Friday, December 04, 2009

November 26, 2009 - Thanksgiving

Dear Sis~

This is my 39th Thanksgiving behind bars, including Youth Hall, Kendall's Children's Home, Okeechobee Boy's School and the Halfway House, since 1966, a sad commentory on a squandered life.  I still hug tightly those distant memories of the handful of Thanksgiving meals we enjoyed together as children -before it all went bad - with Uncle Bill and Aunt Ann there at the table, and Dad in his wheelchair supervising the big turkey basting in the oven, Uncle Bill, a beer in his hand, making his special gravy.  Life, for me, was still full of promise, potential and hope; of those, only hope remains ...

I took a break from my current legal project (gotta rest the writing hand) and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, an animated revisionist history of the Pilgrims' encounters with the Native Americans.  It was all warm and fuzzy, ending with Indians and Pilgrims happy and smiling, living in harmony.  Now, I like ol' Charlie Brown as much as anyone, but that propaganda was too much to stomach.  Left unsaid were the nonstop betrayals, thefts, rapes, murders, enslavements and genocide of every tribe, one by one, by waves of Europeans as they stole the continent away.  That kind of fake "hisotry" is why so many Americans are so abysmally ignorant of the true (and blood-drenched) underpinnings of our nation.  I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but I believe in reality, not in glossing over facts or living in a fantasy world.  We (Americans) are what we are.  A perfect example is the fact that a large majority of Americans will tell you, with a straight face, that we are "a peace-loving nation", and they actually beleve it.  In reality we ar the most war-like and warring country in the last 160 years, by far.  We are always at war with someone, somewhere (but we've always got a "good reason".)  Few Americans even know (or will believe) that from 1895 or so, to say, 1960, we invaded and/or occupied about 40 countries (some of them numerous times), mostly right in our back yard (Haiti, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Nicaraqua, the Dominican Repiblic, The Phillipines, Guatemala, China, El Salvador, ad nauseum), overthrowing duly-elected governments and installing our own chosen right-wing dictators at rifle point.  Just think back to say, 1960, and count each year, right up to today.  We were at war almost every single year with someone, right up to today (Iraq and Afghanistan).  And that's not even counting the covert governmental overthrows we engineered with the CIA (Argentina, Chile, Iran, etc...) But these "Inconvenient facts" are simply not taught to our kids in school.  You have to learn this stuff on your own, assuming you care enough to do so...

They moved seven guys from here to the "main" death row across the river at Union Correctional Institute last week.  There are 320 guys over there, about 65 here.  As guys over there die (we have an inordinately high cancer death rate on death row for some reason) or are executed or have their sentences reduced to life, they move guys from here to there.  Meanwhile, we got two new guys on my floor here in the last 2 weeks.  So, as some guys depart, others appear to fill the void.  Isn't that the way of the world?

Love & Peace,

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 19, 2009-Johnson's stay

Dear Sis~
Well, as I predicted, the execution of Paul Johnson did not take place last Wednesday; The Florida Supreme Court granted him an indefinite stay of execution just hours after his lawyer, Marty McClain, gave his oral arguments before the court. In granting Johnson a stay, the court chastised Gov. Crist for signing the death warrant in the first place. You may recall that Crist signed this warrant simply because the sheriff of Polk County initiated an online petition to Crist to sign Johnson's warrant. Crist admitted publicly that the petition was a factor in his decision to sign the warrant. The problem, as the court pointed out, was that Johnson already had an appeal pending before the Florida Supreme Court, and he's never even been in the federal courts yet - that's a 3-5 year detour right there. There was really no chance Johnson would be executed, so signing his warrant was a waste of time; worse, it was simply pandering. Now, as I predicted in one of my earlier posts, the copy cats (encouraged by Crist's action in responding to the sheriff's petition) are jumping on board. I understand there is now a new petition circulating, urging Crist to sign a death warrant for a guy named Daniel Burns (I don't know him). If Crist caves in on this one, it will open the flood gates to "petitions" for everyone (execution by popular demand). FYI for all the fiscal conservatives out there, a lot of taxpayer's money was wasted by this last fiasco in signing Johnson's death warrant; it was a complete waste of money & scarce government resources)...
For the last several weeks I've been working an a guy's case (he's not on death row), hammering out a post conviction motion for him. This is a sad, tragic case, and it's more than a little depressing for me as I work on it; I had to read the entire record on appeal, including the trial transcripts, and check out some horrific crime scene photos. In a nutshell, the case looks like this: the prisoner was a 19-year old kid with a long history of mental illness aggravated by poly substance abuse. He had an 18-year old wife, who also had a history of mental illness and drug abuse. She was totally devoted to him, despite his manifest problems, and by all reports he loved her, too. They had a one-year old daughter. Both parents lived on the margins of society, living in trailer parks, motels, etc. In the weeks before the crime, the kid began acting weird and strange - he was in the midst o a psychotic breakdown - and he'd become homeless, living on the streets and in the woods. He was not welcome to stay at friends' houses due to his increasingly bizarre actions; his wife was living with various friends, bouncing from house to house, begging people to help her husband. It culminates when he takes his wife into the woods, near the bay side, and inexplicably kills her. He strangled her, cut her head off, cut her torso from sternum to pubic bone and removed all her reproductive organs. He placed the head and organs into a cloth bag and swam out into the bay, for one mile, where he let the bag sink. Back on shore, he half buried the body. It took a week before the body was found; he was an immediate suspect and he gave a rambling bizarre "confession" where he said he was Satan, that his wife agreed to die, as a mutual sacrifice to Satan. He was fulfilling Chapters 11 and 12 of the Biblical book of Revelations, he asserted. He was clearly psychotic. That night in jail he cut open his scrotum with a razor blade and tried to remove a testicle (voices told him to "cast out the demon seed"). Three doctors declared him incompetent and psychotic and he spent a year in a mental institution, heavily medicated, until the doctors declared him competent to stand trial. His lawyer (who never filed a single substantive motion) waived his jury trial & pled him not guilty by reason of insanity. He had a 2-day bench trial (before a judge, not a jury); the judge declared he was sane at the time of the crime (or, more accurately, that he was not legally insane) and immediately sentenced him to life without parole. That was 2 years ago. His direct appeal was unsuccessful (he had only one issue on appeal, regarding a jury instruction). My job is to try to salvage this case, and it's a hard row to hoe. On a personal level it's tough - I keep thinking about the poor girl, his devoted wife who, until the end, was desperately trying to help her unstable husband, doing everything possible to stick with him, to the point where she voluntarily moved into the woods with him. It's just very sad, all the way around (she had a big family, a mom and many sisters, and their grief is palpable in the record). The state sought the death penalty right up up until the end, when the victim's family prevailed upon the prosecutor not to seek the death penalty. Even in their grief, they did not want to see the boy put to death. This is one of those cases - when I read so much tragic documentation, where the pain and grief infests my mind - when I wish I wasn't into legal work.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

October 28, 2009

Dear Sis~

I've been hard at work since 6:00am on this monster legal project which was unexpectedly dropped into my lap yesterday morning. I've got about 2,500 pages of trial transcripts and various appellate records to digest, then I have to produce a post conviction motion based on whatever I find, and all within the next 15 days. Someone (a friend on the streets) "volunteered" me for this project, without even asking me ahead of time, but the most irritating part is the deadline. This guy had 2 years, by rule, to file this motion, but he waited until he had less than a month left to get it to me. (I shouldn't be too hard on the guy - whom I don't even know - as he apparently has severe mental problems; it's his mother who is desperately seeking help for her son, who is doing life somewhere in the system). Anyway, I'm taking a break to drop you a few lines and also to catch a little of Game 1 of the World Series (Yankees vs Phillies). I'm not a big baseball fan - I prefer football - but I enjoy the World Series...

I recently told you about Gov Crist signing Paul Johnson's death warrant (execution scheduled for Nov 4th) because the Polk County sheriff started an online petition to Crist to sign his death warrant. Within 8 or 9 days Crist did, in fact, sign the warrant. What I didn't know at the time was that Johnson had never even been in the federal courts yet; he had an appeal pending before the Florida Supreme Court at the time his death warrant was signed. This morning on TV I watched his lawyer, Marty McClain, orally argue that appeal before the Florida Supreme Court. As usual, Marty did an excellent job. My guess is that Johnson will get a stay of execution. For the last 20 years there's been an understanding by Florida's governors that they won't sign a death warrant until the prisoner has exhausted his legal remedies in the state and federal courts (otherwise the courts just grant a stay of execution). So, Crist chose to sign a warrant for a guy, based on an online petition, even though the guy has not exhausted his legal remedies, which makes it likely he'll get a stay. This was mostly a charade, intended to placate the folks behind the petition (there are 20 guys here whose warrants he could have signed who definitely would be executed, including 3 or 4 "volunteers" who want to die and who have long ago waived or exhausted all appeals). So, that's just a little insight into how the system works (or not).
Game is coming on ... gotta go!
Love, Bill

P.S. I'm rooting for the Phillies!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 12, 2009

Dear Sis~

Governor Crist signed another death warrant last week, scheduling a November 4th execution date for Paul Johnson, convicted of three (3) murders, including that of a deputy sheriff, during a crime spree. Johnson was originally convicted and sentenced to death in 1981, but won a new trial in appeal and was re sentenced to death in 1988. What's unusual about this death warrant is the way it came about. Two weeks ago, the Sheriff of Polk County created an online petition demanding Governor Crist sign Johnson's death warrant. Within 4 days, the petition had 600 signatures. Three days later, Crist signed the death warrant. Crist did the same thing 2 years ago when he signed Mark Schwab's death warrant after the victim's family initiated an online letter writing campaign urging Crist to sign Schwab's warrant. No matter what a person's view on capital punishment might be, they should be concerned that the governor decides who to kill based on such blatantly political motivations; if you generate publicity against a particular death row prisoner, you can get him killed. If you can't or don't, then he lives. This Sheriff's successful petition (which has been in the media and is now well known) will, I predict, start a trend here in Florida as other special interest groups race to see if they, too, can get someone killed by Governor Crist. Stay tuned.
Love, Bill

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sept 22, 2009

Dear Sis~

I've you've ever wondered how an innocent man can be sent to death row and, yes, be executed, you must read an article titled Trial by Fire, by David Grann, in the Sept 7th issue of The New Yorker magazine. I'm guessing it's available on their web site: It should be mandatory reading for anyone with a serious interest in the criminal justice system in general and capital punishment in general. When you read it and wonder why his trial lawyers sat on their hands, keep in mind that one of them was an ex-state trooper (who's side do you think we was really on?) Without digressing to a lengthy harangue on this subject, I'll clue you in on one of the criminal justice system's dirty little secrets (although it's no secret to those of us within the system, everyone - judges, defendants, prosecutors, even the bailiffs - knows what's going on. Unless the defendant is a novice, it's only the jury and the public who remain ignorant. You'll never see this on an episode of Law and Order or any other TV police procedural because those programs are designed to keep the public believing the fantasy that the system is "fair and balanced" (which live FOX News loves to sanctimoniously proclaim). The public desperately wants to believe in their system and they willingly suspend disbelief, just as you do when you watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Anyway, here's how the game really works: every town, county and city in America has its share of defense lawyers who make their living by court-ordered appointment. They are often drunks, or just stupid, or lazy and/or incompetent, and the only way they can get work is to be appointed to a case by a judge. They know (and the judge and prosecutor knows) that such lawyers are totally beholden to the judge for their pay check. There's a well-understood quid per quo here: The lawyer must "play ball" in order to keep getting appointments by the judge. Quick fact: about 90% of all judges in America are ex-prosecutors. By "play ball" I mean that the lawyer's real job is to ensure his client's conviction. The lawyer does this by not investigating, not calling crucial witnesses, not filing crucial motions, or not objecting to the prosecutor's misdeeds (which automatically waives the issue on appeal). Whenever a town has a high-profile case (particularly a capital case) one of those "sell-out" lawyers, as I call them, is appointed. Everyone (but the defendant) knows that the defendant is as good as convicted from that point forward. This is simply the way it works. I'll give you just one example.
Jacksonville, for many years, had an infamous sell-out lawyer named Nichols. The last time I actually counted, he had eight (8) clients on death row. Nichols was magically appointed in every Jacksonville capital case where the state really needed a conviction (e.g., cases with marginal evidence, and which were high-profile). Over the years I had an opportunity to read the entire trial transcripts of tow of Nichols' clients so I saw, first hand, how he stood mute throughout the trial, engaging in actions designed to help the prosecution, refusing to object, failing to challenge evidence, doing everything in his power to ensure a conviction and death sentence. It was disgusting to see it up close. A good friend of mine who happens to be a Jacksonville attorney confided in me that Nichols was an alcoholic of the first magnitude. Well, every town has its Nichols. The thing is, unless you know and understand law, you won't see how a Nichols does his job. You won't understand that a competent lawyer would be objecting here, or calling a certain witness. A Nichols does his dirty deeds in broad daylight, in open court, and only a legally astute observer will be silently shaking his head...
I had exactly such a sell-out lawyer, Cary Klein, who was appointed for the sole purpose of escorting me to death row. Klein was a civil attorney with no criminal practice who had never tried a capital case. He worked against me, and behind my back at every stage, betraying me constantly. Three of the seven Florida Supreme Court Justices described Klein as "blatantly incompetent," but the other 4 Justices decided I could not establish the requisite "prejudice", that is, I could not show that I would not have been convicted and sent to death row anyway, despite Klein's incompetence... Anyway, keep this in mind when you read Trial by Fire, or when you see any high-profile capital case winding its way through the system. And don't believe the phony propaganda you see on Law and Order shows...
Just got over the flu, I suspect it was pig fever; now everyone on the floor is sick, the hacking coughs are emanating from cells to my left and right. After about 6 nasty days, I now feel great.
Love, Bill

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sept 1, 2009

Dear Sis~

The first thing you need to understand about our yard (outdoor recreation) situation is this: Prisoners in any long term confinement status (which most courts have construed as anything longer than 30 days) have a constitutional right, under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution to a minimum of one (1) hour per day of outdoor recreation. This is a health issue (physical and mental health). This one-hour minimum has been established by the Federal courts around the country, including the federal prison system, over the last 40 years, as a result of many federal lawsuits brought by prisoners. Every state in the nation, except Florida' Death Row, recognizes this standard. In Florida, for the last 25 years, we on death row have only received four (4) hours per week, in two 2-hour sessions. Often, we'd get less than 4 hours as our yard was often cancelled (inclement weather, holiday, or any imagined reason) and never made up. I recall, in the 1990's, going 3-4 weeks in a row without any rec, followed by one or two rec sessions, then another 2,3,4 weeks without any rec. On Death Row, rec is really all we have; it's our one chance to get out of our cage, feel some sunshine, get some exercise and feel human. Many of us have been in tiny cages for 10, 20, 30 years now. Even the terrorists suspects held at Guantanamo Bay get at least one hour per day. Many, many medical studies have been conducted by the most prestigious medical experts in the field which have universally concluded that the one hour per day is the minimum to maintain good physical and mental health...
Ok, up until 1981, the FSP administration gave Death Row hardly any rec, and the rec was held on a tiny, fenced-in muddy area, about 20' x 20'. Then a Death Row prisoner, named Bob Sullivan, filed a federal lawsuit in 1981 (Bob was later executed). Judge Scott appointed an attorney, William Sheppard, to represent Bob, and Sheppard moved for class-action certification, which was granted. The litigation dragged on for the next 18 years, going to the Federal Court of Appeals twice, and during this time Sheppard collected well over $500,000 in attorneys fees and costs. Around 1983, Sheppard got the state to sign a consent decree, ostensibly settling the case. Under the consent decree, Sheppard sold us out, agreeing to a sub-constitutional four hours of rec per week. The consent decree also guaranteed us rec in a larger yard, which was built for us (it's only 80' x 90'), with a basketball goal and a volleyball net. That's the yard I've been walking around in for the last 20 years. I tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the 4-hour provision in the consent decree (remember the consent decree was already in effect when I arrived on Death Row, and I was bound by its terms, even though I never had any input into its formulation). By then, the case was styled Dougan v Singletary (i.e., the Dougan case). I was mad as Hell about the sub-constitutional 4 hours per week provision, but all my years of efforts to re-open and modify the consent decree failed (Sheppard fought me on this; this case was his cash cow and he cared nothing about our rights or recreation).
Ok, then in 1996 the Republican-led US Senate passed the PLRA (Prison Litigation Reform Act) whose sole purpose was to greatly reduce and discourage any type of prison-related lawsuits. Among other things, the PLRA allows the state to dissolve any consent decree two tears after it was issued, and it basically requires all federal judges to grant such a motion. So, overnight, around the country, all the states filed motions to dissolve all prison consent decrees (even though many of them were exhaustively crafted after years and decades of litigation). Florida moved to dissolve the Dougan consent decree, and this was granted in 1999. In 2001, the Dougan case was officially closed. So, after 20 years, we were right back to square one. For the next 8 years, FSP continued to abide by the terms of the consent decree (4 hours per week in the "Big" yard, with cancelled sessions made up) even though the decree was dead. Then, just 2 months ago, the FSP administration suddenly decided to start messing with our rec. I guess it took them 9 years to realize the consent decree was dead. Now, they making us rec in tiny, one-man cages (but only for one of our two weekly sessions) and they announced they will no longer make up any cancelled yard sessions. So, now that I know the consent decree is dead (I didn't know this, being in Virginia for the last 9 years), I'm going to file suit to get our one-hour-per-day minimum. The prison has now opened a can of worms and I intend to get what we should have gotten back in 1983 when Sheppard sold us out. My goal is to get an attorney (I'm working on that), then get my case certified as a class action suit for all Death Row prisoners. An attorney will make some good money (just as Sheppard did) because we will win, and as the prevailing party, the attorney will be entitled to all costs and attorney fees. The state should have left us alone, (and I would never have done the research and learned that the Dougan case was closed) but now I intend to get us adequate and meaningful recreation. Right now, I'm exhausting my administrative remedies (the grievance process) which is mandatory prior to filing suit. Them I'll file suit (I have to hustle up the $350 filing fee), then I'll get an attorney, either on my own or appointed. ASo, now you know the short version of my next legal project!
Love, Bill

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

August 23, 2009

Dear Sis~
Over the weekend of Aug 15-16th a group of guards beat a prisoner half to death across the river at Union Correctional Institution. Last I heard, the guy was in critical condition. I learned about it on one of my PBS channels, which carries Florida governmental issues, when Walter McNeil, the Secretary of the Department of Corrections, gave a live press conference to announce the beating on August 21. The guards initially tried to cover it up (no surprise), and succeeded until someone - a guard or someone in medical- came forward and belatedly reported it. Now, 4 or 5 guards (including 2 sergeants) are "on leave" and 4 nurses have been fired. The fired nurses is your tipoff that the nurses participated in the cover up. This is routine when prisoners are beaten. Some medical staff cover up beatings enthusiastically while others are intimidated, even threatened bodily, by the guards. The cover up consists of altering or fabricating the medical reports (since the injured guy invariably ends up in the medical department, if only briefly) to show either no injuries, or very minor injuries (even if the guy has broken bones or is dying) or to claim the injuries are self inflicted. The medical department here did the same thing when those 9 guards beat Frank to death in 1999. All prison medical departments do it. Anyway, McNeil announced he had called in the F.D.L.E. (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) as well as the FBI. That tells me the injuries are very serious, the guy may be dead already; it also tells me that McNeil is putting distance between himself and this beating. In response to a reporter's question, McNeil admitted this was the third mass beating incident in the last 3 or 4 months (2 at UCI, one here at FSP). Then in the next breath, he denied that there is a systemic problem, and claimed that these were just isolated incidents. That bullshit; these beating are systemic (and UCI is notorious for them) and for every one like this which gets publicity, there are hundreds which never see the light of day. That's a fact. The only rare thing about this is that McNeil chose to announce it publicly. In the old days, it would have remained a dark secret; certainly nobody in the DOC would be announcing it. The prison system is like a black hole; things happen in here that the public never hears about. It's like being on another planet. At least now we have a little transparency and a little accountability ...

In my next entry I'll tell you what's going on with our recreation situation and why I'll have to be going back to federal court (after 15 years when we last fought and won this battle) to rectify the situation. This administration appears to be anxious to provoke the death row population here. They're suddenly going out of their way to harass us. This started as soon as our new warden (Warden Singer) arrived, so you can draw your own conclusions.
Love, Bill

August 18, 2009

Dear Sis~
For the past week this prison has been immersed in its typical pre-execution ritual of spiffing up the joint for proper presentation prior to tomorrow's state-sanctioned murder. The guards have been busily supervising various work crews who have been stripping, waxing and buffing the long hallway corridors, painting the endless rows of barred gates dividing the main corridor, polishing all the brass handles and knobs, cutting the grass (yesterday) and carefully trimming along the rear driveway, where the execution witnesses will arrive tomorrow, followed by the old, white Cadillac hearse (the same hearse I've watched carry bodies out of this prison for over 35 years now). Such are the mundane preparations for a "tidy" death. There's something morbidly sick in being so concerned that the prison itself looks clean and good while the activity going on in its bowels is so foul. It reminds me of how Jesus Christ rebuked the high priests and Pharisees, saying their hearts were like sepulchers (tombs carved into the rocks), all clean and white-washed on the outside, yet full of filth and putrefaction inside. This capital punishment is an abomination that scars and rots the heart of our society, wounding the spirits of even those who carry it out, whether they recognize it or not. It's a foul deed, pure and simple, and is beneath the dignity of a great nation. I must believe that one day we will awake and this too shall pass.
Love, Bill

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 10, 2009

Dear Sis~
I'm depressed and discouraged to learn that the Commonwealth of Virginia has set a September execution date for my good friend, Larry Bill Elliott, who was my neighbor for five plus years. Bill is not only an extraordinary person, he was also a great asset to his community, including the nation's national security with about 30 years in the US Army Military Intelligence. Bill was a specialist in electronic counterintelligence and was the instructor of electronic counterintelligence at the US Army's premier electronics school at Ft. Meade. In that capacity, he instructed Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine technical officers, as well as come CIA, NSA and other "alphabet soup" agencies. More importantly, I believe Bill to be innocent of the double-homicides he was convicted of (a reputed "lover's triangle" type of thing, according to the prosecutors forced theory). The ins and outs of Bill's case are complex and many, and space precludes me from adequately describing the nuances here, but someone needs to write a book, or make a movie about it all, and defy the reader or viewer to solve the riddle. I have not given up hope yet, although Virginia is particularly fatal when it comes to capital punishment, because he still has a cert petition before the US Supreme Court, and if that fails, he still has the slim possibility of clemency from Gov. Tim Kaine. Bill's lsawyers will need to make a powerful and compelling case for Bill's innocence for Kaine to even consider clemency. Fortunately, Bill has top-shelf attorneys, the Seattle law firm of K&L Gates (that's Bill Gates' father's law firm). Unfortunately, they were not his trial lawyers (the trial lawyers botched the trial horribly, while cleaning Bill out of his life's savings). The Gates lawyers came in pro bono after Bill's direct appeal and, at that stage, most of the damage, from incompetent trial lawyers, is already done; it's extremely difficult to correct this type of damage in the postconviction stage. The Gates people have made an heroic effort, but the law regarding the postconviction process (both state and federal) is against them, especially in Virginia. These are the same near-impossibly high legal hurdles that keep innocent people in prison and ensure their execution. While you read about guys getting exonerated every day, often after 10, 20 years in prison , these are just the lucky ones. Like an iceberg, for every one of them you hear about, there are many others below the surface who cannot hurdle the arcane procedural barriers. Bill is one of those guys...

This week is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock (40 years!!!) What a time that was! How innocent and naive it seems in retrospect, yet pregnant with hope and possibility. Those of us who lived through those times have many and varied recollections and impressions, now blurred by the passing decades (and seen through the prism of 20/20 hindsight) but my overriding memory is one of hope, potential and limitless possibility, when great things still seemed possible, even inevitable. Love was in the air and on the minds, but too many of us just weren't ready for it snd it wasn't to be.

Ok, Sis, give the doggies a big hug from me.

Love, Bill

Friday, August 07, 2009

August 2, 2009

Dear Sis~
I just finished watching a great PBS program celebrating Pete Seeger's 90th birthday; the number of folk musicians who sang and performed seemed endless, from Bruce Springstein to John Mellencamp to Arlo Guthrie to Joan Baez, and many more. Pete Seeger has always been a hero to me; he speaks truth to power and, in my mind, Pete represents everything that is good and beautiful about America. What a great spirit he is! Are you familiar with Pete's River Rescue Project that he's been running for many years? He was determined to clean up the filthy Hudson River many years ago, so he hit upon what proved to be an extremely successful idea. He built an exact replica of an old wooden river schooner, a good-sized one, with all the sails and rigging. Then he began sailing it up and down the Hudson, stopping in all the small towns and large cities. At each stop, he'd go to the schools, especially the urban schools, and arrange field trips out on the ship. There, he'd teach the kids about all the aquatic life, from turtles to birds to fish to salamanders, teaching them to love the river and the environment. Many of these kids have never been to the river and never held a wild creature. Pete uses an all-volunteer crew on the ship, and the kids themselves sail on the ship. Pete's been doing this on his own dime for many years, quietly doing his part to help save the earth he loves. And it worked: he's gotten lots of publicity, brought about many changes, and today, much of the Hudson is clean again. Most importantly, he's helped to educate a new generation of future environmentally sensitive citizens, the generation that will save our planet, if it is to be saved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 16, 2009

Dear Sis~
Last week a guy here on the row, Herman Lindsey, was totally acquitted by the Florida Supreme Court on his direct appeal, based upon insufficiency of the evidence. I read his briefs about 4 or 5 months ago and I told him then I believed he'd go home - the state simply didn't have any real evidence (and yet the jury convicted him). Not surprisingly, the main bit of "evidence" was a jailhouse snitch, a guy who claimed Herman "confessed" to him. In return, the snitch got a deal to get out of jail. About 40% of all prisoners who are exonerated had a jailhouse snitch involved in their case, and many of these rats completely fabricate the alleged "confessions". The prosecutors and the judges know these rats lie like Hell and yet they continue to use them and vouch for their integrity to the jury. Anyway, I'm always conservative when a guy asks me about his chances of winning on appeal (after I've read the appellate briefs) and total acquittals are very rare (perhaps once every 4 or 5 years from the Florida Supreme Court in capital cases), but after I read Herman's briefs (and the state's brief) I felt confident he'd win. It's been 8 days and Herman is still here; they've told him they would release him on the 16th day - they have to allow the state their allotted 15 days to file a motion for rehearing (the Attorney General's office has apparently already announced they won't be filing for rehearing). So, Herman will be one of those rare and lucky souls who walks off death row, directly home. (Although he would have been even luckier had he not been convicted!) Can you imagine that transition? From death row to total freedom ...
I think old Roy might be the next one to be acquitted, although it will be another 2 years or more before his direct appeal is heard. Roy also has a jailhouse snitch (a guy with over 40 felony convictions). There was no body in Roy's case, the state couldn't even prove the alleged victim even died. Roy is 69 years old and frail, with serious health issues, so he may not even live to see freedom...
I just read The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, again. I read it maybe 25 years ago but wasn't wise or mature enough to appreciate it. It's a beautiful book, deep and thought provoking. What a writer he was!
Love & Peace, Bill

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

June 24, 2009

Dear Readers~

I misplaced this blog entry so it's late, but at least I found it :} Lisa

Dear Sis~

I don't need my calendar to know that the summer solstice just passed. It's unbearably hot in this hulking, oven-like building which absorbs the heat all day long and radiates it back all night long. We have extremely poor ventilation so we bake, day and night, constantly covered in a sheen of sweat. It's common to awake at 2:00 am with wet sheets, panting like a dog.

Anyway, I was just watching another news program where the talking heads were pontificating on Obama's proposed closure of the military prison in Guantanamo. The Republicans have turned this into a political football with their energetic campaign to enlist as many politicians as possible to denounce the possible move of 200 or so of the alleged terrorists/prisoners to prisons in America. They've whipped up a wave of hysteria, abetted by the mainstream media which, sheep-like, has yet to question the basis for the resistance to the move. The self-righteous politicians have been quick to go on TV to announce that there is no way they'll stand for these detainees to be place in American prisons because, they claim with a straight face, they might escape! The absurdity of this stance, which is patently laughable, is never questioned by any moderators or reporters. What makes this so ridiculous (not to mention hypocritical) is that America is PRISON NATION. With almost 3 million of our fellow citizens imprisoned, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world (it isn't even close). We love our prisons and love to fill them! The United States has 5% of the world's population, yet we house nearly 25% of the world's prisoners. We incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, about 5 times the world average (the ratio is much higher in the southern states, a relic of the plantation mentality). One in every 31 American adults is in prison, jail or some form of supervised release. Total spending on corrections (federal, state and local) exceeds $70 Billion per year and has increased over 40% over the last 20 years (even as our crime rates have steadily decreased). Moreover, America incarcerates more people for drug crimes alone than the European Union does for all crimes, even thought the EU has 200 million more citizens than the US. Few Americans understand (or care) how the prison industrial complex has, with its strong profit motive, come to dominate in this country, especially with the privatization of our jails and prisons. Incarceration long ago ceased being about public policy and morphed into an economic imperative. Building prisons (and filling them up) is all about creating jobs (and pleasing voters who will presumably vote for the politicians who brought the prison into their town). Many, many prisons (both private and public) are built on speculation, with the certainty that they will be filled (Build it and they will come!) The huge and highly profitable private prison corporations (Wachenhut, GEO, etc...) are very politically connected and those politicians ensure the passage of laws guaranteed to keep prisons filled. A tiny, but representative insight of the profit motive can be gleaned by a recent Newsweek article wherein a municipal employee of Hardin, Montana was crying about how their 5-year old, $27 Million dollar prison, built on spec, has remained empty. The town wants the Feds to fill it with the Guantanamo detainees. "We had hoped Two Rivers Detention Center would create jobs," he wrote. "Filling our prison would create desperately needed jobs for 200 or 300 people", he lamented. "Hardin spent $27 Million to build the prison, and now our town's bonds are in default...The town's business community is committed to exploring every last opportunity to get the prison up and running." Note how it's all about business, money and jobs, not whether it's good social policy to fill up another prison with our fellow citizens. Now, the same economic reality that hit the condo speculators is hitting communities who chose to build prisons on spec in anticipation of big profits and permanent jobs. (In reality, that prison would already be filled if it wasn't built in a tiny, remote town in Montana. The government(s) always ensure their prisons remain full).
Anyway, getting back to the Guantanamo detainees, we have over 3,000 death row prisoners here, and the nation is chock full of super max prisons that nobody is escaping from. America has perfected the art of super maximum security confinement on a massive scale. It's laughable that a politician (especially a Republican...they love our prisons!) could, with a straight face, claim that these 200 detainees cannot be safely confined anywhere in America. But, I've yet to see one single reporter on TV question this premise; instead, they just help whip up the frenzy, happy to have a "story" to report (which is really a non-story). Here's a real story: the shame of a nation which locks up almost 3 million of its citizens without a clue or care as to the ramifications. This would be a scandal in any other country, but here, it's called business as usual (with the emphasis on business).

Love, Bill

Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 18, 2009

Dear Sis~

Just got called down to the clinic for a "physical exam" which consisted of my having my weight, temperature and blood pressure taken and recorded, the same "comprehensive" physical I've been getting for the last 37 years. My blood pressure was 113/77, which is par for the course for me, almost too low, especially considering my circumstances. But, besides being blessed with a sound, healthy body and working out a lot, I long ago learned to accept things with equanimity, rather than let stress, tension and/or anger manifest itself in my physical aspects. Meditation, and lots of inner reflection, helps a lot...

Anyway, I just finished reading a good essay in Vanity Fair magazine by Joseph E Stiglitz, the well-known and highly regarded economist (he's in fact a Nobel laureate), titled Wall Street's Toxic Message, which analyzes the economic and social fallout of the current financial crisis. Of course, there are thousands of articles and essays floating around on the subject of the crisis - how it happened, who's to blame, how to fix it - covering the political and economic spectrum, etc... no small number of which are attempts to cover their own asses. Sadly, most Americans (Hell, most people worldwide) have little or no knowledge or understanding of basic economic theory, and are at the mercy of the talking heads, and have no real clue as to what happened, much less what to do about it (that feeling of utter helplessness, being at the mercy of forces beyond our control which was the hallmark of the national psyche over the last 8 months - and which helped propel Obama into the White House). What's interesting about this article by Stiglitz is how he frames it in the historical context, how the Western capitalistic nations, over the last 200+ years, exploited the rest of the world and imposed our "free market" system upon undeveloped countries, convincing them it was the world's best economic system (convincing them through force of arms). We Americans grew up, blindly believing (because we were taught this in our schools) that the capitalistic system , especially in the extreme (i.e., Market Fundamentalism) was the best, and anything else was a threat to freedom and democracy (that alleged link between capitalism and freedom was always crucial, it made it your patriotic duty to accept capitalism and view any other system as not just foreign, but an enemy to be defeated). What we are rarely taught is how we (America, Britain, France and other western industrial powers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries) raped and exploited the undeveloped world, brutally and by force, to enrich ourselves, and impose our version of market fundamentalism on the world (always, of course, so it worked to our advantage). Anyway, it was refreshing to read an economist of Stiglitz's stature acknowledge the history. The point he was making in his essay was how this recent crisis is teaching the rest of the world to really question the basic premise of our version of capitalism, the now quaint notion that unfettered markets, left to themselves (free of regulation and government "interference") will ensure economic growth and prosperity, the idea that markets are automatically "self-correcting" and that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly. The world now sees that "the emperor has no clothes" and that we've succeeded, like the Pied Piper, into leading the world over the cliff. I'm certainly no Marxist, but I'm not blind to history and I know human nature well enough to question the whole premise of market fundamentalism (Yeah, let's just let the Donald Trumps of the world order the universe, right? What could possibly go wrong?). I wish more Americans truly understood the history of our country (and the Western Industrial powers in general) over the last two centuries so they can understand why we (and our systems which we insist on foisting upon the world) are viewed as we are by the rest of the world, why countries don;t believe us when we claim we are invading them for their own good, to impose "democracy" and "freedom" upon them, why they don;t believe it is not all about the oil (hint: it's always about the oil). We'd be a lot more intellectually honest if we'd just be open and above-board about it, "Yes, we're doing this because it's in our economic and strategic self-interest, and because we are stronger than you are". It's the lies and hypocrisy, wrapping all the bullshit up in the American flag, that pisses me off (and does not fool anyone except our own deluded citizens who drink that Kool-Aid).

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent, or get my blood pressure up! Give the doggies a tummy rub for me (and some Milk-Bone biscuits if you've got some!)

Love, Bill

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 6, 2009 - 65th Anniversary of D-Day

Dear Sis~

Today is the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which always makes me reminisce about Dad and the years he spent fighting across North Africa, Italy and Europe. Whenever I see the fields of white marble crosses stretching across the neatly trimmed green fields of the military cemeteries of Europe I get choked up, thinking of the countless young men represented by each stone, struck down in the prime of life, many of them buddies of Dad who fell at his side. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The First Men In, by Ed Ruggero, which vividly portrays the role of the 82nd Airborne as they jumped into Normandy just before the actual seaborne invasion. In keeping with the role of the airborne troopers, they fought savage street-to-street and house-to-house battles, suffering terrific casualties, dying anonymously in unnamed fields, ditches and tangles of woods. The book tells the story matter-of-factly, without hubris or glorification of war, simply witnessing the great bravery of young men fighting, most of all, for the sake of their brothers in arms. I closed the book, as I do all military histories, mourning the loss of so many young men, and countless civilians - women, children and old men - caught and killed in the middle, and reaffirming how much I hate war...
On a gentler subject, I just saw the movie Moulin Rouge, a sort of campy musical starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Despite being an over the top production (as it was intended to be) the acting is terrific and the story timeless. I can't imagine the time and energy it took to put something like this together, not to mention the creative talent. I enjoyed it immensely, not least because it reinforced my admiration for true creative geniuses (if you see the movie, you'll understand that my reference is to not just those who made the movie but also to the theatre types who are the subject of the movie's plot).
That's it for now, Sis!
Love, Bill

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Dear Sis~

Today is Memorial Day and, as is traditional, the TV has been flush with war-related programs. Some of them are historically interesting and informative, while others veer off into glorifying war. As a child, like most kids (boys, anyway) I was all gung-ho about war, thinking it was romantic, cool, macho, whatever. As I grew older, I became immersed in military history and maintained that interest well into adulthood. Even now, I maintain an academic interest, but I long ago quit thinking that there was anything romantic about war. History and experience teaches us that war is ingrained in our makeup - we humans are, without a doubt, a war-loving race, even though we pay lip service to the general concept of peace. I say "we", meaning our governments; the general citizenry in most countries surely prefer peace, yet we elect governments which consistently lead us into war. I don't know how to reconcile that dichotomy. Sadly, America is the premier war-maker among nations...

I was very pleased to read in my USA Today that the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond surprisingly gave some relief to Justin Wolfe, a friend of mine on Virginia's Death Row. I say "surprisingly" because the Fourth Circuit is the most conservative Federal appellate court in the nation. Justin is one of a handful of guys I know on the Row who may be genuinely innocent, and his cries out for relief. The admitted trigger man (who was only sentenced to 30 or 40 years) has repeatedly recanted his self-serving trial testimony that Justin "told him" to kill the victim. There is additional evidence that the trigger man simply made up his story in order to cut a deal with the prosecution (which he succeeded in doing) but the lower Federal court rejected it all. Just as a basic, straight-forward proposition - putting aside whether the trigger man (Owen Barber) lied at trial - you'd think hat society would ques ton a system which allows the undisputed trigger man to receive a 30-year sentence, while the guy who didn't kill anyone (even under the state's theory) goes to death row. This is the result of an out-of-control prosecutor who wanted to make headlines above all else (which he did with this case). This particular prosecutor, who is well-known in Virginia, has put a lot of guys on Virginia's death row, several that are very questionable...

I don't know if you were able to catch a compelling PBS series on TV called Africa Trek ? It's a great series, about a married French couple, Sonia and Alexander, who walked the entire length of Africa from Cape Town, South Africa, northward up the east coast, all the way to Egypt, then across the Sinai to Jerusalem. they walked for over three years, covered about 7,000 miles, battling drought, floods, lions, malaria (which they both caught) suffering much deprivation, all without any support team, filming it all themselves with a little hand-held camcorder. Check it out if you can...

Alright, Sis, that's it for now. Keep your chin up and you heart light.

Love, Bill

Saturday, May 23, 2009

May 14, 2009

Dear Sis~
There was an execution scheduled for last night which apparently did not occur; my understanding is that the prisoner (Marek) got a temporary stay several days ago, although I have no details. Even though we're at ground zero here, with the death chamber just 100 feet away, rumors are often our only source of information. The local media gives virtually no coverage of these matters (they barely mention when the actual executions occur). If the stay is dissolved, another execution could quickly be scheduled. The other execution is still on for 2 weeks from now, as far as I know... [note from Lisa: just get back from visiting Bill and the second execution was also stayed!!]
Two days ago Governor Crist announced that he will not be seeking another term as governor, but instead, will run for the US Senate next year (Republican Mel Martinez is retiring). Crist, orignally a conservative, has positioned himself as a moderate/populist since becomeing governor and he's fairly popular here. He faces a strong challenge in the primaries from his own fellow Republicans, specifically the conservative wing, who feels is is not sufficiently right-wing. If he survives that, he'll face whoever the Democrats nominate. The Florida Democratic party is rather lame and incompetent; in the fourth most populous state in America, they never seem to be able to mount any credible candidates, which allows Republicans to remain in power, even with their historically even less competent candidates. Still, this year they have an interesting candidate for governor, a woman named Alex Sink, who is currently the State's Chief Financial Officer. She is very intelligent and is politically adept, and she may emerge as a new rising star. Obama carried Florida, so the possibilty exists that we may go for a democratic governor, and I'm all for a woman taking over - the old, rich white men have screwed up this state (and country) enough already. Women are more pragmatic and solutions-oriented which we need more of and less stale ideology. Moreover, as a rule, they are just not into killing people like men are, which is good for someone in my position. That assumes, of course, that I survive long enought to see a new governor sworn in. Still, this political development provides me with a sliver of hope, and on death row, hope is a precious commodity. Without hope, there is nothing.
Love, Bill

Saturday, May 09, 2009

April 30,2009

Dear Sis~
I see the pig fever is back after a 33-year hiatus. Today the news announced that swine flu is now here in Florida; in just one week, it's gone from a localized event in Mexico to damn near a pandemic. I've never seen a disease spread so rapidly ( I hear it only has a 2-day incubation period) and we can be very thankful that this is not a more deadly strain or disease...
Earlier this evening they came to a guy's cell and told him to "go see the chaplain." As any seasoned convict knows, when you get the dreaded "chaplain call out" it means someone in your immediate family has died. This kid (he's about 25 but looks about 17) was too green to understand the ramifications of a night time visit with the chaplain (in reality, at this time of night, it probably just consists of an incoming phone call from a family member and it's overseen by a shift lieutenant) and he was not alarmed or apprehensive. He came back 20 minutes later, crying. I remember well, going through the same thing, at age 18, at Sumter Correctional Institute in 1972, when I was unexpectedly called to the chaplain's office and informed of Dad's death. It happened so fast, and was so unexpected, that I was too stunned to react until I stepped outside where I broke down and cried like a baby. I've seen a lot of guys get that chaplain call out over the years, and it always makes my heart ache...
I can't recall if I already told you that Govenor Crist signed two more death warrants; one guy is scheduled to die in mid-May (the 14th I believe) and the other is set to be executed two weeks later, on the 28th I think. I don;t know either of them although I've been on the row since 1984. I consulted my master list of everyone on the row here and counted 18 guys who have been here for 30 or more years, with Gary Alvord the longest, at 35 years. Four others are at the 34-year mark. The Governor does not go in chronological order though, but follows his own drummer. In Florida, the process is totally arbitrary; the governor can sign (or not sign) anybodies death warrant that he wants to, and assuming they've exhausted all their legal avenues, they'll be executed. He can pick and choose - he can sign one warrant, or ten. It's totally up to his unfettered discretion. I'm not complaining though, not at all, because the process could be much worse, like in Virginia or Texas, where it's an automated system, like a conveyor belt. Here, assuming you don't have a blood-thirsty governor, having the executive office in the middle provides a break to the death machine. Most governors, once they actually assume office (notwithstanding any election rhetoric) don't relish making that actual, definitive decision to kill someone by signing an actual death warrant...
Ok, that's enough of a depressing subject. Give the doggies a tummy rub for me!
Love, Bill

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 20, 2009

Dear Sis~
Today Governor Crist signed two death warrants; I don't know the two guys' names (I heard one is named Johnson) but I was told their execution dates are May 15th and June 1st. This is the first time Crist has signed two in one day; he's picking up his pace. Both of these guys were housed at U.C.I., across the river, where 80% of the death row guys are housed (there's only about 60 of us here at F.S.P.)...
Tonight I watched a second installment of a 5-part series on PBS titled We Shall Remain, an excellent mini-series/documentary on the Native Americans, from the days of the Mayflower up to the early 1970's (the second Wounded Knee). This is very well thought out and produced, telling the story from the Native Americans' point of view, for a change. A different history was taught to us in our schools. History, of course, is written by the victors.
A big storm came through a week ago and damaged our TV antenna on the roof, so we can only get 3 TV stations now, 2 of which are PBS, which is fine with me, as that's my favorite channel anyway. All our TV stuff - antennas, cable system and TV's - are paid for by us prisoners and/or privately donated; there's no state money used at all...
I forgot to mention in my last entry that 11 guards here at F.S.P. were fired and/or suspended over a beating incident here. Some guards jumped on one or more prisoners and it was caught on camera. Apparently they thought the cameras were not on because the prison's electricity had failed due to a transformer explosion the night before. One newspaper article said it was 15 guards, with the other 4 guards being at U.C.I., implying there were two separate incidents. It's less than clear just what occurred, but I can tell you that the beatings here have been greatly reduced since I left 9 years ago. The culture and atmosphere has changed greatly, for the better. So, this was somewhat of an aberration. The cameras alone have made a big difference...
OK, Sis, that's it from here. Give the doggies a hug for me!
Love, Bill

Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter Sunday April 12, 2009

Dear Sis~
It's Easter Sunday, a day of reflection for me, as well as pleasant childhood memories...

I just read an interesting article in Parade Magazine, authored by Senator Jim Webb, from Virginia, on overhauling our entire prison system. I've always liked Webb-he's big on common sense, and a real pragmatist. In this article, he seeks to provoke a national debate on why America imprisons such a large percentage of its citizens, as he lays out the statistics to make his case. These are well known statistics to anyone who has made a point of examining this issue, but let me share a few of them with you: The United States has, by far, the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, we have nearly 25% of the world's prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 prisoners per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the worldwide average of 158 per 100,000. In addition, more that 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision", which includes parole, probation and other community sanctions. All told, one in every 31 adults in America is in prison, jail, or on supervised release. We spend $68 billion a year on local, state and federal corrections. A large percentage of all inmates are in prison for non-violent offenses, including a substantial number of drug offenders. And these are not the drug lords or big-time dealers; our prisons aer clogged with people who possessed small amounts of drugs. 47.5% of all drug arrests in America in 2007 were for marijuana. Nearly 60% of those in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or any significant selling activity. Four out of five (80%) of drug arrests were for possession, while only one out of five was for sales...

I know from my own 35+ years of prison experience that we could release at least one third of all prisoners without any danger to the safety of society, and I'm being conservative. For reasons I don't fully understand myself, our nation has a love affair with prisons, with locking up our citizens for years and years. We do it casually, almost with glee, with no real thought to the consequences. In America, prison is often the first resort, not the last, and we think nothing of sentencing someone to 20 or 30 years for a property crime or for drugs. Much of this culture is politically motivated and, even more so, economically motivated - the prison industrial complex is a huge and politically powerful lobby whose sole goal is to build more prisons and jails, staff them, and fill them with prisoners. Few citizens know (or care) just how powerful this lobby is, and how it influences lawmakers to pass punitive statutes (like the three-strike laws, or abolishment of parole) to ensure their prisons remain full and more are built every year. We spend more on our prisons than we do on education, which should be a shock to all Americans, but sadly, isn't...

Alright, enough of that...I've got to get back to my legal project (it should be done by the time you read this).
Love, Bill

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 26, 2009

Dear Sis~
Just finished reading Moby Dick. What a great read it is! Anyone who loves language, who loves the skillful use of language, has to love this book. Written in 1850, the writing is definitely dense with colloquial syntax (it reminds me of James Fennimore Cooper or Joseph Conrad) but it's worth the effort for sure. Not only is it a grand adventure story, but the depth of the writing is superb. I'm sure modern-day literary critics would disparage Melville's style and call the book bloated, but a discerning reader can see the quality. I can't really say this is a book for young people (i.e., students) for, while they'll catch the main theme and grasp the underlying adventure story, it takes (in my opinion) a mature and well-read mind to appreciate the many subtle nuances of the writing, to plumb the depth of the author's intentions. There are multiple levels to Melville's writing in this book, many of which will escape the superficial reader. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Melville's vivid descriptions of the rolling oceans and the abundance of life they contain reminds me of how much I have always loved the sea, how the ocean always had an elemental attraction for me as far back as my memory reaches. Anytime I was on a boat or ship upon the deeper sea - whether it was the time you and me took that small cruise ship from Miami to Bimini with Dad, around 1961, or the times, later in life, when I took cruises to the Bahamas - being on the deck of a ship, with the sun on my back and a salty breeze in my face, and the dolphins racing along the bow waves, I felt incredibly alive, like an ancient explorer crossing uncharted waters. I think the oceans call to all humans; there's something in our DNA that harks back to the sea, or perhaps it's some more distant soul memory from a dimly perceived era of star ship captains and far-flung galaxies. Who knows?
Love, Bill

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 19, 2009

Dear Sis~
Just as I sat down to scribe this note several guys on my floor, watching the evening news, started yelling that New Mexico just abolished the death penalty. I don't know if the reports are correct, but it's a good sign if it's true. Still, until a state in the deep south follows suit, it will just be an occasional national aberration. Texas, for example, is so enamored with capital punishment that they view it as an integral aspect of their very nature. It will take another generation, I think, for the south to begin to lose its grip on the hangman's noose. Still, as I said, this is a good sign to the extent it denotes a trend, a shift in citizens' consciousness. New Jersey abolished capital punishment last year, and 5 or 6 states are seriously considering the same. Kansas abolished it about 30 years ago, then reinstated it perhaps 10, 12 years ago, and now they are on the verge of throwing it out again...
The seasons have turned quickly and winter has fled the coop, at least here in northern Florida. Out in the rec yard, I stripped to my gym shorts and bare feet, enjoying the blazing, cloudless sky, at least until the concrete began sizzling, forcing me to re shod my burning feet...
A friend of mine in Italy sent me some interesting genealogical information about our family back in Germany. As you know, the famous sculptor Gabriel Grupello lived out his later years in our family castle, the Castle (Kasteel) Erenstein until his death in 1730. You also know that Grupello created a beautiful bronze statue which still stands on the castle grounds today. What I did not know, until I read these particular papers, is that Grupello's daughter, Aldegundo Jacobina Grupello, married one of our direct ancestors, Peter Caspar Poyck, in 1725. So, we have a little Italian blood in our veins. (Perhaps that accounts for my deep love for Italy when I visited it in 1971). Moreover, Grupello himself was the son of an Italian cavalry officer and an Irish mother, so we also have some Celtic blood! By the way, while the castle was built around 1363, it came into our family in 1707 when Hendrick Poyck, schout (sheriff) of Merkstein somehow came into possession of it (I'm guessing he purchased it). Didn't know we had a sheriff in the family! Hendrick totally rebuilt the castle expanding it greatly, adding two round turrets and a chapel, along with a higher ring-wall. I'll send you these papers so you can make yourself a copy and return the originals to me. Since 1980, the castle has been part of the group of Camille Oostwegel Chateau Hotels & Restaurants.
Love, Bill

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 7, 2009

Dear Sis~
Two guards from F.S.P. were killed yesterday and two other guards critically injured in a domestic imbroglio turned violent. Between the scetchy news reports and the scuttlebutt among the guards here (it's all they're talking about) it appears that a male and female guard were romantically involved, but the guy believed she was cheating on the side. He attacked her, stabbing her repeatedly, then fled in a car, whereupon he slammed into a state vehicle carrying two other guards. The assailant was killed, as was a guard in the second vehicle. His companion and the female are in critial condition. A guard on my floor told me "I know the guy who did it; he was a really nice guy, you never would have guessed he'd do that." Love is like that, it can make some people lose their minds just long enough to own a lifetime of regrets ...
I'm reading Moby Dick which, I'm embarrassed to say, I've never read. There are a lot of literary classics which I've never managed to read, but I knock them out as I'm able to track them down from time to time. I also have a new copy of David Copperfield, which I've been anticipating, but now it's sort of been spoiled because I recently watched an excellent 3-hour version on PBS's Masterpiece Classics. The acting was terrific, as were the characters; Dickens was a great story teller ...
Right now, I'm listening to Prairie Home Companion on my little radio, as I do every Saturday evening. What a talented guy Garrison Keillor is! I've been listening to him for at least 25 years and he never empties that deep well of talent. His shows, with their skits, songs, poems and comedy, are the epitome of American culture; if someone wans to see what real America is all about, just listen to one of his shows. Tonight he had a band playing big band swing music and every time I hear a wailing clarinet I think about Dad and how he played his way across Europe in the years before the war, before Hitler made him trade in his clarinet for a rifle. Those were the days of wine and roses.
Love, Bill

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

February 24, 2009

Dear Sis~
Just finished reading a book titled Black's Law by the eminent Miami attorney Roy Black. The book profiles four of his bigger trials (one was a capital appeal, not a trial) and provides excellent insight into the workings of the judicial system. Along with a lot of other books I can think of, this one should be mandatory reading for all law students as well as those majoring in criminal justice. You may know that Roy Black is one of the nation's finest criminal defense attorneys. In 1971 I had my own encounter with Roy. I was 17 and had just been arrested for a robbery in South Miami, my first adult arrest. Initially Roy Black, then a new, young Public Defender, was appointed to represent me, along with his fellow new Public Defender, Jack Denaro (Jack also later went on to become a highly regarded criminal defense lawyer, once ranked in the top ten in America by High Times Magazine). I vividly recall both Roy and Jack meeting with me in an interview room at the Dade County Jail. Of course, I had no way of knowing that I was being represented by two guys who would go on to become famous and supremely successful attorneys, two of the best you could ever hope for. But Jeff convinced Dad to hire his old attorney, Lou Vernell (who later went to prison) who, unknown to us, was already falling from grace, descending from successful attorney to a drunken bum. So, Dad kicked out a lot of money to Lou Vernell, I lost Roy and Jack, and Vernell turned my case over to his incompetent assistant, Dennis Holober (later disbarred) and I ended up with a life sentence. I'm certain my life would have turned out differently had Roy Black defended me, but fate dictated otherwise.
We can always look back on the course of our lives and identify those "what if" moments, when things would have gone differently, had another road been taken. But, my worldview is that we must meet our karma, and so I must conclude that it was meant to be just as it was played out. Roy Black becomes just a minor footnote in my personal history, barely worth mentioning. Having said that, his book is good (and educational) and I recommend it to anyone interested in the criminal justice system.
Light & Love,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 11, 2009

Dear Sis~
There's an open window out on the catwalk and the roof-top exhaust fan pulls the air in so that as I sit here on my bunk, pondering today's execution, a brisk breeze washes over my face allowing me, as I close my eyes, to imagine I'm far away and free. I always meditate during the hour stradling an execution, but I can't say I've had any profound revelations or particular insights; mostly my thoughts round back to how ephemeral life is, especially measured against a society which has such a passion for killing. We really are a murderous nation, possessing a single-minded muscular stupidity, which gives us the strength to keep doing what we are doing (an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth!) without regrets. So now, Wayne Tompkins is dead by the hand of the government, and, what? What is different or better? Those possessed with their own moral certitude, those with an atavistic love of blood, death and violence are temporarily satiated - until they demand the next sacrifice to their God - but we, as a people, are collectively diminished each time we use our authority to kill another human being. Those who favor capital punishment focus on the innocence of the victim or the brutality of the murder, but in my mind , the yardstick should be what is says about us as a people - what do we allow ourselves to do and where do we, as supposedly enlightened souls, draw the line? Do we give in to our darkest impulses or do we rise above them? As of today, most Americans are still in favor of taking the easy route (war, death destruction, execution) over the high road. Perhaps, given we are a nation born in blood and violence, we shall always remain so. I want to believe we'll find our better half one day, but that's a story yet to be written.
Love, Bill

Monday, February 02, 2009

January 27, 2009

Dear Sis~
This will be short as I'm sick with some type of flu; I seldom get sick-the flu hits me about once every 15 years or so. This started 2 days ago and now it's full blown - I have that metallic taste in my mouth and I've lost my sense of taste - all food is tasteless. I never take that annual flu shot. The last time I fell for that trick was 1976, at Desoto Correctional Institute, during the big "swine flu" epidemic (I call it pig fever) which swept the nation. You may recall that millions and millions of flu vaccines were prepared to give to all the elderly people, and it turned out that the flu shot itself killed a lot of old folks. I lined up in the rec yard, like everyone else, and dutifully got my shot. That was a mistake! For the next 4 or 5 days I was sicker than I'd ever been in my life. I could barely walk and spent my days wrapped up in blankets (even a raincoat), trying to sweat it out. Since then, I've declined all flu shots. Which reminds me of the Old Grand Lady who spent 75 years in the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee (at one time the largest mental hospital complex in America with about 5,000 patients). Her husband was in love with another woman, so he signed an affidavit and had her committed, and she just stayed there, lost and forgotten. That was in 1918, during the big flu epidemic which killed a half-million people in this country. One of the side effects of that flu strain was temporary mental problems and lots of survivors ended up in nut houses. This woman became the Forgotten Woman of Chattahoochee until she was discovered by some young girls who brought her plight to the media's attention and eventually got her out. She went on to become the oldest woman in the USA; after she got out, she went to a nursing home in Palatka, Florida, on the St John's River, where she remained in good health until she passed on.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 13, 2009

Dear Sis~
Well, old Roy may get some relief yet. You may recall that prison officials wrote my elderly neighbor a DR (Disciplinary Report) for his inability to urinate on command. I wrote up an administrative appeal for him, which went to the warden, and we received a rubber-stamped denial (by the "acting warden", since the real warden was on vacation). I then appealed to Tallahassee, pointing out the salient facts, most crucial of which is that Roy takes prescribed medication twice a day to help him urinate. He's got severe prostate problems and, even with the medication, he strains to pee. Anyway, Tallahassee kicked the DR back to the warden, stating that the warden's response and denial was unsatisfactory, and gave him 15 days to either dismiss the DR or come up with a better reason for denying the appeal. If the warden is smart (or just fair), he'll dismiss the Dr and leave old Roy alone, but I'm not overly optimistic. It's exceedingly rare to beat a DR on appeal; but I utilized a factually strong argument combined with a lot of legal vernacular (I mentioned due process more than once) and, maybe someone up in their legal department smelled a potential lawsuit. Anyway, I'll keep you posted...
Everything here is good. I'm still hard at work on this certiorari petition I'm putting together (it's for a non- death row prisoner, not me). The US Supreme Court grants about 70-80 cert petitions each year (i.e., they agree to hear those cases) out of 15,000 or more filed annually, so you can do the math. No matter how good your lawyers are and how much merit your issues may have, it's next to impossible to get the Supremes to consider your case. Still, you gotta try - that's how law is made...
Just learned that Eddie Bell (aka Dreads) has a February execution date in Virginia; the Supremes just denied his cert petition, so he's through dealing. Virginia wastes no time in killing its death row prisoners; they've perfected the express track to the death house (Bell has been on the row for about 5 1/2 years - the average for Virginia and quickest in America). Something to be proud about, huh?
Love, Bill

Thursday, January 08, 2009

January 1, 2009

Dear Sis~
Here it i s, the first day of the new year, a time of hope an renewal. On Death Row, it's easy to be thankful for another year, another shot at life, another chance to believe that Fate will intervene and allow us to deflect the full brunt of Destiny's arrows (or Karma's impassive reproach). On this matter, I can only speak for myself, but once the years have stretched into decades and the past has become just a blur, a smudge of snapshot memories of an endless series of cells, fences, bars and solitary nights, you tend to equivocate, sometimes wishing it would simply end so you can move on to the next plane, the next incarnation, where you can apply the hard-learned lessons burned into your spirit from this earthly journey. Other times, though, you value each day as an opportunity for growth, another chance to burn off Karma and assure yourself that the next time around you won't have to learn those lessons again, that next time, you will fulfill your potential and become the person you wish you had - a positive, uplifting, caring person who will make a difference in other peoples' lives. That's how I deal with the inevitable malaise that hits you when you live for years in a cage; I remind myself that life is not supposed to be soft or easy, life is supposed to be hard, for it's in adversity that we learn, grow and evolve. Every day I live in adverse conditions and overcome, is another day of growth, and each lesson I learn here is a lesson I won't have to learn the next time around. When you view life int hat context, when you truly believe that in your heart, it makes life not just bearable, but actually enjoyable, even in a death row cell. So, I welcome another new year and whatever it may bring, from life to death and all the various degrees and permutations in between...
Meanwhile, I'm sitting here on my bunk, listening to NPR (National Public Radio) on my little pocket radio. They're playing some old classic riffs and, in particular, some Grateful Dead tunes from 1969, which really conjure up pleasant memories, carrying me back to a time when I still had a pocketful of dreams and I had not yet irreversibly turned down the left hand path. Probably the most common fantasy indulged in by humans is to wish we could go back in time to whenever we perceive to be that golden moment of youth, yet to retain the knowledge and wisdom we now possess. Which reminds me of an old adage..."Youth is wasted on the Young."
Alright, Sis, I'll let you go for now. Give the doggies a New Year's hug for me!
Leave & Peace!