – it will destroy you.”

“I have to survive in this life, Billy Ray, and the code makes survival easier.”

“Survive you will, but at some point you must make a conscious decision to reject that code, to walk away from the criminal ethic. It won’t be easy. You will be scorned, rejected and even threatened because of it. Don’t worry about the friends you will surely lose. Believe me, you don’t need those kind of friends – don’t waste the rest of your life believing in those jive motherfuckers who make prison their world. Turn your back on them. You’re better than they are – remember that.”

I said nothing.

He moaned.

I heard his feet shuffling as he stood up.

“I’m gonna lay down a few minutes,” he said in a low hoarse voice. “I feel weak and dizzy – it’s almost over, my friend.”

There was nothing for me to do but pace the floor of my cell like a fresh-caged animal. At times I could hear Billy Ray rambling – cursing life, praising friendship, and talking about the need for real love. I tried to make sense of what was happening that night. A friend was bleeding to death not more than six feet from me and there was nothing I could do about it.  A call for help would have been considered by Billy Ray as an act of betrayal, but silence amounted to the same thing. That conflict ripped at my thoughts, like the bloody beaks of the vultures tore at Prometheus’ liver.

As the minutes passed, I literally sensed death’s malignant presence, almost as though I could touch it. My chest was tight; the place where my soul rested was cramped and smothered. My heart ached under the crushing weight despair and regret. Tired of walking, I stood at the bars, staring into the lost night as tears rolled down my cheeks about what could have been had it not been for one less bad choice or wrong decision.

Around four in the morning Billy was at death’s door. His words slurred from a terribly weakened voice. He spoke in spurts, saying things that had only meaning to him. I was paralyzed with guilt as I wished for the final moment. The emotional strain was all-consuming. A guard passed Billy Ray’s cell on a routine count. He did not look directly into the cell. All he wanted to see was something remotely resembling a human body.

“Wha’cha doin’, White?” he asked as he passed Billy Ray’s cell.

“Nothing, chief – just dying,” Billy Ray answered, barely audible.

The guard didn’t give Billy Ray’s comment a second thought. He then passed my cell. It was my last opportunity to save Billy Ray’s life. My mouth opened. I wanted to speak, to cry out, but no words came. The silence was the cell was deafening. The guard disappeared and I knew beyond any doubt that Billy Ray was going to die. At that moment I hated the world of prison more than anything I had ever known in life.

It was 5:45 A.M., June 9, 1974, when word finally came.

“I’m ready now,” Billy Ray said. “Get the man.”

I awakened the two inmates in the cell next to me. I told them Billy Ray was dying and we needed to get the man on the tier. We started shaking our cell doors—a signal to the man that he was needed on the tier. The entire cellblock came to life.

“What’s going on down there?” a voice called out from the upper tier.

“I don’t know,” a bottom tier voice replied.

A disgruntled shift lieutenant walked down the tier. He knew trouble was brewing.

“Alright, what’s all the goddamn racket about,” he shouted over the noise.

“Billy Ray’s dying,” I said.

The lieutenant slowly walked to Billy Ray’s cell. He aimed his flashlight into the cell. With a jolt, he recoiled from the sight of death, face bleached with shock.

“My God,” he said, horror-stricken. “He’s … Lord, get a stretcher – get a goddamn stretcher back here.”

One hallboy ran to get a stretcher. Two others carried Billy Ray out of his cell and lay him on the floor in front of my cell. He only had on a pair of blood-soaked underwear. His hair was matted with blood and his arms were a bluish swollen mass of mutilated veins and dry blood. His feet were turned outward, his underwear grotesquely pulled down below one cheek of his ass, and his left arm was sprawled across the concrete floor. His eyes were closed. His lips trembled, but no words came. His right forefinger twitched slightly and went still.

“How long has he been like this?” the lieutenant asked.

“I don’t know, chief,” I answered, staring at Billy Ray’s body that seem so sunken, so weak. “Probably all his life.

The hallboy returned with a folded canvass stretcher. He quickly unfolded it and the other two hallboys struggled to life Billy Ray’s blood slippery body onto it. One of the hallboys dropped one of Billy Ray’s legs – part of his body waste fell on the floor. I knew then for sure he was dead. All the hell, pain and violence of his life had come to a brutal end. I watched as they carried him away. I pulled a cellophane package from under my mattress and took four Valiums from it. I swallowed them with a cup of water and laid down on my bunk. I lit a cigarette.

In the horizon, the first rays a dawn appeared, softening the darkened world—a softening that did not touch my darkened world as tears freely rolled down my cheeks. It was over for Billy Ray, but I knew it would never be over for me.

“I’m ready – get the man.”

What did Billy Ray mean?

Was he ready to be saved or had he actually realized the moment of his death?

I will never know.

He is free, but I will always be a prisoner of doubt his death produced.

Rest, my friend, there is no end to pain.

0

College student.

A college student must pass through grade school, middle school, and high school. That’s a whole lot of schools. Then the student must pass some sort of admittance exam before a university of higher learning will accept them.

One would think that a student who makes it through these education gauntlets would have the sense to pour “piss out of a boot.”

But that is not always the case.

There have been a ton of recent stories reported in the media about college openings, mass gatherings, unmasked partying, increased Covid infections, and college closings.

During one of these news reports, a college student (a supporter of mass partying) gave a sound bite to a reporter that the Covid pandemic is a “hoax.”

Nearly 180,000 people dead and more than five million people infected and this moron had the audacity to not only tell the world but the parents paying for his college education that the Covid pandemic is a “hoax.”

I wondered how his parents felt: it cost them somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 to underwrite his education only to have him embarrass them with a “hoax” sound bite that messaged his idiocy to the entire world.

I feel more than certain that the student’s daddy felt much like Sheriff Buford T. Justice did toward his son in Smokey and the Bandit—that boy “did not come from my loins.”

It doesn’t bother me if a person pursues stupidity as a way of life. I live by the tenet that every person has a right to go to hell in their own way.

But to call a pandemic that has killed nearly 180,000 people and infected more than five million—many of whom will take years to fully recover—a hoax is beyond the pale. It is so offensive that it defies all bounds of social decency.

America has become the “first” nation to express its “greatness” by having a significant portion of its population actually believe that the Covid pandemic is a “hoax.” No other point in history when the world has suffered from a pandemic did people call the plague killing them by the millions a “hoax.”

I’m sure most of these pandemic “hoaxers” also believe in the QAnon Conspiracy.

They also probably believe in the Moon Landing Conspiracy; that NASA is a lie; and that the earth is flat.

Forget politics for a moment.

Think only about the hoaxer college student and the number of people he is likely to infect, and ultimately kill, through his irresponsible and negligent actions. Think about the physical pain before possible death or at the very least the physical pain associated with the slow recovery process from the Covid virus that the individuals he infects will experience because of his “hoax” belief.

The government can legitimately be criticized for its incompetent, delusional, and partisan political response to the Covid pandemic.

But the bottom line is this: most of the nearly 180,000 people who have died are victims of the hoaxer idiocy. Irresponsible people, like the college student, killed these people with negligent, borderline criminal behavior that had absolutely nothing to do with “my rights.”

The tragedy is the hoaxer college student is too amoral and stupid to comprehend the social impact of his behavior.

But there is a real possibility, if you believe in the law of karma, that this same college student, gasping for air and feeling a searing pain eat away at his insides, will hoarsely whisper from his ICU bed, “please help me, doctor … I thought it was a hoax” before he closes his eyes for the last time.

0

The execution

In the first hour of December 14, 1983—a Wednesday—Robert Wayne Williams was put to death in Louisiana’s electric. His execution marked the first carried out by the state after the U.S. Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

Like so many others before and so many others after him, Robert should not have been executed. He was executed for no other good reason than to fulfill Republican Gov. Dave Treen’s “law and order” bona fides at the time.

I knew Robert.

As an inmate journalist for the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s newsmagazine, I interviewed Robert several times on death row about his scheduled execution. Two things I took away from those interviews with the slight, soft-spoken man: he did not want to die and he was afraid of dying in the electric chair.

The Tuesday afternoon before Robert’s execution, Gov. Treen issued a statement rejecting a plea of mercy made by some of the state’s religious leaders:

“I have reviewed and given careful and prayerful consideration to the many arguments that have been advanced by those who seek Clemency for Robert Wayne Williams. I do not find that the judicial system has failed, or that there is any other justification for the extraordinary clemency power given the governor. It is my decision not to grant a reprieve or commutation of sentence.”

That night as the waiting reporters and witnesses prepared for the death ritual the sky suddenly grew dark. Heavy rain began to fall, whipped about in a criss crossing frenzy by unusually high winds. Lightning darted, electrifying across the sky. It filled the darkened night with flashes of intense light. For a half hour, the turbulent electrical storm unleashed a raging fury over the prison. The night seemed touched by evil, as if something sinister had risen from the bowels of the earth. Then, just as suddenly as it had hit the prison, the turbulence died. It had been ominous and foreboding, just as was the silence that followed.

“These white folks are crazy,” a tensed black correctional officer said. “They don’t understand this weather. They think it’s a storm. But that’s the Lord letting them know He doesn’t like what they’re about to do here. It’s evil – and you can feel it – the air is full of it. And it ain’t got nothin’ to do with the death penalty – this is about that dude over there on death row and the people who want to kill him. There’s something that ain’t right about this thing. They can call it a storm if they want, but it ain’t natural.”

Approximately thirty demonstrators braved the cold winds outside the prison and occasional rain to protest Robert’s execution. They sang and prayed for Robert’s soul.

Robert’s mother had joined the protestors. A minster close to the Williams family also took note of the weather, saying:

“This total darkness speaks well of the shame we’re witnessing here tonight.”

At 10:30 p.m. the lights were turned off in the prison, signaling an end to the day. Robert’s personal minister was sitting in front of his death cell. The minister had been talking to the condemned inmate about many things from his childhood to adulthood.  Robert was a troubled man at the moment.

“He had a problem understanding how inadequate, how unfair the justice system is,” the minister explained. “He didn’t understand why Mr. Treen, who is a Christian man, didn’t step in and stop the execution. I had to show Robert that Mr. Treen had his own convictions, that he was following the law, that he had sent his pardon board to the prison to hear his case, and that two of those board members voted for clemency.

“The next thing that bothered Robert was the fact that there had always been judges besides the pardon board member who had voted to give him relief; that there had never been a unanimous vote to see him executed. ‘Why don’t they stop this thing,’ he asked. ‘Why me?’ Why doesn’t someone stop this and see I didn’t intend to kill that man?’ But I was able to calm him down – and we went over the Psalms again.”

At approximately 11:30, as they were talking, Robert suddenly told the minister:

“Stop! I want you to cease saying anything else. Get me ready to die. I want you to really prepare me to walk into Heaven. I want you to tell me what it’s really like – tell me what I can expect when I get there.”

The minister began to prepare Robert for death by taking him through the Psalms again.

“We began to repeat the Lord’s Prayer – and when we got to ‘forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me’,” the minister said, “we paused and he repeated it over and over again. He said that ‘in order for God to forgive me, I’ve got to get everything clear in my mind’. Then he said, ‘thank you for letting get that clear’ and at that point he said, ‘I don’t hold nothing against Mr. Treen or anybody else.”

At 12:45 a.m. Wednesday morning prison guards entered Robert’d cell. They placed shackles around his ankles and handcuffs on his wrists.

“Robert began repeating the Lord’s Prayer again,” the minister said, “and then he stopped repeating it and followed me in repeating the 23rd Psalms. A halo came over him and he was not himself. He said these words to me: ‘You’ve talked to me about Jesus bearing my burdens, that Jesus is going to sit in that chair instead of me’. He paused and said, ‘I definitely believe and feel that it won’t be me going to the chair – I believe that Jesus is going for me’. When I saw that halo, I knew he had become embodied in Christ.”

At 1:00 a.m. the Warden walked into Robert’s cell.

“Robert, it’s time for us to go,” he said.

The Warden led the procession off the tier, down the hallway, through a lobby, and into another hallway that led to the death chamber. The minister accompanied the procession until it reached the witness room at which point he left Robert’s side and joined the other witnesses.

The procession took several more steps down the narrow hallway, turning right into the death chamber. There the electric chair sat, forbidding, in the middle of the room. It had been refurbished and polished since it was last used in 1961,but its crude ugliness still dominated everything. A large clock was mounted on a wall directly behind the chair with an exhaust fan positioned slightly to the right of the clock. In front of the chair was a rectangular window to allow the witnesses to observe the execution. A microphone was attached to a small podium to allow the condemned inmate to make a final statement to the assembled witnesses.

Two prison guards escorted Robert into the death chamber with the Warden. Two other guards remained outside the closed death chamber door. Robert stopped in front of the podium and looked the witnesses directly in the eyes. The Warden held the microphone for Robert to speak into.

“I believe and feel deeply in my heart that God has come into my life and saved me,” he said in a firm, strong voice. “I told the truth about what happened. If my death do happen I would like it to be a remembrance for Louisiana and the whole country who think that it would be a deterrence that capital punishment is no good and never has been good. I would like all the people who fought against capital punishment to keep on fighting not just on my behalf but on behalf of everyone else.”

Behind Robert, in a small concrete enclosure, the executioner waited. No one would see the man who was being paid $400 to carry out the politically motivated execution. He faced a panel of instruments, and through an opening in the wall, he would be able to see the Warden’s signal to carry out the execution.

After Robert finished his statement, he turned and walked over to the electric chair and sat down. The two guards began to fit and tighten the straps on him – one for the chest and the other for the left leg where one of the electrodes was attached. One arm was taken out of the handcuff and secured to the chair, with the same procedure employed for the leg. Then the cuffs were removed from the other arm after which it and the leg were secured to the chair. Williams looked quizzically down at the two guards who worked methodically and efficiently.

Secured to the chair, the electrode was placed on the top of Robert’s head. As the hood, a piece of leather, was being lowered over the electrode and his head, he asked the Warden if it was necessary to use the hood.

“Yes, Robert, we have to use it,” the Warden replied.

The hood was lowered. The room fell deathly quiet. It had taken 4 minutes and 20 seconds to walk from the holding cell to the death chamber. The Warden turned and nodded to the executioner. The executioner pulled the switch, sending a charge of 2,000 volts of electricity surging through Williams’ body. He then lowered it to 500 volts. It took ten seconds to lower the charge. Then it was again increased to 2000 volts before being lowered to 500 volts. The entire execution process took one minute and ten seconds.

“As I looked at that execution,” the minister said, “there was a strong anger coming deep from within. As I watched Robert being executed, I realized that we, all of us here in America, are guilty of his death. We legalize alcohol and let our big politicians, our millionaires, control the drug traffic in this country, and it’s them, if anyone, who should be electrocuted – not the person who is down at the bottom. We only execute the ones down at the bottom, the ones who can’t afford a lawyer, the ones the state must furnish a lawyer. People with money who can hire the best lawyers are not on death rows. When I witnessed Robert’s execution, I was looking directly at the injustice of the system – and I was appalled. A deep dedication came over me and I said, ‘Lord, help me wake America up’. I was so hurt to know that I live in a country that’s suppose to be a Christian country yet so much injustice prevails; to know that men in high office are responsible for these injustices and they are so corrupt themselves.”

The minister walked out of the prison and embraced Robert’s mother. Her son was dead. His body had been destroyed but not his memory. That provided small solace for her grief.

“They used my son,” she told the assembled media, “and they’ve abused my family.”

She was composed, her voice even, despite the grief. Her son had been strong in death and, as his mother, she would not dishonor his spirit by being less. It was all she had left of him. The tears would come later, but not there, not with the world watching.

Sam Dalton, a New Orleans-based criminal defense attorney who had waged a courageous pro bono effort to save Robert’s life, had this to say:

“I felt like I had been amputated when I heard that the execution had been carried out. It was a loss that I just couldn’t believe. We got two votes from the pardon board, and while I think their decision was pre-ordained, we still got two votes. We simply made a straightforward presentation of the case to them. Now, Jesus Christ, what would have happened if that same presentation had been made to the jury? I can’t help but believe that he would have persuaded at one juror to vote for life – and that was all he needed.”

Robert’s mother was gracious in grief.

“My son did not ask to be released from prison,” she said, “but only that he be given a life sentence where he could help others.”

I think of Robert from time to time – just as I do other men I knew that died in prison. Any prison experience inevitably leads human carnage behind. Some died by their own hands, some by the hands others, and a few by the hands of the state.

If I was a betting man, and there is indeed a Heaven, I would wager that Robert is sitting at the right hand of the Lord while Gov. Treen is still trying to get his tender ass adjusted to the hot metal seats in that world down below.

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