Wednesday, December 21, 2005

December 7, 2005 - Pearl Harbor Day

Dear Sis~

Pearl Harbor Day has rolled around again, except nowadays it's an amicable invasion of Hondas & Toyotas, Sonys & Mitsubishis, Panasonics & Nissans. Ford and General Motors are lurching toward bankruptcy, fatally wounded by a decades-long lack of corporate vision and leadership at the top, combined with onerous, myopic union intransigence from below. Bad combination! The Japanese simply offer better products at better prices, and as Adam Smith would say, the power of the free marketplace does the rest. Corporate Darwinism in action ...

We went on "quarterly lockdown" on Monday, where we will remain for the next two-three weeks. The entire prison is confined to their cells while roving groups of guards, accompanied by the K-9 drug-sniffing units, go from cellblock to cellblock (or from pod to pod; in the "new school" prison system they are called "pods" instead of cellblocks) searching (tearing up) our cells looking for "contraband" and/or any other "excess property." This is really an opportunity for al the guards to earn lots of overtime pay; just in time to pay for all the Christmas stuff they'll be buying. We always have a lockdown in early December, just before Christmas...

Outside we've got a light dusting of snow; earlier today I was looking out through my horizontal slit window (5' wide and 4 feet long), watching the crows strut around on the ground, occasionally pecking at the snow. They're probably pissed that I haven't been showing p in the yard to feed them their hot dogs, sausages and Bologna. For the next few weeks, they're on their own ...

I read and enjoyed the notes posted to my blog from one of the "dcdramagrrls" (I love their little visual icon, the picture of that saucy red-headed gal sliding seductively down the fireman's pole. That woman had some serious curves!) I'm glad they were fighting to help Rob Lovitt. Speaking of Rob, they brought him back from Greensville and put him in the cellblock next door, in administrative confinement, with the other non-death row prisoners, pending his classification to his permanent prison. On my last day out in the yard, last Sunday, I got to holler at him. His new cell looks down on the yards, the same yards he'd been pacing in for the last 5 years. Now he's on the "other side", among the "living" (i.e., non-death row prisoners) looking out at us. Talk about a dramatic turnaround! That's what each one of us hopes for in our own cases ... that someday, somehow, fate, luck and circumstances will converge to kick us off death row and into general population where we can exhale and try to live a normal life (normal by chain gang standards, anyway). Unfortunately in Virginia, very, very few of us will actually realize that dream. The mortality rate for this state's death row is, by far, the highest in the nation. If you come to the row in Virginia, you willl be executed ...

On that somber note I'll close this up and post it.
Love & Peace

Sunday, December 04, 2005

November 29, 2005

Dear Sis~
Just moments ago the local evening newscaster reported that our out-going governor, Mark Warner, just granted clemency for Rob Lovitt, who was scheduled to die tomorrow. This is the first clemency granted here in Virginia in my 6+ years here, and I think there's only been one other in the last 20 years or so. Governor Warner based his clemency decision, he said, upon the fact that the clerk had destroyed all of the evidence (including possibly exculpatory DNA evidence) immediately following Rob's trial, in violation of a state law which specifically mandates the continued preservation of all evidence in all capitol cases, until the death sentence is carried out. I was surprised Warner actually had the fortitude to do this. This year, 2005, will now prove to be the first full calendar year in Virginia in which no execution took place, in decades. Usually Virginia executes 5-12 people per year. So this is a milestone (it is now too late to sign a death warrant and get an execution date before 2005 ends). Hopefully, this is a good omen. But, the reality is that out of the 22 guys here on the row, about 6 of them are very close to exhausting their legal remedies and will probably be executed in 2006. I know these six guys very well (one of them is crazy as a bed bug; another is borderline retarded), and it will be depressing and discouraging for me to watch them get chained up and hustled off to Greensville where they'll be put down like unwanted stray dogs. It's not just discouraging because I'm watching people I know be executed, but also because, in this day and age, our society still views the killing of its citizens as a viable and acceptable solution. We've become so inured to killing that few people even question the underlying premise, instead accepting it as the natural order of things. Every time I watch a guy get escorted from here to Greenville it represents another failure in the imagination (not to mention the compassion) of our society. Really, shouldn't we be better than this?

The seagulls have arrived for the winter and they're chasing of all the other birds. If I throw bread out there to the little birds the seagulls, always swooping overhead, zoom in and snatch the bread. Then they all fight each other for it. In every prison I've ever been in, swarms of seagulls arrive each Winter and stay until Spring. They feed at the prison dump and from handouts from prisoners. Come Spring they disappear, presumably back to the seashore. They come and go like clockwork every year. Now, I leave the bread inside our fenced cages and the sparrows eat it after we leave. They gulls can't get into the cages so the sparrows can eat in safety.

Well, I've got a backlog of legal reading and work to knock out so this will be short, Sis. Keep your chin up, and give the puppy a hug for me.

Love & peace, Bill

Thursday, December 01, 2005

November 22, 2005 - 42 years ago today....

Dear Sis

I awoke this morning and instantly recalled that today is the anniversary (the 42nd) of President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. Like anyone else who is old enough to recall that day I can, with vivid clarity, remember where I was (elementary school) and what I was doing (talking with a cute little pigtail wearing girl whom I had a crush on) when I heard the news. Still, it's strange that the date is always on my mind. Each year, as that date approaches, I become increasingly aware of it, until I wake up, on the 22nd, with it on my mind. The only other date that strikes me in that same manner is December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day. For some reason it is indelibly etched into my memory and consciousness (probably the result of too many years spent reading history books in too many cells).

Rob Lovitt, who is scheduled to be executed on November 30th, has a clemency petition pending before Gov. Warner. Warner leaves office in January, and he had higher political ambitions (he's made no secret of his desire to run for President). Anyway, Rob has a lot of people in his corner, including politicians and members of the legal community from both sides of the political aisle. It's occurred to me that Warner cannot get much grief from the Republican right if he grants clemency inasmuch as Kenneth Starr, a hero of the right, is Rob's attorney and is pushing for clemency. Having Starr in the picture gives Warner the political cover he needs (or thinks he needs) to grant clemency. I mean, if Starr is for clemency, how can anyone else complain too loudly? Still, Warner has not granted anyone clemency in the four years he's been governor, so I have no real reason to believe he'll start now. He's a political animal and any clemency decision he makes will be based upon raw political considerations. It's an ugly thing to see a man's life depend upon how the political winds are blowing. A man's life - and his death - should be weighed against something more basic, more rudimentary, more honest than mere politics, don't you think?

Tomorrow is a regular yard day; we only go out to yard 4 days a week now. (Yard is a misnomer, it's just a series of individual, one-man dog runs, like a kennel, each one about the size of our cells). I'll go out with my 6 or 8 slices of stale bread, along with the occasional pancake or chunk of cornbread, and feed the birds. There's a big crew of boisterous sparrows who wait on me (sometimes rather impatiently). But, off in the woods, there's a murder of crows who also wait on me. For the last month or two I've been tossing out hot dogs, and slices of that really nasty sliced meat (spoiled Bologna or rotten turkey ham) we get for lunch each day. There's one huge crow, presumably the head honcho male, and about 5 smaller ones (probably females or young males). The big guy is bold; when he lands by our cages he struts around (the sparrows hide, of course), and cocks his head to inspect us and the ground, littered with bread. When I first go out there, if I've got some meat, I'll call the crows from the woods. They recognize my CAW! CAW! CAW! and they fly over. When the male sees the hot dog he'll swoop in and snatch it up in his beak, then fly off, beating his wings as he struggles with the weight and size of that hot dog. He's got incredible vision - he can spot the hotdog in the grass from 300 yards away - and he swoops in like a ghost. Occasionally he'll land, inspect the hot dog, than caw at me, like he's thanking me for the meal. One thing I know, he recognizes my calls and knows it means "chow time!" Then he flys off and shares the meat with some of the other crows.

Today I watched Pres Bush pardon two Thanksgiving Day turkeys, as every president traditionally does each year. The irony was thick; while governor of Texas he executed more people than any governor in history, and clemency was the farthest thing from his mind. So, it's kill the humans! But save the turkeys! What's wrong with this picture? (Speaking of which, when was the last time you heard Bush use that oxymoronic phrase "compassionate conservativism" that he used to get elected? The "compassion" is gone with the wind).

Time to go, Sis. Give the doggies a hug for me, and keep your mind in positive gear!

Love and Peace, Bill

Sunday, November 20, 2005

November 15, 2005

Dear Sis ~

Well, the gubernatorial election is over here in Virginia. The Democrat (and Lt. Governor) Tim Kaine defeated the Republican (and attorney general) Jerry Kilgore, which was a little surprising inasmuch as Virginia is solidly conservative and Republican. But Kilgore turned off the public with his relentlessly negative TV ads. All of his ads dealt with just one issue, the death penalty. Over and over and over all Kilgore spoke about was his promise to execute more people, and to do it faster. His vow to eliminate appeals and speed up executions was particularly pointless in view of the fact that Virginia already leads the nation, by a substantial margin, in the speed with which it carries out executions. The average death row stay here is about 4 1/2 years; the next fastest state is about 7 years, with most states averaging 10 years or more. Anyway, all Kilgore spoke about was him promise to expand the use of capital punishment, and his dire warnings that his opponent, Tim Kaine, "cannot be trusted to carry out executions." He based these statements on the fact that, in the past, Kaine suggested Virginia should consider a moratorium on the death penalty until certain legal problems can be straightened out (like the investigation into the state crime laboratory which has already uncovered fabricated DNA results). Kaine countered with a TV ad stating that while his Catholic faith leads him to consider all life to be sacred, and that he does not personally believe in capital punishment, he would do his duty as Governor and would not interfere with executions. Kaine, unlike Kilgore, also spoke about the real issues which the citizens were concerned with (taxes, education, roads and bridges, the environment, the budget). The fact that conservative Virginians voted in Kaine, despite his decidedly lukewarm support for executions, reflects an important shift in the voters' mentality, in my opinion. It sends a message to politicians that they don't have to be a mad dog killer to get elected (and that it takes more than just spouting pro-death penalty slogans to win over the voters), and that prospective politicians don't have to fear showing a little compassion and common sense. Like most folks, I don't have a very high opinion of most politicians, but Tim Kaine appears to be a genuinely decent guy, and I expect he will be an excellent Governor. And maybe, just maybe, he'll do something to correct and slow down the death penalty train in this state...

Love & Peace,

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Nov 5, 2005 - Rob Lovitt's execution date reset.

Dear Sis~
A death warrant has been signed for Rob Lovitt; his execution date is set for November 30th. You may recall that about 4 months ago, a few hours before his execution, Rob received a last minute stay of execution from the US Supreme Court. The Court had just gone into its regular 3-month summer recess and a single Justice granted Rob a temporary stay until the Court reconvened in October. At that time the Court would decide whether to actually hear his case (this is the case where the clerk of the court deliberately destroyed all of the evidence right after Rob's trial). Well, when the Court reconvened last month they entered an order declining to hear his case and dissolving the stay of execution. So, right now there's nothing standing between Rob and the executiuoner, other than the exceptionally slim possibility that Governor Warner might grant him clemency. Warner has not granted anyone clemency during his four years in office, and there were several deserving cases during that time, so I have no reason to believe that he'll do anything different with Rob. Still, there's a gubernatorial election next Tuesday, and Warner, who by law cannot run again, is on his way out. He'll still technically be governor on november 30th, when Rob is scheduled to die, but the new governor will already be elected, though not sworn in. So, for Warner, there would be no political downside if he chose to grant clemency on his way out the door. On the other hand, it's well known that Warner has higher political ambitions, including the White House. So, I can't see him doing it, not in this day and age when it's political suicide (or so politicians think) to do anything that will allow a future opponent to label them as "soft on crime."

You know, the odd thing about clemency is that in the old days, back in the 1930's, 40's and 50's, governors commonly granted clemency. Democrats and Republicans both, even in the conservative deep south, were not afraid to exercise their executive clemency powers. When you go through the records you're surprised at how often clemency was granted, and by whom. The governors took their responsibility seriously, recognizing their role as the final check against injustice, and they were not cowed by a perceived public clamor for execution. The general public, in fact, was much less bloodthirsty, and considerably more understanding and compassionate than today's public. Nowadays everyone howls for blood, drowning out the few voices calling for compassion and mercy (Shakespeare declared that "mercy is nobility's true badge"). This nation was born in, and forged by, violence and blood, so I guess our proclivity for carnage, our yearning for bloodletting, should not surprise me.

Well, tonight I enjoyed watching the Miami Hurricanes (ranked #5 in the nation) defeat Virginia Tech (ranked #3) in Blacksburg, Virginia. All of the ESPN commentators had, up until the game, blithely assumed that Virginia Tech would win, and were loudly presuming that Virginia Tech would finish the season undefeated and possibly contend for the national title against USC. Well, the Hurricanes completely dominated Virginia Tech, handing them a first class ass whipping. When the new poll comes out on Monday, Miami will probably be ranked #3 and now they have a shot at the title game, if either USC or Texas loses one of their remaining games.

Alright, Sis, it's way past midnight and I'm gonna hit the hay. Give little Harley a pat on the head and a tummy rub! He's a great looking little puppy and you're lucky to have him!
Love & Peace,

Comment from Bill's sister:
Tim Kaine, Democrat, was elected Governor of Commonwealth of Virginia yesterday.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

October 24, 2005 - Duly Inspected

Dear Sis

Well, I feel so much better now because I've been duly inspected! A large group of visitors (some politicians, some prosecutors and a handful of prison inspectors, escorted by a raft of high-ranking prison guards) just passed through our cellblock, touring the central dayroom, pausing to peek into our cells. Being on death row you quickly become acclimated to such tour groups coming through, but I never lose the feeling of being an animal in a cage, like the monkey house at the zoo, with curious visitors pointing at you, staring at you, whispering among themselves. In Florida, we'd get about two tours a week; often they were college kids from the nearby University of Florida at Gainsville, male and female, either criminal justice majors or law school students. Invariably, they just pour out onto the wing, without prior notice or warning, trooping by the cells while some escorting guard gives them a running commentary on who is in the cell, what he did to get on death row, etc... On more than one occasion I (as well as others) have been on the toilet, only to look up and see a tour group walking by, staring in at me on the toilet. Sometimes it's embarrassing, other times it's enraging. Normally I mind my own business and basically ignore the visitors, but I've been caught on the toilet before and been in a bad enough mood to hurl a few choice obscenities at them. Living in a cell is like existing in a fishbowl - you've got zero privacy.

For the last month or so I've been watching the media-induced hysteria over the avian (bird) flu and the possibility of a deadly pandemic sweeping the world and killing millions and millions. While I don't discount the theoretical danger of a pandemic popping up one day (it's happened repeatedly throughout history) it's important to separate fact from fiction. The fact is that this avian flu is in fact a deadly threat - to birds ! The disease is spread from bird to bird and only occasionally (and only following extended intimate contact) from bird to human. In order to become a pandemic the virus will have to mutate to a different form that can be spread from human to human. While this mutation is theoretically possible, the fact is that it has not happened yet. There isn't a single case of human to human transmission yet. As long as the virus remains a bird-to-bird virus, with only an occasional bird-to-human virus, there can be no pandemic. Everything else is hysteria, and the media is blindly fanning these flames. It's all part of the post-9/11 trend to encourage citizens to live in fear. Our government (aided by our sensationalism-driven media) relentlessly promotes fear in our society, convincing the gullible to live in a constant state of fear. Either fear of terrorism, or crime, or disease - whatever is convenient. Just be afraid! And once you choose to live in fear, you've ceded to the government the responsibility to take care of you. This is exactly what the government (this administration in particular) wants: "Be afraid! Live in fear! Only the government can protect you! Give up your civil rights and freedoms so the government can protect you from the evils of the world! "More and more, this country is becoming a nation of sheep, incapable of thinking on their own, a society of trembling cowards. It's discouraging to watch this transition occur before my eyes in the span of a handful of years...

Alright, Sis, I'm outta here. It's time for me to hit the hay. I'll call you soon. Meanwhile, give the puppy a tummy rub for me!

Love & Peace,

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October 3rd 2005

Dear Sis

I was reading my USA Today as I do every evening, when I saw a little advertisement (for lack of a better word), or notice (a more appropriate term) from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They run these every day/issue, in the back of the Life Section along with a photo of a missing child, listing the child's name, age, description and where they're missing from. I see these notices every day and they are always heartbreaking. I hate looking at them, 'cuz each one represents some lost kid, and you know that a certain number of them have been murdered. Occasionally I'll stare at one of the pictures, wondering what could have happened to the child, wondering if he or she is alive, or possibly being held somewhere, in some basement or a cage, under imaginable conditions. There are so many missing, and you wonder, where could they all be? It's a sad commentary on our society.

I'm sitting here on my bunk, half-watching the Monday Night Football game (Carolina is beating Green Bay pretty convincingly and another of those interminable drug commercials just went off the air. It's all part of the inexorable medicalization of America, with the huge, multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies bombarding us with slick commercials attempting to convince everyone that they are suffering from some sort of medical malady (real or imagined) and that the only solution is to ask your doctor for a prescription for the comany's miracle drug. When you watch these commercials and pay attention to what is being said (and implied) it is almost comical. But the results are a matter of record as more and more Americans march to their doctors, after self-diagnosing themselves based upon these ads, and demand to receive the prescription. It's all a very well organized and orchestrated game plan by the drug companies to convince us that drugs are the answer to all that ails us. I'm old enough to remember when drug companies were prohibited from advertising prescription drugs on TV, but the drug companies successfully lobbied congress and the FDA to repeal those prohibitions and now the drug copanies spend millions and millions on advertising. And there's a direct correlation between the increase in advertising and the increase in prescriptions, and the BIG increase in profits for the companies. The profit margin for the big pharmaceutical companies is staggering.

Alright, Sis, I'm gonna kick back and watch the rest of the game. (I think we're watching Brett Favre's swan song this year. He needs to seriously consider retiring, I think). Give the puppy a tummy rub for me!

Love & Peace,

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sept 25, 2005 - Hurricane Rita winding down...

Dear Sis~

Hurricane Rita has pretty much played itself out and from what I'm seeing on my little 5" TV, the damage was considerably less than anticipated. Still, if you are one of the victims who has lost all of his/her property, or the house, or a loved one, there is no consolation in the storm's reduced fury, nor any wisdom in the old adage that pain, disappointment and conflict are just the universe's conduit to life's reality... Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, with the increase in the number and severity of hurricanes in general, it is clear to me that global warming is definitely a contributing factor. Whether mankind's actions are behind global warming or whether it is just some sort of normal, cyclical thing may be debatable, (though in my mind the issue is settled; we are screwing this planet up!) but the reality of global warming is not debatable. We'd better get used to more hurricanes like Katrina, because they're coming.

Remember when we were kids in Miami and we rode out (and played outdoors in)hurricanes? I remember especially Hurricane Donna in 1960 and Betsy in 1965, because they were so powerful and they hit Miami squarely. Still, I played outdoors during both (yeah, I was always doing stupid stuff, wasn't I?) Now, can you imagine what the result will be when a Katrina-sized storm hits Miami Beach and Miami head on? It will be catastrophic, especially on Miami Beach, where no point of land is higher than 10 feet above sea level. Hurricane Andrew was bad, but lots of folks don't understand that the main brunt of Andrew hit Homestead and Florida City, 25 miles south of Miami. If it had hit 25-30 miles farther north, it would have been twice as worse. And one day, that will happen.

I'm not much of a TV watcher; usually I check out the news and Discovery Channel, and an ocassional movie. But being in a cell 24 hours a day, well, I watch more TV than I otherwise would. Anyway, I decided to check out some of the new TV drama series which are making their premiers and I was universally disappointed, even disgusted, at how so many of them were police/detective shows which involve the most despicable and outrageous criminals/ suspects conceivable. In particular, these shows feature female victims (usually kidnapped) who are horribly tortured and murdered. Then the graphic details are featured in the program. One new show is called Killer Instinct and it is representative. It features shallow, wooden characters mouthing lousy dialogue, plodding along through predictable plot scenarios. The common denominators are always unbelievably psychotic torturers/killers who dismember, rape and torture female victims. The unspoken (and none too subtle) message is that maniacs lurk everywhere, and that your typical criminal is a psychopathic murderer who must be hunted down and shot dead by the hero police who are handicapped by their scrupulous adherence to the criminals' constitutional rights and the "liberal judges" who seemingly live for nothing else except to release obviously guilty murderers on legal hyper-technicalities. And when the cops "bend the rules" by beating confessions out of suspects or fabricating evidence, the suspect is always obviously guilty so as to reinforce that the ends justify the means. I've yet to see one of these shows (like NYPD Blue or Law and Order) where they arrest the wrong guy and then beat a false confession out of him or fabricate false testimony, as happens in the real world. But besides that, what really bothers me about these new shows is their focus on graphically showing women being tortured and maimed and murdered, over and over and over. There's a real sickness to it, and I wonder who patronizes these brainless shows. It says something about us as a society when every night on every channel the 3 major networks feature such mind-dead tripe which caters only to our basest instincts. It's sad and disappointing.

OK, Sis, enough babbling for now...Keep your chin up and a smile on your face!

Love & Peace,

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sept 4, 2005 Katrina's devestation

Dear Sis

I've been hip-deep in legal work and I've neglected to write. Now every TV station is broadcasting the heartbreaking scenes of devestation from New Orleans and the Mississippi coast caused by Hurricane Katrina, like postcard-style vignettes of life in Hell. There's a number of lessons to be taken away from this entire sad episode, not the least of which is how thin the veneer of civilization really is. When the shit really hits the fan and push comes to shove, the primal urge to survive becomes paramount and many people devolve to savagery. When the normal structure & control suddenly and utterly disappears (i.e., when there's no police, no recognized authority) there's a paradigm shift in people's mentality as they realize that all bets are off. You become acutely aware of the evanescence of civility as social organization is instantly replaced with chaos.

I experienced this in 1973 while at Sumter Correctional Institution when I was at the center (literally) of a race riot which, like a fingersnap, exploded all around me. In one instant, everything went from peace & order to total war (I was in the gym, which was packed with about 500 inmates, watching the weekly movie). The prison guards (all white) who normally stood around, representing authority and maintaining the boundaries with their mere presence, were suddenly being beaten to the ground by the black prisoners, and all of the blacks instantly turned and attacked all of the whites. It was well organized and choreographed, and a real surprise. It's hard to describe how such a sudden and massive change in the normal "order" of your life hits you like a shift in reality. For my own part, I immediately picked up the steel folding chair I was sitting in & began attacking those attacking me. I became a savage in a heartbeat (those who didn't think as fast, who hesitated or stood around in shock, got stomped & beaten to the ground). Anyway, I saw that same thing in New Orleans. You can believe that there are a lot of horror stories yet to be told about things that have happened in New Orleans during the last week (I'm referring to humans attacking humans, predators seeking out & killing and attacking innocent civilians). Which brings me to the second lesson to take away from this: When the shit really hits the fan, your survival depends upon yourself. Waiting for the government to come and save you is not a plan. It's up to you, your own wits, strength and intelligence. What you're seeing in New Orleans (as far as the social chaos) could happen in any American city if there is some sort of disaster (natural or man-made) which completely dislocates the social fabric. Most of us know this, but it doesn't really sink in until you see it in action, like in New Orleans. So, you don't have to be a paranoid "survivalist" to embrace the idea of being prepared for emergencies (extra food, water, fuel, etc...)

You can believe there'll be lots of finger-pointing and blaming when this is all over (it's already started). I was amazed to see numerous officials, including the FEMA Director, go on TV and claim that the magnitude of the destruction could not have been anticipated. Hell, scientists and environmentalists have been yelling about this for years. It's been predicted over & over & over. About 2 years ago I watched a program on the Discovery Channel where they used computer models & animation to show what a direct hit on New Orleans by a category 4 or 5 hurricane would do (it would flood and devestate the city). Everything thay showed came to pass with Katrina. The fact is that politicians chose to ignore those warnings, claiming it was just "paranoid tree-huggers" out to scare the public. Those politicians should now be held accountable (but, of course, they won't be). The citizens themselves must share the blame. This is a nation whose sole obsession appears to be cutting taxes to the bare-bones minimum. There's no money to build adequate dykes, levees and flood walls, or to help build up the buffering marshland through reclamation projects. The technology exists (and has long existed) to prevent this disaster (just ask the Dutch, masters at keeping the sea at bay), but the political will has been non-existent. Now the chickens have come home to roost. And, as usual, it is the poor and underprivileged and elderly who paid the price, with their lives in many cases...

Gotta go, Sis. It's time for yard.

Love & Peace,

Friday, September 02, 2005

August 21, 2005 Discovery Lands!

Dear Sis~

I just watched the space shuttle Discovery return to Cape Canaveral riding piggyback on a Boeing 747. I'm always amazed at that sight, a big old 747 flying with a space shuttle strapped to its back. Who would imagine that that combo would even fly? It took a ballsy engineer to propose that solution to the problem of transporting the shuttle fleet around the country. Can you picture that discussion...a group of areospace engineers sitting around a conference table, trading ideas, and one of them speaks up and says, "Hey, let's just strap that baby onto the back of a 747 and fly it from California to Florida!" And damned if it doesn't work!

A couple of weeks ago Justice John Paul Stevens, who sits on the US Supreme Court, gave a speech to the American Bar Association wherein he was very critical of the death penalty process in America. As a general rule, Supreme Court Justices are very careful and measured with their public statements (in fact, they don't often give speeches or make public statements) and they often use such statements to signal shifts in the Court's thinking. It's sort of like with Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, whose cryptic statements about the nation's financial health are scrutinized like tea leaves by everybody in the financial markets, as they try to discern the hidden meanings of his often enigmatic utterances. Justice O'Connor, for example, during the last several years, went out of her way to make public statements about the abysmal quality of attorneys in most capital cases. (In one speech she basically stated that she'd never seen competent trial counsel in any of the capital cases that had come before the Supreme Court during the 20+ years she was on the bench). Statements like that were significant coming from her because she was a conservative Justice. And, significantly, Justice O'Connor was a key voter in several recent important decisions regarding standards governing the competence of counsel. Anyway, it might be wishful thinking, but I'd like to believe that Justice Stevens' recent stinging criticisms of capital punishment herald some coming favorable decisions. Justice Stevens, by the way, is one of the best Justices on the bench; he's brilliant, fair, judicious and humane. At any rate, there are several capital cases now pending before the Supreme Court which will provide excellent vehicles for the Court to comment on the shortcomings of the death penalty process, if the Court chooses to do so. There's a powerful capital case out of Tennessee, House vs. Bell, involving the issue of "actual innocence", and of course, there is Rob's case (the guy upstairs). And, hopefully, there will also be my own case after October.

Alright, Sis, it's almost time for yard so I'm gonna wrap this up. I'll call you next weekend & you can tell me if you've adopted one of those little lab puppies!
Love & Peace,

Friday, August 19, 2005

August 13, 2005 Architectural monuments

Dear Sis~

I'm watching a program on the Discovery Channel about the building of an ultra-modern cable-stay bridge across the Charleston River in South Carolina. The bridge, now completed, is the longest cable-stay bridge in the United States, and it replaces and dwarfs two very old steel girder spans. Cable-stay bridges are the latest engineering rave; they're elegant, beautiful and very strong. Ever since I was a child I've been utterly fascinated with all types of very large construction projects (dams, bridges, skyscrapers, tunnels)and especially drawn to old stone block structures (cathedrals, castles, aqueducts, amphitheatres, bridges, buildings). Growing up, my dream was to be a civil engineer or architect because I so wanted to design and build immense structures. This desire, or interest, has always been innate and very powerful; it's just in my blood. I believe that in a past life or lives I built such structures. When I was in Italy in 1971 I used to walk the streets of Rome, Florence and other old cities (like Palermo, in Sicily) late at night, all by myself, marveling at the large and ancient structures. Rome, especially, drew me like a moth to a flame. Late at night I'd walk through the Coliseum (beautifully lit up at night) and I'd press myself against the large, cool stone blocks, as if I could go back and relive the construction. I always felt a strong urge to touch, feel and trace the contours of ancient stones and bricks. I was really at home in St. Peter's Cathedral (a basilica, actually) where you can overdose on the immense carved stonework, mostly highly polished marble, shiny as glass, and in surprising colors and hues. I was just as drawn to the engineering behind such beautiful buildings and structures, the nuts and bolts issues of how such structures were designed and built. The huge, ancient stone block aqueducts running from Rome to the water sources in the hills amazed me -a remarkable combination of form and function, and a very impressive engineering feat. The Roman-built aqueducts, some over 2,000 years old, still stretch hundreds of miles all across Europe and North Africa...Anyway, Sis, this new bridge at Charleston is a fine work of modern engineering. Still, if it lasts one-tenth as long as the Roman Coliseum, it will be surprising...

I've gotta get back to work, Sis (I'm deep into a stack of US Supreme Court decisions) so I'll mail this off with a hug. Just 34 days until our visit!

Love & Peace Bill

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

August 4, 2005

Dear Sis
I got a haircut this morning, certainly the worst in my life. Mine was the first hair that this guy - a fellow death row prisoner - had ever cut, and it shows! Rob, our regular barber, lost his barber job when they first signed his death warrant several months ago, and so they made this guy a barber. Anyway, I've got about six weeks until our visit which should be sufficient time for my hair to grow enough to eliminate the laugh factor.

In my August 2nd USA Today there was a story about a guy who was freed form prison after 17 years, after new DNA testing showed that he was not guilty. This is an unexceptional story; I read similar stories about once a week & I've been reading them for many years. Then in tonight's USA Today there's a story about Luis Diaz, from Miami, freed after 26 years in prison following DNA tests proving that he was not the infamous "Bird Road Rapist." I know Luis (not real well, though) and I remember the case very well. In the late 70's the "Bird Road Rapist" was terrorizing Bird Road, in Miami/Coral Gables, and there was tremendous pressure on the police to arrest somebody. Being that Bird Road is in our old neighborhood I followed the case from my pre-death row cell. When they finally arrested Luis, they trumpeted the news and assured the public that they had the right man, even though they had no physical evidence against him. All of the cases were based upon "positive ID's" by victims, and those ID's were induced by/via hokey police procedures. Even back then, in 1979-80, I sensed that it was a very suspect case, but the railroad train was already barreling down the tracks. Diaz ended up with at least 7 life sentences (his sentencing judge, Judge Durant, famously told Diaz from the bench that "in all my years as a judge I have never seen such overwhelming evidence of guilt." That was an absurd statement at the time, but Judge Duran was playing to the audience). Years later, two of the victims recanted their identifications and those two convictions were subsequently reversed. But that left him with five life sentences. Finally, Barry Scheck and his Innocence Project got involved. The State vigorously fought any DNA testing, naturally. Now, after 26 years Diaz is finally free (they ran this story on ABC World News last night, too).

Anyway, I cut out both articles & mailed them to my lawyer, explaining that they are representative of articles I see almost daily. The central issue in my soon-to-be-filed certiorari petition involves DNA testing of the blood evidence. And, last month, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a Tennessee death row case where the issue involves post-conviction DNA testing. It appears that the Supreme Court, in this Tennessee case, is prepared to make a major decision regarding the importance of post-conviction DNA testing. My case is right on its heels, so I want my attorney, in our cert petition, to use available statistics to back up and emphasize our point that such DNA exonerations are routine nowadays. I want to stress the usefulness and necessity for DNA testing, to counter the Florida Supreme Court's holding in my case that DNA evidence proving I was not the triggerman would not have made any difference to my jury and judge. In essence, I want our cert petition, at least in part, to be a referendum on the whole issue of post-conviction DNA testing. My cert is due on or around October 15th...

That's it for now, Sis. Give Keesha a pat on the head for me!

Love & peace,

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

July 28, 2005

Dear Sis

It's Thursday morning & canteen has just been passed out. Everyone is up and a faint buzz of excitement permeates the celllblock as each of us paws through our bags of goodies. Of course, the food items are mostly junk - moon pies, honey buns, cookies, candy bars - typical of jails and prisons everywhere. I indulge in the junk occasionally but my taste runs more toward the few nutritious items available: peanuts, tuna fish, sardines, beef jerky, chicken (comes in a plastic/vinyl bag).When your entire life is restricted to a cell and the things you can do or enjoy are compressed to a few meager activities (yard, showers, canteen, mail call and meals) and each thing takes on an over-sized importance and you find yourself anticipating each event with a disproportionate enthusiasm that would probably appear comical to an objective observer. That's how it is when your whole world is contained in a 6' x 8' box (actually, these Virginia D/R cells are about 7' x 12', which is very roomy by prison standards).

Tomorrow morning is one of our regular yard days (if it doesn't get cancelled for some reason or another, which often happens). I'll go out and pace for 2 hours, soaking up the sun and talking with my neighbor, Bill (the ex-U.S. Army Military Intelligence Colonel). He's a very sharp, astute guy and we have many extensive & fascinating conversations. He was stationed in Europe (mostly Germany) for many years, as well as in South Korea. Stateside he worked in the Pentagon and with security details from the U.S. Capitol Building (mostly the U.S. Senate) on electronic countermeasures (i.e., looking for bugs, his specialty). You may recall that I wrote to you about him & his case once before. I've been living next door to him for about 2 years & I'm privy to all his legal filings & his case in general, and I have to tell you that I'm about 90% certain that Bill is totally innocent, and that he was flat out framed. I don't say this lightly; in my 17 years on the row & 30+ years in prison doing legal work & working on guys' cases I've only encountered a few death row cases where I was convinced that the guy was totally innocent. Bill's case is one that deserves to be profiled on 20/20 or 24 hours because it's got everything: sex (a love triangle) crooked cops, crooked prosecutors, fabricated (and destroyed) evidence, all converging to put a well-respected military intelligence officer on death row. I believe the truth will come out (it already is coming out), mainly because he's fortunate enough to have a top-flight legal firm out of Seattle on his case (Bill Gates' father's law firm) and they're digging up all the dirt. There is insufficient space here (and this isn't the place, really) for me to spell out all the sordid details, but you mark my words, you'll be hearing about this case down the line, and if there's any justice a couple of detectives & prosecutors will go to jail (that's hoping for too much, though).

Anyway, tomorrow when I go to the yard I'll take about 10 slices of bread with me (I save it up) to feed the birds. I've got a flock of them that wait for me to show up. I whistle a certain tune and they all fly over (they know that whistle means FOOD!.) If I'm late to the yard they're often there waiting for me, chirping angrily as if to say "Where the Hell have you been with our food?!" Sometimes I feed them pancakes, waffles of French Toast, but they like the straight bread the most. They're mostly little sparrows, with an occasional odd bird, but when the local crows (there's 4 or 5 huge ones that hang around here) show up on the scene, the little birds haul ass. Those crows land on the ground and strut; they know they're the top dog in the yard. I like to caw at them, cuz' often they'll caw back at me (too bad I don't know what I'm saying in crow talk!)

Alright, Sis, lunch is here (probably baloney today) so I'm going to wrap this up. Keep your chin up! I'll be calling you this weekend.

Love & Peace,

Monday, July 25, 2005

July 21, 2005

Dear Sis

I'm sitting on my bunk with my little 5" TV, watching "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. They're showing the jumping Great Whites off of Seal Island, off the coast of South Africa. It's amazing to see such large, bulky animals move so fast & maneuver so quickly, turning around in mid-air as they chase those hapless little baby seals. I'm pleased that programs like this, and the whole "shark week" trip, have enlightened the public so much. I can remeber, as a kid in the 1960's, how sharks were universally feared and hated, and everyone thought that the best sharks were dead sharks. Now, more & nore people understand how important sharks are, ecologically speaking, and how they play an integral part in the balance of nature. And, we've learned that sharks are not mindless killers & that they don't hunt humans. When a shark bites a human it is most often accidental and/or incidental. What's really amazing, given the number of sharks and number of people in the waters, is how rare shark attacks are, which in itself tells you that sharks normally avoid people. One of the better programs, or episodes, in "shark week" is one where these divers intentionally go out and dive, withut a shark cage, with great white sharks. Some of the divers even "ride" an occasional great white by grabbing the dorsal fin. To see those immense sharks cruise by, within arm's reach of these divers, without being agitated or threatening, but just showing mild curiosity, is enough to dispel the common myth of sharks being relentless attackers. As for myself, I long ago changed my attitude about sharks, and I'm glad that I no longer operate from a place of ignorance. As a youth, like most people, I would not have thought twice about catching and killing sharks. (It's a cliche', but sadly true, that we -mankind- blindly kill and destroy whatever we fear or don't understand, and I was no different than the average person). Nowadays, if I was deep sea fishing I wouldn't even try to land a shark, even just to release it. I'd just admire it & salute it as it swam away. I'm glad that I've matured & learned, and glad that many, if not most, others have done likewise.

After two months of hard work, and miles of writing and rewriting, I've completed my cert petition & mailed it off to my lawyer. I'm pleased with the final draft, and much relieved to be done with it. It was a bear to write, much more so than a run-of-the-mill brief or petition, but I'm not complaining. My life hangs in the balance & this will almost certainly my last legal hurrah. Now it's up to the lawyers to edit it & fine tune it as they deem necessary; then it goes to the US Supreme Court, just in time for the brand new Justice (Roberts, once he's confirmed, which should be soon) to consider it along with the rest of the Court.

O.K., Sis, I'm gonna wrap this up & post it. Keep your chin up & keep smiling.

Love & Peace,

Friday, July 15, 2005

July 11, 2005 Monday evening

Dear Sis~
Just a quick note. It was 5:00p.m., just 4 hours before Rob's scheduled 9:00p.m. execution tonight when I heard on the news that the US Supreme Court had granted Rob a last-minute stay of execution. According to the newscaster, who was much less than clear (I don't think he knew very much)the Supreme Court granted the stay "without comment", ordering the stay to remain in effect until the Court's next term begins in October (the Court is out of session from July to early October; they always reconvene on the first Monday of October). Anyway, apparently the stay was based upon the current investigation of the Virginia Crime Lab (specifically the section dealing with DNA testing & analysis) which has been ordered by the Governor, after an earlier audit revealed false & fabricated DNA test results; at least one guy, Earl Washington, went to death row based upon such fabricated test results. Earl is now free, after some 18 years in prison (about 10+ years on the row) after being exonerated several years ago. You may recall that the State destroyed all of the evidence in Rob's case, which prevented him from challenging and/or testing the crime lab's results used against him at the trial. Until I speak with Rob, I won't know the precise reasons for the stay. But something is up with his case, and for now he's been given a new lease on life. They brought Rob back about an hour ago & I watched him shuffle up the long sidewalk leading to our cellblock, the same sidewalk I watched him shuffle down 4 days ago. Rob is now numbered among the very few who have ever returned from Greensville. I hope it's a good omen for him, and others.

I'm going to hit the hay, Sis, so I'll wrap this up and post it. Today has been a good day...(the Space Shuttle launches Wednesday! I've seen them launch in person; it's an awesome sight & experience).

Love & Peace

Monday, July 11, 2005

July 7, 2005

Dear Sis~

This morning a troop of guards came into the cellblock, chained up & shackled Rob Lovitt, then escorted him out, for the short drive to the death house at Greensville. (It's standard procedure for death row prisoners her to be taken to Greensville four days before execution). I hated watching him shuffle away, almost certainly the last time I'll ever see him on this earthly plane. I'm not privy to his current legal situation (i.e., whether his cert petition is still pending before the US Supreme Court, or whether he's been shot down) but I know he's got attorneys fighting hard on his behalf. On the other hand, every guy who gets dragged off to Greensville (other than a few volunteers) had lawyers fighting to save his life, and very, very few ever come back from Greensville. Still, right up until 9:00 p.m. on Monday, July 11th, I'll have some hope. By 9:10 Rob will be dead.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, everyone is in a tizzy about the unexpected retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But in this case, with this Justice, all of the hoopla is justified. The entire balance of the Court is about to change. See, the Court is (was) split 5-4, with 5 conservatives and four moderates/liberals. Of the 5 conservatives, though, Sandra Day O'Connor was the least conservative, almost (but not quite) moderate. Consequently, she was often the swing vote, shifting over to join the four liberals/moderates on important votes. Many of the most crucial decisions of the last decade were 5-4 votes, with Justice O'Connor being the deciding vote (for example, the recent decision prohibiting the execution of juveniles was just such a 5-4 vote). President Bush is committed to appointing a hard core conservative to replace O'Connor, someone like Justice Scalia and/or Thomas, two Justices Bush has specifically identified as representing the type of Justice he admires & intends to appoint. When that happens, all those 5-4 votes of the past will become 5-4 the other way, in future cases. Of particular relevance to me is death penalty issues (and criminal law issues in general) which are (were) very often 5-4 decisions (Scalia, Thomas & Rhenquist have never seen a death sentence that they didn't like and approve of; Kennedy is a little better). The upshot will be that in the future you will see very few favorable death penalty decisions. This whole thing may, literally, cost me my life since my own cert petition will be hitting the Court in October, when the new Justice will be settled in.

Thanks for all the great pics of all the neat bikes; I saw a really good looking old panhead that I liked. And I immediately recognized Indian Larry's famous "chain frame" bike, the last one he built before he died. I watched him build it on the Discovery Channel. Indian Larry was a real craftsman; it's hard to believe that the chain frame is strong enough to ride, but there it is. I wish I could have known Larry, he was my kind of guy - down to earth and real, no pretensions...

O.K. Sis, I'm outta here for now. Give little Maggi a hug for me!

Friday, July 01, 2005

June 27, 2005

Dear Sis~

How's everything going out there in the High Desert? You guys got all the unseasonable rain, which produced the beautiful and bountiful crops of flowers and grasses, but now you're plagued with terrific wildfires. The weatherman's map showed fires all across the Southern California-Nevada-Arizona-Utah area, especially around Vegas. Just goes to show you that with nature, as with life, there's a price for everything, even the pristine beauty of carpets of colorful desert flowers.

Hey, I just learned that Bernie de Castro has officially announced his run for Governor of Florida. This should prove interesting...the reformed heroin addict/armed robber/ex-convict, turned successful businessman/minister/pillar of his community, now serving the Republican Party nomination. This is not an impulsive act or lame publicity stunt on Bernie's part. He's dead serious about running to win. Bernie's political positions are not easily pigeonholed; he's much more pragmatic than dogmatic, and seeks sensible, reasonable solutions to everyday problems. The biggest thing he has going for him, ironically, is his past record. See, you can't sling mud at Bernie 'cuz he's upfront with his record & who he was. He does not have to bite his tongue about what he believes in, out of fear that someone will dig up some dirt or say something bad about him. He acknowledges his past & uses it to demonstrate the power of change. Since he's not expected to win, he's got nothing to lose, which gives him the freedom to say what he believes and say what he means. (like his stance against the death penalty, which is political suicide in Florida & most southern states). He can move beyond the rhetoric & politically correct mumblings and propose real solutions & real change. Anyway, Bernie has a campaign staff, a website ( and a lot of volunteers willing to help, and he's committed to seeing the process through. The election is still 16 months off (November '06) but all of the other contenders have already declared, so I guess it's never too early in the political arena.

That's it for now, Sis. I'm super busy on my cert petition, lots of writing and lots of reading. I've got about 30 pages of notes so far & I've still got a stack of US Supreme Court cases to read & analyze.

Love & Peace

Any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
- John Donne

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

June 22, 2005

Dear Sis~

I've been schlepping along, working my way through my first draft of my certiorari petition. I've written about half of it (I figure it'll end up being around 25 typed pages) but now I've had to pause to read a big stack of cases. These are mostly US Supreme Court cases, and all of them are capital cases. Some I've read before, years ago, but now I have to really analyze them, picking out and writing down the specific quotes & holdings & legal analysis that supports the particular points I'm arguing to the Court. It's tedious work but made easier by my recognition of what's at stake for me with this, my last legal hurrah...

Earlier today I was taking a break, just sort of daydreaming, when it occurred to me that your birthday is just a few weeks away. And, I'll be 51 two months after that. It's still hard for me to think of myself as 50 years old, 'cuz although I've lived/endured enough for 3 lifetimes, I just don't feel 50. I live by that well-worn cliche that age is just a number, and I remain young at heart. And thankfully I've been blessed with a healthy & strong body. Anyway, as I reflected on the passage of time, I had to smile as I recalled myself as a young man. At age 20, like most of us, I was full of myself, certain that I was wise, mature & smarter than your average bear...Then, when I hit 30, I realized just how little I'd really known about life. Still, at 30, I figured, "Well, now I'm pretty mature and worldly-wise"... Then I turned 40, and once again I realized how much I'd learned in the previous 10 years ... And, of course, when I hit the half-century mark I understand how far I'd come in the last 10 years. The bottom line is that each of us is a work in progress & we never stop growing, learning & evolving. The worst thing, in my opinion, is to become self-satisfied and complacent, thinking we've learned as much as we can, thinking we already know it all. I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago, and hopefully (assuming I haven't ditched my skin suit by then) I won't be the same person 10 years from now. In the interim I just try to squeeze the most out of every day (who among us isn't possessed of the nagging feeling that we daily live less fully than we are capable of? Certainly, being on death row, you feel that imperative pressing against you more acutely than the average person does).

Rob is still schdeuled to be executed on July 11th, just 19 days from now. And the moment he breathes his last breath & his spirit flys away, not a single citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia will be any better off. Nothing will be gained, nothing improved, by this deliberate taking of a human life. Rather, in my opinion, everyone will be diminished; each execution is a denial of the potential for change & goodness in every soul, and becomes another black mark against us as a nation...

That's it for now, Sis. Keep smiling and give the dogs a hug for me.

Love & Peace,

Monday, June 20, 2005

June 16, 2005

Dear Sis

We are on full lockdown, and have been since four days ago. This is a regular "quarterly lockdown" which usually lasts 14-18 days, during which the entire prison is locked down while a large "shakedown crew" of 20-30 guards goes from building to building, cellblock to cellblock, to search every cell, every office, every shop, area and/or room. In my 30+ years in prison this is the only joint I've ever seen that has regular, consistent, easily-timed mass shakedowns. They come every 90 days, regular as clockwork, to utilize an overused cliche, so everyone knows they're coming. From a security standpoint this is very poorly thought out. I mean, you know when they're coming, so you can hide your contraband ahead of time. Then, when they're gone, you know you're good to go for another 90 days. Some bureaucrat thought up this brilliant plan, you can believe that...Anyway, with no "yard" to go to I have even more time to work on my certiorari petition. I'll have 90 days to file it in the US Supreme Court, once the Florida Supreme Court (predictably) denies my motion for rehearing. That will occur in another 4-5 weeks, which means the cert will be due roughly in mid October. I intend to have my draft written and in my lawyer's hands even before our rehearing is denied, which will give us that 90 day grace period to edit/polish it, and to run it by a couple of constitutional & death penalty expert attorneys we know...As I told you in an earlier letter, Robin Lovitt is scheduled to be executed July 11th and when you're scheduled to die in this state (commonwealth, actually), well you die. None of that TV or movie bullshit here, no dramatic last minute stays - not in Virginia. Once they take you to Greensville, where the execution chamber is, which occurs 4 days prior to execution, you don't come back. This state is dead serious about the business of killing! When I was at Florida State Prison it was relatively common for some court (either state or federal) to grant a stay of execution even up to just one or two hours prior to death. But in my almost 6 years here I've only seen 3 guys go to Greensville and then come back, and 2 of them were executed shortly thereafter. The other guy, who murdered six people, got off the row and is now in open population somewhere. And, the few times that guys do get stays of execution, the stay invariably comes from a federal court, never the Virginia Supreme Court. This Supreme Court seems to pride itself on never giving any death row prisoners any legal relief, no matter how meritorious their claims may be. Things (errors) that would get you a new trial (or resentencing) in every other state in the nation (even in Texas!) get the stamp of approval by the Virginia Supreme Court. At any rate, Rob's fate is up to the US Supreme Court, and they've got about 25 days to decide whether they'll let Rob live or die. To them, Rob is just a faceless case, a name; but when you've been around someone for 5 years, every day, all day, when you've laughed with them, played chess with them, talked with their visitors, when you've seen their essential humanity (notwithstanding the grievous nature of all of our offenses), you understand at the most rudimentary, primal level that the State is going to cold-bloodedly kill a living, breathing human being...Oh, Rob does have one other possible avenue of relief. The governor has ordered a review of the results of the Virginia Crime Lab's results from DNA testing in 150+ criminal cases because it's been established that the Lab fabricated DNA evidence against Earl Washington, an ex-death row prisoner who has since been totally exonerated (I briefly wrote about Earl's case in my essay titled My Turn). Rob's case is supposed to be at the top of the list, but the Commission has stated that they won't even begin reviewing cases until the end of next month, by which time Rob will be dead, absent some intervention. Moreover, as you know, all of the evidence in Rob's case has been destroyed, so it's unclear how this is going to play out. This (DNA testing) is not in the realm of the courts, so the only way Rob can or will get a stay based upon that is if the Governor intervenes. In Virginia, you don't want your life depending upon executive grace... OK Sis, I'm outta here; it's past midnight & I'm gonna hit the hay. I suspect the shakedown crew will be here in the morning, tearing up our cells.

Love & Peace,

Thursday, June 09, 2005

June 5, 2005

Dear Sis,

I just learned that Rob Lovitt's death warrant has been signed and his execution date is set for July 11th. You may recall that in an earlier letter I told you a little bit about him and his case; he's the guy who is now represented by Kenneth Starr. His main appellate issue was (and remains) the fact that immediately following his trial the clerk, in direct violation of a specific Virginia law, destroyed all of the evidence in his case. I told you then that Rob's death warrant would be signed soon, and now it has been. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court grants his certiorari petition and agrees to review his case, he will be put to death in five weeks. The State's machinery of death here in Virginia is relentless and implacable, and is very rarely deterred. It's almost impossible to win an appeal in this state, or in Federal Court within the Fourth Circuit, no matter how meritorious your legal issues are. This is the most conservative state, legal-wise, and lies within the most conservative Federal appellate court jurisdiction, in the nation. In this state of Virginia the state (i.e., the prosecution and police) is always right...

Last week I saw the move The Aviator, the biopic about Howard Hughes. The quality of the movie-production values, photography, etc., - was excellent, as was the acting and story line. Ever since I was very young I'd always admired Howard Hughes; not because he was rich, but because he was a true pioneer of aviation (you know how much I love anything associated with aviation) and he was such an innovative thinker. Hughes always thought outside the box, and he dared to not only put his money where he mouth was, but to risk his life, literally, to prove his beliefs. Most people remember Hughes as some crazy wild man who was rich as Croesus, a man consumed by his bizarre, idiosyncratic behavior, but he was, in the 1920's, 30's and 40's, a brilliant aeronautical designer and a fearless pilot. He was a man ahead of his time and his peers...Speaking of movies, just last night NBC showed Bambi which, to my knowledge, has never been shown on TV. Well, it must have struck a nostalgic chord in me 'cuz I actually watched it. I don't know if you recall when Dad took you and me to a movie theatre to watch it? I was probably 4 or 5, so I guess it would have been 1958 or '59. I still recall how stunned I was when the hunter shot and killed Bambi's mother. There I was, all happy and grinning as the movie infolded, than, wham! out of nowhere it turns dark and sinister as the unseen but ruthless hunter kills Bambi's mom. It made me cry at the time. Of course, as an adult, I now understand how that resonated with me since our own mother had just died, and I was struggling to come to grips with the fact that I had no mother. Anyway, as I watched it again last night, after not seeing it for 45 years, I was struck by how lush and beautiful the animation was. Those artists were real craftsmen, and even today their work stands the test of time, being equal or superior to, whatever you see today (notwithstanding all of the computer assistance). Of course, back then every single frame, every cell (thousands and thousands of them) were meticulously hand-drawn and painted...I've gotta get back to work on my case, sis. Our motion for rehearing has been filed; they're almost always a waste of time, but it gives me another month of delay, breathing room to refine my certiorari issue(s). I feel much more confident now about the strength of my issues than I did on the day my appeal was denied. Having studied that opinion at length, and having researched and read a ream of relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions in that area of the law, I now know precisely how to frame my issues and I feel much better about the merits of those claims. Whether the U.S. Supreme Court accepts review is a different matter. They have their own agenda and criteria in picking the cases they want to review. You can have the greatest issue in the world, but if it doesn't fit in with what the Supreme Court is looking for, it won't get heard. The Court only accepts 80-110 cases per year, out of 15,000+ certiorari petitions filed, so you can do the math yourself.

That's it from Virginia. Keep smiling & wear your helmet when you ride!

Love & Peace,

Saturday, June 04, 2005

May 29, 2005

Dear Sis:

Last week, in a 6-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court denied my appeal and affirmed my death sentence once again. Although the denial itself was disappointing and surprising, given the facts and the legal issue involved, it was the Court's basis for their decision (or lack thereof) which is astounding. Just to recap, you know that I was sentenced to death by a jury and judge that had been misled to believe (by the prosecutor) that I was the triggerman. On my direct appeal the Florida Supreme Court, in 1990, found that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a finding that I was the triggerman, and insufficient evidence that the homicide was premeditated. The Court went on to find that there was sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for felony murder, and then, addressing my death sentence held that, even though I wasn't the triggerman, my death sentence could be upheld under the proportionality analysis mandated by Tison v. Arizona. What the Court failed to do was to consider how the jury's and judge's erroneous reliance upon the "fact" that I was the triggerman impacted upon, or affected their decision to sentence me to death. In legal jargon this is called a "jury taint" where a jury's death recommendation is "tainted" by their reliance upon the "facts" which later prove to be wrong. In a long line of cases, from the U.S Supreme Court on down, the Courts have held that the appropriate remedy in such cases is to vacate the death sentence and to conduct a new penalty phase proceeding so that a new jury and judge - free of the previous taint - can decide whether the defendant deserves to live or die. So, for the last 15 years, I've been trying to convince the courts to reconsider my death sentence in this light. In the interim, the State, through its many court filings, has openly conceded that I wasn't the triggerman, that they know Frank Valdes was the triggerman. And, of course, I've been saying, "Hey, that isn't what you told my jury and judge in 1988!" The bottom line, Sis, is that I was recommended for death and sentenced to death by a jury and judge who based their decision, at least in part, upon the mistaken, erroneous "facts" that have now been proven to be wrong. (Keep in mind that my 1988 prosecutor vigorously argued, and tried to prove, that I was the triggerman, even while he knew that I wasn't, and while he suppressed evidence that would have proven that I wasn't. The same prosecutor prosecuted Frank 18 months later and during Frank's trial that prosecutor argued that Frank was the triggerman.)

Anyway, flash forward to 2003 when, pursuant to a new law regarding the right to have DNA testing conducted, we filed our motion asserting that newly discovered evidence (in the form of the victim's blood evidence on Frank's clothes combined with no blood on mine) proves conclusively that I was not the triggerman. I want to use this "newly discovered evidence" to resurrect my "jury taint" claim (which has never been conclusively ruled upon). The State responded by saying "we know Van Poyck did not kill the victim, but it does not matter because the Florida Supreme Court already upheld his death sentence." The trial judge denied the motion and, of course, I appealed. Now I had the State openly conceding on the record that I was not the triggerman and their only defense was "it does not matter." Now, here's what you need to understand: in order for me to prevail on my claim I was required to demonstrate that "there is a reasonable probability that I would have received a different sentence had my jury and judge known about the "newly discovered evidence." In other words, is there a "reasonable probability" that I would not have been sentenced to death had my jury and judge known I was not the triggerman? This is called the "reasonable probability" test, and it's a common analysis or standard in criminal law jurisprudence. Luckily for me, I was armed with several previous decisions from the Florida Supreme Court granting relief in almost identical situations. In these previous death penalty cases the Court had ordered new penalty phases where the defendant produced "newly discovered evidence" showing that he was not the triggerman. The Florida Supreme Court had repeatedly held that the issue of the triggerman was a crucial determining factor in deciding whether a defendant should live or die. Accordingly, that Court held, when a defendant produces "newly discovered evidence" showing that he might not have been the triggerman, he meets the "reasonable probability" test and the remedy is to vacate the death sentence and conduct a new penalty phase. So, armed with these cases (State v. Mills being the prime case) I felt reasonably confident on my appeal. After all, I wasn't asking for much, just to have a fresh jury decide my fate based upon the true facts.

In their 6-1 decision the Florida Supreme Court said the fact that I was not the triggerman did not matter. Specifically, they said that "there is no reasonable probability that Van Poyck would have received a different sentence had his jury and judge known that he was not the triggerman." The Court did not (because it could not) cite one single case to support this remarkable statement, and they simply ignored State v. Mills and all the other cases I cited in support of my decision. Justice Anstead dissented and wrote a 3-page dissenting opinion wherein he blistered the majority's decision, but once again I'm on the wrong side of a split decision by the Florida Supreme Court (I've had two 4-3 decisions in years past). When you read the majority opinion, Sis, two things become clear: The Court (they said as much) tailored this decision just for me; and second, this Court is absolutely determined to have me executed, no matter what, and they're not going to let the "law" or the "facts" stand in their way. It's really hard to understand this resolute determination when you know (as I pointed out to the Court) how many cold-blooded killers they've let off the row, guys who've personally killed multiple victims in heinous and atrocious ways. In my appellate brief I pointed out the many such cases like these where the same Court said that death was not an appropriate sentence. And yet, in my case, where I did not even kill anyone, the Court refuses to even consider allowing a new jury and/or judge to reconsider my sentence and make a judgment based upon the true facts...

OK, Sis, I've gotta go. I've got a lot of work ahead of me as I cobble together a certiorari petition, in the hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will view this matter differently. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. I hope you'll be rooting for Danica Patrick in today's Indianapolis 500. She's a spunky gal and a fine driver.

Love & Peace,

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

May 17, 2005

Dear Sis,

No yard again. This is becoming a regular thing; yard is being cancelled all week long (for the last 3 or 4 weeks now) so they can "work on the yard fences", but they never do any work. For the past month we've only been going out one day per week, on Sundays. Anyway, instead we had cell clean up and haircuts. I got my hair cut (I keep it pretty short) and then a shower, so I'm feeling pretty good. When you can only shower 3 times a week, every shower is something to look forward to. Our "barbers" here are two fellow death row prisoners, only one of whom, Rob Lovitt, actually knows how to cut hair. Rob's a good barber & I always get him to cut my hair. Unfortunately, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Rob will be executed very soon, probably within 90 days. Rob's case is an interesting one. He was convicted in a more or less run-of-the-mill murder (a store owner stabbed to death in an apparent robbery attempt) on circumstantial evidence that was underwhelming to say the least. I don't know if Lovitt is guilty (he's consistently professed his innocence during the 5 years I've known him) but I know his legal issues are substantial. Immediately following his conviction (based primarily upon the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, a "professional witness" who claimed Rob "confessed" to him in jail) the clerk of the trial court, in direct violation of a specific state law on the subject, and against the specific advice of two other clerks, destroyed all of the evidence in the case. This included DNA evidence (bloodstained evidence) which the defense had challenged and wanted to have independently tested. (The Virginia State Crime Lab has a documented history of rendering false DNA results. Just within the last few weeks the FBI finally established that the lab's false DNA test results had erroneously sent Earl Washington to death row. Washington, after 15 years in prison, was finally exonerated). Anyway, the destruction of all the evidence has denied Rob the ability to possibly discover that some of his evidence was/is exculpatory. As you know, many of the wrongly convicted end up proving their innocence because they were able to (often many years later) have evidence re-tested or re-examined. You'd think that the State's deliberate destruction of all of the evidence, which was done on orders from the prosecutor and which destruction violated State law, would entitle someone to a new trial. But, so far the Courts have denied Rob any relief, essentially telling him "sorry, but too bad." Now, Rob is represented by Kenneth Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) who is passionately arguing his case. It's now in front of the U.S Supreme Court. Virginia will be signing Rob's death warrant very soon; they consistently don't even wait to see if the U.S Supreme Court is going to grant certiorari review. They are very eager to execute people in this commonwealth...

That's it for now, Sis. Keep your chin up and keep smiling!

Love & Peace,

Monday, May 23, 2005

May 11, 2005

Dear Sis,

Well, despite the erratic "must be global warming" weather I can confidently announce that Spring has finally arrived, at least in this little corner of Virginia. See, a few hundred yards beyond the fences there's a tall, spindly tree (of a type I've never been able to identify) which I've watched for the 5 1/2 years I've been here. Every winter, almost overnight, it suddenly drops all it's leaves and the result is a dead-looking collection of bare, sparse branches. It really is a pitiful looking tree (I think it's been hit by lightning in the past) and every winter I think it is its last one. Then, come Spring, again almost overnight, it suddenly blooms. One day I'm out in the yard and the tree is naked; the next time I go to the yard it is green and bushy and looking vibrant. This had been going on for 5 1/2 years and each time that raggedly old tree blooms again it's sort of a reaffirmation, for me, of the vitality of life...Speaking of the yard, I haven't been out in a week because we've been on a week-long lockdown. The warden locked the entire prison down for "employee appreciation week" so that all of the employees could attend a series of picnics, cookouts and parties. The guards haven't gotten a raise in years, so I guess the warden is trying to make up for that with hot dogs and hamburders... The other day this gal named Piper Roundtree was sentenced to life in prison, with parole eligibility in 15 years, following her first-degree murfder conviction for shoooting down her ex-husband in her driveway. Piper was an attorney, living in Texas, and presumably getting on with her life after divorcing her husband. The husband, living here in Virginia, was a college professor. But, for whatever reason, Piper (wearing a very bad wig and fake ID) flew from Texas to Virginia, waited in ambush, and gunned down the ex-husband in his driveway. Then she returned to Texas, but not before leaving a trail of evidence and witnesses in her wake. Anyway, my point here is that, as murders go, this was as cold, calculated and premeditated as they come. Yet she receives a life sentence and is eligible for parole in 15 years. Meanwhile, you've got people on death row convicted of homicides less agregrious than Piper's (or, as in my case, people who did not kill anyone at all). Piper's case simply illustrates the arbitrary nature of the death penalty in America. Whether a convicted murderer receives a death sentence in this country is really a matter of chance, a function of geography and/or who the local state attorney is, rather than the circumstances of the crime. At every major prison in America there are prisoners walking around in open population who have comitted crimes (murders) much more horrendous than those committed by some of the guys on the row. I know a guy down in Florida who cold-bloodedly murdered five innocent people, yet he's not on the row. I know a guy here in Virginia who murdered six people and he's walking aound in open population. When you're intimately involved in the system, as I've been for so many years, you quickly grasp the incongruities and you see how arbitrary and capricious the imposition of death sentences are. Anyone who thinks that "Justice is being done" is fooling himself. You can call it a lot of things but "Justice" isn't part of the equation.... It's past midnight and Nightline just went off, so I'm gonna wrap this up and mail it off so I can hit the hay. Keep your chin up, Sis, and keep smiling.
Love and Peace,

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

April 30, 2005

Dear Sis

It's early Saturday morning, I've just knocked out my breakfast (a fried-egg-and-jelly sandwich and a scoop of grits), and I'm settling down to a long day of legal work. Speaking of the law, yesterday I finished reading the Virginia Supreme Court's recent 139-page direct appeal decision upholding the conviction and death sentence of John Allen Muhammad, a/k/a "the D.C. sniper" who resides over in cell #1. You may recall that his juvenile co-defendant, Lee Boyd Malvo, who was the actual triggerman in this particular murder, was also convicted, but sentenced to life imprisonment. There was a total of 16 shootings and 10 homicides committed by these two clowns, but this trial was for one particular homicide). There's an old legal maxim that "bad cases make bad law," which, in the context of appellate work means that in especially egregious and/or heinous cases involving unsympathetic defendants there is an impulse, often irresistible, to bend the rules and change the law and/or facts in order to obtain the desired result. The problem with this, other than the intellectual dishonesty, is that once the Court scours out a new channel it cannot thereafter unring the bell and the resulting ripples spread outward, overwhelming everyone else (how's that for mixing my metaphors?)

Anyway, this Muhammad appellate decision is a reflection of this maxim. Virginia law explicitly states that (other than killing-for-hire cases) in order to receive a death sentence, you must be the actual killer (a "principal in the first degree"). I wouldn't even be on death row, for example, if my crime had occurred in Virginia. At any rate, Muhammad wasn't the shooter in this case. But, because this was such a high profile case (and certainly it was exceptionally cold, calculated & atrocious) it was predictable that the Virginia Supreme Court was going to indulge in whatever legal contortions and semantic gymnastics it deemed necessary in order to sustain this death sentence. Which is exactly what they did. If effect, the Court held that the law doesn't really mean what it seems to say and that you can be the actual killer without being the actual killer. The extent to which the Court bent over backwards to stretch the law's definitions to fit around the particular facts of this case would be laughable if the case wasn't so tragic and serious. Even on this very conservative Court, three of the seven Supreme Court Justices dissented. Now that the Court has "opened the door" in this single case, by stretching the law's definition of what constitutes an "actual killer" to encompass those that did not actually kill, the Commonwealth will, as certainly as water seeks its own level, now seek the death penalty in many more cases against defendants, who up until now, clearly were not eligible for a capital conviction and sentence.

I don't know if you've followed the recent rash of child abductions & murders down in Florida (little girls kidnapped, raped and murdered by convicted sex offenders living in their neighborhoods)? It's an old story, or I should say, it's a sadly common story. If there's one thing I've learned from my 35+ years in prison and reform schools, is that sexual predators do not stop or change. These guys are wired differently, and I mean that literally. A burglar, robber or a common thief, can wake up one day and decide to change, to turn his life around. A sexual predator, and especially a pedophile, cannot do this. Nowadays most people are coming to recognize this but I cannot understand why it's taken so long and why the Courts and legislators have been so reluctant to tackle this subject. You know, I was sentenced to life in prison at age 17 for a robbery in which nobody was hurt. I wasn't in prison very long before I learned what all convicts intuitively know: child molesters get every break inthe book and are routinely sentenced to probation or very short sentences. Like most people I detest child molesters and in my early years in prison I became very bitter over what I perceived as the widespread pattern of leniency accorded to all child molesters. While I was doing that life sentence, doing 5, 6, 8, 10 years, I'd watch particular child molesters come in, get out, come back, get out, come back, get out, over and over and over. Child molesters routinely got kid glove treatment from prosecutors, judges, prison officials, and the Parole Commission. It was so bad, and so widespread and consistent, that I came to suspect that perhaps there was a secret cabal of fellow pedophiles within the criminal justice system who made sure their fellow travelers got every break possible. It sounds crazy, but I could not otherwise explain what I was personally witnessing year after year after year. I'll tell you the message that I (and all other convicts) did get, loud and clear: that the citizens of Florida (speaking through their legislators and judges) cared a lot more about their money and property than about their kids. If you mess around and rob, steal or burglarize in Florida you will get a life sentence (or 99 years, another favorite sentence in Florida), but if you rape their kids, well, that's ok. This is a running joke within the prison system. Florida's prisons are chock full of guys doing Life for robbery or burglary, just as I was doing Life back in 1972. I served 15 years and during that same time I saw many, many pedophiles go through the system 3, 4 or 5 times. I cannot tell you how bitter that made me, sis. It also confirmed to me the apathy of the citizenry over their children. That sounds like a cold and cynical statement, but any objective observer knows that it's true. Florida has a long and rich institutional history of treating its children like trash, and there is a built-in institutional apathy that is immune to change. Every few year's there's another scandal at the Division of Child Services, and another blue-ribbon panel issues another report, but nothing ever changes. Then the public expresses amazement and shock when one of these abused kids grows up and begins cutting people's heads off...

I'm signing off, Sis. Keep your chin up & a smile on your face.
Love & Peace,

Monday, May 09, 2005

April 21, 2005

Dear Sis,
I just returned from the "Yard" ( a real misnomer inasmuch as our outside recreation consists of being placed in a series of fenced-in cages, or "dog runs" as I call them, each one about the size of our cells) and I'm in a good mood. The weather was beautiful, about 70 degrees, clear, blue skies, the air clean and fresh, and I threw bread to the gang of little sparrows that always seem to be waiting for me. They know me by sight & know they're going to be fed, the fat little suckers. We've got 3 or 4 large crows, though, that hang about & when the crows show up the little birds hide. Anyway, as I always do, I spent my 2 hours pacing back and forth, mostly talking with my neighbor, Bill. He's an ex-colonel in U.S. Army Military Intelligence, and a very interesting character. His case is very unusual and intriguing; I seldom say this about guys I meet on the row, and I don't say this lightly, but I'm pretty certain that Bill is totally innocent. Any thinking person who objectively examines this guy's case has to entertain the same thought. It's the kind of story you expect to see on 20/20 or Datleine or 48 Hours. He's very fortunate in that now he has a powerful and prestigious law firm out of Seattle representing him in his post conviction proceedings. The firm is Preston Gates & Ellis, and the Gates is Bill Gates, Sr. the father of that Bill Gates. If he would have had quality lawyers at his trial he wouldn't even be here; I just hope it isn't too late for him. At any rate, I'm relaxing for awhile, waiting on our supper tray (I heard it's hot dogs tonight). It's interesting how happy a couple of hours of "yard" can make me. It really doesn't take a whole lot to please me (or anyone) when you're on the row; life is reduced to the simplest of pleasures, a sunny day, a fresh breeze, a chirping bird, the swaying pine trees off in the distance. On the flip side, other than the state trying to kill me, I don't have a lot of worries either. No mortgage payments to sweat, no stressing out about bills, or insurance, or traffic jams, no moaning about a lousy job & an obnoxious boss. So, it all balances out, right. Here, like everywhere, there's a certain equilibrium to be found and maintained.

I thought I was reasonably knowledgeable about this type of thing, but I was surprised to read about an incident in 1958 where a B-47 accidently dropped an atomic bomb in a rural field in South Carolina. The high explosive content of the 4-ton bomb exploded, injuring a family and destroying their farm house and out buildings, while leveling an acre-sized circle of pine trees. The nuclear core remained on the plane, luckily. It fell while a crew member was tugging on a strap, trying to unjam a switch, and he accidently hit the "emergency release" button. It just goes to show you that no matter how many precautions you take, there's always the element of human error, and when the consequences are so severe it makes you wonder what we were thinking about in the first place (flying training missions with live nuclear bombs hanging by straps in the bomb bay). The whole world immediately learned of the incident & the Russians astutely pointed out that had there been an actual atomic explosion, it probably would have precipitated an all out atomic retaliation by America against the USSR, because we would have believed we'd been attacked by them. (That was the height of the Cold War and all sides had itchy trigger fingers back then). Wouldn't that be something, to have a simple accident like that initiate a nuclear holocaust? The end of the world because someone tugs on the wrong strap? That's a pretty good definition of insanity.

They say there's no education in the second kick of a mule, and that certainly seems to be the case with this nation when it comes to our gasoline/energy situation. Apparently we learned nothing from the gas shortages of the 70's which I still vividly recall. I watch the news and see everyone complaining about the high price of gas, but they better get used to it. We will never again see the bottom side of $2.00/gallon of gas. (Actually even @ $2.00 a gallon gas is now priced at historic lows, when inflation is factored in). The Europeans regularly pay $4.00 to 5.00 per gallon, which is one reason they're so far ahead of us on conservation and energy efficient technology. We Americans are so spoiled & shortsighted. In reality high gas prices are a good thing, a necessary cattle prod to make us change our energy-ignorant and energy-foolish habits and policies. The truth is that cheap oil has been our biggest problem for the last 30 years 'cuz it makes us complacent enough that we've not needed to (nor had the foresight to) make the necessary technological investments to wean ourselves away from oil. And of course that's just fine with the big oil companies who, along with OPEC, has America by the short hairs ( and apparently we like it, given our lack of a response or coherent energy policy). Hey, it's no accident that none of the oil companies have built a single new refinery in America in some 30 years. That self-imposed "lack of refinery capacity" is their twice-a-year excuse for their predictable price hikes (which generate billions in extra profits during the weeks these "spikes" last). Nobody ever questions why the industry refuses to build more capacity. Right about the time the crying gets really bad & questions begin being asked, the "crisis" suddenly eases and the spike falls back to relatively normal ranges & everyone changes the subject. It's a real dog & pony show done right in front of us, twice a year, like clockwork. I'm not a knee-jerk anti-business guy; I know that business is what makes this nation run. But I also know a hustle when I see one, especially one that's been running for decades, with a wink and a nod from politicians, and abetted by incredible public apathy & general ignorance of the subject. The oil compaies understand just where the equilibrium is, where the pain threshold is, how to keep prices high enough to reap major profits without angering the public enough to make them rebel and demand solutions and changes. You know, the best thing that could happen to America, in the long term, is to see permanent $100/barrel oil prices. It would be a bad blow to the economy but it would be the kick in the teeth we need to force us to take the necessary steps. Our lack of foresight and our unwillingness to sacrifice for a greater good is sad. Cowardly politicians are at least partly to blame; nobody wants to tell the public what they need to be told; they'd rather tell the public what they want to hear (Low gas prices! Drive big cars! Everything is fine!) Where the hell are the leaders?? But ultimately the weight is on the public's apathetic shoulders. We're the ones who vote these people in. When it comes to energy policy we've failed to understand the most basic laws of the Universe: you reap what you sow, and eventually all chickens come home to roost.

I didn't mean to preach! I'll wrap this up and post it. (I got the pics you sent, including Toby the tortoise! The house looks good & the red rock desert is beautiful!)

Love & Peace,

P.S. Did you ever watch the Extreme Makeover Home Edition? It's on ABC every Sunday evening; it's a program where a building crew finds a very deserving & needy family and they build them a new house in 7 days. It's really the best show on TV, period, and I dare you to watch an entire program without shedding tears.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

April 17, 2005

Dear Sis

Meanwhile, back in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I've just finished picking at my supper (lukewarm spaghetti, boiled carrots, bread & applesauce, mashed into a small plastic tray), and I'm stretched out on my bunk, munching from a bag of canteen pork rinds, eyeing the setting sun's slanting rays angling in through my narrow horizontal slit window, watching them slide inexorably up my wall, bisecting a cloud of floating dust motes. Years ago I used to carefully pencil mark the rays on my wall, capturing the arcing pattern of the changing seasons, until it became just another pointless reminder of life passing me by. Hell, I'm edging up on my eighteenth year since my arrest, and over 16 years since I was sentenced to death. Who needs to be reminded of that? Anyway, I was laying here, relaxing, enjoying the relative solitude. (nobody screaming, banging or kicking their door, nobody flooding out their cell, and everyone else's cell in the process), debating how to spend the rest of my evening. Read? Write? Legal work? T.V.? Radio? Pace my cell? Meditate? Work out? Stare at the Wall? A pretty narrow spectrum of choices, huh? But, you've gotta work with what you've got. Some guys here just spend all their freetime watching cartoons & soap operas. If you live squeezed in a box long enough, immersing yourself in the tedious routines, the bland, numbing sameness can grind you down, erase your recollections of what it means to be free, until your only goal is to urge each dumb day forward. Day to week to month to year your mind will try to convince you that the tin can you inhabit is all that matters & all that there is until, if you let it, you've fooled yourself into believing it's real. It takes effort to shatter that dull existence, more than some guys can muster... At any rate, I voted to write.

Are you as glad as I am that the brouhaha over Terri Schiavo is finally past? It was a sad & tragic case, and ultimately a very personal issue deserving a serious reflection. But it sure didn't beong in the hands of grandstanding politicians. I think a fair number of those protesters had martyr complexes. Some of them were "professional protesters" (the ones with eyes as bright & wild as crazed cats) moving from hot button issue to hot button issue, simply for the sake of publicity. Down in Florida I celled next to Paul Hill for years, the anti-abortion lay preacher who gunned down an abortion doctor & his bodyguard in Pensacola, and I learned all about guys with martyr complexes. Most of those protesters at Terri Schiavo's place were consumed with projecting their own beliefs & convictions, validating themselves, rather than considering Terri's wishes and welfare. None of them would honestly want to exist like that, but they were eager to force Terri to do so, if they could. When I saw Terri's brain CAT scan, compared to a normal brain scan, it was clear to me that "Terri" was no longer there. You know, Americans seem to be profoundly uncomfortable with the subject and idea of death, as if they want to deny their own mortality, and fend off the grim reaper by any means necessary, even if it means existing hooked up to tubes and wires. They just can't bear to let go. As for all those protesters, the hypocrisy was like smoke in my nose. Most of them who were waving those signs about safeguarding "the sanctity of life" (one sign asked "What part of 'Thou shall not Kill' don't you understand?") are they very same ones showing up at prison gates for executions, shouting "Fry that bastard!" And the very same grandstanding politicians self-righteously preaching about the horror of "taking a human life" and about "erring on the side of life" are the same ones clamoring to execute ever more people at an ever faster rate. They don't even recognize their hypocrisy. At least the last Pope was resolutely consistent; he didn't believe in killing at either end of the spectrum.

Here on the row there's been a subtle ratcheting up of melancholyness (don't know if that's a real word). Five or six of the 23 guys here on the row have run out of, or will very soon run out of, legal options, which in this state means that their life is about to suddenly go wrong. In short, their executions have become imminent & inescapable. In Virginia, they're real serious about killing people. The execution process here is a well-oiled machine that grinds relentlessly and very quickly, without a backward glance. Other states have basic procedural safeguards that allow prisoners to at least raise issues of newly discovered evidence, such as DNA evidence. Florida, for example, leads the nation in death row exonerations, with most of those cases occurring after 10-15 years on the row. But in Virginia, those guys would be dead long before any such new evidence could be discovered (I'd be dead three times over if my case was out of Virginia). Here the machinery of death just plows on, without a hiccup. Unlike Florida and most other D/R states, in Virginia very few guys make it past the 5-year mark, and virtually nobody ever gets a stay of execution or any kind of legal relief once their death warrant is signed, which occurs even before the last step (certiorori petition to the U.S. Supreme Court) is reached. I've been here five and a half years and except for 3 guys I've outlived everyone who was here when I arrived. In my first 12 months here they killed 14 guys, including two who were juveniles when they committed their crimes, and each one was chained up and hustled off in front of me (all cells here look inward into an open, common pod) on their way to the death house in Greensville. The execution process here is very personal, immediate and in your face.

Well, next week is the NFL draft and I'm hoping that the Dolphins make some wise choices. I'm giving the new coach, Nick Saban, the benefit of the doubt. My gut instinct is that he'll be exactly what the Dolphins need.

OK, sis, that's it from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Give the dogs a pat on the head for me! Love & Peace, Bill.