Mike was taken from us one year ago today, he is still missed.
We hold you close within our hearts,
And there you will remain.
To walk with us through out our lives
Until we meet again
Rest in Peace dear friend..
The following is an unpublished essay, written by Mike for MinutesBeforeSix
As the Embers of Hope Die Out
(Written August 2017)
Our beloved Mike was executed by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017. To honor his memory, we share with you this essay he wrote eight weeks before his execution.
What is hope? As a man condemned to death I´ve often confronted that elusive question. But even after decades of desperately clinging to the thing we call hope, I still cannot define it. One day it´s there and I find strength from it, and, the next it´s not.
In my world, hope is the light keeping the darkness at bay. The warmth of its fire keeps a man´s soul from growing cold, but like the flames of a candle, it burns only as long as it has substance to feed upon. And then the embers of hope die out and the darkness closes in around you. And maybe that´s not such a bad thing. Darkness can become your only true friend (read: “Hello, Darkness – My Old Friend”) as the overwhelming weight of not only physical, but emotional and even spiritual loneliness closing in around you. The solitude of your mere existence drags you down like an anvil as the powers that be cast you into a bottomless sea of despair.
Hope gives you strength to fight, to frantically claw your way back up to the surface. As you break water, hope is the desperate gasp for air before you´re dragged down again, and again, again.
Maybe hope is best defined not by what it is, but by its absence, since hopelessness weighs so much. During my three plus decades in solitary confinement on Florida´s “death row,” I have been forced to confront my own mortality too many times as my own date with death approached I’ve also witnessed too many others take that last walk toward the other side (read, “Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder”). I know that while the physical deprivations might inflict pain upon your flesh, such pain pales in comparison to the emptiness inside. Psychological isolation, emotional abandonment and the absence of someone to love and to be loved by inflicts the greatest pain. While this environment might batter and bruise my fragile flesh, those wounds will heal. But this living death becomes even worse than any concept of hell. I hold such contempt for the concept of hope even as I struggle to keep it from slipping away.
Sometimes I wonder whether it´s a coincidence that the width of my concrete crypt is six foot from wall to wall, the same as the depth of a common grave. Or could it be by design? Could it be that long ago, about the time I was conceived, those who laid the first concrete blocks that would make up Florida State Prison somehow knew that I and others would one day be cast down into the bowels of this beast where we would remain? So many of us entombed as decade after decade would crawl by and those around us would die off or mentally fade away one at a time. The familiar faces would become fewer and fewer, until the number of those I once knew would greatly outweigh the number of those I now choose not to get to. I know that those I allowed myself to grow too close to would one day be taken away, too, as that was the nature of the beast.
Increasingly, as the years slip away, there are many long nights when I´m unable to sleep. In darkness I silently arise from the steel bunk bolted to the wall. Before the catwalk lights come on and they run breakfast, I sit on the edge of my bunk feeling empty and so alone. As loneliness consumes both body and soul, I stand and move two short steps toward the cold concrete wall. Press my back firmly against it and look straight ahead towards the shadow on the opposite wall six foot away. I imagine I am already dead, and find comfort in that illusion. Inevitably I begin to see beyond the wall where the ground above my imaginary grave gives way to the world beyond. Perhaps, if I stare long enough, I can penetrate the barrier between what once was and could have been my life, and death. I dare to dream of where I want to be: beyond this living death.
But try as I might, the cold concrete wall never truly gives way. The reality of its unyielding nature consumes me yet again. Deep down in my tortured soul, I find myself seeking comfort not in the hope of freedom, but in the freedom that might only come from mortal death. In death, I hope, the misery of my existence might end.
At thirty minute intervals the guards make their “body check” rounds on the outer catwalks to make sure that none of us actually drops dead. It´s not uncommon for them to find one of us hanging from a homemade sheet-rope. The heavy brass key turns the steel lock of the gate leading onto the tier, and I hear the boot steps getting closer and closer. The tell-tale wag of the flashlight dances through the darkness, and I quickly move back to my bunk and pretend to be asleep until he passes, wondering whether I am the only one that indulges in this ritual. Maybe others around me do too.
A few minutes later, the guard has reached the end of the tier and begins to walk back. I remain nestled in my bunk as if I had never moved at all, and once again the beam of light breaks the darkness, illuminating my solitary cell and quickly moving on to the next. The boot steps fade and I wait for the distinctive sound of the brass key turning the lock, knowing that I will have another 30 minutes before the next unwelcome interruption. I arise, and take my place against the wall once again, and resume my ritual of imaginary death.
Few understand that this ritual is not the abandonment of hope, but rather the evolution of hope. In dreaming of death, I find a perverse form of renewal – a sort of spiritual communion that gives me a newfound strength. In those moments of embracing the step beyond this mortal existence I can feel peace within that I´ve never felt in life. When I allow myself to “die” for those few moments, I bring an end to pain and suffering.
Funny thing about hope is – it´s not fixed in any objective definition, but rather subject to interpretation. If you had asked me 30 years ago how I defined hope, – I would have said that it was my belief in our justice system, that truth would prevail resulting in my exoneration and release. But now I know that innocence is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the politics of death and our courts will not hesitate to put innocent people to death under the pretense of administering “justice” (check out my website www.southerninjustice.weebly.com).
Once the courts had refused to allow review of my substantiated and consistently pled claim of innocence, even as I came within hours of my own scheduled execution, I found myself feeling betrayed by the concept of hope that I’d held so desperately onto.
The years passed and I grew older and grayer, and was forced to confront the truth. Each day that passed was one more day of my life lost forever and there were now far fewer days left ahead than those behind. I woke up one morning realizing that as of that day I had spent more of my so-called “life” condemned to death than I’d spent in the free world. That day was many years ago. My arrest was 11,785 days ago (34 years, 5 months, and 15 days as of August 17, 2017).
Hope either evolves or goes extinct. What we hoped for yesterday is not necessarily what we hope for tomorrow.
Through the years I´ve read many books and articles about the concept of hope and how many find it through spiritual faith. I´ve come to accept that no matter what life, or even death might throw at me, life remains nothing more than the mortal confinement of an eternal soul. Attempting to define hope within the limited parameters of this temporal existence we call life only leads to disappointment. Often what we truly hope for can never been accomplished in this life.
Recently I read a short story about a Hungarian doctor by the name of Edith Bone, who, at sixty years old was imprisoned and thrown into solitary confinement for seven years, but refused to be broken, as told by author Michael Harris in his book Solitude (summarized in the June 2017 Discover Magazine):
“Dr. Edith Bone has decided not to cry. On this autumn afternoon in 1956, her seven years of solitary confinement have come to a sudden end. Beyond the prison gates, the Hungarian Revolutions final, scattered shots are echoing down the streets of Budapest. Inside the gates, Bone emerges through the prison´s front door into the courtyard´s bewildering sunlight. She is 68 years old, stout and arthritic.
Bone was born in Budapest in 1889 and proved an intelligent – if disobedient – child. She wished to become a lawyer like her father, but this profession was closed to women. Her options were school-mistress or doctor; she accepted the latter.
The Great War began soon after her graduation and so she went to work in a military hospital. Perhaps it was there, seeing the suffering of the poorer classes, that her communist sympathies bloomed; she watched an illiterate soldier, a shepherd before the war, as he cried at the window, cradling his shattered arm and worrying about his lost children. He was only one broken man among many.
After the war, Bone devoted herself to political work in England for 16 years, and it was this foreign connection that would excite suspicions of authorities when she returned to communist Budapest in 1949. Secret police stopped her at the airport on her way back to England.
Inside headquarters, a slim man presented himself, decked in fine clothing and smooth manners. He took her into his little office and told her they knew she was a spy, an agent for the British Secret Service. “Until you tell us what your instructions were, you will not leave this building.”
Bone replied, “In that case, I shall probably die here, because I am not an agent of the secret service.” What followed – her seven years and 58 days of solitary confinement – is the stuff of horror films. She was held in filthy, freezing cells, the walls either dripped with water or were furred with fungus. She was generally half-starved and always isolated except when confronted by guards. Twenty-three ill-trained officers interrogated her with insults and threats – once for a 60 hour stretch. For one period of six months, she was plunged into total darkness.
And yet her captors received no false confessions, no plea for mercy; their only bounty was the tally of her insolent replies. It became a kind of recreation for Bone to annoy the prison authorities on the rare occasions when she saw them.
But Bone´s most extraordinary strategy was not the way she toyed with her captor, it was the way she held sway over herself – the dogged maintenance of her own sanity. From within that forced void she slowly, steadily, built for herself an interior world that could not be destroyed or stripped from her. She recited poetry, for starters, translating the verses she knew by heart into each of her six languages. Then she began composing her own daggered poems. One, made up during her six months without light, praised the saving grace of her “dark-born magic wand.”
Inspired by a prisoner she remembered from a Tolstoy story, Bone took herself on imaginary walks through all the cities she´d visited. She strolled the streets of Paris and Rome, and Florence and Milan: she toured the tier garden in Berlin and Mozart´s residence in Vienna. Later, while her feet wore a narrow furrow into the concrete beside her bed, she set out in her mind on a journey home to London. She walked a certain distance each day and kept a mental record of where she´d left off. She made the trip four times, each time stopping when she arrived at the Channel, as it seemed too cold to swim.
Bone's guards were infuriated, but she proved proficient in the art of being alone. They cut her off from the world and she exercised that art, choosing peace over madness, consolation over despair, and solitude over imprisonment. Far from being destroyed, Bone emerged from prison, in her own words, “a little wiser and full of hope.”
Each time I read a story about how another did not merely survive, but found the strength to overcome such imprisonment – others such as Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, Deitriech Bonnheifer and so many more – I am inspired. I believe that within each of us we have the strength to overcome and even master anything this life throws at us.
Like Edith Bone, when fate and circumstance cast you down into the bowels of a physical, or even mental prison, escaping that reality is the key to surviving. No matter how much steel and stone they build around us, no matter how contained our bodies may be, our mind and imagination give us the power to rise above and beyond it all.
Hope is not something set in stone, but rather intangible, even indescribable, the quality that allows us to find the strength to not merely survive, but emerge with our mental capacity still intact and even enhanced.
Reality becomes what we choose it to be – imagination becomes our ticket to “freedom.” In the early years dreams of being free and with my family kept me going. I dreamt of all the things we would do together if I had the opportunity to be part of their lives again.
But as the years passed, dreams of family drifted further and further away. I found my solitary life to be ever more alone. The absence of emotional interaction slowly eroded the way I once defined hope, making it evolve into what it is today: an acceptance that I am and will always be alone.
As each appeal fell on deaf ears, each one a step of the journey, I grew that much closer to accepting the likelihood of being put to death for a crime I did not commit. Once the Florida governor signed an active death warrant on me (which I remain under and my execution could be rescheduled any time) I became even more determined not to allow death to hold any power over me – not to even allow myself to fear death.
And so, once the hope of my physical freedom faded away like the dying embers of a fire, I chose to embrace darkness, indulging in my imaginary death. When my actual death comes at the hands of these state-sanctioned serial killers, they will hold no victory, no cause to celebrate. When my time comes, I will embrace my death just as I do in the darkness of these nights, knowing without doubt, that my spiritual consciousness will then find freedom beyond this thing we call life.
|Michael Lambrix was executed |
by the State of Florida
on October 5, 2018