Our Dear Friend Mike Lambrix left us on October 5, 2017
He went from the Darkness to the Light..

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Christmas Card

Essay written by Mike in 2012 for MinutesBeforeSix

At this time of year I find myself wondering what Christmas has become.  For almost 30 years now, I have been in continuous solitary confinement, condemned to death.  Here on Florida’s Death Row there are no shopping malls or shiny decorations that have come to define the holidays in the real world.  I can watch it all on my TV, and if what I’m watching is what Christmas out there in the real world is, then maybe I’m more fortunate that those who have been consumed by commercialism, and have lost sight of what it should mean.

What are we really celebrating at this time of year?  Don’t get me wrong – I would give almost anything to spend Christmas with my children and grandchildren, and see that magic sparkle in their eyes as they rip open brightly colored packages stacked beneath a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

And what very little I might still have left afterwards, I would willingly surrender too, if only I could spend Christmas Day gathered around Mom’s table with long-lost family as we share a traditional meal while basking in the glow of each other’s company, as those are the moments that memories are made of.


But for me, Christmas will be spent in a cage and there won’t be any warm hearth, or gifts beneath a tree. I will spend my holiday alone just as I have done for too many Christmas’s past and although it may be difficult for others to understand, I still feel blessed to celebrate Christmas in my own way.

I came to Florida’s Death Row in March of 1984 and it’s that first Christmas on “The Row” that I look back upon and remember.  That was a very hard year.  In that first year, there were eight men here on The Row put to death, one almost every month, and at a time when there was barely 100 of us here.  That number now has increased to almost 400, with executions averaging two yearly.

With so many facing imminent executions, the stench of death practically hung over all of us like a toxic cloud, threatening to suffocate us.  My cell neighbor had been on The Row for about eight years at the time, and throughout that first year James (J.D.) Raulerson looked out for me and, as only condemned men living in close proximity can, we became as close as family.  He took me under his wing and generously and kindly showed me the ropes.

But just before the holidays, the Florida governor signed a “death warrant” on J.D., and he was taken away to the death watch area to await execution.  His Christmas would be spent alone on the bottom floor of Florida State Prison’s infamous “Q-wing,” a few feet away from the door that leads into the execution chamber, and the following month, J.D. was executed.

Although I had sat in my death row cell as eight others were each put to death, and executions were not unfamiliar to me, by the time that first Christmas on The Row rolled around and J.D. was moved to death watch, it hit especially close to home.  He was the first one that I was actually close to, though far too many others I came to later know as both friends and brothers would follow through the years.

That first Christmas on The Row was especially hard in part because I still held on to the more traditional way in which most celebrate this holiday.  I missed being able to be with my loved ones and I could only wonder how my children might be spending their Christmas that year as I had no way to communicate with them, and hadn’t heard from them since my arrest in early 1983.

But that doesn’t mean that my family and friends were not in thought, and each night I anxiously waited for the mail to come in, hoping upon hope that maybe, just maybe, I might get a card or letter, but those cards and letters didn’t come.

Even as alone a condemned man might feel in that solitary cage, that physical isolation becomes a distant second to the overwhelming sense of abandonment one feels as each day ever-so-very-slowly drags by and that mail you so anxiously hope will come doesn’t, and each day without a word pushes you down further into an abyss of hopelessness and despair that slowly kills you from within – one small cut at a time.

Today I can look back and understand what I could not back then; that what I felt was not at all unique amongst those I lived around.  It is part of the experience we all feel on The Row. When it comes down to it, those who love and care about us in the world don’t know how to handle our death sentences.  When that sentence is imposed, there’s a presumption of finality not unlike what families experience when they learn a loved one has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Even those who truly do love us often become uncomfortable and distant, unable to cope with the impending loss of someone they love.

For them, there is the added stigma of having a loved one convicted of a heinous crime in the very community they, our families, must continue to live in.  It took me many years to see beyond the misery of my own circumstance and come to understand that even as hard as it might be on me, my conviction and condemnation was at least just as hard on those I left behind.

For the many months of that first year, J.D. was my mentor and source of support and then he was gone.  Many mornings I would awake, still expecting to see his arm reaching around that concrete wall that separated our cells, extending a cup of coffee or perhaps some kind of snack – his way of inviting me to get up and talk a while.  Although we couldn’t physically see each other, as each solitary cell was only open at the front, facing outward, being able to stand there at the front of the cell and talk around that wall was a very real sense of communion that we shared.

Just that quickly, it was no more and in that month leading up to that first Christmas, that cell remained empty, leaving me all but isolated (as the man on my other side chose to keep to himself and would rarely talk at all.)

Perhaps I have always struggled with depression, although I can’t help but wonder who wouldn’t if thrown into a solitary cell facing the reality of death all around you.  But that first Christmas had me feeling especially abandoned and overwhelmed and I became almost obsessed with questioning the “why” of it all.  Finding few answers, I contemplated whether I should take the easy way out, and if I could find the strength to commit suicide. I did think about the many ways that might be accomplished and, as those thoughts too often invaded my overwhelming isolation, the person that I was back then would have welcomed an end to what has become an ongoing nightmare.

That Christmas of 1984 was on a Tuesday, just as it will be this year (2012) and when the cards and letters I hoped to receive didn’t come by that last weekend before Christmas, like too many others around me, I clung on to the hope that they would come that Monday, Christmas Eve.

Then that Monday came and I was not the only one on the wing who silently stood at his cell door hoping upon whatever measure of hope remained that this night before Christmas would miraculously bring that one card or letter from a loved one.  It was almost a collective ritual, as each of us anxiously watched that clock in anticipation for “mail call.” We strained to hear the sound of those heavy brass keys as the guard came down to open the inner catwalk gate that led into the cellblock area, where he would slowly work his way down the wing, one cell at a time, passing out the mail.  The whole floor went quiet as each of us anxiously waited for what we might receive.

As the guard approached my cell that night, he stopped and I’m sure in that moment my heart skipped a beat as I held my breath like a child would if confronted by Santa Claus. I watched as the guard looked down on his small stack of mail and silently picked up the top one, then unceremoniously laid that one plain white envelope on my door and without a word, walked away towards the next cell.

I picked that envelope up from my door and looked to see from who it might be, but there was no name or return address.  I then looked at the postmark and could see that it was mailed from Key Largo, Florida a few days earlier, but I didn’t know anyone down in Key Largo.

A small piece of scotch tape had been used to seal the envelope, and I pulled it apart, then carefully reached in to pull the card out.  It was just a plain card sporting a modestly decorative pattern on the front, with gold print letters that read, “Happy Holidays,” and inside, a generic wish that the season would be joyful and not much more.


But then I read what was written inside – just three simple words, and that was all… “I forgive you,” signed E. Banner.  There was a moment of confusion before that sank in, and then I realized what I was holding, and I involuntarily sunk down upon my bunk. Sitting in silence, I stared at that simple card for what may very well have been hours as the passage of time became irrelevant…. “I forgive you.”

That simple card was from the mother of the victim in the case for which I now sat on death row.  I recognized the name from court documents, and as I understood it, “Chip” was her only child.  Throughout my trial, she never came to court and unlike the family of the young woman who also died that night Ms. Banner never campaigned for or demanded my death as the only acceptable measure of justice.

I didn’t sleep that Christmas Eve and carefully laid that simple card up on my small bookshelf and that night I laid there alone and in the darkness and solitude that surrounded me, I cried for the first time in too many years and then I got down on my knees and prayed to a God that I had given up on. That night I found the words and in my own incoherent way, I thanked Him for that card, and asked Him to touch Ms. Banner in a special way.

Not much is ever written about the personal persecution of condemned men, but I’d like to think that I am not the only one who has often struggled with an overwhelming sense of remorse for the tragedy that has touched too many lives.

But we live in a world in which the qualities that define what is good in humanity are only too rare, and a condemned man reaching out to ask for forgiveness is met with the heavy hand of scorn and impassioned vengeance.  How dare we ask, much less expect such.  But that card was sent on her own - from something within her – a quality that I can only stand in awe and respect of, as in my entire life I have known so very few people who had the strength and moral character to rise above their own personal loss and suffering to reach out with such compassion and forgiveness.

What made this act of unsolicited compassion especially remarkable is that she did not know what had actually happened that night that tragically resulted in her son’s death.  She knew only what the prosecutor had told her, which now, many years later has been revealed as fabrication (see  https://southerninjustice.weebly.com/) When she wrote out that simple card, she had every reason to believe that I had deliberately take the life of her child.  In the years since, it has been revealed that the prosecutor deliberately manipulated and concealed crucial evidence while coercing false testimony that would have substantiated my consistently pled claim of being involuntarily compelled to act in self defense.

For this reason, that simple card meant so much and as I sat in that solitary cell that night before Christmas, I received a gift that I could not have imagined, beyond even that measure of mercy and compassion we all wish to receive from our fellow man, especially when we find ourselves alone and overwhelmed and feeling like the whole world is against us.  There is no greater gauge of our humanity than summoning the strength to forgive another, and it’s a quality that is tragically too rare.

As that Christmas came and went, that card remained on my bookshelf, and countless times every day I would pick it up and read it again, and I thought about how incredibly hard it had to be for her to write those three words… “I forgive you.”

That Christmas card was, for me, the very definition of Christmas.  So many get lost in the materialism of this spiritual holiday.  But then there are these moments when the magic of Christmas shines through and in these moments we are blessed with the gift of being reminded of what Christmas is really about and our faith in humanity can be renewed even under the darkest circumstances.

Few of us seem to find that measure of strength within ourselves to forgive another, but I do believe that strength is within each of us, and knowing only too well how that simple Christmas card touched me on that Christmas so many years ago, it is my wish today that each of us can find that strength within ourselves.

Merry Christmas,



Friday, October 5, 2018

One Year Ago Today...


                      Mike was taken from us one year ago today,  he is still missed.

                                      We hold you close within our hearts,
                                             And there you will remain.
                                      To walk with us through out our lives
                                             Until we meet again

                                             Rest in Peace dear friend..



The following is an unpublished essay, written by Mike for MinutesBeforeSix

As the Embers of Hope Die Out

By Michael Lambrix
(Written August 2017)

Our beloved Mike was executed by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017.  To honor his memory, we share with you this essay he wrote eight weeks before his execution.

What is hope? As a man condemned to death I´ve often confronted that elusive question. But even after decades of desperately clinging to the thing we call hope, I still cannot define it. One day it´s there and I find strength from it, and, the next it´s not.

In my world, hope is the light keeping the darkness at bay. The warmth of its fire keeps a man´s soul from growing cold, but like the flames of a candle, it burns only as long as it has substance to feed upon. And then the embers of hope die out and the darkness closes in around you.  And maybe that´s not such a bad thing. Darkness can become your only true friend (read: “Hello, Darkness – My Old Friend”) as the overwhelming weight of not only physical, but emotional and even spiritual loneliness closing in around you. The solitude of your mere existence drags you down like an anvil as the powers that be cast you into a bottomless sea of despair.

Hope gives you strength to fight, to frantically claw your way back up to the surface. As you break water, hope is the desperate gasp for air before you´re dragged down again, and again, again.

Maybe hope is best defined not by what it is, but by its absence, since hopelessness weighs so much. During my three plus decades in solitary confinement on Florida´s “death row,” I have been forced to confront my own mortality too many times as my own date with death approached I’ve also witnessed too many others take that last walk toward the other side (read, “Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder”). I know that while the physical deprivations might inflict pain upon your flesh, such pain pales in comparison to the emptiness inside. Psychological isolation, emotional abandonment and the absence of someone to love and to be loved by inflicts the greatest pain.  While this environment might batter and bruise my fragile flesh, those wounds will heal. But this living death becomes even worse than any concept of hell.  I hold such contempt for the concept of hope even as I struggle to keep it from slipping away.

Sometimes I wonder whether it´s a coincidence that the width of my concrete crypt is six foot from wall to wall, the same as the depth of a common grave. Or could it be by design? Could it be that long ago, about the time I was conceived, those who laid the first concrete blocks that would make up Florida State Prison somehow knew that I and others would one day be cast down into the bowels of this beast where we would remain? So many of us entombed as decade after decade would crawl by and those around us would die off or mentally fade away one at a time. The familiar faces would become fewer and fewer, until the number of those I once knew would greatly outweigh the number of those I now choose not to get to. I know that those I allowed myself to grow too close to would one day be taken away, too, as that was the nature of the beast.

Increasingly, as the years slip away, there are many long nights when I´m unable to sleep. In darkness I silently arise from the steel bunk bolted to the wall. Before the catwalk lights come on and they run breakfast, I sit on the edge of my bunk feeling empty and so alone. As loneliness consumes both body and soul, I stand and move two short steps toward the cold concrete wall. Press my back firmly against it and look straight ahead towards the shadow on the opposite wall six foot away. I imagine I am already dead, and find comfort in that illusion. Inevitably I begin to see beyond the wall where the ground above my imaginary grave gives way to the world beyond. Perhaps, if I stare long enough, I can penetrate the barrier between what once was and could have been my life, and death. I dare to dream of where I want to be: beyond this living death.

But try as I might, the cold concrete wall never truly gives way. The reality of its unyielding nature consumes me yet again. Deep down in my tortured soul, I find myself seeking comfort not in the hope of freedom, but in the freedom that might only come from mortal death. In death, I hope, the misery of my existence might end.

At thirty minute intervals the guards make their “body check” rounds on the outer catwalks to make sure that none of us actually drops dead. It´s not uncommon for them to find one of us hanging from a homemade sheet-rope.  The heavy brass key turns the steel lock of the gate leading onto the tier, and I hear the boot steps getting closer and closer. The tell-tale wag of the flashlight dances through the darkness, and I quickly move back to my bunk and pretend to be asleep until he passes, wondering whether I am the only one that indulges in this ritual. Maybe others around me do too.

A few minutes later, the guard has reached the end of the tier and begins to walk back. I remain nestled in my bunk as if I had never moved at all, and once again the beam of light breaks the darkness, illuminating my solitary cell and quickly moving on to the next. The boot steps fade and I wait for the distinctive sound of the brass key turning the lock, knowing that I will have another 30 minutes before the next unwelcome interruption. I arise, and take my place against the wall once again, and resume my ritual of imaginary death.
Few understand that this ritual is not the abandonment of hope, but rather the evolution of hope. In dreaming of death, I find a perverse form of renewal – a sort of spiritual communion that gives me a newfound strength. In those moments of embracing the step beyond this mortal existence I can feel peace within that I´ve never felt in life. When I allow myself to “die” for those few moments, I bring an end to pain and suffering.

Funny thing about hope is – it´s not fixed in any objective definition, but rather subject to interpretation.  If you had asked me 30 years ago how I defined hope, – I would have said that it was my belief in our justice system, that truth would prevail resulting in my exoneration and release. But now I know that innocence is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the politics of death and our courts will not hesitate to put innocent people to death under the pretense of administering “justice” (check out my website www.southerninjustice.weebly.com).

Once the courts had refused to allow review of my substantiated and consistently pled claim of innocence, even as I came within hours of my own scheduled execution, I found myself feeling betrayed by the concept of hope that I’d held so desperately onto.
The years passed and I grew older and grayer, and was forced to confront the truth. Each day that passed was one more day of my life lost forever and there were now far fewer days left ahead than those behind.  I woke up one morning realizing that as of that day I had spent more of my so-called “life” condemned to death than I’d spent in the free world. That day was many years ago. My arrest was 11,785 days ago (34 years, 5 months, and 15 days as of August 17, 2017).

Hope either evolves or goes extinct.  What we hoped for yesterday is not necessarily what we hope for tomorrow.
Through the years I´ve read many books and articles about the concept of hope and how many find it through spiritual faith. I´ve come to accept that no matter what life, or even death might throw at me, life remains nothing more than the mortal confinement of an eternal soul.  Attempting to define hope within the limited parameters of this temporal existence we call life only leads to disappointment. Often what we truly hope for can never been accomplished in this life.

Recently I read a short story about a Hungarian doctor by the name of Edith Bone, who, at sixty years old was imprisoned and thrown into solitary confinement for seven years, but refused to be broken, as told by author Michael Harris in his book Solitude (summarized in the June 2017 Discover Magazine):
“Dr. Edith Bone has decided not to cry.  On this autumn afternoon in 1956, her seven years of solitary confinement have come to a sudden end.  Beyond the prison gates, the Hungarian Revolutions final, scattered shots are echoing down the streets of Budapest.  Inside the gates, Bone emerges through the prison´s front door into the courtyard´s bewildering sunlight.  She is 68 years old, stout and arthritic. 
Bone was born in Budapest in 1889 and proved an intelligent – if disobedient – child.  She wished to become a lawyer like her father, but this profession was closed to women.  Her options were school-mistress or doctor; she accepted the latter. 
The Great War began soon after her graduation and so she went to work in a military hospital.  Perhaps it was there, seeing the suffering of the poorer classes, that her communist sympathies bloomed; she watched an illiterate soldier, a shepherd before the war, as he cried at the window, cradling his shattered arm and worrying about his lost children.  He was only one broken man among many. 
After the war, Bone devoted herself to political work in England for 16 years, and it was this foreign connection that would excite suspicions of authorities when she returned to communist Budapest in 1949. Secret police stopped her at the airport on her way back to England. 
Inside headquarters, a slim man presented himself, decked in fine clothing and smooth manners.  He took her into his little office and told her they knew she was a spy, an agent for the British Secret Service. “Until you tell us what your instructions were, you will not leave this building.” 
Bone replied, “In that case, I shall probably die here, because I am not an agent of the secret service.” What followed – her seven years and 58 days of solitary confinement – is the stuff of horror films.  She was held in filthy, freezing cells, the walls either dripped with water or were furred with fungus.  She was generally half-starved and always isolated except when confronted by guards.  Twenty-three ill-trained officers interrogated her with insults and threats – once for a 60 hour stretch.  For one period of six months, she was plunged into total darkness. 
And yet her captors received no false confessions, no plea for mercy; their only bounty was the tally of her insolent replies.  It became a kind of recreation for Bone to annoy the prison authorities on the rare occasions when she saw them. 
But Bone´s most extraordinary strategy was not the way she toyed with her captor, it was the way she held sway over herself – the dogged maintenance of her own sanity.  From within that forced void she slowly, steadily, built for herself an interior world that could not be destroyed or stripped from her.  She recited poetry, for starters, translating the verses she knew by heart into each of her six languages.  Then she began composing her own daggered poems. One, made up during her six months without light, praised the saving grace of her “dark-born magic wand.” 
Inspired by a prisoner she remembered from a Tolstoy story, Bone took herself on imaginary walks through all the cities she´d visited.  She strolled the streets of Paris and Rome, and Florence and Milan: she toured the tier garden in Berlin and Mozart´s residence in Vienna. Later, while her feet wore a narrow furrow into the concrete beside her bed, she set out in her mind on a journey home to London.  She walked a certain distance each day and kept a mental record of where she´d left off.  She made the trip four times, each time stopping when she arrived at the Channel, as it seemed too cold to swim. 
Bone's guards were infuriated, but she proved proficient in the art of being alone.  They cut her off from the world and she exercised that art, choosing peace over madness, consolation over despair, and solitude over imprisonment.  Far from being destroyed, Bone emerged from prison, in her own words, “a little wiser and full of hope.”

Each time I read a story about how another did not merely survive, but found the strength to overcome such imprisonment – others such as Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, Deitriech Bonnheifer and so many more – I am inspired. I believe that within each of us we have the strength to overcome and even master anything this life throws at us.

Like Edith Bone, when fate and circumstance cast you down into the bowels of a physical, or even mental prison, escaping that reality is the key to surviving.  No matter how much steel and stone they build around us, no matter how contained our bodies may be, our mind and imagination give us the power to rise above and beyond it all.

Hope is not something set in stone, but rather intangible, even indescribable, the quality that allows us to find the strength to not merely survive, but emerge with our mental capacity still intact and even enhanced.

Reality becomes what we choose it to be – imagination becomes our ticket to “freedom.” In the early years dreams of being free and with my family kept me going. I dreamt of all the things we would do together if I had the opportunity to be part of their lives again.
But as the years passed, dreams of family drifted further and further away. I found my solitary life to be ever more alone. The absence of emotional interaction slowly eroded the way I once defined hope, making it evolve into what it is today: an acceptance that I am and will always be alone.

As each appeal fell on deaf ears, each one a step of the journey, I grew that much closer to accepting the likelihood of being put to death for a crime I did not commit. Once the Florida governor signed an active death warrant on me (which I remain under and my execution could be rescheduled any time) I became even more determined not to allow death to hold any power over me – not to even allow myself to fear death.

And so, once the hope of my physical freedom faded away like the dying embers of a fire, I chose to embrace darkness, indulging in my imaginary death. When my actual death comes at the hands of these state-sanctioned serial killers, they will hold no victory, no cause to celebrate. When my time comes, I will embrace my death just as I do in the darkness of these nights, knowing without doubt, that my spiritual consciousness will then find freedom beyond this thing we call life.

Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida
on October 5, 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

Exhibition in Nobel Peace Centre (Oslo, Norway)

"Tell The World About Us" Exhibition in Nobel Peace Centre (Oslo, Norway) about prisoners around the world and on death row in USA. Pictures of Mike Lambrix were included.


Through the bars of his solitary confinement cell in a detention centre for political prisoners, a prisoner pushed a piece of paper into the hand of photographer Rune Eraker. There was just one sentence written on it:
                                            "Tell the world about us"
This was in 2001. A decade and a half later, Rune Eraker embarked on a four year project in which he sought out forgotten prisoners and others who had had their freedom snatched away.

This exhibition is about them,
those who are imprisoned, isolated, tortured, steam rollered and sentenced - in the worst cases, to death. Some for what they believe in.Others are victims of unjust laws, prejudice, politics, regimes, violence, religion of the devastation of war.
But the exhibition is also about strength.  About courage, the capacity to suffer and endure.


Monday, August 27, 2018

Death by Default

Written by Mike Monday, 16 February 2009

When I was sentenced to death over 24 years ago, in my ignorance I thought my fate might lie in “Old Sparky,” Florida’s then infamous electric chair. I didn’t realize that the reality is that most of those condemned to dearth are not condemned to die at the hands of the state, but slowly rot away in solitaire confinement until they inevitably die of “natural causes.”

Recently several newspapers have reported that in the past decade more men on death row have died of natural causes than of actual executions. According to these published reports at least 29 men have died on Florida’s death row in recent years while waiting their judicially imposed date with death -- a few more have been stabbed by other prisoners and at least one (Frank Valdes) was beaten to death by prison guards. See, Valdes v. Crosby, 450 F. 3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2006).

The truth is that increasingly those sentenced to death are more likely to slowly die of old age than by execution. Although the state sanctioned serial killers (politicians and judges who exploit the death penalty to advance their own pathetic careers) constantly cry about speeding up executions – most of this is rhetoric – the truth is that they actually only want to speed up executions against those they believe they can actually execute… and many of those presently sentenced to death cannot be executed without controversy that would undermine the credibility of the death penalty itself. See, Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied.

That’s the dark secret of the death penalty in America – when the judicial system screws up and sentences someone to death who legally should not have been sentenced to death; then what do you do with him? In Florida, and many other states, it’s become death by default -- killing the condemned when they cannot be executed by simply letting them slowly rot away in a solitary cage until they die of old age, or other convenient “natural cause.”

Earlier today on the wing adjacent to the one I am warehoused on the guards were making their routine rounds when they discovered death row inmate Jack Farrell laying dead in his cell. Preliminary examinations indicate that Jack, a longtime diabetic, died of a massive heart attack. Another dead of “natural causes” after many, many years of waiting for his court ordered death sentence.

Down the hall from me just a few cells away a man I’ve known many years is slowly dying of cancer. Henry Garcia has been locked up almost his whole life. Now well over 50, he has almost nobody other than the friends he has in here. That’s the nature of the beast – as the years pass the condemned become increasingly isolated from the free world. Both family and friends drift away and we find ourselves abandoned and forgotten.

When Henry was told that he had cancer they also told him that it was decided by the medical department that it was not “cost effective” to treat him – that the prison would not even attempt to fight the cancer, but would only let him die… death by default. Now Henry must face a slow but inevitable death alone in his solitary cage – and somehow this is supposed to be “humane.”


Henry died November 2009, read here Mike's essay about Thanksgiving with Henry

Maybe that’s what bothers me the most… we are supposed to be a Christian society, a society that values compassion and humane treatment, and yet we will deliberately turn a blind eye towards the inhumanities that exist in our own backyard.

Maybe if Henry was a mangy stray dog starving on the street then someone might care enough to show him compassion. Am I the only one that’s bothered by the fact that my friend Henry Garcia has now effectively been thrown out alongside the road and left to die while the world races by?

Equally so, what does it say about our system when we allow a man to simply rot away, deliberately deciding that he is not worth saving? How would any one of us feel if we went to our doctor today and were told that we had cancer – but that the doctor decided it was not “cost effective” to treat us and that we have already been given up for dead? How can we call ourselves a humane and civilized society when bureaucrats, who are more concerned with their budget than the patient’s life, decide the value of any person’s life?

If I had access to a telephone, I would personally call the Florida Department of Corrections appointed secretary Jim McDonough and ask him why prison doctors are refusing to treat Henry Garcia – why they have decided to simply let him die. But death row prisoners in Florida are not allowed to use the phone, so I can’t…

You have to excuse my ignorance, but even after spending my entire adult life in a cage in solitary confinement condemned to death for a crime I did not commit, there’s still a part of me that believes that there is good in each of us… that there are still people who are compassionate and do care, even about the welfare of the least of our society. That I’m not the only one who finds it morally offensive that any man should be abandoned and left to die alone. I’ve seen the worst of humanity and lived among the evil incarnate. But I’ve seen men society labeled as monsters show genuine compassion for those they live among while the world outside relentlessly gathers in glorified lynch mobs slobbering at the mouths while screaming for our deaths.

Now I look around me at the world I remain condemned to and I see what society doesn’t want to acknowledge… I see that the malice society has for the lowest of low has reached new heights, as society remains deliberately oblivious to the fact that more and more of those we condemned to death decades ago are rotting away and left to die of “natural causes” when they cannot be killed quick enough by the hands of the State.

And nobody cares. What could be more inhumane than to deliberately confine a man to a cage for decades (many now in excess of 30 years!) and when unable to quickly carry out his execution instead let him slowly rot away until he dies? To be deliberately isolated from the free world, abandoned and forgotten by society and given up for dead as if your life means nothing? Henry Garcia is only one of many others presently condemned to the same fate – death rows across the country have hundreds of condemned men and women perhaps even thousands, who will never actually face execution, but will be left to slowly rot away in their solitary cage until they die. Death by default is America’s new means of carry out the death penalty and this form of execution is administered not in minutes, not in hours, or ever months, or years – but in decades. It is a slow and methodically torturous death that is designed to kill the man’s soul long before the body finally gives up the ghost.

Is this what we, as a self-proclaimed “civilized” society intended? As a matter of moral conscience shouldn’t it bother us that another human being has now been left to die in a such a manner? If these men were dogs, every animal rights group in the country would beat the hates of the prison down to save them – why is it so hard for people to show that same measure of compassion to another human being? As Henry Garcia now slowly dies alone and abandoned by the world beyond, his inevitable death will remain as a commentary on the kind of society we have become – and perhaps that is the greater tragedy.

Michael Lambrix 


(Mike was executed by the state of Florida on October 5, 2017)

Friday, June 29, 2018

To Live & Die on Death Row

 Written by Mike in January, 2009

There’s a song I recall from many, many moons ago in a life now far, far away ~ the words still haunt me from time to time, and I smile… “Once was the thought inside my head, before I reach 30 I’ll be dead…” At 48 years old now. I’ve spent almost my entire adult life in a solitary cage on Florida’s death row. Doing life on death row isn’t about living at all, but about dying slow, a day at a time. If there’s anything even harder than living alone, it’s got to be dying alone, as I only exist in a very small world where death is the only absolute reality and everything else is just part of that path getting there.

But there’s many kinds of deaths ~ there’s the death of the body and the death of the soul. There’s a point man can reach when even physical death is seen as a blessing, as a means in which to end a nightmare that has no end. I remain alive only because I still have the strength within me to cling desperately to the remnants of hope that pass my way. But perhaps hope is the greatest deception of all ~and the loss of hope the cruelest death. I’ve seen it only too often, men I’ve know for years slowly broken down by the existence in this artificial environment until you can see it in their eyes ~ that dull look that means only one thing… they’ve given up hope and now await the fate of the condemned, a fate that ultimately becomes more of a mercy killing than an execution, as that physical death brings with it the promise of freedom from a fate far worse than death itself.

That’s what doing life on death row really is ~ it’s a fate worse than death. It’s being condemned not merely to death, but the torturous, methodical degradation of one’s humanity in a world designed to first break you down and make you something less than human before they finally strap that broken flesh to a cold chair or gurney and ritualistically terminate your existence. In truth, most of those ultimately executed at the hands of the state have already given up the ghost long before and have embraced death as the end of a long journey through a hell few could begin to imagine.

Hanging On To Hope
Each month all of us receive a slip of paper that advises us of any “gain time” we might have received that previous month. By law, the prison officials are required to do this, as well as provide the prisoners “presumptive release date” recalculated each month to reflect the deduction of any gain time that might have been awarded.

Every prisoner on Florida’s death row has a presumptive release date in the year 9999. That gives me only, 7992 years yet to go before my presently scheduled release and I’m already counting it down one day at a time. I’ve read in the Bible that Methuselah lived to the ripe young age of 969 years and that was thousands of years ago. So, with modern medical breakthroughs extending the average lifespan I figure I’ve got a good shot at it… all I’ve got to do is live to be at least 8,039 years old and then I’ll walk out the front gate a free man.

This is the kind of humorous “hope” that we cling on to. When these slips of paper are passed out each month, inevitably someone on the wing will holler out, “Hallelujah, baby ~ I’m coming home!” or just as often one guy hollering down the row for all to hear, “Pack your sh__, Bubba, they’re throwing you out.” And some laugh.

A lot of us talk about going home and in that stolen moment of fantasy we can see the green, green grass of home. For some, this hopeful fantasy evolves into a form of psychosis and they not only believe they’re soon going home, but know the exact date and when that date approaches they even give away their personal belongings and awake that particular morning and await the guards to escort them to the front gate. Reality is nothing more than what any of us chose to perceive it to be, and in their own little corner of their own little world , that’s their reality and in a way I truly do envy them as I remain trapped in my reality.

Through the years many have gone home, having proven before the courts that they were wrongfully convicted and upon that legal exoneration they won their freedom. There’s been more than I can remember, but knowing that there have been so many is, itself, a form of hope.

About five years ago or better a long time friend of mine, Juan Melendez, known affectionately to us as “Puerto Rican Johnny” was on the floor I was on. Johnny and I had lived in the same area out on the streets and we would often talk about places and even people we both knew. Johnny would show me pictures of the house he grew up in, of his elderly mother, and talk about how when he got out he would return home and take care of his mother.

Just before Christmas back then he got word that the lower state court threw out his convictions, recognizing that the state had illegally withheld exculpatory evidence. Mucho Macho Johnny cried that night and in our own way we all shared a tear with him. In the sixteen years that he lived among us, he became our brother. Then a few weeks after Christmas the warden came up on the floor and told Johnny to get his stuff as they were releasing him that day. Johnny’s cell was down towards the end of the hall and as he passed he spoke to each of us momentarily. As Johnny approached my cell I felt only joy ~ sharing his joy ~ as he told me, “Rum and coke, esso” … remembering our promise to have a drink in the free world . And then he was gone, but a part of each one of us walked out that front gate back into the free world with him.

Hope… yet another four letter word, a mistress that can and gladly will deceive and seduce you with her elusive charms. It’s that whisper of a promise that your time there will come too, that gives a man the strength to keep that hope alive. But when hope fails then that mistress can become the Angel of death as that lost hope becomes nothing more than the desperate last act at the end of the rope. And there are few things more despairing than to watch helplessly as the guards rush into a cell in the middle of the night and can be heard cutting a man down, then moments later passing by your cell with the cold body of someone you knew and lived among for years.

Rotting Away One Day At A TimeWhile hope is a stolen luxury that brings with it a fragile strength, death continues to be a reality that cannot be denied. For too many of us now doing life on death row this condemnation is about slowly growing old and rotting away until death claims us not at the hands of an executioner, but by “natural causes.”

Although I have now been on death row almost a quarter of a century, there are many who have been here much, much longer. After the Supreme Court threw out the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia (1972) Florida was the first state to rush newly written laws into effect to allow the continued use of capital punishment. Although these new laws didn’t pass constitutional challenge until 1976 in Proffit v. Florida, many of the men still on Florida’s death row today have been here since at least 1974.

When I was charged with the capital murder case that brought me here, I was 22 years old. Recently divorced at the time, I had three young children; my youngest barely a year old. 

            Mike shortly before being incarcerated

I look in my mirror today and it’s hard to see that young man I once was, as the face looking back is that of a grandfather. My full head of hair is long gone and what hasn’t fallen out is turning gray.

           Mike in 2009

I am not alone. Death by default that’s what it is. Too often when morally corrupt prosecutors know they cannot kill you, they will maliciously drag your case out until you simply die of old age. Under any circumstances living in solitary confinement under the stress of being condemned to death takes its toll upon the physical and mental health of even the strongest men.

Inevitably, we all grow old, and again, death is the only absolute reality. In a way I should consider myself lucky as at least I came to the row while still a young man. There are many more significantly older when they arrived and the years living in a cage were not as easy. For every man executed in the past 30 years, there’s been at least one other slowly rotting away and inevitably dying of old age.

I read recently in the past 10 years alone at least 30 men have died of “natural causes” on Florida’s death row. Some were of old age ~ others of various types of cancer… many I personally knew. With so many here now for well over 25 and even 30 years, death row is growing gray. At the front of each death row floor there is a handicapped cell intended to house the many who are already confined to wheelchairs. More than a few are now over 75 and will almost certainly slowly rot away and die in their cell as even if they lost all their appeals the governor would not sign a death warrant on them as it’s politically incorrect to put an old, physically disabled man to death ~ but it’s perfectly acceptable to, instead, let him rot away until he eventually dies.

In some cases this is actually by intent and purpose. I know at least a few here today who have lost touch with reality and if ever scheduled for execution the courts would be forced to reduce their sentence to life as it’s constitutionally prohibited to execute a person who has become legally insane. It’s also politically unacceptable to recognize their insanity and reduce their sentences to life. So that they can be transferred to a prison psychiatric unit and receive proper care. The solution is to simply ignore them ~ to deliberately let them rot away until they die in that cage. Inevitably they do… they always do.

But nobody cares. When was the last time you saw any newspaper talk about the many on death rows growing old and dying alone? Recently a national debate about the constitutionality of using lethal injection as a means of carrying out executions generated substantial media interest after Angel “Popo” Diaz was allegedly “tortured” to death by a botched execution and witnesses said it took at least 24 minutes to kill him…. 24 minutes.

But what of the many more who are slowly dying in their cells? If prolonging a man’s death for 24 minutes constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, then why can’t it also be argued that allowing a man to slowly rot away in solitary confinement for many decades until he dies is also cruel and unusual? As a presumably civilized society we are ultimately defined by the measure of humanity we show to others and yet nothing personifies that malignant evil within the heart of man than by looking at the inhumanity we so deliberately inflict upon the least of the least ~ and nothing in our contemporary society illustrates this truth better than the deliberate deprivation imposed upon the condemned ~ it’s not enough to want to take our lives, society demands that we must also suffer until we are slowly broken and then ~ for those who are lucky ~ something less than human is put to death.

From Cockroaches and Rodents to Rats and Snakes
When I first came to death row in March of 1984 this was a much different place ~ not only physically, but the mentality was different. At that time Florida’s main death row was at Florida State Prison, long infamous as the end of the line, where prisoners were warehoused when they could not be securely kept elsewhere. Physically, the wings housing death row were comparable to Third World living conditions. In the winter we froze and in the summer we boiled. With “open wings” (the interior of the wings open from the first tier all the way up to the third tier) it was noisy, as a hundred men would be yelling or watching TV or whatever. With no screens on the always broken windows, the wings were quite literally infested with cockroaches, rodents, even snakes, and birds ~ and then there were many wild cats that would come in to feed off the mice and rats.


But as bad as the physical conditions were it was a better place. In 1992 they built and opened a new building designed exclusively to house death row. Soon after the majority of the over 300 condemned were transferred to this “Northeast Unit” of the Union Correctional Institution. As I write this I can look outside the window on the catwalk and in the distance I can see the Florida State Prison ~ so close, and yet so far away.

At “FSP,” as we call it, there was a unity ~ even a “brotherhood” ~ that tied us all together. We lived in close proximity to each other and looked out for each other. If a guard came down and screwed with one of us without cause, he took on the whole wing. Although there were always a few assholes and idiots on both sides of the bars, most of us looked out for each other. Back then you knew the difference between a convict and an inmate and a correctional officer and a guard ~ and there is a world of difference. A convict is a stand up guy whose word is his bond and he knew enough to mind his own business and keep his mouth shut when he didn’t know something for a fact. An inmate was seen as a prison rat; the lowest form of life; worthy of no respect. An inmate was by nature unworthy of respect, he was the kind of guy who would lie, gossip, and backstab even his own best friend; often for no reason at all. Inmates were rare on death row back then.

Equally so, the difference between a corrections officer (known only as an “officer”) and a guard was like night and day. An officer came in to work his eight hours and go home ~ it’s just a job and he wasn’t going to take it personally. An officer had no personal malice towards the prisoners and didn’t go out of his way to provoke anyone. If he came in to do a cell search (“shakedown”) he did it without maliciously destroying your property and didn’t have to prove his manhood by being a jerk. Although avoided as much as possible, officers were respected ~ guards were not.

A guard was commonly referred to as inbred redneck scum, the kind of guy who got the job because he couldn’t work anywhere else. A guard didn’t just work eight hours ~ he lived the job and it ate him away like a cancer until all that was left was a bitter broken man who went out of his way to make everyone else miserable. He has malice in his heart and was looked upon with nothing less than contempt, not only by prisoners, but the officers who respected their job.

In those early years a man was allowed to do his own time. In the early 80’s we had only just began to see politicians begin to campaign on promises to lock up more people and make sure prisoners did “hard time.” Although physically our environment was deplorable, we would all gladly go beck if we could have all our privileges returned. Back then we had packages sent in from family and friends four times a year with personal clothes, shoes, cosmetics, maybe even a decent watch or ring and a nice radio. We were allowed to receive “hobby craft” packages monthly with materials for painting, crocheting, and all sorts of other stuff. All of that is long gone now ~ nothing comes in from the outside world anymore and anything we might get must be bought from the prison store at significantly marked up prices; the profits used to subsidize our incarceration, as the prison system has become a virtual industry with thousands of companies now dependant upon contracts they receive to provide everything from the food we eat to the toilet paper we wipe our asses with. It’s all about politics now.

Death row has changed, in every conceivable way. No longer is a man able to do his own time and mind his own business. A new generation has taken over and even so many of the old timer “convicts” are now nothing more than inmates themselves. Because of this death row has become hard time as now not only do we live in a much more deliberately segregated building with only 14 men on each closed run, but you learn to keep to yourself as the man you call a friend today will only too quickly backstab you tomorrow. Respect means nothing in this new generation. And it’s become a much lonelier place.

Watching the World Slip AwayI see that outside world only through the very limited media I’m allowed… a small TV, which the powers that be have determines necessary to prevent against insanity ~ if I were to go insane, then they could not kill me. A small “walkman” type battery powered radio, that doesn’t pick up any stations, and a few magazines and newspapers.

In my world there are no computers, no cell phones, and none of the electronic conveniences that most people take for granted. In the past 24 years I have not touched dirt or grass as our small fenced yard is nothing more than a concrete pad between two wings. I sometimes wonder if the moon and stars still exist as I haven’t seen the night sky in so many years it becomes hard to even remember it.

The deprivation of material those material things that most people simply take for granted out there in the real world certainly pale in comparison to those things that really do matter; especially in this world ~ those things that once separated make it seem that we are helplessly watching the world slowly slipping away.

It is the nature of prison to alienate a man from those he loves. For most, with very few exceptions, as the years pass the few family and friends that once stood by slowly drift away and move on with their own lives. Through the years I can count on the fingers of a single hand the number of death row prisoners who have had family consistently stand by them. Friends tend to drift away even quicker.

That’s not to say they deliberately abandon those they love at the time they need them most. I’d like to believe that most of our families and friends never intended to abandon any of us, but simply moved on and we became less and less of their lives. I’m personally blessed with a large family but haven’t had any communication at all with most of them for many, many years. Life out there in the real world doesn’t come to a stop just because we are no longer in it and as time takes its toll the distance becomes greater and before you know it you’re no longer part of their lives. That’s just the reality of doing time. Accepting that reality doesn’t make it any easier and many in here do turn cold and bitter as they’re abandoned by those who mean the most.

Most of us learn early on not to count on anyone other than ourselves. Contrary to a popular myth the prison doesn’t provide all our needs ~ at best, it provides only the absolute minimum and even then does so in such a way that encourages ~ if not coerces ~ each prisoner to actually purchase even the basic necessities from the prison store, as with each purchase the prison makes a substantial profit.

Without a friend or two outside willing to help prisoners ~ especially those on death row ~ can become even worse than what might be imagined. At least in general population most prisoners can work a job and “hustle” for what they need through a long established barter system. Death row prisoners are not allowed to work a job and have no means in which to barter ~ our only means of survival with minimal comfort is through the compassion and generosity of those who care about us.

As family and friends tend to drift away we are forced to try and reach out to new friends and establish new ties with that outside world. But there are many who hold nothing but malice in their hearts towards prisoners ~ especially death row prisoners ~ and have exerted political pressure to pass laws that now prohibit prisoners from placing personal ads that might allow them to meet new friends, perhaps even a girlfriend who might want to visit.

Florida is unique in the country in implementing these draconian rules prohibiting prisoners from attempting to meet new friends and the result can be seen ~ more and more. Those of us who have been here the longest are increasingly isolated from the free world; effectively abandoned and left to die alone. More and more I see strong men break down and give up, unwilling to have to beg their neighbors for a simple cup of coffee or bar of soap and slowly retreating into his own world of self consuming bitterness and anger and a fate far worse than death.

When it comes down to it, that’s what doing life on death row is really all about… it’s not about living, but about dying one slow day at a time. It’s about simply existing in a solitary concrete crypt. Increasingly isolated from all that really matters, of being methodically deprived of the most basic elements that make us human ~ companionship, compassion, and hope, as hope itself is dependent upon a reason to live.

As I am increasingly isolated from all that matters, that hope and will to live continues to erode ~ I’m not doing life on death row … I’m simply waiting to make my death final.

Mike Lambrix

Mike's website: Southern Injustice

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to Murder

The PEN Prison Writing Contest just released the winners for the 2017-18 contest and Mike placed third in the essay category with this essay. 

Written for MinutesBeforeSix
As if a scene straight out of The Twilight Zone, circumstances trapped me within the cold and calculated process that resulted in the murder by state sanctioned execution of Oscar Ray Bolin on January 7, 2016. In all the years I´ve been on Florida´s death row, I´ve never been in such close proximity to an execution as it unfolded around me, forcing me to become part of the very process that they intended to then subject me to in precisely five weeks’ time.

On November 30, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed my death warrant and I was immediately transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional (less than a mile away) to the “death watch” housing area on the bottom floor of Q-Wing at Florida State Prison. I joined Oscar down there—his own death warrant had been signed about 5 weeks earlier and they intended to murder him on January 7. There are only three cells in the death watch area, and Oscar was in cell one, and I was place in cell three, with an empty cell separating us.

Through those five weeks, each day brought him closer—his wife of almost twenty years solidly by his side, uncompromised in her commitment to stand by him and prove that he was innocent. And those familiar with the case knew that recently developed evidence did establish a persuasive issue of innocence, too.

His final rounds of appeals focused specifically on evidence supporting his innocence and the hope that the courts would do the right thing. As the New Year weekend passed, the Federal District Court summarily denied review of his innocence claim upon the finding that the lower Federal Court didn´t have jurisdiction to hear his claim of innocence. But there was hope, as the District Court granted a “Certificate of Appealability” (“C.O.A.”) authorizing appellate review before the Eleventh Circuit, and soon after the Eleventh Circuit issued an order establishing a “briefing schedule” in March…it seemed all but certain that Oscar would be granted a stay of execution and his claim of innocence would be fully briefed and heard by the appellate court.

Monday, January 4 passed as he anxiously awaited word that a stay of execution would be granted, but there was only silence from the court. Each day his wife spent every minute she could and it is impossible to imagine the pain she felt—she too was unquestionably a victim caught up in this cold process that unfolded around her.

I sat in my solitary cell not more than ten feet away and found myself impressed with the strength Oscar exhibited, and the concern he held for his wife and what this process inflicted on her. Society wanted to label this man a cold-blooded killer, yet if only those only too willing to throw stones could see the desperate concern he had for his wife, they could see how wrong they are.

Now I struggle to find the words—and with a reluctance to even write about what I involuntarily witnessed. But if I don´t, then who will? And is it really fair that the record of what transpired would otherwise be the state´s own version, leaving no perspective from those that they kill?

I must emphasize that even as much as these events impacted me due to my close proximity to this process, it is not comparable to what they were forced to endure, and the loss those who loved Oscar Bolin suffered. My attempt to share what transpired from my own unique perspective is done in the hope that perhaps by bearing witness, others would see just how incomprehensibly inhuman this process is, and how truly cold-blooded this act of murder is…and to know it is carried out in all of our names.

And I apologize for rambling on—it is not easy for me to find the necessary words. I can only hope that I can convey the true impact of what unfolded and compel those that read this to ask themselves whether this truly is what we aspire our society to be? It´s easy to justify the death penalty by claiming that it is in the interest of justice to kill those convicted of killing another—to become a killer ourselves. 

But how many give a thought at all to just how much contemplation is put into this process employed to take that life? I am again reminded of what I once read, written by the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”

Think about that. It´s easy to dismiss what I say by blindly insisting that a jury convicted Oscar Bolin of murder and that justice demands that society take his life. But really—who is actually investing more conscious thought into the act of taking a human life?

It is for this reason I´m determined to share my own unique perspective of what this process is, and how by these very actions it reduces society itself to that very level of becoming “the monster.” Perhaps in my attempt to share this, others can see just how wrong this is.

On the early morning of Monday, January 4, the day began with the death watch staff advising both me and Oscar of our scheduled visits and phone calls for that day, I had already asked my family and friends not to visit that week as I didn´t want my visits to interfere in any way with Oscar´s visits. All I had was a phone call from my son early that morning and a legal phone call with my lawyer later that day.

Oscar had a visit with his wife and both anxiously awaited any word from the Eleventh Circuit courts hoping that a full stay of execution would come and the court would allow full and fair review of his innocence claim. But the day passed without any word from the court. By that evening Bolin was down to 72 hours—and I know from personal experience how difficult that was, as I had come within hours of execution myself when I was on death watch years earlier—only I was granted a stay.

By Tuesday morning, January 5, Oscar was down to sixty hours, and the clock continued to tick away and yet still nothing from the courts on whether they would allow his claim of innocence to be heard. Oscar spent from late morning until mid-afternoon with his wife in the non-contact visiting area. Upon his return, his demeanor was more subdued and the stress and anxiety he felt became all but tangible. And as I sat silently a few feet away in my own solitary cell, I wondered whether any of those willing to take his life gave even so much as a moment of thought into what they were inflicting upon other human beings—and again, Oscar was not the only one forced to count down those final hours anxiously hoping that phone would ring with the news that the court would allow his claim of innocence to be heard…every second of every moment, every hour that passed inflicted incomprehensible pain upon his wife and those that cared for him.

That evening passed in an uncomfortable silence as the courts would have closed their doors for the night and no news would come until at least that next morning. That psychological trauma of uncertainty weighed heavily upon them.

I doubt Oscar slept much that Tuesday night—I know I didn´t. His T.V. remained on into the early morning hours. By that next morning (Wednesday) he was down to about thirty six hours until his still scheduled execution and still no word from the court. It would be a long day. They brought the breakfast trays as they did each morning, but neither of us had any interest in eating. Down here on death watch, our meals are kept under direct supervision of security staff to ensure nobody (other prisoners or staff) has any chance of tampering with the food or smuggling anything to the condemned prisoner.

This methodical countdown to the intended execution actually starts a full week before, when they remove all personal property from the condemned prisoner´s cell, placing him (or her) on “Phase II.” From the moment they place the condemned prisoner on Phase II (that final week) a guard is posted directly in front of the cell twenty four hours a day, his only job to observe the condemned prisoner to ensure he (or she) doesn´t attempt suicide or harm themselves—and a few have tried. Any activity is written in a forest green “Death Watch Log.” Throughout this time, not even for one second are you allowed to forget that they are counting down your last days—and last hours.

Oscar again had a visit with his wife as she stood faithfully by him spending every moment she could—even if those visits were restricted to a few hours of non-contact (through glass) visits.

By early afternoon Oscar returned to his death watch cell—still no word from the court. The hours dragged by as Oscar talked to the guard stationed in front of his cell, simply talking about anything at all.

Warden Palmer came down, accompanied by Deputy Secretary Dixon (the second highest Department of Corrections employee). They talked to Oscar for a while mostly just to check on how he was holding up. But the preparations had begun and that final twenty four hours was quickly approaching. After they talked to Oscar, they stepped that few feet further down to the front of my cell and spoke to me.

I must admit that I was impressed by their professionalism and their sincerity that bordered on genuine concern. Perhaps the most heard expression on death watch is an almost apologetic “we´re just doing our job” and the truth is that the current staff assigned to work the death watch area and interact with the condemned prisoners counting down their final hours do go to great lengths to treat us with a sense of dignity and respect seldom even seen in the prison system.

The significance of this cannot be understated. I´ve been down here on death watch before years ago and came within hours of being executed myself, and there´s always been a deliberate distance between the condemned and the staff—especially the higher ranking staff. But it´s different this time. In the five weeks that I´ve been down here almost daily high ranking staff have come down to the death watch housing area and made a point of talking to us in an informal manner, abandoning that implicit wall of separation between them and us.

And now none other than the Deputy Secretary himself personally came down to talk to us—I´ve never heard of this before. Shortly after they left, Oscar asked the sergeant for the barber clippers. He wanted to shave his own chest and legs, rather than have them do it the next day. It had to be done, as the lethal injection process requires the attachment of heart monitors and Oscar preferred to shave it himself—as most would.

Oscar received another legal phone call later that afternoon—now down to almost twenty four hours until his scheduled execution and still no decision by the Eleventh Circuit as to whether or not they´d allow review of his innocence claim. The lawyers would call if any news came, but it was assumed that the judges deciding his fate already called it a day and went home. No further phone call came that night. Again Oscar stayed up late, unable to sleep until sometime in the early morning hours and he was not alone, as sleep would be hard to come by.

We reached the day of execution. Typically, they change shifts at 6:00 a.m. working a full twelve hour shift. But on days of scheduled execution, they change shifts at 4:30 a.m., as with the execution scheduled at 6:00 p.m. they cannot do a shift change then, as the entire institution will go on lockdown during that time.

With that final twenty four hours now counting down, each minute was managed by strict “Execution Day” protocol, and the day started earlier than usual. As if an invisible cloud hung in the air, you could all but feel the weight of this day as it was that tangible, and undoubtedly more so on Oscar. But he was holding up remarkably well, maintaining his composure even though the strain was obvious in his voice. How does one go about the day that they know they are to die? Again, I´ve been there myself and I know how he felt and it cannot easily be put into words.

Oscar was diabetic and as with each morning, the nurse came to check his blood sugar level and administer insulin, if necessary. Now within that final twelve hours, nothing would be left to chance. Around 7:00 a.m., they let Oscar take a shower, and then after locking down the entire institution, they took him up front for a last visit with his wife. They would be allowed a two hour non-contact visit until 10:00 a.m., then an additional one hour contact visit—the last visit before the scheduled execution.

Shortly after 11:00 a.m. they escorted Oscar back to the Q-Wing death watch cell. A few minutes later “Brother Dale” Recinella was allowed to come down and spend a few hours with Oscar as his designated spiritual advisor. Contrary to the Hollywood movies depicting the execution process, the prison chaplain is rarely, if ever, involved as each of us are allowed to have our own religious representative—and many choose “Brother Dale” as he is well-known and respected amongst the death row population.

Many years ago Brother Dale was a very successful lawyer, making more money than most can dream of. But then he experienced a life-changing event and spiritual transformation, as chronicled in his book “And I Walk on Death Row”. Brother Dale and his equally-devoted wife Susan gave up their wealth and privilege and devoted their lives to their faith and ministering to death row.                                      

Even as these final hours continued to count down, I remained in that solitary cell only a few feet away and unable to escape the events as the continued to unfold around me. There are only three cells on death watch and I found it odd that they kept me down here as they proceeded with this final process—when I was on death watch in 1988, they moved me upstairs to another cell removed from the death watch area as they didn´t want any other prisoners in the death watch area as these final events unfolded.

Brother Dale left about 2:00 p.m. and the death watch lieutenant, a familiar presence on death watch, then made a point of talking to Oscar and they went over the protocol—shortly before 4:00 p.m. he would shower again and then be brought around to the west side of the wing where they had only one cell immediately adjacent to the door that led to the execution chamber. I listened as this process was explained, knowing only too well that in precisely five more weeks I would be given the same talk.

The warden and Asst. warden came down again and talked to Oscar. A few minutes later the Secretary (director) of the Florida Department of Corrections, Julie Jones, personally came to Oscar´s cell and sat in a chair and talked to him—I´ve never heard of that happening before. But her tone of voice and mannerisms reflected genuine empathy towards Oscar, and he thanked her for taking that time to talk to him.

As they now closed in on that final two hours before the scheduled execution, Oscar received another phone call from his lawyer—the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals still had not ruled on whether they would grant a stay of execution and allow a full review of his pled innocence claim. Oscar´s voice was obviously stressed. Per protocol, the nurse gave him 5 mg. valium to calm his nerves.

Just before 4:00 p.m., Oscar spoke to me, wanting to talk about a problem he and I had years ago—a problem that I alone was responsible for and of which I have often regretted. In the five weeks we had been on death watch together, it was not spoken of. But now, to my amazement, even dealing with all that he was dealing with, Oscar wanted me to know that he forgave me for what I did. And for a few minutes we talked. And then the warden and his staff removed Oscar from his cell and escorted him around to the west side of the wing, to the execution chamber holding cell, where he would remain until the court cleared the way for execution, or he received a stay of execution and was brought back to this side.

A single sergeant remained on this side, and for the first time since I was brought to death watch I was alone as the sergeant remained at the desk just outside the cell block area—and I didn´t want to be alone. As I do often, especially when stressed, I paced in my cell anxious to hear any word on what was going on and checking my watch almost every minute, and each minute dragged by so slowly it was almost as if time itself had stopped and I couldn´t begin to imagine what Oscar and his wife were going through.

At irregular intervals the sergeant would walk down to my cell to check on me and I asked whether there was any more news. The Eleventh Circuit had denied his appeal and the case quickly moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court. The designated time of scheduled execution—6:00 p.m.—came and went without any word from the Supreme Court.

Oscar would remain in that holding cell until the Supreme Court cleared the way for execution—but at least both he and his loved ones still had hope as the minutes continued to tick away.

Most don´t realize just how many people are involved in this execution process and everybody remained on hold not knowing whether the execution would proceed or not. Immediately adjacent to my cell was a solid steel door that led directly into a hallway stretching the entire width of the wing. Just inside this door was an area with a coffee pot and chairs, and I could hear a number of unknown people congregated only a few feet away from me on the other side of the door as they discussed the continued uncertainty.

A larger crowd of unknown participants congregated on the lower quarter-deck area between the west side of the wing where the death watch housing area was and the door that led into the east side where Oscar remained in the holding cell. I couldn´t make out what they were saying and wondered, especially when I periodically heard laughter. I suppose this long wait was stressful on them, too, and a moment of levity could be forgiven. And yet I found myself wondering what they could possibly find funny as they awaited that moment of time when they would each assume their assigned task and take the life of another human being.

One hour passed, and then another, and another yet. Then at almost 10:00 p.m. it suddenly got quiet—very quiet. All the voices that continuously hummed both behind that steel door and the quarter-deck area just suddenly went silent and without anyone around to tell me; I knew that they all moved to their positions in the execution chamber.
                             Vigil Oscar Bolin

It remained utterly silent—so quiet that I could hear the coffee pot percolating at the sergeant´s desk on the other side of the gate and I held my watch as the minutes passed and I strained to hear any sound at all. But there was nothing and I knew they were now putting Oscar to death. I cannot explain it, but I just felt it—and I got on my knees and I prayed, and yet I couldn´t find any words and found myself kneeling at my bunk in silence for several minutes.

Then I heard what sounded like a door on the other side of that concrete wall that separated my cell from the execution chamber. Then I once again heard muffled voices on the other side of that steel door. It was over and it went quickly…Oscar was dead. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a number of people going up the stairs leading away from the execution chamber. Their job was done and in an orderly manner they were leaving.

For obvious reasons, I didn´t sleep that night. Only a few feet behind that wall of my cell, Oscar´s body now lay growing cold. There are no words that can describe how I felt, but that emptiness that consumed me and left me laying in my bunk in complete silence through the night.

Somewhere in the early morning hours I fell asleep, only to awaken just after 7:00 a.m. It was a new day. The death watch Lieutenant was already here and I was now the only one left on death watch. But just that quickly, I was instructed that I had to immediately pack my property as they had to move me to cell one—the cell that Oscar only recently vacated.

I didn´t want to move to that cell, but I didn´t have any choice. That was the same cell I previously occupied in late 1988 when I myself came within hours of my own execution (read, “The Day God Died”) and especially knowing that only a few hours again Oscar was in that cell still alive and holding on to hope, I just didn´t want to be moved to that cell. Every person who has been executed in the State of Florida in the past forty years was housed in that cell prior to their execution.

But it wasn´t a choice and I obediently packed my property and with the officer´s assistance, I was moved from cell three to cell one. And as I worked on putting all my property back where it belonged (storing it in the single steel footlocker bolted firmly to the floor), a long-awaited phone call from my close friend Jan Arriens came through.

While on death watch, we are allowed two personal phone calls each week, and since my warrant was signed five weeks earlier, I had anxiously awaited the opportunity to talk to Jan, but through the Christmas holiday he was visiting his family in Australia. Having only recently returned to his home in England, he arranged this phone call.

It was good to hear a friendly voice just at that time when I most especially needed a friend. But we only had a few minutes to talk and unlike those eternal moments of the night before, these minutes passed far too quickly. But just hearing the voice of a friend comforted me.

Shortly after that phone call, I then had a legal visit and was escorted to the front of the prison to meet with my lawyer´s investigator. We spent hours going over legal issues and then it was back to the death watch cell. Not long after I returned, I learned that the governor had already signed another death warrant. This machinery of death continued to roll along. By mid-afternoon a familiar face was brought down to join me…Mark Asay (who we call “Catfish”) had his death warrant signed that morning, with his execution scheduled for March 17, exactly 5 weeks after my own scheduled execution.

With the methodical precision of a mechanical machine, Florida has resumed executions with a vengeance, establishing a predictable pattern of signing a new death warrant even before the body of the last executed prisoner has grown cold.

Now I remain in the infamous “cell one,” next in line to be executed—and on February 11, 2016 at 6:00 p.m., the State of Florida plans to kill me. Until then, I will remain in a cell in which the last twenty three occupants, without exception, resided until their own execution. I do not like being in this solitary cell. 

Mike Lambrix

Mike's website: Southern Injustice 

(Mike was executed by the state of Florida on October 5, 2017, Mark Asay was executed August 24, 2017)