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A Death Warrant And An Execution: Reflections Letter To A Friend In Austria

Compañero Heinz:

I’ll begin by sending you a warm embrace of Peace, Strength and Solidarity! You must pardon me for not having written much lately; things have been extremely intense around here. This environment is generally a torturous Dantean, Huxleyian, Orwellian, Kafka-esque Hell but sometimes (like now) the dark cloud that surrounds this Hell can be like a raging storm-cloud—it’s lighting striking the soul of those it comes into contact with, it’s hail drenching the spirits of those it touches with profound sorrow, it’s noxious smog seemingly choking the life out of those it gropes for. And sometimes it does indeed extinguish Life, take Life, and destroy Life.

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Earlier today Gayland Bradford (a/k/a “G-Man”) was executed. I knew him although we were not particularly close. (In the decade that I’ve been here I have only been close with a few people, a very few people.) I’m always generally disturbed on execution days, particularly by the fact that no one hardly talks about it. G-man was cool with a lot of people around here and he was murdered earlier and no one is speaking of this! And if I bring it up the subject will quickly be changed. On these days, execution days, the banal coping mechanism bliss is heightened. Everyone is hee-hee-ing and ha-ha-ing and shuckin’ and jivin’ about, talking sports and other assorted nonsense in a complete haze. Thus spoke George Jackson:


“All the noisemakers are asleep: they’ve worn themselves out through the night making merry, laughing, singing, pretending. It is strange indeed that a man can find anything to laugh about in here. But everyone in here is locked up twenty-four hours a day. They have no past, no future, no other goal than the next meal. They’re afraid, confused and confounded by a world they did not make, that they feel they cannot change, so they make these loud noises to they won’t hear what their mind is trying to tell them. They laugh to assure themselves and those around them that they are not afraid, sort of like the superstitious individual who will whistle or sing a happy number as he passes the graveyard. Confinement in this small area all day causes a buildup of tension. The unavoidable consequence is stupidity, a return to childish behavior, overreaction.”


And can you imagine how much more potently the psycho-dynamic activity that he describes is enhanced for those under a sentence of death? Death—that word, that horrible, unfathomable word. Death—that terrible and terrifying concept that most never wish to think about but all do. Yesterday, Steven Woods hollered at me from up on [ed. Note: level] two. I went to the door and he said, “I just got my death warrant in the mail. My execution date is for September 13th.” A death warrant? Can you imagine? A slip of paper saying “you are going to die on September 13th,” or any date, whatever date. Can a single slip of paper be used for a more horrible purpose in our day and age? I imagine this piece of paper, this death warrant, being folded into a long stiletto blade and stabbing at the heart of Humanity.


I’m an Artist. I generally love paper. I love how my pen glides differently across papers of different textures. Once, a friend of mine sent me paper with a particularly smooth texture, a type of paper that I had never seen before and thought it was the most delightful thing—I must have flirted around with that paper for 15 minutes before using it! Another friend sent me a postcard with a little piece of paper attached to it. I’ve saved this postcard—with the paper that I find so very fascinating—for years. Yes, I generally love paper but this, death warrant, this piece of death paper that was handed to Steven as one might hand someone a bill or an advertisement or some such thing has, I do believe, made me look at paper a little differently. Let me do some Yoga, Jujitsu, some nice Shaolin Qi Gong, and some strength training….


Ah, so very nice! Are you familiar with the composer Tan Dun? Have I mentioned him to you before? I can’t remember, but he’s quite brilliant. When I do my Shaolin Qi Gong Joining Heaven and The Earth exercise, I always think of Tom Dun’s symphony of a similar name; if you haven’t heard it check the piece out and let me know what you think of it. Do you know that 4 out of the 5 people who have committed suicide since I’ve been here have been on Level 2-Level3 disciplinary status? There are reasonsfor this. People can’t handle Level [ed. Note: 2/3]. There are no radios or commissary food allowed on Level [ed. Note: 2/3], as I believe you know. Eating is a very common psychological defense mechanism and, of course, having healthier food makes one feel better. A radio is an excellent means for escaping the Hell of this place. And you know how I breathe in music, how music enlivens my spirit, stirs my soul, and can move me to deep tears or make me want to leap with joy! There is no music down here in “the dungeon” though.


Then there is recreation restriction, loss of visitation, super-seg security cells and other things that attack a person’s psyche. All of these things don’t bother me nearly as much as they bother others but I cannot completely escape the deplorable conditions of this environment; it’s impossible. Are you familiar with Thomas Bernhard? Compañera S. sent me his novel, Extinction. It’s basically one long exposition of Austrian-Germanic pessimism! At one point in the book the main character, the “intellectual black sheep,” Franz-Josef Murau, is jokingly accused by his colleague of being a typical intellectual Austrian pessimist. I thought of you and burst out laughing! I think we are both guilty of being quite pessimistic sometimes. Ah, but, I must reference the paragraph that follows the one above by George Jackson:


“I refuse to let myself be punished with stuff like this. Locked in a jail, within a jail, my mind is still free. I refuse ever to allow myself to be forced by living conditions into a response that is not commensurate with intelligence…This will apply even more on the other side of the wall, out there where you are.”


Indeed, there is much work to do and I think I really just wanted to vibe with you a bit because I was in a rather Young Wertherian brooding mood. I’m still on Level 3 and organizing strongly. I know you and others are out there doing the same and this fills me with inspiration and hope — and in this spirit I’ll sign off with a Spartacus-Dionysian embrace of:


Love and Solidarity!

Rob

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