The Death of a Cartographer by Mike Powers

I just got back from John Seely Hospitalvin Galveston, Texas, where I had surgery on my toes. Specifically, I had a “joint capsulotomy, metatarsal osteotomy, toe correction, tendon lengthening, and splint application”. The doctors and nurses were great, but when you’re in prison, sooner or later, you get turned back over into the hands of TDCJ security. All good things must come to an end, including good medical care.

I saw many unbelievable stories on this trip, many of them at my expense, but I’ll save those up for a rainy day, including how an officer (acidentally) stepped on my newly-operated on foot. Yeah, it hurt.

While I was recuperating in what appeared to be a converted conference area cum convalescence dorm, I met a little old man who could barely speak any English. He had a colostomy bag, you know, where your colon is connected to a hole in your stomach and your waste accumulated in a plastic bag. That is, IF you have a bag to attach to the colostomy. I watched in amazement and shock while this poor man, for four days and twelve…TWELVE….work shifts, tried over and over again to communicate to the proper personell that he needed a colostomy bag, and some sort of part to connect the bag. Until he could get this bag attached, he was not permitted to eat any solid food. Day after day, growing more agitated with each encounter, he’d walk up to every nurse who came on the floor and try and get these parts. The closest he got was an infuriated white woman who came back three times with different, but incompatible parts and finally told him that she’d have to order some, which could take several days. Meantime, this poor man, who now was branded as a junk yard dog by the officers and nurses, watched us line up three times a day to get our food while he dranka big gallon of something from a plastic jug. I guess he could’ve gone ahead and eaten a big, fat juicy meal with the rest of us, but no telling what maleficent consequences this would have produced. I admire his restraint. I also hope he’s got his bag by now.

I tell this story by way of introducing you to a very good friend of mine. His name was Cary Wilkie. I refer to Cary in the past tense, because the TDCJ killed him. I first met this noble soul in the law library when I began work on the first lawsuit I ever wrote. Almost two hundred inmates were locked on an outdoor rec yard for six hours. Even though the temperatures were moderate, dozens of us got second degree sunburn. We had blisters filled with yellow pus covering our heads, necks and faces. We’d been put on the rec yard to allow for a contraband search of our building. To prevent anyone flushing drugs down the commode, the water was turned off. This meant no working toilet. Since we’d been put on the yard early in the morning with no warning, the commode was quickly overflowing with solid and liquid waste. Hours later when Assistant Warden Dianne Clay made it out there to see what we were yelling and screaming about, we told her we were getting sunburned and about the toilet. She said, “You’ll live.” And walked off. She and her major proceeded to drink iced tea within sightline of the rec yard. We could hear them laughing at us. Thus commenced my “writ-writing” career.

Wilkie was already adept at the law library when I got in there. I used a book put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center called “Protecting Your Health and Safety” to learn a lot, but he filled in all the gaps. (One of the strange things about being a die-hard conservative and coming to prison in Texas is that all of a sudden, you find you must make common cause with red-flag waving organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP. It’s like putting clove-oil on a toothache… yeah, it feels DIFFERENT, but it sure doesn’t feel BETTER.) Wilkie was fighting his criminal case, trying to find a way to get out of prison. I read his case, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How this guy EVER got put in jail in the first place is an eye-opening warning to every innocent man out there walking the streets.

His accusers were his pissed off soon-to-be step daughters. They were unhappy that their mom was about to get remarried, and not to their father. On Labor Day, in broad daylight Wilkie drives the girls to Wal-Mart in his open-top Jeep. The girls claim he assaulted them in the parking lot. Did I mention it was Wal-Mart… on LABOR DAY…IN AN OPEN-TOP JEEP!!! There were cameras all over the parking lot, but oddly, the one covering his Jeep was somehow not working that day, so he had no tangible evidence that he didn’t assault the girls. The girls, on the other hand, had each other, and only each other, as it seems the police couldn’t find a single person who could remember a man sexually assaulting these two girls in full public view. They actually sent this man to jail on this cock and bull story, and the whole time he was healthy, he tried to get his conviction overturned in the courts. Another word of warning to the innocent men of Texas: this state is one of the only places in the U.S. that actually has a specific law written to instruct the courts that the uncorroborated testimony of the “victim” of a sexual assault is enough evidence to secure a conviction. Be careful, my friends. Be very, very careful.

About two years after we became friends, Wilkie started having some health problems. He’d go to the infirmary to try and get medical help for what was wrong, but he steadily declined. It got to the point where he just looked so bad, we knew something was seriouslyly wrong. Finally, he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. Cancer’s a bummer, no doubt. But prostrate cancer is 100% cureable if treated in its early stages. So if you have to have the big “C”, this is the cancer you want. You know you can fight it and win. Here’s the deal. After Wilkie got his diagnosis, they didn’t take him straight to the hospital and start fighting it. Wilkie stayed right here on this unit for MONTHS after his diagnosis, and they did NOTHING to fight the cancer. The whole time, he’s thinking, “Well, they’re the doctors. They know what they’re doing.” Then, by the time they finally take him to treatment, he’s too far gone.

Even after they’d put him behind the eight ball, he fought hard for his life. He actually came through the first round of chemo, and he was trying to live. He battled the disease for the next two years, before it finally took him.

When it became clear that he”wasn’t going to beat his cancer, Wilkie and his family applied for a special type of parole that is available for terminally ill patients. The idea behind the parole is that anyone so close to death can’t pose a threat to society, because, hell, they can’t even walk on their own to the bathroom. It’s really a great idea, because it allows a prisoner to at least die with some dignity in the loving presence of his family. Here’s the problem, though. It’s AVAILABLE, it’s just not OBTAINABLE. Like so many of the other carrots they dangle out in front of us asses to keep us moving along, it hangs there just out of reach. The last year I was able to obtain the hard statistics, over 1,000 prisoners had applied for this type of parole. Three were approved. Now, you can’t just apply for it on your own. It has to be doctor-approved just to get the application, so it’s not like there were 997 scammers trying to get a free pass. All these men died anyhow, they just didn’t die at home.

Wilkie’s application was originally in the 99.7% pile, because they told him he couldn’t go home, but his family kept fighting for him, and eventually he got approved. Now, I’ve told you before that every time I think the TDCJ hits a new low, I’ve 1earned to just get a new shovel to find a new spot further down, ’cause these people still haven’t found the basement. You’re probably asking, “What’s wrong? They gave him his parole didn’t they?” Yeah, the bastards sure did give it to him. The letter of approval was delivered to his room at John Seely hospital a few minutes after he died. His mother and sister had been allowed to spend a little time with him on that last day, and they were in the room when Wilkie “paroled”. How either one of these blessed women made it out of the hospital without getting themselves locked up, too, is beyond me. I’d have been trying to punch someone’s lights out, but then, I’m one of the “bad” guys. I tell you this with all sincerity. Whoever was in charge of that parole fiasco needs to be right in here with me, because they obviously have a “callous disregard for the lives and safety of other individuals”. Lock em up, I say.

Before such a cruel fate befell him, Cary Wilkie had been a successful cartographer. Along with a partner, his business was vibrant, and even though the internet was starting to creep up the industry, it hadn’t yet had a very noticeable impact on Wilkie’s work. In fact, he was getting up there near retirement age, anyway, so even if he HAD been run out of business by Google, it would have been a nice time to retire. He was from the hill country, a German-speaking American from the peach-capital of Texas, Fredricksburg. He was a good man. He was a good son. He was a good brother. And, I have a feeling, that if he’d been given half a chance, his accusers might have found him a good step-father. I know I profited imensely by his wisdom, his wit, and his jous de vie.

You that have been reading all my installments so far know that I really don’t like to present the “problems” of the TDCJ without offering solutions, as well. To tell you the truth, though, this one is beyond me. I mean, what happened to this man was a failure on every level. We need, as a society, as a people, to get back to the days when we’d rather see “100 guilty men go free, than for one innocent man to go to prison”. I know. Believe me, I know. I’m just as sick and tired of it as you, watching people we KNOWare guilty walk away scott free just because they have money or political conections, or because they’re beautiful instead of ugly. It’s maddening. It makes you want to scream. But the LAST response we should have to that is to make the laws so severe that innocent men start going to jail. The Texas congressman or congresswoman who wrote that law encouraging convictions on nothing but unsubstantiated accusation should never hold public office again, because, in my opinion, they failed to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and of Texas.

You and I both know it’s not just Wilkie, either. There have been so many exonerations. Thank God that DNA has gotten to the point where it can be tested and used to clear these names of innocent men locked in TDCJ prison cells. ANY district attorney or sheriff that opposes or obstructs the testing process to try and clear the name of those who claim their innocence need to be removed from office. YOU have the power to do this. YOU are the ones who go and vote. As a constituency, we need to stop frenzy-feeding like a bunch of hungry sharks every time a politician starts trying to work us up with his “tough on crime” rhetoric. We DO need to hold criminals accountable, and too many years of loop holes, technicalities, and recidivism aren’t helping anything. But the very law that establishes the office of district attorney clearly provides that they are to seek “truth”, not convictions. Voters MUST stop awarding men and women who seek the guilty verdict, at any cost. Instead, we need to seek out and promote those who seek out truth and justice.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez