As I write this it’s been more than four weeks since Governor Scott signed my death warrant. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since I was moved down to the very bowels of Q wing, where death watch is. But it has and the coming weeks will pass just as quickly; if not even more so.
Yesterday I received word that a long time friend of mine passed away. His name was Robert Preston ~ we called him “Tree Top” as he was that tall. I first met him about 30 years ago not long after I was first condemned to death. He had already been here years longer than I. He was easy to live around ~ not everybody is in here. Truth be told, I’m sure I have my own moments too.
Through the years we played volleyball, basketball, and other games too. Like so many others, we grew old together in this micro-community that is death row. But as is the only too common case, a while back Tree Top took a turn for the worse. They said it was cancer. Over the past year we were a few cells from each other and his health went quickly. A few month back, towards the end of summer, they took him to Lake Butler (North Florida Reception Center) for chemo treatment and he was gone for a while. When they brought him back, his once tall and lanky frame was barely a bag of bones and he could no longer even walk. He asked to be allowed to go back to the death row unit as he knew he was going to die soon and he wanted to die amongst friends.
As the warden at Union Correctional Institution escorted me from that housing unit around noon of November 30 to take me to death watch, Tree Top was one of the first to holler at me ~ they all knew I wasn’t coming back. Once your death warrant is signed, you never come back. That’s just how it is. Years ago the politicians, in their never ending push to expedite executions, passed a law that made “death warrants” indefinite. This means that once a warrant is signed you stay on death watch until they either kill you or the courts grant some form of judicial relief.
Since they passed that law, only two people have survived a death warrant. Robert Trease technically remains under death warrant now for about 10 years on what is known as “Phase III.” Both Phase I and Phase II are when the warrant is active, meaning you either have an actual execution date set or are under a “temporary” stay. But Phase III is an inactive warrant status when a court has granted an indefinite stay and you’re moved back to the regular death row housing area and received your regular privileges until the court lifts that indefinite stay of execution.
Paul Johnson also survived a death warrant as when he was scheduled for execution in 2010 the Florida Supreme Court threw out his death sentences (all three of them) due to prosecutorial misconduct. He had been on death row since 1981 and was resentenced to death again in 2011. So, Paul is actually the only person to actually be removed from death watch status after a warrant was signed under this indefinite death warrant law.
As I write this today, there are two of us scheduled for execution. Oscar Bolin is down here on death watch with me. He is scheduled for January 7, 2016 and as the protocol, today they moved him from Phase I, which is general death watch (while on Phase I, we keep our personal property, TV, fan, etc in our cell and it's very much like regular death row housing) to Phase II. Phase II kicks in when you’re down to the last 7 days. While on Phase II, they remove all your property from your cell and place an officer in front of your cell whose only job is to continuously monitor your every movement 24 hours a day to make sure you don’t attempt to cheat the state by committing suicide ~ and a few have tried. Hopefully Oscar will be granted a stay in the next few days. (Note: Sadly, Oscar Bolin was executed February 7, 2016)
All this has me thinking about my own mortality and even beyond. I like to say that I’m spiritually comfortable and have been for years. If I were to lay down and go to sleep tonight never again to wake, I think I’d be in a better place, if for no other reason but that I cannot imagine any form of hell worse than what I’ve already been through for the past 32 years.
Death doesn’t really scare me. My basic theo-philosophy is pretty simple ~ I am unequivocally convinced that what we call life is the mortal condemnation of an eternal soul. When it comes down to it, nobody gets out alive and as far as I can tell the only real purpose of life is to nurture that eternal consciousness by striving to become something better than this inherently imperfect being that we are. I am not who I was 32 years ago; no more than any of us are. I’d like to think that my spiritual consciousness has grown and evolved into something better than it once was. So, death doesn’t scare me.
Rather, it’s getting there that causes me pain and torment. I don’t know what might yet lie ahead in coming weeks, but I find myself struggling with the uncertainty of those few weeks. I spent a lot of time thinking about Tree Top and how he slowly suffered until he finally succumbed to cancer and how hard that prolonged certainty of death must have been. So many others through the years died of similar “natural causes” and their slow death was anything but easy.
And now here I am in relatively good health wondering whether in the following weeks they will put me to sleep like an unwanted dog. I find myself thinking that maybe that’s not such a bad way to go when I consider what the alternatives are, as my other option would be to have my death sentence reduced to life then slowly grow old until I eventually succumb to that prolonged agony of a “natural death” in prison.
You see, it’s really all about perspective ~ like everything else, it really comes down to how we choose to look at it. Tonight is New Year's Eve and I will go to sleep before that midnight hour. I have nothing to celebrate and yet I remain blessed. And despite this endless struggle to find meaning to all of this, that's what brings me peace.
In the past few days I heard the voice of someone I love dearly and felt the pain that she felt. I had a visit with my daughter for the first time in years and watched as she smiled with uncompromised happiness as she told me about how my grandchildren spent their Christmas. And for the first time ever I was allowed to phone my youngest son on his birthday and as I was able to wish him Happy Birthday, I had a chance to talk to my other 3 grandchildren and they couldn’t see that tear in my eye as my youngest granddaughter Sophie spoke with such excitement at talking to her grandpa.
Michael Lambrix #482053
Florida State Prison Q wing
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford Florida 32026-1100