Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The night before Christmas...

Dear Sis~

Christmas is within sight and, while this is commonly a depressing time in jails and prisons across the land (it reminds you of what you don't have and perhaps never will), I'm focusing on the many things I'm thankful for, from a sound mind and healthy body to all those who love and care for me. It may sound syrupy but I can truly say that, even on death row, I am blessed. All I have to do is consider the many around me who are so much worse off (many here have nothing and nobody), not to mention those in even more wretched places (how about an Iranian prison?!) It's easy (and human) to feel blue and despondent, but since we all have the power to choose how we feel, I choose to feel good!
Well, Old Roy, my neighbor, went to DR court on his charge of "refusing to provide a urine sample" and predictably, he was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum 60 days in disciplinary confinement. This was in spite of the fact that the medical department verified, in writing, his medical condition. Right after he got his charge, I wrote a request for him to the medical doctor, asking them to verify, in writing, his inability to urinate normally. The response came form a nurse, not a doctor, and it stated: "I referred to your request to P.A. Matthews. Your medical records reflect that you are on medication to help you urinate. However, there is no reason that you should not have been able to provide the required urine sample." Besides being inherently contradictory (it confirms that he has a medical condition making it difficult for him to urinate, then turns around and says that he should have been able to urinate), a doctor was not consulted; it was a doctor who prescribed the medication. The P.A. Matthews is a notorious quack here. He's a "Physician's Assistant" who has worked here for at least 30 years that I know of, and he should not be allowed to practice medicine at all. I know him well, and he's as inept incompetent as you imagine, not to mention being a dangerous megalomaniac. About 25 years ago I sat in his office while he regaled me with his outlandish stories. He spent considerable time trying to convince me that he spent years performing heart transplants, working side by side with Dr. Michael DeBakey in Houston (DeBakey was the world's most renowned heart surgeon back then). Matthews performed the lethal injection executions here until he badly botched the Diaz execution 2 years ago, causing an 18-month moratorium on executions in Florida. Anyway, the disciplinary committee had a copy of this reply, but in finding Roy guilty anyway, they told him (according to Roy) "There's one rule and it applies equally to everyone." This is incorrect, since the rule, and case law, acknowledges medical exceptions. I wrote up an appeal for Roy, but I'm not optimistic...
I hope you and the doggies enjoy the holidays. I know my gift will be our visit on Christmas Day! Tell old C.P. that I wish him a Merry Christmas (his 91st!) and an interesting New Year.
Here's a good maxim to reflect on for the new year:

The greatest Joy in life is Service
The greatest Power in life is Love
And the greatest battle in life is the battle against oneself.

Love & Peace,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 6, 2008

Dear Sis~
Well, they got old Roy. You may recall that Roy is the elderly, sickly guy next door to me, suffering from diabetes, seizures and bad kidneys, half-dead and with a few teeth. Closing in on 70, Roy is as quiet as a church mouse and just as threatening. The other day, the "piss squad" threw down on him, appearing at his cell door and demanding a urine sample. Roy tried and tried, almost coming to tears at his inability to pee on demand, but, in the end, he was simply unable to urinate in the allotted one (1) hour and the guard informed Roy he would be receiving a disciplinary report (DR) for "refusing to provide a urine sample" (this is the standard charge, even if you are not outright "refusing" to urinate). Roy, in a quivering voice, explained that he suffers from prostate and kidney problems and that he is, in fact, on daily medication (hytrin, I believe it's called) which is designed to help him urinate. All that fell on deaf ears and 24 hours later, he got his DR. He's now waiting to go to DR (Kangaroo) court. The charge carries 60 days in disciplinary confinement (no canteen, no visits, restricted diet, no books, magazines or any recreation). I've helped him prepare a defense by getting the medical department to confirm that he's on the medication, but I don't think it will help. The DR court here (as in most prisons) is notoriously biased and unfair; they just rubber stamp the DR. Perhaps, with the medical documentation, Roy may be able to prevail on the DR appeal to Tallahassee. What a colossal waste of time, money and energy this is, to persecute this old man, throw him in the hole, simply because his feeble bladder was unable to produce urine on command. This whole random drug testing in prison is a colossal waste of money (noteworthy in the middle of an economic crisis, where school budgets and health care budgets are being slashed). The DOC conducts random urine tests on everyone, about 10,000 per month (against about 90,000 prisoners). At about $40 or $50 per test, you can do the math. All that just to determine that "some prisoners smoke reefer." Hell, I could tell them that for free! Think of all the college scholarships that could be awarded for that much money, or all the needy kids who could get medical insurance, or all the school teachers that could be hired. This is typical of America, aka Prison Nation, where citizens gladly spend more on jails and prisons than on education...
Speaking of drug policy, I just finished an excellent book, one which should be mandatory reading in all law schools and all college-level criminal justice courses: Smoke and Mirrors (The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure), by Dan Baum. It didn't tell me a lot that I didn't already know (although it provided great detail and insight) but for the average citizen, it should be eye-opening. It's a tour de force education on the real powers and motives behind our nation's foolishly shortsighted (not to mention racist and cruel) "War on Drugs", perpetuated by law enforcement prosecutors, right-wing politicians with their own power-hungry agendas, the media, and the huge prison-industrial complex which demands a constant flow of convicted felons to fill its ever-growing empire of prisons. It's a depressing read, too, as you realize how many of our citizens (not to mention our constitutional rights) have been destroyed fighting this self-inflicted "war", and how we have essentially criminalized poverty in America...
Alright, Sis, I'm getting off my soap box. Keep your chin up and your heart light.
Love & Peace, Bill

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 13, 2008

Dear Sis~

With the help of our Ace private investigator, Jan, we now know that my transfer back to Florida was instigated by the Virginia DOC in general, and by Loretta Kelly (aka the Dragon Lady), the warden at Sussex I State Prison. As you know, Loretta has had it in for me ever since she was embarrassed by the newspaper over her abysmal treatment of Percy Walton a year ago. She was called to task by Gov. Kaine and the head of the DOC, and she made it clear back then, that she was going to retaliate. Even then, I'd heard rumors that she was openly stating her intention to have me shipped back to Florida, but after 3 or 4 months went by, I figured she's failed in her efforts. Not so! Anyway, it's a relief knowing that the move was unrelated to any imminent signing of my death warrant.
Speaking of warrants, a guy behind me, Wayne Tompkins, is scheduled for execution next week. He was originally set to die 2 weeks ago, but obtained a temporary stay. He's on his third death warrant. If the execution takes place, and if Gov. Crist follows his past practice, he'll sign another warrant within 2-3 weeks. By the way, we have five known "volunteers" here, guys who have legally and officially waived all appeals and are demanding to be executed. One guy, whom I know well (on the row for 15 years) has been agitating for his execution for years, to no avail. He writes letters to the governor, the Attorney General, anyone he can think of, vocally demanding to be executed, but Gov. Crist just ignores him (and the other volunteers)...
I went to the rec yard the other day, my first time in a "big" rec yard in nine years. (Big is a relative term...the yard is about 90 feet x 75 feet, with about 20-25 guys out there at any given time. But it sure beats the dog run cages in Virginia). On the yard, I met a few old timers I knew before I left. I learned that 2 guys I know died earlier this year. Bill Elledge (on the row 31 years), who had a history of asthma, developed lung cancer and died a lingering, painful death in his cell. A guy who was on his floor said that in his final weeks you could hear him all night long gasping for breath and moaning in pain until he finally gave up the ghost. This is a typical prison death from any type of terminal disease, virtually no treatment, you die alone in your cell usually in agony - I've seen it happen to countless men. The other guy, on the row since 1985, just gave up. He used a razor blade to open both wrists, and (for good measure) his femoral arteries in both legs, then crawled under his blanket and bled out. They only discovered it when he didn't answer at count time the next day. Twenty-three years in a single man cell, devoid of hope, can do that to you. One day, the weight just becomes too much, the balance shifts, and you decide it's time to go. I'm not going to go out that way, though. If they want me dead (and they do!), they're going to have to take my life, and the onus will be on them. On that note, I'll close and go to bed.
Love & Peace,

Monday, November 10, 2008


Dear Sis~
Well, I'm back here in the belly of the beast. On Friday, I was grabbed up and loaded into a prison transport van (driven by guards from a private prison transport company which contracts with the states) and driven back down here to Florida State Prison without explanation. For the 12 hour trip I was cuffed and shackled with the "black box", a device which painfully locks and covers the handcuffs into a rigid position which becomes very painful in short order, and placed in a small steel mesh "dog box" inside the van. From that vantage point I watched the various free-world people in their cars as we barrelled down I-95. This was my first time in the free world in 9 years (since my trip up to Virginia) and despite my lousy circumstances, I craned my neck to check out all the new cars and busy people going about their business. For me, that passes for entertainment...
When I was told to pack my property for transfer, my initial hunch was that my death warrant had been signed, or was about to be (which may still prove to be the case). Since I arrived, I've been treated like any other D/R prisoner. I'm back on the same wing and same floor I was on when I left in 1999. This place is even more dark, dank and decrepit than ever, the infrastructure is falling apart (leaking pipes and toilets, rusted-closed valves, roach and rat infested plumbing pipe alleys, paint peeling from the filthy cell walls) and the food is terrible. I was bummed out at first, but now my spirits are strong. I'm focusing on what I've got rather than what I don't. I'll write more when I get some more stamps, paper, envelopes and a pen!
Love, Bill

Friday, November 07, 2008

GOOD NEWS!!! Friday Nov 7th

Dear Readers~
I just found out through a good friend of ours that Bill was moved upon the request of the Virginia Dept of Corrections...they simply do not want to house him any longer. I suspect this is because of the publicity he caused about Percy Walton's abuse in prison and other "problems" he has caused them. I just received a letter from Bill that says he was fully expecting to have his death warrant read to him upon his arrival at Florida State Prison last Friday, but that didn't happen; he is being treated like a regular Death Row inmate. At FSP, though, even DR inmates get a six-hour contact visit! A dear friend of his is visiting him tomorrow and I'm sending him money today that will be available to him tomorrow, so I'll just have to take a longer road trip to visit him, but at least I can! Thank you all for your prayers and kind words...I am forwarding them to Bill today via letter. His new mailing address is William Van Poyck #034071-Florida State Prison-7819 NW 228th St-Raiford FL 32026-1160.
Light & Love, Lisa

Monday, November 03, 2008


Bill has been moved from Virginia back down to Florida State Prison. Nobody knows why...neither Bill nor his attorney were notified beforehand. They just came and got him Friday (Halloween) and took him down to Raiford. As soon as we find out why, we'll keep you posted. His new writing address is: William Van Poyck #034071-7819 NW 228th St-Raiford FL 32026. I'm praying for the positive...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 11, 2008 - Published late...

Dear Sis~

Well, at least the markets are closed for the weekend so they can't fall any further, until Monday, anyway. What a week this has been; every time you think the markets have hit bottom and couldn't possibly fall any further, they drop like a broken elevator. Putting aside the underlying causes of the current crisis, what we're seeing provides great insight into the psychology of the market and a vivid reminder of how much our modern financial structure, across the globe, depends on that ephemeral quality called confidence. When real confidence in the basic fundamentals of the markets and financial institutions evaporates, everything can grind to a halt with frightening swiftness. No matter what the financial pundits are saying, nobody knows how bad this may get nor hoe long it will last. Hell, nobody really knows how to fix it! One thing I do know is that the bad debt outstanding (all those arcane, bizarre debt structures , like credit default swaps) is much. much greater than most people know of or understand. We're talking about many, many trillions of dollars. Here's something that's not even being talked about: All those mortgage-based debts which were packaged together, diced up and sold down the line (to the next sucker), all those instruments, whose failures started this panic... well, the same thing still exists with the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of credit card debts. Banks took millions of peoples' credit card debts, packaged them together and sold them down the line, exactly as they did with mortgage-based debt. Hundreds of billions of dollars of this debt is sitting on the books of many, many banks, investment houses and insurance companies, another ticking time bomb ready to implode as suddenly as the mortgaged-based credit default swaps collapsed. I'm really not into being Chicken Little, running around saying the sky is falling, but the fact is that things can get a lot worse. The whole nature of our capitalistic system may become questioned if this crisis remains out of control. Behind all of this, essentially, was greed. That isn't just a cliche', it's really true... an outstanding degree of greed and readiness to ignore the possibility of things going south. Combined with zero oversight and toothless regulators (foxes guarding the hen house) this was predictable, or at least, foreseeable. Many supposedly very smart people chose to drink the Kool-Aid, buy into the hype and ignore the risks. In other words, human nature prevailed ...
On a more pleasant note...we, here on the row, are filling out our annual Christmas Fund Package order forms. Once a year, we get to purchase up to $100 of "good" food (good, compared to prison chow!) like meats, fish (all in sealed pouches) cheeses, condiments, cookies and candy. We spend the whole year looking forward to this event; it doesn't take much to get us excited! And with the sever budget cuts we're seeing here across all state agencies (but especially within the DOC) our food is getting nastier and the portions smaller every week. so, everyone is anticipating our little bit of Christmas cheer!
With Love,

Monday, September 29, 2008

September 25, 2008

Dear Sis~
If I'm irritated sitting on death row, then the average American out in the free world should be really outraged over this $700 Billion bailout for Wall Street. You're looking at the largest transference of wealth (from the public sector to the private) in the shortest amount of time in the history of the world. That's taxpayers' dollars (future obligations on the next generation) going into private banks and financial institutions. Keep in mind that this $700 Billion is only a guess, and a conservative one; the actual cost may exceed one trillion dollars. Also keep in mind that Bush and his Republican cronies in the SEC and Treasury Dept and the Federal Reserve have already, over the last month, committed $480 billion in taxpayers' money (another conservative estimate) to bail out Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. That's well over a trillion bucks already, at a minimum. This entire "financial crisis", which was entirely predictable, given the pigs-feeding-at-the-trough mentality prevading Wall Street for the last decade, rests on the shoulders of the Republicans. We've had a Republican president for 8 years, a Republican Congress for 12 of the last 14 years, and the heads of the agencies (SEC, Treasury, Commerce, Federal Reserve) are all rich Republicans, appointed by our Republican president and confirmed by our Republican Congress. These agency heads invariably came from Wall Street (Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury, for example, was chairman of Goldman Sachs, where he earned over $20 million per year) they are wealthy Republicans, and they are implementing Republican policies, intended to protect and enrich their fellow Wall Street brethren. These policies can be simply described as "hands off" or "minimal regulation". This lack of agency oversight is directly responsible for the current alleged crisis, and now you have these same folks trying to stampede the Congress (hurry! hurry! rush! rush!) into coughing up this $700 billion to rescue their Wall Street buddies who caused the problem in the first place. I, for one, do not believe their doomsday predictions ("If we don't get the money immediately the financial markets will collapse and the world will fall into a horrendous depression!"). This is the same crew (Bush and company) who stampeded the nation into the Iraq invasion with lies and fabricated evidence; and now we're supposed to just accept their statements at face value? Obama should be able to easily hang all of this on the Republicans, including John McCain who was, for many years, the Chairman of the Senate Committee where he diligently campaigned deregulation of the financial markets. But, Obama is not making his case very well; he's failing to capitalize, failing to make Republicans own this crisis. What kills me is that a bedrock principle of Republican politics is a staunch commitment to "free markets", an insistence that government should never interfere in the markets and that the market will "self-govern" or "self-correct". They love to proclaim their belief in "free markets" as an excuse to not help common folk. But as soon as Wall Street needed a bailout, Bush and his buddies abandoned their alleged belief in free markets! Suddenly, government is no longer the enemy (as Republicans love to assert); suddenly government money (taxpayers' money) must be used to save the Wall Street fat cats from their own stupidity and greed). A moron could hang this whole thing right on the Republicans' doorstep, right where it belongs, but Obama is doing a very poor job of connecting the dots so that Joe Citizen can understand. I'd love to debate McCain on this issue, to make him wear it like an old coat. (McCain has already publically admitted that he "does not really know much about economics". He just takes his clues from the wealthy Wall Street fat cats who constitute his "economic advisors"). This is an issue (the economy in general) which can win the election for Obama if he plays it right (in the end, all Americans really care about is their money. As Clinton was famously instructed 16 years ago, "It's the economy, stupid"). We'll see if Obama figures out how to exploit it to his advantage (so far I'm unimpressed)...
Ok, Sis, I've vented enough. It's past my bedtime (Nightline just went off) so I'm gonna hit the hay. I'll see you soon!
Light & Love,

Friday, September 19, 2008

September 16, 2008

Dear Sis~
Two more days until my birthday (I've read that, statistically, more people are born in September than any other month) and at the top of my list of things I'm thankful for must be the fact that I'm alive. Being a glass-half-full type of guy, I'm in accord with the old maxim that every day above ground is a good day. Having said that, things continue to deteriorate here in a general sense. Our already terrible food has gotten even worse under the current budget crisis here in Virginia (the governor has told all state agencies to cut their budgets by up to 15%). The portions are tiny and the quality abysmal, mostly cold and starchy. The vegetables and potatoes are consistently rotten and full of sand, the "meat" is all fake ( a soy-based mystery meat which makes you gag) and all the food is served cold 90% of the time. We get these rotten potatoes with every meal, including every breakfast. You already know we get a "bag lunch" (a single bread bun with rotten lunch meat and 2 slices of fake American cheese) and on weekends we only get 2 meals a day (no lunch at all). Now, the latest budget move is that we are no longer issued a bar of state soap each week; we have to pay for our soap now. Traditionally, in all jails and prisons, the state provides soap and toilet paper each week (in some prisons, this extends to toothpaste, paper and envelopes). This is because most prisoners are dirt poor, with little or no money on their books. Now soap is no longer issued (as with most prisons, the soap we were issued were bars of crude, lye-based soap made by prisoners themselves). From now on, unless you have no money on the books you cannot get a bar of state soap, you must buy your soap from the canteen. Those who qualify for a bar of state soap will have a lien placed on their account, so when ever do receive any money, the cost of the state soap will be deducted from their funds. Rumor is that toilet paper will be next, but fortunately so far, that is just a rumor (first they'll have to start selling it in the canteen, something not presently done). I'm not a chronic complainer (I know things could be a lot worse) but things are really bad here now and destined to get worse. And yet, I'm still alive for another B-day, so in the end, it's all good!
Give the doggies a hug for me and give my regards to C.P. (at 90 years old, he's in better shape than many guys 25 years younger).
Love, Bill
P.S. We will be going on quarterly lockdown at the end of the week.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sept 1, 2008

Dear Sis~
I watched the nightly one-hour installments covering the Democratic convention in Denver over the last four nights and it was a well-produced and excellently organized production. From the Democrats' perspective I don't see how it could have gone any better (I still vividly recall sitting in our living room in August 1968 and watching the utter chaos of the Democratic convention in Chicago with the riots and police beatings both inside and out, and how that led to Nixon's election that November). I was impressed with Hillary's speech and performance which only reinforced my view that Obama missed the beat when he didn't select her as his VP. Obama will probably win in November, but with Hillary on his ticket it would be damn near a slum dunk. Having said that, Joe Biden will prove to be a formidable campaigner and an excellent vice president. I've followed Biden's career for decades because he's always sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee (along with Senator Patrick Leahy, a great protector of the constitution) and, given my own legal interests as a long time paralegal, I pay attention to the legal forces and personalities who select and confirm our federal judges and who write our federal statutes. Biden and Obama, once elected, will ensure that real federal judges are appointed to fill the many current vacancies, and begin correcting the tremendous imbalance in the federal judiciary which is currently dominated by extreme right-wing conservative Republicans. More than any other single thing, the rectification of this imbalance is what I look forward to from a Democratic presidency. Of course, given my situation, my interest are more narrow and focused than any other citizens' concerns, though I too welcome the coming of universal healthcare (or some version of it), energy independence and a more ecologically oriented administration (as opposed to the standard Republican policies which evince a near hatred for our planet and the creatures inhabiting it and seemingly relish the plundering of all natural resources). I fully expect an Obama victory in November and with it, a great breath of fresh air.
Love & Peace,

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Answer to Jesse's Comment

I just received your comment on one of my posts in August. Being born and raised in Miami, I'm a life-long Dolphins fan. As for Brett, I'm all for him continuing to play; I just wish he was playing for someone other than the Jets, our AFC East nemisis. The Packers organization was put in a tough position. If they had kept Brett they probably would have lost Aaron Rodgers forever and they were thinking long term, not short term. As it is, everyone is now more or less happy, except diehard Packers fans unable to imagine life after Brett. Life goes on though, and you have to adjust to change; change is the only constant in life. Maybe Rodgers will become the next Brett Favre! -Bill

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Aug 26, 2008

Dear Sis~
I'm reading Howard Fast's historical novel, Spartacus, which is excellent. Like most people, I suppose, my familiarity with this inspiring story came from the movie of the same name, starring Kirk Douglas, which I vividly recall enjoying as a child some 40 years ago. What I did not know, until I read Fast's forward in this new edition, was the remarkable story behind the book and how Fast was forced to self-publish it after J. Edgar Hoover cowed all the mainstream publishing houses into blackballing the manuscript. This was due to Fast's previous support of some left-leaning political causes (specifically for his support of Spain's democratically elected Republican government which had been routed by Facist forces in the 1930's with the support of Hitler & Mussolini) which had already led to Fast's imprisonment in America when he refused to rat out his friends and supporters to the US House Committee on Un-American Activities. This was a dark period of our nation (the late 1940's and early 1950's) which most current Americans are sadly unaware of, when Facism was raising its ugly head throughout our government, and anyone who questioned the establishment's smear tactics was labeled as "unpatriotic" or "Un-American" or as "Socialist" or, worse yet, a "Communist".
A young Richard Nixon played his part in all of this, and J. Edgar Hoover was the muscle. It reminds me of Bush-Cheney in post-9/11 America, using fear and labels of "unpatriotic" to silence any critics of their political policies. It's an old playbook, but tried and true, and sadly it works with so many sheepish Americans who don't dare to question what the Wizard is doing behind the curtain. Anyway, to the chagrin of Hoover, Spartacus became a best-seller and then was turned onto the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas and Lawrence Olivier. Howard Fast noted in his forward that it was his time in Federal prison which allowed him to write Spartacus, and that he had no regrets for anything. Fast was a prolific author (more than 50 books) and playwright, and a remarkable person, a man of principle whom I would have enjoyed knowing...
It's past my bedtime, Sis, so I'm going to close this up and hit the hay.
Love, Bill

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August 13, 2008

Dear Sis~
I was looking out my little horizontal slit of a window today, gauging the weather in anticipation of going to rec, and I began observing a gaggle of sparrows sporting around in the long, overgrown grass. A mother sparrow was hopping around followed closely (more like chased, actually) by two big, plump babies almost as large as her. That they were her children was evident by their open beaks as they begged Mom for food. She would pick up a seed from the grass, hold it up, then pop it into a baby's beak. Then, she'd hop or fly a few feet away, the kids almost knocking her down as they crowded behind her, and she'd repeat the process. The more I watched, the more evident it became that she was trying to teach them to peck and hunt the abundant grass seeds for themselves. She'd point at the seeds with her beak, then look at the chicks expectantly. Finally, one baby bird figured it out and began eating seeds on its own. The other was was a little slower; it just kept sitting there, beak agape, demanding to be fed. Anyway, watching this play out, it dawned on me why I have not had the normal flocks of sparrows mobbing my bread crumbs that I throw out everyday at rec. Usually, the sparrows flock in as soon as I call them, or they are already waiting for me. But, for the last several weeks, only a few stragglers have shown up to eat. I figured it was just too hot for them, but now I've concluded that the momma birds (maybe the dads, too) are teaching their babies to forage for their natural foods, which are abundant this time of year. It would be counter-productive to simply let them eat bread crumbs, as they'd never learn to forage for themselves. In fact, I may be doing a disservice by feeding them now if the "free food" it is making them less self-sufficient. For that reason, I'm going to stop feeding them for awhile, at least until the fall. When it gets cold and the seeds are gone, perhaps they'll need some help. But for now, I'll let Mother Nature do what She does best...
I was mildly annoyed last week with the typical media coverage. Russia was invading Georgia, which counts as a substantial news event, and I was flipping through the channels, trying to find some coverage. All of our media outlets, however, were obsessed with breathlessly covering ex-senator John Edwards' 2-year old extra-marital affair. From local news to national news on every channel, that's all that was on, not a peep about the battling in Georgia. So, I waited for Nightline...I just knew they'd be covering this event. But no, the entire program was devoted to parsing and re-parsing every single aspect of this scandal, as if the fate of the free world hung in the balance. To me, this is a very personal matter, between Edwards and his wife, which they will personally work out (or not) and isn't worthy of much more than a mention. This is so typical of the American mindset, the puritanical obsession with anything involving sex, the rush to sacrifice and destroy and devour anyone who dares to "sin with sex." This is the mindset that believes sex is "dirty", the human body is sinful, and a sexual indiscretion is the highest crime. We'll impeach a president for a sexual matter, but a president who takes a nation to war based on a pack of lies and deception gets a free pass. This is the same crowd that's OK with blood-drenched slasher movies (killing, mayhem, guns and war are good!) but recoils if an actor dares to show a breast or if sex is implied (sex is bad!) What's wrong with this picture?
OK, they're pulling us for rec...I'm going to go out and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
Love, Bill

Friday, August 08, 2008

August 5, 2008

Dear Sis~
Less than 90 days until the election and I can hardly wait to witness the changing of the guard. I'm confident Obama will be our next president and, while there are many reasons I'll be pleased to see that occur, at the top of my list is the long overdue opportunity to re balance the federal judiciary. The far majority of all federal judges were appointed by Republican presidents and most are knee-jerk, right-wing, conservative rubber stampers, exceedingly pro-state, pro-prosecution, pro-police and anti-prisoner, anti civil-rights, anti-libertarian judges who've never seen a death sentence they don't love, judges who are proud of the fact that they've never granted a habeas corpus petition in their career. Most citizens are unaware that most judges, by far, are ex-prosecutors, and this trend has only accelerated in the last decade under the prevalent "tough on crime" atmosphere permeating the political arena. The cliche of the "liberal activist judge" is a conservative fantasy for the most part. All I want to see are fair, intellectually honest judges who respect the constitution and are unafraid to stand up to the power structure when it has perpetuated injustices - that isn't much to expect, but it's a lot more than Americans are getting with the current crop of partisan political hacks turned judicial appointees...
I had a touching experience following one of our visits recently. You'd already left and I was stuck in the visiting booth awaiting an escort back to the cell block, just sitting there, casually watching the incoming visitors waiting to enter the general population visiting park. An exceptionally attractive woman was seated in one of those plastic chairs and she had two cute kids with her, a little boy and little girl, perhaps 4 or 5 years old. The kids were reaching up to the sill of that 4 foot tall dividing wall separating me from them, jumping up and down, trying to peek through the glass. All I could see was their little hands and the top of their heads. The woman and I locked eyes and we both smiled at each other - what a beautiful smile she had! - and then she spontaneously stood up, grabbed each child in her arms and lifted them up so they could see me. I waved at the kids, grinning like a fool (you know how much I love kids) and they happily waved back, all excited, as if I was a long-lost uncle. The mother and I locked eyes again and she beamed with pride. There was an almost electric connection between us. It was a very poignant experience for me, and a very sweet and kind gesture. Somehow, she intuitively knew that that simple gesture would bring me a measure of joy and she was willing to do it for a stranger. It's impossible to describe how much that affected me in that moment, and for the rest of the day I felt great joy. I guess that's a demonstration of how emotionally stunted I get from being confined in a cell 24/7, how hungry I am for human connection...
Alright, sis, I'll let you go for now. Give the doggies a pat on the head for me!
Love, Bill

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 24, 2008

Dear Sis~
Emmett was executed an hour ago. The TV News Reporter apparently didn't think that was very newsworthy as it was about the 7th story reported, after the traffic, weather report, and story about feral cats, etc...
Anyway, Sis, I'm bummed out right now and not really in a letter-writing mood. This is the fourth execution here in 8 weeks and I'm just tired of being a part of so much death. I have not added it up, but off the top of my head I estimate that I've seen then take away and execute about 40 guys since I've been here in Viorgina. I do remember they killed 14 guys in my first 12 months here, when they were really on a tear. I promise my next letter will be more upbeat!
Light & Love.

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 16, 2008

Dear Sis~

Today I spoke on the phone with my attorney (as you know, he's in Milwaukee) who patched me in for a 3-way conversation with a well-known Florida attorney who has been very successful over the decades in getting guys off the Row. This lawyer has agreed to come on board as local counsel in my latest litigation. This is the same attorney who advised my attorney last week that my name had just appeared on he "death list" put out by the Commission on Capital Cases (this latest iteration of the list has 19 names on it, including mine. The version before that had 28 names; don't ask me how it went from 28 to 19; I can only speculate that the missing names represent guys who somehow got back into court). Anyway, as I told you before, this isn't the "official" list; that is created by and kept by the Attorney General. To emphasize this, today I was told that Governor Crist signed another death warrant last week (I believe it was for Richard Henyard) and this git was not on the list. The Florida lawyer told me that the signing of Henyard's warrant surprised everyone because he was not on the list and he's only been on the Row since 1994. There are many death-warrant eligible guys who have been on the Row a lot longer, like Gary Alvord (34 years, the longest in Florida) or Douglas Meeks, or others who have been there for 20-30 years. On the other hand, Henyard was convicted of multiple murders of a most heinous nature, which is in keeping with Governor Crist's announced criteria for signing warrants (the most heinous crimes, guys who have been on the Row the longest). The execution date is set for sometime in September. Anyway, this highlights the arbitrary nature of these signings; there's just no way to figure out whose warrant will be signed. All I can hope is that since I didn't kill anyone, I'm not high on the governor's list, and that my just-filed litigation gets me off the list, or at least until that litigation is terminated one way or another...
Sometimes I wonder how (or if) signing death warrants affects a governor; obviously everyone is different, some probably relish it, or others just bear it as a constitutional duty. And while it's easy for a governor to deflect personal responsibility, telling himself or herself that the person was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death by a judge, and therefore the governor isn't really killing the person, that's just really a matter of semantics. You are alive until the governor make a conscious and deliberate decision to have you put to death and that's a simple, unalterable fact. In his/her heart the governor knows he's putting a person to death. That can take an emotional toll on a person, depending upon the governor's mental/emotional/spiritual makeup. You'd like to think your governor would take his role seriously. I recall how, years ago, the long-time warden of the state prison in Mississippi quit his job because he just couldn't take participating in the gas chamber executions anymore. (Contrary to what most people think, the gas chamber was a violent, agonizing form of execution, nothing clinical or easy about it). He went on to become a vocal opponent of capital punishment. So, you never know).
Alright, Sis, that's it for now.
Love, Bill

Saturday, July 12, 2008

July 9, 2008

Dear Sis~
Last week the guards came in, chained up Kent Jackson (aka Memphis) and transported him to Greensville for his July 10th execution. For the past 8 weeks, Virginia has scheduled an execution every two weeks; Emmett is scheduled to die two weeks from tomorrow's execution. I confess to being more than a little despondent over being in the middle of so much killing. The State (and society) can employ all the legal euphemisms they want, but it's killing, pure and simple, and exceedingly premeditated...
I spoke to my lawyer today and learned that my name is now on the "death list" put out by Florida's Commission on Capitol Cases. This is a list of "death warrant eligible" prisoners, which are prisoners who have exhausted all their legal remedies and have no pending litigations in any court(s), thus making them eligible to have their death warrant signed by the governor. In Florida, the governor has full and unbridled discretion over whose death warrant to sign, and when to sign it. There are about 25 names on that death list (last time I checked) and a lot of them have been on the Row for a lot longer than me, and there are a lot of guys whose crimes were heinous by any definition. The fact that I did not kill the victim in my case (which the State now belatedly concedes) nor intended for him to die may or may not be significant to Governor Crist when he goes about deciding whose warrant to sign. Again, the governor can do what he wants. Recently, Governor Crist made public statements to the effect that in signing death warrants he will focus on those who have been on the Row for the longest and those convicted of the most heinous crimes. Left unanswered is the rate at which Governor Crist intends to sign warrants. He can sign 2-4 per year (like Jeb Bush used to) or he can sign 20 or more. It's totally up to him and what's in his heart. Now, by the time you read this, my lawyers will have filed, in Federal court, my final litigation (it's complicated, so I won't try to explain it here), which we've been planning for several months. I don't know if that will affect my status on "the list" (I suspect not) but we'll see. At any rate, I've been preparing for this for a long time and I'm taking it in stride...
Give the doggies a big hug for me!
Light & Love, Bill

Monday, June 30, 2008

June 25, 2008

Dear Sis~
Tonight the Commonwealth of Virginia conducted its 100th execution since 1974, when capitol punishment was reinstated by the US Supreme Court, putting to death Robert (Chad) Yarbrough, whom I knew as a quiet, unassuming guy. When I watched the Fox 10:00 news to see if the 9:00 pm execution had in fact occurred, the lead story was about three feral cats which were trapped and euthanized by a hired contractor. The news spent 5 minutes on that story, talking to protestors from around the country who were outraged that three wild cats had been put to death. After three more other stories, they finally spent 60 seconds covering the execution of a real, live human being (Chad). Just shows you the moral priorities of that TV station; executing feral cats = bad! executing people = good! At least the other two TV stations (CBS and ABC) covered the people protesting the execution, including Terri (Wolfe's mom), God bless her. It takes much optimism and faith to believe that this blood-thirsty state will ever curb its enthusiasm for executing its fellow citizens. But Terri, and her fellow protesters are willing to fight the good fight, against all odds and in the face of extreme apathy, indifference and downright hostility. Meanwhile, Virginia has 2 more executions scheduled for the month of July in its never-ending quest to sate its appetite for blood.
Love & Light, Bill

Monday, June 16, 2008

June 9, 2008

Dear Sis~

The Sword of Damocles no longer hangs over Percy as Governor Kaine today commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment on the eve of his execution. Percy, as always, is oblivious to how his fate was so arbitrarily decided by men he has never met, and he'll certainly be at a loss as to how and why he's been suddenly transferred to a new prison. For me, at least, this whole debate was not so much about Percy, per se, (who arguably might be better off dead than enduring the next 40 years all alone in a maximum security solitary confinement cell surrounded by staff and prisoners who will abuse him) but instead was a referendum on what our society is and should be. Today, civility won out, but I'm acutely aware of how easily it could have gone the other way. Another governor, or this one with less compassion and wisdom, would have allowed the state to kill Percy. Percy survived by executive grace, not because any courts intervened, not because society deemed it morally reprehensible to kill a crazy man. In the end, it all came down to the moral compass of one man and, at least on this day, the right thing was done. I'm more than a little conflicted about Percy's fate for I know what a miserable existence lays ahead for him (profoundly insane people in prison are caged like beasts, seldom receiving any kind of treatment whatsoever. Imagine a cowering dog in a tiny kennel for the next 40 years and you can visualize Percy's future). From a spiritual/metaphysical perspective I don't pretend to understand what Percy's soul might gain by incarnating as a totally insane person. What purpose is served by enduring such a miserable life on this earth? And again, you can't help but wonder if the more merciful thing might be for Percy to pass on and come back around the next time with a whole mind. But, that's not my judgment to make, and it shouldn't be our society's, either.
It has occurred to me that perhaps the "purpose" of the Percy's in this world is not to teach Percy's soul anything, but instead is to teach all of us how to view the Percy's with love, compassion and understanding, to teach us the meaning of mercy (Shakespeare wrote that "mercy is nobility's true badge"). At any rate, tonight I am happy that Percy will live and that Virginia's better side has won out, even if it's just a fleeting victory. We have another execution in two weeks and two more in July, including my friend Christopher Emmett. Bad times lay ahead, but for now, I will sleep well tonight.
Love, Bill

Monday, June 09, 2008

June 9, 2008 Percy Lives!

Dear Readers~
Percy Lives! Tonight, just before he was to be executed, Gov. Kaine stepped in and commuted Percy Walton's death sentence to life without parole. Percy will leave death row and begin serving his life sentence. From what Bill has told me, a life sentence would give Percy a chance to actually be treated for his insanity, not killed because of it. Thankfully, Gov. Kaine had the heart to do the human(e) thing concerning Percy. One prayer answered tonight...
Bill's sister, Lisa

Sunday, June 08, 2008

June 5, 2008 - Percy walks again

Dear Sis~
Today they chained Percy up and carted him off to Greensville for his June 10th appointment with the executioner. Percy was totally oblivious as to where he was going, and why, but he became agitated when the lieutenant confiscated his beloved, ever-present orange knit cap. I bought the cap for him some time ago and he's worn it, 24/7, ever since, until it's become a filthy and raggedy tangle of knitting, but one he clings to like a security blanket. This is the fourth time Percy has made the journey to Greensville, a trip 99% of people do not return from alive, so he's already living on borrowed time. Your guess is as good as mine whether Percy will survive this time; it is totally up to the discretion of Gov. Kaine, who has his own political considerations since he's on Obama's short list for the vice presidential slot. I don't want to believe he will allow this profoundly insane man to be put down like a dog, but my experience with the system makes it difficult to be optimistic...
On a more sanguine note, a couple of days ago they suddenly transferred Daryl Atkins to population in another prison, releasing him from death row. Daryl is the Atkins the US Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Atkins v Virginia, where the Court held it unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded defendants. In the six years since then, Virginia has re-sentenced Daryl to death two more times, and both times the courts have vacated the new death sentence. About 6 months ago, at a hearing which uncovered a lot of corrupt actions by the original detectives and prosecutor, including the suborning of perjury at the original trial, a trial judge threw out the death sentence and imposed a life sentence, but the state immediately appealed that action. So, either the state lost its appeal, or they withdrew it, fearing that further litigation would only uncover more dirt by the original prosecutors. At any rate, after 10 years on the row, Daryl is now gone, serving life at Wallens Ridge, a maximum security joint up in the mountains. It is exceptionally rare in Virginia for a condemned prisoner to get his death sentence reduced and Daryl was very lucky. Daryl is a very low-key, mild mannered, unassuming and happy-go-lucky sort of guy who will blend into prison life without incident, and society will never hear from him again...
I've got legal work to do, Sis, so I'm signing off.
Love, Bill

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 22, 2008

Dear Sis~
The execution schedule here has been in a flux. The Commonwealth has issued death warrants for four guys, 1) Eddie Bell; 2) Percy Walton (aka Crazy Horse); 3) Kevin Green; and, 4) Robert Yarbrough. However, two weeks ago the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in Bell's case, and granted him a stay of execution, in order to review his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. This bought Bell at least another 10-12 months of life, at a minimum, but probably a lot more because I believe the US Supreme Court is going to ultimately rule in his favor and vacate his death sentence (ironically, 4 years ago, I had the exact same issue that Bell was just granted certiorari on. The Supreme Court declined to grant me cert when we presented the case to them. Now, belatedly, the Court will review and rectify this issue, although it will be too late to help me). Anyway, almost as soon as Bell got his stay of execution the Commonwealth petitioned for a death warrant for Christopher Emmett, asking for the same date as Bell had, July 24. As it stands now, Kevin Green is scheduled to die this Tuesday, May 27; Percy is scheduled for June 10; Yarbrough's date is June 25, and, as I said, Emmett will be scheduled for July 24. That's 20% of our death row population set to die in the next 60 days. All of these are serious dates (as opposed to "fake dates", which are issued in order to force the prisoner into Federal Court before he's required to file). By "serious dates" I mean that each guy has been through all the courts, state and federal, and has exhausted all of his legal remedies. Thus, unless something unexpected occurs, these executions will probably occur as scheduled. The one most likely to get reprieve is Percy. The Governor already gave him two stays (first, a 6-month stay, then an 18-month stay) based upon his clear and unequivocal insanity. And, it was "understood" that at the end of that 18-month period (i.e. June 10, 2008) Governor Kaine was going to commute Percy's death sentence to life so he could go to a mental hospital and receive the treatment he's not getting here. But, Kaine is reportedly on Barack Obama's "short list" for the Vice Presidential slot, and I'm very skeptical that Kaine will commute a death sentence just months before he might be running for vice-president. (God forbid he might be accused of having a heart and displaying some mercy and compassion for a profoundly insane person). So, Percy might still be in trouble. I still recall how then-governor Clinton left the Presidential campaign trail in 1992 and raced back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a retarded prisoner whom the Pope had implored Clinton to grant clemency to. Clinton was, at the time, being accused of being "soft on crime" and he was determined to execute that guy to prove to the right-wing, pro-death penalty crowd that he was a "tough guy". I hope history does not repeat itself or else Percy will be sacrificed on the altar of political ambitions.
Love, Bill

NOTE: By the time I received this Blog entry and posted it, Kevin Green had already been executed the day before (Tuesday, May 27th) ~ Lisa Van Poyck

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 12, 2008

Dear Sis~
I recently read a news story out of Germany speculating that treasure hunters may have finally located the fabled, long-missing Amber Room, buried near the German-Czech border. As you know, the Amber Room played a central role in my novel, Quietus. Many adventurers and treasure hunters have searched in vain for the Amber Room ever since the Nazi's looted it from the old Imperial Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the closing years of WWII. As mysteries go, it's a top flight one, and with an estimated present-day worth in excess of a billion dollars, there's been no shortage of seekers. A part of me would like to see it found, simply because of the incredible beauty of the objects, and their historical value. But another part of me prefers that its location remain secret, an inscrutable enigma worthy of its magnificence. Some mysteries should remain so, if for no other reason than to give would-be fortune hunters something to aspire to...
We had a tornado steam roll right past the prison yesterday afternoon. The sky became black, the rain flew in sideways and the fences shook like a hanging carpet being beaten with a broom. The two big, heavy trash bins out front of the cellblock were picked up and flung violently against the wall about fifty feet away. The tornado itself missed the prison by about 1,000 feet but it was close enough to get my attention...
We had a bunch of big wigs come by today, touring death row. I heard we'll have officials here every day of the week, inspecting and touring. I'm not sure who they are, but its the same pro forma inspections I've witnessed all my life, people just going through the motions, patting themselves on the back, not really interested in seeing anything or rocking the boat. In the end, they'll just sign off on some form and report that everything is great...
Hillary's schtick has become very tiresome. I wish she'd just pull out and let the real campaign begin, pitting Obama against McCain. Hillary is in denial, apparently unable to grasp the obvious; it's almost like she inhabits some other alternate reality...
Just saw the news flash of a terrible earthquake in Southwestern China, an estimated 7.9 magnitude (that's a big one) which, they are reporting, has killed some 80,000 people (that number will certainly change dramatically, up or down, over the next week). The pictures on TV are heartbreaking. Most victims appear to be dirt-poor villagers, lots of towns obliterated. A reminder that nature is a cruel teacher...
Nightline is over which means it's my bed time. Give yourself a hug for me!
Love, Bill

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

May 1, 2008

Dear Sis~
You gotta forgive me if I'm repeating myself 'cuz I don't recall whether I've already written you re this. At any rate, we now have four guys here with execution dates: Larry "Bill" Elliott on May 13th; Kevin Green on May 23rd (I think); Percy on June 10th and Edward Bell on July 29th (approximately). Now, Elliott's is a "fake date" inasmuch as there's no danger of him actually being executed on May 13. The State signed his death warrant in order to force him into Federal court, forcing him to file his Federal habeas corpus petition. As for Percy, his "18 month stay of execution" given by Gov. Kaine is up on June 8, and unless Kaine takes action and commutes his sentence based on his unequivocal insanity, Percy will be executed. I believe Kaine will commute his sentence, as he should, but nothing is a given. There is a high probability that Kevin will be executed in 3 weeks, and the same goes for Bell in July (although Bell still has a certiorari petition pending before the US Supreme Court, which provides him some hope, however ephemeral that might be). It still remains to be seen how the recent Baze decision by the US Supreme Court will actually play out in Virginia and other states. Having read the 92-page decision re lethal injection I can tell you that it wasn't as cut and dried as the media implied. The court left a lot of room for the different courts in different states to reach different conclusions, although, as a practical matter (especially in Virginia which dearly loves its death penalty) I don't see too many states holding up their executions much longer. In Texas, Virginia and especially the other southern states, including Florida, the gears of the machinery of death are grinding onward without much of a hiccup. If Virginia kills Kevin in 3 weeks, well, then it's clear sailing for everyone else here on the road to the execution chamber...
Four days ago they moved me to a different cell (they moved 7 or 8 of us) so they could paint the filthy, burned-out cells we vacated. The ones we moved into had just been painted so at least now I'm in a clean cell. Looking out my cell window last night, around 1:30 am, I spotted a mother possum, with 4 babies trailing behind her, out front, digging through the big plastic trash bins, snacking on the scraps of food. That's what passes for excitement here! Still, I watched the critters for 20 minutes, until they waddled away, glad to be able to see wild and free creatures at close range (not exactly the plains of Serengeti, but I take what I can get)...
That's it for now, Sis. Give yourself a hug for me!
Love, Bill

May 1, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

April 20, 2008

Dear Sis~
As you've surely heard, the US Supreme Court recently handed down its decision in the Baze case, re the constitutionality of the lethal injection procedures and protocols utilized by the various states. The decision was actually more nuanced than the media reports implied, and it was a plurality opinion, not a majority, which has certain legal implications. Still, it definitely allows the states to resume executions which most will likely do, especially Texas and Virginia (here in Virginia we have 3 guys lined up ready to go). Mildly interesting is that Justice Stevens, in the Baze decision, stated that capital punishment in its entirety should be junked. Historically, every 7-10 years one of the Justices will throw in the towel and declare that he no longer believes in the death penalty, but he invariably takes this position just after retirement, or as he's going out the door. At his age, Stevens has one foot out the door already. Just once, I'd like one of these Justices take a strong anti-death penalty stance at a time when it counts. Anyway, reading this Baze decision is disconcerting and depressing when you realize that what are supposed to be the nation's finest legal minds are arguing over the best way to kill people ...
I don't recall if I told you that one of my short stories (an older one which I submitted on a whim) won third place in the 2008 PEN American Prison Writing Contest. I have not written any new fiction in several years, having gotten burned out and discouraged, combined with being especially busy with legal work. But I intend to get back to writing again this year; I've still got some good work left inside of me...
Well, the news is coming on so I'll sign off for now. Give the doggies a hug for me!
Love, Bill

Saturday, April 12, 2008

April 9, 2008

Dear Sis~
I just finished reading a very moving true story in my May issue of Esquire magazine. The story, The Things That Carried Him, by Chris Jones, details the death and burial of Army Staff Sergeant Joe Montgomery, killed in Iraq last year. It's a powerfully written piece, sad and poignant, impossible to read without crying, and a graphic reminder of why I hate war (and the Iraqi war in particular) and the spineless, deceitful politicians who so blithely and cynically throw away the lives of our soldiers. Here are two laws which, if passed, would put an end to unnecessary wars in this country: (1) a requirement that any war must be accompanied by an immediate $1.00 per gallon gasoline tax increase in order to pay the costs of war (to better make the average citizen share in the sacrifice) and (2) that the adult children of every politician voting for war must serve on the battlefield. I know that's a fantasy, but in an ideal world that's how it would be...
I'm in the middle of a bunch of legal work, a particular project for which it's difficult for me to generate much enthusiasm, but I must give it the old college try so I'm going to close this up and get back to work. I'll see ya soon in the visiting park!
Love, Bill

Thursday, April 03, 2008

March 30, 2008

Dear Sis~
I read an interesting essay in the March 31st issue of The New Yorker regarding the general decline and demise of the newspaper industry, whose old-school business model cannot compete with the Internet, combined with CraigsList (which offers free classified advertising, while paid classified advertising is the bread-and-butter economic foundation of the conventional newspaper business model). It's a little more complicated than simple economics, but the severe decline is indisputable and possibly irreversible. It's sad to see the old-fashioned ink-and-paper newspapers go the way of the dinosaur, but it's a lesson in economic evolution: those who cannot change and adapt will perish. Mostly the essay is focused on the Internet, and the rise of blogging. But getting back to physical newspapers like say, The Miami Herald, it occurs to me that one way to keep such a newspaper alive (with fully staffed editorial and investigative departments, unlike the skeleton staffs the papers are now resorting to, like cannibalizing their young) would be to transform it into a non-profit public trust. Once the pure profit motive disappears the paper would be free to concentrate on delivering the best quality news possible. I believe there is a Florida newspaper that already does something like that, maybe it's The St. Petersburg Times, if memory serves me correct. That may be the wave of the future. But, only those cities blessed with some wealthy patron(s) will then have newspapers. It would take a serious knot of cash to buy the paper, then place enough money into an investment trust which would then generate enough income to pay the considerable annual overhead of running the paper. That kind of money could come from a single wealthy person, or maybe a small consortium, which then begs the question of bias by the donor, whether the newspaper will be reasonably objective or just be a tool to promote his particular views. Can you imagine the only newspaper in a major city, say The Chicago Tribune, owned and operated by Rush Limbaugh? Another possibility would be to appeal to the general public, sell millions of "shares" to civic-minded citizens, much the same way the Green Bay Packers team is owned not by your typical wealthy NFL owner, but instead is owned by the citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin (a business model unique in the NFL). Of course, I cannot simply go online...I instead relish my evening ritual of receiving my daily USA Today at mail call and devouring every article and story. It will be a very sad day when the last major city paper-and-ink newspaper is published...
Ok, enough rambling from me!
Light and Love, Bill

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March 19, 2008

Tomorrow is the spring equinox, a time of renewal, with Easter Sunday right behind it. It's hard to believe that this year is about to enter the second quarter. The older I get the faster the years fly by, a commonly shared observation I know, but curious nonetheless...
About 10 days ago when I was out in the rec cages, we saw a dozen deer just outside the fences, along the edge of the woods; they were totally unafraid, just grazing on the long grass, unconcerned with us prisoners in our cages as we watched them mosey along. They were young deer (certainly small ones, as whitetails go) and rather frisky, occasionally kicking up their heels and skipping around, happy to be alive under a gloriously blue sky and radiant sun. Two young bucks squared off with each other, rearing up on their hind feet and briefly battering each other with their front hoofs. All of us stood silently, raptly watching this rare & unexpected display of nature, until the deer finally trotted off, leaping one by one over a low wire fence behind a guard tower disappearing back into the woods. These deer were smart enough to know that they were in no danger, even with humans just 100 feet away, that this was safe territory (being state property they are not at risk of being hunted here). Now each November, when deer season opens, I hear the dogs baying and the guns booming not far off, just over the tree lines, every day for weeks on end, yet the deer somehow know that they are safe if they stay right up against the prison grounds. Our deer never appear skittish even when the guns are banging a few hundred yards away...
Today, all the news programs marked the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq and President Bush gave a speech where he confidently declared that the war had been a great success and that he'd do it all over again if he was given a chance. He specifically said that "the sacrifices have been worth it," said by man who does not know the meaning of sacrifice. (you can bet none of his friends or family are dying in Iraq). This is the same president who announced that America is not in a recession. ("It's just a rough patch") and that the government has "a strong dollar policy". It's sad how clueless our fearless leader is.
Tonight I received notice that one of my short stories, The Man From Far Away won third place (short fiction category) in the 2008 PEN Prison Writing Contest. I usually enter a story in this contest (I've won before, a couple of times in past years). The PEN American Center is a prestigious association of well-known writers and poets and one of the neat benefits of winning is that they allow you to participate in a mentoring program where an established writer/author will critique some of your work. Some of these writers/playwrights/poets are very famous and it's a unique opportunity to have one of them give you advice & critique your writing...well, time to go, Sis. Give the doggies a hug for me!
Love, Bill

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March 10, 2008

Dear Sis~
I guess I was guilty of excessiuve hubris when I assumed that Obama would win either the Texas or Ohio primary and would thus effectively sew up the Democratic nomination. Clearly I underestimated Hillary's ability to successfully fight and claw her way back from the brink of defeat. Now it looks inevitable that this battle will go all the way to the August convention, with Hillary & Obama attacking each other all the way, while John McCain sits on the sidelines smiling like the Cheshire Cat, looking presidential. This internecine warfare will be mutually destructive and may implode the Democrats' chance to win the White House if their eventual nominee comes out of a brokered convention with all the hallmarks of a back-room deal (especially if Hillary gets the nod over Obama if Obama enters the convention with the lead in delegates, which is a virtual certainty). This general election shopuld be the Democrats to win, but they may well snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. At least McCain is a decent and honorable man, with common sense and integrity, so if he prevails, it won't be a total disaster...
Gold closed at $980 an ounce last week, up 17% since January 1st. Platinum closed at $2,240 (up 48% since Jan 1st), while silver closed at $21 (up 38%) Virtually all commodities are up double digits (petroleum, copper, wheat aluminum, coffee, etc...) which will only continue the rest of the year. I think gold has the most upside, though, as an investment vehicle. I expect it to hit $1,000 an ounce very soon, and to be at $1,500 to $2,000 by years end. Gold has different dynamics than silver and platinum (i.e., it responds to different market forces) and an investor can buy into it easily by purchasing a gold ETF (Exchange Traded Fund), which trades like a stock on the stock market. I know there are also silver ETF's and probably a platinum-based ETF. Anyway, normally I'd never recommend investing in gold (it is terribly volatile) but the economy is in a very unique situation now (recession, inflation, stagflation) which makes gold a good bet for substantial gains. If I had a big chunk of money to invest, I'd put it all into gold. Another big reason for the rise in gold is because of the falling dollar. Gold, like petroleum, is priced in US dollars, so as the dollar falls, gold must rise (as must petroleum, which closed at a record $107.20 a barrel today). A bet on gold is a bet against the dollar, and unfortunately, a bet against the dollar is a safe bet. The dollar has been sinking like a rock for over a year and will continue to do so for some time to come due to the fundamental weaknesses in our economy and our fiscal/economic policies. Our economy is going to get a lot worse before it improves, believe that. (Preisdent Bush is about the only American who still believes we are not in a recession. Hell, we were in a recession back in December). So, if you hit the lottery or fall into an inheritance, my recommendation is to put it into gold!
Love, Bill

February 29th Leap Day

Dear Sis~
Here it is, Leap Day (oh boy, an extra day on death row!) and we're one day closer to the March 4th Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio which, I believe, will mark the de facto end of Hillary Clinton's campaign to become the first female president, and the beginning of Barack Obama's fight to become the first black president. A lot can happen between now and November, but my money is on Obama over John McCain. McCain is a good and honorable man, but his time has come and gone; his time was eight years ago when Bush beat him out for the Republican nomination. The country in hungry for real, substantive change, away from the same-old-same-old, the status quo, and only Obama offers that. There will be a significant Democratic majority in both the senate and the house after the upcoming election, allowing Obama to push through the legislation necessary to bring about those changes. One thing this country needs to address is its addiction to incarcerating its citizens at the highest rate in the world. In today's USA Today is an article announcing that the "ratio of Americans behind bars tops 1 in 100." There are now 2.3 million American adults in jail or prison, "documenting the nation's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator." This is a trend that's been gaining speed for the last 30 years, with no end in sight. Americans (through their legislators) believe that prison time (and lots of it) is the answer to everything. It's like we have zero imagination (not to mention compassion or understanding) when it comes to addressing crime. Incarceration has become an incredibly huge and profitable business in America (the entire "criminal justice system" is big business in America, from the beginning (the police, lawyers, prosecutors, judges and jails) to the end (the construction and staffing of many, many prisons). We spent 49 Billion dollars on jails and prisons alone last year, which is serious money, and which creates a need to perpetuate itself. It's basic economics...
Alright, Sis, I'm going to hit the hay. Give the doggies a tummy rub for me!
Love, Bill

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February 20, 2008

Dear Sis~
Just before 10:00 pm tonight I was standing on my bunk, posted up in my narrow, horizontal slit window, trying to catch the rare, full lunar eclipse, which was supposed to be preceded by a blood-red moon. The eclipse was supposed to last about 30 minutes but I never got to see it, either due to excessive cloud cover or, more likely, I simply could not view the moon from the narrow field of view offered by my window. At any rate, all I saw was a noticeable darkening of the night sky, as well as one of the prison's feral cats creeping across the yard to investigate some trash bins. I enjoy watching the night sky from my window, but due to the glare of the high-intensity fence lights, I can't do any real star gazing. Sometimes I catch the full or partial moon, sometimes I could see Venus or a particularly bright star, but more often, late at night, all I see is an occasional skunk, possum or cat, or some of the rats that race along the foundation walls. During the warmer months I'll sometimes see, around 2am, some strange-looking ground birds, nervously racing around the yard, silently stabbing their long, thin bills into the ground. I don't know what they're looking for, probably earth worms or crickets. Anyway, that's the extent of my night gazing ... not exactly a wildlife safari! (Somewhere, in the deepest reaches of my mind I'm probably hoping that a UFO will come cruising by and beam me up. That would sure make for an interesting headline when they found my cell empty...)
Obama won the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries very convincingly yesterday; that's ten in a row Obama has won over Hillary; he's on a real roll and I think he's going to pull this off to become the Democratic nominee, and thereafter become president. (If the Democrats can't win the presidency this time, they can't ever win it. It should be a cake walk given how King George has screwed up our country over the last 7 years).
Love, Bill

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day

Dear Sis~
Valentine's Day in the there's a bummer. I received the neat pics of the doggies; I like the one of Natasha "pointing" out in the yard (she's probably tracking a grasshopper) and the one of Harley lollygaggaing on your bed-he's a real ham. You've got two, good looking dogs for sure & they're obviously great pals now. I can't identify the purple flower on a tall stalk, the stalk looks sort of like a small banana plant; is that some kind of lilly? Anyway, it's beautiful, it looks tropical so I'm sort of surprised to see it in your back yard.
Well, the so-called "Potomac Primaries" are over and Barack Obama swept all three of them. I'm beginning to believe he's actually going to pul this off & win the Democratic nomination. Hillary has now gone all-in, especially betting everything on the Texas and Ohio primaries in a few weeks. If she loses those to Barack, I think she's through dealing. In fact, if she even loses one of those two, she'll be in serious trouble. I've been routing for Obama from the beginning, even if he's a little long on rhetoric and short on details, but I doubted his ability to defeat the Clinton machine. That machine is now proving to be vulnerable and Obama has the momentum (never underestimate the importance of momentum in politics, which depends on the heart more than the intellect). If Obama is the Democratic nominee, he'll be our next president. I, for one, welcome some serious change ...
Last week the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that execution by the electric chair was unconstitutional (i.e., cruel and unusual punishment). You may recall that, of the 37 states with capital punishment, Nebraska was the only one that stuck with the electric chair as a "back-up method" which the condemned prisoner can voluntarily choose over lethal injection. This puts Nebraska in a real quandry: they now have no legal means of execution. I doubt they'll rush to pass a law imposing lethal injection, given the constitutional debate going on over that form of execution. The US Supreme Court will rule in a few months on the constitutionality of the lethal injection procedures. Anyway, all this is just another reminder of the unseemliness of "tinkering with the machinery of death" as one ex-Supreme Court Justice once described it, as he announced he no longer believed in capital punishment (unfortunately, he waited until he retired from the bench before reaching that conclusion). Hopefully, one day enough Americans will become tired of figuring out ways to kill people.
Light & Love,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

February 5, 2008

Dear Sis~
The Chinese New Year is upon us; this is either the year of the Pig or the year of the Rat, I forget which, though I don't see either one as being particularly auspicious ...
As you can see from the enclosed confirmation letter, one of my short stories, Fake Identity, will be published in a book-length anthology of short stories, all written by prisoners from around the country. The book will be titled: Exiled Voices: Portals of Discovery, and will be published this Spring by the New England College Press, up in New Hampshire. My only remuneration is a couple of copies of the book, which I've asked to be sent to you, but I didn't write this for money anyway. There are some really, really excellent writers being included in this book (I'm familiar with the work of several of them) and hopefully, this book will open some eyes and educate the public to the fact that not all convicts (even most convicts) are mindless, violent brutes, notwithstanding the best efforts of the media to stereotype us as such.
There are so few positive stories coming out of the prisons, but this is one of them... There's a guy here on the row named Morrisette, been here about 7 years. Well, about 2 years ago the Court vacated his death sentence and ordered that a new penalty phase be conducted. Since then, his case has been in slow motion, with the State not being in any hurry to put another death sentence on him. So, for about 2 1/2 years, he's been sitting here on the row even though he is not sentenced to death. (he remains convicted, though). He's about 60 years old, very rarely leaves his cell and is pretty comfortable where he's at. Well, a few weeks ago, the warden started making noise about getting him sent to a regular prison (he has another regular sentence to serve besides his vacated death sentence), even bringing him some papers to sign, which he refused to do. He went into a flurry of activity, calling his lawyers daily to get them to stop his imminent transfer. He's almost in a panic and it struck me as more than a little humorous because, while the rest of us are fighting to get off death row, here is Morrisette, battling like Hell to stay on the row. I've never seen anyone scrap so hard to stay here! (See, he knows he'll be sent to a maximum security joint, probably Red Onion or Wallens Ridge, and he'll be held in solitary under harsh conditions, simply because he's ex-death row. (That's the fate of anyone who gets off the row here, although very few ever do get off in Virginia).
We finally went to outside rec today; we've only been going about once every 5 or 6 days since we moved to this building, even though the rules mandate rec five times per week. Anyway, it was beautiful outside, the sky was clear, very blue and sunny, perhaps 70 degrees. I fed my crows (hot dogs) and sparrows (cornbread); they followed me to our new building (they come when I call them). I enjoyed the day very much, and that counts for a lot; as the cliche' goes, I take it one day at a time & savor each moment above the ground.
Love, Bill

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 22, 2008

Dear Sis~
Last week the Dragon Lady (our warden) forced us to make the "big move" she'd been threatening for the last several months, moving all of us on death row from Building 4 to Building 3 - from clean, well-maintained cells to an ex-solitary confinement cellblock where the cells resemble a bombed out ghetto. I can't adequately convey how filthy and torn up these cells are (mine has endured numerous fires, and while hours of scrubbing got some of the grime off, the ceiling remains black from soot as do the upper walls where I can't reach) but this is what you gotta expect in prison. So I've scrubbed & scrubbed as best I could and settled into my new home. At least my little slit window faces south and I get some good rays from the afternoon sun...
I was just listening to some Johnny Cash on my little radio; I'm not a country music fan, but ever since I was a kid, I've been drawn to Johnny Cash's music (I don't consider him a country western musician anyway). His was a special voice, a special spirit who still speaks to something deep in our hearts. And, while I was saddened by his death I know he's in a good place & he was ready to go. Johnny was a very spiritual and metaphysically sophisticated guy, a very wise soul. The only other musician who speaks to me in that way is Willie Nelson, another old soul. Not surprisingly, Johnny & Willie were great pals and they recorded some first-rate songs together ...
It's past midnight and I'm gonna hit the hay!
Love, Bill