Allow me to first send a warm hello to those that I am truly blessed to have as friends, who I too often neglect to express my gratitude and appreciation towards but wouldn’t want any of them to think that I take their friendship for granted. As most who read my irrelevant blog already know, things in my life have been especially difficult this summer as the courts denied my appeals and then last month the prison system tried to push through a new rule that if passed, would had effectively silenced me and all other Florida prisoners by prohibiting any and all forms of expression by way of the internet – more on that in just a minute.
It has been a long and hot summer – but what Florida summer isn’t? This time of year I am reminded just how much it means not only to me, but to all of us here on Florida’s death row to have these small electric fans. Most of you already know how unbearable a Florida summer can be – especially when you’re kept in a six foot concrete cage indefinitely, which becomes an oven during the long days of relentless summer heat and humidity.
But what some of you may not know is that for many years any form of fan was prohibited under the pretense of “security”, even a simple piece of cardboard used as a handheld fan could get you thrown into the hole. It really has nothing to do with any legitimate security concerns – it was simply yet another manifestation of the extreme malice prison officials held towards death row and their intent to have us suffer as much as they could.
From 1984 to 2006 I never had any form of fan and the only reprieve from the oppressive heat would be to sit naked on my toilet and pour water over my body to momentarily cool off. Then Randall Berg of the Florida Legal Institute agreed to represent the death row population in the Federal lawsuit arguing that the refusal to allow even so much as a small fan was “cruel and unusual”.
Only when under threat of legal action did the prison officials finally agree to allow a small electric fan, but that window of opportunity would be only open for a limited time, and at that moment of greatest urgency the completely volunteer group FDRAG (Florida Death Row Advocacy Group http://fdrag.kk5.org/#) quickly raised enough money to donate a small fan to each Florida death row prisoner, and so in 2005 Florida death row prisoners finally were allowed an electric fan.
But donating fans to death row is only a small part of what FDRAG has so generously done to advocate humane conditions on Florida’s death row. Years ago when prison officials proposed to eliminate “contact” visits for Florida’s death row prisoners, FDRAG organized protests and the FDOC backed off, allowing us to keep our visits.
Recently, the few people who work to keep FDRAG going have struggled as support for the group has declined. So I wanted to take this moment to say how much it means to all of us here on death row to have FDRAG around, and for those of you who are not yet aware of the difference FDRAG on the quality of life for all of us here, I would ask that you check out FDRAG’s website http://fdrag.kk5.org/# and consider to offer your support in any way you can or become a member as there is really strength in numbers and if only the membership in FDRAG would increase collectively we can all make a real difference.
Moving on, as I previously wrote in a blog in July, the pro-death penalty republican conservatives that control the Florida legislative pushed through new laws entitled The Timely Justice Act designed to significantly expedite more executions by now statutorily mandating that the Florida governor sign “death warrants” on every death sentenced prisoner who has completed his/her first round of state and federal appeals within 30 days. Under this new law at least 125 Florida death row prisoners (including myself) become immediately “death warrant eligible” as of July 1, 2013, with all 125+ executions to be scheduled within 6 months.
Numerous lawyers quickly filed a comprehensive legal challenge to this “Timely Justice Act” in the Florida Supreme court focusing primarily on the argument that the state legislature is constitutionally prohibited from passing laws mandating that another branch of government (i.e., the Governor) perform their duties in a certain manner. This legal challenge remains pending at this time with no action taken as the Florida Supreme Court has been out on their summer vacation until the last week of August.
Now that the Florida Supreme Court is back in session, we expect that the court will soon address this legal challenge. The state has responded to this challenge by claiming that the Florida Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain review of this challenge. This novel argument was specifically encouraged by Florida Supreme Court (current) chief Justice Rick Polston and Justice Charles Canady as an obvious attempt to circumvent review. Both chief Justice Polston and Justice Canady were politically appointed to the Florida Supreme Court after previously working with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush when he tried to push through the “Death Penalty Reform Act of 2000” , which attempted to adopt the Texas appeal system to Florida, but was declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2000.
Now the pro-death penalty politicians have politically appointed their hand-picked death merchants to the Florida Supreme Court and chief Justice Polston and Justice Canady will use their power to push to have this new law upheld. But it will take 4 of the 7 Florida Supreme Court justices to reach any legal binding decision. There’s reason to believe that at least 4 of the current FSC justices will find that this newly passed Timely Justice Act does violate Florida’s “definition of power” laws and strike it down as unconstitutional. All we can do is wait and see..
In other news, the Florida Department of Corrections recently lost a significant federal lawsuit that had argued that the Florida DOC was violating prisoner’s constitutional right by refusing to provide an adequate “religious” diet for Jewish and Muslim prisoners who are prohibited from consuming “unclean” foods. As a result, the Florida DOC has been forced to immediately provide a “religious” diet to any Florida prisoner who declares that due to religious beliefs they cannot consume unclean foods. Not surprisingly, already many Florida prisoners (including those on death row) suddenly found “religion” and have signed up for this new “religious” diet.
To understand why such a substantial number have jumped on board, you must first understand that for many years now the Florida prison system has systematically “modified” our regular diet with the goal of cutting costs by almost completely eliminating any form of real meat, fruit or milk products. Most meats have become some form of soy protein based “meat substitute” that is virtually tasteless, and the quality of the food has become progressively worse and is generally considered to be inedible by most prisoners.
So, while the rest of us continue being fed food that not even a desperate dog would eat, those on this diet are now getting real food, prepared by an outside food vendor that is restaurant quality and includes real eggs and fruit at each breakfast and real meat (turkey cutlet, fish, chicken filets, Salisbury steak etc ) at all meals.
Although I’m tempted to get on this new diet myself, I would have to first declare myself either Muslim or Jewish, and as a matter of personal choice of religious affiliation, I cannot do that. So, I’m stuck with the garbage they feed us on the regular diet.
Last, for those of you who are not aware yet, the Florida DOC recently contracted all money deposits services to the private company JPay, so money orders cannot be sent to FDOC Tallahassee Inmate Bank anymore, but now must be sent to the Jpay address in Miami. You can find all the information you need at jpay.com, and this service also allows the convenience of electronic money deposits.
That concludes this update on news affecting Florida death row. Again I thank all of you for your interest and continued support!
Michael LambrixFlorida Death Row