Our Dear Friend Mike Lambrix left us on October 5, 2017
He went from the Darkness to the Light..

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hello Darkness – My Old Friend

Attached is Mike's entry for the annual 2013-2014 PEN Prison Writing Contest.  *This story received an honorable mention in the memoir category. The essay appeared also in MinutesBeforeSix

It is there in the dimly lit shadows of the darkness that I find my comfort within this concrete crypt I am condemned to not merely live, but ever so very slow die, within.  I could simply reach up above my steel bunk and pull the long string that dangles down from the fixture above and so easily flood the confines with that artificial light, but I choose not to. The darkness is my sanctuary, where despite all the misery and chaos around me, I can retreat and sit silently and find my solitude in this solitary cell on Florida’s infamous Death Row. The brightness of that light would only be unnecessarily intrusive, an unwelcome invasion that would only serve to cruelly deprive me of those stolen moments in time, in which I am able to at least momentarily detach from the reality around me and retreat back into my own little corner, in my own little world.

I already know only too well what the light world would reveal as all day of every day now, for not merely months, or a few years, but for decade after seemingly endless decade, and yet another decade still, I have sat in this cold, concrete cage and I know it only as a condemned man can, so intimately well that even when I close my eyes, I can count the number of concrete blocks on each wall, I can still see that plain and deliberately featureless, faded soft pastel  beige walls, accented only by the dark, heavy wool horse blanket that I am required to cover my bunk with each morning, as God forbid I might be tempted to sleep a  few hours during the day and then there’s the black bars at the front of the cell, each bar spaced precisely four inches apart, which allow me to look outward a few short feet  upon yet another wall of heavy steel bars, separating the outer catwalk and not too far beyond that, the fortified narrow windows, long ago covered with dust and debris, and yet in defiance, still barely allowing just enough light through to know when it is day and when it becomes night.


During the warmer months, these narrow windows are opened just enough to allow a bit of air to flow through. From time to time small birds will venture in and awaken me from my early morning sleep with their chirping, which at first I found inviting, as if they brought life itself to this culture of cold death.  But at some point along the path of time, this incessant chirping became unbearable, as if their only intent was to tease and taunt me and have come to so cruelly mock the man in the gilded cage before they then simply fly away and I find myself being driven by an overwhelming anger within me to yell and scream at these demonic winged monsters and even throw small items at the window screen to chase them away.  The birds no longer come to visit as much and now I find myself missing my little friends.

Once upon a time this relentlessly monotonous micro-environment I am entombed within could be brought to life with a few photos, faded reflections of a life that once was, but the powers that be decreed that any sign of life hung from the walls was somehow a “security” threat and not even one photo would be allowed. To violate this draconian rule would result in the loss of the photo and an immediate transfer to “lock-up” and the loss of the very few “privileges” we might be afforded. Given that few privileges are even allowed, this “punishment” would almost be ironically meaningless, if not for the disruption to this methodical routine we come to almost religiously cling to.


I’m told that long term solitary confinement under such objectively oppressive physical conditions and the deliberate deprivation of any meaningful interaction with others will inevitably drive even the strongest of men insane and I’m sure there are many who believe this to be true. Some might even argue convincingly that this inevitable insanity is the objective as when the monsters of my fate cannot break the body, then they become that much more determined to break the spirit. But nobody yet has told me just where that ever so elusive line is that separates “sanity” from the slippery slide down the proverbial “rabbit hole” leading downward into that bottomless abyss of madness, in which seems that each of us is expected to descend is?

Each week the prison psychologist will make his rounds of the death row unit and always without even so much as stopping, do the required “welfare check” on each of us, as the state has a vested interest in proving we have not become “insane” and we all know that our psychological state is irrelevant as even those who have long ago slipped beneath the murky surface of insanity will be automatically assigned a “normal” rating each week, as any other conclusion that might dare to call our sanity into question might later serve to obstruct the state’s objective of putting us to death.  Becoming insane and being recognised as insane are two totally different things and prison staff who conduct these psychological drive-bys are part of the pretence.

But then I smile as I struggle to understand just who these people are who so pretentiously proclaim themselves to be “normal” and want to insist that insanity is such a bad thing.  If I have learned nothing else in the too many years that I have been entombed in my solitary crypt awaiting the uncertainty of my fate, it is that my selfish??? structured psychosis provides my mental escape from this thing they want to claim to be “reality” and that it is this reality that sucks, not insanity.

When I sit silently in that comforting darkness of my solitary crypt, I can often listen to the many others around me in this monolithic warehouse of tormented souls, or on the increasingly rare occasion when I might reluctantly venture out for a few hours of “outdoor” recreation on the razor-wired concrete pad they call our “recreation yard” and am able to see and even look into the windows of the lost souls of condemned men among me, I find that I truly do envy those who now have that empty look in their eyes, those who have already been blessed by the detachment from that burden of reality that still weighs down heavily upon those of us not so fortunate.

For them, they are the lucky ones, no longer imprisoned by this cruel world around them.  For them, the past, the present and even the future and with it the uncertainty of their judicially imposed fate have lost all meaning and although their physical body may remain condemned to that solitary cage, their “spirit” is free to fly away and soar high above the stormy clouds and into that picture perfect blue sky beyond and as I witness their existence in a world of their own making, do I come to appreciate that insanity is something any sane man in my predicament can only envy and I as agaon retreat back into the recesses of my voluntary darkness do I find myself praying upon a long deaf god that I too one day soon might be blessed by this gift of insanity, so that I too might find my own reprieve from the harsh truth of reality.

Then there’s that whimsical wisp of hope that keeps me pushing forward and I am reminded of a particular scene in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” in which the seasoned convict (played by Morgan freeman) is sitting at the table in the prison “chow hall”, looking up at the fresh meat fate cast down upon them and offers this profound truth, that every convict will inevitably learn in their own way, …..”hope will drive you insane”. Perhaps that is why in Dante’s “Inferno”, as the desperate soul slowly stepped through that passageway leading down to into the very depths of hell itself, he took a moment to absorb those words enscribed above that portal into hell – “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here”.  And yet, despite that paradox of clinging to hope as a means of sustaining the strength to survive, yet knowing that each time that hope is crushed, insanity steps another step toward you, so many still so desperately cling to their hope.

But can hope drive a man insane if what he truly hopes for is insanity? Only the helplessly naïve would think that life and death was black and white, as only by being condemned to living within the very shadows of death, while hopelessly bearing witness as one by one around you are put to death in such an arbitrary and utterly unpredictable manner, can you come to understand that death itself comes in an infinite array of shades of grey – and even long before they might come to drag the next man away do we know that physical death too often follows long after the man within that fleshy vessel has already dies a slow and tortuous death of the spirit within.


To understand the therapeutic value of my voluntary darkness, one must first appreciate that death too often is not a singular event, but a prolonged journey towards that finality that is marked by the degradation of the inner-will with each stumbling step. In my voluntary darkness, I have come to know that a man’s worst fate is not to be condemned to death, but as if peeling away the layers of a onion, each day is another step in which that will to live is maliciously stripped away until only the inner core itself remains, a mere fragment of the man that once was. With each layer, that light of life within the windows of the soul dims just a bit more and the world within takes on a darker shade of grey and only in our arrogance do we attempt to define the precise moment of a physical death.

Only by attempting to understand why a condemned man might be relentlessly haunted by such thoughts might another understand why the darkness has become my friend and why as I so willingly surrender to that darkness, do I place such value in the power to be able to choose whether to pull that string or not.  Each day I alone decide whether in that moment I will live or die as in that voluntary darkness I inflict death upon the reality that imprisons me and in the shadows of my refuge, I find a fleeting sense of peace, knowing only too well that in the coming days, or weeks, or months they will soon enough come to lead me away and as they place me in that solitary cell, just outside that solid steel door that leads into the execution chamber, I will no longer be blessed with the power to retreat into that comforting refuge of my voluntary darkness, but will instead be dragged into a brightly lit room, then strapped upon a gurney, as just a few feet away, on the other side of a glass wall, a small crowd of witnesses will have willingly gathered to silently witness my state sanctioned execution.

As I then lay physically restrained and powerless upon that gurney, as those who have so methodically stalked my death for so many years nod to the masked executioner standing but a few feet away, as he pushes down on the plunger that will send that lethal cocktail of chemicals into my veins, and as I draw that final breath, I will once again find comfort and peace as the light fades away and as that darkness of death descends down upon me, the temptation of pulling that string will be no more.  Just as in my solitary cell I have been condemned to live alone, I too will now die alone and in the end, darkness will be my only remaining friend.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Mike's Story

(written by Mike in 2009) reflecting on his life; youth, upbringing and the time before he was sent to death row)

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.

Mike and younger siblings

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.

Mike and friends

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.

Michael Lambrix

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Yellow Brick Road

Written bij Mike Lambrix in 1996

Outside the window a cricket sings out in its private celebration of life, as the humid aroma of recent showers steaming off the hot concrete barely overcomes the stench of a hundred living souls compressed into an abyss of lost humanity. Darkness, in its possessive manner, steals its way forth as I stand at the front of my cell.

Beyond the bars that separate me from the rest of the world, I can bask in the simple pleasure of watching day give way to night in my own selfish celebration that I have endured - and even survived -yet another day. This is my evening ritual; my way of paying homage to the ability and inner strength of perseverance. And even in this shadow of condemnation, I do find strength.


I accept that the definitive measure and molding of character is not simply the ability to survive adversity - but to overcome and even manipulate the essence of adversity into a productive entity of which I might find the strength to master. I cannot see beyond this artificial hell in which I've been confined.

The horizon I see is nothing more than a scattered number of lights flooding the compound grounds and dancing with glittering fire upon the honed edges of razor wire that lie between the statuesque "iron curtain" perimeters. The only sign of life in this world outside is a spotlight, as it lazily rakes its way across the grounds in an unpredictable, haphazard manner.

But even as they've confined and condemned my body, there remains a part of me that is rebelliously free; that no amount of steel and stone can confine and no man can condemn. Within the inner self of the man I am, just as within every condemned prisoner, there's a path that leads its way off into a different horizon. This path is landscaped and lined with the symbolic fruits of faith, hope, encouragement and perseverance; stolen moments of our humanity - and even sanity.

For each of us, we strive to maintain some recognizable, progressive forward motion, refusing to succumb to the environment, finding inner strength to keep pushing ahead one slow step at a time. And all too often, it is a constant struggle, as this imaginative path takes its twists and turns through the highest of emotional peaks, to the lowest of emotional valleys.

For me, I call this imaginative escape from the reality of condemnation the "Yellow Brick Road", in personal reflection of the theologically symbolic nature and promise of the covenant of the rainbow; because even in the worst of storms, there's always the presence of a rainbow.  And somewhere over the rainbow is the promise of hope. And this Yellow Brick Road is my odyssey through Oz - my exodus through hell. And somewhere at the end of the Yellow Brick Road is my redemption. 

And it is a strange road.
There's night and there's day.

With the night comes; the uncertainty and even fear of darkness; the long moments and hours of hopelessness and despair, the feeling that all has already been lost, and that to continue would be futile, the mocking echo of silence, which serves to remind me that I am alone in this concrete crypt.
Long nights of lying awake - unable to sleep as thoughts of what was and what might have been haunt me.
The demons of darkness creep stealthily in to rob me of my most prized possessions of hope, faith, and the strength of perseverance.

But then comes the new day and with it mixed confusion. Darkness, and all it holds, has again been defeated - but there is no joyous victory as the new day does little to restore the gradual erosion of those values that compel me forth.
The day brings with it the anticipation and anxiety of uncertainty; of hopelessness borne of living in an environment of forced conformity and dependence.

Life of the condemned is not life at all.
Rather, it is an existence somewhere between hell and who knows where. A constant state of forced limbo, like a puppet on a string. Having been condemned by society, we now are not allowed to live - or die. Only exist ... if being stored in a virtual warehouse devoid of emotion can be said to constitute an existence.

If life is but the struggle for mere existence and its value judged by longevity - then perhaps by cheating those disciples of death that now demand the forfeiture of my life is itself worthy of that unknown cricket's celebration of life.

I only wish I could find some justification and comfort in that argument. But, I do not; for me life is not merely a struggle for biological existence. Without the preservation of my humanity and individuality, such an existence would have no meaning, or worth. Here on death row, we do exist.
Yet through the condemnation imposed upon us, society has deprived us of the recognition of our existence -- denying our humanity.

It is not enough to condemn us. In society's demented state of moral consciousness, we must first be stripped of our humanity before being deprived of our life. To recognize our humanity is to create a reflection of their own inherent imperfection, as well as face the truth that they are taking a human life. But to make us less than human pacifies society's guilt. They don't kill any particular individual, but rather something less than an individual.

And so for years on end a death of the inner self is methodically inflicted upon us so very gradually that it's practically unperceivable. An erosion of all emotion, until having been subjected to the endless rigor of administrative conformity, the person within is lost in a penologically conditioned sacrificial surrender.
The strength to resist no longer remains and without realizing it - we have been subdued. Conformance, and compliance - even the acceptance of death - become a form of adoptive security, protecting us from confronting atrocities we've suffered in the name of justice and "We The People."

But for each of us, there is a Yellow Brick Road; an escape from the reality of our condemnation; a place of solace and security.

The adversity we suffer remains and continues to plague us; continues to rob us of the humanity and individuality we so desperately cling to. But as long as we each keep sight of our own Yellow Brick Road, we will deprive our captors and executioners of the theft of our humanity and stand strong in our inner strength.

Not only to survive -- but to overcome.

Michael Lambrix 


Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas in a cage - Death Row Holiday

 - Written bij Mike in December 2009 -

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 branches 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.

With so many kids all anxious to rip open these gifts, controlling the chaos was the first priority. With the barely contained excitement of a child himself, dad would reign over the distribution of the presents, picking one box at a time and loudly calling off the name of each. In that large circle all our eyes would be gleaming in silent anticipation as we each awaited our name to be called. Then quickly pouncing forward when it was, to claim our gift and retreat behind the lines to rip it open. Soon enough the living room would be overcome with haphazardly discarded boxes and wrappings but nobody seems to really notice.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgving with Henry

Mike wrote this blog post November, 2009 - about Thanksgiving on death row and a tribute to his friend Henry Garcia.

Thanksgiving is the traditional American Holiday, the one day of the year when family and friends gather around the table with a feast laid out in abundance and give thanks for the blessings that have been and might yet be endowed upon us. Up until just a few years ago the prison system would recognize Thanksgiving with a special holiday meal of real turkey and all the trimmings, as well as various tasty deserts and we would all look forward to that one meal a year. Weeks and even months ahead of time we would make deals with each other to trade a favorite food such as maybe trade the turkey to someone for their pumpkin pie. Everybody had their favorite food, for me it was the turkey more than anything else. 


But in recent years they’ve all but eliminated the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for prisoners. We haven’t seen real turkey in many years now. The prison system will tell you that they still serve us a “holiday meal” but it’s not like it was before and what they do serve now isn’t worth writing home about.

For this reason many of us will plan ahead and make our own holiday feast by saving up what few extra dollars we can and buy foods off the canteen. Both as a means of communion with those we live among, who have become our surrogate family, and to share costs of the purchases. Many of us will plan ahead with our cell neighbors as we must order the necessary items at least a week ahead of the time on order to get them on time.

This year me and Henry decided we would eat good. Henry’s been my cell neighbor for a few years now, and was my neighbor on another wing before that. But for awhile now Henry has been fighting liver cancer. He’s put up a pretty good fight, which is not a surprise as Henry is a natural fighter and never had an easy life. Born in Texas of Mexican descent, he grew up poor and gave in to the lure of an outlaw at a very young age. Through the years Henry did time in some of the worst state and federal prisons in the country back when doing time meant struggling to survive every day. Yet through these hard years Henry remained one hell of a man, and was quick to share his sense of humor and in all the years I’ve known him, not even once did he have a harsh word to say about anyone.

Neither me nor Henry had any reason to expect a visit over the Holiday weekend. Although we both come from large families, through the years our families slowly drifted away and that’s just how it is, and we accept that. So, when it came to planning our Thanksgiving Holiday each of us became the others “family” and we spent countless hours what we would make to have a holiday meal that was different and special.

Last week and the week before we got the packs of tuna and mackerel to make fish steaks, the Ramen soup so we would use the noodles a make a casserole, with more tuna and assorted packs of potato chips for flavor, with a dill pickle on the side. And that was just for the main course.

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a lot of sweets. In past years I would make up a big batch of chocolate treats for everyone on the floor. But between the elimination of many items necessary to make them and substantial increases in the prices of what is now sold, it just is no longer possible. So we pitched in together and bought a Hershey chocolate bar for everyone on the floor so that everyone would at least have a little something.

With meticulous details we planned our meal. In a lot of ways, planning out what we intended to eat was almost as good as the eating itself! First, as an appetizer we would share a box of Ritz crackers, with beef and Jalapeno cheese sticks to go with them. We planned to start at around 10 o’clock that morning, and then around noon we would make up the main course. It would take me a few hours to make the fish steaks, which were a lot like crab cakes, but made with a mixture of tuna fish and mackerel steaks, mixed with crushed Ritz crackers and then seasoned with the spice pack of the Ramen “spicy vegetable soup” and a packet of soy sauce, and a bag of crushed spicy potato chips for flavor. Then coated with a crushed Ritz cracker crust. We would each have two.

The tuna casserole was basically flavored Ramen noodles mixed with tuna fish, a lot of mayonnaise and sweet relish and poured over crushed sour cream onion potato chips, with generous slices of dill pickles.

After having the main course, we planned to each have a Bear-claw pastry for dessert, with a cup of hot chocolate. Although we can only purchase the small envelopes of hot chocolate of the canteen, by adding some coffee creamer and a Hershey chocolate bar, it made a cup of thick hot chocolate which goes really good with the cinnamon and spice bear-claw pastry.


Later in the day we planned for some more sweets and snacks as football would be on TV all day – another Thanksgiving tradition. We had bought a box of Swiss rolls – basically small chocolate covered, crème filled cakes, and we’d make up some big cups of sweet tea to go with it. For later in the day we planned to use up the last big bag of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips I still had, pouring two packs of hot chili with beans over it, then topping it off with numerous packs of melted Jalapeno cheese spread – you just can’t put too much Jalapeno cheese on anything!

Yep, me and Henry planned to eat pretty good this Thanksgiving. Although holidays are meant to spend with family, in here it’s the guys we live around that become our family and we looked forward to sharing it together.

This year Thanksgiving would be on Thursday, November 26. Every year it’s on the last Thursday of November. But for all our meticulous plans it’s always the unexpected that comes along to ruin them.

On Monday our floor had recreation yard and Henry went outside to play volleyball for a few hours. With his health problems, yard usually left him exhausted but he would sleep it off and be ready to go again. Monday was not different and by early afternoon Henry was joking around, as we often do. By dinner he was his usual self, and then we had the thrice weekly showers (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

After showers the mail comes in and we talked a bit about that it was late on Monday as the guard who normally passes out the mail has the week off. So we didn’t get our mail until around 8.00 PM. Henry said he got one letter, but was concerned as he didn’t hear from his longtime dear friend Liz. I told him that they probably just didn’t pass out all the mail – he’d probably get a letter from her tomorrow.

About an hour later they came around for the nightly “master count” That’s the only time of the day we must each stand up and give our number – not our name, but only our prisoner number as in here that’s all we are – a number. Henry’s cell light was on and he said he was going to write a letter. But when the Sgt got to his cell he found Henry slumped over his table and the end of his bunk and Henry was not responsive. For a few minutes they yelled and banged on his door, assuming he was asleep as that was not uncommon, and the Sgt got on the radio and called for the nurse.

After several minutes Henry responded and awoke, but seemed somewhat out of it and wasn’t able to get up. So the Sgt decoded to send him to the main unit infirmary so they could check him out. This Sgt is a pretty good one and goes the distance to help us out. A few years ago he was working the floor when another guy fell ill and if not for this Sgt quick response in getting this guy out he would have died. Once again, this Sgt (who I am deliberately not naming) was quick to call for medical help.

They brought a wheelchair and Henry got on it and they pulled him out. As he stopped for a moment in front of my cell while they grabbed his photo ID I spoke to Henry and he seemed a bit out of it. But said he’d be right back.

A little while later I caught the Sgt making his rounds and asked how Henry was doing. By that time, he should have been back. The Sgt said that after they pulled Henry out, he started to cough up a lot of blood so they decided to keep him over at the main unit infirmary for the night.

But in the early morning hours just before breakfast the midnight staff came and packed up all of Henry’s belongings. If they expected him right back they would not pack up his property so I knew something was up. Throughout the day I asked others how he was doing and they said he’s not too good and would probably stay over at the main unit infirmary for a few days just to keep an eye on him. But they said they’d save his cell next to me, so I didn’t think much of it.

By Wednesday afternoon those I asked started saying that Henry took a turn for the worse and didn’t look good. Anxiously I squeezed all the information I could from those I knew would know.

Early Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, I was told that Henry had died at 2:30 AM, but that he didn’t suffer. I try to tell myself that at least his fight is over and he’s now in a better place and that at least his suffering was not prolonged as only too often it can be with cancer. But somehow it isn’t much of a comfort as he was a good friend and neighbor – he was family.

Just that quickly on Thanksgiving there isn’t much to be thankful for. The plans we made for weeks for our holiday feast now meant little as Henry was gone and so was my own appetite. Instead I spent the day just pacing my floor back and forth, four quick steps to the front then four quick steps to the back, listening to the radio and trying to get my head out of this place.

Then a song came on that made me smile….maybe even a message from Henry to a friend and brother who already greatly misses him. Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on heaven’s door” a song that not so long ago me and Henry sang together. Hearing that song brought tears to my eyes – but I smiled, as just hearing that song, at that particular moment, let me know that Henry’s alright and is now in a better place. Here’s to knocking on Heaven’s door – I will miss you my brother.


Mike Lambrix

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clemency Gone Missing From Florida’s Death Row

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board November 11, 2017

Justice is supposed to be blind, but not as blind as the U.S. Supreme Court when it ruled in 1993 that a Texas death row prisoner — who claimed to be innocent, but had run out of appeals — should look to the governor to save his life.

“Executive clemency,” wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is “the 'fail safe' in our criminal justice system."
But when it comes to the death penalty in Florida, the fail-safe has gone missing.

There hasn’t been a death row commutation in Florida since 1983, the first year of Gov. Bob Graham’s second term.
Since Florida resumed executions in 1979, governors have put 95 people to death and spared only six, all by Graham.

In at least 17 of those cases, advocates say grounds existed for commuting the sentence to life in prison. That’s not “getting away” with anything, by the way. The only alternative to execution is life without parole.

In four of those cases, Florida juries had recommended life sentences, but were overruled by the judges. At least two of those put to death were insane, including one who believed he was being executed because he was Jesus. And two were Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s hard to understand what’s happening because when it comes to open government, death row clemency is a black hole. Everything about the process is secret unless the governor or Cabinet chooses to hold a public hearing, which hasn’t happened since the Jeb Bush administration.

There’s no way to know whether the governor is receiving erroneous reports from his staff or from the Commission on Offender Review, which reviews clemency applications.
Neither is there a way to tell whether the governor even reads the files for himself.

Like his predecessors, Gov. Rick Scott routinely signs death warrants without saying why he denied clemency, other than that he found no reason. We asked his spokeswoman. She said: “His foremost concerns are consideration for the families of the victims and the finality of judgment.”

Those final words say more than she may have realized. “Finality” is the mantra of appellate courts that have decided they’ve heard enough from a prisoner. Now it’s the governor’s mantra, too?
But what if the criminal justice system got it wrong?

It’s not a hypothetical question. Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations, with 27. That means that in sentencing someone to death, the state has gotten it wrong 27 times.

Given that sobering statistic, you have to wonder how many innocent people may have been executed or remain on death row.
Gov. Scott has presided over 26 executions, more than any governor since they were resumed in 1979. The latest took place Wednesday, when Patrick Hannon was killed by chemical injection for his role in killing two Tampa men in 1991.

The governor’s silence about his use of the ultimate punishment is an insult to the people of Florida. Nothing in government is as grave as the power to choose between life and death. He should be accountable for how he uses it. Does he read the letters sent him by families, attorneys or prisoners? Has he ever questioned the reports and requested more information? Has he ever had doubts?
It’s not “soft on crime” for a governor to commute a death row sentence to life without parole. In many ways, life without hope is a fate worse than death.

Former governors understood this.
From 1925 through 1964, the start of an unofficial nationwide moratorium, Florida governors commuted 55 of the 250 death sentences that came to their desks, a rate of 22 percent. Every governor spared at least one in five. Two commuted nearly half.
The most famous instance was LeRoy Collins’s 1956 decision to spare Walter Lee Irvin, a black man condemned for the alleged rape of a white woman in Lake County. In the aftermath, a posse killed a man who had been with Irvin that day. Irvin, along with two others, was badly beaten. Later, while being transported to jail, he was shot by a sheriff, but survived.
The Irvin commutation was used against Collins in his re-election campaign. He won.

“My conscience told me that this was a bad case, badly handled, badly tried, and now on this bad performance I was asked to take a man’s life. My conscience would not let me do it,” he said.
Collins was vindicated. The “Groveland Four” had been framed. This year, the Florida Legislature formally apologized for the injustice and asked Scott to pardon them posthumously. He has yet to say whether he will.

The Collins example deserves to be followed, not ignored.
Among the proposals filed by members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is one that would repeal the death penalty. This deserves serious consideration.

At a minimum, the commission should open the curtains on how governors use or don’t use the power of clemency. Given how often Florida sends the wrong person to death row, we need, as Rehnquist said, a fail-safe backstop.


* Read also: Does Clemency Exist in Florida? 

* Read the letter from Mike's familie, asking Governor Scott for an exceptional clemeny hearing. 

* Read the Petition for Clemency for Mike, written by Roseanne Eckert, Clemency Counsel

* Excellent article by Martin Dyckman -  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Joseph Thornton: Former Florida Death Row doctor with a Veterans’ Day message

By Joseph Thornton for Florida Politics

Did you know that 18-percent of Florida’s death row is made up of veterans of our military services?
It is an important fact as we prepare to honor those who have served our country this Veterans Day. I have learned from firsthand experience that veterans sentenced to death can help us all to understand some of the failures of Florida’s death penalty, as well as how to improve our justice system overall.

I am a psychiatrist trained at Stanford University with more than 30-years of clinical experience, including 3-years overseeing medical and psychiatric care on Florida’s Death Row.

In our system, for a conviction and execution, a defendant must meet a legal standard of competency at the time of at the time of the crime, during the trial, through the appeals, and right up to the execution. However, even cases where guilt is certain, we cannot be 100-percent certain of mental capacity, yet an execution is a 100-percent final.

There is a better way. We can learn from veterans and their experience in the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Michael Lambrix, who was executed by the state of Florida last month. Lambrix served in the Army and was honorably discharged after becoming disabled in a training accident. He became involved with drugs, was arrested for murder in 1983, sentenced to death and executed 33-years later.

Patrick Hannon, who was executed by Florida this week, had extensive drug use while in the military. However, neither of these men had the benefit of current intervention tactics deployed by the Veteran’s Administration to care for veterans with a history of trauma and drug abuse.

In response to the growing needs of veterans suffering from trauma and drug use, in 2008 the Veterans Health System established the Veterans Justice Initiative.

Florida now has 2 dozen Veteran Treatment Courts. While under the supervision of these courts the veterans must attend treatment for indicated conditions such a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse. For those with substance use disorders there is periodic mandatory urine drug testing. The objective is rehabilitation and successful adjustment to the community rather than incarceration.

If we truly want to honor those who have served in our military this Veterans’ Day, then we should expand the number of veterans’ courts and the services they provide.


We should also urge the governor to place a moratorium on executions, and not just those of veterans, but everyone on Florida’s death row.

The fact is, almost all of them experienced childhood trauma, drug use and more. The time and money Florida spends on the death penalty can be much better spent on more mental health treatment services, especially for military veterans, who deserve better treatment after sacrificing so much for our country.

 Read Mike Lambrix's blogpost about Veteran's Day written in November 2009. The Forgotten Veterans: Condemning America's Heroes