Electric Chair at Sing Sing
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Electric Chair at Sing Sing by Wikipedia
Murder is our national sport. We murder tens of thousands with our industrial killing machines in Afghanistan and Iraq. We murder thousands more from the skies over Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen with our pilotless drones. We murder each other with reckless abandon. And, as if we were not drenched in enough human blood, we murder prisoners -- most of them poor people of color who have been locked up for more than a decade. The United States believes in regeneration through violence. We have carried out blood baths on foreign soil and on our own land for generations in the vain quest of a better world. And the worse it gets, the deeper our empire sinks under the weight of its own decay and depravity, the more we kill.
There are parts of the nation where the electorate, or at least the white electorate, routinely and knowingly puts murderers into political office. Murder is a sign of strength. Murder is a symbol of resolve. Murder means law and order. Murder keeps us safe. Strap the criminal into the gurney. Plunge the needles into veins. Haul away the corpse. It is our Christian duty. God Bless America!
And one of the next on the list to be murdered in Florida -- a state that has decided, under its new and cynically named "Timely Justice Act," that it needs to accelerate its execution rate -- is William Van Poyck. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. June 12 at Florida State Prison. He is a writer who has spent years exposing the cruelty of our system of mass incarceration. On June 12, if Gov. Rick Scott has his way, Van Poyck will write no more. And that is exactly how our political class of murderers wants it.
"Only God can judge," Matt Gaetz, a Republican who sponsored the Timely Justice Act in the Florida House of Representatives, said during the debate. "But we sure can set up the meeting."
Van Poyck, 58, knows what is coming. He has seen it many times before. He chronicles existence on death row in his blog, posted by his sister, Lisa Van Poyck, at deathrowdiary.blogspot.com, where there is a petition to Gov. Scott asking for a reprieve.
"I wasn't really surprised when they showed up at my cell door with the chains and shackles," he wrote his sister on May 3...
"For the last month or so I've had a strong premonition that my warrant was about to be signed, but that wasn't something I wanted to share with you."
"Sis, you know I'm a straight shooter, I'm not into sugar coating things, so I don't want you to have any illusions about this," he wrote. "I do not expect any delays or stays. This is it. In 40 days these folks will take me into the room next door and kill me."
"After 40+ years of living in cages I am ready to leave this dead end existence and move on. I leave with many regrets over the people I have hurt, and those I've disappointed, and over a life squandered away. My spirit will fly away hugging all the life lessons learned over 58 years on Schoolhouse Earth and with an implacable determination not to repeat these mistakes the next time around."
Van Poyck, before the signing of his death warrant and his abrupt transfer to a cell next to the execution chamber, was one of the few inside the system to doggedly bear witness to the abuse and murder of prisoners on death row.
"Robert Waterhouse was scheduled for execution at 6:00pm this evening," Van Poyck wrote to his sister in 2012...
"In accordance with the established execution protocol he was strapped to the gurney and the needles were inserted into each arm about 45 minutes prior to his appointed time. Just before 6:00, however, he received a 45-minute stay which morphed into an almost 3-hour endurance test as he remained on the gurney as the seconds, minutes and then hours slid by at an excruciatingly slow pace, waiting for someone to tell him if hope was at hand, if he would live or die. Just before 9:00 he received his answer, the plungers were depressed, the syringes emptied and he was summarily killed."
"Here on the row we can discern the approximate time of death when we see the old white Cadillac hearse trundle in through the back sally port gate to pick up the body, the same familiar 1960s era hearse I've watched for almost 40 years, coming in to retrieve the bodies of murdered prisoners, which used to happen on a regular basis back when I was in open population," he went on...
"I've seen a lot of guys, both friends and foes, carted off in that old hearse. Anyway, pause for a moment to imagine being on that gurney for over three hours, the needles in your arms. You've already come to terms with your imminent death, you are reconciled with the reality that this is it, this is how you will die, that there will be no reprieve. Then, at the last moment, a cruel trick, you're given that slim hope, which you instinctively grasp. Some court, somewhere, has given you a temporary stay. You stare at the ceiling while the clock on the wall ticks away. You are totally alone, not a friendly soul in sight, surrounded by grim-faced men who are determined to kill you. Your heart pounds, your body feels electrified and every second seems like an eternity as a Kaleidoscope of wild thoughts crash around frantically in your compressed mind. After 3 hours you are drained, exhausted, terrorized, and then the phone on the wall rings and you're told it's time to die. To me this is cruel and unusual punishment by any definition."
Van Poyck was convicted in the death of a corrections officer in 1987, although he insists he did not pull the trigger. But even if he did, it does not justify murder in the name of justice. Do we rape rapists? Do we sexually abuse pedophiles? Do we beat violent offenders? Do we strike hit-and-run drivers with a moving vehicle? And what if Van Poyck is telling the truth? What if he did not kill the corrections guard?
He would not be the first inmate on death row to die for a murder he or she did not commit, especially in Florida. The state has sentenced more people to death than any other in recent decades. It has executed 75 since the death penalty was reinstated in Florida in the 1970s. There have been 24 death row inmates in Florida exonerated -- one exoneration for every three executions. Not only might we kill the innocent, we have killed the innocent, as sadly illustrated by contemporary DNA tests that have cleared some of those who were put to death.
"When I heard from Bill's lawyer about the warrant I lost it," Van Poyck's sister told me as she was driving Sunday from Richmond, Va., where she lives, to Bradford County, Fla., to see her brother...
"I was on my lunch break. I broke down sobbing and crying. Gov. Scott signed warrants for prisoners who had committed heinous crimes, people who murdered children or serial killers. I thought Bill was safe for a long time. I still have visions of him walking out of there. And now he is in the death watch cell.
"While he did commit a crime in trying to break a friend out of a prison transport van where his accomplice, Frank Valdes, shot and killed one of the guards, Bill never intended for anyone to get hurt, much less killed. I feel that 26 years on death row with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head has been punishment enough for the crime he did commit. I have received so many letters from people saying that his writings, especially his autobiography "A Checkered Past,' have changed their lives. He is not the man he once was. He underwent a profound spiritual conversion. He is a beautiful soul. He deserves [to live]."
In "A Checkered Past" Van Poyck describes his troubled boyhood, including the death of his mother from carbon monoxide poisoning when he was a year old. His father, who worked for Eastern Airlines and had lost a leg in World War II, turned the children over to a series of housekeepers, most of whom were neglectful or abusive. By age 11, Van Poyck was in a juvenile home, along with Lisa, who was 12, and a brother, Jeffrey, who was 18. By 17, Van Poyck was in prison for an armed robbery. And then in 1987 he and Valdes attempted to free a friend from a prison transport van in downtown West Palm Beach. A corrections guard was fatally shot, apparently by Valdes, who a dozen years later died after eight prison guards beat him in his cell. Van Poyck's brother, who is ill with lung cancer, has been in prison since 1992 for a series of bank robberies in Southern California.
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