On June 12, the state of Florida executed William Van Poyck. Van Poyck was convicted of killing a corrections officer during a failed attempt to free a prisoner in 1987. He spent 26 years on death row. From 2005 on, he recorded his observations and reflections from inside America’s system of capital punishment in a blog called Death Row Diary.
In a May article, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges wrote that Van Poyck “spent years exposing the cruelty of our system of mass incarceration.” He “was one of the few inside the system to doggedly bear witness to the abuse and murder of prisoners on death row.”
On June 25, Van Poyck’s sister published his final two letters, addressed to her. We reprint them here in full.
June 3, 2013
Ten days ‘till departure time. You already know that they killed my neighbor, Elmer, 5 days ago. Then they moved me into his cell. After they execute someone they move the rest of us down one cell, working our way to cell#1, the launching pad to the gurney next door. This is a bad luck cell; very few of us get out of here alive! In two days I’ll go onto Phase II and they’ll move all my property from my cell, and post a guard in front of my cell 24/7 to record everything I do. These will be hectic days, freighted with emotion, all the final letters, all the final phone calls, final visits, final goodbyes. Things have become even more regimented as “established procedures” increasingly take over. More cell front visits from high ranking administration and DOC officials asking if everything is O.K., forms to fill out (cremation or burial?). I declined the offer of a “last meal”. I’m not interested in participating in that time-worn ritual, to feed some reporter’s breathless post-execution account. Besides, material gratification will be the last thing on my mind as I prepare to cross over to the non-material planes. Watching Elmer go through his final days really drove home how ritualized this whole process has become; the ritual aspect perhaps brings some numbing comfort - or sense of purpose - to those not really comfortable with this whole killing people scheme. This is akin to participating in a play where the participants step to a rote cadence, acting out their parts in the script, with nobody pausing to question the underlying premise. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode where you want to grab someone, shake them hard, and yell “Hey, wake up! Don’t you know what’s going on here?!!!”
My very accelerated appeal is before the Florida Supreme Court; my brief is due today, (Monday), the state’s brief tomorrow and oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday June 6th (D-Day Anniversary). I expect an immediate ruling, or perhaps on Friday. By the time you read this you’ll already know the result and since there’s no higher court to go to on this you’ll know if I live or die on June 12th. I am not optimistic, Sis. Although I have some substantial, compelling issues, as you know (e.g., my appointed direct appeal attorney who turned out to be a mentally ill, oft-hospitalized, crack head, convicted of cocaine possession and subsequently disbarred whose incompetence sabotaged my appeal) the law provides the courts with countless ways to deny a prisoner any appellate review of even the most meritorious claims. I won’t turn this into a discourse on legal procedures; but many years of observation has taught me that once a death warrant is signed it’s near impossible to stop the momentum of that train. Issues that would normally offer you some relief, absent a warrant, suddenly become “meritless” under the tension of a looming execution date. Nobody wants to be the one to stop an execution, it’s almost sacrilegious.
So many people are praying and fighting to save my life that I am loathe to express any pessimism, as if that’s a betrayal of those supporting me. And, there is some hope, at least for a stay of execution. But honestly my worst fear is a temporary stay of 20, 30 days. Unless a stay results in my lawyers digging up some new, previously undiscovered substantial claim that will get me a new sentencing hearing, a stay simply postpones the inevitable. What I don’t want is to be back here in the same position in 30 days, forcing you and all my loved ones to endure another heart-breaking cycle of final goodbyes. I cannot ask that of them. I’d rather just go on June 12th and get this over with. This may be disappointing to those who are trying so hard to extend my life, even for a few days, but there it is.
Time - that surprisingly subjective, abstract concept - is becoming increasingly compressed for me. I’m staying rooted in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or anxiously peering into the future, but inhabiting each unfolding moment as it arrives in my consciousness (F.Y.I., I highly recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, for anyone facing imminent execution!) I’m still able to see the beauty of this world, and value the kindness of the many beautiful souls who work tirelessly to make this a better place. I am calm and very much at peace, Sis, so don’t worry about my welfare down here on death watch. I will endure this without fear, and with as much grace as I can summon. Whatever happens, it’s all good, it’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
* * *
June 12, 2013
If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled. When your tears have dried—as they will—and you look up at the sky, allow yourself to smile when you think of me, free at last. Though I have departed my physical vehicle, know that my soul—timeless, boundless and eternal—soars joyfully among the stars.
Despite my many flaws on earth, I was blessed to be loved by so many special souls who saw past my feet of clay and into my heart. Know that in my final hours, it was that love which sustained my spirit and brought me peace. Love, like our souls, is eternal and forever binds us, and in due time it will surely draw us all back together again. Until then, Godspeed to you and all who have loved me!
Light & Love,
wazimu0 (CC BY 2.0)