Diaries From Death Row: Steve Bartholomew

Updated: 2 days ago

by Niall Walker

"I don't want the truths I accept to be situational ones."

Artwork from: Ronald C Clark Jr, Kenneth Key, Arnold Prieto Jr, Miguel Angel Paredes, Mark Kirk, Armando Macias, Steve Bartholemew, John Sexton


In 2007, Thomas Whitaker started uploading his thoughts to an online blog. “I should have started writing months ago. Everyday I thought about it. It's not as if I am strapped for time. Time is the only thing I have in abundance, besides regret, maybe.”


This wasn't your typical blog: Whitaker was on Death Row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Minutes Before Six was his attempt to chronicle the thoughts and creative imaginings of those nearing their state-sanctioned fatal hour.


Today, the site hosts several hundred contributions, both visual and written from inmates across the US. It offers them an online audience of 25 000 viewers a month, and a comments section which is fed back to them, allowing for interaction across the prison walls.


We are humbled to be able to platform a small selection of work from MBS as part of our seventh issue, SOLITUDE. Few artists will understand the term as profoundly as prisoners. We hope that in showcasing their work, more people will see the need to change a system that locks up minds which have so much to offer.


Read part one here

Steve Bartholomew


Imprisoned by the Washington Department of Corrections, I have been factually absent from the world for nearly eighteen years, time spent remaking myself into an artist, writer and musician songwriter. My greatest sense of accomplishment comes from being a worthwhile dad to my two sons. My overarching goal is to be in one year the citizen I never was before this. They say happiness is what you volunteer, an adage proving itself in my life. By writing I’ve become part of the ongoing conversation rather than simply its subject. For that, I thank you.


Image: Steve Bartholomew

A dozen years ago I set for myself the unattainable goal of living authentically, such as I can while being held captive in the kingdom of artificial imposition. I say unattainable because authenticity is best defined by what we do when we are free to externalize our passions, to realize our possibilities.


Aside from practical matters of what I'm willing to accept or how I might express myself, my outer life contains few choices. I am left with only the free play of ideas, my commitment to the spirit of freedom entertained internally. I don't want the truths I accept to be situational ones. In here, dogmatic norms masquerade as ethics to be held aloft like a guiding light. I refuse to believe that truth is a matter of consensus.


So, how do I get there from here? Forgiving is a dicey business that feels unnatural to begin with. Self-forgiving has the added layer of being incredibly difficult even while, or maybe because of, feeling like an easy way out. I've been conditioned by another dogma, that of the retributive justice model, which says that my prior acts are predicates of my being. On paper, I am a thief, a drug dealer and manufacturer; I am an extortionist and kidnapper. I am an attempted murderer.


In the narrow mind of the law, these categorical tags are less mutable than gender, more predictive than IQ and of more interest than even my name, since the law prefers my serial number anyway. Legally, I am no more than, and will never be less than, my rap sheet. It's no small thing to break with such an ingrained species of thinking and say that there is a difference between a person and his worst acts - that I can choose to forgive one and not the other.


Imprisoned by the Washington Department of Corrections, I have been factually absent from the world for nearly eighteen years, time spent remaking myself into an artist, writer and musician songwriter.  My greatest sense of accomplishment comes from being a worthwhile dad to my two sons. My overarching goal is to be in one year the citizen I never was before this.  They say happiness is what you volunteer, an adage proving itself in my life.  By writing I’ve become part of the ongoing conversation rather than simply its subject. For that, I thank you.

Minutes Before Six accepts submissions from prisoners across the world. If you are incarcerated and wish to submit, email dina@minutesbeforesix, or post your submission to


Minutes Before Six,

2784 Homestead Road #301,

Santa Clara, CA 95051


When possible, writings should be typed single-sided, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. However, handwritten essays will also be considered. Artworks should be submitted as photographs. If assistance is needed financially to post material, contact radicalartreview@gmail.com and we will pay for postage.


For readers outside of prisons who want to support Minutes Before Six, you can do so by heading to their website, leaving feedback for the work on there, or offering them vital financial support.

The Radical Art Review is a print and digital magazine where art and culture meet activism. We publish the thoughts, philosophies, and stories of all who dare to dissent. We seek to inform, to empower, and to dream of a better tomorrow.

  • Patreon
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  © RAR Publishing 2021