Breaking news: Michael Lambrix was killed by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017.
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Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison
PO Box 800
Raiford FL 32083

For more information on Mike's case visit:

Contact Gov. Scott and ask him to suspend Mike's and ALL executions.
Phone: (850) 488-7146
Email: - See more at:

recanted and the other gave inconsistent statements to police. Read more

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Clemency denied and execution date set for Mike Lambrix!!

Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford Florida 32026-1000

Gov. Scott has already broken the record for most executions by a Florida governor!

Contact Gov. Scott and ask him to suspend Mike's and ALL executions.
Phone: (850) 488-7146
- See more at:

Contact Gov. Scott and ask him to suspend Mike's and ALL executions.
Phone: (850) 488-7146
Email: - See more at:

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Scratching at the Scars of a Shattered Soul

Written for Minutes Before Six

By Michael Lambrix
I would argue that the transformative power of a simple mirror is the foundation for the evolution of self. Looking deep into the image staring back at us, we are compelled to scratch at the scars of our own shattered souls and confront truths we want to avoid.  From the beginning of time this has been true. I can only imagine a primitive version of humankind finding himself crouched down at the muddy edge of a pond looking deep into his own reflection and questioning who he was and wanted to be.  It was that self-examination that brought about evolutionary change.

I was barely 16 and out on my own, far away from any “home” I might have had and struggling to survive on the streets while others my age were still in school.  I found work with a traveling carnival and slept at night in the tents along the midway that housed the games and concessions. I was not alone, but only one of many “midway misfits”.  After the show shut down each night and silence blanketed the darkened grounds, we would emerge from the shadows and congregate in our groups, each chipping in what we could to buy whatever alcohol or drugs might be available. As we each indulged in our vice, the past each of us had run away from would be forgotten.  We had survived another day.

One particular cold winter night outside of Chicago, as our little band of midway misfits broke up,  each to stagger away each in their own direction, I sought warmer shelter. I ventured into the “House of Mirrors.” I was drunk and stoned, but the surreal experience came to define that time in my life. Although I knew each mirror was deliberately made to reflect a distorted image, as I stared I found that it was I who was so damaged and all I wanted to do was run from that reflection of who I was.

It would take another 16 years before I found myself in a solitary cell on Florida´s infamous Death Row, looking deep into a simple plastic mirror at the man I had become. I could no longer pull away.  I had already been condemned to die years earlier and even come within hours of being executed (please read: “The Day God Died”). But it was only then that after years of refusing us any form of mirror under the pretense that mirrors posed a “security threat”, that suddenly we were allowed to purchase and possess simple plastic mirrors.  For the first time in many years I found myself staring at the image looked back at me.
That was over 20 years ago. The experience motivated me to write a widely published essay “To See the Soul – a Search for Self” (published in Welcome to Hell by Jan Arriens as “A Simple Plastic Mirror”)  in which I struggle to confront who I was and who I want to become after realizing I didn´t like the man looking back at me and I’d wanted to become something better.  That mirror contributed to changing who I was, giving me direction in my journey through life. I continue to stagger along the path toward my still unknown destination, as the uncertainty of my fate remains undetermined.

But what I didn´t know then, and do now, is that with each step of the journey we continue to grow. To paraphrase the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us can only make us stronger.” I came to embrace the belief that each experience is an opportunity to grow, and that I alone possess the power to determine how the misery inflicted upon me might affect me.  And being condemned to die at the hands of man did not deprive me of who I wanted to become.

The poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling became my inspiration as I found myself cast down into an environment of lost souls.  Ones consumed by the hate I would come to know well, because when all else fails, hate finds a way to prevail.  Each day is a struggle to not allow it to possess my soul, too.  And when I do find myself becoming influenced by the destructive darkness of hate, I again read these words:

 If you can keep your head when all about you
    are losing theirs and blaming it on you –
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    but make allowance for their doubting, too –
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,
    or being lied about, don´t deal in lies –
or being hated, don´t give way to hating,
    and yet don´t look too good, nor talk too wise –
If you can dream and not make dreams your master,
    If you can think and not make thoughts your aim –
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
    and treat those two imposters just the same –
If you can bear to hear the truth you´ve spoken
    twisted by knives to make a trap for fools;
or watch the things you gave your life to broken
    and stoop and build  ´em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss;
And loss and start again at your beginnings
    and never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    to serve your turn long after they are gone;
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    except the will whish says to them “hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
      or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes or loving friends can hurt you,
    if all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    with sixty seconds worth of distance run;
Yours is the earth and everything in it,
      and which is more, you´ll be a man, my son.

Even under normal circumstances, few reach the point in their lives at which they are compelled to confront who they are, not merely accepting that they can be something better, but taking it to the next step of making the conscious effort to evolve into an improved self.  For most of us, we are leaves fallen into a stream, our destiny by defined where the water might take us with little effort spent changing its course.  Each decision along the way is contained within the boundaries of the stream as if John Calvin´s definition of pre-destiny (a tenet of the Presbyterian faith) dictates the direction of our life, each option (“free will”) limited to that small world we live in.

If a normal life can be compared to flowing peacefully down a stream, then prison life would be like being cast over a cliff, upon raging rapids, violently cutting its way through steep canyon cliffs. Unable to escape nor float downstream, every second of every day you must struggle not to sink and even one moment of weakness will be your last.

Death Row is no different.  Each of us is kept in continuous solitary confinement, but we are still swept toward our own destruction in those same white-water rapids.  Most become so caught up in keeping their own head above the water that they no longer search for elusive pods of calm water hidden in the eddies along the way, and their own survival comes at the cost of dragging others down in their own attempt to rise above.

As the passing years would patiently teach me, after long ago looking into that plastic mirror and making the conscious decision to become a better man than I was, that the image remained incomplete.  I couldn´t have known that by choosing this particular path I would find myself repeatedly tested.  Accepting myself being cast down into an environment consumed by misery and hate, each day I had to find the strength not to become part of the very thing I didn´t want to become.

But in this world, I was expected to be a “convict.” Conforming to an abstract set of values that, while generally written in stone (i.e. – mind your own business, don´t rat on others, be true to your word, etc.), were still subjectively defined by those around you meant that when tested, the choice not to respond as expected would result in a perverted form of peer pressure.  In the eyes of others, you were reduced to something less than a “convict” and in here, anything less than a convict makes you a target.

But as long as a man continues to define himself by what others think, he can never be his own man.  This place is its own hell, and I find myself trapped in a world where doing the right thing is often the wrong thing to do. I find myself precariously balanced between those two conflicting worlds, each pulling at me as I hang above an abyss threatening to consume me. I am not alone. I know of many others who struggle daily to be better men, yet give into those raging rapids and become what they perceive to be a “convict.”  And for that, their lives in here become easier, but their inner struggles become harder.

Many years ago I thought in my ignorance that by looking deep down into theplastic mirror I had discovered my true self. But just as when I found myself alone in that “house of mirrors,” I know now that what you think you see in a mirror is not necessarily a true reflection.  It becomes a distortion of what you want to see.  People go into the “House of Mirrors” expecting to see a distorted image.

Now I look into a mirror knowing that when I do, the reflection will be altered as I consciously scratch away at the scars of a shattered soul.  And it took me many years before I scratched away enough to start to confront the past that formed me into who I was.
When I wrote “To See the Soul – A Search for Self,” I didn´t realize just how pathetically superficial that self-examination was. I only saw the reflection I wanted to see at the time.  It was enough to know I didn´t like the man I was and that I wanted to become something better.

For most of my life I never talked about my childhood or family life beyond the grossly distorted surrogates I created in my own imagination.  I heard it said once that those who didn´t have a life before prison create one.  Crack-heads become self-proclaimed drug lords, pimps become players and killers become “convicts.” To run with the big dogs you had to be willing to become one of them.  But few dare to scratch beneath the surface of their own scarred souls and until they do, they can never hope to evolve into something more than what they are.

The path I choose to journey down is a solitary one. Often it alienates me from those I live amongst.  When confronted by a perceived wrong, such as someone “disrespecting” me, or another form of transgression in this world, I am expected to respond with violence.  Anything less makes me appear as a “coward. ”Those who remain determined to be seen as “convicts” can never understand that for me and others, being labeled a “coward” is preferable to a “killer.”  It takes a conscious decision to turn the other cheek and not be reduced to the kind of person we’ve struggled so hard not to become.

I find my own refuge in books.  If I could, I would give every prisoner a copy of my two favorite books…Dante´s “Inferno,” which provokes a lost soul to contemplate the consequences or our actions, and Victor Frankl´s “Man´s Search for Meaning,” which through profound truth teaches that within each of us is the strength to not simply survive even the most incomprehensible atrocities, but to overcome them.
As Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one´s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one´s own way….. “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation … when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

I no longer keep my mirror taped to my wall.  Now I keep it tucked inside my Bible, so that as I search for strength in the wisdom of the ages, I have it to look into.  And it rests alongside my favorite quotes from “Man´s Search for Meaning”.
Knowing that I live in a world in which in which hate prevails in the absence of love and spreads like a cancer, I find my journey defined by the pursuit of a tangible sense of “love.”  It begins with love of self.  One cannot love oneself if he doesn’t like himself, and one cannot truly love another until they´ve first embraced the love of self. Again, to quote Victor Frankl:

“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.  The truth – that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire.  Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret – that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Few can begin to comprehend the depth of misery inflicted upon those condemned to death under the pretense of administering “justice.” Day after day, month after month, year after year we are relentlessly beaten down by the inescapable reality that society has found us unfit to live.  We are cast down into the bowels of a beast devoid of mercy and compassion.  Each day is a struggle to find the strength to hope.
Our artificial environment has been methodically structured to break both body and soul, to erode all sense of hope.  To alienate any pretense of love until all that remains is the flesh they seek to kill.  And few possess the strength, much less the motivation, to rise above it rather than become one with it.

But again, to quote Victor Frankl, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by a lack of meaning and purpose,” and “those who have a “why” can bear with almost any “how,” as in some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

I found my “meaning” in that simple plastic mirror so long ago, and have tried to stay true to the path I chose to follow.  That doesn´t mean I haven´t stumbled and even fallen along the way. I would be the first to admit that I am far from perfect.  But it’s not about being perfect. It’s about striving to become something better than I once was.  And that in the many years since I found the strength to look into that first simple plastic mirror, I´d like to think I have become someone better.

My journey is coming to an end.  I know I will soon be put to death.  Knowledge of this weighs heavily on my soul and I fight not to be overcome by the gross injustice of my conviction and condemnation.(please check out:

But as I look into the mirror, I realize the uncertainty of my fate remains irrelevant, because in the end, nobody gets out alive.  We are all born condemned to die. And perhaps for the purpose of discovering who I was, and had the strength to become, it was necessary for me to follow this particular path. I know that had I not been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, I would never have had the opportunity to find myself in the simple plastic mirror, and subsequently discover that strength within myself that made me a better man.

I continue to scratch at the scars of my own shattered soul. Scars remain, but with each scratch I come to understand them better, and finding strength to grow in spite of an environment intended to suffocate  growth.  I have found my meaning.  Through the reflection staring back at me.  Even when all else fails, love will prevail.

NOTE:  If you would like to read about Mike´s “actual innocence” case, please check out 

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Click here to read a recent story on Mike and his case

Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
P.O. Box 800 (G1205)
Raiford, FL 32083
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Friday, 22 January 2016

Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to Murder

By Michael Lambrix
This essay was written by Mike Lambrix for the website Minutes Before Six

As if a scene straight out of The Twilight Zone, circumstances trapped me within the cold and calculated process that resulted in the murder by state sanctioned execution of Oscar Ray Bolin on January 7, 2016. In all the years I´ve been on Florida´s death row, I´ve never been in such close proximity to an execution as it unfolded around me, forcing me to become part of the very process that they intended to then subject me to in precisely five weeks’ time.

On November 30, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed my death warrant and I was immediately transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional (less than a mile away) to the “death watch” housing area on the bottom floor of Q-Wing at Florida State Prison. I joined Oscar down there—his own death warrant had been signed about 5 weeks earlier and they intended to murder him on January 7. There are only three cells in the death watch area, and Oscar was in cell one, and I was place in cell three, with an empty cell separating us.

Through those five weeks, each day brought him closer—his wife of almost twenty years solidly by his side, uncompromised in her commitment to stand by him and prove that he was innocent. And those familiar with the case knew that recently developed evidence did establish a persuasive issue of innocence, too.

His final rounds of appeals focused specifically on evidence supporting his innocence and the hope that the courts would do the right thing. As the New Year weekend passed, the Federal District Court summarily denied review of his innocence claim upon the finding that the lower Federal Court didn´t have jurisdiction to hear his claim of innocence. But there was hope, as the District Court granted a “Certificate of Appealability” (“C.O.A.”) authorizing appellate review before the Eleventh Circuit, and soon after the Eleventh Circuit issued an order establishing a “briefing schedule” in March…it seemed all but certain that Oscar would be granted a stay of execution and his claim of innocence would be fully briefed and heard by the appellate court.

Monday, January 4 passed as he anxiously awaited word that a stay of execution would be granted, but there was only silence from the court. Each day his wife spent every minute she could and it is impossible to imagine the pain she felt—she too was unquestionably a victim caught up in this cold process that unfolded around her.

I sat in my solitary cell not more than ten feet away and found myself impressed with the strength Oscar exhibited, and the concern he held for his wife and what this process inflicted on her. Society wanted to label this man a cold-blooded killer, yet if only those only too willing to throw stones could see the desperate concern he had for his wife, they could see how wrong they are.

Now I struggle to find the words—and with a reluctance to even write about what I involuntarily witnessed. But if I don´t, then who will? And is it really fair that the record of what transpired would otherwise be the state´s own version, leaving no perspective from those that they kill?

I must emphasize that even as much as these events impacted me due to my close proximity to this process, it is not comparable to what they were forced to endure, and the loss those who loved Oscar Bolin suffered. My attempt to share what transpired from my own unique perspective is done in the hope that perhaps by bearing witness, others would see just how incomprehensibly inhuman this process is, and how truly cold-blooded this act of murder is…and to know it is carried out in all of our names.

And I apologize for rambling on—it is not easy for me to find the necessary words. I can only hope that I can convey the true impact of what unfolded and compel those that read this to ask themselves whether this truly is what we aspire our society to be? It´s easy to justify the death penalty by claiming that it is in the interest of justice to kill those convicted of killing another—to become a killer ourselves.

But how many give a thought at all to just how much contemplation is put into this process employed to take that life? I am again reminded of what I once read, written by the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”
Think about that. It´s easy to dismiss what I say by blindly insisting that a jury convicted Oscar Bolin of murder and that justice demands that society take his life. But really—who is actually investing more conscious thought into the act of taking a human life?

It is for this reason I´m determined to share my own unique perspective of what this process is, and how by these very actions it reduces society itself to that very level of becoming “the monster.” Perhaps in my attempt to share this, others can see just how wrong this is.

On the early morning of Monday, January 4, the day began with the death watch staff advising both me and Oscar of our scheduled visits and phone calls for that day, I had already asked my family and friends not to visit that week as I didn´t want my visits to interfere in any way with Oscar´s visits. All I had was a phone call from my son early that morning and a legal phone call with my lawyer later that day.

Oscar had a visit with his wife and both anxiously awaited any word from the Eleventh Circuit courts hoping that a full stay of execution would come and the court would allow full and fair review of his innocence claim. But the day passed without any word from the court. By that evening Bolin was down to 72 hours—and I know from personal experience how difficult that was, as I had come within hours of execution myself when I was on death watch years earlier—only I was granted a stay.

By Tuesday morning, January 5, Oscar was down to sixty hours, and the clock continued to tick away and yet still nothing from the courts on whether they would allow his claim of innocence to be heard. Oscar spent from late morning until mid-afternoon with his wife in the non-contact visiting area. Upon his return, his demeanor was more subdued and the stress and anxiety he felt became all but tangible. And as I sat silently a few feet away in my own solitary cell, I wondered whether any of those willing to take his life gave even so much as a moment of thought into what they were inflicting upon other human beings—and again, Oscar was not the only one forced to count down those final hours anxiously hoping that phone would ring with the news that the court would allow his claim of innocence to be heard…every second of every moment, every hour that passed inflicted incomprehensible pain upon his wife and those that cared for him.

That evening passed in an uncomfortable silence as the courts would have closed their doors for the night and no news would come until at least that next morning. That psychological trauma of uncertainty weighed heavily upon them.

I doubt Oscar slept much that Tuesday night—I know I didn´t. His T.V. remained on into the early morning hours. By that next morning (Wednesday) he was down to about thirty six hours until his still scheduled execution and still no word from the court. It would be a long day. They brought the breakfast trays as they did each morning, but neither of us had any interest in eating. Down here on death watch, our meals are kept under direct supervision of security staff to ensure nobody (other prisoners or staff) has any chance of tampering with the food or smuggling anything to the condemned prisoner.

This methodical countdown to the intended execution actually starts a full week before, when they remove all personal property from the condemned prisoner´s cell, placing him (or her) on “Phase II.” From the moment they place the condemned prisoner on Phase II (that final week) a guard is posted directly in front of the cell twenty four hours a day, his only job to observe the condemned prisoner to ensure he (or she) doesn´t attempt suicide or harm themselves—and a few have tried. Any activity is written in a forest green “Death Watch Log.” Throughout this time, not even for one second are you allowed to forget that they are counting down your last days—and last hours.

Oscar again had a visit with his wife as she stood faithfully by him spending every moment she could—even if those visits were restricted to a few hours of non-contact (through glass) visits.
By early afternoon Oscar returned to his death watch cell—still no word from the court. The hours dragged by as Oscar talked to the guard stationed in front of his cell, simply talking about anything at all.

Warden Palmer came down, accompanied by Deputy Secretary Dixon (the second highest Department of Corrections employee). They talked to Oscar for a while mostly just to check on how he was holding up. But the preparations had begun and that final twenty four hours was quickly approaching. After they talked to Oscar, they stepped that few feet further down to the front of my cell and spoke to me.

I must admit that I was impressed by their professionalism and their sincerity that bordered on genuine concern. Perhaps the most heard expression on death watch is an almost apologetic “we´re just doing our job” and the truth is that the current staff assigned to work the death watch area and interact with the condemned prisoners counting down their final hours do go to great lengths to treat us with a sense of dignity and respect seldom even seen in the prison system.

The significance of this cannot be understated. I´ve been down here on death watch before years ago and came within hours of being executed myself, and there´s always been a deliberate distance between the condemned and the staff—especially the higher ranking staff. But it´s different this time. In the five weeks that I´ve been down here almost daily high ranking staff have come down to the death watch housing area and made a point of talking to us in an informal manner, abandoning that implicit wall of separation between them and us.

And now none other than the Deputy Secretary himself personally came down to talk to us—I´ve never heard of this before. Shortly after they left, Oscar asked the sergeant for the barber clippers. He wanted to shave his own chest and legs, rather than have them do it the next day. It had to be done, as the lethal injection process requires the attachment of heart monitors and Oscar preferred to shave it himself—as most would.

Oscar received another legal phone call later that afternoon—now down to almost twenty four hours until his scheduled execution and still no decision by the Eleventh Circuit as to whether or not they´d allow review of his innocence claim. The lawyers would call if any news came, but it was assumed that the judges deciding his fate already called it a day and went home. No further phone call came that night. Again Oscar stayed up late, unable to sleep until sometime in the early morning hours and he was not alone, as sleep would be hard to come by.

We reached the day of execution. Typically, they change shifts at 6:00 a.m. working a full twelve hour shift. But on days of scheduled execution, they change shifts at 4:30 a.m., as with the execution scheduled at 6:00 p.m. they cannot do a shift change then, as the entire institution will go on lockdown during that time.
With that final twenty four hours now counting down, each minute was managed by strict “Execution Day” protocol, and the day started earlier than usual. As if an invisible cloud hung in the air, you could all but feel the weight of this day as it was that tangible, and undoubtedly more so on Oscar. But he was holding up remarkably well, maintaining his composure even though the strain was obvious in his voice. How does one go about the day that they know they are to die? Again, I´ve been there myself and I know how he felt and it cannot easily be put into words.

Oscar was diabetic and as with each morning, the nurse came to check his blood sugar level and administer insulin, if necessary. Now within that final twelve hours, nothing would be left to chance. Around 7:00 a.m., they let Oscar take a shower, and then after locking down the entire institution, they took him up front for a last visit with his wife. They would be allowed a two hour non-contact visit until 10:00 a.m., then an additional one hour contact visit—the last visit before the scheduled execution.

Shortly after 11:00 a.m. they escorted Oscar back to the Q-Wing death watch cell. A few minutes later “Brother Dale” Recinella was allowed to come down and spend a few hours with Oscar as his designated spiritual advisor. Contrary to the Hollywood movies depicting the execution process, the prison chaplain is rarely, if ever, involved as each of us are allowed to have our own religious representative—and many choose “Brother Dale” as he is well-known and respected amongst the death row population.

Many years ago Brother Dale was a very successful lawyer, making more money than most can dream of. But then he experienced a life-changing event and spiritual transformation, as chronicled in his book “And I Walk on Death Row” (see, Brother Dale and his equally-devoted wife Susan gave up their wealth and privilege and devoted their lives to their faith and ministering to death row.

Even as these final hours continued to count down, I remained in that solitary cell only a few feet away and unable to escape the events as the continued to unfold around me. There are only three cells on death watch and I found it odd that they kept me down here as they proceeded with this final process—when I was on death watch in 1988, they moved me upstairs to another cell removed from the death watch area as they didn´t want any other prisoners in the death watch area as these final events unfolded.

Brother Dale left about 2:00 p.m. and the death watch lieutenant, a familiar presence on death watch, then made a point of talking to Oscar and they went over the protocol—shortly before 4:00 p.m. he would shower again and then be brought around to the west side of the wing where they had only one cell immediately adjacent to the door that led to the execution chamber. I listened as this process was explained, knowing only too well that in precisely five more weeks I would be given the same talk.
The warden and Asst. warden came down again and talked to Oscar. A few minutes later the Secretary (director) of the Florida Department of Corrections, Julie Jones, personally came to Oscar´s cell and sat in a chair and talked to him—I´ve never heard of that happening before. But her tone of voice and mannerisms reflected genuine empathy towards Oscar, and he thanked her for taking that time to talk to him.

As they now closed in on that final two hours before the scheduled execution, Oscar received another phone call from his lawyer—the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals still had not ruled on whether they would grant a stay of execution and allow a full review of his pled innocence claim. Oscar´s voice was obviously stressed. Per protocol, the nurse gave him 5 mg. valium to calm his nerves.

Just before 4:00 p.m., Oscar spoke to me, wanting to talk about a problem he and I had years ago—a problem that I alone was responsible for and of which I have often regretted. In the five weeks we had been on death watch together, it was not spoken of. But now, to my amazement, even dealing with all that he was dealing with, Oscar wanted me to know that he forgave me for what I did. And for a few minutes we talked. And then the warden and his staff removed Oscar from his cell and escorted him around to the west side of the wing, to the execution chamber holding cell, where he would remain until the court cleared the way for execution, or he received a stay of execution and was brought back to this side.

A single sergeant remained on this side, and for the first time since I was brought to death watch I was alone as the sergeant remained at the desk just outside the cell block area—and I didn´t want to be alone. As I do often, especially when stressed, I paced in my cell anxious to hear any word on what was going on and checking my watch almost every minute, and each minute dragged by so slowly it was almost as if time itself had stopped and I couldn´t begin to imagine what Oscar and his wife were going through.

At irregular intervals the sergeant would walk down to my cell to check on me and I asked whether there was any more news. The Eleventh Circuit had denied his appeal and the case quickly moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court. The designated time of scheduled execution—6:00 p.m.—came and went without any word from the Supreme Court.

Oscar would remain in that holding cell until the Supreme Court cleared the way for execution—but at least both he and his loved ones still had hope as the minutes continued to tick away.
Most don´t realize just how many people are involved in this execution process and everybody remained on hold not knowing whether the execution would proceed or not. Immediately adjacent to my cell was a solid steel door that led directly into a hallway stretching the entire width of the wing. Just inside this door was an area with a coffee pot and chairs, and I could hear a number of unknown people congregated only a few feet away from me on the other side of the door as they discussed the continued uncertainty.

A larger crowd of unknown participants congregated on the lower quarter-deck area between the west side of the wing where the death watch housing area was and the door that led into the east side where Oscar remained in the holding cell. I couldn´t make out what they were saying and wondered, especially when I periodically heard laughter. I suppose this long wait was stressful on them, too, and a moment of levity could be forgiven. And yet I found myself wondering what they could possibly find funny as they awaited that moment of time when they would each assume their assigned task and take the life of another human being.

One hour passed, and then another, and another yet. Then at almost 10:00 p.m. it suddenly got quiet—very quiet. All the voices that continuously hummed both behind that steel door and the quarter-deck area just suddenly went silent and without anyone around to tell me; I knew that they all moved to their positions in the execution chamber.

It remained utterly silent—so quiet that I could hear the coffee pot percolating at the sergeant´s desk on the other side of the gate and I held my watch as the minutes passed and I strained to hear any sound at all. But there was nothing and I knew they were now putting Oscar to death. I cannot explain it, but I just felt it—and I got on my knees and I prayed, and yet I couldn´t find any words and found myself kneeling at my bunk in silence for several minutes.

Then I heard what sounded like a door on the other side of that concrete wall that separated my cell from the execution chamber. Then I once again heard muffled voices on the other side of that steel door. It was over and it went quickly…Oscar was dead. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a number of people going up the stairs leading away from the execution chamber. Their job was done and in an orderly manner they were leaving.

For obvious reasons, I didn´t sleep that night. Only a few feet behind that wall of my cell, Oscar´s body now lay growing cold. There are no words that can describe how I felt, but that emptiness that consumed me and left me laying in my bunk in complete silence through the night.

Somewhere in the early morning hours I fell asleep, only to awaken just after 7:00 a.m. It was a new day. The death watch Lieutenant was already here and I was now the only one left on death watch. But just that quickly, I was instructed that I had to immediately pack my property as they had to move me to cell one—the cell that Oscar only recently vacated.

I didn´t want to move to that cell, but I didn´t have any choice. That was the same cell I previously occupied in late 1988 when I myself came within hours of my own execution (read, “The Day God Died”) and especially knowing that only a few hours again Oscar was in that cell still alive and holding on to hope, I just didn´t want to be moved to that cell. Every person who has been executed in the State of Florida in the past forty years was housed in that cell prior to their execution.

But it wasn´t a choice and I obediently packed my property and with the officer´s assistance, I was moved from cell three to cell one. And as I worked on putting all my property back where it belonged (storing it in the single steel footlocker bolted firmly to the floor), a long-awaited phone call from my close friend Jan Arriens came through.

While on death watch, we are allowed two personal phone calls each week, and since my warrant was signed five weeks earlier, I had anxiously awaited the opportunity to talk to Jan, but through the Christmas holiday he was visiting his family in Australia. Having only recently returned to his home in England, he arranged this phone call.

It was good to hear a friendly voice just at that time when I most especially needed a friend. But we only had a few minutes to talk and unlike those eternal moments of the night before, these minutes passed far too quickly. But just hearing the voice of a friend comforted me.

Shortly after that phone call, I then had a legal visit and was escorted to the front of the prison to meet with my lawyer´s investigator. We spent hours going over legal issues and then it was back to the death watch cell. Not long after I returned, I learned that the governor had already signed another death warrant. This machinery of death continued to roll along. By mid-afternoon a familiar face was brought down to join me…Mark Asay (who we call “Catfish”) had his death warrant signed that morning, with his execution scheduled for March 17, exactly 5 weeks after my own scheduled execution.

With the methodical precision of a mechanical machine, Florida has resumed executions with a vengeance, establishing a predictable pattern of signing a new death warrant even before the body of the last executed prisoner has grown cold.

Now I remain in the infamous “cell one,” next in line to be executed—and on February 11, 2016 at 6:00 p.m., the State of Florida plans to kill me. Until then, I will remain in a cell in which the last twenty three occupants, without exception, resided until their own execution. I do not like being in this solitary cell. 
Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
7819 N.W. 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

Monday, 21 December 2015

Message from Mike Lambrix to his friends - from Death Watch

Read Mike's letter to his friends, from death watch

And read his second message from death watch here

Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison Q2301
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford  Florida 32026-1100

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Clemency denied and execution date set for Mike Lambrix!!

Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison Q2301
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford  Florida 32026-1100

Gov. Scott has already broken the record for most executions by a Florida governor!

Contact Gov. Scott and ask him to suspend Mike's and ALL executions.
Phone: (850) 488-7146

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Alcatraz of the South Part 7 (Redemption in the Mirror)

By Michael Lambrix
Written by Michael Lambrix for the Minutes Before Six website
To read Part 6, click here
Whether it was the almost guttural rumbling of the diesel generator or that unmistakable sulfuric smell of the exhaust, or the combination of both as I struggled to sleep through it on that chilly late fall morning, I don’t know. But there I was at the edge of that abyss between sleep and consciousness and caught in that moment between time and eternity. I found myself tangled in the perception of the past, and what once was new became a prophetic omen of what my life would be, and in that moment I discovered that redemption is a mirror we all look upon.

Each Wednesday, for as long as I can remember, the same perverse ritual played itself out as a reminder to all of us here that we are caught in a perpetual state of limbo between life and death.  Each day that passes brings us one step closer to that judicially imposed fate. We are condemned to death and if we ever did dare to forget that, the generator served as a not-so-subtle reminder.

Now it seems like a lifetime ago since I was first housed on that north side of what was then known as “R-Wing” (since then re-lettered as G-Wing for reasons I suppose most of us will never know). But merely changing the identifying letter that hangs above that solid steel door opening on to what was then one of four wings at Florida State Prison that housed us condemned to die in the years before they built the “new” unit of Union Correctional won’t change what lies beyond.  Upon entering, one steps into a hell that only the malignant mind of men could ever manifest into reality.
It was late in the summer and I was coming off disciplinary confinement when I was moved over to an empty cell on R-Wing, placed about half way down the tier on the second floor. I was told by the guys around me that it was a quiet floor and a number of the guys made it clear they wanted it to stay that way. I had no problem with that, as the floor I was on had gotten wide open with radios and TVs blasting both night and day and more than a number of the guys yelling to each other so they could be heard above the noise and it never seemed to stop. Now, a little quiet would be welcome.

I moved to the floor on a Friday morning and it took the better part of that weekend to put my property up and arrange my new cell. Only recently were we given large steel footlockers to store all our personal property in. Prior to that, we pretty much just piled the numerous cardboard boxes containing what we called our own in any manner we liked and they left us alone. But the administration claimed the fire marshal warned the boxes were a hazard and had to go.
It was just as well, as the boxes were magnets to the infinite number of both cockroaches and rodents that infested the death row wings. At least with steel locker, it was a little harder for them to get in and out, although it didn’t take too long before they found their ways.

By early that following week I was getting to know the guys I now lived amongst. Funny how that is, every wing on the floor you are housed on seemed to have its own different set of personalities. This particular floor was known to many as the celebrity floor, as it housed a few of the more notorious death row prisoners, such as my new neighbor, Ted Bundy.

While most of those on this particular floor were there by choice, each patiently waiting for a cell to open then requesting to be placed in it as they wanted to be housed on a quiet floor, both me and Ted had no choice. I was placed there for no reason but luck of the draw—when my time in lock-up (disciplinary confinement) was up, it was the only cell open and for Ted, they just liked to keep him on the second floor near the officers’ quarter deck so that when the occasional “four group” of politicians or judges would come through, they could be paraded down the outer catwalk and get their peek at “Bundy.” Most of the time we would know when a tour group was coming and when we heard that outer catwalk door open, we would quickly throw on our headphones and pretend to watch TV as none of us cared to be their entertainment.

At first I didn’t know what to make of it when I realized that I was suddenly housed next door to Ted. In the few years that I had been on death row, I was previously always housed on what was then known as “S-wing,” which was one wing up toward the front of where I now was, but in many ways a whole other world away.
Like everyone else, I had heard of him. And for a good reason he didn’t exactly go out of his way to reach out to those he didn’t know, as too many even in our own little world liked to throw their stones…even those cast down together into this cesspool of the system. I was already aware of how doing time was about being part of a micro-community of various clichés, each of us becoming part of our own little group.

But it didn’t take too long before I found myself standing up at the front of my new cell talking to Ted around that concrete wall that separated us. As coincidence would have it, we shared a lot of common ground, especially when I mentioned that I was born and raised out on the west coast and that Northern California would always be the only place I would truly call “home.”
As the conversation carried on, he had asked if my family still lived out there, but they didn’t, at least not any relatives that mattered. After my parents divorced, when I was still too young to remember, my father gained sole custody of me and my six siblings and then remarried and we gained three more. It was anything but an amicable divorce, and we never were allowed to get to know our mother.

But as I explained the family dynamics, I pulled out a picture of me with my mother and stepfather taken when I finally did get to know them when I was 22. I guess the snow outside the window gave it away, but Ted quickly noticed that detail and commented that he had never seen the snow like that around San Francisco and I then explained that my mom didn’t live in California, as she had moved to Utah and I spent the winter of ’81-’82 with them outside of Salt Lake City.
That caught his attention and after that I couldn’t have shut him up if I had wanted to. For the rest of the evening and into the night he talked about his own time outside of Salt Lake City and as we talked we realized my mom lived only a few blocks from where his mom lived… small world. As two people will do, when reminiscing about common ground, we went on and on about various places we both knew, although neither of us spent more than a few months there. But it brought us together.

In the following months we grew closer through our common interest in the law. At the time I was barely just beginning to learn (Although at that ripe age of 27 I would have sworn I already knew it all). Now twice as old, I look back and realize I didn’t know half as much as I thought I knew and through Ted’s patience I learned what it took to stay alive.
Most of those around here who consider themselves jailhouse lawyers know only what little they might have read in a few law books and then think they know it all. But as I would quickly come to know, only because my new mentor had the patience to teach me, to truly understand the law you must look beyond what the law says and learn how to creatively apply the concepts. And that’s what makes all the difference.

During the time I was next to Ted I was preparing to have my first “clemency” hearing. It’s one of those things we all go through and back then they would schedule us for clemency review after our initial “direct” appeal of the conviction and sentence of death were completed. Only then, by legal definition, does the capital conviction and sentence of death become “final,” if only by word alone.
But nobody actually would get clemency and we all know it was nothing more than a bad joke, a complete pretense. I was still inexcusably naïve, but Ted’s tutorage enlightened me and I dare say that if not for that coincidence of being his neighbor at that particular time in my so-called life, I would have been dead many years ago.

Back at that time, Florida had only recently established a state-funded agency with the statutory responsibility of representing those sentenced to death. But like most else in our “justice” system the creation of this agency was really nothing more than a political pretense never actually intended to accommodate our ability to meaningfully challenge our conviction, but instead existed only to facilitate the greater purpose of expediting executions.
A few years earlier as then Florida Governor “Bloody Bob” Graham aggressively began to push for executions, at the time heading the country in the number put to death, the biggest obstacle was the complete absence of any organized legal agency willing to represent those who faced imminent execution. Repeatedly, lawyers would be assigned only at that last moment and then the courts would be forced to grant a stay of execution until the newly assigned lawyers could familiarize themselves with the case.

In 1985, Governor Graham and then Florida Attorney General Jim Smith joined forces to push through legislative action to create a state agency exclusively responsible for the representation of all death-sentenced prisoners. They believed by doing so, it would speed up executions, as lawyers would no longer be assigned at the last minute. But many others argued that by creating this agency the state would stack the deck by providing only lawyers connected to the state’s own interests.
A compromise was reached in which a former ACLU lawyer known for his advocacy on behalf of death row was hired as the new agency’s first director, and soon after Larry Spalding then hand-picked his own staff. This small group of dedicated advocates quickly succeeded in all but stopping any further executions in Florida and the politicians did not like that, not at all.

For those of us on the Row, it gave us hope. We knew only too well that the insidious politics of death manipulated the process from the very day we were arrested to that final day when we would face execution. Anybody who thinks our judicial system is “fair” has never looked into how the law really works. And with the agency exclusively responsible for representing all those sentenced to death now at the mercy of politically motivated legislative funding, it didn’t take long before the conservative, pro-death politicians in Florida realized that by simply denying the agency adequate funding they would render the work meaningless while still technically complying with the judicial mandate of, at least by statutory definition, providing the necessary legal representation to carry out more executions.

At the time, I had already waited over a year for a lawyer to be assigned to my case, but because of the inadequate funding of the agency, none were available. For the entire Death Row population quickly approached 300, the Florida legislature provided only enough money to hire 3 staff lawyers. It was an impossible job, but they remain committed.
Fortunately, with Ted as my neighbor, I received assistance not available to others, and through his guidance I was able to file the necessary motions requesting assignment of what is known as initial-review collateral counsel. Although none were available, it still built up the record and although like many others who were forced to pursue their initial post-conviction review through such a deliberately corrupted process, at least I was able to get my attempts to have collateral counsel assigned to my case into the permanent record, and although as intended, I was deprived of my meaningful opportunity to pursue this crucial collateral review, thanks to Ted’s assistance, that foundation was laid long ago.

It only took our Supreme Court another 25 years to finally recognize the same constitutional concept that Ted walked me through so long ago—that fundamental fairness and “due process” required the states to provide competent and “effective” assistance of initial-review collateral counsel and if actions attributable to the states deprived a prisoner of that meaningful opportunity to pursue the necessary post-conviction review, then an equitable remedy must be made available. See Martinez v Ryan, 132 Sect. 1309 (2012).
I would say that Ted is probably rolling over in his grave and smiling at all this, but I know he was never buried. It was his choice to be cremated and have his ashes spread in the Cascade Mountains, where he called home.

Perhaps this is one of the lessons I had to learn in those early years when I first came to Death Row. I shared many preconceived opinions that most in our society would. Because of what I heard of Ted Bundy, I had expectations that soon proved to be an illusion. Often over the years I have struggled with the judgments we make of others around us, only too quickly forgetting that while we go through our lives throwing stones, we become blissfully oblivious to the stones being thrown at us.
Maybe we will want to call him a monster, and few would deny the evil that existed within him. But when I look to those who gather outside on the day of yet another state-sanctioned execution, I now see that same evil on the face of those who all but foam at their mouth while screaming for the death of one of us here. That doesn’t make these people evil, per se, but merely reminds me of a truth I came to know only by being condemned to death: that both good and evil do simultaneously co-exist within each of us and only by making that conscious effort every day to rise above it, can each of us truly hold any hope of not succumbing to it and becoming that monster ourselves.

Being condemned to death is often ultimately defined by the evolution of our spiritual consciousness. I know all too well that there will be many who will want to throw stones at me because I dared to find a redeeming quality in someone they see as a monster. And as those stones might fall upon me, I will wear those scars well, knowing that it is easy to see only the evil within another, but by becoming a stronger man I can still find the good. And despite being cast down into the bowels of a hell, that ability, and even more importantly, that willingness to find good in those around me has made me a better man.

It was around that same time that the hands of fate brought me into contact with another man I knew long before I came to Death Row. The thing about this micro-community we are cast down into is that it really is a very segregated world. Unless you get regular visits—which very few ever do—you’re never around any others but those housed on your particular floor.
Not long after I came to be housed on R-wing, I went out to the recreation yard and recognized a familiar face. I knew him as Tony (Anthony Bertolotti) and back in 1982 we did time together at Baker Correctional, a state prison up near the Georgia state line. I was the clerk for the vocational school program at Baker while Tony worked as a staff barber. Because both of us were assigned “administrative” jobs, we were both housed in the same dormitory, just a few cells apart. Although he wasn’t someone I hung out with back then that small measure of familiarity created a bond and we would talk for hours about those we once knew.

But Tony wasn’t doing so well. Like me, he had been sentenced to death in 1984 and in just those few years he had already given up hope. That was common, but few actually acted upon it. Tony was one of these few, and at the time he was beginning to push to force the governor to sing his death warrant, which he did subsequently succeed and became one of Florida’s first “voluntary” executions. His only perception of reality around him was cast within a dark cloud, so dark no sunshine could appear. And his own escape from that reality was to pursue that myth they call “finality” by bringing about his own death.
So, there I lay that early fall morning. If at that moment I were to get out of that bunk and stand at the front of my cell, I know that I could look straight outward a couple hundred feet in the distance and clearly see that grass-green building we know as the generator plant, which stood just on the other side of the rows of fencing crowned with even more rows of glistening razor wire. And then by looking off to my right of the wing, immediately adjacent to the one in which I was housed, I could see the windows on the first floor that I knew would be where the witnesses gathered when they carried out each execution.

Although I knew these sights well, as well as the sound and smell of that generator plant that they cranked up every Wednesday to test the electric chair (long after that electric chair was banished and replaced with lethal injection they continued to crank that generator up), instead I chose to lay there in my bunk with my eyes closed and manipulate those sounds and smell into a memory that didn’t drag me down and even bring about a smile.
There was another time in my life when I would be awoken to the sound and smell of a diesel generator, and it too was all about how I chose to perceive it. When I was 15 years old I left home and found the only kind of job a homeless teen could by working with a traveling carnival, mostly around the Chicago area.

Most people might find it unimaginable that a “child” of 15 would be out on his own, but if they knew what life was like at “home” then they might understand why I can look back at that time and find a measure of happiness I seldom experienced in my so-called life. Leaving home as a teenager was not so much a choice, but a means of survival. I wasn’t alone—all my siblings also dropped out of school and left “home” at their earliest opportunity and so at least for me, finding work with a traveling carnival was a blessing, as the alternative was to live on the streets.
In the spring of 1976, shortly before my 16th birthday, I left Florida with a carnival that had worked the local county fair, assured I would find work when they joined another show in the Chicago area. But it didn’t work out that way as it was still too cold for the carnivals to set up. For the first few weeks I had no work and no place to stay. I had no money for food and tried to find a meal at a Salvation Army kitchen only to be interrogated by the volunteers who insisted they had to send me “home.” I left without being fed and never again went to a shelter.
At that time in my life, while most my age were just starting High School, living on the streets and sleeping on layers of cardboard boxes was better than being forced to return home and once the weather warmed up and the carnival could set up, I found work at a game concession paying twenty dollars a day—and the boss allowed me to sleep at night in the tent.
Each morning when it was time to start opening the show, that generator would crank up and first that distinctive machinery rumbling would be heard followed only a moment later by that sulfuric smell of the diesel exhaust, and when I closed my eyes that same sound and smell still made me smile, is just like waking up to that job I found at 15, it brought me, at least mentally, to a safer place that anything I knew of as “home” and the freedom of being on my own.

Now when I hear (and smell) that generator just as I did the first time on that chilly early fall morning of 1985, I am reminded that whether it be man or machine, it’s all in how we choose to see it, as the evil within anyone or anything can only exist if one chooses to focus on that. But just as I learned from coming to actually know the person that was Ted Bundy, and finding that although evil acts can undoubtedly be attributed to him, he was not all evil, but also possessed that measure of a man within that had good, it is also true for the many years that would follow as if I’ve learned nothing else through this experience, it is that this evil that exists within the manifestation of the men (and women) around us exists on both sides of these bars and no matter what the source of evil might be, it can only touch and tarnish my own soul if I allow it to.

My lesson so long ago was that redemption (especially that of self) is a mirror that we look into and it’s the image that looks back upon us that ultimately defines who we are and more importantly, who we become. I consider myself blessed to have been around those that society has labeled as “monsters” as it has endowed upon me the strength to find something good within each. And I know that as long as I can find a redeemable quality in all others, there will still be the hope that others will find something redeemable within me. 
Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

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:

Innocent and Executed - Please Read