Some reflections of 24 years on death row

Editorial note: Amos King was executed February 26th, 2003 by the sovereign state of Florida

Some Reflections From Twenty-Four and a Half Years on Death Row
I definitely never expected to write this. I thought I would be executed January 24, 2002 at 6 PM as scheduled. My reprieve is a miracle. In recent days some have referred to me as the dean. That I’m not. I’m at the bottom of the top ten or there-abouts.
I’m on G-wing the second floor, first cell on the north side. Upon arrival here on July 13, 1977, I was temporally placed on the South-side of this tier in cell three then after a few days sent up to the third floor to begin populating that Southside with death row. My neighbors then were a few so-called bad guys kept out of pop here & guys from pop[1] doing disciplinary time. Gradually they were pushed out by the ever expanding row. One did come back with a death sentence. He allegedly killed another prisoner. After his sentence got reduced to life he smiled at me on the way out as if to say, you just gotta know who to kill.
Killing & assaults intended to kill leaving mayhem in their wake were fairly common back then-1970s. Back then it was said you couldn’t let a guy slide for stealing a penny because it was “the principle of the thing.” If he got away, he’d be back for more, probably your ass. I thought it insanity. I never bought into it. A guy came to death row from pop for killing a guy for either twenty-five or fifty cents. I thought the Biblical response of giving ones enemy food & drink more fitting & transforming.
After John Spinkellink was executed here on May 25, 1977 at ground zero of alleged deterrence, it triggered a ground swell of murder & assaults. There were reports of gang gun battles outside not far from here. As the late, executed Bennie Demps put it, officials then had everyone who’d histories of violence in this building spitting locked up even though some had done nothing in years.
There are politics in as well as out of death row about death row. Politics, trumps all.
The ratio of whites to blacks is kept intentionally so at roughly 60 to 40. When I first arrived & for years the issue of racism & the death penalty was huge. Not anymore. The High Court rejected data of racism in a Georgia case & it pretty much died. This ratio is intended to rebuff the spectacle of racism with this surface showing.
Now the white prisoners are used racially to keep blacks & the issue in check. White culture with its knee-jerk reaction to the very word “racism,” Judaeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxon, Patriotic programming has blinded/desensitized white prisoners to this blatant reverse discrimination. Some try to understand it but just cannot. One white prisoner was here for killing a guy during a drunken street brawl. I believe both were homeless street persons, This wasn’t even a death penalty case. There are “quotas” on death row for white men for window dressing.
Long ago a KKK manba- then on the row angrily told me that if it wasn’t for black people there would be no death row. The notion to get hostile came over me but so did cold reality; he spoke the truth. I guess it’s come full circle.
There were guys on death row here who knew others on the row had committed the crimes they were here for. Two such guys drafted me to be a go between. One would exonerate the other at a certain point but never did.
Back when there was a thriving pop here almost everyone on the row knew someone in pop with a very similar/worse crime.
My first sidekick here on the row committed suicide as did some half dozen other over the years. He couldn’t cope with losing his wife to another man outside. I knew others who attempted suicide after women broke it off. A survivor is picked out & made fun of, smiled at a lot. Concern is also shown in some of this. Yes, it makes some stronger. Buddies will ride on in this fashion.
As years rolled on more & more guys were sent to the row with ostensible mental problems. Some avoid detection prior to trial because they weren’t observed enough or at the right times. As the attorney of one said recently before the Supreme Court of Florida. His client, Linroy Bottoson, who was recently on death watch with me is one example. A day before his scheduled execution he as pursuing funds for future canteen purchases. I was taken off death watch on February 4th, Bottoson on the 5th after his reprieve. He was move next door to me on another-wing. He was very happy for having gotten down to the last three hours & having eaten his last meal a seafood platter.
It was like it was the highlight of his life. He remained euphoric over it for another day. Sometimes, he goes off into a void, just vacant. He always says “I know” even when he doesn’t & offended if his ignorance is pointed out. There are quite a few around like him. They’re not much into humor.
It’s a cliché that all of us will tell you we are innocent. Some admit guilt, remorseful, cry, pray. When no leniency is offered for admission of guilt & we’re all constantly said to show no emotions in court, it’s wise to keep it personal between oneself & his God since to do otherwise is like putting oneself out to sport & some degree of condemnation by those who believe in fighting & executing. Keeping it personal is safe ground.
Mostly one is alone, in a small cell with perhaps a small black & white TV, radio with hardly any to no reception. It’s what one does with ones time that determines how one copes, or not. Many deteriorates markedly. Some of us read, study law & other subjects. One need an exercise routine.
Loneliness & boredom predominate. Stress is the order of the day. The norm rarely changes. Religions play a major role. Family connections generally dissolve after a few years, if any ever existed.
Most are well aware of the big picture of politics & our being pawns therein.
One is on the row to die, a fact one is never allowed to forget. The bare minimum of medical care is slated for us. It is the wrong place to become seriously ill.
After ones death warrant is signed he’s generally brought from the larger death row at Union Correctional Institution to Florida State Prison about a mile away where in are death watch & the execution chamber. One easily sees one death row across the field from the other.
At F.S.P one is marched in leg irons, cuffs & black box to face the warden who’s sitting at a desk flanked by one or both of his assistant wardens/colonel who has a copy of the death warrant for ones execution lying before him.
He’s all solemn & down to business. He told me “the governor has signed your death warrant” [for a specific week he specified] & “I” have set your execution for the 24th of January at 6:00 pm. The warden is allowed to choose the specific day of the specified week.
After the warden told me this on the evening of November 19, 2001, that he’d picked January 24, 2002, at 6:00 PM as my termination date a certain godliness rung in it. My brain recoiled into a stupor. The voice of the divine was near impossible to grasp. I just couldn’t get the date so I asked it three times & the warden gave it three times & afterwards I still wasn’t sure & later forgot it if I ever heard it.
After the warden & his assistants give an overview of the rules & days ahead one is marched off to the dungeon close to the execution chamber. In the last week prior to execution one goes on phase two, no possessions are allowed to be kept in the cell, a guard sits in front of the cell 24 hours a day. Watching me crap, sleep, eat, scratch my ass, to see I didn’t cheat the state, i.e., that I remained healthy for execution.
While on death watch you’re required to give info on when & how to expose of your body as well as your last meal, if desired. You’re checked for a suitable vein for injection of poison. The pressure sometimes becomes so intense you feel like you’re going to blow a gasket. Yet you’re required to keep functioning with yourself, lawyers, family, minister, media, staff, etc.
Contrary to some beliefs that the last few days & hours go slowly they flew by for the three of us on death watch which at times added an additional element of fright. We expected just the opposite. Definitely, time waits for no one. It made me want to shout at time, “whoa, whoa, whoa it up there!”
It would take a book to touch upon all facets of death row. This is just some reflections.
Amos King
February 11, 2002

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