As many of the regular readers of my blogs already know, on December 18 I was abruptly transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional to the old death row unit at Florida State Prison, where all of Florida’s death row prisoners used to be housed before they built and opened the ‘new’ unit at Union Correctional in 1992.
Coming back to this old prison was not something I anticipated as the last time I was housed at this old prison I was brutally assaulted by the guards in an attempt to silence me as I had witnessed the gangs of guards physically assault many other prisoners, leading up to the deliberate murder of another death row prisoner by the name of Frank Valdes. His own brutal assault and murder is graphically detailed in the federal court ruling Valdes v. Crosby, 450 f.3d 1231 (11th cir. 2006) and anyone who might doubt that violence against prisoners in American prisons doesn’t happen should read that case as it describes the systematic assaults and even murder of countless prisoners at this prison. I would strongly encourage you to read it so you can see how Florida often treats death sentenced prisoners.
After that 1999 incident I was transferred to the main deathrow unit at UCI which is just a short distance down the road from here. The state then paid me a substantial amount of money to drop the lawsuit, and I agreed to ‘settle’ the case- but only on the specific condition that I would not be transferred back to Florida State Prison. By now transferring me back here they’ve deliberately violated the specific terms/ conditions of that federal court settlement, so now I fully intend to reopen that federal lawsuit and this time I will demand a public jury trial to fully expose this prison’s long history of violently abusing prisoners.
But although I certainly do not like being here, it’s not too bad as by coming back over here I am able to see many old friends I’ve known for years, including Paul Johnson.
I’ve known Paul for many, many years, and of the many hundreds, if not thousands of prisoners I have known in all these long years, Paul is one of the very, very few who I would gladly welcome in my own home. He’s as straight as they come, and that’s a quality that is very rare in any prison. But a few months back Florida’s governor ‘Chaingang Charlie’ Crist eagerly gave in to a political campaign to try to expedite Paul’s execution, even though he was not ‘death warrant’ eligible, and signed a death warrant to schedule Paul’s execution in an attempt to obstruct and circumvent his pending appeals.
But the Florida Supreme Court then stayed Paul’s execution, publicly condemning Governor Crist’s politically motivated attempt to deny Paul a fair review of his appeal by insidiously pushing for an expedited execution. The court’s senior Justice, Barbara Pariente, made it very clear that Gov Crist engaged in improper misconduct when signing Paul’s death warrant while his appeal was still pending.
As coincidence would have it, once I was transferred back to this zoo, I was placed in a cell on the same floor and in close proximity to Paul, even though he remained on ‘death watch.’ And I enjoyed many long conversations with him, especially when we went out to the recreation yard for a few hours twice a week. Paul sends his thanks to all of you who have sent him cards and letters of support.
One of the conversations I had with Paul really shocked me, and believe me, after a quarter of a century on death row there’s not a lot that shocks me anymore! I have been on death watch myself and even come within hours of actual execution, not just once, but twice (please read, Doing Life on Death Row) and so I’ve been through the Phase 11 of death watch, which is when they come down to measure you for the suit the state so generously provides to kill you in, and you order your last meal and write down your ‘last will and testament.’
But when I went through all of that the state still used the infamous ‘Old Sparky’ ~ the electric chair. They’ve since switched to lethal injection as the means to which to now put the condemned to death after numerous prisoners quite literally burst into flames in the electric chair and challenges of cruel and unusual punishment were pursued ~ somehow they think injection is more ‘humane.’
So, of course I asked Paul how they do it now. Although it may seem a little morbid for two condemned prisoners to compare notes on how the state intended to kill them, when you’ve lived in the shadow of death for as long as me and Paul have, it is just part of ‘normal’ conversation.
But not even I could not have anticipated the horror that Paul described. Apparently the state is now concerned about reaching that hour of execution only to find that the prisoner’s veins are damaged and then there may be a problem in killing him, as there have been numerous executions, such as that of Angel Diaz, who were slowly and deliberately tortured to death two years ago here in Florida, which they claimed was his fault as his veins were damaged from years of drug use.
So now they’ve come up with a new procedure which to my knowledge has never been publicly exposed before, and should certainly shock the conscience of any person of conscience. Here’s how Paul described it to me ~ about a week after he was moved down to the bottom of Q wing, where Florida’s death house is, suddenly the back door that leads to the actual execution chamber opened. From personal experience, I know that this solid steel door is only a few feet from the cell they keep you in while on death watch.
Through this door walked in at least four, perhaps even 6 people who were fully dressed in plastic ~ like suits and a full helmet/mask over their head like we have often seen in the movies ~ such as those who handle nuclear waste. Slowly they marched single file only to stop in front of Paul’s death watch cell, then facing him they demanded to examine his veins. Paul says that even the small widow in the front of their uniforms was concealed, so that he could not see their faces.
As if he were nothing more than a piece of meat, without showing even the slightest semblance of humanity, this state sanctioned ‘death squad’ coldly examined Paul’s veins on his arms and talked openly among themselves about how his veins seemed to be alright. Paul was ordered to stand there as they took turns examining each arm, agreeing with each other that they would have no problem inserting the lethal chemicals to deliberately put a man to death.
Once they all agreed that Paul’s veins would pose no problems when they were called to kill him, then they turned and filed back through that solid steel door that leads to the execution chamber.
I cannot even imagine this utterly surreal scene that Paul described ~ nor can I imagine how unconscionable such an act is. Never before, other than the infamous death squads of third world countries, have I heard of a group of deliberately concealed and masked men approach a condemned prisoner and without even a hint of humanity, coldly examine him with the intent to put him to death. This is America, we don’t have masked death squads that serve the government and it shocks me that they would do such a thing. But I have also to wonder- am I the only one who is shocked by the use of death squads in the USA? What does it say about the society we have become that a state government can act in such an unconscionable and inhumane manner? Equally so, what does it say about our so-called civilized society that others are not as equally shocked by this?
Well, the good news is that this cold blooded state sanctioned death squad will not inflict deliberate death upon Paul Johnson as this past week the Florida Supreme Court has thrown out Paul’s death sentence upon finding that the state deliberately engaged in misconduct leading to his death sentence. Within the next few months Paul will be sent back to Polk county for a new sentencing phase trail and I pray that he will then be sentenced to ‘life’ rather than death.
As for me, I remain in this zoo hoping that my own nightmare will soon end. But just knowing that the Florida Supreme court was willing to stand up against the immoral politically motivated attempts to have Paul expeditiously executed gives us all hope that the courts will still recognize state misconduct and throw out death sentences obtained illegally. And we should all now pray that the lower court that will review Paul’s new sentencing will show its own compassion and humanity and sentence Paul to something other than death.
Please read also my website www.southerninjustice.net