Average Joe, a Death Row inmate on Florida´s Death Row since 1977, describes his life.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Friday, October 01, 2004
Death Warrant - Here I am today
Maybe I grew up - matured maybe I found myself. Or began to. Came to a place I felt good at. Oh I had ups and downs after, where it was a struggle. But, it takes time to grow into who you want to be.
But, here I am today, I feel at peace, I´m quiet inside, I think before I act. I am aware of the world and social situations. I´ve learned enough about law to help myself. To see the system for what it is.
I make the best of each day. Enjoy the good that does come my way. Large or small. Point is I´m ok. No, I do not like this place. It sucks ! But I don´t dwell on it.
And no, it did not all come from just me. I met some great people along the way. Good people who re-enforced what I learned. And began on Death Watch. People who gave me hope - strength and care to nurture these changes.
Sometimes just as friends, who walked a few miles with me. Some who loved me and I them. Some whom I do not even know, except by their efforts and actions. Each and everyone made a difference.
You see my mind opened on Death Watch. But, it could of been lost. If all one sees and receives - is harshness and coldness. They can easily become what they see and live.
But I met people who gave me the opposite. And in doing so, hope stayed alive inside me. And a belief grew. That there are better things in life. And things can be changed.
And so, after 27 years in this cell I am ok. Both mentally and physically. I´m sure others have seen helped in the same way.
And the real point of this message is what you guys do makes a difference. As a friend or love, or just an opponent of a bad system.
And if you ever ask yourself, does one person count, or can one person make a difference.
Remember this: the opposition began with one person. That one person talked to others - they joined in. And it grew, today there are opposition groups all over the free world. Some small - some bigger. And your voices are being heard. And for each person who joins in - the closer we come to a solution. To ending the Death Penalty. To changing a system that is wrong.
It will not happen over night. But, it will happen ! It happened in 1972. It wasn´t overturned just because of a case in court. It was happened because of voices of opposition. People who took a stand and said end it. That´s why it will happen again.
I must add on, there is nothing good about being on Death Watch. We know what it really is. It means the State plans to kill some person. The story here is just what it turned into for one person. It is different for each who experience it. But, that´s for them to say or not.
Some of you know. For others I decided to let you see the experience. Take from it what you choose.
I´ve known guys who had to go through Death Watch four or five times. Most were eventually executed. There´s no way to make that right. Or justify it.
To me, I saw those as more than what should ever of been done to or placed upon them. I did not feel sorry for them. I felt angry for them. I let that anger go, turned it into something positive. That´s part of why I speak now.
The other is to share with you guys. We know you are there !
Stay strong !
Average Joe Death Row
Death Warrant - It was over
Doesn´t matter, it was over.
Here´s the wired part, I was so set - so ready - that now it was over, I back in a cell on R-Wing sitting on my bunk.
I felt disappointed - let down. I´m not certain of all the whys, of this feeling. I guess it´s like when you enter into danger - or a thrilling situation. You get all pumped up - set in mind to do. The adrenaline flows.
Then, it does not happen, you loose that adrenaline high and it´s a let down.
That lasted about three hours. Then, the relief came. And I got back to living and life. But, what I had been through, what I had learned stayed with me. I was at peace inside. I started to appreciate each day. To open my mind to the world and people. I placed my first as for friends. To reach out people.
I was no longer afraid of what could happen as far as execution goes. I relaxed, and found things to fill my time and enjoy. I started to meet people through the mail, how much it added to my life.
I stopped getting into trouble. I was no longer confused - nor angry without reason.
Until then I was as wild as the place where I lived. When confronted by those in charge. I was as likely to tell them to fuck off, as not. I no longer felt that was necessary to do.
Death Warrant - the last three days
I became more intense the last three days. My mind was set - I knew I could do it now. I was ok. I was hyped - my mind set to do it.
Two days left. Assistant superintendent came back. Told me the procedures. That the top of my head would be shaved - a play on my legs. So the electrodes could make good contact. I would be walked or carried if need be. Down the hallway - in front of my cell to the execution chamber.
At that time the curtain would be opened to the witness chamber - so they could view my execution.
And if I choose - I could at that time say any last words I had. Then, a hood would be placed over my head - electrodes in place. And if I choose a member of the clergy could say the last rites ! He would then check to see if there were any last minute stays.
If not at the exact time he would give a signal and the executioner would throw the switch.
He asked if I needed anything - I said no - I´m good ! I was asked what last meal I would want. All I truly remember is fried chicken.
Later that day - I was told - with like 14 hours before my time to be executed I had received a temporary stay. The guy who watched me left. But, they said a temporary stay of execution. Which means it can be lifted at anytime.
And I was still on Death Watch. So, my frame of mind did not change. I stayed prepared to die.
I went to sleep and woke up at 6 am. I was scheduled for 7 am. I waited. No last meal came. At 9 am I called my lawyer asked, what´s up. He yaws, says - what do you mean ? I said, well what´s up with the stay, I´m still in the Death Watch cell.
He said: " What ?? You received a permanent stay yesterday at 3 pm. Let me call someone !" He said: " Your safe !" I hung up. 30 minutes later, I was back on R-Wing. Seems the court clerk, at the court where I had received the permanent stay, forget to call and tell them.
Oh, I was not in danger of being executed accidentally. But, how does one forget to call and inform someone of such an important decision ?
Death Warrant - the last four days
Which is true with a couple of the guys who watched me. After Death Watch - I see them, and they said glad you got a stay. If and where humanity exists - it will come out - usually.
Which takes us to the last four days. The morbid days. Four days left a guard comes back and measures me for a suit - for after the execution.
Three days left. A SGT. comes a back - asks if someone and who will pick up my possessions. And will someone pick up my body.
For some reason that struck me as extremely funny. I said: "I´m not quiet done with that yet." He said, this is not funny. I said: " Your just looking at it from the wrong side." I´m not sure - but maybe it´s like when your at a place where your not suppose to laugh like in church or the hospital. But, you just can´t help it. Plus I got this wired picture in my head of three cardboard boxes. Two has possessions written on the side. The 3rd has body on it.
Anyway, you get the picture.
Death Warrant - Suicide Watch
Strange isn´t it, to learn about life so much, in a place designed to end life. Life is a
strange journey isn´t it. Anyway, the last 10 days another procedure comes into effect.
You go on what´s called suicide watch.
They would place an officer in front of your cell - sits right in the hallway. 24 hours a day - watches everything you do. Writes it down. That includes when you use the bathroom. Which I found irritating - it´s wired to be watched all the time.
Specially using the bathroom. I wasn´t all that shy - but, you like privacy when you use the toilet.
So, I decided if he was gonna watch - he might as well be able to see more clearly. So, when I had to take a leak - I would turn - sideways - let him get an eyeful. That happened twice. He asked if that was necessary ? I said no - nor is your watching me use the toilet.
We came to an agreement. When I needed to use the toilet - he would go for coffee or to rummage through my stuff to bring me pen and paper - ect.
We didn´t talk much - whomever was there but, we watched T.V. together - laughed at the shows. When you spend that much time with a person - you either come to like them nor not. Or from some sort of bond, or opinion.
Death Warrant - Phase 2 (the last days started)
I was moved to the east side. The sunsets were replaced with sunrises. That always struck me as odd. Seems like the first 15 days should be sunrises. The last 15 days sunsets.
But then things are not always perfect. I suppose if one was a Christian, they might view it opposite - rebirth - life after death. New beginning !
Anyways, as I said I´m ok. At this point. So, my thoughts turned to life. What´s really the most important things in life. Money, it´s cool to have - use it, makes life easier. But, it doesn´t make for happiness.
I´ve seen on T.V. how the rich - and movie stars - even though very rich - are not happy. You have seen the stories - you know what I mean.
Possessions. Possessions come and go through life. They can be replaced. So, what is important ? I thought about the times I was happiest. All of them - were times I had spent or shared with loved ones or friends. Had nothing to do with money or possessions.
Yeah, true also the most painful experiences too. But that´s part of the same thing isn´t it ?
You know - you can enjoy - things by yourself, a sunset or rise. A good meal - movie. But, to share them makes them twice as good.
At that time I did not have a love interest at all. In fact I wrote very few people at all. Mostly just my family. The ones I stayed touch with. I learned so much in those 30 days. About myself and of life.
Death Warrant - a visit
During this period my mother came to stay at my brothers here in Florida. She and my sister-in-law would come up every 3 - 4 days to visit. You could visit every day then when on Death Watch. Behind a glass partician. She would come and I would put on that I´m fine face and cheer her up - laugh and joke with her.
Tell her not to worry - I would get a stay. So, we talked about life - not death. But, a funny thing occurred. By the 3 or 4th visit I wasn´t wearing that I´m ok mask anymore. I was ok.
And I relaxed and just enjoyed our time. Cherished them. Made sure she knew I loved her. Near the end I told her if it did occur - I was ready - prepared. And to remember me with a smile - not through sadness.
Of course you can´t make a loved one think - like that. But, you try to make it as easy as you can.
Back in my cell each day - I would stand up - watch the sunset - think about times of my life - things I enjoyed - what I´d miss.
Sometimes at the end of the 15 days I would just stand quietly and enjoy the colors of the sky as the sunset.
Death Warrant - thinking about the execution
My thoughts turned to the actual execution would it hurt - I´d been shocked by electricity before.
When I was like 14 - my cousin and I we walking by an electrics fence - off in a field - one to keep in animals. Stopped to take a leak. He dared me to - on the fence - I did - let me tell you it was painfully. I´m laughing now - it wasn´t at all funny then. And I´ve been shocked messing with electrical stuff - like T.V., radios. So I figured yeah, it will be painfully. But, it won´t last long. And I don´t think I´ll wake up later and still be in pain.
I thought about death. News accounts of people dying every day. History accounts of wars - disease. And of guys already executed. People die by the thousands every day. It couldn´t be hard. It´s inevitable really we all die in the end. The way of nature of life. Life and death are two halves of the whole. Where there is one theres the other.
I decided I can do this - and I will be ok. In doing it. I decided all these things in that first 15 days. And the fear went away slowly - and I began to relax.
Death Warrant - Thoughts and Nightmares
My eyes were beginning to open to issues and life. But, only slightly. I was busy with surviving day to day life. And as I said avoiding the thought of being executes as much as possible.
At the same time aware - because, it was all around me. When we would go to the old R-Wing exercise yard. The far end of the yard was right up against Q-Wing. Where the chair was. They use to leave the curtains - shades open- you could see into the Death Chamber. I suspect they did this on purpose. I looked in a few times. Always sent a chill through me - but, I shook it off - went back to play ball.
Of course we use to protest executions rather vocally. Even some fires started in the hallways at times. It was a somewhat more hostile environment in those days. But, those were in protest of others. Not mine.
I had a couple of dreams of it also. Setting in the chair. Well I guess you would call them nightmares. Wake up - I´d push it aside. Get busy, put on the head phones or exercise - watch T.V. till thought went away.
But now, I had to face it straight up. Yeah, it frightened me. But, I decided - time to face it. I did. I thought about it. How would I face it - could I, in a way that had some dignity to it.
Or did dignity really matter. Would I fight them - or walk to it. I decided it didn´t matter do the best you can when the time comes. If you fight it will still happen - you might get hurt pretty bad - but that wouldn´t matter either. Because, not long after it would end. If you walk down on your own - dignity - does that count.
Dignity is a self thing. I knew too there were groups then. Though I did not known any one personally - had no contact with them. I was aware - that it would or could make their case stronger to oppose the Death Penalty - how I choose to behave. But, I pushed that aside - with - they will understand I did it how I could.
Death Warrant - The first days
The Death Watch cells are on the button floor. Three cells or four to each side. I was under what is called Phase 1. That´s the first 15 days of a 30 days warrant. I was the only warrant signed at the time. So, was there by myself. Which wasn´t a problem. I have no problem with being alone, nor quietness.
I went into cell 1. Later my property was brought over. The T.V. was placed outside my cell - rest was kept in a closet - if I needed something - it would be given to me - then returned after use to the closet.
I asked for the phone. Called - told my mom - what was happening. Told her not to worry - I´d get a stay. I wasn´t sure of that. But, she needs not to know. Strange the rituals we go through to spare the ones we love unnecessary worry. Put on that cheerful mask - whether we feel it or not.
afterwards I kicked back on the bunk - and the wait began and the thoughts.
There was a good chance I´d get a stay. But, no guarantees. Others had already been executed by then. So I had to face the possibility that I would be executed. Which turns to finding a way to deal with it. To prepare yourself to die.
I really did not know much about law at the time. I had somewhat educated myself be then. Gained my G.E.D. through self study.
Death Warrant - How it starts
Mine was signed in the Mid 80´s. I was kicked back in my cell listening to some music on the head phones. Not really paying attention to anything in particular. Just another day in paradox.
Then, three guards showed up in front of my cell. I pulled the headphones off - looked up at them. The sergeant said: "You need to get dressed - your wanted in the Colonels office." I knew then what was up. I´d seen it before - happen to other men near me. One of my pals asked whats up - we always checked out a situation - to be sure they weren´t pulling something wrong on someone.
I said my time to go see the Colonel. He said: " Oh take care man." You don´t say much at such times. Maybe because there´s not much you can say. Or quite sure what to say. So, take care
man - says it all - I understood.
I got dressed - left my cell as it was. They would come in and pack it up later. When the calls comes you all take is the clothing you have on. Part of their security procedures. Walked off the wing - the SGT. yelled clear the hallway. When a guy on Death Row went on call out. That´s how it was done. The hallway from R-Wing to the Colonels office is a straight walk. I´d guess 150 - 175 yards. Through two gates - past several wings.
The office itself is right across the main control room. Go in another small gated door to enter. It has like nine small offices. Four - usually used for attorney visits. Other for administration offices.
I was brought in, told to stand before the desk. The Assistant superintendent sat behind the desk. He said: " I guess you know why your here." I said yes. He: " the Governor has signed your Death Warrant" then proceeded to read it off to me.
I don´t remember all it said. But the significant part was the time set and day I was to be executed by electrocution. It´s kinda of chilling to hear it all read and know the exact time and day. Before that day - the years I had waited for that day. I think I had tried to shut that all out. Push it aside. I had not really dealt with it. So it came home all at once - after he read it - he asked if I understood it. I just nodded yes. He added if you need to call anyone a phone will be available.
That was all. I was walked back down the hall - not back to R-Wing - but to Q-Wing. Where the execution chamber is. Placed on the west side. You may of heard of Q-Wing - they later named it X-Wing - where Frank Valdes was beaten to death. But, at the time it was Q-Wing.