Sunday, January 3, 2016

Death Watch (Part III)

First of all, I want to thank everyone for the really nice holiday cards and all the positive thoughts as they really help me a lot and I'm truly blessed to know so many are with me - Mike

It’s still quite an adjustment to be in this cell. After so many years of living in close proximity to so many others, the absence of activity leaves me feeling even more isolated than what I’ve accepted to be “normal” for solitary confinement.

That’s an interesting term… “solitary confinement.” Just what do we mean when we say someone is in solitary confinement? There’s no doubt that each of us lives, and even slowly dies, in a small cell by ourselves. But each cell is on a larger wing with many other cells around. Although physically separated, we can still talk and in a limited way interact with others around us ~ if and when we choose to. And equally so, we can choose not to and retreat back into our own little world.

But it’s different down here on “death watch” where there are only 3 cells and at least for now just myself and Oscar Bolin, who is scheduled for execution in a week ~ hopefully he will receive a stay of execution before that. Unique to death watch, down here they post a guard in front of the cells all day and night so what little sense of privacy you have in a regular cell (where the guards generally are seen only when they make their 30 minute rounds, or when feeding us, or taking someone to visitation or the yard) is lost.

Funny thing about death watch is it’s micromanaged to the smallest detail and constantly under supervision of the bosses. Almost daily the duty warden will drop by unannounced and ask how we are doing and generally engage in small talk, which itself takes some getting use to as you just don’t see that on the regular wing. To be honest, I’ve never been treated better than I have since being placed on death watch. It’s a completely different attitude towards us and they actually go out of their way to treat us with respect and avoid negativity.

But here’s the thing, everything about this death watch experience leaves you in the constant and inescapable reality that they are counting down the days until they will kill you. Not even for a moment are you allowed to escape that reality. That presence of death hangs heavy over this environment and every little thing they do to make you comfortable (for lack of a better word) actually reminds you that you are in this solitary cell counting down your final days.


A few days ago as I came back from a visit, as I returned to the wing the death watch supervisor (a Lieutenant) measured me for my execution suit. It was done as if it was a casual event they routinely did and not unusual at all. And yet it was that effort to make it “normal” that itself pressed heavily on me and stuck in my mind for some time to come. I couldn’t help but think about what they might be thinking about ~ has measuring a man for his execution suit lost all significance to them and become what they consider “normal”?

It was the same thing a few days later (in fact, yesterday) when the Assistant Warden came down here and casually sat down in front of my cell and told me that he had to discuss what I wanted for my last meal and other final arrangements. As if we were talking about the weather or some other trivial event, he proceeded to go through a small stack of papers, each one addressing a specific subject relevant to what seems to be a presumption that I will die. And I found myself responding in the same manner.

For about 30 minutes the Assistant Warden and I went through that stack of forms he had as if doing nothing more than planning a fishing trip. First it was discussing in detail what I would want for my last meal and I went with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy and all the trimmings, with pumpkin pie and Rocky Road ice cream for dessert) as for many years now mom and I have had an agreement that when I walk out of prison she would celebrate my freedom by cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. And I figure that if I don’t make it, I can at least have that meal and that thought of sharing it with my parents and loved ones will be nice.

After we went through what I wanted for my last meal, we then discussed my funeral arrangements and what I wanted to be done with my body after they killed me and who I wanted to leave my property to. I had to think about that for a moment, although my parents and I have previously discussed this issue and they already have a burial plot where we will all be together, the expense of a funeral will be incredibly hard on my parents right at a time they must deal with my death. However, my options are limited and I had to give a response so I told him my mom would handle those final arrangements.

This is all part of the process of deliberately putting someone to death by state sanctioned execution. Often we hear people debate whether the particular means of execution is cruel and unusual and how the history of botched executions causes the person subjected to execution physical pain.
But nobody ever talks about the psychological torment of forcing the condemned prisoner to go through this pre-execution process.

The irony of this is that one of the most common legal justifications used to impose the death sentence is that the victim suffered the fear of imminent death, often defined by a mere moment of realizing they would die. But they never talk about the weeks and even months that they put the condemned prisoner through as they await their own death.

I think this process ~ this collective death watch experience is deliberately designed to slowly erode that instinctive nature to survive, so that by the time the prisoner actually reaches that final step into the execution chamber not only does the condemned know what to expect, he (or she) has become part of that process itself and will passively go along with the process.

My point is this ~ everything they do once we are placed on death watch is part of a process that each detail has been meticulously calculated to minimize any resistance from the condemned prisoner. What does that say about who we are as a society that we will put so much thought into how we will deliberately kill another person? If someone was convicted of murdering another under virtually identical circumstances, we would not hesitate to call that person a “cold-blooded killer.” But what do we call it when we, as a society, are doing that much and more?

However, even as I recognize what’s going on around me, I still find a sense of peace within myself and have not succumbed to depression and hopelessness. Most days when they bring mail around I receive not only the cards and letters from my close friends who each try so hard to support me through this, but several cards from complete strangers who take the time out of their own busy days to offer me words of encouragement, and each one touches me deeply.

Physically I spent Christmas alone in this solitary cell on death watch; the truth is it was one of my best Christmas’ ever as for the first time in so many years I am in touch with members of my family and both my son and daughter. And my only Christmas wish to locate my son Daniel came true ~ a true miracle. And shortly my younger son and daughter will also come to visit ~ it will be the first time we have all been together.

Yes, I am facing death. But even in that cold shadow of death I bask in the warmth of the love of family and friends. And for that reason, I am blessed.

Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison Q2301
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford  Florida 32026-1100

1 comment:

damion13 said...

Its Daniel, I get a one time phonecall with you tomorrow. Love you Dad. Thank you Geesje for always being their.