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Friends and Family:

Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays from high atop the snowcapped mountains of Mckean County. Even tucked away in this remote nook of Pennsylvania and further isolated by these prison walls, I am not oblivious to the monumental change occurring around the world. One not-so-big change in our little world is that I have went from a prolific writer to the world's worst correspondent. I suppose being locked away in the hole and writing constantly for most of 2010 has contributed to that. I definitely have a severe case of writer burnout. Whatever the case may be, the tradition of this holiday letter--like all traditions we hold dear--trumps whatever distaste I feel these days for pen and paper. Taking my cue from the longer, colder nights and the much-anticipated appearance of that fat guy in the red suit, I have resuscitated my pen back from its lifeless form to compose my thoughts in line with tradition.

Throughout my life I've continuously heard the old-timers claim that "times are changing." In the past I've interpreted this phrase to mean that while older folks are slowing down, the world continues to move at breakneck speed. However, as I progress in years, I find myself identifying more and more with the old-timers. I'm not quite sure if this means I too am now an old-timer or if the world has changed that dramatically in a mere handful of years. Despite the fact that I feel like a kid at heart, I realize that the truth lies in a combination of both.

The wise men and thinkers before us--through philosophy and customary teachings--have expounded their message with one underlying truism in common: the only thing constant in life is change. In many of these holiday letters I have prepared in the past I too have used this reasoning as a cornerstone of my writing. In one such letter I remember saying that all things are in a constant state of flux.

Dramatic change is evident in most areas of our everyday lives: a speculative and usurious economy is bleeding dry the very population that fuels it--on one end of the spectrum we find record-high unemployment yet, peculiarly, at the other end of the spectrum, we find that corporations are boasting record profits. Under the guise of national security our civil liberties have been eroded so drastically that its commonplace for any citizen, at any time, to be arbitrarily stopped, detained and searched to the point of sexual molestation--and this practice has become perfectly acceptable. In our age of "change" children are conditioned not to stand up to bullies but to run away and tell a school official. If a child does confront the schoolyard bully, he is penalized in the ultimate form of bullying: demonization in the media and governmental prosecution for self-defense and failure to provide information.

In the past old-timers spoke of change that stripped away innocence: they spoke of "moral decline" and a lack of "good will." Today, however, change takes form in a violation of common sense. A perfect example being a government that will require every citizen in this country to prove they are insured...but not every person in this country will have to prove they're a citizen! Pretty amazing that in a mere span of 20 years a "conspiracy theory" is now just business as usual.

Due to conditioning, through the government's advertising arm, the media, threatening and intrusive governmental action is not denounced as dangerous but lauded as a positive step toward national security. This concept--government psychologically shaping its citizens to comfortably accept authoritarianism--reminds me of a print I have that depicts a government agent dressed in a full urban combat regalia: full black ski mask, black boots, black fatigues and a black flak Jacket contrasted with a shiny, silver "ATF" badge. The agent is pointing a submachine gun at an unarmed man whose wife and child are cowered behind him; a look of utter terror can be seen on their faces. The caption above this print reads "I'm from the government...I'm here to help you!!"

The change we are witnessing now is no different from the change that has occurred throughout the history of all governments: The more greedy and corrupt a government becomes, the more that government fears its own citizens. The more a government searches for terrorists to destroy--real or imagined--the more terroristic that government becomes.

Any one of us can go on and on about these types of disheartening and ominous changes. Yet, as we move forward into 2012, its important to reflect on those things that have not changed: our values, our traditions and the genuine love and admiration we feel for our friends and family. We take pride in the fact that we respect our traditions and our commitments--we take pride in the fact that our code of honor is one thing that will never change. We know that the best way to confront a bully is with a swift blow to the jaw. We know that state-sanctioned, taxpayer-supported thuggery, at the municipal, county, state or federal level, is the ultimate form of homegrown terrorism. We know that in the economy that truly matters, friendship, family and brotherhood are the rarest of commodities.

As another year ends and 2012 begins, we marvel at the amazing speed at which time passes; at the same time we can't help but feel a sense of trepidation as Father Time further closes the gap between consciousness and the netherworld. As the seasons of our very existence progress, we know that our worth and value will be judged not by the zeroes in our bank accounts but by the equity and genuineness invested in our relationships. Throughout eternity mediums of exchange have evolved from gems to cash and whatever else a society attaches worth to. Since there has been such a thing as human interaction however, the most valuable thing of all is a person you can count on! I'm grateful to be rich in this currency. Between my mother, father, brothers, relatives, friends, extended family and especially my wife, Natalie, I'm a gazillionaire.

The dramatic change occurring all around reminds us of what should never change: the unwritten, lifelong contract called commitment--signed with the invisible yet forever-enduring ink called honor. As the season of celebration grows ever closer, its time once again to raise our glasses and toast those of us rich in the currency that powers the economy of a very few wealthy souls in this life and beyond: Per angusta ad augusta.

December, 2011

With Love and Respect
Johnny Bart
Salem Hells Angels Forever

*In English the Latin phrase, "Per angusta ad augusta" translates to "through difficulties to honors."