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softheart 01-22-2005 12:04 PM

Living On California's Death Row (Part One & Part Two)
 
By Michael Hunter
A considerable amount of mail flows into my cell from people out there in the world asking what it's really like living day-to-day on San Quentin's Death Row. I'm always tempted to quip, its's a hell f a lot better than dying here. But then I really don't know if that's true -- yet.
I answer every letter even if the writer is rapidly pro-death penalty. It's easy for me to understand their attraction to the concept of killing convicted murderers. In the abstract, the death penalty has an elegant Newtonian -- for every action there is an opposite reaction -- symmetry that easy harmonizes with the Old Testament -- eye for an eye -- overtone which strikes a reassuring resonance within a majority of citizens.


Suicide
Most people already have a fairly clear concept of what it's like when an execution occurs, since an ocean swell of media rolls over totally engulfing and covering San Quentin prison, but they're usually unaware of the other Death Row prisoners who have died here. Many condemned men have stopped breathing and disappeared with scarcely a ripple in the media pool.
A whistle will pierce through a cell block. "We've got a hanger," booms over the housing unit's loudspeakers. Guards spike open a cell door, handcuff a dead-body's hands before they cut the hangman noose. Tossing the corpse into a bright orange stretcher, the badges haul the remains of the suicide away. The property officer boxes up the deceased man's belongings, trustees hose out the cell, another condemned man is shoved inside the four-by-ten foot box, and the relentless, mind-numbing daily routine of Death Row grinds on and on and on.

Often it's fair easy to see the mental deterioration, suicide seems inevitable, and it's almost a relief when the condemned man ends his misery-filled existence.

A friend of mine, Ron Fuller, piled all his belongings onto his steel bunk and set them on fire. From six cells away, I could feel the heat radiating on my mind when I stuck my mirror outside my cell bars to see what the commotion was about. Crackling flames roared out of Ron's cell reaching up and licking the tier of cells above us.

Whistles blowing, heavy boots pounding, the guards arrived and brought the blaze under control. Handcuffing Ron, the uniforms yoked him out of his cell. Marching past my cell with a guard on each arm, Ron's unfocused eyes were spinning wildly, the hair on his chest and arms had been singed away, and I could smell charred flesh.

After treating his burns, Ron was turned over to the California Department of Corrections' psychologists who opined he was faking suicide. You see, the State of California isn't allowed to execute anyone who's insane -- it's the law. So the psyches employed by the State of California asserted Ron was playing insane in order to fend off the gas chamber.

Prison officials charged Ron a couple of hundred dollars for the cell's fire damage, tossed him inside anther four-by-ten-foot box and pretty much ignored him. Finally, he made a noose, tied it to his bars, stuck his head inside the loop, pulled it tight and quietly died.

One day, which at first glance seemed no different than any other, I spent a couple of hours playing basketball on an exercise yard. After the game, everyone shook hands, agreed to play again, and one of the layers, who I barely knew, went back to his cell and hanged himself. I saw Ron's suicide coming, but this one really stunned me. It's bewildering, how does a guy go from shooting hoops on a fine summer day to suicide in a dark cell with the minuscule time-frame of an hour?

Suicide, killed by another condemned prisoner, shot and killed by a guard, death due to old age or lack of decent medical care, and the condemned man's life passes with scarcely anyone out there in the world noticing. It's not death that brings the media cameras and intense public scrutiny to San Quentin's Death Row, it's only the executions with their time-honored rituals of last meals, last thirteen stops into the gas chamber, that attracts the interest of taxpayers.


The Consent Decree
Many citizens believe California's Death Row simply consists of men-in-cells lined up in a neat row, each awaiting his turn to march into the gas chamber, inhale, and fail to metabolize cyanide gas. Although it was once a lot like that, day-to-day existence has evolved a bit.
In response to a federal lawsuit filed by condemned prisoners, San Quentin officials in the early 1980's signed a consent decree agreeing to provide certain living conditions to the men on Death Row. [On July 11, 1997, the State asked the federal court to terminate the decree under the Prison Litigation Reform Act -- ed.]

Essentially a contract, the decree guarantees condemned prisoners an opportunity to venture out of their cells to an exercise yard for about five hours each day

An instructor from San Quentin's Education Department teaches high school course through a cell-study program.

An arts & crafts program is included in the decree. Condemned prisoners have entered art competitions and won prizes in many medium. Guards are allowed to sign contracts with condemned men in order to buy their work. It's fairly common for guards and other staff members to bring photos of their families onto Death Row, so a condemned artist can paint their portraits.

A phone has been installed on each tier. Condemned men can call collect their friends, families, and the attorneys handling their death sentence appeals.

The Death Row visiting room is open four days a week, and has murals on its walls painted by a condemned artist. this is the only place inside San Quentin where Death Row prisoners and guards mingle together without bars between them or chains on the condemned. Children run around playing tag between the chairs, a cheerful atmosphere reigns much more reminiscent of a group of vacationers in a departure lounge waiting to board a charger flight to Hawaii than an annex of the Death House.

Since the consent decree was signed, California's Death Row population has quadrupled to well over four-hundred, we've outgrown the original Death Row, and now there's actually three San Quentin Death Rows.

A four Death Row is located at the California Institute for Women in Frontera where the handful of women condemned by the State of California are housed while their appeals wend through the courts. Frequently, I've asked the classification committee to house me there so I an experience everything California's Death House has to offer, but so far prison officials have stamped "DENIED" on my requests for transfer.


North Seg
North Segregation housing unit is the original Death Row at San Quentin. Nicknamed, "The Old Death Row" or "North Seg," the original Death Row houses thirty-four men each of its two tiers. Located on the sixth or top floor of the North Block housing unit. many of California's most infamous, Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, spent time locked inside its cells. Now considered the luxury penthouse suite, condemned men must submit a request to the classification committee in order to be considered for housing within North Seg. Carefully screened for their potential to live well with others, if approved for transfer, condemned men are placed on the long waiting list for a cell inside the Old Death Row's friendly confines. During the two years I was housed in North Seg, no one committed suicide, no one died, it was a protected sanctuary far removed from the everyday hazards of prison.
Breakfast and dinner are the two hot meals provided each day. The tier guard pushes a hot cart down the tier, shovels food onto paper trays, and shoves one into each cell. The food isn't terrible, its better than the food I was served on aircraft carriers during the four years I spent in the United States Navy. Sandwiches, fruit, and chips in a paper bag make up the noon meal.

After breakfast, the guards pull three men from each tier out of their cells, place them in holding cages, so they can conduct cell searches. In theory, the search is for weapons, drugs, and escape paraphernalia. In reality, North Seg is such a quiet, tranquil place, the guards don't have any violence or serious discipline problems to cope with. In their boredom, the badges are reduced to simply counting how many socks and other clothing men have in their cells and taking away and exceeding the limitations imposed by the property regulations.

After the cell searches, the cell doors are unlocked, and the condemned men are allowed to roam the tiers until about 2 p.m. The atmosphere is so relaxed, North Seg prisoners are even searched coming and going from their cells to the tiers or the exercise yard.

On the tiers, there are a couple of tables. Condemned men use them to play cards, study education course, or work on their art projects. Others simply hang out and talk, or lazily stroll up and down the tier.

A green exhaust stack (used to vent cyanide fumes from the execution gas chamber) rises high above the North Block. In the shadow of the exhaust stack on the room of North block there is an exercise yard. Weightlifting equipment, basketball, jump-ropes, heavy and speed punching bags are provided for exercise under the consent decree.

Condemned men on the Old Death Row aren't allowed any "tude --" slang for bad attitude. If tude creeps into a condemned man's speech or even his body language, the guards order him to pack up his personal belongings and he's beamed into one of the other two Death Row housing units.


East Block
Located inside San Quentin's East Block housing unit is a second Death Row. It's officially designed "Death Row II," but more commonly, it's simply referred to as East Block. A huge warehouse -type building, many different species of birds next in its nooks and crannies. Starting their singing with the daylight, they fly onto tiers and scamper around while prisoners share their breakfast with them. Feral stay cats also live inside the housing unit, they hide out during the day and prowl around at night. Although condemned men also fed them, the cats seem to prefer stalking the birds for their meals.
Like North Seg, there are two sides to East Block, the Bay-side and the Yard-side. Each side has five tiers of 54 cells (a few less on their first tier where a handful of cells have been converted into administrative offices), more than 250 condemned men live on six of the tier tiers -- dead men stacked up all the way to the rafters.

Existence in East Block is far removed from the tranquil serenity of North Seg, noise pumps out of the cells, off the soundtrack to the constant, chaotic bedlam rampaging throughout the cell-block. Most guards in East Block don't sweat tude in a prisoner's words or body language. Pretty much the line is drawn at threats of violence directed towards staff members, and, of course, actual violence is frowned upon.

Although mandated by housing unit policy, daily cell searches rarely occur inside East Block. Excess personal property in a cell is pretty much ignored by the guards. The only exception is if a condemned man broadcasts way too much static-filled tude, and fills to overflowing the ears of the guard assigned to his tier. Retaliation usually occurs in the form of a "house-tossing." A tossing consists of dumping the prisoner's personal belongings onto the floor of his cell and trampling on them. the uncertain message: "Modify your behavior or find another tier to live on!" Most prisoners comply with the message because, next time, the guard might not simply toss the prisoner's property, he or she might tear it up and/or throw it away.

If a tossing doesn't get through to a doltish tude-man, a guard can always bring a piece of steel to work, give it to the unit sergeant, and claim he or she found it inside the prisoner's cell. Whether or not the steel has been sharpened, it's metal stock, a potential weapon, the sort of weapon that has been found sticking out of the chests of guards, and that is more than enough to warp-drive a condemned man off an east Block tier into a strip cell deep inside the Adjustment Center -- the third Death Row at San Quentin.

As in North Seg, breakfast is served off a hot cart and yard release follows breakfast. But unlike North Seg, East Block guards don't simply unlock cell doors and let the condemned men saunter onto the tier and out to the exercise yard. In fact, there isn't any tier exercise in East Block, prisoners are only allowed to roam around the yards.

Before leaving their cells, East Block prisoners strip off their clothing, and are ordered to strike various nude poses while a guard peeks into the prisoner's body cavities looking for drugs or weapons. Metal detectors and airport-type scanners are employed to search prisoners and their yard clothing for shanks -- prison slang for illicitly obtained pieces of steel sharpened on the cement floor of cells and fashioned into stabbing weapons.

Handcuffed, the prisoner backs out of his cell onto the tier under the watchful eye of a guard, armed with a mini-14 rifle, manning the catwalk. Venturing out of east Block, the prisoner walks down a guard-lined concrete path heading for the gate of his assigned exercise yard.

There are six exercise yards for prisoners housed with East Block. Each yard is so small and narrow, they seemingly resemble dog runs. Lined up one after another, the yards are separated from each other by sets of two chain-linked fences with a no-man's land between them. Four of the yards are for condemned prisoners. The other two are for non-condemned prisoners who have been yoked out of the general prison population and slammed down inside East Block because they've received a rule violation report from some badge. The rule violation could be as deadly serious as mayhem to totally silly as aggressive eye-contact with a staff-member -- whatever that means.

Giving his name and cell number to the guard on the gate, the prisoner's name is checked against the yard list. Stepping through the outer-gate, it's slammed closed. Reaching through a slot in the gate, the guard removes the handcuffs, a switch is thrown, the inner-gate electrically hums open, and the man finally strolls onto the exercise yard.

"Free at last, free at last, praise the Lord, I'm free at last!" Well, as free as you can be on a prison yard surrounded by barbed and razor wire strung along the top of the walls and fences. Running halfway around all the exercise yards is an elevated catwalk bolted to the outside wall and manned by guards with rifles. Directly across from the armed guards is a high cinderblock wall, a yellow monolith, that's pitted and scarred from bullets that have banged off its imposing surface.

The condemned yards in East Block have the same exercise equipment as North Seg with the exception of dumbbell weights. A few years ago, an East Block condemned man hammered another one over the head with a dumbbell. The fact that the hameree survived the hammering clearly demonstrates the physical weakness of the prisoners or the denseness of their skulls -- take your pick. Prison officials removed the dumbbells from the yards, but barbell weights are still available for weightlifting or hammering fellow condemned prisoners in their craniums.

When you stand on the off-white concrete floor of one of the six exercise yards, and gaze up at the yellow wall on one side and the guards with their rifle on the other, you feel as if you've fallen into a kiln that traps in both the heat of the sun's rays and the bodies of society's outcasts. On any given day, forty, fifty, sixty, or more prisoners are crammed onto each yard. All the bodies packed rightly together in concert with the heat radiating from the concrete and cinderblock walls creates a conspiracy to pull the oxygen out of the air, and often a panicky, claustrophobic atmosphere descends to smother and finish killing off any last vestige of humanity still staggering around inside the walls of San Quentin's death row.

Although violence on the East Block yards isn't an everyday occurrence, it's certainly not an unknown stranger, either. Condemned prisoners, who for the most part aren't exactly blessed with an abundance of social tolerance, fray easily. On a hot summer day when the sun kicks the thermometer into the danger zone, an errant basketball, an unintentional body-to-body contact, a carelessly flicked cigarette can lead to combat.

In these final few years of the Twentieth Century, guards still try to control prisoners in the same manner they tried and failed with for hundreds of years -- bullets, and once let loose from a guard's rifle, a bullet doesn't respect the artificial boundaries imposed by the chain-linked fences separating the six yards. If the .223 round from the mini-14 rifle doesn't immediately slam into the body of a prisoner, the bullet whacks off the concrete floor or cinderblock wall, fragments, and then scatters, ricocheting around until the pieces come to rest inside someone or something. I've seen many prisoners wounded by bullets or bullet fragments.

One prisoner was attacked by another prisoner. Instead of shooting the assailant, the guard shot the victim in his elbow. Ripping off his sock, the victim wrapped it around his arm, used his teeth to tug it tight, and the bleeding stopped. The victim's quick action may have saved his life, but did not help his arm -- amputated.

In another incident, a fist-fight broke out between two prisoner. A guard on the catwalk fired three shots in rapid succession. One combatant dove and the other topped onto the ground while a red rain showered down. The man who dove was spattered with blood but otherwise escaped the altercation unscathed. The man who toppled over was very still, blood rivered out of a gaping hole in his head to gently lap around the gray brain matter and whole skull fragments now littering the concrete.

Calling from the catwalk down to the guards responding to his whistle, the guard, who had done the shooting, said, "He had a weapon, it's over there."

I stared up at the guard in disbelief because I hadn't seen a weapon. Other prisoners, who also hadn't seen a weapon, started jeering the guard's statement.

Searching the yard, the guards didn't find a weapon. The badge on the catwalk with the freshly fired rifle in his hands shrugged, and said, "Well. I saw stabbing motions."

There hadn't been any stabbing motions, it was just another typical free-swinging prison fist-fight except that this one resulted in a guard's bullet caving a skull.

In the third incident, a condemned prisoner was shot in the upper-chest and fell into a pool of his own blood when he wasn't fighting, but simply heatedly arguing with another condemned man standing about ten-feet away. The shot man was DOA at the Marin General Hospital.

When an incident occurs, the guards on the catwalk order all the prisoners on the yard, whether they're involved in the fight or not, to get off their feet and plant their bodies onto the concrete floor. Whistles fill the air and more guards come running.

When the guards regain some semblance of control over the yard, the sergeant orders any wounded prisoners to come to the yard gate. Any man so damaged that he cannot make it on his own power is picked up by prisoners designated by the sergeant, carried and stuffed in between the gates. Closing the inner-gate, yanking open the outer-gate, the guards lock handcuffs on the wounded or dead before they're loaded onto wheelchairs or bright orange stretchers. Red blood drops trace a crimson trail as they're whisked off to the hospital or to be claimed by next-of-kin.

Next, one-by-one the rest of the prisoners are ordered to rise and walk to the gate. Handcuffed, they're taken inside East Block. Caged, they're strip-searched for weapons or any cuts or bruises that might indicate involvement in the "physical altercation."

About five-years ago, a condemned man on my assigned East Block exercise yard got it into his head to put his hands on my body and give me a good shove. I, of course, handled the situation with my usual lack of poise and grace. Clenching hands into fists, I bounced them off his skull a couple of time. Hearing the mechanical clack of a rifle bolt slamming home a bullet into a chamber, I flicked my eyes up to the guard on the catwalk, he was aiming his rifle right between my flicking eyes. Instantly, I shoved my antagonist away from me and tossed my minds into the air.

"Get down, RIGHTNOW!" the guard screamed at me.

Only when my butt touched the concrete did the badge rotate his rifle up and away from my cranium.

Watching the rifle swing away from its dead-on aim at my head, I realized that I'd been involuntarily holding my breath. Inhaling, I fed oxygen into my wildly pumping, overdriving heart.

Whistles pierced the air, boots pounded pavement, a sergeant joined the scene and ordered me to the yard gate.

Handcuffed, my body was yoked out of the gate, and two guards marched me off to the Adjustment Center, the last and the worst of San Quentin's Death Rows.


The Adjustment Center
The name "Adjustment Center" evokes an image of a feel-good," I'm Okay -- You're Okay" type of place where condemned men are housed and counseled so that they can learn to cope with the brutal realities of existing day-to-day on Death Row. That concept couldn't be further from the truth. The Adjustment Center is the deepest, darkest hole at San Quentin. Once upon a time it was the disciplinary housing unit for the entire Department of Corrections, every prison sent its recalcitrant problem prisoners there. Now it mostly deals with Death Row discipline problems, warehousing a bit over one-hundred prisoners on its three floors of which about ninety are condemned.
The Adjustment Center, also called "the AC" or "That Other Place" is a very clean housing unit, it's antiseptic much like a hospital or a morgue. It's pretty quiet in the AC, but not the tranquil quiet of North Seg, it's like a sullen silence -- a wild animal lying low, eyes firmly fixed on its prey, waiting an opportunity to pounce on the unwary.

No matter if you're a guard or a prisoner, just about everyone in the AC has buckets of tude running through their veins. In fact, the AC's door guard was even kind of nasty to the badges escorting me from East Block.

"Wait here," the AC guard told the East Block badges as he snatched my body and started pulling me inside the maw of the Adjustment Center.

"Need my cuffs back," one of the East Block guards protested and tried to follow me through the door.

"Wait here, I'll bring them to you," the AC guard slammed the door in the face of his fellow green uniform.

Locking me inside a cage, the guard ordered me to remove every piece of clothing from my body. After sending me through a strip search that made East Block searches seem like a casual glance, he gave me a whole different set of state-issue clothing to wear. Nothing you walk into the AC carrying or wearing accompanies you into a cell.

"Excuse me, officer," I said in my most polite manner. "These pants are too large, I wear 32's."

"We've two sizes here," he answered without a hint of sarcasm, humor, or humanity in his voice, "too large and too small. Which size you want?"

I kept the pair he'd already issued me. I thought then and still think now that it was a really good decision.

After a few hours in the cage, an AC escort guard cuffed me up, took me up the stairs to the third floor and locked me inside another cage.

An hour creeped by before the third floor guard appeared and ordered, "Get naked."

"Man, they searched me downstairs already," I casually but not disrespectfully protested, and didn't rise from my seat on the floor of the cage.

Sliding his club out of its ring on his utility belt, the badge firmly banged it against the side of the cage and stated in a bored tone-of-voice, "This's my fourth tour in the AC. I'm here cause I like it here. In the AC we get used to dealing with jerks, we kind of specialize in them, and I'm starting to suspect that you're one, Hunter."

Listening more to his bored tone than his words, I rose and started pulling clothes off my body, while wondering, why don't they just turn the AC into a nudist colony?

Finally, locked inside a strip cell, a cell with nothing much inside it except bedding, air, and me, I started to strongly suspect that compared to the other people roaming around inside the AC in green uniforms and state-issue blue, I wasn't a very tough guy.

My thoughts were verified with a vengeance when during my tenure in the AC, a condemned man broke free from his handcuffs while walking down the tier from the shower to his cell. Jumping on the two guards escorting him, the man was smacking both of them around until four or five more badges came running and buried the prisoner in an avalanche of green uniforms. Holding the prisoner down on the floor, the guards took turns booting the body and stomping on his skull until they grew weary, slowed, and finally stopped.

As the condemned man was dragged away, another condemned man called from his cell, "How yah doin', man?"

The bloody, lumpy, bruised man grinned through swollen lips, and answered lightly, "Not bad, I've been worse."

The guards constantly search AC cells, but the searches don't take too long because San Quentin does not allow AC prisoners to have very much property. In fact, AC prisoners are excluded from almost every aspect of the federal consent decree -- no phone calls, they can't use the contact visiting room, no arts or educational programs, and they're only allowed three-days a week on their exercise yards.

The AC exercise yards are much larger than the East Block's yards, and seem even larger because there's nothing much on them except a basketball, a hoop, and a lot of really angry, dangerous men.

Essentially there's two different ways a prisoner can crash-land inside the AC. One is to receive a serious rule violation such s the one I received for assault and involvement in a physical altercation. The second is to be an identified member of a prison gang.

If the condemned prisoner's in the AC for a rule violation report, the classification committee will let him transfer back to East Block or North Seg if he remains disciplinary free for some weeks, months, or years depending on the seriousness of the offense. The only exception is an assault on a staff member. Officially, the term is thirty-six to sixty-months in lockup, but in reality, a condemned man charged with assaulting a staff-member is never leaving the AC and can only look forward to a pine box parole.

If an identified gang member, the condemned man will be released from lockup when he debriefs or YPE .

My information about debriefing is second-hand from men who have dropped out. The gang member notifies prison authorities of his wish to dropout, he's hooked up to a lie detector machine, and is required to confess to a crime that he committed inside or outside of prison. Once his confession passes the lie detector, he's extensively questioned about every member of the gang. If the dropout isn't forthcoming about their dirty deeds, the debriefing is suspended and the prisoner is not allowed to transfer from the AC. Staff members let the gang know the man started debriefing, gang-bangers start threatening to kill him which tends to put a lot of pressure on the dropout to finish the debriefing and get out of AC. Joining a gang is serious business, dropping out by informing is deadly serious.

Since I was in the AC for an allegation of assault without a weapon on a non-staff member, and no deadly force was used or great bodily injury occurred, my charges weren't considered very serious in the realm of AC offenses. At my disciplinary hearing, my right hand was wrapped in a bandage because banging it off a rock-hard head had fractured it. With a hand still swollen to twice its normal size, it was difficult to deny that I had struck anyone, so I wasn't tempted to use the time-honored alibi which has never, ever worked with any disciplinary hearing lieutenant in the history of corrections: "It wasn't me, man. It was someone who looks like me, and the guard got confused."

I simply pleaded guilty.

Dropping the charge to mutual combat, the lieutenant recommended transfer back to East Block after only six-weeks in the AC while warning that my next write up for smacking someone would cost me six-months to a year in the Adjustment Center.

"Won't be a next time," I answered. But as is frequently the case, I was wrong.

About two-years later, a guard came to my East Block exercise yard and told me that I had a doctor's appointment. I knew I didn't have an appointment. But the guards have the guns and more importantly the bullets, so I cuffed up and sure enough I was marched to the AC.

After a week, I was cuffed and taken in my undershorts (the reason for only undershorts is so the committee can inspect your body for gang tattoos) to the classification committee in order to receive my yard assignment.

At the hearing, I asked the committee why I had been transferred to the AC.

Laughing without any mirth at my question, the men-in-suits told me to read by rule violation report.

When I told them that I hadn't received a report, they laughed again and placed a report on the table in front of me.

Running my eyes over the typed words, it was immediately apparent that another Hunter, one who wasn't on Death Row, had been written up for "Disrespect of Staff." They'd yoked and beamed the wrong Hunter into the AC.

When I brought this to the attention of the committee, the suit running the show became really angry. The man clad in rayon-plaid said I should have told the AC door guard they had the wrong prisoner.

Looking at each member with cynical eyes, I couldn't believe they didn't know a prisoner doesn't tell an AC guard anything unless he's begging for some flashlight therapy administered across the crown of his skull. Smiling, I finally answered, "In that case, I'd like to tell you that you've got the wrong Hunter on Death Row. Please take me to the East Gate and toss me out of San Quentin."

Didn't work, but they all got a chuckle (with a hint of actual levity) out of my wry words, until I added, "Mixing me up with the non-condemned prisoner also named Hunter is no big deal, since you can ship me back to East Block and nab him. But what would you do if you had shoved the other Hunter into the gas chamber instead of me?"

Those words stopped the laughter, but I never got an answer to my question. Guess there really isn't one.



Michael Hunter is a Death Row prisoner at San Quentin.

softheart 01-22-2005 12:06 PM

Part 2
By Michael Hunter
The day-to-day barred existence of Death Row cannot be appreciated or understood until one is introduced to the sort of men sitting in the cells. Essentially there's three types of prisoners lurching about Death Row: career criminals, non-career criminals, and the serial murders,

Career Criminals
The largest category by far is the career criminal. No matter which housing unit, North Segregation, East Block, or the Adjustment Center, the career criminal dominates the scene. From the moment one of these gangsters hits Death Row, he already knows all the rules, including the unwritten rules, the real rules, the ones that keep you alive in the barred world. Immediately recognizing each other, these tattooed, muscular, cigarette smoking, aggressively in-your-face men band together and compete with the guards for control of the prison. The only reason the guards have any chance at all is the rifles, the bullets, and the fact that the badges don't hesitate to use them.
Career criminals are the same guys who scared the hell out of everybody in high school. Majoring in shop (excellent training for making high-quality shanks inside prison), they sat in the back of their other classes and the teacher never called on them for anything. Half-dozing, legs sprawled way out in the aisle, they would occasionally open their eyes and peer around the world with a vaguely puzzled look on their faces which plainly shows that they suspected someone was laughing at them. If they spotted a guy with a smirk on his face, you better believe the smirk got pounded flat. Much to everyone's relief, these gangsters in the making usually simply disappear amidstansfors regarding some sort of criminal activity.

Hard-core unemployable, once introduced to the judicial system, career criminals generally spend only a couple days here and there out in the world in between increasingly longer stretches behind bars.. It's called doing life on the installment plan, and they inevitably die before they make their final payment.

I always take it for granted that at least a couple of men on Death Row are here for crimes they didn't commit. Let's say the State of California gets it right 98 percent of the time (seems like an impossibly high success rate for government bureaucrats), two percent failure rate would imply about nine prisoners are on Death Row for bodies they didn't make dead, and career criminals are probably eight of the nine.

If the cops don't catch someone dead-bang at the scene of the crime, they don't investigate like Lieutenant Columbo on television. Generally investigation means they look around for someone who looks good to hang the murder charge on. The detectives pull out all the files of career criminals loose in the area, slap handcuffs on their bodies, and defy them to prove themselves innocent. If the career criminal doesn't have a rock-solid alibi, it's fairly easy for prosecutors to convince twelve solid-citizens sitting in a jury box, if a crime has been committed and this gangster's in the zip code, he's probably involved somehow.

Once I read a California Supreme Court decision affirming the death sentence for a friend of mine. Catching up with him on the exercise yard, I said, "Can't believe they found you guilty. The copes arrested you for the girl's murder because you knew her mother. But there wasn't any eyewitnesses or credible physical evidence."

"Didn't kill her," my friend answered with a shrug and took another puff on his ever-present cancer-stick, "but I've done so much the po-leece don't know nothing about, it don't matter much to me, If you live on the edge, robbing and stealing for a living, you shouldn't go round whining when the cops invent some fairy tale and push you off the edge into prison."

Kind of liked his attitude about the whole thing, but it doesn't matter much anymore whom he did or did not kill. The cigarettes finally caught up with him and he died of a heart attack about three years ago.

With a few exceptions, career criminals don't have much of a clue about the most fundamental aspects of the unbarred world. Once I listened to two career criminals argue, almost come close to blows, over what time a football game was starting on television. They'd both seen a commercial advertising the fame for 1 p.m. Eastern Time and were trying to figure out what time that would be at San Quentin.

Attempting to head-off violence, I said, "10 a.m."

"How's zat?" they both wanted to know.

"We'll, uh," I started to answer while beginning to suspect that opening my mouth had been a big mistake, "the East Coast is about 3,000 miles away . . ."

"What does 3,000 miles have to do with it?" one of the gangsters demanded. "Me and my buds rode our Harleys to Seattle, that's t least a thousand miles, and it was the same time there as here."

"Seattle's north of us," I tried to explain, "time zones go from east to west."

Absolutely certain I should've kept my mouth shut, I tried again. "You see, the sun rises in the east, and. . . .

"Never b'lieved all dat shit bout duh sun bein' millions of miles away,: one of them snarled at me while the other nodded his head in agreement. "Well, you can jus' look up and see it in duh sky. No one can see a million miles, can't be more than a hundred, maybe two hundred miles away at duh most."

Shaking my head, I said, "Trust me, 10 a.m.," and walked away.

It always amuses me when I see a reporter stating on television that some career criminal condemned prisoner has filed a petition with the courts asserting his rights have been denied under the United States Constitution.

The prisoner didn't write the petition and probably didn't read it. The only thing he might've asserted was directed at his attorney, and he probably said, "Sounds cool, hope we git action on dat there petition. Now that's all done, can yah send me some money?"

Frequently, I hear career criminals say, "I've got a read good attorney, he (or she) sends me money to buy smokes."

The first time I heard those words, I wondered, what does cigarette money have to do with whether they've a good attorney? Then I realized that career criminals never expected to have any sort of future, so they don't dwell to much about dying in the gas chamber. "Let's light up some cancer-sticks," is the attitude, "and deal with the future when it hangs into our bodies."

The reason the attorneys send the money is easy to understand. IF a lawyer knows the prisoner's death sentence appeal is going nowhere, he or she can't do anything for their client in the courts, so they simply buy him things that will keep the condemned man happy until it's time for him to take those last steps into the gas chamber.

It's rumored that an aspect of the death penalty is that it is suppose to provide a bit of deterrence to men who might engage in murder. Whatever laws are on the books, career criminals prey on society -- what else are they equipped to do? These are men who don't look down a personal time-line even one nanosecond past obtaining their next pack of smokes -- deterrence is an abstract concept, a civilized concept, which these wild men understand and embrace just as strongly as they do the concept of time zones.


Non-Career Criminals
Although smaller in number than the career criminals, there is a sizable collection of prisoners on Death Row who have never been in trouble with the law until their arrest for murder. Since I'm one of them, it's difficult for me to write objectively about these non-career criminals, men who have paid their taxes, played by the rules, for some reason real or imagined, their lives didn't go the way they planned or expected. Maybe the man lost his job or had been denied a promotion. Maybe his wife life or the woman he wanted as a wife said no. Maybe a member of his family died. Perhaps it's something that is not tangible, it could simply be their lives haven't measured up to the American way of life much as depicted on television in beer commercials sponsoring football games. Now they're getting older, the wonderful house, large automobile, beautiful wife, and perfect life isn't on the horizon.
Whatever the reason, these men become deeply clinically depressed and look around their largely middle-class worlds and try to find someone to pin their personal misery upon. Ultimately, if they fix the blame on themselves -- suicide; but if they find someone else to blame -- homicide.

Often found at murder scenes simply waiting for the police, non-career criminals almost from the moment the handcuffs are clamped onto their wrists are simultaneously trying to justify their actions and intently letting everyone with earshot know they had productive lives before jail/prison, and shouldn't be treated like common criminals.

Career criminals despite non-career criminals and their attempts to explain away homicide. "Never explain, never complain" is an integral part of the career criminal code, and they bully, rob, and occasionally sell the law-and-order virgins to jail-house rapists for a couple packs of smokes -- an occasion being directly equal to an opportunity.

Living in a strange new jail-house world that's largely incomprehensible to them, many non-career criminals complete their break with reality and end up in the jail-ward of the hospital pumped full of psychiatric medication.

One of the biggest problems non-career criminals confront when they are locked up is dealing with the dungeon dialect. What would you do if some tattooed man-mountain gangster stomped up and growled, "Shot a kite to my road-dog, he'll git at me the next draw. Hook me zu zu's and wham wham's, and Ill kickdown two for one."

Panic was my option, you find your own.

Career criminals often call each other "homeboys" or "homes" for short. A non-career criminal told me that when he was first arrested, he kept hearing men calling from their cells, "homes, homes." But that didn't make sense to him, so he thought they must be saying, "Holmes, Holmes." "Who is this Holmes family?" he wondered. Mrs. Homes must have raised some real tough boys, he reasoned, and they sure come to jail a whole lot. If you can't understand the dialect, it's hard to cope with the barred world.

On San Quentin's death row, many of the non-career criminals are so fearful of the other condemned men, they stay in their cells and watch their television sets. (Condemned prisoners are allowed to purchase a radio and television.) The only time these men are ever seen is in the visiting room, easy to spot, their skin has turned gray from lack of exposure to the sun.

Although I rarely hear career criminals express a whole lot of remorse for their dead victims, they don't appear to dwell on them. In contrast, most non-career criminals are still furious years after their victims are dead and buried.

"I'd dig him up and kill him a thousand times," was a comment I heard from a non-career criminal who had killed more than a decade ago.

Another non-career criminal, a bright, articulate man, employed as an engineer, went to his place of employment armed to the teeth, and shot and killed several people when a female co-worker repeated turned him down for a date. Strangely enough, he wounded but did not kill the woman who had refused to date him.

"Didn't want her to die," he told me. "Wanted her to live with what she'd done."

"What did she do?" I wondered out loud, curious to discover what could set off such a tidal wave of murderous violence in an otherwise easy-going man.

"You'd have to know her, she's. . . " he paused and his face turned into a mask of fury, the first time I'd ever glimpsed this emotion in him. "She's a bad person, that's all," he finished.

"If she's such a bad person, why'd you keep asking her out for a date?"

"You just don't understand," he answered. Turning, he walked away.

YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND! Words, I hear quite often from non-career criminals. these are men who are generally quite amiable, but have an irrational murderous rage lurking around inside them when it comes to the subject of their victims. Although they can never articulate a rational, reasonable explanation regarding why the person they killed needed killed, they have an inexplicable, but absolute confidence in the correctness of their actions. These men honestly feel that if they were given an opportunity to explain their motivations to a national television audience on a special network broadcast, everyone in the country would immediately clamor for their release from prison, and they'd receive a ticker-tape parade down New York's Fifth Avenue.

Although they have a lot of trouble accepting that they're convicted felons, if pressed, most non-career criminals will admit they should do some time behind bars for killing a living, breathing human being. When questioned about how much time, not surprisingly, most peg the appropriate time at about one-year less than the amount of time they've already spent in jail/prisons.

Generally, non-career criminals don't demand cigarette money or anything material from their attorneys. What they want is for the attorney to buy into the theory that their murder was an aberration which only occurred due to a unique set of circumstances which could never, ever be repeated. They want the attorney to validate their view of themselves as non-pariahs who if released from prison could successfully restart suburban lives.

I'm really not certain how benign most of these men would be if released from prison. Anyone so angry after ten-years behind bars, he'd kill a thousand times again and again and again -- he might still be a wee bit dangerous.

In the same vein, I wonder about the deterrent value of the death penalty when a man from the middle-class, who has been on Death Row for more than a decade and seen men marched off and executed, would still commit the same murder again -- a thousand times again.

There are a few non-career criminals who trudge around with a haunted air about them. "Really thought I was right to take his life," one of them quietly told me. "Figured he had it coming because of what he'd done."

"What'd he do?"

"Doesn't matter," the condemned man waved me off. "Yeah, he was a poor excuse for a human being, and getting mad at a really lousy person's okay. You can yell at them, stomp around, but you can't give in the killing rage. the killing rage doesn't come from the outside, it comes from the ugliness deep inside your soul. Murder has to do with what's inside you, not the sad sack you're killing."

"Why don't these other guys see that?" I gestured at the condemned men surrounding us.

"It's hard," he said, slowly, painfully, "real hard to admit to yourself that you stole away a life and ruined your own for no good reason. Makes you a monster or a fool."

"You're?" my mocking smile took the edge off my query.

"A moron," he answered with a dark, self-loathing grin. "When I still blamed that guy for everything, I was so full of hate there wasn't room for anything else inside me."

"It's better now?"

"Yeah," he solemnly nodded. But then he helplessly shrugged his shoulders, and added, "The man's dead -=- how I fell about it now really doesn't matter, it's just too damn late." Head down, eyes pointed towards the ground, he hurried away.


Serial Killers
The third and by far the smallest group of men on Death Row, although they receive almost all the media and public attention, is the serial murderers, predators who kill for the sheer pleasure of ripping someone's life out of their body. Difficult for the police to catch because they don't have any direction connection to their victims, serial murders lurk around in the shadows, pick out victims, stalk, snatch, and kill in order to satisfy some macabre inner-need. Many serial murders deliberately leave corpses in places designed to engender the most public attention and horror. After a couple of dead bodies are found, the media descends like vultures picking over carrion and lend the unknown killed a nickname: "the Freeway Killer," "the Nightstalker," "the Hillside Strangler."
The serial murderers I have met on Death Row are emotionally self-contained, they peer at you with the same lack of humanity and strangely the same lack of anger as a crocodile. Given an opportunity, they're going to live out their fantasies and leave you dead. But it's not personal, hunting humans is just what they do to fulfill themselves.

Ego-maniacs, serial murderers imagine themselves enlightened renaissance men who are misunderstood by a world still stuck in the dark ages. No one has ever been born or will ever be born who is as intelligent as these men believe themselves to be. They often feel great frustration at the ignorant masses who fail to perceive their greatness. After engaging in many, too many conversations with serial murderers housed on California's Death Row, it's difficult for me to comprehend how they ever came to have such a high opinion of themselves. But then it's hard to conceive of any other mind-set from someone who thinks it s okay to snatch, torture, and kill someone whenever they happen to feel the urge simply because that's what gives them pleasure.

For some unfathomable reason, a segment of the population is fascinated by serial murderers. These death-groupies write to serial killers and their intense interest heightens the serial murderers' sense of self-importance. Several serial murderers at San Quentin have turned this interest into a commercial enterprise and sell memorabilia through a Louisiana funeral director, who circulates a catalog advertising wares sent to him by serial murders throughout the United States. Serial murderers hawk their artwork and writings, which seems fairly legitimate to me, but some also sell autographed trial transcripts containing testimony describing the gruesome details of their various murders. One even autographed and advertised for sale the autopsy reports of his victims. Many openly proclaim riveting joy at their ability to trade the pain of their victims for filthy lucre, and these soul-less cretins are despised by the rest of the condemned men.

Most serial murderers don't get along very well with the attorneys (or anyone else) handling their death sentence appeals, and they spend a great deal of time at the law library attempting to write their own legal appeals. This is much like a passenger in an airline on an angling path into the ground attempting to wrest the controls from the pilot. Of course, an airline pilot would attempt to fight off the passenger and keep control of the plane because his body's also on the line. But attorneys can afford to simply shrug, sit back, and let serial murderers crash land inside the gas chamber.

The death penalty doesn't appear to communicate ever the barest trace of deterrence to the consciousness of serial murders. Government sanctioned executions actually seem to make them feel their impulse to kill is perfectly normal and acceptable. In their twisted brand of logic, they fervently believe their only problem is with the masses who have stupidly failed to recognize that they, the serial murderers, are the being set on earth to pick out who needs killing.

There is a great deal of tension, dislike, even hatred between the three groups of condemned men. Each group feels that they are far superior to the other two groups. Of course, most of society views all of us with emotions ranging from distaste to active loathing, but still we continue to draw pejorative distinctions -- how human of us.

From the lips of individuals in all three groups of condemned prisoners, I hear a lot of talk about injustice in the System. Seems to me if justice in the System is about the police, prosecutors, judges, and guards following all the near little rules derived from the constitution and written down in law books lined up in book shelves; well, year, foetlyre the System isn't even close to the lessons taught in my high school civics class. But if justice in the System is about putting dangerous people behind bars, looking around my Death Row world, it appears that the System gets it right most of the time.


Execution Dates
No matter which category of condemned prisoner, execution dates are something every man on Death Row potentially has in common. After I'd been on Death Row for about five-years, I was walking into East Block from the exercise yard, and a sergeant pulled me out of the yard recall line. Escorting me down to the East Block lieutenant's office, I was planted in a chair. On the other side of the desk, a woman from the Warden's office had a Death Warrant with my name on it. I was scheduled to die in abut eight-weeks. After we updated my next-of-kin notification form, she wrote down the title of my personal mythology, so the correct brand of chaplain would be summoned to ease my transition into the nether world. Finally, I had the choice of either signing for my copy of the Death Warrant or staff members would be summoned to witness that I had received a copy. Shrugging, I decided not to be a jerk. Locked into a cage, unhandcuffed, a pen was thrust into my hands, and I signed. Re-chained, I was taken to my cell, ordered to pack my belongings, and the guards moved me down to a really filthy Death Watch cell on the first tier. My eyes traveled the dirty walls tightly surrounded me. I almost said the hell with it and didn't clean the cell. After all, I thought with a certain amount of resignation, one way or the other I won't be inside this cell very long. But after a few heartbeats, I piled my boxes on the steel bunk, pulled out a rag, and started scrubbing. Oddly enough, once the cell was clean, I felt a lot better about everything.
Every hour while in the Death Watch cell, a guard would fall by, carefully note whatever I happened to be doing, and then he's steal away. It was really quite strange and I quickly learned to schedule my toilet needs around the hourly visits.

"Have you had a chance to phone your attorney?" a guard asked me from my cell bars.

I shook my head no.

Unlocking my tray-slot, he pushed a phone mounted on a cart in front of my cell. Reaching out, I dialed my attorney's number, then pulled the receiver into the cell, sat on my bunk, and listened to it ring. When my attorney answered and accepted my collect call, she told me she'd received a copy of the Death Warrant and was coming to see me.

"Don't come here," I protested. "You can't get the order stopping my execution at San Quentin. Go see a judge and get an order."

"You don't want to see me?"

"Sure, come see me after you get the order."

Three men-in-suits materialized at my cell bars. "Hunter," one of them called to me. "You're going to die in a few weeks. How do you feel about that?"

Lasering hostile eyes towards them, I knew what this was all about. The State of California is not allowed to execute anyone who is pregnant or insane. Apparently, the Warden took it for granted that I wasn't pregnant and sent these men to determine if I was insane. Grimly thinking about how they judged Ron's sanity before he hanged himself, I pulled on my headphones, tuned in an alternative rock station, pumped up the volume and closed my eyes. When I opened my eyelids, the suits were gone.

I received the order stopping my execution about thirty-days before I was scheduled to die, but a few of my friends have come within a couple of days of the hour they were scheduled to breathe cyanide before they received their orders, and they've told me what happened.

Five days before the execution date, all of the condemned man's property is removed from the Death Watch cell and piled outside the bars. A guard is stationed 24-hours-a-day outside the cell. The prisoner can request the guard to hand him a book, writing materials, a toothbrush, but when the prisoner's not actually using his property, it must be returned to the guard. If requested, the guard will plug in the prisoner's television set and turn it towards the bars, or tune in a station on the radio, but they remain outside the cell bars and only the headphones are handed the prisoner.

The condemned man has access to a telephone. He can call collect his attorneys, friends, or family.

The guards aren't there to simply hand the prisoner items of property, they're posted to make certain the condemned prisoner doesn't commit suicide. Suicide as opposed to execution is illegal in the Golden State of California and the Warden wants to make certain condemned prisoners do not break the law in their last few days and hours.

A representative from the Warden's office comes by the Death Watch cell to make the final arrangements. The prisoner is allowed to designate five of the witnesses to the execution, the menu for the last meal is finalized, the last statement for reading to the media after death is handed over, and a chaplain is scheduled to standby in the final hours before the last 13-steps into the gas chamber.

The death penalty in California isn't yet the assembly-line death machine its's become in Texas. The legal process of appealing a California prisoner's death verdict has been much more like a lazy baseball season. Lots of games are played, many of them go into extra innings, and even if you lose a game, no one panics, no one dies, you move on and play another game in a new park before new umpires/judges and the season loafs on and on and on.

In such a casual legal environment, the everyday fear of execution subsides in most men, and they become more concerned about what's for dinner than their sentence of death. However, in a few condemned prisoners, their death sentence never relaxes its clawing grip on their minds, and since n one can cope with living for years in a constant state of fear, they're the ones who commit suicide.

Late at night, I sometimes awaken and think about my own execution. I try to tell myself that everyone dies sometimes, no one finishes their lifetime alive. But I really wonder how well that impeccable logic will carry me through those last 13-steps.


Living With the Death Penalty
Even though it's years away for most men in California, I've heard condemned prisoners discuss plans based in utter fantasy regarding escaping the gas chamber. The most popular is contacting some shadowy government entity and volunteering for dirty-dozen type missions to assassinate Saddam Hussein, Muammar Quaddafi, or some other boogie man in exchange for a pardon. Inflating plastic bags and floating away, helicopter rescues, mercenaries storming the walls, earthquakes gently toppling over the walls and providing a path to freedom are all scenarios I've heard seriously mouthed from men who otherwise seem fairly sane.
A few men have written to members of the California Legislature and asked them to introduce bills which would give exceptions to the death penalty for crimes that always seem to fit their own circumstance of incarceration. After reading a condemned man's letters, I advised him to simply ask the legislators to pass a law that lets him get away with a couple of murders for free. "Probably won't pass it for you," my voice filled with irony, " but they might give you a little credit for honesty."

Many men on Death Row immerse themselves in religion. There's a Prison Ministry, christians (disparagingly referred to as the "God Squad") come to San Quentin and study the Bible with condemned men in the visiting room.

One condemned man, who allegedly has reformed himself through the Bible, follows serial murderers around the exercise yard, reads scripture at them, and proclaims with great gravity, "How about the victim's? THE VICTIMS? You killed dozens, I killed only once. The System should kill you. But since I've found God, the System should set me free."

Although the dark-side of my nature takes a certain sadistic pleasure in watching this putative man-of-God torment serial murderers with his relentless religious jihad, it seems to me that his arithmetic is flawed. Human beings aren't apples, oranges, oranges, or dollar bills. One person is just as valuable as a thousand, and piling more dead bodies onto a scale of justice or morality or humanity simply can't increase the gravity of the act of murder. Murder is an absolute term, one either is a murderer or one is not -- body count may increase the horror faster, but it doesn't change a murderer's responsibility or culpability for his actions.

When I watch and listen to the self-proclaimed man-of-God mouthing , "THE VICTIMS!," my minds eye fills with the vision of him standing atop of a grave next to a headstone chiseled with the name of his victim. But he keeps his eyes firmly away from the headstone, refusing to read the name of the person who he murdered or acknowledge the remains buried six-feet beneath him. This man simply stands, Bible in hand, screaming scripture at a craven dead-eyes serial murderer wandering all alone in a field filled with dozens of graves.

Circling, surrounding both condemned men are people with bowed heads, praying, grieving for their lost ones. These are the other victims, the living victims, family and loved ones who have photos of the dead and buried tucked away inside shoe boxes stacked on back shelves of bedroom closets. Tear-stained photos pulled out on birthdays which are no longer celebrated or Thanksgiving dinners with an empty place t the table. Living victims carry them memory of the deceased in their heads and the pain of their violent passing in their hearts.

Death row is all about the things I've described, but most of all it's about isolation. We're walled away from the world, removed from the pain and anger of a public who increasingly feel less and less safe in their communities.

One day I turned on my televiss he and the anguished face of one of the living victims appeared. Sitting on the couch in her living room, a woman spoke of her strong emotions regarding my friend, Bobby Harris, the man who had killed her brother. In a few days, this woman would be at San Quentin to view Bobby's execution.

As she spoke about her anger, her frustration with the System that had slowly toiled for fifteen-years in its quest to kill Bobby Harris, I shook my head, and, perhaps, for the very first time really understood that intellectual arguments about 54 condemned prisoners released from Death Rows across the country because the appeals process had unearthed their innocence would not move this woman. She did not know and did not care abut those cases, she simply knew that her brother was dead and Bobby was responsible. She had spent fifteen -years of her life on the long, long road to a seat at the execution chamber's window, she was weary, and wanted the trip to end with justice for her brother, which to her meant the death of Bobby.

While her understandable emotion continued to humble me, my eyes were drown to her adolescent son sitting near her, his eyes fixed on his mother, taking in her words. I wondered what this boy, who could not have been alive when his uncle was murdered, thought about his mother embarking on a trip, not for vacation but to view a killing. How were these events going to be absorbed by this boy, and passed down the generations through him?

It's crystal clear to me after more than a decade of living among condemned men, the notion that the death penalty provides deterrence to murder is a myth. Therefore, the only useful purpose I can imagine for executions is to provide a sense of justice and emotional closure for the living victims. Watching this woman, I wondered if the execution would provide the solace she'd be seeking at the viewing windows of San Quentin's gas chamber.

It's my experience after watching the men on Death Row who frequently try to solve their problems with violence, killing our emotional enemies never seems to accomplish the desired result within ourselves. At least that's true in the non-career criminals, the walking, breathing embodiments of hate, who remain wrapped up in their rage years after they've killed the human beings that they believed needed killing. But, perhaps state-sanctioned killing is different and does allow the living victims to venture past the emotional devastation of the murderous loss of their lov toones.

Waiving his federal appeals, a condemned man, Dave Mason, asked to be executed. One his execution date was set, he wrote to the daughter of a woman he'd killed.

When interviewed on television, the daughter said that she wanted Dave put in a place where he could never hurt anyone ever again but did not want him killed.

"Why not?" the reporter wanted to know. "Does it have anything to do with the letter?"

She said, "He wrote: Sorry, I killed your mother.'" Tears slowly spilled from her eyes as she looked down and began to shake. Raising her head, she added, "Is that supposed to make me feel better? My mother's still gone."

"Then why don't you want him executed?"

"My mother's dead," she said very quietly, "and what they do to him won't bring her back, so it really doesn't matter."


Michael Hunter is a Death Row prisoner at San Quentin State Prison. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including those featured here.

sharonno1 01-26-2005 06:34 AM

thank u for that my baby is on east block dr sq

Liating 01-26-2005 09:01 AM

wow...

suzeg3 01-26-2005 09:34 AM

Great read, thank you!

Mrs. OB 01-26-2005 11:38 AM

Thanks for sharing - I was reading few lines, but I need to concentrate for whole text.
I just got address for someone on SQ DR, and I am writing for him tonight. He isn't getting any mail at the moment, so I hope my letters will cheer him up.

Mrs. OB 01-26-2005 11:56 AM

WOW, he is absolutely great writer!

DarkSecretFX 01-28-2005 07:47 PM

Wow, Gave me chills,

Thank You..

melbo 01-28-2005 08:09 PM

Wow, Im speechless........

asweetangel99 01-28-2005 08:36 PM

I didnt really know about the "row" too much. This guy really made me think and understand what is really like... i giggled at this part... "Apparently, the Warden took it for granted that I wasn't pregnant and sent these men to determine if I was insane." ha ha ha i certainly hope that a MAN isnt pregnant... we would have a real doozey to explain then.

RegisSweetness 01-28-2005 08:54 PM

my fiance is on death row at san quentin, and oh my god i cant believe what he has to go thru everyday...just to live! my heart is with him and goes out ot anyone who lives on death row or loves someone on death row. its just unbelievable.......i hate that anyone has to live that way.

Anj 02-04-2005 01:13 AM

He is an excellent writer, and truly helps the lay person to see what life on CA Death Row is really like.

HippieChic 02-09-2005 10:04 PM

Thank you Softheart for passing that on to us....
Never give up !!!

:)

T Santi 02-11-2005 04:15 AM

Thank you , so much , my friend has told me , in brief whats it's like , but not in detail ....I can't stop crying .My heart goes out to all of you with a friend or a love one on DR . Tell them often how much you love them .!!!! Never let them forget ...
My friend dosent have much time left. His appeals are all up in October .
and now , i live with the pain , that each day that passes , is a day closer to saying Goodbye.. and with each day passing , a bit of my heart dies first.

lovenomore 02-18-2005 10:22 AM

Wow.... Very interesting he is a great writer!

Nice story but it took me about an hour to read it all!

Is this out of a book he wrote or something?

nevada 06-05-2005 11:30 PM

That was really difficult to read.
But wow what a prolific writer.

Ken'sWife 06-06-2005 10:05 AM

Thank you for posting such an interesting read. I know that each time I read something like this it takes days for me to realize the impact and learn from what I read. I hope that there is more writing to come from this impressive writer.

HuGzz 'N StUff 06-06-2005 08:28 PM

I wonder how I missed reading this! He is a great writer! He said some things in there about Career Criminals I know to be true.

stormsdragonfly 12-09-2005 06:09 PM

Thank You For That True To Heart Info. It Brought Tears To My Eyes Because I Have So Much Respect For What Anyone In Sq Or Any Other Prison Has To Deal With Day To Day. But To Have To Deal With It For The Rest Of Ones Life Makes Me Appericate The Hard Times I Have Off And On. My God Strengthen All Of Those Away From Their Loved Ones And Bring Them Home Safely In The Heart And Physical Body. Happy Holidays.


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