On Life and Truth 

by Simon Hunt

I read some powerful words concerning life and truth the other day, and they effected me greatly. They didn’t come to me through the any of usual channels… an esteemed or enlightened holy person, a venerated teacher, my life mate, or my spirit guides. They came to me via Michael Hunter, an inmate of San Quentin. Michael Hunter treasured these words; they were written by his friend, Tom Walker, another inmate of the same institution . I do not know the circumstances of how either Michael Hunter or Tom Walker came to be on San Quentin’s Death Row; I’m not sure that I want to. The following powerful words are excerpts from Tom Walker’s personal journal, bequeathed to Michael Hunter upon his passing.

“One of the few values, functions of my life at this point is to write about what I see from my perch on death row. What value my observations are I can’t say, I only know I feel the need to write as much for myself as anyone else. You must understand when you read my thoughts, my view is through the distorted lens of my functioning dysfunctional beliefs. I’ll try to be as sincere as I am capable, but I’ll be the first one to advance the concept that truth can be selective, and I want to own up to my own limitations of truth before I proceed.”

“When I was young, thirteen, I was impressionable, confused, and direct experiences led me to devalue human life. By twenty-three, I was at rock bottom, my life was ruled by anger, loneliness, and fear. At twenty-four, I was put on trial for murder.”

“It wasn’t the prosecutor, judge, jury, or the possible penalty of death that made such a huge impact on me. It was the cardboard boxes stacked high inside the courtroom that so deeply affected my life. My whole life had been gathered up and placed inside those boxes, no stone left unturned, no fear or secret of mine left undiscovered. I was the contents of the boxes, the contents of the boxes were me.”

“Each day at trial as yet another box was opened and the ugly contents revealed to the light, viewing what I had made of my twenty-four years was the emotional equivalent of slamming into a brick wall at a hundred miles per hour. Nightly, lying awake in my cell in chaos, I wondered how I was going to survive the opening of the next box, and then the next, and the next. . . . the boxes had forced me to look squarely at my worst enemy — me.”

“Amid the turmoil of this experience, I discovered a yearning, not for freedom because I knew I’d forfeited my right to walk within society; but a desire to reconnect with humanity. I wanted to find inside myself something I had lost, I wanted to once again to feel in full awareness — love.“

“Now at thirty, after years on Death Row, I find myself beginning to feel the value of life growing inside me. This, of course, does nothing for those whom I have killed. But then again, unless I kill myself today, I must either stagnate and regress toward chaotic emptiness – or progress toward humanity, and I very much want to progress.”

“I want to leave San Quentin, even if it is in death, a better man than the day I walked on to Death Row. I am ready to pay my debt. But in the meantime, while my legal appeals wend their way through the courts, I want to give back what little I can and also find out if I can develop into someone I can live with. Simply, I’d like to find out if the capacity for humanity is within me before I die. “

“I know I will not ever fully understand the sanctity of life, not like normal people do — do they realize how lucky they are? I will die long short of the mark, but until that day I intend to be a work in progress, forever with a hope to get as close to the truth as I can.”

Tom Walker departed San Quentin on November 18th, 1997. Michael Hunter has exhausted all his legal appeals and is now awaiting the same fate.