Thursday, July 24, 2014

Death Watch Journals from Arnold Prieto and Miguel Angel Paredes

Many of you have come to know Arnold Prieto through his regular contributions of art and writing to Minutes Before Six. Miguel Angel Paredes' artwork has also been featured here for many years. They are currently on Death Watch together at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.  Miguel's execution date is set for October 28, 2014 and Arnold's is scheduled for January 21, 2015. Here are their accounts from Death Watch.

Death Watch Journal Entry #2
By Arnold Prieto 

Click here to see Entry #1

July 7, 2014

Admin note:  Arnold received notice of his Death Warrant on May 12. His attorney of record is aware of this fact and, as of this week, which is more than two months later, has yet to visit him or contact him at all.  

First and foremost I wish to ask for your forgiveness for taking so long in posting something from Death Watch. My silence has been a mixture of depression from being under the constant watchful eye of the state and the restlessness of having to wait for others to help save my life. In this case, the attorney the state has appointed to me has not shown up. I understand that the attorney is overworked and has other cases and deadlines that have to be met. A really nasty feeling indeed and I speak from experience. Anyhow, I have no other choice than to deal with the hand that has been dealt to me. As for the depressing feeling of having to live under these cameras, it has not gotten any easier as I had hoped it might. I still wake up at night and snap that I am on Death Watch once that I look up to the corner of the cell to see the camera. I was given my first warning just last week when I had covered the camera to use the restroom in peace as I normally would do once per day. I was told by the picket officer not to cover up my camera again or she would be giving me a disciplinary case for doing so. Normally the officers that are watching the cameras do not fret about us covering them up just as long as we do not do so for to long. I try to follow rules and regulations to the letter to avoid conflict.

Well, there hasn't been much going on in these few weeks aside from the week-long lock down for the ninety-day shakedowns that we are subjected to because, apparently, we might have a phone or some other contraband that we are not supposed to have...yeah right! I live in the most guarded and secured building in the system. So in reality, I do not see any purpose for the shakedowns every ninety days that we have to go through. It just seem more like a punishment to me then an actual security issue. This time, they took my extra sheet and my blanket, along with little odds and ends that was deemed contraband. What I did not like was the fact that we were only allowed to shower once in the eight days that we were locked down. We normally showered every other day, Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays. But this time around, we were only allowed to shower on Wednesday and we weren’t allowed to shave. I didn't like that we only showered once and that I was not allowed to shave my face by their rules and regulations or face punishment by the loss of class level (usually we would be leveled down to level 2 for ninety days) and a disciplinary case. It did not bother me about the shower; I used the sink for what we call a birdbath. It was not being able to shave the fur off my facet hat drove me nuts - haha! I am just happy that we are off lock down now.

On June 3rd, I was scheduled to be interviewed by a parole officer, and I think it went pretty well. She was very professional.  She asked me about everything that had to do with my life.  She had a file that must have been about eight inches thick and within that file my entire life was in between those pages and I mean from the day I was born till now. Every case that I had picked up while in prison, which were only nine disciplinary cases within a twenty year span, commendable by local standards. And none are violent or threatening towards another inmate or guard.

Anyway, the interview started with the simple questions and we walked through my entire life. All in all, the interview lasted about one and a half hours. Her job calls for her to write up a summary of that interview for the governor and the members of the Board of Pardons and Parole. She also asked me if I would like to meet with an actual clemency board member and to speak with him/her. I of course requested to do so. She tells me that I will get to meet one of the members in November. Am I nervous? Yes, because they will be instrumental in trying to save my life by commutation. I now wish to share something that was shared with me by another inmate, which is basically “the Texas clemency procedure in a nutshell,” as he called it:  

1st - A death warrant is signed by the state court judge, who sets the execution date.

2nd - A clemency petition is filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by the defense attorney on behalf of the prisoner.

3rd - Members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole review the petition and cast a vote on whether to recommend a commutation, conditional pardon or reprieve. They will also decide whether or not a hearing will be convened on the clemency petition to hear testimony from witnesses.

4th - If the majority of the Board votes for a commutation, the Board recommends to the governor that clemency be granted.

5th -The governor has full discretion to either accept or reject the Board’s recommendation on clemency.

6th -The Board has no independent power to commute the sentence. The governor can only commute a death sentence upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole. The Board has no power to grant relief, but can only make recommendations to the governor.  If the Board votes against clemency, the governor has no independent power to commute the sentence.

Under Texas law, the governor has the power to grant a condemned prisoner one 30-day stay of execution. No recommendation from the Board is necessary for the governor to take this action. Any further executive reprieves require approval by the majority of the Board, who then make a recommendation to the governor. The governor may formally request that the Board consider convening a full clemency hearing to review a petition of a condemned prisoner(s).

In Texas and elsewhere in the United States of America, clemency is see not as a due process right of all the condemned prisoners, but rather as a privilege to be dispensed or withheld as the state executive authority sees fit. There is no judicial oversight of clemency procedures and no legal guarantee of access to meaningful clemency review.

The deliberations of the 18-member Board of Pardons and Parole are shrouded in secrecy. Board members are appointed by the governor and are not directly accountable for their decisions to the public or to any legislative body. There seem to be no formal rules in place to guide the Board's decision-making procedures. Board members are scattered across eight regional offices throughout Texas. The Board does not convene, even in closed meetings, to discuss the clemency petition and hear the views of other members. Instead, members often communicate their individual decisions on clemency by fax.

The Board does not allow the prisoner's attorney to review and respond to material presented by the prosecutor in opposition to clemency. Without the opportunity to rebut, the defense is powerless if the prosecution fabricates material or makes exaggerated allegations in order to persuade the Board to deny clemency/mercy. In the one recent case in which the Board did convene clemency hearing (Johnny Garrett, l991), the prisoner was not allowed to attend. Board members have responsibility for all pardon and parole cases in Texas: Over 20,000 cases go through their offices each year. Despite persuasive ground for mercy in scores of cases, the Board of Pardon and Parole allows for executions to proceed with out meaningful clemency review. Even compelling evidence of innocence is not sufficient to obtain a hearing. Since l99l, at least five prisoners with unresolved cases of innocence have been executed here in Texas and none were granted clemency hearings. In 1992.Texas death row inmate Leonel Herrera uncovered startling new evidence of his innocence. Attorneys for Texas opposed his appeal to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that late claims of innocence should be resolved by clemency hearing. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that late evidence of innocence does not ordinarily entitle a defendant to new hearing. “Clemency,” the court stated, “is the historic remedy for preventing of miscarriages of Justice.” Three months later, Texas executed Leonel Herrera, after the Board of Pardons and Parole refused to convene a clemency hearing.

As you can see, the cards are stacked up against me. Nothing new really, since they have been stacked from the very beginning. I find it very odd that almost every one here on the row are first timers and have been here on the row without as so much as a threat towards another inmate or towards another guard. I just cannot see how the jury or the state can see into their crystal balls and see a youngster of 19-20 continuing to be a threat to general population, yet twenty years down the road having only nine disciplinary cases that were nothing more then minor infractions, which all lead to reprimands and actually seven were as such. Where is the dangerous killer and monster they for saw??? If they could have only seen me walking around and working with freeworld people with out so much as an incident AND WORKING WITH 12 INCH SCISSORS! Not to mention box cutters, and flammable liquids to boot!!! Hmmmmm what kind of monster could of been around such material without being.... well, a monster?! Maybe the crystal ball was cloudy during those days or maybe they did not shake the ball hard enough.

My dearest friend Bro Wayne said something to me today out in our visit that was very interesting...I believe he had quoted a condemned prisoner about to be put to death in Florida back in the days when the chair was still alive. He said, "The death penalty is for those that have no capital.  They are the ones that get punished" I believe that I have the quote correct and how true that is!  Welcome the civilized capitol of the world.....

Arnold Prieto 999149
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

From Death Watch
By Miguel Angel Paredes

June 10, 2014

Dear Minute Before Six Readers:
I hope when this reaches y’all it’ll find y’all and y’alls loved ones in the best of health and highest spirits.

I am writing you these words to share with you the experiences of the condemned here on death watch - my experiences mainly.  This is where it gets a real as it can get in seeing death straight in the eyes, and have that marinate in one’s mind, to feel and savor what it feels to be gripped by death – no more putting it to the side while we have apparent time to spare, etc.  It’s where we are really put to the test in a huge way.  I want you to see and feel this, so you can maybe understand the graveness of the situation we find ourselves in.  So you can see I am not ignorant of this serious experience I am in the middle of, I was moved without a prior warning.  At first I thought I was being mistaken for my friend Arnold as he was already advised by the courts, and was waiting to be moved.  I tried asking why the captain wanted to see me, but they said they didn’t know – only were following orders.  I thought maybe it was one of those shake-downs they do by surprise, or something else, and at last, they had the wrong person.

When I was in front of the Captain, I asked her if she was sure she had the right person when she asked me if I knew I had a date, and as she read it out – Miguel Angel Paredes # 999400, I was like “yeah, that’s me,” and she told me, “You have an execution date set for October 28, 2014,” and asked if I had questions.  I told her I would talk to her later and thanked her.  I was wondering if I would be taken back to my cell, but when I asked, they said no – straight to A Pod - Death Watch.   My mind was working very fast, especially as I had been having things to do, and getting me out of the blue, the most similar is like getting a bucket of freezing water thrown on you.  As soon as I got here, people hollered at me.  Others wanted to know who had gotten here, and pretty much asked when my date was.  So when they placed me in the cell I was more trying to answer their questions, and being polite.  My mind was still registering what was taking place.  I saw the cell and the camera, so there was no doubt I was on Death Watch.  Very soon they brought my property, packed in a rush but searched and scanned.  It allowed me to excuse myself from the others and unpack my stuff.  It allowed me to allow my mind to go and digest everything.  As I was unpacking, the first thing that came to my mind was that I would be here along my friend Arnold, and that I would continue to share with him the love and things from God, as when we were on the other Pod.  We had become a lot closer than all the years we had been around, and especially we had been sharing very personal things about my spiritual experiences with God and Christ.  He seemed very receptive, and when he got a date, I tried to share some things with him but felt I could do more.  I had been sharing some things about this with my spiritual/adoptive mom, Dorothy, so when things happened the way they did, it’s something I took as coming from God.  And I have accepted it since then with grace, as I have come to care very deeply for Arnold, and I can be here with him as we face the situation together, instead of alone. As I put my things up, there came more questions, and more questions, and I really just wanted to sit and dwell on the situation, but I didn’t want to be rude to people.  Finally the recs were put up, and everyone to their cells.  I was exhausted to begin with, but then came to sit and write the hardest letters of my life, where I told my Mom Doro about my date and how I wanted to spend the remaining days, and what I thought about our friend while I was unpacking.  I was seeing death as if it would happen tomorrow, but that didn’t bother me.  What broke through all my strength and every might I could have, was seeing the pain in her face as I wrote her, being conscious that I couldn’t even shed my tears in private.  I had to be conscious of a stranger seeing me in my most private moments where I hadn’t allowed anyone, aside from my son and my birth parents to ever see, and yet here I was unable to contain it, every time I composed myself and I restarted writing and would see her face in desperate tears and pain, I would fall back into the deep sorrow.  I wrote some more to a beloved person in my life, and likewise, so much I wished to be able to take their pain unto myself, but I knew I could not, even if I walked unto death with a smile from ear to ear, it would not diminish their pain and sorrow.  It was all the writing I was able to do.  I stayed there in bed, wishing again and again to be able to take their pain away, but it was not up to me.  I just so much wished people would be more conscious of who gets hurt the most - both the condemned and society; to see who this really hits the hardest.  Now I have heard from my loved ones, and seen the signs of sleepless nights and sorrow in their face, and have heard so much of the pain they feel, that I wish none of this was real, not for me, but for them.  To save them from all that pain, that they do not deserve.  If I owe something, I willfully pay the price, even if that price is my life, but, what do they owe?  Why do they have to pay?  If a supposed cold blooded monster feels for them, why not society?  If with my death all will be erased and no one would be hurt again, I would gladly give it, but even though I am here as peaceful as a lamb in the slaughter house, and willing to accept my execution, it still doesn’t erase the pain in others.

Now I have read my order of execution, and it states time after time “DEATH UNTIL DEAD.”  I am o.k. with that, but can you be o.k. with the pain that is left behind? Only when I was lost and ignorant, I did not see all that pain, and thought, as long as I could handle the consequences, it was fair enough. When I was caught, all my rights were taken away.  I am not even allowed to put “Mr.” on my address here on my envelopes that I buy.  Much less make a decision from this side of the isle that can affect society.  So, who will care about the complete results of an execution?  You have a supposed cold blooded monster, in pain, weeping, not for myself but for others who have nothing to do with the wrongs committed in society.  I wish I could put all the blame on myself and have the power to change these things, but I don’t; only you, the people that hold the power now.  I hope with these words you can see who suffers, when things are a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye.  There are victims on both sides, two sides grieving a loved one, an eye for an eye, leaving everyone blind.  

These are things going on in my head.  I hope you can make sense of them. Thank you for hearing me out.  Blessings to you all!

By Miguel Angel Paredes

July 7, 2014

I had a lot of trouble understanding the purpose and nature of the commandments, as I saw how impossible it was to follow them, even for anyone willing to put them in practice.  Yet despite their controversy amongst society and how impossible it was for mankind to follow and observe them, the people who had a religious belief or doctrine defended them with shield and sword. Many were not shy to judge by them and punished, at times, by death those who broke them.  Others said: “I pretty much ‘had to’ or otherwise I would go to hell, and things like that.”  I am locked up in prison/Death Row, and even though there’s a lot of kind people and many well-intentioned, we did not get snatched up from the church choir as the norm and brought here.  So a lot of the norm is like “live it up,” pretty much in the underworld, and, in general, it’s usually pleasure that causes one to do the vast majority of those things.  So breaking pretty much all the commandments at one time or another is the norm, or they’re not really looked at unless you do it to them. 

For a long time, I thought it was a curse place on mankind.  For one party it was bad, for other good, depending on who you asked.  Pretty much the same way with any law of the land, that in some countries certain things are perfectly legal, while the very same is illegal in another, and this can be broken down from nation to nation, state to state, city to city, all the way to small congregations of people, regardless of religion or absence of it. The result’s pretty simple – you obey, you are left alone from legal persecution or penalties, or even praised and rewarded.  On the other end, if you do not obey, you get punished and get condemned and even at the end of the day, the very ones who go against the social majority have their own rules, rewards and punishments, with even lesser securities of one’s fair treatment, and tend to be equally brutal, or far more, to implement the penalties of beatings to death itself.

I wondered if this could also be a big joke, because at the end of the day both sides of the balance pretty much end up doing the very same.

As I have been growing in my spiritual walk, building an intimate relationship with my Father and knowing Christ, my Lord, I came across a verse, and have had very deep reflections on it, which has greatly helped me to deal with this and how I approach my beliefs and my dealings with myself and others, and really, when I am aware of the deep reflection on the verse, I find myself with full hands, which keeps my mind from playing cat and mouse, or trying to do back flips and landing in mid-air as to my convictions and conduct.

Christ once said, “Thou shall love God with all your mind, with all your heart and with all your soul.  You should love your neighbors as you love yourself.”  It says that the law and the prophets depended on these two commandments.  At first glance, this seems to be not enough as an instruction, or even a clear way of explaining something that pretty much seems impossible. Even Christianity says it is impossible for a person to observe all the law.

Yet, when I dwelled on it, I began to see deep within those very simple words, and I understood I had to search and find the meaning beyond human or religious instruction, as not even Christ sat down and gave a detailed written how-to-do manual.  I figured it would have been He who should have done it and He should have the clear-cut answer.  The answer He did give- but not in human dictated instruction - rather inviting us and instructing us to look deeper into ourselves by our own will.

I began to see the key word “LOVE” in my own journey.  I knew emotionalism, romanticism and the commercialized sense of love:  “You do this, I react like this.”, etc.  After many stumblings, falls, and wounds deep in my being, little by little I began seeing and learning what TRUE LOVE is, a love that is free, without any expectation, either of reaction or material kind, be it emotional or a commodity.  I was a grown man when I began learning this, and it took a lot of will power at times not the break and just go an eye for an eye, and distrust the whole world regardless if it was for supposed righteousness, emotional protection, bitterness or resentment.  I had to learn to accept the wounds I might receive as I opened my arms to embrace what I was perceiving as TRUE LOVE.

To love God with all my mind, all my heart and all my soul??? How could I love in that form, if I couldn’t even see Him??  I began to see people that I have come to love deeply, like my mother, my son, and people I have come to love regardless of anything.  It took my KNOWING them, some, I was a part of, an offspring of them like my parents and my siblings and my son, who is an offspring of me.  It took me to ACCEPT them regardless the things I did not like, the things I did not agree with and even the things that hurt me deep inside.  When I started looking at God, I began to see Him more and more, and it is not a secret - we are all the same essence in the universe when we it’s all broken down.  I forgot about my human barriers and the limitations that wouldn’t allow me before to see the wonderful manifestations of a Greater Force out there, recognizing that I was really not even as big as a grain of sand amongst the sea shore, or a drop of water in the ocean, within the vast universe and galaxies and the ones we don’t even know of, the complexity of even the human body so masterfully built, all of the marvelous nature over the face of the earth our eyes can gaze upon; the beauty we see that leaves us without words – even then we are only seeing a small fraction in our life-time.  This humbled me.  I learned to immerse myself in the silence and to be in contact and harmony with all of creation and the Supreme Being.  I started developing more and more deeply inside and getting enveloped in it.  So much, that I went from cursing God and denying His existence, to devoting Him my first thoughts and breaths of each day of my life.

Love my neighbors as I love MYSELF???  Since I was a little kid I was told about my gifts and talents by some people, yet I destroyed a good part of myself, nearly my very existence, so I had a long road to even love myself, much yet to love the other person as I love myself!  After much exploration into the depths of my being, cutting all the strings that held me down, taking out every dagger buried in my back, and healing the wounds that were infected after so many years of not attending to them and placing more and more harmful things on top, I began to naked myself, separate myself, and yes, to KNOW MYSELF, alone in front of God, answering for all the things in my life, purifying myself in the deepest form; giving account for all my acts, both good and bad, and at times even being very hard on myself for things I wanted to change but could not, so yes, I also had to ACCEPT myself.  It was easier when, deep inside, I felt God telling me, “I love you as you are”.  With time, understanding and accepting He was my Father and I his son, I have been able to accept myself and now I am able to love my neighbors as I love myself.  At one time I had felt nothing whenever I did harm to my neighbor.  Now I have come to see that WE are ALL part of his beautiful masterpiece called creation.  I began to see the things that brought me down and the things that nourished me.  I realized that I had a choice to my actions, to be aware and not merely react, but be in control of my actions.

I began to look again at the commandments in a completely different way, and weighing them on the scale of love; seeing them with eyes of LOVE.

I realized that I definitely do not want to kill someone I love.  On the contrary, even the thought of taking the life of someone I love troubles me.  I wish to nourish those whom I love and protect their lives to the best of my ability.

I do not want to lie to someone I love.  That would be betraying their trust and hurting their feelings, in some, to the point of even severing the bond.  Lying to them would also cause them emotional pain and even harm their future relationships.  Due to bad experiences, I prefer to be truthful with the ones I love, and build them up in trust and allow them to more firmly believe and trust in others.

I do not wish to steal or abuse those whom I love.  I would rather share with them joyfully that with which my Father blesses me with, and lend a hand where I am able.  Give when I am able to do so.

I do not wish to take the woman of the person I love.  I would rather enjoy seeing them happy and helping them settle their differences, or for them to see the things that draw them to each other.

I do not wish to disrespect my parents, as I have come to see that in my veins their blood flows through me, that I am a part of them, literally.  I am grateful for them raising me and caring for me from the time I was a defenseless baby, prone to any countless dangers of this world that could have ended my existence.

This is how I see the rest – the deeper meaning of the LOVE, LIFE and TRUTH that these bring forth when we follow the mantra of LOVE.  It doesn’t matter what one believes or not, these words and its meaning transcend all lines, and really put us in balance with LOVE when we see the cause and effect of our actions.  Even now that I have greatly grown spiritually, at times, it is no easy feat. Yet one thing I do know, that this has helped me to see if I am really acting out of love or not.  I can try to justify any action of mine and maybe even convince myself, but when I put it on the balance of love, it comes out very clear.  When I cause harm to someone, I am not acting under the guidance of love.  When I am following the guidance of love, it brings nourishment to others and to myself.

One commandment I hold very dearly as my inspiration, my mantra and my lighthouse when I am lost for words or solutions is when Christ said to love each other as He loved us, and in that way people would know we’re His disciples.  It took me to personally know Him and allow Him to come to life within me.  When I get hurt and the pain and fury builds up, I look at Him on that cross, beaten, tortured, wounded, in agony, and remembering that He willingly gave up His life out of love.  It humbles me and inspires me.  I grit my teeth and get ready to go out there again, and continue on His path of love.  When he asked our Father to forgive the people who did all these things to Him and shed his blood, I have to tell myself there is nothing I cannot forgive or endure.  It humbles me and tells me my burdens are a piece of cake compared to what He went through.  If one time I admired and respected men of leadership that did not forgive if I did certain wrongs, how much more could I admire such a Godly being who came as a servant, and out of love gave his life to give me life and realize that all of these things have transformed my life and have brought so much richness to my life and to all those who have come into my life.  The value is far more than anything one could accumulate in materialistic things.

When we look at the commandments with human eyes and human righteousness we become hardened of heart, so much that we put innocent beings to death.  When we look at them with spiritual eyes - with eyes of love – we forgive even the very one who hurts us and even takes our lives.  This is the truth that took place approximately a couple of thousand years ago, and that very principle is applied even to this very day, where even in the freest country on earth it is not unconstitutional to kill an innocent person, as long as he got a fair trial.

Miguel Angel Paredes 999400
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Waste Warfare

By Mwandishi Mitchell

On November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day, I was placed in administrative custody, or as it's commonly known here -AC status. I'm in the hole doing twenty-three and one. Except on Wednesday and Friday, when there is no yard.

Compared to the ad-seg on Pelican Bay, this is a cakewalk. I'm allowed to have a chessboard, radio, television, books and magazines in my cell. So far, I haven't requested my T.V. or radio--I've left them packed away with my other personal property. They're distractions for me and I can get more writing done without them.

Unfortunately, though, I'm not housed with just AC status inmates. For some odd reason I'm on a disciplinary custody-DC status pod. The majority of the guys serving solitary confinement (well, I wouldn't even call it "solitary" because dudes have cellmates and you can talk to people in other cells) on this pod have received misconducts. My case is different; mine is a separation from staff. All I'm waiting for is my transfer to another plantation where Ill be placed back into the general population.

I think I'm a funny and jovial person to be around, but as I've seen over the years, there's not many people locked up in here who I'd want to be friends with. I can count on one hand people I'd call friends who I've met over the past eleven years. 

Would I be conceited if I said that the reason I don't have many friends is because there aren't many who can converse or match up to me intellectually in here? Maybe it would, but I don't want it to sound that way. But I can‘t learn anything from someone my age (41) who raps Meek Mill, Rick Ross, and whoever else's lyrics all day!? And I'm totally out of touch with the younger guys who are in their early 20's and 30's. I have tried teaching, tutoring, and mentoring them--which turned out to be feeble. For many of them, being a social outcast--drug dealer, stick-up man, murderer, etc… is all they know. And truthfully, this hurts me because eighty percent of them are Blacks and Latinos--and I don't see this changing anytime soon.

Since I've been down here the past three weeks I befriended a man named Omar. Omar is thirty-seven I believe, and he's on DC status serving 90 days for testing positive for marijuana. I had seen him before; he worked the cafeteria where I was housed in general population. I moved into the cell next door to him because, per Department of Corrections policy, you have to switch cells every 90 days. Omar is from Camden, New Jersey, just across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. 

From the onset, he seemed like a person that I could relate to: knowledgeable on current affairs and the plight of the recidivism of minorities in the penitentiary system. He has a good head on his shoulders and I was confused as to why and how he wound up in a place like this. I found out from him that it was a drug deal gone bad. He went with someone who he thought was purchasing drugs--but the guy he went with actually intended to rob the guy. The guy he was with shot and killed two people. When he got caught, he told the authorities Omar was with him. Omar went down as an accomplice. Come to find out, we've both been in prison for eleven years, and both of our DOC numbers start with GB!

In the hole arguments can get pretty wild very fast, and many times out of control. You really can‘t get your hands on someone that you are having a disagreement with. While in the RHU (Restricted Housing Unit), you are a level 5 inmate, which means that when you are brought out of your cell for any reason you will be handcuffed. Going to the shower, yard, medical, anywhere. Most of the time it's just a lot of hot air going back and forth, but every so often, you get "Shit Slayers!"

Shit Slayers, are feces throwers. These are guys who take their excrement and urine and put them into empty shampoo bottles, grape jelly containers--any plastic squeeze bottle they can get their hands on. They shake them up and let them sit for days--weeks even, waiting for a potential victim. It doesn't matter who you are, guard or inmate, if you talk trash or get into an argument with a Shit Slayer--expect to be fired upon! I've seen guys on their way to the shower, bang! Hit by a Shit Slayer. In the yard cage, bang! Hit by a Shit Slayer! There are serious medical risks that can occur as a result of these attacks, especially Hepatitis C. Just imagine being covered with feces and urine on your face, getting into your eyes and mouth. You could potentially be an unintentional victim by being in the middle yard cage of two people who are throwing excrement at one another. Fortunately, I have never experienced either or, and I'm not trying to!

Omar gets a cellmate named Dee. I would describe Dee as a repeat offender. He's only thirty-two and he's been in eight different state penitentiaries--eight! A very hostile and combative person who curses the guards at each and every opportunity he gets a chance. Dee will be maxing out from the hole in forty-three days. He doesn't have anything to lose or anything to look forward to once he's released. A fate that awaits many like him and is verified in the pages of Professor Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow.

The economy of the hole is run off of tobacco. Graterford is an institution that makes millions a year from tobacco sales. However, while in the RHU that privilege for the inmate is in abeyance. So, as it‘s not allowed, tobacco that's smuggled into the hole catches a pretty penny. Its value is quadrupled. A $2.43 pouch of Kite tobacco goes for $10-$15 here in the hole.

Well, Omar's cellmate, Dee, decides he's going to pull a fast one (or, what I would call a fiend-move) and put an indigent toothpaste that's given away freely by the institution, into a commissary bought box. The block-runners (workers) do the passing of items back and forth. They're the only ones who are allowed out and not handcuffed down here. 

"Hey, man, could ju get me sum'thin' ta smoke for dis toothpaste?" Dee asks the block-runner. I can hear him because he's directly next door to me.

"Yeah, no problem. Slide it unda' tha door," the block-runner says.

About three minutes later the block-runner comes back wearing an angry expression on his face and throws the toothpaste box under Dee and Omar's door.

Look at dis shit! I say to myself.

"Whut tha fuck wuz dat 'bout, cuz?" the block-runner asks Dee.

Another block-runner comes to their door. He says, "Man, whut kind of games are you playin', cannon? Why would ju do dat? On tha streets, if you gave him sum' fake coke and he sold it to sum'one--they‘d cum' back and shoot him, not you! You don't do dat to tha middleman!" the second block-runner says. 

The analogy makes perfect sense to me and should make sense to anyone else who knows about the streets. People have been hurt, and many have been killed for selling fake drugs that one perpetrated as real. 

"Man, fuck you and whoeva' you gave it to!" spat Dee.

"Where you from out dere, cannon?" the second block-runner asks Dee.

'Norristown," Dee replies proudly.

"Yeah, it figures. You'd be dead already in Philly!" the second block-runner responds.

While this exchange is going on I'm laughing to myself. Dee, is supposed to be regarded as someone who is "thorough." Well, I'm here to tell you that what he did is not a thorough move at all. It's maligned and dishonorable even for prison standards. There is still honor amongst thieves, y'know? However, Dee is respected as having street credibility. People are out there in the streets getting their heads blown off for these kinds of stunts.

The block-runners and Dee exchange more unpleasantries. Then the block- runners storm off. People on the pod are laughing and expressing their opinions about the whole scenario. So, I say as a joke to Dee:

"Damn, Dee, if I gave you a package back when I wuz livin' tha life, I'd have to seal all o' tha bags wit' a lighter!"

The entire bottom tier erupts in laughter.

"Whut are you laughing about, Mitch? You're a rat! Yeah, e'rybody, Mitch iz a faggot and a rat! You ratted on Benny-Do!" Dee hurls on my character.

I don't have anything against homosexuals. I used to--but I've grown to respect anyone for any lifestyle they choose to live. As long as they're not harming and killing anyone--to each, his own--and her own. But in the penitentiary there's two things you don't want to be labeled as (especially if you're not), and that is a homosexual, or a rat--and Dee has given me both.

When he says it, inside I laugh. I'm more amused than upset. My old-head and one of my mentors, Benny-Do, and I were walkies. Ten years my senior, he was like the big brother I never had.

We got out of the hole on the same day two years ago and were on the same block on the new side. He was brought down to the hole a month before me, and they shipped him to SCI Frackville for alleged "fraternization" with staff. The real reason is that he was a leader of men, who knew how to organize men--and the administration feared this.

Dee saying that I ratted on my mentor gets me infuriated! It isn't funny any longer as the argument continues. By him even insinuating something like this is a stab and low blow to my character. So now I'm throwing obscenities at him and we're going back and forth for the betterment of fifteen minutes. I know there is no way I can physically get my hands on him: My only other option is to send him a threat.

"Don't sign up for yard t'morrow, I'm goin' to shit chu' down!"

Now, I really don't mean this. Indeed, Shit Slayers are people who are working with diminished capacities. You have to figure, you've got to be messed up in the head to play in your own feces--especially the process of putting it in the bottle with your bare hands and everything.

"I throw shit, too! You ain't sayin' nuffin!" Dee counters.

Damn, I thought my threat would back him down. Now I have to save face and keep up the facade. Because in no way am I sick enough, or even disturbed enough to play in my own feces.

About two hours later I'm smelling feces from next door. Dee is getting his ammunition ready. Omar is mad at me because he has to be in the cell smelling his cellmate's feces. What Omar should've done is manned up and not permitted Dee to contain it in a milk carton.

The dudes down on the bottom of the pod are getting hyped. They actually want to see two guys throwing feces on one another. They're placing bets on who'll come out of the ordeal the worst. Really, sickening stuff. Gods know I don't belong here.

As fate would have it, the next day Omar and Dee get the last yard cage available, meaning there was no room for me. Because all I was going to do was to try and talk him down. Then I figured--what if I couldn't? So now, Omar and I haven't spoken to one another in three days. What bothers me is that how a person could be so easily influenced? Omar and I have had long conversations at length about doing positive things to uplift ourselves while we were in the belly of the beast. Even planned on keeping in touch with one another after I get to the next plantation. I guess that should tell me, that I trust people too easily. That I shouldn't open myself up to people that quickly. Because his cellmate and I had a disagreement, he sided with him who he's known less than me? But not only that--he knows (as does everybody on the pod) that the move Dee pulled was lame. I guess that’s what bothers me most. Omar has asked me to write letters to his stepmother which he passed off as his own because they were having personal problems. I didn't mind because I felt I was helping a friend. I have to believe in the mantra that friends are not that easy to come by--especially in here.

The nature of the penitentiary is that the sheep get eaten by the wolves. I'm not a wolf; but neither am I a sheep--so I guess I'm in the middle. It is easy for me to straddle the fence. I'm not an aggressive bullying type and I'm not a weakling whom a bully can prey upon. This ordeal I'm going through, this test of the Supreme Being, all has a meaning. Nowadays, I'm kind and considerate of other people's feelings. I feel like I could go into any five star restaurant and ask the sommelier for a sparkling white Bordeaux, and in the same day be at a Phillies game with a chili-cheese hot dog in one hand, and a draft Budweiser in the other. That's the real me. But the wolves usually interpret the nice side of me, and others, as weakness, and I refuse to be a victim.

One thing for sure, and two things are for certain: Mwandishi will not be involved in any feces biological warfare! Knowing where I'm at, I‘ll never use that threatening countermeasure again! Somebody put me to the test and scared the shit out of me--literally. Called bluff--and I quickly reneged, fast and in a hurry. Next time someone else threatens to have a feces fisticuffs with me, I'll promptly reply: "Hey, you got it, man. I don't want no problems! I'm a player, not a Shit Slayer!"

I am resolved to ostracize myself from mediocrity from here on out.

Mwandishi Mitchell GB 6474
SCI Houtzdale
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Elusive Butterfly of Love

By Michael Lambrix

She told me that she had a birthday present for me and as she leaned over the table towards me, our hands reached out across that cold steel surface that separated us and I immediately felt her warmth as we came together, our fingers naturally entwined like the roots of an ancient oak tree hanging precariously over a rocky cliff, and with that faintest Mona Lisa smile, she leaned in even further until only inches separated us. Now, face-to-face, with me all but hopelessly lost in the depths of her bluish-gray eyes that eternally sparkled with a laughter that came from deep down within as they so often did in those stolen moments that we shared together, and in that unmistakably mischievous whisper, she barely breathed now: “Now close your eyes,” but I didn’t want to, as our time together was already far too short and I treasured those moments in time when our very souls became one in that communion we shared.  In those moments all else ceased to exist and no matter what the world might throw our way to keep us apart, in that moment we truly became one.

But she insisted and I could only smile.  I obediently obeyed her playful command and as my eyelids dropped and darkness descended down upon me I felt her one hand pull away and instinctively I held the other that much tighter as if there was something within me that feared when I opened my eyes again, she would be gone and I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it, although we had only relatively recently been brought together. We shared so much common ground that it seemed as if we had always been together.  Again, she softly laughed and reassuringly squeezed the hand she still held, as if to say that I need not be afraid because she would always be there with me…she’s like the wind, I would tell her.

Barely a moment had passed, but it already seemed like forever until her soft voice laughingly admonished me to keep my eyes closed.  I wanted so much to peek but for a second, but didn’t dare as I couldn’t disappoint her.  Soon enough my patience was rewarded when in that soothing whisper she barely breathed, “Now, smell this”, and I realized that she was holding something up to my nose.

I breathed in and at first was puzzled.  The sweet fragrance seemed so familiar and I knew that I knew what it was, but like the fading shadows of a dusky memory buried deep down in the recesses of a past life, I just couldn’t quite grasp what it was that it was.  Again and again breathed that fragrant scent in.

She saw that I was struggling and in that soft laugh that I knew only too well, she teased and then tantalizingly began whispering words, only one word at a time, each deliberately spaced out a few seconds apart as clues… “outdoors”… “spring”... “meadow”… “California” – and then it hit me with amazement.  I had no doubt and I all but shouted out “California Poppy!” And as I opened my eyes I could see her laughing with a triumphant joy that radiated through every fiber of her body and with a smirk of satisfaction now painted across her face, she held a single, small golden flower in her hand, and only then did we both realize that the packed room around us had become silent as everybody looked our way, and we again laughed.

Those familiar with Karen would describe her in single words: fun, adventurous, fearless, compassionate, infectious, selfless, but above all else a free spirit in which life itself was her gilded cage that could not hope to confine the boundless energy within her, an energy so overwhelming that despite a fragility that came from the pain of a past that haunted her, she soared above it floating freely in the thermal winds of the warmth of her compassion towards all life.

Her first letter was a card she wrote to let me know how much she enjoyed reading what I wrote in one of my essays about sitting in my solitary cell smelling the fresh cut grass through the distant window and how often she too felt that her own life was like living in a solitary cell looking out from within, and that in that solitary space, she found her own tranquility.

Soon, the letters flowed back and forth and we came to be amazed at how much common ground we shared.  We were both the same age and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and had been to so many of the same places and it became a game to shotgun through places and times trying to figure out whether perhaps our paths had once crossed long ago in a life so far, far away.  And although we couldn’t quite figure out a specific time and place, that undeniable connection between us convinced us that our paths were one, destined to be drawn together and in that infinite expanse of eternity.  The time it took for our paths to finally merge was immeasurably inconsequential, as it was meant to be.

We shared an insatiable passion for the freedom of the open road, of traveling in a way in which the unexpected twists and turns would take us on adventures, as they so often did in life.  I would tell her about the years I spent on the road when I left home at 15 and found work with a traveling carnival – and she would tell me that if ever we could go back in time, she would have run away with me and we wondered in how many infinite parallel universes our lives were spent together.

Karen would perk up like a schoolgirl and in graphic detail tell me about her own travels with her faithful companion Katy, her beloved white shepherd and her reclusive black cat “Fat Charlie” that was perfectly content curled up in her motor home and together the three of them traveled the highways from California, up to Canada, across that northern highway and many other trips, even down into Mexico. 

Unassumingly pretty and petite, nobody would have expected a woman like her to take on the open road alone, and everyone she met became an instant friend, addicted to that infectious sense of adventurism that embodied her.  Soon she developed a regular following as she posted videos of her solitary travels online (you can see Karen’s videos here).

She dreamed of driving up from California to Alaska, and finally retiring after 30 years of working for the State of California, Karen sold her house and bought another motor home and began preparing to hit the open road.  But we all know what they say about the best-laid plans, and her lifetime dream of seeing Alaska would wait a bit longer, as in early 2012 the U.S. Weather Service released the names assigned to the Hurricane Season, and as if the gods of fate had destined it to be, Hurricane Karen was to blow into Florida.

The words of songs became our way of expressing our inner-most feelings, and for Christmas of 2012 she bought me an MP3 player so that at a particular time each night, no matter how many thousands of miles might have separated us, we would each lie down in the solitude of our own space, close our eyes, and imagine being together as we both got lost in those words that meant something special only to us, such as the words of one of her first songs she asked me to order… “I want to have ya’ ‘til I die, ‘til we both break down and cry; I want to hold you ‘til the fear in my subsides” (“Sometimes When We Touch” by Rod Stewart.)

Both of us, each for our own reasons, shared a fear of letting others get too close.  Each of us knew only pain from past relationships, and were afraid to reach out even when what we both wanted so much seemed to be within our grasp if only we would reach out and embrace it and allow it to possess us as nothing else ever had.

We wrote about all the places we wanted to see and somehow it just naturally evolved into an unspoken understanding that we would one day see them together.  One of her dreams was to visit Key West and we spoke of how we would stand in that sugary sand where both the sun rose in the morning and then again set each night and how perhaps that is where time itself would stand still and never run out and like the Siren’s song of her own personal odyssey, she felt compelled to fly across the country just so she could stand in that sacred spot while looking out as far as the eye could see across that infinite expanse of perfectly blue water, with picture-perfect puffy white clouds hanging on the very edge of earth in that distant horizon, and at least in that moment of time, she once again believed in heaven.

Although she had to be back in California by Monday morning, after watching that magical sunset, Karen rented a car and drove all night northward, arriving at the prison in the early morning hours on that cold January morning and was the first in line waiting to get in.

I was not expecting a visit – she didn’t even know she was coming to Florida until that Friday night.  For me, it was just another Sunday morning in my solitary cell and when the guards called my name for a visit, I didn’t know what to think.  My first thought was that it was a mistake – they must have called out the wrong cell, as I didn’t get many visits.  Very few of us here on Death Row received visits, much less regular visits, and I had no reason to expect a visit that day.

Moments later the wing officer was standing at my cell door, wanting to know why I wasn’t ready yet.  It wasn’t a mistake.  Quickly, I washed up and brushed my teeth and threw on that neon-orange shirt that all condemned men must wear when outside of their cells, and I was handcuffed and escorted to the dress-out room where I would be strip-searched both before and after having any contact with those who might come to visit.

As I opened the door that led into the visiting park (a large cafeteria-style room with three rows of stainless steel tables where Death Row visits were allowed), I anxiously scanned the room in search for a familiar face, but didn’t see one.  I walked towards the guard’s desk up front and as I approached the front of the visiting park, there she was.  She had not yet seen me, and had her back towards me as she looked out of the window at the green grass beyond and the sunlight was radiating through her long auburn hair and for a moment I stool there mesmerized by that angelic image and at that moment she turned and as she recognized me, now not more than a feet away, a smile came over her face as she called my name, and in that instant she all but leapt into my arms and for the first time, we kissed, and I held her tightly as if I never wanted to let her go.

The hours passed far too quickly when our time together was up.  And in the way that was so much her, she suddenly took both my hands in hers, and looked at me in the eyes, and in a matter-of-fact sort of way said what I never expected to hear, “Michael, I love you,” and even before I could respond, she began reciting the words of a song she had insisted I listen to so many times in her letters….

“You might have heard my footsteps echo softly in the distance through the canyons of your mind;
I might have even called your name as I ran searching after something to believe in;
You might have seen me running through the long abandoned ruins of the dreams you left behind;
If you remember something there that glided past you following close by, heavy breathing;
Don’t be concerned – it will not harm you.  It’s only me pursuing something I’m not sure of;
Across my dreams with nets of wonder….I chase the bright, elusive butterfly of love.”
(Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind)

It was all I could do to choke back tears.  It wasn’t so much the words, but the way that she spoke them.  Just that quickly the guards escorted the visitors out, and she was gone, barely giving me time to tell her that I loved her too.

Every day after that visit we wrote, each talking endlessly about everything and even nothing at all.  All that really mattered was sharing that time together.  She would send me pictures of her laying there alone at night reading my letters, and I would anxiously await each day for mail call, knowing that it would bring yet another letter.  In the weeks that followed, her beloved longtime companion, Katy, that fearless white shepherd that shared her playful and adventurous spirit traveling the far corners of North America, had to be put to sleep and Karen lost her companion and wrote about how she never felt so alone as she did that night in her empty house, but that I seemed to be the only one who understood that sense of solitude and emptiness that imprisoned her in that time of loss.

She knew that as a condemned man, I could never promise her a tomorrow – only what today might hold as we hoped that the gods of fate would give us a tomorrow.  Our letters shared our hopes and dreams as they evolved from the singular of she or I, to what soon enough became only us as we naturally came to see our future together.

As we continued to write each other, the words of songs to express our growing emotional connection, the song Satisfied by Jewel became a constant theme, each of us writing down a sentence or two at a time and expecting the other to complete it.  At night I would find myself laying there in the stillness of my solitary cell unable to sleep, wondering where she might be at that particular moment, and whether she too was laying there alone thinking of me and as if time and distance eroded altogether, I could feel her presence with me and I would softly sing the words of that song and as I did, the tears would soak my pillow as each word touched my soul:

“If you love somebody, you better let it out;
Don’t hold back while you’re trying to figure it out.
Don’t be timid don’t be afraid to hurt
Run through all the flames; run through all the fire,
And hold on for all its worth…
Cause the only real pain a heart can never know
Is the sorrow of regret when you don’t let your feelings show,
So, did you say it?  Did you mean it?
Did you lay it on the line? Did you make it count?
Did you look him in the eye and did he feel it?
Did you say it on time?  Did you say it out loud?
‘Cause if you did, Hon – then you’ve lived some…
And that feeling inside; that’s called “Satisfied”

A few weeks before what we both know could have been my last birthday, Karen sent me a card, asking me if I could have anything in the world for my birthday, what would it be?  That same night I wrote her right back, telling her of how all I would want, if I could truly have anything, would be to spend that day in that particular meadow at Point Reyes where we had both been (although at separate times), and lay a blanket out on the grass and have a picnic there in the midst of the wild flowers so common to coastal California in the early spring and as the day drew to its inevitable end, we would lay there with her head nestled upon my chest as I ran my fingers through her long hair, and as the sun would slowly sink into the distant horizon across the Pacific Ocean, with the infinite shades of crimson reds and golden yellows giving way to the twinkling of the first stars we see in that dusky twilight, I would take a single golden California poppy and place it in her hair, and in that moment I would know that no matter how much steel and stone they might pile up around me, and no matter how many thousands of miles might separate us, I would be home.

Before I could get a response to what I wrote, that following weekend Karen again jumped on a plane and flew to Florida, unexpectedly surprising me just before my birthday and we spent our second Sunday together.  It was during that visit that she playfully insisted I close my eyes and when I opened them again, there was the single California poppy which I then took from her trembling fingers and with our eyes locked in an unbreakable embrace, I reached out across what little space separated us and placed that flower in her hair.

In that moment, without another word spoken, we knew we belonged together despite the too many obstacles that stood in our way.  It was there in the visiting park that early spring day that as we stood in the line waiting our turn to buy our lunch from the visiting park commissary that Karen laid her head against my shoulder and with her eyes closed, she whispered that she just wanted a moment of silence, and hoping that the guards would not see, I held her close to me.

A moment later, she looked up at me with a childlike uncertainty and asked me if I really loved her, and I immediately said yes and then she turned to face me and taking both my hands in hers, our fingers again intertwined, she looked up at me and whispered those words that I never dared to dream I would hear: “Michael baby” – and then she momentarily paused as she searched the depths of my soul for even the hint of uncertainty, “If I moved to Florida, would you marry me?”

Without hesitation, I said yes, and her face lit up like all the stars in the sky and in that instant and overwhelming happiness consumed us as I pulled her close and held her tightly for as long as I dared, as unauthorized physical contact could cause our visits to be terminated and we couldn’t risk that.

That night she flew back to California and I again returned to my solitary cell unable to sleep and utterly intoxicated by that feeling that I never thought I would have felt again.  A part of me feared that it was all a dream; that if I did dare fall asleep I would wake up to realize that I had finally descended into desperate psychosis creating that final fictional reality as I fell helplessly down that proverbial rabbit hole of insanity, as I could not imagine anyone loving me that much as never before has anyone wanted to give me that measure of unconditional love that Karen now so freely gave.

In the days that followed, I anxiously awaited her next letter just knowing that once she thought about it, she would want to retreat her promise of commitment to spend our lives together and I knew that I could not blame her.  Already in my head I thought of how I would respond, how I would tell her it was alright, that I understood as I had nothing to offer, not even a promise of tomorrow.  I knew that she was my Elusive Butterfly and I would patiently write those words we have all once heard…. "If you love something, let it go…if it never returns, it was never meant to be…but if it comes back, it’s yours to keep forever.”  

Each day the anxiety built up and I would pace back and forth in that solitary cell anxiously awaiting mail call and yet so afraid of what that letter would say…nobody could love me that much.  Letters she mailed before flying to Florida that weekend came and I quickly scanned each for even the slightest hint of doubt, reading and re-reading each into the early morning hours as sleep would only come when I would finally succumb to exhaustion.

Then that letter came, a long letter postmarked on that Monday morning in Sacramento and I sat on the edge of my bunk and all but ripped it open, turning first to the very page to see how she singed it and my soul smiled as I read those few words… “with love forever…Karen” and I knew then that it wasn’t a dream.

Enraptured in that moment of ecstasy, I could not remember ever feeling such joy as I did in that moment and as I began to read that long letter, I found that I could not concentrate, and instead focused only on the page in which she shared her own thoughts so similar to my own of how she had never dared dream she would be as consumed by that feeling of love as she did when we were together, and that although our time together would be limited to those few hours each weekend, it would be enough just to know that our souls had somehow become one.

She had already planned to take her dream trip to Alaska and was almost ready to go when instead once she placed her furniture in storage and loaded up her motor home, she began her long trip across the country to be with me.  Alaska could wait as she had a new dream of us being together.

But her cross-country odyssey became an obstacle course.  There was a spot in the high desert wilderness in Arizona where Karen had heard that the stars could be seen at night like no other place on earth, and she wanted to see that so she could share with me. But the rough ride down miles of bumpy dirt road took its toll on both her and the motor home (you can see her video of this trip on her You Tube channel.)  But she slept beneath those stars and wrote long letters of how magical it all was, especially as she dreamed of us sharing it together.  That moment beneath the majesty of the universe surrounded only by the miracle of Mother Nature cost her a week of recuperation and repairs she hadn’t planned on and she barely left the area when a few weeks later a devastating wildfire swept through that wilderness leaving 19 firefighters trapped and dead.

Towards the end of May, she was out on the open road again and heading for Oklahoma City as I had told her about the antique airplanes placed high up on concrete pedestals at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds and how so many years ago at night I would lay down beneath them, and looking up into the night sky I would imagine myself flying away to the places that only existed in my own dreams, and she wanted to share that piece of common ground with me.

But as she worked her way east on interstate 40 towards Oklahoma City, the area was hit by a number of twisters that left devastation and destruction and as I sat in my solitary cell I watched helplessly as the news showed picture after picture of twisted metal and debris of vehicles caught in the path of the twister on that Interstate, and desperately I searched for any sign of her motor home, not knowing whether she was alright and again on edge I waited until I would receive another letter letting me know that she was alright, which I finally did the following week. 

That first week of June was the official start of hurricane season, and we both laughed at how the eleventh named storm of that 2013 season would be named “Hurricane Karen.” That June, Karen swept into Florida with the force of a hurricane herself, and every Sunday that followed, rain or shine, Karen would be in the prison’s parking lot waiting to come in so we could be together.

Getting married on Death Row would not be easy.  By law, the prison couldn’t stop us, but they could make it all but impossible by imposing a long bureaucratic process that all but the most determined would not see through.  Prison rules required that we first request permission from the prison chaplain and we each wrote letters professing our unconditional love and asked for approval.  Then the prison psychologist had to conduct a mental evaluation of me to determine whether I was still sane, and miraculously, I passed only to have Karen mercilessly tease me about what she would do if I had failed that mental exam, all the while laughing as she said all men should be examined.

As the process dragged out, Karen continued to visit and during the weekdays she would visit the beaches around Florida, which she quickly came to love so much.  And every Sunday she would share it with me, painting a picture of us together in such detail that when I closed my eyes at night I could see us together in the sugary sands of the beach with the soft summer breeze blowing through her hair and the sound of the waves rhythmically slapping the shores.

She wanted to watch a rocket as it lifted off from earth and climbed high into the heavens beyond, and began making pilgrimages to Cape Canaveral where the Space Shuttles once launched from and was still equally amazed when it was but a commercial rocket and as eagerly as a child on Christmas morning she anxiously waited that Sunday when she would tell me about it.

But soon I wasn’t enough as she so desperately wanted me to be there with her as she pursued each new adventure and inspired by something she saw online, Karen created “Flat Mike,” a card-paper cut-out that she sent to me and had me color in, then I mailed it back to her and from that day forth Karen took Flat Mike everywhere.  The beaches she loved and front-row seat on a Super Coaster at Universal Studios and an Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, where Karen mischievously placed Flat Mike into the open jaws of a statue of a large alligator as if being eaten alive and then sent me the picture and we would laugh about it.  And each night Flat Mike would sleep by her side and keep her safe, and each morning that personification of me would be there with her so that we were never apart.

But Florida was anxious to carry out its executions, and with my new evidence/actual innocence appeal only recently denied (please check out:, in October the newly compiled list of those considered death warrant eligible came out and my name was on it. (Read: The List).  Karen cried, and panicked at the thought that I might soon be put to death and leave her alone again, and at length we talked about life and death and our mutual belief that our mortal death could never defeat the eternal consciousness within and I reminded her of the spiritual experience that I had when I once before came close to execution (Read: The Day God Died).

With tears in her eyes, she would whisper that she couldn’t imagine living her life without me and I would do what I could to comfort her, wanting only to take her into my arms and hold her forever, and feeling so utterly helpless. Our time together would only too quickly come to an end and I could only watch as she walked out that door and I would again count the hours until I would again see her that next Sunday.

We would imagine that when freed from this mortal condemnation called life, our spirits would be free to wander across the infinite Universe and like fireflies on the darkest of nights, we would be drawn together in the unified glow of our eternal love, and our song became Drops of Jupiter by Train, and each Saturday night at precisely 10:00 p.m., no matter how many miles might separate us, we would each lie there in our bed with our eyes closed, and as that moment when consciousness reluctantly surrendered itself to that edge of the abyss of dreaming, we would imagine our souls rising high above in that infinite expanse of the Universe, searching in that vacuum in which time never mattered, until our souls would once again come together and find comfort in each other’s arms, and then that very next Sunday morning she would again be in my arms, and at least for those too few hours we had together all in the Universe seemed right again.

The months passed as we continued to wait for the prison’s approval to be married.  But Karen began experiencing excruciating pain that didn’t seem to want to go away and became progressively worse.  She was convinced that it was the mattress in her motor home, where she continued to sleep each night.  But as the pain became worse, I all but begged her to go to the doctor, but she had no health insurance in Florida and refused to go.

Just before Christmas, Karen decided to postpone our wedding plans as the constant pain had become too much for her to bear, and she returned to California to see her doctor.  As I stood there watching as she walked out that door of the visiting park, turning back at that last moment to smile at me as she always did, it never even for a moment occurred to me that I would never see her again.  But within weeks she received the diagnosis – terminal cancer, which had already spread to most of her vital organs and had fractured her spine.  They immediately attempted aggressive treatment, but it was already too late.

Karen never recovered and never again returned to Florida.  On Friday, May 30, she passed quietly as if going to sleep, with her family and friends by her side.

I never had a chance to say goodbye, but then again, that’s just how Karen would have wanted it as she would always say that when your loved someone, there were no goodbyes.

As empty as my solitary cell once was, it is that much more so now, and although I know that as long as her boundless spirit remains within me she will never truly be gone and that if only I ever have a chance to look up at the stars at night, I know that I will see her soul dancing across the Milky Way, looking down upon those of us who will miss her so much.

And as I close my eyes each night in the cold darkness that my solitary cell has now become, in my dreams she will be waiting there in that meadow where that ocean breeze still blows, and she will be smiling as if waiting on my forever, and once again I will take that single California poppy from her trembling fingers and gently place it in her long, auburn hair.

My Elusive Butterfly of Love has gone, and yet the words of the song remain. No words could ever hope to capture the incredible free spirit that Karen was, or the eternal soul that she is.  You can watch her travel videos here and in her memory, think of the song Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind.

On July 25, 2014, a memorial service will be held for Karen Abbe in Sacramento, California and a special mass/memorial service at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Macclenny, Florida.  

Michael Lambrix 482053
Floria State Prison 
7819 NW 228th Street (G1202)
Raiford, FL 32026-1000