Thursday, June 25, 2020

End in Sight

By Wesley I. Purkey

"There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it will behold any one of us; to find fault with the rest of us."   - James Truslow Adams

On the morning of July 25th, 2019, shortly after being escorted from the law library where I spend an inordinate amount of time performing daily legal madness back to my cell, the very same staff member who had just escorted me back surprisingly returned within minutes to my cell. This unusual event immediately placed me on notice that something was awry, and this unsettled feeling was reinforced by the grim look on my escort’s face. "What's up?" I asked.

With noticeable hesitation he told me, "The lieutenant wants to see you downstairs." 

"Is this about what we were just discussing? About the sanitized murders behind penitentiary walls being revamped with vigor utilizing the new one cocktail drug," I asked him.

His deep prolong sigh spoke volumes and, with no further clarification needed. I told him, "All right, let's do this!"

With hands cuffed behind my back, I was escorted to what is known as the multiple area of the Special Confinement Unit (SCU).  Cells are located adjacent to one another in a row of four. With the handcuffs left on, I was placed in one of the two front cages. Another inmate was stationed across from me and after the escort team exited, he asked, "What do you think is up?" 

Without hesitation I responded, "We are about to get dates set for these people to perform their little “dirty deeds done dirt cheap." 

Frowning, he said, "But I thought only the warden could hand out execution dates, not a lieutenant." 

He was 100% correct, but this was only the start of the ball game and I was sure that the warden would be up here in no time at all. 

After this brief discussion, I was moved again to a different holding cell at the front of the SCU adjacent to the front entrance, again in cuffs with hands behind my back. Within minutes of this move I witnessed the warden, with about a dozen or so off his henchman in attendance, come on the unit. I stood at the bars in front of the holding cell as this parade passed by, deliberately avoiding any eye contact with me, as though I was invisible. I shook my head to myself, which they must have noticed, but they kept their distance and kept walking. 

Continuing to shake my head, I think, "What pompous cowards." It would have been obvious to a blind man wearing sunglasses that these fine individuals of good character and stature are prohibited from making eye contact to later protect them from potential conscience qualms in the execution chamber when they take us there to kill us.
After three inmates had been led into the Unit Team Office to receive the date of their fate by the dog and pony show, it was my turn. With the help of four of the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) finest, and the new chaplain of security, who grabbed my right arm, I was guided to a plastic chair and positioned in the middle of the office. I was ordered to sit.

I was directly in front of the warden and his team, who were stationed around him. The pretense was not lost on me. The warden asked, "Do you know why you were called before this committee today?"

Maintaining myself as best I could, I told him I knew. The warden then pronounced, "The Attorney General has scheduled your execution date and has mandated that I give you a notification of such, and that date is December 13th, 2019." I acknowledged hearing what he had said by nodding my head. "You have a right to file for clemency," he advised me while sliding a packet of materials across the table to me. He then went onto to hand me a few different menus that he said I could use to request a last meal before my execution, and told me I had the right to have my body to be transferred to the funeral home of my choice or be cremated. "Cremation sounds good to me," I said and asked if there was anything else. 

With that said, I was moved back to the same little holding cell, left again with hands cuffed behind my back. After an hour and a half, the handcuffs were removed and replaced with a belly chain, front handcuffs and leg irons. Then I was escorted to another part of the prison where I received a full body scan in the metal detector before being moved to what is known as Execution Row. I immediately called my daughter and asked her if she had been watching the news that morning. 

"No Dad, I haven't been watching the news. Why?" she asked. 

"Darling, they gave me an execution date a little while ago and I wanted to make sure that you heard the news from me and not someone else." I told her. 

In between sobs, she asked me when that date was. "It’s December 13th, Darling," I told her. 

"Do you mean this December?" she wanted to know. 

"Yes Darling, this December, but do not give up hope because your dad will be fighting tooth and nail to prevent this execution from taking place. I promise you, Honey, that I am going to be fighting this wholeheartedly," I told her.

The pain that my beautiful daughter and family are suffering motivates me to continue to fight the fate that awaits me on December 13th. 

All the cells on Execution Range are “boxcar” cells, with outer solid steel doors combined with inner steel doors with bars. Each cell has a camera stationed at the front, by the side in the exterior of the cell, keeping the inmate under constant surveillance. No privacy exists for utilizing the toilet, or the showers either, and yet the warden maintained a standing order that execution range staff who are stationed on the range preform rounds every fifteen minutes, ensuring that each inmate is alive and breathing. In addition to the rounds being made by Execution Range staff, additional staff makes rounds as well. So, thirty- to thirty-five rounds were being made on the Range during each eight-hour shift. These conditions cause inmates to experience protracted and chronic sleep deprivation, acute anxiety, diminished cognitive ability, severe headaches, heart palpitations and other symptoms of distress.

The warden and captain both reiterated that rounds taken on the Range were necessary due to “unidentified security risks.” After several weeks of limited sleep under the warden's mandate I believe that I experienced a stroke. My speech became slurred, the left side of my face became numb and I was disorientated for several days. Several weeks later, litigation was filed with the court addressing these torturous conditions of confinement. See Purkey v. Underwood, 2:19-cv-00355 (S.D. Ind., Nov. 19th, 2019)

The court has since issued a limited stay and set off my execution date.  The fragileness of such a tenuous stay continues to be a source of stress. Every time staff comes to my cell, I fully realize it could be to notify me that the Attorney General has issued another Death Warrant and that I will again be moved back to Execution Range. The anxiety is all-consuming, waiting for this premeditated murder behind penitentiary walls in the so-called name of justice.

Wesley's execution date has been rescheduled for July 15, 2020

Wesley I. Purkey 14679-045
United States Penitentiary
P.O. Box 33
Terre Haute, IN 47808

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