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Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Fostered Neglect Part Three

By Jedidiah Murphy

To read Part Two click here

My initial goal when I started this project was to shed some light on Foster Care, in the state of Texas and throughout the country. Having been a part of it myself and having my daughter illegally subjected to 13 years of it as the result of a war fought on her behalf, I started this with two perspectives. One of my own and one of my daughter’s. Because of what she has been through and the fact that she wants to put all of this behind her, the scope of my article has to change somewhat. I love my daughter far beyond anything else and I would never take a freedom she wishes against.  So with that in mind, I will write this in general with facts of our case throughout. I will limit the private information on her but still remain on topic about the lawsuit and the fight for her by so many.

Anytime that I refer to my daughter I will use “my daughter”, and anytime I refer to the woman that fought so long on her behalf I will use “Angel.” My focus is on the case and not the people involved. I could write BOOKS about the woman, whom I love and who fought so strong and hard for me and the girl who will forever be her daughter, but that is for another day. People like her don't come along and when they do you have to wonder what you did right in this world to be blessed with someone like this in your corner. I have reflected on my life and cannot understand how I would come to be loved by someone like her. It is a strange thing about men... in matters of war and business we can be giants, wise to a fault. In matters of the heart we tend to be like children. Women are a different matter; they see the child in a man for what it is. She knew me from day one, all the broken pieces she just calmly put back into place as if setting a table. Before I knew what happened she did for me what I thought impossible. One can say that blood is thicker than water, and redemption larger than death, that effort is greater than deed. Within every bad person is a good person crying to get out, a beautiful self beneath the flaws in need of some help. She knew that. I didn't.

Some people act in extraordinary ways to alleviate the suffering of others, with whom they otherwise have no ties. A normal human response is to be disturbed by the very fact of suffering. Our strongest feelings of empathy may be aroused by those closest to us, but we are still moved by the stories of misery from complete strangers. Much of the suffering could be prevented or alleviated but to accomplish this, people would have to risk their own sense of comfort and THAT is not what many will do. It is one thing to witness suffering from a distance and wish to change it. It's another to open yourself up to that same pain by risking YOUR own peace to change it. My wife fell instantly in love with my daughter, as if she was already hers.  She was not with her so she simply decided to go get her. It became a war that lasted until she aged out at 18. In the end we won but what was stolen cannot be replaced or repaired so there are no winners really.

After I came to prison my daughter stayed with her biological mother.  I would write home and send her what little I could to show her that I loved her. The disconnect is undeniable though and what happens in so many cases is that we inmates find out about events long after the fact. I first learned about my daughter being in the custody of CPS from a member of my adoptive family. All I knew was that she had been there for about 90 days. When I heard that I relived my whole past, strange and sudden. I felt an animal terror growing in me. Even the most commonplace, innocent details bore the imprint of my past, chilling me to the bone. I labored under the weight of that same past, of wounds received or imagined, of irreparable mistakes, of the irredeemability of time. Struggling against it, to hide my face and my fear did no good. All I wanted at that point was to extract her from that painful place, to wipe the slate clean so she‘d be able to begin new things. My thoughts flew round and round, set off on insane tangents, caught in the jerking rhythm of catastrophe. I wasn‘t sure of anything anymore and nothing at all made sense. All I knew was I had to change it and NOW.

Initially I had my full parental rights because I had never harmed my daughter. So I was contacted by her caseworker, a great woman. My goal in this article is not to demonize people. It is not to demonize CPS. I read some comments posted after the first part by a former worker and that is what they thought I was doing. Sometimes the facts are ugly and hearing them laid bare by someone in the way that I do must be hard for someone who prides themselves in working with an agency tasked with child welfare. Good people can be part of a bad system though. Her caseworker kept in constant contact with me and I exchanged who knows how many letters with her.  My adoptive family could not take her but had some friends that wanted to foster her and her little sister. The little sister was not mine but my daughter was her sole caretaker since she was born. So the baby thought my daughter was her mother. She had to assume the role of a parent at five years old and worry about the baby choking and try to protect her in a dope haven. The case worker told me that she would carry her on her hip like a 20 year old and had no concept anymore of what it meant to be a child. That breaks my heart to write. They tested her IQ and she was off the charts. I knew she would be because she learned her letters with me during bath time with magnet letters stuck to the side. I would ask her for specific ones and then she would ask me for one in return. I would feign not knowing which one it was and choose the wrong one only to have my baby girl waggle her finger and tell me NOPE. So for them to tell me that she was on a different level than most kids was not at all surprising. IQ scores are not the silver lining people think that they are. Gifted children are often forced apart from their friends because people push them to study and not play like regular children. They are treated different and expectations are laid at their feet without regard for their feelings. Many are often troubled and silently suffocate under the demands of people too caught up to see anything but their own plans for a child who just wants to be a kid. So I was not all that excited about her IQ. I know what it brings to the table and would not want that for any child of mine.

When my adoptive family told me about the friends that wanted both children I was excited because they lived right across the street from them and my daughter loved my adoptive family beyond measure. If they could not take her that at least she would be close by and have the comfort of seeing people she knew and loved. I worked with CPS to have her placed there and as part of that deal I agreed to sign away my parental rights to expedite the adoption process. I cannot convey the pain that went into that decision but I knew I had to give all I had left in order to make sure she would not be subjected to the life that haunted me then to this day. So I was sent the paperwork and signed it. I kept every page of that agreement other than the page with the signature because I could not stand for it to be sent back after reading it. I wanted to destroy it and I did. She was put there only to be mistreated and abused, poisoning any relationship I would ever have with my adoptive family. I don’t blame them for the abuse but they could have taken her themselves and did not and THAT led to the abuse. They gave me the names of the people who would abuse my daughter and that cannot be repaired between us. I love and I miss them but if my little girl is not good enough for them to fight for, then I am better off alone. I've been that way most of my life anyway even when others were around.

My daughter was placed in home after home and because I had no parental rights anymore I could not help her. I wrote to CPS repeatedly and they refused to work with me at all anymore. Her caseworker was no longer a part of her case and in losing her we both lost something we needed. CPS’s stance at that point toward me was that I had given up my rights and had no claim on information regarding my daughter’s welfare. No matter what I wrote, they refused to respond with anything more than that. I used to lie in bed at night and think of the stars. They always made me feel sleepy but now I worried that if I slept, that I would be throwing away what little time I had left to help my baby. There is much more to life than merely waiting for death to happen. For life to have a meaning, there must be a purpose. For most of us purpose revolves around love and marriage and children who will carry on after us. For others it is an ideal, a dream if you like. To me, death is preferable to betrayal of a child. So I set about trying to claw something back for my daughter from the ruin of my plans and dreams that lay smoking at my feet. The pebble starts the landslide and I was intent on kicking at every pebble. I am not strong. I never was. I have failed everyone that ever trusted me. My whole life has been a failure - my death MUST achieve something. That is all that I could think about. Changing SOMETHING for the better instead of leaving it ruined in my hands. I told everyone about her. I tried everything to get help. I was naive thinking that someone would just get her and take care of her. I assumed people would love her the way that I did. As time went by I wondered if I would live long enough to help her. Angel became a hero to the both of us. I had been alone fighting for my daughter for roughly four years. I was writing all over the country trying to find out information and hoping someone would step up. I received a letter from a production company wanting to do a interview, the staff would decide based on an attached questionnaire. I wrote on a separate page that I would do anything that they asked if they would give me some time at the end of the interview to talk to my daughter and then send the tape where I wanted because it may be the only chance I get to talk to my little girl. The staff took my letter to the owner of the studio and told her that they chose me. They sent 100 letters and because I wrote about my baby girl...they wanted me. I did not write for effect. I wrote because I was losing time and getting nowhere and I seriously did not think I would live long enough for her to HEAR me tell her what she means to me and this way and she would be able to SEE me saying it. I wanted that more than anything, for me and for her. This beautiful little girl...the one that I would sing with. The one for whom I learned how to French braid so I could do her hair. The one that brought me her dolls so I could blowdry their hair the way that I did hers because she did not want them to get sick. The one that would stand by my side of the bed at night if she got scared and wait for me to wake up so she could get in bed with me. This girl who gave me butterfly kisses with her eyelashes and had such a tight grip on my heart that I forgot it belonged to me too. I wanted this for her because at least it would be SOMETHING. 

The owner contacted me and our story began there. Over the course of a year or so she and I fell in love. After almost nine years we still are. When I told her about my daughter the way I told everyone she started looking into things without my knowing about it. I was telling her about my daughter out of habit. I thought that the more I talked about her the closer I was to changing her future. A year into this she told me that wanted to foster my daughter and I cannot tell you what I felt because it was so big. She went through the certification to become a Therapeutic Foster Parent, which means that she could get the most troubled of all kids. That way the State could not say that she was unqualified. She went through home inspections and a criminal background check. She jumped through every hoop Texas held up in front of her and was approved for contact. She is the owner of her own company. She was raised in a mill house with her grandmother. She was not born of money and worked her whole life to be where she is. She sewed upholstery for years and worked her way into owning her own side business doing window dressings and custom sewing. She got out of that and got into antiques. Got outta that and into television and made TV shows for the East Coast for years. She has been working her whole life to be successful. She owns her own commercial real estate company and has never had a criminal charge in her life. Never had a drop of alcohol or smoked a cigarette. She has been the keynote speaker at national conferences for women a number of times. The very definition of a good person.  My daughter bonded with her right away. Angel took her young girl with her. They took her gifts and clothes and things she had not had in years. They had the time of their lives. Over the next few months they made plans for her to go spend the holidays with Angel. During this time I noticed they started copying my incoming mail. They would write "one copy" in pencil on the envelopes and erase them but not good enough so that I could not see it. I contacted my lawyer about it and they had no subpoena to copy my mail. The only time they do that is when you're under investigation. Shortly after that Angel received a call from a CPS employee informing her that they knew that she and I were in an "inappropriate" relationship and they were shutting off all contact with OUR daughter. A friend from Dallas told me the news. I was bustling from the land of hope, shattering in panic, and doing my best to rein in my deepest fears and screams. Closed my eyes...no longer wanting to see or hear anything. My life has amounted to a life of shards: Some shiny, others clouded but each and every one SHATTERED.

I cried over the loss of hope. Angel had told them that she came to see me.  That was never a secret. They never asked about our relationship. She was given access to our daughter because she asked to speak in open court during a hearing. She told the judge that she would take her and all the things that came with it. That she would love her forever and just wanted to get the chance. The states position was that she was unadoptable. Her own lawyer told the court that she should be institutionalized. Our legal team was shocked. This judge sided with Angel because she wanted so much for this girl to come live with her. So CPS started their campaign to find a flaw they could cite. I became that flaw. They cancelled all contact and proceedings saying that she lied about our relationship. That was in itself a lie. Had we wanted to hide it we could have. Angel was contacted and she in turn got a legal team to fight for our girl. We hired one of the most noted family law firms in the state.  When they would show up in these little East Texas courtrooms, the state would state their case and before our legal team could say a word, the judges would ASK CPS what they wanted done and do it. We would get no say and had no right at all to a fair hearing. CPS works with a group of judges and they become allies. They help finance their election and they do their bidding. These are not hollow accusations. These are hard facts. We had some of the best lawyers in the business and they could not believe what they were seeing. It was corrupt and the loser was a young girl who had done nothing at all aside from being caught in a war over her life. We hired several firms to work with us and eventually took the case to Children's Rights Inc. in NYC.

Once they came on board and saw all the abuses of power and how we were being shut out of a legal proceeding they set about investigating the situation. A "friend of a friend" was appointed to see our daughter and have regular contact because we filed a lawsuit against the state, we cited ten cases where the state had allowed kids to languish in State custody when they could have been someplace else or allowed them to be harmed repeatedly without doing anything at all to stop it. On January 16, 2013...a reporter for the AP named Carson Denton wrote an article about the suit and Angel herself. The following is from the article:

Sitting in the Children's Rights offices in NYC, Marcia Robinson Lowry said, "The only redress these children have is unfortunately when our organization goes to court and says judge, look what‘s happening to these children. It’s unconscionable and you know what else? It's also unconstitutional.

A witness (Angel) in the pending lawsuit spoke with Children's Right's earlier today She says, "Someone has to take a stand for these children. Something has to be done for “our' children. Someone has to give "our" children a name, a face, a voice and that someone is me. I just need a lot more people to come forward and help me fight for our children. Something has to be done. It has to stop. How can we expect "our" children to grow up under these conditions? If they survive, how can we expect them to go out into the world and make a life for themselves when all they know is violence and more violence, pain and more pain, fear and more fear? The very people that the State of Texas has put in charge to protect "our" children are the very ones that caused some of the the most harm. Something has to be done and I will fight this fight for as long as it takes. I don't care who knows who I am. I'm not going to cower down to anyone: Least of all to people who abuse children while working under the roof of Texas CPS. They know who they are. Let them be charged and held accountable for their actions. Each and every one of them. The state claims to protect these children. Show it to me. For every child the state can show me they protected. I'll show you 99 children, they haven’t protected. Children they have allowed to be abused, to be overmedicated, to be neglected, to be institutionalized without cause. Show me the caseworkers, the attorney ad litems, the foster parents, the residential treatment facilities and their employees that have caused harm to these children. All kinds of harm. Beatings, rapes, mental abuse; it goes on and on. How in Gods name will a child ever trust again when the very people who were put in their lives to protect them have violated them over and over again? Any and all forms of abuse will be brought to light. Shine the light on them and watch them (the abusers) scramble like they have been doing from the day this lawsuit was filed. It‘s that old philosophy, you can run but you can't hide. I pray this lawsuit shows each and every one of them for what they are and I hope and pray this lawsuit saves other children from living the hell the plaintiffs of this lawsuit have lived.

Child abuse has to stop. The people associated with Texas CPS have to be held accountable. Why are they above the law? How can you be an innocent child's attorney ad litem for years and never meet the child, never even speak to the child? How can you foster a child, give her your word you'll adopt her and then adopt her sister and throw her away? One might ask how those people sleep at night. I don't have the answers but I do know their sleep has been interrupted from the moment this lawsuit was filed. That alone should tell you something. God bless the plaintiffs of this case as well as the other thousands of unprotected children in care of Texas CPS.

I've spoken with Van Zandt Co, CPS employees, attorneys, foster parents, etc. over the past 5 years and all to no avail. We cannot wait any longer for a system that has already failed so many people. It's just not practical. These children are being hurt now, so we need to go and help them now. I encourage anyone who reads this to take a stand. Be it in Texas or the state you live in, take one step towards helping an abused child. If everyone will just take one step, just imagine the possibilities. 

When asked by Children's Rights Inc. if she‘s suffered any repercussions since the lawsuit was filed the witness spoke. "Yes but it wont stop me. I've even had an attorney ad litem for a child (our daughter), that I have fought to protect send me a threatening letter. The attorney ad litem herself called it a warning letter. She threatened me with incarceration if I ever contacted her client again. Her CLIENT!! That would be funny if it weren‘t so sad. She had never met the child. She had never spoken to the child by phone or via letter. The child had no idea who she was. This child did not know that she had a lawyer. The attorney ad litem contacted the child after the lawsuit was filed. How convenient? Maybe, maybe not. It would make one ask; “why now?"

When asked by Children's Rights if she‘s referring to any of the children named in the lawsuit, she responded, "Yes I am. A.M. (our daughter) has suffered at the hands of CPS since the day they picked her up along with her two siblings. They lied to her repeatedly about letting the children remain together. They lied to her and told her she would be adopted. They overmedicated her for years. They institutionalized her in an attempt to cover up abuses she suffered they did nothing at all about. They have placed her in more than 14 homes/facilities.  Their reasoning when brought before a judge was and I quote, "She's aggressive, uncontrollable, vicious". "When I stood in a Texas courtroom and heard what A.M.'s ad litem said to the judge, I pleaded with the judge to let me speak. I was not party to the case but the judge out of the kindness in her heart allowed me to speak. I basically told her that I would take A.M. along with all the issues CPS claimed she had. I offered to take her into my home, foster her for the 6 month period required by Texas Law before adoption placement can take place and then adopt her. No strings attached. I let the judge know I would take care of all A.M's needs. I am a licensed Therapeutic Foster Parent. I meet all the criteria and then some. Where is A.M and why has she not been adopted? Why? That is the question that has to be answered for A.M. as well as for the other 10 plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

With tears flowing, she softly whispered, "I will never give up. I will bring A.M. home where she belongs and I will continue to fight for the wellbeing of children. 
Every child deserves a loving home. 

Stephen Dixon, Attorney for Children's Rights Inc after hearing her final statement responded, "Her statement comes as no shock to me. She‘s the one person I've met in all my years at this that means every word she speaks. If we had a mold of the perfect mother, it would be her. No doubt, it would be her. When she said, "Every child deserves a loving home" she spoke straight from the heart. She's an "Angel" in a world full of demons but as she's told me many, many times’, "the good will outweigh the bad every time.” ‘I believe".

When Marcia Robinson Lowry, founder of New York Children's Rights Organization disconnected the phone, she turned to all in the room and said, "I wish each of you had the opportunity to meet the woman on the phone. She walks soft, speaks soft but she fights with the strength of a gladiator. She never gives up. She never backs down. Where she gets her strength from, I'll never know”. Stephen Dixon summed it up best. "She believes. She once told me, you only need to have the faith as small as a mustard seed and that faith will move mountains. 

I dare anyone reading this to search your heart for that tiny mustard seed of faith. Yes, she believes. 

I included this article about Angel because it shows that it is not just my love for her that causes me to laud what a great woman she truly is. People who meet her ONCE see that. She is someone that will pull out all stops and put so much of herself on the line for a complete stranger, NOT so that people will talk about her or think highly of her, because hardly anyone knows anything she has ever done. She just cannot allow a system to roll over so many lives without someone paying for it. 

Having spent years myself trying to expose the State mechanisms of fear, violence and neglect, the last thing I want to see is another victim of those elements. We need accountability - even though, in confronting such painful aspects of human experience, we are necessarily pushed beyond our comfort zone. It does not take the effort of the powerful to bring change to something as big as CPS. It takes diligence and dedication and the willingness to stand and face a machine. The ultimate bully in charge of children in need of understanding and comfort. The very formula for failure and abuse masked as a savior and saint. 

I remember the parting from my parents/grandparents and the long, cold journey that followed it, a devastating effect on a boy of five. The memories are jagged, so for years I pushed them away. I was never at ease among boys my own age and I could not adapt to the changes around me within my new placements. It became a permanent DISplacement. It's as if I became aquatic...unable to surface to the world above again. I could see it but I could never be part of it again. Once I loved life and the sun was a golden joy. But joy is often short lived. I looked inside myself and asked: Why? Why is hate so much stronger than love? Why does strength and violence count for more than morality and kindness? There are no real answers to these questions. So for the sake of sanity I had to change my perceptions. Once I was a lamb, playing in a green field. Then the wolves came. Once you have seen that...it is hard to want to be a lamb. Children adapt and learn to lash out before something gets too close. It is not that they are violent by nature...but by necessity and as a result of treatment or the lack of it provided by the people tasked with their care. And what happens when we react on autopilot? Punishment. A vicious cycle if there ever was one.

Often claims that the most effective measures are in place, it was simply a matter of giving them the time to take effect. Perfectly stated from the cool comforts of their rank and office, yet difficult and tragic for those children, who according to US District Judge Janis Graham Jack, “languish in a system where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability are the norm." 

For two to three decades they’ve tried to make a bad design successful, while ignoring the damage done to the children who were abused and neglected, then expect these kids to come out of it all as productive adults, which makes me question the sanity of anyone claiming the system is in any way salvageable. CPS quotes statistics to evidence improvement. What is an acceptable statistic for children allowed to be raped, abused and over medicated? How can an organization claiming to be righteous allow these crimes? These efforts are as useless as their reforms, since they serve only to produce more victims and more excuses. CPS, with the present methods, is a breeding ground for mental illness. When these children go back to civilian life, oftentimes you'll find yourself with a considerable problem on your hands. On society's hands.

We filed suit because these crimes will not change on their own. My daughter was shipped from place to place and denied a home life with a loving family because I am on Death Row. Their intent is to punish me until I am dead but they punished her. They said my relationship was "inappropriate" with Angel. Someone vetted and flawless became unworthy of a child they deemed "unadoptable". They tried repeatedly to have the suit dismissed or denied class certification because they knew if it made it to court they would have no defense against us. They lost time and again so they tried to get extension after extension until the Judge forced their hand. Our attorneys were flying in from all over but they could not make it to Corpus Christi. That was what the Judge finally asked them about. Angel hoped for a resolution that would bring our daughter home but years had passed since we’d initially filed the lawsuit and nothing had changed for us. No contact. This time, the state said, because we were party to a lawsuit. THESE are the advocates for child welfare. The people we pay to protect children fought to HOLD a girl in a violent detached life, spending untold hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to deny her a place to live available the entire time. Out of spite. They faced a Judge about what they have allowed to happen, not just to our daughter but thousands of children they are in charge of. My Angel set a pebble in motion that started a landslide under their feet AND upon their heads.

People who survive this form of childhood try their best to convince themselves that everything will be fine. Sadly I did not manage to convince myself. In the street I felt as if I were walking on glass that was ready at any instant to shatter beneath my feet. Living required a sustained effort and attention to things, which exhausted me. I kept seeing myself this way... an external gaze, this critical camera. How could I utter an authentic word, make an authentic gesture? Everything I did became a show of myself, just a reflection and a poor one, that did not impress me or fool me at all. No one could pull me out of myself or make me forget myself just a little. It seemed to me the inevitable end of an old story that pursued me relentlessly: the story of my lack of real family bonds, destroying any trace of love for life. I had never felt so alone. In the midst of those I was shipped around to, I felt powerless and ashamed; their world remained closed to people like me, and they knew how to get that point across . So I abandoned hope and myself. I wanted to be left alone but that was impossible. I was scraping my soul on the world as on broken glass: I kept deliberately swallowing razors. then being surprised when they cut them out my guts. This is not about ME or my daughter...this is about a system that creates thousands of people like us every year. These are LIVES...and our aim was to give them a voice again. You know why it's so common for kids who go through a system like this to shy away from a camera? Because their self image is so tainted and stained, they don't want you to take a picture of it. Because the photographic process lies about how ugly they feel themselves to be. So ugly that they shouldn't produce a pretty picture ever. Orphans define their lives in two parts; before and after the death of normal when their whole world changed forever.

Children who spend years languishing within the system only to age out or be adopted late tend to react in similar ways. Most run away from their new home only to change their minds, sabotage relationships just when they seem to be flourishing, embark on journeys of discovery that turn out to lead nowhere. They often seem to be fleeing something but rarely know what that something is. They throw away keepsakes, fail to stay in touch and leave their loved ones worried without realizing it. People who don't understand tend to judge, referencing their own prejudice. That idea of the "unadoptable" or "bad seed" pervades our culture like any other acceptable bigotry. The idea that a person might be born bad, a lost cause, or better off dead - was something Angel and I have railed against for all sorts of reasons.

We had naively thought that major decisions were made on the basis of correctness and rationality. But many other factors were involved, conflicts of bureaucratic precedence, special interest and not surprisingly personal ambition. The so-called solution seemed distorted, even warped. Raising the budget at CPS without any real sense of what to do with the money is not a solution to the problem...its allocation becomes moot and ridiculous. There might have been a plan, but it didn't happen and in the end, the only thing that counts is what IS, and not what could have been.

When I was young I had a precise idea about the world. About what should be and what actually was. About my own place in it. But I had forgotten, or rather l did not yet know the force of time, or the weight of adult responsibilities put on the shoulders of a child and how such fatigue has no end. I was tempted to talk more openly about this: but I was afraid of shocking people, of offending them. So what blocked the words in my throat when, in a fit of fatigue and sadness, they began to rise up? FEAR...not from the reaction but by simply laying myself bare. Sometimes it's better to prefer fear and emptiness than to show people your weakness. I met someone here who was adopted tell me that he did the exact same things that I did. He was surprised. I have talked to several adopted people and I noticed that MOST of us believed and felt similarly. So I lay myself bare today, the way I never would have earlier in life, for those kids who think as I did and silently suffer wishing someone would SEE and HEAR them cry for help without saying much of anything.

Texas CPS is much like TDC, a closed system that polices itself. Should a child suffer injury, they are handled by an employee or a contract employee for 99% of the time. Ones treated elsewhere we hear about from time to time and reports are made yet the national media or state media seldom ever covers it the story. A year or so ago the public and the Govt. was up in arms about MUMPS at Disneyland. How many of those infected died? None. You could not watch the news without hearing something about the outbreak of the mumps virus and the need for vaccination. While this was being reported around the clock how many children were killed from neglect or abused by the people we pay to protect them? Where was the reporting on that? 

The powers that be want everyone to stay calm. Whatever happens, stay quiet, impassive, like windows of a burnt out church, like the little old man on the park benches with their canes and their memories, or the faces of these drowned children just below the surface of society, never to be saved. Imagine your child is trapped in a burning house and someone tells you to "stay calm." If your child were being abused, raped, and neglected by people who repeatedly say they are making changes, yet after 20+ years the culture remains the same...would you stay calm? Understand this...the agony of the devoured is ALWAYS far greater than the pleasure of the devourer. Of course they tell you to stay calm. The real danger here is the inaction of men and women who believe the rhetoric. I had a childhood and then came my war. I was still the same kid until CPS created new problems for me. Eventually those horrors transformed me. When I cried out at night, no one answered. One thing leads to another and here I am. If this would not have happened to me as a child I would not have made the same mistakes. I too wanted to live a good and useful life, to be a man among men. But my hopes and dreams were smashed, betrayed, and this evil entered my life because I was trusted to the services of CPS. None of it can be made whole again, ever. I can cite the usual justifications in my sleep, talk endlessly about the rotational cohesion of information and the irrelevance of semantic comprehension. But after all the words, it stays the same. They sugarcoat unpleasant truths for self-interest and self-preservation. Inattention creates indifference, or disrespect. Try explaining the incomprehensible to the indifferent.

During the disposition of the lawsuit, CPS went to plan B, which amounted to bluster and warnings. Their position was that should this lawsuit go forward and they lose, that the disruption will cause more children to be displaced and injured. They shift the blame from themselves to the Judge, using experts bought and paid. Some of their "experts" are little more than witch doctors dancing through improvised rituals: meandering free-form interviews full of leading questions and nonverbal cues, scavenger hunts through regurgitated childhoods. Sometimes a shot of lithium or haloperidol when the beads and rattles don't work. So the therapists and psychiatrists poked at their victims and invented names for things they don't understand, and worshipping at the shrines of Freud and Klein and old astrologers, doing their very best to sound like practitioners of science. It is a fact that they put children with normal everyday issues on medication. Psychiatrists, hired to prescribe meds for children so the state can control them. Do you know how many medical trials there are for psychotropic medications on children under the age of 18? NONE. Yet they experiment with children that belong to someone else... They would not place their own children on those medications but their clients are unwanted or neglected. Einstein said: "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them". How can a machine correct itself without a complete rebuilding? The State spent so much of their time fighting to have this case tossed that they were unprepared for the trial itself. Our lawyers destroyed theirs and the trial was a walk in the park. Their tactics are to have cases thrown out on procedural defaults, long before they reach the courtroom. Because they have unlimited budgets and lawyers they usually win. This time their opponents had an unlimited budget and lawyers. Their mistake was in underestimating Angel and me. Had they given us our daughter, they could have saved the money it cost them to fight us and the MANY MANY millions these reforms will cost an agency complaining their budget, is too tight. One child. People who have studied t the lawsuit do not know why it was filed. They don't know about Angel and myself. They don't know our daughter and what was done to punish her for the sins of her father. How two people put it all on the line to bring to light what was being done to her and so many others.

Our daughter was hurt by the state. Our baby girl. I felt helpless. Her situation dragged at me and drew me into a tight and final darkness. No air, no light, no breath, no whisper of waking spirit, a grave inside a grave. Fear burned my brain like a white hot blade. I could see nothing but the twisting flames that destroyed my dreams for her. She is still beautiful and we love her to no end. But the change was deeper than people can easily see in the expression of her eyes, in her gestures, the way she moves. Where before she was young and burning, a wild bird beating her wings against the wires of her cage, now she broods, wings clipped, graven, a creature of the ground. Still the same person, but suppressed and hidden so as not expose herself to injury anymore. My life repeated though her, my nightmare visited upon our baby. 

At times I question my life, my part as it were, the value, if any, I left in my wake. Some will say I did as well as I could, others that I wasted my chances. Everyone has a version, a kind of dreaming distortion of the truth. I recall a series of feelings and pictures, a kind of bright and silent dream through which I moved like a spirit, weightless and bodiless, borne up by the air. The pictures, though vivid, are diminished into distance, a world that no longer included me. And then the nightmare sense of grief that comes when I wake again to feel the loss I’ve forgotten in my sleep. One misfortune or misstep seems to breed another and so it was for me. There was a time of darkness - the first I had suffered, when I was half broken with weariness, the weight of losses coming one after the other. The world had turned sour, and my luck was dead. I was a man alone in an empty cell, contented enough, but listening to sounds beyond the shut door. Waiting with half a hope for someone to help, for God, though knowing in my heart of hearts that he would not. BUT HE DID.

My daughter and I survived all of this because of one woman. The same one that the lawyers at Children's Rights Inc. spoke of. The first time I saw her, I felt the shock of it right through my body. My mind was working, where it had no right to be working at all. My whole body tightened and thrilled at the sight of her. She sat before me and my voice strangled in my throat. Her hair was raven black, eyes green like precious flowers before they open. HI felt my blood jerk. Between myself and Angel is a bond stronger than any, the best matched pair. We are the same person. We are part of each other as are night and daylight, dark and dawn, sun and shadow. When we are together we lay at the edge of life where opposites make new beings, not of the flesh, but of the spirit. She was waiting for me. I saw her through the window, a small solitary figure, yet so strong and beautiful. I was unable to decipher the emotion this beautiful, patient woman stirred in me. More than love and gratitude, more than the very real need to cry. It seemed she had always been there, waiting for me to realize who she was and find her. I can never fully explain the complexity of my passion. HERE was home. HERE was my missing piece. Throughout it all she fought for a girl to whom she wanted to give a beautiful life to more than anything. She never stopped fighting, never gave in to the threats and the warnings, and risked an incredible sum for a child the state said was not worth anything. She proved that even the mighty CPS can be beaten when the truth is your weapon and love your warrior. 

All of these things happened because, regardless of my being in prison and restricted as I am, I did not stop trying. Angel stood with me, setting all of this in motion, and we supported one another through wins and losses. My partner. My best friend. My rock. My wife. We're a family. We may not be what people think a family is, but there has never been a greater love. Why should man expect his prayers for mercy to be heard by what's above him when he shows no mercy for what is below? We should do more for children in these situations. It does not take millions. It takes opening yourself to someone not born of you. Life is short. Anyone can make a difference if they provide comfort to a child with none at all. Thank you for reading this, giving me a chance to explain the situation for so many lost and afraid. I am fortunate to be able to explain it but YOU are the ones capable of changing it. Never let good enough be good enough when it comes to a child's life. Best wishes. 

If you're reading this Babygirl, we love you. Always have...always will. 

Update:  There are far more cracks in the Foster Care System and CPS than many people think. My life, and that of my daughter, are in no way unique; she and I both went through the same system and both were harmed in many of the same ways. For me to have dealt with my challenge in the early-80’s, and then my daughter to have dealt with the SAME situation in the early-2000’s, is a travesty. Given the funding they have, and the responsibility they are tasked with… there is no choice but to from calling it what it truly is: A FAILURE

Our story highlighted the way they FIGHT to hold children for no rational reason at all; and how, by doing that, they forced us to file a lawsuit that will cost this State hundreds of millions of dollars by the time they implement all of the changes ordered by the judge – having LOST to us. Yet, though we beat the State of Texas, there are no winners in the end. Those kids cannot unlive the sorrow, nor erase the memories that they should never have. They harmed our daughter. They harm many of the kids they are supposed to protect. Those are simple facts. My goal in this was not to demonize anyone. If, after reading the facts and researching these things yourself, you come to another conclusion, then so be it. I won’t argue with anyone. I cannot speak for everyone. Our daughter went into the system when she was five-years old and aged-out on her birthday thirteen-years later. Even though we battled for her and, in the end, won, they won the war of attrition by stalling things until she aged out. These people, who we as a society trust our children to, did everything they could to ensure she aged out of the system, rather than go to the people who loved her all along. Judge Janis Graham Jack, from Corpus Christi, ruled in our favor. She even went beyond that and assigned “Special Masters” to oversee the changes she mandated to Texas CPS as a result of the facts of this case. (See https://www.dallasnews.com/news/texas-legislature/2016/11/29/texas-spent-7-million-fighting-foster-care-suit-meters-running).

According to TSN News, the State of Texas has spent over seven million dollars on this matter thus far; and they were debating filing another appeal to the 5th Circuit Court, which would have cost even more. Seven million tax dollars WASTED because they would not let a child go to a loving home. That is the fact that caused this whole situation: One girl. Our daughter. 

Since she was released, there have been some ups and downs, and they can be expected to last for some time. I had many of the same ones, for many years. Ultimately, I ended up here; but we will do everything to ensure that is not the case with her. Where I was lost and without people, she will always have us. She and I have a difficult road to face with one another, and I cannot say what will or will not happen regarding that. We did not do what we did so that she would respect us, or worship us. We did it because we love her. No stipulations at all. There are trust issues, and I don’t think anyone could ever really understand how deep some of those scars are. It takes TIME. Maybe I will see things mended, or maybe I won’t. I don’t know. What I know is this: Love is the rarest of gifts; one that is seldom found even ONCE in a lifetime. Most relationships start off as physical attraction or commonality of interests, but TRUE love goes far deeper than that. It is an unexplainable connection of the heart, one that endures triumph and tragedy, pain and suffering, obstacles and loss. It is something that is either present or missing. There is no “almost,” no “in between,” no “most of the time.” It is the unexplainable reason some marriages, entered into after a one-week courtship, can last a lifetime. Its absence is why “perfect” marriages can fall apart. It cannot be quantified or explained by science, religion, or philosophy. It cannot be advised on by friends or marriage counsellors who cannot take their own advice. There are no rules, no “how-to” books, no guaranteed methods of success. It is not defined by vows, rings, promises, or tomorrows. It simply is a miracle. One that too few are blessed to experience. And I know, as I am one of those who were blessed. So is our daughter. I think about her all the time and I will forever. I am not alone in that. I am one member of this family, and we all feel the same way. All we can do as parents is love, and do our best to protect our children. And if we fail, we never stop trying to make that failure right. I hope someday it will be.

This link provides a good summary of the class action, the legal proceedings to-date, and the recommendations of the appointed Special Masters.



Jedidiah Murphy 999392
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351





Thursday, August 24, 2017

Why the Butterflies Must Die

By Michael Lambrix

June 2017

Whenever the cold walls of my solitary cell begin to close in around me, I try to get my head out of this place by throwing in my ear buds and listening to my little MP3 player. There, on “Playlist One”, I have a host of songs from way back that allow me to mentally escape to a better time. I lay back on my bunk and close my eyes and try to control my breathing. I take in a long, deep breath and hold it, then slowly breathe out through my nose.

It has taken years of practice to perfect my form of meditation. It’s one of the very few “privileges” of being in solitary confinement on Florida’s “death row” – where I’ve been for about 34-years. Had I been sentenced to “life”, and sent to general prison population, I would not be able to exercise the selective metempsychosis I employ to escape reality. 

I’m showing my age but am by no means ashamed to embrace it. The odds have long been stacked against me living this long when everyone around me is dying. The music I find refuge in tends to be easy-listening, the soft-rock of the mid- to late-seventies; with a few of my favorite Bryan Adams  and Bon Jovi songs (Heaven, Please Forgive Me, and Amen) thrown in for good measure.

Although I tend to put the player on “random play,” the very first song is always Paul McCartney’s Yesterday. In my world, there is no promise of tomorrow and the only good memories are of way back when I had a life.

The words of the song begin to whisper softly in my ears: 

“Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay,
Oh, I believe in yesterday…”. 

I find myself relaxing, slowly breathing in and out. I push myself to imagine my long-ago past; to find something that will make my heart and soul smile, despite the misery my life has become.

Today my means of escaping the thoughts dragging me down has failed me. Sometimes the pervasive nature of reality is unwilling to be shut-out, and determined to beat you down – and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.

I thought I was doing pretty good, lying there with my light out (check out my previously posted, award-winning essay, Hello Darkness) and earbuds in; scrolling through the depressingly short-list of memories I cherish the most. As if reaching into an imaginary file, I pulled one out from back when, as a child, I would spend the early-summer days at the family ranch – which is now part of the Port Reyes National Seashore.

Back then, it was called “The Diamond T Ranch” (the “T” stood for my uncle’s last name: Turney). The family would often camp just below a bluff on the banks of the middle lake of three that fed into Tomales Bay: a large estuary separating the island from the Marin County mainland. At night, we would all gather around a campfire, while our father played his well-worn guitar. Many of his favorite songs are now scattered throughout my own playlist. I still smile when Burl Ives is singing “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” randomly comes up. He would sing along with it, we children would laugh and sing along with him; but it was usually followed by the more tragic melody of Down in the Valley.

That’s the thing about the innocence of a child. For all the times I heard my father sing Down in the Valley, it wasn’t until I found myself on death row that I realized it is about a guy missing his lost love as he awaits his imminent execution at the Birmingham Jail. He’s looking out his solitary window, and down in the valley below, is where he wants to escape to.

As I lay there on my bunk, I channeled my memories towards a particular early-summer morning at the ranch. The sun was barely up, the smell of a new day hanging heavy in the air. My brothers and I were tasked with scavenging the area for bits of dried wood, which – more often than not – was just a convenient excuse for exploring the rolling hills and shrub-choked canyons. Yet we always came back with armfuls of broken branches and whatever else we could find.

There’s something about sitting on an old log, by a campfire in the early-morning hours –the smell of fried potatoes and onions, with a bunch of bacon thrown in for good measure -- it sticks in my memory. Digging into the recesses of those days, my eyes closed and breathing relaxed, I can almost smell the air as if I was there once again. Not only the bacon and potatoes, but the salty aroma of the nearby ocean, as it sweeps by on a gentle breeze.

Breakfast passed, and we each obediently did our own dishes – throwing scraps of bread to the nearest menacing seagulls, as they quickly multiplied, just as we ran out of the scraps to feed them. As we knelt by the shore of the lake washing our plates, they’d dive much faster and closer, demanding more food, until, finally, we would run off, laughing.

Not far off – no more than a hundred-yards from the campsite - the bluff rose sharply to the height of a tall tree.  We children would compete to climb up its nearly vertical banks. The first one to reach the top would scream in victory, the rest following until all of us stood at the meadow stretching westward towards the Pacific Ocean. Then, as if by telepathic agreement, once the last one had reached the top, we’d scatter across the meadow in search of whatever we could find. The boys went after the large, locust-type grasshoppers that almost magically sprung up in front of us as we moved through the scrub-grass, only to disappear again just as we thought we’d caught one. Our sisters would collect an assortment of wildflowers. I can remember how I quickly gave up on the grasshoppers and, instead, committed myself to collecting ladybugs and butterflies. They made my younger sisters smile and, even as a child, that always made me smile.

One particular day, armed with an old plastic bread-bag, I set-off to collect as many as I could, since the following day was my younger sister’s birthday. I had nothing to give her, and I wanted to give her as many ladybugs and butterflies as I could find.

For hours and hours, I searched amongst the wildflowers. I gave chase to each and every butterfly – only to have most fly far beyond my reach. But, by the grace of God, I caught a few of the delicate creatures and, oh so carefully, tucked each into that bread-bag. As the morning gave-way to midday, it became too hot, and I grew tired; but, looking into my plastic bag, I knew I had enough.

Returning to camp, I sought a place to hide my stash of heavenly creatures. Somewhere to protect them from any fate that might befall them until the next day. I remember how happy I felt thinking how happy my sister would be when I gave her this gift the next morning.

Wandering up the dirt road that led along the banks of the lake, I made my way to the old dairy barn and ventured inside. It was late-afternoon, the summer sun scorching the ground outside - I entered the dimly lit interior. It was cool, inviting me to take my time in finding the perfect hiding spot. Finally, I decided upon hanging the bag from a lower rafter just inside one of the vacant stalls. I shut the broken wooden door, feeling that would keep them safe until I could retrieve them again the next morning.

Making my way back to camp, I kept my secret to myself. The late afternoon gave way to evening, and, once again, our large family gathered around the campfire. We roasted hotdogs, and indulged in the obligatory ritual of holding marshmallows  impaled on a sharpened stick to the flames until each blackened, then burst into flames. Only then did they become worthy of eating. Once the flame was blown out, we’d allow them a moment to cool off, and pop them into our mouths, biting down on the crunchy, charbroiled crust, the molten lava-cream within sticking to the roofs of our mouths. Each of us, in turn, would jump to our feet in an exaggerated dance of fictitious pain while the rest laughed. As this played out, and the fire died down –dad continued to strum his guitar, just a little softer as the night passed. One by one, we would stagger off, exhausted towards our sleeping bags – and sleep like only a child could.

Our parents and the younger children slept in the small travel trailer, but my two older brothers and I made our bunks in an old, canvas, military-style tent, not far away. On that night, as on many others, I pulled my air mattress and sleeping bag just outside the tent, and laid down so that I could watch the stars above in the open night-sky. I was always hoping to see a shooting star – even just one – that I, and I alone, could wish on. On the rare occasion I caught a fleeting glimpse of such a star in the heavens above I would faithfully close my eyes, as tightly as I could, and whisper my wish –not quite so loudly that others might hear.

Beneath the night-sky, in the cool of the night, I laid there for hours, unable to sleep, listening to the sounds: a nearby owl; a coyote on the other side of one of the hills; the frogs; and more in that wondrous symphony. And, in all of that, I fell asleep.

Early the next morning I awoke before the sun came up. Dad was already up, making a fire – no matter how early we got up, he was always up before us. Making an extra effort to be as quiet as I could, I quickly rolled up my sleeping bag and set it down next to the tent. I reached inside to retrieve my jeans and shoes, then, ducking around the backside of the tent, I discarded my pajamas and got dressed for the day. I then moseyed over to the campfire and sat down.

Dad had planned to go fishing and, although I never cared too much for it myself, I liked to tag along; just to share that time with him. It wasn’t about the fish we might catch, or, how every time that little red plastic bobber was pulled under at the bite of a fish, dad would jump like a child, convinced it was going to be the “biggest yet.” From time to time he would hook a decent steelhead trout, one that would put up a hard fight. In those moments my dad was at his best, projecting an infectious joy, coming alive in a way seldom seen.

But that particular morning I didn’t want to go. I was glad to see that my older brothers were up, and willing to join dad. They took off, down the little path along the shore, until they reached the leveled-off spot a few hundred feet away from the camp. I could hear the excitement in their softly spoken promises of catching that big fish, all while they baited their hooks with those slimy little balls of fish eggs that the trout loved so much.

With the sun creeping over the low-lying hills to the east, I ate a bowl of cold cereal, then snuck away. I was anxious to retrieve my little plastic bag. I wanted to be the first to give my sister a present.

Making my way up the dirt road with our cocker spaniel named “Quest” (after one of our favorite cartoon characters  “Johnny Quest”) I passed the ancient wood-frame house where the Indian caretaker lived. I waved at him as he peeked out the door. I continued on, until I reached the barn. Once there, I pulled open the heavy plank door, just wide enough to enter the cool darkness. Then I went straight to the stall where I had left my collection of creatures.

Careful not to rip the bag, I reached up and struggled with the string. I untied it, took possession of my treasure, then went back outside, where I could see them in the light.

I stepped into the sun and looked in the bag, and stood in silent shock. All the little butterflies I had spent the previous day collecting were now lying motionless at the bottom of the bag. All of them were dead. But the ladybugs seemed alright…

I didn’t understand how this could be. At first I thought I must have killed them by forgetting to poke holes in the bag, so they could breath. But if I had poked holes, then the little ladybugs would have gotten away, and I couldn’t risk that. 

I sat down against the wall of the barn and stared at the bag, trying to figure out what could have happened. Why did the butterflies die, but the ladybugs were just fine? If they had run out of air, then all of them would have died, not just the butterflies...

As I sat there trying to solve this great mystery, the old Indian man snuck up on me. Leaning against the barn with one arm, so he wouldn’t fall, he looked down at me and asked what I had. Without hesitation, I told him the whole story of how I had spent the previous day collecting all the butterflies and ladybugs I could find – since they were my little sister’s favorites -- and I wanted to give them to her for her birthday. I told him how I had put them up where they would be safe, in the barn – only to find all the butterflies dead. By the time I got to the end of my story, I was crying, as only a little boy could.

The old Indian man laughed as if I had told him the funniest story he ever heard. He laughed so hard that he began to cough; a deep cough that came from long years of smoking cheap tobacco. Finally, he settled down and stared at me in silence for the longest time. He coughed again, a little softer, and then he spoke. As he did, he laughed again, and then he said, “Boy, don’t you know that them ladybugs are killers?”

Then, lowering his old, broken body down beside me, he patiently began to explain how the more beautiful God’s creatures are, the more deadly they could be. Those little ladybugs, he said, pretty though they might be, spend their whole life killing other bugs, feeding off them. The butterflies never stood a chance.

Of course, I didn’t believe a word he said. It didn’t make any sense. The butterflies were beautiful, yet they didn’t kill anything. He laughed again, shakinghis head, and speculated that maybe it was because the butterflies had to crawl – as caterpillars – before God gave them wings; while the ladybugs never did. I nodded my head, since it seemed to kind of make sense.  I ripped open the plastic bag and shook it out. As the butterflies’ bodies fell to the ground, the little swarm of ladybugs flew away.

I stood and bid the old guy goodbye. I began to walk back to our camp, sad that I now had nothing to give my little sister.  I certainly couldn’t give her a bag of killer ladybugs. She, too, was as beautiful as the butterflies – I couldn’t have the ladybugs hurting her as well.

I stayed away from everybody else the rest of that morning, until around lunch, when we were all called to camp. The folding table was set out with a big pink birthday cake, and we all gathered around and sang Happy Birthday. A few presents, wrapped in pretty paper, were passed to my sister. She ripped them open, to get to what was within. And, although I don’t remember what they were, she was happy...

Years passed, and I never gave any more thought to those butterflies – and I never collected another one again. Growing older, I realized what the old Indian man had said was true – that, too often, the most beautiful of God’s creatures are the deadliest. I came to accept this truth, so it came as no surprise when I learned that one of the world’s deadliest animals –which can kill a man – is a little, brightly colored “poison dart frog,” found in the Amazon Basin. Its toxin is so lethal that native tribes use it in blowguns to kill prey.

Somehow, all of this came to me as I lay on my bunk today, trying to get my head out of this place. I’d sought my refuge from reality, pulling up happy memories and, of those early-summer days at the family ranch, and I dug up the tragedy of that particular day. The butterflies that died so long ago… for no reason, save my childish ignorance.

I thought about those butterflies, and wondered if, maybe, I was a butterfly too, waiting for the wings that would allow me to fly free. God knows that I’ve done my share of crawling to get where I am today.

That got me thinking about ladybugs in my own life – they are the ones among whom fate has cast me. Although outwardly attractive, beneath a superficial veneer natural born killers that prey upon the butterflies around us.

With my ear buds still in, my MP3 player now playing another old –  and almost forgotten – song that makes me smile (When I Need You by Leo Sayer); I get up from my bunk and take two shortsteps to where my little plastic mirror is taped to the steel-frame of my cell door. I look at myself – not so much the image of who I am, but something deeper within.

Long moments pass, and I continue to look deeper. The Eagles song, Peaceful Easy Feeling, comes on; and the man in the mirror smiles back at me. The smile fades.  Decades of solitary confinement and the condemnation of death stare into the emptiness of are my eyes.

I lie back down, and play my favorite song – Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. I change it from random play, to repeat, and, let it play again. With my eyes closed, the sad words of a man who knows that death is at his door, playing over and over again… 

“…We had joy,
We had fun,
We had seasons in the sun…” 

My thoughts turn the darkness of familiar depression descending upon me, and I no longer possess the will to fight.

“Goodbye, Papa, please pray for me,
I was the black sheep of the family.
You tried to teach me right from wrong.
Too much wine and too much song,
wonder how I got along” 

Again and again that song plays, and I become one with it.

Any time now, they could come and get me. For the past 19 months I’ve been under an active “death warrant.” Not so long ago, I came close to being executed (please read, Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder). It’s been a month since the Florida Supreme Court formally lifted my stay of execution. 

No matter how much I try to escape my own reality, my thoughts now return to it. Each time, I can feel myself being dragged down even further into a depressive abyss – and, each time, it takes on a different form. Yet, no matter the variation; no matter the escape found in a long-lost memory, one that brings an elusive smile to my otherwise empty face; the image fades away as soon as I feel what those butterflies must have felt, those ladybugs swarming down. Then, my smile turns perverse, as I realize a fundamental truth: we’re all butterflies,  and only in death can we truly hope to fly free. 

…And that’s why butterflies must die. 

Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017


Administering Justice in the Spirit of Ted Bundy

By Michael Lambrix

Many years ago as I took the first steps of an unexpectedly long spanning decade after decade on Florida´s death row, by coincidence I came to know the infamous Ted Bundy, who many see as the very personification of “evil.”

In the countless hours I spent conversing with him over several years around the concrete walls of our solitary confinement cells or walking around the yard as casually as if we were strolling through a public park, not once did he exhibit even the slightest indication of seeing himself as “evil.” Nor did he bear any resemblance to the measure of evil so many others saw him as.

If not for the well-publicized accounts of his preying upon young women from coast to coast, the horrors he inflicted for no other reason than to satisfy his lusts and rage, I would have had no reason to think of him as “evil.” That is not the person he projected himself to be, at least not to me.  Rather, I saw him as each of his victims initially did –an intelligent and charismatic “boy next door” type with a quick wit and sense of humor that drew you in like a moth to a candle.

It has been over a quarter of a century since that January 1984 morning when the State of Florida led Bundy on his last walk, into the execution chamber here at the Florida State Prison. Strapped into the dark-stained, three-legged monstrosity known as “Old Sparky”, he spoke his last words.  A packed roomful of witnesses stared silently through the glass window separating them by a few feet.  Warden Tom Burton gave the signal and the first of three lethal surges of electricity violently ripped through his body. Each powerful surge made his body involuntarily strain against the well-worn leather straps holding him firmly in the chair.  Witnesses would later report a wisp of smoke that rose from his shaven head and the smell of his burnt flesh.  The monster was dead.  Society could sleep just a little better. “Justice” had prevailed, society purged that of evil.

Twenty-seven years later, almost to the day, the United States Supreme Court held by nearly unanimous decision that the State of Florida had illegally killed Ted Bundy. Under constitutional law, every person condemned to Death in the State of Florida since 1974 – including the 91 individuals (both men and women) already executed-- were illegally sentenced.  In a nation, without legal authority to condemn any person, execution constitutes state sanctioned murder.

As coincidence would have it, when the United States Supreme Court issued the relevant decision in Hurst v Florida, 136 S.ct.616 (2016) on January 12, 2016, I was in the same cell Ted Bundy spent his last night in. Counting down my last days before my own scheduled execution (please read: “Execution Day: Involuntary Witness to a State Sanctioned Murder”). I was measured and fitted for the suit they intended to kill me in, and I contemplated my last meal, mindful that my choice would be severely limited by state law prohibiting the prison from spending too much money on a condemned prisoner´s last meal. I wondered whether the Hurst ruling would stop my own scheduled execution – or would the corrupt courts find a way to weasel out of granting relief from my illegally imposed sentence of death? (please read: “Death by Default”)

My uncertain fate dragged by slowly, to the tick-tocking of the clock hung on the wall outside my death watch cell. Each day I took another step closer to my scheduled execution. I struggled not to show fear for the sake my family and friends as they rallied around me, traveling to the prison to spend a few hours visiting through a pane of glass.  In Florida, once a prisoner is under an active death warrant with a scheduled execution date, all contact with family is prohibited with the exception of a final one-hour “contact visit” on the morning of the scheduled execution.

The Florida attorney general argued that the Supreme Court´s decision could only apply to future capital cases.   Such a “new law,” they argued, could not be retroactively applied. My lawyers argued that ends do not justify the means -- if a person was illegally sentenced to death, then principles of fundamental fairness and constitutional prohibitions against infliction of cruel and unusual punishments demand that this new law be retroactively applied.

My case was thrust into the forefront of this epic legal battle.  The state attorneys fought with all their might to convince the Florida Supreme Court that it really didn´t matter if I was illegally sentenced to death, since they´d already invested too many judicial resources to be derailed by a “last minute” change of the law. Retroactive application of this new law to my case would invalidate every death sentence in Florida – and on an election year, no less. See: Death Row Inmate Michael Lambrix Awaits Fate from Court: “Its my last hope” by Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times, March 25, 2016 and  “His Plea for Life at Florida´s Highest Court” by Elizabeth Johnson, Herald-Tribune, January 30, 2016

My lawyers argued that the Florida Supreme Court must at least enter a stay of execution until the issue could be properly addressed. Weeks passed. I was within days of scheduled execution when on February 2, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court allowed “oral arguments” to be heard. Shortly after, they entered a temporary stay of execution – but the prison kept me on death watch despite the stay, as if the Court never ordered it.   My date with death drew closer, and I was allowed last visits with my long time close friend Jan Arriens (who founded the international death row advocacy group “Lifelines”  and author of the book Welcome to Hell), and members of my family.

I was having a visit with my family on February 9, 2016  – hours away from my scheduled execution day of February 11 – when the Death Watch Supervisor told me that in light of the Florida Supreme Court´s “temporary” stay, I would be removed from “death watch” and returned to the regular death row housing area.

Even though my execution had been postponed, the state of Florida pursued the execution of Mark Asay, keeping him “death watch,” his scheduled execution five weeks later.  A month later Mark would also have his execution postponed and be moved back to the regular death row housing area only a few cells away from me.

With executions in Florida now indefinitely on hold until the Florida Supreme Court could decide whether Hurst would be retroactively applied, we all anxiously waited – not only those condemned to death, but our families and friends, too.

I remained under what Florida refers to as “Phase III Death Watch”; an active death warrant without a scheduled execution date.  Uncertainty weighed heavily on me.  My frustration over the narrow lens viewing the death sentences increased.  Like many others here on death row, I couldn´t care less about having my death sentence reduced to life.  My primary objective was to have the Courts address my consistently-pled and substantiated claim of innocence, have available evidence be heard, and be exonerated and released (please check out my website, www.southerninjustice.net) (see also: www.save-innocents.org/Michaellambrix and www.murderpedia.org/michaellambrix). 

A waiting game that has broken stronger men than me, as the stress of an uncertain fate is a greater “punishment” than being put to death (please read “The Day God Died”), Stress fades as you confront your own mortality and make peace within yourself.  Not knowing extracts a greater toll of mental anguish –not only upon the condemned, but upon our family and friends too.

Days became weeks and passed into months.  Another long, hot and unbearably humid summer spent in this solitary cell.  Each week we waited anxiously to hear whether the Florida Supreme Court had ruled, knowing that when they did, if they ruled against us, my execution would be quickly rescheduled.  I remained in limbo. I could not make any long term plans, struggling to project strength so my friends and family could find comfort and ease their concerns.

The relentless Florida summer broke, a bit of autumn in the air. The second week of October the Florida Supreme Court finally released its ruling in Hurst v State, 202 So.3d,40 (Feb. 2016). The court threw out Timothy Hurst´s death sentence holding that any death sentence imposed by a less than unanimous jury vote violated both the Sixth Amendment and the Constitutional prohibition against infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.  In a companion case, Perry v State, the Florida Supreme Court further declared unconstitutional Florida´s new law requiring a “supermajority” (at least 10 of 12 jurors) to vote for death. That absent a unanimous jury finding, any death sentence would be illegal.

The real question is: why did it take so long? Florida was out of step with the majority of other death penalty states for many years.  Of the 27 states allowing the death penalty, only 3 allowed the convicted to be condemned by less than a unanimous jury vote – Florida, Delaware and Alabama.

In 2002 the United States Supreme Court made clear in Ring v Arizona that any system allowing a judge, rather than jury, to impose a death sentence was unconstitutional. Florida declared itself exempt from that ruling and carried out 47 more executions before the US Supreme Court finally intervened in Hurst v Florida.

In Hurst v State case, the Florida Supreme Court finally admitted the error of its ways. It appeared the court would, reluctantly, accept that all death sentences in Florida were illegally imposed, since no valid statue existed that conformed to constitutional law.

When that decision was released on October 14, 2016, the weight lifted.  It seemed that all death sentences would be thrown out.  Incredibly, there was an absence of resistance from politicians and mainstream media. Prison officials contemplated the expected transfer of 385 death-sentenced prisoners to life, meaning that they would be removed from solitary confinement and placed in general inmate population (“gen-pop”) at prisons throughout the state.

Some were not happy about the prospect of having their death sentences reduced to life – they didn´t want to be placed in “gen-pop”.  A life sentence in Florida would mean no chance of release, ever – they would be forced to work for the state until they slowly rotted away and died. They preferred to stay in their solitary cell on death row! The Florida Supreme Court summarily denied these pro-se motions as being “unauthorized” under Florida´s “Logan Rule,” which prohibits prisoners from submitting any action to the court if they are represented by legal counsel.

My own confidence that my death sentence would be thrown out compelled me to tell my family and friends that I would soon be off death row and they need not worry about me being rescheduled for execution.  For the first time in a long time I didn´t have to pretend to be strong.

Christmas approached, and I looked forward to having a visit with my family, giving them each a big hug and wishing them a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The prior Christmas (2015) they had sat with me separated by a glass wall in the non-contact death watch visiting area.  We believed the past Christmas would be my last… but this Christmas brought with it the hope that I would soon have my death sentence lifted. I should have known better.

Two days before Christmas, the Florida Supreme Court released two decisions establishing the parameters within which the previous decisions would be applied. They did not rule in my own case (and, in fact, as of this writing the court still has not ruled in my case).  These two rulings created even greater controversy by exposing the truth many of us have known all along – that when it comes to the death penalty, basic concepts of fundamental fairness are abandoned. Those determined to take life will find a way to take life.

In the first case of John Mosley v State of Florida the Court recognized in a split decision that under the “new law” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst v Florida, the Florida Supreme Court was clearly wrong in 2002 (King v State and Bottoson v State) where they held that Ring v Arizona (ussc, 2002) didn´t apply to Florida.  The FSC then held that Mosley and all others who were illegally sentenced to death since 2002 were entitled to have those sentences thrown out and new sentencing proceedings conducted.

Because of the Mosley ruling most death sentenced prisoners in Florida will be removed from death row.  These resentencing proceedings will have to conform to the Hurst requirements of unanimous jury findings in support of death, so it is unlikely that many will return to death row.  The Florida State Court recognized that it was wrong not to vacate these sentences in 2002, but the court failed to comment on the fact that because of its “error”, between 2002 and 2016 Florida executed 47 prisoners illegally.  

In Mark Asay v State of Florida, the Florida Supreme Court first recognized that Asay was illegally sentenced to death – but because he was illegally sentenced prior to their error in 2002, they drew a line at June 2002. Those sentenced to death after 2002 would have their sentences thrown out, but those sentenced prior to 2002 would not be allowed relief for their illegal death sentences.

Several justices dissented, saying that cutting off the application of retroactive relief under Hurst would be “arbitrary” and ”fundamentally unfair.” the narrow majority of the court reasoned that although all Florida death row prisoners were illegally sentenced to die, it would be too inconvenient and burdensome to grant everybody relief.  For that reason, the Court concluded that it would be easier if they just went ahead and killed the human beings with pre-2002 cases.

The significance of these rulings cannot be overstated. Respect for, and obedience to laws define who we are as a society. The Florida Supreme Court made no mention of the fact that its arbitrarily imposed line in the sand is unprecedented.  Both state and federal law define when a new and substantive rule of law must be retroactively applied. No state or federal court has ever applied a “new law” to some of the effected defendants – but deny relief to others similarly affected.

The hypocrisy of this arbitrarily drawn line is best illustrated by the Florida Supreme Court´s own prior decision in Falcon v State, (2015).  The FSC was compelled to decide whether juveniles unconstitutionally sentenced to mandatory life sentences were entitled to retroactive application of Graham v Florida, consistent with Montgomery v Louisiana.  The very same court ruled that it would be “fundamentally unfair” not to apply Graham to all prisoners sentenced to life regardless of how long they had been in prison – many of whom were convicted and sentenced as long as 40 or more years ago!

There were more prisoners illegally sentenced to life as juveniles than there are death sentenced prisoners at issue, and yet the Florida Supreme Court said nothing about how granting relief to so many would undermine the functioning of the legal system.

It´s often been said that “death is different.” Once “death” is on the table, moral constraints of  the judicial process are abandoned and fundamental fairness is sacrificed at the altar of the politics of death.

Again and again under the pretense of administering “justice” the courts manipulate basic concepts of decency, tenets that form the foundation of a civilized society. Their outcome - determinative ideology, fueled by an unquenchable thirst for vengeance, compels our Courts to devise ways to kill regardless of right or wrong.

Which brings me back to the time I spent with Ted Bundy. What bothered me the most about those interactions, the conversations I had with him, was that not once did he indicate regret or remorse. I could not understand how anyone could take another person´s life and not be affected.

I draw from my own personal experience.  Many years ago I was put into a situation in which I was compelled to take a man´s life.  (You can read about my case at www.southernjustice.net) Although it has been many decades, I am haunted by the memories of that night.  Sometimes days or even weeks will pass without being reminded but then I will see something on T.V. or read something in the newspaper – or for no apparent reason -- I will see his face again and have a sleepless night.  I cannot imagine how anyone who has taken even one life – let alone many – can overcome the greatest persecution of all – our own conscience.

Taking a life, any life, should never be easy – and it should never be forgotten. What bothers me most when the courts decide matters of life and death with indifference that contradicts any concepts of moral conscience is that their actions instead reflect the mind and manner of a sociopath.  In the many years I have journeyed this labyrinth of judicial hypocrisy, like many others, I have no doubt that the members of the courts know they are sending innocent people to their death under the pretense of administering “justice.” And yet I have never once heard a judge express regret or remorse.

Many would say Ted Bundy was the personification of “evil” in our contemporary society.  I never knew that side of him.  The word “evil” is defined in the dictionary as engaging in conduct that is “morally objectionable” – something that “causes harm or injury”, or is otherwise “characterized by intense ill will or spite.” In my Thesaurus, I find that the synonyms include “wicked”, “detrimental” and “spiteful”.

The funny thing about evil is that it´s easy to see in others, but difficult to see within ourselves.  Like the United States Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, we will know it when we see it.  Like beauty, evil is within the eye of the beholder.

Every day we choose to evolve into something better - or we regress into the primordial slime we crawled from.  As a matter of conscience we no longer practice forms of punishment once widely accepted – and we would like to think that those entrusted to administer “justice”  possess the capacity to rise above that temptation to pursue vengeance. 

For over 40 years the State of Florida has been illegally condemning prisoners to death, and because our judiciary is governed by the Politics of Death, Florida put at least 90 men and women to death without legal authority.  To put one person to death in contradiction of the law is an act of murder, plain and simple.

Some might argue that the law changes over time and those Florida executed were put to death in accord with the law at that time. What became clear in Hurst v Florida, 136 S.ct.616 (2016) is that this is no longer true… every prisoner on Florida´s death row has been unconstitutionally sentenced to death.

If a person violates the law, then as a moral and civilized society we demand that justice be administered in a fair and equitable manner. If a State has illegally condemned hundreds of people to death, then fairness dictates that all of those illegally imposed sentences must be vacated.  The politics of a vengeance-driven punishment (the death penalty) cannot be allowed to compromise the administration of justice.  To arbitrarily draw a line in the sand and say that Florida will be allowed to kill at least 185 people illegally sentenced to death because it´s too inconvenient to do the right thing amounts to “justice” in the spirit of Ted Bundy – state-sanctioned serial killing.



Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017