Written by Mike Monday, 16 February 2009When 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.
(Mike was executed by the state of Florida on October 5, 2017)