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