Monday, December 12, 2011

December 7, 2011 - Pearl Harbor Memorial

Dear Sis~

It's Pearl Harbor Day; there are very few World War II veterans left alive, and only a handful who experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor.  How the world has changed in the last 70 years!  And yet, from a war and violence perspective, humanity has not changed at all...

About three days ago a guy on the row named Willie Davis hung himself over at the main death row unit at UCI, across the river.  Suicide is a common last resort to the despondent and/or mentally ill on death row.  Then today, on E wing (housing close management prisoners, not D/R) a guy dove head first over the second floor rail, handcuffed behind his back, landing on his head and splitting open his skull.  He was life-lighted out of here in critical condition.  This guy was known to be mentally unstable.  This prison is a warehouse, they just stick guys in these solitary confinement cells, locked down 24/7 for years and years, virtually devoid of any property, with no help or programs available, so their mental deterioration is inevitable...

I'm watching all these Republican wannabees fighting for the Republican nomination and all I can think about is how Dad, a lifelong Republican, must be spinning in his grave as these clowns purport to represent the party of Lincoln.  The eventual nomination will be Mitt or Newt and I suspect  that many Republicans will sit on their hands at election time, a pox on both of them.  It's sad that these two buffoons are the best the GOP can come up with, but certainly a Godsend for Obama, who must be thanking his lucky stars!
Love & Peace,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nov 22, 2011 - President Kennedy remembered

Dear Sis~
Writing today's date reminded me this is the anniversary of President Kennedy's 1963 assassination.  Like almost every American alive back then I still vividly recall where I was when I learned the sad news. Even at age 9 I understood (at least to the extent a nine-year-old could) the dimension of the tragedy, which caused me to run home from elementary school with tears streaming down my face...
As you know we had an execution a week ago, the second one in 2 months.  In the week leading up to it, and in the week since, I was more than a little morose.  I long ago lost count of the number of guys I've watched get marched off to the death chamber but it has in recent years become harder to shrug it off, to just accept it as routine, as the way it is, that a civilized society finds it reasonable, even highly desirable to coldly and premeditatedly kill human beings.  Here I am surrounded by the prospect of death, right at the doorstep, which permeates the atmosphere here like a foul odor...
Well, Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner, not that we'll be seeing any decent food.  Back in the day we used to get a real feast on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas; it was a tradition in prisons around the country, lots of real turkey, stuffing and gravy, hot dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin (or sweet potato) pie, salad, eggnog, etc.  Those were the two days when we were relieved of the tedium of bland prison food, and before the prison system became so overly hateful and hostile towards prisoners.  Nowadays it's all about being mean-spirited, begrudging us any hint of compassion lest someone be accused of being "soft on crime."  An apt example of this mindset is what recently happened in Texas following an execution where the condemned ordered his traditional last meal and then had the audacity not to eat any of it, leaving it untouched until he was executed.  Some Texas legislator heard about this "waste of money" and got himself into a self-righteous lather, asserting that a person facing execution does not deserve any type of special last meal, that it was a moral outrage to provide one.  So, immediately the head of their Dept of Corrections announced that he agreed with those sentiments and that henceforth all condemned prisoners will only receive a standard prison meal prior to execution.  Even in the final moments before death there can be no hint of kindness or compassion. When did we become such a hateful people? (As for myself I would not even ask for a last meal anyway; I'm not interested in participating in their rituals of death, of being a footnote in someones anecdote)...
Despite my seemingly dismal situation, in the spirit of Thanksgiving Day I acknowledge that I have much to be thankful for, starting with the fundamentals: I'm alive, in sound health and great spirits.  Most importantly I'm blessed to have so many good people who love and care about me, making mine an easier path to tread.  I don't know what the future holds for me but for now it's all good...
Ok, Sis, enough blathering from me.  Give the doggies a belly rub for me, and enjoy the holidays!

Love and Peace,

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 27, 2011

Dear Sis~

No sooner had I written and sent in my my last blog bemoaning the mainstream media's failure to adequately cover the Occupy Wall Street movement when suddenly it was on every TV channel and front page news in the written media.  These folks have very legitimate grievances; they see (and live) the handwriting on the wall re the direction democracy, and unconstrained capitalism, is headed in this country, but they are easily dismissed by the status quo due to their muddled messages, their lack of a single voice and their inability to translate their anger into a unifying political platform.  The gaggle of clowns vying for the Republican presidential nomination tow the Wall Street party line and disparage these protestors as "a dangerous mob" or as "jealous malcontents" but these people are the warp and woof of our society: teachers, firefighters, construction workers, students, the great middle class who have been squeezed until it hurts, while the wealthiest few have been growing ever richer.  There's no shortage of telling statistics re the economic inequality that now defines our society, but here's one you can chew on:  the wealthiest 400 people/families in America are worth more than the bottom 150 million citizens...
I can't recall if, in my last entry, I told you that Governor Scott signed his second death warrant (just 12 days after Manny's execution), scheduling a Nov 15th execution date for Oba Chandler.  I don't know Chandler personally but I know his case and it's an ugly one, involving the brutal murder of a woman and her two daughters down in the Tampa/St Petersburg area.  It was a very high profile case at the time, and our current attorney general, Pam Bondi, was a law prosecutor down there back then.  I'm sure she has very vivid memories of that horrible case and so it did not surprise me that Chandler's name got pulled out of the hat considering that Pam Bondi is now the person responsible for providing Gov Scott with the name(s) of D/R guys who are ready (in her opinion) to be executed.  Chandler's is the type of viscerally emotional case that gives even the most ardent abolitionist pause.  Anyway, what concerns me is that Gov Scott signed his second death warrant less than  2 weeks after the previous execution.  What I'm wondering is whether Scott plans to emulate Texas' assembly line approach to capital punishment.  We will soon find out, huh?  
Love & Peace,

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 10, 2011

Dear Sis~
The mainstream media (from what I can see from my admittedly abbreviated view here in a death row cell) is not paying much attention to the protesters "occupying Wall Street" nor bothering to investigate and explicate for the general public the very genuine concerns and issues which have these folks (and most Americans) so frustrated and angry.  People from across America, finally fed up with the status quo, are converging upon Wall Street to do the only thing they can, use their physical presence and voices to vent their rage with America's slow transformation into a stark two-class society, with the ultra rich in control and the rest a nation of burger-flippers.  It's finally dawning on many that our political system (not to mention our economic model) has been totally hijacked by the financial elite (even more so than in normal times, for the rich have always had inordinate political influence).  The average person may not have a degree in economics, may not be particularly financially sophisticated, but they can look around and see what time it is, they grasp the reality - and the adverse trend lines - and what it means to the "American Dream."  The gap between the haves and have nots has never been greater in modern times and is inexorably widening, with no end in sight.  I believed then, and I still believe now, that Obama's biggest mistake - and one which still haunts him today, weighing down on him like an anchor - was bailing out all the banks and Wall Street firms rather than letting them fail (or more accurately taking them over).  Obama was surrounded by and advised by (by his choice) the very scoundrels (i.e. Wall Street alumni) who brought the world-wide economic meltdown to us, and he drank the Kool-Aid they offered him, he spouted their rhetoric about banks being "too big to fail", and accepted their claim that the "only" solution was an unprecedented, astronomically huge transfer of taxpayers' monies from the (future) public coffers into the banks' pockets.  This was the largest heist in world history, done in broad daylight and totally legal.  It would be a joke if the results were not so tragic for the average person, and America in general.  Now, three years later, Joe Citizen, broke and unemployed, scans the landscape and sees the obvious, that the only ones doing well (very, very well) are the very ones who drove us into the ditch, while everyone else is suffering.  The anger, conscious or subconscious, resides in just about everyone's breast, and the one thing they are sure about is that Obama was the conductor of this train when the decisions were made to bail out the rich and ignore the masses.  This is a fact; they can pretty it up and obfuscate it with rhetoric, but they can't change the facts.  Obama had a chance to fundamentally alter the balance of power but he shirked his duty (to the masses) in favor of kowtowing to the elite.  In the end Obama was just like any typical mainstream politician, Democrat or Republican; he went with the big money.  Now he is reaping what he sowed: the deep, visceral residual anger and discontent in the hearts of the average American.  This is part of the anger animating the Tea Party, although many of them have been brain-washed by the right-wing Republicans (and their Wall Street puppet masters) into carrying their water, into believing that teachers, firemen, cops and union workers are the ones bankrupting America, rather than the bankers, the multi-national corporations and the Wall Street movers and shakers who use our national treasury as their own private piggy bank.  If these Tea Party activists ever started thinking for themselves they'd wake up and see how they're being manipulated by the status quo power brokers (who laugh at them behind their backs) and they'd join those protesters on Wall Street.  Now that would be something the media would cover!
Love & Peace,

Monday, October 03, 2011

Sept 28, 2011 -Manny's last day

Dear Sis~
Manny was executed a few minutes ago, about 150 feet from where I'm sitting. He was initially scheduled to die at 4:00pm, which means he was strapped to the gurney and had IV lines inserted around 3:30, and the curtain was parted around 3:50pm to reveal him to all the gawking spectators, there to see "justice" done.  But, just minutes before they could push the plungers, the US Supreme Court (a/k/a Supremes) granted him a temporary delay, stating that they'd have a decision within an hour.  Manny remained strapped to the gurney for the next 3 hours and fifteen minutes, alone with his thoughts. Can you imagine what is going through your mind at that point? At 7:15 the Supremes announced that they were denying his last-minute bid and the State immediately killed him (the old white hearse, which I've watched pick up bodies here for the last 36 years, had left after the temporary stay was announced and they had to rush it back to the prison).  And we claim to be civilized...
In yet another indication that America is on track to decend into third-world status, we now rank number 46 in the world in infant mortality (down from our consistent top five rankings in decades past).  In  education our students rank just as dismally.  These trends should surpise nobody given our perpetual political gridlock, lack of vision, and the far right's anti-science philosophy (exemplified by Gov Rick Perry who prefers to hold prayer meetings to obtain drought relief rather then accept the scientific facts regarding cimate science).
I'm bummed out right now (I've known Manny for over 30 years, since before I came to the row) so I'm gonna cut this short.  Perhaps I'll be more optimistic the next time I write.
Love, Bill

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sept 18, 2011

Dear Sis~
   I just confirmed that a friend of mine, Russell Hudson out of Ft. Lauderdale, died last week at the UCI death row unit across the river.  He was found in his cell at breakfast time - after his neighbors heard him gasping for air earlier during the night - dead of a heart attack at age 42.  Before transferring to UCI Russ spent several years here on my floor where I got to know him well - personable, smart and a man of his word - and came to like him.  From all outward appearances Russ was healthy; he was slim and active, seemingly in good shape and not a likely candidate for sudden heart failure.  Another reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is.  An extraordinary number of D/R guys have died of "natural causes" here on Florida's row over the last 15-20 years, well over 30, and the far majority of them have been by cancer.  About 5 have died in just the past year or so, including 2 by heart attack (the others were cancer).  So many of us die by cancer that I've come to suspect that there's something carcinogenic in the water supply here.  Today's my birthday, but considering I've been drinking Florida State Prison water since 1974 (with a few years of breaks here and there) I've gotta be thankful for every B-day I get to celebrate!...
   Here's a few interesting statistics about Prison Nation (a/k/a America):  the median incarceration rate among all nations worldwide is 125 prisoners for every 100,000 people.  In England it's 153; Germany is 89; Japan is just 63.  The United States, meanwhile, incarcerates 743 per 100,000, by far the highest rate in the world.  If you include all US residents currently on probation or parole, our correctional population is 7.2 million, about one in every 31 Americans.  America incarcerates nearly 25% of the world's prisoners, even though we have only 5% of the world's population.  Just pause and consider those numbers, Sis, and ask yourself why this is...
   After several stays of executions Manny is scheduled to die on Wednesday, Sept 28th, at 4pm.  He's exhausted all of his legal issues (that I'm aware of), having been turned down all the way up the judicial ladder, including most recently the US Supreme Court.  It does not look good for Manny.  I have to bite my tongue when talking about Manny - a guy with 33 years on the row and a man who, at 61 years old, has completly turned his life around - because his execution will be as senseless and uncivilized as any I can imagine.  But the system, the death machine, is totally indifferent...
  That's it for now, Sis.  I love you, never forget that!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Manny Valle Stay

Dear Readers:

Manny Valle has gotten a 3rd stay of execution to Sept 28th...

Friday, September 02, 2011

August 27,2011

Dear Sis~
Two days ago a unanimous Florida Supreme Court rejected Manny Valle's challenge to the new lethal injection drug (pentobarbitol) and affirmed his Sept 1st execution date.  So, that's going to happen...
Well, last week you endured the earthquake centered just 40  miles from your house and now you're being pounded by hurricane Irene.  Hopefully, this is your quota of natural disasters for the year...
I just enjoyed a fine PBS program, part of their American Masters series, which is an apt title considering the subject, the great folk singer Pete Seeger (the episode is titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song). Pete is a beautiful, old soul and the epitomy of an American Master.  The program, despite the meanness of the treatment often accorded Pete, greatly uplifted my spirit and reminded me of the best things of this nation, which is the spirit of the people and not its material wealth or greatness of power.   Hearing again all of those wonderful, powerful ballads washed me in a flood of childhood memories, even though back then in the early 1960's I was too emotionally immature and spiritually ignorant to fathom the true, deeper messages of those songs - peace, love, brotherhood, justice, equality.  Watching this moving, poignant program I felt (again) so disappointed in myself, in my failure as a youngster to be awake to the values expressed by the songs (by the times), my failure to find my better half and follow the path espoused by those songs that I mindlessly sang around the campfire.  While Pete was singing his anti-war songs in the early sixties I was fully indoctrinated by the system, foolishly and eagerly anticipating the day I'd be old enough to join the army, march off to war in Vietnam, kill those godless Commies and return home a John Wayne hero.  What a damn fool I was, shallow and superficial, unable to think for myself.  I was sure drinking the Kool-Aid back then!  Meanwhile, Pete gave his all to the values he believed in.  He spent decades being vilified and blacklisted (unable to work) by the mindless mob, the right-wing elements of the power structure - from the FBI to Congress to the Republican Party - simply because he dared to challenge the pro-war agenda then dominating our culture, because he had the temerity to suggest that peace, love, brotherhood and justice were worthy aspirations for us and our children.  Throughout it all, Pete never stopped loving our country, never doubted the essential goodness of the people.  Pete Seeger has come full circle in the autumn of his life; he's an icon, and deservedly so, exemplifying the true spirit of this nation, everything that is good and right about America.  What a beautiful spirit he is!
Love, Bill

Saturday, August 06, 2011

August 31, 2011

Dear Sis~
     Manny Valle, who was scheduled to die on August 2nd, received a 30-day stay of execution from the Florida Supreme Court; his new execution date, I am told, is Sept 2nd.  My understanding, and it's admittedly second-hand, is that he's challenging Florida's new execution drug, pentobarbitol (the pink, Pepto-Bismol looking stuff used to euthanize animals at shelters) and the new execution protocols that were secretly adopted in conjunction with the change to the new drug.  Whether this temporary stay morphs into a full stay will depend upon what facts are developed at Mannys' evidentiary hearing in Miami.  Manny is a quiet, soft-spoken, easy-going guy, always ready to help someone out.  I first met him around 1981 when he was on the row and I was in open population, working in the law library.  In that capacity, I came back to death row almost every day to help guys out with their legal issues.  Manny, who was celling next to Ted Bundy at the time, came to the row for shooting a Coral Gables cop during a traffic stop.  Little did I know back then, as I went from cell to cell, that one day I'd join those guys on the row...
     The motor on my little electric fan  burned out recently - couldn't have happened at a worse time - and I've been sweating like a dog in this sweltering heat ever since.  If I'm lucky, I'll get the new fan I bought from the canteen within the next 30 days.  They don't keep them in stock, so they've gotta be ordered.  Hell, I can't even get confirmation from the canteen that my order was received and is being processed...
     I was saddened to learn of Amy Winehouse's death although it was easily predictable, given her self-destructive history.  Another artistic talent gone far too soon.  I've gotta wonder if there was anyone close to her who really cared about her, or if she was just surrounded with enablers.  Experience teaches us that some people just can't be helped; they are resolutely determined to go down their chosen path and no amount of pleading can steer them off that road.  Still, these last few months, Amy seemed so sad and directionless and her actions and behavior cried out for help...
     I watched the first Harry Potter movie on TV last week.  When I was in Virginia they came on all the time.  (unlike here, we he had basic cable there), but I never bothered to catch any of them.  But, with some rare free time on my hands, and because the series is such a cultural phenomenon, I convinced myself to check it out.  I confess to being underwhelmed; I just didn't get what all the hoopla was about.  But, I also had to remind myself that this is for kids and I do understand how children can be transfixed by well-spun tales of magic and wonder.  Upon reflection I recalled how, as a child, I could be transported to other mysterious and wondrous realms by the magic of an exceptional movie, or book, in ways adults are unable to appreciate and quick to pooh-pooh.  So, I won't be a judgmental stick in the mud.  I'm glad kids can still find some magic.  Soon enough, as they "mature", the demands of this world will suck it out of their spirits until it will just fade into foggy, dim memories...
     That's the news from the boondocks of North Florida!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 10, 2011

Dear Sis~
   I received the latest Florida Law Weekly last week and read that the Florida Supreme Court just reduced old Roy's death sentence to life imprisonment.  This was not unexpected; in fact I've been assuring him for the last 18 months that, at a minimum, he would end up with a life sentence.  But we were both hoping he'd get a new trial.  He had good, solid issues which, had he prevailed, would have gotten him a new trial (and then possibly an acquittal by his jury), but the Supreme Court gave him a thumbs down on that one.  Roy is now 70 years old, in failing health, on many medications and afflicted with onsetting dimentia, and is now doomed to dodder around in some distant, uncaring prison compound for what remains of his life...
   Well, on Thursday, a guy upstairs got careless and got busted with an ounce of reefer during a routine, single-cell shakedown.  He got caught slipping and as soon as I heard that I knew there would be repercussions.  Sure enough, the next day the whole shakedown team arrived on the wing, bright and early (the tip off is always when your sink and toilet water is shut off just before they hit) and stormed through the wing, tearing up all our cells.  I spent 30 minutes cuffed and shackled, locked in the shower while they rampaged through my cell.  As usual, it looked like a tornado hit my cell when I got back, all my property thrown across the floor scattered in the wind.  So, I spent the rest of that day putting all my stuff away, then scrubbing my floor.  I didn't lose much stuff, just the miscellaneous things that go toward making life more bearable, from extra salt to scotch tape to Tupperware bowls to extra towels and sheets.  Nothing to get in trouble over.  The guards in  my cell did steal two packs of sunflower seeds (it's common for them to eat your canteen snacks while they tear up your cell and you're locked in the shower) but that's just par for the course; it comes with the territory.  At least they were not overly destructive; some guards will deliberately smash your glasses, or radio, or even your TV, or flush your family photos down the toilet, if they have reason to dislike you, or if they're just malicious by nature...
   Here are a few interesting facts about America's growing plutocracy and the ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and everyone else (many more statistics, even more impressive and forceful are easily available online but with no Internet access I'm stuck with the scraps I pick up in newspapers and magazines): Between 2002 and 2007, 65% of all income growth in the US went to the richest 1% of the population.  Today, half of all the national income goes to the richest 10%.  In 2007, the top 1% controlled just 26.9%.  And, if you go back 80 years and look at the statistics you see that the curve - the gap between the very wealthiest and everyone else - is growing inexorably.  The problem is getting worse, not better.  The income inequality is intuitively known by most Americans (if not the details of the magnitude) and eventually, I believe, the people will wake up (politically) and do something about it.  But it may take a total meltdown in the financial industry (like what almost happened 2 1/2 years ago) to bring it about.  We are on a very precarious footing in America right now and we can easily see a repeat of the most recent meltdown, except worse. The systemic problems have not been fixed, not even close, and in fact are worse than ever.  This income inequality is just a symptom of the disease...
That's it for now from the big house!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 26, 2011

Dear Sis~
They moved six Death Row guys to the main D/R unit at the Rock last week, including old Roy (now 70 yrs old), my neighbor for the last 2-1/2 years.  He's got nobody on the streets and I was the only one looking out for him, so he's gonna be lost over there.  But, he will either have a new trial, or be off Death Row (with a life sentence) as soon as the Florida Supreme Court hands down his direct appeal decision, which should be soon.  You may recall that in Roy's case they never found the body of the alleged murder victim and there were no witnesses to the alleged murder.  The primary evidence against him was a jailhouse snitch who claimed Roy "confessed" to him.  The use of jailhouse snitch testimony is the most egregious practice in the criminal justice system and puts more innocent people in prison than any other single thing.  Professional, lying jailhouse snitches play the system like a banjo, making up "confessions" and then getting out of jail in return for their fabricated testimony.  Prosecutors use this false testimony often knowing (or at least suspecting) it is fabricated because they care more about obtaining convictions than learning the truth...
Anyway, four of the six guys transferred arrived here after me which tells me I am still on the "do not transfer to the Rock" list (either because of the nature of my case, or because I escaped from the Rock in 1978).  That's fine with me as I have zero interest in going over there where the visiting situation is all screwed up.  Plus, they have a really stupid policy of randomly moving 10% of everyone every week, so you are constantly being uprooted...
Just read a lengthy article/expose (maybe not the right word) in my New Yorker, titled A Dirty Business, about the insider trading trial and conviction of billionaire hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, who ran the Galleon Fund.  The wider story is about the endemic corruption on Wall Street, the pervasive insider trading at the highest levels which makes a mockery of the idea that there's any kind of level playing field.  Any thinking person already knew this, but it's interesting to see it confirmed by unequivocal evidence.  As the author of the story, George Packer, correctly observed, "The market has become more of an exclusive gambling club for the very rich than a level playing field open to the ordinary investor"...
Alright, Sis, I'll let you go for now.  Keep your chin up and a smile on your face.
Love, Bill

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 18, 2011

Dear Sis~
     Yesterday the warden and a posse of big wigs from Tallahassee, including representatives of the Attorney General's office, and possibly including Secretary Buss (I'm getting conflicting reports on whether he attended), spent the morning on Q-Wing conducting a mock execution, employing the new, refined execution protocol.  I caught a glimpse of them all as I left the wing on my way to the clinic for a medical call out (my "annual physical" which consited of a nurse weighing me, taking my blood pressure (118/72) and asking me 3 or 4 questions e.g., "do you have trouble sleeping at night or have night sweats?")  Not exactly the Mayo Clinic...
     Then last night there was a killing on K-Wing (not death row).  Two guys, Tazz and Crawfish (yes, that's their true nicknames; I don't know their real names) allegedly murdered another prisoner named Xavier Rodriquez (just 21 years old).  All 3 guys were runarounds; Tazz and Crawfish tied the guy up, stabbed him to death, then approached the Wing Officer and said "put the handcuffs on us; we just killed one."  I didn't know the victim, but I know both Tazz and Crawfish 'cuz they were runarounds here on the row a few months ago (they rotate runners every 6-8 weeks).  Both of these guys are morons; they give stupid a bad name.  Crawfish killed 5 people in Jacksonville (and no, he did not get any death sentences. So much for death row being reserved for the "worst of the worst") and has stabbed other prisoners in other joints (that's why he is here as FSP)  I don't know what the beef was, but knowing these two clowns, I'm sure it was something really foolish.  Both guys told me more than once that they "want to go to death row."  They'll probably get their wish now (here's a guy who has killed 6 people and is trying to get to death row - unsuccessfully so far - while I have not killed anyone and I'm fighting tooth and nail to get out from under this death sentence, yet I cannot get any relief whatsoever.  You see why I tell you that the imposition of capital punishment in America is as arbitrary and capricious as you can imagine?)  Murders here at FSP have become rare.  Back in the day, in the 70's and 80's, when I was in open population, this joint was red in tooth and claw, known as one of the most violent in America, where beatings, stabbings, rapes and shootings (the joint was awash in zip guns) were daily occurrences and murders were common.  But, since they locked the entire joint down (and actually began reducing the amount of weapons in circulation) the violence has significantly diminished.  Mostly it's real hard for someone to get a hold of someone else; everyone is bedind the doors.  The execption are the runarounds (4 per wing) and you how that just worked out...
     I'm reading a really good book, The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Fowlett ( well-known writer of action thrillers).  He switched genres to pen this historical novel (1076 pages in paperback) set in Medieval times.  It revolves around the building of a cathedral, which sounds boringly mundane, but it's a real page-turner.  Great book!  It's my recommendation of the month.
     Ok, Sis...give the doggies a tummy rub for me!
Love, Bill

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Bill's books are now e-books!

Dear Readers:

Bill's books (Quietus, The Third Pillar of Widsom and A Checkered Past) are now e-books on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Smashwords.  If you don't have an e-book reader like Kindle or Nook, you can still download the e-books to your computer or laptop and read them there, like I have.

Bill and I thank all his readers and followers for their support and help in so many ways over the years.

Thank you all  :}

Friday, May 06, 2011

April 30, 2011

Dear Sis,

   Connecticut may be on the verge of abolishing the death penalty.  The bill has been forwarded to the whole senate by a major committee; if the senate approves it, it will become law as the new governor has stated that he will sign it.  The Connecticut legislature approved a similar bill two years ago but the then-Republican governor vetoed it.  As you know, Illinois abolished capital punishment some months ago, and a number of other states have abolition bills working through their respective legislatures.  Ever so slowly there is a shift against the death penalty manifesting across the country.  It will take many more years for it to come to fruition, especially in the south where killing people is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the citizens, but one day it will come about and a new generation will abandon this barbaric custom...
  Well, Florida has just joined several other states (Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio) in changing its drug of choice for executions from sodium thiopental (the first of the  3 drugs administered in the "three-drug-cocktail") which is no longer manufactured in America, to pentobarbital, the pink "Pepto-Bismol"-like drug that is commonly used in anumal shelters to euthanize unlucky dogs and cats.  So, killing us "like dogs" has gone from the metaphorical to literal.  Both Oklahoma and Ohio have already executed prisoners with the new drug which has never been vetted for human use.  There will be court challenges around the country over this change, some successful (at least in the short term) and others unsuccessful (like in Ohio and Oklahoma).  Whenever someone changes some significant aspect of death penalty procedures, it opens up a whole new round of legal challenges to the methods of execution (i.e., to the drugs & execution protocols) since they are temporary solutions and besides the fact.  All they do is delay the inevitable; they don't attack the underlying conviction or sentence which is the only way to get off the row.  So, I never got into that trip, leaving it to others to pursue those legal remedies.  And, it almost came to a halt 3 years ago when the US  Supreme Court handed down the Baze decision where a bare majority ruled that the 3-drug protocol did not violate the 8th Amendment...
   Here it seems to have gone directly from winter to summer.  It was 92 degrees when I went to rec the other day, a blazing sun in a clear blue sky.  It was hot!  But I love the sunshine and I bear the heat.  I spent my 3 hours, as usual, working out and walking the yard, enjoying a handful of singing birds (mostly Mocking Birds), and a few chirping babies in nests up in the razor wire atop our yard fences, which kept me company.  And I admired the (incongruous) beautiful yellow flowers lining the road to the execution chamber.  I always whistle to the birds and they whistle and sing back, seeming to enjoy the banter.  But, I miss my clever crows that I had in Virginia; they were like old friends.  I knew them for years, and they knew me...
   Farewell, Sis, I'll see you soon!

Love and Peace

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 8, 2011

Dear Sis~

     This past Tuesday we awoke to the stomping of boots and rattling of chains, the telltale melody of the goon squad, which rolled in on us without warning (which is the point, after all) to tear up our cells.  This was the annual Spring shakedown, the ostensible purpose of which is to pick up any extra blankets, sheets and towels, plus our winter coats (I'm being very generous calling these thin, raggedy, torn-up garments "coats").  But, as with any shakedown, there are no limits; once in your house (cell) the shakedown crew can take whatever they want (or not) and tear up your house (or not) as much as they want.  It's the luck of the draw; if you get a couple of decent guards, they'll go relatively easy on you.  If you get a nasty crew, well, they dump all your property on the floor and walk all over it, maybe smash your eyeglasses, dump your instant coffee on the floor, break open all your bars of soap, squeeze out all your toothpaste, dump your photographs in the toilet, etc...I've had all that happen to me one time or another over the years.  This time they were not too bad, and in paticular, I lucked out.  After being strip searched, chained and shackled and placed in the shower, the crew only spent about 5 minutes in my house and they did not gratuitously destroy anything.  I lost my extra towels and sheets, lost my only good blanket (I'm left with a thin, stringy cotton "blanket" which is missing a third of its length, that I used to fold up for a pillow) but overall I did OK and I'm not complaining.  This is just one of the prices you pay for being in the joint.  Like rotten food and crazy neighbors, it comes with the territory...
     The Florida legislation is still in session and I get to watch the daily shenanigans on a local PBS channel.  With a Republican governor and Republican super majority in the house and senate, they can legislate with impunity.  The Democrats are mere observers.  One piece of mischief that is particularly blatant is their just-passed bill to amend the Florida constitution to resctructure the Florida Supreme Court.  There is absolutely no legitimate reason to do this; it's purely political.  Their bill calls for the current 7-member court to be divided into two separate 5-member Supreme Courts - one for criminal cases and one for civil cases.  The five most senior current justices will go to the new criminal Supreme Court, meaning three new justices must be appointed by the governor for the new civil Supreme Court.  The importance of this is:  the Republican legislature will soon re-draw all of Florida's congressional districts (as is done every 10 years).  These Gerrymandered districts can be challenged by the Democrats, but the case must be resolved by the new civil Supreme Court, dominated by Republican-appointed justices (all of our current justices were appointed by Republican governors, in fact).  This is a blatant Republican power play, modeled after what the Republicans pulled off in Texas, and designed to guarantee that Republicans control the Florida legislature in perputuity.  However, this bill only places the new amendment on the next ballot;  the voters still have to approve it before the constitution can be amended (the makeup of the Supreme Court is set forth in the constitution).  Maybe, just maybe, the normally sheep-like Florida voters will pull their heads out of the sand long enough enough to see how they're about to get screwed.  But, I won't bet any money on it...
     That's it for now, Sis.  Give the doggies a tummy rub for me.
Love & Peace

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 22, 2011

Dear Sis~
     It's sobering to watch the terrible tragedies unfolding in Japan in the wake of that triple whammy - earthquake, tsunami and nuclear contamination.  But the Japanese are demonstrating their renowned resilience; their reputation for poise and equanimity in the face of such epic misfortune is well-earned.  When I see the scope of death and destruction on my little TV, a well-known quote by Nabokov comes to mind, "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness".  While I don't subscribe to the metaphysical implications of that statement, it nonetheless conveys the smallness of mankind against the backdrop of nature's eons.  We are a meaningless speck on this physical, three-dimensional plane and whatever siginificance we have in the cosmos lies elsewhere...
    I can't recall if I wrote about this already, but for the last several months there has bee a brouhaha going on in the death penalty states over a severe lack of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs used in the 3-drug cocktail used in executions.  The sole US manufacturer has quit making it and European maufacturers are being forbidden by their governments from exporting it to America for use in executions.  So, those states very eager to keep killing have been in a panic mode at the thought of not being able to kill people on schdeule.  Oklahoma simply went to another (untested-in-humans) drug, pentobarbital, the drug commonly used to euthanize unwanted dogs and cats.  They've killed three men so far with this new drug, with the blessing of the courts.  Texas just announced that, they too, will switch.  Other states clandestinely obtained supplies of sodium thiopental from questionable sources.  (The states have been begging the federal government to "loan" them some of their stock of sodium thiopental so they can keep killing without delay).  The latest shoe to drop in this unseemly drama occurred six days ago when the DEA seized the Georgia Dept of Correction's entire supply of sodium thiopental because they had "circumvented the law in obtaining its supply" which it apparently purchased "from a British supplier operating from the back of a London driving school."  I my view, it's macabre to see our goverments so desperate to kill people. It's a sad commentary on our society.  But, I'm sure this will prove to be a small speedbump; America is proud of its killing heritage - especially in the South where it's entangled in notions of mahood - and the states will quickly figure out other ways to kill.  That's one thing this country is very good at; killing folks.
Love & Peace,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 6, 2011

Dear Sis~

I just learned that another Death Row prisoner, Lloyd Duest, died of cancer recently.  He's been on the row since 1983, almost 28 years, so I guess you could say he had a pretty good run (he was 59 years old).  I've lost count of all the guys on the row who have died of cancer over the last decade; it's like an epidemic.  Statistically speaking, the number are way out of whack; it's way beyond just an anomaly - the deviation from the norm is way off the chart.  My suspicion is that there's something in the water or the food is morphing into a near certainty.  Speaking of food, I may have told you that about 6 months ago the DOC (Dept of Corrections) stopped serving any kind of real meat to prisoners.  A DOC official went on TV and claimed they would save several million dollars a year by serving this new (and terrible tasting and looking) fake "meat" made from soy and vegetable matter.  Well, I did some investigating and learned the source of this stuff.  It's made by Archer Daneils Midland Company (ADM), a huge food/agricultural conglomerate (it dominates the American market) and it is called Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), also known as Textured Soy Protein (TSP), "soy emat" or "soya meat".  It is made from soy beans, cotton seeds, wheat and oats, and is extruded into various shapes (chunks, nuggets, grains, flakes and strips).  Here's ADM's description: "The defatted, thermoplastic proteins are heated to 150-200 degrees Centigrade, which denatures them into a fibrous, insoluble, porous network that can soak up as much as three times its weight in liquids.  As the pressurized molten protein mixture exits the extruder, the sudden drop in pressure causes rapid expansion into a puffy solid that is then dried." Yum, yum, Gooood!  It is supposed to be mixed with real meat in a 1:3 ratio (one part TVP to 3 parts meat) but we get pure TVP, often served as "nuggets" in some kind of fake gravy.  All I can tell you is that it tastes really bad and is like chewing on a flip-flop.  And we get this every day...The real story here, though, when it comes to our food, is that back in the early 1970's, when I first entered the system, the entire DOC was self-sufficient in food.  We grew and raised all our own food, and we ate good, at a minimum cost to taxpayers.  Every prison (and there are about 80 in Florida) has hundreds, sometimes thousand of acres of good farmland.  With free inmate labor and free land, you can grasp how cheap our food was.  We had huge chicken farms, dairies, orange groves, vegetable fields, lots of beef cattle and hogs, which we butchered in our own slaughter houses.  But, in the 1980's, in one of the most scandalous moves in DOC history (and the DOC is a notoriously corrupt and incompetent agency) the big wigs chose to close down all our farms and start buying all our food from freeworld vendors. And they had the temerity to claim this was to save money!! The true purpose was to steal money.  With millions of dollars now going to vendors, and DOC officials deciding who would get these contracts, kickbacks became the name of the game, as they still are.  The food we get from vendors is often unfit for human consumption.  All of our potatoes arrive here rotten.  We buy rotten food which the vendors cannot unlaod anywhere else, yet on paper, we are paying for "choice" food at high prices.  The difference is going into officials' pockets, and that's a fact...If any independent investigation was ever conducted into this, people would go to jail.  But nobody cares what prison officials do; they know they are safe from prying eyes.  It's always been that way (although James Crosby, a previous Secretary of our DOC went to federal prison for a massive bribery and kickback scheme involving our canteen vendor, Keefe Commissary Company).  It was sheer luck and happenstance that it ever came to light.  But nothing has changed.  Keefe is back in business here again (after being banned for a few years) and the price gouging and kickbacks remain.  If Governort Rick Scott, and the new Secretary Edwin Buss, are truly serious about saving money, they can begin by reinstituting our prison farm system.  That would save taxpayers millions of dollar annually (and improve the health and diet of its 100,000 plus prisoners).
Love & Peace,

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 12, 2011

Dear Sis~
I was saddened to read of Jack LaLanne's death (although at 96, he had a full and rich life).  It was as if one more small slice of my own past, my personal history, has slipped away, too.  As a youngster in the early 1960's I often stood in our living room watching and emulating Jack's exercise routines flickering across our black and white TV, amazed at his ability to demonstrate an endless range of exercises and stretches, utilizing only a chair and a stick.  I relished his boundless energy and enthusiasm, his zest for life, and I attribute to him my own lifelong interest in physical fitness and working out, as well as my own self-confidence.  Jack was an amazing individual, and I don't use that term lightly; he set a fine example for others.  I remember how he celebrated all his birthdays with incredible stunts. I think it was his 70th birthday when he swam from Alcatraz Island to the mainland, about 2 or 3 miles away.  Handcuffed.  And towing a rowboat!  Jack was a good mentor and a good man.  Godspeed to Mr LaLanne!
I'm sure you've been watching the big drama playing out in Cairo, Egypt (all across the middle east, actually).  Wasn't it moving and inspiring to watch the common people rise up and throw off the shackles of oppression?  It was an essentially bloodless revolution, done peacefully, without resort to arms, stunning in its directness.  It was interesting to watch America's shifting public statements as we struggled to decide which horse to bank.  For 30 years we have loyally supported Hosni Mubarak, a brutal dictator, whose feared secret police tortured and murdered their own citizens with impunity, even as we played lip service to the principles of democracy.  America has a rich and lengthy history of supporting right-wing dictators across the globe.  As long as they do our bidding and tow the line, they are our dictators and we support them.  We publicly express rhetorical support for democracy and democratic movements, but it's mostly in the abstract and has always yielded to the imperatives of realpolitiks.  Most Americans forget (or never knew) that Saaddam Hassein was once our ally; we supported him mightily, as long as he was at war with or nemesis, Iran.  Likewise with Osama bin Laden whom we armed, trained and supported as long as he fought the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Just a few of the brutal dictators we supported to the hilt for decades were Ferdinand Marcos in the Phillipines; Augusto Pinochet in Chili; Suharto in Indonesia; the Shah of Iran; Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, and countless others.  We love to talk the talk on democracy but we seldom walk the walk.  That hypocrisy is not lost on the rest of the world who see our claims to support "democracy" worldwide for what it is:  a matter of convenience and a lot of hot air.  Anyway, it remains to be seen how things play out in Egypt, whether the "democracy" we now claim to endorse there turns out to bite Amerca in the ass.  Democracy is a funny thing...the people can elect a government whose policies run counter to our own self interests.  As an aside, isn't it interesting that George W Bush ostensibly invaded Iraq in an attempt to bring democracy to the region, and yet the people of Egypt did it themselves, without a brutal war, in a peaceful maner?
Love & Peace,

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

January 23, 2011

Dear Sis~

Hopefully you've dug out of the snow by now.  For the last several weeks it's dipped down into the twenties here, too, and our water faucet out in the rec yard froze up and split open (it's made of PVC pipe, though)...
I've been very busy the last two weeks with my nose in the law books as I've tried to anticipate what the State is going to say in their response to my Rule 3.851 motion.  The judge ordered them to respond by Jan 24th and I'll probably get my copy around the 26th or 27th.  I'll only have a short period of time to write my reply to their response, then get it to my attorney in time for him to review it, type it up and then mail it to the court.  This motion is a big deal for me; it's probably my last court proceeding (barring some unforseen turn of events down the line) and my issue is unique, there's no Florida case law precedent for what I'm doing, particularly in the context of a capital case.  Everything I've done up until now is designed to convince the trial court to grant me an evidentiary so I can prove my case.  I'll be even busier in the next 10 days...
Do you recall when you and I went to the movie theatre and watched the movie Born Free?  It must have been around 1964 or '65 because I was 10 or so and you were 11. The movie was about the Adamsons, a husband and wife team in Africa who had raised Elsa, a lioness, from a cub to an adult and then tried to reintroduce Elsa to the wild.  The movie, and the book it was based upon, and the theme song from the movie, all became huge hits.  The movie was great and made a big impression on me, reinforcing my love for animals, nature and the environment in general.  The reason I mentioned this is because PBS just aired a one-hour program, an update on the whole story, which I enjoyed greatly. Lot of old film footage, which brought back lots of memories for me.  I can still close my eyes and remember myself with you in that movie theatre, 45 years ago, full of wonder as I watched fully grown Elsa, 400+ pounds, playing like a pet with the Adamsons in their tents and around the campgrounds.  Sadly, both the Adamsons were murdered by poachers in separate incidents years later.  They gave their lives protecting the animals they loved.  The future of lions in the African wild does not look good; they used to be very numerous across the continent but now they are almost an endangered species, and sadly, the trend is very negative.  Seems like there is not enough room on this planet for both humans and lions...
That's it for now, Sis, I've gotta keep hitting the books.  Give the doggies a pat on the head for me!
Love, Bill

Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmas 2010

Dear Sis~

Christmas is here, a reminder of how quickly another year has fled.  As is my Christmas Day habit, I devote a few hours to meditation, reflecting on life's deeper meaning, pondering those enigmatic questions posed by the universe.  In the potent silence of a death row cell you have a lot more opportunity - not to mention incentive - than the average bear to indulge in such contemplation...
Yesterday I once again watched It's a Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stewart (do you remember how we used to watch this on TV as kids, a half century ago?) It has a reputation for being hokey, a trite, corn pone film designed to shamelessly tug the heartstrings (which it does) ,but it's really a great story, firmly rooted in sound metaphysical principles, with a message grounded in universal truths.  It's withstood the decades well and if you suspend any cynicism, it's just plain good entertainment. Although it's now considered a holiday classic, this film was initially a commercial flop, the subject of much ridicule...
Our new governor, Rick Scott, gets sworn in next week.  His position on the death penalty is unknown to me, despite my efforts to uncover it.  During the entire campaign, I never heard any of the candidates even mention capital punishment.  The death penalty has lost some luster as the public has become increasingly aware of the substantial  number of exonerations - innocent men walking off death row - mostly due to postconvition DNA testing.  So, politicians just don't get the mileage from this issue that they used to be able to dependably rely upon.  Although Scott is a conservative Republican, he's never been a politician before; he's a career businessman who brings his own perspective to the table.  And, having spent $73 million of his own money to get elected, he is not beholden to anyone.  The optimist in me hopes he'll surprise me and be open to dismantling the machinery of death.  Just wishing!
Love & Peace,