Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dear Readers,

It is with a heavy heart that I have learned of the passing away of  Bernie De Castro on April 8, 2020, a man who dedicated the last 30 years of his life serving newly released prisoners re-enter society. Bernie De Castro knew, all to well, the plight of prisoners as he had served time in Florida State Prison and knew, firsthand, how difficult it is for a felon to obtain employment, housing and financial aid. Shortly after his release from prison, Bernie started a non-profit faith-based organization,"Time for Freedom Ministries." This was the beginning of his journey helping his fellow prisoners. Largely due to his efforts, several thousand men have been able to transition from prison life to a fresh start in the community. He continued to focus on his ministry to men seeking work release assistance and, to this end, formed the organization RECO, Re Entry Center of Ocala. With Bernie's passing his son, David, has moved from the role of Vice-President to President and Michael has moved into the position of Vice-President.They are keeping Bernie's legacy and life's work alive.  

Bernie was a true friend to my brother, William Van Poyck, and was present in the execution chamber, as his spiritual guide, when William spoke his final words, "Set Me Free." At that time, I was across the street from Florida State Prison at the vigil for William. After William's passing, Bernie came to the vigil, in tears, and told me of William's final words and that my brother was at peace with God. 

Thank you, Bernie, for all you did for the down-trodden prisoners who found hope through your kindness and compassion.  You are sorely missed. But I know you have had a reunion with William on the other side.

~ Lisa Van Poyck

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Dear Readers,

It has been two years in the making, but this blog, Death Row Diary, has been published as a book in Italian through the dedicated and tireless work of Alessandro Piana of Milan, Italy. The title of the book is "Diario di un condannato a morte".   Alessandro is now researching the means to publish Death Row Diary in English and have it available through or a similar outlet.  I will post in this blog when the English version is available.  Since  the publication in Italian, many have purchased the book and I just recently received an email from one reader in Italy which I wanted to share with you.  It touched my heart and I know William is very appreciative for the success of this publication and how readers are responding.  Here is the email:

Dear Lisa,
Four days ago I decided to buy the book "Diario di un condannato a morte" almost by chance, after a dream that inspired me, and the subsequent reading of an article that happened under my nose while surfing the internet. Now, I naturally wonder what would have happened if I had not had that particular dream, or had not found that article; however, I do not want to bore you with my personal issues, so we come straight to the point.

Lisa, I'm sure I can say that your brother's letters, or in general the whole life experience of your brother, have profoundly changed me; they led me to an interesting reflection, to an awareness that I did not have before. There are no words to describe it: without your brother, without his letters, without your publication, without the work of Alessandro Piana I think I would be a different person, a person far less wise and less ready to face the life that lies ahead.

I believe his words "I do not think I'm wrong in believing in the end that my life has served something good, that I have had some positive influence on someone and that somehow he was able to repair, at least in part, to the many mistakes I have made before" are more than truthful, and I think I am a proof of this.

I just have to thank you, thank Alessandro Piana, and especially thank William.  With a look at the sky, thank you William, because without you I would not be the person I am now, thanks for giving me one of the greatest teachings I have ever received. Thank you so much, I really hope you're at peace; after all you deserve it.

Matteo Giaccone

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In Honor of William

Dear Readers~

In honor of my brother, William, I would like to have readers post a letter to this blog telling how William has touched your life or someone you know.  This could be through direct contact with William or through his writings. My intention is to compile the letters and publish them under the title "Letters to Bill". I welcome any comments or suggestions you might have regarding this idea to further honor William's life and the impact he had on others by emailing me directly at

Thank you.

Lisa Van Poyck

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31, 2013

Dear Readers~

My brother, William, posthumously won second place for fiction in Pen America Center's 2013 Prison Writing Contest for his story "Death by Dominoes" It is here in its entirety for you to read...

Click on the link below for the entire post.

I am immensely proud of his accomplishments while on this earth plane and feel he is aware of this award.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bill's Final two Blog Posts

Dear Readers:

I have received Bill's final two blog posts:

June 3, 2013

Dear Sis~

Ten days 'till departure time. You already know that they killed my neighbor, Elmer, 5 days ago. Then they moved me into his cell. After they execute someone they move the rest of us down one cell, working our way to cell#1, the launching pad to the gurney next door.  This is a bad luck cell; very few of us get out of here alive!  In two days I'll go onto Phase II and they'll move all  my property from my cell, and post a guard in front of my cell 24/7 to record everything I do.  These will be hectic days, freighted with emotion, all the final letters, all the final phone calls, final visits, final goodbyes.  Things have become even more regimented as "established procedures" increasingly take over.  More cell front visits from high ranking administration and DOC officials asking if everything is O.K., forms to fill out (cremation or burial?).  I declined the offer of a "last meal".  I'm not interested in participating in that time-worn ritual, to feed some reporter's breathless post-execution account.  Besides, material gratification will be the last thing on my mind as I prepare to cross over to the non-material planes.  Watching Elmer go through his final days really drove home how ritualized this whole process has become; the ritual aspect perhaps brings some numbing comfort - or sense of purpose - to those not really comfortable with this whole killing people scheme.  This is akin to participating in a play where the participants step to a rote cadence, acting out their parts in the script, with nobody pausing to question the underlying premise.  It's like a Twilight Zone episode where you want to grab someone, shake them hard, and yell "Hey, wake up! Don't you know what's going on here?!!!"  

My very accelerated appeal is before the Florida Supreme Court; my brief is due today, (Monday), the state's brief tomorrow and oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday June 6th (D-Day Anniversary).  I expect an immediate ruling, or perhaps on Friday.  By the time you read this you'll already know the result and since there's no higher court to go to on this you'll know if I live or die on June 12th.  I am not optimistic, Sis.  Although I have some substantial, compelling issues, as you know (e.g., my appointed direct appeal attorney who turned out to be a mentally ill, oft-hospitalized, crack head, convicted of cocaine possession and subsequently disbarred whose incompetence sabotaged my appeal) the law provides the courts with countless ways to deny a prisoner any appellate review of even the most meritorious claims.  I won't turn this into a discourse on legal procedures; but many years of observation has taught me that once a death warrant is signed it's near impossible to stop the  momentum of that train.  Issues that would normally offer you some relief, absent a warrant, suddenly become "meritless" under the tension of a looming execution date.  Nobody wants to be the one to stop an execution, it's almost sacrilegious.  

So many people are praying and fighting to save my life that I am loathe to express any pessimism, as if that's a betrayal of those supporting me.  And, there is some hope, at least for a stay of execution.  But honestly my worst fear is a temporary stay of 20, 30 days.  Unless a stay results in my lawyers digging up some new, previously undiscovered substantial claim that will get me a new sentencing hearing, a stay simply postpones the inevitable.  What I don't want is to be back here in the same position in 30 days, forcing you and all my loved ones to endure another heart-breaking cycle of final goodbyes.  I cannot ask that of them.  I'd rather just go on June 12th and get this over with.          This may be disappointing to those who are trying so hard to extend my life, even for a few days, but there it is.

Time - that surprisingly subjective, abstract concept - is becoming increasingly compressed for me.  I'm staying rooted in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or anxiously peering into the future, but inhabiting each unfolding moment as it arrives in my consciousness (F.Y.I., I highly recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, for anyone facing imminent execution!)  I'm still able to see the beauty of this world, and value the kindness of the many beautiful souls who work tirelessly to make this a better place.  I am calm and very much at peace, Sis, so don't worry about my welfare down here on death watch.  I will endure this without fear, and with as much grace as I can summon.  Whatever happens, it's all good, it's just the way it's supposed to be.
             Much Love, 

June 12, 2013

Dear Sis,

If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled. When your tears have dried—as they will—and you look up at the sky, allow yourself to smile when you think of me, free at last. Though I have departed my physical vehicle, know that my soul—timeless, boundless and eternal—soars joyfully among the stars.

Despite my many flaws on earth, I was blessed to be loved by so many special souls who saw past my feet of clay and into my heart. Know that in my final hours, it was that love which sustained my spirit and brought me peace. Love, like our souls, is eternal and forever binds us, and in due time it will surely draw us all back together again. Until then, Godspeed to you and all who have loved me!
                                                                                                       Light & Love,

Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 12, 2013

Dear Readers~

On June 12, 2013 at 7:13pm my brother, William, took his last breath on this earth and began his journey to the other side. His last words were, "Set me Free!" and his soul is indeed free now to continue his work helping others.  Awaiting him were my mother and father with open arms and other family members and friends who went before. William's reunion with his loved ones is a joyous event.  

Across the street from Florida State Prison a vigil gathering honored William's life and the people who tirelessly seek to abolish the death penalty. Mark Elliott of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty gave the opening speech and I was able to read an excerpt from William's blog.  Two of Florida's recent exonerees from Death Row, Seth Penalver and Herman Lindsey, held a bell which people rang with a hammer while reciting quotes of love and hope.  The Gainesville Citizens against the Death Penalty read a thank you letter from William encouraging them in their fight against capital punishment.

As William's final minutes on earth were approaching, a butterfly came nearby and gently flew around me while a beautiful cumulus cloud above the prison formed a silver lining at the top edges.  The sun behind the cloud rose through the top edge and a golden sunburst crowned the cloud.  I had the distinct impression of William rising above the earth and soaring to the heavens.  I felt his presence in my heart and a calm enveloped me as I realized he was finally free and flying home on wings of Light.

I was reminded of my final visit with him earlier that morning when he embraced me, Traci and Jan and with a radiant smile on his face said, "How can I be sad with all this immense love flowing into my heart from you and everyone who is sending their Love?  My heart is overflowing."  

William only thought of others and was so humbled by the outpouring of love and kindness he received from loved ones and people all over the world he never knew before.  His life has made an astounding impact on others and his writing will continue to do so.

There are two final blog entries that I will receive when I arrive in California and will post from there.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

May 28, 2013

Dear Sis~
Tomorrow Elmer will be executed and I'll be next up to bat, with 15 days to live.   A situation like this tends to make you reflect on the elusive nature of time itself, which some folks - physicists and metaphysicists alike - claim is an illusion anyway. Real or not it sure seems to be going someplace quickly!

This may be my last letter to reach you before you begin your journey down south to be by my side for my final days. These many visits I've recently received from those who love me have been a blessing for me.  I'm acutely aware that some guys on death watch have absolutely nobody to help them bear their burden during their last days and hours on earth, not a soul willing to share some love.  It's a terrible thing to die all alone...  I continue to be inundated with letters of support and love from around the world, many from kind-hearted strangers, and many similar blog posts which you've shared with me.  Many are very moving, and all are deeply appreciated. I am humbled.  While I've answered many I simply cannot respond to them all in my allotted time remaining.  As my shortening days inexorably telescope down my focus turns ever inward as I wrestle with the timeless questions of the universe that have puzzled man since the dawn of consciousness here on Schoolhouse Earth.

I read in a recent newspaper article that the brother and sister of Fred Griffis, the victim in my case, are angry that I'm still alive and eager for my execution.  These are understandable human feelings.  I have a brother and sister myself and I cannot honestly say how I would deal with it if something happened to you or Jeff at the hands of another.  I have thought of Fred many times over the years and grieved over his senseless death.  I feel bad for Fred's siblings though if seeing another human being die will truly give them pleasure.  I suspect when I'm gone, if they search their hearts, they will grasp the emptiness of the closure promised by the revenge of capital punishment.  There's a lot of wisdom in the old saying "An eye for an eye soon makes the whole world blind."

All is well with me here in the death house.  I've been blessed with a strong body and a stout mind and spirit, more than sufficient to see me through this final passage.  The deep love of others, freely given to me by those I'm honored to call my friends, helps ease the journey.  The one thing I am absolutely certain of after 58 years on this rock is that LOVE is the foundation of the cosmos, the very essence of what we call God.  This is the one lesson we all must learn, and will learn in due time, and which gives me my peace.

Light & Love,

May 22,2013

Dear Sis~

I have 21 days left to live.  The fickleness, the arbitrariness, the fleeting nature of life itself is on display daily throughout our world but as good an example as any occurred here on Monday morning when, as I was being dressed out here on Q-Wing for a visit, a sudden radio call brought the wing officers rushing upstairs where they found a prisoner (non-death row) hanging in his cell.  After 20+ years in prison this guy (Earl) had finally given in to the utter hopelessness that can seize the heart and spirit of any man mired forever in an American maximum security prison.  The irony wasn't lost on me that while 3 of us on death watch are fighting to live, this poor soul, living just 10 feet above us, stripped of all hope, had voluntarily surrendered his life rather than continue his dismal existence.  When nothing but a lifetime of suffering lays ahead - with no hope, no promise, no opportunity to change your fate - the idea of utter annihilation can come to look appealing in contrast.  When everything has been taken from you, the one thing you have left, that nobody can take away, is the decision to live or die.  In that context choosing death can look like freedom.  I've been there myself, I understand the depth of despair and regret that can constrict your heart until all hope is wrung out and life itself is a bitter gall caught in your throat.  Death, like despair, permeates this wing like a suffocating shroud, this forlorn cellblock with its long and well-traveled history of violent murders, despondent suicides and extended litany of executions.

Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution.  They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do.  Staff also performs a "dry run" or "mock execution", basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later.  This is when you know you're making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days.  Right now I'm on deck; when Elmer goes I'll be up to bat (that's enough sports metaphors for now).

I just learned today that the Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, has denied our motion for a stay of execution and the attorneys' motions to withdraw, and has ordered these 3 different attorneys to represent me - over their vigorous objections that they are unqualified and unfamiliar with my case - on the eve of my execution.  It's a circus and a farce; nothing like this has happened in Florida and it's setting a bad precedent.  The media are running with the story (Florida is looking really bad in this matter, the butt of jokes in the legal community) but the Supreme Court, or at least 4 of the 7 Justices, are doggedly determined to kill me on June 12, lawyers or no lawyers, and nobody can tell them otherwise.  They've decided to "pretend" I have legal representation (not competent, or qualified representation, just representation in name only) and let it go at that.

I'm being overwhelmed with letters of support from around the world and across the country, often from people I don't know, who thank me for positively impacting their lives (or lives of a loved one) through my writings, either my books, or short stories, or the blog posts.  I will not be able to reply to all these letters in the short time I have  left here on Schoolhouse Earth, but I am moved and humbled by these messages. I am not unusual in wanting to believe, at the end of my line, that my life counted for something good, that I had some positive influence on someone, that my life made a difference, that I was able to at least partially atone for the many mistakes I made earlier in life.  There's not much you can do in that direction from the confines of a cell; writing is about the only available vehicle that can transcend the prison bars.  That was the only tool I had, and I tried to use it in a positive, productive manner.  These letters tell me I succeeded and that counts for a lot in my heart.

That's it for now, Sis.  Give yourself a big hug for me, and a tummy rub for the doggies!

                       Love & Peace,

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 19, 2013

Dear Sis~

I've got 25 days left to live.  It isn't normal to be able to write something like that, and that sense of surrealism permeates every hour down here.  Making a man spend his last six weeks ticking off every minute, hour and day of his life left on earth constitutes cruel and unusual punishment by any definition.  And it certainly constitutes, as a matter of law, two of Florida's statutory aggravating circumstances (used by the state to justify the imposition of death sentences), to wit: 1) the killing is cold, calculated and premeditated; and, 2) the killing is heinous, atrocious and cruel.  Although I've fully accepted my circumstances, I know it's going to happen and I've come to terms with it, that does not obviate the fact that it just isn't right to do this to people, and for society to accept this as normal or natural, well, it speaks more about our society than it does about those being so efficiently dispatched down here in the bowels of this penitentiary.  Having said that, and on a purely personal note, perhaps it is good for me to endure this, drip by drip, stripe by stripe, in order to indelibly etch this on my spirit, to ensure that in my next life my soul will, through its slumber, vividly recall these long days, will never, ever forget this lesson and I will never repeat the mistakes and poor choices that plagued this life I'm about to surrender.  Just a thought...

There are now three of us down here on death watch; all our executions are spaced 2 weeks apart.  The guy with senior status (Elmer) is set to die on May 29th, 2 weeks before me.  Last week the Florida Supreme Court denied his last-ditch appeal and he's got no place left to go.  He does not know much about the law or court procedures but he told me he knows there is now nothing between him and his date with death.  He's resigned to his fate and I hear him pacing the floor a lot, a pacing that is gradually morphing into a listless shuffling, as if all hope has deflated from his body, like air leaking from a punctured tire.  It's a sad, melancholy sound when you know its context.  I choose to remain active, vital and alive, my spirit, intellect and even my humor undiminished, and I'll remain so until they shoot that poison into my veins and snuff out the candle of this physical vehicle.

I understand there are usually about two dozen witnesses to these executions and I sometimes wonder about those who will be at mine, unknown, faceless men rooting for me to die, happy to see me breathe my last breath.  I wonder about men who do not know me, have never met me, never broken bread with me and who know nothing about what's in my heart, who nonetheless are anxious, eager, happy to see me die.  It does not bother me, but I wonder if it will ever bother any of those men (and yes, it's almost always men, with their lust for blood; women seldom indulge in this), perhaps in their sunset years when they reflect back on their youth and wonder about their imperatives.  I hope, for their sakes, that one day they will be ashamed - or at least disappointed - with their naked blood lust and will determine to henceforth set a better example for those following behind them.

Light & Love,

Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 12, 2013

Dear Sis~

On Tuesday they came and measured me for my execution/burial suit.  Sometime soon I'll be given the details on how "the body" will be disposed of following the legally required autopsy (will my cause of death really be a mystery?).  I understand the State will pay for a cremation should I choose this form of disposal (I do) and my ashes will be available at a Gainesville Funeral home; but don't quote me on that yet.  Discussing the practical aspects of my upcoming death was a little disconcerting, but I took it in stride.  

I've been on death watch for 10 days now and I have 31 days left to live.  (It seems surreal when I write that out, and just as surreal that all those around me accept this as a normal and natural thing).  My cell (one of three) is next to the execution chamber so I won't have far to walk.  There's another guy down here with me, his execution is set for 2 weeks before mine so assuming he doesn't get a stay I'll have a front row seat to how the final days and hours play out. Aren't I lucky?

I gotta tell you, Sis, there's a big difference between contemplating your death in the abstract and seriously considering it when it's an absolute, undeniable soon-to-occur fact, when you are counting down the exact days you have left here on Schoolhouse Earth.  I got little sleep the first week, perhaps 2 hours a night and then I was up and wide awake at 2:00 a.m., mind racing, thoughts all a-jumble, despite my best breathing and meditation techniques.  I'd finally get my mind onto some mundane subject and then, bam!, my gut would knot up as the thought suddenly elbowed its way into my mind, these guys are going to take me next door and kill me in X number of days!  This still happens a dozen times a day, and more at night.

When your warrant gets signed so many things suddenly become trivial.  I've already thrown or given away 95% of my personal property, the stuff that for years seemed so important.  All those great books I'll never get to read; reams and reams of legal work I've been dragging around, and studying, for 2 decades and which has suddenly lost its relevance.  My magazines and newspapers stack up unread; I have little appetite to waste valuable, irreplaceable hours reading up on current events.  Does it really matter to me now what's happening in the Middle East, or on Wall Street, or how my Miami Dolphins are looking for the upcoming new season?  What's the point?  Ditto the TV; I'm uninterested in wasting time watching programs that now mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.  The other day I caught myself reaching for my daily vitamin.  Really?, I wondered, as the absurdity hit me.  Likewise, after 40 years of working out religiously, that's out the window now.  Again, what's the point? Now, every decision about how to spend the next hour reminds me of Elaine in that Seinfeld episode where she had to constantly evaluate whether her boyfriends were really "sponge worthy."  I spend my time in my spiritual/metaphysical books, or listening to my MP3 player, or meditating/contemplating/reflecting on life's universal mysteries.

After 10 days on death watch you know what I've come away with?  This shit isn't right!  On so many levels!  I'm not talking about me, about the particulars of my case.  I mean across the board, for anyone. This institutionalized and ritualized killing of our fellow human beings, this process which, in its mundane daily regularity seeks to make this very abnormal thing normal and acceptable.  It's sick, and it's crazy when you actually consider what's going on.  The folks here who are thanklessly tasked with actually carrying it out, they do not like doing it.  They see us, talk with us, occasionally laugh and joke with us, on a daily basis, and then one day they have to come in and kill us.  This ain't natural!  One day, I pray, we as a nation will have an expansion of consciousness and we'll ask ourselves how we ever thought this was right.

Today is Mother's Day, and as I usually do this time of year I open my photo album and look at those old black and white photos of Mom (God, she was beautiful!) and wonder how my life would have turned out differently if she had not died when I was a baby, if I'd had a mother to love me, raise me, guide and nurture me, a mom I could love, look up to, and be determined not to disappoint.  These are, for now, unanswerable questions, but when I pass over to the next plane I hope to get some answers.  If nothing else I'll be with Mom and Dad and that is what gives me such peace.

                Love & Light,

Bill asked that I re-print this beautiful message:

A Lesson not to be forgotten

One day a University student went for a walk with a very friendly Professor.  As they walked they came across a man working in a field and on the road outside the field a pair of old shoes.  The student said to the professor, "let's play a joke on him.  We'll take away the shoes and hide them and see how he reacts when he comes out and cannot find them."  The professor was a kind man and he said, "No, we won't do that.  Both of us are well off.  We should not make fun out of hard working poor people.  Instead let us put a gold coin in each shoe and see what happens when he finds them."  They did this and hid behind some bushes on the other side of the road.  On finishing his work the man came out to put on his shoes.  On putting on the first he felt something and looking inside took out the gold coin.  Thoroughly surprised he looked all around him a number of times and seeing nobody he put the gold coin in his pocket.  Then he put on the other shoe and to his even greater surprise he found another gold coin.  Overcome he fell on his knees, raised his eyes to the sky and loudly praised God, thanking Him for sending him help for his sick wife, for the children who were undernourished and for His great love in providing him with this unexpected gift.

The student was profoundly moved and his eyes filled with tears.  "Now" said the professor "aren't you glad that we did not play the joke you suggested?"    
"Yes" replied the student "you have taught me a lesson I will never forget."

  "It is in giving that we receive"ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May 3, 2103 - Message to Bill's Readers

Dear Sis~

Today Governor Scott signed my death warrant and my execution date has been scheduled for June 12th, at 6pm.  I wasn't really surprised when they showed up at my cell door with the chains and shackles; for the last month or  so I've had a strong premonition that my warrant was about to be signed, but that wasn't something I wanted to share with you.

Sis, you know I'm a straight shooter, I'm not into sugar coating things, so I don't want you to have any illusions about this.  I do not expect any delays or stays.  This is it.  In 40 days these folks will take me into the room next door and kill me.

I know this is an impossible request but to the extent you can, please don't worry about me.  You know I am mentally strong, and I'm in a good place spiritually.  Right now I'm more concerned about the pain I'm causing you and everyone else who loves me and cares about me.  I am ready for this, Sis, and I am at peace.  After 40+ years of living in cages I am ready to leave this dead end existence and move on.  I leave with many regrets over the people I have hurt, and those I've disappointed, and over a life squandered away.  My spirit will fly away hugging all the life lessons learned over 58 years on Schoolhouse Earth and with an implacable determination not to repeat these mistakes the next time around.

I know you are sad and hurting, Sis; I wish I could wipe away your tears.  Dwell on our good memories from the days of our youth, and hang onto our shared belief that life on this planet is temporary, as our separation will be temporary, and we will be together again in our true Home.  Most of all, remember that Love abides and conquers all.

Light & Love,
While Bill wrote this on the day his warrant was signed, he was not aware of the many avenues we are pursuing to stop this execution, the Petition being one of the most powerful.  His attorneys are working non-stop for legal remedies and many people from all over the world have written him and sent up prayers for him.  For all the caring people who have been called to action I thank you from my heart as does Bill. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Today Gov Scott signed William's death warrant for a date of June 12th

Dear Readers:

Today Gov Scott signed William's death warrant with an execution date of June 12th.  Please see the Petition to the right of this post to sign it.  We are working on many avenues and his attorneys are filing briefs for a stay of execution. Anything you can do to get the word out is greatly appreciated, as are your prayers.  We are not giving up hope that Bill's sentence can be commuted to a life sentence. 

Thank you very much.

Bill's sister, Lisa Van Poyck

Thursday, May 02, 2013

April 25, 2013

Dear Sis~

On April 10, Larry Mann was executed downstairs.  Seven days later Governor Scott signed another death warrant, for a guy out of Orlando named Elmer Carroll, who happened to be my next door neighbor.  We were out on the rec yard when a lieutenant holding a bunch of chains showed up and took Elmer away, and while they didn't tell him why they were taking him in I knew something was up.  When I came back in, his cell was stripped and he was down on the bottom floor of Q-Wing on death watch.  I didn't really know him; he only recently transferred in from the main D/R unit at UCI and we'd only exchanged an occasional nod or greeting.  But I understand he's got an ugly case, the murder of a young girl, much like Larry Mann's case.  The governor is wasting no time executing people, he's killing a guy every 60 days, as regular as a metronome.  Still, that is insufficiently bloodthirsty for a majority of our state representatives.  This morning I watched, on the local Public Television Channel, the floor debate in the House on a bill designed to "speed up the death penalty."  Various politicians stood up to argue pro and con, and several invoked the Bible (notably the Old Testament) to justify killing us all as quickly as possible, while one guy repeatedly referred to all of us as "animals."  I have not read the bill so all I know about its particulars is what I could glean from the comments made by those who spoke up for or against it.  The bill contains a number of different measures not directly related to "speeding up" executions per se, but apparently it contains specific provisions designed to rapidly increase the rate of executions.  One representative stated that if the bill becomes law (and it surely will) Florida "will execute between 13 and 90 prisoners in the next six months." I don't know if that's accurate but he must have had some basis to come up with those particular numbers.  Those who argued against the bill, urging caution and reminding the crowd that Florida leads the nation (by far) in death row prisoners exonerated, often 10, 15, 20 years after conviction, were steamrolled down by the Republican supermajority and the bill passed by a wide margin.  I assume it goes to the Senate next, where it will certainly pass, and will be signed into law by the governor.  I'm trying to locate a copy of the bill so I can read it for myself (actually I should wait for the actual law that is eventually signed, because the Senate may amend the current bill in some respects) and when I do I'll bring you up to date. But right now things look dicey.  I gotta tell you, listening to some of those representatives speaking in favor of the bill reminded me of the villagers with pitchforks charging Frankenstein's castle; the guys (and some gals) are literally clamoring for blood; to hear them talk you feel certain they'd love to come in here and kill us all personally, they have no qualms about killing as long as they can justify it to themselves.  There was a lot of self-righteousness and hypocrisy in the air but they were too inflamed with bloodlust (and with their desire to be reelected) to smell it, or perceive the unseemliness of their eagerness to kill...

That's it for now, Sis.  Give the doggies a tummy rub for me, and know that you are loved!


Monday, April 22, 2013

April 10,2013

Dear Sis~

The execution of Larry Mann occurred this evening as scheduled, making it the sixth execution under Gov Scott (it would be eighth, but two guys won stays of execution from the Federal courts and their cases have yet to be resolved). Meanwhile, the Evans Case is pending before the US Supreme Court, waiting to see if that court will grant certiorari review of the Ring v Arizona issue, which is the claim presented in Evans.  The issue is whether Ring applies to Florida or, put another way, whether Florida's death penalty statue is unconstitutional pursuant to Ring.  We've been waiting for 10 years for the US Supreme Court to address this claim and the Evans case presents the best opportunity yet given that, in Evans, a federal judge answered that question in the affirmative, ruling Florida's capital sentencing statute unconstitutional under the dictates of Ring.  Arizona's death penalty statute is virtually identical to Florida's, almost word for word, and it's hard to imagine how the US Supreme Court could distinguish them if they accept the case.  If the court agrees to take the case I fully expect them to strike down important aspects of Florida's capital statutory scheme, just as they did in Ring.  And while the Supreme Court has previously held that Ring is not retroactive it will nonetheless have far-reaching ramifications for many of Florida's death row prisoners...

I was saddened to see that Annette Funicello died. Remember how you and I, at age 6 or 7, used to watch her on the Mickey Mouse Club, on our old black and white TV, back in the early 60's?  We used to sing along to their song at the close of each episode, remember?  Seeing her old black & white photo on the news, wearing her Mickey Mouse T-shirt and Mickey Mouse ears, really pulled me down the rabbit hole of nostalgia, flooding me with pleasant childhood memories, and there are way too few of those in my memory bank.  Those were real days of innocence...

Speaking of old memories, I see someone has made a new movie called Kon-Tiki, based upon Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 sailing adventure, where he and about 5 other guys built a balsa wood raft in Peru and successfully sailed 4,500 miles across the Pacific (fighting sharks and storms) in order to prove his controversial theory that the Polynesian Islands were (or at least could have been) populated by ancient sailors from South America.  As a kid I devoured his book, also called Kon-Tiki (which was the name of the raft), and of course I was lost in the grand adventure of it all; I dreamed of running off to South America, or some other exotic locale, to strike out and find my own excitement, to scratch that itch I always had, that ineffable urge to challenge boundaries and the status quo...

That's enough rambling for now, Sis.  I'll write more soon.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 9, 2013

Dear Sis~

On March 1, 2013, just three days after Paul Howell unexpectedly received his February 6th last minute stay of execution Gov. Scott, not letting any grass grow under his feet, signed another death warrant, setting an April 10 execution date for Larry Mann (well, technically the governor just signs a warrant authorizing an execution within a certain time frame, say between Feb 28th to April 15th, while the FSP warden sets the actual death date).  I don't know Mann personally, though he's been on the row for 32 years.  I know his case is out of Pinellas County (St. Petersburg and Clearwater) and the victim was a little girl, so it's a sad and tragic one.  You know, I've spent four decades deeply immersed in legal work - long before I came to the row - and I commonly read, every week, all of the appellate decisions published in the Southern Reporters and Florida Law Weekly (also all the Federal equivalents) which includes all the capital appeals issued by the Florida Supreme Court.  Consequently I've read and studied hundreds of death penalty decisions just from the Florida Supreme Court alone; these decisions describe, often in great detail, the events leading up to, through and following the homicide(s) in question.  The ones involving child victims are, as you can imagine, the most difficult to digest, and it is not uncommon for me to cry over some of them, they can be so heartbreaking.  I vividly recall reading one direct appeal decision, back in the 1980's (when I worked in the law library, here, before I came on the row), where a young mother was brutally murdered in her house over a period of time - an extended attack - and the entire episode was recorded because the woman had managed to dial 911 before dropping the phone.  Consequently, the 911 operator listened to the entire attack (back then they lacked the technology to quickly discern the location of any 911 call) and the Supreme Court published the entire transcript as a part of its opinion.  As I read the transcript - much screaming, yelling, praying, begging - and visualized the scene, it just became too much for me and I broke down, crying, then hurdled the book across my cell, cursing the person who did that horrible thing, and cursing a God who allowed it to happen.  That incident is still indelibly burned into my mind.  It's soul-searching cases like that which really challenge your opposition to the death penalty...

On a lighter note I caught two great PBS music shows (part of their regular fund-raising events) which I highly recommend to anyone.  First was Andrea Borcelli (the great blind tenor) with Love in Portofino (Portofino is a small, picturesque fishing village in Italy; I was there in 1971).  This program really showcases Borcelli's wide range and magnificent voice, no matter which genre he chooses to sing.  His love and passion for music of all kinds really comes through here.  He's a master!  The second was Joe Bonamassa, the great blues guitarist.  This show was completely acoustic and unforgettable.  About a third of the way through the program Joe, on acoustic guitar, performed a tour de force piece which begins like a classical Spanish guitar riff and then morphs into an indescribable, wide-ranging, genre-busting extravaganza which is guaranteed (if you appreciate good music) to blow your mind.  He gets a well-deserved standing ovation, and you'll be standing, too!  

Just finished reading September Hope, by John C McManus, which very competently details the September 1944 Airborne invasion of Holland by American, British and Free Polish paratroopers.  As you know, this is where Dad, then a Captain in the 82nd Airborne Division, lost his leg to a German mortar round.  You'll be glad to know that Dad is mentioned and occasionally quoted, throughout the book.  I was, however, a little surprised and dismayed to see me and my current situation mentioned in a footnote in the back (Chapter 15, note 5, page 485) where the author describes me as "a hardened criminal" currently on death row.  I don't see myself as "a hardened criminal", but, being honest, I cannot fault an objective observer for describing me as such.  That is certainly who I was, long ago...

That's it for now, Sis. Give yourself a hug for me!


Monday, March 04, 2013

February 27, 2013

Dear Sis~
My old pal Tom died on Friday, Feb 8th at 4:10 pm, alone in the clinic isolation cell at UCI.  I hate that he died alone, locked in a tiny cell with no property (no radio, TV or anything to occupy his mind) and nobody to converse with, just laying on his bunk, staring at the ceiling, waiting for his final escape.  His loved ones, who were able to travel from Texas and North Carolina to visit him for three hours just two days before he passed away wrote and told me that he was very weak and gaunt, could not keep down any food or liquids, but was lucid enough for a meaningful visit, though just barely so.  Although I know his death was inevitable and imminent, I'm surprised at how much it has affected me. I've seen an awful lot of death during my many years in prison (way too much death, in all its myriad variations), including some friends, but Tom's has knocked the wind out of me.  I still catch myself starting to call over to him when I read something interesting or see something on TV that would pique his interest, and I sometimes swear I hear his voice calling me.  A part of me is happy for him because I know he's finally free, but I can't lie; I really miss him.

As you know, we had an execution scheduled for last night, a guy named Paul Howell, but some hours before his appointment with death the US Court of Appeals in Atlanta unexpectedly granted him an indefinite stay and ordered a briefing schedule to resolve his legal issue.  Nowadays, last minute stays of execution are very rare (at least long-term indefinite stays are rare, as opposed to those brief stays that just keep you strapped to the gurney for an extra hour or two until the courts inevitably give you that final thumbs down). Later last night they moved Paul off death watch on Q-wing and put him in the lone empty cell on my floor.  That's gotta be a Hell of a transition; you are hours away from execution, you've had your final visits (imagine how emotional that is), made your peace with the inevitable, perhaps eaten your last meal, then, in a finger snap, you're told you won't be dying after all (at least not that night) and you are back on a regular death row cell talking with the Fellas.  I've seen a number of guys go through this over the years, one of whom was just twenty minutes from execution in the electric chair when he got his unexpected stay.  They moved him next to me and I was startled to see that his hair had turned almost entirely white during the six weeks he was on death watch.  He died quietly in his sleep from a heart attack about six years later, right here on this floor.  Anyway, two of the last three guys whose death warrants have been signed by Governor Scott have received last minute stays of execution by the same Federal Appellate court and I'm wondering if this will give the Governor pause as far as signing any more warrants for awhile.  We'll know soon enough...

That's it for now, Sis.  Keep your chin up and stay out of mischief!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14, 2013

February 14, 2013

Dear Sis~

For the past week this prison has been a beehive of activity with countless prisoners inducted to sweep, mop, scrub and paint the joint top to bottom in anticipation of the upcoming annual ACA (American Correctional Association) inspection (called "audits" in a vaguely Scientology lexicon). It sort of begs the question inasmuch as ACA inspections have become a sham.  Back in the day ACA inspections actually meant something (if nothing else, we all ate well on inspection day)! The Association had a large measure of independence and was generally respected for its impartiality.  Their standards were progressive and had teeth because their certification was coveted by prison systems eager to prove (to courts and those few lawmakers who actually cared) that they'd  left the stone age and were treating prisoners like humans (or at least like mammals).  But, over the last two decades, the ACA has been thoroughly infiltrated and taken over by a revolving door of correctional insiders (ex-wardens, ex-colonels, ex-Secretaries of Departments of Corrections) who moved in, started paying themselves huge salaries, and began spraining their wrists busily patting each others' backs in a self-congratulatory orgy.  The standards have been substantially watered down and riddled with "exceptions" and exemptions and the inspections (with plenty of advance warning) have become rote routines.  There's no drama with the certifications, which are virtually guaranteed for any prison willing to pay their fees.  Now they just visit each Potemkin Village, walk a few hallways, visit a few carefully selected cells (but never talk to any actual prisoners), then rubber stamp their approval.  Now it's akin to having the American Petroleum Institute award grades to Exxon-Mobil for its environmental policies or asking the National Rifle Association if it favors increased gun control legislation.  The results are entirely predictable and equally meaningless.  Hell, they don't even feed us a decent meal on inspection days anymore; they shovel out the same rotten slop we get every day, knowing the "Inspectors" couldn't care less...

If you get a chance to catch the PBS series Searching for Shakespeare, don't miss it.  It's interesting on many levels and reminds me why he is the greatest wordsmith in the English language...

Ok, Sis, I'll wrap this up and post it so you can dig out of the latest blizzard.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

February 27, 2013

Dear Sis~

On Monday my old friend Tom - just 4 months ago had a hale and hardy soul, now a mere envelope of cancer-gnawed flesh and bones - was removed from his cell by wheelchair, too weak to offer anything but meager protest, and transferred to the one place he dreaded going to, our notoriously filthy, blood spattered clinic holding cell, consigned to die in pain-soaked isolation.  The image of him, barely able to croak a few words, weakly waving goodbye to me, his sunken, lingering eyes reflecting his recognition that he was going to his death, will forever be imprinted on my memory.  I hate the idea that he'll die alone, surrounded by indifference and neglect.  Tom was a unique character with a sharp, incisive mind and I already miss him.  I confess that it is tiring to be surrounded by so much death - the dead and yet-to-be-dead - these past two decades, a struggle not be drenched in negativity, with precious little to mitigate my disappointments.  Each day requires an act of will to wake up and set myself with a purpose, to believe this mortal life is more than just a play of shadows in a shadow box...

Speaking of which, a death row prisoner across the river at UCI committed suicide about 2 weeks ago (Carlos Delgado was his name), while 2 months ago a non-death row prisoner here hung himself.  It's surprising to me that more prisoners here don't kill themselves given the long term extreme isolation and punitive conditions, the hopelessness that comes from being confined for years in a tiny cage with virtually no property and certainly no programs or anything to engage the mind or offer any shred of hope.  I'm referring specifically to the 1,000 men in close management status here (close management being a euphemism for long-term solitary confinement lasting years and years).  Death row conditions are marginally better; at least we get visits and we can buy a little TV or radio (or now an MP3 player), but the flip side is that we spend decades in these cells and unless you possess a stout mind (and body) this inevitably erodes your constitution, often without you even knowing it.  I've seen too many men go insane, a sad and scary thing to behold, or just throw in the towel and kill themselves, or get the state to do it for them by giving up their appeals and demanding to be executed.  The irony with Tom is that we often discussed, over the years, the extremely high percentage of D/R prisoners who die of cancer each year, more than 30 that I know of, and we half-jokingly wondered if there's something in the water here.  Then in a blink of an eye Tom was struck by two - brain and lung cancers - and Tom's number was up.  I wrote, as I promised I would, to Tom's people and told them what happened, that I don't expect him to live more than a few weeks at best, but I confided to one of his close friends (his closest, in fact) that a small part of me is happy for Tom because after 20+ years on death row and a lifetime spent behind bars he will soon be free...

I'll close with a quote, attributed to Brian Cox, given to me by a dear friend: "We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself."  I believe that.

That's it for now, Sis.  Give the doggies a scratch behind the ears for me.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jan 8, 2013

Dear Sis~

Another new year is upon us, but how much has really changed?  I just read a disturbing article, including graphic photos, about the seemingly inevitable extinction of the African rhinoceros due to the relentless poaching pandemic engulfing Africa today.  These magnificent creatures, like the equally majestic elephants, have survived millions of years, shrugging off the worst the natural world could throw at them, yet they are no match for the ignorance and greed of modern man.  The slaughter of the rhinos is particularly senseless in that the desired product - their horns - are nothing more than compressed hair, a substance similar to fingernails, yet the wealthy buyers in the Asian markets, primarily China, ignorantly believe the ground up horns are aphrodisiacs.  The level of stupidity is astounding and heartbreaking.  The plains of Africa, including its best-known nature reserves, are littered with the butchered carcasses of these rhinos, shot dead, their horns brutally hacked off (sometimes while the rhino is still alive).  This is not a new phenomenon; the battle has been going on for many years, but the poachers, heavily armed and driven by an economic model that values horns and ivory higher than gold, have inexorably gained the upper hand, and there now remain just a few thousand rhinos in the wild, a mere pittance of their former numbers.  Courageous people are battling mightily to protect these beasts, but their future looks bleak.  These grand animals, like their brethren the elephants, stand as a bitter rebuke to all of mankind, which has no right to extinct an entire species, to declare that such an animal will cease to exist forever more.  This is a revealing statement on the nature of man, a commentary on what we value and what we, as a species, are willing to do to protect our own brethren here on Schoolhouse Earth.  If we, collectively, cannot save the rhinos, elephants, polar bears and lions (yes, the African lion is now on the path to extinction in the wild), who are being consigned to history's ash heap solely by our actions, then we have abrogated any claim to stewardship over this planet and our own future here can rightfully be called into doubt.  I say a pox on all of us if this is the way the future lays...

Well, so far, the governor has not signed any new death warrants (last year he signed his first death warrant of the year on January 2, 2012, wasting no time) but then it's only the eighth day of the new year.  The urge to kill is strong in our blood, often more so in those who purport to be our leaders...

Enough editorializing for now, Sis.  I'm gonna lay back and relax, take the afternoon off, chill, and listen to my little MP3 player (Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra are on deck).


Monday, December 31, 2012

December 25, 2012

Dear Sis~

What a treat it was to visit with you on Christmas Day!  My rare visits are my only real highlights of this otherwise spare existence, the only time - however briefly - I can put prison behind me, interact with free world people on an equal footing, almost as if I am free, sitting in a cafe discussing current events.  Now I'm back in my cell where the Christ Spirit seems very far removed, hugging tight today's memories of our visit...

Last night on PBS I watched a great Christmas Special by Rod Stewart, Merry Christmas Baby, where he sang many of the classic Christmas songs, along with a few musical guests (like Ceelo Green), using a big band (lots of strings and horns) of fine musicians.  I wouldn't normally associate Rod Stewart with Christmas songs, but he's the epitome of a real pro.  The production values were top notch and Rod pulled it off with class and panache.  By the way, on the subject of music, there's a new movie musical version of Les Misérables with Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe which is getting good reviews.  I read the book and saw an old version of the movie when I was a kid and I never forgot it; that's gotta be one of the best tales ever written, and besides being great entertainment it teaches some serious life lessons about the meaning of true justice, and the importance of compassion, understanding and forgiveness (not to mention common sense) when attempting to weigh a person's worth in the balance...

Well, you know that the execution took place as scheduled on December 11th,  and I suspect Gov. Scott will sign another death warrant as soon as the new year gets ringed in (last year he signed his first warrant of 2012 on January 2nd). What a great way to start off your new year, huh?  Deciding who to put to death.  It's not something I could (or would) do, I know that...

On the subject of clemency, which we touched on during our visit, the last time a Florida governor granted clemency to anyone on death row was in 1983 or 1984.  Nowadays very few governors have the political courage to grant clemency, to spare a life, despite the fact that there's no shortage of prisoners on the row who merit clemency.  Ironically, history shows that in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's, governors - even in the deep south - freely exercised their powers of executive grace and granted clemency on a regular basis, without fear of being labeled "soft on crime".  But nowadays most governors are scared to death to show mercy, afraid to be labeled soft on crime.  Easier to just kill people off than to be merciful and risk any political kickback...

Ok, Sis, that's enough for now.  It's time for me to hit the hay and get a good night's sleep.  Be good and stay out of mischief!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dec 10, 2012

Dear Sis~

We have another execution scheduled for tomorrow, which makes for a somber atmosphere here, at least for me.  A surprisingly large percentage of these guys appear totally unaffected by the fact that one of their own is being put to death just 100 feet away.  By habit, I meditate for the hour straddling the execution, which here in Florida is routinely scheduled for 6pm, and I've always gotta screen out the laughter of guys watching some sitcom, or other inane conversation going on.  Some of these guys are actually unaware that an execution is occurring which shows you how clued in they are.  Talk about lack of situational awareness!  That aside, I'm wondering what a governor is thinking when he deliberately chooses to execute someone just before Christmas?  He could have picked any date, but he chose this time.  On the other hand, my trial judge picked Dec 22nd to sentence me to death.  That was my Christmas gift...  

At any rate, I'm not dwelling on the death and deprivation inhabiting this dump; at Christmas tie I'd like to focus on the good and positive things in my life - like the people who love and care about me - to remember what I have going for me instead of what is against me.  When I look around me, and around the world in general, I consider myself blessed.  Keeping things in perspective  helps maintain the sanity and keeps bitterness and self-pity from infecting the heart...

Give yourself a big Christmas hug for me, Sis, and know that you are loved!

Light & Love,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 8, 2012

Dear Sis ~

Well, apparently Governor Scott became frustrated with his inability to kill John Ferguson because last week he signed another death warrant, this time for Manny Pardo, an ex-policeman from Miami who, back in the 80's, killed at least 9 people over a period of time, later donning the Vigilante mantle, claiming they were all drug dealers and he was doing the citizenry a favor by ridding society of its dregs. Less valiant was the fact that he kept all the money, drugs and jewelry he robbed from them. Manny is scheduled to die on December 11th, just in time for Christmas...

Speaking of Ferguson, I don't recall if I told you what happened? He got a series of temporary stays from ever-higher courts until finally the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, ordered a stay (which, I believe, was approved by the US Supreme Court) in order to resolve the issue of his sanity to be executed.  Ferguson has been on the row for over 34 years and guys who know him ('cuz I don't) tell me he's been crazy for decades, which is why previous governors did not sign his death warrant earlier.  I guess Scott wanted to test that theory, or else he's getting poor legal advice...

Another death row guy has died of cancer.  I ran into Michael Bruno (whom I've known for over 20 years) in late July when I took a day trip to RMC (Regional Medical Center) for my upper GI tests.  Bruno looked weak and had a persistent cough (the same cough Tom now has) and he'd just been diagnosed with lung cancer, with several spots on his lung X-Rays.  Soon after he began radiation and chemo treatments; Tom saw him almost every day once Tom began his chemo and radiation regimen and Tom reported Bruno's condition to me each day.  He seemed to be doing pretty well, but on Friday, October 19th, he suddenly got ill and two days later he was dead.  The cause of death, we were told, was septic shock, and I'm guessing the infection found its way into his system via the "port" they'd inserted into his chest to funnel the chemo directly into his lung.  Prisons are filthy so putting a port into a guy's chest while making him live in a cell is pretty much a prescription for disaster.  This is especially true here in Florida where the DOC long ago quit issuing and buying (we used to manufacture them) the various cleaning chemicals we used to use to clean our cells and the whole prison, from powdered soap, liquid soap, disinfectants, bleach; all that is gone now and we must buy and use shampoo from the canteen to wash our clothes and clean our cells.  This whole decrepit building is filthy and falling apart...

I watched Runaway Train on TV again, a good movie based on an Eddie Bunker novel (Bunker served time in San Quentin) starring John Voight, Eric Roberts and a young, fresh-faced Rebecca De Mornay.  The movie begins with a very accurate depiction of an old-school penitentiary; FSP was just like that (as was the Rock) back in the day.  I can relate to the movie and the character played by Voight...

Nothing else to report from the Big House!  Give yourself a hug for me.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 25, 2012

Dear Sis~

Well, the execution has been cancelled, to the dismay of some around here.  Ferguson was scheduled to die on the 16th, but just before then he got a 48-hour stay.  Over the next week he got three such temporary stays from three different courts, with the sole issue being his sanity to be executed.  Finally, it was supposed to happen for sure 2 days ago, on the 23rd, and we woke up to the standard execution-day procedures, eating all three meals very early, the entire prison being on lockdown, and all guards wearing their dress uniforms.  As execution time (6:00 pm) neared the old white hearse pulled up outside the back sally port gate waiting to come in and pick up the body.  As 6:00 came and went I assumed the execution had occurred but around 7:30 a guy on the other side of my wing, which looks out on the back gate and the rear of Q-wing (the death house), called me through the vent and said the hearse never came in, but instead had finally driven off.  On the 11:00 news it was reported that the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, had given Ferguson a stay of execution and that the US Supreme Court then approved the stay.  (The accuracy of that precise chronology is debatable because reporters are notorious for mangling stories involving court decisions).  At any rate, he got some kind of stay; how long that stay is remains unknown to me.  I heard on one  news report that the Eleventh Circuit granted the stay in order to decide "whether it is unconstitutional to execute the insane," which is an issue firmly settled by the US Supreme Court long ago in Ford v Wainwright.  If that's an accurate statement (a big "IF") it indicates the Eleventh Circuit may be trying to find a way to undermine or circumvent Ford, a way to go ahead and execute insane prisoners.  Any such ruling would toss the issue back to the Supreme Court, giving them an opportunity to recede from Ford if they so choose.  Also on the 11:00 news was the results of their earlier poll question: "Should insane prisoners be executed?"  Not surprisingly, 59% of the good citizens of Jacksonville answered in the affirmative. ("Yeah, that's right, let's kill all those crazy bastards!")  Now we go back on lottery watch, waiting to see whose death warrant the governor signs next, which is a great mood elevator for the upcoming holidays...

Last night's mail brought me (and others) a notice that the mailroom had impounded and confiscated the latest issue of Newsweek because, the notice stated, it contained an article about "pot use in America."  Censorship like this, which implies serious First Amendment principles, used to be, and is supposed to be, rare.  Only when an article clearly and unequivocally creates a substantial threat to the security of a prison should it be censored.  But, over the years, the Florida DOC has gotten progressively petty (and ignorant) on this issue (since the law now practically forbids prisoners from filing law suits anymore) until we've reached our present state where these impoundments have become almost daily and for the most absurd reasons imaginable.  If I told you the reasons given for some of these censorships you would first laugh and then call me a liar.  The main problem in the Florida DOC is their ill-thought-out policy where if I any peon in any mailroom in any prison in Florida (and we have well over 100 prisons and institutions) decides that something they see in an incoming magazine or newspaper is objectionable to them, a notice immediately goes out to all the prisons and they must all, immediately, seize and confiscate all those incoming magazines or newspapers.  So, we are at the mercy of the dumbest, most ignorant or biased mailroom employee in the state; their opinion spreads through the DOC like rings in a pond when a pebble is thrown in.  As a result, you get things like their impoundment of this month's Esquire because it "shows sexual activity." (Any Esquire subscriber knows it does not contain "sexual activity") or the impoundment of my Field and Stream for a little story on how a person lost in the wilderness can "start a fire from tree bark." (the prison declared this a security threat for teaching us how to commit arson).  When the prisons go to seizing mainstream magazines like Newsweek for having articles about "pot use in America" you know the mental patients are in charge of the asylum. (Whoa! News Alert! People in America smoke pot! What a security threat!) No court in America would sanction this blatantly unconstitutional censorship but nowadays, with nothing to keep them in check (lawsuit-wise) the prisons do just whatever the hell they want to, knowing they are immune from challenge...

Well, Sis, that's all the news from here for now.  Hopefully, I'll enjoy a quiet holiday season, which is about the most, and best, I can hope for.
Love, Bill

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 2, 2012

Dear Sis~

Last week Gov. Scott issued a temporary stay of execution for John Ferguson, the Miami native who was scheduled to die on Oct. 16th.  The purpose is so that doctors can examine him and assess his sanity.  As I'd speculated in a previous letter this guy has a long history of mental illness which is one reason why he's been on death row for 34 years.  My understanding is that previous governors, being aware of his mental issues, bypassed him when deciding whose death warrant to sign.  At any rate being insane as a factual or medical matter, as opposed to a legal matter, does not guarantee he'll be spared.  You can be 100% Looney Tunes from a medical perspective and still be declared legally sane because they involve different standards.  More importantly it will be Simon simple for the state to find a doctor or two who will declare him sane no matter how profound his psychosis.  The state keeps on call a large battery of quack psychiatrists (their "expert witnesses") who will testify very predictably (and profitably) in the state's favor.  Here's the really peculiar thing, in my opinion.  The whole reason behind not executing a crazy person is the idea that it is "inhumane" to kill someone who is not aware of why he is being put to death.  Think about that.  Yeah, it's O.K. to cold-bloodedly and premeditatedly kill people, but only if they know why they're being killed.  In other words, the "bad" part is not the actual killing, it's the possibility that the about-to-be-killed guy may not grasp why he's being killed.  ("We want this guy to know why we're killing him!!!)  Is it just me or does this seem like an odd arrangement of priorities?  This is the kind of twisted reasoning you end up with here, where logic dives down the rabbit hole, when you try to parse the justifications for executing your fellow citizens... 

Here's an update on my friend Tom. When I last wrote he'd been taken away in an ambulance on the night of Sept. 11th after spending 14 or 15 post-seizure days futilely trying to convince the medical staff here that he was dying. Well, within hours of arriving at Shands Hospital in Gainesville surgeons performed emergency brain surgery and removed a golf ball-sized tumor which proved to be cancerous. An MRI also revealed a "large mass" in his chest which was also determined to be cancerous. Just 18 hours after his brain surgery prison officials (over the surgeon's objections) removed Tom from the hospital and returned him here to his cell. I stuck my mirror out, upon hearing the door roll, and saw Tom, a big bandage on his head, tottering slowly and unsteadily down the tier to his cell. That was on the 13th.  For the next 5 days he laid on his bunk, often moaning, while receiving no medication at all (despite the surgeons having prescribed many drugs). Finally, after 5 days he began getting some, but not all, of the prescribed meds (no pain meds, of course).  Importantly, he did not get the most crucial one, the one to stop his brain from swelling.  So he was suffering mightily until just 5 or 6 days ago when he finally saw a free-world oncologist who was shocked that he was not getting the brain swelling medication.  After another 3 days he finally began getting that one and he told me the relief was immediate.  I knew it was bad when he kept telling me he had fluid coming out of his ears.  He's been told he'll get chemo and radiation treatment but that remains to be seen.  If the prison has their way he'll get nothing.  (It kills me to read or hear about citizens crying about all the "great, free medical care" prisoners get.  They are so clueless about what really goes on in prisons and about the criminally negligent medical personnel who commonly work in jails and prisons, many of whom have been barred from treating free-world patients, but who get to work in prisons under special laws that permit such).  The only reason Tom is alive is because he managed to get to a real hospital, out of the grasp of FSP's quacks...

Ok, Sis, that's the news from here - some of it anyway - so I'll post this now and hit the hay.  Give yourself a big hug from me!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sept 13, 2012

Dear Sis~

Here's a snapshot of the type of medical care we get here. In the early morning hours of August 30, my friend Tom, who lived 2 cells down from me groggily awoke to find his face and pillow covered in blood and his tongue bitten about half off. He had no memory of what occurred.  That morning his speech was slurred (over and above his extreme difficulty in speaking with a then-swollen, bloody tongue) and I noticed his thinking was confused.  I told him he'd most likely had a seizure in his sleep (he has no history of seizures) and that because he was on high cholesterol medication he may have had a small stroke.  Over the following days Tom suffered progressively severe headaches almost constantly and began sleeping excessively.  His speech became increasingly slurred and his mental faculties were clearly compromised.  I, and others, constantly urged Tom to try to get up to the clinic to see a doctor (even though the two doctors here are notorious quacks) and so he began trying to stop any passing nurses (who go down our row to deliver medications to some) to explain his situation, but none of them were interested. Most just said "put in a sick call slip."  At my urging Tom declared a "medical emergency" which is supposed to get you right up to the clinic.  But instead, a nurse came to the wing, briefly examined Tom's swollen (and now infected) tongue, gave him two Tylenol and told him he was just "out of luck" since no doctor was on duty on a Saturday night.

Meanwhile, day by day, Tom got worse.  He knew something was wrong with him but seemed unable to figure out what to do.  I wrote up a sick call slip for him (by this time his handwriting was illegible and he could not put his thoughts together) and the next day a "nurse" or M.T. (medical technician) came to "examine" him.  He listened as Tom labored to explain what happened, starting with the seizure, then told Tom "Well, some people do this [bite their tongues almost in half] to get attention."  The M.T. then walked away.  By this time about 8-9 days had gone by.  On Sept 6 Tom went to the clinic for his "dental request" because he'd also broken some teeth.  Pursuant to this prison's recently enacted policy he was forced to lay on his back, reclined, in the dentist's chair for two hours with his hands handcuffed behind his back with the "black box" on (a very painful device which locks your hands rigidly in place in the handcuffs).  The dentist fixed one of his 6 broken teeth and prescribed a "rinse twice-a-day for his lacerated, infected tongue, but refused to help him see a doctor (who was just 20 feet away) to treat the real problem, the symptoms following his unexplained seizure.  When Tom returned to his cell his extreme distress was evident and when the 'cuffs were removed and he tried to move his arms in front of him he found one of his shoulders was dislocated.  His wrists were red, swollen and completely numb.  Somehow he managed to pop his shoulder back in place.

At this point I began writing grievances for him, grieving the medical department's refusal to let him see a doctor.  I submitted another sick call form for him, and when the nurse or M.T. (we don't know who is a nurse and who is an M.T.) came to see him the next day he told Tom he had to submit a third sick call form before he could see a doctor (this is the medical department's recently enacted policy, requiring all prisoners to submit three (3) separate sick call forms (costing us $5.00 each time; we must pay a $5.00 co-payment every time we submit a sick call form) before we can actually see a doctor (this effectively triples the mandatory co-payment, from $5.00 to $15.00).

By this time all of us prisoners knew Tom was seriously messed up and was deteriorating daily; the headaches were driving him nuts and his thinking was labored and scattered. His speech was almost unintelligible.  I felt that he was dying. All the wing officers knew he was messed up, and Tom desperately tried to explain his situation to any passing nurse or M.T., begging for help, to no avail.  Everyone just ignored his pleas for help.  It was painful for me to watch this unfold. Finally, two nights ago, on Tuesday September 11 at 7:40pm I heard Tom collapse in his cell.  Tom called out to me, very weakly, for help.  I immediately began yelling and banging for the wing sergeant, screaming "man down" and "medical emergency."  When the sergeant came he immediately saw how serious it was and he called the clinic to bring a wheelchair.  After 20 minutes of trying to coax a disabled Tom into stripping (for the obligatory strip search) and to climb on his bunk, face the wall, and put his hands behind his back, the officers finally entered his cell and handcuffed and shackled him.  They put Tom in a wheelchair and took him to the clinic.  By this time it was past 8:00.  Around 10:15 a freeworld ambulance came through the back gate, then departed, lights flashing, taking Tom to a hospital in Gainesville or Jacksonville (we heard differing reports).  I sat down and wrote to Tom's people, and one of his lawyers, telling them what had happened.  The next day (yesterday) I was reliably informed that Tom was at that moment undergoing brain surgery.  Clearly, he'd had a stroke or aneurysm of some sort, perhaps a series of them, and his life was hanging in the balance.  What I know for certain was that he spent 13 days in his cell begging everyone in the medical department for help, a man clearly in need of immediate medical attention, and nobody would give him the time of day.  Had he simply been able to see a doctor after his initial seizure (which was a classic warning sign) all the rest could have been avoided.  As it is I don't know if Tom is alive, or will survive, or will ever be the person he once was, physically or mentally.  He may be a vegetable for all I know. This type of treatment is typical here at F.S.P and this is why I always tell you how thankful I am for my good health, because if you get seriously sick in a Florida prison, and especially this one, you will probably just die.  Nobody here gives a damn, especially those working in the medical department.  (It takes awhile to stop being shocked at seeing doctors and nurses who are absolutely indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical problems.  I stopped being shocked decades ago after seeing too many friends left to die alone in their cells)...
Light & Love,