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A proposal to the Texas Institute of Letters Odessa While at last month’s Observer fundraising party in New York, I decided that the time for Billy McCune’s membership in the Texas Institute of Letters came long agotoo long ago. Conspicuous guest Bobby Baker, once LBJ’s protege, and my old friend Larry King started me thinking about it. Baker, subject of a biography that King’s agent had delivered to the publisher only two days earlier, lately served 16 months in federal prisons before starting a comeback that will soon be told of on network television. King’s characteristically well-written book opens with convict Baker motoring to the penitentiary in the family car, his wife in one hand and a bottle of Scotch in the other. unable to accept the notion that one as blameless as he could be locked away. To be out in February, the book will make money for King and Baker, inform some, amuse many, please those curious abQut the personal lives of Washington-Georgetown pretenders to greatness, probably win one of your annual awards should the judging be wise and fair, and turn us from the dark riddle of what to do withand aboutthose we call our worst, those like Billy McCune whose prison sentences are little related to civilized notions of rehabilitating the occasionally caught and convicted lawless. Billy McCune’s autobiography, published four years ago by Straight Arrow ey, was little read, less thought about, and told us more of ourselves, the turnkeys, than we wanted to know. It is the story of a man nearing 50, convicted and sentenced to death for a rape he admits, whose sentence was commuted to life, and who has been locked up by Texas since his arrest in 1951, spending Author McCune on Death Row much of the time in what we call, because it is not otherwise comfortably said, “isolation.” No tennis matches, golf games, or soft guarding for author McCune. On his way to becoming a Texas writer, McCune was certified as a moron at 16 and as a rapist at 23, was held for two years on death row, became a Christian, had as many electrical shock treatments as curious authorities wanted to administer, and soon after his conviction, began atoning for the crime by amputating his own penis with a doubleedged razor blade. In the way of many of your members, I we can make it well enough through this life if we learn something of love, art, forgiveness, and atonement. McCune writes of all, but especially of love and atonement. Billy knew the public wantedand neededmore than his life. One does not atone through deaththere must be more in it for the victims, for society. The physical mutilation was just the thing. McCune knew it and says as much. He reinforced the public’s sex fiend image of himself and at the same time gave fire to its own deeperand largely deniedboilings. There has been little love in McCune’s life. But of greater consequence to writers, there has been almost nothing Billy might mistake for love. He knows tenderness has small chance on his side of the walls and scarcely more on our side when he apostrophizes: “I looked across the psycho ward and I was almost turned to your heart and soul when I found you as a friend and then suddenly the curtain came down. The tears were gone and I lost you, never to look up to you or find you again. In a moment, we lived and loved as humans, not jealous competitors and now I don’t know that our hearts will ever have this strange feeling again. Once in maybe 40 years it comes, in a momentary pause, then the bird cage is opened. The bird raises its wings and flies away. Readers, I don’t know you but somehow my heart goes out to you.” Properly approached about membership, McCune might accept. Sincerely, Warren Burnett Warren Burnett practices law in Odessa. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17