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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Death by Default

Written by Mike Monday, 16 February 2009

When I was sentenced to death over 24 years ago, in my ignorance I thought my fate might lie in “Old Sparky,” Florida’s then infamous electric chair. I didn’t realize that the reality is that most of those condemned to dearth are not condemned to die at the hands of the state, but slowly rot away in solitaire confinement until they inevitably die of “natural causes.”

Recently several newspapers have reported that in the past decade more men on death row have died of natural causes than of actual executions. According to these published reports at least 29 men have died on Florida’s death row in recent years while waiting their judicially imposed date with death -- a few more have been stabbed by other prisoners and at least one (Frank Valdes) was beaten to death by prison guards. See, Valdes v. Crosby, 450 F. 3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2006).

The truth is that increasingly those sentenced to death are more likely to slowly die of old age than by execution. Although the state sanctioned serial killers (politicians and judges who exploit the death penalty to advance their own pathetic careers) constantly cry about speeding up executions – most of this is rhetoric – the truth is that they actually only want to speed up executions against those they believe they can actually execute… and many of those presently sentenced to death cannot be executed without controversy that would undermine the credibility of the death penalty itself. See, Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied.

That’s the dark secret of the death penalty in America – when the judicial system screws up and sentences someone to death who legally should not have been sentenced to death; then what do you do with him? In Florida, and many other states, it’s become death by default -- killing the condemned when they cannot be executed by simply letting them slowly rot away in a solitary cage until they die of old age, or other convenient “natural cause.”

Earlier today on the wing adjacent to the one I am warehoused on the guards were making their routine rounds when they discovered death row inmate Jack Farrell laying dead in his cell. Preliminary examinations indicate that Jack, a longtime diabetic, died of a massive heart attack. Another dead of “natural causes” after many, many years of waiting for his court ordered death sentence.

Down the hall from me just a few cells away a man I’ve known many years is slowly dying of cancer. Henry Garcia has been locked up almost his whole life. Now well over 50, he has almost nobody other than the friends he has in here. That’s the nature of the beast – as the years pass the condemned become increasingly isolated from the free world. Both family and friends drift away and we find ourselves abandoned and forgotten.

When Henry was told that he had cancer they also told him that it was decided by the medical department that it was not “cost effective” to treat him – that the prison would not even attempt to fight the cancer, but would only let him die… death by default. Now Henry must face a slow but inevitable death alone in his solitary cage – and somehow this is supposed to be “humane.”


                                             

Henry died November 2009, read here Mike's essay about Thanksgiving with Henry

Maybe that’s what bothers me the most… we are supposed to be a Christian society, a society that values compassion and humane treatment, and yet we will deliberately turn a blind eye towards the inhumanities that exist in our own backyard.

Maybe if Henry was a mangy stray dog starving on the street then someone might care enough to show him compassion. Am I the only one that’s bothered by the fact that my friend Henry Garcia has now effectively been thrown out alongside the road and left to die while the world races by?

Equally so, what does it say about our system when we allow a man to simply rot away, deliberately deciding that he is not worth saving? How would any one of us feel if we went to our doctor today and were told that we had cancer – but that the doctor decided it was not “cost effective” to treat us and that we have already been given up for dead? How can we call ourselves a humane and civilized society when bureaucrats, who are more concerned with their budget than the patient’s life, decide the value of any person’s life?

If I had access to a telephone, I would personally call the Florida Department of Corrections appointed secretary Jim McDonough and ask him why prison doctors are refusing to treat Henry Garcia – why they have decided to simply let him die. But death row prisoners in Florida are not allowed to use the phone, so I can’t…

You have to excuse my ignorance, but even after spending my entire adult life in a cage in solitary confinement condemned to death for a crime I did not commit, there’s still a part of me that believes that there is good in each of us… that there are still people who are compassionate and do care, even about the welfare of the least of our society. That I’m not the only one who finds it morally offensive that any man should be abandoned and left to die alone. I’ve seen the worst of humanity and lived among the evil incarnate. But I’ve seen men society labeled as monsters show genuine compassion for those they live among while the world outside relentlessly gathers in glorified lynch mobs slobbering at the mouths while screaming for our deaths.

Now I look around me at the world I remain condemned to and I see what society doesn’t want to acknowledge… I see that the malice society has for the lowest of low has reached new heights, as society remains deliberately oblivious to the fact that more and more of those we condemned to death decades ago are rotting away and left to die of “natural causes” when they cannot be killed quick enough by the hands of the State.

And nobody cares. What could be more inhumane than to deliberately confine a man to a cage for decades (many now in excess of 30 years!) and when unable to quickly carry out his execution instead let him slowly rot away until he dies? To be deliberately isolated from the free world, abandoned and forgotten by society and given up for dead as if your life means nothing? Henry Garcia is only one of many others presently condemned to the same fate – death rows across the country have hundreds of condemned men and women perhaps even thousands, who will never actually face execution, but will be left to slowly rot away in their solitary cage until they die. Death by default is America’s new means of carry out the death penalty and this form of execution is administered not in minutes, not in hours, or ever months, or years – but in decades. It is a slow and methodically torturous death that is designed to kill the man’s soul long before the body finally gives up the ghost.

Is this what we, as a self-proclaimed “civilized” society intended? As a matter of moral conscience shouldn’t it bother us that another human being has now been left to die in a such a manner? If these men were dogs, every animal rights group in the country would beat the hates of the prison down to save them – why is it so hard for people to show that same measure of compassion to another human being? As Henry Garcia now slowly dies alone and abandoned by the world beyond, his inevitable death will remain as a commentary on the kind of society we have become – and perhaps that is the greater tragedy.

Michael Lambrix 


                                                


(Mike was executed by the state of Florida on October 5, 2017)

Friday, June 29, 2018

To Live & Die on Death Row

 Written by Mike in January, 2009

There’s a song I recall from many, many moons ago in a life now far, far away ~ the words still haunt me from time to time, and I smile… “Once was the thought inside my head, before I reach 30 I’ll be dead…” At 48 years old now. I’ve spent almost my entire adult life in a solitary cage on Florida’s death row. Doing life on death row isn’t about living at all, but about dying slow, a day at a time. If there’s anything even harder than living alone, it’s got to be dying alone, as I only exist in a very small world where death is the only absolute reality and everything else is just part of that path getting there.

But there’s many kinds of deaths ~ there’s the death of the body and the death of the soul. There’s a point man can reach when even physical death is seen as a blessing, as a means in which to end a nightmare that has no end. I remain alive only because I still have the strength within me to cling desperately to the remnants of hope that pass my way. But perhaps hope is the greatest deception of all ~and the loss of hope the cruelest death. I’ve seen it only too often, men I’ve know for years slowly broken down by the existence in this artificial environment until you can see it in their eyes ~ that dull look that means only one thing… they’ve given up hope and now await the fate of the condemned, a fate that ultimately becomes more of a mercy killing than an execution, as that physical death brings with it the promise of freedom from a fate far worse than death itself.

That’s what doing life on death row really is ~ it’s a fate worse than death. It’s being condemned not merely to death, but the torturous, methodical degradation of one’s humanity in a world designed to first break you down and make you something less than human before they finally strap that broken flesh to a cold chair or gurney and ritualistically terminate your existence. In truth, most of those ultimately executed at the hands of the state have already given up the ghost long before and have embraced death as the end of a long journey through a hell few could begin to imagine.

Hanging On To Hope
Each month all of us receive a slip of paper that advises us of any “gain time” we might have received that previous month. By law, the prison officials are required to do this, as well as provide the prisoners “presumptive release date” recalculated each month to reflect the deduction of any gain time that might have been awarded.

Every prisoner on Florida’s death row has a presumptive release date in the year 9999. That gives me only, 7992 years yet to go before my presently scheduled release and I’m already counting it down one day at a time. I’ve read in the Bible that Methuselah lived to the ripe young age of 969 years and that was thousands of years ago. So, with modern medical breakthroughs extending the average lifespan I figure I’ve got a good shot at it… all I’ve got to do is live to be at least 8,039 years old and then I’ll walk out the front gate a free man.

This is the kind of humorous “hope” that we cling on to. When these slips of paper are passed out each month, inevitably someone on the wing will holler out, “Hallelujah, baby ~ I’m coming home!” or just as often one guy hollering down the row for all to hear, “Pack your sh__, Bubba, they’re throwing you out.” And some laugh.

A lot of us talk about going home and in that stolen moment of fantasy we can see the green, green grass of home. For some, this hopeful fantasy evolves into a form of psychosis and they not only believe they’re soon going home, but know the exact date and when that date approaches they even give away their personal belongings and awake that particular morning and await the guards to escort them to the front gate. Reality is nothing more than what any of us chose to perceive it to be, and in their own little corner of their own little world , that’s their reality and in a way I truly do envy them as I remain trapped in my reality.

Through the years many have gone home, having proven before the courts that they were wrongfully convicted and upon that legal exoneration they won their freedom. There’s been more than I can remember, but knowing that there have been so many is, itself, a form of hope.

About five years ago or better a long time friend of mine, Juan Melendez, known affectionately to us as “Puerto Rican Johnny” was on the floor I was on. Johnny and I had lived in the same area out on the streets and we would often talk about places and even people we both knew. Johnny would show me pictures of the house he grew up in, of his elderly mother, and talk about how when he got out he would return home and take care of his mother.

Just before Christmas back then he got word that the lower state court threw out his convictions, recognizing that the state had illegally withheld exculpatory evidence. Mucho Macho Johnny cried that night and in our own way we all shared a tear with him. In the sixteen years that he lived among us, he became our brother. Then a few weeks after Christmas the warden came up on the floor and told Johnny to get his stuff as they were releasing him that day. Johnny’s cell was down towards the end of the hall and as he passed he spoke to each of us momentarily. As Johnny approached my cell I felt only joy ~ sharing his joy ~ as he told me, “Rum and coke, esso” … remembering our promise to have a drink in the free world . And then he was gone, but a part of each one of us walked out that front gate back into the free world with him.

Hope… yet another four letter word, a mistress that can and gladly will deceive and seduce you with her elusive charms. It’s that whisper of a promise that your time there will come too, that gives a man the strength to keep that hope alive. But when hope fails then that mistress can become the Angel of death as that lost hope becomes nothing more than the desperate last act at the end of the rope. And there are few things more despairing than to watch helplessly as the guards rush into a cell in the middle of the night and can be heard cutting a man down, then moments later passing by your cell with the cold body of someone you knew and lived among for years.

Rotting Away One Day At A TimeWhile hope is a stolen luxury that brings with it a fragile strength, death continues to be a reality that cannot be denied. For too many of us now doing life on death row this condemnation is about slowly growing old and rotting away until death claims us not at the hands of an executioner, but by “natural causes.”

Although I have now been on death row almost a quarter of a century, there are many who have been here much, much longer. After the Supreme Court threw out the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia (1972) Florida was the first state to rush newly written laws into effect to allow the continued use of capital punishment. Although these new laws didn’t pass constitutional challenge until 1976 in Proffit v. Florida, many of the men still on Florida’s death row today have been here since at least 1974.

When I was charged with the capital murder case that brought me here, I was 22 years old. Recently divorced at the time, I had three young children; my youngest barely a year old. 

                                 
            Mike shortly before being incarcerated



I look in my mirror today and it’s hard to see that young man I once was, as the face looking back is that of a grandfather. My full head of hair is long gone and what hasn’t fallen out is turning gray.

                                          
           Mike in 2009

I am not alone. Death by default that’s what it is. Too often when morally corrupt prosecutors know they cannot kill you, they will maliciously drag your case out until you simply die of old age. Under any circumstances living in solitary confinement under the stress of being condemned to death takes its toll upon the physical and mental health of even the strongest men.

Inevitably, we all grow old, and again, death is the only absolute reality. In a way I should consider myself lucky as at least I came to the row while still a young man. There are many more significantly older when they arrived and the years living in a cage were not as easy. For every man executed in the past 30 years, there’s been at least one other slowly rotting away and inevitably dying of old age.

I read recently in the past 10 years alone at least 30 men have died of “natural causes” on Florida’s death row. Some were of old age ~ others of various types of cancer… many I personally knew. With so many here now for well over 25 and even 30 years, death row is growing gray. At the front of each death row floor there is a handicapped cell intended to house the many who are already confined to wheelchairs. More than a few are now over 75 and will almost certainly slowly rot away and die in their cell as even if they lost all their appeals the governor would not sign a death warrant on them as it’s politically incorrect to put an old, physically disabled man to death ~ but it’s perfectly acceptable to, instead, let him rot away until he eventually dies.

In some cases this is actually by intent and purpose. I know at least a few here today who have lost touch with reality and if ever scheduled for execution the courts would be forced to reduce their sentence to life as it’s constitutionally prohibited to execute a person who has become legally insane. It’s also politically unacceptable to recognize their insanity and reduce their sentences to life. So that they can be transferred to a prison psychiatric unit and receive proper care. The solution is to simply ignore them ~ to deliberately let them rot away until they die in that cage. Inevitably they do… they always do.

But nobody cares. When was the last time you saw any newspaper talk about the many on death rows growing old and dying alone? Recently a national debate about the constitutionality of using lethal injection as a means of carrying out executions generated substantial media interest after Angel “Popo” Diaz was allegedly “tortured” to death by a botched execution and witnesses said it took at least 24 minutes to kill him…. 24 minutes.

But what of the many more who are slowly dying in their cells? If prolonging a man’s death for 24 minutes constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, then why can’t it also be argued that allowing a man to slowly rot away in solitary confinement for many decades until he dies is also cruel and unusual? As a presumably civilized society we are ultimately defined by the measure of humanity we show to others and yet nothing personifies that malignant evil within the heart of man than by looking at the inhumanity we so deliberately inflict upon the least of the least ~ and nothing in our contemporary society illustrates this truth better than the deliberate deprivation imposed upon the condemned ~ it’s not enough to want to take our lives, society demands that we must also suffer until we are slowly broken and then ~ for those who are lucky ~ something less than human is put to death.

From Cockroaches and Rodents to Rats and Snakes
When I first came to death row in March of 1984 this was a much different place ~ not only physically, but the mentality was different. At that time Florida’s main death row was at Florida State Prison, long infamous as the end of the line, where prisoners were warehoused when they could not be securely kept elsewhere. Physically, the wings housing death row were comparable to Third World living conditions. In the winter we froze and in the summer we boiled. With “open wings” (the interior of the wings open from the first tier all the way up to the third tier) it was noisy, as a hundred men would be yelling or watching TV or whatever. With no screens on the always broken windows, the wings were quite literally infested with cockroaches, rodents, even snakes, and birds ~ and then there were many wild cats that would come in to feed off the mice and rats.

                                              



But as bad as the physical conditions were it was a better place. In 1992 they built and opened a new building designed exclusively to house death row. Soon after the majority of the over 300 condemned were transferred to this “Northeast Unit” of the Union Correctional Institution. As I write this I can look outside the window on the catwalk and in the distance I can see the Florida State Prison ~ so close, and yet so far away.

At “FSP,” as we call it, there was a unity ~ even a “brotherhood” ~ that tied us all together. We lived in close proximity to each other and looked out for each other. If a guard came down and screwed with one of us without cause, he took on the whole wing. Although there were always a few assholes and idiots on both sides of the bars, most of us looked out for each other. Back then you knew the difference between a convict and an inmate and a correctional officer and a guard ~ and there is a world of difference. A convict is a stand up guy whose word is his bond and he knew enough to mind his own business and keep his mouth shut when he didn’t know something for a fact. An inmate was seen as a prison rat; the lowest form of life; worthy of no respect. An inmate was by nature unworthy of respect, he was the kind of guy who would lie, gossip, and backstab even his own best friend; often for no reason at all. Inmates were rare on death row back then.

Equally so, the difference between a corrections officer (known only as an “officer”) and a guard was like night and day. An officer came in to work his eight hours and go home ~ it’s just a job and he wasn’t going to take it personally. An officer had no personal malice towards the prisoners and didn’t go out of his way to provoke anyone. If he came in to do a cell search (“shakedown”) he did it without maliciously destroying your property and didn’t have to prove his manhood by being a jerk. Although avoided as much as possible, officers were respected ~ guards were not.

A guard was commonly referred to as inbred redneck scum, the kind of guy who got the job because he couldn’t work anywhere else. A guard didn’t just work eight hours ~ he lived the job and it ate him away like a cancer until all that was left was a bitter broken man who went out of his way to make everyone else miserable. He has malice in his heart and was looked upon with nothing less than contempt, not only by prisoners, but the officers who respected their job.

In those early years a man was allowed to do his own time. In the early 80’s we had only just began to see politicians begin to campaign on promises to lock up more people and make sure prisoners did “hard time.” Although physically our environment was deplorable, we would all gladly go beck if we could have all our privileges returned. Back then we had packages sent in from family and friends four times a year with personal clothes, shoes, cosmetics, maybe even a decent watch or ring and a nice radio. We were allowed to receive “hobby craft” packages monthly with materials for painting, crocheting, and all sorts of other stuff. All of that is long gone now ~ nothing comes in from the outside world anymore and anything we might get must be bought from the prison store at significantly marked up prices; the profits used to subsidize our incarceration, as the prison system has become a virtual industry with thousands of companies now dependant upon contracts they receive to provide everything from the food we eat to the toilet paper we wipe our asses with. It’s all about politics now.

Death row has changed, in every conceivable way. No longer is a man able to do his own time and mind his own business. A new generation has taken over and even so many of the old timer “convicts” are now nothing more than inmates themselves. Because of this death row has become hard time as now not only do we live in a much more deliberately segregated building with only 14 men on each closed run, but you learn to keep to yourself as the man you call a friend today will only too quickly backstab you tomorrow. Respect means nothing in this new generation. And it’s become a much lonelier place.

Watching the World Slip AwayI see that outside world only through the very limited media I’m allowed… a small TV, which the powers that be have determines necessary to prevent against insanity ~ if I were to go insane, then they could not kill me. A small “walkman” type battery powered radio, that doesn’t pick up any stations, and a few magazines and newspapers.

In my world there are no computers, no cell phones, and none of the electronic conveniences that most people take for granted. In the past 24 years I have not touched dirt or grass as our small fenced yard is nothing more than a concrete pad between two wings. I sometimes wonder if the moon and stars still exist as I haven’t seen the night sky in so many years it becomes hard to even remember it.

The deprivation of material those material things that most people simply take for granted out there in the real world certainly pale in comparison to those things that really do matter; especially in this world ~ those things that once separated make it seem that we are helplessly watching the world slowly slipping away.

It is the nature of prison to alienate a man from those he loves. For most, with very few exceptions, as the years pass the few family and friends that once stood by slowly drift away and move on with their own lives. Through the years I can count on the fingers of a single hand the number of death row prisoners who have had family consistently stand by them. Friends tend to drift away even quicker.

That’s not to say they deliberately abandon those they love at the time they need them most. I’d like to believe that most of our families and friends never intended to abandon any of us, but simply moved on and we became less and less of their lives. I’m personally blessed with a large family but haven’t had any communication at all with most of them for many, many years. Life out there in the real world doesn’t come to a stop just because we are no longer in it and as time takes its toll the distance becomes greater and before you know it you’re no longer part of their lives. That’s just the reality of doing time. Accepting that reality doesn’t make it any easier and many in here do turn cold and bitter as they’re abandoned by those who mean the most.

Most of us learn early on not to count on anyone other than ourselves. Contrary to a popular myth the prison doesn’t provide all our needs ~ at best, it provides only the absolute minimum and even then does so in such a way that encourages ~ if not coerces ~ each prisoner to actually purchase even the basic necessities from the prison store, as with each purchase the prison makes a substantial profit.

Without a friend or two outside willing to help prisoners ~ especially those on death row ~ can become even worse than what might be imagined. At least in general population most prisoners can work a job and “hustle” for what they need through a long established barter system. Death row prisoners are not allowed to work a job and have no means in which to barter ~ our only means of survival with minimal comfort is through the compassion and generosity of those who care about us.

As family and friends tend to drift away we are forced to try and reach out to new friends and establish new ties with that outside world. But there are many who hold nothing but malice in their hearts towards prisoners ~ especially death row prisoners ~ and have exerted political pressure to pass laws that now prohibit prisoners from placing personal ads that might allow them to meet new friends, perhaps even a girlfriend who might want to visit.

Florida is unique in the country in implementing these draconian rules prohibiting prisoners from attempting to meet new friends and the result can be seen ~ more and more. Those of us who have been here the longest are increasingly isolated from the free world; effectively abandoned and left to die alone. More and more I see strong men break down and give up, unwilling to have to beg their neighbors for a simple cup of coffee or bar of soap and slowly retreating into his own world of self consuming bitterness and anger and a fate far worse than death.

When it comes down to it, that’s what doing life on death row is really all about… it’s not about living, but about dying one slow day at a time. It’s about simply existing in a solitary concrete crypt. Increasingly isolated from all that really matters, of being methodically deprived of the most basic elements that make us human ~ companionship, compassion, and hope, as hope itself is dependent upon a reason to live.

As I am increasingly isolated from all that matters, that hope and will to live continues to erode ~ I’m not doing life on death row … I’m simply waiting to make my death final.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to Murder


The PEN Prison Writing Contest just released the winners for the 2017-18 contest and Mike placed third in the essay category with this essay. 

Written for MinutesBeforeSix
 
As if a scene straight out of The Twilight Zone, circumstances trapped me within the cold and calculated process that resulted in the murder by state sanctioned execution of Oscar Ray Bolin on January 7, 2016. In all the years I´ve been on Florida´s death row, I´ve never been in such close proximity to an execution as it unfolded around me, forcing me to become part of the very process that they intended to then subject me to in precisely five weeks’ time.


On November 30, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed my death warrant and I was immediately transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional (less than a mile away) to the “death watch” housing area on the bottom floor of Q-Wing at Florida State Prison. I joined Oscar down there—his own death warrant had been signed about 5 weeks earlier and they intended to murder him on January 7. There are only three cells in the death watch area, and Oscar was in cell one, and I was place in cell three, with an empty cell separating us.


Through those five weeks, each day brought him closer—his wife of almost twenty years solidly by his side, uncompromised in her commitment to stand by him and prove that he was innocent. And those familiar with the case knew that recently developed evidence did establish a persuasive issue of innocence, too.


His final rounds of appeals focused specifically on evidence supporting his innocence and the hope that the courts would do the right thing. As the New Year weekend passed, the Federal District Court summarily denied review of his innocence claim upon the finding that the lower Federal Court didn´t have jurisdiction to hear his claim of innocence. But there was hope, as the District Court granted a “Certificate of Appealability” (“C.O.A.”) authorizing appellate review before the Eleventh Circuit, and soon after the Eleventh Circuit issued an order establishing a “briefing schedule” in March…it seemed all but certain that Oscar would be granted a stay of execution and his claim of innocence would be fully briefed and heard by the appellate court.


Monday, January 4 passed as he anxiously awaited word that a stay of execution would be granted, but there was only silence from the court. Each day his wife spent every minute she could and it is impossible to imagine the pain she felt—she too was unquestionably a victim caught up in this cold process that unfolded around her.


I sat in my solitary cell not more than ten feet away and found myself impressed with the strength Oscar exhibited, and the concern he held for his wife and what this process inflicted on her. Society wanted to label this man a cold-blooded killer, yet if only those only too willing to throw stones could see the desperate concern he had for his wife, they could see how wrong they are.


Now I struggle to find the words—and with a reluctance to even write about what I involuntarily witnessed. But if I don´t, then who will? And is it really fair that the record of what transpired would otherwise be the state´s own version, leaving no perspective from those that they kill?
                                              


I must emphasize that even as much as these events impacted me due to my close proximity to this process, it is not comparable to what they were forced to endure, and the loss those who loved Oscar Bolin suffered. My attempt to share what transpired from my own unique perspective is done in the hope that perhaps by bearing witness, others would see just how incomprehensibly inhuman this process is, and how truly cold-blooded this act of murder is…and to know it is carried out in all of our names.


And I apologize for rambling on—it is not easy for me to find the necessary words. I can only hope that I can convey the true impact of what unfolded and compel those that read this to ask themselves whether this truly is what we aspire our society to be? It´s easy to justify the death penalty by claiming that it is in the interest of justice to kill those convicted of killing another—to become a killer ourselves. 


But how many give a thought at all to just how much contemplation is put into this process employed to take that life? I am again reminded of what I once read, written by the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”


Think about that. It´s easy to dismiss what I say by blindly insisting that a jury convicted Oscar Bolin of murder and that justice demands that society take his life. But really—who is actually investing more conscious thought into the act of taking a human life?


It is for this reason I´m determined to share my own unique perspective of what this process is, and how by these very actions it reduces society itself to that very level of becoming “the monster.” Perhaps in my attempt to share this, others can see just how wrong this is.


On the early morning of Monday, January 4, the day began with the death watch staff advising both me and Oscar of our scheduled visits and phone calls for that day, I had already asked my family and friends not to visit that week as I didn´t want my visits to interfere in any way with Oscar´s visits. All I had was a phone call from my son early that morning and a legal phone call with my lawyer later that day.


Oscar had a visit with his wife and both anxiously awaited any word from the Eleventh Circuit courts hoping that a full stay of execution would come and the court would allow full and fair review of his innocence claim. But the day passed without any word from the court. By that evening Bolin was down to 72 hours—and I know from personal experience how difficult that was, as I had come within hours of execution myself when I was on death watch years earlier—only I was granted a stay.


By Tuesday morning, January 5, Oscar was down to sixty hours, and the clock continued to tick away and yet still nothing from the courts on whether they would allow his claim of innocence to be heard. Oscar spent from late morning until mid-afternoon with his wife in the non-contact visiting area. Upon his return, his demeanor was more subdued and the stress and anxiety he felt became all but tangible. And as I sat silently a few feet away in my own solitary cell, I wondered whether any of those willing to take his life gave even so much as a moment of thought into what they were inflicting upon other human beings—and again, Oscar was not the only one forced to count down those final hours anxiously hoping that phone would ring with the news that the court would allow his claim of innocence to be heard…every second of every moment, every hour that passed inflicted incomprehensible pain upon his wife and those that cared for him.


That evening passed in an uncomfortable silence as the courts would have closed their doors for the night and no news would come until at least that next morning. That psychological trauma of uncertainty weighed heavily upon them.


I doubt Oscar slept much that Tuesday night—I know I didn´t. His T.V. remained on into the early morning hours. By that next morning (Wednesday) he was down to about thirty six hours until his still scheduled execution and still no word from the court. It would be a long day. They brought the breakfast trays as they did each morning, but neither of us had any interest in eating. Down here on death watch, our meals are kept under direct supervision of security staff to ensure nobody (other prisoners or staff) has any chance of tampering with the food or smuggling anything to the condemned prisoner.


This methodical countdown to the intended execution actually starts a full week before, when they remove all personal property from the condemned prisoner´s cell, placing him (or her) on “Phase II.” From the moment they place the condemned prisoner on Phase II (that final week) a guard is posted directly in front of the cell twenty four hours a day, his only job to observe the condemned prisoner to ensure he (or she) doesn´t attempt suicide or harm themselves—and a few have tried. Any activity is written in a forest green “Death Watch Log.” Throughout this time, not even for one second are you allowed to forget that they are counting down your last days—and last hours.


Oscar again had a visit with his wife as she stood faithfully by him spending every moment she could—even if those visits were restricted to a few hours of non-contact (through glass) visits.


By early afternoon Oscar returned to his death watch cell—still no word from the court. The hours dragged by as Oscar talked to the guard stationed in front of his cell, simply talking about anything at all.


Warden Palmer came down, accompanied by Deputy Secretary Dixon (the second highest Department of Corrections employee). They talked to Oscar for a while mostly just to check on how he was holding up. But the preparations had begun and that final twenty four hours was quickly approaching. After they talked to Oscar, they stepped that few feet further down to the front of my cell and spoke to me.


I must admit that I was impressed by their professionalism and their sincerity that bordered on genuine concern. Perhaps the most heard expression on death watch is an almost apologetic “we´re just doing our job” and the truth is that the current staff assigned to work the death watch area and interact with the condemned prisoners counting down their final hours do go to great lengths to treat us with a sense of dignity and respect seldom even seen in the prison system.


The significance of this cannot be understated. I´ve been down here on death watch before years ago and came within hours of being executed myself, and there´s always been a deliberate distance between the condemned and the staff—especially the higher ranking staff. But it´s different this time. In the five weeks that I´ve been down here almost daily high ranking staff have come down to the death watch housing area and made a point of talking to us in an informal manner, abandoning that implicit wall of separation between them and us.


And now none other than the Deputy Secretary himself personally came down to talk to us—I´ve never heard of this before. Shortly after they left, Oscar asked the sergeant for the barber clippers. He wanted to shave his own chest and legs, rather than have them do it the next day. It had to be done, as the lethal injection process requires the attachment of heart monitors and Oscar preferred to shave it himself—as most would.


Oscar received another legal phone call later that afternoon—now down to almost twenty four hours until his scheduled execution and still no decision by the Eleventh Circuit as to whether or not they´d allow review of his innocence claim. The lawyers would call if any news came, but it was assumed that the judges deciding his fate already called it a day and went home. No further phone call came that night. Again Oscar stayed up late, unable to sleep until sometime in the early morning hours and he was not alone, as sleep would be hard to come by.


We reached the day of execution. Typically, they change shifts at 6:00 a.m. working a full twelve hour shift. But on days of scheduled execution, they change shifts at 4:30 a.m., as with the execution scheduled at 6:00 p.m. they cannot do a shift change then, as the entire institution will go on lockdown during that time.


With that final twenty four hours now counting down, each minute was managed by strict “Execution Day” protocol, and the day started earlier than usual. As if an invisible cloud hung in the air, you could all but feel the weight of this day as it was that tangible, and undoubtedly more so on Oscar. But he was holding up remarkably well, maintaining his composure even though the strain was obvious in his voice. How does one go about the day that they know they are to die? Again, I´ve been there myself and I know how he felt and it cannot easily be put into words.


Oscar was diabetic and as with each morning, the nurse came to check his blood sugar level and administer insulin, if necessary. Now within that final twelve hours, nothing would be left to chance. Around 7:00 a.m., they let Oscar take a shower, and then after locking down the entire institution, they took him up front for a last visit with his wife. They would be allowed a two hour non-contact visit until 10:00 a.m., then an additional one hour contact visit—the last visit before the scheduled execution.


Shortly after 11:00 a.m. they escorted Oscar back to the Q-Wing death watch cell. A few minutes later “Brother Dale” Recinella was allowed to come down and spend a few hours with Oscar as his designated spiritual advisor. Contrary to the Hollywood movies depicting the execution process, the prison chaplain is rarely, if ever, involved as each of us are allowed to have our own religious representative—and many choose “Brother Dale” as he is well-known and respected amongst the death row population.


Many years ago Brother Dale was a very successful lawyer, making more money than most can dream of. But then he experienced a life-changing event and spiritual transformation, as chronicled in his book “And I Walk on Death Row”. Brother Dale and his equally-devoted wife Susan gave up their wealth and privilege and devoted their lives to their faith and ministering to death row.                                      

Even as these final hours continued to count down, I remained in that solitary cell only a few feet away and unable to escape the events as the continued to unfold around me. There are only three cells on death watch and I found it odd that they kept me down here as they proceeded with this final process—when I was on death watch in 1988, they moved me upstairs to another cell removed from the death watch area as they didn´t want any other prisoners in the death watch area as these final events unfolded.


Brother Dale left about 2:00 p.m. and the death watch lieutenant, a familiar presence on death watch, then made a point of talking to Oscar and they went over the protocol—shortly before 4:00 p.m. he would shower again and then be brought around to the west side of the wing where they had only one cell immediately adjacent to the door that led to the execution chamber. I listened as this process was explained, knowing only too well that in precisely five more weeks I would be given the same talk.


The warden and Asst. warden came down again and talked to Oscar. A few minutes later the Secretary (director) of the Florida Department of Corrections, Julie Jones, personally came to Oscar´s cell and sat in a chair and talked to him—I´ve never heard of that happening before. But her tone of voice and mannerisms reflected genuine empathy towards Oscar, and he thanked her for taking that time to talk to him.


As they now closed in on that final two hours before the scheduled execution, Oscar received another phone call from his lawyer—the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals still had not ruled on whether they would grant a stay of execution and allow a full review of his pled innocence claim. Oscar´s voice was obviously stressed. Per protocol, the nurse gave him 5 mg. valium to calm his nerves.


Just before 4:00 p.m., Oscar spoke to me, wanting to talk about a problem he and I had years ago—a problem that I alone was responsible for and of which I have often regretted. In the five weeks we had been on death watch together, it was not spoken of. But now, to my amazement, even dealing with all that he was dealing with, Oscar wanted me to know that he forgave me for what I did. And for a few minutes we talked. And then the warden and his staff removed Oscar from his cell and escorted him around to the west side of the wing, to the execution chamber holding cell, where he would remain until the court cleared the way for execution, or he received a stay of execution and was brought back to this side.


A single sergeant remained on this side, and for the first time since I was brought to death watch I was alone as the sergeant remained at the desk just outside the cell block area—and I didn´t want to be alone. As I do often, especially when stressed, I paced in my cell anxious to hear any word on what was going on and checking my watch almost every minute, and each minute dragged by so slowly it was almost as if time itself had stopped and I couldn´t begin to imagine what Oscar and his wife were going through.


At irregular intervals the sergeant would walk down to my cell to check on me and I asked whether there was any more news. The Eleventh Circuit had denied his appeal and the case quickly moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court. The designated time of scheduled execution—6:00 p.m.—came and went without any word from the Supreme Court.


Oscar would remain in that holding cell until the Supreme Court cleared the way for execution—but at least both he and his loved ones still had hope as the minutes continued to tick away.


Most don´t realize just how many people are involved in this execution process and everybody remained on hold not knowing whether the execution would proceed or not. Immediately adjacent to my cell was a solid steel door that led directly into a hallway stretching the entire width of the wing. Just inside this door was an area with a coffee pot and chairs, and I could hear a number of unknown people congregated only a few feet away from me on the other side of the door as they discussed the continued uncertainty.


A larger crowd of unknown participants congregated on the lower quarter-deck area between the west side of the wing where the death watch housing area was and the door that led into the east side where Oscar remained in the holding cell. I couldn´t make out what they were saying and wondered, especially when I periodically heard laughter. I suppose this long wait was stressful on them, too, and a moment of levity could be forgiven. And yet I found myself wondering what they could possibly find funny as they awaited that moment of time when they would each assume their assigned task and take the life of another human being.


One hour passed, and then another, and another yet. Then at almost 10:00 p.m. it suddenly got quiet—very quiet. All the voices that continuously hummed both behind that steel door and the quarter-deck area just suddenly went silent and without anyone around to tell me; I knew that they all moved to their positions in the execution chamber.
                                          
                             Vigil Oscar Bolin


It remained utterly silent—so quiet that I could hear the coffee pot percolating at the sergeant´s desk on the other side of the gate and I held my watch as the minutes passed and I strained to hear any sound at all. But there was nothing and I knew they were now putting Oscar to death. I cannot explain it, but I just felt it—and I got on my knees and I prayed, and yet I couldn´t find any words and found myself kneeling at my bunk in silence for several minutes.


Then I heard what sounded like a door on the other side of that concrete wall that separated my cell from the execution chamber. Then I once again heard muffled voices on the other side of that steel door. It was over and it went quickly…Oscar was dead. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a number of people going up the stairs leading away from the execution chamber. Their job was done and in an orderly manner they were leaving.


For obvious reasons, I didn´t sleep that night. Only a few feet behind that wall of my cell, Oscar´s body now lay growing cold. There are no words that can describe how I felt, but that emptiness that consumed me and left me laying in my bunk in complete silence through the night.


Somewhere in the early morning hours I fell asleep, only to awaken just after 7:00 a.m. It was a new day. The death watch Lieutenant was already here and I was now the only one left on death watch. But just that quickly, I was instructed that I had to immediately pack my property as they had to move me to cell one—the cell that Oscar only recently vacated.


I didn´t want to move to that cell, but I didn´t have any choice. That was the same cell I previously occupied in late 1988 when I myself came within hours of my own execution (read, “The Day God Died”) and especially knowing that only a few hours again Oscar was in that cell still alive and holding on to hope, I just didn´t want to be moved to that cell. Every person who has been executed in the State of Florida in the past forty years was housed in that cell prior to their execution.


But it wasn´t a choice and I obediently packed my property and with the officer´s assistance, I was moved from cell three to cell one. And as I worked on putting all my property back where it belonged (storing it in the single steel footlocker bolted firmly to the floor), a long-awaited phone call from my close friend Jan Arriens came through.


While on death watch, we are allowed two personal phone calls each week, and since my warrant was signed five weeks earlier, I had anxiously awaited the opportunity to talk to Jan, but through the Christmas holiday he was visiting his family in Australia. Having only recently returned to his home in England, he arranged this phone call.


It was good to hear a friendly voice just at that time when I most especially needed a friend. But we only had a few minutes to talk and unlike those eternal moments of the night before, these minutes passed far too quickly. But just hearing the voice of a friend comforted me.


Shortly after that phone call, I then had a legal visit and was escorted to the front of the prison to meet with my lawyer´s investigator. We spent hours going over legal issues and then it was back to the death watch cell. Not long after I returned, I learned that the governor had already signed another death warrant. This machinery of death continued to roll along. By mid-afternoon a familiar face was brought down to join me…Mark Asay (who we call “Catfish”) had his death warrant signed that morning, with his execution scheduled for March 17, exactly 5 weeks after my own scheduled execution.
                                          


With the methodical precision of a mechanical machine, Florida has resumed executions with a vengeance, establishing a predictable pattern of signing a new death warrant even before the body of the last executed prisoner has grown cold.


Now I remain in the infamous “cell one,” next in line to be executed—and on February 11, 2016 at 6:00 p.m., the State of Florida plans to kill me. Until then, I will remain in a cell in which the last twenty three occupants, without exception, resided until their own execution. I do not like being in this solitary cell. 

Mike Lambrix

(Mike was executed by the state of Florida on October 5, 2017, Mark Asay was executed August 24, 2017)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Alcatraz of the South Part 9 “Fire in the Hole”


Written for MinutesBeforeSix website

"Today, March 29, is Mike's birthday and in his honor we are posting 
a previously unpublished essay he wrote in the summer of 2017."


To read Part 8 click here

As I stood at the back of the cell one late September morning in 1988, an unfamiliar voice yelled out from somewhere downstairs, “Fire in the hole!” It was quickly echoed by others to make sure everybody heard. A white shirt was on the wing. Back then the wing sergeants and officers generally left us alone to do our own time, just as long as we didn't make them look bad. And we'd get a heads up if the confinement lieutenant (”white shirt”) came on the wing so we could tighten up and at least make it look good. There's a lot of truth to what they say about how shit runs downhill... -- if we made the wing Sergeant look bad, it would come down hard and heavy on us and nobody wanted that.
 
                                              

Quickly, I tried to do what I had to do. I was already on disciplinary confinement (”the hole”) for fighting on the recreation yard a few weeks earlier over a stupid call during a basketball game. I only had about another week to do before my 30 days were up. But if I got caught with any contraband while in the hole, it would add another 15 days.  Football season had already started, and I really wanted my TV back.

When they first called out, I had just started to heat up a cup of water to make my morning coffee. That isn't as easy as it might sound when you're in the hole. Just getting someone to smuggle a bit of instant coffee to you was enough to make you think seriously about quitting, but I loved my coffee. It was one of the very few pleasures that I had no intention of giving up if I didn't absolutely have to. I was willing to risk another 15 days in the hole rather than do without.

Then there was the problem of heating the coffee, as there was no electricity to the cell and no coffee pot, either. Never underestimate how resourceful a prisoner can be. Each morning we got a half pint of milk at breakfast, in a small waxed carton. By taking my roll of toilet paper and wrapping it around my fingers and palm until it made a small but loosely wrapped roll, then tucking in both the top and bottom, I made what we called a “bomb.” I had purchased a small piece of wire with trading stamps. By touching the wire to the top and side of the battery while holding the end of a cotton Q-tip to the wire, first a bit of smoke, then a small flame would appear. In a single, fluid motion I would drop the battery and hold that now smoldering Q-tip to the bottom of the bomb and use it to set it on fire. The flames sprang to life in the hollow core of the bomb. I sat it down on the edge of the toilet, balanced precariously above the water only inches away. I would hold the small milk carton filled with water above the bomb, which was by now burning like a small campfire. Within minutes the water would come to a boil.
 
                                               

I stood there wearing nothing but my baggy state issue white boxer shorts, since even late September in a concrete and steel box gets hot, too hot to wear clothes if you don't need to. Like most on the third floor (heat rises to the top), I wore as little as possible. When the “Fire in the hole” call came, I at first thought little of it as the daily rounds typically never had the Lieutenant coming up to the third floor.  Nobody wanted to walk into the scorching oven if they didn't have to.

But then I heard the distinctive sound of heavy brass keys turning the lock on the steel security gate leading onto the tier where I was housed. I knew they were on my floor. As quickly as I could, I pushed the burning toilet paper bomb into the toilet, a generous puff of smoke rising as the water extinguished the flame. I pushed the chromed button, causing the toilet to come to life with a loud groan flushing the disintegrating bomb down the pipes. I went to the nearby bunk, stashing my coffee under the pillow and turning a half step around to sit on the steel footlocker against the wall as if I was doing nothing at all.

No sooner did I sit down then Lt. Walmsley and the Administrative Sergeant Timothy Giebreg were standing at my cell door. Lt Walmsley called out, “Inmate Lambrix.” I had to suppress a laugh, since he obviously knew who I was, and he ordered me to stand. I stood and stepped the short step to the cell front and said, “Yeah?” He instructed me to grab my address book and get dressed as I had to go up front.

Instantly, I knew what it was. We have all seen this play out too many times before. When a white shirt shows up at your cell and tells you to grab your address book, that meant the Governor had signed your death warrant, scheduling your execution. You would be escorted up front to see the Warden. We all knew the routine.

They waited at my cell front, watching closely as I opened up my footlocker to retrieve a small notebook I had already prepared with the names and phone numbers of my family and friends. Although death row prisoners were not allowed to make phone calls, the exception was when the governor signed your death warrant they would allow you to make one phone call to either family or a friend (many of those on the row had long been alienated from their family), which is why they told us to grab our address books, I reached for my blue state issue canvas pants and apricot colored t- shirt, the color of the t-shirt indicating that I was death sentenced.

As I began to dress, a few of the guys in the hole with me called to me. They already knew what was going on, each calling out, “take it easy, Mike” and other cordial comments. A few cells away, Ted Bundy called down, jokingly telling me he'd hold my cell as long as he could. I laughed and responded that he'd better or he wouldn't get the fruit pie I still owed him. I didn't really owe him one but that was his weakness, he really loved his Little Hostess pies we could buy once a week off the prison canteen (store) and there never were but a few available each week so the inmate canteen clerk usually charged a premium, especially if you wanted more than one. When I could, I'd pick up a few for Ted so that he didn't get robbed too badly by the greedy bastards out to exploit us.
 
                                            

Once dressed, I already knew to back up to the cell door. A I did, I felt the handcuffs being secured on my wrists. Anytime we were removed from our cell, even if only going to the shower at the front of each tier, we were handcuffed behind our back. We would stay physically restrained until we were securely locked in a cage, whether it was our assigned cell, or the shower cell, with the exception of the recreation yard and the visiting park (for social visits with family and friends).

I had only been under a sentence of death a little over four years and had not had the opportunity to pursue collateral, post conviction review. This was the only opportunity to argue evidence the jury never heard, evidence that supported your innocence. Also other substantive claims that would show that your court appointed trial lawyer failed to provide competent legal representation, resulting in a wrongful conviction.

I didn't even have a lawyer assigned to my case. Florida's governor, Robert Martinez, one of a then new breed of Rabid Rednecks Republicans (”RRR,” the natural evolution of the politically unpopular 'KKK') who won political office on promises of exploiting executions by any means necessary had, for the first time, used the power of the governors office to sign so many death warrants that it overwhelmed the judicial system. Eventually, significant changes were made to prevent future governors from abusing the power of the office as Governor Martinez had.

As I was being escorted off the tier, past each cells and barely aware of the words of encouragement spoken by each prisoner, I felt emotionally numb. The reality that I was being led to “death watch” to face my own execution, began to weigh heavily upon me.

We exited the wing, into the main corridor that runs the length of the prison (please read, Alcatraz of the South, Part I and II) the Lieutenant radioed for a security lockdown, since protocol was that anytime a “death watch” inmate was brought out into the main corridor, the entire prison was put on lockdown. Before the Lieutenant had finished broadcasting over the hand held security radio, the solid steel doors at each of the twelve wings began to slam shut, loudly echoing as steel met steel with a thunderous force. When the last door was secure we began to move up the main corridor, southward towards the “Colonel's office,” where the Warden would be waiting.

With the Admin Sergeant to one side and the Lieutenant at the other, we moved at a leisurely pace, neither in too much of a hurry. Once past the “Corridor E” security gate, we slowly walked past the dayrooms used for general population prisoners, each dayroom separated from the main corridor by windows. At each window, prisoners looked out. Many were former death row prisoners and as I recognized a familiar face, I nodded and he would silently nod back. At almost a quarter mile long, it took a few minutes before we finally reached what is commonly known as “Times Square”, where just inside another set of security gates the main corridor intersected with the secondary hallways.

The main control room for the prison was at the southeast corner of Times Square. The officer inside electronically opened the security gate and we walked through and across the intersection another or so paces, before stopping at yet another electronically controlled security gate that led into a small complex of administrative offices as well as the small rooms where death row had their legal visits. Walking inside, we then crossed the open area at the center of these offices, going directly to the office in the far corner. I had never been in that office before, but knew it was the Colonels’. The highest-ranking security officer at each state prison, formally titled, “Chief Security Officer,” wears the quasi-military rank of Colonel.

Nudging me by the arm, the Lieutenant guided me a few steps into that wood paneled office until I stood in front of a heavy wood desk. Rumor had it that the desk was made out of the same hardwood oak used by inmate labor to build “Old Sparky,” Florida’s infamous three legged electric chair.

I immediately recognized Warden Tom Barton sitting behind the desk. He looked up at me and said, “Morning Michael...do you know why you are here?” Hearing him call me by my first name kind of threw me for a moment as I've known Warden Barton for a few years, and never heard him call anyone anything but inmate, usually with an unmistakable tone of contempt in his voice, comparable to the inflection a plantation owner would use towards his slaves.

As he spoke, he held up a single piece of paper that had a distinctive black border around the edge. The “death warrant” that Governor Martinez had signed, ordering my execution. Warden Barton then proceeded to read the warrant, word for word, and as he came to the end where it said that my execution was to be carried out the last week of November, at a specific day and time set by the Warden, Mr. Barton looked up over his steel framed glasses and without even a hint of emotion, informed me that I was scheduled for November 30, 1988 at 7:00 am.

Warden Barton asked if I had any questions, but I had none. As he rose to his feet, he informed me that the death watch Sergeant would explain how things work down there. I felt a hand take me by my elbow and lead me back out and down that long corridor again, only this time we did not stop at the death row housing wing that I had come off of, but instead proceeded to the very end of the corridor and the heavy steel door over which was the letter “Q”... the infamous “Q-Wing, and it wouldn't be my last time there. I already knew that the top row of the three floors were used to house prisoners in ultra maximum security cells unlike anything else in the Florida prison system, since I had previously spent time in those cells when I got into trouble. Each of the two upper floors had twelve cells, six to each side, each cell within it's own concrete crypt. When the steel door closed it became a world of its own, completely isolating the occupant from all else.

But this time I wasn't brought upstairs. Instead, as we walked on to Q-Wing, I was instructed to go down the staircase inside the door. Lt. Walmsley held me by the elbow, not so much to offer support so I wouldn't fall, but to exert his control over me. We descended downward one floor, and as we reached the bottom I was immediately surprised by how clean it was -- even the concrete floor common in prison was tiled and polished to a bright shine.

To the right was a heavy steel gate made of the same bars as our cells and just inside was a Sergeant. He quickly got up from his desk and using the heavy brass key, opened the security gate and we stepped inside. I already knew the Sergeant since he worked the death row wing from time to time and we exchanged greetings. Just as I started to walk through the open gate, Sgt. D. laughed and told me I wasn’t going in there yet, pointing to the other side of the wing. I would be on the West side for now.

Locking the security gate behind him, Sgt. D. and Lt. Walmsley led me about 25 feet to the West side and then another almost identical heavy security gate was opened and we stepped inside. I had never been in this part of the prison. I walked past a small closet, a shower cell, then three cells in a row, each surprisingly large -- almost twice as big as the regular death row cells.

Sgt. D. asked me which of the three cells I wanted. I laughed at the thought that I had a choice, since I've never been given that kind of choice before. In the open area outside the cells near a large steel-barred window was a small table with a microwave and large coffee urn on it. I said that I'd take the middle cell, not only to be close to that table, but to be as far away as possible from both the front security gate we just walked in, and the nearby solid steel door at the back. I already knew without being told that it led into the execution chamber where the electric chair awaited it's next victim.

As soon as I was secured in the “death watch” cell, the Sergeant removing the handcuffs, Lt. Walmsley walked away without another word. Sgt. D. told me that he was going to wait a bit before he explained how things work on death watch, since I had a neighbor coming. He asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee, and I said, “Oh, hell, yeah!” Sgt. D. disappeared around to the other side of the wing where his desk was, returning a few minutes later with a small Styrofoam cup of fresh, percolated coffee which I thanked him for as I took it from him. We heard voices coming down the stairs.

A moment later Lt. Long appeared in front of my cell, escorting Amos King. He asked Sgt. D. which cell he wanted King in, and Sgt. D. said that he could pick and Amos chose the third cell and stepped inside, and once he was secured in that cell, Lt. Long left.
 
                                               

I didn't really know Amos although I had met him a few times out on the recreation yard. Sgt. D. left because Amos wanted a cup of coffee, too. Because of the way the cells were situated I couldn't see into the adjacent cells, but Amos and I began to talk around the concrete wall that separated us. The first thing we both wanted to know was how long it would be before they brought our personal property to us so that we could write our family and friends to let them know we had our death warrants signed.

As Amos and I were talking, Sgt. D. brought him his cup of coffee and then Lt. Walmsley suddenly reappeared, this time escorting Robert “Bob” Teffeteller. I had already known Bob for a few years and was almost glad to see him, since I couldn't ask for a better guy to have to go through death watch with. Like myself, Bob had a healthy, if a bit twisted, sense of humor and didn't waste anytime throwing his first shot at me, even before they put him in the front cell. ”Awwhh, hell, Mike,” he said in his backwoods Tennessean accent, “What the hell did you get us into now?” We all laughed, and Amos quickly quipped, “Hey don't blame Mike, it was one of you Bob's that done this shit,” (referring to Governor “Bob” Martinez), and we all laughed again.

As we had our little bit of fun, Sgt. D. pulled up a chair in front of my cell so he could talk to all three of us at once. With a grin, he said, “Alright, children, settle down” and we found that funny, too. Then Sgt. D. proceeded to explain the death watch protocol, letting us know that as long as we had money in our account we could buy whatever we wanted from the prison canteen everyday (instead of only once a week on the regular death row) and that there was a small refrigerator for sandwiches and sodas, and a microwave for heating things up, as well as a coffee pot just for death watch.

He then explained that we would be allowed a legal phone call once a day as well as two social phone calls to family or friends each week. Amos quickly asked, “What's a phone?” since regular death row was not allowed phone calls, and that got a few chuckles. We would not be allowed to go to the rec yard while on death watch, and would only be allowed non-contact visits with those on our approved visiting list. We already knew all of that, since although this was our first time on death watch, we knew from others what the special rules were.

The rest of the day passed quickly and toward the late afternoon the property room Sergeant brought our personal property and small black and white TVs to us (at the time, death row was not allowed to have color TVs-it wasn't until 2004 that we were finally allowed to purchase small color TV’s).

As the days and weeks passed, Amos and Bob and I formed a close comradery, constantly passing the time talking and joking. Since it was our first death warrant, none of us were concerned as we knew that nobody was executed on their first death warrant-at least, they weren't back then. That later changed.

But it wasn't all fun and our gallows sense of humor only hid the stress we all felt as the reality of possible death hung over us. as well as those closest to us. Especially in the morning hours a heavy silence would hang over the cell block until one of us finally called out to another and asked how we're doing. If the silence became too prolonged we would check up on each other and use humor to take that edge off.

On the other side of the death watch floor they had Leo Jones and Jeff Daugherty, next in line for scheduled execution. The reality of the uncertainty of our fate was driven home that first week of November when in the early morning hours of November 7, 1988 the Lieutenant came down and woke us up and told us to grab what we need for the day as we were being moved upstairs right away.
They told us that Jeff didn't get a stay of execution as we all had expected. At that time Florida carried out executions around 7:00 a.m. Grabbing our bedrolls and some writing materials, one by one we were moved upstairs since they didn't want any prisoners on the death watch floor when they were carrying out an execution. That would also change in later years (please read: “Execution Day- Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder”).

Each of us was placed in a cell on the second floor and waited the hours out, knowing that downstairs they were putting Jeff to death. Around mid- morning the wing Sergeant told us to grab our property since we were going back downstairs. A short while later the death watch Sergeant came and escorted us, one by one, back downstairs.

Not long after that Bob got a Stay of Execution and was moved back to the regular death row housing area. About a week later Leo Jones came within a few hours of execution, even having his head and lower leg shaved and eating his last meal, before receiving a Stay of Execution and also being moved back to the death row housing wing.

After Leo was moved off death watch, they moved Amos King and me around to the east side. We were now the next in line for scheduled execution did Amos was put in cell three and I was placed in cell one. That same day they moved Abron Scott, John Marek and David Johnston to the west side cells we’d just vacated and we had a full house again.

As our scheduled execution date drew closer, Amos got a stay while I remained alone on death watch. (Please read “The Day God Died” which describes my last few days on death watch). On November 28, 1988 I finally received a 48 hour temporary Stay of Execution and then on December 2, 1988 I received a full Stay of Execution and was moved back to the regular death row wing.
 
                                                  

As the years passed, every person I was on death watch with died except me. Of the eight men I shared that experience with, I am the only one still alive. 

Leo Jones, Jeffrey Daughtery, John Morek and Amos King all were eventually executed, while my brother Bob died of cancer over a decade later, and David Johnston died of a heart attack when a second death warrant was signed against him in 2010. Myself I would survive another death watch experience. (check out the PBS documentary “Cell One” about my 2016 death watch experience at http://cellone.wlrn.digital/)