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Thursday, October 17, 2019

If on a Winter's Night a Kitten Part Two

By Steve Bartholomew

To read Part One, click here

A word about being a felon these three decades.  I lay no blame for the spirling of my life anywhere by with myself, nor do I indulge in pity.  But over the years I have, on occasion, wondered what life might have looked like if I had taken different forks in the road. What if I hadn’t stayed at a motel in Snohomish County.  Or if I’d gone with Paige to Eastern Washington. What if she'd gotten the kitten from someone other than her sketchy stripper friend. Or, not brought the kitten home at all. Several of my friends and associates from the scene back then went on to sell pot year after year, decade after decade without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell. Some of them bought homes and started business with their profits. One became a medical marijuana provider and now works for a commercial grower. Weed has been legal in this state for seven or eight years--from what I see on TV you can buy it in specialty shops, no different you would tobacco or jellybeans. 


I have never been able to vote. I follow politics with the half-hearted interest you might muster while watching an Olympic event featuring a  sport you've never even tried, played by two teams from countries you can barely find on the map. Maybe disenfranchisement has jaded me politically, disillusioning me toward the prospect of any worthwhile election result. Sometimes I wonder whether I've even missed anything by never having voted. Mer or another, maybe I would have been one of those people who fill out a ballot, but votes Independant only because they dislike that candidate on lota less than the other two. From my outlander's perch I watch the free world devolve into ideological fits, hurling polarized vitriol that seems born of genuine hatred. I watch political discussions turn folks who are otherwise sensible into zealots, fever-eyed as they recite tribalist talking points, vocalizing their contempt for others who differ only in political opinions. I see folks who happen to have been born here suddenly vilify those who live here peaceably, but happen to have been born elsewhere. I see celebrities issue threats of violence against kids in Trump hats, doing so with impunity, the outrage I've come to expect from much of the public notably absent. Would I too be so ensconced in one echo chamber or another, had I a say in the process? 

My close friend told her husband, prior to the last election, "If you don't go out and vote, I don't want to hear you complain about the outcome afterwards." This is, I think, a common sentiment out there. How would the fact that my abstinence is involuntary make any difference? We don't talk politics much, my friend and I, but when we have in the past I've sensed in her a touch of annoyance because I sometimes fall short of liberal orthodoxy. She doesn't chide me for my shortcomings==after all, Al Gore was considered progressive when I came to prison. Besides, I have had to remind her, political affiliation is a voter's luxury. 


I've only ever been fired because of my criminal history. I've been unhired after many successful interviews upon disclosure of my past. Once, I had been working for several months as a mechanic at the dealership in Seattle when a former friend got caught in a stolen car. He told the police he'd bought it from me, at the lot. the Sheriff called my boss, asking him whether the car had in fact come from the dealership. Of course it hadn't. But then the Sheriff asked my boss whether he knew of my past. Of course he didn't. The following day I showed up early, as usual. He called me into the office. 

"Look man. I like your work, really I do. You kick ass around here. But I can't take the liability. You understand. Nothing personal, right?"


Since losing the emptied house so many years ago, I've never been able to have my name on a lease. Most apartment complexes and landlords, even the trailer parks you wouldn't want to live in, have a no-felon policy. 

____


Until crystal meth burst into my life I'd forgotten what it was to not feel shambly and false. For months my mind had dwelt on the void where Paige and my son had been, the way the tongue revisits a missing tooth knocked out in a fight the day before. Understand, methamphetamine is a counterfeit poultice, a tourniquet spell cast on the hemorrhaging heart. And how I longed to curtail my memory, the endless loop of relived dissolution I tormented myself with. I hated how much I still loved her, and that left me stricken. Nothing appealed more than to forget the world that had forgotten me. 

Dope is ballistic amnesia. Firing your awareness into the moment, it embeds you durably in the spangled minutiae of whatever context is at hand. There is neither then nor when. Nor is there what if, not if you don't want there to be. You can occupy yourself wholly with detailing your car or sorting a closet as easily as committing a burglary. And then, you look away for a second and dope rears up from the shadows, taking on behemoth dimensions and creating its own weather system. 

I’d convinced myself I had nothing left to lose, another lie that tells itself. Methamphetamine, above all its other qualities, neutralizes. Your thinking recedes into the impulses of your soluble parts. 

I secretly despised most of those who would have anything to do with me, and rigorously avoided everyone else. The first time I injected crystal meth, I realized that with a press of a plunger I could eradicate the outer world, a ramshackle solipsism. Craving the insulation dope offered, I began consuming more than I could afford without sacrificing what integrity I had left, routinely wagering my freedom in the process. But my addiction outpaced even my sense of isolation. And so began the storied tropes of dealing and stealing, the trail of ruin galore. 

____


That fateful morning at Andy's Motel was my first felony but, as these things often go, not my last. Not by a long shot. And over the years I lost custody of my compass, jettisoning circumspection and meaning for the carnival promise of the dope show. I detached myself from the monomyth learned at mother's knee, the celebrated arc of trappings and self-worth, because what's the point when precarity is the overarching theme and comeuppance the twist everyone saw coming. I slid away to the gravity pull of lower strata, my futuring lens myopic, focused on the pageantry of short game profit and solitaire drift. I felt locked out of one world, and locked into another. The stab of alienation was ownable because it served as an identifiable source of the loneliness I wore like a cloak of barbwire pulled in tight around me. As a rule, I sharply curbed my social investments, generalized mistrust the malignant gem now embedded in my chest. 


It happened out of nowhere, toward the end of a nondescript day not long after I'd gotten out of prison for the second time. She got on the bus and sat down next to me when there were several empty seats. The suddenness of her presence beside me was utterly three-dimensional, and would have been distracting had I anything else to pay attention to. I repositioned myself slightly to give her proper space. I couldn't blatently look her over without seeming creepy, so I feigned interest in cross-traffic happenings on her side. She was tennis chic, hair like dark liquor against her time-share tan. Her perfume was a stray lyric in the public transit drudge. In a word, unattainable. I wondered what she would think if she were to look at me, really look. Would she know I'd just started doing crystal again, as in, I'd banged a quarter gram in my connect's bathroom an hour ago after a year and a half of clean time in the joint. The bus inched forward in a long backup due to lane closure. 

"This is like one of those tedious slow motion scenes in a movie where nothing happens,"  she said while looking ahead, the casual tack of an accomplice. "I knew I should have driven." I was so startled that she'd broken the passengerly rule of separation that at first I was unconvinced she was even talking to me. 

I am incredibly charming and funny, except when talking to people.  I almost let the opening close, and then the speed kicked in. "Maybe we're just the slow motion extras, and the hero's ankle deep in action somewhere else." I held out my hand. "Astonishingly Ordinary Passenger #3. Nice to meet you." 

And there we were five minutes later, far-fetched and kind of weightless the way you can be with a stranger, our small talk entering a noticeable growth spurt. She was in town, she said, to finish her degree at UW. Charlotte, from Boston. I listened for an accent but instead detected a swerve of interest when she asked whether there was a decent Mexican place nearby. Next stop, I told her, and a couple of limed-and-salted hours later I headed home, her number in my pocket and her tastes on my lips. 

We talked on the phone and a couple days later Charlotte picked me up in her BMW for our first real date. I was feeling the allowable flush of speculation. a little dumbstruck at the windfall quality of the moment. We spent the afternoon strolling the shores of Lake Washington and then she suggested drinks at her place. As she drove us down a sidestreet several miles and tax brackets from the neighborhood, the topic of her schooling came up. She started summarizing the thesis she was finishing for her masters in criminal justice. On the coddling of American criminals and why vastly longer prison sentences and harsher conditions would save our streets. I paid whole-eared attention. 

She fleshed out her argument for me, outlining how the criminal is your basic societal virus, statistically predictable and soulless. Unchecked, she said, garden-variety deviance is sure to progress like any other malady: into murder, rape and other unspeakable acts. This much is written in genetic stone. Given that criminality is a maladaptive brainwave mutation, a perfect system ought to sift criminals from the gene pool permanently, for first offenses in most types of crimes. I quietly asked that she pull over. 

"You really believe this, what you're telling me? That there's no coming back, no way no how, from a mistake? Throw away the first key, this is what you're saying?"

"Mistakes, sure," she said, her plum-colored nails impatiently tapping the steering wheel at ten  and two. "But not... crimes. People who break the law harm everyone else. This isn't rocket science. Get rid of the bad actors, and the rest of us win. Besides, they've got it way too easy. Free cable. Pillows. Jesus. I have to pay for my cable."

"Well, I suppose I could sit here and agree with you," I said, and then took a deep breath to give myself three seconds to reconsider the words forming in my head. "But  then we'd both sound like idiots. Shit. I figure now's as good a time as any."

The thin annoyance tightening her eyes only made her prettier.  "Time for what?"

"I guess you'd call it swapping honesty," I said, and swallowed. The plunge of her neckline was lethal. "I happen to have eight felony convictions, Charlotte. I've been to the joint twice. And yeah, we do have pillows, but they're like a slice of cheese on a turd burger. My first bid was for a violent crime. Well, technically, anyway. Nobody actually got hurt, but the judge said it's the thought that counts."

She recoiled, blinking like a bird in sudden light. Her mouth formed a pale line and her breathing quickened and caught like little hiccups. 

"And maybe you're right," I continued, scrutinizing the exclamation point of bird shit at the top of the windshield. "Maybe there is something very wrong with my brain." I turned to face her. Maintaining eye contact, I slowly leaned over as if to kiss her. She drew back, her lower lip quivering. 

"I mean," I said, softly, "I came this close to going home with you."

I got out and deliberately locked the door before easing it shut. I spent much of the three hour walk home asking myself why the hell I couldn't  have held my tongue until afterward. 

____

Like the time-diluted light reaching us from distant constellations, my stories carry in their wavelengths particles of what was, farflung impulses that now seem alien even to me. Expect neither hero nor moral--mine aren't that species of story. The plotlines are contorted, each character a mongrel of flaws and disquieting motives. We're all repositories of sorts, some for empowering narratives of ordained purpose, others for truths that shy from telling. 

In prison the years blow by, untouched. I watch, or think I watch, timelines unfurl for those beyond, the ones with moving parts. From here histories appear episodic, punctuated. I am shown unconvincing pictures of sudden adults who still bear children's names. But now I'm nearing the journey's end, or beginning, depending on your perspective. Either way, I will be free in a couple years, and I could conceivably leave even sooner for transitional steps. My singular focus is on the future, now that I have one. But I still drag behind me this corpus of unwashed stories that is, I guess, what I'm made of. 

Had I not become a felon at 18, would I have gravitated to the underworld of methamphetamine? Would I have languished for a decade in the bowelworks of society before sedimenting here? Questions more valuable in their asking, to be sure, than pointlessly attempting to answer them. Causality can be tricky to map. 

My descent is the story of anyone, really. Anyone who loses their place in the universe and all hope of reclaiming it. In reality, most of our dreams are stillborn. Imagine the Iowa accountant who dreams of opening a New York dance studio. A notion his friends find too fantastical for him to consider  bringing it into existence. But in toying with the numbers and picturing the polished railings he finds a current of hope to carry him through another day, another week. Because he could become a dance studio owner. He could conceivably remake his circumstance, and in doing so reinvent an element of his identity. 

But the word ex-felon is itself a fiction. For all but the super rich there is no real world process for uncommitting a felony. I've been, basically, a number my entire adult life, my impression managed in large part by the State's scriveners. Faced with that immutable fact, how, I asked for so long, could I expect my future to turn out any different than my past? I suppose being labeled a felon is no worse, in terms of  discrimination, than what some folks endure by virtue of their skincolor. I'm not here to compare hardships. After all, one might say I brought this all on myself. But maybe I can understand better than most why a black kid, treated like a thug and told that's all he'll ever be, begins to act like one. I comprehend the power of labels. 


Much about the world is different than it was 17 years ago, when we parted ways. Social climate change is in full, albeit incremental, swing--a global, or at least national, one-degree warming toward felons. Reputable companies are becoming "felon friendly." One of my closest friends, who just released after doing 27 years for murder, is interviewing at Amazon this week—to work in the towers, not the warehouses. They reached out to him after his all-star completion of a one-year coding bootcamp Amazon's recruitment company started inside the Reformatory. Boeing also hires felons, as does Microsoft. 

Whatever Donald Trump's flaws may be, he has signed into law Second Chance legislation, which, although non-binding to individual states, has furthered the national conversation around sentence reform and the idea of redeemability. A bill which would bring back parole in Washington State is in the house right now. Seattle has enacted a "Ban the Box" law, prohibiting employers from asking applicants whether they've been convicted of a felony in the past 7 years. (Now they just google or e-verify you.) A gesture, sure, but one that has done some work in drawing attention to barriers to re-entry. 

The warden has intimated to me that upon release I should apply here, as the lead (staff) operator for the wastewater treatment plant at which I've been the lead (prisoner) operator for a year and a half. With the State license I already have, I'd make 60k a year to do the same job I get paid $51.25 a month for now. I guess even DOC has become felon friendly.


Where I am now--a minimum security work camp--prisoners mark time in months and days, rather than years. A shift in language reflecting the constricting sense of duration felt near a time horizon. An atmospheric sort of density you don't think about until you do, and then you can think of nothing else, like becoming aware of your ears at altitude. The world hum suffuses the mental space beneath my every running thought, imputing a dim sense of urgency to undertakings I one tinkered at patiently. My paintings have grown smaller, my writing projects abridged, less frequent. At this point I wouldn't buy green bananas. 

This Fourth of July I will quietly celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of my own independence from chemicals that is. I've been asked when, during that time, my outlook changed from pragmatic feutilism to that of amateur futurist. I could sooner pinpoint the moment at which one sand dune becomes another. Evolution is the accumulation of manifold changes, some smaller than others. In my inner milieu where not much remains unsorted, there no longer exists the need to shield myself from unsightly features of reality. I meet life head on now. Prison has taught me how to accept anything, even being exiled, in time to walk out into a world where people are waiting to welcome me. I have put what talents I have to use in desolution, steadily creating in a desert, and honing ways to define myself as something other than nothing, to shore up my personhood in defiance of labels. 

My storiable days are in antiseptic distance behind me, the angelus of impulse laid in response. After decades of whipsawing in the title role of chaos, I've come to exalt structure. Because to  realize an imagined future is to build a translatable reality fit to occupy. 


I rarely share my stories anymore, moreso to their ill fit than any particular feelings of shame. What it means to no longer identify with your own history. Stories are how we summarize ourselves, distilling complex motives and nuanced chains of causality into a crafted set of disembodied images. I carefully consider how, and to whom, I vignette myself. As a writer I believe any real life is reducible to words. As someone who's lived an outlier existence, I hedge sometimes at attempting to do so. 

Some prisoners get out and go to great lengths to obscure their past. They tell a different sort of story. To what end, I can't say. Everyone is everywhere at once now, hyperlinked and able to scroll on a whim through the cyber archives woven into the fabric of daily life. I have a couple years to decide whether, or how much I want to curate my online identity. Plenty of Charlottes still wander the world, but I've since learned to budget my disappointment by carefully managing my expectations.


Paige and I are friends now, closer than we have been in a lifetime. The jagged edges between us are timeworn. She has raised our son to become the sort of man who is wise enough to have learned from his father, if nothing else, what not to do. He and I have begun reconstructing our relationship, precious brickwork that figures prominently in my future, which has already begun. 


Part of my job here is to make daily rounds, driving a van from one end of this complex of five prisons to the other, winding between and around institutions, outside the perimeters. I am unsupervised eight hours a day, alone or with one or two other prisoners. Each morning I spend a quarter hour or so standing on the grass a hundred feet from a main city street, across from a busy Chevron gas station that sits next to an RV dealership. I could walk over to them, if I were still impulsive.  But instead I stand still and look at the blinding currents of bustle, and it is real and it is unreal, the tides of routine washing the horizon in heartbreaking beauty.  

I gaze out at the realm I am soon to reenter, studying the new ways people do the same old things. The world-beyond has begun to resonate with my daft sense of belonging, a concept as novel to me as the dumbstruck sense of wonder I have about what comes next. My friend is fond of telling me I have no idea what awaits me out there. And she's right. Imagination can churn out slide shows based on longing and obsolete derivatives of bygone epochs, breathless projections made without referent or practicality. So I plan carefully, but in pencil. I expect obstacles, but barriers don't always precipitate collisions. And sure, I will forever be trailed by long and grim-faced ghosts. But ghosts walk past forgotten unless you dignify them with fear or denial. 

Out there is a connected country, an America webbed in networks pulsing with desire and achievement, torrents of zeros and ones humanly non-binaried and synapsed in grand sweeps of color, the interplay of bright spires and dark rabbit holes waxing our instinct to qualify all this, our monument to what, the vanity of our species, silhouetted as we are against the dawning age of post-wonderment, and it is my country to rediscover too, my homeland of disruptive clarity, and I can hear it whispering of reconciliation in a tongue I'm beginning to understand. 

Everything feels near at hand, for the first time. To believe in the sacred promise of an authentic life is no small thing. Not everyone can stare unflinching at the freedom shimmering across the fiats and know it is no mirage. Today I am the shabbily  clad outsider on the grassy margins, a totem of localized yearning and grit, standing alone and largely unnoticed by the morning throng of commuters. Tomorrow I am one of you. And if I should become lonely in the painstaken notch I will have carved out of the swirling surface world, if I should succumb to an aching need for a furry little piece of nature to anchor me to a life under construction, well, this time I will most definitely get a puppy. 


Steve Bartholomew 978300
MCC/MSU
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Defy Ventures

By Angel Corella

Greetings!

My full name is Luis Angel Corella, but I go by “Angel.” I am a 35 year-old Mexican-American, born and raised in East Los Angeles, California. You might think that in a big city there would be opportunities on every corner. But I was raised by a single parent. My mother did the best she could, and I’m thankful for that, but there is only so much an ex-heroin addict can do. I was born into this world only to fail.  

Where I grew up, there were no peewee football teams or soccer moms. No famous people donating money or trying to fix our community. Growing up, we played tag with rocks and boulders. As we got older that quickly changed: bats, knives, and guns took over….

My role models consisted of ex-convicts, hard core gang bangers, and drug dealers. Nice clothes creased up with handkerchiefs hanging from their back pockets. No expensive suits or ties, but the same shiny Stacey Adams (shoes), and on special occasions nice fedoras. Those were the famous people I grew up wanting to be like. Like police officers, they watched our streets protecting us from enemies that may want to creep. Drinking liquor, smoking cigarettes-- I saw it on TV, so isn’t that normal? 

Between the ages of 11 and 13 years old it dawned on me: I’m the man of the house. My siblings looked up to me, they needed me! A kid myself, what was I to do? Naturally out of frustration, I cried! I was introduced to smoking weed and as they say, I was “high as the sky.”

I ended up in the system, Juvenile Hall. There I learned drugs could be sold and young kids like me could be in control. Labeled by the system as delinquents and hoodlums, we did our time. No one came to hug or nurture us. I still recall the District Attorney’s words, “menace, parasitical.” Not knowing what they meant, I looked them up. WOW! I was not a gang member, I was still a kid lost and in search of a way. A big cheeked boy, with puffy hair, who loved playing with his Hot Wheel Cars and thought everything on the TV show “X-Files” was real, and yet I was a parasite. What options did I have but the ones in front of my face that were pretty much handed to me on a platter?

In Junior High School I learned joints sold for $5.00. How was a destitute kid going to pass that up? Before I knew it powder milk and Kixx became real milk, frosted flakes with bananas, and even a pop tart every now and then. My poor mother didn’t notice, but my baby brother and sister did, their huge smiles shining when they saw they were having the same thing kids on TV were enjoying. I became a gang member in the eyes of the system because of the neighborhood my family could afford to live in.  I had no choice; I wanted to live in Beverly Hills like the kids on TV. I wanted to go to a school where teachers would educate me and not smell like beer and smoke. To live where my family could attend country clubs or maybe even a book club. Instead, my family went to the Los Angeles County Jail, Chino, Folsom, and San Quentin State Prison. Our clubs were parenting classes, Narcotics Anonymous, and Alcoholics Anonymous. The big city of angels where I’m from was not as heavenly as people think. Young Mexicans like me had no American dream to look forward to. 

I became a gang member; it was my choice to accept it. I gave it my all, thinking that life would turn out great. Influences, beliefs, and habits took over. I was determined to be the best at it and have it all. I did not see the negativity in that life, at the time I did not think that lifestyle was wrong and that I was hurting my family as well as my community. I made mistakes but by the time I realized it, I was 19 years old with a sixty-nine year to life sentence. I grew into a middle aged man with nothing, no education, an ill mother, and a brain that only recalled all the wrong choices in life that I’d made. I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.  

In February 2017, my celly came back from the first DEFY Ventures event at Pelican Bay State Prison, and I’ll never forget his words: “I had a great time.” He told me all DEFY offered and did. He said to do the course and get accepted, we had to fill out some forms and write our story and explain why we should be selected. I didn’t want to. I was negative about it. My celly said, “You damn pessimist, just do it.” 

I did, and I’m thankful to my good friend Gil “the Kat” Garcia for his encouragement. I was accepted. DEFY Ventures has been the best experience of my life.  It’s like I joined a positive gang of ballers. I joined a family that loves me and accepts me for who I am and my past. 

Fresh out of the SHU (Security Housing Unit) from a month term, I was forced to bear hug dudes of different races/ethnicities. Nope, I thought to myself, about this crazy white girl “Cat.” Not me, she don’t know what I’ve been through or seen. Then she called me out on it. She said we all have our word to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I’m a man of my word, and I’ve never ranked out so I couldn’t now. I did all my work, but, I must admit, the book DEFY provides us, The DJ, met the floor and wall more than once. I even bit it. Little did I know The DJ was feeding my brain and washing out the bad.  

DEFY has change my life in so many ways. I thought it was a business course but it was more. I learned how to let go of unnecessary relationships, and practice proper etiquette. I even learned that my mistakes in life could be forgotten and forgiven if I allowed it to happen. I let the process take its course, and I learned so much. 

I thought that my life had ended because I was sent to prison for life and that I would never experience anything good life had to offer. It’s a trip to say, but because of Defy Ventures and Catherine, I have accomplished what is, so far, my “brag shamelessly story.” I earned my Baylor University, Hankamer School of Business Certificate in career readiness, which came with a sweet graduation picture that made my family proud. They now believe in me. 

I formulated a business plan and pitched it to venture capital investors, for which I won a semi-finalist certificate in the First Pelican Bay State Prison “Rocket Pitch Competition,” and I was able to bust down and “work out” with my fellow EIT Monte Coss, CEO and Founder of Con Body. Not to mention Barbara, a Billionaire Investor, who also busted down with us and kicked our ass. I mean really, who can say they busted down in an active level 4 yard with a woman billionaire who has no reason to care for them? I can! Believe it, burpees, sweat and no knees on the floor. This woman did a prison work out with us. Thank you Barbara! I’m telling you, tough woman! My graduation, July 22, 2017, is a day I’ll never forget! Although I’ve never been released, I imagine that was the feeling. Gil and I walked up and jumped straight to it, washing up and showering. We were proud of this celebration! Might I add, Gil and I have been good friends for years, so we argue a lot. A lot. Not this day, though, no time for it. I picked up his slack, he picked up mine. No room for being late. 

When we were all introduced and got past the walk the line exercise, I was left without words. These investors opened up to us as we did to them and they saw us as humans, not prisoners! This has impacted my life. No one has ever donated money to educate me, to better my life till now. I wrote in my letter to be accepted that I would work hard and give it my all if DEFY accepted me because I had something to gain. I gave it my all and my resiliency paid off. DEFY, Catherine, and all the investors changed my life. I’m now a man focused on positivity. I have confidence now, so much that I have involved myself in too many positive programs to count. DEFY brought me closer to my fellow EIT’s, so much so that we all see each other as family. DEFY has accepted me into its academy and their hearts. I’m not religious but Catherine Hoke is a saint in our eyes. She has sparked hope in our hearts, and her love and support is a blessing in my life. I’m so thankful she has crossed the line. 

Thank you all DEFY staff for all you do for us, you sparked a fire in our dark cave, we all now can see the freedom we never had. 

WE ARE DEFYING THE ODDS!

Special thanks to:
OG Glen
Momma
Dave Crenshaw
Charles Hoke
Dana Hamman  Go Packers
Barbara
Mark & his wife
Monte Coss
Baylor University
And everyone that helped change our lives.

WE LOVE YOU ALL!

Luis Angel Corella T-82975
Pelican Bay State Prison
P.O. Box 7500
Crescent City, CA 95532

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Date with Death (The Final Week)

By Michael Lambrix

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 the week of his execution.

It won't be too much longer until instead of counting down how many days I have left until my scheduled execution, I will begin to count down the hours. As I'm sit at the end of my steel bunk, leaning over the very small “table” to write this, I now have only five days left, and they are passing quickly.

If I count it down in hours, it seems like so much more time. That five days will amount to one hundred and twenty hours, and since it's now almost 10:00 am, and they won't carry out my execution until 6:00 p.m. on Thursday October 5, 2017, that means that I can add another eight hours – for a grand total of one hundred and twenty-eight hours. And yet with each passing moment, my time on this earth diminishes. By the time I've finished writing this, I will be down to about one hundred and twenty-five hours. And by the time you are reading this, I will probably already be dead. 

A few days ago I made the transition from “Phase I” to “Phase II” on Death Watch. That is a significant step. This whole Death Watch process is a finely timed process and it's progress is frighteningly predictable. Florida has had a lot of practice in carrying out executions, and while the rest of the country is backing away from the death penalty, Florida is performing a record number of executions. The current “Tea-Party Conservative” Governor Rick Scott is running for a seat on the U.S. Senate and knows very well that nothing gets more votes in the rural deep south then a good ole-fashioned lynching, and for that reason Governor Scott has already carried out more executions then any other governor in Florida history. And he intends to continue if the courts allow him.

I already knew that early Thursday morning, September 28, they would remove all my personal property, even my clothes, from my Death Watch cell and place it all in a steel foot locker outside the cell, just beneath the window through which I gaze morning to watch the sunrise. My property remains there. When I need something, it is retrieved for me, and I am allowed to keep it as long as I'm using it. 

“Phase II” consists of the last seven days prior to scheduled execution. At that point, not only is all personal  property removed from my cell, but a guard is stationed directly in front of my cell, so I am under constant supervision now. Officially, it's comparable to a suicide watch, as State of Florida can't have the condemned prisoner cheating it out of an execution by committing suicide. But nobody has ever done that. Back about twenty years ago, I had heard that Daniel Reneta tried to cut his wrists with the edge of a plastic spoon. They just took him up to the clinic and sewed up the superficial wound, and then killed him a few days later.

But I see this whole Phase II transition as another part of this meticulously orchestrated process intended to mentally move me along towards my date with death so that when the time comes to take me around to the execution chamber, I am conditioned to cooperate.

When you think about it, it says a lot about who we are as a society, that so much thought and planning is invested in carrying out this process, which has only one objective - to terminate the life of another human being.

A few hours after my property was removed from my cell, leaving me with nothing but my dark blue gym shorts and a t-shirt that has long ago seen better days, the warden, accompanied by members of his staff, arrived. I was politely advised that “the doctor” would be down in a few minutes to examine my veins to ensure they are healthy eno9ugh to absorb the intake of execution drugs.

As the entourage of men entered the death watch area, I immediately recognized all but two of the five or six. One man especially went out of his way to conceal his identity. This was the man who, in the capacity of his medical duty, would put the I.V.s into my arms and connect the tubes that carried that lethal cocktail of drugs that would terminate my life.

He wore a full body haz-mat-type suit, soft, almost baby blue, in color, with a hoodie-ish veil pulled tightly over his head, and a white cloth surgeon’s mask covering his face, topped by a pair of prescription glasses. Unlike everyone else, he wore no state issue identification, or anything that distinguished who he was.

Obviously, this was a practice run. I was instructed to put my right arm though the cell - front bars. The hooded man took my arm and immediately began to run his thumb across the vein at the inner elbow, whispering in a hushed tone so low that I could not even make it out, as another man in civilian clothes took notes.

They appeared pleased at the plumpness of that vein in my right arm, gently pushing at it, up and down, watching it spring back each time. I am pretty sure I even heard an expression of satisfaction, something to the effect “this is a good one” ... but then again, maybe it was all in my head. Something was whispered and immediately written down. 

I was then instructed to put my left arm out, and without hesitation I comply, as that was what is expected of me. But as I do, I mentally ask myself why I am so willingly assisting them as I know that what this is really is about killing me.

There, standing in front of my death watch cell, checking my veins, are the very men planning to murder me in less than a week. And as these men proceed to perform this ritual I am expected to facilitate their efforts - to assist them in terminating my life. And It bothers me that I am so willingly to go along.  What I really want is to put my arm back through the bars and tell them in no uncertain terms that I will not take part in this process.

But instead I say nothing. Like a cow being let to the slaughterhouse, I slowly take each step towards my fate.  At least farm animals are oblivious to what awaits them when they reach the end of the line.

That man hiding behind that light blue haz-mat suit takes my left arm as I extend it through the cell bars and proceeds to perform the same touching motion on the main vein of that arm. But as he does, it was clear that he quickly becomes concerned. He whispers to the man standing beside him taking notes, and now this other man leans over for a closer look. I am instructed to ball up my fist and pump it like I am squeezing a tennis ball.  Again, I comply. The (presumed) doctor ties a latex strip of ribbon to my upper arm and after a few quick pumps of my fist the doctor rubs across and presses down and the vein springs back. Now he is satisfied.

And just that quickly, they are gone.

A few hours later, the Catholic Priest Father Slawomir Bielasiewicz from St. Mary's Catholic Church comes by to do communion and talk about what happens as the time of execution grows closer. Unlike Hollywood movies, my priest or spiritual advisor will not be allowed to walk with me into the execution chamber, nor even administer communion and last rites immediately before the scheduled execution. Instead, he will deliver my last communion earlier in the morning.  That is to be the extent of my spiritual preparation.

Because nobody has known how to pronounce the priest’s name properly in the years that I have known him, at his instruction, I've always simply called him Father Slovic, as does everybody else.

In the hours leading up to my scheduled execution, after I've had my last visit with my family, Father Slovic and my spiritual advisor, Catholic lay minister Dale Recinella, will be with my family to help them through the execution. They have already met and know my family and I am glad for that. My parents and family are taking all of this hard. It really is so much harder on our family and friends then it is on us.

Then I have a phone call from my dear friend Geesje, who has stood by me for more years then I can remember. Like my family and my small group of closest friends, she will take this hard. But when I talk to her, we still laugh and I do what I can to keep her hope alive. How I wish I could just hold her and tell her that it will be alright, but she knows that I cannot tell her that, as we don't know how all this will end.

And it doesn't help that my state-agency lawyers have already made the decision not to pursue anymore appeals other than what they feel is the strongest - the challenge to constitutionality of the death sentences.

That decision may very well have sealed my fate. Like most of us under a sentence of death, it's hard to have confidence in the lawyers representing us as, with few exceptions, their loyalty is not to us, but to their own personal objective of fighting the death penalty.

Effectively dropping my actual innocence appeals rather then pursue them to the federal courts and to the Supreme Court means that now, my only chance will be to convince the Supreme Court that the Florida Supreme Courts ruling that recognized that I (and most other Florida death row prisoners) was illegally sentenced to death but that for no other reason other than our death sentences were imposed prior to June 2002, we would not be granted relief.  All those sentenced after 2002 are having their illegally-imposed death sentences thrown out.
  
I do understand why the lawyers feel that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately find this partial retroactivity rule granting relief to some, but not others, unconstitutionally arbitrary and fundamentally unfair. But at the same time, I also understand that, historically, the Supreme Court takes its own time to exercise discretion on when to accept review of an issue.

That is why I feel very betrayed by my lawyer’s decision to just drop all other appeals but this illegal death sentence issue.  I wish they would have discussed it with me first.  I would have liked a say in it.

To borrow from an analogy, “putting all the eggs in one basket” is a good way to get me killed. And at this moment, I don't feel like they even care. I've fought this fight to prove my innocence for thirty-four years and now that I'm in that final stretch, they've pulled the rug out from beneath me. For them, it's all about fighting the death penalty. For me, the only thing that matters is having an opportunity to prove my innocence. They've now taken that away from me.

So, I will now spend this weekend, which may very well be the last weekend of my life, personally writing up that actual innocence/DNA appeal myself. And on Monday, I will do my best to mail it express overnight to the U.S. Supreme Court. By the time the court receives my handwritten appeal (I don't have access to a typewriter), I will have only two days until my scheduled execution. 

It would be nice to have a lawyer willing to fight for me and not just fight their own fight against the death penalty. But having an advocate willing to fight for our freedom is not a luxury condemned prisoners are often afforded. The most we can hope for, if we are lucky, is to be assigned a lawyer who at least knows what to do, and hope that his or her agenda is consistent with ours.

But I don't have time to allow this unexpected last minute betrayal to drag me down. I have no choice but to accept it for what is and focus on doing what I can to at least try to get my actual innocence DNA issue before the Supreme Court.

Years ago I got into the practice of meditating when the stress builds, and am glad that I did, as I need that now more than ever.

Sometimes I wonder why it is that I haven't descended into insanity and lost my mind, as so many others around me have. The irony in that is that if I had lost my mind, the State of Florida wouldn't be able to kill me, as the Supreme Court declared years ago that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” to kill a person who doesn't have the mental capacity to understand that he or she is about to be put to death. 

By Friday, September 29, I receive the news that the Florida Supreme Court had denied the legal claim on why my death sentences must be vacated. It was a 5 to 1 decision in which the majority said nothing more but that they already decided the issue in other cases and would rely on their earlier decisions in Hitchcock v State and Asay v State.

But Florida Supreme Court Justice Pariente strongly dissented, writing her own singular opinion on why the rest of the court was wrong, stating “I dissent. I would grant Lambrix a new penalty phase as a result of the jury's non-unanimous recommendation of death.” Pariente reiterated her previously stated position that the United States Supreme Court decision in Hurst v Florida (Jan 2015) must be retroactively applied to all those illegally sentenced to death, not just some, stating that “the statute under which Lambrix was sentenced, which only required that a bare majority of the twelve member jury recommend a sentence of death, was unconstitutional, and therefore unreliable, under both the Sixth and Eighth Amendment.,” She explained at length how the record clearly shows that my legal council did properly preserve this issue from the very beginning of my capital case (“Indeed Lambrix's attorney's made every argument they could to justify retroactive application of Hurst v Florida to Lambrix's case long before Hurst was even decided”).

Justice Pariente then concluded by stating: “Denying Lambrix relief when other similarly situated defendants have been granted relief amounts to the denial of due process Hitchcock, 2017 WL 3431500, at *3 (Pariente, J., dissenting). To avoid denying two of the most critical constitutional protections on the eve of the ultimate punishment, I would grant Lambrix a new penalty phase. Accordingly, I dissent.”

Having the Florida Supreme Court deny relief by a split decision will help when my lawyers now expeditiously appeal this issue to the United States Supreme Court early next week. Maybe that strong disagreement amongst the Florida Supreme Court will be enough to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to accept review and stop my scheduled execution. The next few days will tell. 

One thing is now clear. It is now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether I will live or die. And they will render that decision well before anyone reads what I'm writing today.

I have to wonder why I'm even writing this, when by the time I mail this out and it is typed up and posted, there's a really strong probability that I will be dead. But I already know the answer to that. I write in the hopes that it will allow others to understand what we go through as condemned prisoners. And what I write today will be around a lot longer than any of us will be.

The truth of the matter is that I am not afraid of dying. For to many years now I have existed in a state of perpetual limbo, precariously balanced over that abyss that separates the living from the dead.

In those many years that slowly passed one long lonely day at a time, I have seen to many others around me succumb to a fate even worse than death - that slow erosion of hope that kills a man from the inside out, until all that's left is that physical shell of a man who once was.

But even if I am dead by the time anyone reads this, I believe without doubt that I will be in a better place. And I will go knowing just how blessed I have been to have had those in my life who made the sacrifice of standing up when it would have been so much easier to abandon me.  I hold on to that measure of faith that those who we connect to in this life though love, and with whom we nurture a spiritual communion of eternal souls in this life will survive our mortal death, and in whatever might lay beyond, find each other again.

Although I may have lived and died a condemned man, wrongly convicted of a crime I did not commit, I still have been so incredibly blessed by having these people in my life.  Even on my darkest of days, their spiritual light sustains my faith and hope.

And so if I am gone by the time you read this, I ask only that you allow for a moment of silence to honor those I left behind, and pray that they will not suffer in my absence, but find strength and joy in knowing that I will be in a better place, finally free from the suffering and pain that this life has held. I will be at peace.

Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida
on October 5, 2017
Rest in peace Mike