Sunday, July 16, 2006

June 29th, 2006

Dear Sis ~
It's a beautiful day outside, with a bright sun in a cloudless blue sky, and the birds flittering outside my cell. I'm waiting to go out to "yard" and get my daily stroll on, feeding the birds and perhaps enjoying a game of chess with Mike. As I've told you before, Mike has an execution date of July 27th, which means they'll take him to Greensville around July 17 - 18th (lately, they've been getting guys 8 - 10 days prior to their execution; it used to be 4 days). It is almost a certainty that Mike will die on the 27th, barring some unexpected and astounding legal occurrence, and Mike is fully aware of this, harboring no illusions or false hopes. He is resigned to his fate and fortunately, he is well-grounded and mature, possessing a substantial spiritual/metaphysical depth of character and nature. Still, when death is imminent, when it has gone from an abstract concept to a concrete reality, from the general to the very specific and personal... well, it isn't easy. As his good friend it is also hard, and awkward, for me as I count down his final days with him. We have a lot of good, deep conversations and yet in the background is that constant awareness that the minutes, hours and days are slipping past and the end is rearing up its ugly head, rushing forward to swallow him up. For all of my 18 years on the row, this is the first time I've had to go through this, on a daily basis, with someone who is a real friend, someone I like, respect and care about. Mike is on the row for killing a fellow prisoner - a convicted murderer who was a violent bully in another prison, a fact that Mike's jury was prevented from knowing - in a typical prison beef where one must choose to kill or be killed. I see a lot of myself in Mike. Like me, he was an inherently rebellious kid and ended up in a series of youth halls, reformatories and eventually prisons, with his crimes being either drug possession or burglary (trying to get money for drugs). At heart, he is a good guy with a strong character and solid values, not at all what the average citizen envisions when imagining a "typical" death row prisoner. Like me, he is totally self-educated, having spent many prison years questing for knowledge (academic, philosophical, spiritual, metaphysical). Society will not benefit one iota by executing Mike, and in my eyes will suffer a collective loss, although your "average citizen" cannot see that. Notwithstanding his seemingly dismal, dead end existence Mike has, through self discipline and will power, grown and matured remarkably and is far advanced on the spiritual plane, much, much more so than those who have judged him and deemed him worthy only of death. The shame is on them and their trivilization of death and life. Mike's execution caters to our society's desire for simplistic solutions (it's too hard to think about such things!) and our nation's ineluctable impulse, grounded in Puritanical moral certitude, to blindly inflict maximum punishment, to relentlessly seek revenge and retribution as the "answer" to all problems. This is why we, alone in the world, are always at war with someone, somewhere, over something. We are a violent people and we enjoy killing - it's as simple as that- though we refuse to recognize that inescapable fact (Americans love to declare that we are a "peace loving nation" which is a joke in the face of historical record). As a nation, we reap what we sow - blood for blood, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. It's the definition of a vicious cycle...
Anyway, it sounds like a cliche (Hell, it is a cliche) but Mike will be going to a better place, and he's a better man than most of those he leaves behind.
Love & Peace, Bill

June 1, 2006

Dear Sis~
This evening they brought John Muhammad, aka "The Washington DC Sniper", back here from Maryland where he was just convicted of six counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. He's already under a death sentence here in Virginia for one of his other murders. He was eligible for the death penalty in Maryland, under Maryland law, but according to the Maryland prosecutor they declined to seek the capital sentences because the Virginia prosecutors has somehow screwed up some evidence (apparently through mishandling the chain of custody) and thereby made any death sentence vulnerable to legal attack. From a legal perspective, that doesn't make any sense, but that was their story. If you're wondering why Maryland even bothered to prosecute him, given his Virginia death sentence, the Maryland prosecutor said it was for "insurance" in case Mohammad ever beat his death sentence here. Anyway, he's back here in cell #1, which they've set aside for him from the beginning. They won't even let anyone live in cell #2, next to him, nor in the two cells directly above him. They also don't let him go to recreation with the rest of us, (he must go to rec all by himself), and when he showers, a sergeant and two officers have to come in to escort him (in chains) to and from the shower, which is 30 feet away. They act like he's some kind of ultra-high security threat, capable of superhuman feats when, in reality, he's simply notorious. Florida used to do the same thing with guys who had very high profile cases and, in fact, they did it to me when I first went to F.S.P., treating me like Hannibal Lector. But, eventually they tire of the drama and begin treating you like any other prisoner. The truth is prison authorities like that kind of drama, at least for awhile, and they play it up. I guess it breaks the boredom nd makes their pedestrian lives feel important...
June 2nd
They just came in and chained up Percy Walton, aka "Crazy Horse" and took him to Greensville for his June 8th execution. It was a sad spectacle. Percy is genuinely and thoroughly insane, by any definition (legal or medical) and has been for the 6 1/2 years I've known him. He's oblivious to what is about to happen to him. Everyone - us, the State, the guards - knows he's crazy, but they're going to kill him anyway. It was depressing to see the State fight so hard in the courts to execute Percy, despite his mental illness, and the contemptible tactics they employed. You have to wonder about a State, and its society, which is so desperately determined to kill a man who has been so unequivocally insane for most of his life. (A couple of years ago, when Percy was also very close to execution, one of his attorneys confided in me that she was probably going to resign if the State put him to death, because she just couldn't take it anymore. This is a lawyer who has seen many of her clients executed already, but to her, Percy's case represented all that was wrong with the system. She did get Percy a stay of execution, but now the State has prevailed in its efforts to execute him).
As you know, Vince was executed a few weeks ago and we have two more executions scheduled for July. That will make 4 executions in 2 1/2 months, or 20% of our DR population here. I've gotta tell you, Sis, that after all these years, watching so many guys get put to death, it's becoming increasingly depressing to be witness to this spectacle, to be at the point of the spear in society's macabre battle to kill its own citizens...
Alright, I've gotta get back to work (legal work, that is) as I prepare my next battle plan in my own effort to avoid the executioner's sword. Give yourself a big hug for me & know that you are loved!
Love & Peace, Bill