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

Monday, April 12, 2010

Marking the Milestones

As I write this, it occurs to me that it’s been exactly 26 years ago today that I first came to Florida’s death row! I’ve now been continuously incarnated on this capital case over 17 years, but that includes over a year in the Glades County jail awaiting trial, then going through two separate jury trials after my first trial ended with a “hung jury” (which means that the jury could not agree in convicting me of anything)

It’s been a really long road. Thinking about it made me think of all the years and the changes along the way. Most of the guys I first met when I joined the ranks of the condemned are now long dead. Some of the others have had their sentences reduced to “life” and have since been scattered across Florida’s prison system. And a few went home a free man.

Marking the milestones – I suppose we all do it in our own way. All of us encounter events along this path we call life that become our own milestones. Often these milestones reflect nothing but our age. When I first caught this case, I was 22. Before I was 30 the State of Florida attempted to execute me not once, but twice. That deathwatch experience will forever be a “milestone” that I will never forget. To this day I can still vividly recall sitting in that solitary cell just a few feet away from the steel door that led into the execution chamber (see: Facing my own Execution )

Some parts of that experience will never be forgotten. Just a few months ago my small electric fan started vibrating for reasons I don’t know. But that immediately brought back memories of the concrete floor beneath my feet in that “deathwatch” cell and how it vibrated with a low hum as just beyond that steel door they did a mock execution to make sure the chair (“ole Sparky”) would be ready for me the next morning. For several long moments I could only watch my fan vibrate, transfixed by that memory. Only then did I reach up to turn it off – and I left it off the rest of the day, preferring to endure the heat and humidity then to be reminded of that vibration. The next day when I did turn on the fan again, it no longer vibrated – maybe it never really did. Maybe it was all in my mind.

In the cell that I am now I can look out the distant window and across a narrow space of grass to another wing opposite this one. That used to be called “S” wing and it was the first wing I was housed on. Looking from window to window across the way, I can remember who was in which cell. As I do, I get about halfway down and the name Jim Chandler came up. I had often shared a cellblock with Jim through the years, and was on the same floor with him up until just a few months ago when I was abruptly transferred back over here to Florida State Prison.

A few weeks ago I got word that Jim Chandler had died just about a month ago now. I wasn’t surprised as he had been struggling with medical issues for a few years now. But I was sorry to hear it.

Another milestone to mark – with so many of us virtually warehoused here in solitary confinement for decades on end, many of us are growing old. Now death by “natural causes” claims the lives of more condemned prisoners here in Florida than executions. Just in recent months three guys on my floor alone have died - Henry Garcia, William Cruse and now Jim Chandler. Like me, most of these guys have been on the row for twenty, even thirty years. And one by one, we are growing old and dying.

Sometimes I count the number of days that I have been locked away on a crime that I did not commit. (Please see: www.southerninjustice.net ) As of today, it is 9881 days since march 2, 1983 – that’s counting 6 days for the loop years that have passed. Soon, about the first week of June, I will mark my ten thousandth day, and that will be significant even if it is nothing but a number. Like the odometer on a car, each day just rolls over but at Day Ten Thousand, I have crossed into a whole new column of numbers. Funny how much of a psychological difference the number 9,999 is from the number 10,000. But it is – and I’m not sure how I should mark that day. Maybe I will try to just sleep through it.

By the time you are reading this I will cross perhaps one of the biggest milestones of all – I will turn 50 years old on March 29. I don’t particularly feel like I’m already 50 years old, but then again I’ve never been 50 before, so I don’t know. It’s supposed to feel like it’s just another milestone, but a significant one by any measure as the great state of Florida has easily spent millions of dollars to try to kill me before I made it to that mark. Knowing that I did make it to 50 when they’ve tried so hard to kill me before I even made it to 30 gives me a sense of victory over these corrupt state sanctioned serial killers.


Turning 50 does make me think about the many years that I’ve now lost forever, and can never get back again. When I was arrested on these charges at age 22, I still had my whole life in front of me. At the time I was recently divorced with 3 young children who went on to grow up without ever really knowing me.

Now I have four grandchildren that I also have no opportunity to get to know and be part of their lives as they grow up. When I look in my small plastic mirror I see the gray hair – at least where it hasn’t fallen out anyways! And other physical signs confirming that I’m growing old and I wonder if perhaps it is also my fate to slowly grow old and die here in this cage far away from family and friends.

But another milestone could soon pass this year as I anxiously await a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that could possibly even order my immediate release. It has taken over 27 years of screaming to anyone who would listen that I am innocent of what they’ve accused me of to get to this point, where a wealth of new evidence developed over the past 12 years has now been collectively presented to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing my innocence.

If the court agrees that this collective evidence substantiates my claim of innocence, they could throw my convictions out completely and order a new trial – or even order my complete and unconditional release, as they have done in many similar wholly circumstantial cases.

No matter what the strength of the evidence may be, it’s hard to get my hopes up that the court might do the right thing. After 27 years of living this never ending nightmare, I no longer have confidence in a judicial system the only too often will ignore claims of innocence – and I have no doubt will even knowingly execute the innocent rather than admit to error.

But what f they do rule in my favor? Making that milestone is itself almost as terrifying as the hours of death watch leading up to the uncertainty of my then imminent execution, as after spending my entire adult life in solitary confinement condemned to death the thought of being fee again scares the hell out of me!

But like turning 50, that is a milestone I’m willing to accept and embrace. And I can now only hope that I will have the opportunity to cross that marker.

Michael Lambrix
Florida Death Row

Please check out my website www.southerninjustice.net

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The games they play

Those familiar with my blog articles already know that I’m a prisoner on Florida’s death row. In Florida, death sentenced prisoners spend everyday in a small concrete cell by ourselves, with minimal human contact. The only time we are allowed out of our cells is when we get a legal or social visit, or a medical callout, or supposedly we are allowed to go outside to the recreational yard for two hours twice a week. I say supposedly because more often then not death sentenced prisoners are routinely denied any opportunity to go to the rec yard for no other reason but the games the guards play to deny regular yard.

To fully explain this problem I must first tell you some of the history relevant to recreational activity for death row prisoners in Florida. Florida has a long and well documented history of being the “cesspool” of the prison system, and the abuse of prisoners by the guards is systematic. As the former Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC )Secretary (director) Walter McDonough repeatedly said in published newspaper articles, a pervasive “culture of corruptions” exists within the Florida Department of Corrections in which the guars hired to work in the prison are themselves all too often nothing less than “criminals and thugs” , hired only because their father or uncle worked for the FDOC, there is rampant abuse of prisoners, systematic misconduct and a complete absence of professionalism in which supervisory staff simply refuse to “put a leash” on guards who are out of control.

All too often, those guards who do engage in abuse of prisoners at Florida State Prison are actually rewarded with promotions and favorable shifts schedules, effectively encouraging similar misconduct among all staff.

Abuse of prisoners come in many forms, and is not always so easily seen as when a prisoner is brutally beaten to death – as was the case of Frank Valdez See, Valdez v. Crosby, 450 F.3d.1231 (11th Cr 2006) (graphically describing the assaults upon prisoners, including the murder of Frank Valdez by guards known to have a history of similar violence against prisoners at Florida State Prison)

One particular form of abuse often inflicted upon death row prisoners is the deliberate deprivation of adequate outdoor recreation. It doesn’t take a medical degree to appreciate the importance of getting sunlight. Some of you might recall the movie “Brubaker”, where a new prison warden is assigned to clean up the abuse in a southern prison and takes a trip to the unit for death row prisoners. When the warden (played by Robert Redford) goes into the unit he finds that the prisoners had not been allowed outside for years. The movie then shows the warden passing out sunglasses to the inmates and ordering their cell doors open as he personally leads them out into a rec yard. Many of the prisoners are blinded by the sunlight and can barely even stagger outside.

In Florida State Prison ever hired a warden like that, committed to basic human treatment, that scene could easily had been filmed here on Florida’s death row, where many of the men have not been allowed to go outside in many years, often denied yard time for no reason but that they dared to complain.

About 30 years ago it took federal court intervention to even compel Florida prison officials to provide minimal outdoor recreation to Florida’s death row inmates. That was done through a federal “class action” lawsuit known as Dougan v Duggan and it allowed the federal court to monitor the recreation provided. Even when the Department of Corrections entered into a settlement, agreeing to provide the prisoners a minimum of 4 hours of outdoor recreation per week, the federal court subsequently had to hold prison officials here at Florida State Prison in ‘contempt of court’ when they routinely acted in deliberate bad faith by canceling outdoor recreation on a regular base and routinely denying the death row prisoners their yard time for years at a time.

Only after prison officials were held in actual contempt of court for refusing to comply with their binding “consent decree” to provide a minimum of minimum 4 hours or outside recreation per week, did things finally get better and we started to receive regular yard time.

But then in 1996 the federal congress passed the “Prisoner Litigation Reform act” (PLRA) which passed federal laws prohibiting the Florida courts from continuing oversight of prison conditions if prison officials established they were in compliance. Not long after this Florida prison officials moved to dismiss the federal lawsuit overseeing death row recreation, claiming they were in compliance and the Federal court had no choice but to dismiss the case, relieving Florida State Prison of any further oversight.

It had been about ten years now since the “Dougan v Duggan” Federal class action lawsuit was dismissed because of the PLRA. And once again Florida State Prison is back to playing the same games that compelled Federal Court intervention back then. When it comes down to it, given the virtual absence of professionalism among staff in Florida’s prison system, the only way to compel Florida’s prison officials to follow long established law governing the basic treatment of prisoners is to have the Federal courts watch over them and hold them in contempt of court if they refuse.

About 3 months ago I was transferred back from the main death row unit of Union Correctional Institution to Florida State Prison’s secondary death row unit. Since I have been back over here at FSP, I have personally witnessed this systematic abuse of prisoners, especially by the guards assigned to work the death row yard.

Theoretically, all death row prisoners are entitled to go to the rec yard twice a week for two hours each time, for a total of (maximum) of four hours per week. But Sergeant Strong, who runs the rec yard, doesn’t think death sentenced prisoners should have any rec yard at all. Sgt Strong abuses his authority by routinely refusing prisoners their rec yard time. Not surprisingly, he has a long history of alleged abuse of prisoners and was only promoted to being the yard Sgt after inmates filed grievances that he was involved in numerous physical assaults upon these prisoners.

Myself, I like to get out to the recreation yard at least once a week even though I’m no longer able to participate in volleyball or basketball due to a military injury that left me physically disabled. But at least I can go outside for a few hours and walk around and talk to other prisoners and get some much needed sunlight.

However, in the 12 weeks that I have been back here at Florida State Prison, Sgt Strong. has only allowed me to go out to the rec yard 3 times. The first week I was here he told me point blank that he wasn’t going to pull me for rec yard because I had filed a lawsuit years ago against other guards here for physically abusing me and others. He then told me that the next time I “will go out in a box like Valdez”. Frank Valdez was the death row prisoner that was beaten to death by guards at this prison in July 1999. See Valdez v. Crosby,450 F.3d 1231 (11th Cr.2006) I’ve never been one to back down from a coward, so I wrote Sgt Strong. up for refusing my yard and threatening my life.

Of course the warden of FSP took virtually no action, even though numerous other prisoners have filed similar complaints against this sergeant. But then, we don’t expect much out of this warden as he is a “good ole boy” who has a long history of turning a blind eye to inmate abuse. This warden is part of the “culture of corruption” and he will do whatever it takes to cover for his guards even when the evidence is overwhelming.

For weeks after that Sgt Strong invented one excuse after another to deny me my rec yard time. Last week I was able to go out only because the wing Sgt put me down on the rec yard list – but again this week I was denied yard, this time because I had written up a grievance against Sgt Strong last week and so he told me I’m not going to rec because I wrote him up.

My own experience is not unique – routinely all death row prisoners are denied red yard by Sgt Strong as he deliberately abuses his power. Often we are written down as “refused yard” because Sgt Strong found some petty reason to deny yard, such as the bunk was not properly made, or the cell light was not on, or a cup was on the sink. But consistently what it really comes down to is that Sgt Strong doesn’t think death sentenced prisoners should have any rec time. And if you do complain to the warden of FSP, he will not listen – and Sgt Strong will then threaten us with physical assault and even death for writing him up.

Once again we must now file a new Federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, compelling the Federal court to intervene and monitor our ability to get outdoor rec time. This will now undoubtedly cost Florida taxpayers a substantial amount of money, and for what? Because the warden refuses to address a problem and take appropriate action to ensure that we are provided with adequate rec time.

I would like to ask each of you to email FDOC secretary McNeil or Warden Singer of FSP and ask them to look into the matter. Attach a copy of this blog with your email so they can read it too.

Walter McNeil FDOC Secretary email address: mcneil.walter@mail.dc.state.fl.us

Warden Singer, Florida State Prison email address: singer.steven@mail.dc.state.fl.us

Michael Lambrix
Florida Death Row