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In August 2014 Florida governor Rick Scott assigned "clemency counsel" to represent Lambrix in a final clemency petition before a death warrant is signed scheduling his execution. A clemency submission was filed on 5 December.

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Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Other Side of the Coin

Written by Michael Lambrix for the Minutes Before Six website

On April 28, 2015, the Supreme Court held “oral arguments” on an Oklahoma case that argues that the drug Midazolam Hydrochloride used in the lethal injection process fails to adequately render the intended victim unconscious, resulting in the executing inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
A decision is expected to be rendered by the end of June. Until this issue is resolved, executions in numerous states (including Florida) have been put on hold. But the general consensus among legal experts is that the Supreme Court will find (by a predictably narrow margin of 5 to 4) that despite the overwhelming evidence of numerous prisoners seen to have remained conscious after this drug (Midazolam) was administered it fails to establish that measure of “deliberate indifference” necessary to prove an infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Undoubtedly guiding the Supreme Court’s anticipated decision in June will be the narrow 5 to 4 decision reached in Baze v Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008) in which the court rejected a similar argument challenging the use of sodium thiopental as the initial anesthetizing drug used in Kentucky’s executions.
It must be emphasized that there is no dispute that if the initial anesthetizing drug used in the “three drug cocktails” does not render the person unconscious, upon injection of the following two drugs the prisoner will suffer incomprehensible physical pain. But as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, it does not establish the sort of “objectively intolerable risk of harm” that qualifies as “cruel and unusual.”
When it comes down to it, what the Supreme Court has consistently said is that, as a matter of constitutional law, it is perfectly acceptable to inflict incomprehensible pain and torture upon the prisoner as long as it cannot be proven that those acting upon behalf of the state didn’t actually intend to inflict unnecessary pain.
Rather, physically torturing a person to death under the pretense of administering justice only arises to an unconstitutional infliction of cruel and unusual punishment if it can be proven (not merely alleged) that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to a “substantial…or objectively intolerable risk of harm.”
Historically, the Supreme Court has not recognized any form of “botched execution” to be in violation of this constitutional prohibition against inflicting “cruel and unusual punishment,” as in every instance in which the condemned prisoner suffered incomprehensible pain (i.e. “botched execution”), during the execution process, prison officials conveniently attributed this to an unforeseen accident…oops, sorry ‘bout that.
To be clear, in the case currently before the Supreme Court challenging the use of Midazolam as the initial anesthetizing drug there is no dispute that the condemned man clearly was conscious and continued to physically struggle as the subsequent two lethal drugs were administered. Whether or not he suffered incomprehensible pain for a prolonged period of time is not in dispute.
Instead, those challenging this particular lethal injection protocol bear the burden of convincing a majority of the Supreme Court – the same pro-death penalty conservatives who consistently remain openly hostile to any challenge of the death penalty – that prison officials should have known that this drug Midazolam was not going to render the prisoner unconscious.
Quite simply, the ends justify the means and in a nation determined to equate justice with vengeance at every level, as long as the majority of Americans remain indifferent to the means of inflicting death, our Courts simply will not take the action necessary to end this inhumane infliction of torturous death.
But I would like to introduce into this debate an argument that seems to be completely ignored…the psychological effect on the condemned prisoner as he (or she) is strapped to that gurney awaiting that uncertainty of a prolonged and torturous death, and more importantly, why as a presumably civilized society we should even care whether condemned prisoners experience physical pain when they are put to death.
I already know from experience that as soon as I (or anyone else) dares to say that we should empathize with the pain inflicted upon the condemned, they will see this as somehow negating the tragic suffering of the victim of the crime. But one is not mutually exclusive of the other and allowing the pain and suffering inflicted upon the victim to justify indifference to the pain and suffering we then choose to inflict upon the condemned only reduces all of us to the same measure of monster we so quickly condemn.
Before anyone can be sentenced to death, the court must first identify and find what is called “aggravating circumstances,” specific circumstances unique to each case that makes that particular case stand out as something more than the “typical” murder as (at least in theory) the death penalty can only be imposed upon the “worst of the worst.”
By Supreme Court mandate – to conform with that same constitutional prohibition against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment – each state that seeks this ultimate penalty is obligated to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these special circumstances exist.
One of the most common “aggravators” used to impose death was that the victim’s death was the product of a depraved mind. In Florida, this is known as “heinous, atrocious, and cruel.” But regardless of each state’s particular terminology, the definition remains the same…that the victim’s death encompassed an intent not to merely kill, but to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering, often this is not defined by the infliction of physical pain, but instead upon the psychological fear of imminent death.
This is but one of the irreconcilable paradoxes that exists in the contemporary administration of the death penalty…if it can be shown that the victim suffered the psychological fear of imminent death or experienced physical pain “beyond that of typical death” then those circumstances warrant the imposition of death as a punishment.
But when the state imposes that some measure of imminent fear of death and even unnecessary physical pain resulting from a “botched execution,” then the courts will excuse this as an unintended consequence.
Imagine for a minute that you are the condemned prisoner. First you will spend many years in continuous solitary confinement as the appellate review drags out and the uncertainty of your fate weighs down upon you. The only people you remain close to through those years are the condemned men around you and as time passes they will be dragged off to their death – or, more often than not, they will simply rot away one day at a time until they die of “natural causes.” Just as many more will slowly detach from reality and slip into a world of their own making as a means of escaping reality.
But somehow you maintained the physical and mental strength to survive that prolonged process intended to break even the strongest men and only then will you be rewarded with that visit from the warden as they show up at your cell door and emotionlessly announce that your own execution has been scheduled and you will immediately be transferred to the “death watch” cell where you will suddenly find yourself completely isolated from all those who until that moment provided your support. And then that clock begins to tick away as you count down those last weeks, then days, then hours, until they plan to kill you.
You are utterly helpless as you are forced to confront your own mortality and with each tick of that clock you take yet another step towards that fate and not even a moment goes by that you will be allowed to forget that they intend to kill you.
But that undeniable imminent fear of death is only part of the psychological process they will impose upon you, as the entire process is designed to methodically break the condemned prisoner down; to reduce him (or her) to something less than human, as by breaking us down to that point in which we are no longer seen as human, then it makes it so much easier to put us to death.
What few ever take even a moment to consider is that those of us who are condemned actually live among, even in close proximity to, those who are then put to death. We are each only too aware of the “botched executions” and it takes on a personal dimension to each of us.
In my own personal experience I have known a number of those who were subjected to “botched executions.” As I write this, it has been a quarter of a century since the May 4, 1990 execution of Jesse Toffero at Florida Supreme Court. From the time I came to death row in March 1984, I came to know him well, and his mother who visited him regularly. Jesse was her only child and losing him was itself traumatic, but her knowing what he went through in those final moments elevated the trauma far beyond that few could even comprehend.
At the time the then Florida governor Robert “Bloody Bob” Martinez adopted a policy and practice of aggressively signing “death warrants” in an attempt to expedite executions, it was not uncommon for Governor Martinez to sign at least two death warrants a week and to keep up to twelve men (and women) under imminent threat of execution.
In September 1988 Gov. Martinez signed my death warrant along with two others (Robert Teffeteller and Amos King). We were all scheduled to be executed on November 30, 1988, but both King and Teffeteller received stays of execution, leaving only me to go down to the wire (please read my death watch account “The Day God Died”). But I, too, finally received a last minute stay of execution and was returned to the regular death row housing area.
Upon my return to the regular wing, Jesse was one of the first to welcome me back and send me a few celebratory snacks. Back then the death-row community was much closer than it is not – as our numbers grew and the years passed, we’ve become divided amongst ourselves.
A little over a year later Governor Martinez signed another death warrant on Jesse and there was not room on Q-wing, so the warden converted the first five cells on 2-north, R-wing to an improvised “death watch.” As coincidence would have it, it was housed on that floor at that time. Jesse’s death warrant had him scheduled for execution in about 4 weeks and he remained on 2-north for the first few weeks, and we talked every day.
Towards that last week of April they moved Jesse to the formal death watch cell on the bottom floor of Q-wing, only a few feet away from the execution chamber. But Jesse was confident that he would quickly win a stay of execution as substantial new evidence was discovered that supported his innocence and would subsequently lead to his co-defendant’s (Sonya Jacobs) exoneration and release from death row.
But his claim of innocence fell on deaf ears and his final round of appeals was denied. In the early morning hours of Friday, May 4, 1990, the state of Florida proceeded to carry out the execution of Jesse Taffero in what by all accounts seemed to be just another “routine” execution.
Without exception, all those who gathered to witness Taffero’s execution uniformly agreed that it was anything but routine. As they sat in silence only a few feet away, separated only by a glass window, they watched in horror as the masked executioner pulled the switch to begin that first fatal cycle of electricity – only to have the electric chair malfunction and as that surge of electricity connected, Jesse quite literally burst into flames before them, and they could see that Jesse was still alive and physically struggling against the leather restraints.
As the flames could be visibly seen, smoke and the putrid smell of burning flesh filled the room. The executioner didn’t know what to do, so he hit the switch again, but it only caused even more flames, and again they could still see Jesse struggling despite the two failed attempts to execute him. Nobody really knew what to do – they never trained for failure. But after too many minutes passed, they again hit the switch for a third time and only then did Jesse die, slowly tortured to death in a scene straight out of the worst nightmare one could imagine.
Later an investigation would conclude that those responsible for carrying out the execution failed to properly saturate the sponge in the saline solution used to ensure conductivity, resulting in what laymen would say was a “short” in the connection, causing that artificial sponge to catch fire.
But it would take two more similar “botched executions” in Florida’s electric chair (Pedro Median and Allen Davis) before Florida only reluctantly surrendered its three-legged monstrosity and switched to lethal injection in early 2000.
However, even though they would argue that lethal injection was more humane, it too has repeatedly proven to be less than what they would want us to believe. Shortly after Florida adopted lethal injection they went to put Bennie Demps to death, but couldn’t find a vein in which to insert the needle. At the last minute a member of the execution team – presumably not a doctor as the American Medical Association prohibits licensed physicians from participating in the execution process – found some sort of scalpel and sliced Demps inner thigh open, causing substantial blood loss, to access a vein in his leg and then the needle was inserted. All the while Bennie Demps remained fully conscious and strapped tightly to the gurney.
A few years later when Florida proceeded to carry out the execution by lethal injection on Angel Nieves Diaz on December 13, 2006, the person responsible for inserting the needles into each of Angel´s arms ignored obvious signs any trained medical personnel would have immediately recognized that both needles had actually pierced through his veins and onto the soft tissue beyond.
Once again a room full of witnesses watched in horror as a man was quite literally tortured to death a few feet in front of them. For what was determined to be a full 34 minutes, and not until two separate doses of lethal drugs were pumped into his veins, Angel Diaz physically struggled in obvious pain. Later, an autopsy would find chemical burns on both his arms, and a conclusion that he undoubtedly suffered “excruciating pain” (see article, “Expert: Key Signs Ignored in Botched Execution of Miami Killer” by Phil Davis, Orlando Sentinel, February 5, 2007). 
Despite indisputable evidence that botched executions are only too common, repeatedly a narrowly divided Supreme Court has consistently rejected the notion that inflicting incomprehensible physical pain during this state-sanctioned ritual of death constitutes the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The problem is that proponents of the death penalty have successfully manipulated the focus of this inquiry exclusively on the relatively temporal infliction of physical pain at that moment of the botched execution, ignoring entirely the irrefutable psychological torment the intended victim of such executions endures.
Our legal system has long recognized that the infliction of emotional duress is a form of injury subject to judicial redress. If a person slips and falls at the local grocery store, or is hit by a truck causing considerable physical injury, that person is legally entitled to seek compensation for the psychological duress inflicted, often to an even greater extent than the physical injury itself.
Equally so, the infliction of psychological trauma upon the victim of a violent crime – especially the torture one endures as the result of being aware of their imminent death – is often the decisive factor in determining whether the perpetrator of that crime is constitutionally eligible for a sentence of death.
So, why is it that when confronted with this virtual epidemic of “botched executions” the entire focus is exclusively on that infliction of physical pain and our courts conveniently ignore altogether the more obvious infliction of psychological trauma imposed upon the condemned?
To me, it’s not so much about whether the condemned person actually suffered physically when that execution is carried out, but instead whether that condemned prisoner suffered the psychological trauma of knowing that once they did proceed with their practiced ritual, one he (or she) remained helplessly strapped in that gurney and waited for the executioner to begin that fatal process, would they yet again screw up? Instead of simply being put to death, would they “unintentionally” botch that execution and that condemned prisoner then be subjected to what nobody denies will be a prolonged and torturous death?
I do realize that some would argue that those we condemn to death deserve nothing more than that infliction of physical pain, and that the more they suffer, the better. Fortunately, those who are consumed by their own malicious need to inflict a torturous death upon another human being are few and do not represent the broader consensus.
When it comes down to it, this simple truth remains…whether it is an individual, or as a collective society, we are ultimately defined not by what we say, but what we do. It is our actions, not our words, which paint the true picture of who we are.
If by our actions we so deliberately mimic the actions that we recognize define “the worst of the worst,” then how can we hope to become something better than the worst if all we strive to be is nothing more than the worst?
Even the most staunch proponents of the death penalty (Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia) recognize that through the years since this nation came to be, as a society we have grown intolerant of the imposition of punishments that were once considered humane and judicially necessary, practices that today would unquestionably “shock the conscience” of a civilized society and in our more enlightened and evolved social conscience be seen as a constitutionally intolerable infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.
In Baze v Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 94-95 (2008) Justices Thomas and Scalia concurred in the decision that a botched execution is not itself sufficient to constitute the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment absent evidence of a subjective intent to inflict physical pain by providing an informative summary of the evolution of capital punishment in America.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on the “infliction of cruel and unusual punishments” must be understood in light of the historical practices that led the framers (of the Constitution) to include it in the Bill of Rights.
That the Constitution permits capital punishment in principle does not, of course, mean that all methods of execution are constitutional. In English and early colonial practice, the death penalty was not a uniform punishment but a range of punishments, some of which the framers likely regarded as cruel and unusual death by hanging was the most common mode of execution both before and after 1791 (when the U.S. Constitution was ratified) and there is no doubt that it remained a permissible punishment after enactment of the Eighth Amendment. “An ordinary death by hanging was not, however, the harshest penalty of the disposal of the seventeenth and eighteenth century state”: S Banner; The Death Penalty: An American History (2002). In addition to hanging, which was intended to, and often did, result in a quick and painless death, “officials also wielded a set of tools capable of intensifying a death sentence,” that is, “ways of producing a punishment worse than death” Banner, id at 54.
One such “tool” was burning at the stake. Because burning, unlike hanging, was always painful and destroyed the body, it was considered a form of “super capital punishment worse than death itself.” Banner at 71. Reserved for offenders whose crimes were thought to pose an especially grave threat to the social order – such as slaves who killed their masters and woman who killed their husbands (contrary to historical myth, burning at the stake was not reserved exclusively for alleged “witches”) burning a person alive was so dreadful a punishment that sheriffs sometimes hanged the offender first “as an act of charity” Banner at 72.
Other methods of intensifying a death sentence included “gibbeting” or hanging the condemned in an iron cage so that (only after prolonged death by starvation) his body would decompose in public view: see Banner at 72-74, and “public dissection,” a punishment Blackstone associated with murder, 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries, 376 (W. Lewis ed 1897). But none of these were the worst fate a criminal could meet. That was reserved for the most dangerous and reprobate offenders – traitors. “The punishment of high treason,” Blackstone wrote, was “very solemn and terrible” and involved “emboweling alive, beheading and quartering.” Thus, the following death sentence could be pronounced on men convicted of high treason:
“That you and each of you be taken to the place when you came, and from thence be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the necks, not till you are dead, that you be severally taken down while still alive, and your bowels be taken out and burnt before your faces – that your heads be then cut off, and your bodies cut in four quarters, to be at the King’s disposal. And God Almighty have mercy on your souls” G. Scott, History of Capital Punishment 179 (1950). 

The principal object of these aggravated forms of capital punishment was to terrorize the criminal and thereby more effectively deter the crime. Their defining characteristic was that they were purposely designed to inflict pain and suffering beyond that necessary to cause death. As Blackstone put it, “in very atrocious crimes, other circumstances of terror, pain or disgrace were superadded.” These “superadded” circumstances “were carefully handed out to apply terror where it was thought to be frightening to contemplate” Banner, 70.
As the Supreme Court’s two most zealous proponents of the death penalty went on to reluctantly concede, all these forms of capital punishment were subsequently found to “offend the notions of a civilized society” sufficient to “shock the conscience” and constitute the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, as “embellishments upon the death penalty designed to inflict pain for pain’s sake also would have fallen comfortably within the ordinary meaning of the word ‘cruel’ see U. S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language 459 (1773) (defining ‘cruel’ to mean “pleased with hurting others; inhuman; hardhearted; void of pity; wanting compassion; savage; barbarous; unrelenting”). In Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language 52 (1828) (defining “cruel” as “disposed to give pain to others, in body or mind, willing or pleased to torment, vex or afflict; inhuman; destitute of pity, compassion or kindness”).
Although our moral compass continues to evolve, since the introduction of electrocutions as a means of execution, the Supreme Court has declined to recognize any contemporary means of execution as “cruel and unusual” despite repeated examples of horrifically botched executions such as that addressed in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v Resweber 329 U.S. 459 (1947) in which the electric chair famously failed and the condemned prisoner survived – only to have the Supreme Court conclude that the failure to kill the condemned prisoner was merely an “accident” and instructed the State of Louisiana to strap that prisoner in again and try to do a better job the next time. Virtually no consideration was given to the obvious psychological trauma inflicted upon this condemned prisoner.
When it is clear that virtually every member of our Supreme Court unequivocally recognizes that what constitutes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment are not so much the means in which the death penalty is administered, but whether the process itself was “designed to inflict torture as a way of enhancing a death sentence; (and) intended to produce a penalty far worse than death, to accomplish something more than the mere extinguishment of life. The evil the Eighth Amendment targets is intentional infliction of gratuitous pain which basically has been recognized to give pain to other in body or mind.”
In good conscience, can anyone deny that the condemned prisoner will undoubtedly experience incomprehensible psychological trauma not merely because of his (or her) imminent death, but because of the knowledge that this imminent ritual may not actually produce a “painless” death, but instead inflict a prolonged and unquestionably excruciating and torturous death?
When I consider this issue, I am reminded of the many examples of classic literature I read through the years and how each reached beyond simply telling a story to instead illustrate a greater truth. And it was confronting that inconvenient truth that elevated each to historical significance.
When Mary Shelley wrote the fictional book “Frankenstein,” it was not simply a story of man creating a monster, but how the monster then infected society with a fanatical need to destroy that monster and in that process, consumed by that need to conquer this beast, they became the monster. So too did the story go in “Moby Dick.” Ahab’s obsession with slaying that Great White Whale blinded him and then destroyed him. In the end, the beast presumably survived.
So too does the story go with this struggle to define whether any particular method of execution constitutes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment – we become consumed with only that physical infliction and conveniently oblivious to the psychological trauma the condemned prisoner must endure.
I have no doubt that in time future generations will look back upon our contemporary society and they will struggle to understand how a society that prides itself on the humane treatment of all people could at the same time blind itself to the infliction of such a barbaric ritual of death. And for what? Nobody can claim that only the worst of the worst are being put to death. And we know that those we do put to death could even be innocent as our judicial system is far from perfect. So we cannot even say that justice is being served.
In the end, the one question that needs to be addressed is simply whether we, as a society, want to define our moral conscience by mimicking the same measure of depravity that we condemn in the “worst of the worst.” If the best that we strive to be is nothing more than the worst of those amongst us, can we ever truly hope to become something better ourselves?
Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 N.W. 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026
By Michael Lambrix written for the Minutes Before Six website - See more at: http://doinglifeondeathrow.blogspot.gr/#sthash.lc28TbgN.dpuf
 
 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Alcatraz of the South, Part 6: When the Dreams Began – The Dance With Death


By Michael Lambrix written for the Minutes Before Six website

To read Part 5 click here

It shouldn’t have been this cold when it was barely October, at least not here in Florida and yet there I was awaken in the dead of the night soaked in a cold sweat.  Instantly wide awake, I had been all but violently catapulted back into this realm of reality by the first nightmare that I could recall, and even to this day more than a quarter of a century later, I still remember it only so well.
It was early October 1986, and I had recently been moved to another cell, one just vacated by the condemned man who had hung himself from the ventilation duct in his desperate attempt to escape the reality that was “Death Row”.  I’m not the superstitious sort and never put much stock into “ghosts,” at least not until that night.  Over the years I’ve heard my share of stores that would probably make most shudder and been awaken many nights by the screams of another prisoner who claimed to have seen something – some even claimed to have been physically touched.
I suppose that is should be expected, given the violence and inhumanity that hangs like a wet blanket over any prison. Especially one with the dark history of Florida State Prison, where far more have died a violent death than have been put to death by state sanctioned execution on the infamous “Q-wing.” At the time I could see it from the distant catwalk window from that particular cell I then occupied.

It was strange, and yet familiar, as most dreams can be.  Shadowy shapes crowned by featureless faces that could not be recognized. But there was a part of your inner consciousness that knew who they were.  Each detail was branded into my steel bunk, the well-worn mattress soaked in my own sweat and now stinking of urine and other bodily fluids I don’t care to contemplate, and I lay as still as a trembling man might, staring anxiously at the small steel-grated ventilation duct, as if I perhaps if stared long enough, I would see what something within me believed to be there.
Time becomes irrelevant when one remains trapped between what we might dare call “reality” and that world in which our mind plays when we dare to drift off to sleep.  You know what I’m talking about. We have all been there in our own way.  Only, this was my first trip to that abyss where my own consciousness balanced precariously between those two worlds.
I could not bring myself to look around for fear that it was not a dream.  I could only lay still, willing them to go away.  But they didn’t leave.  They had come for me, the cruel trick of a twisted mind.  I would be deprived of those last few days and hours I had mentally come to count on.  They would rob me of those moments in which I could convince myself I had cheated death, reminding me of that truth we all try to deny: that when it comes down to it, nobody really cheats death.  In the end, nobody gets out alive – nobody.
In this nightmare, my time had come and now all that remained was stolen time that would soon expire.  But it was only a dream – a nightmare, or was it? In that moment, it seemed so real that it had to be real.

I felt myself reading upwards until my hand touched the top of my head in a desperate attempt to reassure myself, as we all know only too well that they will shave the condemned man’s head before that final hour.  Something within me involuntarily screamed as my sweaty palm ran its way across my head, realizing to my horror that it was shaven and so it had to be real, and my fear rose to a new level.  Like a trapped and cornered animal, I felt that panic within me and turned to face that voice of that angel-of-death that now stood before me, dressed in black as if it was the Grim Reaper himself.  It was the prison warden and he looked back at me with an emotionless stare, while all but chanting those few words no condemned man wants to hear… “It’s time to go!”  He had been through this many times and had long ago become enslaved by the strict routine – or as they call it, “protocol.”
Behind the warden stood the prison chaplain.  Desperately, our eyes momentary locked as I stared into his soul, hoping to find even the slightest hint of mercy and compassion, and yet my stare was met only by the graven gleam of a man only too willing to deliver my soul into the very pits of hell himself, and that ever so slight smile that ripped apart his cracked lips confirmed that I would find no measure and mercy from the man of “God”…and I should have known better than to expect such.  I have never known a prison chaplain that had anything but uncompromised malice towards all condemned prisoners.

Nowhere to run, no on to turn to, I felt myself rising from that bunk, moving in a crab-like crawl towards the black wall and unable to go any further, unable to escape….and they stepped forward towards me.  I could not get away. I was hopelessly trapped and apparently the only one who didn’t know it.  With nothing more than a nod of his head, two faceless guards came towards me.  I felt that need to struggle, to fight, but I didn’t…I couldn’t.  They knew what to do and without hesitation, they grabbed me by my upper arms from both sides, all but immobilizing my body with their seemingly superhuman grip.  Within me, I screamed, I struggled, but my own fear had paralyzed me into complete submission.
Almost dragging me from within that relative sanctuary that was my solitary cell, I pled with my captors as they pulled me into that brightly lit hallway. If only I had a few more minutes, just a little bit more time, I would win a reprieve.  They didn’t have to do this, I argued.  But my pleas fell upon calloused ears and again all became silent as I was physically pulled towards the open solid steel door that led beyond and into the fate that awaited me.
In that silence that can only scream from within, my mind continued to struggle and beg with my captors and yet those words within me wouldn’t come out.  My body numbly continued forward as I felt so utterly helpless, so completely alienated from all that was being played out.  It was not really happening – it could not be happening, and yet, it was.


As a group, with my body still firmly gripped at each side by the muscular guards, we stepped into that death chamber and there only a few feet in front of me, I came face to face with that seemingly surreal chariot of death they proudly proclaimed to be “ole Sparky,” Florida’s infamous inmate-built electric chair.  There it sat in a state of inanimate, deathly patience as it awaited its next victim and in that distorted reality of which the worst of dreams are made, I could feel that tangible presence of pure evil that this heavy oak, three-legged wooden beast was.  It was alive as only the monster of beasts could be, its unquenchable thirst for the soul of the next condemned man felt by all within its presence.


The entourage continued to step forward into this unnaturally cold chamber of death, delivering my body on to that perverse altar of state-sanctioned sacrifice.  Consumed by an overwhelming fear that only a condemned man about to be executed could understand, I could only stare ahead in wide-eyed terror as every minute detail became forever branded upon my brain and yet in a surreal sort of way, I could see nothing at all and felt trapped within a freeze frame picture show as if I was somehow separated from my body and looking upon the events, yet another witness to my own imminent execution.


I could see my own body as the guards brought me up to the very presence of this man-made monster and only then ordered me to turn around so that I could be seated and as my body obediently complied. I then felt that first touch of that cold wooden oak chair as the unyielding hands of the only too eager guards guided me down upon it and without further hesitation commences to firmly secure my limbs to that chair.  I could feel the cold, clammy leather straps as they were deliberately pulled tight around each of my wrists. I briefly dared to look into the eyes of one of the guards as he lowered himself down almost as if kneeling before me to then secure each of my lower leg about where my calf was to this solid wooden beast, and I was taken aback by that empty, emotionless absence of a soul of a man and just as quickly turned away. It was like looking into the very eyes of evil itself, and I only felt again that distinctive tightening of another leather strap as that wide black leather restraint was pulled tight around my waist and I then became all but one with that chair, helplessly immobilized and unable to resist any further even if I could have found the strength within me to do so and in that moment in time, I knew that my fate was sealed.


Behind me not more than a few feet away, I could hear whispered voices instructing an unseen executioner, each word thunderously echoing within and yet strangely muffled so that I could not make out the actual words – and yet although not comprehended audibly. I knew what each word said. Lost in that momentary struggle to focus on the voice, I unexpectedly felt the cold steel of the heavy electrode as it was pushed almost violently against my inner ankle as yet another belt-like leather strap was pulled tight to keep it in place.  I could feel the weight of that heavy black wire now firmly attached to my leg and as I looked down, I could see how it snaked its way along the beige faux-marble tile floor only to disappear somewhere behind me.


Without warning, my head was forcibly pulled upward and back by these same strong and determined hands and as it was, I felt the two parallel blocks of wood which would immobilize my head between them, and yet another clammy leather strap was pulled across my forehead and secured tightly behind the chair and just that quickly I could no longer move my head at all. I still felt myself struggle to do so, but it could not be done.

Frantically, with only my eyes free to move, I looked directly forward only to see what appeared to be my own reflection looking back at me from the glass window panes that separated that chamber of death from the spectators that had voluntarily gathered to watch me die this day.  At first, for what seemed to be an eternity, I remained transfixed to that reflection of myself and could now see the fear within my own eyes as if I had myself become one of those spectators and waited now to watch myself die a deliberate and violent death.  As these fragmented thoughts raced through my head, I could feel my own hear thumping louder and louder with each thump-thump reverberating through my entire body and then violently echoing in my head like powerful waves continuously, yet methodically, crashing upon a rocky shore.

Beyond my own reflection, I could see the shadowy shapes of the statuesque figures of the witnesses that sat silently in the gallery beyond.  That glass panel that separated their space from the death chamber was a world away and the dim light beyond played tricks with my perception.  It seemed as if perhaps it was nothing but carefully arranged mannequins. I could detect no movement and try as I might to look into their eyes, desperately darting my own eyes from one to the next, not one made any movement at all, but simply stared at me with a blank, stare reminding me of a sinister oil painting I had once seen. The perception of time passed seemed to cease for me.  It could not had been more than a minute that passed.

I felt a hand as it touched my shoulder and the warmth of another’s breath near my ear.  It was the prison chaplain, asking if I had any last words.  I had many words and wanted so much to say what I felt in my heart, and yet, I could not say a word. I became imprisoned in that prolonged silence as I mentally struggled to utter a sound, any sound.  And I know that I didn’t want that prison chaplain anywhere around me, most especially at the time of my death.  It felt like an unforgiveable act of betrayal that at the very moment I so desperately needed to know that God had not abandoned me, the only representation by anyone acting as a man of God would be a man that I knew held nothing by contempt for true spiritual faith.

But I was nothing more than a state-sanctioned circus and each of the clowns had their own part to play. My part was to die and it was expected that I would not stray from the script.  If I played my part well, then once I was gone, the group of guards and prison administrators would congratulate themselves on what a fine and outstanding job they did.
I struggled to speak a few incoherent words. Even I could not make out what I had said. In that ghostly reflection of the glass I could see the chaplain almost smiling as I felt his hand gently pat my shoulder, and just as he did, the guard standing behind the chair suddenly pulled down a leather mask over my face.  Although serving its purpose of hiding my face from those who would be horrified if compelled to watch the involuntary muscular contortions as they would soon rip through my facial tissue, I could still see light coming from both sides of that leather mask, and was by no means blinded myself.

Continuing the ritual with the precision of a properly trained drill team, I felt a heavy weight at the top of my head as unseen guards moved quickly to now attach that metal colander atop the leather scull cap and then the heavy wire to that single brass screw.  I felt water running down my face and the smell of salt – and the unmistakable scent of previously burnt flesh – and found myself wondering why they didn’t at least use a new sponge, as we all knew that they would attach that piece of natural sponge soaked in a saline solution so as to serve as the conductor between the electrode and my shaven head.

That apparatus affixed to the top of my head was secured by yet another leather strip with a crudely fashioned small cup brought down to my chin and pulled unnecessarily tight, so tight that it forced my teeth together in physical pain.  I knew that my last moments were now all but exhausted and in a moment of sudden calmness, that blanket of fear that had hung over me as I played my own part in this twisted ritual of death was suddenly lifted.  In that moment of clarity of thought and consciousness, I felt as if time had suddenly frozen altogether, even the whispered voices echoing in an otherwise unnatural silence seemed to cease and all was quiet, even too quiet.
But just as quickly that overwhelming fear returned with a forceful vengeance and somehow I knew that within those next few seconds my nightmare would take its final twist.  I continued to stare straight ahead, eyes wide open looking forward into that darkness of that black leather mask. I was stricken by a violent physical force that ripped through my body with an unimaginable pain as if ever molecule of my being was simultaneously being ripped apart, and I could feel that warmth of my own urine running down my thighs and puddling in the recesses of that chair, and my body violently strained against the straps that held me and swithin the very depths of my soul I felt myself scream as only a man being electrocuted could and it wouldn’t stop. I remained fully aware of each pulse of electricity that was shoot through my head down into my back and through my left foot and out that electrode attached to my ankle.

As my body arched in unnatural contortion, I felt my fingertips desperately dig into each of the arms of that heavy oak chair, molding themselves into the slight recesses previously imprinted by past patrons of this infamous chariot of death and forever continued to slip slowly by one eternal second after another, and that unspeakable pain wouldn’t stop, cutting through me like a dull knife, ripping my organs apart with its shear force and all the while I could hear the distinctive sound of a phone ringing and found myself wondering why nobody would answer the phone….
And then I awoke.  It was so cold, as if death itself, and yet my body was soaked from head to toe in sweat, and I lay there motionless, trembling uncontrollably and yet willing myself not to move lest they realize that I am still alive and proceed to put me through this again.  I could still hear that phone ringing in the distance, and as I slowly awoke I realized that it was coming through the window out on the catwalk, where just a few feet away a phone hung on the wall for the recreation yard crew.  But why would anyone call that number in the middle of the night when nobody would be out on the rec yard at that hour?

That was but my first dance with death, and although as the years dragged by I would have many, too many other similar dreams of my own death, not one remained branded within my very being like that first one was.  And when I would awaken on other sleepless nights vaguely aware that I must have been dreaming again, I found that the dream I remembered would always be that first nightmare that I had back in the early fall of 1986 and it would continue to haunt me with a determination that only the angel of death could possess.
As the years passed, Florida did away with the electric chair and banish that three-legged monstruosity  to an undisclosed warehouse where it would remain as a piece of history that would come to be looked upon just as today we look with morbid fascination upon the relics of that dark history of humanity’s past.

For as many years as Florida continued to use that electric chair, at least in those years that I have been here now, they have adopted use of a gurney upon which the condemned man would be strapped and rendered physically immobilized in that same chamber of death as a lethal dose of drugs would be pumped into his (or her) veins until death was inflicted.
And yet in all those years since the use of lethal injection replaced the use of that chair, not even once have I ever dreamed of my own death by lethal injection, and to this day when I do awake knowing that I yet again was visited by that nightmare of so long ago, it is still always a death by electrocution in that chair and no other.

That was October 1986 and although a lifetime ago and in a cell at another prison, (in December 1992, Florida opened the then newly constructed “northeast unit” at nearby Union Correctional Institution to house the majority of death-sentenced prisoners), that nightmare is never far from my consciousness and I know without doubt that others around me have had similar nightmares of their own death and yet we do not dare talk about it.  And no matter how many more years might yet pass, I know only too well that that one night in October 1986 will always be part of who I am, and that I can never escape the trauma inflicted upon my very soul and know that if the day does come when I am to be put to death, I will not find the real experience as frightening as that first nightmare.
To be continued....
Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Please Spare Michael Lambrix's Life - sign the petition!

 
SIGN THE PETITION HERE

Michael Lambrix has been on death row for nearly 31 years.

He has always maintained that he acted in self-defence and there are grave doubts about the safeness of both the conviction and the death sentence. His family and pen friends around the world would be deeply affected by the loss of a friend they have learned to know, admire and respect.
A clemency submission was filed on 5 December. This calls for a full clemency review, at which witnesses could be called, rather than the limited review on paper that has so far been allowed.


Letter to
Office of Executive Clemency Governor Rick Scott
Commission on Offender Review Florida
 
Joined by a strong commitment to justice, the undersigned respectfully request that the clemency authorities of Florida allow a full Clemency Review for Michael Lambrix DC#482053, born March 29, 1960, who faces execution for a double murder for which he was convicted in 1984. Among our reasons for requesting this are as follows:


1. The initial trial in 1983 resulted in a hung jury. A second trial was held in 1984. The jury’s recommendation of the death sentence was not unanimous. Michael Lambrix has consistently stated that he acted in self-defense and has protested his innocence of capital murder.

2. There has been a failure of the judicial process, allowing the case to fall through the cracks. A range of new evidence has come to light since Mr. Lambrix’s last clemency review in 1987, which itself was perfunctory. This includes exculpatory evidence which was never presented to the jury, such as the fact that a key witness has retracted her trial testimony and the State’s main witness admitted under oath in an evidentiary hearing that she had been sexually involved with the Chief Investigator for the prosecutor during the pre-trial investigation. Another key witness later (post-trial) withdrew her testimony, leaving no witnesses who still contend that the homicides were committed in the way that they were presented to the jury. A full and fair review of all the evidence has never been conducted.

3. Executing Michael Lambrix after he has already spent 30 years under sentence of death for a crime which is surrounded by such serious doubts would be inappropriate and inhumane, if not immoral. Where the ultimate punishment is handed down, there must also be the ultimate certainty. By any measure, this certainty is not present in this case.

4. Michael Lambrix has repeatedly made it clear how the events continue to haunt him and how not a day goes by that he doesn’t feel remorse.

5. The life of Michael Lambrix has demonstrable value. He has, against the odds, attempted to make the most of his time on death row. Having come from a deeply troubled background and having been regarded at school as developmentally disabled, he has managed to educate himself in the most difficult of circumstances and is clearly a man of considerable intellect and inner resources. Among other things he spends his time helping other prisoners with their legal work.

6. His writings and his correspondence with people in the US and in other countries around the world have earned him high respect and have been an inspiration to many people.

Given the doubts surrounding the conviction and the sentence handed down, we respectfully ask the Florida Commission on Offender Review to ensure that a full clemency review be granted for Cary Michael Lambrix and failing that to grant commutation to life imprisonment.
 
SIGN THE PETITION HERE

Monday, 1 September 2014

When Death Hits Close to Home

Through the too many years that I've been on Florida's death Row I've become only too familiar with death itself. Since I came in early 1984 over 80 men (and a few women) have been led away and killed by state sanctioned execution. Most of them i knew personally from living in close proximity for years on end, and a good number of those were friends. Just as many, if not even more, slowly rotted away in these solitary cages until old age and illness took its toll and they each died of what is officially called "natural causes', although i doubt whether there's anything "natural" about forcing another human being to "live" in a six foot concrete cage for not merely a few years, but decade after decade.

Then there's those who had enough of this incomprehensible hell society so zealously imposes upon us under the pretence of administering justice and they bring an end to their own misery by suicide. And a handful of others died at the hands of other condemned prisoners getting stabbed to death on the recreation yard. Bottom line, death comes in many forms, but the one consistent element in our environment is that death is always hanging heavy in the air around us, only too quickly dropping down to claim its next victim. That's just the reality of the world in which we live - and die - in. ( Check out my book "To Live and Die on Death Row" by C Michael Lambrix)

Somewhere along this journey I sometimes wonder whether I've grown just as apathetic towards death as our society seems to have. In the early years each execution cut deep within me and for days, even weeks, to follow I would feel that loss as if it was itself a part of me. Back then few of those I lived around died of "natural causes" as that particular fate has only began in the past 10 years or so. as the micro-community that we are grows older and older, just as I am.

I was only 22 when I caught this capital case (be sure to check my case out at www.southerninjustice.net ) and at 23 I was cast down into the bowels of the beast we call "death row". When When I look in my mirror today I see an older man going bald and grey looking back at me, and am reminded that I am now 54 years old and a grandfather seven times over.

Mike, age 22

Time passes for all of us and that includes those family and friends outside who inevitably drift away until we are all but forgotten. That's just part of doing time and each day we are drifting further away from that real world we so long ago left behind. Like the majority of prisoners, most of those who are in my life today are friends I met since coming here.


Pretty much every prisoner knows of that bitterness that coils within our gut as we try to come to terms with that sense of abandonment we feel when we think of family and friends that long ago turned their backs on us. It's not the kind of thing anyone can truly get over.


But its for that reason that the few who do stay strong and stand by us mean all that much more. Myself, I have a rather large family with 9 brothers and sisters and countless others in my extended family. Through the past 30 years most of my siblings have married  and are now grandparents themselves. But of all of them, I have only actually met one of my in-laws since I've been here, and my brother-in-law Billy visited many times, became more of a brother to me than any of my flesh and blood brothers ever even tried to be.


Some would say that Billy was the best thing that ever happened to my oldest sister Debbie. They've been together many years and it was meant to be as they made a great pair. Long before I claimed the crown of being the "black sheep" of the family, my oldest sister lived up to that distinction. When i was still a kid in grade school, she had ran away from home at 14 and found her refuge in among the "hippies" of the San Francisco area in the late 60's and 70's. By 15, she was pregnant and institutionalised in a mental hospital due to drug abuse.


But for all her early problems, Debbie is an incredible person whose strength and resilience I can only stand in awe of. She's never had an easy life and yet for all the misery and hardship that life has thrown at her, it has never broken her. Although as strong as the mightiest of oaks, she's long mastered the amazing ability to bend with the winds that blow her way.


Through the years, she comes and goes like the free spirit that she is and yet each time she comes back around its like she's never left at all. That communion we share binds us together, as of all of my family she is the only one who can empathise with the journey that my life has itself become, as although the rest of our many siblings have each stumbled along their own path, each landed on their feet and lived a relatively good life.


Many years ago Debbie met Billy and they became inseparable, fitting together so perfectly that all who knew them knew they were always meant to be, and perhaps for the first time in her life, Debbie found true happiness and a sense of completeness that could only be found by becoming one with your soul mate - and they became each others soul mate, always there for each other as they continued to struggle through life's hardships.


Having found each other didn't make their lives that much easier in any material way as both shared a similar past of becoming lost in that underworld of substance abuse and being alienated from those around them. Like too many others, they struggled month by month to get by and when they could afford it, they would come visit me. Sometimes months, and even years, would pass between visits, but they would come back around when they could.


This past week Billy passed away. As a "disabled veteran" from the Vietnam war, his life was plagued by medical problems, but he got by and never let it drag him down. A few months ago he was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer and then went quickly. They first put him on life support at a local hospital, but Billy wanted to be home with his beloved wife, and in that last week they moved the hospital bed and medial equipment to their house, and there he remained until his last breath with my sister by his side.


Such is the diabolical nature of death - up until recently I found myself becoming almost immune to that pain that comes from the loss of someone close to you as in my own world those closest to me are dying all the time . Although I try to pay tribute to each that passes, I know that I unconsciously detach more and more as death claims its next victim, and then the next one after that.


But just when I thought I had finally found a way to roll with its punches, death took a different path and for the first time has hit close to home, or as close to what could be described as home since I really have no home to go home to. And once again, I find myself now struggling with that pain that I thought I had long ago became immune to.


Those who know me well - what I call my "inner circle" - know that in recent months I've had a pretty hard time. Just a few months ago I was planning to be married, which was something I'd never thought I'd do again as at 18 I had married my high school sweetheart and that didn't exactly turn out that well. By 21,I  was divorced and my life went to hell, and I told myself I'd never again open myself up to that kind of pain again, and I didn't.


But then I met Karen and it didn't take long before we knew that we wanted to spend our lives together. She moved to Florida and visited me every weekend and holiday and I cannot even begin to put into words how it made me feel to have someone unconditionally commit to a relationship, to be there to share our hopes and dreams of what our future together might yet be and in those few hours each week when we were together I miraculously became free. Although the cold steel and stone of this prison continued to confine my body, that communion with Karen set me emotionally and spiritually free.


Just before Christmas last year, prison officials abruptly terminated our visitation privileges. As I fought to have our visits reinstated, Karen returned home to California and went to see her doctor about unexplained pains she was experiencing and in late January was diagnosed with cancer that had already spread to most of her vital organs. The reality of that news hit hard. Although realising that I would never see Karen again was itself painful, the greater pain was knowing what she would go through and the unfairness of it all as Karen was so full of life, so energetic and adventurous that her vibrant nature was contagious, and it just wasn't right. And all those hopes and dreams of a future we planned to share together were suddenly gone.


Like most others here, I don't get many visits and when you lose one of the very few who might visit, it hits hard. And no matter how often I must confront death as those around me are claimed one by one, and no matter how much I might emotionally detach myself from that sting of death, just when I think I might even becoming immune to that pain, I find myself again struggling to find a way to deal with this as those I hold close to me now are gone.


But even as much as I may find myself in pain over the loss of those so close, I realise that the loss of Billy will especially hit my sister hard. Although I may suffer this loss of someone who has become my brother, I can only hope that my sister will once again find the strength to overcome this loss as I know too well that in many ways Billy was her source of strength. As for me, death has found its way of hitting close to home and once again its sting sinks deep down into my soul.



Michael Lambrix #482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford, Florida 32026



www.southerninjustice.net







   

   

   
 

Saturday, 30 August 2014

When a Weeble Wobbles

By Michael Lambrix
 
Written for the Minutes Before Six website

Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down... oh so innocently ignorant of what this thing called life could still bring, I can recall a particular child’s toy called a “Weeble,” and that television commercial that always ran during Saturday morning cartoons and it still makes me smile.  It’s not so much the toy itself that brings back these memories, but that catchy little jingle they used to promote these Weebles… “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” It’s one of those tunes that has a way of getting caught in your head that can’t seem to shake.

I’m probably only one of a very few who would even still remember Weebles, as in this age of techno-toys designed to shock and awe each new generation of kids, such a simple and unsophisticated toy would hold no interest.  So, for those who haven’t a clue of what I’m referring to, allow me to enlighten you.  Weebles were small, plastic toys with a rounded bottom and an upper body formed in the image of a family.  There was the mother and father and all the children, and an entire assortment of colorful accessories such as plastic cars they could ride in, if you were willing to push.

With a little imagination and the innocence of a child, they could be fun to play with in a time when toys didn’t require batteries.  But it wasn’t really the toys that remain a memory – it was and is the incessant jingle and the way it rattles around in what’s left of my arguably still functional brain cells.  That simple sentence has become a metaphor for my life, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Sometimes when the walls close in around me, I retreat into that world of my own and compel myself to conjure up a chant.  Like the Muppets’ rendition of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a chorus of comical voices will join in a monotonic chant “Weebles wooble, but they don’t fall down… Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down…” On and on, and still, I smile.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing; instead it’s become almost a source of inspiration.  I’ve come to accept – and even embrace – the truth that I am a Weeble, and like a Weeble, I wobble, but I don’t fall down.

Funny how easy it is to tell ourselves those little lies that help us make it through the day.  Again, that song that every death row prisoner knows the words of only so well comes to mind (Bohemian Rhapsody) “is this the real life, is this just fantasy, caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.”  And reality really does suck so thank God for Weebles; and more importantly, that magical power within our own imagination that allows us to escape reality and retreat into a world in which we can, even if only for a moment, believe those little lies we like to tell ourselves and wobble through the hell that is reality and still believe that we’re strong enough not to fall down.

I look around me and what I see is a world of steel and stone deliberately designed to break the strongest of men so that through this methodical degradation of not merely the body, but the mind itself, each of us will abandon any desire to resist, and instead surrender to that fate that has stalked us through the years.

As each of us is cast down into this metaphoric abyss of lost humanity each day that passes is like that proverbial drop of water eroding even the strongest of stones.  I know like so many other around me, I like to tell myself that I am stronger than those drops of water and remain intact and year after year, decade after decade, I struggle to see that stone I thought I once was. I wonder what will become of me as each of those persistent drops of water keep coming and coming.

Whether we want to call it erosion or evolution, the result remains the same.   Recently, circumstances brought about my transfer from the main death row unit at Union Correctional, (where the majority of Florida´s death-sentenced inmates are warehoused while awaiting the uncertainty of their fate), to the nearby Florida State Prison, which once housed all of death row before they built and opened that “new” unit at Union Correctional.  Very few come back to this cesspool and of those that do, it is almost always only under a newly signed “death warrant” to await their then scheduled imminent execution on the infamous adjacent “Q-Wing.” (Admin note:  since this essay was written, Mike has been transferred back to UCI)

Although I am not under a death warrant – at least, not quite yet, [please read “The List” ], being thrown back into this beast brought back many memories.  I'm certainly not a stranger to this place that many of us have come to call the Alcatraz of the South  - and for a good reason.  Over 30 years ago I entered this soul-stealing succubus for the first time when I was once still a young man [please read “Alcatraz of the South, Part I" and "Part II"] never thought for even a moment that I would grow old within these walls as I awaited my own still uncertain fate.

When I first came to death row now well over 30 years ago, my only fear was of the unknown. I never felt any fear of death itself.  I never expected that day would come when I would be walked those final few steps and be put to death.

I certainly was no stranger to death. From even those earliest of days all around me men were dying.  The reality that being condemned to death really did mean that they would put you to death hit home even in those first few months when my first cell-neighbor was put to death.  Although a few others were executed shortly after I joined the ranks of the Row, J.D. Raulerson was the first one I knew personally.  But by no means was he the last and as I think back on this today I find myself unable to even remember many of the faces of those men I once knew, and I now wonder how many will remember me once I am gone.

I too have danced with death.  Many years ago I found myself under a death warrant and on Death Watch with only hours before my own scheduled date with death.  As my thoughts dare to go back to that time, the memories remain as strong today as they were a quarter of a century ago. It’s not the kind of experience anyone would ever forget.  Few of us ever look into the face of death and still live to tell about it, but I did, and although I was forced to confront my own mortality and even accept that I would die, in that moment in which the fear of death would have itself overwhelmed me, instead by seemingly divine intervention I found myself at peace [Please read of my death-watch experience: “The Day God Died.”

In the years that followed my near-death experience I found myself almost euphorically searching for that ever-evasive meaning of life, intoxicated by that belief that it wasn’t about heaven or hell, but that no matter what the end might encompass, it would be “alright”.  Somewhere deep within my own spiritual consciousness I transcended beyond the darkness of this mortal life and embraced that light within and it gave me the strength to wobble no matter what would come along trying to knock me down.

Perhaps somewhere along that path I became arrogant, subconsciously coming to believe that I was somehow immune from these laws of nature that mandated that every man, no matter who he might be, had that breaking point within, and once reached, those drops of water would undoubtedly erode that stone and the substance upon which he once stood would crumble beneath him.  How dare that I believe that I might had been immune when men much stronger than I could ever hope to be have long crumbled and fallen into that abyss of hopelessness that patiently awaits us all.

For a condemned man, what is hope but the sweet and seductive siren call of an illusory mistress that exists only to lure you onto the rocky shores of your own destruction?  

I laugh when I recall that as a much younger man I once was when I survived that death-watch experience, I dared to believe that I had defeated death.  But nobody defeats death and in the end, no matter whether you’re on this side of the bars or the other side out there, nobody comes out alive.

But now know that this evolution of who I am continues just as methodically as those drops of water that erode the stone.  And for that reason alone, I should not be that surprised when I awake each day questioning the “why” of it all just as I did so long ago when I first dared to think that I had defeated death.

The truth of the matter is that through that near-death experience so long ago, I did die.  I suppose some will never understand that, as most will never see that as each day passes, we all continue to evolve into the person we will yet become.  Who I was way back when I first came here is not who I am today.  Although with each drop of water peeling away the softer layers of that shell of a man I once was, the stronger attributes of the substance of who I am continued to resist that erosion until it could resist no more and gave way to that evolution of that spiritual consciousness within With that event the man that I am was born, but even he continued to erode until yet another new man would crawl out of the embryonic slime

How dare I think I had defeated death when death had become so much a part of who I am? I found myself struggling with the wish that I had died that day so long ago. If I have learned nothing else through these past decades as a condemned man, it is that there truly are far worse than merely succumbing to a mortal death.

But that doesn’t mean that I am ready to die, and I certainly am not the suicidal type.  Rather, knowing that at any time the governor can sign a death warrant on me and again schedule my state-sanctioned execution, I can’t help but wonder whether I should fight it this time, or embrace the opportunity to end this perpetual nightmare.

There will be those that will say that by even entertaining these thoughts I am expressing weakness or perhaps pathetically screaming for attention – people truly do love to throw stones.  But given my familiarity with the world I am condemned within, I know only too well that at some point all of us here find ourselves having the same thoughts.  It’s a product of the erosion and an inherent part of that undeniable evolutionary process.  Just as with each appeal our hopes of defeating death are elevated, with each denial of judicial relief those hopes are crushed. We wobble our way through these cycles of despair, but at some point we just want to fall.  

Disillusioned with the hypocrisy of organized religion, and yet paradoxically affixed to an unshakable belief in the importance of nurturing my spiritual self within, my life has become a journey in search of greater truth that might give meaning to it all, a truth that continues to evade me.

I am reminded of what I once read in Victor Fankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  After spending years in a concentration camp during the dark days of World War Two, trained psychiatrist Victor Frankl tried to make sense of the incomprehensible atrocities deliberately inflicted upon his fellow man by others who embraced the belief that what they were doing was not simply justified, but necessary in the interest of bringing about a better society, not at all unlike the contemporary justifications our society today continues to make in defense of the pursuit of the death penalty. One profound truth he spoke of stands out amongst all others – (to respectfully paraphrase) when a man can still find the will and the reason to live, he can find the strength to survive and the means to do so.

The will to live…think about that for a moment.  How many of us have ever taken even a moment to ask ourselves why it is that we want to live?  There are many prisons in life and as tangible as the steel and stone might be around me, it is by no means the worst prison of all. I am certain that there are many out there in the real world that go through their everyday lives in a form of prison far worse than that I am in, whether it might be a bad relationship, or a broken heart, or enslaved by alcoholism or drugs, or any other form that strips us of our hope and that will to live.  Each day becomes its own struggle to survive and all the while we ask ourselves, why?

In the end, we are all condemned to die, and nobody is going to get out alive.  And when I dare think about it, as a condemned man cast down into this abyss of solitary confinement, deprived of all that which ultimately defines the very essence of this thing we dare call life, at the end of the day I believe all share more common ground than we dare to admit.

When it comes down to it, we search for meaning that defines our will to live.  And most are blessed with whatever it is that makes their life worth getting up for each day. Yet from time to time some will be struck by that unexpected blow that tries to knock them to the ground, but because they have that reason to live, they merely wobble until the wobbling stops and their lives go on, and even when they think they’ve fallen, they never really hit the ground.

But when blow after relentless blow descends upon any man, at what point will even the strongest of men pray for the wobbling to stop and just be allowed to fall?  Where once I was able to identify that reason that kept me pushing forward, I now look out on the landscape of what my so-called life has become, and am no longer able to see that proverbial rainbow on the distant horizon. Instead all around me I see only those darkening clouds gathering with the promise of that many more storms yet to come.

Without reason, where does one find that will?  At this point in my journey that inevitable fate that I found the strength to deny through the many years now hangs over me like a dark cloud descending down. I’ve fought the good fight, standing my ground as the battle raged on around me. As so many others grew weak and gave up, I remained standing.  And for that my only reward was to prolong my misery and suffering. In the end it seems that justice will never prevail and it remains my fate to die, and that death inflicted each day.

Where I once dreamed of the day freedom would come, but like the faded photographs of a life that once was, those dreams have themselves eroded away.  Not so long ago I had even dared to believe that at long last I would be joined in communion with a hundred souls with whom I would share the rest of my days, but that too was not meant to be and again I find myself alone.  And it’s loneliness that hurts the most of all.

I also struggle with my own conflicting thoughts. Relatively speaking, there are many around me far worse off than I.  For a condemned man, some would even argue that I am blessed, as I have that small circle of friends who catch me when I fall.  When my own strength fails, they are there to support me until I can once again stand on my own feet, and few around me that have that.  And yet I still find myself feeling so alone and even abandoned by that world beyond.

In recent months, through several court rulings (denial of appeals arguing evidence of my consistently pled claim of innocence. See: www.southerninjustice.net) and other issues that have negatively impacted the fragility of my existence here. I have endured blow after blow and like a Weeble, I have wobbled my way through each blow. But in the past few months I found myself increasingly obsessed with that one simple question, “why?”  Without hope or reason, there can be no will, and without the will to live, life itself becomes a fate worse than death.

No matter how deliberately monotonous as life or death might be with the same routine playing itself out each day with little variation to that routine for an infinite number of days, each of us await the uncertainty of our own fate. I’m sure some might argue that it is that unyielding monotony itself is enough to drive any man insane. The truth of the matter is that monotonous routine becomes a sort of security blanket in which we find a perverse measure of comfort within.  And as someone who is only too familiar with the dynamics of Death Row can attest, what only too often breaks the psyche of the condemned man is that unexpected event, or series of events, that disrupts what has become an only too predictable routine.

Each of us can only see the world in our own unique way and when we do find ourselves unexpectedly overwhelmed by the circumstances, we each deal with it in our own way.  Those very few who do know me are already aware that the past months have been difficult for me at many levels .I dealt with the anxiety of not knowing whether my death warrant might be signed scheduling my execution and various courts denying review of my appeals arguing my innocence. I was suddenly blindsided by loss of my former fiancĂ©e.  Every element of my life that extended and sustained my hope and faith was suddenly gone and although I remain blessed to have the few friends who stand by me, I still felt overwhelmed and alone.  And as I struggled to find that strength to wobble my way through it, I found myself increasingly all but obsessed with but one wish – to simply fall and not have to get back up.

When my spiritual strength fails me and I must confess that more and more, it does and it becomes difficult to believe in a God of love, mercy, and compassion when all I ever see is hate, misery and suffering.  Then I find myself searching for answers in the philosophical foundations of men far greater than I could ever hope to be. For as long as humanity has struggled along this journey we dare call life, each of us in our own way has been haunted by the same fundamental questions that once again confront in my desperate attempt to make sense of it.  And I know that just as I do now battle this demon that has bruised and broken men far stronger than me, my struggle to find that strength within is a battle that I share with all those imprisoned no matter what form their particular prison might take.

What I find is the unshakable truth that even under the most tragic circumstances, what makes a Weeble wobble without falling down is a Weeble’s willingness to confront the question of “why” and try to make some sense out of the chaos. The simple truth is that as long as we ask why and search for those answers, we will continue to wobble.  Only when we no longer possess that measure of strength within ourselves and resign ourselves to that overwhelming hopelessness does the wobbling fail us and we then fall.

As I wobble my way through these darkest of days I suddenly find myself smiling at the unexpected truth I yet again discovered…being a Weeble really isn’t such a bad thing. As just as long as I still have the strength to wobble, I won’t fall down.


Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution (P2102)
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026-4400

Innocent and Executed - Please Read