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Super Friends by Whitney Holwadel Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at whit-superfriends.blogspot.com. Super Friends: April 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April 2005



This is from the last series of photos I took of Whit before Terre Haute. For his birthday I took him gliding - the first time for both of us. For his actual birthday Diane and I planned a few things like seeing a live acoustic band at a local record store, lunch and frisbee in the park, but Whit said afterwards he really wanted just the two of us to do something. This did the trick. Unsure of the exact date, but around 4 or 5 days after his actual birthday of April 10. The instructor is showing him the controls here. I know I took a lot of photos that afternoon, but this is the only one I can come up with.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

From Emory, also

Read at Whit's memorial:


Hands holding hands, arms embraced, lives entwined, the fabric we share as a human race

In all things done boundaries stretched, each path pursued the soul will test

Heart’s twisted from forces unseen, unnamed; rend from us tears of love and pain

Given sight we stumble, seeing through a prism, given freedom we hesitate and ourselves imprison

What is death’s share of the bargain we make

Wings or flesh, does it give or take

Answers hidden, knowledge in a language unspoken, humanity rises in waves unbroken

Timed to a silent metronome, each wave of life crashes on death’s shore

Breakers uncovering crystals of sparkling sand sliding back into Mother Sea once more

In the face of this spectacle, as answers are sought, there is reawakening to my sense of purpose and thought

A time of remembrance that I am not the sand, the wave nor the sea, but rather, they are me

So we are not Whitney but now he is us. He has been consumed and integrated into each of us that know him. He is nourishing to our beings isn’t he? Between the moments of anguish and ecstasy isn’t life a magnificent struggle? Clarity of purpose and meaning are gifts bestowed to few of us. Questions will always outnumber answers. Pain often outpaces pleasure. It can be hard to feel, let alone measure the benefits that we earn through hardship. While clothed in these human forms we’ll never fully understand what lies behind life’s curtain. But I often think that this life is a lesson in love. In giving, receiving, sharing and expanding our capacity to love under the most trying circumstances

And I could thank you all for joining us today and sharing your love for Whitney and our family, but I only have to open my eyes a little wider to see that there is no ‘you’ and ‘us’. WE are all one family here; all Whit’s family. And I wish the best of luck to each of us in our personal lessons of love.


Friday, April 17, 2009

March 21, 2009

While I still don't have perfect clarity about where the blog goes now, it seems like letters from Whit to me, and perhaps a few to him, might be good. I want to start with the last one I received from Whit, dated March 21, 2009. Although he had had no phone or visiting privileges for over a year - which is not even normal for solitary confinement, which usually allows visits 'through the glass' and monthly phone calls, he was able now and then to sweet talk a CO into letting him call me. He'd obviously written this just after the last call. There is nothing unusual about this letter. References to the exchange rate reflect his awareness that it affects my income. "Grandpa" is his maternal grandfather, whom he was close with and who manages my IRA - beautifully, under the circumstances. Other comments in brackets will always be mine.

Hey Dad!

What's crackin'? Another great call today. Hopefully you enjoyed it at least half as much as I did. What's kind of weird is the fact that in situations like that when there are a hundred different things to talk about, conversation is sometimes the toughest because I never know what is important enough to justify spending one of those fifteen precious minutes talking about. You sounded good. Glad you were able to get out in the yard today (or a few days ago, by the time this arrives.) I know it's looking like a fantastic day out this way.

Sounded like things are running pretty smoothly back home, which is really great to know. Actually, without attempting to make myself sound self-pitying or whatever, it seems almost inconceivable to me to live a life where for weeks and often months no major dramas occur either to me or at least within my vicinity. Yet another thing I'm looking forward to when coming home.

Hey! I noticed the U.S. dollar has been taking a major pounding lately! Yay! I know on Thursday, the last rate I've seen, it was back to well over $1.30 versus the Euro. Seems kind of unusual when our stock markets are strengthening. Why is that? Does it have to do with all the new money the Fed. Reserve is pumping into the country? This is another reason why I'm looking forward so much to doing an economics course or two from O.U. Even if I don't do exceptionally well with the material, I should at least have a decent understanding of it which should mean the things I read in the money section of the newspaper take on a whole new meaning. Well, if not NEW than at least a greater meaning.

Thanks for explaining the situation with your investments/IRA a little more. You mentioned that you've lost 1/3 to 1/2 of the value compared to 2 years ago. Can you elaborate on that a little more? For a simple example, let's say your IRA was worthy $10,000 two years ago and then... oh, reading that passage again I understand now so no need to elaborate. Wow, that sucks. Such a considerable loss seems astounding when I consider the fact that Grandpa was managing your portfolio throughout this entire time. That means that either he made some seriously bad decisions or I guess it means that a lot of other people came out a lot worse than you. What a depressing topic, though. Moving on...

I really like your idea of converting your backyard into a landscaped garden. Yeah, it's not a whole lot of space but then again, I learned from our tomato growing adventures that sometimes it only takes a few plants to produce quite a bit of food at certain times. Those tomatoes were definitely delicious, although even with oregano, six or seven a day got to be a little much. Well, whenever your garden plan happens to come to fruition, I do have one request - sugar snap peas, and lots of them.

Great pictures!! Of downtown and Hyde Park Square. I'd forgotten that the fountains wouldn't have actually been turned on, though. Oh well, it was still a refreshing sight. I've got two of them taped up to The Wall next to my bunk.
[Whit had recently asked me to take and send photographs of two locations in Cincinnati that had special meaning for him.]

It's nice that you went to Esme's memorial. Were there very many people there who didn't actually know Tom, Lisa or Esme and were just there to show support? Reading about the drawings she'd done as a kid hanging from the walls at the memorial at first made me consider how, despite what difficulties we had (and still have, sometimes), things could still be worse. But then I realized the condition Esme's parents must be in having endured the worst-case scenario. The way you described your state during the service was vivid. I'm trying to find a way to empathize but it seems impossible. You've endured an incredible amount during your life and now this tragedy which, even at its distance, is much too close for comfort. I wish I could offer some advice or say something hopeful. You're the Dad, though - that's your job :-). You're in my mind all the time, whatever that's worth. Hopefully you're able to keep in mind how much good you've done in your life and how much success you've had. Without even mentioning the obvious things like a Ph.D., a great house with friends who care a lot about you, and just generally being a man someone should strive to be, there's also me. The fact that I've been in quite a bit of trouble throughout my life is a reflection of my failures as a son. But the fact that a kid like me who dropped out after 9 years of school can be at least moderately intelligent and open-minded as I am is a concrete example of your success as a father. I've been incredibly lucky to have the father I do.

Alright, I'm going to let you go now. Hopefully this finds you in much better spirits than you were in when you wrote this letter of the 12th. Thank you for being so open with me, though. I miss you and love you.

Your son,
Whit


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

From Brian

Diane read this from Brian at Whit's memorial.

When I first arrived at USP Terre Haute I knew there was not going to be a lot of people that I could count on. In a place where you always have to watch your back and automatically know to trust no one you have to be careful who you become friends with. Smitty was one of the first people I met. From the very beginning he looked out for me, giving me my first pair of shoes and shorts, and ultimately preparing me for what to expect as I settled into a place where I would be spending the next few years of my life. We continued being friends after that, but got a lot closer when we were placed into a cell in solitary confinement together. If you read his blogs I am referred to as Brad. Having the life of a prisoner is not easy and laughter rarely occurs, but if you have read his blogs it is something Smitty and I did a lot together. Prison may not be the life that either of us planned or wanted, but we tried to make the best of it and got through each day the best we could. I can honestly say he will probably be the only person I meet in my life that can make Christmas cookies out of candy bars, but hey, we were not going to miss out on holiday goodies just because we were in prison... ha ha. He was always good for creating a good laugh and turning something negative into a positive. Smitty is the most honorable person I have ever met. He was honest, smart, respectful, and an amazing writer. Out of 1500 men in this place I can truthfully admit to only having two good friends that I can trust and depend on, and sadly now that number has decreased to one. I will never forget the many memories of the times we had together or the amazing person he was and always will be. So many people want to look down on prisoners like we are not people. We have all made mistakes, but that does not define us. I wish everyone could have had the opportunity to get to know the person I knew, not Whitney Smith the criminal, but Whitney Smith the person, because we would all be better people. I am privileged to know him and to have the opportunity to call him my friend. Smitty, you will not be forgotten and may your voice continue to tell your story, for you, and for all of us here at USP Terre Haute.

I love you and I will miss you man!

Brian


And this "from Vroom and Whitney's many friends at USP Terre Haute":

SMITTY - What happened is such a tragedy. You were always there for us. You are an amazing guy and we will always remember the time we spent together. Your homeboys love you and miss you man. We will never forget you.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From Diane

This was read at Whit's memorial by my giving, loving and unwavering partner, Diane Debevec.

I have been among the closest to Jeff during Whit's years in prison. I am in awe of his steadfast love and belief and hope for Whit. There have been times of anguish and despair - and for me, my primary experiences of Whit have been through some of the darkest times and the pain these caused to Jeff. But being with him through those times told me what I needed to know about what kind of man I had here - deeply sensitive, fiercely loyal, and never wavering in his hope that his son and his daughter Maryl would find their ways in the world, would find good lives and their own measure of happiness.

Whit and I corresponded somewhat regularly throughout his incarceration. I would like to read a letter I received recently - after my sweet dog Adelaide was struck by a car and killed.

9 February, 2009

Hi Diane,

Thirty seconds ago I received a letter letting me know that Adelaide was hit by a car. As I sit on my bunk with this paper and pen in my hands I find myself at a loss for words. While my ideal outcome with this letter would be to cheer you up, attempting any sort of humor would be inappropriate. Plus, more than a week has passed since Adelaide's passing, so guessing what your state is is impossible. In spite of my inability to give you the comfort I'd so much like to be able to provide, I hope that you will be at least somewhat positively affected by the knowledge that there is a man in a room in Indiana who has absolutely no more important task than to think about you and send positive thoughts and is doing exactly that his every waking hour.

I miss you terribly and hope this finds you well.

Yours,
Whit

Monday, April 13, 2009

From Michael Millard

Michael was kind enough to allow me to share what he spoke at Whit's memorial service:


I am the family guitar maker. Some years ago I built a guitar for Jeff which later figured in one of Whit's "escapades." When Jeff told me about that, the conversation led quite clearly into an important friendship with both father and son.

Whit and I wrote many, many letters to each other over the last four years. Until last year when he was placed in solitary confinement, we enjoyed as many phone calls as he was allowed. I was also lucky enough to be able to visit him at Terre Haute once. I'm sure he got a lot of flack from his fellow inmates about hugging that grizzly geezer when I was leaving.

I am speaking today because Whit's Dad has asked that I do so, this from his belief that somehow I understood Whit fully. I am honored.

I love Whit Smith.


The almost universal questions are "Why?" and "What might I have done to change this?" We've all asked; many of us are still asking.

Whit is someone for whom I have enormous admiration. He was thoughtful, generous and kind. He was brilliant, curious, and magnificently creative. Please.....examine his body of writing. He was courageous beyond my ability to comprehend.

When I met Whit, he had really begun to ask himself (as a grown man), "So, what IS it with me?" He saw the trail behind and asked "Why?" He did NOT Understand. He asked these things fully and honestly. There was no "right answer"; he wanted the truth. And he did most of the work of understanding the why and wherefore of his life, which most of us do between the ages of 25 and 50 years, in the four years from 20 to 25. He began, in all facets of his life, to take full responsibility for himself, his choices, and his actions.

If you need any measure of the quality of the man, I ask you to envision a 20-year old learning this in the context of the hell which is Terre Haute F.C.C. This is an extraordinary human being.

But even the most extraordinary of us have our doubts, that place wherein we ask ourselves and all creation: "Am I worthwhile, a WORTHY human being?" There must be enough unconditional love in a child's existence to fight off the doubt that each of us will eventually encounter in life.


Over the last year, I watched Whit as it became possible to him that he might spend a very long time in prison. In light of that, I believe he chose the only option he had. He did this bravely, with dignity, and, I believe, with as much kindness as he could toward those he loved.

Whit and I talked a lot about death over the last year. My father had been very ill for some time. He died five days before Whit took his own life. In Whit's death I see nothing unkind, no parting harshness to anyone, simply an acknowledgment that what he had in store did not give him what he needed.

This is a man who knows himself very, very, well, perhaps better than many persons several times his age.

For Jeff and Kathy:

We practice Forgiveness awkwardly, sometimes desperately, on others, usually in the silent unrecognized hope that we can come to forgive ourselves.
Please.....Forgive.

Jeff:

I know you well, my friend. There will come a time when you will hold your grief as a sacred duty. Please, let it pass. Be kind to yourself, to your amazing family, and to Diane. Perhaps most of all, to Whit. Take Joy in who your son is. You deserve nothing less, and he was, and is, a miracle.


Memorial Donations

The family suggests that donations be made to Circle Tail, a non-profit organization located near Cincinnati which provides assistance dogs to people with mobility, hearing, neurologic or psychiatric disabilities. It would be helpful to specify that the donation be allocated to their inmate/canine education training program. Whit often expressed his desire to volunteer at an animal shelter upon his return home.

Circle Tail, Inc.
8834 Carey Lane
Pleasant Plain, OH 45162
Phone: 513-877-3325

Their main Web page is here.


As a general note, regular mail contact for Jeff is:

Jeff Smith
2835 McKinley Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45211




Sunday, April 12, 2009

Scott Ainslie

Remarks for the Memorial Gathering for Whitney Smith
April 8, 2009
Cincinnati, Ohio

Welcome

Good afternoon and welcome. My name is Scott Ainslie. I have been asked to say a few words now and to help facilitate the service this afternoon.

I am grateful to be among you today – to mourn the loss, and to celebrate and honor the life of Whitney Smith.

Three years ago, our mutual friend, Michael Millard, gave me Whit’s address along with a very gentle, but unmistakable nudge to write.

Whit and I became friends the old fashioned way: through letters.

A gifted writer, Whit began – and ended – our correspondence with candor and intelligence, humor, humility, and always with his characteristic clear-eyed and openhearted gratitude.

Not a month ago, on an early Spring day not unlike today, he wrote:

“Looking around me, it’s amazing to see how the glory of Spring is able to permeate the thickest of walls and highest of fences. Drainage pipes stretching across the ceilings of the coops provide a perfectly secure nook for robins and doves to build their nests, which they are already busy doing. And the troops of ants, beetles and caterpillars, which at most times would be an offensive sight to behold, at this moment are a welcome sign of the changing season, as they cautiously venture from the cracks in the concrete.”

We feel his absence keenly. Today – our grief is new. And sharp. It can turn on us.

But the very clear message that Whit sent out to us, before he lay his body down, was meant to encourage us not to use his life – or his death – to do ourselves or each other harm (something that in the chaos and disorientation of new grief often too easily happens, and something that would be a profound misuse of his life and memory). Something that he very consciously and deliberately tried to prevent us from doing.

So, today – together, we will begin the process of filling in the space – long held for Whit – with our memories and love for him: honoring the steps and missteps, paying careful attention to one and other, and to his Spirit.

Today, in stories and songs, in his words and ours, we offer to one another our gratitude for having had time here – under this sun and these stars – with him.

In Closing

Climbing out of adolescence to adulthood is never easy. But, Whit’s particular mountain was higher than most.

Whit became a man – a kind, thoughtful, and loving man – while confined in the Federal Pen. at Terre Haute, a place that more readily turns men into beasts – and beasts into monsters.

And he did what the very best of us too rarely do: he lifted himself up out of the brutal circumstances surrounding him and became, in his own words, “a man who values and protects his sense of honor and duty” – to his friends, to his family, to himself.

Let us all remember – as has been noted by others here today – that Grief is not a medal, a commemorative souvenir of the battle to be worn on the chest or preserved on display in a shadow box on the wall. It is the process by which we reassemble our lives.

Time does not heal all wounds. (Left alone, Time makes many of them worse.) But healing takes time – and a strange combination of indulgence and attention.

We are mapping a new world – under unfamiliar stars – without Whit.

As they become familiar we must let Grief – that Dark Horse – wander a little and mark where it goes. We must learn the lay of the land, taking care neither to rein it in too soon, nor to let it get away from us altogether.

Patience, awareness, and compassion are our tools – for ourselves, and for each other.

Today, we have begun well. Let us continue together, offering each other our ears and our support – and being grateful for Whit’s presence in our lives – as he was so openly grateful for each of us.



From Emory

Written by Whit's uncle, my brother Emory Smith. This blog is not mine, and none of this is about me; it has always been and will always be the voice of my son. I post Emory's creation nevertheless, because even though it's intended to deliver some measure of succor to me, it's beautiful, and the depth of this father's pain is at least a true measure of the infinite love that this father's son deserved. It honors Whit, and it deserves to be read.

A man and his son were lost at sea in a small boat. They passed the time talking of things they would do after reaching the shore or being rescued. But the days were sad and arduous, there was little joy and the constant fear they would never reach land.

One morning the father awoke to find the son dead from the hunger and exposure. In his grief he fell into the sea. The boat quickly moved out of reach. He struggled as the sea began to swallow him. It was cold. Sobbing and shivering, he soon felt it pointless to fight the inevitable fate. He drifted off into unconsciousness.

Next, he awoke to find himself in the same situation, but making a weak, almost involuntary effort to stay above water. Soon, he drifted off into unconsciousness. Again he awoke, still anguished at the loss of his son, but once again making just enough effort to breathe.

This repeated over and over, overwhelmed with cold, despair and loneliness he couldn't understand why he kept awaking. Death would be merciful in his situation. After what seemed like dozens of tortuous hours he again drifted off into his sea of despair. The next time he awoke, he felt different somehow, with clearer thoughts of his son and their dreams. He began to tread water. Still cold, hungry and in pain, sometimes sinking below the surface, then kicking just enough to arise again, he lapsed into unconsciousness.

When he awoke it was as if the fish around him had transferred strength to his legs and arms. He began to swim a little. Just a little time spent swimming, then treading water again. Of course in time he was again exhausted; crying out to his son he fell silent.

So it went for the next few days. Miraculously, always re-awakening with a little more strength in his body, but no less miserable, empty, and alone. One morning he awoke with land in sight. Not sure whether it was an illusion, he began swimming towards it until exhaustion closed his eyes.

The next time he awoke he was on the shore; an unlikely event for someone who had succumbed to drowning. Alone now on land, he looked longingly at the sea which could only remind him of his son. A more time passed, he began to accept his situation with a mixture of sadness and acceptance. Each evening he would walk along the beach, smelling the salt air, being sprayed by the cold sea spray. And each night as he lay on the beach, fish would gather at the shore line, and watch him sleep.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Photos - continuing









Whit and his dad, late summer 2001


Whit at his favorite coffee shop



Whit and his sister Maryl


















Thursday, April 9, 2009

Father's Day 2008

This piece was Whit's gift to me on Father's Day 2008, handwritten and mailed to arrive well before the day.

It's hard to describe this as a piece of fiction, even though the literary conceit of a narrator sitting in the cemetery takes place only in his own heart and mind. Spring Grove Cemetery is where he attended the burial of his maternal grandmother; he was given leave from the military school where he attended 8th grade. As far as I know, it is the only time he was ever there. The death he refers here to is the death of an old self, or rather just part of a self, and in no way was a conscious anticipation of what has now happened. It gave me even more reason to believe that he was finding a path that, once home with family and friends, would never lead back to prison.

Every single recollection of Whit the narrator in this piece actually happened, and even his recall of the exact words is completely full and accurate. I know, because I was there. Only the literary device of the setting, with all the creative symbolism, is fictional.

As it happens, Whitney will be buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, next to his grandmother, on Saturday, the day after his birthday. For each of the past 3 years, he has asked me to go to this cemetery and take photographs of spring as it arrives in this beautiful setting, so that he could post them on his wall. This is the weekend I had planned to go out on this year's photographic stroll through the grounds.

His gift reads as follows:

Gazing across the rolling terrain of the cemetery, I realize how appropriate a place like Spring Grove is for the deceased to do what I assume the dead desire most: To rest in peace. I suppose graveyards in general are known for having atmospheres in accord with, or even encouraging, solemn reverie. But this one in particular seems to me to be at such a height of serenity, all others simply fall short. A fact only emphasized by that cloudless Sunday afternoon in June. On that Father's Day.

In what seems to be a slightly bizarre counterpoint to what those grass covered acres represent, I can't remember ever seeing so many living, breathing birds and squirrels and hares and other vibrant creatures. All of them completely unaware of the significance we humans attach to those stone and marble blocks they dart around. Likely unaware of the concept of death altogether. Wouldn't that be nice.

It is on a marble bench where I sit. An overly expensive and extravagant tribute to a man or woman's existence. A lifetime of experiences culminated in a few lines of chiseled letters on glossy rock. From this vantage point I can see hundreds of markers, sculptures and gravestones, each with their own stories. But there's only one with any significance to me.

At first glance this one seems like all the others around it. To me it looks bland. And a little smaller, maybe.

'That's only appropriate,' I think.

It seems like some sort of emotion should be swelling up inside me. Grief, regret, sorrow. Anger. Or even happiness. But there's nothing. How can that be when the stories and experiences those grooved letters represent are so much a part of my life. Or were a part, I should say.

In the distance the gargling hum of a lawnmower carries in the breeze. I find myself being drawn into its gentle rumble. I came to this place to mourn. But in order to mourn something I must first have a feeling of loss. So it is there on that bench where I sit in my introspective haze trying to determine what, if anything, I lost.

Our relationship was always bittersweet. Not that any relationship isn't; I think our bitter and sweet was just more polarized than most. Although one common ground we shared, the one thing neither party will dispute, is that we both did what we thought was best for me. It still boggles my mind how polluted a person's judgment can be. But sure enough, he would dig me into one hole after another, each one was promised to be my true path to success and happiness. It's really my fault for allowing myself to be controlled like that. And I'm sure any harm done was unintentional; he just didn't know any better. Yes, he meant well.

At the same time, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In 1999 I was in my mid-teens. Already no stranger to the Juvenile Detention Center, silly things like school and work didn't take up too much space in my day planner. It's tough to schedule that stuff around important activities like stealing and partying.

One day, with a duffle bag packed full of clothes and a determined look at the front door, my father asked 'Where are you going?'

'I'm moving to Pittsburgh.'

'No you're not,' Dad said, blocking the door.

'Yes I am!' A very educated retort, I know, but what do you expect from a rebellious teenager?

There was a short foot chase around the house until downstairs in the basement, halfway out of the back door, Dad caught up. A wrestling match ensued. Today in similar circumstances things may have had different results, but Pops didn't have too much trouble then.

'Let me go!'

'No!'

'I'm not living here anymore, let me go!'

'No,' Dad said, 'I will never let go.'

And then there were the robberies. What was supposed to be an exciting way to spend Monday night turned out to be nothing more than a forfeiture of three years of my life.

Seeming to be a figure either directly or spiritually present in every major happening of my life, true to form Pops was there in the hours after my arrest. The officers told him he could come down to the station to visit with me before I was booked. So there I sat, a shamed and, I reluctantly admit, terrified 17-year old kid when Dad comes in with two sodas and a bag of McDonald's.

For over an hour we sat there talking and eating chicken nuggets. There was almost no mention of the robberies. We did our best to dance around that topic, instead talking about movies or memories. Casual bullshitting. I suppose we just both knew that these were our last moments together as the father and son we were then. We did our best to spend those last minutes together with as much normalcy as possible.

I was born in 1984. Sometime in 1989 a little boy was being dropped off by his father at daycare. Every morning that boy would get out of the car and run as fast as he could to the window in time to watch his dad drive off. Five days a week that kid would zoom to that window and smile as 5 days a week his dad would smile back at him and wave good-bye. Until one day he didn't. No smile, no wave, not even a glance. And so as that car pulled back into traffic there was a little boy who had just realized that his father no longer loved or wanted him and who had just been abandoned in this daycare where he would spend the rest of his youth eating canned peas and Wonder bread. When asked by a woman why he was crying so hard, it must have seemed a little confusing to hear 'He didn't wave' as a response.

Behind me the once-distant lawnmower crests the small hill where I sit, the shrill chugging of its engine pulling me back to the present.

Refocusing my eyes, I read the name on that slightly inadequate gravestone one more time.

What had I been thinking about? Oh yeah, loss. Mourning.

As connected as we were for so long, I feel no loss. No more than I would feel the loss of a virus purged from my body. And after being such a poison to my well-being, maybe that's truly what has happened, a sickness cured.

Rising from my bench's cool stone I walk to the grave and look one last time at the name neatly scribed on the molded concrete.

'Whitney Smith,' it reads.

For all our memories, there is no longing for what lies buried in the earth where I stand. The impulsiveness that steals and lies, the brashness that scorns a loving father, the childishness that feels abandonment: It is all better off laid to rest here in the ground.

The rest of me turns and walks away. I've got to meet up with my father and have lunch. It's Father's Day after all.

Whit and his dad


I don't remember the exact year, but it's not an untypical image.

Jeff


Lifeline

Please allow me to express my gratitude towards everyone who continues to read this blog, and to those of you who are responding actively. You are being a lifeline to me. Over the next day or two I will be posting the words of dear people who spoke at Whit's memorial yesterday. They are a valuable extension of his own voice, and will provide further evidence, as if any were needed, of the truly heroic, generous and loving nature of my son. Letters from Whit and photographs will also be appearing here. This affirmation of life must continue.

As I may have said before, I am also wanting to have his blog published, along with a selection from the thousand or more letters he wrote, all of which are collected together with every letter I wrote, in chronological order in 3-ring binders. I have no idea how to proceed with this, and it will require the work of an editor. If anyone is in the position to give me some direction, I would welcome that. I can be contacted directly at jeff.transtech@gmail.com.

With much gratitude
Jeff

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Keeping it alive

Whit's memorial service was today. It was a gathering of love and beauty. It's late now, and I don't have any energy left to write about it, but I will soon. If anyone who attended would like to write about their impressions, please do so.
I also plan to add more entries very soon, including photos of Whit, letters he wrote to me, and whatever seems appropriate. Hard to say exactly what direction my son's blog will take from here, but it will remain his blog. I would be grateful if you would continue to stop by, and even participate in whatever way you choose.

With gratitude,

Jeff

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A father's words

I have been in the unfathomably desperate situation of having to write words to read at Whit's memorial tomorrow. Lest there be any doubt about the beautiful soul of my son, and for those who cannot be there, I would like to post it here. It's another way to be keeping the blog alive, I suppose.

A short time ago I was part, without taking part, of a memorial for a young girl who was taken from her parents and family. It hurt me to the core, and still does. I now know part of the reason why that is so. It’s not only that I have always been constitutionally unable to keep from going straight to the hurt of others and absorbing it. It’s also because I have always known the loss of my son or daughter would be the greatest tragedy of my life. And here I am.

Since Saturday I have been speaking of my son Whitney in the past tense. I would of course rather take my own life than to acknowledge so actively the reality of what has happened with my own speaking voice, and it would be a far easier thing. But today is the day which has been chosen to honor his life, since that is now the only thing left to us to do for him.

There are often remembrances that provoke kind, poignant laughter at a memorial. I will not be the one who is able to provide that, but I know, and am grateful, that others will.

Whit’s life was painfully short, and it was painful and short. But it was only the last half that was so full of pain. Whit was a curious, fun-loving, sensitive and kind boy. There is scarcely one of you here who knew him personally, and perhaps even some who did not, who was not at one time or another the recipient of a random act of kindness from Whit. This began in his earliest life, when he bestowed these unexpectedly and in various forms on his parents. Cards, notes, even a card I found recently with 15 cents taped inside, given I suppose when he was 7 or 8. He loved to surprise with expressions of love and gratitude.

He loved animals, and was devastated when he had to see our first dog struck and killed by a car when he was quite young. He and his grandfather fashioned a cement grave marker with a big heart fingered into the unset concrete. I still have a mouse pad made from a photo of him sitting happily on a chair, holding the next dog, his beloved Milli Vanilli.

I cannot begin to tell of all the ways, large and small, in which his generous, caring and yes, in some way fragile, spirit shone through. His life was a crooked path. It can be said, depending on your views about these things, that he made bad choices, and that they were his to make. Or that he was compelled to make them as part of his nature no less than the beautiful, non-self-defeating side. First of all, I tend to see those choices as an aspect of his inherent creativity. That he did things that were considered hurtful to his family, and later ones violated the norms of society, all came, I believe, as a surprise to him. Not that they were hurtful, but that, in retrospect, he had done them. He was never able to understand why, as hard as he tried. And it was not because he didn’t try. He was exquisitely thoughtful and self-aware. And part of what always hurt me was to see how helpless he felt from that inability to understand it himself. There were some who considered his self-defeating actions, even the extreme ones, as nothing more than willful self-indulgence. I always knew better.

I was always the one who gave him the benefit of the doubt. It was not that I couldn’t or didn’t see the consequences his actions had on others, and that they were hurtful to himself as well. But as for his early life, you only need to listen to the others who will speak in both his and their own voices, to understand what it was I saw.

His continual, honest search for identity at some point brought him to prison, once and then again. Rather than be discouraged by the actions that brought him there, I somehow was always able to see even that in the context of a whole life, knowing with absolute certainty who he was in his core, and what he had the potential to become. Every single word in the thousands of letters he wrote to me, from Dayton and then Terre Haute, was painfully honest, insightful and indisputably genuine evidence of and justification for my faith in him. Today a comment was posted on his blog, from someone who didn’t leave a name, which reads: “I came across this blog today while doing research for my job. I have been reading these posts and they have brought laughter and sorrow. You son was brilliant, creative and intelligent. I only wish that I had found these writings sooner. My heart is with your family.

Which brings me to Whitney’s blog. Last November he told me he wanted to write one, and asked if I would set it up for him. Since he has no access to a computer, he hand wrote each entry and mailed it to me. It didn’t become an overnight success, but it has grown to hundreds of regular readers from all over the world. And the numbers have grown exponentially since Saturday. It will remain the most publicly visible and successful manifestation of and testament to his beauty, honesty and depth of soul. I have to say in this context that I am personally ambivalent about the meaningfulness and significance of memorial services like this. I find it too easy to try and reject reality as not real and not true, and find only abject irony in being forced into this situation, as if remembering my son could do anything for him now. Which is ultimately the only thing that matters to me, even now. But at the same time, for whatever reasons, whether of any ultimate meaning or not, I am compelled to wish the entire world would read his words and hear his voice. I myself cannot do so without the pain of disconnect, but others can.

I find it tragic that his place and condition dictated that some of his most creative expression had to come from writing about his utter pain, frustration, depression, and the inherently inhumane conditions under which he was forced to live. Yes, of course that’s all he had to write about, and of course it was in part the extremity of his existence that made his writing so powerful – though not only, because he wrote well and beautifully of many things throughout his life. One of his readers described his writing once as “seriously vivid,” and while there are many equally apt descriptions, I’ve always liked this one. And had it been allowed to be just a stage of development, fodder for something to come later, I would feel less angry and cheated – for his sake and all of ours – by the necessity of the subject matter. But that cannot be changed, and we have this permanent record of a beautiful voice calling out from one of the worst places on earth. He uses humor often, even as a basic device; that is because he has a natural sense of humor, and because it is the only way he can get even a little bit of distance from the pain and horror.

The world is not a very nice place. But Whit’s very existence was an infinitely beautiful thing for me. And the world is at least nice enough, and Whit’s soul such an incomparably beautiful one, that he deserved more life, but he also deserved better than what life gave him. I will believe with absolute certainty, for as long as I have left to live, that had the prison system not broken him, he would have come home a whole person and made the world a better place. He was finding his voice, and his true, beautiful self was winning the internal struggle. He was ready to come home. He had plans and ambitions.

I would like to finish now by reading the last thing I wrote to my son. It was a birthday card, and I am not even sure whether he received it. The sentiment on the card reads:

“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”

And inside I wrote:

“I may not be Zen-like enough to buy into the first sentence, or at least the second clause, but I have always tried to embrace it, and it would be well if you’re able to. I know: it’s hard not to wish there had been a different, less painful path taking you to the same destination. But as for the rest of this view, I’m definitely a subscriber. I know who you’ve always been, who you are today, and I see who you’re becoming, and I could not be more proud. So no, don’t think that you’ve lost time. Look at what you’ve been able to become and accomplish in such adverse conditions, and then imagine how it will feel to take that and run with it in a world that’s wide open to you. Hemingway wrote: The world breaks everyone, and afterwards some are stronger in the broken places. That’s you.

So as you turn 25, don’t dwell on the past but take what you need from it to carry with you into the future. Some of it comes in the form of a burden, but never forget how many people are walking beside you, eager to help you carry that part until it can be put down and left behind.”


I was always proud of my son. There was never a moment when I lost faith in him. I hope every one of you comes away from this understanding why he deserved that.




To all who have been hearing my son's voice

I would like you to know that in some way, his blog will not end. I do not know what form this will take, but if I have the strength I will help that to happen. There has even been talk of producing a published book of his blog and some of the more than 1000 letters he wrote to me since his imprisonment, but I don't know how that would happen, or if there would be interest in it. I would ask you, if Whit and his voice have some meaning for you, to keep coming back to his blog in the future, to see where it goes. And I would be so very grateful if new people would come and read this work, which ended so much sooner than it should have. I'm sorry I cannot be more organized in my thinking at this moment, but I hope my intentions are clear. And if there is anyone who would like to help in this endeavor, in whatever way, then I invite you to.

I am so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to hear my beautiful son's voice. I hope it will live on in some way.

With deep gratitude and love,

Jeff Smith

Monday, April 6, 2009

Memorial

Dear Friends,

A memorial for Whit will be held on at the Cincinnati Civic Garden Center on Wednesday, 2715 Reading Rd., Cincinnati, OH at 2:30. This is an open invitation for anyone reading this to attend, and even speak of Whit if you wish. This memorial will be devoted to hearing Whit's voice, in stories he wrote as a young child, letters to his family, and the blog, read aloud by friends and family here. If any of you would like to write something about Whit and what you knew or felt about him, we invite you to leave it as a comment here. All of your words will be read at his memorial.

If you would like to make a donation in Whit's memory, we are asking those be made to Circle Tail, an animal shelter in Loveland, Ohio. Whit had recently told Jeff that he hoped to volunteer at an animal shelter when he got out of prison. Circle Tail (link here) works with a several prisons to foster their shelter animals before they are placed in a permanent home: it's a win-win.

Please feel free to contact Jeff for any reason at all. The direct email is jeff.transtech@gmail.com.

Jeff's family

A Memorial for my beautiful, beautiful son

Dear Friends,
We are working on a memorial service for Wednesday, times and details will be posted later today. If you would like to make a donation in Whit's memory, we are asking those be made to Circle Tail, an animal shelter in Loveland, Ohio. Whit had recently told Jeff that he hoped to volunteer at an animal shelter when he got out of prison.
Circle Tail works with a local prison to foster their shelter animals before they are placed in a permanent home: it's a win-win.
More soon, I promise.
Jeff & Family

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cards from Whit

I know now that some of you received greeting cards from Whit shortly before his passing. He mailed them to persons he felt especially close to. This is what mine said:

My beloved Pops,

It's been a wild ride, huh. Yet you never once wavered as a friend or a father. A kid couldn't ask for a better father. You're awesome.

With all the love I have,

Whitney

In addition to the blog, I have more than a thousand letters he wrote to me. Every single word in the blog and letters is a testament to his love, honesty and sincerity. His life was painfully short, and it was painful and short. I do not know if or how I will go on, but if I am able, it will be to honor his life. I hope some of you will find ways to honor it as well.

Jeff

My son

On Saturday morning my beloved son, Whitney Holwadel Smith, took his own life. The prison and justice system took everything else from him, and this was all he had left. Whitney was my life, and now he and that are gone.

I am sorry that I am unable to respond to those of you who have written about this. I want you to know that the people who read his thoughts here were a source of some happiness, or at least something like that, in a life that otherwise knew very little happiness.

At some point I hope to be able to make people with a real voice in these matters aware of who my son was, and how he was ultimately broken by the system. He spent the last year of his life in solitary confinement, he was not allowed to see me in person or even call me. He was tortured to death. And I cannot write anymore now. Please remember my son, and do what you can to honor him.

Love,
Jeff Smith

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My son is dead

My son Whitney died this morning. They won't tell me how. I suppose he was killed by another inmate. I don't know what to do.

Jeff Smith