Texas C.U.R.E. Free Fan Project Reminder!

Don’t forget to please send your $20.00 donation for this years Texas C.U.R.E. Free Fan Project. This project makes sure that indigent inmates in the TDCJ are provided a chance to apply for a free fan. The Summer months are just around the corner and your help will ensure the programs continued success.

Thank you so much.

Send your $20.00 donation to:

Texas C.U.R.E. Fan Project
P.O. Box 372
Burleson, Tx 76097

Cherished Trips and Texas Memories

I used to go with my daddy on choir tours and trips out of town. Daddy loved to “go” and I would often get to go and “hang out” with all the big college kids when I was little. I thought I was just a part of them, and they all seemed to adopt me. I often went with Daddy to evening choir rehearsals just so I could be around all those “big” college students.

One summer, Daddy went to the Texas Music Educators Association meeting held at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. I went with him, although I didn’t get to attend any of his meetings. I just hung around at the Driskill and got to ride the elevator up and down, up and down. There were no push buttons in the elevator, but it had an actual elevator operator with a big brass handle that “steered” the direction of the car up or down.

During those few days of the TMEA meetings, the elevator operator and I got to be great pals. It was not often that the elevator was not full, but when the opportunity availed itself, the operator actually let me “steer” a little.

Daddy and I went down to the capital building and were taking a self-guided tour of that grand edifice. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time as Governor John Connally came out of his office and shook my hand. He reached to a basket on a table behind him and grabbed a couple packs of Texas Bluebonnet seeds and gave them to me. I planted them as soon as I got home. I also came home with a lot of literature on the history of Texas. I cherished that trip and have such pleasant memories of that time of my childhood.

Governor John Connally

Governor John Connally 

Texas Bluebonnets
Texas Bluebonnets

The Blessings of Phone Service

The prison system in Texas has opened our prison phone service to be able to call cell phones and now any one can register their phone number so that inmates can call them. You do NOT have to be on the inmate visitor list.

I was able to talk to my aunt and uncle the other day. I have not been able to speak to them in 16 years. Wow–what a blessing that was…

The phone has taken our “separation” away…at least in part. All you have to do to register your phone number (land line or cell phone) is to call 1-866-806-7804 and you will need the inmates TDCJ number. This registration call is toll free. The inmate can call you collect or use their telephone calling account. They can buy “minutes” at the Unit Commissary or you can put money on their phone account by following direction.

The phones have been such a blessing to all of us. Now anyone can register for an inmate to call them.

For more information please visit the TDCJ website. 

Love for Teachers

Ms. Neeley was my first-grade teacher at Kilgore Heights Elementary School in Kilgore, Texas. Miss Mary Alice Crane was my second-grade teacher then got transferred to teach third-grade, and I was lucky enough to get her for my teacher again. Ms. Dougherty was my fourth-grade teacher at Kilgore. I never knew that men were teachers until we moved to Abilene in 1968. I had Don Rogers in the fifth-grade and Ms. McClure as a teacher in the sixth-grade. We didn’t have men teachers in Kilgore Heights. The 2 years I had Miss Crane, she read to us a story at Christmas called “The Littlest Angel”, and each year I had her, she cried as she read the story.The Littlest Angel

Miss Crane had me and my sister to sing “Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” from Marry Poppins for the Kilgore Garden Club. My Daddy was so proud of us. Miss Crane took all of us in her class to the Crim Theater in downtown Kilgore to see “The Sound of Music.” I will never forget that.

Crim Theater Sound of Music

My heart goes out to teachers everywhere. You never know just how you will influence your students…how you will impact little lives that will grow up, thanks to you. Keep up the beautiful work you do.

Richard Linklater Signs Bernie Tiede’s Petition

Bernie and Linklater

Courtesy of Samuel Haun Photography

I’m PROUD to sign this petition for Bernie, and am so happy that the particulars of his situation have come to many people’s attention due to the movie. “Bernie” is not an activist film, in the traditional sense. That was not intended. However, I think that the movie’s ending has started to get a lot of people thinking about the nature of our criminal justice system, and how arbitrary and disproportionate punishments can end up being.

Initially, I thought we would be telling a much different story about Bernie. I read Skip Hollandsworth’s Texas Monthly article in January of 1998. We met and started discussing Bernie while his case was still pending. It actually looked as if Bernie might not get much time at all for the murder of Mrs. Nugent, because he was so well liked in the community. I was intrigued with this story on so many levels, but the relationship between Mrs. Nugent and Bernie seemed the most fascinating and enigmatic. Skip and I attended some of the trial after it was moved from Panola County to San Augustine. We got to see all of Bernie’s testimony, and soaked up the environment of the proceedings. I remember studying Bernie intensely, thinking about whether he was really the nice guy that everyone thought he was, or whether he was some kind of psychopath who had everyone fooled. During the trial, I noticed the kindness in the way Bernie spoke, his gentle demeanor, and his true remorse. My personal perception of him led me to agree with the majority of the people who knew Bernie: he was a truly good guy who had somehow done a horrible thing.

Even though it felt like the trial had not gone well for Bernie, I was still completely surprised when he received a life sentence. My potential movie idea changed from Bernie possibly getting off too lightly, to him getting punished way too harshly. Yes, that’s right, I’m not that much of a bleeding heart. In short, it seemed like he was prosecuted and sentenced as if his crime was a calculated, pre-meditated act, while the evidence showed something different. So much just didn’t make sense. To me, and almost anyone else who analyzed this case at all, it seemed that Bernie’s offense should have been some kind of second-degree murder, considering all of the surrounding circumstances. From that day on, I’ve paid special attention to exactly what kind of sentences people convicted of homicide receive. Bottom line, many absolutely heinous murderers get 30 years, and many people convicted of “domestic” homicides receive about 10-20 years. I’ve asked every judge and lawyer who I’ve ever encountered over the years, if they have EVER heard of a trial being moved because the defendant was too well liked in his local community. No, never.

Over the decade or so between the trial and the actual making of the movie, I was always kind of haunted by Bernie’s fate. When I thought of his life in prison, I imagined the very worst. I did grow up in the prison town of Huntsville, after all. Once the movie looked like it was going to happen, I started corresponding with Bernie. A few weeks before production, Jack Black and I were able to visit him.

There Bernie was, with white hair now, but with the same gentle demeanor he had at the trial, and the same smile. I was so happy and relieved to see that he had somehow made a life for himself there, that he was the same positive person that he’d been on the outside. He was teaching classes and helping others, continued to be very involved in the church, and spending a lot of his time in the craft shop making memorials for Carthage residents who’d passed away. We got to meet a lot of his friends in the craft shop – a good group of guys. I felt so much better about his situation on one level, because he was not living in the absolute hellhole I’d envisioned and his spirit wasn’t broken. However, I was sorry for him on another, more obvious, level, because of his limited access to the internet and movies, and world in general. I was also sorry that he had only bad, unhealthy food to eat, not to mention that he had to live with a large percentage of his fellow inmates who were looming around, who looked like they really DID belong in there.

Spending time with Bernie that day was huge for us. Jack obviously got so much out of it. For me, hearing Bernie talk about Mrs. Nugent, both the good times and also the reason he wasn’t able to just leave (“I was her only friend – I was all she had”), sort of put the final pieces of the puzzle together for me. The world has a way of punishing us for our weaknesses, and Bernie’s truly fatal flaw seemed to be that he just couldn’t bear to hurt anyone’s feelings, even someone who was so hateful and possessive of him. He cared, and wanted to be liked, too much. As in so many of these unfathomable domestic tragedies, the abused partner was still too attached to leave, but also couldn’t go on. Something had to give.

Bernie speaks so positively about everyone and his life experiences. He told me once he only regrets “a few seconds” of his life. I asked Bernie at some point what he would want to do if he ever got out, and he said he’d like to advocate for the many people inside prisons who have no one.

Jack and I both came away asking ourselves what this sweet, intelligent man was still doing in there. We discussed the issue of why our tax dollars were being used for Bernie’s incarceration, when he could be such a positive presence in society. It is hard for many of us to grasp, or even care, about the nuances of the sentences handed down to convicted felons, and this doesn’t seem like a case such as Hurricane Carter, The Memphis Three, or (locally) Michael Morton, where an incarcerated person is actually completely innocent of any crime. It seems that Bernie did it, and unlike the estimated 500,000 non-violent drug offenders that crowd our prisons, the crime wasn’t victimless. A murder or manslaughter shatters lives and communities, and many affected never get over it. However, there are still all of these specific circumstances in Bernie’s case that are forever staring us in the face. The life sentence just doesn’t seem right.

In 2013, Bernie will complete his 15th year behind bars…about the time a model inmate would probably be getting out if he’d been convicted of a 2nd degree murder. It might seem like an uphill battle to try to get a sentence reduction; but I applaud attorney Jodi Cole for her interest in Bernie’s case, along with everyone who can take a little time to try to make a difference in his life. I consider Bernie a true friend, and would so happily do anything that might result in him getting a chance to re-engage in society. I’m sure he’d once again be a great citizen and friend to many.

New Year’s Gift to You

My cousin sent this to me a few months ago. I have read it and applied it several times. I think it would make a great thought to start off the New Year with. It’s my gift to you –

  • After a while, you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
  • And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning and company doesn’t mean security.
  • And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t promises.
  • And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open with the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child.
  • And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans.
  • And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight. 
  • After a while, you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
  • So, plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
  • And you learn that you really can endure…
  • That you really are strong.
  • And you really do have worth.
  • And you learn and learn . . . . 
  • With every good-bye you learn !

Merry Christmas

I wish the very best of each of you and all your families during this Christmas season. Christmas is always a special time for me and my family and friends because of the wonderful memories that we shared together. Although I can’t be out with my family, I do have some wonderful friends here behind walls that will be able to celebrate this Holy season with me. If you are traveling this season, please be careful on the highways and drive carefully. My prayers and thoughts are with you all.

Merry Christmas

Love, Bernie.