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.

PlEASE SIGN THE PETITION to grant a full clemency review for Michael Lambrix

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!


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.

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 ) 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




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: 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 fiancée.  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

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Hello Darkness – My Old Friend

  Written for MinutesBeforeSix
It is there in the dimly lit shadows of the darkness that I find my comfort within this concrete crypt I am condemned to not merely live, but ever so very slowly, die within.  I could simply reach up above my steel bunk and pull the long string that dangles down from the fixture above and flood the confines with that artificial light, but I choose not to. The darkness is my sanctuary, where despite all the misery and chaos around me, I can retreat and sit silently and find my solitude in this cell on Florida’s infamous Death Row. The brightness of that light would be unnecessarily intrusive, an unwelcome invasion that would serve to deprive me of those stolen moments in time, in which I am able to momentarily detach from the reality around me and retreat back into my own little corner, in my own little world.

I already know too well what the light world would reveal, as all day of every day now, for not merely months, or a few years, but for decade after seemingly endless decade, and yet another decade still, I have sat in this cold, concrete cage and I know it as only a condemned man can, so intimately well that even when I close my eyes, I can count the number of concrete blocks on each wall, I can still see that plain and deliberately featureless, faded soft pastel beige walls, accented by the dark, heavy wool horse blanket that I am required to cover my bunk with each morning, as God forbid I might be tempted to sleep a  few hours during the day and then there’s the black bars at the front of the cell, each bar spaced precisely four inches apart, which allow me to look outward a few short feet upon yet another wall of heavy steel bars, separating the outer catwalk and not too far beyond that, the fortified narrow windows, long ago covered with dust and debris, and yet in defiance, still barely allowing just enough light through to know when it is day and when it becomes night.

During the warmer months, these narrow windows are opened just enough to allow a bit of air to flow through. From time to time small birds will venture in and awaken me from my early morning sleep with their chirping, which at first I found inviting, as if they brought life itself to this culture of cold death.  But at some point along the path of time, this incessant chirping became unbearable, as if their only intent was to tease and taunt me, to so cruelly mock the man in the gilded cage before they fly away. I began to find myself being driven by an overwhelming anger within me to yell and scream at these demonic winged monsters and even throw small items at the window screen to chase them away.  After a while, birds no longer came to visit as much and I find myself missing my little friends now.

Once upon a time this relentlessly monotonous micro-environment I am entombed within could be brought to life with a few photos, faded reflections of a life that once was, but the powers that be decreed that any sign of life hung from the walls was somehow a security threat and not even one photo would be allowed. To violate this draconian rule would result in the loss of the photo, an immediate transfer to “lock-up” and the loss of the very few “privileges” we might be afforded. Given that few privileges are even allowed, this “punishment” would almost be ironically meaningless, if not for the disruption to this methodical routine we come to almost religiously cling to.

I’m told that long term solitary confinement under such objectively oppressive physical conditions and the deliberate deprivation of any meaningful interaction with others will inevitably drive even the strongest of men insane and I’m sure there are many who believe this to be true. Some might even argue convincingly that this inevitable insanity is the objective, as when the monsters of my fate cannot break the body, they become that much more determined to break the spirit. But nobody yet has told me exactly where that elusive line is that separates sanity from the slippery slide down the proverbial rabbit hole leading into that bottomless abyss of madness, in which seems that each of us is expected to descend is?

Each week the prison psychologist will make his rounds of the death row unit and always without even so much as stopping, do the required welfare check on each of us, as the state has a vested interest in proving we have not become insane.  We all know that our psychological state is irrelevant.  Even those who have long ago slipped beneath the murky surface of insanity will be automatically assigned a normal rating each week; any other conclusion that might dare to call our sanity into question might later serve to obstruct the state’s objective of putting us to death.  Becoming insane and being recognised as insane are two totally different things and prison staff who conduct these psychological drive-bys are part of the machine.

I struggle to understand who these people are who so pretentiously proclaim themselves to be normal and insist that insanity is such a bad thing.  If I have learned nothing else in all the years that I have been entombed in my solitary crypt awaiting the uncertainty of my fate, it is that my self-structured psychosis provides my mental escape from this thing they want to claim to be reality and that it is this reality that sucks, not insanity.

When I sit silently in the comforting darkness of my solitary crypt, I can often listen to the many others around me in this monolithic warehouse of tormented souls, or on the increasingly rare occasion when I might reluctantly venture out for a few hours of “outdoor” recreation on the razor-wired concrete pad they call our recreation yard and am able to see and even look into the windows of the lost souls of condemned men around me, I find that I envy those who now have that empty look in their eyes, those who have already been blessed by the detachment from that burden of reality that still weighs down heavily upon those of us not so fortunate.

For them, they are the lucky ones, no longer imprisoned by this cruel world around them.  For them, the past, the present and even the future and with it the uncertainty of their judicially imposed fate have lost all meaning and although their physical body may remain condemned to that solitary cage, their spirit is free to fly away and soar high above the stormy clouds and into that picture perfect blue sky beyond and as I witness their existence in a world of their own making, I come to appreciate that insanity is something any sane man in my predicament can only envy and I as again retreat back into the recesses of my voluntary darkness do I find myself praying to a long deaf god that I too one day soon might be blessed by this gift of insanity, so that I too might find my own reprieve from the harsh truth of reality.

Then there’s that whimsical wisp of hope that keeps me pushing forward and I am reminded of a particular scene in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” in which the seasoned convict (played by Morgan Freeman) is sitting at the table in the prison chow hall, looking up at the fresh meat fate cast down upon them, and offers this profound truth, that every convict will inevitably learn in their own way, ”Hope will drive you insane.” Perhaps that is why in Dante’s “Inferno,” as the desperate soul slowly stepped through that passageway leading down to into the very depths of hell itself, he took a moment to absorb those words inscribed above that portal into hell – “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.” Despite that paradox of clinging to hope as a means of sustaining the strength to survive, yet knowing that each time that hope is crushed, insanity steps another step toward you, so many still so desperately cling to their hope.

But can hope drive a man insane if what he truly hopes for is insanity? Only the helplessly naïve would think that life and death were black and white, as only by being condemned to living within the very shadows of death, while hopelessly bearing witness as one by one around you are put to death in such an arbitrary and utterly unpredictable manner, can you come to understand that death itself comes in an infinite array of shades of grey – and even long before they might come to drag the next man away do we know that physical death too often follows long after the man within that fleshy vessel has already died a slow and tortuous death of the spirit within.

To understand the therapeutic value of my voluntary darkness, one must first appreciate that death too often is not a singular event, but a prolonged journey towards that finality that is marked by the degradation of the inner-will with each stumbling step. In my voluntary darkness, I have come to know that a man’s worst fate is not to be condemned to death, but as if peeling away the layers of a onion, each day is another step in which that will to live is maliciously stripped away until only the inner core itself remains, a mere fragment of the man that once was. With each layer, that light of life within the windows of the soul dims just a bit more and the world within takes on a darker shade of grey and only in our arrogance do we attempt to define the precise moment of a physical death. 

Only by attempting to understand why a condemned man might be relentlessly haunted by such thoughts might another understand why the darkness has become my friend and why as I so willingly surrender to that darkness, I place such value in the power to be able to choose whether to pull that string or not.  Each day I alone decide whether in that moment I will live or die as in that voluntary darkness I inflict death upon the reality that imprisons me and in the shadows of my refuge, I find a fleeting sense of peace, knowing only too well that in the coming days, or weeks, or months they will soon enough come to lead me away and as they place me in that solitary cell, just outside that solid steel door that leads into the execution chamber, I will no longer be blessed with the power to retreat into that comforting refuge of my voluntary darkness, but will instead be dragged into a brightly lit room, then strapped upon a gurney, as just a few feet away, on the other side of a glass wall, a small crowd of witnesses will have willingly gathered to silently witness my state sanctioned execution.

As I then lay physically restrained and powerless upon that gurney, as those who have so methodically stalked my death for so many years nod to the masked executioner standing but a few feet away, as he pushes down on the plunger that will send that lethal cocktail of chemicals into my veins, and as I draw that final breath, I will once again find comfort and peace as the light fades away and as that darkness of death descends down upon me, the temptation of pulling that string will be no more.  Just as in my solitary cell I have been condemned to live alone, I too will now die alone and in the end, darkness will be my only remaining friend.

Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Alcatraz of the South, Part 5: When Reality Becomes Irrelevant

By Michael Lambrix written for the Minutes Before Six website

Part 4 can be read here

Some of the guys had already warned me about Nollie – that he wasn’t quite right in the head so I shouldn’t pay him any mind.  By then, I had already been on the Row the better part of a couple years and had pretty much settled in.  It had been a rough time, but I got by and when it came down to it, you sink or swim so I learned to tread water and kept my head above that murky surface and fought that always present undertow incessantly pulling at each one of us. I was lucky.  All around me I could see those like Nollie who had been broken mentally and retreated into a world of their own where the reality of the hell we were condemned to could no longer touch their inner souls.  They had been broken, and I wondered whether I too would suffer that same fate, arguably a fate even worse than death itself.

But all of those earlier warnings could not have prepared me for the conversation I then had with Nollie out on the yard.  It wasn’t the first time I had spoken with him, and he seemed like a nice enough guy, never once showing any obvious outwardly sign of psychotically induced inclination towards violence like some of the other “bugs” would show, signaling you’d best keep your distance.  Nollie stayed mostly to himself, and didn’t talk too much.  While most of us would play volleyball, or basketball, or work out on the weights, during those two hours of time we were allowed on the yard twice a week, Nollie and a few others would generally stay to themselves in one of the corners and remain seemingly oblivious to the world around them.

In prison, we call them “bugs.” And prisons had become the new mental institutions after the Supreme Court decided that people could not be involuntarily institutionalized in horrific insane asylums without “due process,” an adversarial process that placed the burden on the state to prove the person actually was a substantial threat to themselves or others.  When they could no longer just throw those not quite in touch with reality as most might see it into institutions and pump massive quantities of psychotropic drugs until they become the equivalent of zombies, or as we say, did the “thorazine shuffle,” it didn’t take long before those mentally imbalanced found themselves in prisons instead.  It was a lot easier to throw people in prison, and nobody really cared.

So, there I was, resting against the wall of the Death Row wing between a game of volleyball, and Nollie just casually walked up to me as if we had been the best of friends.  Dispensing with the rhetorical informalities – I mean, really, what’s the point of asking each other on the Row how we’re doing when we all know we’re not doing too good, as they’re keeping us in a concrete box and trying to freaking kill us!  But it’s that social pretense of civility we all go through no matter what side of the bars you’re on.  And, as I was socially obligated to do so, I spontaneously responded with the only acceptable answer: “Fine. How are you doing?” and he said “alright.” We both knew it was total crap. Neither of us was doing alright.

Then without further pretense, Nollie looked up at me and told me that he needed a really sharp knife and wanted me to make him one out of the cheap disposable razors they pass out each shower night three times a week.  I didn’t really know what to say.  Why would he think that I would hook him up with a blade? For all I knew, he might want to use it on me, or go nuts and try to chop up everyone on the yard.  But he peaked my curiosity and I played along, asking him just what the hell he needed a knife for – and that was my mistake.  In that moment of time, I forgot all the earlier warnings others gave me not to pay Nollie any mind.

Like a kid in a candy store, Nollie perked right up, almost shining like a bright light, and with uncompromised sincerity, he gleefully announce that he had to chop his penis off, as it was evil.  That unexpected joyous outburst left me speechless, and I stood in stunned silence.  Before I knew it, Nollie quickly dropped his pants down to his knees and grabbed his dick, and declared that it was Satan, and he had to cut it off before it completely possessed him. I’m not often at a loss of words, but I didn’t have any response.  I shook my head, and walked away.

Only later I found out that Nollie had pulled this same routine on others, not always without consequences.  Apparently some responded with violence and would beat Nollie down when he pulled his routine on them.  But that wasn’t my style and I didn’t see any point in responding violently towards someone I know isn’t quite right in the head.  I guess we all see the world in our own way, and in my world violence should be avoided unless necessary.

I also knew that I had been cast down into a world where violence was a way of life. The distorted values of those around you creats an expectation of violence, and if you don’t respond violently, you would be seen as weak, and preyed upon like an injured lamb surrounded by a pack of starving wolves.  But a more accurate analogy would be a pack of hyenas, as wolves are both more honorable and intelligent that hyenas – and just like hyenas, in this world once you’re cut from the pack, the pack itself will too quickly turn on you.

That’s what prison is and Death Row is no exception.  Sooner or later someone will try you, test you, to see what you’re really made of.  That’s the nature of the beast and it was for that reason that I held sympathy for those like Nollie, who for no reason other than their mental incapacity, would be targeted by others and exploited in the most extreme ways.

Back then, the first cell on every floor of the Death Row wings was occupied by an “inmate runner” who would be responsible for passing out each meal, and coming around with cleaning supplies, such as the broom and mop each day.  While all Death Row prisoners were continuously “locked down” in our solitary cells all day, every day, except for twice weekly two hour recreation time outside on the fully enclosed concrete pad and any social or legal visits you might get (which were generally uncommon) we never left our cells.  But the runners were not sentenced to death, and each morning before breakfast their cell door would be mechanically rolled open and then left open all day and into the evening until “lights out” at 11:00 p.m.

What relatively little work the runners were required to do was accomplished in just a few hours, so most runners would spend the rest of their days sitting on a butt can in front of a Death Row cell, watching T.V., playing cards, or just talking.  For those who don’t know what a “butt can” is, it’s simply an empty one gallon tin can retrieved from the kitchen – most often previously containing the generic vegetables or ketchup commonly used in our meals - and used as a depository for cigarette butts, but just as commonly used when turned upside down as a improvised stool to park one’s butt on, as it wasn’t like they would allow us to have chairs.

Most of these runners were alright, almost always assigned to the Death Row wing as a transitory step towards earning their way back to “general population” (gen pop) after being placed in “closed confinement” which is Florida’s version of the infamous SHU (Special Housing Unit).  Every prison system has its own version of long term punitive confinement imposed upon those who had allegedly committed a major infraction, such as assault, or attempted escape, or just pissed off the wrong person.  Although each system might attach its own title to it, all these forms of punitive confinement are similar – and often the prisoner is thrown into this confinement status for years at a time, and must earn his way out through good behavior.

Often the last step of this transitory process is to be assigned the prison jobs nobody else wants, such as cleaning bathrooms, or washing dishes.  Those assigned to be runners on the Death Row wings knew they were lucky, as Death Row was an easy place to work and the only job where you could sit on your butt most of the time and just watch TV, or play cards, or whatever.

It was not uncommon for former Death Row prisoners to be assigned to be runners on Death Row.  Roughly speaking, about half of those initially sentenced to death have their sentences subsequently reduced to life on appeal.  For many years, it was prison policy to allow former Death Row prisoners to become runners as a way of allowing them to transition from total lock-down, to that sense of relative freedom allowed by having your cell door open each day and able to move around on your own will.

But then some of those assigned as runners who would be problems no matter where they were placed because that was their nature.  And from time to time, one of these would wind up on a Death Row floor, where they didn’t often last long. But they could still disrupt the entire balance we tried to maintain.

Although not as common as it was in general pop, homosexuality – both voluntary and involuntary – was still a part of the Death Row environment.  When I first came, I was as naïve as those outside who would had just assumed that since all condemned prisoners were continuously confined to their single-man cells, physical relationships would be impossible.  But nothing is really impossible and as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

From the time I first came, we had a couple good runners who lasted on that floor the better part of two years.  But runners come and go and it’s all about the luck of the draw as to who that next one might be.  And sooner or later, you will draw a bad hand.  Sometime late into my second year a black runner came on the floor, but his reputation had preceeded him – a history of preying upon weaker inmates, often raping them.  That’s what had him thrown into c/m (close management) for a few years but no length of punitive confinement would have changed who he was, and he was a sexual predator.

When word got around that he arrived, most of us on the floor wouldn’t even talk to him and he knew better than to push his luck as it was not uncommon for runners to be “beaten down” with a food tray or broom/mop if they got out of line.  But predators know how to spot their prey and it was only a matter of days before an early morning commotion woke some of us up. Verbal arguments were not uncommon, no matter what the hour. But this was more of a deliberately suppressed one-sided confrontation as the runner had reached through the bars of the cell housing Terry, a young kid out of Pinellas County who was still relatively new to the Row.

You learn to mind your own business in prison and despite the sense of camaraderie that long ago was common among the condemned. There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t get into someone else’s problem, especially when it’s between two prisoners.  Terry was too young, but he still had to stand his own ground and giving in to threats and showing weakness would only make it worse.  The runner knew this and after grabbing Terry through the bars and threatening him, Terry broke down. The runner knew he had Terry, and the commotions soon died down, and in the silence of that early predawn hours, we all knew that Terry was down there on his knees performing oral sex on the runner, and after that he would again at least a few times a day until the runner made the mistake of trying someone else on the floor who would not so quickly give in and found himself leaving on a gurney after being beaten down by another.

Before that particular incident, had anyone told me someone in a cage could be forced to perform sex acts through the bars, I would had laughed and said, “No way!”  But in time, I learned just how incredible naïve I was. Truth be told, I was lucky, as I had gotten a cell on a floor where that kind of behavior didn’t happen that much.  Or maybe I just wasn’t aware of it, as I soon enough discovered that there were others around me who only too willingly invited such sexual encounters and more than a few engaged regularly; it was just something we didn’t talk about.

But it was the guys like Nollie I really felt for.  The bugs were easy targets and no one seemed to care, especially the guards.  If anything, many of the guards considered this a form of entertainment, and a few would even use the threat of allowing certain runners access to them as a retaliatory tool for those who might have stepped on their toes.

I really didn’t know how to handle Nollie’s fixation with wanting to cut his own dick off to purge that evil within him any more than I knew how to handle others who had their own way of manifesting their psychosis. After I realized just how alone and isolated Nollie was, even though surrounded by others, I made a point of reaching out to him from time to time, often at the risk of other Death Row prisoners ridiculing me for having contact with one of the bugs.  But Nollie had no one, and at least there were a few of us who would cross that invisible line that “convicts” were not to cross, and reach out to those ostracized within our own small world.

Nollie was moved to another floor not long after that but no matter where he went in the unit, from time to time a guard, or laundryman, or one of the inmate maintenance workers would stop by my cell and tell me that Nollie sends his regards, as he never forgot those small gestures of kindness.  A few years later, Nollie would be executed despite his obvious mental incompetency, as would too many others who also suffered from insanity.  No matter how undeniably brain damaged they were, the Courts never wanted to recognize the evidence supporting their claim of insanity.

One of the regular events on the Row back then was the Saturday morning ritual that played itself out every weekend.  Most of the guys on the Row rarely received any mail and would never get a visit from family or friends.  Too many, like Nollie, simply couldn’t communicate with those outside even if there was someone who might still care.

But each Saturday morning everyone got a visit if they wanted it. In the years before politicians started to micromanage the prisons, back in the good ole days when we were allowed to do our time our own way, and the guards generally left us alone, it was common for church groups to send members up to prisons to save our souls.  Almost every Saturday mostly middle-aged to elderly men carrying their Bibles would flood on to the Death Row wing, and break off into smaller groups and spread themselves out on the individual floors, going cell to cell to minister to the condemned.  Most of these men were just average working class without any formal training in Theology, motivated to come by a belief of Christian obligation to minister to those who are imprisoned, and they came with their heart in the right place, meaning well.

I was blessed to come to know a number of the regulars, and had great respect for those such as Abe Brown, the founder of “Prison Crusade.”  Abe was an elderly black man who served as the pastor for a church in Tampa.  Although struggling financially, each Saturday without fail, Brother Abe would load up his old blue and silver bus and drive the three hours up to Florida State Prison, and those who had joined him that particular week would visit with those isolated and abandoned by society in the purest form of true “Christian” charity I have known, giving of themselves without asking or expecting anything in return.

I had learned early on that being condemned to death meant that most of our so-called civilized society held nothing but uncompromised hate towards us, and more often than not it was those out there who called themselves Christians would invoke the name of God to demand our death under the pretense of justice. “An eye for an eye,” they would say as they gathered around in their modern day lynch mobs, abandoning any pretense of the Christian values of compassion and mercy.

For this reason, I was not alone in becoming conflicted when it came to the traditional Christian values I grew up with.  More and more, I found myself leaning towards an intellectual knowledge of what God was supposed to be, but still my spiritual faith within was eroding away as those I had once associated with what Christians were supposed to be would do nothing but throw stones.

But by coming to know some of these volunteers and the sacrifices they willingly made to come to the prison on the weekends, my own spirituality evolved, and as I increasingly became disillusioned with the hypocrisy of organized religion, I also came to the acceptance that true spiritual faith cannot be defined by what I might see in others, or the example (or absence) of their faith, but must be instead found within the individual, especially within myself.

Like Jacob wrestling the devil, my struggle to define my sense of spirituality in this new world I was cast down into was perhaps one of the hardest parts of my own evolution, and there were times when I found myself so completely overwhelmed by my environment that I literally prayed for death – and when I awoke that next morning I would question the very existence of God, because if there were a God, He would have heard my prayers and in His mercy, allowed me to die.  As I descended farther into the depths of my despair, wanting only for my misery to end, it became increasingly difficult to cling to my Christian faith.  And I would find that although I fought this battle by relentlessly studying the Word of God, no matter how much my intellectual knowledge of God would grow, I still felt alone and empty.

But the church volunteers I came to know kept me hanging on by that thread, and in them, I knew what true faith was.  And soon enough a few of the regulars would come directly to my cell each Saturday and simply visit, talking about anything but never trying to force feed religion, and by doing that, I came to know that no matter how alone and abandoned I might feel, I was never really alone.  If not for those volunteers, and their weekly visits on the wings, I don’t know if I would have made it, as they were the only ones that reached out even when our family and friends didn’t.

Not all of the guys welcomed this outreach, and some didn’t want these volunteers anywhere around them.  When all else has failed you, sometimes hate and anger are the only things left to stand on.  Everybody has to do their time in their own way, and while most would look forward to these weekend visits on the wings, others would respond with hostility, as if these volunteers represented something they themselves were at war with.  But even then, they would only tell the volunteer they didn’t want to talk, and the volunteer would move on to the next cell.

Others, so desperate for that human contact, would welcome the volunteers like they were God themselves, and go through the ritual of being “saved’ every Saturday, almost always making a point of latching on to volunteers who were new and wouldn’t recognize them.  And this was often a source of entertainment for the rest of us, who already knew that this particular prisoner already had “found God,” and did so each week.  But even as much as the prisoner might be playing out – or perfectly sincere – it was almost the volunteer who got the greatest joy out of saving the lost soul of that condemned man, and more than a few went home with a sense of accomplishment that only escalated their own faith, and so even if that particular prisoner might be simply going through the routine just to experience that momentary sense of communion with another person, it gave just as much to the volunteer who needed it too. 

After a few hours, the volunteers would be rounded up and escorted off the wing, and then once again that small world we lived and died in would close in around us.  Slowly, the volume of the radios and T.V.s would rise, and the voices of others talking, or playing chess by calling their moves out would go back to what had become the new normal.

Each of us retreated into our own little world in our own way.  Back then we were allowed to receive packages of clothing and hobby-craft materials, if we had family or friends willing to send them.  I was able to get my first radio when my oldest brother sent me one from Germany, where he was stationed in the Army.  It was a small stereo radio, and the only way to pick up any reception was to run a web of thin wires salvaged from an old radio across the ceiling of my cell.  But without headphones, it was hard to hear because there were so many other radios playing all around me.

I needed a pair of headphones but didn’t have the money to buy them.  But when doing time, you learn to hustle, and soon enough I got my first pair of headphones by trading a month’s worth of milk from breakfast that I could do without. So for what added up to the equivalent of less than two gallons of milk, I got a pair of almost new Sony headphones and soon would spend more and more time under them, retreating further away. I needed this escape from the methodical oppression of both body and soul that was Death Row.

As the days passed into months, and the months into years, I came to see my solitary cell as more of a means of voluntary isolation, finding that there in my own little cell, I could maintain my own little world.  I slowly evolved into understanding that although they can imprison my body, only I could imprison my mind, and in many ways, my cell became my sanctuary, where I would put on my headphones and tune in a music station, then retreat into my own space and time, often wondering whether, like Nollie,, I would wake up one day to find myself succumbing to a form of psychosis that made reality irrelevant – and if I did, would it be a blessing, or a curse? To this day, I do not know.

Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
7819 NW 228th Street (G1202)
Raiford, FL 32026-1000

Innocent and Executed - Please Read