Sunday, March 12, 2017

Death Watch Journal (Part 27)

I write this (February 20, 2017), I continue to await the Florida Supreme Court decision in my case. Every Tuesday I tried to catch the P.B.S "Capital Update" on the local news, as they will often report on decisions issued by the court. And then on Friday afternoon my lawyers will schedule a phone call so that they can tell me if any decision has been issued.

Let me explain just how this goes. Here at Florida State Prison the wing that houses those under sentence of death is located almost at the very end of a very long hallway - a straight corridor that runs from one end of the prison to the other. I've walked that walk so many times through the too many years, and it averages about 600 steps, and I go through three separate electronically controlled security gates to get from the death row wing to where the area for lawyer visits and phone calls is.

                                                       

It's a long walk and a lot of time to think about what the lawyers might tell me when I do finally get on the phone. Of course, since all death sentenced prisoners are fully restrained whenever we are removed from our solitary cells in full leg shackles, handcuffs and waist chains, that long walk is more like one short shuffle step at a time and if you do try to get too fast the leg shackles will cut into the back of your ankles and make a bloody mess.

As I make that journey I'm escorted every step of the way by one of the guards and I make a point of trying to keep my mind of what news may be waiting me when I do get to that phone reserved for legal calls, so I will talk to whichever guard may be by my side that day and I get along with most so will engage in casual conversation almost as if we were strolling a park together.

When we finally reach what is commonly known as "the colonel's office", I'm then escorted into a small office that has a plain small table desk with two chairs, and a phone on the table. They keep me restrained the whole time that I am in there, even though I will be securely locked in that small room by myself during that phone call as legal communication, whether in personal visits, phone calls or by mail, is considered to be "privileged and confidential" so they are not supposed to listen in, although I must admit that at times my paranoia will compel me to to wonder whether they are listening.

So, they will then connect me to my lawyers, who maintain their office in South Florida, and we will have 30 minutes. Again, because I must remain physically restrained at all times, I cannot actually pick up the phone receiver, so instead I will wait until the red light comes on indicating that the call has been connected, then I will push the button marked "Line 1", and then wait to hear a voice on the other end.

A long running joke I have with my lawyers of many years is that once that phone call is connected, from time to time one of them will say "hi" and I will immediately respond: "No I'm not - they drug test us!", and we will have a little laugh. And it's true, I cannot be "high" as for at least the past 23 years now they have been randomly drug testing prisoners and I've taken many drug tests, and never once failed one.

The truth of the matter is that being condemned to death has almost made me a saint. I don't smoke - I did long ago, but quit that nasty habit way back in my early years on the row. I don't drink (probably could if I wanted to, but I don't want to), not do I do any drugs, although I do still wonder from time to time whether maybe this "reality" I'm trapped here in (death row) isn't really real at all, but merely a bad acid trip and anytime now I'm going to wake up and exclaim; "wow!, y'all aren't going to believe the trip I just has!", and I don't even run around with wild women anymore - gotta admit  though, that's probably the one bad habit I miss the most as it does get really lonely here, I don't even cuss that much anymore - yeah, I probably am on my way to sainthood and only because I was condemned to death - kind of ironic huh?

Back to the phone call ...it's now been over a year since I received that stay of execution and each week I anxiously await word on whether the court has ruled. They've already decided the main issues relating to whether the January 2016 US Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v Florida will be applied retroactively and based upon their December23, 2016 ruling in Mark Asay v State of Florida, I already know that I will be denied relief on that issue as Like Asay, I was sentenced to death prior to 2002, and in Asay, the FSC said they will not grand relief from the indisputably illegally imposed sentence of death in cases in which that sentence of death was imposed prior to 2002.

And so each and every week I anxiously await that decision that will decide my fate, knowing that it will all but certainly be against me - and yet still clinging to that hope that for whatever reason the court will actually grant relief. And with every step of that long walk that possibility of what I might hear plays out in my head...the Florida Supreme Court generally releases it's decisions in capital cases around 11.00 AM each Thursday, so we do this phone calls on Fridays, and so each Friday begins when I wake up knowing that today may be the day that news comes.

You see, it's the continued uncertainty of my fate that weighs most heavily on my mind. I've heard it said that they can only kill you once, but I know that that is simply not true - every time I'm forced to confront my fate, I'm a part of me dies. Most define the death penalty only by that end result - the execution - and give no thought to anything else that the condemned prisoner and his family and friends go through.

But in truth, the contemporary death penalty is actually a lot like that old Chinese torture, commonly known as a 'death by thousand cuts', each little stab is never enough to kill you, but eventually enough small stabs will take their toll. And in it's own way, that's what the not merely days, or weeks, or months - or even years, but decades of death does to the condemned...each and every time he is forced to confront the uncertainty of his (or her) fate, it's another small stab that cuts deep down into the soul, a seemingly endless journey through a hell few can even begin to imagine.

And so i make that long walk week after week, at least so far each week being told that there has been no decision - and at least for that moment I feel that weight of confronting the uncertainty of my fate briefly lifted, but it doesn't take long before it quickly comes back, as just as soon as I complete the phone call and start to make that long way back, the anxiety of that same walk next week is already starting to creep in...as I said, it's not a quick death, but by deliberate intent and design, my condemnation is a death of thousand cuts.

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