Thursday, February 4, 2016

When the One–Eyed Man is King

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By Steve Bartholomew

I glanced into my cell through the narrow window in the door before unlocking it. Minimum security may bestow upon you such lavish privileges as a key to your cell and a microwave in the dayroom, but that doesn’t mean you should stop paying attention altogether. On the other side of the glass a stranger was making himself at home in what I thought of as my house. I turned the key and pulled open the door.

How a person introduces himself matters more in prison than it does in the free world. Because the stakes are higher, we scrutinize the other person closer. In a given week out there, you may encounter so many new people in passing that introductions typically mean little. You probably don't expect to see the vast majority of those people again. In here, we meet comparably few new people, and the likelihood that any fellow prisoner will have some impact on one's life for years to come is much greater. So, we tend to notice every nuance of a handshake, where it fits on the firmness spectrum, if eye contact is made and for how long. We build opinions quickly and tear them down very slowly, if ever.

My new celly did not rise from the bunk; he did not offer his name first. He didn't ask what I go by (we don't assume the other person's actual name is any of our business). He offered neither a hand in greeting nor a succinct explanation for moving into my cell uninvited. McNeil Island moves were rare feats not easily accomplished, and were usually arranged purposely—unless, that is, you're the sort of person no one wants to live with.

He remained where he was, propped up in the corner, unperturbed. His hand rose to his forehead in a shoddy salute.

"Aloha," he said, as if we were seated next to each other on the bus. I was, apparently, the only uneasy one in the cell.

I offered my name and extended my hand. He outweighed me by 70 pounds easy, something to consider when setting the tone of business to be conducted in close quarters. Built like a retired quarterback, he had the barberless fustiness of someone emerging from the hole. I decided to cut him some slack. After being segregated for long periods, some prisoners lose whatever grasp of social graces they may have had before.

"Wendell,” he said.

We made the new-celly small talk; how long each has been down (30 years for him, 8 for me), where each'd spent most of his time (Monroe for him, Walla Walla for me). I casually dug out my Judgment and Sentence paperwork and set it in front of him. He picked it up, examining it front and back, although there is nothing on the back. If we care what the other person is in prison for, the common courtesy is to offer one's own paperwork first. That way the other person isn't obligated to produce his own – he just declines to read what’s being offered. Eventually, he handed me a letter from the parole board. It mentioned first degree murder in a paragraph of bureaucratic language indicating his release would be denied. Not the same as a J & S, but I wasn't willing to push the issue just yet.

We got around to discussing activities and interests, a crucial aspect of cellyhood. A small space and one television to be shared, the goal being not always at the same time. I told him that I stay busy, and many of my pastimes are outside of the cell. The drift I intended him to catch was that when I am in the cell, he is not. An agreement usually honored by both cellies, partly by spoken arrangement, partly by active courtesy. There is typically a short convo about cell time, the precious few hours each celly can be alone.

But instead, he said, "I’m a strategist."

Could mean Dungeons and Dragons, I thought. He does look a little wizardly, or orkish.

"A strategist."

"Yep," he continued, his voice lowered conspiratorially. "I work with Don Rumsfeld."

"Oh, is he in this unit?” Maybe he'd be out of the cell, spending time in the day room strategizing with this Don character on a regular basis.

"The Secretary of Defence? You don't know who he is?" he asked, his expression one of exasperation, either at my ignorance or lack of patriotic fervor.

"Oh. That Don Rumsfeld." Before reacting, I searched his face for a waiting punchline, the trace of a childish prank. He might be awkward enough to try breaking the ice with a gaff. But he had none of the usual tells. I decided to play along. Maybe my level of boredom had lowered my standards of entertainment that far, or maybe I was just curious to see where this would go. "How does that work?"

"I’m only part time. You know, work from home, so to speak. I’m a strategic subcontractor. They say I have a mind for it."

"What kind of strategies?" I asked, struggling not to smile. "That is, if you're allowed to tell me.

"Anti-terrorist stuff is my area of expertise, but I generate some piracy task force tactics, too."

"Piracy task force. I didn’t know they were making a comeback."

"Big time. Somalians, mostly. Major threat on the high seas, Somalian pirates. See, problem is, they're impossible to track once they get to shore. Just blend right in with the crowds of villagers. Ever try to pick a Somalian out of a line-up?"

By this point, I'd gotten the feeling he genuinely believed himself, at least. I near the door, leaning against the wall and trying to form an answer that reflected the gravity of the moment. "Well, sure, l—wait, No, that was something else. Guess I haven’t.”

"Well, I came up with a solution. Whammo! U.S. warships are being retrofitted as we speak."

"Let me guess. Shoot 'em when they row up unannounced? "

"Hell no, man. International incident, big time. You gotta stay non-lethal. See, I came up with a surefire tracking and detection system."

I thought about the odds of being ceIled up with a mentally ill prisoner, and how those odds had increased drastically over the years. Twenty years ago, the percentage of prisoners with mental health issues was small enough that someone like me might only be celled up with one of them in the receiving units, where the state sorts everyone out. I had to let this go a little further, find out how deep the crazy ran before falling asleep in a cell with him.

"What's your solution? Am I cleared to know?"

He turned toward the narrow window setting out on to the unit breezeway. Peered upward at the sky, then down. "Any of your family or friends terrorists? I gotta ask."

“None that I know of. Scouts' honor."

"Well, okay then. I invented the max-itch mortar round." He told me in excruciating detail how the military could now fire artillery over the pirates' heads that would cover them in itching powder. That way, when they rowed back to shore they'd be easy to pick out. The soldiers could just shoot the ones who can't stop scratching.”

"And they're using this? The Army?"

"Oh yeah. Delta force. Look, here is the next one." He handed over a sheet of lined paper, creased and unfolded. Across the top were a dozen rows of tiny pencil marks, as if a family of graphite-footed geckos had traversed the paper.

Wendell went on to explain that although he was able to send his encrypted eyes-only communiques to a secret drop box from in here, Mr. Rumsfeld was not willing to risk national security by sending his reply through the prison mail room. I would come to learn that in fact, Donald Rumsfeld owns and operates the Fox News Channel for the primary purpose of purveying sensitive information to his league of strategists by way of the news ticker. In the coming days, WendelI would spend several hours a day standing three feet from the television, examining the neverending text parading across the bottom of the screen. Evidently it was ciphered in such a way that plebeians like me would be unable to defect it.

Mental illness in prison is at least as common in prison as halitosis. In the 90s, Washington State began defunding mental institutions, sending all but the catatonic or non-functional out to wander the streets. Many ended up in prison, which became the new mental health (mal)treatment centers. Most of these people had been self-medicating, exacerbating whatever condition they already had. The majority of prisoners in this state are diagnosable, often with comorbid disorders, meaning more than one.

Prison guards receive no psychological training. Their job is to watch for craziness to act out and then respond to it, not to understand or accommodate it. There are staff whose title is "counsellor,” a holdover from a time when they would help prisoners prepare for parole. Now counsellors are guards who took a promotion so they wouldn’t have to wear a uniform to work anymore. There are mental health professionals, but the extent of their therapeutic commitment is playing pharmaceutical rock-paper-scissors. Too many prisoners shuffle around here with chronic facial tics, the residue from years of taking misprescribed psychotropics.

As a rule, I feel compassion for mentally ill prisoners. I know they are not choosing to be crazy any more than I am choosing not to be. Most are harmless. Recently, a man whose mental state I’ve watched deteriorate over the eleven years I’ve known him told me, “I hate my medication. It makes my muscles loose and shivery. Sometimes I can’t remember anything. But I take it so I don’t annoy people so bad. I hate getting beat up worse than the pills.” The muscles around his mouth twitch and tug, making partial grins and frowns every few seconds, an irreversible side-effect of Seroquel, the catch-all pill they handed out like Pez for a decade or more, until someone sued the manufacturer.


When I first came to prison in 1994, I had a celIy named Doug who didn't understand that he was in prison. We were in the receiving units in Shelton, the processing hub for the entire state. Every day or two, I had to re-explain to Doug that he was no longer waiting to go to court, that he had in fact been convicted of vehicular homicide. And that he had to spend five years here. He would insist yet again that he hadn't been driving his brother-in-law’s truck. I can't even drive a stickshift, he would say, his eyes pleading. He and his brother-in-law were both thrown from the truck in the accident and the brother died on impact. Because two children passengers in the other vehicle had been killed, someone had to go to prison. Doug was probably easy to convict.

I don't know if it was the brain trauma he’d suffered during the accident that made him delusional and confused. I had to read his mail to him, letters from his wife that I would also answer for him. But Doug had a problem with boundaries. He would get disrespectful with me, loudly at times. I was 24, brand new to prison, and I’d been socialized to believe that if you accept any disrespect in here, you will accept anything else. We got into an argument one morning because Doug refused to courtesy flush. It was before breakfast, in an open-bars facility. The entire cell block could hear how this was playing out. And they were all listening to the only drama in their tiny world Doug said the wrong thing and I punched him hard in the mouth. Not my most inspirational moment, but I could not do my time as the guy who let his celly talk back to him.

Doug fell to the floor and crawled under the bunk, screaming. The door racked open and I composed myself, stepped out and merged with the tier traffic commuting to the chowhall. A few minutes later Doug came running toward the chowline, his hands wrapped with towels like boxing gloves. He was shadow boxing and shouting, “You want a piece of me?” The guards tackled him. They hauled him out strapped to a board with a spit sock over his head. I imagine Doug did the rest of his time in difficult places, cells where there wasn't anyone who would explain where he was and why.


A few years later, when I was again in the receiving units, I had another celly named Wayno. When he walked into the cell I was on the top bunk. I noticed immediately that he had a circular wound in the back of his neck, may be a half inch deep, the circumference of a cigar. Open, oozing. He said it was where the poison came out when he rubbed battery acid on his gums with a sponge. Wayno would sit in the cell for hours on end writing the words "skin diver” over and over, a thousand different styles of handwriting and sizes of print covering dozens of sheets of paper. He wrote down every number on the phones in the gym, the prison phones that only make outgoing collect calls. He said there was a pattern that would tell him where he was going.

While I was at yard one day he tore up the few National Geographics I had accumulated, precious commodities in a literary wasteland. They were fakes, he said, idols made by the prison to infect his blood. I drew the line when I returned to the cell to find all my toothpaste was gone. He had used it in an experiment. He was making a chemical to block the satellite waves.

I told Wayno he had to go. He went.

There is a prisoner who they keep on the hospital floor here, when he is not next door at the Special Offender Center, or SOC. He has been strapped into a four-point bed for over four years. Every two hours he gets a “limb out,” which means exactly as it sounds. Once a day, six guards walk him down the hallway and back, his only recreation.

He has shoved carrots, toothbrushes, and an entire apple up his rectum (not at the same time, I'm pretty sure). After they surgically removed the apple, he tore out the stitches and worked another apple in there. A few months ago he swallowed an entire Dorito's bag. A guard who had to keep watch while they went after it said that when the camera snake entered his stomach cavity, the monitor screen looked like the grossest Dorito's commercial ever. The logo was perfectly centred between the sides of his stomach lining. He is most famous for digging out a chunk of meat from his own knee and throwing it in a guard's face. He has hit his head against the wall until he could place little skull shards on the window of the cell door

There is another one at SOC who tries to eat himself. They have to keep him in a Hannibal Lecter mask.

Most prisoners in this state have heard of Big Bird, a seven foot SOC veteran who somehow manages to save his own excrement until he has amassed enough to fashion a suit of armor, poop helmet and all. And then he goes to war with the guards. They have to bring in porters from my unit sometimes to clean up afterward, for which they used to get an extra $2.00. Now it's just expected.

Every so often the administration sends one of the SOC guys here, just to see if they can make it. Sometimes they are heavily enough medicated to blend in, becoming just another prisoner who stays on his bunk a day. A startling percentage of prisoners in this unit have not gone outside in the five and a half years I’ve been here. One young prisoner who lives down the tier only leaves his cell to go to chow. The rest of the time he stands staring at the wall, or lies on his back staring at the upper bunk. I’ve never seen the mental health people check on him or anyone else in this unit.

Sometimes collisions occur between the mentally ill and the rest of us. The social forces in here are tremendous, and can be complicated. And many of us who are not quite crazy still lack the skill to navigate around those who are. When I’d asked Wendell to expound on his murder charge, he gave me a rambling, vague monologue. He claimed to have killed a woman in self-defence. A woman, he said, who was bullying him and denied him entrance to a house. Whose house it was he never made clear.

A few days later, a friend in another unit asked me to come to yard. He introduced me to an older prisoner who I’d seen around but never spoken to, named Phil. Phil told me another version of Wendell's story, as he remembered it. They were from the same small town, and Phil had known Wendell's family, as well as the family of the victim. Phil told me that Wendell had forced his way into a house where a 13 year-old girl was babysitting. After he'd raped her he stabbed her more than twenty times and threw her body into a river.

“Look it up if you want to,” Phil said. “It’s in the law library. I’m only telling you this because Frank here speaks highly of you. Thought you should know. I don't care if you throw my name at him."

I walked back to the cell, my head pressurized with anger and anxiety. I felt locked into a course of action I hadn't chosen. I cursed my luck and the administration for making sure it was delivered. I felt disgusted at being forced to live with a monster. Whether or not I am such a paragon of morality that I should be in the position to make judgments about the status of another person is beside the point. Prison has its own set of societal norms, its own caste system, and WendelI was an Untouchable. Now that Phil had told me of this, and in front of Frank, my reputation hinged on how I would address the fact that a child-murdering rapist was living with me, crazy or not. In here, your name can be affected more by what you fail to do than by what you actually do. You could fight a hundred fights, but if you let one person punk you out, you are a weak-ass bitch. Your social circle will change forever, and you may become a mark for others in the future. In a minimum facility like McNeil, the shaming is the worst part.

There are two ways to save face in a situation like the one I was in. You can either fight and roll the dice as to where you will land, which may be in another joint—or, you can bring the issue to light and give the celly 30 days to find a new home. I chose the latter. Wendell may have had me outsized, but he wasn’t in formidable physical shape. I was. I simply prefer not to fight, when I get to choose.

I entered the cell, stood with my back to the door and said, “We need to talk. Phil just pulled me up."

He sat up, placed both feet on the floor. Squared himself toward me.

I repeated what Phil had told me, and asked Wendell if it was true,

"He wasn't there," he said. "She tried to push me, she—" 

I held my hand up in a halt gesture. “I don’t care. Look, this isn’t going to work out.”

“Call this number,” he said, scribbling on a piece of scratch paper. “I can change your life. The NSA will—”

“Wendell. I’m not calling anyone. This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to go tell the sergeant you need a courtesy move. You can tell them I don’t like your praying out loud.” (If asked, I could honestly say I didn’t particularly enjoy it.)

"Are you threatening me? I’ll have your jihadi ass taped down at Gitmo, you Taliban fuck. I know you're a mole, after my strategies. Fucking terrorist agent piece of shit, you talibanfuckhole.”

He stood up, his fists clenched, his face redly telegraphing his intention.

“Wendell. Sit back down. Calm down. You’re about to make a mistake.”

“Speak not to me, motherfucker!” he screamed at me, his body flexed and shaking. “Only God speaks to me, you devilfuckhole. Power of fucking Christ, I’m his angel!”

He charged at me, still bellowing about swords, vengeance, and damnation. I’ll spare you the minutiae of an unremarkable cell fight. It only lasted as long as it took the guards to track down the source of the shouting during the sacred quietude of count times.

We both went to the hole, where I stayed for a month or so. He was transferred to a different joint and I stayed at McNeil another year before being transferred to Monroe, where I remain to this day.

About two years ago I was called to the Custody Unit Supervisor’s office. A small matronly woman who dresses like a Walmart mystery shopper, she equals a lieutenant in rank but seems much less intimidating. Hers is the final say as to what happens or doesn't happen in this half of the prison. A guard opened the door and the CUS asked me to take a seat.

"Do you know Wendell ____?" she asked.

It took a few seconds to recreate first a vague face, then recall the story attached to it. “Yes.”

“You were both infracted for fighting—it says here January, twenty-ten.”


“Wanna tell me what happened? Weren’t you cellies?”

I barely got to the Fox News ticker when she opened her eyes wide.

“Oh, holy shit. I remember that guy. He’s nuttier’n Auntie Em’s fruitcake.” She pulled up his picture on the computer screen. “He was here years ago. I remember when I was still a c/o, he told me he could change my life, if I’d call some phone number he tried to give me. Thought he was illuminati, if I remember right. She made the handcrank motion next to her head. 

“He moved into the government sector, I guess.”

“Well, anyway. He wants to lift the separatee between you two. Trying to transfer back here. So I gotta ask. You okay with that? You two got issues?”

“No, ma’am. I got no issues, long as you don’t put him in my cell.”

Wendell lives on the tier above me now. Every so often I overhear him in the chowhall, explaining with great gusto and gesticulation to whoever is lucky enough to sit down at his table how he taught the Navy Seals to track down Isis with pink hairspray mortar-rounds.

Steve Bartholomew 978300
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Death by Default

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As many of you may know, the execution of Michael Lambrix by the State of Florida is scheduled for February 11, 2016 at 6:00pm.  On Mike's behalf, please write to Governor Rick Scott (letters are better than emails but emails are better than nothing) and request that Michael Lambrix be given a clemency hearing before the full clemency board. Michael has never had an opportunity to present all of the evidence in support his request that his sentence be commuted. Basic fairness requires that evidence be considered.

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

For more information on Mike's case visit:

By Michael Lambrix

On Tueday January 12, 2016, the United States Supreme Court rendered an 8 to 1 decision finding that the Florida death penalty process is unconstitutional. But, that hasn’t stopped  the state of Florida from continuing to pursue my previously scheduled execution on February 11, 2016. Even when the the legal process employed to condemn me and 390 others in Florida is found to be unconstitutional , comtemporary judicially created rules will still trump constitutional law and allow Florida to proceed to put us to death...this principle is commonly known as “Death by Default.”

The average person would find it incomprehensible that even though a particular law itself is declared illegal a state can still proceed to put people to death under that same law that is found unconstitutional. Quite simply, the “politics of death” trump the basic concepts of fundamental fairness and even justice itself.

Here’s what is at issue. In Florida, as with all southern states, the death penalty is politically popular. All any wannabe politician anywhere in the South who wants to win an election has to do is jump up on their soapbox and declare that they will push to expand the death penalty and expedite executions and the crowds will gather to support him or her. That’s just the way it is down here in the South and they’re not going to change their ways without a fight.

After the Supreme Court found the death penalty in America to be unconstitutionally “arbitrary and capricious” in Furman v Georgia (1972), Florida was the first state to quickly rewrite its death penalty laws and bring back capital punishment. Under the pretence of making this process “fair,” Florida elected to adopt a system in which a jury would merely hear evidence of why a defendant should, or should not, be sentenced to death and then the jury would make an “advisory” recommendation—but only the judge would make the final determination of which “aggravating” circumstances existed and what the sentence would be.

Almost immediately, this process of determining who would live, and who would die, was challenged upon arguments that rather than prevent arbitrary imposition of the death penalty, it actually promoted it. But the US Supreme Court upheld Florida’s process in Proffit v Florida (1976) and long before Texas gained international recognition as the Western World’s leading executioner, Florida infamously held the record for the most executions and in fact, was the first state to carry out an involuntary execution in America since the reinstatement of the death penalty when Florida put John Spenkelink to death in 1979.

As Florida continued its rabid pursuit of executions, substantial challenges to this death penalty process remained, but repeatedly—by the narrowest of 5 to 4 decisions, reflecting the simple majority of conservative pro death penalty justices controlling the Supreme Court, the Court allowed Florida to continue by finding that this process that reduced the juries’ role in deciding who would live and who would die merely “advisory” was constitutional. See Spaziano v Florida (1984) and Mildwin v Florida (1989).

This remained the rule of law until Ring v Arizona (2002) when, with the support of several pro death conservatives, the Supreme Court expanded its earlier noncapital decision in Apprendi v New Jersey (2000) to capital death penalty cases, by finding that the Arizona process employed to impose a death sentence unconstitutionally allowed a judge, and not the jury, to determine whether the facts necessary to allow a sentence of death.

What this comes down to is a basic principle of long-established constitutional law, which dictates that under our constitution each person is entitled to have facts determined by a jury and that it is a fundamental principle that any fact that qualifies a capital defendant for a sentence of death be found by a jury.

In light of this landmark decision in Ring v Arizona, the Florida death penalty process was called into question. But Florida wasn’t about to voluntarily surrender its death penalty that easily, and immediately embarked on a potently disingenuous plan to exempt itself from Ring v Arizona by signing death warrants on Amos King and Leroy Bottoson, both of whom had the statutory “aggravating circumstances” of “previously convicted of a violent felony” used to impose sentence of death.

Florida’s argument in King and Bottoson was that since the determination of a “previous conviction” was not dependent upon factual debate by the jury, but conclusively proven by objective fact, the requirement that the jury find the fact does not apply. The Florida Supreme Court quickly adopted this argument and ruled that Ring v Arizona has no application to Florida and expeditiously proceeded to put both Amos King and Leroy Bottoson to death.

The attorneys representing King and Bottoson pleaded with the US Supreme Court to stop the executions, arguing that the Florida Supreme Court clearly was wrong in concluding that Ring v Arizona did not apply, but the Supreme Court declined review. Since 2002, at least three of the seven Florida Supreme Court justices have repeatedly said that the narrow majority of the Florida Supreme Court was wrong, and in State v Steele, 921 SO.2d.538 (Fla.2005) the court even all but begged the Florida legislature to rewrite Florida’s death penalty statutes to conform to Ring v Arizona, admonishing the legislature that if they did not, Florida would be at risk of having its entire death penalty scheme declared unconstitutional.

But, the Florida legislature refused to address the issue—in fact, their only response was a renewed legislative effort to limit Death Row appeals and speed up executions, resulting in the adaptation of Florida’s “Timely Justice Act” in 2013, which statutorily required death warrants (and corresponding executions) to be signed at a faster pace. See “The List” (previously posted essay describing how this new Florida law was intended to push for hundreds of executions).

From the time the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Ring v Arizona (2002), Florida has refused to comply—basically telling the Supreme Court to go screw itself—and in each of the well over 100 new death sentences imposed in Florida since 2002, the condemned prisoner asked the Supreme Court to accept review of the question of whether Ring v Arizona applied to Florida. But the Supreme Court declined review and left the question unresolved.

During this same period of time, Florida proceeded to put at least 30 prisoners to death, each time the Supreme Court declining to stop the execution. In fact, current Florida Governor, Rick Scott—a “tea party” Republican and self-made billionaire who bought his way into political office, has put 23 men to death—far more than any other governor in Florida’s history (on February 11, 2016, I will become number 24), as he prepares to run for US Senate in 2018 ...death wins elections.

Finally, in 2013 the Supreme Court accepted review of the issue in the case of Timothy Hurst and by an 8 to 1 decision categorically concluded that Ring v Arizona did unquestionably apply to Florida. As a result, every death sentence imposed at least since 2002 (when Ring v Arizona issued) is called into question, and the approximately 30 prisoners executed since 2002 were put to death even though the manner in which they were sentenced to death was illegal.

But it gets better. Florida still refuses to accept that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hurst v Florida (January 12, 2016) requires review of previously imposed sentences of death and insists that since Hurst v Florida is technically not “new law” that would require retroactive application, since it was based upon Ring v Arizona (2002), they can and will proceed to put prisoners to death even though they were unquestionably illegally sentenced to death.

And here we have it—Death by Default. My own case will now become the test case for no other reason but the coincidence that I am the next Florida prisoner scheduled for execution. We already know that Florida Supreme Court will be venomously hostile to the argument that Hurst v Florida requires that my previously scheduled execution now be called off.

Under this “death by default” defense of law, they might be right. The fact is that I’ve been down this same path before. In 1992, the US Supreme Court ruled that the jury instructions used to guide a juror’s decision in recommending death on the statutory aggravators of “Heinous, Atrocious, and Cruel (“HAC”) and “Cold, Calculated, and Premeditated (“CCP”) were “unconstitutionally vague," and therefore, any sentences of death imposed under these “aggravators” was itself illegal.

Just as with this Hurst v Florida case, as coincidence would have it, my case was pending on Federal review at the time, and became the first capital case to challenge the unconstitutionality of the sentence of death under Espinosa v Florida. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded my case to the Florida Supreme Court so that the state court could address application of Espinosa first, and the State of Florida aggressively argued that Espinosa could not apply since that decision was not issued until after my conviction became final.

By unanimous decision the Florida Supreme Court found that I was not entitled to relief from the unconstitutionally imposed sentences of death, because my lawyers did not raise this issue on my “direct appeal,” thus it was procedurally defaulted. Lambrix v Singletary 502d. (Fla.1994). My case was sent back to the Federal Appeals Court, which adopted the Florida Supreme Court decision in Lambrix v Singletary 72 G3d. (11th Cir.1996).

However, the United States Supreme Court then granted review of my case specifically to address whether the lower court’s refusal to adopt Espinosa v Florida to my case—and vacate the illegally imposed sentences of death was improper. The argument seemed simple enough—under Espinosa it was beyond debate that I was illegally sentenced to death, so could a “procedural default “now prevent application of that law to my case? Quite simply, could the State of Florida proceed to put me to death by depriving me of application of this rule of law for no other reason but that my previous lawyer failed to properly raise it on my direct appeal?

In a narrow 5 to 4 decision, Lambrix v Singletary, 520 US 518 (1997), the Supreme Court concluded that although there was no question that I was illegally sentenced to death, I was not entitled to relief because Espinosa v Florida was not decided until after my conviction became “final” on direct appeal.

To put this in plain English, the Supreme Court did not dispute that under Espinosa I was illegally sentenced to death. Rather, the conservative, pro-death penalty justices weaseled their way out of this by concluding that their own politically motivated and judicially created rules limiting retroactive application of new rulings superseded what the United States Constitution said.

Already, the State of Florida is arguing that this recent Hurst v Florida decision is “procedurally defaulted” for the very same reason the Supreme Court previously stated in Lambrix v Singletary (1997)—that I am not entitled to relief under a new rule of law that did not exist before my conviction became final.

The stakes are high. My case will now decide whether Hurst v Florida requires all 390 death sentenced prisoners in Florida to be resentenced. And this decision could very well reach well beyond February 11, 2016, and rules that Hurst requires relief, then the ripple effect could very well bring an end of the death penalty in America. Already most legal experts are predicting that the death penalty will inevitably be thrown out by the Supreme Court within the foreseeable future.

Only a few months ago, conservative pro-death penalty justice, Antonio Scalia, publicly complained that the death penalty was on its last leg. Even in Texas, the public has grown reluctant of imposing death. In all of 2015, only 3 men were sentenced to death in Texas, while 14 executions were carried out. Not surprisingly, Florida once again leads the country in the number of people sentenced to death in 2015...and every one of those death sentences will now be thrown out in light of Hurst v Florida, wasting millions of dollars of tax-payers money.

Although by a steadily decreasing number, most (narrow margin) Americans still support the death penalty. But I have got to believe that this support is the product of ignorance as most Americans, as a matter of who we are as a society, genuinely believe in the concept of fundamental fairness. Even when they embrace the antiquated biblical concept of an “eye for an eye,” it extends from that basic principle of “fairness”—you kill someone, you get killed.

But it’s based upon ignorance, as few actually know how our legal system really works. Worse yet, most don’t really care. We simply assume that those entrusted to administer justice are guided by ethical constraint and moral character—and yet those who actually do take the time to become familiar with how our legal system really works, know that this is anything but the truth.

As I have said too many times before, and yet at the risk of redundancy I will say it again, I would challenge anyone to come forth with any credible evidence that I actually committed the crime that I have been wrongly convicted of and condemned to death for.

I say this, as I also believe that most Americans possess fundamental basic principles of moral values that demand a “moral certainty of guilt” before they would be willing to deliberately put any person to death. When it comes down to it, the act of “murder” is defined as deliberately killing an innocent person. Although some might argue that executing a thousand guilty men is “justice,” few can dispute that executing even one innocent man is murder.

But make no mistake about this—on February 11, 2016, the State of Florida will put me to death for a crime that I did not commit. By the States own admission, the entire wholly circumstantial (i.e. no eyewitnesses, no physical, or forensic evidence, no confessions, etc.) rested exclusively upon the testimony of a single witness, Frances Smith—and she readily admits that she did not actually witness me commit any act of violence against anyone.

Rather, Frances Smith—a woman I briefly lived with—only came forward with her story, that I told her I committed this crime, after she was arrested on “unrelated felonies,” while in exclusive possession of the victim’s vehicle. She wanted immunity from prosecution and had to come up with a good story to earn her won freedom. But the jury were not allowed to hear indisputable evidence that Smith actually gave law enforcement at least three other stories before she came up with the one that awarded her immunity. Nor was the jury allowed to know that even after Smith came up with this story she testified to, she then failed (“showed signs of deception” in) a state-administered polygraph test.

What I’ve also always admonished anyone who would listen is this—don’t take my word for anything. Rather, look at the records, and allow the facts and evidence to speak for itself. All my appeals are readily available online for anyone to read at so anyone who might question what I’m saying, should go to that website and read the record for themselves.

Since my conviction in early 1984, a virtual wealth of evidence has been developed substantiating my consistently pled claim of innocence. In 1996, the only witness that supported Smith’s trial testimony came forward and testified that key witness, Frances Smith, and state investigator, Miles Daniels, the lead investigator in this case, had deliberately coerced her to provide this false testimony. It was then revealed that, by Smith’s own admission, during that time, Smith and Investigator Daniels were having a secret relationship “of a sexual nature.” They deliberately concealed this relationship from the defense and the jury.

Not long after that, both the state attorneys own lead investigator (Daniels) and former Asst State Attorney, Tony Pires, testified that Frances Smith lied at trial when she denied receiving a promise of immunity from prosecution. Then it was revealed that the trial prosecutor, Randall McGruthers, deliberately concealed physical evidence showing that the only forensic evidence discovered on the alleged “murder weapon” were hairs belonging to none other than key witness Frances Smith—at trial, the same prosecutor told the jury that nothing was found on this “tire iron,” deliberately lying to the jury.

As luck would have it, by the time all this evidence was brought up before the Federal Supreme Court, one of the former prosecutors, Peggy Quince, who pursued my execution for years, was politically appointed to the Florida Supreme Court and actually was the Chief Justice. Although Peggy Quince recused herself, the remaining six justices made it unequivocally clear that they did not appreciate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct brought against their colleague, Chief Justice Quince and denied all relief in an especially acrimonious ruling. Lambrix v State, 39 So 3d. 260 (Fla.2010), and subsequent Lambrix v State, 124 So. 3d. 390 (Fla. 2013). See also, (comprehensive civil action filed, naming Chief Justice Peggy Quince as defendant, for obstructing access to the court).

All of this wealth of new evidence was then presented to the Federal Court, specifically arguing that the collective weight of this evidence conclusively established my innocence (In re: Cary Michael Lambrix, Case No. 14-15617-P, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals), which the court summarily denied—refusing to address the pled claim of innocence. See, In re Lambrix, 776 F.3d.789 (11th Cir, 2015). Legal counsel then sought justice in the United States Supreme Court, arguing that absent Supreme Court intervention, the State of Florida would proceed to put an innocent man to death. See In re: Cary Michael Lambrix, US Supreme Court case No. 15-6163.

But, on November 30, 2015 the US Supreme Court declined review—within hours, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant scheduling my execution for Thursday, February 11th, 2016.

Death by Default—that’s how our legal system really works. Most believe—I guess most need to believe—that the death penalty is reserved for only the worst of the worst. But really, is it? Or, is the actual truth closer to the reality that the death penalty is a political tool used by politically ambitious prosecutors and elected politicians to win election by flaming the passions of contemporary lynch mobs—and if that means executing the innocent, then so be it.

In the coming weeks, as the date of my scheduled execution draws closer, all attention will be on this Hurst v Florida as it applies to my own case. If we win then it will apply to all 390 Florida cases. If we lose, and the scheduled execution is carried out on February, 11, 2016, then it will establish precedence allowing Florida to continue to push for more executions.

You can personally watch the “oral arguments” in my case online “live” on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 9:00am (Eastern Central Time) at  (subsequently, they can be watched at anytime at this website, by pulling up the case under Cary Michael Lambrix v Florida State, Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC16-8).

If you watch these “oral arguments,” you will see that the State of Florida will focus their entire argument on the principle that the recent Hurst v Florida decision cannot apply to my case. They will concede that there is no question that under the Supreme Court’s recent January 12, 2016 decision in Hurst v Florida there is no question that I was illegally sentenced to death. But they will argue—and the pro-death penalty justices on the Florida Supreme Court will agree—that the grant of relief is procedurally barred because this decision came too late...Death by Default.

My case is not uncommon. This is how the death penalty in America really works. Who lives and who dies is not determined by the nature of the crime, but the arbitrary application of politically procedural defaults.

Michael Lambris 482053
Florida State Prison
7819 N.W. 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

As many of you may know, the execution of Michael Lambrix by the State of Florida is scheduled for February 11, 2016 at 6:00pm.  On Mike's behalf, please write to Governor Rick Scott (letters are better than emails but emails are better than nothing) and request that Michael Lambrix be given a clemency hearing before the full clemency board. Michael has never had an opportunity to present all of the evidence in support his request that his sentence be commuted. Basic fairness requires that evidence be considered. 

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

For more information on Mike's case visit: 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to Murder

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

As many of you may know, the execution of Michael Lambrix by the State of Florida is scheduled for February 11, 2016 at 6:00pm.  On Mike's behalf, please write to Governor Rick Scott (letters are better than emails but emails are better than nothing) and request that Michael Lambrix be given a clemency hearing before the full clemency board. Michael has never had an opportunity to present all of the evidence in support his request that his sentence be commuted. Basic fairness requires that evidence be considered. 

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

For more information on Mike's case visit: 

By Michael Lambrix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
7819 N.W. 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026
As many of you may know, the execution of Michael Lambrix by the State of Florida is scheduled for February 11, 2016 at 6:00pm.  On Mike's behalf, please write to Governor Rick Scott (letters are better than emails but emails are better than nothing) and request that Michael Lambrix be given a clemency hearing before the full clemency board. Michael has never had an opportunity to present all of the evidence in support his request that his sentence be commuted. Basic fairness requires that evidence be considered. 

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

For more information on Mike's case visit: 

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six