Monday, April 09, 2007

April 5, 2007

Dear Sis~
Here's a belated blog entry. I haven't been much of a letter-writing mood lately which is attributable to the realization that we'll be having an execution within the next few months. With only 19 guys here on the row, it's inevitable that we can and do keep up with the status of each others' cases, and so I know that Christopher Scott Emmett just lost his federal habeas corpus appeal in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now the Commonwealth will apply to Scott's trial judge to set his execution date, which the judge will do. Based upon past experience (and the procedure and timetable is very consistent) Emmett will be dead within 90 days, possibly 60.
I remember well when Emmett first got here, back in 2001, and it seems just like yesterday. As I've told you before Virginia, by far, kills its prisoners quicker than any other death row; no other state is even close.In Virginia, you are lucky to make it to the 5-year mark on death row. At every stage of the process, in both the state and federal courts, the primary consideration is expediting the execution as much as possible. The main reason you never hear about Virginia death row prisoners getting off the row after 7, 8, 10 years or more when newly discovered evidence or exonerating DNA evidence is discovered is because Virginia kills its prisoners so fast. Florida, for example, leads the nation with death row exonerations (some 23 to date) and virtually all of those occurred after the guys were on the row for 10, 12, 15 or more years. That can never happen here in Virginia. Anyway, Emmett is now counting down his final days. All of us on the row, of course, feel a similar sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, but once you exhaust your final appeal and the death warrant becomes imminent and inevitable, a different type of urgency fills your being. All of us face the prospect of the arrival of this moment, when you start marking your last days off on your calendar, trying to squeeze as much life as possible out of every diminishing hour...
That's it for now, Sis. I'll write again when my disposition is a little sunnier.
With Love, Bill

I just visited Bill yesterday and he said the judge set Emmett's execution date for June 13, 60 days from this Friday the 13th.

March 22, 2007

Dear Sis~
I watched the movie Titanic the other night, for the first time in years, and was reminded again what a good flick it is. Now, in some circles, it's been stylish to sneer and denigrate Titanic
as a syrupy, overblown cinematic soap opera (this is usually the artsy, literary crowd who view themselves as self-appointed guardians of artistic culture) but for me, the movie passes my own litmus test in telling a good story. It can be easy (as a writer/director) to over-think a screenplay/movie and forget the most important principle, which is to entertain the viewer with a good story. I know when I write, whether it's one of my short stories or one of my novels, I'm trying to do several things (educate the reader about particular things, open up a different perspective on a given subject matter) but everything is subordinate to telling a good story.
My published novel Quietus, for example, is first and foremost an entertaining yarn populated with characters the reader will not soon forget. Everything else I tried to accomplish in Quietus was secondary to that first principle. Ditto for The Third Pillar of Wisdom (which, Sis, I still hope to get published one day) which has its share of social commentary but always within the framework of a well-told tale. I confess to writing for a broader audience, though I do utilize a certain literary sheen. Anyway, returning to Titanic, the back story of how the movie was made and the incredible lengths James Cameron had to go to in order for it to make it to the big screen is an extraordinary tale in its own right. It is entertainment in the best sense of the term, at least in my opinion. When the credits finally rolled, I wasn't left with the deflated feeling that my time could have been better spent, which is more than I can say about some of the hoity-toity "artistic" films I've endured. I don't subscribe to judging the merits of a movie (or book) by how much money it rakes in, but there's a good reason Titanic grossed around a million dollars (i.e., a whole lot of people voted with their wallets). There's nothing to be ashamed of by appealing to the common crowd; Mark Twain has his place, just as much as Shakespeare.
Okay, Sis...I'm outa here.
Love & Peace