By Michael Lambrix
Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down... oh so innocently ignorant of what this thing called life could still bring, I can recall a particular child’s toy called a “Weeble,” and that television commercial that always ran during Saturday morning cartoons and it still makes me smile. It’s not so much the toy itself that brings back these memories, but that catchy little jingle they used to promote these Weebles… “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” It’s one of those tunes that has a way of getting caught in your head that can’t seem to shake.
I’m probably only one of a very few who would even still remember Weebles, as in this age of techno-toys designed to shock and awe each new generation of kids, such a simple and unsophisticated toy would hold no interest. So, for those who haven’t a clue of what I’m referring to, allow me to enlighten you. Weebles were small, plastic toys with a rounded bottom and an upper body formed in the image of a family. There was the mother and father and all the children, and an entire assortment of colorful accessories such as plastic cars they could ride in, if you were willing to push.
With a little imagination and the innocence of a child, they could be fun to play with in a time when toys didn’t require batteries. But it wasn’t really the toys that remain a memory – it was and is the incessant jingle and the way it rattles around in what’s left of my arguably still functional brain cells. That simple sentence has become a metaphor for my life, and I can’t get it out of my head.
Sometimes when the walls close in around me, I retreat into that world of my own and compel myself to conjure up a chant. Like the Muppets’ rendition of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a chorus of comical voices will join in a monotonic chant “Weebles wooble, but they don’t fall down… Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down…” On and on, and still, I smile. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; instead it’s become almost a source of inspiration. I’ve come to accept – and even embrace – the truth that I am a Weeble, and like a Weeble, I wobble, but I don’t fall down.
Funny how easy it is to tell ourselves those little lies that help us make it through the day. Again, that song that every death row prisoner knows the words of only so well comes to mind (Bohemian Rhapsody) “is this the real life, is this just fantasy, caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.” And reality really does suck so thank God for Weebles; and more importantly, that magical power within our own imagination that allows us to escape reality and retreat into a world in which we can, even if only for a moment, believe those little lies we like to tell ourselves and wobble through the hell that is reality and still believe that we’re strong enough not to fall down.
I look around me and what I see is a world of steel and stone deliberately designed to break the strongest of men so that through this methodical degradation of not merely the body, but the mind itself, each of us will abandon any desire to resist, and instead surrender to that fate that has stalked us through the years.
As each of us is cast down into this metaphoric abyss of lost humanity each day that passes is like that proverbial drop of water eroding even the strongest of stones. I know like so many other around me, I like to tell myself that I am stronger than those drops of water and remain intact and year after year, decade after decade, I struggle to see that stone I thought I once was. I wonder what will become of me as each of those persistent drops of water keep coming and coming.
Whether we want to call it erosion or evolution, the result remains the same. Recently, circumstances brought about my transfer from the main death row unit at Union Correctional, (where the majority of Florida´s death-sentenced inmates are warehoused while awaiting the uncertainty of their fate), to the nearby Florida State Prison, which once housed all of death row before they built and opened that “new” unit at Union Correctional. Very few come back to this cesspool and of those that do, it is almost always only under a newly signed “death warrant” to await their then scheduled imminent execution on the infamous adjacent “Q-Wing.” (Admin note: since this essay was written, Mike has been transferred back to UCI)
Although I am not under a death warrant – at least, not quite yet, [please read “The List” ], being thrown back into this beast brought back many memories. I'm certainly not a stranger to this place that many of us have come to call the Alcatraz of the South - and for a good reason. Over 30 years ago I entered this soul-stealing succubus for the first time when I was once still a young man [please read “Alcatraz of the South, Part I" and "Part II"] never thought for even a moment that I would grow old within these walls as I awaited my own still uncertain fate.
When I first came to death row now well over 30 years ago, my only fear was of the unknown. I never felt any fear of death itself. I never expected that day would come when I would be walked those final few steps and be put to death.
I certainly was no stranger to death. From even those earliest of days all around me men were dying. The reality that being condemned to death really did mean that they would put you to death hit home even in those first few months when my first cell-neighbor was put to death. Although a few others were executed shortly after I joined the ranks of the Row, J.D. Raulerson was the first one I knew personally. But by no means was he the last and as I think back on this today I find myself unable to even remember many of the faces of those men I once knew, and I now wonder how many will remember me once I am gone.
I too have danced with death. Many years ago I found myself under a death warrant and on Death Watch with only hours before my own scheduled date with death. As my thoughts dare to go back to that time, the memories remain as strong today as they were a quarter of a century ago. It’s not the kind of experience anyone would ever forget. Few of us ever look into the face of death and still live to tell about it, but I did, and although I was forced to confront my own mortality and even accept that I would die, in that moment in which the fear of death would have itself overwhelmed me, instead by seemingly divine intervention I found myself at peace [Please read of my death-watch experience: “The Day God Died.”
In the years that followed my near-death experience I found myself almost euphorically searching for that ever-evasive meaning of life, intoxicated by that belief that it wasn’t about heaven or hell, but that no matter what the end might encompass, it would be “alright”. Somewhere deep within my own spiritual consciousness I transcended beyond the darkness of this mortal life and embraced that light within and it gave me the strength to wobble no matter what would come along trying to knock me down.
Perhaps somewhere along that path I became arrogant, subconsciously coming to believe that I was somehow immune from these laws of nature that mandated that every man, no matter who he might be, had that breaking point within, and once reached, those drops of water would undoubtedly erode that stone and the substance upon which he once stood would crumble beneath him. How dare that I believe that I might had been immune when men much stronger than I could ever hope to be have long crumbled and fallen into that abyss of hopelessness that patiently awaits us all.
For a condemned man, what is hope but the sweet and seductive siren call of an illusory mistress that exists only to lure you onto the rocky shores of your own destruction?
I laugh when I recall that as a much younger man I once was when I survived that death-watch experience, I dared to believe that I had defeated death. But nobody defeats death and in the end, no matter whether you’re on this side of the bars or the other side out there, nobody comes out alive.
But now know that this evolution of who I am continues just as methodically as those drops of water that erode the stone. And for that reason alone, I should not be that surprised when I awake each day questioning the “why” of it all just as I did so long ago when I first dared to think that I had defeated death.
The truth of the matter is that through that near-death experience so long ago, I did die. I suppose some will never understand that, as most will never see that as each day passes, we all continue to evolve into the person we will yet become. Who I was way back when I first came here is not who I am today. Although with each drop of water peeling away the softer layers of that shell of a man I once was, the stronger attributes of the substance of who I am continued to resist that erosion until it could resist no more and gave way to that evolution of that spiritual consciousness within With that event the man that I am was born, but even he continued to erode until yet another new man would crawl out of the embryonic slime
How dare I think I had defeated death when death had become so much a part of who I am? I found myself struggling with the wish that I had died that day so long ago. If I have learned nothing else through these past decades as a condemned man, it is that there truly are far worse than merely succumbing to a mortal death.
But that doesn’t mean that I am ready to die, and I certainly am not the suicidal type. Rather, knowing that at any time the governor can sign a death warrant on me and again schedule my state-sanctioned execution, I can’t help but wonder whether I should fight it this time, or embrace the opportunity to end this perpetual nightmare.
There will be those that will say that by even entertaining these thoughts I am expressing weakness or perhaps pathetically screaming for attention – people truly do love to throw stones. But given my familiarity with the world I am condemned within, I know only too well that at some point all of us here find ourselves having the same thoughts. It’s a product of the erosion and an inherent part of that undeniable evolutionary process. Just as with each appeal our hopes of defeating death are elevated, with each denial of judicial relief those hopes are crushed. We wobble our way through these cycles of despair, but at some point we just want to fall.
Disillusioned with the hypocrisy of organized religion, and yet paradoxically affixed to an unshakable belief in the importance of nurturing my spiritual self within, my life has become a journey in search of greater truth that might give meaning to it all, a truth that continues to evade me.
I am reminded of what I once read in Victor Fankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. After spending years in a concentration camp during the dark days of World War Two, trained psychiatrist Victor Frankl tried to make sense of the incomprehensible atrocities deliberately inflicted upon his fellow man by others who embraced the belief that what they were doing was not simply justified, but necessary in the interest of bringing about a better society, not at all unlike the contemporary justifications our society today continues to make in defense of the pursuit of the death penalty. One profound truth he spoke of stands out amongst all others – (to respectfully paraphrase) when a man can still find the will and the reason to live, he can find the strength to survive and the means to do so.
The will to live…think about that for a moment. How many of us have ever taken even a moment to ask ourselves why it is that we want to live? There are many prisons in life and as tangible as the steel and stone might be around me, it is by no means the worst prison of all. I am certain that there are many out there in the real world that go through their everyday lives in a form of prison far worse than that I am in, whether it might be a bad relationship, or a broken heart, or enslaved by alcoholism or drugs, or any other form that strips us of our hope and that will to live. Each day becomes its own struggle to survive and all the while we ask ourselves, why?
In the end, we are all condemned to die, and nobody is going to get out alive. And when I dare think about it, as a condemned man cast down into this abyss of solitary confinement, deprived of all that which ultimately defines the very essence of this thing we dare call life, at the end of the day I believe all share more common ground than we dare to admit.
When it comes down to it, we search for meaning that defines our will to live. And most are blessed with whatever it is that makes their life worth getting up for each day. Yet from time to time some will be struck by that unexpected blow that tries to knock them to the ground, but because they have that reason to live, they merely wobble until the wobbling stops and their lives go on, and even when they think they’ve fallen, they never really hit the ground.
But when blow after relentless blow descends upon any man, at what point will even the strongest of men pray for the wobbling to stop and just be allowed to fall? Where once I was able to identify that reason that kept me pushing forward, I now look out on the landscape of what my so-called life has become, and am no longer able to see that proverbial rainbow on the distant horizon. Instead all around me I see only those darkening clouds gathering with the promise of that many more storms yet to come.
Without reason, where does one find that will? At this point in my journey that inevitable fate that I found the strength to deny through the many years now hangs over me like a dark cloud descending down. I’ve fought the good fight, standing my ground as the battle raged on around me. As so many others grew weak and gave up, I remained standing. And for that my only reward was to prolong my misery and suffering. In the end it seems that justice will never prevail and it remains my fate to die, and that death inflicted each day.
Where I once dreamed of the day freedom would come, but like the faded photographs of a life that once was, those dreams have themselves eroded away. Not so long ago I had even dared to believe that at long last I would be joined in communion with a hundred souls with whom I would share the rest of my days, but that too was not meant to be and again I find myself alone. And it’s loneliness that hurts the most of all.
I also struggle with my own conflicting thoughts. Relatively speaking, there are many around me far worse off than I. For a condemned man, some would even argue that I am blessed, as I have that small circle of friends who catch me when I fall. When my own strength fails, they are there to support me until I can once again stand on my own feet, and few around me that have that. And yet I still find myself feeling so alone and even abandoned by that world beyond.
In recent months, through several court rulings (denial of appeals arguing evidence of my consistently pled claim of innocence. See: www.southerninjustice.net) and other issues that have negatively impacted the fragility of my existence here. I have endured blow after blow and like a Weeble, I have wobbled my way through each blow. But in the past few months I found myself increasingly obsessed with that one simple question, “why?” Without hope or reason, there can be no will, and without the will to live, life itself becomes a fate worse than death.
No matter how deliberately monotonous as life or death might be with the same routine playing itself out each day with little variation to that routine for an infinite number of days, each of us await the uncertainty of our own fate. I’m sure some might argue that it is that unyielding monotony itself is enough to drive any man insane. The truth of the matter is that monotonous routine becomes a sort of security blanket in which we find a perverse measure of comfort within. And as someone who is only too familiar with the dynamics of Death Row can attest, what only too often breaks the psyche of the condemned man is that unexpected event, or series of events, that disrupts what has become an only too predictable routine.
Each of us can only see the world in our own unique way and when we do find ourselves unexpectedly overwhelmed by the circumstances, we each deal with it in our own way. Those very few who do know me are already aware that the past months have been difficult for me at many levels .I dealt with the anxiety of not knowing whether my death warrant might be signed scheduling my execution and various courts denying review of my appeals arguing my innocence. I was suddenly blindsided by loss of my former fiancée. Every element of my life that extended and sustained my hope and faith was suddenly gone and although I remain blessed to have the few friends who stand by me, I still felt overwhelmed and alone. And as I struggled to find that strength to wobble my way through it, I found myself increasingly all but obsessed with but one wish – to simply fall and not have to get back up.
When my spiritual strength fails me and I must confess that more and more, it does and it becomes difficult to believe in a God of love, mercy, and compassion when all I ever see is hate, misery and suffering. Then I find myself searching for answers in the philosophical foundations of men far greater than I could ever hope to be. For as long as humanity has struggled along this journey we dare call life, each of us in our own way has been haunted by the same fundamental questions that once again confront in my desperate attempt to make sense of it. And I know that just as I do now battle this demon that has bruised and broken men far stronger than me, my struggle to find that strength within is a battle that I share with all those imprisoned no matter what form their particular prison might take.
What I find is the unshakable truth that even under the most tragic circumstances, what makes a Weeble wobble without falling down is a Weeble’s willingness to confront the question of “why” and try to make some sense out of the chaos. The simple truth is that as long as we ask why and search for those answers, we will continue to wobble. Only when we no longer possess that measure of strength within ourselves and resign ourselves to that overwhelming hopelessness does the wobbling fail us and we then fall.
As I wobble my way through these darkest of days I suddenly find myself smiling at the unexpected truth I yet again discovered…being a Weeble really isn’t such a bad thing. As just as long as I still have the strength to wobble, I won’t fall down.
Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017