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.
Florida Death Row
Please check out my website www.southerninjustice.net