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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgving with Henry


Mike wrote this blog post November, 2009 - about Thanksgiving on death row and a tribute to his friend Henry Garcia.

Thanksgiving is the traditional American Holiday, the one day of the year when family and friends gather around the table with a feast laid out in abundance and give thanks for the blessings that have been and might yet be endowed upon us. Up until just a few years ago the prison system would recognize Thanksgiving with a special holiday meal of real turkey and all the trimmings, as well as various tasty deserts and we would all look forward to that one meal a year. Weeks and even months ahead of time we would make deals with each other to trade a favorite food such as maybe trade the turkey to someone for their pumpkin pie. Everybody had their favorite food, for me it was the turkey more than anything else. 

                                            


But in recent years they’ve all but eliminated the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for prisoners. We haven’t seen real turkey in many years now. The prison system will tell you that they still serve us a “holiday meal” but it’s not like it was before and what they do serve now isn’t worth writing home about.

For this reason many of us will plan ahead and make our own holiday feast by saving up what few extra dollars we can and buy foods off the canteen. Both as a means of communion with those we live among, who have become our surrogate family, and to share costs of the purchases. Many of us will plan ahead with our cell neighbors as we must order the necessary items at least a week ahead of the time on order to get them on time.

This year me and Henry decided we would eat good. Henry’s been my cell neighbor for a few years now, and was my neighbor on another wing before that. But for awhile now Henry has been fighting liver cancer. He’s put up a pretty good fight, which is not a surprise as Henry is a natural fighter and never had an easy life. Born in Texas of Mexican descent, he grew up poor and gave in to the lure of an outlaw at a very young age. Through the years Henry did time in some of the worst state and federal prisons in the country back when doing time meant struggling to survive every day. Yet through these hard years Henry remained one hell of a man, and was quick to share his sense of humor and in all the years I’ve known him, not even once did he have a harsh word to say about anyone.

Neither me nor Henry had any reason to expect a visit over the Holiday weekend. Although we both come from large families, through the years our families slowly drifted away and that’s just how it is, and we accept that. So, when it came to planning our Thanksgiving Holiday each of us became the others “family” and we spent countless hours what we would make to have a holiday meal that was different and special.

Last week and the week before we got the packs of tuna and mackerel to make fish steaks, the Ramen soup so we would use the noodles a make a casserole, with more tuna and assorted packs of potato chips for flavor, with a dill pickle on the side. And that was just for the main course.

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a lot of sweets. In past years I would make up a big batch of chocolate treats for everyone on the floor. But between the elimination of many items necessary to make them and substantial increases in the prices of what is now sold, it just is no longer possible. So we pitched in together and bought a Hershey chocolate bar for everyone on the floor so that everyone would at least have a little something.

With meticulous details we planned our meal. In a lot of ways, planning out what we intended to eat was almost as good as the eating itself! First, as an appetizer we would share a box of Ritz crackers, with beef and Jalapeno cheese sticks to go with them. We planned to start at around 10 o’clock that morning, and then around noon we would make up the main course. It would take me a few hours to make the fish steaks, which were a lot like crab cakes, but made with a mixture of tuna fish and mackerel steaks, mixed with crushed Ritz crackers and then seasoned with the spice pack of the Ramen “spicy vegetable soup” and a packet of soy sauce, and a bag of crushed spicy potato chips for flavor. Then coated with a crushed Ritz cracker crust. We would each have two.

The tuna casserole was basically flavored Ramen noodles mixed with tuna fish, a lot of mayonnaise and sweet relish and poured over crushed sour cream onion potato chips, with generous slices of dill pickles.

After having the main course, we planned to each have a Bear-claw pastry for dessert, with a cup of hot chocolate. Although we can only purchase the small envelopes of hot chocolate of the canteen, by adding some coffee creamer and a Hershey chocolate bar, it made a cup of thick hot chocolate which goes really good with the cinnamon and spice bear-claw pastry.

                                              


Later in the day we planned for some more sweets and snacks as football would be on TV all day – another Thanksgiving tradition. We had bought a box of Swiss rolls – basically small chocolate covered, crème filled cakes, and we’d make up some big cups of sweet tea to go with it. For later in the day we planned to use up the last big bag of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips I still had, pouring two packs of hot chili with beans over it, then topping it off with numerous packs of melted Jalapeno cheese spread – you just can’t put too much Jalapeno cheese on anything!

Yep, me and Henry planned to eat pretty good this Thanksgiving. Although holidays are meant to spend with family, in here it’s the guys we live around that become our family and we looked forward to sharing it together.

This year Thanksgiving would be on Thursday, November 26. Every year it’s on the last Thursday of November. But for all our meticulous plans it’s always the unexpected that comes along to ruin them.

On Monday our floor had recreation yard and Henry went outside to play volleyball for a few hours. With his health problems, yard usually left him exhausted but he would sleep it off and be ready to go again. Monday was not different and by early afternoon Henry was joking around, as we often do. By dinner he was his usual self, and then we had the thrice weekly showers (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

After showers the mail comes in and we talked a bit about that it was late on Monday as the guard who normally passes out the mail has the week off. So we didn’t get our mail until around 8.00 PM. Henry said he got one letter, but was concerned as he didn’t hear from his longtime dear friend Liz. I told him that they probably just didn’t pass out all the mail – he’d probably get a letter from her tomorrow.

About an hour later they came around for the nightly “master count” That’s the only time of the day we must each stand up and give our number – not our name, but only our prisoner number as in here that’s all we are – a number. Henry’s cell light was on and he said he was going to write a letter. But when the Sgt got to his cell he found Henry slumped over his table and the end of his bunk and Henry was not responsive. For a few minutes they yelled and banged on his door, assuming he was asleep as that was not uncommon, and the Sgt got on the radio and called for the nurse.

After several minutes Henry responded and awoke, but seemed somewhat out of it and wasn’t able to get up. So the Sgt decoded to send him to the main unit infirmary so they could check him out. This Sgt is a pretty good one and goes the distance to help us out. A few years ago he was working the floor when another guy fell ill and if not for this Sgt quick response in getting this guy out he would have died. Once again, this Sgt (who I am deliberately not naming) was quick to call for medical help.

They brought a wheelchair and Henry got on it and they pulled him out. As he stopped for a moment in front of my cell while they grabbed his photo ID I spoke to Henry and he seemed a bit out of it. But said he’d be right back.















A little while later I caught the Sgt making his rounds and asked how Henry was doing. By that time, he should have been back. The Sgt said that after they pulled Henry out, he started to cough up a lot of blood so they decided to keep him over at the main unit infirmary for the night.

But in the early morning hours just before breakfast the midnight staff came and packed up all of Henry’s belongings. If they expected him right back they would not pack up his property so I knew something was up. Throughout the day I asked others how he was doing and they said he’s not too good and would probably stay over at the main unit infirmary for a few days just to keep an eye on him. But they said they’d save his cell next to me, so I didn’t think much of it.

By Wednesday afternoon those I asked started saying that Henry took a turn for the worse and didn’t look good. Anxiously I squeezed all the information I could from those I knew would know.

Early Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, I was told that Henry had died at 2:30 AM, but that he didn’t suffer. I try to tell myself that at least his fight is over and he’s now in a better place and that at least his suffering was not prolonged as only too often it can be with cancer. But somehow it isn’t much of a comfort as he was a good friend and neighbor – he was family.

Just that quickly on Thanksgiving there isn’t much to be thankful for. The plans we made for weeks for our holiday feast now meant little as Henry was gone and so was my own appetite. Instead I spent the day just pacing my floor back and forth, four quick steps to the front then four quick steps to the back, listening to the radio and trying to get my head out of this place.

Then a song came on that made me smile….maybe even a message from Henry to a friend and brother who already greatly misses him. Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on heaven’s door” a song that not so long ago me and Henry sang together. Hearing that song brought tears to my eyes – but I smiled, as just hearing that song, at that particular moment, let me know that Henry’s alright and is now in a better place. Here’s to knocking on Heaven’s door – I will miss you my brother.

                                             



Mike Lambrix

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clemency Gone Missing From Florida’s Death Row


Sun Sentinel Editorial Board November 11, 2017

Justice is supposed to be blind, but not as blind as the U.S. Supreme Court when it ruled in 1993 that a Texas death row prisoner — who claimed to be innocent, but had run out of appeals — should look to the governor to save his life.


“Executive clemency,” wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is “the 'fail safe' in our criminal justice system."
But when it comes to the death penalty in Florida, the fail-safe has gone missing.


There hasn’t been a death row commutation in Florida since 1983, the first year of Gov. Bob Graham’s second term.
Since Florida resumed executions in 1979, governors have put 95 people to death and spared only six, all by Graham.


In at least 17 of those cases, advocates say grounds existed for commuting the sentence to life in prison. That’s not “getting away” with anything, by the way. The only alternative to execution is life without parole.


In four of those cases, Florida juries had recommended life sentences, but were overruled by the judges. At least two of those put to death were insane, including one who believed he was being executed because he was Jesus. And two were Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.


It’s hard to understand what’s happening because when it comes to open government, death row clemency is a black hole. Everything about the process is secret unless the governor or Cabinet chooses to hold a public hearing, which hasn’t happened since the Jeb Bush administration.

There’s no way to know whether the governor is receiving erroneous reports from his staff or from the Commission on Offender Review, which reviews clemency applications.
Neither is there a way to tell whether the governor even reads the files for himself.


Like his predecessors, Gov. Rick Scott routinely signs death warrants without saying why he denied clemency, other than that he found no reason. We asked his spokeswoman. She said: “His foremost concerns are consideration for the families of the victims and the finality of judgment.”


Those final words say more than she may have realized. “Finality” is the mantra of appellate courts that have decided they’ve heard enough from a prisoner. Now it’s the governor’s mantra, too?
But what if the criminal justice system got it wrong?


It’s not a hypothetical question. Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations, with 27. That means that in sentencing someone to death, the state has gotten it wrong 27 times.


Given that sobering statistic, you have to wonder how many innocent people may have been executed or remain on death row.
Gov. Scott has presided over 26 executions, more than any governor since they were resumed in 1979. The latest took place Wednesday, when Patrick Hannon was killed by chemical injection for his role in killing two Tampa men in 1991.


The governor’s silence about his use of the ultimate punishment is an insult to the people of Florida. Nothing in government is as grave as the power to choose between life and death. He should be accountable for how he uses it. Does he read the letters sent him by families, attorneys or prisoners? Has he ever questioned the reports and requested more information? Has he ever had doubts?
It’s not “soft on crime” for a governor to commute a death row sentence to life without parole. In many ways, life without hope is a fate worse than death.


Former governors understood this.
From 1925 through 1964, the start of an unofficial nationwide moratorium, Florida governors commuted 55 of the 250 death sentences that came to their desks, a rate of 22 percent. Every governor spared at least one in five. Two commuted nearly half.
The most famous instance was LeRoy Collins’s 1956 decision to spare Walter Lee Irvin, a black man condemned for the alleged rape of a white woman in Lake County. In the aftermath, a posse killed a man who had been with Irvin that day. Irvin, along with two others, was badly beaten. Later, while being transported to jail, he was shot by a sheriff, but survived.
The Irvin commutation was used against Collins in his re-election campaign. He won.


“My conscience told me that this was a bad case, badly handled, badly tried, and now on this bad performance I was asked to take a man’s life. My conscience would not let me do it,” he said.
Collins was vindicated. The “Groveland Four” had been framed. This year, the Florida Legislature formally apologized for the injustice and asked Scott to pardon them posthumously. He has yet to say whether he will.


The Collins example deserves to be followed, not ignored.
Among the proposals filed by members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is one that would repeal the death penalty. This deserves serious consideration.


At a minimum, the commission should open the curtains on how governors use or don’t use the power of clemency. Given how often Florida sends the wrong person to death row, we need, as Rehnquist said, a fail-safe backstop.

                                        


* Read also: Does Clemency Exist in Florida? 

* Read the letter from Mike's familie, asking Governor Scott for an exceptional clemeny hearing. 

* Read the Petition for Clemency for Mike, written by Roseanne Eckert, Clemency Counsel

* Excellent article by Martin Dyckman -  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Joseph Thornton: Former Florida Death Row doctor with a Veterans’ Day message


By Joseph Thornton for Florida Politics

Did you know that 18-percent of Florida’s death row is made up of veterans of our military services?
 
It is an important fact as we prepare to honor those who have served our country this Veterans Day. I have learned from firsthand experience that veterans sentenced to death can help us all to understand some of the failures of Florida’s death penalty, as well as how to improve our justice system overall.

I am a psychiatrist trained at Stanford University with more than 30-years of clinical experience, including 3-years overseeing medical and psychiatric care on Florida’s Death Row.

In our system, for a conviction and execution, a defendant must meet a legal standard of competency at the time of at the time of the crime, during the trial, through the appeals, and right up to the execution. However, even cases where guilt is certain, we cannot be 100-percent certain of mental capacity, yet an execution is a 100-percent final.

There is a better way. We can learn from veterans and their experience in the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Michael Lambrix, who was executed by the state of Florida last month. Lambrix served in the Army and was honorably discharged after becoming disabled in a training accident. He became involved with drugs, was arrested for murder in 1983, sentenced to death and executed 33-years later.

Patrick Hannon, who was executed by Florida this week, had extensive drug use while in the military. However, neither of these men had the benefit of current intervention tactics deployed by the Veteran’s Administration to care for veterans with a history of trauma and drug abuse.

In response to the growing needs of veterans suffering from trauma and drug use, in 2008 the Veterans Health System established the Veterans Justice Initiative.

Florida now has 2 dozen Veteran Treatment Courts. While under the supervision of these courts the veterans must attend treatment for indicated conditions such a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse. For those with substance use disorders there is periodic mandatory urine drug testing. The objective is rehabilitation and successful adjustment to the community rather than incarceration.

If we truly want to honor those who have served in our military this Veterans’ Day, then we should expand the number of veterans’ courts and the services they provide.

                                            


We should also urge the governor to place a moratorium on executions, and not just those of veterans, but everyone on Florida’s death row.

The fact is, almost all of them experienced childhood trauma, drug use and more. The time and money Florida spends on the death penalty can be much better spent on more mental health treatment services, especially for military veterans, who deserve better treatment after sacrificing so much for our country.

 Read Mike Lambrix's blogpost about Veteran's Day written in November 2009. The Forgotten Veterans: Condemning America's Heroes

Monday, November 6, 2017

"Dignified Death process?"

  
(from Save Innocents - http://www.save-innocents.com/news/did-mike-lambrix-enjoy-less-rights-than-a-dying-stray-dog-at-the-time-of-his-execution )

When Mike Lambrix was executed in Florida last October 5, some of his friends were choked by an information he gave them in respect to the medical procedure behind the preparation of his execution, leading to this question:

Did Mike Lambrix enjoy less rights than a dying stray dog?


Under the 2017 Florida Statute 828.058(4)(a): "Euthanasia [of dogs and cats] shall be performed only by a licensed veterinarian or an employee or agent of a public or private agency, animal shelter, or other facility that is operated for the collection and care of stray, neglected, abandoned, or unwanted animals, provided the employee or agent has successfully completed a 16-hour euthanasia technician certification course."

Did the people involved in Mike Lambrix's execution have any such certification at all? We do not know.

As his family is preparing a memorial service for Michael Lambrix, his close friend Geesje offers her reflection on his execution.

                                                               
                                 
                                                           Photo credit: Rune Eraker

 
"Michael Lambrix was executed on October 5, 2017. I've been a friend of his for 14 years and I visited him several times over the years. Michael Lambrix was also a much beloved son, brother, father and a long time friend to many.

I'm deeply troubled by something he wrote a week before his execution":

“And shortly after they removed all my property,
the warden came down with a few people from Medical. I can only assume that it was the “doctor” responsible for carrying out the execution. They went to great lengths to conceal his identity, as although I could tell he was an upper middle aged white man, maybe just a bit shorter than I am, he was dressed from head to toe in a light baby blue hazmat suit, which included a white surgical mask. So all I could see of him was his eyes. He kept his head down — probably some part of him has to be ashamed of making a living putting people to death.

(...) With total detachment, I was ordered to extend my arm through the cell-front bars and this masked man proceeded to touch my veins at the inner elbow, first the left arm and then the right, while whispering to another man standing beside him, and that was that.
Now they were ready to kill me.
Yep, not just a job — it’s an adventure.”

Mike Lambrix
I wonder: Why was he covered from head to toe, with only his eyes visible?
There was absolutely no medical reason for this.

Was he hiding his identity, or was he ashamed of what he was doing?
Why was he not facing Michael, looking him in the eyes, introducing himself, or even speaking to him?

Michael Lambrix was a person, a human being, not a thing that needed to be expelled of. To me, it seems as heartless as giving a kick to a dying stray dog.

I need to understand the reason for, what seems to me, an unreasonable cruelty inflicted upon a defenceless man facing death. I understand the necessity of checking someone's veins before you execute him, after all you don't want any last minute nasty surprises, but surely it doesn't have to be this way?

When asked the warden of Florida State Prison (Warden Barry Reddish) about this, the reply was:

The Florida Department of Corrections supports a dignified death process for those inmates with an active death warrant. The identity of the medical providers involved in the death process is restricted by Florida Statute, thus it’s not open to public disclosure"
"I'm struggling with the words: "Dignified death process".
What is dignified or even remotely decent about any of this??

If we have to have the death penalty, there is no need to treat condemned people in their final days like sub-humans, any person facing death should be treated with some dignity and compassion.

                                               


Read Mike's post "Florida's Death Squad" where he discusses this procedure with a fellow inmate

Read also on SAVE-INNOCENTS: Florida should introduce new laws TO ALLOW A MORE DIGNIFIED DEATH PROCESS FOR PRISONERS FACING EXECUTION

Read: Is this how medical personnel conceal their identity when participating in executions in Florida?