It's Time for Me to Die
by Michael Ross
Intro | What's It Like to Live on Death Row? | Insanity and Physiology | Persecutor as Victim | Execute the Legally Insane?
Death row here in Connecticut isn't as rough as some death rows elsewhere -- especially the ones down South -- but it's no "country club" either. Death row in this state is located in a "super-max" prison. I live in a seven-foot by twelve-foot cell -- large by prison standards -- consisting of a metal bunk, a desk, and a combination toilet/sink. I live alone in this cell and spend twenty-one hours a day here (twenty-two hours on weekends). My only sight of the outside world is through a three-inch by three-foot slot window, which has a wonderful view of the razor-wire fencing and outdoor recreation yard of the prison next door.
I eat all of my meals in my cell -- there is no dining hall in this facility. My meals are delivered to me in a Styrofoam box with a plastic spoon and fork -- no plastic knives. Some of the other inmates in this institution eat their meals at tables in the dayrooms like civilized men, but that is a privilege not afforded to death row inmates.
I am allowed one hour of outside recreation five days a week. Our recreation yard is approximately twenty-five feet square with thirty-foot-high concrete walls and chain-link fencing across the top. We are not allowed so much as a handball, and the only activity for exercise is jogging in circles on the concrete floor. Our recreation hour begins at 8 a.m., which means we can see the sun on the walls, but we have to lock up before the sun rises high enough that we can actually stand in it. The situation is so poor that only two of us go outside on a regular basis -- no one else even bothers.
We are allowed two hours of "out-of-cell" time in our dayroom from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. At that time we can use the telephone to make collect calls (two fifteen-minute calls per day), play cards, or simply socialize together. Death row inmates have absolutely no contact with other inmates.
By far most of my time is spent alone in my cell. When I first came to death row my father bought me a color television set, on which I receive six local broadcast stations. I have a typewriter that I use to type articles that I submit to various publications -- mostly anti-death-penalty articles, but more recently I have branched out into more spiritually based articles for religious publications. I also have a small Walkman radio on which I listen to classical music. They say that music soothes the savage soul, and classical music does in fact relax me. I spend many hours with my headphones on listening to this music with my eyes covered -- it is how I cope with life here.
Initially I was placed in the "Death Cell," a cell directly adjacent to the execution chamber and usually used only to house the condemned man for the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours before his execution. A guard was posted at a desk directly in front of my cell for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I had absolutely no privacy. I got dressed in front of the guard. I used the toilet in front of the guard. Everything that I did was in front of the guard. And everything was written down in my very own "Death Row Log Book": What time I woke up in the morning. What time I ate my meals and brushed my teeth. Everything. You cannot begin to imagine what that absolute and total lack of privacy does to you. You cannot begin to imagine how it begins to destroy your very sense of humanity -- like you are an animal in a cage on display at the zoo. No wonder I spiraled into a clinical depression and had visions of my own execution.
That lasted for almost a year. Then they replaced the guard with a closed-circuit television system that monitored the inside of my cell--for my privacy, they said. It actually gave me less privacy, for at the other end of the camera was a monitor viewed by anyone who happened to pass by, including any female officers. The camera lasted for four more years before I was finally able to convince them that it was an unnecessary invasion of my privacy. The guards make their rounds every half-hour or so, but at least now I know about when to expect him or her so I can time when to use the toilet or get dressed.
When I first came to death row, I was a very high-profile inmate. Everyone knew who Michael Ross was. Everyone knew what I had done. Everyone knew I was sentenced to death, and everyone -- so it seemed--agreed with that sentence and hoped it would be carried out as quickly as possible.
I have made some friends. Most of them are people who don't believe everything they read in the newspaper or hear through the grapevine. They are the ones who tend to approach people with an attitude of "how you treat me is how I will treat you." Unfortunately people like these are few and far between in prison. But at times they can be like a breath of fresh air. When someone simply says, "Hey, Mike, how's it going?" or "Hey, Mike, hang in there," it can mean a lot -- especially during the rough times.
And there have been rough times. I received a great deal of harassment from my fellow inmates, and also from the guards. Whenever I went somewhere in the prison -- to medical or visiting -- there were always the stares, the whispers, and the threats: "Hey, man, do you know who that is?" "He's the one who killed all those girls." "I wish they would let the SOB into population, then we could teach him a lesson." "Ripper!" "Child raper!" "Hey, tree-jumper, we're gonna kill you!" "If it was my sister, you would already be dead." And the ever-present sound mimicking the electric chair: "Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."
I've been hit with bars of soap, doused with cups of urine and feces, and had my food messed with by the guards, who spit on it or put hairs in it. I've had to go to the free-world hospital twice. Once I was stabbed fifteen times by an inmate with a pair of barbershop scissors taped to his hand; I had been set up by the guard, who let the non-death-row inmate out to attack me. The other time I was beaten by an inmate in a stairwell and received several stitches. Fortunately for me, things have settled down considerably since those early years.
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