I have been on Florida’s death row now well over a quarter of a century and in these many years I’ve been an indirect and involuntary witness to more executions than I can count. Most of those who were methodically murdered by the state were men that I came to know well through years of living in close proximity of each other and became close to as of we were all part of a large extended family.
In the past I have written many stories about executions from my own perspective, mostly talking about the man who was put to death, to remind those who might read my words that the man was a unique person with value as a fellow human being. It’s often just too easy to see only what we want to see and in the case of those we condemn to death, perhaps it is too convenient to believe that this person was nothing more than a monster and we deny any redeeming quality.
But each of those individuals did possess that measure of humanity that gives their life meaning. Each had family and friends that cared for them and will now grieve at their death. No matter what the nature of the alleged crime was that they were led them to the execution chamber, they still each laughed and cried like all of us do and if only we could miraculously remove that momentary transgression that resulted in another death, than most of those would be no different than those we live among in our communities.
Yesterday the state of Florida put Martin Grossman to death. Those of us who knew him called him “Eddie” He had been on Florida’s death row almost as long as I have and through the years I came to know him as a generous and giving individual, who did not hesitate to share what little he had with others around him.
Eddie was a good natured guy with a quick sense of humor. He had a way of making others around him laugh and if only for a few moments forget about the hellhole we live in. His character possessed a quiet and respectful sense of integrity that those who knew him came to respect. Although kind of a big guy, he was never a bully and he stood up for the little guy on many occasions.
It bothers me that the world judges him only by the alleged crime that led him to death row. Even assuming that he did what the state claimed, the objective facts establish that he was a troubled teenager who, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, spontaneously responded to an event that led to the death of the law enforcement officer (a game warden). But did he go out and commit a deliberate act of murder? I just don’t think so.
Now Eddie is gone and he will be missed. But there’s something about the execution of Eddie that really bothers me, and I think would bother anyone of moral conscience. This execution was unlike any other that I’ve seen carried out and reflects what can only be described as a sickness that has no place in any so-called civilized society.
I spent many hours. Long into the night last night trying to find a way to put into words why I found the ritual of Eddie’s execution so offensive. In the many, many years that I’ve been on death row, when the state did carry out executions, it has always been the policy of the prison administrators to maintain as much of a “normal” routine inside the prison as possible. Wardens painstakingly made a point of minimizing any reminders that an execution was being carried out. Of course we all knew that on the next wing over they were methodically putting a man to death, a man that each of us personally knew. But by maintaining a daily routine, it was something we could detach from in a way and not be forced to deal with. But now for the first time ever Florida has adopted in-your-face executions where all the prisoners of Florida State Prison are now effectively forced to involuntarily participate in these ritualistic executions.
I’m certainly not the only one who found this new policy offensive and inhumane – a number of prison staff even attempted to take the day off just so they would not have to participate, but were told they could not.
What made yesterday’s execution completely different from any other that I’ve seen carried out in all the years I have been here is how the new warden of Florida State Prison went out of his way to make this an all day event. Up until now those who ran he prison had enough sense and humanity to know that forcing other prisoners to be reminded of what was going on, and making them unwilling participants, could only cause a lot of tension and anxiety among the prison population and could contribute to possible escalations and even violence.
But unlike before, when any change of routine was minimized, yesterday all the staff was ordered to dress up in their dress uniforms, typically only worn when a visiting dignitary was inspecting the troops. That meant wearing neckties and spotless uniforms and polished boots. Although to those unfamiliar with the daily grind of prison life that might not seem like such a big deal, it actually is the only time in almost 30 years of being a prisoner in the Florida State system that I’ve ever seen the rank and file staff ordered to wear their dress uniforms all day while working the cellblock areas. Then they brought breakfast about two hours early, and then lunch was later that morning and dinner by early afternoon. By late afternoon the circus became even more obvious when we were told that the whole institution was on lockdown and they would not do the showers until they were told restricted movement had been lifted, also mail would not be delivered until after the execution. All this served to force every one of us to stand by and become an involuntary participant to this execution.
From early in the morning, throughout the day and into the early evening each of us was forced to confront the imminent execution they intended to carry out. That caused a substantial, even tangible tension on the wing. But as I said, it wasn’t just us in the cellblocks that found this execution process troubling as many of the officers working here also wanted no part of it. And yet we were all forced to go along with it just because one man at the top found it necessary to make a circus out of an execution, even finally announcing on the radio (closed circuit radio system allowing communication within the prison) that the execution had been carried out and it was alright to resume “normal activity”.
Death row Florida