Date with Death – Week One: Execution Scheduled for October 5, 2017
Shortly after 7:00 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, September 2, 2017, I watched my first sunrise in well over a quarter of a century. I had forgotten just how beautiful an early morning sunrise could be, and how it had its way of drawing you in and mesmerizing you. At first it barely peaked over that distant horizon and then, ever so very slowly, it grew from that first orangish glow into a sudden explosion of even brighter, almost crimson, radiance spreading to each side. A few clouds accented its majestic appearance and I stood silently in awe of this event that I never thought I would see again. It´s been a long time since I last saw a sunrise.
In that moment, I forgot where I was, despite the fact that to see the unexpected sunrise I had to look through a single set of steel bars and then the seven-pane security window about ten-feet away. For nearly 34-years, I´ve been on Florida´s Death Row and, late yesterday afternoon, I was taken from my regular death row confinement cell to the bottom floor of Q-Wing. Once again, I was placed in Cell One (please check out the PBS documentary “Cell One”, featuring me, at www.cellone.wlrn.digital/). The Florida Governor has rescheduled my previously stayed execution and now I am counting down my last days. If the State of Florida has their way, at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 5, 2017, I will be securely tied down on a gurney with numerous I.V. tubes attached to my body and, with a barely perceptible nod of Warden Reddish´s head, an unseen figure behind a partition will then push the first of three plungers down. This will force the sedative “Etomidate” into my body, with the intent to render me unconscious, before they then flow with the second drug, “rocuronium bromide”, which is a paralytic that will ensure that, even if they screw the execution up (as they have too many times before), I will not be able to physically react. I will lie there experiencing incomprehensible physical pain until the paid executioner pushes that last plunger down, sending that lethal dose of “potassium acetate” into my body to cause a cardiac arrest, terminating my life.
I know exactly what will come as my final days count down and there´s not a damned thing I can do about it. This is the fourth time I´ve been placed in Cell One and watched as the clock counts down what are to be my final days. In late 1988, I had my first death warrant signed, scheduling my execution for November 30, 1988. I came within mere hours of being executed. Back then, Florida´s method of execution was the electric chair, and as I sat in this very same cell so long ago, I could feel that distinctive hum, accompanied by a low vibration on the concrete floor, as not more than 30-feet away they put “Old Sparky” through tests to make sure that it would work properly when they planned to kill me early the next morning.
By late afternoon of November 29, 1988, the Florida Supreme Court rendered a decision on my first post-conviction appeal, denying our demand for a new trial by a marginal 4 to 3 decision – refusing to address the numerous claims supporting my consistently pled claim of actual innocence because my legal counsel (who was only assigned to my case after the Governor decided to kill me) failed to “properly” present the innocence claims to the court (see, Lambrix v State, 534 So.2d.1151 (Fla. 1988)). The Florida Court subsequently found that the Supreme Court´s refusal to address these claims was unprecedented and in clear error (Order of May 12, 1992 by U.S. District Judge William Zloch in Lambrix v Singletary, case no. 4;88-cv-12107-WJ2).
But the Florida Supreme Court did grant a 48-hour stay of execution, to allow my lawyers to pursue an appeal to the Federal Courts. As I anxiously waited in “Cell One” for word, the hours ticked down, and with each tick of the clock my hour of death grew nearer. For days, I remained in that excruciating state of limbo, not knowing whether I would live or die, and overwhelming exhaustion set in, as I desperately tried to maintain under those circumstances. Out of exhaustion I tried to lay down and rest, only to be awoken by an intense spiritual experience that, to this day, I cannot hope to adequately describe (please read, “The Day God Died” and, “Scratching at the Scars of a Shattered Soul”).
Shortly after that, I received word that the Federal District Court had ordered a full stay of execution, and I was moved back to the regular death row housing area. Many years of appeals followed. Evidence was discovered substantiating my consistently pled claim of actual innocence. The prosecution had tried to coerce me into pleading “guilty” before my 1984 trial, to the reduced charge of second degree murder, which would have led me to my release after 17-22 years, if I would waive any appeals. I refused, as I naively believed our legal system would work, and I would be exonerated and released. Once again, in July 2006, the prosecutor came to me with an offer to reduce my death sentence to “life” (with the chance of eventual release) – if I would drop my appeal arguing my innocence.
But I wouldn´t do it. Instead, I was sent back to Florida´s death row, and as the years dragged by, both the State and Federal Courts invented procedural rules as to why the readily available evidence substantiating my consistently pled claim of innocence could not be heard. My fatal fault became only too clear – trusting the courts to do the right thing would cost me my life.
On the morning of Monday, November 30, 2015, the United States Supreme Court summarily denied review of my actual innocence claim (see, In re: Cary Michael Lambrix vssc case no. 15-6163) and, within hours, Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant to formally schedule me for execution on Thursday, February 11, 2016. I was immediately moved to the bottom floor of Q-wing at Florida State Prison and placed on Death Watch (please read, “Slippery Slope to State Sanctioned Murder”). I was housed in Cell Three, where I would spend what was to be my last Christmas, only a few feet away from the execution chamber.
I wasn´t alone. About ten-feet away, Cell One held Oscar Bolin, who was scheduled to die on January 7, 2016. I took a back seat in Cell Three, and Oscar moved forward. I remained in that cell immediately adjacent to the heavy steel door that separated us from the execution chamber. Late in the evening on January 7, 2016, they put Oscar Bolin to death (please read, “Execution Day: Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder”).
Early that next morning of January 8, 2016, I was ordered to pack up my property and moved from Cell Three to Cell One. Oscar´s body was still warm, but they were already moving me into his now empty cell (see, “Cell One” PBS Documentary www.cellone.wirn.digital//). A few hours later, they brought Mark Asay, with an execution scheduled for Thursday, March 17, 2016, to join me. They moved him into Cell Three.
On Monday, January 11, 2016 – less than a week after Oscar Bolin’s execution – the Supreme Court issued its 8-to-1 opinion in Hurst v Florida (136 Sct.61b (2016)), declaring that the way Florida sentences people to death by allowing the judge to decide whether to impose a death sentence was unconstitutional; as, under the Sixth Amendment, only the jury could determine whether sufficient cause existed to enhance the punishment to death.
Suddenly, the legality of the Florida death penalty was called into question, and my lawyers expeditiously filed new appeals arguing that, since my imposed death sentences were based on a non-unanimous jury vote which the presiding judge used to impose sentence of death, under the Supreme Court´s decision in Hurst v Florida, my death sentences were illegal.
The Florida Supreme Court heard my case the week before my scheduled execution and, much to my disappointment, the whole case suddenly focused on how the Supreme Court's Hurst decision would impact Florida's death row population, since the vast majority of Florida´s death sentences were by a non-unanimous jury vote (it should be noted that Florida is only one of three states that even allowed a death sentence to be imposed by a non-unanimous jury vote).
Later that same day, following oral arguments, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution in my case until they could figure out how Hurst v Florida would affect these death sentences. But, because the death warrant remained in effect even though a stay of execution was granted, I remained on Death Watch until February 9. As coincidence would have it, that was my older sister´s birthday. She was visiting me with my parents and other sister, Mary, along with long-time close friend, Jan Arriens (founder of Lifelines, an international organization based in London, England) when the Warden came to the visiting area and told me that I would be removed from Death Watch, effective that day… Debbie immediately declared that was the best birthday present she´d ever received.
And so, on February 9, 2016 – only two-days before they had scheduled me for execution – I was removed from Death Watch and placed back on G-wing, the regular death row housing unit at Florida State Prison. Not long after that, Mark Asay received a stay of execution too.
All executions in Florida would remain on-hold until this legal issue could be resolved. As those months passed, and then a year, and then more, we had reason to believe that the courts would rule favorably and throw out all death sentences based on less than a unanimous jury vote; especially after the Florida Supreme Court issued its own opinion in Hurst v State (202 So.3d.40 (Fla. 2016)).
But then, only two-days before Christmas, the Florida Supreme Court released its decisions in Mark Asay v State of Florida (210 So.3d.1 (Fla. 2016)) and John Mosley v State of Florida (210 So.3d. (Fla. 2016)), in which a sharply divided court decided that while all death sentences imposed by less than a unanimous jury vote were now clearly illegal, the court would only retroactively apply this new rule to capital cases that were finalized (determined by the date which the first “direct appeal” was decided) after June 24, 2002. In Asay v State, the court declared that allowing retroactive application of this new rule to capital cases prior to June 2002 would be too burdensome on the state.
Bottom line, the Florida Supreme Court (by marginal majority) declared that it would throw out the illegally imposed sentences of death only as far back as June 2002, but those sentenced prior to that “arbitrary line in the sand” would not be granted relief – and they ordered Mark Asay´s previously granted stay of execution lifted. This meant that approximately half of the almost 400 death sentenced prisoners in Florida would have their illegally imposed death sentences thrown out, but the other half would not.
My own case would drag on for a few months longer. Despite the ruling in Mark Asay´s case, which made it clear that I would not receive relief from the illegally imposed sentences of death, I remained hopeful that the Florida Supreme Court would rule favorably on my innocence-related issues, especially our request for DNA testing of evidence that could substantiate my claim of innocence.
But on March 8, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court issued its opinion in my pending case, denying all relief, Lambrix v State (217 So.3d.977 (Fla. 2017)), and ordered that my previously granted stay of execution be lifted. My lawyers filed a motion for a rehearing, arguing that the court´s denial of DNA testing was clearly wrong; as the court ruled that DNA testing had already been conducted – and it clearly had not. Further, the court violated its own state procedures by refusing to address our claim of entitlement to a new trial based on F.B.I. records conclusively showing that my trial lawyer (an appointed public defender) was secretly acting as a witness against me in an unrelated F.B.I. investigation while representing me. Because that act established an irreconcilable conflict of interest, under applicable law, that violation should have entitled me to a new trial.
Refusing to address its clear mistakes of both fact and law, the Florida Supreme Court summarily denied the request for a rehearing, and as of May 10, 2017, the previously entered stay of execution was formally lifted. I knew that they would come get me and take me back to Death Watch again, even though I had my other appeals still pending before the courts.
On Monday, July 3, 2017, they came and took Mark Asay back to Death Watch, with a new execution date of August 24. Although he was previously scheduled 5-weeks after me when our death warrants we signed prior to the Supreme Court´s Hurst v Florida decision, since his case was ruled on, this time months before mine was, he was now at the front of the line.
And Mark was tired. He said he was ready to go, even though new evidence came to light supporting his long-standing claim that he did not kill one of the two victims in his case, but he had enough and was ready to die. Like too many others, he had lost the will to fight.
That is an element of the death penalty few give any thought to – after years of fighting the system (and sometimes our appointed lawyers), many become broken and just want the nightmare to end. By the time the condemned prisoner is led into the execution chamber, he (or she) has accepted their fate and their inability to do anything about it. They then surrender themselves to this ritual of death. That’s just the way it is.
At precisely 6:22 p.m., Mark Asay was pronounced dead by lethal injection. It appears that the execution went off as intended, and the unprecedented use of this new drug protocol (Etomidate, rocuronium bromide, and potassium acetate) worked; although some witnesses did report that in his final moments, Asay involuntarily “twitched”, whatever that may mean.
However, the primary question of whether the Florida Supreme Court´s arbitrary and unprecedented “partial retroactivity” rule, which has already held that those illegally sentenced to death after June 2002 would have their sentences thrown out, while simultaneously denying all pre-2002 cases under identical circumstances relief, can withstand constitutional challenge remains to be addressed and resolved – and now my own case will be the lead case in that fight, which will most likely be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court… sooner or later.
This should have been addressed in Mark Asay´s case, especially since it was his case that established this partial retroactivity rule. But Mark didn´t want his lawyers to pursue that issue again. He considered a reduction of his death sentence to life to amount to a fate even worse than death, and refused to allow his lawyers to pursue the issue.
I´m not too happy about my case being the one that will now try to decide this issue, as, if the courts get focused on that issue, they will likely ignore my other pending “actual innocence” issues. And I know, very well, that the Supreme Court could simply refuse to accept review of that partial retroactivity issue, just as they did after the Supreme Court first established the foundation of requiring a jury sentencing in Ring v Arizona (2002), and for 14-years (and 47 executions) the Supreme Court refused to accept review – until they finally did in 2015, which resulted in the early-2016 decision in Hurst v Florida.
No matter what life throws at you, you got to play the cards you´re dealt, and the reality is that when Governor Rick Scott signed that order on September 1, 2017, rescheduling my execution for Thursday, October 5, 2017, from that day I was given only 35-days left to live. Maybe I won´t be executed, but since Florida adopted a law that makes a death warrant “indefinite” (that is, it never expires), nobody has survived a death warrant under Governor Scott. A few have received temporary stays, only to then be rescheduled, and they´re all dead now.
Was today´s sunrise an omen, or a curse? Or, was it simply a sunrise that held no meaning other than its beauty? Before I was brought down to Death Watch (yet again), I had previously spent about 141-days in late-1988, and then the winter of 2015-16 here. It´s an environment I´ve become familiar with.
As I was escorted into this Death Watch cell, the first thing I noticed was the smell of a fresh coat of paint. The substantially larger size of the cell no longer surprised me. I stepped into it, then obediently held my hands to the cell-front bars, so the guards could remove the handcuffs and chains, while engaging them in casual conversation.
The Death Watch Lieutenant knew that I already knew the Death Watch routine, so he didn't explain to me again that things work different down here, and that they would try to make my last days as easy as they could, short of compromising security.
Directly outside this Cell One, there is a generic and rather plain state-issued desk, and nobody had to tell me it was built by inmates in the woodshop. It very well could have been the same prisoners who, when ordered to do so, also constructed the electric chair many years ago. There are two multi-colored blue chairs, with obviously aged paisley patterned cushions accented by a heavy wood frame. They looked comfortable, and I asked the Death Watch Sargent if he´d mind moving one of those chars into my cell and we both laughed, a moment of intentional levity to break the ice.
It was hot, and I quickly began sweating. Late summer in Florida is like this, hot and humid. It didn´t help that I was wearing the heavy denim prison uniform we are required to wear anytime outside our cells (as well as when official visitors come around on one of their “tours” of death row). Without further thought, I began to strip down to nothing but my boxers – and the guards thought nothing of it, as that is the standard uniform we wear in our cells during the hot summers.
Directly in front of Cell One, securely fastened to the wall between the two windows, hangs a 40-inch flat screen T.V., a luxury only afforded to those condemned prisoners scheduled to die. Perhaps it was for that reason I asked the Sargent if he´d mind if I used my own small 13-inch color T.V. in the cell, but I already knew they´d allow me to do so, if I wanted to. My personal property had not yet been brought over from the adjacent regular death row housing wing (G-wing), however, it would arrive soon. I knew the Property Room Sargent and his crew were already collecting it and, as they did, they were going through what I had to make sure I wasn´t given anything that could be a threat to the heightened state of security on Death Watch.
Normally, the staff use inmate labor to do the work, but once a person is placed on Death Watch, no contact with other inmates is allowed. The guards serve me my meals, each plastic-wrapped by the Kitchen Supervisor and marked “Death Watch.” The Laundry Room Sargent will personally pick up my laundry and then wash and neatly fold it before bringing it back. And the guards assigned to work Death Watch will also do the janitorial work that inmate trustees typically do. Even when I have legal or (non-contact) social visits while under active death warrant, I will be escorted up the long main hall (check out “Alcatraz of the South” Part I and II), only after the entire prison is fully locked-down.
As I finally move around a bit in this Death Watch cell that I´m already far too familiar with, I make up the bunk, using the small stack of freshly washed and folded linen piled at the foot of the plastic covered foam mattress, and check the sink to make sure that the water works. Everything appears to be in order.
I´m allowed one legal phone call and one call to family when a death warrant is signed and, once I´m situated in the cell, the Sargent puts the call through to my lawyers. They already knew that the Governor had rescheduled my execution and assured me that they were already putting together what needed to be done. We filed numerous appeals in both the State and Federal courts in recent months, and these remain pending but there´s more to be done. They would talk again next week.
My personal property arrived and, with the help of the Sargent, it was passed through the open feed slot (what we call a “bean flap”) a handful at a time and I stacked it up against the walls. I would put it up in the large steel footlocker bolted firmly to the floor the next day.
A few hours later, the Sargent puts the phone call through to my sister. She already knew about where I was, as my lawyer had contacted my family. My parents were at her house and she put the call on speaker phone, and I did my best to be positive and tell them not to worry, reminding them we have the appeals pending and the question of illegally imposed death sentence should stop all of this. But we all know that the courts don´t do what they should, and there´s a reason that of the last 25 men who occupied this Cell One here on Death Watch, I am the sole survivor. Nobody has survived a rescheduled execution on a fourth date with death.
But, for now, I will enjoy watching that unexpected sunrise through that window, and I will watch the next thirty-four to come; enjoying each as if it will be my last. And that last one will most likely come on the morning of October 5, 2017. By that evening, I will be dead.
Date With Death - Week Two: Countdown to Execution
When I was brought down to Death Watch on Friday, September 1, 2017, they gave me 34-days to live and, at precisely 6:00p.m. on that thirty-fourth day, they plan to pump lethal drugs into my immobolized veins and kill me. As I sit at this small steel table in Cell One waiting, I'm now down to only 25-days. Just that quickly, nine days have already passed. That's almost a full one-third of the rest of my life.
I've been here before, and this Death Watch cell is familiar. But the last few times I've counted down what were to be my last days, I was not alone. This time I am, and I'm still trying to figure out whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the plus side, it's often very quiet for long periods of time. No one else is around other than the guard sitting at the desk on the other side of the steel bar gate. He makes his rounds about every 30-minutes to check on me before returning to his desk. More often than not, we will momentarily engage in idle conversation, as, like me, he too is alone. It’s just the two of us down here.
On the negative side, it's very quiet down here when there's nobody around. I feel isolated and this enhances my feelings of loneliness. I have a t.v. outside my cell to keep me entertained, and I have my MP3 player to get my head out of this place. But it just doesn't feel the same this time, being down here all by myself. Not that I'd wish this on anyone – I wouldn’t do that. I'd rather be down here alone than put anyone else through this.
As luck would have it, shortly after Governor Scott signed the order on September 1, rescheduling my execution for October 5, a major hurricane, “Irma”, developed and grew into what was soon being called one of the worst ever. The projected path had it heading straight for South Florida and, as I write this, it's still coming this way.
Just a week earlier, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, with record rain and within days at least 60 people died. I read that Texas had an execution scheduled that week that was postponed.
Now I'm going through the same thing. Shortly after my execution was rescheduled, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order instructing that all appeals had to be completed before the lower state courts no later then Monday September 11, so that any review before the Florida Supreme Court could be expedited. But with Hurricane Irma heading straight for South Florida, by early Thursday (September 7), the Governor ordered a statewide emergency and all state offices (including the courts) were shutdown.
It’s kind of hard to file an appeal if the courthouse is closed. My lawyers quickly filed a motion asking the Florida Supreme Court to rescind its order, due to their inability to work the case, and it didn't take long before the court issued an order granting another full week to file whatever had to be filed in the lower courts - but they refused to postpone the execution date. So, even though neither my lawyers or the lower courts could do anything for that week, and probably wouldn't be able to do much after Hurricane Irma blows through, the Florida Supreme Court wasn't going to postpone my execution.
The prison system has been locked-down for days as this hurricane draws closer and, other than a quick phone call with my lawyers, I haven't had any contact with them. One of my lawyers had a visit scheduled for this past Thursday, but couldn’t get any flights out of the Fort Lauderdale airport, as that part of Florida was being evacuated, and the investigator assigned to my case is a Coast Guard reservist, and was called up for duty.
I don't blame them. Call it an act of God. But I'm quickly running out of time and I haven't had any meaningful communication with my lawyers. We’ve already lost valuable time, and that clock keeps ticking away, and there's nothing I can do about it.
Funny how not even what appears to be the worst hurricane in Florida's history can slow down the machinery of death. This unexpected natural disaster serves to stack an already loaded deck against me, as this inability to get the work done favors the state.
But is isn’t all bad. On Monday (September 06), my younger sister came up for a visit. My other sister planned to come up with her, but couldn’t make it due to the hurricane. Still, it was a great visit, even though restricted to non-contact through glass.
Here in Florida (unlike Texas and a few other states), death-sentenced prisoners are allowed regular contact visits each weekend from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., in a large open visiting park. Although relatively few get regular visits, it means a lot to be able to give someone you love a big hug, and to be able to sit at a table and talk and eat a meal bought from the prison store.
But, once the Governor sets an execution date, then they immediately terminate those contact visits and all social visits become non-contact. That means that they are conducted though a glass wall with a small hole covered by a steel plate with holes in it so you can talk through it.
Even as much as these visits mean, they are also one of the hardest parts about facing an execution date. Regardless if what any of us in here may have done, our families remain innocent victims of this circumstance. While the victims families, and the justice system are driven by vengeance to push for our deaths, those that care about us are driven by love and want us to live, and nothing brings them more pain then to know that, in a matter of weeks, or even days, or hours, we may be put to death.
That's the reality that hangs over these Death Watch visits and I do what I can to keep the positive, to find a way to joke and laugh and talk about long ago memories of the good times that we shared together. But how I wished I could just reach through that thick plate of security glass and give her a big hug and tell her that it will all be alright.
Those few hours passed quickly and we said our goodbyes. My sister tried to hide the tears as she turned to walk out the door, but I could see that she was crying. All I could do was smile and wave as she disappeared through that steel door. At least I had that time with her.
It was a long walk back to my Death Watch cell. The area where the non-contact visits are conducted is at the front of the prison, just inside the main door. But the Death Watch area is at the opposite end of this long building, over a quarter of a mile walk and, with each slow step in my shackled and chained feet, I felt that I was walking further away from all that means so much to me; leaving what gave me the strength to keep going (my family, friends, etc.) and returning to that cold loneliness of a Death Watch cell only a few feet away from the steel door that leads into the execution chamber.
If not for those visits, I wouldn't have had the strength to maintain my sanity through the years. If I've learned nothing else in the too many decades I've spent in this manmade hell, it is that all of us have our breaking point, and no matter how strong you may want to be, this place can break you. It will break you.
I remind myself of what Victor Frankl wrote about in the book Man's Search for Meaning; how, as long as a man has a reason to live, he can find the will to live, even under the worst of circumstances. To love and to be loved gives reason.
For a long time I thought it was hope that gave me the strength to keep going. But, in recent years, I've come to accept that hope is a fragile thing, which fades away with each new setback. Hope builds its foundation on circumstances beyond our control, and crushes our souls when what we hoped for is taken away.
Love is what keeps us going. The love of family, the love of friends, and if the stars even momentarily align themselves in just the right way, even the love of a new romance before it to quickly fades away. It's the love that others so generously extend to me that gives me strength.
Even before the Governor signed the order rescheduling my execution, I was expecting it. Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court denied my appeal that argued that I'm entitled to DNA testing of evidence. Evidence, that if tested, could substantiate my innocence, and that under the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v Florida, I was illegally sentenced to death.
Knowing that this was coming, and that there wasn't anything I could do to stop the State of Florida from killing me for something I didn't do, I decided awhile back that once the Governor did reschedule my execution, I would begin a hunger strike while on Death Watch. This would be a means of protesting against the intent to kill me without allowing the readily available evidence that will substantiate my innocence from being heard.
But my family and friends didn't like that idea. They worry about me, and were afraid it would cause me harm. My lawyers expressed their opposition because they remain confident that I will get another stay of execution, as I have four appeals pending and a number of strong issues (including my innocence) that still are not resolved.
I don't want to argue with them (and didn't), as these are people who have stood by me for many years. And I didn't want to add any more stress to what they were already going through as it is.
For that reason, I reached a compromise - I would delay initiating this intended hunger strike until after I had the visit with my sister. I’d then talk to her and explain why it is important to me that I do something, as I don't want to just lay down and die... Maybe a hunger strike wouldn't accomplish anything, maybe some would even laugh at me, but this is something I had to do.
So, I agreed to wait until after her visit that Wednesday (September 06) to begin, and it was a great visit.
Once I returned to my Death Watch cell, it was almost 4:00 p.m., and I knew that at 4:00 p.m. I would receive a phone call from my dear friend Geesje, who lives in Athens, Greece. For so many years, Geesje has stood by me, giving so much of herself to help fight the injustice of my wrongful convictions, as well as advocate on behalf of others. In my world, it's only too easy to forget that there are good people in this world. For reasons I will never understand, I have been blessed with a number of family and friends who are genuinely nothing less than angels... and Geesje is, unquestionably, one.
The call came through and I smiled when I heard her voice, her Dutch accent always frosted with a healthy dose of humor, and soon we were laughing despite the reality of my date with death. We only had a few moments, but just hearing her voice, especially after spending the earlier hours with my sister, just brought a happiness to my heart that had me smiling long after I had to hang up the phone.
Then I turned my attention to what could very well be my last meal as, beginning that following morning (Thursday September 7), I would start the Death Watch hunger strike and continue it until I either receive a stay of execution, or I'm put to death.
For months I had saved a “Roast Beef with Gravy” that I got from the food packages we are allowed to receive from the outside twice-a-year. It was a ready-to-eat meal that only needed heating up. I also saved a small bag of instant mashed potatoes, just for this occasion.
On Death Watch, we have access to a microwave oven and need only ask the Sergeant to put whatever we need heated in it, so I knew that I could prepare my meal as it should be.
I planned every detail for months. I began by first taking the small bag of instant mashed potatoes and pouring that into my bowl. Then I pulled out ten individual servings of liquid coffee creamer, that I bought from the canteen, and added that to the instant potatoes, stirring it into a paste.
I then took a two-ounce pack of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (with jaleapeno's) and added that to the instant potatoes, and then a small bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, which I crunched up into a fine powder before mixing that into the potatoes as well. Finally, I imposed upon the Sergeant to boil a cup of water, which I then slowly mixed into the potatoes until they were just the right thickness. I tried not to eat too much under the guise of tasting them - that was not easy!
Using my other bowl, I poured the generous portion of roast beef with thick brown gravy into that bowl and, again, imposed upon the Sergeant to heat it. Once that was steaming hot, I had him throw my potatoes into the microwave for a few minutes and then, using a couple of paper plates, I laid out a small mountain of my flavored potatoes in the middle of a plate, carefully creating a small bowl in the very middle. I then slowly poured the roast beef with gravy into that hollowed out cavity, until the thick gravy generously poured over the sides, with the chunks of roast beef spread to the side of that mountain.
I then sat down at my small table - the same table that so many others who previously occupied this Death Watch cell before me had eaten their own last meal before being put to death - and I took a moment to say Grace and remember those who went before me. Then I slowly ate that meal, savoring every bite, and knowing that it very well could be my last meal.
That plate of potatoes and roast beef with gravy filled me up, but I wasn't quite done yet. I reached into my footlocker and took out the last two small bags of Keebler Fudge Stripe Mini's cookies that I’d also saved from my food package. I had bought two small Kraft chocolate pudding cups from the canteen, and had them placed in the Death Watch refrigerator. I poured that thick, and almost frozen, chocolate pudding into the bowl, then poured the mini cookies on top, and began to eat my dessert. With each bite, I made sure that I had just the right mixture of pudding and mini fudge cookies. I deliberately took my time with each slow bite until, finally, it was gone. Then, like a child in his mother's kitchen, I licked the bowl clean, putting extra effort into making sure that I got every bit of that chocolate.
Once I had finished, I began to wash my bowls in the small sink, then dry them out. It was now early evening and I laid back on my bunk. I put my headphones on and watched t.v. for the next few hours, before I finally fell asleep. For a day on Death Watch, and only a few feet away from that steel door that leads into the execution chamber that patiently awaits me (please read, “Execution Day: Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder"), it wasn't a bad one.
But, it was also a long day, and I was tired and ready for sleep. However, sleep didn't come easy, as I struggled to focus on the time spent earlier that day with my sister and the way we laughed and shared memories of better days, and on the sound of my dearest friend Geesje's voice.
I fell asleep, then woke again, and pushed myself to sleep again. Before long it was almost 5:00 a.m., and the Death Watch Sergeant was standing at my cell door holding a white styrofoam food tray. I already knew it contained two biscuits with what they claim to be meat gravy, and potatoes and grits... that was our Thursday morning breakfast for, at least, the past ten-years.
Politely, I refused that breakfast tray, just as I would every meal they brought after that. Making his routine rounds, the Warden came by and I explained to him why I was doing this hunger strike, and that it had nothing to do with prison staff.
A few hours later, the Assistant Warden came by with a small folder of paperwork and, just as I had done when my death warrant was signed in November 2015, he advised me that they needed to go over a few things. He asked whether there were any changes to my previously stated next of kin, and how I wanted my body to be disposed of if the execution took place.
I answered each question as if I had that conversation every day, and within minutes we were finished. Just that quickly, the decision on how my body, as well as my personal property, would be disposed of was decided, and it brought me another step closer to death.
By Friday (September 8), the prison was already shutting everything down as they prepared for Hurricane Irma to blow through by early-Monday. Because of the hurricane, my previously scheduled visit with my elderly parents and other sister was cancelled, as was any communication with my lawyers. It would be a long weekend, until Tuesday.
As I write this, I have 25-days to go until they will come to take me to the other side of this floor and countdown those last minutes until, as I lay strapped to that gurney, they pump a cocktail of lethal drugs into my body and kill me. And there's not a damned thing I can do to stop them.