Creative Commons License
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 Super Friends: 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas

If Whit were here, he would be wishing all of you a sincere Merry Christmas. I'll have to do it for him. Thanks to everyone for continuing to think about him and stopping by here.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Giving them hell?

‎"I don't give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it's hell." --Harry Truman. And Whitney Smith.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Letters to and from Whit

If anyone is interested in receiving a .pdf of Whit's entire blog together with letters we wrote to each other interleaved with the entries, you can email me directly (or leave a comment here if I already have your email address). Be advised that with the letters it's 228 pages long (and I didn't even include all the letters we wrote during the time he was blogging).  I also have printed/spiral wire bound copies.

Friday, October 8, 2010

From Tiny

Those of you who followed Whit's blog from the beginning, or who have read it in its entirely since his passing, will know who Tiny is: Whit's best friend at Terre Haute, who from the very having been released last December. He's home in Centerville, OH, and we see each other frequently. He's a real friend.

Gerry is in school in Dayton, majoring in social work with a specialty in drug and alcohol counseling. Below is the text of an essay he wrote recently for a class. Whit would be pleased and proud to share his blog with his good friend in this way. Thanks for sharing this, Gerry.

I spent nine years in prison. Upon my release I came back into a society that I knew nothing about; it was like being on a different planet. The experiences I have had  during these nine months have been both frustrating and rewarding.
My first trip to Meier was especially challenging. I entered the store and was dumbfounded. Before I went to prison, grocery shopping didn’t involve the need of a road map to locate what I was shopping for. I was just trying to buy soap, deodorant, and other basic hygiene items. My plan allowed for this simple task to take ten minutes, in reality it took forty-five minutes to navigate the many aisles of this grocery extravaganza and find the intended items. I am lucky I chose to go during the day because following the sunlight was the only way I was able to locate the front of the store. I didn’t even attempt to try using the self-check out machine, assuming that it was beyond the scope of my abilities. Since my first experience at Meier, I have made numerous expeditions back into the store and have even mastered the use of the self-check out machine, Although it had me on the run for awhile.
 The internet was my next endeavor into modern society. I was somewhat familiar with how computers operate but I had never been on the internet. I sat down in front on my mother’s home computer and attempted to figure out how to gain access to the menu. I deduced that the “start” button might be a good place to begin. Through past knowledge I knew that the controller by my right hand was used to move the arrow across the screen and so I used it to open the start menu. Having gotten this far without much difficulty I assumed that the rest of my journey to the internet would not be very troublesome. Looking at the menu I didn’t notice a selection that said “hey stupid, this button will get you to the internet”, so I proceeded to click on one choice after another until I came to right one. Having used such a scientific method to accomplish my last task, I was completely flustered as to what to do next. About this time my brother Chris walks into the room so I ask him”what do I type in to get to the internet.” He finds my question hilarious and after his bout of laughter he says “anything you want.” Seeing the puzzled look on my face he explains that I just need to type in whatever I am trying find out about and click search. So I sat there for a minute considering my options and then typed “time machine” because at that point I really felt like going back in time.
My most rewarding experience thus far was getting to meet and spend time with my nephew. My brother Dan and his family came from Chicago for a visit. I didn’t know what to expect because my relationship with my family has been strained because of my incarceration. When they arrived I was gone at a doctor’s appointment, so everyone was a little more relaxed by the time I got there. When my nephew whose name is Charlie saw me he came right up to me and asked “who are you?” I told him I was his uncle Gerry and without hesitation he hugged me. He is only two years old so the only thing I think that mattered to him was that he had another uncle. The whole time they were there Charlie was always hanging on me and wanting me to play with him and it was the greatest feeling in the world as far as I am concerned.
In conclusion, reentering society after so many years of incarceration has had its frustrating moments. But as  time passes I am finding that these discouraging events have less and less impact on my life. My focus is on the future and rebuilding my life out of the wreckage of my past.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The old house

This afternoon I went over to the house where Whit and his sister grew up. It was the first time I'd been there since Whit's passing, and it was just an unusual chain of events that brought me there.

It was hard, very hard. Various memories of Whit's childhood come and go all the time, of course, but it's an altogether different thing when you stand in front of the house and observe how ALL of it comes flooding into your mind at once. Birthday parties; reading bedtime stories; that first day of school, getting on the bus at the bottom of the hill; a swing set; family meals; and blissful ignorance of the future. Sure, there were difficult times as well. And I spent the last year in the house alone after Whit's mother moved out, and Whit was spending 8th grade at Howe Military School. So I don't need to be told that my memory is always selective in favor of just the good things, as some people in my life typically allege. But if I didn't choose to focus on the positive side of things and on the potential for good rather than negative outcomes, I wouldn't have been able to be there for Whit through it all.

But of course I'm crushed that all the active love and support weren't enough to avert Whit's death. I'm pretty much damaged goods by this time, and there doesn't seem to be a future worth hoping for or saving now. There's no way I can approach life the same way I did before Whit's death. As for the past, memories are painful, not helpful or consoling. I can't even listen to the same music I did before that existential watershed; songs that used to move me deeply now just represent a painful disconnect between what used to be and what is now. My capacity for passion is diminished to near nothing. Even checking this blog daily is becoming an exercise in disappointment. I remember how I used to check the stat counter several times a day so I could let Whit know how many new readers, how many pageloads he had. After his death there was a fairly long period of very heavy activity; and in recent weeks the number of readers has dwindled to near zero. Hardly anyone new is hearing about the blog, and the old readers have little reason to come back. Whit's voice is fading, and even those who were really close to him through the blog seem to have put the 'episode' behind them, and I don't hear from them any more. C'est la vie, and c'est la mord.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monroe, MI

My curiosity is really piqued. Whoever you are visiting Whit's blog on a daily basis from somewhere near Monroe, I really appreciate your faithfulness. Or are you someone I've heard from directly but didn't make the connection with Monroe? At any rate, if you're interested in learning a lot more about Whit, I can offer you a PDF version of the blog which includes selected letters he and I exchanged during the time he was writing the blog. Anyone as dedicated as you are really deserves to know more. Feel free to e-mail me directly.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To the faithful

I am very sorry that there hasn't been much new here lately. It's always been an awkward situation for me, posting on what was Whit's blog. He should have been adding to this himself for the past 17 months. The number of new visitors has dropped off quite a bit recently, and as grateful as I am that some of you continue to check back all the time, I feel bad that I don't have more to contribute.

Now that I am at the end of the legal road, it becomes even more important to find ways to have Whit's voice heard and his story told to a larger public. I would like to publish a book. The concept is to use the entire blog as the core, with letters he and I wrote to each other interleaved with the blog entries (i.e. letters written around the same time as the entries). I already have that in document form (anyone interested is welcome to email me for a PDF file). The rest of the book would cover his childhood and adolescence, and of course details of what happened to him during his 3 years at Terre Haute. That part will of course expose the Bureau of Prisons. I have several draft chapters written, but have not found an agent or publisher. I could also use an editor, or even a co-writer. Turns out I'm not very good at writing about this in a way that will sell books.

Around 6 months ago I gave sole rights to the material for one year to a playwright who is very interested in writing a theater production about Whit. During this year no one else can use the material for the purposes of writing a play (the book is excluded from this agreement). Unfortunately her time (and financial resources) has limited, and she will be unable to devote much time to the project until this fall.

I guess the bottom line is since Whit won't get any legal justice, my hope is to have the story - the truth - told to a national audience, both in Whit's and my voice.

I do hope those of you who have been faithful to Whit and now to his memory will continue to stop back once in a while like you have been. And please feel free to pass the link on to anyone and everyone you know who might benefit from hearing Whit's voice.

Thank you all.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

End of one road

The quest for legal justice is over. Last month I received the response from the last attorney on my list, who declined to take the case. I won't use his name in reprinting the letter he wrote, but otherwise am reproducing it here in its entirety. I should say that I was deeply moved by his genuine understanding and how moved he himself was by Whit's story and voice. Together with his realistic legal assessment, that personal response tells me that I can trust his judgement.

Not that it diminishes the disappointment at all. Whit's path to that cell and that decision was the result of a whole series of injustices perpetrated by officials, administrators and guards of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. A combination of malicious acts, callous disregard, insensitivity and mistreatment. None of which, either singly or in toto, meets the strict legal definition of wrongful death. It's not about common sense, or right and wrong, it's about the letter of the law, which allows the system to inflict a hundred small wounds in an individual, watch him bleed to death and then say they aren't responsible. But it was wrongful death, and I will always hold the BOP responsible for my son's death. He wanted nothing more than to serve the remainder of his time and come home, and he was doing everything in his power to prepare for a successful homecoming. I would remind everyone that he had only recently begun taking classes through Ohio University; believe me, if he had had any intention of taking his own life before signing up, he would have absolutely spared me the expense and found some excuse not to enroll.

Following is the text of the letter I refer to above:

Dear Jeff:

I cannot recommend that you pursue a legal claim for Whitney’s death. Judges and juries are increasingly reluctant to hold correctional officials responsible for medical neglect where there is some evidence that the inmate was receiving some medical attention and care. In this case, the documents reflect that Whitney was being seen, and was being treated with medications, for his depression and suicidal ideations.

In addition, cases involving suicide are very difficult to prevail upon. The defendants simply argue that the inmate was intent on killing himself, would have succeeded sooner or later, and they should not be held responsible for damages to his estate for an act he would have committed when free. Whitney’s handwritten “death journal” makes very clear his intent. I don’t believe a jury would blame the prison for the fact that Whitney managed to acquire and smuggle into his cell the plastic bag that he subsequently used to kill himself. The fact that a bag was found previously and confiscated, I think, would tend to support the defendants’ argument that they were not deliberately indifferent to his safety, and cannot be held responsible for an inmate’s persistent efforts to smuggle contraband into his cell in order to do himself harm.

In terms of damages (which I must take into consideration because I would be handling this on a contingent fee), Whitney had established no income stream. Any attempt to prove that he had future income potential would open the door to the defendants’ introduction of evidence of Whitney’s criminal record, the pending charges against him, and his potential sentence. He had no children who might have supported a sizable loss of consortium claim. Finally, Indiana law is simply draconian when it comes to recoverable damages. Indiana voters have bought “tort reform” hook, line and sinker and have passed a number of laws in an effort to discourage plaintiffs’ lawyers like me from filing cases in their state by making the economics of contingent fee litigation completely unworkable.

I am troubled by the fact that Whitney was found with his hands and feet bound to his bunk, but his handwritten “death journal” relates a prior suicide attempt in which he attempted to hang himself after tying his own hands and feet. I am also bothered by the fact that although it was discovered that there was a piece of paper with a note covering his cell window at 2:38 a.m. the morning he was found, and efforts to communicate with him at 3:00 and 3:04 a.m. were unsuccessful, no one attempted a visual check by simply opening the flap of his door until 3:20 a.m. However, it would be difficult to prove that a more prompt response could have prevented Whitney’s death.

For these reasons, I cannot recommend you pursue litigation, and am not in a position to help you if you choose to do so.

However, that said, I was profoundly affected in reading the documents you sent me. I have on my wall in front of me the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom,” and Whitney’s story brings to life the line from that song: “… For each young heart, for each channeled soul, misplaced inside a jail, we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.” There is great sadness, great tragedy – but great truth and great importance, on a variety of levels – in Whitney’s story.

I can tell you that, as an inmates’ rights lawyer, my greatest struggle is against public ignorance and apathy about what occurs in the institutions where we now incarcerate more than two million of our fellow citizens, and about the people and stories behind those bars. I think Whitney’s writings, in which he presents a moving and articulate voice, could go a long way toward dispelling some of the ignorance that makes our efforts to improve conditions in our jails and prisons so difficult, and often so futile. If just one person changed their mind because of the record Whitney left behind, then perhaps all of this could count for something.

So, I encourage you to consider publishing Whitney’s letters, his blogs, etc. Like I said, there is something profoundly moving about Whitney’s story, something that even got to me, and I’ve seen a lot in doing inmates’ rights work over the last 20 years. Whitney’s decency and his humanity clearly show through, as does the talent we all lost when he passed. His story raises important questions about how people like Whitney find themselves in jail, why we put them there, and why we treat them the way we do. Please consider sharing Whitney’s story with a larger audience.

If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. And please accept my deepest condolences for your loss.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I am in the process of filing the materials necessary for creating a 501(c)(3) non-profit in Whit's memory. The working name is the Whitney Holwadel Smith Foundation, though "Fund" may end up replacing "Foundation." The purpose of the organization is to provide financial assistance to former inmates from the federal system for the purpose of post-secondary school education - college, junior college etc. I will likely limit it to refugees from the federal system, since that was Whit's experience and I have first-hand experience with the lying, abuse and injustices those people have had to endure from Federal Bureau of Prisons employees. A part of the mission may also be to create public awareness of these issues.

This is something new to me; I have no previous experience and am learning along the way. A non-profit corporation requires a Board consisting of 3 directors, and I am in the process of recruiting those people.

Among the decisions that need to be made are how to make the fund more or less self-sustaining, so that we do not exhaust all the funds at one time and have to look to new donors each time to replenish. We also need to identify ways to publicize the existence of the Foundation, and solicit donors.

Please check in now and again to see what the status is. And please feel free to offer suggestions, ideas, help, comments, whatever.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Legal update

I have contacted a new attorney who is considering taking the case in the matter of Whit's death. If he agrees to handle it, then a suit for wrongful death will be filed against the Federal Bureau of Prisons. My present attorney, who filed the FTCA (Federal Tort Claims Act) claim but has taken a new position and closed his private practice, will see me through the end of that process. It is anticipated that the BOP will deny that claim, thereby opening the door to the courts. Just to clarify, an FTCA claim asks for a large damages award based on an assertion of wrongful death (gross negligence etc.). The BOP can come back and say screw you, go away; or here's money for funeral expenses, go away; or theoretically even a larger sum up to the statutory limit. In any case there would be no admission of culpability on their part, and no additional facts or information concerning the circumstances of Whit's death or conditions/events leading up to it would be uncovered. That's what I am really after: the truth. The difficulty is that the BOP will literally lie over and over again, in ways large and small, they will destroy evidence, and perjure themselves in an attempt to hide the truth. No, I'm not making that up. Guards will lie, wardens will lie. Ask ANY attorney who has dealt with the federal government. And I've already experienced it repeatedly over the past 4 years in my own dealings with them.

As always, thanks to all of you who keep coming back to Whit's blog. It means more to me than you could possibly know.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

mrs rimoldi

This post is actually the same as a comment I just left in response to one made by "mrs rimoldi" to my post of May 8, but I think it deserves more prominent placement as a separate entry addressed to all Whit's readers:

mrs rimoldi,

I can't tell you how much your comment means to me. Whit himself saw his blog writing as having a three-fold purpose: to entertain, to expose the horrors and injustices of life in a federal prison, and to find his own voice in the process. Responses like yours confirm that he accomplished all three of these in a way and with an impact that has never been done before. The third part - finding his voice - was key in gaining self-understanding. As he began to see how his voice resonated in the world at large, it reassured him that he was in fact a worthy human being with something to offer the world. That, combined with unwavering love and support from some family and certain friends, had allowed him to see a future for himself after incarceration, and he was making plans and ready to go home. Tragically, the horrors and injustices he experienced and was writing about became overwhelming, even for someone as unbelievably strong - and loved - as he was. 

Now there is nothing left but his legacy. Which makes it all the more consoling to me, his father, to see that Whit's words are still having an impact on others in prison, their families, and those with no connection to the American penal system but with the sensitivity to recognize what a beautiful soul and spirit he was - and is. And it is only thanks to people like you, who take the time to write, that I can feel consoled. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, what's left of it.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thank you...

... to new readers from West Virginia, Norristown, Kealakekua, Seattle and Hermosa Beach, for taking the time to read so many of Whit's pieces. As always, please feel free to comment or PM me.

No, I have no idea who you are, the stat counter I added - to give Whit an idea of how many readers he had and where they live - simply tells me where the server is located. Now it helps me to know that people are still finding SuperFriends, and hopefully that they are finding it rewarding, even inspiring.

Also a sincere thank you to Prison Talk for being a channel for Whit to have been discovered early in his blog writing by a lot of really great people. Even today he is finding new readers from the thread that Nina began when she learned of his passing.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Streets of London

This was always one of Whit's favorite songs, going back to when he first heard it at age 12 or 13. He had an enormous sense of compassion for the underdog. He didn't listen to my folk and acoustic recordings much, but there were 3 or 4 songs that really got to him. At Terre Haute he became enamored of bluegrass music, especially the old-time stuff. He and I would listen to the same program at the same time on a local Terre Haute radio station, he on his little transistor radio and earphones, and I on the computer streaming broadcast. 

Here is the original version of "Streets of London" he knew, written and performed by Ralph McTell. I can't listen to it anymore without....

Just added: A link to McTell himself performing the song 1986.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The legal barriers

Well, it's pretty much official that the Bureau of Prisons is denying the administrative claim my attorney filed. No settlement, no information of any kind forthcoming from the BOP. No handing over of the investigation report they wrote of the circumstances of Whit's death. The only thing left is to file suit for wrongful death, and try to make a case for negligence and/or liability. There is no other way the BOP will make known the facts of the case. 

Doubly disheartening because my attorney has taken a new job and will no longer have a solo practice; he'll be off the case soon, and I have to find someone to pick up the baton. There aren't many attorneys who are good at wrongful death suits against the BOP, and even fewer who have the time. It's also a money question: these cases are always handled on a contingency basis, so a potential attorney figures out what the chances of winning damages are. Obviously just learning the facts and truth of what happened is important only to me, and doesn't make any money for an attorney if there ends up being nothing to take a percentage of. 

It just hurts that a federal entity like the BOP can be so callous and dishonest, that they don't care about Whit or his family. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 10, 1984

Happy Birthday, Whit. I love you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Whit's Willow

Many of you know the story of Whit's Willow. I would have loved to plant a weeping willow in his memory, but that just doesn't work here. I figured a weeping cherry would be an acceptable substitute, so I put this in last fall.

Here are a couple from this past spring (2011):

Saturday, March 27, 2010

April 4th

April 4th is the anniversary of Whit's death. His passing has not been marked by large memorials or services, fundraisers or other public events, and this Sunday will be no exception. I would simply suggest that those few of you who still keep him in your thoughts on a regular basis, and visit this blog to re-read his words or see what is happening in the lives of his survivors, perhaps think about lighting a candle in his memory on Sunday. Or whatever emblem of remembrance seems right to you.

For your loyalty to Whit's memory and the support you continue to give me, special thanks in equal measure to Nina, Sandrina, Michele, Shari, Jessica, Rafe, Danielle, Eva, Kristina, Mindy and Jenny. And of course to my dear friends here in Cincinnati; you know who you are.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The legal situation

As some of you know, I have been trying to obtain the investigation report of Whit's death for nearly a year now. I tried going through my Congressman and Senator, and their offices both said I needed to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I did that, and the Bureau of Prisons ignored it. For over six months now I have had a civil rights attorney engaged on contingency to both obtain the report and, if the BOP's response was unsatisfactory, sue the government for wrongful death - it's still ambiguous, given what few circumstances of his death I do know, whether Whit took his own life, with or without help, or whether he was murdered. My attorney filed an administrative claim six months ago March 13th, i.e. the BOP had until this Saturday to respond. Here is what I received from my attorney today:

     I received a call back yesterday afternoon from the BOP North Central Regional Office.  They said that they are still investigating our claim, but don't expect to have an answer by March 13.  I asked to be put in contact with the investigator in charge.  She said that no attorney had ever made such a request, but that she would see if such was permissible.  This tells me that no one will call me.  When I said that my client had no option other than to sue at this point she said, "but don't you think that it would be better to wait and see what they at least say?".
     Give me another 30 days.

What else can I do? Not much. I also learned yesterday that my attorney must relinquish the case; he's taking a job in California with an agency. Now I have to find a new attorney. This is all pretty discouraging.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Whit the young writer

There are earlier examples of Whit's writing, but none more ambitious (that I know of) than this one, written as a school assignment - topic of your choice - and dated February 23, 1997. Whit was 12. He got an "A" for his effort, with the teacher commenting "good story" and "remember to occasionally use a period" (instead of a comma; he sometimes wrote run-on sentences). I'll type it here just as he wrote it, correcting nothing except to add the paragraph breaks for dialog which he didn't know to use. No, one wouldn't read this and say he was exactly precocious, but there is at least a germ of the writer Whit was to become. If you catch any typos, they're mine! Here goes:

Around the World in 80 Days, and 57 Seconds
(The OTHER version of "Around the World in 80 Days")

by Whitney Smith
February 23, 1997

The date was October 2, 1872. I was but a young lad of 12 when the stranger gave me the offer. He said that a group of men were going to race around the world. There were going to be 2 boats racing through the oceans and to the other side of the country in the least amount of days as possible, and, if I would help them with the cleaning on board I would be paid a fee of $100. This price shocked me, because just for a sailing trip, that was a great deal. I was just a poor beggar at that time, so without asking the dangers of the trip, or getting the permission of my parents, I took the offer. The man's name was Henderson (He would not give me his first name, he said real sailors did not have first names). He had a mean, straight face, with a scar running down his cheek. I told him my name was Smith, and with that he told me to meet him at the harbor, at dawn tomorrow.

When I got home, I said nothing about the deal with the man, instead I decided that I would leave a note the next day explaining what I had done, and where I was going. "What happened to you today Thomas? Anything exciting?" my mother asked, wondering why I was in such a hurry to finish supper.
"NO! why do you ask?!" I said hastily, hearing the wonder in my mother's words.
"Oh, I just was asking."
"Well, no, just a boring day. Maybe tomorrow something will happen."
"Yes, maybe something will happen tomorrow that will help this family," my mother said, just trying to get the subject off hand. With that, I excused myself and went straight to my room and began to pack my clothes for the journey the next day. I had not done the wash since last Friday, so I had to make do with the dirty clothes that I had strewn about on my floor. I had trouble hiding the suitcase because of its large mass, but I finally found some space in my closet that I could hide it in.

I had no trouble staying awake that night, because when you are going on an incredible expedition around the world the next day, it kind of keeps you awake. I had waited until 2:30 in the morning when I couldn't wait any longer. I shut the door, and took out a piece of paper to write where I was, and where I was going. After I signed my name at the bottom, I quickly folded it, and put it on my cot. Then with wasting no time I dashed out the window, making as little noise as possible, but the shutters were wood, and the fact that the hinges were old and rusty, did not help me at all, but since my parents are very heavy sleepers, I was able to go out without disturbing them from their slumber. Since there were very few places a lad could go at 2:30 in the morning, I went straight to the harbor, and wouldn't you know it, there was Henderson and some of his crew waiting there for me right on a boat!

"Hello Mr. Henderson, I am surprised to see you here at this ungodly hour, you are all ready I see."

"Aye, that we are, and you my lad are predictable, no one can resist to wait inside a boring house until dawn arrives, so you came early, of course of course. Now don't just stand there, get on board, Mason here will show you your cabin. That is where you will be spending your nights, but that is the only time you will be spending there, do you know how to cook?" said Henderson impatiently.

"Yes sir, I know how to cook a few things like..."

"Good, welcome aboard, you shall be the cook also," said Henderson, cutting me off. 

Not wanting to upset the man, I did not ask any questions, I followed the man that he pointed out as Mason, and I followed him through the boat into a room with plain wooden walls, and just a small dresser in one corner. It smelled of perspiration and dead fish. "Well, Smith, get your things unpacked, and get some sleep, we will wake you up when you are going to make lunch, we are not eating any breakfasts on this trip, to save food for the victory party when we win," Mason said, chuckling to himself. I joined in on the laughter. I did not bother to put on a nightshirt, because for some reason I knew it wouldn't be worth it, I just jumped in my bed and I didn't even notice the lumpiness about it because I was as tired as a bird who just flew south for the winter.

I felt like a horse apple when I heard the shouting that seemed far away, but it was right in my ear, and I still didn't wake up, then when I felt what FELT like an earthquake, I finally opened my eyes, and sat up. "Well, looks like you are still alive after all. Well c'mon you, the men are hungry, you have slept enough," Harold said in a loud scruffy voice. Actually in retrospect, I had slept more than I usually do, because the sun was almost in mid-sky, I just felt tired. Harold led me to the kitchen, or what could be described as a kitchen, and gave me some potatoes, and a slab of beef. He told me to cook the meat, and peel and boil the potatoes and that is what we would be eating for lunch. I followed his orders, and started to peel the potatoes, and boil the water for the meat and potatoes.

After 3 cuts, and 5 burns on my hand, I finally got the meat cooked, and the table set with forks, and plates. I hung a jug of beer over the side of the boat, to keep it cold, and poured all of the shipmates a glassful, I poured myself a little also. "LUNCH IS READY!!!!" I yelled when everything was finished, and they all came rushing in, and sat at a chair. All during the meal, they talked about how far they had gone already, and how they had not had a good meal like this in however many months it had been since their last sail. Me being the smallest one, I sat alone, seeing this Mason felt bad for me, and moved into the chair next to me. "Hey, great lunch Smith, what you been up to?" Mason said with his jolly tone.

"Nothing, I have one goal on this trip. That is to stay awake," I said, actually meaning it. Mason burst out laughing at what I had just said. 

"I couldn't agree with you more Smith, hey, did you hear that we are ahead of the other boat by at least 30 miles, I think we are going to win, don't you?"

"Of course I do, why do you think I came?"

We continued to talk about the trip. I really liked Mason, he was really nice to me ever since I got on board, and he was my only friend.

For the next 53 days, all went well. But on the 54th day, we spotted a sperm whale on the west port, and sperm whales sold for about $20 a pound for their meat, so, of course, we set out to get it. We harpooned it, and brought it on board, but that was just a baby, and the mother was furious, she lunged at our boat with all of its might, almost knocking it completely over, but because of its massive size, only a small hole was made, it survived 3 hits then the whale went away, discouraged. We had to set on a small island to repair our ship we worked in the water for 3 days, and then on the 4th day, we finally got it repaired. Obviously the other boat had already passed us by far, so we would have to work even harder, and go faster than we had ever gone before. We loaded back on the boat, and would not stop in any country for food and/or supplies.

After the 3rd day of catching up, on the horizon we saw the outline of another boat, and we knew instantly that that was the other captain's boat. We put up more sails than usual, and we passed them, but they also raised more sails, it was a head to head race of huge boats, imagine the funniness of that! Insults were shouted between the opposing boats as they deadlocked in the middle of the ocean, but still morale was high, and our crew pressed on. I did my usual jobs, even though the insults made me laugh, there were "your momma" jokes even back then! I cooked up some stew, but the crew refused to eat anything until they were ahead of the other boat, which they hoped would be soon, because they get awfully hungry working so hard, so fast.

After about 3 hours has passed, we were still side to side, but then a sail on the other boat broke! Leaving them behind. 

"YEA! We did it, we beat them, we are going to win this race!" said Mason, cheering along with the other members of the crew, most of them I still had not yet learned their names. I got out the stew, which was not a bit cold, and I put it on the table, but the crewmen were so hungry, they barely even noticed, they just talked about the ordeal of the race. Little did we know then, that the other ship had at trick up their sleeves. After the break, I went away at cleaning the cabins, and mopping the deck so that I would get paid. That night I slept the best I had since the voyage started, and I dreamed about when I came home with all that money, and my mom who had been so worried about me cheered with happiness when I returned home with the coins in my hand. But then a voice woke me up from my slumber:


"But I don't wanna go to school, mom," I mumbled, not knowing what I was saying because I was barely even awake.

"C'mon you, get up, this is not time for sleeping."

I finally opened my eyes, and got up. When I got to Henderson, he gave me the tools to fix the mast. In school, I was forced to learn how to sew, so I scrambled up the mast, and climbed where the rip was, I worked my hands bloody patching it up, it took me about 1 and a half hours to do it, but when I was done, it looked almost like it hadn't been ripped. The reason it took me so long was because the wind moved the sail all around, and it was a pain to keep it in one place, and work with the other, but I finally got it done.

Them having all of their sails good, and ours having a huge rip in it, put us back more than the crash, and it seemed impossible to catch up with them. For 41 more days we went, with barely any breaks in the day, and while some people slept in the day, the ones that worked in the day slept at night, and the ones that slept in the day, worked at night, so we did not lose any time. We were almost there, we thought about only another day, and we were right. We found the boat with one day to spare, and we worked furiously at the sails to make them go faster, but we still lagged. We all wanted to win, but it seemed unlikely.

The opponent arrived at the harbor at exactly 12:00 AM on the 80th day of the expedition, making loud cheers that we could hear from afar, we arrived at 12:00 and 57 seconds; they just beat us. We went back to our homes moping about the loss. Henderson was actually the happiest one of both boats, he said that he knew we didn't stand a chance, because there was a person from the other boat on our boat the whole time, that is how the mast got cut, he just wanted us to work our hardest for something fun. In fact he actually gave me $200 instead. I became good friends with Mason, and we did everything together. My family was happy to see that I was OK and that I had brought home to them the money. We all lived happily ever after.'

PS: I just thought it would be a good add on to the classic "Around the World in 80 Days." Do not actually refer to the book on the real details.


After the race, as you know Mason and I became good friends. I learned that his first name was Sean, and that he was normally a blacksmith. I got a girlfriend, and eventually married her, her name was Rosetta Parker, we raised 2 children, a boy and a girl. The girl's name was Maryl, and the boy's name was Whitney, but he liked to be called Whit. Whitney came out to be a successful lawyer, who attended Harvard University, which was one of the few colleges at the time, but Maryl turned out to be a penniless beggar who depended on her great brother to give her money. Sean died on October 2, 1900, at exactly 12:00 and 57 seconds, exactly 28 years after the race when he was 52 years old.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Old letters

Back in 2007, not long after Whit arrived at Terre Haute, I got the idea to create a blog of sorts consisting of letters he had written me from Dayton Correctional Institution, where he had spent three years from age 18 to 20. This was of course long before Whit came up with the idea for his own original blog. After just under a year of putting letters up and noticing that no one was reading them, I abandoned the project. I thought I'd post a link to that site in case anyone here is interested. It also includes some pieces he wrote from Dayton for an independent newspaper published in Cincinnati by Steve Novotni, who ended up becoming a good friend of Whit. (Click on "More Writing Samples") After he came home from DCI Whit lived with me for a couple of months before moving into an apartment in Steve's house. It was there he last lived, for another few months, before being arrested and sent to Terre Haute.

By October 2007 I had begun putting up a few letters he'd written from Terre Haute. All letters through 2002 are from DCI, anything later is from Terre Haute. The folder/link dates refer to when I posted them, not when the letters were written.

I think all the letters are worth reading, but the one he wrote on October 8, 2002 hits me especially hard.

I called the blog simply Letters from Whit.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A visit with Tiny

Yesterday I drove up to Dayton to meet with Tiny, who's been out for just over two weeks now. He was the one who took Whit under his wing when Whit first arrived at Terre Haute.They were inseparable until Whit was first sent to the hole. 

Tiny is from Centerville, OH, next to Dayton. He lives with his mom now, and spends his days taking the bus into downtown Dayton to make the rounds of federal and state offices for the process of getting medical coverage (he needs a number of prescriptions), applying for disability (for his weight and related medical issues) and checking in with both state and federal parole officers. Because he doesn't (and for now can't) drive, I met him at the Federal Building just after 1 pm. Turned out he had to be back home at 3:00 so he could go to church with his mom (strong Irish-Catholic family, and this was Ash Wednesday), so we didn't have much time together. Found a Ruby Tuesday's and had steak, talked about Whit, the prison system, and Tiny's bureaucratic nightmare. He really needs a stomach stapling or intestine shortening (don't know what the medical terms are) procedure, which will, after he's been on disability, allow him to get back off it and find real work. 

His mom was in the driveway when we got back, so I got to meet her as well. Good person, good family. I did make the mistake of referring to him once as Tiny, but caught myself right away and apologized. I'm guessing she's not crazy about the nickname, as 1) it was given to him in prison, and 2) it's a play on his size. His given name is Gerald, and he was always called Gerry. The next time I talk to him I'll have to ask which he prefers now. My vote would be for Gerry; I know that all the inmates whom I communicate with refer to Whit as "Smitty," and I'm OK with that, but somehow it's a bit of a disconnect for me. And if I were Gerry, I'd want to put the "Tiny" tag behind me along with everything else. I suppose I should continue using the name Tiny here on the blog, though, since that's how everyone here knows him.

I wish he were a little closer - it's just under an hour drive to Dayton - but I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of each other. Not only is he a good guy who deserves all the support and friendship he can get, but any real friend of Whit's is a friend of mine. It tends to provide a sense of continuity, if not comfort, to spend time with him. And I have no doubt that they would have been good friends even if they had met on the outside.