Here it is everyone, the much awaited part two of Mama’s visit to death row.
Visit to Death Row, Part 2
After corresponding with Toney for almost a year, and reading his desire to have a visitor for so long, I filed the paperwork, passed the background check, and decided to go visit.
I looked Toney up on the Internet, just to see if there was a photo. As I suspected, there was. I already knew to expect a black man, so the photo was no big surprise. He would be considered nice looking, medium tone skin, short black hair dark brown eyes. He wasn’t smiling, and the photo was just head and shoulders, so I had no idea how tall or large he was. I had my first panic attack then. Writing a letter is one thing, but going to visit a murderer? Mama, what the hell are you thinking?
I wrote to Toney, and said I would come to visit on Saturday. And, as the day got nearer, I began having panic attacks…then, I would talk myself down…after all, I was meeting him within a PRISON…NOT in a dark alley! I said I would do this and I was adamant that I would keep my word!
You may remember that my dad was in the Navy. Because of that, and the issue with my biological egg-donor, my sister and I moved frequently. We also changed schools several times due to “bussing” laws. The experience of constantly changing school districts, attending new schools, meeting new friends and adapting to new environments has actually served me well over my lifetime. In reality, I am a very shy person, but I learned how to outwardly APPEAR calm, cool and collected, but my natural shyness is something I have always had to work at to overcome! I learned pretty quickly that IF I ALLOWED my insecurities and fright to rule me, that I would NEVER have friends. I just APPEAR to be much more confident than I really am!
So, when Saturday rolled around, I showered slowly (procrastinating), ate a little breakfast, kissed my dear husband and got into my car and started my adventure.
Te first 00-150 miles of the area along I-10 between Jacksonville and Tallahassee is just flat, barely inhabited farm land. Raiford is located in Butler County and its economy is dependent on agriculture, timber and the prison complex. The total population of Butler County (2000) was approximately 15,000 people; Raiford had approximately 190 residents living in fewer than 80 homes. The prison at Raiford is just 60 miles from my home, about 90 minutes.
Raiford is the home of Union Correctional Institution (UCI), and Florida State Prison (FSP). The two separate institutions were originally one. UCI was the state’s first prison, and was originally called Florida State Prison, the name going with the newer institution when the two were split. Both institutions house inmates in Death Row facilities. FSP conducts all executions, while most death row inmates are housed at UCI. UCI has the most diverse population of any correctional institution in the state, with close management inmates and psych inmates as well as open population inmates. Most of the latter are age fifty and over. FSP houses the violent and criminally insane, all in solitary confinement. The penitentiary compound encompasses over fifty acres and includes a farm where much food is grown that feeds inmates. The prison is the subject of the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Four Wall of Raiford” This prison was shown in an episode of the 1960s TV program “The Fugitive”. With my luck, being what it was that day, I started at the WRONG prison, unaware that TWO prisons were on that road, so back into the car and down the road for another 3/10ths mile! (FSP accommodates 1400 inmates, UCI accommodates 2172, and as if 2/25/15, 393 are on Death Row which includes 5 women) (In)Famous inmates (E) executed or (D) died prior to execution were: Ted Bundy (E), Eileen Wournos (E), John Couey (D) and Otis Toole (D) were all inmates at UCI/FSP complex.
The drive from the house up to I-10 was a little hectic; Jacksonville suffers the same infrastructure issues as most large cities, widening the freeway, adding egress ramps, and merging freeways even on a Saturday morning slows progress. But once I was on I-10, the miles just zipped by. I had way too long to think, though, and I had a good case of nerves by the time I got to the Raiford exit. My GPS took me the LONG way, of course…out an old farm-to-market road, where the speed limit was 35-40, instead of 65.
Finally, I arrived at UCI, where Toney was housed. And then, went thru the lengthy protocol to actually get INTO the visiting room…we pick up there…
I opened the door when I heard the entry buzzer, and stepped into a room approximately 50 feet wide by 70 feet long. To the immediate right were two COs, male and female. I stepped over to the desk, and showed my credentials, and the officer told me that he would have the inmate brought out. During that first visit, it was almost a shock to hear “inmate” so often. You become accustomed in real life to “Mr, Jones” or “Toney”, but it seemed that at every opportunity, the COs and staff make a point of using “inmate” as a proper pronoun! There were several boxes of playing cards on the COs desk, and I asked if I could “borrow” them until my “inmate” arrived, and of course, I was granted that. So, I took the cards in hand and glanced around the room.
Along the right wall was a “Concessions” window, next to that, a table with a microwave, some weird little sporks, and condiments, and on either side of the concessions window, a uni-sex water-closet! (Which I VOWED not to use!). On the far side of the room were two soda machines and a machine that dispensed bottled water. On the left side of the room were big windows, but the “view” was only the backside of another building, but sunshine was nice! The middle of the room was filled with stainless steel tables bolted to the floor, and 4 stainless steel stools about 12 inches in diameter. Boy! Those things were COLD on my bootie! Each table was numbered, so I went to the table I had been assigned to, and tried to look around without looking like Mrs. Farmer Brown Just Come to Town! There were probably 20 tables in the room, and only 5 were occupied. One table was occupied by a Jewish couple. There was one table with a black inmate and a younger white lady, and the rest were white couples and one couple with a young child. Toney later told me that culturally, white families tend to come and visit, black families generally do not.
As I sat at my table, trying not to watch others in the room…occasionally a man dressed in his prison uniform would step thru a door I hadn’t noticed, next to the men’s room. I would look up, expectantly, and check if the person coming into the room was Toney. Even tho I had tried to memorize the face in the picture on the web page, I hadn’t done a very good job. Everyone and no one looked like him! Some were obvious, white inmates, Jewish inmates, corrections officers…I was starting to feel like I was sitting at the bar of Denim & Diamonds circa 1985, hoping some cowboy would ask me to do a little “boot-scooting”…
FINALLY…he came thru the door…(and I was already ready to go home)…I stood up and gave him a quick, light hug…then we both sat down. He told me that he didn’t remember the last time he had been hugged. I kinda felt sorry for him actually…
It was probably 12:30 or 12:45 by the time he entered the room. I asked if he had lunch yet, and he said he had, but he was still hungry. So, I bought us some sodas out of the machine as he stood in the canteen line. When I joined him in line I noticed that the two best sellers at the window were “honey buns” and “hot dogs”…either way, they were nuked in the microwave…it was one of those box contraptions that has a dial timer on it, not digital, so you aren’t sure if the 2 minutes was really 2 minutes or 10! Everything came out of the micro the same: over-cooked! Hot dogs were either exploded or more wrinkled than Grampa’s….never mind…pretty cooked, anyway! The “honey buns” seemed to be swimming in yellow stuff, which I assumed to be margarine. Toney chose a honey bun and peanut butter cookies, I selected a container of carrots and celery. (No wonder all these guys have diabetes and colon issues! None if them EAT right!)
My ability to talk to almost anyone came in handy that day. (only my dear MIL, may she RIP, has hated my guts before even learning my name, but as gramma told grampa when his jack-ass kicked him “consider the source!”) We talked about the Arias trial for a good while. I found it interesting that men on death row thought JODI should get the Death Penalty!! The opportunities for recreation on DR are limited, to say the least. Toney must attend 8-10 “counts” every day, but other than that, and his 3 per week shower and 3 per week “rec”– from 4:30 am to 9:30 pm, his time is unstructured. He works on his appeal, writes letters, (he has several pen pals, but I’m his “favorite”! (Want to buy land in Florida?)) read books (1 per week), clean his cell, exercise and “chat” with the fellows in the next cell or with the “good” COs and watch TV! The channels they receive are limited. But do you remember when Court TV went off the air, the slack was picked up by HLN? They didn’t get Court TV, but DID get HLN! So most of them, like us, the trial was the topic for every one!
We talked about his family, we talked about Jacksonville, we talked about 10 or 15 different topics. Mostly, he wanted to know about the world outside. He was amazed that 60″ TVs exist, he’s never been on “the Internet”, never wasted the afternoon with a PlayStation or Wii….it was almost like revealing the world to a newly discovered tribe that had no idea that the rest of the world existed!
At 2:30, I told him that I wanted to beat the rush out…so I gathered my trash, gave him a brief hug and we said goodbye.
Leaving the visiting room was very similar, going thru the maze of fences, checking out, an inventory of my glasses, keys, and jewelry. Waiting in front of gates, listening for buzzers, etc.
I had no thoughts about whether I was affected or not…until I stepped through that last gate and into “freedom”…it was the very same outside air on THIS side of the fence as the outside air on THAT side of the fence…so why did it smell “cleaner”? As I walked to my car, I noticed that there were not as many cars parked in the lot as when I arrived, yet I hadn’t noticed anyone leaving the visiting room. The “beep-beep” of the car’s security system was reassuring in an odd way…I got into the car and started the engine, put the A/C on high and backed out of the space and headed for the entrance. I didn’t understand why *I* was feeling anxious! As my dad used to say “I’m free and 21!”!
A sense of relief came over me as I pulled out on the highway, and began my drive home. Thousands of thoughts swirled through my head. I had a 100 questions I wanted to ask Toney, but, I wasn’t sure I wanted the answers, and in a way, the questions seemed almost “rude”. I am the one and only person in the world that doesn’t call him 300807, I’m the only person who sees him not as an inmate, but a man. That is almost a “gift” isn’t it? Why ruin it?
I also had a lot of thoughts about Arias. I wondered how many of her “supporters” would still be interested in her if they knew nothing of her crime? Many are just “contrarians”, what ever everyone else believes, they will take the opposite side.
Unlike Toney, who isn’t “notorious”, Arias has no anonymity. Wherever she goes, she’s known to be the murderer of Travis Alexander. She’s 90% murderer and 10% everything else, Toney, on the other hand, yes, is incarcerated…but people don’t know his crime first. I was able to see the other parts that make up the man.
Let’s say you had to opportunity to sit and talk with Arias…what would you have to ask about, other than how she murdered Travis? Her tracings would take about a minute, and everything else would take about two minutes. Overall, she’s not very interesting, and the only thing she has ever been successful at accomplishing is…yes….killing Travis Alexander…
That little girl voice she uses would Make me want to knock her block off!! I’ve noticed in her letters, everything is me, me, me, I, I. I…Toney’s letters rarely talk about himself…I have to drag information out of him…and he has tons of questions!
All of these thoughts, and more swirled through my head all the way home….finally, as I drove up to our home, a peace came over me. I parked the car in the garage, went inside…petted Boo, who is not used to Mama being gone THAT long…then went up to my dear husband’s office.
I was overwhelmed with the love I have for him. He has not once raised his voice, not even a sharp “NO!” To Boo when he is being naughty. I’ve never seen him angry. Yes, he’s kinda a “crusty old fart” on the outside, but he’s a big old marshmallow on the inside. Always “there” when I need a hug, always there for anything I need. Always level-headed, thoughtful and compassionate. Always supportive in whatever project I’m working on.
It was easy to forget Union Correctional Institution, Toney and yes, even the Arias trial when my dear husband stood up and walked over to me…and just hugged me and held me close. No words were necessary. He would ask questions later…right then, he knew I just need him to hold me, and reassure me that all was well in my world.
Statistics: longest on Death Row: Freddie Hall DOB:7/21/45. Received: 12/24/68
Oldest in DR: Nelson Serrano DOB:9/15/38 Received: 6/26/2007
Approximately 177 inmates have been on death row prior to 1996
Women on death row in Florida:
Tiffany Cole. DOB:12/3/81 R:3/7/08 Double murder/buried couple alive
Amelia Carr. DOB: 8/4/84. R:2/23/11. Murdered BFs x-wife/duct taped to chair,suffocated
Margaret Allen. DOB: 1/26/66.R5/19/11 Tortured housekeeper for hours before murdering her
Ana M. Cardona D:11/26/61.R:7/12/11 Tortured/murdered 3-year old son-Baby Lollipop
Tina Brown B:7/19/70. R:10/3/12 Beat V w/stungun, tire iron & set on fire-2 weeks to die
NOTES: Current status of State Executions:
Executions in Florida are currently STAYED to allow time for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols. (Florida uses the same lethal injection protocol as Oklahoma)
#On February 13, 2015, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a memorandum announcing a moratorium on all executiions in the state. The memo stated that no executions will take place at least until he has “received and reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment.”
^On January 30, 2015, the Ohio State Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections announced that it would postpone all of the six executions scheduled in 2015 to that point. All of these executions would be scheduled in 2016 to allow time for the state to obtain new drugs for lethal injections. The new drugs that Ohio announced it would be trying to obtain were sodium thiopental and pentobarbital.
†UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on January 28, 2015. On January 26, 2015, the Oklahoma state Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked the United States Supreme Court to stay all executions scheduled to that point. The four inmates on Oklahoma’s death row sued the state on the grounds that the lethal injection protocol violated the Eighth Amendment. On January 23, 2015, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case brought forth by the inmates. Pruitt requested the stays to allow the Supreme Court to hear the case and reach a decision regarding the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.
*On September 9, 2014, the Ohio State Department of Rehabilitation Corrections revised its execution schedule for all death sentences previously scheduled from March 2014 and beyond. This was done in order to comply with the August 6, 2014 Federal Court ruling that no executions could be carried out until at least January 2015. The court imposed this moratorium in order to compel a review of Ohio’s lethal injection protocol.