BREAKING NEWS: Execution Stayed for Michael Lambrix!!

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. 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. 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





Sunday, May 22, 2016

Death Watch Journal (part 19)

What I really want to do is use my limited forum to write an open letter to England's Prince Harry, but it wouldn't do any good ashe'd never read it and even if he did it's all but certain that he wouldn't care about what I have to say.

See here's the thing...as I write this Prince Harry is in Orlando, Florida hosting the Invictus Games, which is an organization he founded with what I'm sure was and is the best of intentions. What they do is provide a forum arguably comparable to the Olympics but limited to allowing disabled veterans from various nations to compete against each other in sporting competitions. I'm told by the media that Invictus means "unconquered"and it's an honorable thing to support those disabled veterans, although those eligible to compete do not necessarily have to be disabled during combat, but only be physically disabled, and a veteran.

As Prince Harry said to the media, the Invictus Games is intended to provide "a platform for those who served". And as much as I admire those who do try to help disabled veterans, I found it contemptable that those who claim to be reaching out to support disabled veterans deliberately turn a blind eye to the thousands of disabled veterans that are not politically and socially acceptable.

For all the bravado of Prince Harry's event held in Orlando, Florida there was absolutely no mention whatever of those honorably discharged disabled veterans incarcerated in state and federal prisons -  and you won't hear anyone speaking out in support of those disabled veterans.

Is it alright to pick and choose which disabled veterans are worthy of recognition? If you're going to turn a blind eye to any disabled veteran for no reason but that individual is not socially acceptable, then you clearly do not respect any veterans. This is especially true given the indisputable fact that many of the disabled veterans imprisoned in America - and there are thousands - are there for conviction of a crime that would not have happened if not for the physical or mental trauma they suffered while serving their country.

Florida likes the project this image of supporting veterans. But what nobody talked about is that the State of Florida also has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, and has a long history of keeping thousands upon thousands of those prisoners in long-term solitary confinement under physically and mentally oppressive conditions.

More importantly, Florida has a well-documented history of deliberately denying prisoners basic medical care, including the thousands of disabled veterans held in Florida prisons. In recent years even both the state and federal law enforcement applied have conducted investigations into the systematic denial of basic medical care - but as is only two common, they actually did nothing.

My own care illustrates what is widespread throughout the Florida prison system. When I was 18 years old and married, I voluntarily enlisted in the Army in the hopes of building a life for my new family. But while on duty I suffered an accident that left me hospitalized, then honerably discharged. When I left the Army I was thrown back out into the real world, and permanently physically disabled, with no medical care and unable to work.Back then in the post-Vietnam America, disabled veterans were extended the same measure of respect typically reserved for mangy dogs and considered outcasts or lepers.

As with so many other disabled veterans, I was left to fend for myself. And I was married, with a child on the way. As indisputable court records reflect, without meaningful access to medical care, I turned to alcohol and illegal drugs to manage my chronic pain I experienced. It wasn't long before the marriage ended, I lost custody of my children, and I ended up in prison.

But I wasn't a career criminal. What sent me to prison for 2 years was my first and only criminal conviction - a "bounced check", because I had insufficient funds in my own bank account to cover the check I wrote, I was convicted of a felony and sent to prison for 2 years.

Fast forward to where I am today...for 32 years now I've been on Florida's death row now, held continuously in solitary confinement. Florida has the highest date of wrongful convictions in capital cases in the country and undoubtedly will not hesitate to execute innocent men and women, as is evidenced by my own case - neither the Florida courts or Governor Rick Scott will allow that readily available evidence substantiating my innocence to be heard. (see http://www.save-innocents.com/save-michael-lambrix.html and www.southerninjustice.net )

Like myself, if you're a disabled veteran in the Florida prison system, you will not receive any meaningful medical care. Even if you suffer from extreme physical pain due to your military induced physical disability, the Florida prison system will not provide the care necessary to mitigate that pain.

And this is why it's bothers me when I see people like Prince Harry showboating his hand-picked disabled veterans in Florida, of all places. Do you think even one person involved in these Invictus games took even a moment to ask how disabled veterans in the Florida prison system are treated? Of course they didn't, that wouldn't fit into their image.

For the past 3 months now, since I was given a stay of execution, I have been denied even basic medication necessary to manage my extreme physical pain. I have done everything possible to try to get help, but nobody will listen. In fact, although there are countless organization all but competing against each other to perpetuate this politically popular image of taking care of disabled veterans, you will not even find one state or national organization willing to help incarcerated disabled veterans.

You know, I kind of like Prince Harry - he seems like the kind of guy that I would hang out with and have fun. But when a person uses their public image to advocate for disabled veterans, it shouldn't be just those hand-picked few that project an image they find appealing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Death Watch Journal (part 18)

As I write this, it's been about 3 months since, only days before my then scheduled execution, the Florida Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution in light of the January 2016 United States Supreme Court decision in Hurst vs State (which for those who do not already know, declared that the process that Florida has utilised to sentence people to death was unconstitutional) as they debate whether Hurst must apply to all cases, including my case - what is technically called "retroactive application".

This issue remains as yet undecided, and even some of the best legal minds continue to be confused. Common Sense would seem to dictate that if the highest court in the country has declared the Florida process to be illegal then anyone sentenced under this process has been illegally sentenced to death and the only logical conclusion is that an illegally obtained sentence of death must be vacated.

But we're talking about the death penalty which exists primarily to appease societies thirst for vengeance not the more noble pursuit of justice, so basic principle of common sense simply don't apply.


If the average citizen does something illegal, they call it a crime and impose consequences. But if the legal system commits an act that is shown to be illegal then it is conveniently labeled a "technicality" and the courts will debate whether or not the consequences are necessary under their own interpretation of the "interest of justice". I guess it's just anotherperverse twist of that saying "do-as-i-say-not-as-i-do".


What all this comes down to is in this past generation of America's "war on crime" our legal system has devised its own set of politically motivated rules to protect this corrupt legal system from accountability. In this fanatical pursuit of vengeance the ends justify the means and the objective is to expedite executions not struggle with "technicalities" that might stand in the way.


The state of Florida has taken the position that the Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst does not affect any capital cases. In the numerous cases already addressed by the Florida Supreme Court, including my own, the state has categorically insisted that Hurst cannot apply. Bottom line, Florida would have the courts believe that the Hurst decision was merely a rhetorical refinement of technical statutory construction even though on March 7th, 2016 the Florida legislature itself rewrote Florida's death penalty laws, recognizing that the previous statute authorizing imposition of death as a punishment was invalid.
 
                                                                            


What the courts continue to struggle with is whether  this Hurst v Florida decision must be "retroactively" applied - meaning whether it must be applied to capital cases in which the sentence of death has already previously been affirmed on appeal, such as my own case.

Why would this be complicated? Because our courts have adopted technical rules that prohibit retroactive application of "new law" under applicable Federal law as specifically set forth in Summerlin vs. Schiro (2003), the Hurst decision (which is itself an extension of Ring versus Arizona) cannot be applied retroactively because by a marginal majority of 5 to 4 in Summerlin the Supreme Court declared that Ring/Hurst is a procedural refinement as opposed to announcement of substantive law.

However, in my case, and all others already heard, the argument is that this Federal law prohibiting retroactive application under Summerlin cannot apply as long established law recognizes that Federal constitutional law merely establishes what is minimally required and each state is constitutionally entitled to establish its own laws providing even greater protections....and Florida law has exercised that perogative by established the Witt v State standard of law defining when a new rule of law must be retroactively applied.

As evidenced by the legal briefs filed, and the May 5 "oral arguements" held before the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Attorney General has reluctantly accepted that whether or not Hurst versus Florida is retroactively applied will be decided under Florida's own law and not federal law..and that under applicable state law it is almost certain that the Hurst vs. Florida decision will be retroactively applied to all Florida cases.

So, now the Florida Attorney General has focused its argument on why the Florida Supreme Court should not grant relief to any case. Their argument now insists that rather than vacate even one death sentence, the Court should instead conduct its own "harmless error analysis" to determine, based upon subjective speculation that each and every jury that previously sentenced every person on death row to death
would have found at least one statutorily defined "aggravator" required before a person is eligible for death so any failure to comply with constitutional law is "harmless".

But we do kill people based on speculation, or is something more then what amounts to a guessing game required? It would appear that a majority of the Florida Supreme Court is inclined to reject any such "harmless error" analysis.

But even that is speculation as during the height of the death penalty popularity when politicians won elected office by completing to see who would kill more people Florida (and most other states, as well as the federal government) passed laws significantly expanding the stationary defined "aggravating circumstances" that makes a capital defendant eligible for death to now include almost every conceivable circumstance any murder is committed.

My own case will undoubtedly address this issue - because there were two victims, under Florida law the "aggravating circumstance" of "previously convicted of a violent felony"was applied that the Florida Attorney General now argues makes Hurst versus Florida inapplicable to my case because by finding me guilty of both alleged "murders" in the guild face, the jury implicitly found this aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt, even though in my case during the penalty phase my jury was actually instructed that this particular aggravator did not apply as it was never previously convicted of any violent crime, but only the sentencing judge subsequently applied this aggravator by finding that each count justified application to both counts, hence making one statutarily eligible for death.

If the Florida Supreme Court adopts this arguement that my case and most others will be denied relief. And not only those cases like mine that in which the question of retroactive application was the determinative factor, but many of even the most recent cases - for example, the majority of capital cases are prosecuted under the theory of "felony murder" not actually premeditated intent to kill. What this means is that the victim died as a result of actions or events attributable to the commission of an underlying felony such as robbery, burglary, arson - or other.

So, if during the guilt phase of the trial the jury finds the defendant guilty of felony murder and a crime enumerated by statute, then the Attorney General insists that Hurst v Florida cannot apply, even if the jury did not subsequently recommend a sentence of death by unaminous vote, or specifically identify any of the statutorily defined aggravating circumstances required to be found before a sentence of death can be imposed.

If the Florida Supreme Court adopts this arguement, then the Hurst v Florida would apply to very few cases and Florida's machinery of death will continue to grind it's gears on the bones and flesh of those illegally condemned to death - the ends justify the means and it's about appeasing societies thirst for vengeance, not administering justice.

Finally, assuming that Hurst v Florida must apply retroactively to all Florida cases, as it would appear that it must, and a majority of the Florida Supreme Court rejects the Attorney General arguements that the Court can simply conduct its won subjective speculation as to "harmless error" and categorically deny application of Hurst v Florida to cases which a statutory aggravator was implicitly found by virtue of the jury's finding of guilt, then the final question is whether those entitled to relief under Hurst v Florida are entitled to an automatic reduction of death sentence, to life, or the case must be remanded to the trial court for a new sentencing trial so that a new jury can determine whether a sentence of death is appropriate under the new 2016 statutes.

But that then generated debate by the Court as to whether Florida's recently adopted law allowing for a sentence of death to be imposed by merely a 10-2 jury vote ("super majority") is even itself unconstitutional - the vast majority of states allowing the death penalty require no less than an unanimous jusry vote before a death sentence can be imposed.

Because the question of whether Florida's recently adopted 10-2 law is itself constitutional now that it will impact those entitled to new sentencing under Hurst v Florida, it is unlikely the Florida Supreme Court will decide any of these cases until it first addresses that issue - and it has already scheduled "oral arguements" on that issue for next month (June). If this 10-2 law is found to be unconstitutional, then all of this could easily drag out until at least next year, as the Florida legislature would be required to yet again rewrite Florida's death penalty laws....and then the subsequent challenge to the newly rewritten laws.

In conclusion, it would appear that this issue will not be resolved anytime soon but will continue to drag out for at least a few more months and possibly even years. Until that time I will remain on "death watch" and under that uncertainty of whether I will live or die.

You can watch video interviews of me with various recent media sources here, not only addresing the Hurst v Florida issue, but addressing my substantiated claim of innocence, too. The videos are also available to watch at the right side of this blog.
 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Death Watch Journal (part 17)

One thing about death row is that not much changes around here through the years, other than the receding hairlines and a few faces from time to time. Maybe that's why being on death row throws us off so much as it's a complete change of environment and as the weeks pass and your date with death draws closer, it sinks in that you're down there waiting to die.

Just as you resolve yourself to that reality that you will be next to die, changes come again when the court grants a temporary stay of execution as they consider a legal issue that will ultimately decide whether you will live or die, as they did in my case almost three months ago. But that change of location from being down in that cell immediately next to the execution chamber to being moved back to the regular death row wing doesn't really seem like that much of a change as I'm still technically under an active death warrant and anytime now the court could rule against me and lift this stay of execution, sending me a right back down to that same cell next to the execution chamber.

This week we received a memo advising all of us that effective immediately the mailing address for Florida State Prison as been changed (new address at the end of this post) and although the address has changed I don't feel like I've gone anywhere.

Why would they change the mailing address for the prison? That's the first question I asked as obviously the prison didn't move anywhere. I was told that the Florida Department of Corrections Secretary's office has decided that the regional mail centers, where mail coming to all the area prisons was processed, proved to be a waste of time and money so that they decided to put the mail room back in the prisons.

They never really took the mail rooms out of each prison when they came up with this idea of saving money by creating a regional mail center as although the mail first was processed by this original center, it still had to then be sent to the individual prison and distributed to the housing areas. Maybe by now eliminating that extra step and allowing our mail to come directly to the prison it will mean that our mail will get to us quicker so maybe his address change will prove to be a good thing...time will tell, I guess.

Other changes are also in the works. In the 32 years that I've been on Florida's death row we have been prohibited from making social phone calls to family and friends, unless there was an emergency to an immediate family member such as death. But even then it was hard to get a phone call.

Recently the Florida Department of Corrections decided that allowing death-row inmates to make phone calls would be acceptable and after almost a year of figuring out how this would be implemented, the FDOC came out with rules that will now allow each death row prisoners to make only a 15-minute phone call per month,  and only to those on a pre-approved phone list.

Why only 15 minutes phone call a month? Prisoners in the general population can make at least one phone call a day and even prisoners who are placed in close management, because they committed violations of prison rules, are allowed more than that, so how does it make any sense that those on death row will only be allowed one phone call per month?

The only informal response I got to that question was that one phone call per month is a lot more than none at all, so it should be glad that we would be allowed that.

But then there's the process we must go through in order to even get anyone on out "approved" phone list. Each person who wants to be placed on our list must first provide a verifiable copy of their phone contract and billing information. This is required under the pretense of allowing the prison to verify that the phone number is to that person and at the address where that person lives.

Which begs the question..if you're willing to write to a prisoner would you be comfortable mailing that prisoner your confidential information, especially into a prison where it could be "accidentally" given to the wrong inmate who does who knows what with it?

Prison is what it is, and there's no doubt that the multi-billion dollar industry that American prisons have become today are nothing less than bureaucracy's, and it's the nature of any bureaucracy to create unnecessary obstructions that really serve no purpose but to justify the necessity of creating this bureaucracy in the first place.

In closing, I again remind you that effective immediately the mailing addres has changed.  All mail sent to the old address will be forwarded for up to 30 days to the new address, which is:
Florida State Prison
P.O. Box 800
Raiford, Florida 32083
 
Thanks also to all people who left comments, sent cards or letters. I do receive them all and appreciate them, it means a lot to me. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I can't prove my innocence if I'm dead - Article Michael Lambrix in News4Jax



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A South Florida judge declared the state's new death penalty law unconstitutional earlier this week while the fate of everyone on death row is being considered by the Florida Supreme Court.
While the ultimate penalty in Florida remains uncertain, some inmates would rather die than eat poor food and get bad medical care for decades.

Michael Lambrix admits to killing one person in self defense. He is a high school dropout who originally went to prison for passing bad checks in Tampa. He was convicted of a double homicide in Glades County on the testimony of a girlfriend who was sleeping with the prosecutor's investigator.

Lambrix has spent most of his adult life on death row. He was next in line to be executed when the U.S. Supreme Court said Florida's death penalty was ruled unconstitutional. Lambrix said many, not most, but many of those on death row would like to stay there.

“One of the big elements weighing heavily on these guys on death row who are saying, 'I don't want a life sentence,' is because they see people growing old in prison," Lambrix said. "They see the kind of medical care we get around here."

But after coming within days of being executed, Lambrix said he is not one of those who wants to die.
“I don’t want to grow old like that, but the alternative is to die," he said. "I can’t keep trying to prove my innocence if I am dead.”

Most prisoners claim innocence. With Lambrix, it has been a constant since 1983 when he was first charged and offered a plea deal that would have set him free more than a decade ago.
"I would have gotten a sentence of 17 to 22 years," Lambrix said. "I would have been out many years ago, but I wasn’t going to plea to something I didn’t do.”

As recently as last week, the state was saying that most of the 390 death row inmates should still be executed.

If Florida justices agree with the state, the final say over who lives and who dies will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

"(What would it be like) to walk out into the free world? I think about it every day," Lambrix said.

Mike Vasilinda  - May 11, 2016
 
Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Death Watch journal (part 16)

As I write this, it has now been 10 weeks since the Florida Supreme court ordered an indefinite stay of my previously scheduled execution pending judicial review of whether or not my death sentence remains legal under the United States Supreme Court's January 2016 decision in Hurst v. Florida, in which the highest court declared Florida's death penalty process illegal because it allowed a judge and not the jury, to ultimately determine what the sentence would be.

Nobody knows when the Florida Supreme Court will decide this issue, or how they will rule when they do...all we can do is wait it out and until then I will remain under an active death warrant.

So, this week I would like to address another matter - the systemic denial of adequate medical care in the Florida prison system. Generally, I don't talk about my own health problems as it's not something I want to put out there for public consumption. But like so many others here at Florida State Prison - and the Florida prison system as a whole - it's gotten so bad that I must address it and ask for help from those who are reading this.

It's an undisputed fact that many years ago while serving in the Army I had an on-duty accident that resulted in a lengthy hospitalization and my honorable discharge. I am now a legally recognized "disabled veteran" and suffer a permanent physical disability recognized as "degenerative disc disease" in the lower lumbar spine, and "lumbar radiculopathy" with incomplete mild paralysis. What this means in layman's terms is that when I suffered this accident, it resulted in permanent and progressively degenerate damage to my spinal cord that produces often extreme physical pain.

In the many years that I've been in the Florida prison system I have come to accept that the best I can hope for is minimal treatment. If I'm lucky, I can get non-narcotic pain medication to try to manage the pain. Generally, that means a prescription of extra strength Ibuprofen or Naproxen. Being that I am in prison, they're not going to prescribe anything stronger so the most I can do is try to manage the pain, mostly by avoiding physical exertions that would cause a flare-up.

As my condition predictably progressed through the years, so too has the now almost constant pain substantially increased to the extent that even the Naproxen or Ibuprofen have little effect. Again, I generally accept that this is prison and they are not going to do anything more than the minimum. However, shortly after my death warrant was signed and I was transferred to Florida State Prison, I began having problems getting even the Naproxen that that I regularly received, and the Flexeril that I received as a muscle relaxer so that the muscle spasms regularly suffer will settle down enough so that at least I can sleep at night.

The thing is, I'm not alone, since Florida contracted prison medical care to a private company called 'Corizon", which is a for-profit healthcare provider with a long history of denying adequate health care, complaints such as mine have become only too common. These privately contracted health care providers get paid the same whether they actually provide adequate health care or not and so every dollar they spend providing treatments, or even prescribing medication, takes money out of their own pockets and for-profit companies cannot stay in business long if they don't make a profit.

This point needs to be addressed momentarily - the reason America has the highest incarceration rate in the world today is because the American prison system is a for-profit multibillion-dollar industry, and there are thousands of companies that compete for contracts to provide services to prisoners, from sypplying toilet paper, food, health care - even running entire prisons. Most would argue that that doesn't make any sense as prisons cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

However, while the taxpayers to pay obscene amounts of money to keep all those prisoners locked up, what is not as obvious is that companies wanting to provide services to this prison industry win the contract by donating huge sums of money to politicians running for office. And when the politicians win elected office, they reward their benefactors with lucrative contracts, only too often amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. That's how the system really works.

Companies like Corizon have a long history of being rewarded contracts to provide health care only to then refuse to provide basic health care as a means of increasing their own profits. In fact, Corizon itself previously went by another corporate name that was awarded a contract to provide medical care to Florida prisoners and provided such deliberately incompetence care that prisoners died, and the contract was terminated...the company then changed the name of the corporation to Corizon, donated huge sums of money to State politicians running for election, and got the contract back.

In the past year the health care provided by Corizon has gotten so bad that again  many prisoners died from being denied adequate medical care. Only after the media made it a story did the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Florida legislature open investigations into the systematic deprivation of adequate health care in Florida prisons. Not surprisingly, neither the FDLE or the Florida legislative actually did anything - not a single person within the Corizon corporation was held responsible for the many inmate deaths resulting from the deliberate denial of adequate medical care..not even one! As soon as the mainstream media lost interest, the whole issue quickly died. 

                                                                 


That's how healthcare in American prisons system really works - it's a completely corrupt process in which the only thing that matters is that the company awarded the contract makes millions while the prisoners suffer and die - and since we are prisoners nobody really cares.

Back to my own problems with receiving even minimal medical care. After my death warrant was signed and I was transferred to Florida State Prison, my prescription "expired" and the doctor simply refused to renew them. They play all kind of games to try to blame the prisonor for the denial of adequate medical care. In my case,  they said that before my prescriptions could be renewed, I needed to have a blood test, and in late February 2016 I had the blood taken, then was seen by "dr. Lee", who refused to renew my medication. I then took the matter to the Florida state prison Warden, who tried to help - only to have the Corizon-employed Health Services administrator blatantly lie to the Warden, telling him that I refused to the blood test, claiming instead that I was seen on March 17th, 2016 and counseled on the importance of providing blood test.

These are the games they play. Anytime you file a formal grievance about the denial of adequate medical care it comes back with the same response - put in a request for "sick call" (the process available to seek medical care). But as with me, and most others, I did put in numerous "sick call" requests, but the Corizon staff will then wait up to several weeks and then do nothing but talk to you at cell front, and they'll tell you to put in another "sick call" request, then another - and if you're lucky several months later you might actually see a doctor, who will then tell you that you need to do another "updated" blood test before medication can be prescribed, and ofter you wait for weeks to have that done, they'll claim you "refused" to do the blood test, and you must start the whole process over again. Of course, they can never produce a signed 'refusal' form as you didn't refuse.

For months now this is what I've been going through - it is what so many others also go through, with many prisoners being forced to suffer, in prolonged physical pain, or even dying. I've been going through this malicious merry-go-round of deliberate denial of basic medical treatment now for over 2 months and still not receiving the medications I need to manage my chronic physical pain. For this reason, as my last available means, I'm asking your help in attempting to compell the Florida Department of Corrections to provide proper medical care. I would ask that you please email Mrs Julie Jones, Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections (email:  jones.julie@mail.dc.state.fl.us ), and Dr. Ogunsanwo, Assistant Secretary, Medical and Health Services ( email: ogunsanwo.olugbenga@mail.dc.state.fl.us ), and ask them to initiate an investigation into the deliberate denial of adequate medical care to inmate Michael Lambrix #482053 at Florida State Prison, who is a legally recognized disabled veteran being denied medications necessary to manage his chronic physical pain.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Death Watch journal (Part 15)

My kingdom for a cup of hot coffee - really, is that too much to ask for? I guess in all fairness I can't really blame anyone for not wanting my kingdom of steel and stone since it does kind of suck. But then there's the few simple pleasures even a condemned man can almost take for granted and for too many years every morning I will awake early, hours before most others around me, so that I can enjoy those few hours of relative quiet as I sit at my so-called "desk" and begin my day by writing whatever it is that has to be written that day as I sip from a nearby cup of coffee.

Sometimes I will already be long at work even before the sun comes up and as I sit at that desk I will watch out that distant dusty window on the outer catwalk as the new day gives way to sunlight, and imagine that I can actually see the sunrise itself, although I can't. At most, I can see the shadows as they appear on the adjacent wing across that narrow strip of grass that separates one cell block wing from another...and as I do, I'll slowly sip from that cup of coffee.

This is the time of day that I like to write those closest to me, and as I write whatever letter I'm writing I will place a picture of the person against my wall only inches away so that I can see their face as I write and it gives me a feeling that in some small way I am with them. And as I do, I drink a lot of coffee and will go through two or even three cups of coffee in those early morning hours that I cherish so much.

As the morning progresses the cellblock around me will slowly come to life, at first through the sound of the first one, then another and all too soon many more flushing toilets - and thank God for whoever it was who invented the flushing toilet as during the colder months all the windows are closed and the ventilation fans turned off and with a hundred other men living in too close proximity to me, absent that ability to flush, the cellblock would quickly become pretty rank in no time at all. And having to live with the smell of many men relieving themselves would seriously compromise the pleasure of my cup of coffee.

                                                               


But for other reasons, it's been a bad week as the hot water went out and for days I could not have that most simple of pleasures -  my ritualistic morning cup of coffee. Don't get me wrong - I didn't actually go without my coffee, as I'm the first to admit that I'm a caffeine junkie and can't even function without that cup of coffee. To give you a good idea of just how bad I got for my beloved caffeine, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to picture me waking up early each morning all but rolling out of my bunk and staggering those few steps to the sink to first splash a bit of cold water on my face so the small world around me will come into focus, and then push the hot water on as it has to run for a few minutes before it will even get warm.

And as that water runs in the sink, I've been known to put my MP3 player on, pushing the earbutts into each ear and crank the volume all the way up to the song "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton, and then in nothing more than my state issued white boxer shorts, I will kind of dance while whispering along with that song - except every time they say the word "cocaine", I substitute it for the word "caffeine". "If you wanna hang out, you got to take her out...caffeine - if you wanna get down, down on the ground..caffeine" (I'll be damned, I think I finally figured out why I regularly get hit with random drug test - which I have never once failed in the past 20-plus years...but it's starting to make sense why they want me to piss in that little plastic cup a lot more than most of the guys around me!) Oh yeah - and a shout out to Eric Clapton...you are a guitar God! :)

So where was I? Oh, yeah - they seriously screwed up my morning coffee ritual this past week when the hot water suddenly went out, and I had no way to get even a cup  of barely warm coffee. And that sucked! All I could do was make my coffee with cold water, and it just isn't the same. Each week I buy, beg or borrow a couple of 4 ounce bags of generic instant coffee and it's already of poor quality but gets that much worse when all I got is cold water to make it with.

I guess I really shouldn't complain though...there's billions of people around the world that don't have any coffee at all and here I am a condemned man waiting to be put to death and I've got nothing better to do than whine about not having a cup of hot coffee? And I'm not really fooling anyone either, as those that really know me know that if they turned the water off altogether I would still figure out a way to get my caffeine fix, even if it meant having to pour that dark powder out into neatly sculpted lines on my so-called desk and snorting it up dry.  yeah, I think we can all agree that I'm an unabashed caffeine junkie and damned proud of it - and most of those reading this can relate, if you're a coffee junkie too!

The truth of the matter is that even on the best of days the most I can hope for is a cup of almost hot, but not quite, coffee as the water in the sink really doesn't get hot - that would be a threat to security as we live in a world where the word "security" is too often thrown up to justify depriving us of even the most simple pleasures. The powers that be have decided that if the temperature of the water is turned up too high to where it might actually be hot, we could use it as a weapon by throwing this hot water on the guards. Of course, that has never happened on death row, but what's reality got to do with it when the true objective of the American prison system is to keep prisoners as miserable as possible and declaring hot water a security risk is only one of an infinite ways they will grossly exaggerated "security concerns"..that's all part of doing time and you just got to roll with it.

But for me, the past week wasn't all that good as I really do miss my morning cups of warm coffee. But I might note that with the hot water gone that also meant very cold showers too. Some might think that can't be too bad since I'm in Florida, but believe me, Florida does get really cold too. The death row units are up in North Florida, not far from the Georgia line, and even this week, in early April, it's going down to almost freezing.

The thing is, this creates somewhat of a paradox - I can deal with a cold shower, and often have, as long as I can have my cup of coffee. In fact, the tier that I'm housed onoften has cold showers as by law they must have one shower on each wing that runs only cold water so that when "chemical agents" are used on prisoners - which happens frequently here at Florida State Prison, the inmate who was a "gassed" must be allowed to take a cold shower to wash the pepper spray off - hot water will cause the liberally used chemical agents to burn. So, sometimes the only thing we get is a cold shower - but at least then when I go back to my cell I can make a cup of coffee.

Presumably, they'll fix the water in a few days and now at least I have something to look forward to. And as I await the uncertainty of my fate, not knowing if any day now the governor will reschedule my execution once again, I hope you'll forgive me if this opportunity, to whine just a bit about not having a cup of hot coffee, provides me with a much-needed momentary distraction

 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Death Watch Journal (part 14)

That cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over my head as we await word on what the courts will do about the question of whether the Supreme Court's decision in Hurst v. Florida (January, 2016) should be retroactively applied to all Florida cases...a decision that may very well decide whether I and many others will live or die.

As of this week I have now been in continuous solitary confinement on Florida's death row for 32 years (I was charged and arrested this case in March 1983 but was not convicted and sentenced to death until March, 1984) In that I am now at Florida State Prison, where those first coming to death row are initially housed, I'm surrounded by many relatively recent "new gains" that was significantly younger than the average death row prisoners - those such as me. They inevitably ask me how long I've been here and when I say "32 years", I smile when they immediately respond "damned bro - that's longer than I've been alive!". Yeah that's just what it comes down to... I have been in solitary confinement under sentence of death now for what amounts to an entire lifetime.

But let's keep this in context..This week I "celebrated" my 56th birthday. I was only 22 years old when I was arrested on this case. Once upon a time I was married and I've got three children, obviously now all grown. As I look into my little plastic mirror and can't help but notice that what hair is not slowly turning gray has already fallen out, I smile as I think that I now have seven grandchildren. That person I was when I was 22 could never have imagined one day waking up and realizing that I'm now a grandpa.

If the State of Florida had its way, I would never have seen my 56th birthday as they never intended to allow me to live beyond February 11, 2016. That was the day they planned to put me to death by lethal injection. And even now I'm in limbo - if the courts rule against me in coming weeks, or months, then the governor will quickly set a new execution date and I will go back down to the bottom floor of "Q-wing" and count down those final days as I've already done 3 times before.

So, how do you celebrate a birthday that wasn't meant to be? There are many who I wish I could spend my birthday with, such as all my friends who sent me birthday cards and best wishes - I wish I could give each and everyone a big hug as it's hard to put into words just how much it means to get a simple card and know that even when you are marked for death by society, there's still that measure of mercy and compassion that gives even a condemned man hope. Too often, when I feel overwhelmed by circumstances around us, it's easy to forget that the whole world isn't trying to kill us.

For those who sent me cards, some that came from complete strangers that didn't even give their name, I truly do thank you. I wish I could throw a big birthday party, not to celebrate my so-called life, as in truth I don't have much of a life to celebrate here in this six-foor concrete and steel cage. Rather, I'd want to celebrate that measure of humanity within those that do reach out in spite of society's demand that we be cast aside and marked for death.

I am reminded of that scene in the Mel Gibson movie "Passion of Christ" where there on the hillside stood those three crosses of Calvary - in the center, Jesus was crucified but to each side of him were common criminals. And all around the crowd gathered, filled with hate and demanding nothing less than death. But then there were the few who suffered the loss of someone they so dearly loved and that moment of compassion became more powerful than all the hate the crowds could muster.

On my birthday I don't celebrate my life, but rather I celebrate those who despite circumstances selflessly reach out in compassion and mercy to offer a few words of good will. They sustain our hope and give us the strength to continue this journey to whatever end will be.

As I write this, today is Easter Sunday - two days before my birthday and the gift I received was truly special...I got to spend the day with my daughter. For only the second time in 32 years it was just me and her. You see, my daughter Jennifer suffered of trauma during childbirth that left her mentally disabled. Despite her handicap, she struggles to live independently and almost 10 years ago married someone and they now have two children.

Life has been anything but easy on them and every day is a struggle - like so many here in America they are poor and little hope of overcoming their circumstances. But I remain inspired as despite the odds against her, my daughter Jennifer doesn't give up.. and she never becomes bitter of how unfair life has been. And she isn't capable of hate or all the destructive traits we see in the world around us.

Everyday she is judged by others around her for what they see, rather than what they know. And yet she responds with a childlike love. As I walked into the death row visiting park today and she came through the door the visitors come through, her face lit up with a smile that comes from the heart and although it's been years since I was last able to hug her, she immediately gave me the biggest hug I've had in a long time and she said: "I love you Daddy" and that almost made me cry. I've been here on Florida's death row since she was 4 years old. And although too many years pass between those hugs, each seems like it was just yesterday.

In a couple of days I will have my birthday and as I do, I want to think about all those who kept me going through their support. And as we all wait for the decision from the courts, I will be grateful for the small things that give even my so-called life meaning..while many may gather outside the prison to celebrate my death, if that day comes, there will still be those who have only compassion in their hearts, and there will be that hug that a father gets from his child. And it's in those moments that even my own struggle not to succumb to anger and drown myself in the negativity of my circumstances that I'm able to rise above it all and bask in that fellowship that comes from those who so selflessly reach out to me.

And so that's all I want for my birthday - the chance to give each of you a big hug and to thank each of you for being a true friend.

Innocent and Executed - please read