Breaking news: The Florida Supreme Court has issued an indefinite Stay of Execution for Michael Lambrix. Mike was to be executed on Thursday, February 11, 2016. The order came hours after the court heard oral arguments that focused on the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month that struck down the state’s death-penalty sentencing system.

UPDATE March 9, 2017: Florida Supreme Court has lifted the stay on Mike's death warrant!


Read more: http://www.southerninjustice.net
http://www.save-innocents.com/save-michael-lambrix.html




Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison
PO Box 800
Raiford FL 32083





Monday, May 22, 2017

Death Row: The Ninth Ring

By Michael Lambrix, written for Minutes Before Six


Few books I´ve read over the many years I’ve spent in solitary confinement on Florida´s infamous “death row” have had more impact on me than Dante´s Inferno.  Obviously fictional, Inferno becomes branded upon the soul as it depicts a journey through the depths of hell, describing in detail the horrors that await the damned.

At the beginning the unfortunate soul is told that the only means of escape is to descend into hell.  If he can survive passing through the nine rings, each worse than the one before, only then can he escape from eternal damnation. No one yet has accomplished this.

As they pass through the gateway into hell, he takes note of what is written above …”Abandon hope, all ye who enter.” Like any mortal man would, he hesitates, unable to shake the feeling that something truly evil awaits him beyond.

They proceed along their descent, finding that there are many levels in hell, each assigned to a particular form of transgression – and each far worse than the one before.  Dante paints a vivid picture of the torment inflicted upon the souls of those sinners, making the Biblical lake of fire and brimstone seem merciful.

Finally, they reach the Ninth Ring, an incomprehensible abode buried deep within the bowels of hell. Reserved exclusively for the “worst of the worst,” the worst punishment imaginable is inflicted here.

But to my surprise, the ultimate punishment is not physical such as the precious image of worms feeding upon the flesh and the other physical tortures only the most depraved mind could imagine.  The Ninth Ring is an icy realm reserved for very few, each incarnated and frozen solid in eternal silence. Conscious of the passage of time for all eternity. Condemned to silence and solitude, unable to cry out in their misery or find the comfort of another´s compassionate touch.

The Ninth Ring is a vivid description of what life is like on America´s death row for the thousands sentenced to a fate far worse than death. Condemned to solitary confinement designed to break not the body but the soul, we are “frozen” in an eternal state of limbo, slowly succumbing to the abandonment of hope, and madness that consumes from within.

Our society professes pride in the preservation of human rights, but there´s an institution most choose to ignore.  Some call it the price of freedom, but within the past generation America has evolved into a society that boasts the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Over two million of its citizens are cast into contemporary gulags, forced to endure punishment motivated less by convictions for crime as it is the billions made each year by private corporations feeding off the misery of the imprisoned under the auspices of criminal “justice”. (See, “Trump and the Prison Industry” by Fredreka Schouten, USA Today , February 24, 2017, illustrating how private corporations donate obscene amounts of money to political campaigns, with the expectation of receiving billion dollar contracts)

Like with Dante´s “Inferno”, our contemporary prison system is comprised of many rings, each far worse than the one before.  At the very bottom of the Beast one will find the Ninth Ring – “death row”.

When we speak of the death penalty, most attention is focused on the execution, an event that does not take place often until decades later. Few give any thought to the many years between imposition of sentence and execution.  Fewer still acknowledge that of the thousands currently under sentence of death, a small percentage will actually face execution.  In truth, the vast majority are condemned to a fate far worse than death itself –decades of solitary confinement where they slowly rot in both body and mind.

I came to Florida´s “death row” in March 1984.  At the time, I was 23 years old. I am now 57 years old.  Over twenty years ago I wrote about “life” on death row was about (“Cruel and Unusual: An Intimate Look at the Death Penalty; C. Michael Lambrix. The Madison Edge, February 10, 1993).  At the time, Florida´s death-sentenced prisoners were housed at Florida State Prison (read: “Alcatraz of the South”). I described it as follows:
Upon being sentenced to death, each of us is kept in a segregated unit and each assigned our own cell in solitary confinement, designed to intentionally isolate us and deprive us of any ability to meaningfully interact with one another.  Not even for one moment are we allowed to forget that we are warehoused there, and waiting to die.
Each bare concrete cell measures approximately six feet by nine foot, including the steel bunk solidly affixed to the wall on one side, and the combination toilet/sink securely attached to the rear wall, and a single steel footlocker in which all our personal property is stored.  No property is allowed to be out of that footlocker unless it is being used at that moment.  Nothing – not even a single photograph of a loved one - is allowed to be affixed to the walls.  Each of the three walls are painted while the cell front is a wall of steel bars that look outward to the catwalks where the guards make their rounds.  There are no windows and the only source of natural light comes from the dusty, distant window located on the outer catwalk far from our reach.
At best, there is less than 30 square feet of open area in each cell in which we can “walk” (three short steps each way) and move around.  Although prison officials like to say that we are in our solitary cells an average of 23 hours a day, in truth departures from the cell are relatively rare and as brief as possible Each time, we are securely handcuffed, chained and shackled.
The routinely scheduled departures are limited to a short shower three times a week in a designated “shower cell” located at the front of each tier and twice weekly we are allowed to participate in two hours of “outdoor recreation” on a fenced concrete pad.  It is not uncommon for many to forego recreation for years at a time, electing instead to remain in their cells. All the time spent in solitary deprives them of the ability to socially interact. They retreat into their own world, the solitary cell becoming their own “security blanket.” Many abandon any interest in contact with others.
Conditions of our imprisonment are incomprehensible to most.  For too many years we were forced to live in an environment infested with cockroaches, insects and rodents.  Many of us would even make pets of rodents, or spiders, or even cockroaches, out of desperation for interaction with any form of life.  Although we could talk to and hear others in adjacent cells, we could not see or touch them. A pet provided a needed surrogate for interaction. 

Ventilation was minimal, and in long, hot and unbearably humid Florida summers, our concrete crypts became ovens. Our only relief from overwhelming heat would be to stand naked in our steel toilets and pour cool water over our sweating bodies.  In recent years, and only after pursuit of a Federal civil action, we are each allowed to purchase an 8-inch plastic fan.  Those who cannot afford to purchase their own fan continue to do without.
In winter months the death row unit at Florida State Prison often becomes so cold that a thin layer of ice will form in the toilet.  When the heating system would work, it provided only minimal relief.  Each prisoner is provided a coarse, wool “horse blanket” often worn ragged and riddled with holes. The only warmth for months at a time would be to get winter clothes (thermal underwear, sweatshirts, etc), purchasing them from the prison “store,” but many don´t have the money to do so.
Then there´s the food…by law, they are required to feed us but this is one area of prison administration that goes to great lengths to operate as cheaply as possible. As if saving money wasn´t itself a means by which to reduce our diet preparation and delivery methods further reduce it to something unfit for human consumption. By maintaining quality that discourages consumption, they encourage us to purchase our food from the prison “canteen” at escalated cost.
The unspoken truth of the American prison industry is that countless corporations compete each year for exclusive contract allowing them to sell to prisoners products of inferior quality at escalated price. Each year the captive market generates millions of dollars for politically-connected vendors who then make substantial contributions to elected officials.  Like all prisoners, those on death row are forced to ask what they can from family and friends just to survive day by day.
Family and friends are what keeps us going, a fragile thread that dangling in front of each of us as we desperately try to maintain contact with the real world.  But more often than not, both family and friends drift away, letters and visits growing fewer and further apart as the years pass.  Although those sentenced to death are technically allowed a social visit each week, in reality those are few and far between.
Although I am blessed with family that remains by my side, and receive a social visit on average once monthly, the majority receive far less. Many receive no visits at all for many years at a time.  Maintaining a semblance of a social relationship becomes impossible after prolonged isolation, their social skills eroding as they succumb to the inevitable mental degradation and retreat into a world of their own. Some even elect to forego minimal interaction with adjacent neighboring cells.
The solitary cell becomes a cocoon.  Every meal is served and consumed there without table or chair, cold trays passed through the door and balanced the lap.
Those are just the tangible aspects of our endless solitary confinement.  Words are inadequate to truly define the deprivation so deliberately inflicted upon the condemned. Not months, or even years, but decade after decade of solitary confinement under sentences of death, leaving each of us utterly powerless to influence our existence. We are methodically reduced to something less than human in this regime,  our fates infinitely prolonged, constantly reminded that the only purpose for our continued existence is to be warehoused until it is our time to die. When our appointed time does finally come, if we survive that long, our death tomorrow will come at the hands of those that feed us today.
Isolation of the condemned pales in comparison to the alienation from prolonged solitary confinement. It is in our nature to interact with others. Each of us fundamentally needs to be part of something more than ourselves.
Those sentenced to “life” in prison for crimes indistinguishable from our own are afforded the luxury of community.  They are housed in “general population” where they spend little time confined to a cell aside from the hours they sleep.
They eat in open dining halls and are able to converse with others. Assigned a job, they are rewarded with the sense of accomplishment that comes from self-sufficiency and being a contributing member of their community.

They are able to form social groups, often forging friendships with others, finding common ground in people and places they once knew out there in the real world.  They can participate in religious activities, communing in spiritual fellowship and even go to church.
Community can never exist for those arbitrarily condemned to life in solitary confinement under the pretense of being sentenced to death.  All we have are the fading memories of a life lived so long ago.

Then there´s the forbidden fruit we call “hope”; the imaginary sweetness we allow ourselves to long for. Yet each time our teeth sink into reality we taste only bitterness. One court after another denies our appeals and with each, we take one more step toward the gallows.
As the years slowly pass, meaning drifts further away.  Family and friends become distant, strangers whose lives go on while ours remains trapped in time.  As that hope fades, anger grows stronger, filling an emotional void. We find ourselves increasingly intolerant towards the slightest imperfections of others around us, causing unnecessary conflict and alienating us further, even from those similarly confined.
Many of us begin to fantasize about the only realistic escape: death. It creeps up on you, its siren song whispering. Before you realize it, there you are in the stillness of the night, lying on your bunk with your eyes wide shut, imagining you had already had taken your last breath.  Imagining death, and its promise to end the misery.
But it doesn´t end. Fantasizing about slicing your wrists, or stringing yourself up at the end of a sheet is much easier than actually doing it.  When the news comes that one of your own did find the strength to bring an end to their own misery, there´s a momentary sense of loss that quickly evolves into an overwhelming envy. You find yourself asking, “If only it could have been me.”
Often someone we´ve known for years, or even decades, and lived in close to, is told he has a terminal illness, most often cancer. And then for months, sometimes years, we continue to live in close proximity as that person slowly succumbs to death.  As the proverbial “lowest of the low”, we are extended no empathy or compassion from the prison system or society in general. A terminally ill condemned prisoner will remain in a regular death row cell until their condition progresses to the point they can no longer feed and bathe themselves. Only then are they transferred to a medical unit, where they die.
For the most part we look out for each other because when it comes down to it, nobody else will.  We try to become hospices for one another, doing what little we can to help a terminally ill fellow prisoner. Society may see us as no more than cold-blooded killers and “monsters”; but the empathy and compassion we extend to one of our own remains is a testament that even in the “worst of the worst”, there are redeemable qualities if only we are willing to recognize them.
Whether unexpected suicide, prolonged terminal illness, or one of our own being led away to “death watch”, each loss takes something from the rest of us personally. It´s hard to say why that is, but it is.  Every time one whom we´ve lived around for years dies -- as the death row population continues to grow older, it happens more frequently, they take with them a piece of each of us and hopelessness consumes even more of us.
Those who have never seen it cannot understand the emptiness within the eyes of those who’ve held on to hope for too long only to be crushed beneath it.  They are the living dead. Not one of us immune, and even the strongest among us knows that we too might wake up tomorrow and join their ranks.
Especially in here, hope is a seductive mistress that keeps you going only to turn on you, leaving you broken and depressed.  Being on death row is like going down with a sinking ship once so called life, and finding yourself stranded on the open sea. Human nature compels us to constantly search the horizon for a ship that will save us – that´s hope.  All the while, helplessly watching others around us slowly sink beneath the murky surface, or unexpectedly fall victim to the creatures of the sea.
As hope fades away, we become that much more to desperate to hold on to it. Hope itself becomes the weight dragging us under. Time and time again those distant ships on the horizon prove to be nothing more than mirages within our own imaginations. Hope transforms into belief that we have been betrayed.  Like a succubus it turns on us, consuming our very souls, leaving us empty and abandoned.

Throughout the years I have prayed that God would just let me die.  I´m told He is a merciful God, and yet not so merciful as to allow this misery to end.  For that I found myself angry at God as if he had betrayed me by forcing me to continue to live while so many others around me were allowed to die and I keep asking, “Why not me?”

Those that somehow find the strength to survive the years with some measure of sanity and self-identity, are then rewarded with the signing of their “death warrant,” removed from their familiar surroundings, they are led away to the bowels of the beast that is Florida State Prison, placed in the solitary cell feet from the execution chamber, they’re forced to then count down the days until they will die.

I’ve been in that cell where so many spent their final days, most recently when Florida Governor Rick Scott signed my latest death warrant on November 30, 2015.  I spent 72 days in “cell one,” counting down the days to my own scheduled execution.  A few days before I was to be put to death for a crime that I’m innocent of (please check out southernjustice.net), I received a temporary stay of execution and although I am now still awaiting the decision on whether I will live or die, I have been moved back to the regular death row wing as I anxiously await my fate (you can view a six part PBS documentary about my death watch experience here.) . 

For my family and friends, that news of a temporary reprieve was cause to celebrate. But I know better. At any time the court could lift the stay of execution and have me put to death.  I´ve been through this before (read: “The Day God Died”). A temporary reprieve is judicially sanctioned Russian Roulette…they put that gun to my head with the promise of pulling the trigger at precisely 6:00 p.m. on February 11, 2016. They pulled that trigger, and it landed on an empty chamber. The cold steel of the gun remains pressed to my head and the fear of death remains. Next time it might just land on a loaded chamber.

Do I now dare to hope this temporary reprieve will result in something more lasting? I can almost see the seductive mistress of hope smiling, and if I listen closely, I can hear the sirens’ call. There´s still a part of me desperately wanting to embrace hope once again… but do I really dare to? 

As I weigh these thoughts, I need only look around this cell. I know that each of the last 23 men who previously occupied this very cell each desperately held on to that same hope and without exception each of them are now dead (read: “Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to Murder”).

I have ordered my last meal and the warden had me measured for the dark blue suit I will wear when they kill me.  But death will have to wait a little longer. And I will remain the solitary soul entombed in ice unable to move and yet only too aware of all around me… frozen in time and space on this Ninth Ring.

After all that has been inflicted upon me under the perverse pretense of administering “justice” in the end my only reward is the ritual of “death watch.”

The punishment this presumably “civilized” society has chosen to impose upon me is not an act of God, but the product of a “Christian society.” I find myself once again praying that if only all those responsible for inflicting this misery upon me will themselves be blessed with the same measure of “mercy and compassion” they have extended to me. I am disgusted by that thought since it reduces me to the same evil of vengeance that has consumed them.

As I remain in this state of judicial limbo, not knowing whether in the coming days I will live or die, I think of those words Socrates so long ago spoke to the tribunal that condemned him. Perhaps those will be the same words that I speak as I lay strapped to that gurney and about to breathe my very last breath… “to which of us go the worst fate – you or I


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Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
P.O. Box 800
Raiford, FL 32083-0800

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Death Row Journals (Part 34)

Recently I read an interesting article by renowned journalist and now retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times, Martin Dyckman entitled 'Clemency and Florida's Overbearing Politics of Death'. For obvious reasons, this is an issue that holds significance to me and all other death sentenced prisoners in Florida, as before the governor can sign a death warrant scheduling our execution, the governor and Florida cabinet must consider whether a grant of clemency is appropriate. Mind you, they key word there is "consider", as that's all that they are required to so.

There's a reason you won't hear too much about this particular part of the death penalty process as for all practical purposes, it has long ago been reduced to nothing by a deliberate pretense..for too many decades now, Florida has reduced this clemency process to nothing but a shame.

Why is this even an issue? Because as the Supreme Court recognized in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993) and Harbison v. Bell 556 U.S. 180 (2009) - and I quote "Executive clemency has provided the "fail safe" in our criminal justice system...recent authority confirms that over the past century it has been exercised frequently in capital cases in which demonstrations of actual innocence has been made". Or in other words, historically clemency has been available to prevent an innocent person from being put to death when the judicial process has failed.

On of the common misconceptions about our criminal justice system is that our courts always specifically look at every capital case to ensure that the person facing execution is actually guilty of the crime and that simply is not true. The inconvenient truth is that both the state and federal courts  - even the US Supreme Court (Herrera v Collins) has made it clear that innocence is not an issue, and the courts will not address a claim of innocence on its own merits.
                                                             

Worse yet, the way the criminal justice system really works is that after you're condemned to death you're then appointed a lawyer who becomes responsible for presenting your appellate issues to the courts (arguing why you're entitled to have your conviction vacated because the state deliberately used false evidence or whatever), if that lawyer fails to timely present these technical issues to the court within the time frames required, then the courts will not allow those issues to be heard at all, even though if addressed on the merits, it would establish that you are innocent.

Often in capital cases, substantial constitutional issues that would establish innocence are procedurally barred from any form of judicial review, as has happened in my case many times.

For that reason, the availability of a meaningful clemency process is the only true safeguard to protect against the inevitable execution of an innocent person.

But as I said above, for all practical purposes, this clemency process in Florida, and most other death penalty states, has become a deliberate pretense. Just look at the indisputable facts....since 1978 (when the death penalty was reinstated following the landmark Furman v Georgia decision in 1972 that found the old death penalty unconstitutionally "arbitrary and capricious") here in Florida 81 men and women have been executed and 26 men and women have been legally exonerated and released...and since 1974, there have only been 6 men granted clemency (their death sentences reduced to life) in capital cases.

Notably, not a single person has been granted clemency in a capital case in Florida in over 33 years. All six men were granted clemency by then governor Robert Graham, who left state office to become a US senator in 1986. Since that time, not even one person has been granted clemency in a capital case in Florida.

What it comes down to is the "politics of death" and in these pro death penalty states even expressing an open mind to consideration of leniency in a capital case is essentially political suicide.

Here in Florida it is a stacked deck anyways. Under Florida law a governor cannot grant clemency alone, but must have at least 2 other cabinet members agree. It's my understanding that for many years now that cabinet reviewing all capital clemency petitions consisted of only 3 people...the governor, the Florida Attorney General and the commissioner of agriculture. And let there be no mistake, each of these individuals are personally familiar with the inherent imperfections of our judicial process and know that the only way to ensure that an innocent person is not put to death is by granting clemency in capital cases in which a legitimate issue of innocence exist.

My own case illustrates this. A wealth of readily available evidence exists to substantiate my consistently plead claim of actual innocence, which the courts have refused to address because my lawyers failed to properly present this evidence to the courts.

On several occasions my lawyers have petitioned the governor and cabinet for clemency consideration, and hundreds of people have signed petitions and sent letters to the governor asking him to look at the evidence and allow a fair clemency review. But each time it has been refused to even allow my case from being brought up for a hearing and the evidence discussed.

Bottom line, there is no meaningful clemency process in Florida, and in evidently, innocent people will be executed and without this historically available "safety valve", there is virtually no process available in which to prevent the execution of the innocent.



Monday, May 15, 2017

Death Watch Journal (part 33)

Written April 30, 2017
Although all death sentenced prisoners are kept in continuous solitary confinement as a means of segregating us from others under the pretense that it is for our own good - prison officials seem to think that if those under a sentence of death are allowed to physically be around others, they would be targeted for assault and even murder by other prisoners - this prolonged solitary existence does not necessarily completely isolate us from all others.

Granted, many choose to retreat into their very own world and not interact with others. Some deal with the isolation better than others. I've been here now for well over 3 decades and I've seen only too many who while once willing to interact with others, they gradually retreated into their own world and no longer want to talk to others around them.

But for most of us, some more than others, we do need that limited ability to interact and while physically segregated from those around us, we hold long conversations with others within our immediate proximity, talking about whatever might come up around these concrete walls that separate us. Some of those conversations would undoubtedly surprise many out there in the real world, as they are anything but what one might expect to hear given societies propensity to stereotype all condemned prisoners as something less than human and certainly not capable of moral reflection.

The past few weeks a few conversations about stories in the news even surprised me, but not because of the initial conversation itself, but rather what caught me by surprise was where the conversation went from there.

Often, almost daily, me and a few others within proximity of me will get up on our cell door, usually sitting on our footlocker, and pass a few hours just talking about whatever comes to mind.

                                                                     



This past week there were three issues that seemed to dominate these conversations. First, there was the widely reported story in the news about the elected state attorney in Orlando (Aramis Ayala) who publicly announced that she would no longer seek the death penalty in her circuit, which brought an immediate response from governor Scott - in an unprecedented move Governor Scott publicly denounced her and used his executive power to strip her office of jurisdiction over the 22 pending capital murder cases, reassigning these prosecutors to Brad King, a state attorney in Ocala who is widely known for his aggressive pursuit of the death penalty.

But then one of the guys engaged in this open conversation pointed out what the mainstream media didn't mention - Governor Scott never took action against former Jacksonville state attorney Angela Corey in the past when he was in office and Corey made it clear that she would seek the death penalty in all capital cases and categorically refused to allow any to plea out to life without parole to avoid death. During the first four years that Governor Scott was in office Angela Corey sent more people to death row than any prosecutor in the entire country. But Governor Scott never had a problem with that.

Of course, in 2016 the voters kicked Angela Corey out of office in large part because of her fanatical overzealous prosecution, and of those record number of people Angela Corey had condemned to death with very few exceptions every single death sentence imposed by Corey's office has been subsequently thrown out as "illegally imposed" - her overzealous prosecution of capital cases cost Florida taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Then the conversation shifted to the widely reported stories about how the state of Arkansas announced it's intention to put 8 condemned prisoners to death within the next few weeks for no apparent reason but that the drug used to carry out executions would soon expire and they could no longer obtain this drug legally.

Keep in mind that Arkansas hasn't executed anyone in 12 years - and now they want to expedite 8 executions within a matter of days, a rate of executions not even Texas ever attempted.

One of the guys too the position that the death penalty today is a lot like Ralph Reed's "moral majority" during the Reagan administration a generation ago...they never were the majority and they damned sure were not moral - rather, they simply had the biggest mouth and knew that the vast majority of voters are sheep, only too willing to blindly follow their "pied piper", even to their own destruction.

But the the open conversation took an unexpected turn as we confronted the third topic of the day - Florida's push to amend it's "stand your ground" law to place the burden of proof upon the prosecutor of the preliminary stage, making it much more difficult to prosecute those who kill another under the claim of being in imminent danger.

At this point I sat back and listened to the ongoing discussion as others debated the ramifications of this change of law. One would think that in a micro community of condemned prisoners, each convicted of "cold blooded murder" and implicitly labeled by society as "the worst of the worst", that there would be uniform support for any change of law that would make it more difficult to prosecute for murder...but you'd be wrong!

Without exception, every single person taking part in this open conversation agreed that this "stand your ground" law should NOT be changed. While each had their own reason (several pointed to the highly publicized case of when George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin, killing him for no apparent reason but that he was a black kid wearing a hoodie - and then Zimmerman got away with it by exploiting Florida's "stand your ground" law that allows anyone to murder another as long as they can claim that they had a subjective fear.

At his point I joined the conversation again. Anyone who has ever been around me knows that I place great weight in the importance of confronting the conscious decision to take any human life. If the republicans want to impose substantial limitations on abortions (which by the way I agree with) then why won't they support that same measure of conscious reflection when it comes to carrying out an execution?

Here's the thing...as I've often shared with others, nothing has haunted me more through all these years than the knowledge that I took another life. I have to believe that that measure of humanity within each of us - the inner essence that makes us human - becomes our greatest persecutor if and when we take another person's life, as I have dealt with that myself.

Those familiar with my case know that I have consistently claimed that I was compelled to act in self defence in the case that put me on death row. See, http://www.save-innocents.com/save-michael-lambrix.html
but even with that qualification, it has not spared me that haunting memories and remorse, and that never ending soul searching as I ask myself if I could have done anything different that night.

And so I once again expressed my opinion that taking a life should never be easy and often it's far too easy to find reason to kill, while refusing to even confront reasons not to kill. Why is that? What part of our inherent human nature refuses to evolve as it continues to be predisposed to finding reasons to take a life whenever possible.

Then I proposed something that I've advocated for years...if we insist on having the death penalty, then rather than carry out the execution in the manner it is today(by prison officials); what I propose is this..the prosecutor and the governor should be legally required to be the executioner. They should not be allowed to hide like cowards hundreds of miles away in their office, but rather they should be responsible for inflicting death - and not behind a distant curtain, but look the condemned in the eye as they carry out that execution. And both the jury and the judge that imposed that death sentence should be legally required to witness that execution.

What it comes down to is that we cannot make taking any human life too easy. When anyone makes the conscious decision to take any one's life, they must bear the responsibility of inflicting that death, as I know from my own experience that if they are forced to confront the reality of their own actions, it will change them. And others around me uniformly agreed. And maybe then - but only then - they will at least consider reasons not to kill.








Friday, May 5, 2017

Death Watch Journal (Part 32)

The American Human Society often airs a TV commercial intended to tug on the heartstrings of the viewer that shows a sad and pathetic looking dog in a cage, it's misery and loneliness too obvious, and although surrounded by rows of identical cages, each occupied by similar abandoned and neglected and even abused dogs, that proximity to others of its own kind does not negate that overwhelming sense of being alone and forgotten as mere proximity to others can not satisfy that need for companionship and emotional interaction.

People are no different. Loneliness is not about our proximity to others, but that absence of emotional interaction. In many ways those of us condemned to death are like that sad and pathetic dog so desperate for someone to come in it's life and give it the one thing it desires the most..love.

In a few of my recent blogs I mentioned in passing that I recently got "dumped" by my girlfriend for no other reason but that it simply became too much for her. A few months ago the Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling in Mark Asay v State (December 22, 2017) in which they made it clear that although the US Supreme Court declared earlier that same year that Florida process that that allowed people to be sentenced to death by a judge rather than a jury was unconstitutional in Hurst v Florida, but left it up to the Florida Supreme Court to figure out how to apply this landmark ruling, so in Asay v State the Florida Supreme Court said that they will allow the death sentences of those sentenced after 2002 to get relief - but that those whose death sentences were final prior to 2002 would not get relief.

Because I was sentenced to death in 1984, this meant that I would not get relief. And on March 9, 2017 the Florida Supreme Court did issue the decision in my case denying relief based upon what they said in Asay v State - and the court also lifted my stay of execution.

Since I wrote about that, several of my friends suggested that I write more about the need for emotional interaction and how it makes me feel when someone I'm close to becomes overwhelmed by the reality of the possible imminent execution and jump ship. At first I was kind of reluctant as this is a private issue - and I'm also concerned that some might think bad about this particular person, which I think would be unfair to her as I really do understand how hard it all is on those that care about us, and in many ways it's probably harder on those that love us than it is on us and so it's not fair to blame anybody if they reach that point where they must walk away.

                          



But this is an issue that affects not just me, but most others here. We live in a micro-community of solitary cells within close proximity to others and yet still both physically and emotionally isolated. Myself, I am far more blessed than most here as I do have my small circle of forever friends and some of my family that write regularly and even visit.

And yet too often I still feel alone, and even abandoned - not at all unlike the dog in that commercial, so desperate for love and a deeper connection with someone as when it comes down to it, no matter how many friends and family you may have around you, there's that need within each of us for something deeper, that need to connect at an emotional, and even spiritual level, with someone else.

As I've previously written sometime ago, for many years I have posted on the wall of my cell what I came to call my credo, it's words written not to reflect my constant loneliness, but rather a reminder not to become too emotionally vulnerable, as if there's one thing worse than that sense of overwhelming loneliness, it's daring to open your heart up to another only to have it yet again be crushed. My credo reads:

"I've been to the dark side of hell and back again; I've journeyed through life with nary a friend; I've laughed and I've cried; I've lived and I've died - and each day that I awake I'm condemned to do it again, and again"

Most dictionaries define "hell" as a place of "extreme torment and misery", and contrary to the contemporary image of hell as a physical place of eternal suffering, most theologians subscribe to the belief that hell is not a place of eternal damnation, but rather that eternal spiritual state of being separated from the love of God.

That's what it really comes down to...within each of us is this inherent need to love and to be loved, and throwing a man in a solitary cage isn't going to miraculously purge that need from within him.

But like that dog in that cage that has been beaten down and abandoned too many times it becomes that much harder to open up and to trust someone. But few of us go through our lives without collecting our own scars of a many broken heart and so we all know that nothing cuts deeper than losing someone you love.

To borrow from "the Bard" (Shakespeare): "it is far better to have loved and and lost than to never have loved at all". Those that know me well know that it wasn't so long ago that I was engaged to be married to someone I thought would last forever, but shortly before we were to be married in December 2013, Karen was diagnosed with terminal cancer and within months, she passed away (please read: Elusive butterfly of love") That hit me pretty hard and emotionally I shut down - I didn't want to let anyone get that close to me again, I went through a really difficult time and even all but wished and prayed that my own life would end. When the governor signed my death warrant and scheduled my execution for February 11, 2016, a big part of me welcomed it as it brought the hope that my misery and suffering would finally be brought to an end, as I couldn't imagine ant hell that could be worse than the one that i already lived in this life.

But then at the most unexpected moment, someone did come along and so quickly cut through all the emotional walls I so meticulously erected. From the very first letter she shared an only too familiar pain, and she too had stared into that abyss of death and suffering through a depth of loneliness that cut down deep into her soul and through the almost daily exchange of long letters we came to believe that we were kindred spirits. Her letters renewed my strength and dared me to hope again, and even dream of the day when I would no longer be in this solitary cell, but be free and physically together - and then she was gone.

The thing is, loneliness and suffering a broken heart is by no means limited to being a condemned prisoner. The truth is that there's many prisons in life, and my prison of steel and stone pales in comparison to that suffered by so many, whether it be trapped in a loveless marriage, or physically or emotionally imprisoned within ones self. Rather than whine about a broken heart, I choose to be thankful for having that opportunity to be loved, and to love again.

I don't know what my future may yet hold. But I do know that no matter what comes my way, I will get through it. And maybe there's someone out there who also feels lonely and wants to reach out and take a chance..you know what they say - the only sure cure for a broken heart is to find a new love.








Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Death Watch Journal (part 31)


 As I write this, it is Saturday March 25, 2017 and it has been now 480 days since Florida governor Rick Scott decided that he would put me to death despite readily available evidence substantiating my consistently plead claim of innocence and I was to die on February 11, 2016. It has now been 397 days since that scheduled date with death.

When the death watch supervisor came to tell me that I would be moved off "death watch" and back to the regular death row housing area on February 9, 2016 I was having a visit with my family and close friend Jan, and we all knew at the time that it was supposed to have been one of my last visits. Because I was still on "death watch", the visits were restricted to non-contact, meaning I was separated from them by a glass window.

It was also my older sister Debbie's birthday..she turned 60 and we all sang her Happy Birthday - and I sang extra hard to make sure they could hear me through that way too small hole in the glass window, and when I was told that I'd be moved off death watch, Debbie quickly claimed that news as the best birthday present ever.

Flash forward to today. I just had another great visit with my sisters and this time it was in an open "visiting park" where we all sat around a steel table and could hold hands and walk around. When the visit started, I got a big hug from each - and noticed that they brought some small white frosted cakes that they purchased in the main visiting park downstairs before coming up to the death row visiting park.

No sooner did I get that big hug from each of them and we sat down at our assigned table, they began ripping open the plastic packaging on the cakes and laid them neatly on napkins in front of each of us - and then in obvious preplanned and practised unison, they began to merrily sing Happy Birthday, and I smiled - and stopped them short on that first chorus: "Whoa, what the hell are y'all doing", and for a moment they looked puzzled, then I continued "you know you can't sing in the visiting park unless you stand up and dance", and they all smiled, and one of my sisters quickly stood up (I won't say which one - she'd be embarrassed!) and started to dance as all three continued to sing, and I couldn't help but smile the biggest smile I could as I thanked them and we ate our cake.

                                                           

It's moment like those that make it all bearable. I'm lucky in that even after all these years. I do still get visits from family as very few get any visits at all. This particular day there were only two others in the visiting park, both of them having visits with their girlfriends, and they both left early so at the end of the day we had the visiting park to ourselves, and it was a great visit, although I admit that it might have been a little better if only I had a girlfriend as then I could have gotten a birthday kiss too...but who would put up with an old dog like me?

This "birthday" visit was especially great as I needed it. As a few of my past posts reflect, I've been kind of "down" lately as in the past few months we went from thinking that the courts would rule favourably and this nightmare would soon end, to having both the state and federal courts deny my appeals and now I'm looking at having my execution rescheduled within the near future. Obviously, the thought of imminent death weighs heavily on me, but it's even harder on my family and so it was especially nice to see them laughing and enjoying the moment.

Still, that cloud hung above us and I did all I could to not talk about what may very well soon come. But it wasn't something that we could avoid and the conversation swung around to what I thought would happen in the coming weeks.

I explained to them that even though the Florida Supreme Court denied my long pending appeals on march 9, that decision is technically not final until my lawyers file the "motion for rehearing" on march 31, then the Court reviews that and decides whether they will allow their decision to stand "as is", or reconsider it, and either actually grant relief, or at least rewrite that March 9 decision.

I shared with them my hopes that the Florida Supreme Court will recognize that it was both factually and legally wrong and then grant me the relief I'm legally entitled. For example, what I believe was our strongest issue was the request for DNA testing of the evidence to substantiate my consistently plead claim of innocence. As they do in all cases, the state opposed DNA testing and in denying my request the court adopted as "fact" that DNA testing was previously conducted when it clearly was not. And that was a significant error, so rehearing should be granted.

More importantly, as a matter of law I was entitled to have this evidence tested for DNA if there's any reason to believe that it will support my claim of innocence - which we did establish how it will, so legally the court was wrong in denying the request for DNA testing and hopefully the court will have the integrity to correct it's own mistake.

Of course, the lawyers are far more interested in arguing the issue of why - the death sentences imposed on me are illegal, and I have no problem with that - I do think it's a really strong legal issue, but I'm not too excited about merely having my sentences reduced to life as I've spent the past 34 years trying to prove my innocence and get my freedom. The truth is that if I wanted a "life" sentence, I would have gotten that many times through the years, but I've repeatedly turned it down as here in Florida it's all but impossible to get parole and so if I'm going to die in prison. I'm at least going to go down fighting.

And it's the same with the recent denial of my federal "actual innocence" appeal - although that was a hard blow and really took the wind out of me. But after I got over that initial blow, I realized that the decision has substantial flaws in it and that I have a really good chance of having that reversed - and the readily available evidence substantiating my innocence fully heard.

So, although we began the visit with that cloud of uncertainty hanging over us, there's still good reason for hope and if the courts do the right thing and allow the evidence to be reviewed, I could still be celebrating my next birthday out there in the real world, a free man.



Innocent and Executed - please read