Ask Tod Anything: Part V

Hello again from the Roost. This will be the second installment for answering this batch of questions. So I suppose I will jump right in:

12.) When the judge read your sentence in court, were you expecting it or were you surprised? How did you feel?

To be honest I knew I was going to get the death penalty. My lawyer (who in some ways “sold me down the river”– he is part of the system after all) kept requesting a change of judge until I was in the court of the only judge in the county who gave out death sentences (unofficially known as the “hanging judge” of Maricopa County) who would be up for re-election the year following my trial– and a good, well-publicized case in which he handed down the death penalty would go a long way toward getting him re-elected.

(Most people do not understand how political the death penalty really is– and the ways, which are myriad, in which is it used for a political vehicle.)

So, yeah, it was pretty much in the bag that I was getting the death sentence.

Here is a good indicator for you: After– that is after all the trial stuff, mitigation/aggravation stuff, everything to do with the trial– is over, the judge is supposed to sit down and write out his feelings in a “sentencing report” during which he considers all the aspects of the trial, especially the mitigation hearing (which is the very last part of whole process) and and explains for the court record why he/she is handing down the sentence that they are. Well, my mitigation hearing ended at about 11:00 AM and the judge said, “We will break for lunch. Then I will read the sentence to the defendant.” (In one of the most complicated trials in that county in a long time, mind you. Break for an hour and a half and come back and sentence me!)

I leaned over, knowing that as soon as I was sentenced I would be stuffed in a van and sent to prison, and asked my lawyer to tell the judge that I had been in county jail for over a year and needed at least one day to get my affairs in order and write a couple of letters telling people I would be moved to prison shortly. The judge (with a rather sour look on his face) agreed to this, and the sentence would be read the following morning.

The next morning the judge read out a 32-page sentencing document… 32 pages!!! Which means he had it pre-written the day previous and prior to the end of my official trial!

Oh, yeah, I knew I was getting the death penalty. Everybody did! (two female guards, which I had known since I got locked up, came the lat night I spent in the county jail to my cell and gave me a tearful goodbye– separately, not at the same time– one had to rush off as it was a bit more than just tearful… she started to break down.) Everybody knew.

As to how I felt…a death penalty trial is pretty stressful…I had literally been prodded and poked for almost a year, my family harassed by prosecution and defense investigators and, well… I guess i was just kind of relieved it was over for everyone’s sake. My family had been put through more their share of “enough”.

13.) Is there anything Anna has to do (or avoid doing) in order to make sure her letters get through to you? How strict are the mailroom rules? Does someone read her letters all the way or just skim them? Are your letters to her read too? What is considered grounds for confiscating a letter? Are there rules against swearing?

All good questions if you are considering writing to someone.

First part, make sure that whole address is on the envelope. (Especially name, inmate number, and the correct name of the facility.) Outside that, they just have general rules for “contraband” that vary from state to state and facility to facility. (Like I can’t have hardcover books but down the road at another facility they can.)

Reading letters… it would not really be possible to “read” everyone’s mail. (Although there are times when specific people’s mail is “red flagged” and it does get read in its entirety. There are several reasons this can happen but they are supposed to revolve around “threats to security”. Whatever that means.) So as a general rule, mail is skimmed.

As far as my letters to Anna being read… it is possible, but you would have to ask her. (The letters would be cut open and taped back shut, Anna.)

Letter confiscation? It can happen if there is some sort of “active criminal investigation” going on…but if someone does not like something, a letter can “get lost” at any point between the mailroom and my cage. It happens that way more than anything else official happening.

And no, there is no rule about swearing– which Anna, who uses a surprising amount of of four-letter words, is happy about. Isn’t swearing protected to some degree by the freedom of speech? I seem to remember that being litigated to some degree.

14.) Are you from Arizona? If so, whereabouts in Arizona? If not, where are you from?

When I was out in the world, I lived the lion’s share of my life in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. (Mostly in the woods.) But I spent part of my life as a “saddle tramp” as well, moving from place to place on the back of a Harley. I have been to about (or passed through at 70 miles per hour) about every state in the contiguous US and up into Canada and Alaska. So I like to think I am from everywhere.

15.) Have you The Green Mile, and if so, how accurate would you say the portrayal is of life on death row is?

My television broke some time ago and they are expensive and I just cannot replace it. So, no, I have not seen The Green Mile. But I have read the book by Steven King. I cannot speak to how accurate it might have been in the 30’s, which is when it was set I think… but now? Not at all. For one thing, it had, what? Five, six people on death row? (Which, by the way, is how it should be: the death penalty not being handed out like a carnival prize.) Here there are over 120, I believe. Constant noise, no peace… I can’t really describe it. It is no way for a human to exist. (It is not “living” so I do not call it that.)

16.) How old were your kids when you went to prison? What’s it like being a parent while on death row? Are you still in contact with any of your kids and/or their mom(s)? You also mentioned grandkids– have you met them?

I had to take a break before I could even write this one down. I know I have told you all a little bit about my child and that I have grandkids, but I have not actually gotten anyone’s approval for including them in this blog post. For that reason I am going to be pretty general in answering this and any future questions like it in such a public forum. I am actually pretty protective of the people I care about.

My son, who is the same age as Anna, was four when I came to prison. Because of a strained relationship with his mother (which existed prior to my ending up here) I did not get much of a chance to “parent” when he was young.

But multiply that by at least the power of ten and that is how frustrating, scary, and overall difficult it is to parent or be a parent from a cage. This environment is not one I would want my grandkids exposed to, so no, I have not met them in person– and you cannot imagine how much that hurts me. But this unit dictates that I would only see them through glass and not  be able to hold or even touch them anyway. Maintaining any sort of semblance of a family life/contact is very difficult in my situation.

17.) Who are some of your heroes and why? Fictional characters, historical figures, famous people, people you know/knew, etc. or any combination of the above are all fair game.

Hmm, interesting question, have not really thought about it before. I suppose first and foremost would be my father: an outstanding and heroic man indeed. He served this country in World War II with bravery and valor, and was recognized for it. He started and raised a family, doing the very best he could by us, and sacrificing himself on a daily basis and never seeking recognition for it. He was a good, loyal, and honorable man. I think he is about the only person I would call a “hero” to me. There are historical figures that I admire some of the things that they did or were involved in, but I have only known the picture history paints of them. A man that may have done something noteworthy to history could have in reality neglected his family to do so, or done dishonorable things that no one knows about, so I don’t feel comfortable putting someone I only know by a “snapshot” of their life on a pedestal.

18.) When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I recall most of the “normal” things a child wants to be: a fireman, a pirate ship captain, an astronaut (back to the “Captain Kirk saving whole planets” thing.) Pretty much whatever I was fixated on at any given time. I don’t recall any “serious” aspirations.

I always enjoyed creating things out of wood, metal, paint, pencil/pen, and paper…I just mostly wanted to be free to do that.

19.) What were some of the hardest things to get used to about being in prison?

Where do I begin? Everything. I still do not “do as I am told” so perhaps that would be one. The noise, the smell(s), all the people packed in around me, bad food (and I use the term “food” loosely here)… I eat, sleep, everything, less than six feet away from an open toilet. The whole situation is an exercise in “getting used to things” humans are not equipped to ever get used to. This place breaks people’s minds, steals their sanity… I really cannot recommend it at all. I can’t even say it “builds character”… since I have been around so many who have none at all (or honor or integrity for that matter). In short, I suppose, I am still getting used to things.

20.) Are you actually considering something like “slap this horse in the ass; I’ve got things to do” as your last words? Or were you kidding about that?

Not in the least was I kidding! What do you say when you are strapped down to a gurney for a nice little murder by proxy show for a room full of people devoid of any ethical compass to watch?? I would like to say something profound and deep to be remembered by, but that would detract from the barbaric theater of the absurd at hand, now wouldn’t it? Perhaps I should start a lottery: what might you all suggest, given the total ridiculousness of the situation? All suggestions will be considered.

21.) Are there rules about what you can say as your last words? Time limits, restrictions on profanity, does it have to be in English, things like that?

(This should help those of you who wish to participate in the “last words lottery”.)

What you say is into a microphone, and the warden has his finger on a button, ready to cut you off if he so wishes. So, better off with no name callin’ or deeply political statements. Profanity is likely out as well. But as far as I know any language is okay. (Surely they wouldn’t deny someone who speaks no English the right to a last statement? I would hope not.)

Time limits? If you attempt a “filibuster” of your impending fate, then at some point they will push the cut-off button and just go ahead with the murder, so brevity would be advised. So… short, sweet, and to the point.

22.) What is your favorite meal? What foods do you miss most?

Here? I don’t have a favorite meal. It is all crap– crap I would feel bad if forced to feed to a dog. I miss fresh food, uncanned vegetables that still have some nutrition in them… fruit! Oh, how I miss fruit! (I don’t know how these asswipes got away with never, ever giving us fruit! An apple or pear or an orange… I have to stop, I am starting to salivate…and I am certain that will turn to weeping soon.

Okay, I think I am down to where  I can finish off three questions with one more installment, so I will give Anna’s fingers a rest once more. Thank you for the input. I really enjoy interacting.

Expect another Q&A posting soon. And please don’t forget to show appreciation for Anna’s dedication to this project, without which you would not be reading any of this.

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