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VIEWS AND VOICES
Measuring out your last days on Florida's death row
A state-sanctioned murder

February 3, 2006 | Page 8

SIT BACK and let me take you, step by step, through a hideous, outrageous, unbelievable adventure that hopefully you will never experience. This is a world and the fate of a man doomed by capital punishment.

The judge states that you are to be taken to the Florida Department of Corrections, where you will be held until such a time where a deadly mixture will be run through your body until you are pronounced dead. May God have mercy on your soul.

You are then sent to Florida State Prison (FSP) and placed on G-wing, in a nine-by-six foot cell where you will spend 164 out of 168 hours a week, in the most miserable confinement there is. You will be housed here until a room is available at the Union Correctional Institution (UCI), where 300-plus death row inmates are housed, awaiting the final outcome of their appeals. You may sit in one of these cells 10, 15, 20, even 25 years awaiting the final decision.

Over these years, you will make friends with some of these men, and you will watch as some of these men deteriorate under the imminent peril of death, or the pressure of existing year in and year out in a 54-square-foot cage in conditions the human mind is not meant, and in some cases is not capable, of dealing with.

You will pass by cells and see the anguish and stress on the faces of men who know their appeals are exhausted and at any minute their death warrant may be signed. For once your appeals are exhausted in the United States Supreme Court, your file is sent to the governor's office in Tallahassee, where it is reviewed.

You are then given a clemency hearing. You will be turned down and you know it. Clemency is not given, they're just going through the motions. After that, the governor signs your death warrant, placing the time and date on it: 7 p.m., April 20, 2006. The warrant is then flown to Raiford, Fla., and handed to the warden at UCI. The warden will send his officers to retrieve you. They will make a show of it, coming 10 to 12 officers deep.

Your attorney will have warned you weeks in advance that your file is on the governor's desk and your warrant is going to be signed, so every time you hear the electronic door pop at the front of the wing, you ask yourself, "Are they coming for me?" That door may pop two dozen times a day, so, by the time the 10 to 12 officers do show up, your nerves are shot.

They come to your cell front and state, "Get dressed." You will go through a strip search, be handcuffed, and escorted out front where the warden will be waiting for you. Officers will be sent back in to pack your property and send it to FSP. You step into the office, in front of the warden, where he reads you the warrant, informing you of the date and time of your death/murder.

You will then be escorted outside, placed in a van and driven to FSP under heavy surveillance. You will arrive at the back ramp that leads to the second floor. This is the same ramp that you walked up years earlier, upon your arrival at FSP.

At FSP, you look around at the sink, toilet and steel bunk with the thin mattress that you've grown so accustomed to over the years, but your thoughts immediately go to all the men you've known over the years and how many have spent their last remaining days sleeping restless nights on that very bunk.

You pace back and forth with so many thoughts--thoughts of the past, of the present, of the remaining 30 to 60 days, and the strength and courage you must show for the sake of your family ad loved ones, and the pain and anguish you must endure.

Your property arrives and is placed in the cell with you, so you take out pen and paper and start saying your goodbyes to family and friends that are unable or unwilling to visit. The days have passed rather fast, and you're down to the last week. Seven days left to live.

Your property is removed from the cell, placed outside the cell in cardboard boxes. An officer will now be stationed in front of your cell, watching and logging down your every move for the next seven days. So he will hand you a book, paper, pen, etc., from your property. You will return it when you are finished.

Today is Friday, April 14, 2006, the last Friday that you will be alive. The next few days pass. Your thoughts continue to fall upon that last Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. You are measured for the clothes that you will be executed in.

It's Wednesday, April 19, 2006, 7 p.m. You have 24 hours to live. This time tomorrow, you will be in the chamber. But now you're being relocated to the backside. So you are escorted back out.

You will pass by the board with your name, number and tomorrow's date on it, with the execution time of 7 p.m. You walk another 12 to 14 feet and come to a solid door. It's opened, you step through, walking three feet, turning to your right, walking through another gat, 12 to 14 feet.

Three cells are located to your right, but three to four feet ahead of them is a large sliding gray door. Behind this is Florida's death chamber, that has seen many souls taken--some guilty, some not, but, all the same, taken under the false pretense of "justice." You enter one of the three cells. You're given your last meal. Also, you will soon have a last-minute visit with your family. So you will be escorted up front. The visit is anything but a joyous occasion, for you see the pain and anguish all over your loved ones' faces. That's when you realize that your suffering ends in 24 hours, but your family's suffering will continue on. You think to yourself, "Is it I or they who are truly sentenced?" The visit ends in a tearful goodbye.

You're escorted back to the cell. People you've never seen are constantly coming down to see you. Most are bigwigs from Tallahassee. You get a restless night's sleep. You awaken to your big day, Thursday April 20, 2006. You have less than 12 hours left to live.

The times ticks by, minute by minute, hour by hour. It is now 6 p.m. The medical tech comes to see you. He looks at your arms to see where he is going to hook up the IV

The big gray door slides open and the gurney is pushed out and in front of the cell. You're standing at the bars, looking at the gurney, thinking of all the men who have expired there. You are removed from the cell. You are laid upon the gurney. Officers put leather straps on your wrists, ankles, across your chest and even across your forehead. The medical tech hooks two IVs up--a backup, to ensure that everything in their plan goes well.

You're pushed into the execution chamber. People are hooking tubes to the I.V. You look into a mirror that is positioned overhead at an angle. You see a curtain. You hear a slam, as the large gray door to the chamber is shut. Your heart is racing faster than it ever has.

The warden gives the signal, and you see the curtain being pulled back. It is opened to reveal many faces, some recognizable, most not. The victim's family, your two witnesses and members of the media.

The warden starts off reading the warrant, stating that you have been convicted by a jury of your peers and sentenced to die on this 20th day of April, 2006. May God have mercy on your soul. Then he states, "Do you have any last words?" Upon your last words, the warden gives a hidden signal to the executioner, who releases a deadly mixture that is now running through the tubes into your veins.

A last thought goes to your loved ones. You look at the many faces staring back at you. You close your eyes for the final time. The medical tech comes in at 7:10 p.m., taking your vital signs and pronouncing you dead at 7:23 p.m.

The curtain closes and the witnesses are taken out of the rear of Q-wing to waiting vans that carry them out. And the cleanup begins. A white hearse pulls through the rear gate to the back of Q-wing, where your lifeless body is loaded into it and driven off to the morgue.

Within a few weeks, a box arrives at your family's house. Inside are your personal belongings. The deed is done, and the mourning continues.

This act was committed under the mantel of justice, by a civilized society. Yet what I just described is the highest form of premeditated murder that has ever taken place--a murder planned to the precise minute, where their fellow citizens sit around and view this horrific case of state-sanctioned homicide.

It is a penalty that is arbitrarily and capriciously handed out to the poor--for the only true equality in the American legal system is that the poor equally get screwed by a system portraying equal justice.
Ronald W. Clark, Union Correctional Institution, Raiford, Fla.

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