Sunday, 26 April 2009

To see the Soul- A Search for Self

A simple plastic mirror hangs upon the door frame of my death row cell, faded with the age of years gone by. I could easily replace it with a new one, but I don’t want to. That inanimate object has become my friend. I can look within its reflection and see a person I’m still coming to know. I doubt anybody else would ever understand, but I do. And that’s good enough for me. You see, years ago when I first arrived and was placed within the confines of my solitary crypt, condemned to an existence of a seemingly endless state of judicial limbo, we had no mirrors. For reasons beyond my personal comprehension, any type of reflective object was deemed to be a threat to the security of this institution. For years I did not see myself, with the exception of a few opportunities stolen along the passage of time. But it was just as well, as even when confronted with the reflection of my own being, I couldn’t recognize the person who looked back. It was a stranger I did not know, and could not understand. And it scared me.

My true friend, the mirror, is a patient being. Willingly, it has given me the time to look deep within myself, grasping in almost maniac desperation for the person that I knew existed beyond that shell of emotional void. So many battles in the past had tempered my ability to rationalize and overcome. I came to this crypt with a death wish, as I saw death as an escape. It would allow me to end the continuous cycle of adversity that plagued my life. As a crutch enabling me to survive, I had come to accept that I was not at fault or the way my life had painfully twisted its way through one nightmare after another. Responsibility for my personal actions was an alien concept. I had conceded that for reasons unknown to myself, my life was cursed. I came to accept that philosophy, no longer even attempting to defend against the plague of pain that continued to fall forth.

Yet, ever so slowly over the years I’ve gained a new understanding of the man in the mirror. Oh yes- I’ve still fought what I did not want to see. I still created my own justifications for what I chose not to accept. But in its silent wisdom, that inanimate piece of plastic ever so patiently drew me back into its reflection of self. At times I would spend hours doing nothing but staring at this stranger I knew so well, but didn’t know at all. In the stillness of night I lay awake searching the very depths of my soul for understanding. I expected a miracle. I anticipated the day I would awaken and hold all the answers. It never came. But ever so slowly I came to know that once-stranger.

I came to accept reality, no longer imprisoned within my imaginary world of excuses. I could at long last identify the paths I’ve travelled, ascertaining the many places along the path in which I’ve chosen to challenge the natural flow and do things my way. I’ve come to accept that the deceptive vehicle of illusive charms which I’ve followed and travelled upon so blindly in reality the foundation of my life’s disasters. In the ignorance of my youth, I had adopted the use of intoxicants as my crutch from reality. Rather than confront the problems of life, I turned in weakness for the closest available form of deception. Alcohol. Drugs. It didn’t matter. I would use either without hesitation. And somewhere along that river of intoxicated stupor, I continued to flow even further apart from the person within. But I am not an old man. I have not spent a life of absolute intoxication. I am not the proverbial ‘wino’ our society so quickly identifies as a model of alcoholism, or the ‘junkie’ that haunts the depths of the inner city. I was only a young man- a working man, a husband, a father, an alcoholic and a coward who could not and would not face that truth; a teen alcoholic who had matured only physically into an adult alcoholic. I had become a person trapped and imprisoned by the compelling need to drown all time within a bottle, or whatever else might be readily available- any escape from the harsh truth of reality.

Now I look at the person within, and find someone I can identify with. No longer am I a stranger trapped within myself. Only, the search of self came too late. In at last escaping from the imprisonment of alcoholism, I have only awoken to find myself now condemned to death as a direct result. I cannot retrace that path of the past. I cannot recreate what has already been. Yet I feel as if a burden has been lifted. Still I can sense the inner freedom as I explore who I am, the one within. And over these years I’ve kept journals about my solitary environment. Perhaps one day I will gather these thoughts and reflections together and allow others to look within as I have done myself. For now I’m satisfied with simply confiding my thoughts upon that paper, creating my own security blanket, another trustful friend who will hold my deepest secrets and always gladly spare a listening ear. And within those many pages I will form a trail to follow, a path in which I will be able to see the metamorphosis of self as it slowly evolves, as I come to know even more of ‘me.’ And as I see more of the true self emerge from the dark recesses of the past, I am inspired and motivated to push even harder toward a future. I am compelled to tell others of the experience, as I realize that I had been cheated out of my own life by a bottle, but even more so by the deceptive justifications I had so readily created to rationalize why I had fallen into the well of alcoholism.

In coming to know myself, I have realized what had first instilled within me the weaknesses that led to my addiction, and by identifying that weakness, I have found the strength to overcome the circumstances now present in my life. For the first time, even though imprisoned and condemned to death, I am in control of my life. I know what I want to achieve and can make plans to do so. I can look beyond the moment of today and the eternity of tomorrow. For me, that in itself, is a victory. Nothing I say or do can change the past. But I know now that I can use yesterday’s battles as a source of strength in building a future, because I am willing to accept my addiction to alcohol, and how it can so easily become my master, enslaving me to an existence of irresponsibility and failures. For this realization I owe a great debt to that mirror that still hangs silently as if in its wisdom, it knew all along that time itself would slowly bring about the unity of my body and soul. The piece of plastic could only reflect back what could be seen. It could only show me the physical being, but it was the stranger I saw that forced me to look deeper. Time, itself, brought about the gradual evolution of the stranger and the soul, each discovering the other along the path of a desperate search.

I can now only wonder what I would have become had I continued to live as I once did. Could any alternative path be worse than my present state of condemnation? Yes, I believe it could, as I can deal with what I face today. I may not still understand how it all came to be, but I continue to pray an opportunity will eventually present itself, allowing me to exhibit all the facts, all of which I am now willing to accept and confront. I have no doubt that if such an opportunity was to present itself, even this condemnation would be lifted. For now, though I accept it. And I equally accept the truth that my prison of today is not at all as restricting or enslaving as the prison of alcoholism I had been previously confined to. In this small, solitary cage I am free not only to discover self, to explore who I am and to allow myself the hopes and dreams of what tomorrow might bring. The prison of alcoholism had never allowed that. It only mastered my body, but entrapped my soul. In my present condemnation I have found the true essence of life and in my solitary confinement I have found freedom. And all in the reflection of a plastic mirror.

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Death Row Daddy’s Little Girl

Although now condemned to death for over a quarter of a century there are windows that allow me to look beyond my world of steel and stone and look back to the life that I once had. These windows are the photographs that I still have from a time long ago, from the life that I once called my own.

One of these pictures is perhaps my greatest treasure. When I look upon it, I can still vividly recall that very moment when I took that picture. It was in April, 1979 just afternoon on a seemingly perfect spring day. It is a picture of my now ex-wife divorced in 1981) holding our firstborn, our daughter Jennifer Nicole – whom we lovingly called “Nikki” This photo was taken on the lawn at my father’s house, our first stop as we brought Jennifer home from the hospital. Looking back, I realize now that we were both still kids ourselves, both me and my ex-wife the still in our teens.

We had met in high school while both of us were participating in the ROTE program. (for those unfamiliar with “ROTE”, it stands for “reserved officer training corps” a quasi-military type elective course provided at most American high schools and colleges) We were both only 15 at the time. A serious relationship would only come later. At 17 we became inseparable and by 18 we were married. Both of us coming from impoverished families the ceremony was at the Polk county courthouse in Barlow, Florida. The very next day I enlisted in the army, following a path both my older brothers too before me, believing that a military career would provide the means to take care of my family.

In late 1978 my days as a soldier abruptly ended with a duty related accident at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. By the end of December 1978 I was honorably discharged and thrown back into civilian life. In less than 10 weeks I was to be a father.

The birth of any child is a memory all parents cherish. Nothing I can say can define the anxiety both of us felt as we counted down the days, wondering when the moment would come. Of course, there were always the relatives on both side of the family around only too willing to offer their advice and insight. Some would swear it would be a boy, others just as convinced it had to be a girl. But for us, it just didn’t matter. I can remember the first time she took my hand and gently placed it on her swollen stomach, and the sparkle in her eyes as she whispered “feel this” and how amazed I felt as the child within her womb kicked – and I felt it!

Then the moment came when we knew it was time. We were so certain as we rushed in a frenzied panic that hour drive from the rural area of the county where we lived to Tampa General Hospital. But it was a false alarm. The water had not broken. Only a day later the real thing came around. I’m sure I had a puzzled look on my face as she told me her water had broken. But we again quickly sprang into action.

Then came the too many hours of anxiously waiting in the soon-to-be-daddy room. For reasons unknown to me, I wasn’t allowed to stay with her. They would call me when it was time. Many hours passed, but nobody called me. Then a nurse came in and I knew something was wrong. She quietly whispered to follow her, and I silently did. We went into a small room and a doctor joined us. There had been unexpected problems An intern had misread the monitors and after almost 8 hours of labor out little girl was determined to be brought into the world, but the birthing canal didn’t open as it was supposed to. Their voices echoed in my ears as I struggled to listen. They explained in an emotionless monotone that they had to perform an emergency “c-section” The doctor touched my arm and assured me that my wife would be alright. But then told me that my daughter might not make it. I don’t remember what else was said. In that moment everything around me ceased to exist. Something within my very soul died. I can only now vaguely recall the many more hours that passed before again a nurse approached me and I was allowed to see my wife. As I entered the room our eyes met and our pain became one as I then held her in my arms, both of us crying. She asked me if I had seen Jennifer yet – the first time I heard our daughter’s name spoken. I said no.

Another nurse stood nearby and told us that we could see Jennifer soon. At the moment of birth she was stillborn. Because of the complications during delivery she had come to life while still in the womb. Her first breath filled both her little lungs with the fluid in the womb and she quite literally drowned. It took some time to perform the c-section and pull her from the womb, and in that time she was deprived of oxygen. There would be brain damage, but they wouldn’t know how severe.

As that evening passed into the morning, we periodically got updates. Faceless doctors and nurses doing what they could to keep us informed, yet never willing to answer the infinite number of questions we had. Only much later would we come to know that the unexpected complications were the result of inexcusable incompetence. But none of that mattered as we only wanted to see our newborn daughter and know she was alright.

Many hours passed before we were finally told that we could see Jennifer, but to do so we would have to go to the neo-natal intensive care unit. Neither of us knew what to expect, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to see. First we were led into a small room where we had to thoroughly wash our hands, then a nurse gave us gowns and latex gloves to put on. Only then were we led into the neo-natal unit, and to an incubator. Our Jennifer lay inside. She had all forms of wires and tubes attached to her, with various machines on each side. Someone stood nearby and in a explained that our Jennifer had her lungs filled with fluid, causing double pneumonia and was in critical condition, dependent upon the machines to keep her alive. She also suffered serious brain damage and was having seizures. We were told that if she made it the first few days her chances were good that she would survive. But for now they would keep her in an induced coma until she was strong enough to breath on her own. We could only look down upon our little girl and pray that she would know that we were there.

The following day my wife was discharged from the hospital, but we didn’t want to go home. We were only allowed to visit Jennifer about an hour each day. After a few days we finally did go home but no sooner did we arrive that the hospital called and said that Jennifer had gone into cardiac arrest and we should return immediately. We drove the two hours back to Tampa General Hospital and spent the rest of the day and that night in the waiting room. Jennifer had been revived but was still in a coma. For at least a week after that we refused to leave her. Mostly we stayed in the waiting room until they would allow us to go into the neo-natal unit and be with our baby girl. Sometimes they would allow us a few minutes even when they were not supposed to. We were told that we couldn’t sleep in the waiting room, so we would take turns sleeping in the car so that one of us would always be there.

Then the day came when we were told that they would allow Jennifer to wake up. We both stood at the side of the incubator for several hours before her little body, still attached to all kinds of tubes and wires, started to move - the first movement we has seen of her My wife squeezed my hand. Then Jennifer cried, a soft cry, but the most beautiful sound we could ever hope to hear.

As the days passed we were allowed to touch Jennifer through the holes in the incubator. As I touched my little girl’s hand, her tiny fingers wrapped around my own finger and she refused to let me go. Somehow she knew who I was and that we loved her and she didn’t want to let us go.

As coincidence would have it, at the incubator beside Jennifer was a little boy born prematurely to a friend of ours (Terri Simpson) from Plant City. At the time following my discharge from the army we were renting property from her father. But only a few days after he was born he passed away. I never even knew if he was given a name as the sticker on the incubator only said “baby Simpson” But I’ll never forget the look on Terri’s face as we watched from across the room as they told her that her little boy had passed away, as the color drained from her face and the anguish physically overwhelmed her…a bleach blonde teenager mother already experiencing a pain that no mother should ever have to know.

As the weeks passed Jennifer grew stronger and one by one they began to remove the tubes and wires that had sustained her. Soon we would be allowed to hold her for the first time. When that day came, my wife silently cried as she sat in a chair placed next to Jennifer’ crib and the nurse gently placed our daughter in her open arms. All else ceased to exist that moment. Then came my turn. I can still remember the anxiety and fear as if it were yesterday. It was one day after my 19th birthday when I nervously took that precious gift into my arms and marveled as she wiggled, then opened her eyes to look up at me – for the first time I realized that she has my eyes, that she was truly daddy’s little girl. Then, like a little angel she snuggled up and went to sleep in my arms.

About a week later we were finally able to take Jennifer home. She was strong and she grew healthier each day. But the botched birth had its consequences and we knew that she had suffered brain damage. To control the frequent seizures we had to give her liquid Phenobarbital several times a day. Because of the medication Jennifer slept a lot and rarely cried, others noticed but were too polite to comment.

With the pride of new parents we left the hospital with our baby girl and went straight to my parents to show her off. That is where that picture, that I now so dearly treasure, was taken – Kathy Marie proudly holding Jennifer on the front lawn of my father’s house.

Many moons have passed since then and yet each time I look at that picture I’m transported back into time, to that moment. A little over a year later we had our son Daniel Brian, who was born perfectly healthy. A week after the divorce was final, my ex-wife remarried. Because I refused to take part in the divorce proceedings or even go to court, my ex-wife was given sole custody. A few months later I learned that she then allowed her sister to legally adopt our son.

From that year on I have been almost continuously incarnated, with the exception of just a few months in early 1982, the again in early 1983. in February 1983 the deaths of Aleisha Bryant and Lawrence Lamberson resulted in these capital charges being brought against me. By early 1984 I was on death row, where I have remained ever since.

Through the years I often tried to find ways to get in touch with my children. But I wasn’t able to hear even so much as a rumor. Either my family, the few who stayed in touch, did not want to tell me, or my children had fallen of the face of the earth.

Years and years passed but I never gave up. Often I would write letters to radio shows, asking them to play songs and make dedications. One nationally syndicated radio show “ Delilah after Dark” would sometimes read my letters on the air, then play a song for “Nikki” Each time I hoped that she would hear it, but she never did.

The in the summer of 2003 a friend suggested I get someone to look at state records on the then new “internet” For months I saved every cent I could with the hopes of hiring an investigator, only to have it come back with no “Lambrix’s” in state records under either Jennifer’s of Daniel’s name. But then I found out that they could also search state records for just their first names and dates of births. Again I anxiously
Waited for news from the investigator.

Exactly five years ago this week the letter arrived from the investigator. A single sheet of paper with two names and addresses, the only two matches – but they matched perfectly! My little girl “Nikki” was now 24 years old and lived only a few miles away. Her last name had been changed, but everything else matched.

It took me days to write and rewrite that first letter. What if it wasn’t her, but just by coincidence another Jennifer Nicole with the same date of birth? Jennifer was a common name. I began the letter with an apology if I was wrong, but that “you
might be my daughter” I sent her a poem that I had written many years before just for her. Then I waited. What if it was her but she didn’t want anything to do with me?

Several weeks slowly passed and each day my hope faded. Then there was a single small envelope from the Jennifer I had written. I nervously held it, afraid to open it for fear of the response within. I sat on the edge of my bunk just looking at the envelope and then finally I opened it. Only a single folded page within, and as I pilled it out I prepared myself for the rejection.

Then there it was in my hand, unfolded. And it began “Dear Daddy” and I cried. Like the scribble of a young child, it was difficult to read. But it was her – it was my little girl and she was happy to hear from me and wanted to get to know me. A few days later I got another letter from my ex-wife. They had moved to the adjacent county in 1986 when she remarried (for the 4th time) and had been living just a few miles away all these years. She explained how Jennifer had suffered permanent brain damage and was mentally handicapped, with the functional capacity of somewhere between a child and a young teenager. She didn’t think it was in Jennifer’s interest to know me since I was on death row, as they assumed I would be executed and Jennifer couldn’t deal with that.

But Jennifer got my letter and wanted to get to know me. Through the next few weeks we exchanged several more letters. Then my parents offered to help by picking Jennifer up when they came to visit so we arranged to get Jennifer on my visiting list. Before long, there she was - after all these years I was having a visit with my daughter. As she came into the visiting room I gave her a big hug as if I didn’t want to let her go. Her smile lit up the room and she giggled as only little girls can do. Then we talked for hours and she told me about the little kitten she had and the movies she liked and the friends that she had known forever and on and on, and throughout it I could only smile.

In recent years we had many more visits. I came to know that more than anything else she just wanted to have a normal life. She wanted a boyfriend, then a husband and a family of her own. And I just wanted her to be happy.

Last year she met someone she fell in love with. Now 29 years old, although limited, she is capable of independent living. She wanted to be loved and he loved her. He too has limited mental capacities, but able to work a job and drive a car. Suddenly I realized my little girl was grown up. After so many years of praying that I could be part of her life, she now wanted more…she wanted to be Billy’s wife.

How could I let my little girl go? But it wasn’t my choice. What mattered most is that she would be happy. Jennifer and Billy married and I haven’t seen her since. They had moved further away to be closer to where Billy worked and with a very limited income, they simply couldn’t afford to visit.

A few months ago Jennifer gave birth to her first child, a healthy little girl they named Sarah Anne. Now I anxiously await the day that I might meet my new grand daughter, knowing that it may be some years. But like with my daughter, I will not give up hope, because I know that as long as hope remains the impossible might yet happen. It pains me to know that my little girl now must struggle just to pay the bills and yet there is nothing I can do. I assure them that I understand that they can’t afford to visit and I will be patient. But in my heart of hearts, it cuts to my soul knowing they are so close and yet so far away. And each day I pray the day will come when I get to see my little girl – and my granddaughter, and I will.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Welcome to my new blog. What an incredible world we live in that a man condemned to death can still have his voice heard around the world through the internet. Some of you now reading this are old friends who have faithfully stood by me through the many years while others might be but strangers passing through the night. But no matter as I welcome all of you equally and hope that you will want to come back again and again, and share my journey with me.

My name is Michael Lambrix and for about 25 years now I have been condemned to death in the State of Florida. I am but one of the many though who have been not simply sentenced to death by the hands of a corrupt judicial system, but condemned to a fate even worse than death – condemned to over a quarter of a century of continuously “living” and slowly dying in solitary confinement as the world outside slips further and further away each day.

It would be only too easy to act with indifference to my claim that I have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death – that I am innocent of the crime that had sent me here. But can any of us any longer deny the fact that too many have been already proven innocent and released after spending sometimes many decades on death row for a crime they were innocent of? And with so many already proven innocent and released, doesn’t it stand to reason that there are many more still suffering the ultimate injustice – convicted and condemned to death in spite of innocence?

Recently my entire case has been put on the internet for all to see.. Not just what I claim happened, but both sides. As far as I know, this has never been done before. So, for the first time ever, anyone in the world with access to internet can now look at the entire case themselves – the entire actual trial transcripts, the entire appeals briefs and court decisions, everything – then play the part of the jury and decide for themselves…am I innocent or not? I hope that all of you will take a look at that website at

This blog is not necessarily about me. Rather, it is intended to be about the bigger picture – allowing the average person an insight into this world we call “death row”.Through regular posting blogs, I want to talk about things that are relevant to the entire death row experience as I believe that people out there need to be able to see within these walls and understand our unique perspective. I hope to provoke something within each of you so that you can come to see all of us not as a condemned man, but simply as a man no different from you.

In future posts I will attempt to discuss issues of mutual importance to all of us – but from my unique perspective as a condemned man living under the gun. I want to bare my soul to you, the reader – to share with you the sources of my hopes as well as my frustrations.

A lot of what I will write will be about our “justice” system and the forces of evil that have so thoroughly corrupted “justice” in America. This is the Beast that I must battle very day in my desperate struggle to stay alive; a beast without compassion or conscience that all but too willingly will take the life of these least able to defend themselves against it’s malicious wrath. I am the proverbial David against a mighty Goliath and the sting of both cold steel and cold stone has fallen unmercilessly upon me. Too often I feel all but overwhelmed as I stand against these formidable forces that seek to unjustifiably take my life. But my strength comes from the friends I have been blessed with along this solitary journey, those who even in my own moments of weakness have generously lifted me up with their own strength - and sacrifice.In upcoming posts I will talk about my world – of a world in which I am not able to live or die, but only exist knowing that as the days become months, and the months become years and the years become decades the greatest injustice that is being so methodically perpetuated against me is that my entire life is being forever lost one eternal day at a time. Like Jonah being swallowed alive by a great whale (Bible, Jonah 1:15-17) I too have been swallowed alive by an evil beast and condemned to live – and slowly die within the very bowels of that inhumane beast.

In coming posts I will talk about my world and the Beast that I must fight and I invite all of you to share this journey with me. Much of what I will write will be in the form of essays on a particular point, such as those that are permanently posted on my website I would ask that you tell others of this blog and invite them to also share in this journey and that all of you will return weekly. For a new submission. Please also check out that website about my case ( ) and invite your friends to also check it out, make it a group project where all of you can play the part of the jury.Thank you for sharing this experience with me and I look forward to now sharing my journey with each of you.

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Mike's Story

Many moons ago in a life now far, far away I was born at San Francisco General Hospital in California on March 29th, 1960. I was the fourth of seven children brought into the world by my mother; by the time she was only 24. By right and reason I should not have been born as after the first three (my oldest sister Debra and my two older brothers Donald, Jr. and Jeff) my mother contracted polio and was bedridden and not to have any more children.

In those early years my father and grandfather owned a steel fabrication plant in San Rafael and we lived a comfortable middle class life in Marin County. I was too young to remember the first home I lived in, in Mill Valley and as the family grew and evolved we would move often. My first memories were of a house on Oak Spring Drive in San Anselmo and those memories were and still are unpleasant. Although faded and broken by years that have passed at times I can still remember the violent arguments that led to my parents’ divorce. Or rather remember hiding from them.

Then mom was gone and I remained alone with the father I feared, especially when he was drunk – and it seemed he was always drunk. About the time I began school I met my stepmother. She barely spoke English and was hired originally as a housekeeper. I was to young to recognize the seemingly sincere Mary Poppins persona she first projected that all too quickly evolved into the incarnation of evil within her that manifested itself immediately after she and my father married. By that time we were living in a large house high on a hill in Woodacre, over looking the Lagunitas Valley below. Not long after they wed we moved to a subdivision in San Rafael, on Court Street close to where the canal opened into San Francisco bay.

Soon the family began to grow even larger as my stepmother Consuelo became pregnant with her first. We moved again to a house outside of Novato but still within walking distance to Olive Elementary School. I met my first best friend there as his family has a small ranch nearby. Over the hill behind us, a short walk away, was the valley George Lucas where parts of “Star Wars” was filmed. There were good times, but there were bad times. My best friend Russell was killed in a freak accident and my oldest sister – often my only protector – ran away. By the time I was ten she was barely a teen but I understand now why she had to leave, why living on the streets off the generosity of so-called “hippies” and hanging with bikers was better than staying at “home.”

With a half brother and two half sisters the family grew to a total of ten children. From outside looking in I suppose we appeared to be an average family – at least it was the only family I knew so I thought it was average. On weekends, especially during the summers we would all pack up and drive out to my uncle’s coastal ranch (“Diamond T”) on nearby Ft Reyes, now part of the Ft. Reyes national Seashore. On long weekends and holidays we would go camping at Clear Lake, or Lake Mendocino and as evening set we’d all gather around a campfire singing songs as dad played the guitar.

But then came the early seventies and the family business was abruptly forced into bankruptcy. We moved from Novato to the sleepy hollow community of San Anselmo. My two older brothers and I joined the Boy Scouts and served as alter boys at the Catholic Church. My oldest sister, then barely 16 was committed to the Napa State Hospital, pregnant with her first child. By the time I began middle school we moved again to a small farm with an old Victorian house outside of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. By then I discovered the means to escape reality first with alcohol, then drugs.

My grandparents suffered a car accident and both died a few weeks later and my dad all but gave up even trying as he found his own escape in heavy drinking. There were no more holidays with the grandparents, outings to the ranch, or camping trips. As my stepmother took control life at “home” went from bad to worse. It wasn’t long before we again moved – this time in a caravan of travel trailers like a band of gypsies. But it was the best time of my life, as for the entire summer of 1974 we camped out at Yosemite National Park. Now barely 14, I couldn’t imagine how it could get any better. Any pretense of parental supervision was now gone and I was free to explore the park all day, every day as if it was my private playground. As a bonus, I quickly discovered a seemingly infinite supply of free beer; as campers upstream would place their beer in the icy Merced River only to be washed downstream by the rushing current… entire six packs were there for the taking and in surprising abundance. What I couldn’t drink was easily sold or traded for pot (marijuana) and the best summer of life became a long party. It was the best of times.As the summer drew to an end we packed the trailers up and began a two week exodus across America, finally reaching Florida.

For several months we lived in the two trailers and a large tent at a campground outside of Tampa. At that time I began going to a local Baptist Church for the very best of reasons – a girl I met in school belonged to the youth group and I really wanted her to belong to me. As I got more involved “Brother Jeff,” the charismatic youth director “saved” my soul and I found a new high in Jesus. After years of attending the Catholic Church this seemed so alive and fulfilling.

A few months later Dad bought a small house in the farming area southwest of Plant City known as Turkey Creek. My stepmother claimed her domain and made it clear that only her children would be allowed to live in the house. But we didn’t complain. My oldest brother Donald, Jr. joined the Army and became “career military” until that career abruptly ended when he was hit with an aerial grenade during the first Gulf War. That left my older brother and I, and arch nemesis Jeff to share the one small travel trailer while my even younger sisters Mary and Janet shared the other.

With the family reduced to living on welfare, we were all forced to skip school and work on local farms or orange groves and the income was used to feed us. If any of us dared to protest, of God forbid not work at all, the physical repercussions were immediate. But once that day’s job was complete, that pretense of parental supervision again quickly disappeared and we did as we pleased.

Not long after moving to Turkey Creek my older brother, Jeff and I and even my younger sister Mary began hanging with a “neighborhood” crowd. We never aspired to be a “gang” and never roamed the area preying upon anyone. Our thing was simply to meet almost nightly in a group, pool our money, and party. Looking back, I now realize that all of us were from similar backgrounds and in our own way became family. On the days I was allowed to go to school I would often join a crowd of others who regularly “skipped” school. On good days we would hang out and party in the woods behind Plant City High School or go swimming at nearby Mudd Lake. On bad days we would walk to the mall in Plant City and hang out. Although caught more than a few times, it didn’t really matter, as I knew nobody at home would care. When the school would impose suspensions it only meant that I didn’t have to pretend to go to school in the first place, which was even better. I never failed a grade. Somehow I attended just enough classes to absorb what was necessary to pass the tests and I made a point of always taking the important tests. Never – not even once – did a single teacher attempt to talk to me about my chronic truancy or anything. I was a lost child and they accepted that.

As the months passed my stepmother demanded more of us and we became, for all practical purposes, virtual slave labor. My protests increased and the physical beatings became more severe. A few months before my 16th birthday the fair came to Plant City for the annual Strawberry Festival and I found a job working at a game concession… and I found a new life.

By my 16th birthday I was out on the road on my own, working carnivals around Chicago. Say what you want about “carnies’” but this band of misfits were family and they made a point of looking out for each other. Most nights I would sleep in the carnival tents and spend my money on food and partying. Although it would seem to have been the last place a teenage kid should be on his own, even though I didn’t appreciate it, those on the lot knew I was a kid and seldom did I go anywhere without a watchful eye keeping me out of trouble. We worked long, hard hours and when the lights on the Midway went off we’d gather in groups – often pooling our money to rent a motel room – and party to excess.

In all the years I worked on the road, not even once did I get in any kind of legal trouble. Contrary to popular myth, habitual criminals were not welcome as the show would not tolerate anyone bringing heat down on the show. From early spring into the summer we would work local carnivals in Chicago area, then with summer came the county and state fairs, which meant even longer hours, even days straight during “Midnight Madness.” From Michigan and Illinois State Fairs, we would work our way south through Arkansas and Oklahoma, then into Texas, and across to Louisiana and finally back to Florida for “winter quarters”.

Returning to Florida in late 1977 I met a girl I knew in high school when I briefly joined the high school ROTC program. Almost immediately Kathy Marie and I became inseparable. A few months later when it was time to head back up to Chicago for the new season she tagged along. By late summer she was pregnant and we made plans to return home and settle down. On October 27th, 1978 – both of us barely 18 – we were married at the Polk County Courthouse in Bartow, Florida. The next day I was on a bus and on my way to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to report for active duty in the Army. Without a high school education and any job skills other than working carnivals, the military meant I had the opportunity to take care of my new family. But what may very well have become a “career” as it was for my brother, abruptly ended with an accident while on duty and a discharge for failure to perform my required duties. After my discharge we lost our health coverage and when our daughter was born in March 1979 at Tampa General Hospital we almost lost her when the doctor failed to do a c-section in time and our little “Niki” (Jennifer Nicole) came to life still in the womb and drowned in her own fluids. For a month she remained in a coma at the neo-natal unit of Tampa General kept alive by respirators, and tubes, and wires, but then she finally came home.

The prolonged deprivation of oxygen and physical trauma of her birth caused permanent brain damage and epilepsy. But she was our little girl and she was home and that’s all that mattered. Both of us still too young and irresponsible to be parents ourselves, and still “partying” beyond excess, bad judgment was a way of life. Within months we returned to the road, living in our car and countless motel rooms. Working carnivals and fairs was he only life we knew. As the season drew to an end Kathy Marie announced she was pregnant again and we made plans to “settle down.”Returning to Florida just after Christmas in early 1980.

I quickly blew the money we had saved to get our own place on a motorcycle – then wrecked it racing another bike on the highway. That was the last straw… Kathy Marie’s family descended upon her, insisting she leave the loser. Her mother gladly hired a divorce lawyer and formal divorce proceedings were initiated; however, before any hearing could be held, we reconciled, rented a mobile home, and I actually got a real job. Accomplishing all that I didn’t see any need to stop partying too. Soon I was supplementing my income by any means necessary as my use of alcohol and drugs substantially increased. No longer surrounded by the protective “family” of carnies, I began hanging out with a more destructive crowd.

In July 1980 our son Daniel Brian was born at Tampa General Hospital. With my irresponsibility reaching new heights, Kathy Marie began paying expenses by forging her mother’s signature on her family’s trust account. On our second anniversary, she was arrested on 24 counts of forgery, and I was arrested on outstanding traffic tickets. Her family took temporary custody of our kids. After a month I was released but she remained in jail until February, three months later. Her family refused to let me have custody until Kathy Marie was out.

Again my “partying” escalated and I began getting into trouble. With nothing to hold me back, I lived in bars and lounges selling drugs and consuming the profits. Having proven my inability to be a mature and responsible husband and father, nobody was surprised when I started cohabitating with another woman. When Kathy Marie was released from jail in February 1981 she quickly renewed the divorce proceedings and by April the divorce was final. Now accompanied by “Kitty” I returned to Chicago to work the new carnival season. Kitty was not a carnie, nor would she ever be. In June we returned to Florida, as she was pregnant. Shortly after we returned I ran across Kathy Marie. With our divorce (which I never challenged) final less than two months, she had already remarried a family friend. But by that night she left Walter – and I left Kitty – and we reconciled.

In August of 1981, while extremely impaired, an argument evolved into an act of inexcusable road rage resulting in an accident when the other vehicle hit a telephone pole. Intoxicated and in possession of illegal drugs I fled the scene only to be arrested a few days later for aggravated battery. For months I remained incarcerated until the charges were finally dropped. During that time Kathy Marie’s probation on her forgery charges was violated and she was ordered into a state “halfway” house in the Ybor City area of Tampa. In late November 1981, Kathy Marie was walking to a nearby store from that halfway house when she was abducted, then taken to a nearby lot where she was raped repeatedly by two men, then beaten and left for dead.

Again this created a wall around her that I could not penetrate. The next month, I left Florida for Utah where I intended to meet my mother for the first time since I was a child. I knew I had to get out of Florida and away from the destructive lifestyle I was living. Once in Salt Lake City I stayed with my mother and found work. But I didn’t escape my need to party and it wasn’t long before I was hanging with a new crowd but doing the same thing.

A few months later came an arrest for drunk driving – even though I wasn’t driving at the time! (It was Utah – everybody knows those Mormons are nuts!). In early March 1982 I received a telephone call from my former girlfriend Kitty telling me our son Cary Michael, Jr. (born prematurely in Michigan in late December) was in the hospital with pneumonia in Plant City, Florida and might not make it. That next day I left Utah driving nonstop to Florida in less than 48 hours. Not long after arriving back in Florida I was arrested in Plant City on an outstanding warrant for violation of probation. After a few months in the Hillsborough County Jail my probation was formally revoked and I was sentenced to state prison for two years on the original felony conviction – a single “bad check” charge, my only prior felony conviction. (It should be noted that when many members of the Congress committed the same crime – deliberately writing a check on their accounts without sufficient funds -- no action was taken against them.)

With almost nine months of time already served in the county jail, that two year prison sentence was actually less than a year. After about six months in state prison I was transferred to a state work release center, where I would work a regular “free-world” job then report back and stay at the work release center.

Once again my drinking got the best of me. Within a few days of arriving at the work release I was caught smoking a joint and “busted.” A disciplinary action was filed and I was placed on administrative probation. A few weeks later I skipped work and went out drinking with my younger brother Chuck – and again got caught. This time it was another disciplinary action and assigned extra duty in the kitchen, and instructed I had to find a new job working days, not nights.

A few days before Christmas 1982 the company I found work with held a Christmas party, which included a smorgasbord of hard liquor. By the time I was due back at the work release center I was wasted. I knew if I went back in would be my third violation and I would be returned to state prison as well as lose all my accrued “gain time” which would mean almost a year in prison. That seemed like a lot and I didn’t want to face it, so I simply did not return, which in Florida is technically considered an “escape” from state prison. A fact I conveniently failed to appreciate when I made my intoxicated decision not to return. That decision led me to relocate to LaBelle, Florida and set the stage for the case that led me to death row. And here I remain.

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Mary Poppins does Death Row

I recently had the pleasure of a brief debate with a woman (who I will now call ”Mary Poppins”) in the My Space U.S. Politics Forum. After reading my earlier blog, ”Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied” as well as my posted commentary of how the Florida Supreme Court summarily denied my petition arguing a constitutional right to expedited review of my actual innocence claims (See, Florida Supreme Court Says, “No Right To Expedited Review of Actual Innocence Claim,”) and how I am now forced to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court without the benefit of legal representation.

This individual responded by saying, “I smell fish” – that if my case was that strong I should have no problem finding pro bono legal counsel (a lawyer willing to take my case at no charge) and since no lawyers are beating down the prison gates to represent me my claims can’t possibly be credible.

Of course in all her infinite wisdom my new friend Mary Poppins still could not and did not provide the name of even one qualified lawyer who might be interested in taking on a capital case. Apparently she is so disillusioned that she actually thinks that lawyers do take on capital cases “pro bono” all the time. It must be nice to still be able to live in a fairytale world of sugar and spice and everything nice.

But I don’t blame her at all… her ignorance is only too common. People out there just don’t have a clue and they really do think that everyone on death row has quality legal representation and that there are swarms of lawyers out there lining up at the prison gates wanting to take on death row cases.

The reality of it is that there are very few lawyers willing to take on capital post conviction cases -- much less lawyers who are actually qualified to take on a capital case. As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, capital (death sentenced) post conviction appellate proceedings have evolved into one of the most inherently complex areas of law. Very few lawyers have the experience, training, and competency to handle representing capital cases.

Look at it like this – the practice of law is a lot like the practice of medicine. Both have specialized fields of practice that require specialized training and experience. Capital post conviction litigation today is like the brain surgery of law. Very few lawyers are trained in this area as it is incredibly demanding and pays very little. Over the years of attempts to expedite executions politicians have passed all sorts of procedural rules lawyers must navigate and if even one procedural rule is not strictly adhered to then the entire appeal is thrown out.

In a perfect world there would be lawyers willing to step up and volunteer to represent death sentenced prisoners “pro bono,” especially in cases where a substantiated claim of actual innocence is made. But wake up Mary Poppins, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Since I was sentenced to death in 1984 about 20 men and women have been released from Florida’s death row after being found to have been wrongfully convicted and innocent of their alleged crime. I personally knew most of these people and I don’t know of even one of these cases in which a lawyer stepped up to volunteer “pro bono" to represent them -- not even one.

So, the next time someone wants to question the validity of my actual innocence claims by arguing that if I had a legitimate claim of innocence then I’d have lawyers lining up around the block wanting to take my case, I would appreciate it very much if you would provide a list of lawyers you think are so willing to step up to the plate as I would really like to know who they are.

Until then I’m stuck with the reality that these lawyers simply do not exist. For that reason I must represent myself in this soon to be filed petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping that they will at least read it. If the U.S. Supreme Court does actually accept review of the question of law I am presenting (whether there is a constitutional right to timely review of an actual innocence in the state courts), then I will be able to request the appointment of legal counsel. But for now I am forced to represent myself in this matter as no qualified lawyers are willing to step up to the plate. Of coarse, if Mary Poppins really wanted to help she’d just loan me her umbrella and I’d simply fly away or at least share whatever it is she’s so obviously on.

Mike Lambrix

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Don’t Preach Pro-life While Actually Practicing Pro-death

As I write this its is Friday December 1st –World Aids Day. In my death row cell I just watched the ABC World News, which did a story about how some of the country’s leading conservative evangelical religious leaders are very upset because Illinois Senator Barack Obama was invited to be a guest speaker at a conservative church. Collectively these religious leaders signed a “letter of protest,” which they collectively released to the media, protesting Senator Obama’s appearance as they felt his “pro-choice” views on abortion conflicted with the conservative Christian “pro-life” agenda.

Although condemned to death, I have earned a degree in Christian Theology – and even certification in evangelical teaching – and the Bible I am familiar with has one particular scriptural passage (Matthew 7:5, NIV) that says. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” These words are attributed directly to Jesus.

This is why I’ve come to hold such contempt for the conservative right and their so-called “moral majority.” They are all too often a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites. These same conservative “Christians” who call abortion “murder” will slobber at the mouth like rabid dogs when preaching their support for capital punishment. If we want to preach about the “sanctity of life” then it has to encompass all life, not just the lives we choose to find worthy. We are not God.

Consistent studies have shown that it’s actually the so-called “liberals.” The “pro-choice” segment of our society that opposes capital punishment while the strongest support for the death penalty comes from these hypocrites who dare label them selves “pro-life!” But this is a no brainer… how can you dare to call yourself “pro-life” of you support the deliberate death of any person? Murder is Murder.

With a growing epidemic of wrongful convictions now being exposed because of the use of DNA evidence and already over 130 documented cases of wrongfully convicted innocent men and women condemned to death, there no longer is any question that innocent men and women are being sentenced to death. See, ”Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man.” So, advocating the death penalty means advocating the execution if innocent men and women.

Please tell me – how can anyone who calls them self “pro-life” also support the death penalty? By supporting the death penalty you support a system that will inevitably, by deliberate design, murder an innocent victim. We can’t have it both ways – if this is truly about the practicing the sanctity of life and protecting the innocent from being put to death, then those who call themselves pro-life must just as zealously oppose the death penalty, protecting the innocent from being put to death.

The simple truth is that nobody respects a hypocrite – so don’t preach pro-life while actually practicing pro-death.

Mike Lambrix

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Christmas in a Cage - Death Row Holiday

Growing up in a large family Christmas was always celebrated in the traditional Norman Rockwell style with many brothers and sisters both older and younger than myself, the excitement and anticipation of Christmas began immediately after Thanksgiving, when dear old dad would pull out all the holiday lights from the cardboard boxes concealed in the attic and spread them out across the floor as us kids would compete with each other to find any burnt out bulbs that needed replacing. Once that task was completed, it would be an honor to hold the long strands of lights as dad balanced precariously on a ladder nailing them along the roof overhangs, then as if by magic seemingly always just at the right moment as darkness began we would all gather to watch as they came to life. In that moment of unified silence the Spirit of Christmas became one with us.

Then would come the tree. Never but never an artificial tree, not in our house. Even in the years when there would barely be enough money for food, there was always a large freshly cut evergreen tree, with the scent of pine filling the room. Boxes of beautiful antique ornaments handed down through the generations would be carefully unwrapped and meticulously placed in just the right spot with rows of tiny flashing multicolored lights accented by a million strands of silver and gold tinsel, almost each strand carefully dropped over the boughs by us kids leaving the lower part of the tree with significantly more than the harder to reach upper branches, but no body even complained.

This majestic Christmas tree would always be up no later than the first week of December and then brightly wrapped boxes would begin to appear beneath the tree. That was the Christmas tease that has tormented children through the ages… What could possibly be in these beautiful boxes? Of course, children being children, we would all find a way to ever so very carefully steal a peek in that one of two particular box with our name only to almost without exception discover that the box contained nothing more than clothes. Silly kids – we already knew that only Santa Claus brought the good stuff and that wouldn’t happen until Christmas Eve.

Each Christmas Eve all of us kids would be herded off to bed early and given a stern warning that soon Santa Claus would be near and he’d know for sure if we weren’t sleeping. Of course we couldn’t sleep but each of us in our own way did our very best to pretend to as we each fantasized about what Santa might leave us. The hours would pass slowly – very, very slowly – until the early morning hours when dad would open the bedroom doors, releasing us from our rooms with the excited announcement that Santa had come and we would all rush into the living room and stand in awe at the piles and piles of presents that had been left beneath the tree.

No matter what each of us received in that moment of time it became our entire world. Of course there would be the obligatory clothes, which were inevitably piled neatly to the side, to be collected later. Although we seldom got the toys we really wanted – apparently Santa Claus had a cash flow problem and couldn’t afford the most popular toys – what we got quickly made us forget about what we thought we wanted and the joy of receiving those gifts overcame any disappointment.

Looking back, I can’t recall even being disappointed at not receiving what I thought I wanted, as what I got always seemed to be even better. That’s why I knew even long after other kids my age gave up that Santa had to be real; dad couldn’t possibly afford all those wonderful presents. Only too many years later did I realize how much he would willingly sacrifice each year to make Christmas special, working long hours at the steel plant and even pawning off his few prized possession as nothing was ever allowed to break the sanctity of Christmas.

Soon after all the gifts were unwrapped we would be forced to set them aside and retreat back into our rooms to dress in our Sunday best then pile in the station wagon for a drive to the Christmas service. Even the thought of resisting this ritual seemed silly – marching into church as a family each Christmas morning was as much a part of Christmas as Christmas itself even of we didn’t fully understand the spiritual implications of Christmas at that time. But even as the priest administered the solemn sermon, already our thoughts were on the fest that would soon follow.

Within a few hours we were home again. The Christmas Spirit filled the house with a joyous mood as Christmas carols played endlessly on the record player and our attention turned from the gifts we already received to plots of pilfering the table piled high with cakes and candies laid out for guests that might drop by. With military precision us kids would band together and recon the living room then slowly sneak our way towards that table and careful not to let our presence be known, our little heads would pop up quickly as our hands reached for that morsel of sweet goodness and then a quick retreat would be made.

As all the dishes of cookies, candies, and cakes would slowly disappear the smell of Christmas dinner would fill the house. Without exception Christmas dinner would be provided with abundance in the traditional style with all the trimmings and the family would gather around the expanded table and eat. This was the one meal when no matter how dysfunctional the family was the rest if the year, we were truly family for that one meal. But then it would too soon be over and that one special day became only a memory.

These memories continue to be my Christmas and have become my ritual. Merle Haggard once sung a song about a man turning 21 in prison doing life without parole. My own ballad would not be that much different. I’ve never had another Christmas since leaving home. At 46 years old, this is now my twenty-sixth Christmas in a cage; the past 23 Christmas’ have been spent condemned to death in a cage on death row.

It is the Christmas of the past that remains my Christmas of the present. Being condemned to death I am not allowed to celebrate Christmas in any traditional sense. In the early years I would anxiously await the Christmas cards from family and friends, then hang each upon my cell wall and share the Spirit of Christmas with the few who chose to remember me. But as the years slowly passed the cards became fewer and fewer, even most of my brothers and sisters have now long forgotten me and given me up as dead. Although I remain blessed by a few special friends who make a point of sharing their Christmas Spirit with me, the friends too slowly drift away and become fewer and fewer.

Many years ago when I first came to death row we were allowed to celebrate Christmas and it was something we looked forward to. Each December we would be allowed to receive two packages from the outside world containing various necessities such as winter clothes, a pair of shoes, cosmetics and toiletries, and even a nice watch or ring. Then the Christmas meal would be traditional style, real turkey with all the trimmings and various pieces of cakes and pies. But then conservative politicians found out about the “special treatment” given to prisoners at holidays and made political careers by campaigning against these things. One by one every holiday privilege was eliminated and out of vindictive malice and spite the Spirit of Christmas was banned from prisons.

Where I once proudly displayed the few cards I’d receive on my otherwise barren grayish beige wall, I am now prohibited from doing so. Up until a few years ago I had a photo of a beautiful Christmas tree I’d tape to my back wall above my sink until one Christmas Eve a guard made an issue of it. I was ordered to remove it, but refused. A few hours later as I was taking a shower that guard went into my cell and removed that picture – ripping it into small pieces then throwing it into my toilet. That one small semblance of Christmas I so cherished was lost forever as that Spirit of Christmas was overcome by malice and spite.

Now each Christmas becomes more depressing as I become even more isolated from that world outside. Too often my thoughts now turn to my own kids and grandkids and wishing I could spend just one Christmas with them. All my own children are now grown, but I can only imagine the joy on my grandson’s face as he anxiously rips open the brightly wrapped box containing the small gift a friend so generously sent in my name.

Then I think of all the others here and in prisons across the country who like me can only think of Christmas’ past, as the Christmas of both present and future no longer even hold the hope of what the true Spirit of Christmas is about. I remain blessed by the few cards I will receive, but know that many others around me won’t get a card at all. There will be no Christmas sweets and treats. There will only be the same cold, barren walls and the sound of silence as each of us retreat into our own dreams of what once was and most likely will never be again.

So, this Christmas I ask you to remember what the true Spirit of Christmas really is as we gather to celebrate the birth of a men condemned to death for our sins, that through His condemnation each of us equally were given the gift of Hope. If those of us who claim to be Christian cannot actually be Christians on Christmas, then when can we be?

What would Jesus do of He were to celebrate Christmas today? I’d like to think that He would reach out to the lowest of the low and share hope with those condemned to death; that in the true Spirit of Christmas, in the true Spirit of Christ. Especially those condemned would not be forgotten.

To both friend and stranger equally the same, I say… Merry Christmas!!!

Michael Lambrix

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