An Introduction to Minutes Before Six

This site began in the summer of 2007 as a personal attempt at transparency. Having never found a way to be comfortable in my own skin, I allowed the masks I developed as a child to take control. The results were not pretty: I lied to everyone, all of the time, for years. After arriving on Death Row, I began to put the pieces together for this site. Exposing my personal diary in the most open forum ever designed by human beings seemed like the most un-Thomas thing I could imagine, an attempt, I hoped, at re-forging myself, at putting back together all of the pieces. I never had any expectation that anyone would ever stumble across my tiny plot of digital backwater; it was merely the principle that someone might which comprised the core of the challenge. For well over a year I was writing to an audience of precisely no one, and I was fine with that.

Somehow, inexplicably, Minutes Before Six (MB6) began to gain a few readers. True, a significant portion of this early audience only showed up to take pot shots at me. Behind the haters and the trolls, however, were others: decent, genuine people who felt conflicted over the death penalty and the rise of the prison-industrial machine. I didn’t have all of the answers for the questions asked by this group, but l knew that if we met in the center for meaningful dialogue, we would collectively figure some of them out.

With this goal in mind, MB6 expanded in 2012 to include writers from around the United States. MB6 writers have won numerous awards and have had their works published in scholarly journals and various anthologies. Some reside on Death Row, while others are nearing parole. Some are factually innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted; others amongst us are not. Our prison experiences vary wildly, but what we all have in common is a desire to use literature, journalism, and the visual arts as components in a personal plan to rehabilitate ourselves and rejoin the human race. We all understand the difference between regret over consequences verses remorse over motive, and we desire to right whatever wrongs we may have committed. We are also all painfully aware that our national criminal justice system has gone completely off the rails, and that the negative consequences of this disaster-in-progress are not limited to our world: what happens behind the razor wire infects your world, too. We hope that by parting the veil of secrecy that shadows our existence from your view we can make the world a better place. With our partners in the free world, we hope that this site will be one participant in the larger conversation about criminal justice reform, and will be able to stand as evidence for something that we all know in our cores, beneath our politics and our prejudices: people change. They grow. No one can be defined by a single moment or choice in their lives; we are, instead, the totality of our experiences, both good and bad. You can take away our names and replace them with numbers, cage and store us in conditions not fit for your family dog. You can berate us and exterminate us at your whim. But at the end of the day, we are still all human beings capable of beauty and love and light. At a time of increasing partisanship and cynicism, it doesn’t hurt to remind oneself of such things from time to time.

Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

June 2013

Thomas Resized

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