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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Date With Death: Weeks One and Two

By Michael Lambrix

Date with Death – Week One: Execution Scheduled for October 5, 2017

Shortly after 7:00 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, September 2, 2017, I watched my first sunrise in well over a quarter of a century. I had forgotten just how beautiful an early morning sunrise could be, and how it had its way of drawing you in and mesmerizing you. At first it barely peaked over that distant horizon and then, ever so very slowly, it grew from that first orangish glow into a sudden explosion of even brighter, almost crimson, radiance spreading to each side. A few clouds accented its majestic appearance and I stood silently in awe of this event that I never thought I would see again. It´s been a long time since I last saw a sunrise.

In that moment, I forgot where I was, despite the fact that to see the unexpected sunrise I had to look through a single set of steel bars and then the seven-pane security window about ten-feet away. For nearly 34-years, I´ve been on Florida´s Death Row and, late yesterday afternoon, I was taken from my regular death row confinement cell to the bottom floor of Q-Wing.  Once again, I was placed in Cell One (please check out the PBS documentary “Cell One”, featuring me, at www.cellone.wlrn.digital/). The Florida Governor has rescheduled my previously stayed execution and now I am counting down my last days. If the State of Florida has their way, at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 5, 2017, I will be securely tied down on a gurney with numerous I.V. tubes attached to my body and, with a barely perceptible nod of Warden Reddish´s head, an unseen figure behind a partition will then push the first of three plungers down. This will force the sedative “Etomidate” into my body, with the intent to render me unconscious, before they then flow with the second drug, “rocuronium bromide”, which is a paralytic that will ensure that, even if they screw the execution up (as they have too many times before), I will not be able to physically react. I will lie there experiencing incomprehensible physical pain until the paid executioner pushes that last plunger down, sending that lethal dose of “potassium acetate” into my body to cause a cardiac arrest, terminating my life.

I know exactly what will come as my final days count down and there´s not a damned thing I can do about it. This is the fourth time I´ve been placed in Cell One and watched as the clock counts down what are to be my final days. In late 1988, I had my first death warrant signed, scheduling my execution for November 30, 1988. I came within mere hours of being executed. Back then, Florida´s method of execution was the electric chair, and as I sat in this very same cell so long ago, I could feel that distinctive hum, accompanied by a low vibration on the concrete floor, as not more than 30-feet away they put “Old Sparky” through tests to make sure that it would work properly when they planned to kill me early the next morning.

By late afternoon of November 29, 1988, the Florida Supreme Court rendered a decision on my first post-conviction appeal, denying our demand for a new trial by a marginal 4 to 3 decision – refusing to address the numerous claims supporting my consistently pled claim of actual innocence because my legal counsel (who was only assigned to my case after the Governor decided to kill me) failed to “properly” present the innocence claims to the court (see, Lambrix v State, 534 So.2d.1151 (Fla. 1988)). The Florida Court subsequently found that the Supreme Court´s refusal to address these claims was unprecedented and in clear error (Order of May 12, 1992 by U.S. District Judge William Zloch in Lambrix v Singletary, case no. 4;88-cv-12107-WJ2).

But the Florida Supreme Court did grant a 48-hour stay of execution, to allow my lawyers to pursue an appeal to the Federal Courts. As I anxiously waited in “Cell One” for word, the hours ticked down, and with each tick of the clock my hour of death grew nearer. For days, I remained in that excruciating state of limbo, not knowing whether I would live or die, and overwhelming exhaustion set in, as I desperately tried to maintain under those circumstances. Out of exhaustion I tried to lay down and rest, only to be awoken by an intense spiritual experience that, to this day, I cannot hope to adequately describe (please read, “The Day God Died” and, “Scratching at the Scars of a Shattered Soul”).

Shortly after that, I received word that the Federal District Court had ordered a full stay of execution, and I was moved back to the regular death row housing area. Many years of appeals followed. Evidence was discovered substantiating my consistently pled claim of actual innocence. The prosecution had tried to coerce me into pleading “guilty” before my 1984 trial, to the reduced charge of second degree murder, which would have led me to my release after 17-22 years, if I would waive any appeals. I refused, as I naively believed our legal system would work, and I would be exonerated and released. Once again, in July 2006, the prosecutor came to me with an offer to reduce my death sentence to “life” (with the chance of eventual release) – if I would drop my appeal arguing my innocence. .

But I wouldn´t do it. Instead, I was sent back to Florida´s death row, and as the years dragged by, both the State and Federal Courts invented procedural rules as to why the readily available evidence substantiating my consistently pled claim of innocence could not be heard. My fatal fault became only too clear – trusting the courts to do the right thing would cost me my life.

On the morning of Monday, November 30, 2015, the United States Supreme Court summarily denied review of my actual innocence claim (see, In re: Cary Michael Lambrix vssc case no. 15-6163) and, within hours, Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant to formally schedule me for execution on Thursday, February 11, 2016. I was immediately moved to the bottom floor of Q-wing at Florida State Prison and placed on Death Watch (please read, “Slippery Slope to State Sanctioned Murder”). I was housed in Cell Three, where I would spend what was to be my last Christmas, only a few feet away from the execution chamber.

I wasn´t alone. About ten-feet away, Cell One held Oscar Bolin, who was scheduled to die on January 7, 2016. I took a back seat in Cell Three, and Oscar moved forward. I remained in that cell immediately adjacent to the heavy steel door that separated us from the execution chamber. Late in the evening on January 7, 2016, they put Oscar Bolin to death (please read, “Execution Day: Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder”).

Early that next morning of January 8, 2016, I was ordered to pack up my property and moved from Cell Three to Cell One. Oscar´s body was still warm, but they were already moving me into his now empty cell (see, “Cell One” PBS Documentary www.cellone.wirn.digital//). A few hours later, they brought Mark Asay, with an execution scheduled for Thursday, March 17, 2016, to join me. They moved him into Cell Three.

On Monday, January 11, 2016 – less than a week after Oscar Bolin’s execution – the Supreme Court issued its 8-to-1 opinion in Hurst v Florida (136 Sct.61b (2016)), declaring that the way Florida sentences people to death by allowing the judge to decide whether to impose a death sentence was unconstitutional; as, under the Sixth Amendment, only the jury could determine whether sufficient cause existed to enhance the punishment to death.

Suddenly, the legality of the Florida death penalty was called into question, and my lawyers expeditiously filed new appeals arguing that, since my imposed death sentences were based on a non-unanimous jury vote which the presiding judge used to impose sentence of death, under the Supreme Court´s decision in Hurst v Florida, my death sentences were illegal.

The Florida Supreme Court heard my case the week before my scheduled execution and, much to my disappointment, the whole case suddenly focused on how the Supreme Court's Hurst decision would impact Florida's death row population, since the vast majority of Florida´s death sentences were by a non-unanimous jury vote (it should be noted that Florida is only one of three states that even allowed a death sentence to be imposed by a non-unanimous jury vote).

Later that same day, following oral arguments, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution in my case until they could figure out how Hurst v Florida would affect these death sentences. But, because the death warrant remained in effect even though a stay of execution was granted, I remained on Death Watch until February 9. As coincidence would have it, that was my older sister´s birthday. She was visiting me with my parents and other sister, Mary, along with long-time close friend, Jan Arriens (founder of Lifelines, an international organization based in London, England) when the Warden came to the visiting area and told me that I would be removed from Death Watch, effective that day… Debbie immediately declared that was the best birthday present she´d ever received.

And so, on February 9, 2016 – only two-days before they had scheduled me for execution – I was removed from Death Watch and placed back on G-wing, the regular death row housing unit at Florida State Prison. Not long after that, Mark Asay received a stay of execution too.

All executions in Florida would remain on-hold until this legal issue could be resolved. As those months passed, and then a year, and then more, we had reason to believe that the courts would rule favorably and throw out all death sentences based on less than a unanimous jury vote; especially after the Florida Supreme Court issued its own opinion in Hurst v State (202 So.3d.40 (Fla. 2016)).

But then, only two-days before Christmas, the Florida Supreme Court released its decisions in Mark Asay v State of Florida (210 So.3d.1 (Fla. 2016)) and John Mosley v State of Florida (210 So.3d. (Fla. 2016)), in which a sharply divided court decided that while all death sentences imposed by less than a unanimous jury vote were now clearly illegal, the court would only retroactively apply this new rule to capital cases that were finalized (determined by the date which the first “direct appeal” was decided) after June 24, 2002. In Asay v State, the court declared that allowing retroactive application of this new rule to capital cases prior to June 2002 would be too burdensome on the state.

Bottom line, the Florida Supreme Court (by marginal majority) declared that it would throw out the illegally imposed sentences of death only as far back as June 2002, but those sentenced prior to that “arbitrary line in the sand” would not be granted relief – and they ordered Mark Asay´s previously granted stay of execution lifted. This meant that approximately half of the almost 400 death sentenced prisoners in Florida would have their illegally imposed death sentences thrown out, but the other half would not.

My own case would drag on for a few months longer. Despite the ruling in Mark Asay´s case, which made it clear that I would not receive relief from the illegally imposed sentences of death, I remained hopeful that the Florida Supreme Court would rule favorably on my innocence-related issues, especially our request for DNA testing of evidence that could substantiate my claim of innocence.

But on March 8, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court issued its opinion in my pending case, denying all relief, Lambrix v State (217 So.3d.977 (Fla. 2017)), and ordered that my previously granted stay of execution be lifted. My lawyers filed a motion for a rehearing, arguing that the court´s denial of DNA testing was clearly wrong; as the court ruled that DNA testing had already been conducted – and it clearly had not. Further, the court violated its own state procedures by refusing to address our claim of entitlement to a new trial based on F.B.I. records conclusively showing that my trial lawyer (an appointed public defender) was secretly acting as a witness against me in an unrelated F.B.I. investigation while representing me. Because that act established an irreconcilable conflict of interest, under applicable law, that violation should have entitled me to a new trial.

Refusing to address its clear mistakes of both fact and law, the Florida Supreme Court summarily denied the request for a rehearing, and as of May 10, 2017, the previously entered stay of execution was formally lifted. I knew that they would come get me and take me back to Death Watch again, even though I had my other appeals still pending before the courts.

On Monday, July 3, 2017, they came and took Mark Asay back to Death Watch, with a new execution date of August 24. Although he was previously scheduled 5-weeks after me when our death warrants we signed prior to the Supreme Court´s Hurst v Florida decision, since his case was ruled on, this time months before mine was, he was now at the front of the line.

And Mark was tired. He said he was ready to go, even though new evidence came to light supporting his long-standing claim that he did not kill one of the two victims in his case, but he had enough and was ready to die. Like too many others, he had lost the will to fight.

That is an element of the death penalty few give any thought to – after years of fighting the system (and sometimes our appointed lawyers), many become broken and just want the nightmare to end. By the time the condemned prisoner is led into the execution chamber, he (or she) has accepted their fate and their inability to do anything about it. They then surrender themselves to this ritual of death. That’s just the way it is.

At precisely 6:22 p.m., Mark Asay was pronounced dead by lethal injection. It appears that the execution went off as intended, and the unprecedented use of this new drug protocol (Etomidate, rocuronium bromide, and potassium acetate) worked; although some witnesses did report that in his final moments, Asay involuntarily “twitched”, whatever that may mean.

However, the primary question of whether the Florida Supreme Court´s arbitrary and unprecedented “partial retroactivity” rule, which has already held that those illegally sentenced to death after June 2002 would have their sentences thrown out, while simultaneously denying all pre-2002 cases under identical circumstances relief, can withstand constitutional challenge remains to be addressed and resolved – and now my own case will be the lead case in that fight, which will most likely be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court… sooner or later.

This should have been addressed in Mark Asay´s case, especially since it was his case that established this partial retroactivity rule. But Mark didn´t want his lawyers to pursue that issue again. He considered a reduction of his death sentence to life to amount to a fate even worse than death, and refused to allow his lawyers to pursue the issue.

I´m not too happy about my case being the one that will now try to decide this issue, as, if the courts get focused on that issue, they will likely ignore my other pending “actual innocence” issues. And I know, very well, that the Supreme Court could simply refuse to accept review of that partial retroactivity issue, just as they did after the Supreme Court first established the foundation of requiring a jury sentencing in Ring v Arizona (2002), and for 14-years (and 47 executions) the Supreme Court refused to accept review – until they finally did in 2015, which resulted in the early-2016 decision in Hurst v Florida

No matter what life throws at you, you got to play the cards you´re dealt, and the reality is that when Governor Rick Scott signed that order on September 1, 2017, rescheduling my execution for Thursday, October 5, 2017, from that day I was given only 35-days left to live. Maybe I won´t be executed, but since Florida adopted a law that makes a death warrant “indefinite” (that is, it never expires), nobody has survived a death warrant under Governor Scott. A few have received temporary stays, only to then be rescheduled, and they´re all dead now.

Was today´s sunrise an omen, or a curse? Or, was it simply a sunrise that held no meaning other than its beauty? Before I was brought down to Death Watch (yet again), I had previously spent about 141-days in late-1988, and then the winter of 2015-16 here. It´s an environment I´ve become familiar with.

As I was escorted into this Death Watch cell, the first thing I noticed was the smell of a fresh coat of paint. The substantially larger size of the cell no longer surprised me. I stepped into it, then obediently held my hands to the cell-front bars, so the guards could remove the handcuffs and chains, while engaging them in casual conversation.

The Death Watch Lieutenant knew that I already knew the Death Watch routine, so he didn't explain to me again that things work different down here, and that they would try to make my last days as easy as they could, short of compromising security.

Directly outside this Cell One, there is a generic and rather plain state-issued desk, and nobody had to tell me it was built by inmates in the woodshop. It very well could have been the same prisoners who, when ordered to do so, also constructed the electric chair many years ago. There are two multi-colored blue chairs, with obviously aged paisley patterned cushions accented by a heavy wood frame. They looked comfortable, and I asked the Death Watch Sargent if he´d mind moving one of those chars into my cell and we both laughed, a moment of intentional levity to break the ice.

It was hot, and I quickly began sweating. Late summer in Florida is like this, hot and humid. It didn´t help that I was wearing the heavy denim prison uniform we are required to wear anytime outside our cells (as well as when official visitors come around on one of their “tours” of death row). Without further thought, I began to strip down to nothing but my boxers – and the guards thought nothing of it, as that is the standard uniform we wear in our cells during the hot summers.

Directly in front of Cell One, securely fastened to the wall between the two windows, hangs a 40-inch flat screen T.V., a luxury only afforded to those condemned prisoners scheduled to die. Perhaps it was for that reason I asked the Sargent if he´d mind if I used my own small 13-inch color T.V. in the cell, but I already knew they´d allow me to do so, if I wanted to. My personal property had not yet been brought over from the adjacent regular death row housing wing (G-wing), however, it would arrive soon. I knew the Property Room Sargent and his crew were already collecting it and, as they did, they were going through what I had to make sure I wasn´t given anything that could be a threat to the heightened state of security on Death Watch.

Normally, the staff use inmate labor to do the work, but once a person is placed on Death Watch, no contact with other inmates is allowed. The guards serve me my meals, each plastic-wrapped by the Kitchen Supervisor and marked “Death Watch.” The Laundry Room Sargent will personally pick up my laundry and then wash and neatly fold it before bringing it back. And the guards assigned to work Death Watch will also do the janitorial work that inmate trustees typically do. Even when I have legal or (non-contact) social visits while under active death warrant, I will be escorted up the long main hall (check out “Alcatraz of the South” Part I and II), only after the entire prison is fully locked-down.

As I finally move around a bit in this Death Watch cell that I´m already far too familiar with, I make up the bunk, using the small stack of freshly washed and folded linen piled at the foot of the plastic covered foam mattress, and check the sink to make sure that the water works. Everything appears to be in order.

I´m allowed one legal phone call and one call to family when a death warrant is signed and, once I´m situated in the cell, the Sargent puts the call through to my lawyers. They already knew that the Governor had rescheduled my execution and assured me that they were already putting together what needed to be done. We filed numerous appeals in both the State and Federal courts in recent months, and these remain pending but there´s more to be done. They would talk again next week.

My personal property arrived and, with the help of the Sargent, it was passed through the open feed slot (what we call a “bean flap”) a handful at a time and I stacked it up against the walls. I would put it up in the large steel footlocker bolted firmly to the floor the next day.

A few hours later, the Sargent puts the phone call through to my sister. She already knew about where I was, as my lawyer had contacted my family. My parents were at her house and she put the call on speaker phone, and I did my best to be positive and tell them not to worry, reminding them we have the appeals pending and the question of illegally imposed death sentence should stop all of this. But we all know that the courts don´t do what they should, and there´s a reason that of the last 25 men who occupied this Cell One here on Death Watch, I am the sole survivor. Nobody has survived a rescheduled execution on a fourth date with death.

But, for now, I will enjoy watching that unexpected sunrise through that window, and I will watch the next thirty-four to come; enjoying each as if it will be my last. And that last one will most likely come on the morning of October 5, 2017. By that evening, I will be dead.


Date With Death - Week Two: Countdown to Execution 

When I was brought down to Death Watch on Friday, September 1, 2017, they gave me 34-days to live and, at precisely 6:00p.m. on that thirty-fourth day, they plan to pump lethal drugs into my immobolized veins and kill me. As I sit at this small steel table in Cell One waiting, I'm now down to only 25-days. Just that quickly, nine days have already passed. That's almost a full one-third of the rest of my life.

I've been here before, and this Death Watch cell is familiar. But the last few times I've counted down what were to be my last days, I was not alone.  This time I am, and I'm still trying to figure out whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the plus side, it's often very quiet for long periods of time.  No one else is around other than the guard sitting at the desk on the other side of the steel bar gate. He makes his rounds about every 30-minutes to check on me before returning to his desk. More often than not, we will momentarily engage in idle conversation, as, like me, he too is alone. It’s just the two of us down here.

On the negative side, it's very quiet down here when there's nobody around. I feel isolated and this enhances my feelings of loneliness. I have a t.v. outside my cell to keep me entertained, and I have my MP3 player to get my head out of this place. But it just doesn't feel the same this time, being down here all by myself.  Not that I'd wish this on anyone – I wouldn’t do that. I'd rather be down here alone than put anyone else through this.

As luck would have it, shortly after Governor Scott signed the order on September 1, rescheduling my execution for October 5, a major hurricane, “Irma”, developed and grew into what was soon being called one of the worst ever. The projected path had it heading straight for South Florida and, as I write this, it's still coming this way.

Just a week earlier, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, with record rain and within days at least 60 people died. I read that Texas had an execution scheduled that week that was postponed.

Now I'm going through the same thing. Shortly after my execution was rescheduled, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order instructing that all appeals had to be completed before the lower state courts no later then Monday September 11, so that any review before the Florida Supreme Court could be expedited. But with Hurricane Irma heading straight for South Florida, by early Thursday (September 7), the Governor ordered a statewide emergency and all state offices (including the courts) were shutdown. 

It’s kind of hard to file an appeal if the courthouse is closed. My lawyers quickly filed a motion asking the Florida Supreme Court to rescind its order, due to their inability to work the case, and it didn't take long before the court issued an order granting another full week to file whatever had to be filed in the lower courts - but they refused to postpone the execution date. So, even though neither my lawyers or the lower courts could do anything for that week, and probably wouldn't be able to do much after Hurricane Irma blows through, the Florida Supreme Court wasn't going to postpone my execution.

The prison system has been locked-down for days as this hurricane draws closer and, other than a quick phone call with my lawyers, I haven't had any contact with them. One of my lawyers had a visit scheduled for this past Thursday, but couldn’t get any flights out of the Fort Lauderdale airport, as that part of Florida was being evacuated, and the investigator assigned to my case is a Coast Guard reservist, and was called up for duty.

I don't blame them.  Call it an act of God. But I'm quickly running out of time and I haven't had any meaningful communication with my lawyers. We’ve already lost valuable time, and that clock keeps ticking away, and there's nothing I can do about it.

Funny how not even what appears to be the worst hurricane in Florida's history can slow down the machinery of death.  This unexpected natural disaster serves to stack an already loaded deck against me, as this inability to get the work done favors the state.

But is isn’t all bad. On Monday (September 06), my younger sister came up for a visit. My other sister planned to come up with her, but couldn’t make it due to the hurricane. Still, it was a great visit, even though restricted to non-contact through glass.

Here in Florida (unlike Texas and a few other states), death-sentenced prisoners are allowed regular contact visits each weekend from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., in a large open visiting park. Although relatively few get regular visits, it means a lot to be able to give someone you love a big hug, and to be able to sit at a table and talk and eat a meal bought from the prison store. 

But, once the Governor sets an execution date, then they immediately terminate those contact visits and all social visits become non-contact. That means that they are conducted though a glass wall with a small hole covered by a steel plate with holes in it so you can talk through it.

Even as much as these visits mean, they are also one of the hardest parts about facing an execution date. Regardless if what any of us in here may have done, our families remain innocent victims of this circumstance. While the victims families, and the justice system are driven by vengeance to push for our deaths, those that care about us are driven by love and want us to live, and nothing brings them more pain then to know that, in a matter of weeks, or even days, or hours, we may be put to death.

That's the reality that hangs over these Death Watch visits and I do what I can to keep the positive, to find a way to joke and laugh and talk about long ago memories of the good times that we shared together. But how I wished I could just reach through that thick plate of security glass and give her a big hug and tell her that it will all be alright. 

Those few hours passed quickly and we said our goodbyes. My sister tried to hide the tears as she turned to walk out the door, but I could see that she was crying.  All I could do was smile and wave as she disappeared through that steel door. At least I had that time with her.

It was a long walk back to my Death Watch cell. The area where the non-contact visits are conducted is at the front of the prison, just inside the main door. But the Death Watch area is at the opposite end of this long building, over a quarter of a mile walk and, with each slow step in my shackled and chained feet, I felt that I was walking further away from all that means so much to me; leaving what gave me the strength to keep going (my family, friends, etc.) and returning to that cold loneliness of a Death Watch cell only a few feet away from the steel door that leads into the execution chamber.

If not for those visits, I wouldn't have had the strength to maintain my sanity through the years. If I've learned nothing else in the too many decades I've spent in this manmade hell, it is that all of us have our breaking point, and no matter how strong you may want to be, this place can break you. It will break you.

I remind myself of what Victor Frankl wrote about in the book Man's Search for Meaning; how, as long as a man has a reason to live, he can find the will to live, even under the worst of circumstances. To love and to be loved gives reason.

For a long time I thought it was hope that gave me the strength to keep going. But, in recent years, I've come to accept that hope is a fragile thing, which fades away with each new setback. Hope builds its foundation on circumstances beyond our control, and crushes our souls when what we hoped for is taken away.
  
Love is what keeps us going. The love of family, the love of friends, and if the stars even momentarily align themselves in just the right way, even the love of a new romance before it to quickly fades away. It's the love that others so generously extend to me that gives me strength. 

Even before the Governor signed the order rescheduling my execution, I was expecting it. Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court denied my appeal that argued that I'm entitled to DNA testing of evidence. Evidence, that if tested, could substantiate my innocence, and that under the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v Florida, I was illegally sentenced to death.

Knowing that this was coming, and that there wasn't anything I could do to stop the State of Florida from killing me for something I didn't do, I decided awhile back that once the Governor did reschedule my execution, I would begin a hunger strike while on Death Watch. This would be a means of protesting against the intent to kill me without allowing the readily available evidence that will substantiate my innocence from being heard.

But my family and friends didn't like that idea. They worry about me, and were afraid it would cause me harm. My lawyers expressed their opposition because they remain confident that I will get another stay of execution, as I have four appeals pending and a number of strong issues (including my innocence) that still are not resolved. 

I don't want to argue with them (and didn't), as these are people who have stood by me for many years. And I didn't want to add any more stress to what they were already going through as it is.

For that reason, I reached a compromise - I would delay initiating this intended hunger strike until after I had the visit with my sister. I’d then talk to her and explain why it is important to me that I do something, as I don't want to just lay down and die... Maybe a hunger strike wouldn't accomplish anything, maybe some would even laugh at me, but this is something I had to do.

So, I agreed to wait until after her visit that Wednesday (September 06) to begin, and it was a great visit.

Once I returned to my Death Watch cell, it was almost 4:00 p.m., and I knew that at 4:00 p.m. I would receive a phone call from my dear friend Geesje, who lives in Athens, Greece. For so many years, Geesje has stood by me, giving so much of herself to help fight the injustice of my wrongful convictions, as well as advocate on behalf of others. In my world, it's only too easy to forget that there are good people in this world. For reasons I will never understand, I have been blessed with a number of family and friends who are genuinely nothing less than angels... and Geesje is, unquestionably, one.

The call came through and I smiled when I heard her voice, her Dutch accent always frosted with a healthy dose of humor, and soon we were laughing despite the reality of my date with death. We only had a few moments, but just hearing her voice, especially after spending the earlier hours with my sister, just brought a happiness to my heart that had me smiling long after I had to hang up the phone.

Then I turned my attention to what could very well be my last meal as, beginning that following morning (Thursday September 7), I would start the Death Watch hunger strike and continue it until I either receive a stay of execution, or I'm put to death.

For months I had saved a “Roast Beef with Gravy” that I got from the food packages we are allowed to receive from the outside twice-a-year. It was a ready-to-eat meal that only needed heating up. I also saved a small bag of instant mashed potatoes, just for this occasion.

On Death Watch, we have access to a microwave oven and need only ask the Sergeant to put whatever we need heated in it, so I knew that I could prepare my meal as it should be.

I planned every detail for months. I began by first taking the small bag of instant mashed potatoes and pouring that into my bowl. Then I pulled out ten individual servings of liquid coffee creamer, that I bought from the canteen, and added that to the instant potatoes, stirring it into a paste.

I then took a two-ounce pack of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (with jaleapeno's) and added that to the instant potatoes, and then a small bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, which I crunched up into a fine powder before mixing that into the potatoes as well. Finally, I imposed upon the Sergeant to boil a cup of water, which I then slowly mixed into the potatoes until they were just the right thickness. I tried not to eat too much under the guise of tasting them - that was not easy!

Using my other bowl, I poured the generous portion of roast beef with thick brown gravy into that bowl and, again, imposed upon the Sergeant to heat it. Once that was steaming hot, I had him throw my potatoes into the microwave for a few minutes and then, using a couple of paper plates, I laid out a small mountain of my flavored potatoes in the middle of a plate, carefully creating a small bowl in the very middle. I then slowly poured the roast beef with gravy into that hollowed out cavity, until the thick gravy generously poured over the sides, with the chunks of roast beef spread to the side of that mountain.

I then sat down at my small table - the same table that so many others who previously occupied this Death Watch cell before me had eaten their own last meal before being put to death - and I took a moment to say grace and remember those who went before me. Then I slowly ate that meal, savoring every bite, and knowing that it very well could be my last meal.

That plate of potatoes and roast beef with gravy filled me up, but I wasn't quite done yet. I reached into my footlocker and took out the last two small bags of Keebler Fudge Stripe Mini's cookies that I’d also saved from my food package. I had bought two small Kraft chocolate pudding cups from the canteen, and had them placed in the Death Watch refrigerator. I poured that thick, and almost frozen, chocolate pudding into the bowl, then poured the mini cookies on top, and began to eat my dessert. With each bite, I made sure that I had just the right mixture of pudding and mini fudge cookies. I deliberately took my time with each slow bite until, finally, it was gone. Then, like a child in his mother's kitchen, I licked the bowl clean, putting extra effort into making sure that I got every bit of that chocolate.

Once I had finished, I began to wash my bowls in the small sink, then dry them out. It was now early evening and I laid back on my bunk. I put my headphones on and watched t.v. for the next few hours, before I finally fell asleep. For a day on Death Watch, and only a few feet away from that steel door that leads into the execution chamber that patiently awaits me (please read, “Execution Day: Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder"), it wasn't a bad one.

But, it was also a long day, and I was tired and ready for sleep. However, sleep didn't come easy, as I struggled to focus on the time spent earlier that day with my sister and the way we laughed and shared memories of better days, and on the sound of my dearest friend Geesje's voice.

I fell asleep, then woke again, and pushed myself to sleep again. Before long it was almost 5:00 a.m., and the Death Watch Sergeant was standing at my cell door holding a white styrofoam food tray. I already knew it contained two biscuits with what they claim to be meat gravy, and potatoes and grits... that was our Thursday morning breakfast for, at least, the past ten-years.

Politely, I refused that breakfast tray, just as I would every meal they brought after that. Making his routine rounds, the Warden came by and I explained to him why I was doing this hunger strike, and that it had nothing to do with prison staff.

A few hours later, the Assistant Warden came by with a small folder of paperwork and, just as I had done when my death warrant was signed in November 2015, he advised me that they needed to go over a few things. He asked whether there were any changes to my previously stated next of kin, and how I wanted my body to be disposed of if the execution took place.

I answered each question as if I had that conversation every day, and within minutes we were finished. Just that quickly, the decision on how my body, as well as my personal property, would be disposed of was decided, and it brought me another step closer to death.

By Friday (September 8), the prison was already shutting everything down as they prepared for Hurricane Irma to blow through by early-Monday. Because of the hurricane, my previously scheduled visit with my elderly parents and other sister was cancelled, as was any communication with my lawyers. It would be a long weekend, until Tuesday.

As I write this, I have 25-days to go until they will come to take me to the other side of this floor and countdown those last minutes until, as I lay strapped to that gurney, they pump a cocktail of lethal drugs into my body and kill me. And there's not a damned thing I can do to stop them.



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



Thursday, September 21, 2017

Scheduled for Execution, Florida Prisoner Declares Hunger Strike

By Michael Lambrix

If we’ve learned nothing else over the past 34 years in continuous solitary confinement on Florida´s “death row,” it is that I cannot stop the State of Florida from executing me for a crime I did not commit.

If you´re reading this, then it means that Florida Governor, Rick Scott has rescheduled my execution. This despite numerous pending appeals in which I am arguing that a wealth of readily available (including DNA) evidence exists that will substantiate my claim of innocence.

I understand the skepticism towards a condemned man´s claim of innocence, especially when it comes up only after an execution has been scheduled.  Proponents of the death penalty perpetrate the myth that everyone sentenced to death claims to be innocent. The same people also insist that not even one innocent person has ever been sentenced to death despite the fact that over 150 men and women have been exonerated and released from death rows in recent years.  And they will also tell you that not even once has an innocent person been executed despite numerous justices on our highest courts publically admitting that innocent people have been, and will continue to be, executed despite their innocence. See: “Justice Questions Guilt of Executed”, Gainesville Sun, December 24, 1998, “Justice O´Conner: They System May Well be Allowing Innocent Defendants to be Executed”, St. Petersburg Times, July 4, 2001.

Florida, by far, leads the country in the number of innocent men and women released from death row after courts found that they were wrongly convicted and condemned to death (see: www.DPIC.org). But the Florida Courts have proven especially hostile towards post-conviction claims of innocence, and often deny DNA testing of evidence.  For this reason, at least one former chief Justice of the Florida Supreme court has publically acknowledged that Florida has put innocent people to death.  In a public speech given in Orlando, Florida on October 23, 1999 former Chief Justice Gerald Kogan stated that:
“I estimate that in the past 40 years, I have participated either as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, or as a trial judge, or as an appellate justice on the Florida Supreme Courte in the disposition of more than 1,200 capital cases…There is no question in my mind, and I tell you this having seen the dynamics of our criminal justice system over the many years that I have been associated with it…that convinces me that we certainly have, in the past, executed those people who either didn´t fit the criteria for execution in the State of Florida, or who, in fact were factually not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed.
Those who think that innocent people are not being executed under the pretense of administering “justice” don´t understand just how completely corrupt our legal system truly is, especially when it comes to the “politics of death” and the vengeance driven demand for an execution.

The real tragedy of this is that my case is by no means the exception, but rather indicative of a process that guarantees innocent people be put to death.

It would be easy to place the blame exclusively on the politicized judicial system. One in which, especially at the highest levels, judges are politically appointed based on their promise of being unwaveringly pro-death penalty.  But that would ignore the inconvenient truth that the real cause is the apathy of the general public. Too few in our society today could even care less if an innocent person was executed.

The most vocal proponents of capital punishment call themselves “Christians.” They embrace the “pro-life” movement even while foaming at the mouth as they scream for vengeance.  They don´t trust government in their own lives, but they don´t question government when it comes to taking someone else´s life in their name.

Most people don´t even realize that the Supreme Court has already declared that states are not constitutionally prohibited from executing the innocent after a conviction has been obtained. The courts are empowered only to address alleged claims of legal error. See: Herrera v Collins,  506 U.S. 390 (1993).  Legally, innocence simply is not an issue.

It is against this backdrop that I count down these last days before I am to die. I must accept the reality that I will be executed for a crime I did not commit.  A theory of events deliberately fabricated by a witness desperate to protect herself from prosecution and an overzealous, politically ambitious prosecutor only too willing to do whatever it would take to win a conviction by any means necessary.

What must also be pointed out up front is that especially in capital cases, such inconvenient concepts as truth and justice are abandoned.  What matters is that someone is held accountable.  Society demands vengeance.

Few people take even a moment to contemplate the distinction between administrating justice and inflicting vengeance.  In fact, most assume they are one of the same.  But they are wrong.  In justice, truth matters and the governing mandate is to do what is fair and what is right.  In contrast, when inflicting vengeance all that matters is that the insatiable thirst for revenge is gratified, and whether the person may be innocent simply doesn´t matter.  Vengeance is just as satisfied by sacrificing the innocent as it is by holding the guilty accountable.

Prosecutors don´t build their careers by losing cases and our vengeance-driven legal system is corrupted by a practice of rewarding prosecutors who will win by any means necessary. Even if it means knowingly convicting and condemning the innocent…and they will never admit they deliberately sent an innocent man to death row.

To illustrate this inconvenient truth, I´m not the only innocent man that the prosecutor in my case sent to Florida´s death row.  Randall McGruther, the prosecutor in my case, also prosecuted two other capital cases in which the Florida Supreme Court subsequently threw out the convictions upon finding that McGruther manipulated wholly circumstantial evidence to convince the jury of guilt when in fact, there was no credible evidence of guilt.  Both John Ballard and Bradly Scott were judicially exonerated and released from prison. See: Ballard v State 923, So.2d 475 (Fla. 2006) and Scott v State 581 So.2d, 887 (Fla.1991) (note, you can easily pull up court rulings/opinions at www.findlaw.com). 

The Courts undoubtedly know that those representing the state routinely cross ethical lines to win a conviction by any means necessary and have admonished Florida prosecutors for this malicious epidemic of “win by any means necessary” repeatedly. But these judicial admonishments are rhetorical. The majority of judges are themselves former prosecutors who built their own careers engaging in the same unethical behavior.  The courts have admonished prosecutors and warned of “dire consequences” if this “win by any means” behavior continued to corrupt the integrity of the judicial process in capital cases. But not even once have the Florida Courts actually taken any form of disciplinary action against any prosecutor who had blatantly crossed ethical lines. See, e.g.: Ruiz v State, 743, So.2d.1 (Fla. 1999); (Ld, at pg 8, specifically warning of “dire consequences” if Florida prosecutors continue to unethically prosecute capital cases); García vs State 622, So.2d.1325 (Fla. 1993); Nowitzy v State, 572 So.2d. 1346 (Fla. 1990). As the Florida supreme Court plainly stated in Gore v State, 719 So.2d. 1197 (Fla. 1998) (Ld, ar1202)

“The conduct of the prosecutor was anti-ethical to his responsibilities as an officer of the court…While prosecutors should be encouraged to prosecute cases with earnestness and vigor, they should not be at liberty to strike ´foul blows´, See: Berger v United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88, 55 sect. 629, 79 L. Ed. 1314 (1935). As the United States Supreme Court observed over sixty years ago, “it is as much (the prosecutor´s) duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one”.  The prosecutor in this case exceeded the bounds of proper conduct and professionalism and provided a “textbook” example of overzealous advocacy. This type of excess is especially egregious in time, a death case, where both the prosecutors and courts are charged with an extra obligation to ensure that the trial is fundamentally fair in all respects.”

If society executes a thousand guilty men and women, we can arguably call that administering “justice”. But when we cross that line and allow even one innocent person to be put to death under the pretense of administering justice, then that is NOT AN ACCIDENT. It clearly is avoidable and thus an act of cold-blooded, premeditated murder.

I cannot stop the state of Florida from murdering me.  They control the entire process.  However, that does not mean that I must simply lay down and die.  My options are obviously limited – above all else, I will exercise restraint and maintain my dignity.

For that reason, my final option is to pursue a passive protest by engaging in a “hunger strike.”  I am by no means the first to do a hunger strike to protest an injustice.  Throughout history hunger strikes have been done by those such as myself – victims of injustice.

Declaring and maintaining a “hunger strike” as I count down the days until my scheduled execution won´t change the outcome.  Truth and justice cannot hope to prevail in a system so intrinsically corrupt.  My hope is that it will awaken a few who will look into the facts and evidence of my case and maybe, just maybe, even be willing to confront the inconvenient truth that we are executing the innocent.

Both politicians and judges like to say that as a society we demand nothing less than a moral certainty of guilt before we allow any state to take a person´s life.  But that simply is not true.  Overzealous prosecution in capital cases is not only tolerated, it is encouraged and even rewarded, and the courts then simply refuse to even look at the evidence substantiating a claim of innocence as they send the victim of that wrongful conviction to their death.  And just as those prosecutors know that they fabricated evidence (and concealed exculpatory evidence), the courts know what they are doing. But they have long abandoned any pretense of moral character or ethical constraint.

My only hope is that by taking my last stand, it will compel the media to look at the evidence in my case and expose the system for what it is. I would like to think that even those who support the death penalty will not support a legal system that puts innocent people to death.

I also understand why anyone reading what I write will be skeptical of my claim of innocence. For that reason I ask that instead of listening to what I have to say, those reading this will look to what has been filed with the courts.  Look at the facts and evidence contained in the record and let that speak for itself.  I am confident that those who objectively review the record facts and evidence will reach the conclusion that Florida is putting me to death for a crime I did not commit.  A theory of events deliberately fabricated with the intent to wrongfully convict me and condemn me to death.

By the state´s own admission, the wholly circumstantial (i.e., no eye witnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, no confessions, etc.) theory of alleged “premeditated” murder brought against me rested entirely upon the testimony of the state´s key witness, Frances Smith.  In the state´s own words, “clearly the state´s case was built on Frances Smith…the entire case, premeditation and everything is proven in her testimony.  And there has never been any question about that.”

Recently my state-assigned legal counsel has filed a “Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus” in the Florida Supreme Court specifically arguing that I am constitutionally entitled to have all the evidence substantiating my factual innocence heard before any death sentences can be carried out.

I would implore those reading this to take time to fully read that ‘habeas´ petition, now pending before the Florida Supreme Court as Lambrix v Jones, case No. 17 _____ .

If you will read this action, it will detail not only the facts of my case, but also the virtual wealth of readily available evidence that collectively shows that the state´s key witness, Frances Smith, did fabricate her story of premeditated murder and collaborated with the local state attorney´s office to conceal evidence that would have exposed her lies.  That they coerced witnesses to provide false testimony and prevent the jury from hearing the truth.

Notably, my case was brought to trial in one of the smallest rural farming communities in the South – Glades County, Florida.  It was the biggest case to hit the small town and the local prosecutor was eager to make a name for himself.  As stated above, this is the same prosecutor who sent at least two others to death row under remarkably similar circumstances – premeditated murder.  In both those other cases, the convictions were thrown out for overzealous prosecution.  See, Ballard v State, 923 So.2d.475 (Fla. 2006) and Scott v State, 581 So.2d. 887 (Fla. 1991).

As the evidence shows, the entire case rested on the testimony of key witness Frances Smith (who testified that she did not actually see me commit any act of violence, and in fact, testified that when she last seen me with Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant, we were all “laughing, teasing and playing around”). But what the jury never heard was that Smith actually told the law enforcement officers numerous conflicting stories prior to coming up with the one that won her immunity from prosecution – and even after she came up with this story of premeditated murder, she failed a state administered polygraph test.

The only witness that corroborated her otherwise unsupported claim that I had told her I intended to kill Moore and Bryant was Deborah Manzel.  However, in 1998 Manzel came forward and admitted that it was not true- that I never told her I killed anyone; subsequently Manzel testified in court that Smith and the local state attorney´s lead investigator Miles “Bob” Daniels worked together to coerce her to provide that false trial testimony.  But the court refused to accept Manzel´s testimony upon an ambiguous conclusion that “recantations are exceedingly unreliable” See, Lambrix v State, Florida Supreme Court “Initial Brief” case No. SC08-064, decided in Lambrix v State, 34 So.3d. 260 (Fla. 2010).

Smith´s own recently divorced ex-husband Douglas Schwendemann informed my legal counsel that shortly after my trial, Smith “often bragged” about how she was protected from prosecution because of a sexual affair she had at the time with the lead investigator “Bob” Daniels.  When confronted with this, Smith admitted under oath that it was true – that she did have a relationship “of a sexual nature” with the prosecutor´s lead investigator during the prosecution of the case, and that they deliberately concealed this relationship.

But when Investigator Daniels testified, he denied having any such affair.  On further examination, he then conceded that even if it was true, he would not admit to it as it would cause problems in his marriage and place his state retirement pension at risk.

Although evidence that the state failed to disclose such a relationship between a key witness and the state’s lead investigator would have warranted a new trial, the state court concluded that key witness Smith “was not credible” and Investigator Daniels’ denial of an affair was credible. The court simply ignored Daniels´ testimony that he would not admit to it even if it was true.

Further, the state court refused to allow to be heard additional evidence that would have corroborated both Manzel´s sworn testimony that Smith and Daniels worked together to coerce her to provide false testimony and Smith´s own admission that she was involved with Daniels.

Specifically, my legal counsel retained one of the most experience homicide investigators in the country, Dr. William Gaut, to independently examine the case. The question: whether Daniels’ investigation that resulted inmy conviction was tainted by his alleged relationship with key witness Smith. In a proferred report submitted to the court, Dr. Gaut detailed how from the very beginning of Daniels´ investigation, Daniels ignored or otherwise concealed crucial facts and evidence that objectively left no doubt that key witness Smith was lying about her claim of what happened.  But the state courts refused to allow Dr. Gaut to present his conclusions.

Not long after the original trial court denied the above, a private party looking into my case inadvertently discovered numerous previously undisclosed state crime lab reports (over 100 pages). These showed that contrary to the prosecutor´s claim at trial, no forensic evidence was ever recovered, in fact, the state crime lab found several hairs on the alleged murder weapon that their own microscope analysis concluded did not match either victim or myself.

These previously undisclosed state crime lab records reflect that when the crime lab contacted the prosecutor, Randal McGruther, he instructed the crime lab to immediately terminate any further testing and return all this evidence to his office. McGruther then failed to disclose this evidence, deliberately concealing it as a state record´s repository until it was accidentally found in 1999.

When my lawyers then attempted to raise this “new evidence” in the state courts, the Chief Judge (William Cary) reassigned the case to the prosecutor´s long-time colleague and close friend, Judge Christine Greider.  The state´s attorneys then admitted that this evidence was never previously disclosed – and then conceded that these hairs found on the alleged murder weapon actually were key witness Smith´s own hair!  But the state then disingenuously argued that since Smith admitted to being present that night, her own hair (and nothing else) on the alleged murder weapon meant nothing.

Judge Greider eagerly embraced this absurd argument and summarily denied the appeal upon a finding that the prosecutors’ deliberate concealment of this evidence was not material.  On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court then upheld Judge Greider´s ruling – but it must be noted that by the time my case reached the Florida Supreme Court, none other than former assistant Attorney General Peggy Quince was the Chief Justice. She had been part of the prosecution team during post conviction when this crucial evidence was deliberately concealed.

My lawyers then moved for DNA testing of the clothing and hair, which was not previously available until Florida adopted rules that allowed for DNA testing.  Because DNA testing has advanced now to the point that it can detect with remarkable accuracy even a few skin cells left on a victim´s clothing. DNA testing of the evidence in my case can conclusively identify the person responsible for the death of Aleisha Bryant, and prove beyond doubt that I am innocent.

But incredibly, the Florida Supreme Court denied all requested DNA testing upon the outrageously FALSE finding that DNA testing had already been conducted. That simply is not true! See, Lambrix v State, 217 So.3d. 977 (Fla. 2017).  Further, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that because preliminary chemical testing conducted in 1983 found no blood on the clothing, no DNA could exist. Again, this simply is not true! The presence or absence of blood does not have any bearing on the existence of DNA – especially when the request for DNA testing was for skin cells (not blood) on the clothing.

The above is only part of the collective wealth of readily available evidence that would substantiate my consistently plea claim of innocence.  I again respectfully implore the reader to read the “Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus” filed in the Florida Supreme Court on August 28, 2017, docketed as Lambrix v Jones case No. SC17-1608. This comprehensive ‘habeas” sets forth in detail how the evidence substantiates my claim of innocence.

I realize that “eleventh hour” claims of innocence by condemned prisoners facing imminent execution are met with skepticism.  But as the evidence shows, I have consistently maintained my innocence since the day I was arrested – and the courts simply will not allow the evidence, including DNA testing of the evidence, to be heard.

I must accept that I will soon be executed for a crime I did not commit.  But I am not going to just lay down and die.  I will maintain this hunger strike until the State of Florida murders me or the scheduled execution is called off and the courts allow the evidence to be heard.

All I ask for is the fair and meaningful opportunity to prove my innocence.  If we as a society are truly committed to demanding nothing less than the “moral certainty of guilt” before we carry out a state-sanctioned execution, then any evidence relevant to possible innocence should be heard before a state is allowed to take a life.

You can read more about my case, including numerous appeals filed through the years arguing my innocence at www.southerninjustice.net.

Many other groups have put up webpages that include actual media interviews of me and summarize the evidence supporting my innocence.  You can look at those at the following websites:

I respectfully ask for your help.  You can join an Amnesty International campaign to stop my execution through the websites above.  You can also forward this to any and all media outlets, asking that they look into my case before I am executed for a crime I did not commit.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: “Evil can only hope to triumph when good men choose to do nothing”. Deliberately putting an innocent man to death is an act of evil. Please help me by advocating my cause before it´s too late.

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




Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Arena

By Blaine Milam

It's all a haze to me, like a dream-fog.  I'm being escorted in a blue paper gown that does little to cover my body. My hands, of course, are cuffed tightly behind my back. Two guards are holding fast to both arms as we move down a long hallway, glass windows showing a garden on one side and a field with razor wire and guard tower on the other.

As we near the end of the hallway, I see a wide, low counter/control center teeming with guards and nurses. I'm walked up to the counter; where an angry looking guard draws my attention: "Inmate, state your name and number." To which I reply: "Blaine Keith Milam, 999558." He then calls another guard, telling him to bring the leg-irons. 

"Got a Death Row’n here. Put those leg-irons on ’im, leave ’im cuffed behind his back, and put him in that holding tank," he says, pointing to a large tank with big glass viewing ports. 

"l need to use the bathroom," I say. 

"No one’s stopping you,” is the reply. 

"Uh, I'm shackled up?" 

"And?" he shot back. 

That absurd "And?" sums up my experiences of Jester IV in one neat, exceptional, frigid syllable.

I find myself holding my piss.  The shackles cinched so tight the blood won't flow. After 20-minutes, an Indian nurse wheels in a cart, takes vitals, etc. She is meaner than a damn rattle snake! Just going through the motions, I suppose. She tells me: "You will be placed in a cell, with nothing but a suicide blanket - and nothing else - for three-days. Your food will come in the form of johnnies.” Then she leaves.

Forty-minutes of waiting, and finally the lock turns in the heavy door.  Two guards walk in and grab my arms and we walk out. One has a bit of rolled up toilet paper on his hand, the other snatches a small, stiff "suicide blanket" off a pile by the control center as we walk past, heading down another hallway. This hallway has cells on either side, the faces staring out of the glass portholes are somber, sad, pleading for help. I start asking questions that aren’t getting answered. As we get to my cage, the guards each let go of my arms, reach up, and rip the paper gown from my body. They shove me through the door into the cage, and slam the door with an echoing boom

"Back up, slide your hands through the slot.” 

I do. 

They remove my shackles and I instantly go to the toilet. When I am done, I take in my surroundings, and am completely horrified at what I find. Forget the fact that this cage I am locked in, naked as a jaybird, is filthy and freezing cold. All that I expected. What shocks me is the sight I see when I look across to the opposing cages on the other side of the hallway: a sad face here, a vacant stare there, and a guy smearing feces all over the viewport in his door. It is on his face, and the only thing the guards say is, "Be sure to leave a little opening, so we can see you".

I know, just from the short time already spent in this cell, what I would have to do if I want to keep my sanity. I am going to tell these people exactly what they want to hear, so I can leave as quickly as possible. Because any more than a week in this hellhole would be more than enough to make anyone go crazy… if they weren't already.

Depression is a serious illness that affects thoughts, feelings, and the ability to function in everyday life. I had battled it throughout 2016, not knowing just how serious an illness it is. The cold truth is that TDCJ punishes those of us who have it, rather than try and see what the issue is and get us help. 

This is my story; all accounts are 100% true.

*****

I arrived on Texas Death Row almost seven-years ago and what a learning experience it has been. I spent six of those seven-years trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I am by nature an outgoing, upbeat person, but even that could not help me in the end. Starting in early-2016, I was beginning to slip into a depression that I thought I had battled and defeated by summer. I could not have been more wrong. By November, the depression returned with a diehard vengeance.

I had just had special visits with a special someone, a lady whom I will call "Ma" because she is like a mother to me. I was thankful for our visits, of course. But sometimes other things make us lose sight of the more important things in life, and by November 10th, two-days after those visits, l started to shutdown mentally. It is hard to find the words to describe the sense of loss and darkness that settled upon me. Perhaps there are no words for such an internal state. I gradually lost all motivation to talk to my friends, listen to music, or even eat. I stopped all communications with those who are close to me, such as Ma and Coolbreeze. They knew something was amiss because I was not writing like my normal self, and they began to worry by mid-December when they had not heard from me. It doesn’t really matter what specific details sent me into my tailspin, only that I quickly began to view myself as some sort of opponent. What is important for you to understand, indeed the reason I have felt so compelled to write this when I have never written anything in a public forum about my time here, is the way the State of Texas views mental illness within its prisons.

On December 26th, 2016, the day after Christmas, Death Row went on its routine quarterly lockdown. Normally, the thought of having a bunch of people pawing through all of my worldly belongings would upset me, but I found myself too far down the spiral to even give a damn this time around. I thought hard about "trying to get help" by putting in a "sick call" for the mental health dept.; to see about getting on meds. I knew something was not right. But I also knew they would charge me a hundred dollars I did not have (for a medical copayment fee), just to send me back to my cage, after being told I was "just fine”. I felt that my only way back to happiness was to find an "out.” I thought about it for two days, and tears welled-up in my eyes as I made my choice.

So, on December 28th, I took a lot of pills. I overdosed on a medication that is used for a few different things, and it took effect so quickly that I cannot remember much, except for the feeling of being both happy and sad at the same time. Right before I fell unconscious, I remember staring at a Snickers bar on the floor, thinking how much I wanted to eat that before I went. 

That was the last thing I remember before waking up from a coma in a lot of pain three days later in UTMB Galveston Hospital. My hands were tied to the bed with nylon straps that cut deep into my wrists. It felt as though I had been hit by a truck! I had tubes and wires running all over me, and my initial thought was: It was all a dream, I was never on Death Row. I remembered absolutely nothing of my time on Death Row. 

The day before I was arrested for the crime that eventually sent me to Death Row, I was involved in a serious car accident that included a head injury. When I woke up that day in Galveston, I was convinced that the accident had just occurred, and I became immensely upset that I could not find Amora, my little girl, who was in the car with me at the time of the accident, along with my ex-fiancé. So, in my mind, it was December 1st, 2008, and she, Amora, was still alive. A flood of relief came over me, and tears welled up in my eyes. It is still 2008, I thought, as darkness took me back.

The second time I awoke, I had a little more energy and my mind was racing with thoughts of the past. My eyes were burning with tears but, somehow, I collapsed back into sleep.

The next time I woke up, I could talk. My tongue was raw, and my throat and nose hurt, and there were two people staring down at me. One started asking me questions, the other taking notes.

“Who are you, sir? What’s your name?”

“Blaine,” I told them.

“What year is it, Blaine?”

“2008.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Hospital? Where’s Amora?”

“Who?”

“Amora! Go get her,” I begged.

Then I slipped back into sleep. I could not stay awake for longer than a couple minutes, if that. And, worse still, I could not control myself from twitching like crazy, jerking around, going through muscle spasms. It was bad.

Waking up for the fourth time, I still had no memory of ever being on Death Row. Once again there were two people in my room, looking at me. They asked me if I had tried to commit suicide. By the confused look I was giving them, they felt the need to explain to me what happened, so they told me I was found unresponsive in my cell at Polunsky Unit/Death Row. That was all it took; all my memories flooded back to me, all these mixed emotions. I was devastated! 

They asked me again, “Did you try to commit suicide?” 

I nodded my head yes, and they asked me, “Why?”

To that I replied: “Depression maybe? Ya’ll are the doctors!”

I was mad at them for bringing me back to reality, mad at myself for not ever doing anything right! All I wanted to do was end all the pain and misery. I couldn’t help but look around the room for anything I could use to finish the job. But as luck would have it the two people I’d just talked to had ordered the room cleared of all harmful objects, and so it was.

A nurse came to my bedside and pointed to my nylon wrist straps and said: “If I take those off, are you going to be cool? Because they are there for your own protection. You ripped out two IV’s and a catheter.” I had no knowledge of this. I told him: "Yes, I will be cool,” and I apologized for any trouble I may have caused them. When he removed the straps, relief was instant. Blood began seeping from where the straps had cut, but my wrists and parts of both hands were numb. After removing them, he left the room, the guard locked the door, and I fell back to sleep.

Waking up the next time, I felt a bit better. A nice nurse came in and asked me to try swallowing some ice chips. If I would, then I could have a meal. I did. Then a doctor came to see me, and he was not nice by a long-shot. He was demanding that I tell him where I got the pills, and told me I was lucky to be found when I was. He told me how the pills I took work; he explained how my system shut down, and how I needed rest to combat the drug. They kept flushing my system the best they could.

For the most part, they were pretty nice to me while I was there in UTMB Galveston. That weekend I got to watch tv, something I had not seen in years! I actually felt comfortable for once. The free-world people talked to me like I was a human being - and treated me like one. I was starting to feel like there was something to live for - look forward to even. It was the day after New Year's, which was a Monday. A nurse came in to remove my catheter and clean me up a little before being moved out of the ICU to a regular room. That was my fifth-day there.

When they came to move me to the sixth-floor, they shackled me hand-to-foot, sat me in a wheelchair, and rolled me out. Turning the corner from the ICU, I noticed there were bars everywhere, and beyond the bars a picket/control center. They opened the gate. We rolled on through to a bank of elevators and I saw “TDCJ INSTITUTIONAL DIVISION” painted on walls. I shook my head as we entered the elevator. ICU was on the third-floor. We exited on the sixth-floor and I was taken to a room on the far side of the floor. They lay me on the bed, removed my shackles, and left me alone in this very large room. I looked around and saw a window, a bathroom, and a tv hanging from a wall-mount. I swung my legs out to the side of the bed, and stood on shaky legs to make my way over to the window. I was blown away by the breath-taking view I had. The harbor; ships of all kinds sailing in and out. And the craziest thing of all was the overwhelming feeling of familiarity with what I was looking at. I found out later that night, from a guard, that there used to be a battleship right outside that window. This happened to be the USS Texas; a ship that I’d boarded as a little kid when the family had vacationed here back in the early-90’s. It’s what had gotten me so into battleships. The ship, I am told, is now in Houston but, when I was a kid, it sat right outside the window I was staring out of as a Death Row inmate.

I thought it would be best to give life one more chance. I do not believe in coincidences - how else would you explain ending up in the same spot I was at 22-years before, when life was so much simpler than it was now?

The next few days I would wake up wondering if my friends were okay, if they were mad at me, maybe judgmental of what I had tried to do, or if they even knew! I had no way of knowing. We don’t get to make phone-calls, or receive mail there at Galveston. I was feeling better by my last night there; still a little weak, but definitely better than before.

Bright and early Wednesday morning, January 4th, they woke me up to get dressed in prison garb and get my IV's taken out. They did some last minute vital checks, then I was shackled-up, feet-to-hands again. I asked the guards: "Where are we going?" One replied, “Back to your unit.” Okay, I thought, that’s good. I did not want to go to Jester IV. From all the horror stories I have heard about that place, I'd fare better at my own unit.

I was escorted to the elevator bank, and down we rode to the ground-floor. We exited into a caged-in area, and walked a short-way to a garage, where a transport van sat idling. I was ushered into the cage and a guard slammed the door, latched the cage with a padlock, and shut the van door.

The three guards went to a red gun-locker mounted on the wall behind the van, where they acquired a shotgun, three pistols, and a mean-looking AR15. We were cleared to leave the garage, and as we pulled out I saw a fat guard walking around with a shotgun. We hit the road. I was on "sensory-overload" with all the sight-seeing! I had not been on a ride in so long,  so this ended up being the best part of the day! All the cars, buildings, signs, the ocean! It was a sense of feeling human again! It was great.

I did not realize I had been fooled until we had been on the road for about two-and-a-half-hours. The guard nearest the back cage, where I was, picked up a cell phone, punched in some numbers, and said: “Get your ranking officers prepared for an intake. Death Row. Blaine Keith Milam. 999558. We are 15-minutes out.” I saw a road sign that said Richmond, TX, and thought: That's not where Polunsky Unit is!

Then we were at the front gate of the Jester IV Unit, and my gut was sinking! I found myself saying: Ah, those were just rumors, Blaine. This place could not be near as bad as they say? Silly me! I was in for one rude awakening. We pulled into the sally port, got the van checked, and moved onto the intake building, which was red and tan and squat. The ranking officer working that day opened the rear doors, unlocked the padlock to the cage, helped me step down, and walked me to the intake door. I was stripped naked, medical bracelets cut off, and handed a blue paper gown by two African guards, who I could not understand due to their accents. They started getting upset at me because I was not complying with what they wanted. I wanted to comply to their orders, but I just could not understand them! The ranking officer had to instruct me. I found out that 98% of the staff there at Jester IV were African natives, which is cool, it was just very hard to understand them! When dealing with the mentally ill, you would think that the first step would be communication, right? Not there, clearly. The rank told them to take me to Psych-Housing, so each grabbed an arm, and we left the intake.

About an hour after being put into my cage, I heard the squeaking of a food-cart
rolling down the hallway. My belly was rumbling, as I had not been allowed to eat breakfast before leaving Galveston Hospital. Despite being in a filthy place, I was still a little hungry. When they got to my slot, I waited for them to put my johnny sack down so I could grab it. 

A guard shouted, “Put your hands out here if you want to eat.” 

I said, “I am eating. Give me my sack!” 

Then the guard said, in broken English, "Since you are new, let me explain to you. You get no paper here. I open food, dump it in your cupped hands, you go eat it!" 

I was horrified, so I did not eat that meal. I looked across to the guy with the feces all over him and his cage, and watched them feed him in that state. I was sickened.

See, a johnny, in normal prisons, is usually two sandwiches, and raisins or prunes, in a brown paper sack. The sandwiches and raisins come in white paper baggies. When I asked why I had to eat from my hands, I was told that: "The paper could be harmful:" which, I might add, is a crock of shit! Anything might be “harmful,” like, eating from your hands in a filthy environment, with no soap. Especially for the feces guy across the hall. Or, how about freezing to death in a cell. 

What is "harmful” is the least of their concerns. It’s mainly about how far one can be belittled, defiled, humiliated, until there is nothing left but little bits and pieces of a one’s sanity.

By this point, the overwhelming stench of feces and urine started making me sick. Although my belly was growling, I was glad I refused to eat because it probably would have been a moot point if I’d have thrown it back up.

Sometime after noon, a lady appeared in the window of my door. I was walking around, naked and cold. I had tried wrapping the sorry excuse for a blanket around me, but to no avail. The lady was a "Psychiatrist.” A sorry excuse for a “Psychiatrist” I might add. She made her beloved title known a few times throughout our "talk" session, which lasted all of two-minutes. Just going through the motions, like a robot that could really care less if you live or die. When I asked her if I could have some clothes and a mat, the amusement on her face was all too clear: "No, you cannot.  It’ll be three-days from now, if you are not suicidal.” And, in my mind, all I could think was: Who wouldn’t be, after a couple of days in this camp? 

I told her I was fine. “Ship me back to my unit.”

“I’m sorry, you will have to stay here for five days due to the weekend.” 

Apparently, all evaluations stop during the weekend. They only give a shit about you five days a week.

She told me she would be back in the morning to see me: Yay, I thought. 

As she walked away, I kicked myself for not thinking to ask her about the guy with feces all over him and his cell; to ask about helping him get cleaned up and, hopefully, restoring the smell around there. I really do not think it would have done any good. She no doubt saw the poor guy, and smelled the stench.

Finally, at about 4:00pm that afternoon, they came and pulled feces guy out. Other inmates cleaned his cell, while guards took him to the showers. I watched as the inmates just swished dirty, nasty mop-water all over his cell, and then ran a scrub-brush along the door. It was better than nothing, I suppose.

Chow came at shift-change and, yes, I ate it. I was too damn hungry to turn it
away this time. I just did the best I could to clean my hands under the freezing cold water in the sink. I ate, and then I tried to lay down, but, no matter what I did, there would be no sleep this night. The best way I can describe the ordeal is: take a blanket about two-feet by four-feet, soak it in starch to make it about as stiff-as-a-board, and go find a nice, freezing cold piece of steel (concrete will work too). Now try and lay down and sleep.

Early the next morning, the "Psychiatrist" was there at my door. After getting no sleep, walking the floor all night trying to stay warm, my feet killing me, my hair was wild, sticking out everywhere, and dark circles I could see under my eyes in the reflection of the glass in my door, I was exhausted. She had the nerve to ask me: "How are you feeling?" I told her I felt a little tired because I hadn't slept all night, then I said, "cold". She said "cold" is not a feeling. Yeah? Could have fooled me. She tried to flip everything I said back on me. I was tired, so she turned that into "distressed" and "unstable." In all actuality, I was upset and tired because of how things are conducted around that Quackville. Because that's no way to be treating the mentally ill. As an example, after the “Psychiatrist” got done with me, she told me she would be back to see me Friday afternoon - the next day. Well, she walked away from my cell, over to the guy across the hall from me - who happened to be next to the guy who was smearing the feces the day before. She walks to his door and tells him, and I quote: “Why are you crying? Look at you, you are supposed to be a grown man, and here you are crying like a baby!" The guy mumbled something that she must have understood because she stated: "What? And you thought your mother was going to live forever? Suck it up." Now, that caused this guy to go into what I call a “shutdown" mode. He was diabetic. He started refusing his shots.

On Friday, after two-days in this camp, I wanted absolutely no more. I was lucky enough to snag an hour of sleep - only because my body shutdown - definitely not because of any type of comfort. Later that day, the "Psychiatrist" popped up at my door; I did not know if she was ready to go home for the weekend. She told me: "All this will be on your file, so, if you come back, it’ll be worse for you. I’m going to go ahead and discharge you, your ride should be here Monday next week.”

"So, I have to stay over the weekend? Do I get clothes? Can I eat my meals like a human being?" 

"No, you will get clothes when transport shows up to get you Monday, and you will get johnnies over the weekend. Good luck.” 

What? Did she really just tell me “good luck”?

She walked back across to the guy who had been crying the day before. He was at his door. I saw tears streaming down his cheeks. She showed him a report and stated: "So, I see you are refusing your shots." The guy said he does not want to live anymore. So, she told him: "You will take your medicine," and stormed off down the hallway. The guy looked at me and bowed his sad face and turned away from the door.

Not long after, I heard harsh words from a familiar voice. I went to the door and looked out across the way. That mean Indian nurse was talking to the emotionally distraught guy. She yelled at him: "Doctor has ordered we give you medicine! You will take!" She returned a short while later with a ranking officer. He was suited up with gas canisters, a gas mask and a shield, and backed by a six-man team. The nurse was preparing a syringe, squinting through the faceplate of her gas mask. The ranking officer opened the bean-slot and told the guy within to, “Cuff up, and take your medicine”. If he were to refuse, the guard said that: "By the power invested in me by the State of Texas, we will gas you, run in there, pin you down, and force you to take your medicine.” 

He refused, and they did just that. They beat the guy up, and the nurse came in as he was on the floor, and stabbed the needle into his gas-covered hip.

The weekend was pretty much uneventful, just cold, and tiring. Saturday night a waterline busted due to it being below-freezing outside, and we were all feeling it inside, trust me! And then on Sunday afternoon, the feces guy, who had somehow learned my name, was calling me. 

I walked to the door and said, "What’s up?" 

He said, “Come swim with me?”, as he was jumping up and down in a freezing-ass-cold puddle of water. 

He had somehow managed to flood his cell, along with the run, and the water was a fast-running river, heading right for my door. I just shook my head, but it was about to get a lot worse. I went and picked my blanket up off the floor and went back to the door. The guy was laughing and giggling; jumping around like it was mid-summer and sprinklers were running, and all he wanted was for me, and whoever else, to join in. No way I could get upset with this guy; he had the mind of a three-year-old, clearly. I did not shout with glee, nor did I jump up and down in the cold water. I did give the guy a smile, and that was all he needed to complete his fun. He then took a drink out of the toilet - the dirty, disgusting toilet - but it was all good to him.

When the guards rolled around on their 15-minute security-check, they were not happy. One was yelling: "Who is doing this nonsense?" He was one of the African natives, so in his thick accent it was hard to understand him. When he saw the guy drinking out of the toilet, he narrowed it down to him, got the key to the guy’s pipe-chase and cut his water off; which, in a way, is completely understandable. That fixed the problem, or so I thought. But neither this guard, nor his co-worker, were at all satisfied. When dinner time came around, the run was still full of water, as were most our cells. The guards wanted everyone to know whose fault it was we were cold and wet. So, when they got to the guy’s cell, they held up his food and teased him with it. They did not feed him then, nor at breakfast. I, and a couple others, were yelling to help the guy, but it did no good. Feces guy did not know any better, I know “gone” when I see it, and that was him. But there was no reason at all to take this man's food, much less tease him with it.

Monday morning was a big morning for me. I’d had four-days of no sleep, freezing my ass off, seeing things I never wanted to see, and do not want to again. I was more than ready to go, but my ride never showed up. I saw the "Psychiatrist" walking up and down the hallway but, when I tried to flag her down, she ignored me. I wanted to know why I was still in this hellhole. Monday night passed slowly. l dozed off for a short time again. I was slipping back into a depression that I knew was going to keep me here even longer if I showed any signs of it. I had to be cool.

By the next morning, l was on the brink of a total mental breakdown. When, at around 7:00am, the guards opened my slot to cuff me. They handed me a blue paper gown. I was taken to the transport booth, and given clothes for the first time in five-days. When one of the transport bosses said: "Damn, you look rough.” I replied: "Get me the hell out of here!".

We arrived at Polunsky around 9:30am. I thought I was going to be punished again for what I had done, but the Captain reclassified me as a Level One, and placed me in my old cell; the same one I was in the day I took all the pills. The return was clearly welcome. A lot of the guys thought I had died, or was in a coma. I told them what had happened. They all seemed happy to see me back, and almost well. It took a bit of time to get all my belongings back, but I did, and I guess that's what matters.

Upon returning and being put back into my cage at Polunsky, my neighbor asked me: “Well Blaine, I guess we are all going to have to start treating you like you're "crazy”?” I replied: "I do not even know what "crazy" is anymore.”

Although my neighbor was joking, I was not. It still boggles my mind, to this day - almost six-months later - how the mentally ill are viewed as nothing more than numbers in the eyes of the State; and l cannot help but think: And we, the inmates, are supposed to be the bad guys?

There is nothing I'd love more than to be able to rescue the people back at Jester IV. But, unfortunately, the best l can do is tell my story in hopes of pointing out the reality of how mental illness is viewed within the confines of TDCJ.

There are other things that could not be added to my article for certain reasons. But I do hope - those of you who read this - if you are ever feeling depressed, you will talk with someone about it, and get the proper treatment. Depression is a serious illness that should always be dealt with sooner rather than later - so long as it's treated with kindness, not malice.



Blaine Milam 999558
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Well, where to begin? I am just a country boy from Longview, way behind the pine curtain in eastern Texas.  I have been on Texas Death Row now for over seven years.  I am new at this writing thing.  I only have a 4th grade education so I am about as much of an auto-didact as you are ever likely to find.  I am currently working on two books one an autobiography the other a parody called As Death Row Turns.  I’m a simple man.  I would be content merely with a couple Pulitzers and maybe the Man Booker.

This is a link to Blaine's cousin, Jonathan, singing a song that Blaine wrote on The Prison Show. The song begins at the 30 minute 11 second mark.