After more than a quarter of a century now in continuous solitary confinement on Florida’s death row, condemned to death row, condemned to death for a crime I did not commit (please check my website www.southerninjustice.net ) I’ve spent my share of time contemplating that inevitable question of whether I might have gone insane – and if I had not already crossed over that bridge of no return, when would I? When it comes down to it, it’s just not natural to spend one’s entire adult life in a six foot concrete crypt never for even one moment able to forget that I am simply being warehoused until the State of Florida can finally pull me from me from my cage and put me to death.
Certainly it would not be so unusual for any person to slowly slip beneath that metaphorical surface that separates what we commonly call reality and become lost in some form of psychosis and in truth under these circumstances perhaps insanity would be even a blessing. It is not hard for me to imagine that insanity could even offer the hope of freedom from this never-ending nightmare that I am trapped within. If only but for a moment I could awake and through some form of involuntarily induced psychosis I would just detach from this reality and if only within my own mind, find that “freedom”
In some ways I do pursue that elusive freedom by escaping into my daydreams of a life I once had, cherishing broken fragments of a now long ago part when I was a younger man and a husband and father. Sometimes I even must struggle to recall details that don’t really matter, but still I push myself to recall the details, knowing only too well that as the details slowly fade from memory, the that even the memory itself slowly fades away. Memories of a life I once had and the hopes and dreams of a future that would never be are all I have left.
But it becomes harder to pull up the thoughts and memories that kept me going. When I look out the dusty window on the outer wall of this cellblock I can see a patch of green grass between the wings and I try to remember what it felt like to stand barefoot on the grass, to feel the blades of grass beneath my feet and how it would give way as I took each step. But it has been too many years now since I felt the touch of grass and although I can still describe how it might have felt like, I cannot really remember or imagine how it actually felt to touch.
The other day I was talking to a guy who just came to the row and is now in a cell next to me. He is about the same age as I was when I first came here and yet when I talk to him, it’s as if he came from a totally different world as the world that I once knew didn’t have cell phones, or DVD’s or personal computers, and even so much of the language itself has changed as a new generation adopted it’s own way of saying things.
In the new guy I see some of myself. But now I’m 50 years old and my kids are grown and my grandchildren growing up fast. Where has my entire adult life gone as it doesn’t seem that I’ve been locked up this many years. And yet I know these years are now gone as I need only look into the mirror to see that the progression of age is slowly overcoming me.
Sometimes I have to wonder if maybe it’s all just a bad dream. Or maybe even a bad acid trip. What if I awoke tomorrow only to find that it was once again 1982 and none of this ever really happened? I actually do play around with that thought from time to time. And yet when I do awake, I must confront the reality that it is not just a bad dream.
So, it’s inevitable brings me back to the question I have asked myself only too many times – what if I go crazy? Maybe I already have and all of this is nothing more than a twisted psychosis that has become my reality, like the way the “crazy people” get lost in their own little worlds, and nothing anyone tells them can convince them that they are just imagining what they believe to exist as their “reality” has become their only reality.
When I look around me it’s not hard to see the signs in others, especially some of the guys that I’ve known for years who have slowly succumbed to their own relative form of insanity. It is not all that uncommon for guys who have been here as long as I have to develop paranoia and psychosis – giving in to the illusion that others around them are plotting against them, or – hearing voices that don’t exist, or convincing themselves that they are going home “tomorrow” and yet their tomorrow never comes.
If I can see these signs in others, then I have to wonder if maybe others see these signs in me. As far as I know, I’ not giving in to paranoia or psychosis – but I do still desperately hope for the day that I might yet go “home” and I can only hope that that is not an illusion.
These are thought that I do struggle with. In some ways I have to wonder just when will it be my turn to sink below that surface of insanity, will it happen suddenly as if I awake one day and find that I have gone insane? Or will it happen ever so very slowly and I’ll be the last to know? How will I actually know? Maybe I will be the last to know, continuing merrily along the path oblivious to my own insanity while others around me struggle to find ways to drag me back to the reality they think they’re still in touch with.
This riddle I struggle with was playing its usual mind game when I watched a movie on my TV the other day. It was a movie called Proof”, starring Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Pal throw and it was about an elderly mathematician (Hopkins) slowly going crazy as his equally brilliant daughter (Pal throw) struggled to cope with his progressive insanity, all the while wondering if maybe she was going crazy too. At one point early in the movie the father and daughter had a talk about her own fears that maybe the disease that eroded his own sanity also would afflict her – how would she know if she too was going crazy? That is when I finally heard the best answer to my own question. When Anthony Hopkins told Gwyneth Pal throw that the way she can be sure she’s not going nuts is because crazy people don’t ask it they are going crazy. That made me laugh and after some more thought on the matter I began to appreciate the logic of that simple truth – Crazy people don’t ask. You see, if I were really going nuts, then I would not know that I’m going nuts. Others might see it in me, but I’d never see it in myself. Simply because I still possess the capacity to ask that question is itself proof that I’m not (yet) nuts.
For some strange reason the logic of that truth brought me comfort. I can’t really explain it, but for the first time I have a way to “self-diagnose” my own fear of insanity as long as I can continue to ask whether maybe I’m finally going crazy, I know I’m not quite there yet. That’s got to count for something. I slept well that night, almost as if a weight had been lifted from me. The next morning I still through about that simple answer to the question I’ve asked so many times. And I smiled as I did. The next morning I awoke again and got into a prolonged conversation with my cell neighbor and then reading a few magazines and watched some TV. Before I knew it, the whole day had passed and as I prepared my bunk to go to sleep it occurred to me that I had gone the whole day without asking myself if I was going crazy yet. A whole day without asking that simple question – then it suddenly hit me…now I know I must be finally going crazy as I’m no longer asking, and only crazy people don’t ask!
Death row Florida