He will awake to the sound of shouting. He will know it is 4:45 am and he must stand and present himself at the door of the cell for the first count of the day. If a normal day, at 5:00 am he will be served breakfast (usually eggs, grits, juice and coffee on a tray with just a plastic ‘spork’ for eating). The next meal will be served from 10:30 ~ 11:00 am, followed by the last of the day between 4:00 ~ 4:30 pm.
He knows he will remain locked up in his 12’ x 7’, windowless cell for the next 23 hours. He will be permitted to shower every other day and is allowed into a caged area of the yard to exercise for one hour each day. Apart from these reasons, he knows that the only other times he will be allowed out of his cell are for social or legal visits or, on a rare occasion, should a local or national media request an interview. He is now permitted to watch a 13” TV or listen to a radio placed outside the bars of his cell.
Lamar Banks is 32 years old and has spent the last 14 years on Death Row at Florida State Prison. An African-American, he is one of 131 black, male prisoners on death row, together with 206 white males plus 8 males from other ethnic groups. There are also 1 white and 2 black female inmates housed elsewhere awaiting execution. The average length of time for an inmate on death row is just shy of 16 years. The longest on record in Florida was that of Gary Alvord who died 40 years after conviction…of natural causes.
With all appeals exhausted, Lamar was recently informed that the Governor had signed his death warrant and he was put onto Death Watch whilst he awaited execution.
Convicted of premeditated 1st degree murder associated with membership of a criminal gang he was automatically sentenced to death. This is now normally carried out by lethal injection but Lamar had exercised his right, within 30 days of sentencing, to choose death in the electric chair.
Lamar had been a High School student at the time of his crime. Unlike many on death row falling in the range of low-average IQ (with a sizeable minority being of borderline retardation), he had grades healthily in the mid-range. Not a star pupil then but a big guy, perhaps a natural quarter-back, he had been hoping for a Football scholarship to college. Gang membership was not unusual in crime-ridden North Miami but somehow Lamar managed to avoid being sucked-in until his mid-teens. How this was and how he finally succumbed to gang life is not known. Like so many of the African-American community, Lamar had never known the potentially restraining influence of a father. As a consequence, he may have been seeking to help his drug addicted mother and younger sister or he may have been enjoying a new lifestyle.
As the appeals for clemency dragged on over the years, Lamar suffered a bleak existence on Death Row. Unlike inmates serving life sentences, those awaiting execution are permitted neither study facilities nor workshop jobs. Lamar’s girlfriend, Latasha is known to have visited him several times during his first year of incarceration during which it became apparent she was pregnant. Why she stopped visiting is not known but, realistically, what did the future hold for her and her child and Lamar Banks?
Days, weeks, months, turning into years, of what amounted to solitary confinement must have taken their toll on Lamar’s mental health. It is known that there is a high proportion of psychological disorders amongst Death Row inmates. One study claimed 86% suffering from various psychological disorders. Others claim both frequent neurological abnormalities and neuropsychological deficits amongst Death Row inmates. We know that Lamar used to play chess with another prisoner in a nearby cell who shouted their moves to each other. This did not last long as the other prisoner was executed some years ago.
I have visited Lamar on several occasions over the last couple of years as part of a study my newspaper has commissioned on the welfare of Death Row inmates. I found him to be a quiet, self-contained and intense individual clearly of an intellect level above the other inmates I meet. He has never spoken of his crime nor claimed his innocence. However, before his recent death warrant was signed, he had expressed a desire, should his appeal against his sentence be successful and commuted to life imprisonment, to study for a sociology or psychology degree.
Today, is no normal day for Lamar Banks. Having studied the ‘Electrocution Procedures of the Florida Department of Corrections”, I know that the following protocols will be followed:
At 09:30 am, a food service director will prepare and serve Lamar’s last meal. This will be his choice, be sourced from local ingredients and cost no more than $40. At this point I have no idea what he has chosen.
At execution minus 2 hours – he will be escorted to the preparation area where he will be showered and have his head and calf of his right leg shaved. He will be dressed in blue pants and a white shirt.
At execution minus 1 hour – the warden will explain the procedure to Lamar and will offer a Diazepan injection “to ease anxiety”.
At execution minus 30 minutes – The Warden will read the Warrant of Execution; electrode gel will be applied to his head and right calf and restraints will be applied. He will then be escorted into the execution chamber, placed into the chair, restraints fastened. Natural sea sponges soaked in a saline solution will be placed between the electrodes and his skin.
I am ushered into the witness gallery along with the other media representatives, the twelve official witnesses, a nurse and a couple of women at whom I stare. There is a downtrodden looking black woman who could be anywhere from thirty to fifty accompanied by a beautiful teenage girl bearing a striking image to Lamar.
The screen into the execution chamber is opened and I see Lamar shackled in Old Sparky (as the chair is still known, although it was replaced some years ago). I am able to see Lamar’s eyes urgently scanning the gallery before settling intensely upon the young girl. I can see tears streaming down her face.
I can look no longer and stare at my feet.
Note: Lamar Banks does not exist except perhaps as a composite picture of the many inmates awaiting execution on Death Rows across the USA